Monday, December 12, 1994 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Are there any Bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 50: French text
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will apologize to the House first. I did want to table the French text to the conflict-of-interest bill and I inadvertently left it out of my package that I brought to the House, but I do have one here provided by the Clerk - the ever-efficient Clerk - and I will table the French text to the conflict-of-interest bill.
Under Introduction of Bills, I would like to table a bill that combines what I believe
to be a true copy of the English text of Bill No. 50, Conflict of Interest (Members and
Ministers) Act, which was introduced and given first reading on December 5, 1994, with
a true translation of that text into French.
Speaker: Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Abel: I give notice of the following motions:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the proposed amendments to the federal government's firearms legislation to be presented to the Parliament of Canada in February, 1995, do not accommodate the needs of northern Canadians and their lifestyles; and
THAT the Yukon Legislative Assembly urges the federal Minister of Justice, the Hon.
Allan Rock, to not proceed with the proposed firearms amendments until such time as the
needs of northern Canadians are met.
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the day the Governor General of Canada gives
us royal assent to the Yukon Indian Land Claims, the settlement legislation be officially
recognized by this House as Yukon First Nations Day, a day of celebration in the Yukon.
Mrs. Firth: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the government should withdraw Bill No. 50, Conflict
of Interest (Members and Minister) Act, and replace it with part 2, dealing with
Conflict of Interest, of the Public Government Act.
Speaker: Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Speaker: Before we begin Question Period, I would like to remind the Members of some of the rules. As Members know, I am but a humble servant of this House, and in my role as Speaker, the Members have placed me in this position. I have been given a rule book, which is the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly. These were developed 64by the Members of the Legislative Assembly for me to use. Specifically, I would like to draw your attention to the addendum in the back covering the guidelines for Question Period. Upon review of the Blues and Hansard, there is no doubt in my mind that I have been too lenient in enforcing these rules. They have been abused by many of the Members.
The behaviour of some of the Members in the past week has shown a lack of respect for the highly regarded office they hold as parliamentarians, and it certainly does nothing to improve the effectiveness of and the need for politicians in the public eye.
At this time I would like the Members to look in the back of their Standing Orders. The three rules that have been breached most often are: "A brief preamble will be allowed in the case of the main question and a one-sentence preamble will be allowed in the case of each supplementary question. A repeat of a question that a Minister did not hear does not constitute a supplementary.
"A question must adhere to the proprieties of the House in that it must not contain inferences, impute motives nor cast aspersions upon persons within the House or out of it.
"A reply to a question should be as brief as possible, relevant to the question asked and should not provoke debate."
If the Members get cut off during a long preamble today, they will know that I am planning to try to enforce these in a more consistent manner.
Question re: Economic activity
Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I thought for a moment you might be giving us that lecture simply because I was the one to stand up first; nevertheless, I will follow the guidelines as closely as I possibly can.
I have some questions for the Minister of Economic Development. Many of us have been encouraged by the improving economic conditions in Canada and the United States. We are happy to see the Canadian delegation making a significant foray into the China market. The Yukon representatives of course attended and returned with the information that while large contracts worth, I believe, $8.5 billion were signed with southern-based companies, there would be significant benefits for the north.
Can the Minister explain what the economic spinoffs will be in the Yukon and how the government is preparing itself for increased economic activity?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not absolutely certain what the economic spinoffs will be for the Yukon as a result of the trip made to China.
Mr. McDonald: Let me assist the Minister for a moment. The Government Leader has said that for every job that is created in the south, there will be four or five created in the north. How is that statement justified?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I knew that statement was going to come back to haunt me at some point. We should have cleared the record with the CBC at the time. The question I was asked was if there were going to be any benefits for the Yukon, and I replied that there would not be any direct benefits for the Yukon. I meant to quote a formula used by the Northwest Territories in its arguments all the time: one job created in the north creates four or five jobs in the south. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini was absolutely right in his debate the other day. I should not have used formulas and, instead, left well enough alone. I will blame it on jet lag, or whatever, but I will try to be more careful in the future.
Mr. McDonald: Gee, I am speechless. The Minister has identified in the media report that this analysis has been done. He has also indicated that the Government of the Northwest Territories has used this economic formula itself. Can the Minister tell us whether or not he would be prepared to table - or have the Minister of Economic Development do it - this information so that we can study it for ourselves?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know whether or not we have access to the information. As I said, those were quotes I heard used by a Member from the Northwest Territories. I know the Conference Board of Canada has a formula that it uses that is not as liberal as that one, and we could certainly table that one.
Question re: Industrial support policy
Mr. McDonald: I have a new question. One government action that may well have significant impact on the development community and the taxpayers is the development of an industrial support policy. The Yukon Party mid-term report says that there is one, and this was confirmed by the Government Leader in a letter to Cash Resources about a month ago. A week ago, the Minister said that the draft industrial support policy of April, 1994, is not the policy. The throne speech initially appeared to confirm the Minister's version of events, but it later said that negotiations were already underway with Anvil Range under the auspices of the policy.
Is there, or is there not, a policy?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The industrial support policy will be coming before Cabinet very shortly. That policy is based on the draft discussion paper that the Member opposite referred to.
Mr. McDonald: Can the Minister explain to us why the mid-term report indicated that there already is a policy?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The draft discussion paper that was sent out is essentially the basis for
the final policy that I will be presenting for Cabinet approval. The policy is based on that draft discussion paper.
Mr. McDonald: The credibility of the government is at stake here. I am trying to
give the government an opportunity to explain itself. The letter to Cash Resources
indicated that there was, indeed, a policy in place. In fact we were led to believe that
actual negotiations were going on under the policy. Why would the government say, in
various publications at various times, that there is a policy, when there really is no
such policy at this time?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I stated before, the discussion paper that was circulated and discussed at length forms the basis for the policy that I will be bringing to Cabinet very shortly. We have been using the guidelines contained in that paper as our basis to this point.
Question re: Social assistance, fraud investigations
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Department of Health and Social Services about the social assistance fraud investigator.
Last week, I asked him some questions and these are follow-up questions to an exchange of correspondence that the Minister and I had earlier. I got the impression from the Minister's lack of precision in his answers that perhaps he did not understand my questions. I would like to ask one of the questions again. Is the Department of Health and Social Services still considering the hiring of a full-time investigator?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, that is one of the options that we are considering.
Mr. Cable: There was a report in the national news media a few months ago about the experience in Ontario concerning the amount of fraud that had been committed, the number of dollars involved and the number of people who committed fraud.
Has this government at any time - or is it in the process - of estimating the amount of social assistance fraud that is going on in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are looking at various figures that we have with respect to that issue. We do not, at this time, have figures that would provide us with a close enough approximation for me to be comfortable in answering the question very specifically. There is a range of figures that we have as a result of the investigations that took place. When talking about fraud, the Member should be aware of the specific definition contained in the Criminal Code. If we are talking about abuse and a broader definition of criminal, then the problem becomes much larger.
Mr. Cable: Prior to the hiring of the fraud investigator, was there some estimate made of the range of likely fraud in the system in order to determine whether the fraud investigation was justified? If so, what was that range?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The reason we issued a contract for a six-month period was to try to get a better handle on what the range might be. When I first took office as Minister, the department used estimates of somewhere in the range of five percent. It was not very precise. Again, one comes down to a definition of fraud. I look at abuse, and at things that would not necessarily entail the obtaining of a criminal conviction for fraud, as part of the definition - people who should not be applying for welfare, but do.
Question re: Industrial support policy
Mr. McDonald: I have some follow-up questions for the Minister of Economic Development. I am increasingly concerned that a signal is being sent by the government as to their action plan for promoting economic development that is, quite simply, not accurate. In response to questions today, and even last week, on whether the government was being accurate when it was talking about there being an industrial support policy in place, the Minister responded by saying that policy was draft, and it was going to be discussed further in Cabinet.
I must follow up on this point. Can the Minister tell us why the government would
communicate to the mining industry that there was indeed a policy? Why would they have
communicated in the mid-term report, in the letter to Cash Resources, and in the
Geoscience Forum, that there is a policy in place, when the Minister would later say that
there is no such policy, that it is only a discussion draft for Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: This is the actual written policy that is coming to Cabinet. It is partially my responsibility and it probably could have been approved by Cabinet a month or so ago had I not requested some additional work on it.
As I said before, the draft discussion paper is the background for the policy. We have been using that discussion paper as a guideline.
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Minister for his exposÚ of the problems he is having bringing this policy to Cabinet; however, that is not the question I am asking. I am asking him why the government indicated that there was an industrial support policy, presumably approved by the government, when, in fact, there was not a policy approved by the government to which people could refer.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Perhaps I can clarify this issue for the Member opposite, as I was the Minister responsible when the policy was released in a draft form.
If the Member opposite will remember, we released that draft form for input from different sectors of society. When responses came, there were no major changes to the draft policy. It was reviewed by the different sectors of the population, and there were some comments made. Some people wanted to see a more stringent policy or more defined policy. Some people commented that we should be careful to ensure we did not get into a subsidy policy.
As Cabinet, we have been using that information. Even though it is not finalized in a hard, written form, it is still a policy that we are using. We do not have every "t" crossed and every "i" dotted; that will happen in the very near future.
Mr. McDonald: I am increasingly confused. I get the impression now that the draft policy is simply going to be rubber stamped by Cabinet, and that Cabinet, informally, is happy with it.
Why would the Minister of Economic Development insist, last week, that this was not the policy, when asked about the negotiating principles with industrial proponents for public benefits? Why is there a confusion here about whether or not it is a draft or real policy?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: This side of the House has agreed on a policy. We wanted to put
that in a written format that would be easily understood. That does not mean that, while
this is being drafted and put into place, we cannot speak to the mining companies or any
other industry that is interested in doing business with us.
Question re: Industrial support policy
Mr. McDonald: Usually there is a reason for designating a policy as being draft or not. One of the reasons for indicating that it is a draft policy is that it is there for discussion purposes - for the purposes of developing the policy - that it is not a policy and not approved by Cabinet.
The concern I have is that negotiations are underway right now under the auspices of this policy, and I am very confused as to why the Minister would indicate last week that it is not the policy. He says very clearly that the draft is not the policy. Yet today he seems to be in some sort of informal netherworld as to whether or not it is a policy.
Is there any way of clearing this up? I cannot figure it out.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Member opposite is essentially correct in that a draft policy is sent out for comments. We have received those comments and are now putting it into a final version. Maybe the Member opposite could inform me on this. Because we have not put it in a final form and it has not been approved by Cabinet, does that mean we are not allowed to discuss some form of support with various parties?
Mr. McDonald: Last week, the Minister was asked the direct question: is the draft industrial support policy that was up for discussion now the industrial support policy? The Minister answered by saying, "A short answer to the Member opposite's question is no. The draft discussion paper is not the policy."
Can the Minister tell us what the situation is? Is the draft policy the policy for the purposes of negotiating with companies like Anvil Range? Is it, or is it not?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The draft discussion paper is the guideline that we are currently using.
Mr. McDonald: Now we have a draft policy, we have guidelines, and we have a policy. I am not sure on what basis the Minister is negotiating an agreement with Anvil Range or with anybody else. So that we do not get hung up on designation of what it is that the government is using, can the Minister tell us what the negotiating principles are with the mining companies that they are using to promote development?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As far as I am aware, there have not been any direct requests from Anvil Range. We are barely into discussion stages.
Question re: Industrial support policy
Mr. McDonald: I do not understand what the government is doing. In the throne speech, the Ministers say that mining companies, such as Anvil Range Mining Corporation and Loki Gold Corporation, are currently discussing their transportation, energy and other infrastructure needs under the auspices of this policy. What are they doing? Can the Minister tell us what is happening? What are the negotiating principles? Is this the draft, guidelines or policy? What are the principles? We can call it what we want to later.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I think the Member opposite is nit-picking here. I really do. Is he saying that the government should not negotiate when a policy - which is not written down and carved in stone but is agreed to verbally by Cabinet - is not complete? What if the principles we are negotiating are under the draft policy?
Mr. McDonald: What are the principles under the industrial support policy? What are those principles? One of the major concerns people in the mining industry have is that the policy says simply that the government will be flexible, and that when it comes to electrical generation, it will be the taxpayers, not the ratepayers, who will pay. That is all they know. Can the Minister tell us what the principles are?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I certainly cannot stand here on my feet and enunciate every principle, but I will table them for the Member opposite. I do want it clear for the record that the policy states quite clearly that whatever is negotiated under that policy will be approved by this Legislature.
Mr. McDonald: That is the one reassuring thing the Ministers have said during the last three or four rounds of questioning. We have a policy, a draft policy and guidelines, and we have the government negotiating with mining companies regarding their transportation and electrical infrastructure needs. Can the Minister of Economic Development tell us, as he is presumably closest to the negotiations, what principles the government is using when they are negotiating with Anvil Range for their electrical needs?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Anvil Range has not been negotiating with the Government of Yukon regarding electrical needs.
Question re: Industrial support policy
Mr. Harding: Dare I? I have to ask the Minister of Economic Development about the industrial support policy. Even though the throne speech says that the government is negotiating under the auspices of the policy, astonishingly enough, the Minister has just stood up and said that the government is not negotiating with Anvil Range.
On December 7, in response to a question concerning what energy rates Anvil Range would pay, the Government Leader said, "It is the Utilities Board that sets the rates in the Yukon, not the government." Yet, regarding the draft industrial support policy, the throne speech says the government is negotiating. "The Yukon Utilities Board receives electrical rate policy directives from government, which outlined the boundaries for rate setting by the board." This is a clear contradiction. What rate boundaries have been set for the Yukon Utilities Board in these negotiations?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation, maybe it is best that I answer that. The OIC quite clearly sets the policy under which the Yukon Utilities Board operates to set the rate. That is my understanding of the situation. Right now, I understand that there are discussions taking place between the Yukon Energy Corporation and Anvil Range regarding their power needs. The only time they would be negotiating under the industrial support policy for power needs is if, in fact, they wanted some easement on the rate. In that case, it would have to be approved by this Legislature. They will pay the rate that is set by the Yukon Utilities Board. That is what the Yukon Energy Corporation is going to get for it. If there is any money coming from government, it will come through this Legislature under the industrial support policy.
Mr. Harding: With all due respect, that is not the answer to the question. This government has touted the draft industrial support policy in the mid-term report and in letters to mining companies - one to Cash Resources, in particular - as being a critical document in determining how the government is going to deal with their energy concerns. It states in this document that the Yukon Utilities Board receives its rate boundaries directly from the government. What rate boundaries have been set in these negotiations with Anvil Range?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just clearly answered that question. It is set out under the OIC, as far as I know, as to what they operate under in order to set rates. No specific recommendations have been given to the Yukon Utilities Board as to how to deal with Anvil Range.
Mr. Harding: It is getting very difficult to track this government. We have got all these statements being made by the Minister of Economic Development, the Government Leader, the throne speech, the draft industrial support policy, the letters to mining companies, and all of these mixed messages are making it very difficult for us to ascertain exactly what is going on.
Let me change tack a bit with the Minister of Economic Development. The draft industrial support policy says that the Faro and United Keno Hill mines were provided with transmission and power supply at a reasonable price during their operation. That is in the Yukon Party document. Will the government commit to providing power to this mining company at the same price previously held, which they called "reasonable"?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I cannot commit to providing power at any given price. There have been increases since that time. Secondly, if there is an agreement made with Anvil Range, it will be, as my colleague has pointed out, approved in this Legislature.
Question re: Public consultation
Mrs. Firth: I too, have a policy question for the Government Leader but it is about a different subject matter. This government has been very inconsistent in its approach to public consultation. For example, we have seen the Minister of Education announce a public review at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, a full public review on gambling, a select stakeholders' consultation on the Environmental Act, and we have had no consultation on issues.
My question to the Government Leader is this: what is the policy when it comes to deciding how and when this government will consult with Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There are certain forums in which consultation is taking place. There are, as I have said before, many, many ways to consult. If it does not happen to fall into the type of forum that the Members opposite like, they stand in the House and criticize. That is fair game. That is what it is here for. Is there a hard and fast policy that every question that comes up must be handled in a certain manner? No.
Mrs. Firth: I am getting the feeling that the Minister does not know if he has a policy in place or not. I have a policy of the government's here, a communication policy, Policy 1.3, which says that public consultation and participation are essential because people want to be involved in determining their own future and are capable of contributing to wise decisions, that citizens have the right to information, and that Cabinet is responsible for approving public hearings and public consultations.
I would like to ask the Government Leader how they make a decision in Cabinet about what the public consultative process is going to be.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That was just what I tried to state to the Member opposite. Each issue is certainly different and we discuss in Cabinet as to how the communications and consultation will take place.
Mrs. Firth: The Government Leader has been quoted publicly saying that a full public review and/or hearings would be costly, time-consuming and likely controversial. This was with respect to the environmental legislation.
I would like to ask the Government Leader this: are there any rules when they make this decision or do they just flip a coin or decide by however they are feeling that particular day? Is that the public consultative process they use? It is apparent that Cabinet has full responsibility for doing this. I want to know how they make the decision. How do they determine what kind of process it will be?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Regarding the environmental amendments the Member opposite is referring to, we had the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment consult with stakeholders about the draft amendments. They have undertaken to do that and report back to us.
Question re: Industrial support policy
Mr. McDonald: I have a brief question in order to follow up on the industrial support policy. I am afraid that I am not getting any clear answers, and I need to have them.
When I asked the Minister what principles were in place for negotiations between Anvil Range and the government on electrical pricing, the Minister said that Anvil Range was not negotiating energy rates with the Yukon government. The throne speech says that Anvil Range Mining Corporation is currently discussing their energy needs under the auspices of the industrial support policy. Can the Minister explain this to me? What is going on?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is my understanding that Anvil Range is discussing their power requirements with the Yukon Energy Corporation. Some of our people were going to Faro to discuss the energy requirements with Anvil Range, and that may have happened by now.
Mr. McDonald: I am not referring to the energy requirements for Anvil Range. I am referring to the price-setting policy of the government. I am referring to the statement in the throne speech that refers to the industrial support policy and the discussions that are currently underway with Anvil Range Mining Corporation. The policy itself makes exclusive reference to energy pricing. It is made clear that, where the government will be participating in the establishment of rates, the discussions would be held with the Department of Economic Development, and no other department. Can the Minister tell us how this is supposed to work?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The cost of service will be determined by the Utilities Board, and the mining company - or industrial user - will pay that cost of service. If the government then wants to help the company - whatever company that may be - with its power rates, then that will be brought to the Legislature and debated here.
Mr. McDonald: Does the Minister not understand what I am asking? Anvil Range is clearly interested in having sufficient power to meet their requirements, as well as a rate that they can live with. That is presumably why the government, in their throne speech, indicated that discussions were underway in the context of the industrial support policy, which refers to rate setting. I realize that the final decision will be brought to the Legislature for approval. I am talking about discussions that are currently underway with the government. What principles is the Department of Economic Development using in discussions with Anvil Range for establishing the rates for that company?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am concerned that the Member opposite does not understand what we are saying here. We have tried to clear it for the record. First of all, before Anvil Range can even get into serious negotiations under the industrial support policy with the Minister's department, they have to know what the rate is going to be and whether or not they need assistance with that rate. If they need assistance with that rate, it would be done under the industrial support policy and approved by this Legislature.
Question re: Social assistance, fraud investigations
Mr. Cable: I have some more questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services concerning the fraud investigator. The Minister mentioned in this House last January, about 11 months ago, that there were 25 fraud investigations going on. Have the results of any of those investigations been turned over to the RCMP for review and possible prosecution?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes.
Mr. Cable: Could the Minister indicate just how many prosecutions are underway?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will have to come back with such information. I really do not know how many prosecutions are underway - that implies charges laid. I know one case went through the courts, and a guilty finding was obtained. There are a bunch of files over at the RCMP, for investigation by the RCMP. I will try to get the answer to how many actual charges have been laid by the RCMP, and I will get back to the Member.
Mr. Cable: I gather the Minister is talking not only of fraud, but also of something called abuse, which may not be criminal in nature. I gather these arose from the fraud investigations carried out since January. Could the Minister table in this House the cost of these investigations?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I can table the cost of the fraud investigator in this House. There was also a verification team of students who were engaged over the summer. Their work was very productive. In many cases, it led to people deciding not to apply for welfare. In fact, in some communities, we now have no welfare cases as a result of their work. There is no doubt that the abuse issue is larger than the issue of fraud. Often, deterrents play a part, and it is very hard to get a firm handle on just how much even attempted abuse was prevented by the fact that we had a verification team during the summer, which process we will be renewing at unexpected intervals.
