Wednesday, January 4, 1995 - 1:30 pm
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with
Speaker: I would like to wish everyone a happy New Year.
We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have a document for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Are there any Bills to be introduced?
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Compensation for former Curragh Employees
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I rise today to announce that the Government of Yukon will apply $2.48 million of the $4.77 million it is receiving from the net proceeds of the sale of the Faro mine to the employment standards claim of the former Curragh employees.
Certain creditors of Curragh and the Yukon government have been negotiating since last
August and reached an agreement in late December of 1994 as to how the proceeds of the
sale of the Faro mine are to be distributed.
The agreement was achieved without any requirement for litigation to determine a ranking of priorities.
From the onset of these negotiations, the Government of the Yukon has insisted that the outstanding compensation owed to former Curragh employees should be paid as a matter of first priority. While there is no legal obligation for assigning this high priority to the employees' claims, we believe there is a moral obligation for doing so.
However, I must advise former Curragh employees that it will take four to five months
before they will receive any money. The delay results from the fact that there are other
creditors who are not party to the agreement and with whom attempts will be made to arrive
at individual settlements, either by way of litigation or by way of negotiation. The
financial arrangements that may be made to settle with the other creditors will not impact
on the amount of monies that the Yukon government is entitled to receive under the
December agreement. It is our intention to expedite the repayment process as much as
possible, so that the former Curragh employees can be paid out at the earliest possible
The breakdown of the monies the Yukon government will receive is as follows: director
of employment standards, $2,484,639.61; Yukon Energy Corporation, $1,802,279.51; and the
Government of the Yukon, Department of Finance, $478,767.10 - for a total of
$4,765,686.22. While this announcement is good news to the former Curragh employees, it
must be recognized that the Government of the Yukon's total claim resulting from the
Curragh closure is approximately $11 million. In addition to the money it will receive
under this current agreement, the Yukon government will endeavour to recover further money
through its employment standards claims against Curragh's directors' trust fund and other
actions as it deems appropriate in the public interest.
Mr. Harding: This particular issue is one that I have been pushing for two years to see come to some resolution, and I am extremely pleased with the announcement today by the government. It is a commitment of something concrete, in terms of repayment of lost wages.
Many people in my constituency were wondering if they were ever going to see the money that they were owed. Now it is a question of when they will receive and not if they will receive it. If we are putting employees' repayment claims first, it speaks to the hefty funds and surpluses available to this government. I urge them to continue to push this process and bring it to fruition, and I intend to continue to do my best to ensure that the government is doing everything within its power to make sure that this process is brought to a close as soon as possible.
I am also pleased with the court decision of the November 28 court case, at which the Justice department was trying to access the directors' liability fund that Curragh set up, and it appears, very clearly, from reading the court decision on November 28, that the Yukon Supreme Court has upheld the wage claims for severance pay, pay in lieu of notice, floating holidays and vacation pay for all former Curragh employees. I hope that brings to a close that particular aspect of this long-term court battle and negotiation process, but I guess we will have to wait to see if the insurance company for the directors' liability fund intends to appeal the Yukon Supreme Court decision. I guess we will have to wait and see.
In closing, I would just like to say that I credit the government for this initiative and I and my constituents look forward to receiving the wages that they are owed, as soon as possible. I would also like to say that I will continue to push the government for wage legislation that not only ensures that wages are paid out eventually to workers but also speeds up the process, so that it does not have to take so long.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member for his comments. As the Member said, we will be pushing to access the director's liability fund and whatever other pools of money are available for residual claims. I would like to advise the Member opposite that the issue of giving wages a higher priority, as in cases under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act or the Bankruptcy Act, will be addressed when the employment standards come in.
Question re: Economic activity
Mr. Penikett: Happy New Year, Mr. Speaker, to you and the other Members of the House.
I have a question for the Government Leader. According to the October 1994 report of Statistics Canada, last year the Yukon economy "deteriorated significantly and overall production plunged 19 percent" giving us the worst economic performance of any jurisdiction in Canada.
Could I ask the Government Leader, in specific and concrete terms, what, exactly, has the Yukon government done to address the situation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I think the Member opposite has quoted part of the report, but I think the other part of the report was that there were some encouraging signs in other sectors. It was the mines and minerals section that was down dramatically because of the closure of the Faro mine, while there had been an increase in GDP and a small increase in other sectors of the economy. I believe that the actions that the government is taking are working, and with the return of mining to the Yukon, and with the opening of the Faro mine, we should have an excellent year in 1995 and 1996.
Mr. Penikett: I did ask the Government Leader specifically what those actions were and he did not tell us.
Statistics Canada, in its report, indicates only one bright spot - the tourism and hospitality industry - and tells us that non-residential building construction tumbled 35 percent, and gold activities continued to "taper off". Will the Government Leader tell us one new program by his administration that effectively addressed either of these two situations?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that the actions taken by this government in encouraging mining investment in the Yukon have shown a dramatic turnaround and the statistics report for 1994 will indicate this increase.
The exploration activities were some $36 million in the territory. Tourism marketing increased. We put more money into tourism marketing in order to bring more people to Yukon to help diversify our economic base.
The Member opposite is speaking - and quite rightly so - about figures for 1993. There has already been a dramatic turnaround in the construction industry in the territory with the number of building permits that have been issued.
Mr. Penikett: We have not heard of any government actions that have contributed to any new situation. Indeed, we do note that the statistics for the increase in explorations in British Columbia are up faster than in the Yukon. As far as I know, the Minister of Tourism did not bring any tourists back with him from his trip to Europe.
Statistics Canada also quotes that trappers halved their operations in the year under review. I would have to ask if the government considered the possible connection between poor trapping and the rising social assistance caseload, with the view to implementing the kind of successful trappers support programs in place in other jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not as certain as the Member opposite is that there has been a rise in the social assistance caseload. My understanding is that it has gone down.
The trapping industry, as the Member opposite is well aware, is fully dependent upon the prices trappers can get for their product. If the Member opposite is asking this government if we are going to get into any heavy subsidization programs, such as did the Members opposite when they were in power, the answer is no.
Question re: Economic activity
Mr. Penikett: I have asked the Government Leader about several different sectors of the economy and, in every case, the government has indicated no specific action or concrete program by the government to address any of the situations. Would it be a fair statement of Yukon Party government policy to say that the government believes it is a virtue for the government to do nothing to address an economic situation or economic crisis?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Certainly, it would not be an accurate statement. We believe, and we have said so in this House many times, that it is up to government to create the climate for investment in the territory by providing infrastructure, and by such action as getting the regulatory processes streamlined in order to get things done far more quickly.
The mining companies have told us, as I have said in this House before, that they are not concerned about the environmental regulations by which they have to abide, but about the length of time it takes to get permits. We are working to streamline those areas and to give the mining companies a better understanding of the length of time involved to go through the permitting process before they are told whether or not they can go into production.
Mr. Penikett: I would be hard pressed to name a single regulatory process under the control of the Yukon government that has been reviewed, revised or improved since this government came to office.
Since we appear to be having an economic recovery in spite of government inaction, I would like to ask if the Government Leader can explain the role of the Department of Economic Development with respect to economic recovery, since that department's mandate and scope of activity seems to be getting smaller and smaller the longer he is in office.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not believe the mandate or role of the department is
getting smaller. It is refocusing its direction to where it should be for economic
development in the territory, and that is not by subsidies and grants.
The Department of Economic Development has a lot of initiatives they are working on. The answer to that question might better be explained to the Member opposite by the Minister of Economic Development.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader earlier talked about setting the tone and direction, and building a new climate for the economy. We are all mindful of the doom and gloom that was introduced to this territory by the Government Leader with his alarmist statement about the condition of the government here.
From the Government Leader's statements, I understand he is against grants, against loans, and he is against intervening in the economy. What is his policy with respect to the role of the Department of Economic Development? What does he see it doing?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Department of Economic Development is working on a number of initiatives. To refresh the memory of the Members opposite, since it seems to have lapsed a bit over Christmas, we created a position in the Department of Economic Development for a mining facilitator, which has been of tremendous asset to the industry. We have had nothing but rave reviews on this, except from the Members opposite.
Question re: Economic self-sufficiency
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader on self-sufficiency. One of the recurring themes in the Yukon Party government literature has been the goal of becoming self-sufficient through infrastructure-driven investment. This language is used in the document that was ridiculed in the House, entitled Toward Self-Sufficiency by the 21st Century: Becoming Self-Sufficient through Infrastructure-Driven Investment in the Yukon. That phrase was used again in a subsequent document, and similar phrases were used in the Yukon Party's four-year plan.
In the Government Leader's budget speech, however, he said it was only through the ownership and control of Yukon land and resources that Yukon First Nations and the Yukon government will be able to achieve self-sufficiency and a better life for Yukoners.
Would the Government Leader indicate when this conversion took place - the conclusion that resource revenues, rather than infrastructure-driven investment, would lead us along the road to self-sufficiency?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There has never been a change in direction. If one remembers the founding resolution of the former Progressive Conservative Party, on which the Yukon Party is based, it included the notion of control of ownership of land and resources by Yukoners. The two go hand in hand. We have to have infrastructure in place to extract the resources, whether we or the federal government own them. However, if we are able to make the decisions closer to home, I think that that would be of benefit to all Yukoners.
Mr. Cable: That is rather surprising, because there is only a passing reference to resource transfer in those documents.
I would ask this question: the Government Leader has appointed a senior negotiator to deal with devolution and Yukon land claims. Is the self-sufficiency drive linked in some way to the devolution of the resources? This is for the purposes of analysis and policy formation.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thought I had half answered that question with my first answer. We need infrastructure, regardless of whether or not we have devolution of resources.
The role of the negotiator will be to facilitate the devolution of the resources and the remaining responsibilities to the territorial government.
Mr. Cable: There seem to be slightly different concepts: self-sufficiency and devolution. Who is taking the lead role in analyzing self-sufficiency and when we are going to reach this Valhalla? Is it the Yukon land claims negotiator or is it the Department of Economic Development?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I may not have the vision that the Member opposite has. He has a date fixed in his mind about when the Yukon will reach self-sufficiency. I do not have a target of a specific date.
It is something that we are working toward, and we will continue to do so.
Question re: Special warrants
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Minister of Finance.
On November 1, 1994, the Commissioner signed a warrant for additional spending for
Yukon government operations in the amount of approximately $22.5 million. The Government
Leader, in a statement to the Legislature, indicated that the specific expenditures
approved in the Commissioner's warrant could be identified in the supplementary budget for
this year, tabled before Christmas. Can the Minister of Finance tell the House why the
request for a warrant was made so close to the normal time for legislative sitting?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding is that a request was made for the warrant so that the projects could continue to go ahead prior to the supplementaries being brought into the House.
Mr. McDonald: I think the problem here is that the Legislature is the body that approves expenditures, and the preferred route is to have the elected people in the Legislature make financial decisions, and not the Commissioner in cahoots with the Cabinet.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not the Commissioner was told that he was being asked to approve money that had been specifically denied in this Legislature by a majority of elected Members? Was the Commissioner informed of that fact?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not aware that the Commissioner was specifically
informed of any of the particulars. The Commissioner was given that warrant, and he was
asked to have it approved.
Mr. McDonald: Was that "improved" or "approved"?
The Minister will remember that only a year ago, a majority of Members in this Legislature consciously, and after debate, removed $4.5 million from one department's budget. This was subsequently reinstated by the Commissioner at a time when the Legislature normally sits.
Can the Minister tell me this: why would the Commissioner subvert the conscious will of this Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is my understanding that the money that was not approved by this Legislature was the $4.5 million for the south Alaska Highway. It is clear that, in the warrant, the money was not spent for that project; it was spent on other projects.
Question re: Special warrants
Mr. McDonald: I disagree with the Minister. I think that the facts of the budget are very clear. Last year the Yukon Legislature, in a manner that is not common in this Legislature, changed a vote by majority rule to reduce the Alaska Highway expenditures by $4.5 million. On November 1, at a time when we are normally sitting in this Legislature - a time when we can be sitting - the Cabinet asked the Commissioner, a non-elected, federal civil servant, to approve an expenditure of approximately $9 million toward the Alaska Highway, in addition to the funding that had already been approved by this Legislature. By any stretch of the imagination, that is the Commissioner, a non-elected person, subverting the majority will of this Legislature. How can the Minister reconcile that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite and I are going to agree to disagree on that, because what was removed by this Legislature was a specific line item out of the budget. The $4.5 million project for the south Alaska Highway was not reinstated; it is in the new budget that is coming up for debate in this House.
Mr. McDonald: The motion in the House to remove a portion of the funding from the Alaska Highway budget was done in order to free up some capital for school construction projects. It was not a vote to discontinue - forever - a portion of a road construction project.
Given that the majority decision of this Legislature only one year ago was to spend less on the Alaska Highway, why would the Government Leader ask the federal civil servant to do something he could not get done in this Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Clearly, we did not ask the Commissioner to approve anything we could not get done in this Legislature, and the Member opposite is fully aware of that. The Members opposite can reduce line items in the budget, but they certainly cannot dictate to the government where to spend it.
Mr. McDonald: Surely the Government Leader knows that that has nothing to do with it. We suggested that the money should be spent on school construction projects - a suggestion the government has, belatedly, come to agree with, given their existing budget. What we did, though, was to make a very conscious decision, after a long debate, that an expenditure for road construction work would be reduced by a certain amount. The Cabinet decided they would come back to the Legislature only after the money had been spent, and only after they had a federal bureaucrat approve it for them. Why would the government do that? Does the Government Leader not believe in the institution of the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Quite clearly, we believe in the institution of the Legislature. What we do not believe in is the Member opposite dictating to the government where the money has to be spent. We did not put the money back in for the line item that was reduced in the budget.
Question re: Federal/territorial formula financing agreement
Mr. McDonald: I think the record shows quite clearly that there are very few suggestions that the government takes from the Opposition benches immediately as they are given. They always wait at least a year to have them implemented.
For a few years, the Government Leader has stated that he wishes to see the provision in the federal/territorial formula financing agreement, referred to as the "perversity factor", removed. He, has, in fact, stated with some optimism that he believed he would be successful in convincing the federal Liberal government to remove the provision, which is something he could not do with the federal Conservatives. Can the Minister tell us whether or not there has been an agreement in principle to have it removed?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not have an agreement in principle, and I do not think I stated it as the Member opposite is saying: that it is going to be removed. I said that we would be working very hard to try to have it removed.
Mr. McDonald: Will the Minister tell us precisely when the government was informed that there would be no change in the formula financing agreement and in the amount of funds that the Yukon government might expect from the federal government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I cannot tell you the exact date, but it was in the latter part of November when I made a trip to Ottawa to meet with the federal Finance Minister.
Mr. McDonald: The government makes it clear that, for the time being, there will be a freeze in the federal transfer payments, and the Government Leader has taken credit for that through his trip to Ottawa in November.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not this freeze to the territory is the same as was promised earlier last year to all the provinces, and whether it is the same freeze in the transfer that was suggested by the Minister of Finance in a letter to the Minister last April, which letter was tabled in the legislature?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As the Member opposite is aware, being a former Finance Minister, the formula financing agreement for us is quite different than the transfer payments to the provinces are, even though they are similar to some degree. It is not the same as the federal finance department is saying because our formula was up for negotiation. They wanted to make cuts to it now. As the Member opposite knows, we have a fail-safe provision in the formula. They were concerned that if they did not make the cuts now, when the cuts were made to the provinces they would not be able to recover that money from the territory. The negotiations stretched to such an extent that I had to table a budget. I made the trip to Ottawa to come to an agreement with the federal Minister of Finance so that I would have some idea of what our funding would be for the next year.
Question re: Gun registration legislation
Ms. Commodore: My first question is for the Minister of Justice. Last October,
the federal Liberal Minister of Justice insulted Yukoners when he and his Yukon Liberals
chose to conduct their recent gun control consultation behind closed doors. The Yukon
Minister indicated in this House that he was not pleased with that consultation process. I
would like to ask him if he can table in this House any correspondence in which he
expresses the Yukon government's view regarding that closed-door consultation by the
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I personally conveyed that to the Minister of Justice in the meeting I had with him, but I will follow that up by checking the correspondence that has gone on since then. I have also sent a letter to the Minister of Justice informing him of the position of the Yukon government regarding the new firearms legislation. Again, I think that I pointed out in that letter that I was concerned about the process that took place in Whitehorse at the time of his visit.
Ms. Commodore: The supplementary is to the Government Leader.
The Government Leader said in this House, and I quote, "In my capacity as Government Leader, I will fight this legislation to the bitter end. I am sure that my Minister of Justice will also do that." It was said to be one of the strongest statements that the Government Leader has ever made in the House.
Can the Government Leader tell us what he meant by that quote regarding the proposed legislation?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Well, I think most Members of this House expressed very strong convictions that day on how we felt. Although we support the safe use of firearms, we thought that this legislation was not appropriate. I think all people who are responsible firearms owners in this country are certainly going to fight to the bitter end to try and change Mr. Rock's mind. I think the Member opposite actually voted for this, but now it appears maybe the Member is hedging.
Ms. Commodore: I specifically asked the Government Leader to reference the quote that he made in this House, and he chose not to stand up and speak. I would like to ask him if he has a specific plan in place as to how his government will fight this legislation to the bitter end. Does he have a specific plan in place? Will he consult with Yukoners? Will he appear before a parliamentary committee? What is his specific plan?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would like to inform the Member opposite that, since the debate in this House, we have received a lot of calls and letters from Yukoners in support of the position we have taken. What I meant by that quote - and I thought I had expressed it quite clearly in the debate - was that I asked that a copy of the motion be sent to every MP and Senator. Further to that, I have taken the liberty of forwarding that motion to the western premiers and to the premiers across Canada. There are various other areas of Canada that have taken the same position, in that they also want to fight this legislation. We are going to join with them and use whatever means are at our disposal.
Question re: Loan write-offs
Mrs. Firth: I have a question about the ministerial statement the Government Leader has given us this afternoon. Since I am not given the opportunity to respond to it, I have chosen to ask questions during Question Period.
From the announcement today, it is obvious that the government, which has a total claim of $11 million resulting from the Curragh closure, will be getting money back from the sale of the Faro mine. I understand it is usual practice to write loans off only if you are not going to be repaid. Yet, the government could not wait to write off this loan to the Yukon Development Corporation for $2.3 million, to the point where the Auditor General, in his report, indicated that this particular loan was done without the authority of an act, as is required by subsection 40(1).
Can the Minister of Finance tell us why they had to jump the gun and write off the loan in the first place?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will again correct the record. The loan was not written off. Provisions were made for bad debts. That is responsible accounting.
At the time, we did not know what we were going to collect. Why fool ourselves, and the people of the Yukon, indicating we had an asset on the books, when we did not know if it was a legitimate asset, or whether we would be able to collect it. As I said in the ministerial statement, the Government of the Yukon has approximately $11 million invested in this, and we are certainly not going to recoup anywhere near that.
Mrs. Firth: I was hoping the Government Leader would not be so ridiculous with his answers so early in the new year.
The Auditor General made this statement. The Government Leader can stand up and call it what he wants and hope it will go away, but it will not. The people I talked to, who read this statement in the newspaper, all agree the government wrote this off and that it was done illegally. It does not matter how much the Government Leader wants to stand up and say it did not happen; it did happen.
I want the Government Leader to stand up and give us a definitive explanation, other than that they did not want to fool themselves. I will not touch that. I would like a definitive statement as to why they did this: why they jumped the gun and wrote off this loan.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will keep correcting the Member, because she continues to insist we wrote it off, when we did not. When you write a loan off, you are no longer trying to collect it. We were trying to collect this loan. We made provisions for bad debts.
Of the monies we now have, only $478,000 goes against what was written off. The rest
goes to other sources.