Question re: Marsh Lake blockade
Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps a change will help. I would, in all sincerity, like to welcome the Minister of Community and Transportation Services to his new portfolio, and pose a question to him.
Yesterday, I spent some time at the Marsh Lake blockade, visiting with the Kwanlin Dun members and some of my constituents who are deeply opposed to the federal government granting a timber lease in Kwanlin Dun traditional territory over the objections of the First Nation.
The regular process of reviewing land applications involves an intergovernmental committee, known as FTLAC, which is supposed to ensure mutual action and exchange of information among the federal government, the Yukon government and First Nations. Have the Yukon government representatives on the Federal/Territorial Lands Advisory Committee confirmed for the Minister that Kwanlin Dun was opposed to this particular permit? How did the Yukon government express its concern when the federal government decided to overrule the Kwanlin Dun?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I think that there were two questions there. I will try to answer them. First, no, FTLAC has not informed me about what has happened. Second, the federal government made the decision. As I understand it, there is a complete miscommunication among all three levels.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister should be concerned. This is a crisis situation. The blockade has been in place for a few days. I think that citizens deserve a substantial policy response from the Minister. He should have boned up on the details. I believe that the Yukon government can, and should, play a role in avoiding such conflicts.
Does the Minister know how the process works? Could he explain to the House why it did not work, in this case? Why did it result in a blockade?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I am afraid the Member will have to ask those questions of the land claims people. They certainly are not in my domain.
Ms. Moorcroft: This is the Minister who is responsible for Community and Transportation Services. This department is responsible for lands decisions. The membership of FTLAC includes representatives of this department. The Minister should have those answers.
In the day-to-day business of making and following policies and programs, are government employees still expected to consider, as a priority, land claims implications of any government decision?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Yes.
Question re: Faro doctor
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services regarding the physician position in the community of Faro.
As the Minister is aware, our community will be losing our resident doctor in the new year. As our populations and their exposure to industrial hazards grow, people feel that a solid replacement is very important.
I have had discussions with the federal and municipal governments, as well as with Anvil Range Mining Corporation, on this issue. They all appear to be ready to work on a replacement physician. It is my understanding that the Yukon government has agreed to share the costs with the Faro municipality in advertising for a new doctor. Can the Minister tell me what arrangement they would be prepared to consider in the way of assisting with these advertising costs?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have had a meeting with the Mayor of Faro, and also have had
subsequent conversations with him. Currently, he is in discussions with the department
about the scope of the assistance that we can arrange for the municipality of Faro. We
have said that we will provide assistance with regard to the advertising costs for a
doctor and some of the recruitment costs, and so on. That will be worked out between the
Mr. Harding: As the legislator for Faro, I have also had discussions with the municipality. I have also had constituents ask me to work closely with the people in the community who are involved. I have a copy of the letter from the department to the municipality of Faro, and they say they will pay the cost for advertising only. It does not make any mention of sharing in the other costs associated with recruitment.
Would the government be prepared to consider helping to pay for the costs of interviews, which can include the cost of travel to Faro and other expenses associated with the trip?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: In recent conversations with the mayor, I conveyed that willingness.
Mr. Harding: Recent discussions around new physicians billing in the territory have stated that some new doctors to the Yukon will be reimbursed for their services by the Yukon government at a reduced rate. Will this issue, which appears to be Canada-wide, be a factor in the discussions surrounding a new physician for Faro? Would it have any influence?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, it will have an influence. In all probability, it will be
a very positive influence, because the steps we are taking are in concert with other
jurisdictions, which means there are a lot more doctors out there looking for work.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. I thank the Members for their cooperation. We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 50: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 50, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Ostashek.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that Bill No. 50, entitled Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 50,
entitled Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, be now read a second
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I rise to open debate at the second reading of Bill No. 50, entitled Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act.
This bill was designed to ensure a high standard of ethical behaviour for Members of this House. It was designed to ensure that we conduct ourselves in a manner that earns and maintains public trust.
In developing this bill, we looked at legislation developed in other jurisdictions, and at what has and has not worked. We also considered this jurisdiction and what is appropriate for the Yukon.
We believe the result is a broadly based piece of legislation that will effectively
address conflict of interest and address the particular circumstances of the Yukon. In
other words, this is a made-in-Yukon bill.
The Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act provides a regime to both advise Members and Ministers on conflict-of-interest issues and to investigate complaints related to conflict of interest.
The legislation will establish a Conflicts Commission with two basic functions: it will act as an advisory body and as an investigative body for complaints.
The bill before Members today allows the Conflicts Commission to advise both Members and Ministers when they have questions relating to conflict-of-interest issues. It also provides the Government Leader with the ability to seek the advice of the commission about conflict-of-interest issues related to his or her Ministers, and sets out appropriate rules of conduct for Ministers.
As well, the Conflicts Commission can investigate complaints made by any Member that other Members or Ministers are - or were - in a conflict of interest. The Conflicts Commission can also investigate complaints by a Member that there were no reasonable grounds for the allegations of conflict of interest to be made against him or her.
For the purpose of carrying out its investigations, the Conflicts Commission will have the powers of public inquiry under the territorial Public Inquiries Act. This means that the commission will have the powers to call witnesses and compel them to give evidence or produce documents. The bill also allows for investigations to be carried out by a panel of one or more members of the commission, lending them the same powers as those under the Public Inquiries Act. Members and Ministers will be required to disclose all information related to an investigation, unless such disclosures are specifically prohibited by territorial or federal law.
The commission, which will consist of three members, will be appointed by this House for three-year terms, and may be renewed. The commission members can only be removed by the Legislature.
In cases where the commission has been asked to investigate, it will report to this House about the results of its investigation. These provisions clearly establish the commission as a servant of this House, not as an instrument of government.
The legislation provides direction to the House about how it may deal with reports of the Conflicts Commission, and, at the same time, preserves the right of the Legislature to discipline its Members as it sees fit. This is in keeping with parliamentary practice.
The bill also sets out a means by which a Member or Minister can remove a conflict of interest or potential conflict. These include resigning an office or a membership, or disposing of property that creates a conflict, disclosing a conflict and abstaining from participating and voting on the matter in either Cabinet or the Legislature and resigning from Cabinet or the House. These actions do not, however, prevent investigation of a conflict of interest or action by this House. If the Conflicts Commission finds that there is a conflict of interest, it would only be a mitigating factor.
With respect to the conflict-of-interest rules themselves, the bill provides clear definitions of those actions that constitute a conflict of interest. It clearly states that a Member or Minister is in a conflict of interest if he or she carries out responsibilities of an elected office in a manner that he or she knows, or ought to know, would provide an opportunity, or a reasonable appearance of an opportunity, to further his or her private interests. This definition ensures that Members and Ministers view conflict of interest in a broader sense than merely financial gain, and effectively deals with the distinction between real conflict and apparent or potential conflict of interest.
There are also specific prohibitions on using insider information - in other words, information acquired by virtue of elected office that is not publicly available or accessible to further private interests. Using an elected office to influence a decision that would further a Member's private interests is also prohibited. As well, Members and Ministers cannot accept fees or other benefits, apart from the regular remuneration and benefits Members and Ministers receive by virtue of the public office they hold and the gifts they receive on protocol or similar occasions. Public disclosure of gifts received from any one source that exceeds $150 in a given year are required.
The definition of conflict of interest and related prohibitions are standard for Canadian legislation. This bill preserves public disclosure as a key component of the Yukon conflict-of-interest regime.
In our view, this is the appropriate principle on which to base conflict-of-interest legislation. Divestment is too onerous in a jurisdiction of this size.
We want to attract quality people to public office, just as we want to ensure that the holders of public office carry out their responsibilities in the public interest.
If we, however, cut off the public office from those with business interests, we have made this House and Cabinet too restrictive a club. In all but a few cases, political office is not a long-term occupation. Our rules need to reflect the fact that the people often come to public office with business interests and when they leave public office they return to those business interests.
What we want to ensure is that Members and Ministers do not use their public office to advance their private interests.
About 15 years ago, an all-party committee of this House looked at the issue of conflict-of-interest rules. It weighed the advantages and disadvantages of both public disclosure and divestment. In its findings, the committee concluded that divestment was not appropriate for the Yukon. It stated that the level of government participation in the Yukon economy is too high to continue to adhere to the principle of divestment. Due to the pervasiveness of government in this community, virtually anyone, in any kind of business or in any profession, will find that the requirement of divestment is so onerous as to negate the opportunity to seek public office.
This is not what we want. We want to attract the best candidates to run for public office and not close the door on someone because they have business interests.
In its report to this House, the committee reflected this by recommending a system of disclosure. It reached this decision based in large part on the small size of the Yukon community, noting that business dealings in the Yukon are more apparent and the public more aware of such dealings than might be so in the case of other jurisdictions. It concluded that, this being so, Yukon politicians subject to full disclosure requirements are not likely to abuse the trust vested in them.
The recommendations of this committee led to changes in what is now the Legislative Assembly Act and the public disclosure rules set out in section 7 of that act are, for the most part, still in place today.
In our view, the circumstances that led the committee to make its recommendations in 1980 are still relevant today, as is the public disclosure rule. This act would keep these rules intact.
In taking this approach in the legislation, we are respecting the fact that these rules have been developed in response to the recommendations of an all-party committee. It is worth noting that the public disclosure rules for Members also apply to his or her immediate family; that is, a spouse or dependent relative. This provides assurances that interests or assets cannot be transferred to family members as a means of avoiding public disclosure. This legislation also keeps in place the present rules for Ministers, including those dealing with specific public disclosure requirements of Members of Cabinet. These will be the rules of conduct when this bill comes into effect.
At the same time, this bill allows the Government Leader to enhance the rules governing Ministers at any time, and for new rules to apply to Ministers from that point on. Placing this responsibility on the Government Leader reflects the fact that, as the leader of Cabinet, the Government Leader is ultimately responsible for Cabinet and, consequently, for Members of Cabinet, including their ethical conduct and behaviour while carrying out their public duties.
I would note, for the Members opposite, that this model is used in Ontario, where Premier Rae issued the most stringent guidelines in the country for his Ministers. These supplement the rules for Members contained in the act. This model has also been used in the Yukon since the early 1980s, and I believe it has served this Legislature well.
Included in this bill is a new provision that allows the Government Leader to put restrictions in place that will prevent a former Minister from accepting, or benefiting from, a contract with this government for a period of six months from the time he or she leaves Cabinet. It is my intention to put such a rule in place for Ministers once this legislation is approved. I would also add that a similar "cooling off" period will be instituted for deputy ministers when they leave the employ of the government.
We will be looking at the mechanisms by which such post-employment restrictions can be put in place. At the same time, the decision not to include public servants in the legislation was a deliberate one. The circumstances by which we become Members of this House are significantly different from those of the appointment of public servants. Our roles are fundamentally different. While both elected officials and public servants have responsibilities for maintaining public trust, in our view, the differences in our respective positions warrant separate treatment.
We made this point in debating the previous conflict-of-interest bill that was before this House. I would point out that this is generally reflected in legislation and other rules related to conflict of interest in Canada. Most jurisdictions deal with elected officials and public servants separately. There is currently a conflict-of-interest policy that governs the public service, and this policy will be reviewed by Cabinet to ensure that it is relevant and responsive to today's circumstances.
We have also introduced the Ombudsman Act, allowing for an independent official to investigate complaints of abuse of authority by government officials. Once the bill is approved, we will want to discuss with Members of the House the make-up of the Conflicts Commission. We have some general ideas about the possible types of people who might be appointed. For example, the Northwest Territories uses a commission consisting of a retired judge and Conflicts Commissioners from other jurisdictions. The ombudsman is another possibility for membership on the commission. We recognize that the independence and the impartiality of appointees is critical in a body that will advise Members and report to this House.
In this bill, we have provided Members with the specific assurance that its provisions will come into effect no later than October 1, 1995. This will allow time to put a Conflicts Commission in place and to make other necessary preparations, such as discussions with the Members' Services Board on budgetary matters. If these preparations are completed prior to October 1, there is a provision allowing for earlier proclamation.
In closing, I would like to say that we believe this bill will serve the Members of this House and the Yukon public well. It makes it clear what a conflict of interest is and how Members and Ministers are to avoid them. It provides an independent body to advise Members on these issues. It allows an independent commission to investigate allegations of conflict of interest, and complaints that such allegations are without reasonable ground. It makes provisions for this House to deal with the findings of conflict-of-interest investigations.
We believe this bill is fair and balanced. In our view, it is appropriate for the
Yukon, and will help to ensure that we, as elected officials, respect the trust placed in
us by the people we represent.
Mr. Penikett: I speak to Bill No. 50, not only as Leader of the Official Opposition, but also as the only Member present who was here in 1981 when the rules that were described earlier were introduced by the former Government Leader, Chris Pearson. I want to say something about that because, in my opinion, those 15-year-old rules are not being resurrected today in this new law. I believe that the standards set in those rules are going to be downgraded if this law is passed, and I will explain why.
There are a whole number of issues in this bill that warrant discussion. I am going to touch on them one by one. The first is one of coverage, and I will actually deal with these issues in order as they arise in the text of the bill. This bill applies only to Members and Ministers, not to board appointees, political staff or public employees, as did the Public Government Act passed in 1992.
Nonetheless, we have been told today that there will be some kind of order-in-council, or some kind of rule established by the Government Leader under this law, which will apply to public employees. I suggest that, right from the outset, there is some confusion in terms of the government's thinking and something fundamentally contradictory in its approach.
The next issue is, of course, the question of the definition of conflict. The language in the bill before us talks about the Member or Minister being in conflict of interest if the Member or Minister use their position to further their own private interests by access to information, if they make a decision in the execution of their office or participate in making a decision in the Legislative Assembly or Cabinet, if they make a representation to another Minister about what decision that Member should make, or if they discharge any official function in the execution of their office - and here are the key words - and at the same time know - or should know - that, in the decision or function, there is the opportunity - or the reasonable appearance of an opportunity - for the Member or Minister to further their own private interests.
I think that is a much narrower definition of "conflict" than what we have had in the past. In fact, I think the onus laid out by the Government Leader in 1981 that a Minister has an obligation to avoid all appearances of conflict seems to have been changed in this definition. Given that this definition appears so early in the act, I assume it takes precedence over the text of the Executive Council code of conduct defining conflict of interest that was passed on April 6, 1981, which is referenced in this law but has a subordinate place.
I think there is a big difference between the definition of "conflict" described in this legislation and the very clear rule, which Members opposite voted for just two years ago, that no Minister shall carry on private business while in Cabinet. I will come back to that.
Also mentioned here, as it was in the Public Government Act, is the matter of the gifts policy and the disclosure of same. I note that the government has tightened up the restriction. This is one place where the law, you could argue, has been improved, in that the gift policy will now apply to gifts with a value of less than $150, rather than less than $250. Of course, I can have no objection to that change.
The next issue one notes when reading through the bill is the right of the Government Leader to make the rules. This is a concern. It is a concern now and it will be a concern for me in the future with respect to any other Government Leader. It is a concern because the Public Government Act said that Ministers shall not do business on the side. Only by accident did we discover here that it was the policy of this government that Ministers could do this. We did not learn this by way of a ministerial statement or a formal statement. Only by accident did we discover that it was the policy of this government that Ministers could do business.
Reference was made in the sponsor's speech a few minutes ago about the fact that this is a return to the halcyon days of 1981, and that we are going to go back to - or put in law - the rules that were adopted by the Government Leader in 1981 after discussion by an all-party committee.
I am the only Member present here today who was in the House and participated in those discussions at the time, and I know something about the flavour of those discussions. I also know what Government Leader Pearson's rules were during that period of time.
I have not had the opportunity today, since the Government Leader spoke, to check Hansard but I remember very clearly Government Leader Pearson standing in his place in this House and saying that, as far as he was concerned, a Minister was on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a Minister was on call all the time, and for that reason a Minister could not practically carry on any other business. That was the statement he made, or words to that effect, back in 1981.
With the greatest of respect, I say that the policy adopted by the government opposite, a policy we did not know about, is radically different, and a radically inferior rule than the one Government Leader Pearson articulated to this House.
The Executive Council code of conduct regarding conflicts of interest, to which I refer, is an order-in-council, but the Government Leader may change these rules. I believe that, given a choice between having the rules on a subject like this affecting Members of the Legislature and Members of Cabinet in an OIC and having them clearly stated in law is a problem. I want to be clear that, in my personal view, these rules should be put into the body of the law. They should not be amenable to a unilateral re-write by the Government Leader. This is a point I want to return to later.
The bill before us has a section, which the Government Leader mentioned, that deals with the question of removing conflicts. It talks about the option of disposing of a proprietary interest. As the Government Leader indicated a few minutes ago, his own view is that no Member and no Minister should be put in the position of having to do that. Yet the drafters of the bill clearly recognized the problem of the issue we are dealing with here and clearly provided for that as one of the remedies to a conflict-of-interest situation, or presumably even a situation where there is an appearance of conflict.
I think the contradiction between the Government Leader saying that he is opposed to Ministers having to dispose of their interests and the statement in the law that they may have to do that in order to address a conflict situation, clearly indicates to me the problem with the kind of approach he has taken.
Likewise, one of the other ways of dealing with a conflict is the question of abstaining from voting. I want to come back to that because I understand that Ministers who want to do the right thing, who want to behave properly, who do not to put themselves in a position of conflict or an appearance of conflict, will absent themselves or will want to abstain from a decision, abstain from participation in certain discussions, perhaps even absent themselves from the place where those discussions are happening. Again, I want to come back to this.
The Government Leader has suggested in his statement today that full disclosure, or the disclosure rule, which applies to all Ministers and MLs, is good enough. I want to argue seriously with the Members opposite that I do not believe that is good enough, according to the public standards. I believe the public expects more. Members opposite may believe that the public expects too much and that what the public expects is an unreasonable standard, but I do not think that the claim can be made that the proposition the Government Leader has put before us has been sanctioned or approved by the general public in a wide consultation that preceded introduction of this bill.
Finally, there is another section about removing conflict of interest that refers to the option of resigning, which is a harsh remedy, but it is one that has been faced by people here and, I suspect, in almost every jurisdiction of the country, and, I would say, not always for the best of reasons, but usually with good reason. The good reason is that conflict-of-interest issues do not just affect Members of Cabinet and they do not just affect Members of this Legislature or any other deliberative body, they affect everybody who participates in the political process. They affect all candidates; they affect all people who give their time and energy to help elect candidates. All such people, as well as the broad general public, have an interest in this matter and should have had a right to participate in the drafting of this law.
The bill before us adopts the idea of a Conflicts Commissioner, which was first introduced in this jurisdiction in the Public Government Act in 1992. Unfortunately, it has changed the proposal in at least two very significant ways. First, the 1992 Public Government Act took great pains, right in the law, to create a situation where there would be no doubt about the impartiality or the integrity of the Conflicts Commissioner. It did that, as I said the other day in reference to the Ombudsman Act, by putting in law the rule that any Conflicts Commissioner would have to be appointed by two-thirds of the vote of this House. As I explained the other day, the two-thirds rule was set because, in looking at the situation since we have had responsible government, there has never been a case where any government party, even a government coalition, has had two-thirds of the votes in this House. That was an effort to guarantee the support of at least two major parties, or there would at least be some bilateral, bipartisan support for the commissioner.
What this government has done, ever mindful of the precedent of the Public Government Act, is put forward a proposal which, on the face of it, suggests that the Conflicts Commissioners could be appointed by a vote of the simple majority here - in other words, the votes of the Members on the government side of the House. And that, apart from all of my other concerns, is a very, very serious concern. The government did not even anticipate that problem or show any consideration for the very obvious fact that all Members here have an interest in this, and that every Member of the Legislature ought to be entitled to a voice in such a matter.
As the Government Leader noted, the Conflicts Commissioners, as proposed, have a number of roles. They serve an advisory function; they can conduct public inquiries. There are significant provisions about notification and the ability of the Members to mount defences against charges. I do not have a problem with those provisions. I do, however, have a question about why we need three commissioners. The Government Leader has not explained the reason for that, but he did reference the situation in the Northwest Territories.
In 1992, I do not recall any discussion about having a number of commissioners. What was discussed was the idea that we would probably have one part-time person, at minimum cost to the government. The person would be appointed by a vote supported by two-thirds of this House, and would be a person of such impeccable credentials, and such an established reputation for impartiality, that they would be able to play this role free from serious criticism by Members here or by the public.
Likewise, we have a principle here of legislative discipline. Again, this problem arises from the previous one. If there is a Conflicts Commissioner - and especially a group of people - appointed from only one side of the House, the whole ability to report and then have disciplines of Members, raises the possibility of having the majority disciplining the minority, and the minority simply being shouted down when they had serious and legitimate questions.
I would also say that this bill suffers from a lack of consultation. I find it really regrettable that the principles in this bill should be justified on the basis of consultation with Members that went on 15 years ago. There have been at least four elections since then: 1982, 1985, 1989 and 1992. Things have changed. I dare say that public expectations have changed. But even at a more basic level, this law is supposed to affect all of us here. As far as I know, there was no prior discussion with any other Members, other than among the people opposite.
As I have said, this bill is significantly different from the Public Government Act. It is interesting that we had a situation where both sides of the House voted for the Public Government Act in 1992. Every Member in this House who stood for office in 1992 knew that those were the rules that were likely going to operate.
Every Member who stood for office, including many business persons, for several parties, knew that is what the rules were going to be. I recall no party in that election campaigning on the basis that they were going to weaken the rules, or that they were going to go back to rules that were in operation a decade or more before.
It is interesting that my party has been chastised by Members opposite for not immediately proclaiming the Public Government Act - for not getting all sections of it proclaimed immediately. According to Members opposite, we should have rushed over to the Commissioner to have it signed, but the proposed proclamation of this act is 10 months hence. Why is this the case? The Government Leader says it is because they need time to consult, time to write regulations and time to consider appropriate issues in terms of the implementation of any law. It is funny, but that is exactly the same situation that pertained to the case of the Public Government Act in 1992.
I have touched briefly on some of the issues that are of concern to us in this legislation. I personally believe that there are three main issues. Without prolonging the debate unnecessarily, I want to speak a little more about each of those three issues. The first and most important issue is the question of Ministers running or having a private business while they are in Cabinet. The second issue is the ability of the Government Leader, whoever that may be, to unilaterally write the rules. The third issue is the deep and genuine concern that I have about the ability, under this law, for him to appoint a Conflicts Commission that is satisfactory only to the government side of the House. In my view, all three of those are serious issues.
It is in regard to the first issue - the question of Ministers having the ability to do business while they are in Cabinet - that there seems to be the clearest division. The party opposite and the Government Leader have indicated that, from their point of view, it is quite acceptable for Ministers to do business on the side, or to carry out private business under certain circumstances. The House - not just my party, but the whole House - voted for a different rule in 1992. The rule was that no Minister should carry on a business or a profession while they are in Cabinet.
I would like to go through the reasons for our posing that rule and, presumably, the reasons why many Members here voted for that rule in 1992.
If I understand the Members opposite correctly, their view is that a person entering Cabinet is only there for a brief period, and whatever their private interest, business investment, professional occupation, or locally-run company may be, they should be allowed to continue that operation while in Cabinet, and that that company, or companies, should even be allowed to do business with the government. Public concern about that in this small community should be addressed by simply disclosing the facts of the ownership, shares, or interest in that business, and further disclosing any transactions that go on between that company and the government.
I think there are problems here, not the least of which is that there can be serious differences of opinion by people of goodwill about what constitutes conflict, what constitutes appearance of conflict, and under what circumstances a company owned by a Member of Cabinet ought to do business with the government. Again, I will come back to that later.
There is the option, laid out in law and discussed on occasion in this House in all the years I have been here, of divestiture versus disclosure, the idea being that upon entering high public office such as a ministry or the job of Government Leader, one should be reasonably expected to dispose of their assets or put them out of sight and out of mind.
The Government Leader has given the reasons why he dislikes the option of divestiture, of disposing of assets, and I can understand why, for many people, it would be a problem. If one is running a corner store, it may not be an opportune time to sell it when one has been elected to office and offered a Cabinet post. Having to dispose of the store for the dubious pleasure of being a Minister for awhile could present real problems for people, and I do not want to minimize those problems.
One of the remedies for dealing with this situation, as has been suggested in the bill here, is that one can abstain from voting on a measure that affects the department of which the Member is Minister.
There are some people - I admit, reasonable people - who think that is the simple way to solve the problem. With respect, and this is an extremely important point for me, I do not believe it solves the problem, especially for the person who heads the government.
Obviously, when you are in government as a Government Leader or Minister you are paid to do a certain job. You are paid a handsome salary so that you do not to have to carry out any other business than that of running the government. Even in Britain during the days when Members of Parliament were paid nothing at all, Ministers were paid a salary on the assumption that they would completely devote themselves to their ministerial duties.
The problem that you have, when you move away from the Chris Pearson rule of being on call, or on duty, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is that who is minding the store, if at any time during those 24 hours or those seven days you are tending to private business. This is especially the case if you are the head of the government.
The point of this is that the public expects the head of a government to be generally knowledgeable about a wide range of policies, perhaps all of the policies of the government. They expect the Government Leader to be able to advise Ministers about any and all subjects and perhaps even, in a gentle way, give direction.
They expect the Government Leader to be able to communicate effectively with all the media and with the general citizenry, but if a company owned by a Government Leader or a premier anywhere - let us not speak only about the Yukon - has a contract with some department or agency of the government such that that Government Leader or premier is required to say, "I cannot participate in any discussions of this issue because I happen to own a piece of a company that has a contract with the government agent", that seriously impairs that premier or that Government Leader's ability to do the job they were paid to do. It impairs the ability of that Government Leader to do the job they were elected to do, because a Government Leader, unlike all other Ministers, is probably the only person, even in our parliamentary system, who can reasonably claim that they were elected to their Cabinet post. All others were appointed. Even the Government Leader is, technically, but the leader of a party that has won a majority of seats, even in a parliamentary system, as we get more and more presidential. They have an ability to claim that they have received a mandate from the people and indeed have therefore incurred an obligation to those people to spend all their time on the people's behalf.
Let us consider the problem presented by the Government Leader's desire, as he says, to have the best candidates. In the next breath he spoke about people with business interests and I assume that, very much from his point of view, he sees people with a business background as being almost synonymous with the idea of best candidates. We may not agree on that, but it does not matter. It is a legitimate difference.
Consider a Cabinet full of Ministers who all have private business interests. If their business interests are held in trust or operated at arm's length by having their accountants, lawyers or spouse look after their interests, there could still be problems, but t
hose Ministers, being dutiful and wanting to behave ethically, routinely declare the potential for conflict or admit that there is an appearance of conflict and abstain from voting or discussing issue ABC, MNOP, QRST and perhaps XYZ, you could have a situation where very large areas of public policy, significant areas of public business, cannot be properly discussed, especially in a small community, because Ministers have interests in those questions. This is not a partisan point; this is a serious issue.
What are Ministers supposed to do in this situation? The options, as outlined in this bill, are that they can dispose of their assets. The government, while having this option in the bill, clearly indicated that it does not like it. To whom are you supposed to dispose of your assets? To a spouse? Well, under most conflict legislation, a spouse or immediate family member only compounds the problem; it does solve the problem at all. You have what some people call the Sinclair Steven's problem of what do you discuss with your spouse? Do you discuss public business? Do you discuss private business? Do you agree not to discuss either of those two things and only discuss other things? Who monitors those discussions?
There is also the option of the blind trust. I remember the discussions in 1981 and I remember very clearly that we had a lot of anxiety about the problem of blind trust. Again, this was a problem of the small community. How do you have a blind trust in the Yukon if the trustee that you appoint is your lawyer, your accountant, your friend, your brother, your brother-in-law, son-in-law? Even if you believe that you have done the right thing in setting up such a trust, there will be people who will question how blind the trust is.
It would be very hard in this jurisdiction, because it is small, for you to be blind or ignorant of the activities of your business. It may even be difficult to avoid expressing an opinion on it. We looked at all these issues over the years, and we concluded in 1992 that none of these options you just mentioned were satisfactory. Instead, we proposed, in that 1992 law, a rule that says, "No Cabinet Minister, nor Leader of the Official Opposition, shall engage in any other employment, or in the practice of a profession, carry on a business or hold directorships ..." et cetera. That was a pretty clear rule. It may not be an easy rule, but it was a very definite one.
The Government Leader, who was not a Member of this House at the time, said he does not like it, but he cannot escape the fact that the Yukon Party, as it was then constituted in this House, voted for that rule, because that was the key principle in the Public Government Act, conflict-of-interest section, in 1992. Upon reflection, the Members opposite have said they do not like that provision.
Today, we have heard the explanation that it is important to attract good people and people with business backgrounds. I think it is a matter of observable fact that most Cabinets of most jurisdictions in this country are dominated by business and professional people. Most Cabinets of most governments in the history of this country have been composed of business and professional people, and that is indeed the case in jurisdictions where there are tough conflict rules, as well as in jurisdictions where there are weak conflict rules.
It has not changed much. Business people who want to enter public life, and want to be Ministers of the Crown, have always found ways to meet public expectations and public standards on conflict, if they wanted to.
What we have here is a proposal that says we should go back to the rules that were established here 15 years ago. The trend in the nation has been toward tougher rules for conflict of interest and appearances of conflict, not weaker rules. The last 15 years has been a sea of change everywhere in the country, in terms of the rules that legislatures have had to set for themselves, based on public demand and public expectations.
Let me say that I have great difficulty with the idea that Ministers should be able to carry on a business on the side, and great difficulty with the idea that we should discover that this was the policy of the Members opposite by accident. I have great difficulty with it, because that is not what some Members opposite, who were here in this House in 1992, voted for. We had a reasonable expectation, everyone here having voted for a certain principle, to think that we would all be operating under that standard.
The second point that I want to take some time with is that it is proposed to be put into law that the Government Leader can write the rules. I want to be clear that I have a problem with this, no matter who the Government Leader is. I would have a problem with this if I were the Government Leader.
When we questioned this provision the other day, the Government Leader replied, as he did in his speech today, that the provision was here only so the Government Leader could enhance the rules.
I say, with the greatest respect, that that may be a matter of interpretation. People of good will - people without malice or bias - may disagree about whether a change in those rules is enhancing them or weakening them.
here may be legitimate differences of opinion on the floor of this House about whether the 1981 rules are now being observed. There may be legitimate questions about whether my reading of those rules and Members opposite's reading of those rules are the same. There may be legitimate and proper questions about whether, in the opinion of every Member of this House, any particular Minister is observing the standards that were set in 1981.
I have to say that the appearance of having a rule that can be re-written by one Member of this House, even if that Member is the Government Leader, is unacceptable to me. It is particularly unacceptable if it is combined with the power of the government party to appoint the conflicts commission and the ability, when it is law, for the majority of this House to have the power to discipline Members, when there is not an equal right on both sides of the House to participate in that process.
The third point, which is an important one for me, is that, I guess, I am the author of the notion of a Conflicts Commissioner in its use as far as legislation in the House goes. I think it is a good idea if the right person is in that position. I do not understand the need for three people. I will, however, be absolutely opposed to the creation of any Conflicts Commission that can be appointed only by the government side of the House.
For the reasons I have given here today, I believe that Bill No. 50 is an inferior law
to the Public Government Act, and I will therefore be opposing it, on principle, at
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am just going to speak very, very briefly on the bill. I will start by saying that I fully support the bill as written. What I particularly like about it is the appointment of the Conflicts Commissioner. I think that the Conflicts Commissioner could advise people when they first become elected, and if they become Ministers of the Crown, exactly in what he or she will be allowed to participate. I think that is probably quite important.
As a Minister of fairly short term - just somewhat over two years - I have seen opportunities to create a conflict - at least, what I would see as a conflict - especially in the Department of Community and Transportation Services, where the Minister of that department is responsible for the lands branch. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services is aware, because of the planning process, well in advance of new subdivisions and of other things that are going to take place. A subdivision, for example, is generally planned approximately four to five years ahead of time. That is when the department starts talking about where the next subdivision - country residential, or single family residential, or whatever - should be located. I have seen the opportunity to enter into some sort of business venture that could conceivably create some wealth for the Minister or for members of the branch who are involved in it.
I think it is very important that we have the conflict legislation in place. I also think that having a person acting in the position of Conflicts Commissioner will help to alleviate a lot of potential problems.
In conclusion, I would like to say again that I support the bill and will be voting for
Mr. Harding: Our position regarding this bill was laid out very clearly by the Leader of the Official Opposition. It would be difficult for me to present our arguments as well as the Leader did. Nonetheless, I will try to reemphasize some of the concerns that we have regarding this bill. Let me say that we are very serious about the concerns that were identified previously by the lead speaker of our party. We consider this matter to be of critical importance to all Members of the Legislature, regardless of their party membership or their independent status, because, let us face it, politicians today are scrutinized very closely by the public. There is a lot of cynicism exhibited by the public. People are demanding more. On the federal scene, a new party was born with reform of the political system being a large part of its policy. This included changes that put much tougher requirements on legislators from all political parties to do certain things. These things included insuring that the public interest was always placed before private interests. That was their theme. I do not agree with a lot of that party's policies - I am speaking of the Reform Party - but there is a lot in their message about the accountability of politicians with whom I do agree. I would debate some of the ways in which they approach certain issues, and could propose an alternative platform to some of their suggestions. However, I agree that the principle of their message to Canadians was desired and well accepted. Hence, they almost became the Official Opposition in this country. I think that says something about what people want in terms of standards for their elected officials.
As a new Member of this Legislature, I have found it very difficult to really understand exactly what the position of this government is in regard to the issue of conflict of interest. I have found it very difficult to establish what their threshold is for the appearance of conflict of interest.
It has led to some discussions in this House of a very unpleasant nature. Presently, what we have in place to deal with issues of conflict is insufficient, in my mind, and I believe that is the fault of the old legislation, because I do not think it goes far enough in terms of clarifying the position.
We have had to raise issues in this Legislature, of which we have been made aware by constituents, that were very unpleasant to raise. The only other avenue we have to raise them is through substantive motion. However, it is very difficult for us to even find out the facts in order to put forth such a motion. It is an impossibility; therefore, we have to pick away to establish the facts to determine whether or not we are going to put forth such a motion, and that can lead to some vicious, ugly debate in this Legislature. I do not think this new conflict-of-interest bill is going to do anything to help ease the public's mind that there is a clear, tough, strong threshold for conflict of interest by elected officials - and Ministers in particular.
I take serious objection to a number of points made by the Government Leader when he introduced this bill; however, I think there are two primary points that should be emphasized. The first point is that he said that the legislation passed by the Yukon Party and everyone else in this House - unanimously - would have prevented good people from seeking office. That is the weakest argument for this legislation that could possibly be made, given the public's mood for tough scrutiny of conflicts of interest.
The reason I say that is because the public is demanding tough conflict-of-interest rules. They want to know that their politicians, the people they send to this Legislature and other legislatures, are going to put the public interest ahead of their private interests. I, for one, do not believe that the public wants to send people to this Legislature who are not prepared to do that. If they are not prepared in the most clear ways to say that they are going to put the public interest ahead of their private interests, then I do not think Yukoners want them here. I do not think that the mood in Canada is such that they want people who are not prepared to do that in the Legislature, because for too long they have seen people who have put their private interests ahead of the public. I do not believe it is as rampant as a lot of the population does, but I believe there are a lot of cases out there. It is extremely confusing for us to try to understand, as legislators, what that threshold is for the government.
The second point I want to make about the Government Leader's reasoning behind this bill is that 15 years ago, people who were not even here determined some guidelines. His interpretation of them is met, in his mind, by this bill, but we heard a very different story from the Leader of the Official Opposition. His interpretation of what was said then - and he was the only current Member present at that time - was quite different. As a Member of the Legislature elected in 1992, I find it offensive that a bill would be justified on this basis because there was no discussion with me about this issue, and this legislation affects all of us. Let us be clear on that point. I am not prepared to rely on an interpretation of discussions 15 years ago that the Government Leader has presented. This legislation affects us all, and I would like to have the knowledge that it was reached by consensus among us, as legislators.
I heard the government make comments about other pieces of legislation, like the Environment Act, for example, that the legislation was too much the leading edge. For some reason they felt it should somehow be curbed and harmonized downward to meet other legislatures' views on particular issues concerning the environment.
It is also apparent from the comments today that this government wants to harmonize downwards the legislation surrounding conflict of interest. I have a serious problem with that, because I do not believe this is what Canadians and Yukoners want from their politicians. People want clear, strong, precise laws that lay out rules for elected people about their business relationships.
The Government Leader commented that the laws put in place 15 years ago have served this Legislature well, and I do believe they have. However, we have been in situations in this Legislature where the government side has continually raised issues of conflict that they felt were undertaken by the previous administration. I do not want to say this in a partisan way, but if they felt there was reasonable conflict based on the conduct of the previous administration, then the rules were not clear enough and strong enough to prevent the conflict. I think we all need a clear and strong set of laws here to deal with conflict of interest. Those rules would stop any question, in the future, about what was and what was not a conflict. It would get away from our raising issues that the Members opposite would respond to with, "Well, it was done before". If those laws truly serve this Legislature well, as the Government Leader said today in introducing his comments, that would not be the case. We must be clear about the laws and the reason for the laws.
The reason for the laws is because we sense, as politicians, that people want elected officials to have a clear, definitive set of laws to abide by when dealing with the private interests and public interests.
In my mind, there are three main issues surrounding this bill - some side issues that are important, but ancillary to the three core issues with this bill. Can Ministers conduct private business while they are publicly elected and Members of the Cabinet?
Our arguments regarding that were laid out very clearly. This bill reduces the threshold surrounding conflict. When I look at the order-in-council from 1981 I see a reduced threshold for conflict and that creates a very big problem for us in the territory.
I believe Ministers should always be prepared to put the public interest ahead of the private. If they are not prepared to do that in a clear sense that satisfies the public, then I do not believe they should be Ministers responsible for governing the business of this territory. That could be perceived by some on the other side to be anti-business; they seem to have a lot of disdain for people who are not involved in business and be elected. I understand that becoming a politician can sometimes take some sacrifice, but I believe it is necessary in many cases if people are truly prepared to put the public interest ahead of the private. I know that when I decided to run for election to the Legislature, I was worried because I had to sever my employment with the company for which I was working. I had applied for a leave of absence for the term, but it was denied. Nonetheless, I received the denial and decided that I had to do it anyway because it was the right thing to do. The same is true for the Member for Mount Lorne, who had to sever a relationship of employment that had lasted a long time. True, she did not own a business and I did not own a business, but there was some security and some investment there, certainly in terms of time and effort. I also have aspirations in my own mind of business involvement, but I want to be clear that I also want to put my public interest ahead of my private, and I would be prepared to do that with strong conflict-of-interest legislation.
The second inadequate point in this legislation is that the government leader - and
when I say "government leader" here I mean any government leader, whether it is
now or in the future - is in charge of making the rules and, for an issue such as this,
where it affects all legislators and affects all of the public and their ideas surrounding
this very sensitive issue, the legislation is truly inadequate.
The Government Leader tells us in his opening remarks that he only hopes to enhance the provisions, not to reduce them. The actions of this bill lower the threshold of conflict-of-interest legislation, and that act in and of itself worries me. I do not believe that responsibility should fall on one person.
The third point that I want to make, in brief, is with regard to the Conflicts Commissioner. The bill proposes a body of three people selected only by the government. Again, here we have an issue that the government is proposing. The previous speaker, the Minister responsible for Economic Development, said that it was a focal point for him. It was what put this legislation above all else. It was what created the neutrality and the essence of the legislation and allowed him to support it because he thought it was fair and that it was going to settle a lot of these issues.
What do we have? A panel of three people, appointed solely by the government, so we have a bill that says that private Members or public Ministers, elected officials of the public, can conduct private business while they are Ministers. They can have all sorts of discussions that will lead to confusing issues surrounding whether or not they have an interest. We have a bill that says the Government Leader makes the rules so we have to trust the Government Leader -whoever that is - to determine what that threshold should be by his written decree.
Thirdly, we have a Conflicts Commissioner appointed by whom? By the government. There will be three people, for what reason we do not know, because they are going to be appointed by the government. We would rather see one person elected by two-thirds majority of the House. This is something that everyone can live with. It would be someone of strong reputation, strong character, non-partisan, whom all Members could agree upon - or at least the large majority.
In this bill, we do not have it. We have a very narrow definition of "conflict". My view of conflict is much different from the government's view of conflict.