Mrs. Firth: What the Government Leader says is absolutely untrue. The Government Leader has refused to allow the Finance officials to come to the House to appear as witnesses to discuss this very matter. He has absolutely refused to allow them to come. I want him to stand up today, cut out the nonsense and ridiculousness and tell us why his government and he, as Minister of Finance, and his Cabinet colleagues decided to do this?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is a responsible way to keep the books. It has been said in other Auditor General's reports that this is the way it should be handled.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation payment to Mr. Boylan
Mrs. Firth: I will follow up on this issue with another question to the Minister of Finance so that we can determine whether or not he knows what he is doing.
I think a lot of people in the public have made a decision with respect to this matter already. The Minister of Finance does not know why they did this. I would like to ask him a question about another matter.
In the Yukon Gazette, there was the publication of an Order-in-Council: 1994 - 137, July 20, 1994. It was the order-in-council for the Yukon Development Corporation Act pursuant to Section 15-
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please ask the question.
Mrs. Firth: I will, Mr. Speaker. Pursuant to a section of the Act, a revenue transfer of $60,000 was made from the Yukon Energy Corporation to general revenue to cover the contract costs of Mr. Boylan. Can the Government Leader or the Minister of Finance tell us why he did that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The costs of Mr. Boylan's negotiations were being borne by
the Yukon Energy Corporation, but he was hired by the Executive Council Office and was
paid out through that department.
Mrs. Firth: The Government Leader has not told us why that happened.
In the order-in-council, the purpose of this transaction was not stated. I had to search for it and write a letter to obtain that information. Why did they not state the purpose in the order-in-council?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I did not know it was necessary to state the reason in the order-in-council. The order-in-council is there for a specific reason and that is to document it, as the Member opposite knows. She received a copy of it.
Mrs. Firth: I bring myself back to the question about whether the Minister of Finance knows what he is doing or not. If this is an open government, and they are going to tell us everything, it should be stated in the order-in-council. Did the Minister not check to see whether it should be stated in the order-in-council? Obviously he did not, because he does not know. I would still like to get from the Minister of Finance the rationale for them doing this. Why was it not included in the order-in-council and why is the Yukon Energy Corporation now paying for Mr. Boylan's contract when it was the Executive Council Office that contracted him and that should have contracted him.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The report was done to produce information for Cabinet and it was sanctioned through the Executive Council Office with the agreement that it would be paid for by the Yukon Energy Corporation. That is what the order-in-council is all about.
Question re: Economic self-sufficiency
Mr. Cable: I have further questions on self-sufficiency for the Government Leader.
The Government Leader and the federal Minister, Mr. Irwin, have both been reported as indicating that devolution of land and resources will take place in three to four years. Could the Government Leader indicate whether that is his time line for the Yukon to attain self-sufficiency?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The sooner, the better. I would hope that it would be next year. As I told the Member earlier, I cannot give him a hard and fixed date as to when the Yukon Territory is going to attain self-sufficiency. It is something that we must continue to strive for.
Mr. Cable: I would have to remind the Government Leader of his budget speech, when he linked self-sufficiency with the devolution of land and resources.
Let me ask the Government Leader a question and, one hopes, there is an understanding
of the difference between self-sufficiency and devolution: who has the Government Leader
charged, specifically, to look at the concept of self-sufficiency? Who is analyzing the
tax streams and the revenues that will be received from these resources? Is there anybody?
Or is it the Yukon land claims negotiator, who is busy doing land claims and devolution?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It appears that the Member opposite is not totally aware of what is happening. We have appointed a man who will be specifically in charge of devolution. That does not mean he is doing all the work by himself. There are 16 government departments and agencies that are affected by this, and they will all be contributing to the positions put forward by the government.
Mr. Cable: If we were to take the Government Leader's words in the budget speech at face value, we are very shortly going to become self-sufficient.
We are going to go from a tax-raising position - one-fifth of our total budget to, perhaps, 100 percent of our total budget - in three to four years. Who is sitting around looking at this concept and analyzing tax revenues besides the Yukon land claims negotiator? Is there someone in the Department of Economic Development analyzing how all this is going to come about in three to four years?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just answered that question for the Member opposite. I said all departments. That would be Economic Development, Finance, and all the departments. They will be looking at each one of the devolution projects we undertake, to look at the financial ramifications, and getting a position together that we will put forward through the man in charge of devolution.
Question re: Ross River fire alarm system
Ms. Moorcroft: Last month in Ross River, a house burned down, and eight people are now homeless, in part because the siren-alarm system had been out of order for the past 18 months. I understand, from a very reliable source, the MLA for Ross River, that there was some delay in getting the contract out to the contractor.
Can the Minister of Community and Transportation Services tell us why it took until two homes were destroyed by fire before a work order was signed to repair the fire alarm system?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: As you know, and as the former government was also trying to do as well, we are trying to get away from fire alarms - they do not always work perfectly - and get into the radio-telephone system. We thought that was working perfectly, as it was in other areas. Since then, we have sent a person to fix the fire siren. It is one of the few small communities left with fire sirens. Most of them have the telephone system.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Ross River fire chief said there should not be a delay in replacing something as important as a siren. It was out of order for over 18 months. I agree with him that there should not be a delay of that sort.
The Minister has not answered the question. Why did it take 18 months to fix the problems? Is he telling us it is now repaired?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I entered that. We had the telephone system working up there so that each person had a telephone in order to talk to each other. It has worked everywhere else and we were never told it was not working there until the last catastrophe came up, and then we realized it was not working.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister is contradicting the statements made on CBC Radio by the MLA for the area. I would like to ask the Minister about the pager system. The residents up there tell me it does not work very well, and that the pager system gave up the ghost a little while ago. Pagers require a telephone call first, and not every household has a telephone. I think that some communities do have both the pager and the sirens. In providing Ross River with an adequate alarm system, are they now going to ensure that a siren is kept working, as well as a pager system?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Yes, if they want the fire siren to be working, but it will only be in the one position because we have had it pulled two or three times by vandals, so it will only be at the firehall, which means that they now have to go to the firehall to set off the alarm for the town.
Question re: Whitehorse waterfront development, squatters
Mr. McDonald: There is so much I would like to ask the Minister of Finance, but I think what I will do is continue with the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, because I do have some constituents who have some urgent needs that must take precedence.
Before Christmas, I asked the Minister of Community and Transportation Services about the fate of Whitehorse waterfront residents in the face of pending waterfront development plans. Since Christmas, of course, the City of Whitehorse has finalized the purchase of the Motorways property, on which there are a number of dwellings. Could the Minister tell us what his department's response is to the needs of the area residents?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I believe that on the radio today the Mayor of Whitehorse indicated that they would be making the arrangements with them.
Mr. McDonald: So the Minister is indicating that the City of Whitehorse is going to lead the discussions for all the squatters on the waterfront? I will just point out that there are only three dwellings on city lands and there are probably 20 or 30 dwellings on Commissioner's lands. Is he saying that the City of Whitehorse is going to be the lead agent then?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: No, I am saying it will be for the three. Those are the only three that the city wants to move at the present time because they are the only ones on City of Whitehorse land once the agreement was signed, which was, I believe, last Friday.
Mr. McDonald: I understand that, but I am also interested in the fate of the other area residents. There are a large number of them and they live fully, squarely, on Commissioner's lands, and they are in the way of waterfront development, too - or at least they may be part of waterfront development, in some way.
Can the Minister tell us what the future holds in store for those residents?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Some of them were offered a chance to participate in the squatters program, but they refused to, and they are sitting there at the present time. The Member on the other side states that the waterfront goes down there. I have seen no such plan one way or the other.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Clerk: Motion No. 30, standing in the name of Mr. Penikett.
Motion No. 30
Speaker: It is moved by the Leader of the Official Opposition
THAT it is the opinion of this House that in a democratic society free collective
bargaining is a fundamental right.
Mr. Penikett: Every Member here will recall that last March 10 the Government of Yukon issued a press release announcing its intent to legislate a settlement with its employees rather than do what the employees expected them to do, which was to go to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith. All Members will recall that, according to the Education Act, the teachers' representative filed notice to begin contract negotiations, having been previously assured by no less a person than the Government Leader that they were excellent employees, had previously bargained in good faith and had been thoroughly reasonable in negotiations, and that they, too, were advised that the government would not be respecting their rights and that the government would, instead, be legislating a wage package for them.
In the case of the other public employees, the government introduced legislation that extended the existing agreement and amended it in some respects, notably, the provisions that affect the Yukon bonus and, most significantly, the rollback of wages and freezing of merit increases.
The legislation was introduced at exactly the same moment that the government discovered it had a very, very significant surplus - $20 million - and that there was, indeed, no financial crisis in the Yukon, and, in terms of debt and deficits, the Yukon was probably in better shape than any other jurisdiction in the country.
What the government did was make a mockery of collective bargaining. The legislation the government introduced was driven by ideological imperatives, not by economic realities. It is appropriate that we be discussing the right of working people to participate in decisions affecting their economic welfare, through their chosen representatives at the bargaining table, because that betrayal by the Members opposite of the collective bargaining rights and the wage rollback that took place last year takes effect right now.
As I have said before in this House, we all know that unions are often unpopular. On the rare occasion when they make the news, it is usually because of some crisis, a strike, lockout, publication of wage demands, a picket line, a difficult arbitration, or a strident verbal exchange between spokespeople on both sides of a dispute.
With the very important exceptions of the baseball and hockey industries, unions represent not the wealthy and the powerful, but ordinary working families. They own no newspapers, they control no radio stations, they do not operate cable companies. They have a hard time getting their message out. They do not always speak with the polish of those who can hire speech writers or advertising agencies to sell their message.
Union representatives have a difficult job but, against all odds, I believe that as Canadians we should be grateful for the fact that the people who are elected to represent working Canadians in this country do their job very well, and, as Canadians, we should respect their rights to organize and bargain for the collective interests of their fellow employees.
In a democracy, we ought to cherish those rights and not abuse them.
In a word, what unions do is give working people a voice. Smart employers know that proper grievance procedures, arbitration hearings, and collective bargaining are cheaper than the absenteeism, begrudging obedience and even sabotage, which are the outlets for frustrated employees in many parts of the world where they have no voice. I personally believe, as an article of faith, that a person who gives years of their life to an employer deserves a voice in the conditions of their employment. They are not just selling their time on this earth hour by hour, they are literally giving the employer part of their life. I agree with those who say that, next to your love, the most valuable thing you can give anyone is your labour, your talent, your skills, your time.
Sometimes, when discussing employer-employee relations, we encounter the careless use of the word "freedom". Witness a recent letter in a local newspaper that suggested that employers and employees were equally free to make arrangements with each other. The notion that the employer, with a prosperous business and unlimited economic choices available to him or her, is equally as free as the unemployed worker with a family to feed, is nonsense. To suggest that an arrangement where the employer has absolute power to dictate the terms of employment represents freedom for both is, in my view, to pervert the very meaning of the word "freedom".
When I was 16, and began my working life, I went to work for one of those great Canadian institutions, a bank. At that bank I was trained by a group of women, some of them old enough to be my mother. They were known as "the girls", and at the bank "the girls" were required to address me as "Mr. Penikett". I confess that when I was sixteen, I had absolutely no idea how banks made money, but in my first week as a teller, I learned. In those days tellers had to balance their cash drawers at the end of every shift. If the teller was short, the money came out of the teller's pocket. If the cash drawer was over, the bank took it. That was an economic lesson I have never forgotten.
The bank's junior employees were quite poorly paid, but the bank did its best to keep the young men loyal to their enterprise by promising us that if we stuck with the bank we would all be managers one day. It was significant to me, even then, that "the girls" received no such assurances, for they were all assumed to be temporary employees and employees without rights.
As I recall, the bank paid me the grand sum of something like $2,100 a year. I noticed, in a recent issue of the Globe and Mail, a report that one Canadian bank last year made over $1.5 billion in profit and that its chairman was paid over $2 million a year in compensation. I suspect that part of his job presumably involves keeping unions out of the branches of that bank.
The problem is, it was true when I was a bank employee and do not doubt that it is still true, that, for the most part, ordinary bank employees have no voice in their place of work. If there is something they do not like about the job, then they can leave. It is essentially the same message we heard the Member of the Yukon Party Cabinet giving on the radio one day to an employee of this government, a good employee who was objecting to being relocated for apparently political reasons. They were told if they did not like it, they could leave.
I do not think that is good enough in this day and age. I do not think it is good enough at any time. It is not good enough because most people who work for a living, most people who have earned barely enough money to get by, most people who struggle to feed their children, pay a mortgage, clothe their kids, transport themselves to and from work, pay their taxes, who are good citizens, do not have much of a say in what happens at the workplace unless they have a union. A union gives working people a voice.
I also spent part of my working life in mining camps and company towns. At one mine, I remember very clearly that the first thing I used to see when I woke up was the name of my employer on the pillow case. My working day was filled with such reminders. We, of course, ate in the company mess hall. We had very little option but to buy our clothes at the company store. The company decided who stayed in which bunkhouses and which employees would be privileged to have a company house for their families. Our hours of work, our job assignments, what we ate and where we slept were all decisions that were made by the management of the company. In that case, the company even insisted on a veto over the decisions of the community club - something that most sensible people thought could - and should - have been left entirely to the common sense of the employees using those recreation facilities.
In that company town, many a bunkhouse man - the hourly-rated employees - felt they had a job and, in some cases, they were good jobs. However, they did not have what my kids would call a life. It was in that environment that I became quite politicized.
The company town experience made me political. I came to understand, with the wonderful clarity that long nights in a bunkhouse room in the middle of winter can give one, that what conservative political forces want to do in this country is, essentially, to turn the whole place into a great big company town.
Naturally, in a company town, tensions build up and, inevitably, there will be wildcat strikes. When things get to be too much for people who live their lives in the company town, they let off steam. That happens especially in the early days of a company town, before a sense of community and community spirit build up.
People who give their lives to the company, hour by hour, and who get frustrated and irritated, and who have no recourse or no venue in which to air their grievances, sometimes engage in what are called "spontaneous work stoppages". Such events happen, especially in company towns, often in the spring, and it is important to point out that they happen whether there is a union or not.
In such cases, what the union does is provide the employer with a legitimate voice, a bargaining agent, to meet with and resolve the grievance, whatever it may be.
At one mine where I worked, my predecessor as the Steelworker chief shop steward was an English-born sheet metal worker. He was a good worker, and very proud of his trade. He was also a deeply committed trade unionist. Indeed, his kind probably inspired the no-Englishman-need-apply signs that some Conservative employers apparently used to erect in the pioneer days of western Canada.
As chief steward, he was a tireless advocate for labourers who had been unfairly dismissed, bunkhouse residents who had been denied housing for their families, miners injured because of unsafe working conditions, and many other concerns about life and work in that camp.
One night, when I was in the union office, I took the time to read through some of the old files and I came across some of the written arguments made by this chief steward in advanced-stage grievances. I was absolutely moved by the power, the eloquence and the poetry of this self-educated person's written arguments in defence of some of his fellow employees - arguments before second- and third-stage grievances, or even arbitration boards.
When he was not on the job, or in his bunkhouse room reading, he was writing up or arguing grievances, work he gladly did without a penny in compensation.
This was work he did because he believed deeply in the right of his fellow workers to have a say in what happened to their lives in that company town.
For me, who does not much believe in heroes, he came as close as anyone I know to being a hero for me. I recall one day, a few months ago, when a Member opposite was accusing me of being a union toady - I think that was his expression - I actually thought about that chief shop steward, the English sheet metal worker, and really had to decide that there were a lot worse things one could be called, and that in fact perhaps I should even be proud of the epithet.
I learned a lot from that guy. For instance, he taught me that, in a civilized, democratic community, every human being is entitled to respect for the contribution they make to the economy and the society through their work - everyone. In one camp in which I worked, there was a dishwasher, a person who happened to be a physically unattractive human being, with some unfortunate personal habits, and a person whose behaviour others found socially alienating. This person came to the union with a complaint about racial abuse from his supervisor, and he filed a grievance.
Frankly, some members of the local union executive were unenthusiastic about taking on the case of this unloved individual, but the chief steward saw the situation differently. In his view, this was the kind of situation where a union had a duty to all its members. He took the case himself and, eventually, the grievance was resolved in favour of the employee.
I believe that decision was made possible only by the intervention of a dedicated trade unionist. Unfortunately, as we discovered during the Yukon 2000 consultations, unions and companies often do not talk, or never seem to talk, except in conflict situations. Smart employers eventually come to realize that this can be a tragic and expensive mistake. Companies that are slow to recognize the value of a positive working relationship with their employees sometimes pay dearly for the delay.
There are many ways that a constructive union-management relationship can benefit both parties. When we come to the public sector - sometimes also the private sector - it can benefit the larger public interest.
For example, rather than going the legislative route, in 1985, the Yukon government and the Yukon employees agreed by negotiation to implement pay equity, and we did it by negotiating at the bargaining table. I think that a smart government that respected its employees would also make the overhaul of the public service legislation a cooperative project, because that is the basic choice; the choice between cooperation or conflict. Even in a crisis - if it were a genuine crisis - there is a choice. There is the choice between the "fist-in-your-face" of legislated wage rollbacks, or the handshake of the nine-day fortnight agreement, such as we had under the kinder and gentler Conservative leadership of Chris Pearson. In the depths of our recent economic recession, we could have had cooperation and consultation with First Nations, women's groups, and employee organizations, but instead we had Taga Ku, the voice of women banished from the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, and the cancellation of collective bargaining rights for public employees and teachers. I think that happened because there is a different agenda at work. It is, admittedly, a Conservative agenda - some call it a corporate agenda. It is not just anti-employee, but I believe, at its base, it is anti-democratic. In my view it is not just reactionary and backward, but it is also silly and short-sighted.
Sometimes people like myself, with limited ability, are slow to connect events, and to find coherence in the activities of a government, such as the one opposite, or the ones that we have had in our nation's capital for the last few years. It is interesting to consider what has been happening on the national scene in the field of public education, and to the teaching profession, and with the hidden agenda of Conservative governments. I think that agenda is becoming more clear, when we ask why the government opposite announced their back-to-basics education agenda at a meeting of business people rather than to the education community, or when we ask why they hired a Conservative businessperson to be in charge of the schools branch. The Teachers Association here, and teachers in other parts of the country, think that they have the answer. The answer is described well in a new book, which I was recently provided a copy of, and which I had a chance to read over Christmas. The book is entitled Class Warfare: The Assault on Canada's Schools. It was written by Maude Barlow, and Heather-Jane Robertson, and published by Key Porter Books.
This book examines the consequences of proceeding with the Conservative agenda on education and considers the consequences for the public education system and also for life in our communities and, indeed, for the economy. It argues that Conservative activists, particularly very right-wing activists, are pursuing this agenda, not only everywhere in this country, but everywhere in the Western world.
Right on page 1, the book points out something that many of us seem to have forgotten - that public opinion in support of schools remains higher than for almost any other public institution. Public respect for schools is far higher than it is for politicians, lawyers, journalists, cabinet ministers, or for the justice system. Schools are generally well thought of by the people who have any knowledge about them - by students, by many parents and by teachers. However, everyone admits to some unease about what is happening to schools and what governments are making schools do. Because of this widespread unease about some aspects of the school system, there are people who are willing to accept the Conservative analysis and the Conservative diagnosis of the problems with schools.
One of the arguments made by the right about schools is that they are monopolies, that they are exempt from competition, that they should be run like businesses - if they had a bottom line, and if they behaved as if they were part of the private sector, everything would be all right.
I am not quite sure what this all means in respect to schools. I do not know if it means that schools should be run for profit. Certainly, President Bush thought that. I do not know whether it means that non-performing students would be fired or teachers would be laid off if, for example, too many students failed math. I am not quite sure what it would mean. Clearly, there is a different notion of what schools should be about.
What this book points out is that while there has been a lot of talk about the
importance of the basics - reading, writing and mathematics - what everybody is gaining a
new appreciation about is that schools in this country, and perhaps everywhere, have
always been associated with the transmission of the values of citizenship, democracy,
equality and fairness. This understanding has been reflected in the Canadian reality,
where governments of various stripes have created separate schools for Protestants and
Catholics and separate schools for francophones and anglophones, and the recognition of
the right of those communities to run their own schools.