My view of an appearance of conflict is much different from the government's view. From discussions we have had in this House, that is obvious.
To me, the idea of a made-in-the-Yukon bill is contradictory, coming from this government. One piece of legislation after the other says we cannot live with our heads in the sand, that we have to move out of the Yukon and see what is happening elsewhere. Then to further their agenda in another direction, the government will say that it has to harmonize downward in keeping with other jurisdictions, that we cannot be the leading edge. In the conflict-of-interest bill, that is clearly the government's position.
Given the public sentiment and public mood out there, if there is one particular bill on which I would like to be at the leading edge, it would be the conflicts bill. Why do we harmonize downward with other jurisdictions? Why do we not say proudly, as Yukoners and as elected officials, that we set the standard, that we put it all on paper, that we put it on the line? But the government does not do that.
To make matters worse, in terms of an ancillary issue, there is the issue that a lot of people in this territory, I am sure, are concerned about: board appointees. The government has made it clear that it is not prepared to consider the provisions of the Public Government Act in that area. But, here in the Yukon, a lot of legislation has been put in place - the Environment Act, the economic strategy, the umbrella final agreement - that recognizes the relationship of boards and their members to the government and to private business, and how they must conduct themselves. When we rely on that system of advisory boards so heavily, should there not be some strong, tough guidelines and laws in place to ensure that conduct is above board and that everyone knows the rules? I say yes.
The last ancillary point is with regard to public servants. Out of the blue today, we are told that deputy ministers will be covered by this legislation, by decree of the Government Leader, as if thrown out there as a cookie for us to grab at to try to get us to support this bill. We would rather have a clear, legislated law, created by all Members of this Legislature, than have the Government Leader extend, as a carrot, the provision of the act to deputy ministers. Public servants get into situations quite often that could present an appearance of conflict.
It is important that we have legislation in place that is tough, that is clear and that
represents the public mood regarding conflict. I do not believe that this legislation
represents the public mood, the public desire, nor the public will to see that their
elected officials govern in the public interest, rather than their private interests. Our
best abilities will not adequately put legislation in place that will ensure that desire,
and it will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for me to support it.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I am not going to say very much on this, but there are a few things that really bother me, and a few things that really confuse me and do not make much sense.
The Opposition says that anyone getting into office in the Legislature should not have any other business connections, yet they legislated a law that allowed teachers, after one year, to automatically get their jobs back. However, a businessman is supposed to sell his business and get rid of everything. When he gets thrown out at the end of four years, he has absolutely nothing. He will have lost four years of his life and is left to try to build a new business. If they are at my age, that is damn hard to do. That shows some of the hypocritical things that go on around this place.
What is also very confusing is that this is the fourth term I have run. I have been a businessman all of my life; everybody knew I was a businessman. Nobody, in four different elections, has ever asked me whether I would be in conflict - nobody. On top of that, they say, "Get rid of your business". You do not just sell your business overnight when you have spent years building it up. You do not just sell it overnight. Anyone who knows anything about it realizes that there is no way that you just sell a business. Why would you sell out completely when, in four years, you could be out on the street looking for another business to start. This is one reason why, across Canada, a great number of people in politics are lawyers and doctors, because they can pick up their practice again. The average businessman has to start over. It just does not make sense, and they continually harp on this.
I am hearing, and I am beginning to resent it, that every time they turn around they are saying business people are crooked, but everybody else is not. That is not true. There are just as many crooked people in other groups as there are in business. It is about time we realized this.
They say that there are a lot of people who would run for office. That is not so. I have talked to three or four young people who have started a business, have a married life, and I have tried and tried to get them to run. They just look at me and say, "No way, you are crazy." I say, "Is it not your public duty?" "No way, why should I sit in that place? Why should I wreck my life by sitting there when I am 23 years old?"
He would be 26 when he comes out. Then he starts all over again or runs again - and he
may or may not win. There are a lot of business people out there who are very resentful of
the attitude that prevails in this Legislature. I fully agree with them. I have no
business now, so the Members cannot level their slanderous charges at me. However, I went
through it all. Why should any young man come into this House and take that kind of crap?
Speaker: The next person on the list to speak is Mr. Abel.
Are you prepared for the question?
Ms. Commodore: I am not on the list, and I did not intend to speak. However, it appears that the person who was going to speak is not yet prepared.
The Member for Kluane just went into one of his tirades. It surprises me, because I do not believe that most people who know the Member would question his ethics. The Member has been around for many years, and is known.
The Member for Kluane presented many reasons why a person would not run, but to make the decision to jump into politics anywhere - not just in the Yukon - is one that must be made with a great deal of thought. There are many individuals who must give up a lot. I know for a fact that there are a number of individuals out there who would choose never to run for government; it is just not something that they would want to do. I believe that it is not such a big deal as the Member for Kluane would suggest.
Back in 1981 or 1982, when I chose to run, I was a justice of the peace. In order to seek nomination for the riding that I chose, I immediately had to resign as a justice of the peace. I would never have been able to go back, because I was no longer non-political. What I did, at that time, was choose to be a politician. I chose to do the job that I felt I was able to do. I gave up the job security that I had. I gave up a job that I liked and in which I was learning a great deal. I chose to do something else.
Individuals who are prepared to run for office must make a big decision. They have to choose what it is that they really want to do. If they choose not to give up their businesses, then that is what they do. I believe that every single one of us in this House is here because of a commitment we made to the public. It is not an easy choice.
In the past, there have been problems with conflict, and there will likely be conflicts again. However, I believe that, in the end, it is the individual who has to make that choice.
We had a piece of legislation that was passed in this House. A lot of consultation was done, and many people were involved in it. There was a lot of research done. It was passed in this House because it was a very good piece of legislation. It is not necessary that we sit here and go over something that does not even meet the basic standard.
The government said that the legislation was not proclaimed because it was too cumbersome. The reason given was that a lot of good people would not run for office. One has to make that choice. It is one we all make. I gave up my job security when I chose to run, and I did so at the nomination stage, well before the election.
Not everyone has that commitment - some do, and some do not. I feel it is a waste of
time for us to be sitting here when there is a good piece of legislation that only has to
be proclaimed, and which would hardly be questioned at all. I am very sorry we have to
waste taxpayers' money, dealing with something that is not necessary.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I rise, today, to support the bill before us. It is an important bill for legislators, especially because, as the Member for Faro said, there are a lot of people in the Yukon, and elsewhere in this country, who are scrutinizing legislators, and making sure that everything they do is above board, and that there is no conflict of interest, or perception of conflict of interest.
The Leader of the Official Opposition spoke earlier, and he spoke of this bill only applying to Ministers and Members. It is important to have legislation that only applies to Ministers and Members, and that there are other avenues, as the Government Leader said, through which we can address senior bureaucrats and others who are involved in government. I think we should be doing that. There is a need for that kind of legislation.
The Member for Faro spoke at length about the issues he has been trying to get to the bottom of in this Legislature, in terms of a perceived conflict of interest. I did not want to get into specifics, or get into the kind of garbage we had the other day when everyone was involved in criticisms. For the Member for Faro, we are talking about perceived conflict of interest. In this House, we can sometimes be our own worst enemies, when we conjure up perceptions and try to create bogeymen, knowing full well we may never get to the bottom of an issue. Sometimes Members opposite do not want to get to the bottom of an issue, because they know it is not a conflict of interest.
We raised some issues about previous Members on the other side of the House, some still sitting now. If the previous government had taken their Public Government Act to be proclaimed by the Commissioner, I think there would have been some serious questions raised about the involvement of former Members in certain transactions, as well as Members who are still sitting here today.
At that time, when we knew of these activities, we chose to look at them seriously, to determine whether there was a perceived conflict, or a real conflict. In some cases, there may not be enough evidence to get a complete answer. We did not raise the bogeyman, because one should know whether there is a conflict of interest before the question is raised.
The appointment of a Conflicts Commissioner will serve the Yukon well. The existing disclosure statements have served the Yukon well. It is a small territory, and it is difficult for people who live in this territory to be involved in politics and give up their interests in business. Because it is so small, many of the things we do overlap, which makes it very difficult; h
owever, we should make sure we have legislation in place that will allow Members of
this House to speak to a Conflicts Commissioner right after an election in order to
clarify what is and what is not a conflict.
Before they seek office, they may want to seek the advice of the Conflicts Commissioner to help them decide whether they want to get involved in political office. They could get advice at that time. I think that would serve us well. I also think the process of the disclosure statements that we have in place now is a good one. We lay it all out for those who are concerned about what our interests are.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre talked about giving it all up when you get into this business. I would like to talk a bit about my own personal experience of giving it up. I spent about 15 years building my own little business in the territory. It was never a very big business, and for the most part, except for a couple of years, I was the entire business. I was the painter, the blind installer, the supply delivery person and the person who picked up the supplies - I was the business. It is virtually imposible to put a small business like that into a blind trust. Over the 14 or 15 years that I ran the business, I had also built up a clientele. I spent most of my adult life learning a trade, becoming involved in the business and establishing clientele. When I took office and became a Minister, those are the kinds of things that I had to give up. One has to separate oneself from that, and you can no longer be involved, like I had been in the past, in bidding for government contracts. That was one of the biggest mainstays of by business. It is difficult to do that after you are involved in politics, and I abstained from it.
One day when this is all over, whether it is in four years or fourteen years, some of us will have to go back to making a living. Some of us will have to go back and, in most cases, start over. The Opposition Leader says that we should just sell the grocery store. It may not be an appropriate time, but he says to just sell the grocery store. My grocery store was not worth a lot; my little painting business was not worth a lot. I have a few supplies in my garage and a few paint brushes, and so on. I could not just sell it; I could not get anything for it. However, I had built it up over my whole life, and it supported my family and put my children through school. It was my source of income.
I was not a lawyer or a doctor. I had no other profession I could fall back upon immediately upon getting out of politics. I have to virtually start all over. I would think that we would want to attract all different kinds of people to this political life. It is important, on one hand, that we not close the door to those people, but on the other hand, we must protect the public interest. We must make sure that the individual is not directly benefiting himself or herself.
It is up to the individuals to make sure of that. If the Member quickly discloses to a Conflicts Commissioner what he or she has an interest in, and someone has a complaint with it, the Member can raise the complaint with the Conflicts Commissioner and there can be an investigation prior to it getting to the level where the bogeyman is out there and all politicians are bad people because we have all had perceived conflicts in one way or another. Maybe the Conflicts Commissioner will be able to determine at a very early stage whether or not there is actually a conflict, whether or not there is a problem.
The Leader of the Opposition was concerned about the vote to appoint the Conflicts Commissioner. I do not think we on this side have a real problem or hangup with the vote being majority plus one, and a two-thirds majority is what it needs. I think the Conflicts Commissioner, quite frankly, has to be an individual who has the support of everyone in this House. The only way it will work properly is if everyone in this House is comfortable that the individual, whomever he or she may be, is someone in whom this House had the opportunity to put t.eir trust and confidence.
The Leader of the Opposition was concerned about the lack of consultation with respect to the conflict legislation. I do not recall whether there was any consultation with the previous government on the conflict legislation. It is one thing to criticize us for not going out on a broad consultation process but I am trying to recall - and I am having the researchers look - where the previous government went across the territory asking, "What kind of legislation do you think we should have and how protected should the public be from these evil people?" I do not recall any of that. I do not recall the previous government consulting anybody. I recall it being dropped on us in the House, along with two other bills that were sort of wrapped in it, but I do not recall them specifically going around dealing with that at the time.
The Leader of the Opposition also stated that every Member in the House knew the rules of operation in 1992, knew that the Public Government Act was on the books, and they also knew that a lot of people were not happy with that Public Government Act because the act itself was too all-encompassing at the time.
The question that comes to my mind is that maybe everyone in this House, either now elected, or re-elected, or people who decided not to run again or were defeated, might have known about what was on the books, but it appears - there is an appearance again - that not everyone followed the rules as set out by the previous government in that Public Government Act. It is one thing to say we all knew them; it is another to use it as an argument that everyone knew. If everyone knew, then everyone, even Members of the side opposite who are there now and those who ran the last time but did not get elected, should have at least had the integrity to honour the legislation.
The Member for Faro talks about the public cynicism out there. I think that we do that ourselves, for the most part. The other day the Member sent me a note in the House, and I responded. Basically, what I said in my response to the note about the issue, when everyone was throwing mud back and forth from one side to the other, was that no one wins when that kind of activity takes place.
Mr. Speaker, you were right today when you reminded us about the rules of this House. It is unfortunate that the debate has sunk to that level. Last weekend, the most common criticism I received from the public was how they felt that we must really hate one another in here. The debate is now at a personal level, and the big losers are the people of the Yukon. I think that, for the most part, they are right, but I think that we can all take responsibility for that type of debate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Member for Riverdale South is saying that she is not responsible for that type of debate, but she is one of the major proponents on that side. I think that the general public know that. Many of her constituents have phoned me and told me that.
Point of Order
Mrs. Firth: On a point of order. The Member for Riverdale North has said that I am one of the major proponents of this type of debate. I want him to back that statement up with one fact, one incident, one issue to support the statement he has made, because he cannot do it.
Speaker: Order. There is no point of order; it is simply a dispute between two
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Member for Riverdale South knows that she involves herself in the debate from time to time, and I am not going to retract the statement at all. The Member will have her chance to speak, and she can say what she wishes at that time.
One of the issues we have to look at is that, although there have been accusations from both sides about the appearance of conflict of interest, there has been no proof, from any side, of actual conflict of interest. I think that the appointment of a Conflicts Commissioner will allow the investigation to proceed a step further. The Conflicts Commissioner will be able to look into various aspects of the conflict, and whether or not Members are in conflict.
I think that we need legislation in this House to ensure that, in the public eye, there will not be an opportunity for Members to be in conflict while in their positions. I think the law has to have the confidence of the general public. I know that we can sometimes become very partisan. We sometimes say that a law before us is not a good one, not because that is true, but only because it was a law created by the side opposite; we proposed it and they are upset about it, or vice versa. That type of criticism is common, and they do not see the good in anything that we bring before the House. They try to pick holes in everything we do.
On CBC, this morning, it was interesting to hear the interview with Mr. Smith from Simon Fraser University. During that interview, Mr. Smith was asked how this law compares to other laws across the country. Mr. Smith said, in general, there is no major problem with this law, and that he felt it would protect the public and the concerns that the public may have about conflict of interest.
I would suggest to Members opposite that this type of legislation goes one step further than the legislation in British Columbia, Ontario or some of the larger provinces. For the most part, this is due to the fact that everyone knows what everyone does in the Yukon.
We are a much smaller jurisdiction. Members have to ensure, if they are a Minister or involved in government, and they carry on a business, that it is carried on in a way where they are not in conflict. I think that has been the case in the past.
I hope that Members opposite listened to the interview this morning where, in a very impartial and unbiased way, a gentleman who is not involved in the heated debate of this House, or the criticism that we sometimes involve ourselves in here, talked about our conflict-of-interest legislation vis-Ó-vis the old Public Government Act and existing legislation across the country. This individual said that this meets the standard. A lot has been gleaned from other jurisdictions, and the definition is broad. I know that the Leader of the Official Opposition does not like the definition, but it is broad in order to cover all areas of possible conflict, and Mr. Smith believes that this is adequate.
I hope that Members of the House will give this serious consideration and look at what is needed. This law will be an improvement on what we have had in the past. It will cover the areas in which there are concerns. In the future, I think that you will find that the office of the Conflicts Commissioner will be used by Members for information on what they can and cannot do, rather than for investigations of Members. Even people who may be seeking office may contact the Conflicts Commissioner to ask what they can do, or what business interests they have to divulge.
I think the bill that is before the House is a good bill. I would urge Members on the
side opposite to give it their fullest consideration and support.
Ms. Moorcroft: Our position is that there is little substance in this act and this is a bill that is of critical interest to all Members. I do not think you will find any one of us who is going to disagree that conflict-of-interest legislation is necessary, but there are some very important points to be made. First of all, there is the issue of whether or not Ministers can conduct private business while in Cabinet without creating potential conflicts of interest. I think that the Members of this government are the only people in the Yukon who think that that is so.
My constituents certainly recognize that Cabinet, the Executive Council, has access to a lot of information that could help increase profits to many different kinds of businesses. I think all of us suffer when we do not have clear, concise rules in place. I want to be a member of a profession that is regarded as an honourable profession. I want us to serve with honesty and integrity, with no question of whether our private interest is being served over the public interest.
The Government Leader, in his lead-off speech to the debate, spoke of divestiture versus disclosure. Divestiture would be to dispose of one's assets or put them out of sight and out of mind, and the Government Leader does not like that approach. If you have instead, disclosure, then you can abstain from voting when something that affects your business, or the department you are in charge of, comes up for debate in Cabinet.
That does not solve the problem. In the end, as a Minister of the Crown, you are paid a handsome salary not to have to carry out a private business. I think that a Minister should consider themselves to have a full-time job and should make an effort to be a full-time Minister and not take themselves out of decisions where their business interests are involved.
The 1981 guidelines put forward by a former Conservative administration stated that Ministers must be subject to stringent conflict-of-interest guidelines because executive decisions through Executive Council have a very significant impact on economic factors in the Yukon. Ministers' duties and their remuneration necessarily reflect a full-time occupation.
We have to have a high standard of ethics that reflects that full-time occupation as a Minister. At the end of the day, a government is expected to be accountable for all its decisions and to communicate with the media and with citizens. If a Minister or Government Leader have left the Cabinet table because they may have a conflict of interest, they cannot be accountable. They cannot communicate effectively with the media and citizenry on what those decisions were.
The Government Leader also made the point that they want to have the best candidates running for office, and that those are private-business owners. It is true that most cabinets and legislatures have a majority of business owners at the table. I think it is also true that most jurisdictions will have tougher conflict-of-interest rules, no matter who dominates the Cabinet. I believe that it is important to have a balance of interests. Ethical business owners would declare a conflict and abstain from debate and decision making when Ministers have a private interest. However, I think it is also true that ethical business owners would put their business interests aside when they enter Cabinet. The problem with a blind trust in the Yukon is that it is a small community. There will be people who question just how blind a trust is. For the protection of Members and Ministers, the best option is that no Government Leader or Cabinet Minister carry on a business or hold directorships.
The Yukon Party voted for that rule in 1992 in this House. The Minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services has said that the Public Government Act does not make sense. I would like to know why the Yukon Party does not like the Public Government Act any more. I asked the Clerk's table to confirm for me that the Yukon Legislative Assembly did take a recorded vote on the Public Government Act, and it was recorded that this was a unanimous decision of the Legislature, with Members on the government side of the House, who were in Opposition at that time, supporting the Public Government Act. Why would they vote for something that did not make sense? Yet, they want to be regarded as a commonsense government.
The Member for Riverdale North was concerned about the fact that the Public
Government Act was not proclaimed by the Commissioner, and that the previous
administration did not send it over for proclamation.
In the conflict act before us now, the government has already clearly indicated they are going to allow themselves, at a minimum, a 10-month period to write the regulations before they proclaim this act. Why is a 10-month proclamation period acceptable for a Yukon Party government, but not acceptable for a New Democrat government?
I am not sure why the government Members are so incensed about the provision that public servants receive a four-year leave of absence. I do not believe that any of us in this House has the ability to return to our jobs after serving the public interest, but we willingly took that risk. Presumably, we wanted to serve the public. I believe that public servants should be able to take a four-year leave to serve in office. Business people can take a leave of absence. I do not know why government Members are so defensive on that point.
The Member for Riverdale North was also expressing his thoughts on the lack of public consultation on the Public Government Act. He could not remember, and he had his researchers checking on whether or not there was any public consultation.
I was a private citizen during the time that the Public Government Act was brought to this House. I remember reading the booklet that was available at libraries and at the Yukon government enquiry desk, and it was distributed around the territory. I responded to that, as a private citizen. I am aware of many non-profit organizations that also responded to the booklet on the Public Government Act, and on whether we should have updated conflict-of-interest legislation and a Conflicts Commission, whether we should improve the access-to-information laws, and the other provisions that are in that bill.
I also remember seeing advertisements in newspapers about public meetings that people attended around the territory.
That brings me to a second concern I have about this legislation. In the conflict-of-interest act, the Government Leader will make the rules about conflict of interest. They are not in the legislation; they are not in regulations; and we have seen no consultation on this bill before us. Will there be any consultation on the rules to be developed?
No matter who the Government Leader is, no matter what political stripe, no matter what
government there is, this is a problem. To people, it looks as if one person, who also has
the ability to appoint the Conflicts Commissioner, is making the decision about what is a
conflict of interest and what is not. I do not believe this serves Yukoners well.
Unfortunately, there are many people who think that if there is an opportunity for Members to further their private interests, they will always have doubt as to whether that is what the Members and Ministers are doing. For our own benefit, the rules should be clearly stated in law. It should not be the prerogative of the Government Leader to arbitrarily change the rules at any time. A Minister of the Crown should be on duty 24 hours a day and should be on duty in the public interest, not to serve private interest.
A third point that merits discussion is the Conflicts Commissioner. We believe that the Conflicts Commissioner should be someone who has the confidence and the trust of a majority of Members of this Legislature. We are opposed to the government appointing the Conflicts Commissioner by a simple majority vote because that means there will be fewer Members of the Legislature who are supporting the appointment.
People do ask: what are the real motives? People are inclined to believe that there are hidden motives, and matters of conscience are complex. I think there is a role for a Conflicts Commissioner and we need a Conflicts Commissioner who will serve the Yukon well. The former speaker cautioned us about being our own worst enemy in this Legislature. We should be raising issues for debate and complaining about a lack of policy or a lack of programs where they exist. I do not believe that we should engage in personal attacks. The actions of Ministers should be something for which they are held accountable. If the government Members want to see rules developed for the Conflicts Commissioner, rules with integrity, then why do they not accept that this official should be someone who is satisfactory to a two-thirds majority of the House.
I do not believe I will respond to the extraordinarily inflammatory speech made by the Member for Kluane. He asked why any young man should take on this job. He stood up and made a blanket accusation that all Members will start on character slander now that he has spoken. Well, I chose to seek this office and to perform this job because I believe I have relevant skills and abilities, even though I am not a business owner, and I have no intention of slandering the Member for Kluane. I believe that we have a responsibility to set a high standard. I think we need strong conflict-of-interest legislation that would serve to help Members, Ministers and public officials and board members to work in the public interest.
I do not believe that the act before us accomplishes that, so I will not be supporting
Mr. Abel: I would like to say a few words about this bill.
Speaking of conflict of interest, I am not sure how it will affect me in selling
muskrat and grizzly bear hides, when I am a member of the Yukon Trappers Association. I am
a trapper. I do not know if somebody selling fur on my behalf is considered a business and
whether that is a conflict of interest. I believe that people should not be afraid to run
for an MLA position in the Yukon Territory, no matter where they come from. They should
feel free to come here and represent the people who elected them into this Legislature
without being afraid that they might be seen as being in a position of conflict of
interest. Therefore, I would support this motion.
Mr. Cable: I was interested in hearing the previous Member speak. I did spend a little time going over the debates on the Public Government Act and the history of conflict legislation, in general.
I have had an opportunity to review Hansard and those provisions of the Public Government Act relating to conflict of interest. It seemed to have received unanimous approval.
If I could have just a moment, Mr. Speaker,
I would like to read a comment made on June 2, 1992, by the then Member of one of the Porter Creek ridings. I believe he was the House Leader at the time. He said, "I do not think that there is any overall disagreement by any Members of the House with respect to the question of conflict of interest and the provisions in that particular section of the bill. With that qualifier, I want to indicate that we will vote for the bill", that is the Public Government Act, "with the understanding that there is one specific clause that we do have significant disagreement with."
Prior to that, on May 21, 1992, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes had stated, at page 412 of Hansard, "I certainly support the bill in principle." Those comments were made at a time when I believe the Government Leader was in fact the Leader of the Yukon Party. So, if they do not reflect the Government Leader's views, I have to ask myself why did he not rein his boys in.
If you go back to the government's four-year plan, under the good government provisions, the Yukon Party commitments, there are a number of commitments in this area: the ombudsperson, increasing access to public information, increasing use of the Legislative Assembly's Public Accounts, conducting meaningful public consultation and ensuring that the abuse of authority and intimidation of government employees stops. Nowhere do we find any criticism of the conflict-of- interest legislation, or any suggestion that the Yukon Party is going to bring it forward as part of their platform. Looking across the floor, I see that there are four Members of that party who supported the bill. By inference, we have to consider that the Government Leader was at least acquiescent. The question that comes to my mind is this: why are we here spinning our tires at a cost of several thousand dollars per day? As yet, I have not heard a convincing answer.
There has been a suggestion that the business community is cut out of the action if what is perceived as Draconian rules are enacted. I believe the rationale for that action was twofold. One rationale is that the business community would have to focus its entire time and attention to the job, and the other is that disclosure is as good as divestment - or some trust setup. The general proposition is that these rules act as a deterrent to business people.
Looking around the House and looking at the business people who are here, I am trying to recollect who ran in the last election. What evidence is there that business people do not want to run for business reasons? What is there in the way of anecdotal evidence that would demonstrate that? I think the anecdotal evidence would equally demonstrate that business people just do not want to participate in this forum, where logic does not always apply. They may find a lack of comfort in this particular situation, and I suspect, from the conversations I have been involved in, that that is much more the driving factor than the fact that they would have to jump through a few hoops and put their business in trust.
I have to say that I am unconvinced of the government's rationale in the comments that divestiture or trust relationships are difficult, and of the collateral proposition that Ministers should work full time. Let us just look at it for a moment. I have dug out the pay schedule, which shows that our basic indemnity is $30,526.
On top of that, Ministers receive an additional $21,147. There is then an expense allowance, which is not always used, that varies between $13,000 and $15,000. Additionally, the Government Leader receives another $7,824. While you are certainly not going to get rich on that pay schedule, you are certainly not starving to death.
The Government of the Yukon is a half billion dollar business. When you divide that by six Cabinet Ministers, one gets responsibility for $80 million. That is a gross simplification, but if one cannot spend all of one's time on the job then one is in the wrong job.
I have some problems with the bill as presented, other than the comments that I have just related. I believe they also have been mentioned by several speakers, but I would like to get them on the record.
In the British Columbia Ombudsman Act they talk about a committee of the House bringing a nomination forward. I believe we commented that perhaps this should be accomplished by receiving a two-thirds majority vote. Either of those propositions, I think, should be acceptable and I would urge the government to think them through. The fact that the Conflicts Commissioner could be appointed by a simple majority would put that person into a position where they may look like a government lackey, and the Conflicts Commissioner should not be viewed in that way.
There has been discussion about the codification of the rules. The rules are not set out in detail and my suggestion to the government and the Government Leader is that it is desirable to codify these rules in greater detail.
We witnessed debate last week where people were arguing whether or not a son-in-law was a Member of the immediate family. It certainly is desirable that we not get into those arguments. The rules should, in fact, be transparent. The best transparency is a full codification in the bill, or, failing that, some mechanism that would permit the role-making authority to move out of the backroom would be desirable. The conflicts legislation is to get the public's confidence and this requires transparency.
Perceptions are important and I think the perception of openness is important.
One of the other aspects that concerns me, and one that the Government Leader dealt with briefly, is the lack of coverage for senior public servants, both for conflicts and for the cooling off periods. The Government Leader has stated that he has another scheme, which is yet undetermined, for dealing with public servants and, presumably, for board appointees.
I have to say that I am not convinced by the Government Leader's rationale. Simply
because we happen to obtain our job in a different fashion does not in any way make
"us" and "them". Civil servants and politicians should not be in
different conflict leagues. I would certainly like to see the language cleaned up in the
bill before it is eventually passed.
Mr. Millar: There are a couple of things about this bill that I would like the record to show. The debate today has been quite an interesting one for me.
I was not involved when the Public Government Act was discussed in the House. Something that has been said over and over again by the Members of the Opposition is that everyone agreed with the Public Government Act. As the Member for Mount Lorne did, I did some of my own research. I see that there was a vote on second reading and that everyone did agree, but one of the Members had some reservations. As I looked further, I see that some very specific concerns were pointed out by more than one Member of the Yukon Party. The previous speaker just mentioned this.
I see it slightly different than he did. He said simply that it was agreed to. Yes, it was agreed to, but it was agreed to with reservations. One would wonder why that would be. I think one of the reasons for that is that it covered public servants as well as Ministers and MLAs. There seems to be a great deal of discrepancy between the two sides of the House on this particular issue.
I think there has to be conflict rules for both. I am not wholly convinced that it has to be in the same act. I do not understand the logic of voting against an act for that simple reason. As has been mentioned by a couple of other Members today, I did listen to the CBC interview this morning with one Patrick Smith, who is a political scientist with Simon Fraser University. As a relatively new Member, I found what he had to say to be quite interesting. Some of the questions were quite direct. He was asked what he thought of the bill. His very simple and direct answer was, "I think it is a reasonably good bill. It is good in several ways."
It is obvious that the Members opposite do not think it has gone far enough. That should not detract, however, from the fact that this is not a bad bill. When compared to other jurisdictions in Canada, it is right up there with the others.
A couple are ahead and there are others behind. When he was asked exactly what he thinks about its strengths and its weaknesses, he said one of the strengths of this particular bill is its definitions. He goes on at great length to explain that.
Again, I think one of the biggest concerns I am hearing is whether disclosure is enough or whether one must actually sell one's business. As did the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, I wonder what that means, exactly. A couple of the Members opposite, when they were speaking, said that everyone knew about the Public Government Act when they ran for office. I am afraid they are making assumptions about public knowledge of this act. I had certainly heard of it but that is about it. I certainly did not read it. I did not pay an awful lot of attention to it. I certainly did not think it was ever going to affect me.
When you talk about finding people to run, I was put into a position where I felt that it was my public duty to run because someone else was going to get in unopposed. I did not feel that that was right. I did not have a chance to look at the Public Government Act, but I can honestly tell you, right here, each and everyone of you in here, that if I had been elected and had found out once I was elected that I would have to sell the interests in my placer mine, I could not have done it.
That does not mean to say that I have to be involved in running it. I could put it aside for awhile, but when I am finished in here, I want to go back to it. It is a lifestyle that I like. I was elected partially because I am a placer miner. I am being very specific here on how this bill relates to me. I am not trying to indicate, by any stretch of the imagination, that I was a one-issue candidate, because I do not feel that that is true at all. I am going to discuss this issue because it directly involves me and my business.
The Opposition have talked a lot about public interests and private interests. I think I have worked as hard as I could as a Member in this House to see that the placer mining industry is given fair rules under which it can work. There are Members on the opposite side who do not think we have done anything towards that but I believe that we have, but that is a whole other issue.
Just because it was good for private businesses, does that mean it was not good for the public? I think the public benefits greatly. They now know the rules. They know the guidelines, they can understand them and they can work within them. It is when the rules are constantly changing that they have problems.
I think that is a perfect example of where it is good for both private and public interests. I think that in most situations you will find that to be quite true.
One of the other things I have heard them saying over and over again relates to the code of ethics of the previous Conservative government - the one that was in power before the NDP - saying how this act is actually weaker than that one was. Yet, when I look at this particular act and read, in section 9(1), "Upon the coming into force of this Act the following documents take effect as rules of conduct for Ministers (a) the Code of Ethics established by schedule B of Order-in-Council 1981/085 under the Yukon Act ...", unless I am really confused, which is possible, I believe that is the one we are talking about here.
Another issue I have heard them constantly talking about on the other side is that the Government Leader will be appointing the commission. That was directly attributed, I believe, to the Member for Faro. Section 12(1) reads, "The commission shall consist of three members each of whom shall be appointed by resolution of the Legislative Assembly for a term of up to three years and be eligible for appointment for one or more further terms of up to three years each." I believe that means it has to come in here. That is my interpretation of it. Again, it is quite possible that I may be mistaken, but that is what it says, right there.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Millar: One of the Members across the floor asks who has the majority here. I think it is a minority government, if I recall correctly, and I think that has been evidenced a number of times. By the sounds of it, this is going to come to a vote, in which case I do not think that our majority is going to come flourishing to the forefront.
In closing, I want to re-emphasize a point on the actual voting that took place before.
We are constantly asked why the Yukon Party voted for the previous bill. In part, they
probably voted for it because they felt that having something on the books, having an act
in place, was better than having nothing at all. I do not understand the logic of voting
against this act because it is not proclaiming their particular act. They sit over there
and laugh, but that is okay. I did not think I was that funny a guy. To vote against
something just because it is not yours just proves how far this Legislature has really
Mrs. Firth: It is four years later and we are still talking about conflict-of-interest legislation and trying to get a bill through the House. I thought this was all over.
I can remember writing to the government of the day, two or three years ago, and asking for certain principles to be included in conflict-of-interest legislation - for example, a process for investigating a situation of conflict, a process for inquiry, and having penalties in place.
I also raised the point that I would like to see this legislation include MLAs and Ministers, as well as public officials and political appointees. The last concern I raised in my communication to the government of the day was that there be a standard cooling off period, as there was in other jurisdictions.
I remember the debate in the House when that legislation finally came forward, and it covered all the areas of concern I had. Therefore, I supported the conflict-of-interest legislation.
Short of getting into a debate with the whole Public Government Act, just so I make an interpretation of what I think happened fairly clear, at one time, I did stand up in the House and say I did not know whether I was going to be able to vote for the whole Public Government Act, because of some of the clauses with respect to other issues in that act - some were mentioned in the House earlier this afternoon.
However, there were reservations raised by Members of the Official Opposition of the day, which was the Conservative Opposition. I was sitting as an Independent. I made a choice, that day. There was no recorded vote. Each Member did not stand up and say yea or nay. However, no one stood up and said they disagreed, or asked for a recorded vote. I made a choice that day, as a Member, not to disagree with it, because I felt strongly that I wanted to see most of the principles in the bill implemented, those with respect to conflict of interest, as well as with respect to access to information and the appointments of boards and committees.
I just wanted to get that clearly on the record. If people do not stand up and voice
their particular objection to an initiative in this House and have it recorded, then the
public perception is that they agreed. You can raise all the little points they raised in
debate all you want, but the fact remains that no one stood up and voiced a nay in
opposition to this legislation, including me.
The comments that the Government Leader made about the previous government, back in 1981 - the Chris Pearson days - I found fairly interesting. I had my research staff pull for me the Monday, April 6, 1981, Yukon Hansard, page 123. It was at that time that Mr. Pearson had read into the record a ministerial statement with respect to conflict of interest. I will not read the entire statement he made, but I will read the two principles that he enunciated.
He started out saying that this whole issue of conflict-of-interest guidelines for Ministers, and the development of an appropriate code of conduct, had been under consideration. A number of factors were reviewed and two principles emerged. First, Ministers must be subject to more stringent conflict-of-interest guidelines than Members of the Legislative Assembly, because executive decisions through the Executive Council have a very significant impact on economic factors in Yukon. Ministers' duties and their remunerations necessarily reflect a full-time occupation. Second, a high standard of ethics must be maintained by Executive Council Members. Then he went on to describe different areas and categories of conflict: doing business with government - contracting, business or professional activities, financial interests, positions in corporations and other bodies operating, and assets.
I was not a Member in the Legislature. As the Leader of the Official Opposition said, he is the only person here who holds that distinction. I do remember being a researcher for the then Conservative government. That was the beginning of my political career. The Member who represented the constituency that I now represent was a Liberal Member, Mr. Ron Veale. He spoke to this particular initiative, and so did the Leader of the Official Opposition, whose speech is consistent with the comments and concerns he raised today. Mr. Veale said that he was personally shocked by the looseness of the new regulations, and that the whole purpose of the Minister's code of conduct was to enhance public confidence in the Ministers of the Crown and prevent conflicts of interest from arising. He also raised a concern about publicly traded shares in the holdings that Ministers may have, and thought that should be included as part of a disclosure, or simply banned so there could be no conflict of interest in that regard.
I agree with other speakers today who have said that the rules that Mr. Pearson brought in were tougher rules than what the government is proposing today. Obviously, that concern was shared by Members active in the House.
I see the Government Leader shaking his head - I could say I could hear him shaking his head, but I will not. I will just say I see him shaking his head in the negative.
It is up to him to defend the position that this is stronger legislation. I have not yet heard that from any of the Members on that side who have spoken today. All they have said is that I should have listened to Mr. Smith this morning, because he had all the answers about this legislation.
I would like now to come back from 1981 to the present. I have been asking the Government Leader for the last two years in this Legislature about conflict-of-interest rules. He has promised that he would bring it for the next session about two or three times now. Not once has he told us that he did not like the legislation because it included board appointments and public servants, and that he was looking at separating the two. He never once indicated that in any of the questions I have asked over the last two years.
I asked him to use it as an interim measure, but he never indicated that he was thinking of breaking the bill down, that it was too cumbersome, or that he wanted to change the whole makeup of the conflict-of-interest legislation that was tabled by the previous government and voted on by the Legislature. Never once did he indicate to us his intentions. We had a hint that he did not like the legislation. We got the distinct impression that he felt that Ministers - and he, as Government Leader - should be able to continue to run their businesses while being Ministers. He is shaking his head again, but that impression is held by the public. The public impression is that this government thinks that they can run their businesses while they are Ministers. The Government Leader may try to deny that, but that is the impression the public has.
We learned something else that was new last week. The Government Leader let us in on another new revelation. We had a hint that he did not like the bill very much, but he was very specific when we asked him about the legislation last week. He came right out and said something to the effect about his not agreeing with it. Previously, he had only said that he did not like it very much. On December 7, in response to a question I asked in the Legislature about conflict-of-interest legislation, he said, "I did not agree with it. I believed it was far too severe. It would discourage some people from seeking office", and so on.
He gave us another hint. He said he found the legislation absolutely unacceptable. Of all of the people on the government benches who spoke today, not one has been able to defend the government's decision to move in the direction that they are moving. Not one of them has presented a solid argument. I have heard comments that business people will not want to run. I agree with the Leader of the Liberal Party; if we look at the candidates who ran in the last election, a large number of those individuals were business people. I just do not buy that argument. I am a business person, as are several other Members in here. Most of the candidates who ran in my riding in opposition to me were business people. I just do not buy the argument. People run because they feel strongly about something. They do not refrain from running because they are a business person.
I heard comments to the effect that these conflict-of-interest rules would discourage people from running. I do not think that will happen. I am positive that will not happen. People do not take conflict-of-interest rules as the first consideration when they decide whether to run. People make a choice and a decision to run for office and do their public duty.
That brings me to another argument that was presented here this afternoon by one of the Members. He said that he had to give up his business. That is a choice that the Member made. He made a choice to do public service. There are other people in this House who have had to give up things, if you want to think of it in those terms. I do not put it like that when I think about my own situation. I made a choice. I also gave up a professional career. My husband's business gives up financial benefits because we do not do business with the government. We all give up things, but these are choices that we make as individuals, when we choose to run for the Legislature, to represent people and to fight for some cause. We make those choices, and in making them, we decide what our priorities are at the time.
I do not buy the argument that conflict-of-interest rules, no matter how tough they are - and I think that the tougher they are, the better - will discourage people from running for office.
Something interesting has happened here. One Member mentioned that we all look bad due to the direction that the debate has taken, and that people do not want to run for office because of the perception that politicians are bad. The Member tried to blame the conflict-of-interest legislation for this - I think that was the gist of his convoluted argument.
Politicians are perceived to be bad because they are inconsistent or because they change their minds from one time to the next. For example, while in Opposition, a party may have one set of rules and when they become the government they have another set of rules. That is why people perceive politicians to be bad. They do not always tell the truth, they cannot always be trusted, and that is why they are perceived to be bad. It is not the conflict-of-interest legislation that is responsible for this; it has nothing to do with the problem.
When they support conflict-of-interest legislation, and then for some reason decide that they do not want to support it any more and they want a whole different set of rules because they are the government now, that can look very bad. I have to say that it does look very bad.
I have also heard the argument, this afternoon, that we should not disagree with this legislation because it is not our bill. Although the Government Leader is agreeing with the previous legislation - we have not yet found out why, because no one is able to establish a solid argument - we should not disagree with this legislation, because it is not our bill. We should not disagree for the sake of disagreeing. However, this bill does not go the length to cover off the concerns with respect to conflict of interest.
I cannot understand this situation. Perhaps, when the Government Leader gives his closing remarks, he can clarify this for me. We have a government that has had allegations of conflict of interest leveled at it. They have an opportunity to try and restore some of the people's confidence. The government has the opportunity to try and make themselves look better. It had an opportunity to introduce clear-cut conflict legislation, with no grey areas and no room for allegations of conflict to blossom. However, the government will not implement the legislation. They will not do it, and I do not understand the reasons for that.