This fact that schools do transmit values has been reinforced, as we watched the battles for desegregation of schools in the American south, and, of course, we were reminded of failings in our own system here with the harsh realities of the residential school system to which many aboriginal people in the Yukon, and elsewhere in Canada, were sent.
One of the things that has happened in the last few years, with relative prosperity in our nation, increasing student enrollment and some feeling of optimism, is that there was a bit more risk taking going on in our schools. We had school communities wanting to be concerned about the environment and wanting to teach kids about the environment in the schools. We had schools responding to the waves of immigrants from places from which there had not been much immigration before, along with the introduction of new languages and cultural communities into the school populations. Schools were being asked to be the primary vehicle for socialization for newcomers' children. The schools, also in the last few years, have been asked to take care of creating a bilingual population in Canada through programs like French immersion. Schools have been asked to incorporate child care spaces and after-school programs for kids.
The book by Barlow and Robertson makes an interesting point that in many of these undertakings, rather than complementing the broader community and government initiatives, the activities of the school became the sole public response. Governments and citizens increasingly began to ask the schools to do things that schools were not designed to do. For example, the Young Offenders Act contemplates kids being sentenced to school, not going because they want to go, not going because they want to learn, but being sentenced to school. The book points out that anti-racism has been replacing multi-culturalism in the school vocabulary. Schools have shifted from teaching healthy eating to coping with students who do not have enough to eat, from teaching healthy sexuality to attempting to protect school children from sexual predators.
Schools were being asked to enforce zero-tolerance policies, an idea which we have endorsed, while, at the same time, the kids in the schoolyard and at home were making Mortal Combat the absolutely most popular game rented from video stores.
It is interesting to note from the authors of this book that not only have we been asking schools to deal with problems that they were not designed to deal with, such as problems of child poverty. A huge societal problem was now being reduced simply to a problem of child hunger and being reframed as a problem of poor nutrition and learning impediments.
Rather than a widespread recognition by governments and legislatures that there are poor kids out there in the community, with difficulty learning, because there are more poor adults, and because there are more poor people in this country every day, because of the policies we have been pursuing. For the most part, the curriculum in our schools does not discuss how wealth is created, how poverty happens or whether money can be differently distributed, except as an extremely incidental element in social studies classes. They do not discuss frankly the problem of how poverty and race is related in this country, and how that problem is being replicated in successive generations.
It is interesting that we are talking about the self-esteem of students, and the self-esteem of poor students, and that is good, but we are not talking about the cycle of poverty. The authors point out an interesting irony that perhaps if children could learn while they were hungry, it might be acceptable for children to be chronically underfed, as far as some conservative theorists were concerned.
There has also been a problem in the school with people who are worried about the children of those who have struggled to the top and succeeded in the system having their advantages in the system eroded by mainstreaming or the mixing of kids with different abilities and different needs and in the same classroom.
Most of us who have benefited from the educational system have been encouraged to believe that equity and excellence are an important part of our system and our development as a nation. We may, therefore, be inclined to believe that the problems of the school system can be addressed by a business approach.
It is interesting that there are still some very unfortunate ideas about the school system abroad, as well as unfortunate ideas about teachers as people and employees. If you read the business press, you will often be struck by how negatively teachers are perceived. I
nterestingly enough, Barlow and Robertson believe that this is in part because teaching has always been seen, in this country, as women's work.
Whether it is done by women or men, it is seen as a natural extension of women's responsibility for children. Its status in the eyes of many conservative people is still coloured by the fact that we have many women teachers in the system. In fact, women have dominated teaching in the elementary grades at a time when women were not even allowed to vote.
There is also a problem with this transfer of difficulties or societal challenges to the school system - the downloading mentality that holds schools accountable for matters well beyond their reach. Interestingly enough, having dumped all sorts of problems on the schools, we have many people who have now decided that schools are the problem. Schools are not just the repository of problems, but they are indeed the problem.
As a result, as Barlow and Robertson point out, we have had, in almost every jurisdiction in this country, task forces, education reviews and royal commissions. Every one of them have made efforts to respond to stakeholders, but the one thing that has happened in most places is that, everywhere, there has been a call for business people and for the business community to have a stronger say in what happens to education. The book reports that 59 percent of Canadian chief executive officers believe, and I quote: "The private sector should be actively involved in forming education policy and shaping curriculum standards." The Business Council on National Issues has proposed that it devise school-leaving exams, so that their members might use them in testing entry-level applicants.''
The book elsewhere reports that 75 percent of the surveyed chief executive officers agreed that, and I quote: "There are many ways to significantly reduce costs without affecting the quality of education.''
Apparently, this is a widespread and deeply-held belief. It is an interesting one because, in this jurisdiction, I think approximately 75 percent of education expenditures are school salaries; I think I am correct with that figure. In other jurisdictions it may be closer to 50 or 60 percent, but I think it is approximately three-quarters of the budget here.
One of the things that the business community, everywhere, have argued is that the way to cut education costs - the simplest and best way - has been to cut teachers' salaries. It is not just a reflection of the low esteem in which they hold teachers and not just a reflection of the belief that teachers are paid too much, but, even more significantly, it is a product of the belief that the cutting of teachers' salaries will be seen as a politically popular way of doing more with less.
While schools may be popular, the Conservative politicians have decided that teachers' unions may be far less popular, and may even be as unpopular as politicians.
These attitudes are unfortunate because, for all the problems in our schools, there is some very encouraging evidence that, in many ways, they are doing a very good job. In the Barlow and Robertson report, for example, it states that 64 percent of Canadians aged 20 to 24 years who enter post-secondary education are still studying.
Canada apparently leads all other nations in participation in higher education. Apparently, we are now keeping more than 80 percent of our students in high school until they graduate. As a country, that is a very significant accomplishment. Fewer than half of all students graduated only one generation ago. Perhaps the fact that there is a great diversity of programs in the schools now demonstrates the capacity of schools to change.
The fact that Canada has the highest rate of per capita co-operative education students in the world might be seen as a good thing. Possibly even more challenging than program diversity is the idea that we have such a huge diversity of students in our school population. Many people elsewhere in the world are coming to admire how inclusive and admirable our system is from that point of view.
Other people who are positive would say that our relative prosperity is owed, in part, to our system for the education and efficiency of our workers. Indeed, the Japanese Productivity Centre computes that the Canadian worker productivity is the highest in the world, despite our fairly poor record of retraining. Others, like me, would argue that the maintenance of peaceful and democratic society speaks eloquently for the education of our citizenry and the education in citizenship of our citizenry.
There are many other good things, I think, about our school system. The private decisions, as Barlow and Robertson point out, to use libraries is increasing tremendously in the last couple of years. I am also aware of the extraordinary increase in parent volunteers in the school system. They are people who care enough about their children to spend part of their time in the school expressing their own commitment to education, not just by lobbying politically, but by bridging the gap in the school system, as Barlow and Robertson point out, resulting from the expansion of needs and demands put on the school and the simultaneous erosion of resources that has accompanied it.
The point I am making here is that, despite the negativity about schools and the fact
that all sorts of problems have been dumped on them for years - and that, after doing that
for years, many politicians have decided that schools are the problem - I think that there
are many good things happening in our schools.
The credit for a lot of that should go to the parents and the teachers, who have been working together to make the school system so admirable. These are people who know about the school system. They are people whose views should be respected - people with children in the system.
As Barlow and Robertson point out, surely their opinions are as valid as those of the chief executive officer's speech writer or the person who never stayed in school long enough to acquire any real knowledge of the history or struggles of our civilization.
I think that casting school teachers off as the bad guys and girls and punishing them with wage cuts has been the wrong way to go.
Everyone admits that our school system is in need of change; we are living in a changing world. I think that we also have to admit that schools reflect our values. What happens in the schools reflects the level of our commitment to education. If the schools are failing our children, maybe it is, in part, because politicians and political leaders have been failing the schools.
I believe that the fact that we have an excellent student-teacher ratio in this territory and the fact that we have paid teachers well and have respected their right to bargain for decent pay have been a mark of our respect for them and for what they do. The decision to roll their wages back arbitrarily, even after they demonstrated good faith at the bargaining table, is, I think, a sign of contempt for them and for what they do.
In this territory, through the Education Act, and reaffirmed, interestingly
enough, in the education review, many people said that they wanted to go a different route
than that taken in many other places in North America. They wanted to respect the
tradition of liberal education. They wanted to praise the love of learning, not bury it.
They wanted their children prepared for life in the community and for work, but they said
that preparation for life should come first and work second, because the latter is part of
the former, and not the other way around.
It is a matter of historical fact that the labour movement has never been entirely self-interested. At its best, it has also pushed for other social goals, whether it is medicare, unemployment insurance or public schools. One of the major forces pushing for a public school system in North America is the unions. Just as labour fought for public education and other elites fought to protect private schools, so also did working people fight for their rights.
My colleague, the Member for Mount Lorne, and I were talking earlier today of how in every mine and mill from San Diego up to Mayo, working folk fight for their rights. It is there that you will find unions and union organizers. The struggle for respect and fair treatment for working people is centuries old. It goes back to the Levellers and the Tolpuddle Martyrs in England, continues through the Depression in the Canadian prairies, where in Estevan, as recently as 1931, coal miners in a peaceful demonstration were murdered by the police, an event described in a fine essay by an officer of this Assembly.
This struggle is not ancient history. It continues today. All the evidence in North America is that since Thatcher, Reagan, and people of their ilk, governments have been consciously and deliberately depressing the real incomes of working families. If the data of that country is looked at, the real incomes of working people have gone down in the last decade and one-half. The tax burden on working people has gone up; the tax burden on corporations has gone down.
Parallel to this, and wherever possible, Conservatives have been attacking the rights
of working people - the right to organize or maintain unions. In case that is thought to
be rhetorical excess, let me remind people that one of the first acts of President Reagan
was to kill the air traffic controllers union. Margaret Thatcher went so far as to abolish
the employees union at GCHQ, the government's electronic listening post. She did it,
allegedly, for security reasons. This is an important point because Conservative
governments always find a phoney reason to attack working people. It was significant that
Dennis Healy, the deputy leader of the Labour Party at that time, mocked Thatcher for
doing what she did and pointed out that of all of the Britons who had been convicted of
spying for foreign powers, whether Communist or Fascist, every single one of them came
from upper class Conservative families, and not once in the whole of British history had a
trade unionist ever been jailed for betraying his or her country.
It is not that long ago when unions - organizations of employees - were described as illegal combines, or seditious conspiracies. Even in this country, we should remember that people died for the right to form unions and to bargain collectively. In Cape Breton, Ottawa, the Red River, Oshawa, Estevan, Nanaimo, the Dunsmere mines, and here in the Yukon, people had to fight for the right to organize, to associate freely, and to bargain collectively.
I thought, for one brief, shining moment in 1992, when seven provinces and the federal government agreed to protect the right to free collective bargaining in the Canadian Constitution, that a real victory had been won. However, it was not to be, and it has been downhill ever since. With the North American Free Trade Agreement, the free trade agreement, downsizing, contracting out, privatization, wage cuts, the whole corporate agenda, we can see that the position of working people has been getting worse and worse. This is not by accident. It has been done as the result of conscious activities, conscious political agenda, by very powerful corporate interests and by their agents, the conservative political parties.
For example, we remember that the last Conservative Prime Minister of this country promised the best labour adjustment measures in the world. We just passed the free trade agreement. The fact is that he lied. We got nothing of the kind.
And, lest anyone have the illusion that the Conservative agenda, and free trade, for example, is only intended to screw unions and drive down wages, look what happened in the Chiapas Province of Mexico a year ago. The Zapatistas, a poorly armed group of Mayan peasants, rose up in rebellion against NAFTA. Why? Because NAFTA apparently required amendments to the Mexican constitution that removed 400-year-old rights protecting Mayan communal lands and subsistence agriculture.
What is interesting is that Canada signed that agreement, at exactly the same time it was concluding a land claims agreement to protect similar aboriginal harvesting and tribal land rights with Yukon Indians.
Yukon First Nations know that YTG is already violating the formal consultation and economic strategy guarantees of the Yukon land claims agreement, but First Nations should also remember that both Clinton and Chretien broke their word about NAFTA sidebar agreements on labour rights and the environment. Both of them promised to implement labour rights and environmental parallel provisions before they would sign the NAFTA accord. Neither of them did. The agreements they signed are meaningless. Both working and aboriginal people in this community should remember that, and be warned.
Everywhere - not just in Canada - right-wing conservatives have argued that working people need to be competitive, and that they have to work harder and harder for less and less, because if the rich are to be persuaded to put their money to work, they must get more and more for less and less effort. In my view, that is a sick argument from a sick philosophy. The right, we must admit, has largely had its way for the last decade, but there is evidence of a turn-around. Ordinary people are beginning to fight back. They are beginning to realize that competing with each other can be suicidal, and that they, their families and their communities need cooperation as much as competition. For a working person, that cooperation means a union.
A working person might ask why their daughter - a teacher with four, five or six years of university - should make less than a commodities dealer with none. Why should their son, the medical lab technician with four years of university, earn less than a Cabinet Minister with none? How can we build a career in Yukon tourism with seasonal part-time work at medium-to-low wages? Do we really expect people to stay in school in order to become part-time clerks earning minimum wage? And is it any wonder that people earning that kind of money do not give the kind of service that consumers would like? Why should an employee care if their employer does not listen or does not care to hear their views? Why should a government employee respect a Conservative Minister who says one thing about employee rights before an election and does the opposite - the contemptible, contemptuous thing - afterwards.
Unions give working people a voice about decisions that affect their working lives. That is what they do. But if a large business or government will not listen to the legitimate voice of working people, whether they are teachers, grader operators or chambermaids, we, as Members of the Legislative Assembly, should not wonder if, eventually, we have social discord.
I look at this government's failure to consult about the economy as required by the Economic Development Act, the Environment Act, the umbrella final agreement and the unanimous resolution of this House. I look at the voice of legitimate unions and how they have been treated by this government since it came to power. I look at what this government has been prepared to do on employment standards. I look at the curtailment of collective bargaining for teachers and other public employees.
I think we have a serious and, unfortunately, a sad situation here. The government may argue that it has the right to do those things. It did not tell people it was going to do those things when it ran in the election. However, it does have the right, the power and the ability to do them, but I say to this government that if it does not value its citizens and their contributions to the economy and treat their representatives, unions and chosen leaders with respect, do not expect them to respect you the next time you come begging for their vote, because they have probably already decided to give it to someone else.
Today, we have choice. We can, as a House, vote for this motion. However, it is not
just a vote. We are not just saying that we support collective rights; we can do it. The
government can recant what it has done, apologize and say that it will go back to the
bargaining table and do the decent thing, or it can refuse to do that. It can be arrogant
and say that it knows better than people freely, democratically, justly and fairly
negotiating at the bargaining table. If it takes that attitude, it will surely be
politically doomed and will surely go the way of the dinosaurs.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Before I get into the context of my speech, I would like to make a couple of comments about the previous speaker's words.
It was interesting to listen to that Member talk about his family history and the
history of people he knew who were involved in the labour movement. I am sure that all of
us have, in some way, shape or form, been involved, from time to time, with that movement.
He described our government as an anti-employee, anti-democratic government. Those comments were somewhat unfair.
The Member said that we did not tell the people during the election that we were going to roll back their wages, and that that was unfair. Well, he did not tell the people during the last election that there was going to be a $64 million deficit, either, and I think that was unfair to the general public.
When he ran as the leader of the government, the Member pretended that government finances were fine and everything was in order. Yet, when the Auditor General's report came out a year later, it clearly showed that we were $13 million in the hole and had spent our $50 million surplus. In fact, the Yukon government was heading down the same rocky road that many other governments in Canada are seeing at the present time.
Those were some of the things he did not tell the electorate in the last election campaign.
I do not think anyone here is necessarily speaking out against the right of anyone to form unions. However, we do have some concerns with the motion as presented by the Member.
To start with, we should ask ourselves what a collective bargaining relationship is. A collective bargaining relationship is more than negotiating a first step or a renewed collective agreement. The relationship begins with the certification of a union representing employees who wish to act collectively in matters that, formerly, were matters for individual concern under the common law.
With the certification of a union comes the recognition that employment matters will be prescribed by the parties in writing, and the employer will deal corporately, with one entity representing everyone in that certified unit, instead of individually with each employee.
In the relationship of managing a written agreement, both the union and the employer have vital roles to play. They are the custodians of the words they have crafted. They guard the rights conferred by those words. They try to give life to the words in ways that will benefit the workers individually, as well as the parties themselves.
The process for renewing a collective agreement is only a part of the broader collective bargaining relationship. The renewal of an agreement can be a short process of negotiations, or it can be a protracted process, where the processes for resolving disputes at the bargaining table - disputes that prevent the signing of a new agreement - are found in legislation.
These legislated processes can comprise the following components, the first of which is negotiating. This is face-to-face negotiations, and the give and take between the parties as they attempt to reach a compromise and form a new agreement. Negotiating embodies the concept of bargaining in good faith, which carries the legal requirements of having the intent to reach a collective agreement, as well as the obligation of the employer to provide the union with information, such as certain financial information, that is needed to make informed decisions.
If the parties involved cannot reach an agreement at the table, either can seek a declaration from the labour board - in our case, the Yukon Public Service Staff Relations Board - that they have reached what we call an impasse, after which the bargaining unit is required to name the method for dispute resolution. If the bargaining unit chooses arbitration, it chooses a process whereby a third party can impose a new collective agreement. After hearing the positions from each side, both the union and the employer have to live with the outcome.
The bargaining agent may decide instead to choose conciliation, which is another process whereby a third party can recommend a collective agreement, but either side can reject the findings and proceed to bring economic sanctions against the other, in an attempt to force an agreement. If the bargaining agent chooses to exercise economic force, it can strike the employer and withdraw the services of its members. In our case, these were services provided directly to the Yukon public. In some jurisdictions, the employer has an equal right to exercise economic force. This is called a lockout, but the Yukon government, as an employer, does not have this right.
Finally, at the end of whatever method worked out for the parties in order to reach a collective agreement, there is a new agreement, ratified by the principles and signed by the negotiating teams.
Generally, these are the processes that are in place which permit government workers, represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Yukon Teachers Association, to collectively revise their terms and their conditions of employment. The collective bargaining relationship continues beyond the signing of a new agreement. Once the agreement has been ratified, the parties then work together - and sometimes at odds - but always with the same intention: to safeguard the words in the agreement, and to breathe life into those words by administering them with good reason, good faith, and without discrimination.
The processes by which the parties work together under the agreement are contained partly in the agreement through such provisions as the grievance procedure and the joint consultation process. They are also contained in the legislation itself, in the form of the processes for pursuing complaints to adjudication on the interpretation of collective agreement provisions. I will talk later about the roles of the parties under the administration of the collective agreement.
Sometimes, a collective agreement can last as long as three years, as was the case between 1990 and 1993. By law, an agreement cannot last less than one year. The length of each collective agreement will vary, depending upon the needs and desires of the parties themselves. Those needs and desires are, in turn, affected by economic factors: the desire for labour or employment stability and current trends in other bargaining relationships, just to name a few.
Equally variable may be the manner in which a new agreement is reached. Sometimes, it is possible to reach an agreement at the negotiation stage and sometimes, as we know, it is not possible. Sometimes, it is possible to reach an agreement under the scrutiny of the public eye on the findings of the conciliation report, and sometimes it is not possible. Sometimes, the parties can only reach a new agreement when the threat of economic sanction, strike or lockout looms large. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a strike or a lockout to happen before the parties make the necessary compromises. Sometimes, the parties simply cannot work it out together and they choose to live with a legally imposed agreement from a third-party arbitrator. Whatever the length of an agreement and whatever the legislative process used by the parties to renew an agreement, the parties are obliged to follow the law as it exists.
I think we should probably ask ourselves the question: was bargaining last spring with the Yukon Teachers Association collective bargaining? A lot of attention was given to the renewal of the YTA collective agreement last spring. The YTA referred to the process of renewal as something which was not free, collective bargaining. In fact, what was being referred to was only the process for renewing their agreement. That process, as spelled out in the Education Act, includes the full range of choices that are available as legislative remedies or resolution methods.