It could have been so easy for them to do so. We would not have been having this debate today if only they had. This government could have brought in conflict-of-interest legislation out of the Public Government Act - which I proposed in the motion that I tabled today - and tabled it in the House. I am sure that it would have passed unanimously.
They had a chance to do that, but they did not do it. They went back to their offices, after promising for two years they were going to bring in proper conflict-of-interest legislation, and had something drafted. I am not quite sure who gave the direction because when I asked the Government Leader whose idea it was to bring in this particular piece of legislation, he replied that the Justice officials recommended it to him. I do not know whether or not he gave any direction -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: He is saying that is not the question I asked. I distinctly remember asking the question about this. I wanted to ask him why this bill is specific only to Members of the House and Ministers, and why does it not include public servants or board appointments any longer? And he said, "I am sure we will get to it in the full debate, but my understanding is" - I mean, this is the person sponsoring the bill - "that it was at the recommendation of the Department of Justice that it be kept separate". What direction did the Government Leader give the department? Did he just ask them to bring him something to take into the House? Why did he not tell the officials to bring in something that included coverage for everyone? The problem with conflict situations has not only been with Ministers and Members.
When I first started raising this issue with the previous government and with this government, we were raising issues about senior public servants as well. I remember the Government Leader standing up and waffling around about whether or not he was seeking guarantees from employees who were leaving this government with very sensitive information and going to work in areas that would be perceived to be a conflict, due to the fact that that individual possessed sensitive government information. The Minister at that time indicated that he was very concerned about that, too.
But over the past two years we were never given any indication that he was ever going to consider separating the two. I agree with the Leader of the Liberal Party that there is no reason to do that - absolutely none. There is no difference, other than the way we are given our jobs. I agree 100 percent with what he said.
Now, there is also the concern over people - deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers, senior public officials - leaving their jobs and then contracting with government as consultants, in the same areas for which they were responsible and having access to information that other consultants would not have access to, thereby giving them an unfair advantage. That was the purpose of the cooling-off period, so that they would not be able to do that.
Some people think that we are saying that these individuals are not going to have a job, that they cannot work for anybody for six months. Well, that is absolutely not true.
A deputy minister who leaves the employ of this government, and decides to become a consultant, can consult in many other areas, as well as the private sector, so nobody is depriving anybody of a livelihood.
I have tabled a motion today asking the government to withdraw this piece of legislation and replace it with the other bill we previously agreed to in this Legislature.
People ask me how realistic I feel about the government doing that. I think they have an opportunity to do something good, but I cannot be very optimistic that they will, because the Government Leader has boxed himself in. He has boxed himself in by saying he did not like it and is not going to have anything to do with it. I know how stubborn he can be, and nothing will move him, but I am asking him to take a serious look at it. Obviously, we are going to be debating conflict-of-interest legislation, possibly even until the next election.
The points in this bill that I am in disagreement with have been enunciated by three or four Members on the Opposition benches. The section I most strongly object to is the fact that the Government Leader is going to make up the rules and design a code of conduct and a code of ethics.
It is not due to the fact that it is this particular Government Leader, but in the public's view that may have something to do with it. The public perception is that he is perhaps not the appropriate individual to make up those rules. I do not think it should be one individual making the rules, no matter who it is - the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Health and Social Services or anyone else. I certainly do not think it should be the responsibility of the Government Leader, whoever he or she may be.
Today, the Government Leader stated, in his second reading response, two statements that make me even more certain that he is not the right person to be making the rules. He is throwing more twigs on the fire when he states that we are going to have a cooling-off period, because he is going to establish it in the rules. It is the first time we have heard about this. He is making up the rules as he goes along.
Then he states that they are going to do something about deputy ministers. I find this
extremely fascinating. Apparently, under this piece of legislation, he cannot do anything
for deputy ministers. It took us two years of promises to get this little bill here, and
now we are going to wait for an indefinite period of time. The bill will not be proclaimed
until 1995, and I am assuming that they are going to bring in another piece of legislation
on conflicts respecting public servants, boards and committees. However, I do not think we
will see this in this government's term of office. He can say anything he wants about
deputy ministers. He can make all the promises he wants, but I am pretty confident we will
not see any of them actually come to fruition.
We will not see them after the next election. I am predicting that in 1996, after the next election, those of us who are left here in the Legislature, those of us who are back here, will again be debating conflict-of-interest legislation. It is no wonder the public is cynical about Members of the Legislative Assembly wanting to monitor each other and monitor activities, because nothing changes.
I want to ask the Government Leader if he is even going to consider the representations of the various Members in the Opposition benches with respect to the appointment of the commissioner. Is he prepared to give on anything in this bill? Perhaps he can stand up and tell us that: is he prepared to provide us with any more details? These fictitious rules that he is going to make up, - when are these rules going to be made? Who is going to help him make them? What areas are they going to cover? Why does he feel they should be made up by him as opposed to being in the legislation? I think they should be in the legislation. I think the legislation should very clearly define the parameters of the code of ethics and the code of conduct. I do not think it should be left up to somebody to make it up as they go along. Maybe he could clarify that for us.
I have conflict-of-interest legislation from all across the country. When I was first starting to work on this project, I reviewed the conflict rules everywhere. The Northwest Territories was just starting to make their conflict rules, and theirs are tougher than ours. Alberta was toughening theirs up; B.C. was toughening theirs; and the Atlantic provinces were strengthening their rules. This was happening all across Canada.
So I cannot understand why these people here are bound and determined to take us back. How does it go: "I wish things were like they were in the good old days." The good old days are gone. They can talk about them around the Cabinet table, and pat each other on the back, but the good old days are gone. They have to be progressive and future-thinking, and forward-looking, and whatever all those terms are.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
The Member for Mount Lorne said, "but the good old boys are still here", and that is the perception of the public, as well as the perception that they can do what they want because they are the government. They feel they can do whatever they want, because they are the government. The public will have a chance to tell them whether or not they like what they have been doing.
I want to indicate to the Government Leader that I am presently working on pulling the conflict-of-interest legislation portion from the Public Government Act, and having it put into the form of a bill to be tabled in this House.
I will be tabling that bill so that those of us who are being asked to vote will not feel as though we do not have a choice to vote for. I think it is fair to say that most, if not all, the Members on this side are supporting that initiative.
I would like to ask the Government Leader if he will think about changing his mind on this, of doing the proper thing. I think that is what the Government Leader kept saying. If he will think about doing the proper thing, and bring in proper legislation that the Yukon public would be happy with, will he again give consideration to removing this bill from the Order Paper and substituting the conflict-of-interest legislation, as presented in the Public Government Act?
I have enjoyed the debate this afternoon. I found it quite interesting to hear some of
the non-arguments that were presented. I represent the majority of my constituents -
because I have asked them - when I say that they do not find this particular approach
acceptable and would like to see stronger conflict-of-interest rules in place in the
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am pleased to enter into the debate at this stage, which is the appropriate stage according to the list of speakers that I have before me. I have a few comments that I wish to make.
I would like to begin by saying that this act is, in the first place, clearly an improvement over the status quo. There are things in this legislation that make things better for Members - and all concerned - than do the rules under which people in this Legislature currently operate.
I was listening to the radio this morning, as were some of the other Members, as I was driving in from Carcross. It was interesting for me to listen to Professor Patrick Smith from Simon Fraser University, who had been sent copies of the two statutes. He was asked some rather pointed questions by the host of the CBC morning show, and his comments made it clear that he felt that this legislation was up to snuff and up to standards, and contained the elements of what he considered to be good conflict-of-interest legislation.
I was waiting for some negative comments to come from that man. I do not know the gentleman myself and I sensed that CBC was rather disappointed by the rather positive tone of the interview.
The first point that I think we want to make on this side is that this is certainly a bill that advances the situation as it currently stands in the Yukon - that is, the current law. I want to make the point that in my view the changes are substantial. I want to make the point that I agreed with the Leader of the Official Opposition some time ago, when, during debate, he suggested that things would be improved immeasurably - at that time he was speaking on an non-partisan basis - if we had a Conflicts Commissioner who could look into alleged conflicts of interest when asked to do so by the Legislature, a Conflicts Commissioner who could consult with Members about their private affairs and advise them about steps that ought to be taken by them and as individuals to avoid a conflict, a Conflicts Commissioner who would consult with the Leader about codifying rules pertaining to Ministers, should the Government Leader of the day determine that changes to the current code of ethics, as set out in section 9 of the bill, required updating from time to time.
I think the establishment of such an office is extremely important. So where do we stand, then, with regard to the possibility of conflict rules being improved for the betterment of Yukoners? I suspect, I fear, that because of the makeup of the House, because we are indeed a minority government, what we are going to have here is the big stall, with the NDP on the one hand saying "If it is not our legislation, it is not good enough", despite the fact that they were tossed out of office and it was felt that things would change, rules would change, and legislation coming forward and being passed in this House would not necessarily be private member bills emanating from the NDP caucus.
There is also a problem with the strategy that I feel is unfortunate. The strategy from the other side, and I speak most particularly of the NDP, in this instance, is exactly the same as the strategy they employed with respect to the motion that the Government Leader put forward in the first session we had here - the willingness of our side to develop a process for having people named to boards and committees in the government.
We put forward a proposal that I thought was a vast improvement over the way in which the current process operates. It was a process that we put forward in a motion that would allow a committee from the House to vet appointments to most of the important boards of committees, and the side opposite deliberately snubbed it and were negative about it. I am speaking about the Official Opposition party when I say that the main reason was that it was not good enough because it was not part of the Public Government Act, but I think it went beyond that. They put forward a very cumbersome amendment, which sat on the Order Papers until the life of that session ended. One has to suspect that they would rather not have progressive legislation or progressive procedures, because if we had passed that motion way back early in the life of this Legislative Assembly - of our assuming office - that would have taken away all the spurious comments about patronage appointments. They saw that that was one of the bundles of arrows that they had in their quiver: to make the allegations, on and on and on, about patronage appointments, and they would not be able to move so freely in this rather dastardly approach, were they part of a committee established by the Legislature for the very purpose of vetting the names of those people who would be appointed to such a committee.
I, personally, see the tactics there as two-fold. Firstly, if it is not our law, it is not good enough. We often hear of that kind of position. We are going to hear it, I am sure, when we get to the Employment Standards Act, once again. We are going to hear it when we get back to the Heritage Act, once again. We are going to hear it when we get back to amending the Historic Resources Act. It will continue on into legislation that we put forward and that really disagrees with what they wanted. That is politics, and we expect that.
I do think there is a difference in kind, however, between that attitude, which some would consider childish and others would consider appropriate, and a refusal to accept a change to what they see as being their most progressive laws. There is a difference in kind between that and deliberately subverting the possibility of a better process for appointing people to boards and committees, as they successfully did in the first session we had here. There is a difference in kind as well, in the situation where we have a bill before us now that vastly improves the status quo, but does not contain some of the points they would like to see. They are going to defeat it, joined by the Liberal and the Independent Members.
The result will be that the citizens of the Yukon are not as well served as they may have been. If, of course, this law really does not go far enough in the eyes of Yukoners, then the next government - if there is a change in government - can take up the challenge and make improvements. All laws are subject to improvements, changes and revocations, because that is the nature of democracy.
My sincere wish in speaking to this bill - I see we are rapidly approaching 5:30 and we
will have to continue tonight - is a pitch that I would make to the lone Liberal in the
House: it may be wonderful politics to join the NDP and the Independent in a destructive
crusade, and to not move ahead with better legislation that vastly improves the status
quo, legislation that has been reviewed by experts and accepted as good legislation, but I
would ask the Member to act in the interests of Yukoners -
Speaker: Order please. The time being 5:30, the House will now recess until 7:30
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We are in the process of debating
Bill No. 50, Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act
Hon. Mr. Phelps: As we broke for supper, I was making a few points about the current legislation and my concern that, firstly, this is good legislation and that this bill not simply die because of what I see as purely partisan politics. The people of the Yukon deserve the most appropriate legislation that is within the power of this Legislature to give them, and this bill is far superior to the status quo.
I want to get into the merits of the bill in the next part of my comments and deal with some of the criticisms that have been levelled at it from Members opposite.
Some of the arguments, it seems to me, are purely partisan and I will deal with them in a fairly summary way. However, some of the issues, it seems to me, are held genuinely by Members opposite to some extent.
Those I would like to deal with as well. Before getting into that, I do want to make one point. From time to time, we in this Legislature pass laws that impact upon us as MLAs. Normally, dealing with these issues is far from fun. It is never very pleasant, for example, to deal with the benefit package that MLAs enjoy, nor to argue in favour of increases, no matter how justified they may seem. That goes for salaries, pension plans and all kinds of issues of that sort.
I was in the Legislative Assembly in 1974 and part of 1975. I recall, way back then, a discussion about whether or not we ought to put forward a pension plan of any kind. That was before party politics was acknowledged, although the NDP had two members who ran as NDP in the government and the Liberals ran a slate, but had no one in the Legislature. We wrestled with the issue of whether or not they should be allowed a pension. I supported it, in principle. However, the view of the majority was that we should not do it because it would not be popular. So, no pension plan was introduced. As a result, in my view, some of the people who served back then are not now entitled to pensions and have suffered, as a result.
I guess the point is that we have to look at these kinds of issues. No matter how unpleasant they are, we must try and come forward with laws, rules, stipends or benefits that truly seem fair to people with any kind of knowledge regarding the issues.
I can genuinely say that it is very easy to be against politicians getting anything. It is always easy to say that politicians should get pay cuts and they should not have pensions - they should not have anything. That is a very popular posture. Unfortunately, it is a posture that is taken by too many politicians, let alone others who should know better.
I want to say that, in reviewing this legislation - part 2 of the Public Government Act , which was not proclaimed by the previous government, and will not be by us - I recognized that it will be very easy to misinterpret what I am about to say on this issue. Politically, it is a real winner. I am prepared to take the flak simply because I genuinely stand behind the comments I wish to make.
The Leader of the Official Opposition had a great deal to say about the bill. In essence, he said that his main concerns can be broken down into three main issues: that of Ministers having a private business while in Cabinet, that the Government Leader would be making the rules and that of how the Conflicts Commissioner should be appointed.
He also expressed a few points that I took as not being really heartfelt. One of them had to do with the issue of the proclamation not occurring for 10 months from now. I say that I am sure that comment was not heartfelt because the explanation had been given with regard to the ombudsman bill that it was a maximum, when it was simply a limit offered in anticipation of this legislation not passing through the House until late in the session, which could be any time up until May or June, given the present rancor that we are experiencing among people in this place.
I am convinced that we could amend that quite easily. Should the bill pass by the end of January, I am sure that we could have proclamation within three months, at the most. If it so happens that the bill not pass this House until late in the spring, then we would run into the difficulty of whether it would be two, three, or four months. The maximum time period was simply intended as a guarantee that it would go forward, and that could be easily amended.
I want to deal with the three main issues a bit. The first one I am going to deal with is the issue of whether the Conflicts Commissioner ought to be appointed by a bare majority of the House, or whether some other formula might be more appropriate. The Leader of the Official Opposition suggested that a two-thirds majority would be more appropriate, and I am sure the Speaker will recall that I, personally, had no problem with that regarding the Ombudsman Act. I do not think there would be much difficulty with this side agreeing if that type of amendment were proposed.
The point was also made in tandem with the issue of the requirement of votes necessary for a person to be appointed by this House. The ancillary point was whether or not we needed three, or would one do? Again, I do not think that is an issue that ought to bar passage of the bill. I do not think that we would have a great deal of difficulty reducing the commission to one person approved by two-thirds of the Members in the House.
However, I might say, to point out in a very modest way, that there is a bit of an inconsistency for a person to worry about the majority necessary and how these people are to be appointed when that very same person deliberately sabotaged the process that was put forward and offered by this government by notice of motion, during the first session of government. That motion was put forward to try and ensure that a committee of this House would vet whomever was to be appointed to important boards. Generally, I think that sabotage was done deliberately and for partisan purposes and not because of what might be good for Yukoners.
I would support reasonable amendments to one of three main issues, broken into two parts.
Then we come to the issue that seems to be foremost in the minds of some of the Members opposite: Ministers having a private business while in Cabinet - and this is an argument that is fairly complex, believe it or not. We went through a progression of arguments, at least the Leader of the Official Opposition did. One was that "we'', meaning those in his party, "feel that being a Minister ought to be a full-time job so, if you are actively participating in a business, you are not paying sufficient attention to your job as Minister or Government Leader." He said, as I recollect his remarks, that that was the view stated by Mr. Pearson, leader of the day, when the 1981 conflict rules came into place.
Dealing with that argument, Mr. Speaker, let me say right away, we on this side do not believe that Ministers ought to be actively engaged in private businesses like running a store or active business. That is not our position at all.
We do not think it is as simple as all that. The issue is not one of whether or not an individual's full time ought to be directed to the job and office of Minister.
The issue really has to do with whether or not it is necessary to sell your business, of any kind, in order to take steps to ensure that does not occur. I can think of a great many businesses that people have where they would not be required to sell them, simply because they get into politics and become a minister in other jurisdictions. For example, I think it would be the subject of a great deal of mockery if it were argued by anyone in the legislature of Saskatchewan, Manitoba or Alberta that if a farmer ran for politics and was appointed as a minister, he would have to sell the family farm. I do not think that would be perceived as absolutely necessary to him directing his full energies to being a minister.
I am sure that many people who have farms are in government and make arrangements to ensure that the running of the farm does not interfere with any of his or her ministerial duties.
I do not think, either, that a placer miner, who runs for office and decides he would like to keep his placer operation, but not run it while he is a minister, ought to be a cause for any concern. It seems to me that that can be done, and that no one would require the rather severe penalty of the individual - as one would of the person with the family farm that had been in the family for generations - of requiring him to divest himself of the property. I do not think that would be seen as fair by most people, either.
I can come up with other examples that are similar in nature. I do this, not to be
argumentative, but because I think that what we have to look at are equations and policies
that are seen to be fair to a fairly sensitive range of issues.
The area of conflicts is a fairly complicated area. One has to really look at the circumstances. There are a lot of different kinds of conflicts, and there are a lot of different kinds of businesses that can be owned and not operated by an individual, and there is the whole issue of how far a person ought to be required to go, not only to be in government, but to be a minister. I do not think it is as simple as the Public Government Act, part 2, would have us believe, nor do I think the answer is - what was, at least, paid some homage to by the Liberal Member for Riverside - that a blind trust will do the trick, either, because I do not think it is that simple. I think that it may or may not be, depending on certain circumstances.
That is why it is so important to have a Conflicts Commissioner who can dispense the kind of advice that is needed with regard to the requirements and with regard to whether or not there ought to be changes to the rules that have served us since 1981 regarding Ministers, simply because, in my view, there is a more complex array of issues than first meets the eye.
I would also like to make this point, and perhaps I will be accused by the speaker following me of being partisan in this. It would not surprise me, but I hope not. There is a very real concern, in my mind, that those who are pushing the Public Government Act honestly feel that, somehow or other, business people do not deserve any kind of consideration or protection when it comes to their holdings, whether it be a family business, a farm, a placer operation or whatever. At the same time, in the Public Government Act and with regard to teachers, they chose to pass laws, and in the case of teachers and in the case of government employees, proclaim that portion of the Public Government Act so that those people would have job and professional security for the first four years of their tenure. When it comes to looking at what I would suggest might be reasonable exceptions to the rules regarding divestiture of business for people whose only security might be their business - their family farm or their placer operation - there is no kind of sensitivity or acknowledgment that some of these things really would not matter much so long as they were not pursuing an active business while they were Minister, and so long as disclosure and conflict rules applied. The act includes, of course, the appearance of conflict, not just true conflict.
I see a double standard emerging when we examine that area. I may not be successful in convincing anyone on the other side about this, but I am convinced that the best way to go is to have a Conflicts Commissioner examine the situation where it is not a black and white situation for individual Members and Ministers. I honestly believe that the issue is more complicated - and this is upon a great deal of reflection on my part - than the current part 2 of the Public Government Act would lead us to believe. As well, I feel that the Conflicts Commissioner ought to play a role if there is to be any change to the section 9 rules regarding Ministers.
What I am saying then, in summary, with regard to what seemed to be the three main issues, is that with regard to how to appoint the Conflicts Commissioner and whether or not he or she, as the Commissioner, should be one person rather than three, in the interests of having good legislation, we would bend over backwards to work with the Liberal Member or others to find appropriate amendments.
With regard to the issue of whether or not a Minister might own something that is a private business, we feel we cannot go along with the change there. This is truly a difference of opinion between us, at least, and the NDP, but I do not think we are all that far apart. I personally feel that the intention is to find rules that are sensitive and flexible enough to deal with individual cases. I have mentioned the placer miners, I have mentioned the farmer. How about somebody who is semi-retired, has some stocks and bonds in a portfolio and wants to manage them himself, particularly if they do not involve businesses in the Yukon? What is wrong with that? Is it a conflict? I would be very surprised if a Conflicts Commissioner found that it was, yet it could be said that that is some form of business activity carried on by a minister, even though it might only take a few hours every six months or so to deal with his or her broker and make changes to a blue chip portfolio of some sort. I could think of all kinds of similar circumstances.
Then we get to the final issue, the second one in the Leader of the Official Opposition's speech, about the Government Leader making the rules. I would like to examine that in some detail. It seems to be the way in which they do it in other jurisdictions, but if we say we are going to adopt the current rules in section 9 and that they can be changed by recommendations of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges, or some committee like that, which bring the rules forward to the House to change, there must be some mechanism - and I am not going to make it up on my feet here - that we could agree upon to decide how they can be changed. Again, I would be prepared, and I think the side opposite would be prepared, to explore that sort of amendment.
So, there is flexibility on two issues, and there is really on the rest if we are looking at genuinely trying to deal with a complex situation in an honourable and fair way - fair to all those who might run for office in the future.
I want to say that I am going to be very disappointed if the side opposite chooses to kill this bill for partisan reasons. I am going to be very disappointed if we do not have some cooperation in looking at the grey areas and trying together to work out some amendments to this bill that would be for the betterment of the public.
I am often disappointed in this House. I understand human nature, and how easy it is to make cheap points in this type of debate. I understand that I would be asking a lot of the Liberal Member to stand the gaff and not join the mob. The mob scene is apparently always the right scene. I have no problem defending my beliefs, and how I feel about the issues, to any of my constituents. I might not win, but then, with some of them, I very seldom do win.
I only hope that - and this maybe is a wistful kind of wish - we will look at this legislation truly on its merits. If there are some minor amendments or some amendments to two of the three issues that appear to lie at the core of the side opposite's objections, we are willing to try and find ways around them. I simply urge those on the side opposite to understand that what we propose goes a long way beyond and is a vast improvement...
Speaker: Order. The Member has three minutes to conclude his remarks.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: ...over the status quo, in my view.
The bill before us, with some amendments along the lines I alluded to, is superior, in
my view, to section 2 of the Public Government Act. I see that my good friend, the
Member for Riverdale South, is giggling again. I will not get upset by that. I have
learned to expect that. The issue is serious. It is not simplistic. For that very reason,
perhaps she is giggling because she does not understand the points I am trying to make.
Mr. McDonald: I have a few comments to make about the bill this evening. I hope my comments will not be misinterpreted by the previous speaker as being simply those of a member of the unruly mob, or written off because I am a member of the NDP. I have been in the Legislature for a fair number of years. I feel that I do have something to contribute this evening, even though so many remarks have been made - probably more eloquently than I could make them.
The first thing I would like to do is respond to what some Members have said on both sides of the Legislature today, and then detail my thoughts about the bill. I will briefly begin by indicating the basic philosophical perspective from which I am operating.
I believe that this legislation - or any legislation dealing with conflict of interest - must protect, as its first priority, the integrity of the political process. It must protect the public's faith in the institution of government, and it must reassure them that decisions will not be made for private gain, but always in the best interests of the general public.
It is my view that whether or not the Yukon is a small jurisdiction is irrelevant.
Our principles must loom large in our consciousness. We cannot compromise our principles because we feel our community is small and therefore can embrace small principles, or something less than who we are. We have to feel comfortable with our institutions.
There are other things to consider, and some of the Members have raised them, such as who will run for political office, on what conditions will they run, what the benefits should be for those people. These are all not insignificant considerations. They are, however, subordinate to the primary consideration, that being whether or not to give the public what it deserves in a conflict-of-interest bill. Shall we reassure them that this institution, above all else, possesses integrity?
Some Members have indicated that the bill before us is either one of three things - or all three of three things, perhaps. It is better than the status quo in that it possesses not only the Pearson principles of the early 1980s, but also the concept of a Conflicts Commissioner. It is "adequate" and, further, that somebody by the name of Mr. Smith likes it. I missed hearing Mr. Smith on the radio this morning and I regret that, because he seems to loom large in the debate this evening. The fact that I have never met him does not necessarily mean that he has nothing to say on the subject. It only means that, in the end, I will have to disagree with him - or at least what I understand his argument to be, as expressed by Members of the Legislature.
Some Members have indicated that they feel that the motives, as expressed by New Democrats in the Legislature, is simply that it is all in the name of a childish game by the NDP, who are still pouting at being tossed out of office in 1992. I have to ask the Members if they truly believe that to be the case, after all that has been said, and after all that has happened over the last decade or more. The Members have gone on to indicate that, to further this particular case, the NDP simply want it their way. It is not about principles, it is not about good law, or even about making good, partisan, effective, political points, or about getting good media. It is simply that the NDP have this selfish vision that they want their own bill.
It is irrelevant what is in the bills; what matters is whose signature was on them when they were passed. I must say that that betrays a serious lack of understanding and, if I were to put it less kindly, a serious attention disorder when it comes to recognizing the issues that have been raised in this Legislature, not just for the last couple of years, but for many years.
It has been the case in the past, and even during debate on the Public Government Act, that many Members expressed many of the same positions that they have today, never once being criticized for simply playing childish games.
The previous speaker indicated that his comments could easily be misinterpreted by someone who wished to make easy political points. He said that it was easy for any politician, or even the public, to wantonly challenge the benefits that politicians receive, simply because there is a predilection in the community to distrust politicians. He went on at some length to explain to us his support for the pension plan in the early 1970s, and how that was a politically unpopular decision, even to some politicians.
I preface my remarks by stating that my concerns about good conflict-of-interest law have nothing to do with wanting to make an easy political point. In 1983, there was only one politician who defended the pension bill publicly in the media when it finally was passed in this Legislature. The then Member for Mayo expressed that support for the bill from the Opposition benches. I can tell the Minister, that Member, and all Members who are interested, that everyone can be speaking from positions of principle, and that it is not appropriate to simply write them off as partisan comments.
The only significant example that the Member raised of the so-called quick political win that could be achieved by simply criticizing the bill was over the issue of whether or not ministers should carry out private business on the side while acting as ministers. I will go into that more fully in a couple of moments, because I do not intend to speak very long this evening. I will simply say that I believe that issue was not given a full airing, largely because - and I agree that it is a complicated issue - no opportunity was given to Members during the latest round of consultation on this act to explore complications.
The Member goes on to indicate that to force divestiture of one's business is not fair. Perhaps it is not fair if that is the only alternative given to ministers who were once business people prior to becoming ministers. However, that is not the only alternative, nor was it the only alternative in the Public Government Act - indeed, I fear mentioning the words Public Government Act for fear that I might be childishly defending some NDP legislation.
That act does offer the opportunity to protect one's private interests through the creation of a blind trust, a blind trust checked by the Conflicts Commissioner for its appropriateness.
It would strike me - and perhaps this is something we should explore in Committee because Members have repeated this on a number of occasions - that the concerns Members have about the public employees and their ability to return to a job could be mirrored by a business person, who puts their business interests in a blind trust, to return to those interests when their term of office is completed. I would be more than happy to thoroughly explore these issues in Committee debate.
Some private Members in the Legislature have indicated concerns about the positions expressed by Members in the Opposition, and that some Ministers should not do business, because it would prevent them from operating a placer mine or working a trapline.
I do not think this bill refers to those individuals, and neither did the Public Government Act. If a person is a private Member and not a Minister, it makes all of the difference in the world. For those people who are operating a placer mine while they are a private Member, get out there and support your family by operating that placer mine and selling those furs if you run a trapline.
We heard briefly from the Government Leader that he would allay some of our concerns with respect to our desire to cover public servants who many leave the government. I would like to ask the Government Leader - and will be asking him in Committee - precisely how he intends to do that in a bill that is meant to cover only Members of this Legislature. I wonder whether or not he feels he has the legislative authority to do what he says he wants to do. I would like to see a reasoned, legal argument as to how that might be accomplished.
There have been some comments made about what has happened in the last couple of weeks. I will only make reference to myself this evening, and indicate to any Member that if a Conflicts Commissioner is appointed fairly, under whatever bill, I will voluntarily make available to that Conflicts Commissioner all the dealings I have had in the last 12 years. I will do this particularly if that encourages other Members to do the same. I hope that this would demonstrate my belief that people who run for office should behave with the highest standards, and I am prepared to test everything I have done and disclose every piece of information in my possession or every existing piece of information that I know of, and give that information to a Conflicts Commissioner.
If other Members do that as well, then I think we will have turned a corner in assuring the integrity of Members' reputations in this Legislature.
I have a number of objections to the bill, and would like to briefly list them. Some are more significant than others. The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes has already announced that the government will be making some concessions in certain areas. I appreciate his input, but I would also like to hear from the sponsor of the bill, because there have been some concerns mentioned this evening that this is now a minority government, and they may not be able to depend on the influence of the two independents.
As much as the two independents might want to make concessions, I would like to hear from the sponsor, who is, I believe, a Member of the Yukon Party.
I will lay out my concerns with this bill in no particular order. The first issue I would like to raise is that of consultation.
The Government Leader indicated that some time was spent consulting with the memories of Members long past, and that the standards of their day - which is a decade and one-half ago - should be good enough for us today.
With all due respect, I believe it would be no less appropriate to consult with the Members of our generation to determine what our standards ought to be, so that we do not face a debate in principle, at second reading, where Members are clearly objecting to the fundamental principles of the bill the Government Leader is bringing forward. One would have thought that, if one believed in consultation with Members, and praised the concept of a committee struck 13 or 14 years ago, that it would only be equally appropriate to raise these matters and debate them in a similar forum today. That way, we would not have to be knocking heads together in a debate on principle.
One Member who was in the last Legislature indicated that he did not know of any public consultation that had been undertaken to support the Public Government Act, and he felt that this act was probably introduced in the same way, with the same level of public and internal consultation.
I would only ask that Member to go back to the media reports of the day, which, as the Member for Mount Lorne indicated, outlined some very significant consultation, both public and internal, with respect to the provisions of the Public Government Act and, particularly, with respect to conflict issues.
One would be pleasantly surprised to find a bill that had been thoroughly discussed
with anyone in the public who wanted to raise issues dealing with this particular area.
One would not have been surprised to find the Members of the Legislature consequentially
voting in favour of it, in principle, at second reading in 1992. That was a period only a
number of months before an election. If there was ever a time to go electioneering, to be
partisan and blind to honest debate, it would have been in the spring of 1992, when there
was an election around the corner.
Clearly, there was significant support, particularly for these principles and this part of the Public Government Act that dealt with conflict. I say that not because the NDP government moved the bill in 1992. Those days are history now. We know that the government of that day was defeated shortly after. There is no advantage for me to be pursuing that point. All I am saying is, simply, that there was support from all Members of this Legislature at the time and no serious concern was being raised about many of the issues that Members currently are raising - Members who do not want to see the provisions of the old Public Government Act returned.
The second concern I have with this bill is the degree to which it encompasses people who work for Government Services. The fact that this particular bill before us, Bill No. 50, embraces only Members and Ministers is, I think, a serious concern. I think it should apply to public servants; it should apply to political staff and it should apply to members of decision-making boards who hold public trust. I do not see any qualitative difference between those categories of people. It may be that Ministers have the most authority; consequently, there may be special measures to protect the public trust with respect to that category of Members. But everyone who has power accorded to them through, or by extension of, this Legislature should be covered because, I think, when people refer to government, they refer to all of government. The Workers' Compensation Board is government. They do not care whether or not we have made it arm's length through legislation. For them, it is government because its authority has been given by this Legislature. The Public Service Commission is government. A teacher working in the school system, employed by the Department of Education, is government. Government employees should be covered. People who are appointed to boards should be covered. The sanctions that one might apply to them based on their level of authority may be different, but they should be included.
The third issue that I think is an important one, but I am looking forward to discussing it in further in Committee, is the issue of prohibition on certain activities for Ministers.
This has been discussed on a number of occasions. If there was ever a moment where there was a clear distinction between the feelings of those in the Yukon Party and those of the NDP, it is probably over the issue of whether Ministers should do business while they are Ministers.
That may be true. I think we should explore it further in order to better understand each other's positions better, but I must say that I entirely believe that Ministers should not be conducting private business while they are Ministers. They should particularly not engage in activities such as trading shares on the stock exchange. I believe that a Minister's influence and power is so subtle - and the Member for Laberge raised this point - that it would be the easiest thing in the world, based on what Ministers know, to take advantage of the information that becomes available to them. It would be a very subtle thing for them to trade some shares and take advantage of that information.
There are five past Ministers of Economic Development in this Chamber right now. Any Minister who has had any opportunity to speak in detail with their department, or has taken the opportunity to explore issues thoroughly with their department, knows just how much information they have access to, how powerful that information is and how subtly one could wield that power, without anyone ever knowing. Consequently, it is extremely important that certain activities are not just objected to in principle, but are prohibited.
The reason why I say they should be prohibited is simply because it is impossible to
know, without going through detailed examinations almost every day on perceived conflicts
of interest, whether or not a Minister is engaging in an activity that may not be
forthright, honest or in the public interest. The only way that one can explore a
conflict, if private business activity is going on, is through direct examination. The
moment the direct examination is taken, there is a concern that there should be a formal
charge made on perceived conflicts of interest. How messy does it have to get in this
Legislature? There are some of us who must protect the public interest. As unsatisfying an
experience as that might be, and as distasteful an experience as it may be, there is an
expectation on the part of the public that we will police ourselves.
Sometimes that means that, on the record, we will be asking each other difficult questions. Why do we not remove the possibility of conflict? Why do we not throw away any potential concern by simply stating guidelines of activities for people who wield power in government and who report to this Legislature? Why do we not simply disallow certain kinds of activities so that the public trust can be maintained and we do not have to go through the more distasteful, but unfortunately necessary, process of exploring perceived conflicts of interest from time to time. I do believe that there should be prohibited activities in law for precisely that reason.
I would like to talk to government Members about the trials and tribulations of business people who want to ensure, or have a level of comfort, that their business enterprise will be there when they finish making public decisions. That brings me back to my very first point: the standard ought to be that the public trust, first of all, has to be protected. Then we worry about the interests of the individual politicians who may have a business. I am not opposed to people who are in business or who have family members who are in business being politicians, or even cabinet ministers. I am not opposed to that at all. How could I be? As difficult a situation as that is for the individual, I still return to the basic point that the public's interest must be protected at all times.
The next point I would like to raise is the issue of the provision in Bill No. 50 which, in the absence of prohibited activities, has the Government Leader designing and approving ethical standards of conduct for Ministers. I do not believe that that is appropriate. I do not believe that the ethical standards of all of us or, particularly, of Ministers alone, should be set and established by one person. I think we disagree on some of those standards. I think it would behoove us to debate those standards, to feel comfortable with them, and then we could all turn our faces to our own constituents to say that we have established a set of rules with which we all feel comfortable. We protect the institution. We may disagree with each other from time to time on certain issues, but we feel comfortable that everyone is acting in the best public interest.
I understand from the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes that the government may want to discuss that further. I am looking forward to that discussion.
The final issue is the issue of the Conflicts Commission. I think enough people have given concessions from the sponsoring side of this Legislature for this bill to suggest that we may ultimately be looking forward to a Conflicts Commission being selected by a super majority of the Legislature.
I point out that it is my belief that these commissioners should be free of conflicts themselves. I will make that point, but I do believe that the decision ought to be, as some Members have pointed out, bipartisan and not simply that of a simple majority. I think that is self-evident and I need not repeat it at all.
I would appeal to the Government Leader, who is the sponsor of this bill, to take these representations as seriously as he can because I think that, of all the provisions in what the government calls its ambitious agenda for this sitting, this may be the one single measure that everyone remembers. Would it not be nice if we could come to some accommodation before this bill is passed? Would it not be nice if we could all feel comfortable with the basic rules? It would certainly go a significant distance toward protecting and enhancing the reputation of this Chamber. It would go some distance, too, in protecting the public interest and the interest of Members for generations to come.
As my last point, I will only say that this bill means an enormous amount to some of us. It is not going to be an easy thing for us to pass a bill that is less than satisfactory. Something that some Members have described as being simply adequate, is not adequate to me. It is my strongly held opinion that a less-than-adequate bill is worse than no bill at all because it gives the public a false sense of security that it does not deserve.
Therefore, I am hoping that the Minister is willing to discuss these measures openly
and thoroughly because we will have much more to say in Committee.
Speaker: If the Member now speaks he will close debate. Does any other Member
wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: When the debate started today, and I listened to the Leader of the Official Opposition make his comments, I would not have given this bill a snowball's chance in you-know-where of getting much further. As the debate has progressed, I can say that I am very encouraged. A lot of the things that I wanted to say in wrapping up have been said; however, some of the Members of the Opposition seem to feel that they should be said again, and I do not have any difficulty doing that.
I want to make a couple of points first. What do we hope to accomplish with this bill? I believe that is a question we must all ask ourselves. What do we hope to accomplish with this bill? I can tell you what I hope to accomplish with this bill. I hope that we can give some comfort to the public that Members and Ministers will not use their public office to advance their private interests. I believe that is the basic philosophy of this bill. I believe it is what the public expects of us.
The Member for McIntyre-Takhini said he did not hear Mr. Smith on the radio this
morning. I would suggest to him that he get a copy of the transcript and that he read it.
Whether he agrees with the man or not, I believe some very valid points were made. One of
the first points he made was this: he said, "I think that it is a reasonably good
bill." The interviewer then asked him this: "Now you say overall that the bill
appears good. Would there be anything you would like to add to make it even better?"
Mr. Smith answered that, when he first looked at it, there were a couple of things in the
bill that stood out. I believe that some of these things have been missed by Members on
the opposite side. He went on to explain that the bill talks about the responsibilities of
Ministers and Members in the Legislature. He also talks about the requirements in regard
to Members and immediate families of Members. He said the legislation does not make
reference to it in the first reading. He goes on to say that section 9 does include the
fact that, when this act comes into force, the other documents will take effect. When I
look at section 9 of the act, I find it says, "Upon the coming into force of this Act
the following documents take effect as rules of conduct for Ministers...": the Code
of Ethics, the Executive Council Code of Conduct regarding Conflict of Interest tabled in
the Legislative Assembly in 1981, and the Ministerial Gift Policy.
I believe there is a difference in the method being used by the Members opposite to interpret what is going to be in this act and the interpretation I am giving it. I am interpreting it to read that the documents incorporated into the act will be basic minimums in the act. I did say that I would add a six-month cooling-off period and if Members opposite want to incorporate that into the act as well, I have no difficulty in doing so.
They also said that they did not feel that I should be making the rules. That is fine, and let us look at other procedures for making the rules, but let us make some rules that we can all be proud of, rules that we can all live with and rules that are going to be fair to all Yukoners who may want to seek public office at some time.
The gentleman this morning made another statement. He stated that Plato in his Republic talks about the guardians and who guards the guardians. To avoid conflict of interest he stated that those who are involved in governing the guardian should free themselves from temptation - they should neither hold private property nor have families. Is that what we want? I really do not think so, but I do believe that we do need some conflict-of-interest legislation.
As my colleague, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, said, we need a Conflicts Commissioner. We would not have had the degenerating debate that has taken place in this Legislature over this issue if we had a Conflicts Commissioner. A Conflicts Commissioner will educate us and be available for Members to consult.
I think that that is one of the strengths of the bill.
We talked of what we saw as being wrong with the Public Government Act: that it was all-encompassing. It included deputy ministers, Members of this House, boards and committees and political staff. We may look at including political staff in this bill, but I do not know if this is the place for them. I do not have much difficulty with that whatsoever. However, I do believe we should examine other ways of dealing with deputy ministers. I think we could explore whether it is appropriate to make an amendment to the Public Service Commission Act to cover deputy ministers. I feel that would be more appropriate and, unless there are valid reasons why we cannot, I would be prepared to consider bringing in an amendment to that act to cover that.