The enactment of Bill No. 94 superseded the completion of the process provided for under the Education Act and became the new law. On enactment of the legislation, the parties had negotiated and the YTA had applied to the Yukon Teachers Staff Relation Board in Ottawa for declaration of an impasse. The board declared an impasse and, in so doing, reached the explicit finding that the parties had bargained in good faith.
When Bill No. 94 came into effect on June 7, 1994, both parties were found to have bargained collectively, legally and in accordance with the Education Act. When the processes under the Education Act were superseded by the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, a new legal process temporarily took over.
Like the process in the Education Act for managing the renewal of a collective agreement, the processes in the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act are also legislated processes. The Yukon Teachers Staff Relations Board acknowledged the new legislation and the new agreement, which applies until 1997.
This brings us to the question of what kind of right collective bargaining is. Is it free? The motion before us today implies that collective bargaining is free. Free implies that it is not restricted in any way. Perhaps, carried to the extreme, it could even imply that a party, if it were skillful, fortunate or powerful enough, could always get its own way, and that there would not be restrictions on its ability to secure whatever it wanted.
That is not reality. It is not even reality under the regimes of the Education Act or the Public Service Staff Relations Act. In both these pieces of legislation, there are restrictions on the right to bargain. For example, bargaining agents cannot attempt to bargain away fundamental rights or authorities which belong to the employer.
Under our Public Service Staff Relations Act, section 2, for example, no rights under collective bargaining can restrict (a) the employer's ability to manage and direct the members of the public service, (b) to determine the organization of the public service and to assign duties and classify positions, (c) to recruit and make appointments to the public service, (d) to transfer and promote employees and, (e) to lay off, demote or discipline an employee.
Under our Education Act, as well, in section 196, it states that no rights under collective bargaining may restrict the right or the authority of the employer or a school board to (a) establish, manage and direct an educational system of schools and to determine the organization of the educational area, attendance area, or school established under the act. (b) to recruit and make appointments under the Education Act, (c) to promote and transfer employees, (d) to demote employees, (e) to discipline employees and, last, (f), to lay off employees.
The term "free" implies that there are no restrictions. There certainly exist - and have existed - legislative restrictions on the processes exercised by the parties over the years. I might add that this applies to the present government and the previous government, as well.
Is it fundamental?
There are other restrictions on the renewal of a collective agreement, and those restrictions may have to deal with an interest that goes beyond the immediate interest of the employer and its employees. Because the government acts in two capacities - that of the employer, as well as of governor and legislator - there are interests in the broader citizenry of the whole of the territory, which may conflict with whether or not the public employees should get what they want from negotiations. The previous Minister of the Public Service Commission also mentioned the point that we do have other responsibilities besides our employees. We have another mandate to provide responsible government to all the people in the territory.
From time to time, these public interests may be as fundamental as the interests of government employees, but they also need to be balanced by the government when it acts in that dual capacity.
Fundamental also implies that the right to collective bargaining is so basic to citizens of a democratic society that it is something that you take for granted, but it is not a right that may be exercised by everyone in a democratic society.
Prior to the enactment of the Public Service Staff Relations Act in 1970, and the labour relation provisions of the former School Act, in 1971, public servants of the Government of the Yukon had no legal right to bargain collectively. To the extent that these processes and these two pieces of legislation have served as the template for determining terms and conditions of employment for most government employees for 23 years, they have been fundamental for essential processes for those 23 years, and for those employees.
For other government employees, however - deputies, managers, casuals, contract employees - collective bargaining has not been a right, fundamental or otherwise, for determining the terms and conditions of employment, because legislation has never been in effect to grant such right to these employees.
When you read the motion as it is written, "that it is the opinion of this House that, in a democratic society, free collective bargaining is a fundamental right", it is a fairly strong statement. That particular statement has been tested in the highest courts of this land. For the information of the Members present, I would like to go to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provide some information on what that Charter says about the description of fundamental freedoms.
In section 2 of the Constitution, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it says that
everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: the freedom of conscience and of
religion; the freedom of thought, belief, opinion, expression, including the freedom of
the press and other media of communication; the freedom of peaceful assembly; and the
freedom of association.
I went through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and there are many freedoms and democratic rights. There are other freedoms: language rights, minority language rights, rights of aboriginal people, equalization and disparities. There are all kinds of rights spelled out in that Charter, but nowhere is it stated in the language that is written in this motion.
There have been a few court cases on the constitutionality of collective bargaining and whether collective bargaining is a fundamental right that is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The first case I would like to bring to the Members' attention is a case in the Supreme Court of Canada, where it has consciously determined that there is no constitutional right to strike, nor any constitutional right to impose collective bargaining. In particular, governments may impose compulsory arbitration wherein the arbitrator is required to give effect to stated fiscal policy.
In each of the two cases where the Supreme Court has addressed the issue, three out of the six justices of the Supreme Court specifically rejected the concept that collective bargaining is a guaranteed or fundamental right under the Charter. On this point, I point out the ambiguous statement made by Mr. Justice Le Dain in the PSAC case concerning the federal restraint legislation, on page 273. He said, "I am of the opinion that the guarantee of freedom of association in section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not include a guarantee of the right to bargain collectively and the right to strike."
For the Member's information, the reference is the Public Service Employees Relations Act, 1987, 38 DLR, 4th, p.161, and The Public Service Alliance of Canada vs. The Queen, 1987, 38 DLR, 4th, p.249.
As well, in the Supreme Court of Canada decision, Mr. Justice Sopinka has stated that, "Collective bargaining is not in itself an activity protected by the guarantee of freedom of association and has drawn the assumption that a government can abridge collective bargaining entirely without constitutional impediment. This collective bargaining is not an absolute right, nor a right of association protected by the Charter."
The reference there, for the Minister's information, is PIPS (Professional Institute of Public Servants) vs. Northwest Territories, 1990, 49 CRR, p.143.
In this last case, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court reviewed relevant decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada, including the Professional Institute of Public Servants decision, and concluded that the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act of Nova Scotia, which froze compensation plans for two years, did not violate the Charter, and affirmed that freedom of association does not protect collective bargaining activity.
For the Members' reference, this is the Nova Scotia Teachers Union vs. Nova Scotia, 1993, 15 CRR, 2d, p.29.
Is it a legislated right? If the ability to engage in collective bargaining, the products of which relationship are recognized legally, is not something that is free, or without restrictions, and it is not fundamental because it is selective, what kind of right is it?
Before the enactment of the Public Service Staff Relations Act and the School Act of 1971, the terms and conditions of employment for all government employees, including teachers, were the sole determination of the employer, shaped under unilaterally formulated employer policy. No single employee could count on the weight of the collective in any dispute with the employer - there was no collective.
The right of employees to organize and to bargain collectively was given to certain public employees by means of legislation - legislation passed in this very House. The right to form a union, to negotiate agreements, to administer agreements, to take a complaint to adjudication and to strike are all legislated rights. These rights would not exist otherwise, were they not legislated by this House for certain government employees. They are legislated rights, as opposed to inalienable democratic rights bestowed on one by virtue of one's birthright. Like all rights, they may not be exercised in a vacuum.
The right of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Yukon Teachers Association government employees to negotiate a new agreement has not been revoked by Bill No. 94. It has merely been restricted for three years. Collective bargaining is still the norm on the expiry of Bill No. 94. In fact, Bill No. 94 explicitly states that collective bargaining is to resume in 1997 and 1998 in accordance with the Education Act and the Public Service Staff Relations Act.
What role do the parties serve under any agreement? I mentioned earlier that I wished to touch a bit on the roles of the parties under the administration of the collective agreement. That, too, is a critical part of the collective bargaining relationship. It brings a fuller understanding of the nature of the employment relationship between the union and the employer.
Negotiating renewal agreements is only part of that relationship. Traditionally, it is the public part of the collective bargaining relationship, but it is certainly not the only part, and, in some cases, it can be viewed as secondary. It can be a means to acquiring the rights and benefits of employers, which have real meaning only when they are used.
Administering the provisions of the contract is fundamental to the success of any agreement, whether it is negotiated, imposed, or even legislated. The rights of the parties in administering the collective agreement are also legislated rights. The former Minister of the Public Service Commission is on record as supporting the valuable roles played by the union. I will also go on record as supporting the valuable roles that unions can play in the workplace.
I have personal experience being on both sides of the fence, so to speak. I am a former member of the Rock and Tunnel Workers Union; I worked in Faro as a labourer years ago, when they built the Curragh mine. As well, I was a member of the Teamsters Union when White Pass was hauling ore for the Curragh mine. That was a few years ago now. I worked in the transportation division at White Pass on the trucks and trailers. I was involved in the union in that position.
I have also had the opportunity to be on the other side of the coin. I have owned and operated my own business, and have had as many as eight employees. My company was never a unionized company. Mine was the last painting company that actually did the work on all the new houses in the new subdivision in Faro years ago. I have had as many as eight painters up there. Many of my painters received higher wages and benefits than even the union workers received, because they were doing an outstanding job and we had a good working relationship. As I said, I have been on both sides of the fence, and have experienced being on both the union and the management side when dealing with employees.
In addition to whatever process is being used for renewing a collective agreement, there are valuable roles that the unions continue to play. These certainly include representing the employee members in employment matters with the employer, for example, matters such as grievances, disciplinary appeals, dismissals and those kinds of things. That is an ongoing process that occurs regardless of the state of the collective bargaining procedure.
Participation in the development of employment policy affecting the membership is outlined in the Public Service Commission collective agreement. It has also been the practice of this employer to consult the union on those matters.
As well, the union's role is to participate formally in the joint consultation process, a forum to discuss and attempt to resolve employment-related concerns of its members. I know that is also an ongoing process. They are also involved in amending, where mutually agreeable, any non-compensation related provisions of the collective agreement. I know that went on from time to time under the previous government and, I believe, also under this government.
The union is to act, in its legislated capacity, in the interests of its members in beginning to formulate and address desired revisions to the collective agreement upon the expiry of the existing provisions. They work with their members on that.
The last time we debated this in the House was when we were talking about Bill No. 94. Mr. Harding quoted Mr. Penikett on June 2, 1994. He said, "I think the Leader of the Official Opposition made one of the best arguments I have heard. He had said that the right to collective bargain is a fundamental democratic right, but it is not an absolute right."
I would agree with part of that. I agree that the right is not absolute. It cannot be absolute unless we were willing to concede that there could be no interests at all in the process beyond the immediate interests of the union and the government, in its role strictly as an employer. It cannot be absolute unless we were willing to concede that the public interest could never have a role to play in what we agree to pay out to our public servants in return for their services to the citizenry of the Yukon.
Collective bargaining is a right that is conferred by legislation, but it is not conferred on all employees in the territory, and not even conferred on all employees of this employer. So, I do not believe it can be viewed as a fundamental right. If it were a fundamental, or inalienable, right, all citizens would enjoy that right, and all public employees would enjoy that right.
It must be concluded then that it is what we would call a "legislated right". In a democratic society, rights and freedoms cannot be absolute or without exception, since they are often qualified or limited, in order to protect the rights of others.
In light of constitutional values, or to achieve a desirable social purpose, society generally accepts the need for such limitations - for example, libel and slander laws - to the right of free speech.
No government elected democratically by a majority vote could logically or reasonably place itself in a position where the exercise of a specific right could jeopardize the provision of services to other groups and individuals in society or prevent the practice or exercise of others' rights. The legislated right to bargain collectively is not absolute. It does not override all other interests and, as Mr. Nordling has said publicly, the government acts in the capacity of both government and employer. As government, it has broader interests, which include all Yukon citizens, and not only the Yukon government employees.
The Member for Faro is on record quoting the Leader of the Official Opposition as stating that it is not an absolute right, and where it is not absolute, it must be a judgment of the legislators since both the right to enjoy a collective bargaining relationship and any continuing restrictions under the Education Act and the Public Service Staff Relations Act or temporary restrictions under Bill No. 94 are a matter for legislation.
In light of this discussion, I would therefore support an amended motion that would
give a fuller understanding of the nature of the collective bargaining relationship in our
society today. Therefore, at this time, I would like to move an amendment to the motion.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move
THAT Motion No. 30 be amended by deleting the words "fundamental right" and substituting them for the following words:
"legislated right, but not absolute;
THAT this House recognizes this right has been suspended from time to time by other
governments in Canada, such as the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, the
Government of Quebec, the Government of Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the
Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Nova Scotia and the Government of
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Justice
THAT Motion No. 30 be amended by deleting the words "fundamental right" and substituting them for the following words:
"legislated right, but not absolute;
THAT this House recognizes this right has been suspended from time to time by other
governments in Canada, such as the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, the
Government of Quebec, the Government of Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the
Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Nova Scotia and the Government of
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Restrictions on the exercise of collective bargaining rights have been acknowledged way beyond the boundaries of the Yukon, as well, with the acknowledgment of competing interests. Other jurisdictions have also exercised the responsibility of governments acting merely beyond their responsibilities as an individual employer, and they have been compelled to bring in legislation which, for a time, modifies the traditional processes used to renew contracts with their employees.
I would like to take a few moments and go through what those other jurisdictions have done, for the Members' information. I will start with the Government of Canada.
This government has frozen the increments for all their employees from 1991 to 1994, and they have extended it again from 1995 to 1996. We all know the major problems the Government of Canada is seeing at the present time. I would not be surprised if the new Liberal government has to deal with this issue in 1996. Along with that, the federal government is talking about massive layoffs in the civil service throughout the country. The Yukon is going to be affected, as is every other jurisdiction, when the Liberals come down with their ax - Axworthy.
If we look at other jurisdictions, such as Manitoba, between June 1993 to March 1995, the government brought in legislation that covered the entire public sector. There were 10 unpaid days off, equivalent to a 3.8 percent salary reduction in that province. Our friends in Ontario - Brother Bob, the friend to the Government Leader -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Excuse me, the friend of the Leader of the Official Opposition. Erase that from the record.
The NDP government in Ontario, which, in most people's minds, is fairly pro-union, as the Government Leader expressed earlier today, has had to deal with this issue, as well as have other governments. They brought in what they described as a social contract. They created a huge upheaval in the Province of Ontario that affected all their employee groups. There were some layoffs involved. They froze economic and merit increments. They froze benefit improvements. There were days off without pay, premium holiday for employer pension. They had to make some major changes, and they did that legislatively. They did not negotiate. They brought in some legislation that will be effective until March 31, 1996. The Member said they negotiated, but I can recall people stomping around the Legislature, upset and angry. I do not think they received overwhelming support for that kind of legislation from many of their employees at the time.
Unfortunately, they had to take that kind of action. No one likes to see it, but they decided that was one way of dealing with the problem.
The New Brunswick government, in 1991-1992, brought in legislation and in 1992-1993 brought in legislation. In both cases they postponed the merit increments in those particular jurisdictions. This was legislation that they brought forward.
In May 1994 to May 1995, the Prince Edward Island government, depending on the salary level, reduce salaries by 3.75 percent, and in some cases for the upper levels, by 7.5 percent. There were no increases in performance increments.
I should correct the record. When he spoke earlier, the Leader of the Official Opposition stated that the merit pay was not going to be reinstated. In fact, merit pay is reinstated and some employees will be receiving merit pay on their anniversary dates up to as high as four percent. Some of those people will be receiving it immediately if their anniversary is next week. They will be evaluated on it and receive it on their anniversary date. Part of the legislation states that merit pay is reinstated for the next three years. The Leader of the Official Opposition was wrong on that account.
Employees will see that change in their pay as soon as their anniversary dates arrive, if they warrant receiving the merit pay as judged by the process that has been in place for a long time.
The Province of Nova Scotia, another province in Canada, in April 1992 to March 1994 again brought in legislation stating that five days of unpaid leave equated to a two percent salary reduction. That was legislation that they deemed necessary to bring in at the time to get a handle on their expenses. The same government in Nova Scotia, April 1994 to April 1997, brought in some more legislation: a 3.9 percent reduction on salaries over $25,000 and merit and experience increments deferred for one year. Many provinces have moved in a similar direction.
In the Province of Newfoundland, which is on the opposite side of our country, there was legislation in 1991 and 1992 to over-ride negotiated increases. The employer has also agreed with the union to reduce contributions to pensions.
These are just a few of the areas in which other jurisdictions in Canada have had to deal with similar situations. It is not a pleasant one for anyone to have to deal with but it is one that is necessary at times. We would have some difficulty supporting the motion as it is written. I think what we have tried to do here today is to bring forward a friendly amendment that for all intents and purposes protects the rights of unions and those who wish to negotiate settlements in the future, and which does not contradict or fly in the face of Supreme Court decisions and other decisions that are made by higher courts.
I think there is a flaw in the way the motion is written, and we are attempting here to
correct that flaw. With that, I would urge all Members of this House to support the
amendment that is before us.
Ms. Moorcroft: I rise to speak against the amendment that has been proposed by the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. That particular Minister stood up and talked about the bargaining process, and about conciliation and arbitration, but there was no sign that he understood collective bargaining. I think we can see that the government is committed to over-riding the rights of Yukoners, although there was, in fact, no financial requirement for their wage restraint legislation, which they so infamously introduced in the last session.
The Minister was talking about there sometimes being strikes or lockouts as a result of the collective bargaining process. I would point out that 95 percent of negotiations result in a collective agreement being achieved without a strike. There is no financial requirement for the wage restraint bill. The government does not respect working people. They do not respect the democratic right of collective bargaining. They do not respect the teaching profession, public servants or Yukoners. I think that for the Minister to stand and call his amendment "a friendly amendment", indicates that they understand the word "friendly" in about the same way that they understand the phrase "a democratic right".
I support free collective bargaining as a fundamental right. I think that it is important to bring out a perspective that is not commonly recognized, and that is the contribution of working people to our society. Canada was not built by the politicians, soldiers and businessmen who populate our history books. Men and women who cleared forests, grew crops, built roads, railways and cities, worked in mines and factories, raised children, taught schools and treated the sick, are the real workers who create a country. Canada is no exception to this truth. There is a new academic discipline known as social history, which includes labour history and women's history, and acknowledges this contribution of the hard-working people who build a society and an economy, and who are also the voters who elect politicians to office.
The views of this government are anti-worker, and the views of the Ministers opposite who stand up and rail against union toadies are not unique to the Yukon Party. These views have been prevalent throughout history.
In Canada, the union concept of strength and unity came into existence in the early 1800s. Through collective action, workers formed unions so they could have a voice in deciding their wages, hours of work, working conditions, and dealing with the many problems that arise in the workplace.
The Toronto printers strike of 1872 was part of the nine-hour movement, a vigorous campaign to reduce the working day to nine hours, and the work week to 54 hours. Most of the Toronto printers, headed by George Brown of the Globe, were fiercely anti-union, like the Yukon Party.
The Toronto printers of 1872 had 13 leading members of the Typographical Union committee arrested on a charge of seditious conspiracy. Let me explain that for Members opposite - in other words, a secret plan to commit the crime of agitating against the authority of the state.
Ontario unions promptly set to work to get Canadian legislation to match the British laws of 1791, making unions lawful. Sir John A. Macdonald lost no time in passing through Parliament a Trade Unions Act and a Criminal Law Amendment Act . This was the first big piece of successful political activity by Canadian unions.
The prosecution against the printers for seditious conspiracy was dropped, and the strike was won when unions became legal in Canada in 1872.
As time went on, union rights began to be circumscribed. The right to strike, picket and boycott were limited, with no comparable obligation on employers to recognize unions or to bargain with them. Unions had little or no protection against offensive or retaliatory actions by employers, such as firing or blacklisting union members.
Between 1901 and 1913, workers were involved in 14 large strikes across Canada, in which violence in some form occurred. In 11 of those strikes, the militia or regular military force was used. The law placed a higher priority on property rights and the right of an employer to carry on operations without interference than it did on the rights of workers to organize for collective bargaining and to protect their jobs.
In addition to strikebreakers, employers were allowed to hire special armed guards, supplementing the regular police, to protect their property. Often, local and provincial authorities read the riot act, or proclaimed martial law, banned public meetings, and brought in militia or regular units of the army. As is often the case with legislation affecting workers, including occupational health and safety legislation, then and now, the laws themselves are ineffective in eliminating abuses. There has to be a political will to enforce the laws in order for them to protect democratic rights and freedoms.
One hundred years ago, the lack of enforcement encouraged workers to organize. Today, the government imposes its beliefs on its own workforce and brings in a law to replace collective bargaining with wage restraint.
Nothing transformed the lives of working people more than unions. A series of war-time clashes, culminating in a wild-cat strike of steel workers early in 1943, together with the dramatic growth of support for the democratic socialist Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, one Canadian union achieved for Canadian unions what American unions had achieved under the Wagner Act of 1935. PC-1003, proclaimed in February 1944, finally created the machinery necessary to enforce a worker's right to chose a union, to impose collective bargaining and a grievance procedure and to curb unfair practices by unions and managements. PC-1003 provided a basis for industrial relations in the federal and most provincial jurisdictions.
The Minister's amendment, then, flies in the face of recognizing that right established in 1944 for collective bargaining to occur. I would like to remind the Minister that the United Nations' universal declaration on human rights affirms the rights of free trade unions as a fundamental right.
The union movement's efforts to gain recognition in the past 100 years are little remembered or known, but remain a very important part of history. It took bitter struggles and great sacrifices before the principle of collective bargaining was accepted in major industries and as a part of Canadian society. Historically, the owners of industry held the view that since they own the workplace, they therefore had the sole right to determine the conditions of employment. We have heard the Minister echo that view in talking about collective bargaining today.
What is collective bargaining? It is a method of determining wages, hours and other conditions of employment through direct negotiations between the employers and their workers. Working people joined together, whether as a union or federation or association, to talk to an employer. Because they speak for everybody, unions can get a better deal for each worker than one employee could by negotiating with the employer. This is because an employer can play off individual workers and groups of workers against each other.
Normally, the result of collective bargaining is a written contract that covers all employees, both union members and non members. People who do not enjoy the benefits of union protection do get the benefits of better wages and working conditions. The establishment of a contract and the shop steward system means that workers have the right to talk to their employer through their organization via the grievance procedure if they feel they have been treated unfairly. Under the open-door management policy where workers are encouraged to bring their individual problems directly to the management, the worker often went directly out the same door and out of the workplace as well.
In looking at Canadian history, many of the rights and benefits we all enjoy were initially fought for and won by unions. The labour movement was in the forefront of the struggle for public health care, for public education, for minimum wages, holidays and employment conditions. We all work 40 hours a week or less, instead of 60 or more, because the unions periodically went on strike for a shorter work week, despite the warnings of employers that they would never be able to afford it. Employees' pension plans exist because the unions went on strike for that benefit, too.
Paid maternity leave has recently been added to many workers' benefits, largely because their unions fought for it. For most workers, a union and a collective agreement represent security in the workplace, dignity on the job and the means to a better life. Before workers organized, the word was "no" - no job security, no representation, no grievance procedure, no health and safety program, no coffee breaks, no work standards, no uniform pay scale, no guaranteed wage increases, no overtime pay after eight hours, no paid vacations, no jury duty pay, no bereavement pay, no sickness and accident benefits, no severance pay, no dental program, no voluntary overtime, no health and safety committee, no paid holidays, and no paid employee assistance program.
I could stand here for a good while longer to inform the government about Canadian labour history and how it relates to the work environment today. I am sure that the Members are enjoying this enormously, but I would now like to sum up, because we would like to be able to defeat this amendment the Minister brought forward.
Why is free collective bargaining such a basic democratic right? It is because the vote alone will not give a worker power over her or his own life. Workers in the early 20th century could vote, if they were male, but their employers treated them like chattel, because they did not have the right of free collective bargaining. Why have workers all over the world risked their jobs, their homes, and even their lives, to fight for this right? It is because they knew what it was like for a working-class family in a world without it.
What were workers' lives like back in the days before unions? What are workers' lives like today in countries where free collective bargaining does not take place? We all know. They suffer long hours, poor living conditions, dangerous working conditions - they have lives that are squalid and short. The government will say that this is an exaggerated response to the mere imposition of a two percent pay cut to a workforce of well-paid public servants, but what curtailment will they put on a right so basic to real democracy? Would they deny government workers the right to vote because some, though by no means all, are fairly well off? If the government believes that all of its workers are overpaid, it may be because none of them have lately tried to live in Whitehorse as a single mother earning $29,000 per year. A two-percent pay cut will mean a loss of $580 per year to this employee; and what will she now do without?
Governments have a responsibility to set an example and not to tamper lightly with the basic freedoms of the people they represent. Only the very gravest of circumstances justify the abrogation of any of these rights, and no such circumstances are present today. There never was a financial crisis in the Yukon; there never was a deficit. There was just a load of malarkey with the figures, to try and hide the fact that this government has an anti-union, anti-democratic, agenda.
On March 10 of last year, the government gave notice that they would not bargain with the Yukon Teachers Association and the Yukon Employees Union, but would be legislating a two-percent wage cut effective January 1, 1995. They called the Legislature in on April 18, faced continuous questions from Opposition Members, and then agreed to sit down with the Yukon Teachers Association on April 20.
The former Minister announced that they had entered into collective bargaining, but he also announced that, if no agreement was reached by May 20, the legislation would be introduced. The government mandate at the so-called bargaining table was to recoup a certain amount of money from payroll. The Yukon Teachers Association's membership, the teachers of the Yukon, did not give the mandate for a pay cut. True collective bargaining is not done with a gun to the head, and it is no surprise that bargaining broke down.
As provided for in the Education Act, the teachers requested conciliation, but the government refused to engage in conciliation. The government chose conflict over cooperation. This is consistent with the former Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission and his stated objective that they did not want to abide by an objective third-party decision. It made a mockery out of collective bargaining. It is legislation driven by ideology and not Yukon reality. The government did not want to engage in collective bargaining. They only agreed to bargain because of our insistence during Question Period, and then they insisted on a 36-month wage restraint legislation as a matter of Yukon Party ideology. There is no trust. There is no open government.
Education is wealth creation. Teachers volunteer for coaching sports and school bazaars. I see them on the side of the highway helping students clean up garbage. They help out with breakfast programs, science fairs and a host of other activities. They deserve respect and fair treatment. The Minister interfered in the bargaining process by sending individual letters to teachers. Certainly, they did not deserve the letter from the former Minister, who told them that they should support the two-percent wage cut in order to avoid "last year's bitter confrontation", as the Minister characterized it.
What was last year's bitter confrontation to which he referred? He was trying to fool the teachers by talking about the bargaining with the Yukon Employees Union and saying that was so bitter that the teachers had to avoid a further bitter confrontation. What were the circumstances with the YEU when the legislation was introduced? There was a collective agreement in place. Both parties - the government and the YEU - had accepted the report of a three-person board. The conciliator's report included a freeze of merit increases and of the Yukon bonus and a compulsory Christmas shutdown, with no pay. The government introduced legislation to extend the existing agreement and to introduce amendments to it, which altered the Yukon bonus and introduced a two-percent rollback. In the 1995-96 budget before us now, there is a total budget expenditure increase of two percent and the wages have been rolled back by two percent.
Even looking at the budget increase, it leaves aside the dishonest accounting of the contingency fund of a forecast $8.5 million in the current year and a projected $8.2 million in the 1995-96 estimates. That is a contingency fund that is going to be spent, but it is not reckoned in with the other expenditures so that the budget will not look as large. This government has enacted legislation outside of the collective bargaining sphere and has made a mockery of the collective bargaining process.
The government does not want to engage in collective bargaining. On the same day that their wage restraint legislation was introduced, I presented a petition with over 600 signatures of Yukoners on it asking this government to refrain from suspending the right to free collective bargaining and to respect the right to negotiate terms and conditions of employment currently held by the Yukon Teachers Association and the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
A couple of weeks later, there was a petition presented by over 362 residents of the Ross River-Southern Lakes riding, demanding that their MLA support the right to free collective bargaining. However, the government did not respect the views of Yukoners. The government rammed the wage restraint legislation down Yukoners' throats, in spite of opposition from the public, in spite of the fact that they were trampling on the democratic right to collectively bargain, in spite of the fact that they found a $20 million surplus on the same day that they tabled their two percent wage cut legislation.
The Minister who is now responsible for the Public Service Commission was saying that there could be no restrictions on the employer's right to manage in the Public Service Commission Act, and that the Education Act also provides for employer's rights. Yes, employers' and employees' rights are both established in a collective agreement.
He then went on to say that the interests of the whole territory have to be considered in whether the government employees should get what they want. The government employees did not have an opportunity to negotiate for what they wanted.
The Minister says the public interest is as fundamental as the interests of the government employees. The government failed to demonstrate any public interest that would be served by imposing a two-percent wage cut in the dictatorial mean-spirited manner in which they did it.
The Minister also talked about casuals, and that there was no legislated protection for them, so collective bargaining was not a fundamental right of theirs. There are some benefits that apply, for example, the wage scale. I have gone on record requesting that casuals be included as a category of employee, because there are not presently covered by the Public Service Commission Act or by the Employment Standards Act.
In saying that collective bargaining is not a fundamental right, but a legislated right, the Minister is just digging himself in deeper. He is saying that collective bargaining rights cannot operate in a vacuum. I will tell you what kind of a vacuum we have here. We are devoid of any economic leadership. We are devoid of any leadership from the government opposite. The Minister says that collective bargaining can resume in three years and that they are only temporarily restricting the right and that grievances will continue while the wage restraint is in effect. The Minister has failed to grasp and understand the fact that grievances are a function of the collective bargaining process. I really am not surprised that this government fails to comprehend anything when it comes to the democratic rights of the Yukon citizens.
Today, Yukon government employees, including teachers and government workers, will open their pay envelopes. What will they find in there? Some will find a little loss of luxury, others will find some real hardship, but each and every one of those envelopes will contain a slap in the face of their democratic rights.
I have spoken to government employees this week and over the holiday season. They are angry, not so much because they will have smaller paycheques this week and for the next three years, but they are angry because they say the government lied to them. The government told them that their fundamental democratic right to free collective bargaining was being overridden because of a financial crisis. And then, before the ink had a chance to dry properly on the act that stole those rights - poof! the crisis was gone, and good heavens, what is this - $20 million extra dollars lying around. Is not this government a bunch of good fiscal managers? I think the Yukon public would say: Not.
On December 14th, this government tabled a $490 million budget. For three consecutive years, the government has introduced the largest budgets in history, each one bigger than the last - quite a contradiction when they speak of being fiscally responsible and of the so-called deficit we apparently had in 1992-93. This government has enough money to reverse the wage-restraint legislation - and to refund the tax increases they imposed - and still have money to spare. If this government was not determined to be Scrooge, it could have allowed its employees a Christmas bonus by agreeing to sit down and negotiate with them and not impose a two-percent wage cut.
I would call on the government to reaffirm its commitment to democracy. I would like all of the Members of this House to show a proper respect for the institutions of democracy and for the rights and freedoms of a democratic country. I would call on the government to truly demonstrate their commitment to collective bargaining, although I know that they are not going to do that. I know that they do not think it is a fundamental right, but a legislated right. It is not an absolute right, according to the amendments put forward by the Minister of Justice. It is a right that they plan to ignore. That is obvious to the public.
However, this government should repeal the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act.
This government should bargain with the Yukon Teachers Association and the Yukon Employees
Union. This government should recognize collective bargaining as a fundamental right.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Before I spoke, I hoped that we would hear from the Leader of the Official Opposition with respect to the amendment of his motion. Perhaps we will hear from him later on in the debate.
In our democratic society - the Canadian society of which the Yukon is a part - the Charter of Rights and Freedoms identifies and outlines our fundamental rights and freedoms. The Charter gives us the bottom line, which guides, guards and limits our actions and reactions. Those rights and freedoms are stated as: (a) freedom of conscience and religion, (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication, (c) freedom of peaceful assembly and, (d) freedom of association. The right to collective bargaining is not identified under the heading of fundamental freedoms in the Charter; neither are matters such as federal access to information rights, which are found in statute law.
Notions of what constitute a fundamental right or freedom have evolved over the centuries. In time, it may well be that the right to bargain collectively may become a fundamental right and may be included in the Charter. Some people feel that other matters, such as the right to own private property, should be included as a fundamental right.
Today, although the right to collective bargain is an important right, it is,
nevertheless, a legislated right. It is a right conferred by the Public Service Staff
Relations Act. The act establishes a process to negotiate the terms and conditions of
compensation and related issues, as well as provides the machinery for administering and
enforcing the act.
Freedom of association is a fundamental right under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Today, however, the right to collective bargaining is not a fundamental right under the all-important Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Whether or not it should be included is, apparently, a debate the Leader of the Official Opposition was not going to get into in his motion because his motion talks about the reality and the state of collective bargaining today.
In a democratic society such as ours, we have an obligation to govern for today with an eye on tomorrow. We must govern within the framework of the Charter - our Charter - and with respect for the law. The rights of the individual must be respected and protected. Along with that, we also have an obligation to govern in the best interests of all citizens - those in the public sector, those in the private sector, those included in the collective bargaining units, and those who are not. Today's taxpayers and the taxpayers of tomorrow all have rights.
Sometimes, circumstances require us to ask each citizen to share society's burden for the betterment of all people in that society. We look to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to help resolve those situations. In a democratic society, we must balance rights and responsibilities, needs and wants, and personal and group interests. The Charter guides us in that difficult task by defining what is a fundamental right and what is not.
The Charter gives us our base, our starting point, our terms of reference. It provides us with our foundation, a tool for governing, but the Charter does not do it all. It does not govern for us, it governs with us. It does free us from conflict. It does not free us from making tough decisions in the face of difficult social and economic conditions and conflicting values and viewpoints.
This was clearly demonstrated in May 1994 when this government introduced the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act.
As a government, we were faced with several responsibilities: the need to identify cost savings over the next three years, the uncertainty about federal transfer payments, the need to provide social and economic programs for our people and the need to act fairly and responsibly to all our employees and to Yukon taxpayers.
We did not want to meet our responsibilities through layoffs. We wanted to ensure that the jobs and programs were protected, not just this year but for the coming years. We wanted our solutions to be correct and fair.
We first looked at the solutions proposed to similar problems in other jurisdictions and concluded that those solutions - for example, program cuts and layoffs - were not appropriate in the Yukon. Consequently, we cut government travel and contracting, reduced new hirings, deferred operation and maintenance expenditures and identified ways of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of program delivery.
We then asked employees of the Yukon Teachers Association and the Yukon government employees, including managers and Cabinet office staff, to contribute to cost savings through a modest reduction in pay, so that all might continue to work. Dialogue took place but, after two months, it was clear that the government and the Yukon Teachers Association and the Yukon Employees Union were not able to reach an agreement on compensation restraint. Consequently, the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act was introduced.
The present job security language in the collective agreement was extended for the life of the agreement. Programs and jobs were protected. Then, as now, when faced with difficult circumstances, as government and as individual legislators, we look to, and are bound by, the Charter; however, we must also act. This means examining all factors in a situation, considering all perspectives, looking at the needs of our people today and tomorrow, looking and working for common ground, researching the options and, finally, selecting a responsible course of action.
It also means accepting that our decisions will not always be popular in the short term, but will be beneficial to all concerned in the longer term. As a government, we are responsible for both the process by which we make decisions, the decisions we make and, just as importantly, for our inactions. We are as responsible for choosing to take controversial stands as we are for taking the easy way out.
For all of those things, we are, and will be, held accountable, whether the issue is education, highways, or public sector wages. Yes, the Charter can, must, and does guide us in this democratic process, but it requires of us that we act responsibly in balancing the needs and rights of all of our citizens.
I am supporting the amendment to the motion because it more accurately reflects the
reality of collective bargaining in our democratic society as of today. Collective
bargaining is a legislated right, it is not an absolute right. No right is absolute, not
even the right of freedom of speech, which is listed in our Charter. The amendment to the
motion goes on to describe the difficult decisions that have been made in other parts of
Canada with respect to the area of collective bargaining and dealing with this important
Mr. Harding: I rise to speak to the amendment proposed by the Minister of Justice. I would like to start by saying that it is unfortunate that we have such followers as those in government in the Yukon in the name of the Yukon Party that would try to put forth an amendment that rides on the backs of other jurisdictions. A lot of talk is heard coming from this government about self-sufficiency and about being leaders. As a matter of fact, when you cut right to the core, they are quite often cowardly followers. The real reason behind this legislation that they brought forth in the first place had nothing to do with government finances. I know that to be a fact. What they wanted to do was take a stand against public employees and teachers, because their conservative ideology is such that they feel government employees in this territory are paid too much money.
I hear that time and time again from a lot of people in the Yukon, and I hear it mainly from Conservatives. But do they have the guts to tell Yukoners that is why they were cutting their wages? No. We got a bunch of BS about malarkey that was outrageous. They first tried to claim that the federal debt was the reason. We never saw, however, the federal debt being paid back from last year's surplus that was uncovered under the mattress after they determined that the federal debt would not be paid back by the $30 million surplus that was suddenly discovered after they rubbed their piggy bank through their so-called good fiscal management.
As we tried to catch the moving target, the real reason for these cutbacks was that the promise from the federal Minister was that there would be cuts. We had selective readings by the Government Leader from a letter from Mr. Paul Martin, the Minister of Finance, telling of the forebidding slashes to our formula financing agreement. When we challenged the Government Leader to table the letter - and had to rise on a point of order that they had to bring the letter to the Legislature and table it upon our request after having read an excerpt from it - we found out that in fact the federal government has, as a beginning negotiating position, said that they were prepared to accept a freeze. They negotiate a lot better than the Government Leader, who likes to begin negotiations by getting on the radio and saying that he is going to take over fat federal programs, then make cuts and reap the savings for the Yukon people.
Then, of course, there was the deficit in the Yukon - the beach ball that was thrown back and forth across this Legislature for the longest time. We got the phony Consulting and Audit Canada report, with five months left in the fiscal year. That government was sworn in November 7 and the fiscal year ends March 31. There were essentially five months left in the fiscal year and there were projections in the vicinity of a $50 million deficit. We said that the process that unveiled that figure was faulty. We said that we hoped to see what the real picture was when the Auditor General's report came out. When the Auditor General's report came out, it said there was a $64 million deficit. Why was that?
The government decided that they would do what they have been doing for the last three years, and that is some creative bookkeeping. That entails the writing off, in one year, of things like $11 million for the extended care facility.
eople ask me about illegal loan write-offs - and that is something that they are still insisting that they never did, which says something else about their lack of respect for the law - I tell them that the $11 million write-off for the extended care facility in one year is fairly indicative of the lengths to which they will go to write off anything they can in an effort to draw down the surplus. They want to be able to say "no" to people. They want to create in people's minds the notion that there is a deficit here. They wrote off the $5 million Curragh loan. Today, we find out in the Legislature that a considerable portion of that - in fact, $3 million - will be coming right back into the government's hands. Fortunately, they are going to send $2.4 million back to the employees in Faro. They are going to get another $500,000 back for the Department of Finance.
They will continue to pursue the court case on behalf of the employees of Faro. They won the Supreme Court case for the employees, which stated that the employee wages, severance pay and pay in lieu of notice should be reimbursed.
They have made write-offs in an inappropriate manner. Some people have told me on the street that they feel it was dishonest. I certainly feel that there is evidence that they have done something in an underhanded manner. We have brought this matter up in the Legislature over and over again. The Faro Real Estate loan was another write-off for $1.8 million. Now, there is a foreclosure action underway. The receiver is now the Yukon Housing Corporation. I know from my discussions with Anvil Range and Faro Real Estate that all the arrears will be paid back on that loan.
I believe that there have been some incredibly conniving manoeuvers being taken by the
Yukon Party in an effort to try and convince people that their kind of government is
These are lost Conservatives in the Yukon. They have a $.5 billion budget - $500 million if you count their contingency fund - which we know they are going to spend. They have indicated that they are going to do that.