What boards and committees should be covered and where is a worthy subject for debate. I do not believe all boards and committees should be covered by the same conflict legislation we have for Members of this Legislature, and I do not believe the Members opposite believe that, either.
This legislation is somewhat different from the Public Government Act, but not that much. Section 20 of the Public Government Act said that, while holding office, neither a Member of the Executive Council, nor the Leader of the Official Opposition, shall engage in any other employment or in the practice of a profession. We agree with that.
It says they shall not carry on a business, and we agree with that. It says they shall not hold other office or directorship, other than of a social club, and we also agree with that.
Where we differ is whether or not a Member should have to place his interests in a blind trust, or if there is another way it can be handled.
This afternoon, in his statements, the Leader of the Official Opposition made a
statement to the effect that it was unfair to the public to have a Minister abstain from
discussion or a decision. It was not fair to the public; we were hired to do a job. Yet,
the Public Government Act clearly laid out ways for that to happen. In Section 21,
it says that a Member who has reasonable grounds to believe that he or she has a conflict
of interest in a matter that is before the Legislative Assembly, or the Executive Council,
or a committee of either of them, shall, if present at a meeting to consider the matter,
disclose the general nature of the conflict of interest, or withdraw from the meeting
without voting or participating in a consideration of the matter. The Public Government
Act clearly set out ways for Members to disqualify themselves from a decision-making
First of all, I want to make it very clear for the record that we on this side believe that there has to be some conflict legislation. I am very, very concerned about perceived conflict. I am concerned about the types of debates that have gone on in this Legislature over this issue that would not have occurred if we had had a Conflicts Commissioner. That is what the Conflicts Commissioner would deal with.
I was looking at the Public Government Act, and maybe the Member can point it out, but I do not see anything in the Public Government Act that would disqualify a Member from trading in shares. I do not see that in the Public Government Act. I do not see it. Not in my interpretation of it.
Several of the Members over there have commented about the length of time to be taken to proclaim this act. My colleagues have laid out our reasons why we set that time and, as some of them have stated and I will restate for the record, that was the furthest horizon we were looking at. If we can get the act passed and everything in place, we are prepared to proclaim it far more quickly than that.
I do not want to get into a partisan debate on this, but I must make this point for the record. The Leader of the Official Opposition made the point that we plan to wait until next October to proclaim this act, yet we did not feel that it was appropriate for the Public Government Act to have a timelag before it was implemented. I just want to say that if that was the reason it was not proclaimed, why did the Leader of the Official Opposition try to have it proclaimed after he lost the election? It was only a matter of a month or six weeks before he was trying to have part of it proclaimed.
The Member from Riverdale South made much of a reply I gave her to a question in the House the other day on why deputy ministers were not included, and she made a statement to the effect that I said the Department of Justice said this is the way the act should be written. That simply is not true. She caught me when I did not have any of my briefing notes here. I did not expect to debate conflict-of-interest legislation during Question Period. We asked the Department of Justice to go see what is done in other areas. They canvassed every jurisdiction in Canada and said that if we did go ahead and put the public servants in this bill we would be only the second jurisdiction in Canada to have done it.
We decided to leave it aside and deal with it in a different manner. I have said I am prepared to bring an amendment to the Public Service Commission if the Members opposite want it dealt with as legislation. I will look at that. It could probably be done with policy. That may not be strong enough for them, but we are prepared to look at that. We certainly are prepared to look at it.
The Member for Riverside seemed to raise some issues that I do not believe we will have any trouble dealing with in Committee, or prior to Committee, because we are fairly flexible. As I have said, if they want some things enshrined in the bill or they want the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges to make recommendations, or some other body to make the recommendations, I do not have any difficulty with that. I do not have any difficulty with that at all.
If the Members opposite want to pass it with a larger majority than the standard for this Legislature, I do not have any difficulty with that. The reason we brought it in the way we brought it in, without that recommendation, is that most bills in this Legislature are passed with a simple majority.
If they feel that this one requires a larger majority, or a Committee of the Legislature to make a recommendation on who the Conflicts Commissioner should be, I am prepared to look at it. As to who the Commissioner is, or whether it is one Commissioner or three, as we have proposed, it is no big deal. We are prepared to look at that.
I believe that if we want to work together and if we are concerned about having some conflict legislation in place that will serve this Legislature well and will treat all members fairly - I am talking about all members in the public now, all sectors of the public, and that includes the business community - we are flexible. This legislation is supposed to be representative of the public at large and we should not exclude a certain portion of people from running for office because of too severe restrictions. My philosophical belief is that I do not believe in career politicians. I believe people are here because they believe that they have something to offer. They have generally done something before they came into the Legislature and they will have to do something after they leave the Legislature. If we look at the very young history of this Legislature, since party politics came into effect - we can go back even further than that, even during the times of the Territorial Council - and if we averaged the number of years an MLA served, it would not be all that many.
The Members opposite feel that it is quite all right to protect teachers' and public service employees' jobs for a four-year period while they serve in this Legislature. Yet, they believe that a small business person should put their assets in a blind trust or dispose of them and have nothing to return to after four years. I do not see the fairness in that at all.
I think that is worthy of debate in Committee.
I will not be too long in summation. I just want to say that I believe I have heard enough comments from the other side of the House and that there is some flexibility from this side. They are prepared to go to Committee and look at this bill. I just want to say that we will be flexible. We want legislation that will serve us well; we want legislation that will cause the public to believe we are being diligent in our duties and are not using our public offices to advance our private interests. I truly believe that is what we have to accomplish. Also, I am very concerned that we do not make the restriction so severe that we limit some of the people from running for office. I believe that my colleague from Ross River-Southern Lakes said it as well, or better, than I can possibly say it: that a Conflicts Commissioner advise the Members, depending on the type of business they are in, whether it is necessary to put their businesses into a blind trust, or whether it is necessary to divest themselves of it. This would go a long way to alleviating a lot of the perceived conflicts of interest that have been raised over the last few days.
I am looking forward to Committee debate on this bill, and I hope we can come forward with a bill that everyone in this Legislature can support.
Speaker: Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
The question before the House is second reading of Bill No. 50, Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act. Mr. Clerk, would you please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Agreed.
Mr. Abel: Agreed.
Mr. Millar: Agreed.
Mr. Penikett: Disagreed.
Mr. McDonald: Disagreed.
Ms. Commodore: Disagreed.
Mr. Joe: Disagreed.
Ms. Moorcroft: Disagreed.
Mr. Harding: Disagreed.
Mr. Cable: Disagreed.
Mrs. Firth: Disagreed.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are eight yea, eight nay.
Speaker's casting vote
Speaker: Our Standing Order 4(2) states that in the case of an equality of votes, the Speaker shall give a casting vote. In general, the principle applied to motions and bills is that the Chair should always vote for further discussion. Voting for a bill at second reading provides the House with another opportunity to decide the question. I, therefore, vote for the motion and declare the motion for second reading of this bill carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 50 agreed to
Bill No. 35: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 35, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fisher.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move that Bill No. 35, entitled An Act to Amend the Agricultural Products Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Renewable Resources that Bill
No. 35, entitled An Act to Amend the Agricultural Products Act, be now read a
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am pleased to speak to the amendments to the Agricultural Products Act. These minor changes will ensure that this act is consistent with the game farm regime, which this government will consider passing into law, by regulation, in the very near future.
The amendments are easily explained. One amendment prohibits the general public from buying live game farm animals. This measure is intended to prevent live game farm animals from being taken to places other than a game farm. This will ensure that all game animals are kept in locations that minimize potential problems from arising, such as escapes and disease transmission.
The other amendment allows game farmers to make farm gate sales. This will give game
farmers the same legal opportunity to sell their meat products as other Yukon farmers. The
draft game farm regulations have provisions to ensure that these meat products come from
game-farmed, not wild, animals.
Mr. Harding: At the outset, I want to say that this is a bill that I intend to thoroughly question. It is a short bill, but one that is indicative of a policy that this government has taken. I believe it is very far off the rails.
The bill identifies a government desire to expand the list of potential game farm animals in the Yukon long before the regulations surrounding the game farm industry have settled into the minds of Yukoners. The differentiation between the Wildlife Act regulations for game farming, and the amendments proposed for agricultural products, is in subsection 2(d), "any other animal named in the game farm regulations made under the Wildlife Act", which poses some concern, according to people I have talked to, as well as some very large and well-numbered organizations.
The Council for Yukon Indians is absolutely irate about the Minister's actions surrounding the game farm regulation review. I know that the Yukon Conservation Society has raised concerns, as have private citizens, other First Nations - outside, over and above the umbrella position of the CYI - and the Yukon Fish and Game Association.
The other particular problem I have with this bill is the fact that I see no definition in the act that speaks to an occasional sale.
There is no established criteria for what constitutes an occasional sale, so I will be asking the Minister to explain that.
I would also like to ask the Minister if a live game-farmed animal is a "product", as referred to in the act. That is another question dealing with the mechanics of the bill.
I will be raising a number of issues in Committee of the Whole, and in this debate, and I will give the Minister notice of it this evening in the time remaining.
First and foremost, I will deal with the concerns raised by Yukoners who are, no doubt, going to be more concerned to see that the government is already moving to expand the list of game-farmed animals.
In a letter from private citizen, Mike Phillips, to the MLA for Riverdale North, on April 9, 1994, he said, in a very critical way, that he was not pleased with the Yukon game farming policy put out by the Yukon Party government. In a letter dated April 10, 1994, from Ken Taylor, president of the Liberal Party in the Yukon, to the Minister, he states, "I believe a grave error is being made regarding the lack of public consultation on whether we should have any game farming at all." So, the Liberal Party position is clear on that.
On April 12, 1994, there was a letter from the Council for Yukon Indians to the Minister, and it said, "The first question that should have been asked is: do we want game farming? Our response would have been no, and will remain no. The First Nations are fundamentally opposed to game farming."
On April 18, the Dawson First Nation also objected to game farming. It said that it was "emphatically opposed to the new game farming policy announced by YTG". On April 20, 1994, the Yukon Fish and Game Association wrote a letter to the Minister. It said, "The Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board has never been given the final opportunity to take the final policy recommendations back to the public."
To my knowledge, there is not a single environmental or wildlife group in the world that supports game farming. You might question why.
So far, the Fish and Game Association, the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, the Council for Yukon Indians, the Dawson First Nation, the Liberal Party, and many private citizens have expressed grave concerns about how the government has handled this issue.
In a letter to the Minister, the Yukon Fish and Game Association said "It is quite apparent that you are avoiding what our association has requested all along: our members. Yukon First Nations and other concerned Yukoners have been asking for a discussion on whether game farming should even exist in the Yukon."
Opposition has come from all over the Yukon to this policy of the government. A wide-spread belief is that the fundamental question was never asked by the government. That is of great concern to me. Something that I think is abhorrent in the way they have handled this matter is the Renewable Resources Minister stating in a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, dated October 28, 1994, that he felt there was an agreement from the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board on a particular issue.
The other day, in Question Period, the Minister clearly and unequivocally confirmed,
for the record that the Fish and Wildlife Management Board was defunct as of September 16,
1994. The letter he attributes as stating the position of the board on game farming is
dated October 12, 1994, long after the board was considered defunct, as confirmed during
Question Period last week by the Minister himself.
Therefore, the Minister has a serious credibility problem with this issue. I do not think he has presented to the public enough of a consensus to move ahead with the policy of expanded game farming in the territory.
It is obvious with this new bill, An Act to Amend the Agricultural Products Act, that the government intends to reopen the list of game-farmed animals. The Minister of Tourism is indicating that that is not what they are doing, but he should take a look at the definition in the act where it states that game animal means (a) musk-ox, (b) rocky mountain elk, (c) wood bison, or (d) any other animal named in the game farm regulations made under the Wildlife Act. What would any reasonable person think after they read that? The Wildlife Act regulations that came out only months ago name three definite animals considered to be game-farmed animals. The government made quite a bit about that in a press release that accompanied the regulations. It stated that there were only going to be three species.
Now it is December and, on December 1, the government introduced a bill that has an additional provision (d). Any reasonable person who has looked at that and followed that particular issue would say that they have already put in place a mechanism to expand the industry in terms of the number of species to be game farmed: llamas, ostriches, goldfish and who knows what else? Pot-belly pigs? We are not sure, but section 2(d) is a problem, because it is an early-warning signal for the people concerned about the industry.
With regard to the complaints surrounding the consultation that took place earlier about the policy, I have to say that some of the complaints are very legitimate. Nobody has been asked about the further expansion and number of species that should be included in the Wildlife Act regulations, but yet we have a provision that includes those species. To me, the cart is coming way before the horse in terms of this policy initiative by the government and that is unusual in terms of policy with this government.
For the record, so that the Minister is aware, I have a letter from another group that has expressed some serious concern.
On May 25, 1994, there was an open letter from the Yukon Conservation Society to the Minister. The letter states that the YCS is opposed to the game farming that results in commercial trade in wildlife and wildlife parts. Yukoners are being asked to comment on game-farming regulations, but the more fundamental question of whether we want a game-farming industry in the first place is being ignored.
At the very least, the Yukon Conservation Society would like to have an answer to the following question: are the majority of Yukoners in support of a game farming industry? In the past, we have asked that the Minister, prior to expanding the industry in the territory, participate in a full provincial/territorial/federal environmental assessment and review of the industry. We have asked for that, but it has never happened.
I am not sure if this decision is being driven by the bureaucracy or the government. We are never really sure with this particular government. However, they are being aggressive in their push for this particular initiative in the area of game farming. I suppose, at a minimum, they feel that they owe something to the agricultural industry, but I do not think anyone in the agricultural industry would be opposed to having a solid look. If there was an in-depth analysis, it would prove that their claims are correct - if they are.
I believe, as do many Yukoners with whom I have talked, that we have to have an expanded review. We have to have cooperation between the provinces, the territory and the federal government, for an environmental assessment and review. How can we ignore the concerns of 14 First Nations that were expressed by the Council for Yukon Indians. There were specific concerns expressed by individual First Nations, the Yukon Conservation Society, the Yukon Fish and Game Association, and many other individual Yukoners.
I would just like to check some correspondence. I should point out that the President of the Liberal Party did not sign his letter as such. Nonetheless, he holds that office, so I would assume he would have some influence in the direction the Liberal Party would take in that area.
As a citizen, he certainly has opposed it. I am not sure of the official position of Liberals on that. We are never really sure of the official position of the Liberals, but nonetheless the letter from a private citizen and president of the Liberal Party indicates that within their organization there is certainly some concern about the industry in the territory. Perhaps he does not share the views of anyone else in his party regarding this industry, I am not sure.
Nonetheless, there is a lot of opposition to how the government has proceeded in this area and a number of questions have been asked. Prior to agreeing to this bill, we would certainly like to see the government produce an economic analysis of the industry. I would like to see an update about the bureaucracy and what the expected costs of regulating the industry are going to be.
Again, I make the points that we would like to see a full public assessment of the issue, an environmental review. Not just in the Yukon, but we have to break down the walls from each individual jurisdiction. Some in Canada have had some serious problems in Canada with the industry. Some provinces are saying that they are doing quite well. Saskatchewan and Alberta are pushing ahead with a game-farming policy - two very different governments, of different stripes. Newfoundland and - I believe, but I could be wrong - Manitoba look like they have banned the industry. All kinds of information is also being sent by both lobbyists, whether pro or anti, constantly to my desk indicating what other decisions are being made in other jurisdictions and what other events have taken place regarding issues that are always talked about in the context of the game-farming issue, which include habitat alienation, genetic contamination, escape, disease spreading, and also the environmental study.
There is a plethora of them around the game-farming issue that have been debated in this Legislature before. I have read concerns expressed by the now Minister of Community and Transportation Services about the industry. I read them when he was in the Opposition in 1984. The same kind of concerns are out there now, but they have become stronger because, over the last few years, there have been quite a few more publicized examples for the people who have concerns with the issue to point to in the public, especially in the last two to three years.
As I say, I am continually receiving information from both the Canadian Venison Council and the Alliance for Public Wildlife on the pros and cons of the issue. For me, it is a very confusing issue. I know there are some Yukoners out there who make a living in this industry and who work very hard at it. I know that some of them take a lot of pride in their animals and cannot see why anybody would be concerned about what they are doing. Nevertheless, it is clear from the comments that I have read from the very large organizations in the Yukon that there are concerns, and some of them are very legitimate. They have to be answered, because our wildlife is a public resource. For that very reason, I believe that Yukoners are entitled to express their opinions very freely and openly on this subject and it should be heard very clearly by the government.
This particular bill has sent some flags up for me. I have raised questions about it and I have a number of other questions that I want to get into - very detailed questions. I have a lot of information, including a report that was filed with the Government of Yukon and submitted to the director of the fish and wildlife branch in December 1990 that raises some concerns.
I want to talk about a meeting the Fish and Wildlife Management Board had with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. I want to explore the press release that the government issued at the time of issuing the game farming policy and I want to quote right now what one of the paragraphs said in the news release of March 31, 1994 stated:
"Only Rocky Mountain elk, wood bison and musk oxen will be permitted species for game farming. Exotic wildlife will not be permitted for game farming and any wildlife kept for exhibition or other purposes will be regulated by permits under the Wildlife Act.'' Very clearly they say, when they introduced the game-farming policy, that they are going to restrict the number of permitted species. Why now, do we have a D?
Perhaps the Minister wants to stand up and tell me why we have a D and that it is just
an oversight and they did not mean anything by it, and that they will gladly withdraw it.
If he is going to stand up and say that he is not going to hear the concerns that I have
raised, that they do not mean anything, they just want to have a D in there for the looks
of it, he is going to have some problems when we get into Committee answering questions
about why it is there.
Mr. Cable: I would like to get on the record the fact that I do not read this bill as enlarging the scope of the game farming regulations, per se. I also do not read this bill as expanding game farming, per se. That is a war to be fought under the Wildlife Act and the game farm regulations. Unless something comes out in Committee that would indicate that there is some sinister plot here to enlarge the number and type of game animals, I will be supporting the bill.
I should draw Members' attention to the fact that there was no sale of live game
animals, only game meat. I assume - and I will check this with the Minister in Committee
debate - that this will limit the spread of disease.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I would like to clarify a few things. First, I agree with the Member for Riverside that this is just housekeeping to make the law better, and that there will be no live animals sold, only meat.
Also, the environmental study - and I believe I raised this issue a number of times - made by the Minister, Sheila Copps, had nothing to do with any animals bought and raised in Canada. That study was made for animals brought into Canada. This was made very clear. I can show the Members a letter written by the Alberta government to her, in order to get that issue resolved. Alberta, or any other province, has the right to regulate any game animals they have.
We can talk and debate this as much as we want. The Members on the other side talk about the old boys on this side. I believe there are some old boys on that side. Game farming is one of the biggest industries springing up all over Canada. Right now, with the few game farms we have, one of them sold all its calves before they were even born. They got the cash, sight unseen. That is unheard of anywhere. Every one here had no problem selling calves to Alberta or Saskatchewan. They are grabbing the calves as fast as they are born.
Why is this happening? It is due to the reputation the game farms have here. There have never been any diseases in the game farm animals. The game farmers looked after and protected their animals before any regulations were in place. They did their best to ensure that there were no diseases. If anyone mistreated the animals, the other game farmers straightened that person out right away.
We have a reputation in the Yukon of having some of the best game animals of anywhere
in Canada. They are in high demand. We talk about game farming as if it is just starting.
Game farming was a reality long before we ever looked at these regulations.
Speaker: If the Member now speaks, he will close debate.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would just like to mention a couple of points. I certainly look forward to debating this in far more detail in Committee, but I have a couple of points.
On consultation, this whole policy was brought forward in 1987 by the previous government, and I have a full listing of all the consultation that went on since then: March, 1992, April, 1992, July 1992 and so on, right up until October or November of this year.
My understanding of the act - and I will make sure that I have a more definitive definition of it - is that this Section D does not involve any sinister plot, as the Member for Riverside believes. There certainly is no plot on my part, and there is certainly not one on the part of the staff in Renewable Resources.
Animals other than are named here we are unable to regulate right now. We cannot regulate llamas for instance. We have no control over bringing them out, bringing them in or taking them out of the territory.
There are three in here. If anything, I would like to see more animals listed in here, because we can, in fact, regulate those animals. As I said before, we will certainly get into this in the debate in Committee, and I look forward to that debate.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 35 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 now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:26 p.m.
The following Sessional paper was tabled December 12, 1994:
Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act (Bill No. 50): French text