That budget is tremendously increased from when they took over office. Even with their phony write-offs, their phony $64 million deficit, their $13 million accumulated debt, - I have just named two of the write-offs in one year without which they would never have come up with that figure - it is apparent that they have a very good financial situation in the Yukon. We always have had. We are very lucky. This government seems intent on making us more and more reliant upon the federal government. We are now up to a $500 million expenditure on the budget, with very little in terms of infrastructure development other than what was negotiated by the New Democratic Party government for the Alaska Highway. Their talk does not match their walk and that has become an issue and a pattern for this government time and again.
We put a great emphasis on the right to collectively bargain. We believe it is a fundamental right. Rather than being followers, we want to be leaders in pushing collective bargaining as a fundamental right. As the Leader of the Official Opposition said, an attempt was made to entrench aspects of this in the Charlottetown round of the Constitutional talks. Unfortunately it was unsuccessful. There was a wide consensus out there that is was something that Canadians felt should and could be included in a document of such paramount importance as the Constitution. We believe that should be the case in Canada and we believe it should be the case right here in the Yukon.
I am very disappointed by the government's attempt with this amendment to try and piggy-back on the backs of other governments and other jurisdictions where we do not know the whole story. We get the gleanings on the news in the evening, and through the Globe and Mail and some of the national papers but we do not know what the real story is. I will tell you, on this side of the House, in our caucus, we know what the real story is with this government's finances; we have known all along and we have said it all along and we are going to continue to say it.
Now the Auditor General has accused them of breaking the law and showing a lack of respect for the law, the Financial Administration Act, and people are starting to see. Then there was the Taga Ku loan; they absolutely destroyed that case. They are going to cost the taxpayers of this territory a lot of money. They had to write-off $2 million there because they had some friends in the hotel industry who told them to cancel it or else they were going to pull their Yukon Party membership card.
This was a serious affront to First Nations business opportunities, I think, in the long term, because I believe it is going to be very difficult for First Nations people in the Yukon to feel that they have a friendly place to invest, as long as this government is in power. What may happen - and I hope not - is we may find them looking to other areas to invest some of that money. I would like to see it work here for their benefit and for everyone's benefit in the Yukon. Unfortunately, I believe we missed a good, long-term opportunity to promote First Nations business opportunities here.
We also felt the same way about the Energy Corporation. We stated unequivocally to the CYI our position on the Energy Corporation. Certainly, our position was not in agreement with the secrecy of the negotiations with the southern interests that the government and their secret negotiation team had, but there were aspects of that arrangement that we could have identified as possible ways to look at energy alternatives in the Yukon.
We feel that collective bargaining, in its pure form, is a fundamental right in this country. We believe it is important. I believe it is important, not only for organized people, but for unorganized people. It has had a profound impact on working conditions for working people in this country. Unfortunately, sometimes people who are not part of organized labour do not realize that a lot of the standards that are out there now came directly from the roots of organized labour. The hard-fought right to collective bargaining and have freedom of association, which was attained back in the 1930s and 1940s, was seen as a conspiracy and an affront to the government of the day.
Now we have the right to freedom of association entrenched. I think that is an important right to have in a fundamentally democratic society. Other fundamental rights belong in that particular document. Nonetheless, whether or not it is in that document - the Charter of Rights and Freedoms - I believe it is essentially a strong part of the right to freedom of association, and therefore we believe that right can only be abrogated under the most dire circumstances.
We have clearly established, as has everyone in the Yukon, that there were no dire circumstances here. On the same day the legislation came down, they had to call a press conference. That was quite a joke for all Yukoners, because they announced that they found a $20 million surplus. When we look at the budgets this year, it turns out to have been a $30 million surplus. They were not even right about that. The lapsed funds were amazingly high, but it is obvious that this government was trying to dupe the Yukon public into believing that this was not the case.
I do not want to speak about other jurisdictions. I would hope that, in taking such serious action as abrogating the right to free collective bargaining, they would have had a legitimate reason for doing so. I do not know enough about other jurisdictions to say whether that is the case. I think it is a sad day when a number of jurisdictions are put in a ridiculous amendment to a motion such as this is. I guess that is the case, and I think it is unfortunate.
What I do know about is the financial situation in the Yukon. In the first place, the federal debt was never reduced by the surplus, which, we were told, was their original reason for doing this - to help contribute to paying off the federal debt. They then said that we were going to be subject to big cuts from the federal government. Then there was a letter from Paul Martin, tabled in the House, in which he stated that he was prepared to accept a freeze.
Regarding our own debt, we have already proved that there were phony write-offs and cooking of the books by this government. The only defect that existed was in the heads of the Yukon Party, and it was created for a very specific reason. We know what that reason is, and we have stated it here many times. I am sure many Yukoners out there also know the reason.
One person said to me on the street that this government seems, since the election to have lost almost 100 percent of its support. I was surprised to hear that kind of a statement from that contractor. He said that, even though he was a right-winger and not a big fan of our party, he felt that at least Tony had some visions and accomplished some things.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: Before I was so rudely interrupted by the Members opposite, and especially by the sacred tourism agent, who is chortling over there - we are used to that, he has been pretty cocky since he came back from Florida where he was the grand marshall of the parade. It was Florida last year and Europe this year. He has been very pompous since he returned from Europe.
Speaker: Order please. Let us try to keep the debate on the subject and quit the heckling back and forth.
Mr. Harding: I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I am not heckling. I am simply debating in my normal, statesmanlike, brief fashion.
I was not surprised by the attack by the government on the government employees and the teachers. It had been long established, from one of the very first actions of this government and the comments of the Government Leader regarding education, that they placed a very low priority on the education system in this territory. Comments from the Government Leader that education and the building of schools was debt creation, not wealth creation, and backwards comments by the then-Minister of Education, who did not know what he was talking about, caused a lot of strife in the Yukon. It all contributed to the public's image regarding this government's views on education. I believe that people are concerned about that. They have tried to take us backwards, and a
s we sift through the education review action plan - and I use that term loosely - we
will see just what their commitment is.
With this particular action, this government has obviously stated that, even though they huff and puff about how students have to be prepared to compete in the 21st century, they are not prepared to treat the people who are charged with this duty with respect and to recognize their contribution. Those teachers work hard. They go to university, they take upgrading, they get involved in the community, and they have a big responsibility to prepare our students.
However, there is not one person across the floor in the front benches who would not say that they are overpaid. I think teachers are well paid, but I also believe that they should be. I believe in the right to collective bargaining for teachers. That does not mean you cannot bargain tough. It does not mean that you may not want to bring in the reins a bit on operation and maintenance budgets or the cost of payroll. That does not mean that you put out a press release saying you are not going to collectively bargain.
I know that jurisdictions around the country have successfully brought in some significant agreements with their employees that did not involve massive increases, but did involve an honest attempt to sit down at the table, go over the finances of the government, look at the impact on the general public as a whole, and determine that the best route was to take the agreement that would meet the needs of their membership as best it could, as well as to meet the broader needs of the public.
That brings me back to a point made by the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, who obviously feels lightly about the collective bargaining right, which is somewhat scary. He said that I responded that collective bargaining was a fundamental right but not absolute.
I would live by that statement, because I think it is true, but only in the most dire circumstances, when the general state of the overall good of the citizenry is in trouble, should such a dire action be considered. That case was never made by this government.
It was so pathetic at the time. The Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission was so punch-drunk at the time that, when the bill was coming down, he stopped defending it. Even the Conservative independent had to criticize it, even though, in her heart of hearts, she probably believed in the reduction, and that the process they undertook was an absolute disaster.
He was promptly rewarded with a demotion, and now he is responsible for basket weaving, the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Workers' Compensation Board, which is run by an independent board. So he has been rewarded by the Cabinet for his tremendous efforts in bringing in this legislation, which was, according to some Members of the government, a massive success. It is funny that they did not put the massive success in the Yukon Party mid-term report, and I wonder why they did not put it in the report. They put some mumbo-jumbo in there about responsible government. They did not put in there that the budget will climb to $500 million this year, another record budget, and the third successive record budget in spending increases in the Yukon. There is lots of money here. This government is loaded.
They did not need to abrogate the rights of these employees. All these phony write-offs are now starting to pay off for them because the money is rolling back in, where they have already made the allowances for the write-offs and drawn down that accumulated surplus so they can tell people, "Look how poor we are. We would love to help you, but we cannot." But now that the money is starting to roll in. It goes into general revenue, and they can do with it as they wish.
Time and time again, this government talks, in words only, about their supposed respect for rights, such as the one that we are debating today. Yet, they bring in an amendment like this that changes fundamental rights to legislated rights. I think that says something very clear about what the importance of this right is to them.
What we believe to be fundamental in a free and democratic society, they believe is legislated, to be taken away at the whim of the government of the day, whether they want to build a $1 million liquor store in Watson Lake or they want to cut funding to the women's shelter in Watson Lake and give a little bit more money to their friends in different organizations around town. This government is a government of warped priorities; it is not a government with a lack of fiscal resources. That is becoming more and more apparent.
The public is aware that this government is building up their election war chest. They are going to try and spend their way - big-spending Conservatives - into another election victory in the next 18 to 20 months, or whenever the election is called. But one thing this government will not be able to buy is the trust of the public because they have lost that trust. The public does not view this government as being honest and straight with them. That is a terrible problem for a government when it finds itself losing the trust of the people. Nobody believes what they say. Oh, sure, after the election every government that I have ever seen says that the fiscal situation is much worse, and the extended care facility had to be written off all in one year. People were prepared to believe that, but we have exposed, over a long and often repetitive process, exactly what this government is doing. I have talked to a lot of people about it. Do you know what I say to them? I say, "Well, if you had a mortgage and you decided in one year that you were going to pay the mortgage off, you would run a deficit in that year, too." Most people cannot afford to take $11 million hits for the extended care facility in one year, especially when it was originally intended to be paid off, I believe, over a period of closer to 10 years.
But this government wanted to charge up some bills to the NDP, even though they were in power for five months of that fiscal year. Since then, they have let spending run wild in their priority areas. Now we are in a position where we have a half billion dollar budget in the Yukon for 30,000 residents, or $16,600 per individual. It is a massive budget any way you cut it. It has nothing to do with capital projects or hospitals or anything like that because projects of that size are not all spent in one year. They are spent over a period of years. Projects such as that have been underway in the past, so there is no differentiation in that particular area.
So, we have a government that continues to say one thing and do another. It says it believes in collective bargaining, but we know what the truth is.
They say they were justified in doing it, but we know the truth about the finances of the government.
I will not be supporting this amendment. I will not support it because I believe that collective bargaining is a fundamental right. In the Yukon, we want to control our own destiny. As a jurisdiction, we should not piggy-back on what other jurisdictions have done, when we are not aware of the exact details of their situations. We should try as hard as we can to be leaders. I know that is difficult for the Members opposite. Usually, they say one thing and do another. Otherwise, they say whatever they have to in order to get out of a jam. They do that in Cabinet. Whenever one of the Ministers get in a pickle, they fire them out. Perhaps it is Economic Development, and they do not want to be in there any more. Perhaps it is Renewable Resources or other portfolios, but this government seems to always be in the damage control mode. The trenches are dug, and that is that. They have lost their credibility with the public, so the Cabinet is shuffled. The Ministers barely are able to answer a question in the Legislature with any degree of sense before they are gone.
The government talks about their initiatives with regard to the economy. They significantly hurt the economy with their comments. They hurt the economy with the prolonged entrenched negotiations with the employees and their inflexibility. The wage rollbacks added to this problem.
I was talking to a business operator who was coming up to invest in the Yukon. They said that they could not do it, because it was too unstable. They believed that the economy was too bad and had no direction. Some of these people are Conservative-minded and would go to their graves voting for the Members opposite, but I think that all this government can hope for is that these people will hold their noses and vote for them in the next election. As the Member for Riverdale South has stated, "This government is looking like a one-termer."
I am aware that fortunes can change. The government has packed away quite a cupboardful
of dough. We always knew it was there, but the government is going to try and spend it in
the most politically amenable ways. I believe that people are sick of that. I do not think
that people respect that kind of spending. They want responsible government. They do not
have responsible government with the Yukon Party. This government spends all its time
putting out the fires it creates. They take the politically sexy approach to issues, but
they are not a government that can be honest and frank. They cannot say to the employees
that they believe that they are paid too much, and that is the reason for the legislation.
They cannot do that because they do not have any guts.
They are ideologues who were afraid to say it. That is why we have this legislation.
I would never say that, if for the greater good of the public, going to the bargaining table and negotiating tough is not a good option for the government. In this case, that is good, and it might have been required, but they did not do it. They did not even try. In an appalling flip, on the one hand, after the agreement with the teachers, they congratulated them on the wonderful approach at the table and their cooperative spirit for the greater good of the Yukon, then they slammed them with this legislation through a press release. It was heinous. It was awful.
The Members opposite do not know what heinous means. The former Minister of Education does not surprise me with that.
Their approach to working people is one - I am searching for a word. I do not know how low I can go without being called out of order. I will take a higher plane, and say it is pretty darn poor.
We have seen it time and time again, whether it was collective bargaining or their approach to employment standards. We have an Economic Development Minister who goes to an FBDB conference and says that our approach to government in the Yukon Party is that if we cannot help business we will stay the hell out of their way.
I was absolutely dumbfounded at that statement. It illustrated to me that it was a coffeeshop ideologue mentality, and it is irresponsible for a new Economic Development Minister. Sure, some of the real right-wingers - the former president of the Chamber of Commerce - might thump their chests over that, but I do not think it reaches out to the broader perspectives the Yukon is made of, whether it be First Nations, labour, conservation groups, women, or any of the people in the Yukon who should have a say but have lost it with this particular government. That kind of mentality, or lack thereof, is indicative of the policy development work of this government.
It is everywhere you turn. For example, the industrial support policy is not a policy; the next day it is their policy. What are you doing with the mining companies? We are negotiating with them. What are you negotiating? We cannot tell you, just read the throne speech.
It just goes around and around and around and around.
We have a real problem in trying to determine essentially what the government is up to and that has not changed since day one because they do things in secret and they do not like to tell us. If you have read the Government Leader's letter on the changes to the Environment Act, we might mistake it as something bad, bad, bad and we might get angry. We might mistakenly raise the issue in the Legislature. This is their paternalistic approach to Yukoners and the Opposition.
In this legislative agenda, we saw their lack of vision again. It is obvious they were burned by the criticism from the public and the public's perception of their lack of vision so they started spouting off about their heavy legislative agenda. We have already seen how heavy that agenda is. It is angel food cake and it has already been sliced and diced.
We have a situation where the government is totally rudderless, directionless, has no ability to see the future, except when they are talking about railroads to Carmacks for Archer Cathro and they are locking the Yukon into coal purchasing agreements on energy in the absence of any kind of comprehensive industrial energy support policy. I hope that, some day, we get to that motion sponsored by the Member for Riverside.
These ideologues are living in a dream world. They have this so-called, self-professed vision but they have no ability, other than the railroad track to Carmacks, to see it through. If you ask them questions about the specifics, such as what is it going to cost, who is going to pay, what is the company saying, what is the long-term impact, they say, "You are not a believer; you do not have a vision; you do not believe in coal." "
Coal is a philosophy." That is what they said in the throne speech. "We accept the philosophy of coal." I do not know what the Government Leader was doing in the Orient, but he must have picked up some new religion because he said that coal was a philosophy. He said that special operating agencies are a state of mind. It must have been some Zen religion he was doing, maybe it was yogic flying. He should run for the Natural Law Party because obviously they have run out of things to say, so now they are trying to tread on a higher plane and it has just gotten to the point of absolute ridiculousness when we have these so-called wonderful initiatives of the government being described as a state of mind.
Who in the public is going to believe that? I will always remember the cartoon in one of the local papers during the economic doomsday speech of the government, and then, six months later, the cartoon character with the Rastifarian hair, singing the song, "Don't worry, be happy". Everyone in the public said the same thing. Do they really expect us to believe that they have done that?
I have actually talked to some people who bought those lines, but when you ask them a couple of questions, they say, "Oh really, I did not know that. I did not know that the budgets are actually bigger, because they talk as if they are smaller. It appears they are spending money. It is just a question of priorities". I send them the Auditor General's reports that show the 1992-93 write-offs on the extended care facility, and the Curragh loan, and they say, "Holy mackerel. These guys have been telling us something wrong".
There is one fellow in Carmacks who used to live in the riding of the Member for Kluane. He said that all his life his whole family were big supporters of the Member, but that when the Member got into government, he changed; he is not what he used to be; he is not that straight shooter who used to sit in the coffee shop and say that A plus B equals C, and if the government did things that way, everything would be settled. They say the problems are worse under this government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: The Minister of Tourism is saying that I do not like coffee shop talk. That is right, and I told that guy that it is never that easy. Government is tough. You have to talk to people, and you have to bring people together.
A classic example is the protected areas strategy of British Columbia. It is drawing some rave reviews, because they are not doing the simple thing, like the right-wingers. They are not just siding with the people who say, "Get rid of those tree-huggers and everything will be solved". They are saying that those people also have a right to free speech and, if you do not bring them to the table and at least try and discuss things with them, you are never going to have any kind of a consensus built. The tough thing to do is to build consensus.
Actions such as this affront to collective bargaining are not the tough things, although the Members opposite thump their chests and think that they are, because they feel that there is a lot of support out there for that. I had one Member of the government tell me that it was really popular in their riding. That is wonderful, but I believe that is partially the reason that they did it. That does not mean that it was the best thing for this democratic society in the Yukon, nor does it mean that it was the best thing for the economy. Anyone who would believe that workers here do not put money back into the economy needs to take that week-long economics course a business person told me the Yukon Party should take. They could quickly learn some fundamentals that are obviously missing from their knowledge.
I do not intend to speak long. I just want to say, regarding the amendment, that I believe that collective bargaining is a fundamental right. I believe it should remain a fundamental right in the Yukon. I think that, as leaders and legislators in this territory, we should make the commitment that it is a fundamental right.
That is not absolute, yet it should not be tampered with except in the most dire circumstances. We have never reached that point in the Yukon thus far, despite the statements made by any number of different Members of the government during this debate. I think it is a sad day when people are going to see the effects on their paycheques today. I do not believe it is a two-percent issue. I think that to a lot of people it is a much bigger issue. It is an issue of democracy. It is an issue of hard-fought rights that were rolled over by a government that had no real justification for doing so.
I will not be supporting this amendment, but I do look forward to the debate on the
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will be thoroughly brief on the amendment because I think the Minister of Justice stated things quite clearly when he presented the amendment and our rationale behind it. There have been a few comments made by the Members opposite that, I believe, need to be addressed before getting to the vote on the amendment.
The Members opposite have continually made statements about there being no deficit and that there was no fiscal crisis. First of all, they said they would wait for the Auditor General's report to come out. When the Auditor General's report did come out, they did not believe it.
This is the same Auditor General's report they so strongly believe in now, in which the Member for Riverdale keeps saying we did something illegal, and for which I keep correcting her, because there was nothing illegal. If the Members opposite are going to accept one Auditor General's report, I think it is only fair to ask them to accept all the Auditor General's reports.
I just want to clarify the record about the last Auditor General's report. I would not have bothered bringing it up on this amendment, but it was brought up in debate today. I think it requires that the record be clarified.
The Auditor General's report says that these financial statements are the responsibility of the government's management. We agree that it is the government's responsibility. The Auditor General says that it is his responsibility to express an opinion on these financial statements being audited by him. That is what he does. He expresses an opinion on financial statements.
On that same page - the one they deliberately pulled the one line from - it says, in the paragraph above, "In my opinion, the consolidated financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the government as of March 31st, 1994."
They do not mention that at all.
The Auditor General also goes on to say that, in his opinion, proper books of account have been kept by the government. "The consolidated financial statements are in agreement therewith and, except for the transactions that were not in compliance with the Financial Administration Act, as described in the preceding paragraph."
So, the Auditor General is quite satisfied with the manner in which this government is keeping its books.
The Opposition continued to talk about the largest budgets ever. Certainly we are going to have larger budgets and, as time goes on, they will become larger. We on this side of the House are very thankful that, at a time when we had a downturn in our economy, we had projects that were being funded by other governments to help to put Yukoners to work.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. Please allow the Member to speak.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member for Mount Lorne brought out a paycheque that she said someone had complained about, as it was smaller than their last one. That is not a new occurrence for the first paycheque in January in the Yukon. The first paycheque in January for all employees has always been smaller. It is because they have to start paying the Canada Pension again. They pay each year until they reach the maximum. Then, once that maximum is reached, their paycheques increase slightly. Beginning with the first cheque in January, they must start paying again. This year, there has also been an increase in the contribution to the Canada Pension. They will continue to pay until the new maximum of $850.50 is reached.
This is not the first January in which their paycheques have gone down. It is probably
a bit more noticeable this time because of the two-percent rollback, which took effect at
the same time. However, it is not something new that a paycheque is less in January. Both
the Public Service Commission and the Department of Finance tell me that, every year in
the first week in January, they get calls from employees wondering why their paycheque has
Many of those same people will be getting merit pay increases on their anniversary date with the government. As the Minister of Justice corrected the Leader of the Official Opposition, merit pay has not been frozen or cut back. It is in place, and will continue to stay in place during the three years.
The Members opposite do not like the amendment. I believe that the amendment is consistent with Supreme Court decisions that have been handed down, which quite clearly state that collective bargaining is not a fundamental right. We on this side believe that it is not a fundamental right. Quite contrary to what the Member for Mount Lorne stated, we believe in collective bargaining, but there are times when that right has to be suspended, as do other rights of Canadians at some times.
As the Member for Porter Creek South quite clearly stated, there are no absolute rights. Even rights that are referred to in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are sometimes suspended. I believe that the actions we took were necessary and, by doing so, we were able to avoid layoffs in the civil service. We still have a formula financing agreement that has to be negotiated with the federal government.
We are not out of the woods by a long way yet. The Minister of Justice gave many examples of other jurisdictions.
The Members opposite make much of Conservative governments, and how they have a philosophical belief that employees are paid too much. There have been governments of every philosophical belief in this country, and the majority of them were Liberal and NDP, and they took these actions in various jurisdictions.
Decisions of this nature are never popular, and they are decisions that are hard to make, but they have to be made for the benefit of all Yukoners. I believe it is more important to be able to keep our employees working, with no layoffs, and to reduce staff through attrition if we have to downsize. That is what we said when we started, and that is what we have continued to do.
We have been able to hold the operation and maintenance cost. We will be entering into new formula financing agreements. We do not know what the outcome of those agreements will be. I doubt if there is a Member on the other side of the House who believes we are not going to have to do some hard negotiating even to maintain the status quo. I seriously doubt we can manage it, when we have a federal government that has a tremendous problem on their hands, with the interest rates rising and our dollar going down. I do not know where they believe the money is going to come from.
I do not know where the money is going to come from.
Some say that the Liberal government does not have the political courage to make the necessary cuts. I believe that they do not have any alternatives. I believe that they must make the cuts for the benefit of all Canadians.
I am going to let this amendment go to a vote. It is important that we have the
opportunity to vote on it. I believe that it is a friendly amendment. As the Minister of
Justice has stated, it is in line with Supreme Court decisions that have been made in
other jurisdictions in Canada. It is a legislated right. It is certainly not a fundamental
Mr. McDonald: I will be short and sweet. I support the motion; I do not support the amendment.
I have found the government responses all afternoon to be technical and evasive. They
did not need to bypass the collective bargaining process last spring. They were not honest
about their intentions in their desire to cut wages. They ignored their own financial
position and pointed to troubles that other governments faced, though they did not share
them. This point was punctuated by the in-your-face comeuppance they received when they
admitted a huge surplus the same day that they introduced the legislation. The Minister
responsible for the Public Service Commission was reduced, during debate on the measure,
to bypass the collective bargaining process and simply shrug his shoulders in silence. All
the contradictions, by that time, had been exposed. It was one of those truly sad moments
in the history of this little legislature that many people will remember, including the
hundreds of people who were in the gallery.
The most pathetic defence, that they had at least avoided layoffs, deserves no comment. At least, they did not blow up the building or at least, they did not collapse the economy through this measure - they tried. At least, they accomplished many things. But one of the things they did not accomplish was to justify the measure before the Legislature. I think that was patently obvious from simply observing the red face of the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission at the time. That was quite obvious. He could not defend it and gave up trying to defend it.
The only justification they gave for this measure, despite the initial claim of the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission that they were in this to fight the federal deficit, was that they were in a tight financial situation and that their budgets had no room to manoeuver. Ironically, the day they introduced this legislation to free up a little cash so that things could be better, they announced they had a $20 million plus surplus, which in the end grew to even greater numbers. We now have budgets that outstrip anything the Yukon has ever seen before.
We now clearly see a situation where the operations end of the budget is increasing. It increased from 1993-94 to 1995-96 by, I believe, $10 million. I am talking about net spending. The net spending on the capital budget increased by $20 million from 1993-94. They did not have the honesty to say that their priorities were changing. They did not have the honesty to say that the wages of public servants were less of a priority than were other things.
For that reason, they were caught in a trap, their own trap, a trap of their own making. The Minister of the Public Service Commission, despite all his histrionics, despite all the clever tactics, could not extricate himself from that trap, and the public did not miss the message. The message was quite clear that the government did not know what it is doing, and is not honest about the things that it is doing.
I support the motion. I believe that the government's response has been truly sad this
afternoon. It has been very technical and very evasive. Somebody from the ranks of the
public servants has obviously been busy writing speeches, but when it comes to actually
talking about honesty and about political intentions in this Legislature, in defence of
their own actions, they provided no defence. They could not have brought a defence; there
was no such thing.
Mr. Cable: I would like to get my comments regarding the amendment on the record. I have to say it is one of the worst cases of pettifogging I have ever seen in my life, and that perhaps the Minister of Justice should get some new draftsmen.
I was looking through the Canadian Constitution, 1981 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The first section is very interesting. It says that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out and it is subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. I think we have heard today that nobody is suggesting that there be any absolute right, so the necessity for this amendment dealing with absolute rights escapes me.
There is an overrider in the Charter on all the fundamental freedoms and rights that I
just read, and, of course, you have legislative and common-law overriders throughout our
law. Nobody is suggesting that we can just open our mouths and speak without any
restrictions whatsoever. The freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression is
obviously subject to the laws of defamation and the hate-literature laws.
Speaker: The time now being 5:30, I will leave the Chair until 7:30 tonight.
Debate on amendment and on Motion No. 30 accordingly adjourned
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed with government bills.
Bill No. 4: Second Reading - adjourned debate
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 4, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr.
Ostashek. Adjourned debate, Mr. McDonald.
Mr. McDonald: I am pleased to join the debate this evening on the government's spending plans for the fiscal year 1995-96.
We see before us a big budget. It is the biggest budget in Yukon history. It is the cornerstone of the government's so-called ambitious agenda. It is probably more than just a cornerstone; it is probably the government's agenda.
The balance of its so-called program is to almost exclusively simply amend
NDP-sponsored and inspired pieces of legislation, introduced into the Legislature some two
or three years ago. Whether it is the Heritage Act, the Employment Standards Act,
the Conflict of Interest Act or the Access to Information Act, each is a
legislative project that has been divined by a previous government, introduced into this
House by a previous government and debated by a previous Legislature. We have now been
told that to amend these pieces of legislation is essentially the bulk of the Yukon
Party's four-year legislative program. The balance of it, of course, is simply spending
plans and budgets.
We have before us this evening a bill that is essentially the government's agenda - such as it is. Certainly any thought to introduce legislation or even to deregulate or streamline existing legislation is not being seriously attempted by the government. Even the most obvious challenge that would have the most impact on the natural resource sector - for example, the establishment of the development assessment process under the umbrella final agreement, jointly with other governments - does not even warrant a mention in the throne speech - or in the budget speech, for that matter.
The budget is all there is. This budget before us is, as I have mentioned, the biggest we have seen in this Legislature. In fact, it is the latest in a string of budgets, each one larger than the last.
The Government Leader protested this afternoon, to paraphrase him: "So what? So what if it is bigger?" One would be naturally puzzled by that explanation when one realizes that the Yukon Party only a few years ago was criticizing the size of the NDP government's spending plans without ever even criticizing the particulars.
There was not an amendment proposed to reduce the budget in any way. There was not any significant criticism about any of the particular spending plans of the NDP government. There was just a criticism of the size of government spending. When they now bring in budgets one after another, each larger than the last, and all of them significantly larger than any spending proposals ever tabled by the NDP government, one is left puzzled about what the government's direction is and what their intentions truly are.
When they come forward later and say that they have gotten spending under control, one assumes that they are reducing spending. One assumes that if they think that spending is too high, they would reduce spending, or moderate spending. However, spending has not gone down, either on the operations side or on the capital side. Neither the gross spending, nor the net spending has gone down; it has gone up. One is left puzzled. If the government is making the claim that they are bringing spending under control, what is it that they are bringing under control? Should they not come clean with the public and state that whatever criticisms they had in the past about the size of public spending, they have now recanted that position and feel that it is perfectly acceptable to spend more if there is the revenue to spend, and that they are simply changing spending priorities? If they were to mention that they are only interested in changing spending priorities, that would leave us with an honest debate. As we mentioned this afternoon, they could then say to public servants that their salaries are not a priority; Alaska Highway upgrading is a priority; the Watson Lake transition home is not a priority, but the Watson Lake liquor store is a priority. If they were simply to say that, then we could have a debate about priorities, and not about whether or not the government has money, because they clearly have money. There are some departments that have been squeezed, and squeezed quite significantly. There are some branches and sections of government that have been squeezed, and there are other branches and sections of government that are awash in cash. They have much more than they can spend and the spending lapses suggest that. The spending lapses that we experienced last year were of record size.
When one gets a signal that the government feels the payroll of government is too high, and that, for the last 10 years, spending in public sector wages has been too great and they criticize wage settlements, one would think that the allotment in the budget for public sector wages would go down. Indeed, it has not done anything of the sort.
Public sector wages have gone up from last year. We have a situation where we are trying to ascertain what the government means by what it is doing, what the rhetoric suggests, and whether or not it matches the government's actions. I think it is fair to say that we are receiving extraordinarily confusing signals this year, and we have received these confusing signals every year we have been in this Legislature speaking to the estimates of the Yukon Party government.
This year, again, we see spending going up. From last year's estimate to this year's estimate, we see a spending proposal that is up four and one-half percent. If you add in the contingency fund the government has identified - this new creation - we see that spending is actually up about 6.6 percent.
I really have to take a moment to protest, one more time, the way the government characterizes its spending plans. Last year, when we were talking about the summary pages in the government's estimates, and we were referring to the government's rhetoric around the budget, we expressed some concern that the government was pretending that its gross expenditures had gone down, and that it would also have a deficit for the year, ending March 31, 1995, when we all recognized that they had approximately a $7 million contingency fund that they were neither calculating into the expenditure proposals, nor into the surplus calculations.
One cannot state strongly enough that it is not an honest expression of government finances when they leave that amount of money sitting in limbo, when they are not prepared to calculate it into their expenditure, in an attempt to deceive people, perhaps, into thinking that expenditures are going down, and when they are trying to characterize the finances in a poorer light than is reality.
This year, the government is doing precisely the same thing, only the contingency fund has risen a bit. They are neither calculating the contingency fund into the expenditure proposal, which would put the expenditure proposal in the $500 million range, nor are they calculating it as part of the estimated accumulated surplus position for the fiscal year ending March 31, 1996. So, clearly, we have a situation where the government is again trying to, in a very shallow way, express its financial picture - can I say it - "dishonestly"? The government is.
Well, I will leave it at that. I think the point of the matter is that we have got a situation where the government, in its financial summary pages - and I hold it up for people's viewing - has demonstrated that it wants to spend the $489 million when clearly we know that it is going to be in the $500 million range. They claim that there is going to be a surplus at March 31, 1996, of $10 million, and of course we know - it is not expected to be in the budget page - there are going to be substantial lapses in the current fiscal year. Unless the government wants again to tell us, right up until the last brutal moment, that the budget is as tight as a drum, one would think that last year they certainly would have learned a lesson on that score, given that the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission almost had his head lopped off trying to explain why the government needed to reduce public service wages in order to balance the budget, when the Finance Minister was simultaneously announcing a $20 million surplus for the year.
Clearly we have a picture, in terms of spending, that is extremely healthy. We have revenues that are significantly up. We have expenditure proposals that are also significantly up. That in itself is not bad, unless one matches that with the rhetoric of the Conservatives while they were in Opposition. They said that both of those things were bad. They made a virtue in this particular year, as they did last year, that they have balanced the budget. I need not spend a lot of time pointing out that when one's revenues are so healthy, it is not a difficult task to balance the budget, particularly when the population that one serves has decreased by a couple of thousand people.
Now, I am not saying that balancing the budget is a bad thing; balancing a budget is of
course a very good thing, but to make a virtue of it when one has such healthy revenues is
something that ought to be examined.
They have made mention again that there are no new taxes this year. Clearly, there should not be new taxes this year and there should not have been new taxes in 1993 either. In 1992, the claim that the NDP government made that there were no new taxes in that fiscal year was mashed by the clarion cry from the to-be-Government Leader saying that if we had raised taxes, it would have been obscene, given the amount of revenue we received from Ottawa. A few months later, he raised taxes. A year later, with record-breaking revenues, he is making a virtue of not raising taxes.
I must say that to claim that the budget is balanced and that there has been no need to raise taxes is not a claim that one would assume requires a lot of effort to fulfill. This brings us to the question about the business of whether or not there was ever a financial crisis in the first place. I listened to the Government Leader with great interest this afternoon saying that the Auditor General had told us that there was a $64 million deficit in 1993 from the previous fiscal year. He said that we must believe the Auditor General because the Auditor General was expressing an accurate picture of what the government wanted to show for its accounts.
In 1992 and early 1993, I indicated that there should not be the cause for alarm that
the government was raising about its fiscal position, that there should not be the
extremely damaging claim by the Government Leader and by the government that the
government was facing a fiscal crisis that, consequently, did extreme damage to the
confidence of the public in this territory. I said so because I truly believed, and can
honestly say, that this has been borne out in the revenue projections by this government,
that the financial health of this government was not only sound, but extremely good.
I had no idea of the potential for shenanigans when it came to making allowances for bad debts or fooling with the consolidated and unconsolidated position of the government, as the government has done this past year when transferring funds from general revenue through to the Yukon Energy Corporation in order to boost the consolidated position, but to show the unconsolidated position in a more bleak light. I was not aware the government was going to do those kinds of things because the government had not done those kinds of things in the past, to my knowledge. As long as the government is going to do those things and try to paint the bleakest possible picture of its own finances, then, clearly, the rules of the game have changed significantly.
The Auditor General in 1993 did express an accurate picture of what Cabinet wanted to show. If Cabinet wanted to make allowances for bad debts, they could, and that was legal. The following year, it turns out that the government tried to do the same thing, but did it with some haste and did so, in the opinion of the Auditor General, illegally, and not appropriately - broke the law - and did not go through the proper procedures. That is something that the Government Leader may want to protest to the Auditor General because, obviously, this afternoon he suggests that no law was broken. As far as the Auditor General and his staff is concerned, the law was broken. Things were not done properly. The government's rush to make allowances for bad debts and to ultimately write down the surplus to make the government's picture look as bleak as possible has resulted in some criticism from impartial third parties.
The government has obviously exhausted the allowance for bad debt route, given that some of these so-called bad debts are being repaid, and we are starting to get dividends from all these bad debts that were never really bad debts in the first place. We heard about some this afternoon in the ministerial statement.
The basic point that I am trying to make is that there was not a financial crisis. There were tough decisions to make. There was a good revenue picture for this government, both in the short term and the long term, and the government did not have the courage to tell the public that it was changing its priorities. Instead, what it said, while spending more and more and more money on larger and larger budgets, was that there was no money and the picture looked bleak.
We have a situation where Yukon Party budgets and budget speeches over the last three years have one thing in common: they say one thing and they do something else.
First they say that there is a financial crisis, and then they spend more money than ever before. They suggest that there are some long-term structural problems in terms of public spending that must be controlled, which have led to large over-expenditures. Then, a few months later, we have the all-clear signal.
At the same time, we have government departments claiming they have spending under control, only to see the same department's O&M budgets rise dramatically. We heard the Minister of Health and Social Services indicate that his primary objective was to bring spending in that department under control. Yet, the first thing that happens in that department is that they experience a 50-percent increase in spending in one year.
Now the government is saying that all this is an attempt to do some honest budgeting. We said that they were requesting too much money. It turned out that some of the money lapsed; they were requesting too much money.
We now have a situation where, in successive budgets, that department's budget is being shaved year after year by $1 million here and $1 million there. The claim is being made that, somehow, things are becoming more and more efficient. It is not difficult to shave a department's budget when one gets such a substantial increase for the purposes of expenditures. That is not at all entirely accounted for as a result of the hospital transfer.
They say that they want to promote less dependency on the federal government, but the
record of this government is to be more and more dependent upon federal revenues as a
percentage of the GDP. They say that they want to seek more control for the Yukon in order
to exercise more ability to generate revenue through local economic enterprise,
particularly in the natural resources sector. Now, we discover that they are pursuing
devolution, largely in order to receive and then gut federal programs. They would like to
profit from the programs and redirect the funding into other areas.
This is after we have heard, and gone through a long debate, about how inappropriate it would be to spend money dedicated to the Alaska Highway on anything but the Alaska Highway. We have a problem with signals. We have a problem identifying and trying to understand the government's direction. I dearly hope that the Government Leader's remarks and the other Ministers' remarks will clue us in to the government's real agenda, if there is such a thing.
The basic message I want to deliver tonight is that we are concerned about the government's spending priorities. We acknowledge that it is all about spending priorities. It is not about the inability of the government to fund things. They have money in reserve, and they will have more money - I predict $20 million to $30 million, if they do not develop some new shenanigans on how to hide money - by the end of this fiscal year.
We also have concerns about the government's tendency to want to avoid the legislative sitting and the scrutiny of this Legislature. This latest move to combine the budgets - which the NDP agrees with - as well as to move to a single sitting of the Legislature is, on the face of it, a significant error on the government's part, and it is bad for democracy and for this Legislature and all Yukoners.
We have seen a government that wants to avoid going through a hard debate in the Legislature by moving to a single sitting, knowing that MLAs will exhaust themselves after two or three months, to avoid a fall legislative sitting, something they would have themselves criticized hugely a few years ago, if that had ever been attempted. That has been combined with the government's apparent willingness to, as they see it, correct any problems or obstacles they may have faced in the Legislature, through a simple visit to the Commissioner's office to change spending plans.
What really bothers me about this - and I identified part of the concern during Question Period this afternoon - is that, in November of the previous year, the Legislature made a very clear statement about its spending priorities.
They did something that was not a recognized practice in this Legislature; they amended the government's budget. A majority of Members amended the government's budget. A majority of Members indicated that they wanted less spending on the Alaska Highway, and more spending on public schools. The Government Leader is quite right, because the majority of Members in this instance were not the government-recognized Cabinet, and they could not make spending proposals. However, they could express themselves verbally in this Chamber, and they did. What they could do was reduce a line item to get the process started that would change the spending priorities.
I think that what happened at the time was this: the government, while going through the motions and very grudgingly accepting the fact that the budget had to be amended, had no intention, from the very first moment, of even giving honest consideration to what a majority of elected people in this Legislative Chamber believed and promoted. What they probably did the moment that they bounced out of their chairs and moved upstairs, was to agree that this was a minor setback, that they would simply go ahead and spend the money anyway, and they were not going to tell anyone in the Opposition about it. What does that mean? What does that add up to? For one thing, it adds up to a lack of respect for the Legislature - for a majority of the Legislature. It also means that, because the government chose to get the spending authority for the additional expenditures on the Alaska Highway, they were prepared to go outside of the Legislature, to go to a federal official to seek redress, to seek the correction, to seek what they could not do in the Legislature. It means that a federal appointee willingly acquiesced, or maybe was not told, that the majority of the Legislature had expressed themselves on this point. The majority did not say, "Kilometre such-and-such to kilometre such-and-such should never be done". That was the government's business. They did say that a particular line item should be reduced because there was too much emphasis being placed in one area, and not enough in another. They did not say that the Alaska Highway should not be reconstructed. They still left better than $27 million or $28 million in the budget for that particular purpose.
For that particular purpose, the NDP Opposition at the time and while it was in government promoted the Alaska Highway transfer and promoted the reconstruction of the north Alaska Highway. The question is this: to what degree do you promote this at the expense of the other things that you are doing? When the majority of the Legislature speaks, one would think that the Cabinet would feel obligated to at least, at a minimum, even if they wished to re-visit this question, which is their right, re-visit it first with elected people and not with a federally appointed public servant.
We now have a situation where the Legislature, the elected people, and this is a throw-back from 20 years ago, are expected to swallow this turn of events and approve funding after the money has been spent.
If the move to a single sitting involves a regular trip to the Commissioner's Office whenever the government wants to amend its vote authority, the vote authority that is duly given it in this Legislature, then obviously we have some serious concerns about that. It is one thing not to be able to come into the Legislature and express one's concerns for one's constituents for things like waterfront development, trailer courts, trailer home owners, workers in Faro, people who live out on the Carcross Road, people who live in Riverdale. It is one thing not to be able to come in and target questions to a Minister about their constituent's problems, but it is quite another thing to live without a legislative sitting knowing that the government is doing whatever it pleases because it knows it has a special relationship with the Commissioner.
Clearly, we have a very significant problem to face. It cannot simply be passed over lightly by the government Cabinet. We have spent a long time in this Legislature debating that particular provision. This is not just any provision. This is one where we have consciously expressed ourselves. We said something very specific, and if the government now feels that it can re-visit the question because it has managed to get an extra vote, then it should come back and re-visit it, but it should come back to the House and re-visit it and not ask the Commissioner to do something that perhaps the Commissioner should not have done.
I am not suggesting that the Commissioner himself has consciously subverted the interest of this Legislature because that would do damage to what the Commissioner believes has been his life-long work. His job is to give this Chamber the ability to make decisions for itself. Elected people in the Yukon will make decisions about and for the Yukon.
What I am suggesting, though, is that the government has taken the Commissioner in unwittingly in something that I think is quite wrong. It should not have been done. Because we have a situation now where we are facing a single sitting - one exhaustive sitting - per year, and the government will have nine months, perhaps, to act as it pleases without regular and specific, directed scrutiny - the kind that can only be delivered in this Legislature - it makes me nervous about the government's recent actions with respect to seeking out special warrants.
I do not, for a second, disagree that, from time to time, in unusual circumstances, special warrants may be required. What does concern me is that, in this particular instance, not only did the Legislature express itself, but the warrant was also at a time when the Legislature normally sits. So, we have a problem. In my view, at least, it is the government's responsibility to explain itself and to give the rest of us comfort, whether it feels it has an obligation to do that or not.
We have a number of other issues that have caused us some concern. We spoke briefly this afternoon about the government's actions with respect to collective bargaining and its concern about wanting to balance its budgets on the backs of public servants - as it turns out, needlessly so. We have concerns about the government's rhetoric. The Member for Riverside has raised the issue, and we have raised the issue on numerous occasions, about the government's vision for the territory and the basic justification for its spending plans. One concern can be summed up by stating that we have serious concern about the Government Leader's characterization of operational spending, and particularly of the spending in education, as being debt creation, and that of road building as being wealth creation. Maybe our concerns about the government's priorities can be summed up there, because it is our contention that spending on education and training is wealth creation. It is our contention that spending on roads can be wealth creation, but not necessarily so.
We have heard rhetoric about the government wanting to build roads to mines, to the resources. That is what we have heard in the government's vision statement, their Toward the 21st Century document and in the four-year plan. They want to invest public money, capital money, on building roads and energy sources for the resource sector. Have they built any roads, so far, to the mining resource sector? I do not know of any. They have spent approximately $1.2 billion, but have they built roads to the mineral resource sector? No.
They have put a lot of money into the Alaska Highway, not only including the contingent funding as part of the agreement but also discretionary funding toward rebuilding the Alaska Highway. Is there a mine up there? Is there a mine in Alaska?
The point that is being made is that, while there is some inherent value in rebuilding the Alaska Highway, as witnessed by the NDP government's desire to see the Alaska Highway rebuilt, it does not match the government's rhetoric. Their spending proposals do not match their rhetoric. They are not building the roads to the resources they said they would.
Where are they following up with government policy? Where are they providing that additional support? If it is not in their spending plan, if they are not building energy sources, if they are not building roads to those mines, what are they doing? We know what they are spending the money on, but what precisely are they doing?
They are saying that they have hired a mining facilitator. They had a cocktail party a couple of years ago, and they have a new attitude, they say. The new attitude, in and of itself, has changed the fortunes of the territory as it involves mining. This is the claim.
There has been no acknowledgement or recognition that the world economy is improving. There has been no recognition that mineral prices around the world are improving. The government is so fond of saying that the climate for mining is so lousy in British Columbia, and it boggles the mind why exploration spending in northern British Columbia has exceeded the exploration spending in the Yukon, in terms of growth in spending, and the size of spending.
The Members opposite felt free to criticize the B.C. government as being one that was unfriendly to mining and wanted to evict the mining industry from their jurisdiction. Yet, the exploration spending is going up there faster than it is here, and this is the government that put on the cocktail party. This is the government that has the mining facilitator.
It is ludicrous for this debate to boil down to whether or not we support a mining facilitator. We have no problems with the mining facilitator. As a matter of fact, the government made a fine choice in the person they chose to be the mining facilitator; however, the government must understand that this is only the beginning of the beginning of what it could do, realistically, to support the mining industry. Whenever they roll out the programs they have in store for supporting the mining industry, they are always the same. They are the ones that were created before the Yukon Party government came to office.
When they talk about support for the mining industry, they ought to know that one of the things that they do have control over, that they do have responsibility for, is the regulatory environment in which the mining industry operates - at least they have it jointly with other governments. There is in fact an obligation under the umbrella final agreement to streamline the regulatory process for the resource industry. Did they mention that they were going to undertake the hard, tough policy work, that they were going to expend some political capital to address this problem, in the throne speech or the budget speech? No.
They said they were going to take suggestions from small business about how they might amend a regulation or two, but where is the hard policy work being done? The thing that could make the biggest difference, the thing that was identified at the Geoscience Forum, the issue that was identified front and centre in the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment's one-day session on mining - what about the one thing that mattered the most; what are they doing about that? It is not even deserving of a mention.
So, whenever we criticize what the government is doing about mining, they always shout back, do we not like the mining facilitator? Well, the mining facilitator cannot do his job by simply trying to deal with the existing regulatory environment. That papers over the serious problems that exist today and which were meant to be addressed in the umbrella final agreement. He can help people with regulations but the real political work that can be done, and that should be done, is to streamline the regulations and make them comprehensive and efficient. It deserves at least a token mention in the budget speech. It deserves a token mention in the throne speech, because it is clearly of the most significant interest to the mining industry. More than anything else, that counts most. The mining facilitator cannot do it all on his own.
The government, for its part, has been unable - as was witnessed today in Question Period - to identify a single action that it has proposed or has accomplished that has contributed to the increase in mining activity in this territory. We know what little it has done with respect to getting the Anvil Range group started. I happen to know what little it has done to see a rebirth of activities at United Keno Hill Mines. We also know how little work has been done to actually finalize the ghost industrial support policy, which is intended to address some of the significant policy issues surrounding mining development in this territory.
What is with this industrial support policy, anyway? Where is it? Is it being used or is it not being used? It is a fundamental question that must be answered by someone on the government side. Does it exist and have they been using it? We have very different signals from the Ministers. It is the only modest, serious policy initiative that the government has undertaken. As other Members have pointed out, it does not even incorporate some of the things that one would expect to see in an industrial support policy, particularly with respect to a more comprehensive analysis of energy requirements and policy.
We have a situation in which, last year, the government indicated to us that all was well. It claimed that the economic performance of the territory was in good shape, and that it was not much worse than it was in 1992. It pointed, over and over again, to the overall value of retail trade in the territory as being the most significant positive indicator that they could find to demonstrate that there was good economic activity taking place in the territory. That same year, we were told that the government did not trust an economic forecast being produced by the department that suggested that there may be some areas in the economy that needed some work or some support by government action.
We found out, long after the fact, that indeed the economic performance of the territory was absolutely lousy. It was the worst in the country, and the predictions by economists about the poor performance in significant areas was, in fact, accurate. There were problems that should have been faced front and centre by the government, rather than being papered over. There ought to have been action taken on a number of fronts with respect to the economy.
Last year, I indicated a couple of good things that the government had done in some sectors of the economy that could be models for other Ministers dealing with other elements of the economy. We still have a situation where the government believes that doing nothing - or doing virtually nothing - in terms of policy development is a virtue. At the same time, the government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to match those expenditure proposals with whatever rhetoric they have left that has any credibility in their four-year plan.
There are many things I want to address during Committee. I want to know, in great detail, about the formula financing arrangements, how the negotiations are being structured, what is expected of government, and what signals it has had from the federal government. I want to know more about the banking arrangements the government has with its new banking partner. I want to have a thorough discussion about some of the issues that have been raised in this Legislature and have not been given a thorough enough airing.
I think we have a tendency to make speeches to each other, but I want to have give and take on projects like the industrial support policy, the comprehensive energy strategy and the Taga Ku proposal. I want to see a clearer picture of what the government believes in when it comes to its role in the economy. Does it believe in loan funding? Does it believe in grants? Does it believe there is a role for the economic development agreement? Does it want to be more dependent upon the federal government, or less dependent upon the federal government? Does it want to help them in their quest to fight the federal debt, or are they going to try to squirrel away every dime they can, even somewhat dishonestly through gutting devolved programs from the federal government? What do they want to do? What is their objective? Do they want to spend as much money as they possible can at anybody's expense, or is there an agenda to support the federal government as well? How are they communicating that agenda to the federal finance officials in the context of formula financing negotiations?
I want to know more about their vision. They have a vision statement for the future of the economy that is almost exclusively related to resource extraction. We all want to know a lot more about that. A few years ago we heard nothing but talk about railways to Carmacks. Then we heard that there was a mine north of Carmacks that was "right around the corner". Now we hear that there is a coal deposit west of Braeburn that is going to be, as the Member for Riverside mentioned today, the Valhalla - our resurrection and our ability to be completely self-sufficient. Is it the government's objective to be financially self-sufficient in four years? What does that mean? Do they believe that the federal government should not be expecting the Yukon government to receive any financial transfers? Do they believe that 100 percent of revenues are going to be achieved through local taxation and resource taxation? What are they pursuing? What does the vision statement mean? I think that now, after a couple of years in office, when we have clearly been through this discussion on a couple of past occasions, it behooves us to finally come to some conclusions so that we finally understand what the government is intending to do. This is the time - not at the next election, and not when the government party is trotting out four-year statements that, in some cases, do not make a lot of sense. We want to know now while we have the chance to know, and while the government has had the experience and the time to review its plans. Now, when the government has had hundreds of civil servants working exclusively for them, is the time that they tell us in detail what their plans are. We have every right to learn the results of their deliberations.
I want to know a lot more about the government's vision of what counts as debt creation and what counts as wealth creation. Nothing has rankled people more than the statement by the government that, for example, education spending amounts to debt creation. I have the quote in Hansard here, just in case the Minister needs a refresher about what was once said.
I want to know more about that because there appear to be some subtle policy changes that may be conscious or not. There are, I think, some justified perceptions that that statement is showing up in budget priorities. So, I would like to hear more about that. I will wait for the period past the government's response in second reading and wait until we get into the give and take of Committee work. I think we need to have an exchange, no matter how long it takes, in order that we may reach some conclusions on these points. I have a fair number of questions about some revenue projections, but I will communicate those to the Minister in general debate in second reading.
I just want to caution the government to seriously attempt to match its rhetoric - its statements of intentions - with its budget priorities. When it says it is going to do something, it should follow through with it - not only in debate in this Legislature, but in its spending patterns.
I would also ask the government not to get upset when statements are questioned and analyzed in detail in this Legislature because they do not appear to make sense from the public's perspective. Simply speaking, what the Opposition Members bring to this debate is the very obvious public perception.
We do not have legions of advisors. We do not have dozens of policy analysts. We do not have budget authority. What we do have is the vision of a large portion of the public, who is totally confused about what this government is up to. They do not understand what this government is doing. Even those who would appear to be the government's strongest supporters are expressing significant doubt about the government's ability to carry out even its own agenda. They seem unable even to understand what a consistent agenda is, particularly on the economic side. Consequently, we raise those concerns and transmit that anxiety into this Legislature.
What we have going for us is that we do not care one bit whether or not the government
gets fed up or gets ornery. They cannot kick us out of their office. They have to sit
there and listen. The more fractious the debate becomes, it does not look bad for the
Opposition. We are simply expressing people's opinions that we hear. If the government has
the patience to work through the policy issues and explain them to us, I am sure that we
will have a very fruitful, positive and constructive exchange on this budget.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I will not be speaking too long on this subject; I will merely be going over the same old material. Shortly, we will be getting to line-by-line debate.
I often wonder when I listen to the Opposition whether or not we are looking at the same books. I am going through the Department of Community and Transportation Services and see a reduction of two percent in places and an overall reduction of two percent, as well. Yet, the Opposition keeps telling us that we are experiencing increases.
We have continually said, when the Opposition tells us that there is too much money in
the capital budget, that a great deal of that money is not ours. Much of it belongs to the
Government of Alaska and the federal government. The non-Yukon government funding amounts
to $35,098,000. That is for a budget of $50,579,000. If you subtract those two, we
actually have $15,481,000 in discretionary funds.
It is right in the book. Perhaps someone should look at it once in a while to see what is there. On operation and maintenance, they say we did not decrease, yet they used a computer to add it up, I presume, and it does not make mistakes. We are down two percent.
In 1994-95, we had $62,478,000. In the 1995-96 budget, we are estimating $61,481,000, for a reduction of $997,000.
We have cut out a great deal of overtime. We have done this by changing things around. Again this year, we have reduced travel by another two percent. That is after the big cut we made last year, and we are down another two percent.
We are entering our second year on the Skagway highway in an agreement we made with the Alaskans. They are now paying their share of the highway, although we are doing the work. We have two or three Americans who come to Fraser to work. We have a great savings there, which we did not have before.
The Opposition keeps saying we should not be spending so much on the Alaska Highway. I guess some people are forgetting that I spent a lot of time on that side of the House fighting for highway money to be turned over to us because of the misspending going on. The Hon. Mr. Byblow worked at it very hard, and I give him all the credit in the world for it. However, if you check Hansard, when I was sitting over there, I made it very plain that that money was to be spent on the Alaska Highway. That is what it was meant for, and that is where it was to go. You can go back and check Hansard if you like, and the Hon. Mr. Byblow agreed to that. Now, everybody wants to change it.
They say we are not planning anything. Right now, we are planning the road into the Loki gold field. We are planning the preliminary plans for Carmacks Copper and, possibly, Mt. Nansen. Next spring, surveyors will be on the Campbell Highway, surveying from Finlayson Lake to Watson Lake for the Tag operation, if it goes ahead.
I have sat in on conversations with these people. They understand our position that we are not going to put millions of dollars into a road if they are not going to bring the mines into production. They seem to have no trouble with that. They seem to understand it, but the Opposition does not seem to understand it. We are not going to blow a lot of money only to see 35 cars a month using it, or something like that.
They do not seem to have any problem working with us and they have been working with the department all the time. I see the Member for Faro shaking his head. He has all the answers. He is a great man. He is the whiz kid of Faro. He has all the answers.
We are the ones who brought the Implementation Review Committee in to help the placer miners who were leaving the country. There he goes again. You see, we cannot do anything right. He is always right and we are always wrong. That is the way he lives. He waves his hands and he is a big wheel.
We brought in new trucks. They criticized us for that. We brought in those trucks. Now we do not need sander trucks because we can put the same sanders on them. The trucks travel faster, they clean the roads faster and we are able to save money doing that.
One of our foremen suggested that we get an old farm disk and disk up the chip seal instead of grading it off into the ditch. We are now able to do double the number of kilometers for the same money. These are things one can do when one asks people for ideas.
I do not know why he wastes my time, Mr. Speaker, because he has all the answers and I should just go home and forget the whole thing. It would probably make him good and happy, too.
Two weigh scales will be closed, which gives us another saving.
I will not speak very much more because I have given him his fun for the day. He has had his laughs for the day. He has had the floor all day and everybody else kept quiet. He likes to laugh and joke.
I am going to say that I have to give credit for anything I have done in here to the
civil service who work with us. They work very hard. They have tried to cooperate and they
have done their best. We still have a few problems but everybody is working at them. I
appreciate working with these people and I think that we get along quite well.
Mr. Harding: I was somewhat taken aback by the hostile tone of the comments directed at me from across the floor but you get used to that in the Legislature when you are dealing with the veterans of the Legislature who are much more skilled in debate than I am. They know how to play the ropes and I am just a rookie trying to break in, so I will not try to compete. I will, in my usual subtle manner, try to put my points forward on behalf of my constituents.
I want to begin with a bit of rebuttal on the quite, at times, unbelievable comments that I just heard. I started counting. One of the things I was chuckling about were the tremendous contradictions in almost every sentence between government policy and the words coming out of the mouth of the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
At every turn, there was another contradiction. I could not write them down fast enough.
I will start with the Minister's comments that he must be reading the budget correctly, and that we should be taking a look at it because we certainly have not been reading the budget properly, in his opinion. The net spending has increased to $350 million in the 1993-94 budget, and to $370 million in 1995-96 budget. The bottom line is this budget is a $500 million budget. That is the truth; those are the facts, and that is what is in the overall budget.
He has pointed to his reduction of two percent in the wage restraint legislation as a tremendous victory - and I guess that is all part of his tribute to the civil servants that he loves so much that he abrogated the part of the right of the civil servants to collectively bargain - but I do not concur with the Minister that he has accomplished as much as he believes he has. He points to the fact that some funding comes from elsewhere, including the federal government. It is not uncommon for the Yukon, which has entered into agreements in the past with other parties that have been providing funding. As a matter of fact, this has been the case for the last three years and for years before that. This budget, in that respect, is no different from any other in the past. It is still a $500 million budget. It is the third consecutive biggest spending budget in Yukon history.
The Member for McIntyre-Tahkini said that that is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it is spent responsibly. The problem comes when you try to match it with the rhetoric of the Members opposite when they were, in fact, in Opposition. Had this been an NDP budget, it would have been called a big-spending, fat, unnecessary spending budget. Now the Members opposite defend it vehemently, even though it is the third consecutive biggest spending budget in Yukon history brought in by the Yukon Party. So the rhetoric does not match the facts and figures in the book, and I think perhaps the Minister of Community and Transportation Services should take another look at the overall picture. He should not just be focused on his particular department, because he has a responsibility to Cabinet, too.
We have certainly looked at the books. We know what is in the books, and we are not entirely pleased with what is in the books.
Certainly, the amount of money there is great, but there is a question of priorities. On the issue that the Minister and previous speaker mentioned regarding the Alaska Highway, he should think for a minute about the argument we put forward. We simply said that the discretionary capital that was used on the Alaska Highway upgrading should not be used to the degree that it was. We are not talking about the money that came from Ottawa or from the Alaskan government. That money was to be spent on the Alaska Highway. Now, that is not to say that we do not have any jurisdiction over that. For the most part, it should be spent on the Alaska Highway. We, the New Democrats, negotiated the agreement, which is the only significant infrastructure development underway in this territory.
So, the Minister should understand that we are talking about discretionary spending. This year, it is the same thing. We have a substantial portion that will be recovered from the federal government, from the Alaskan government and from other sources, but the discretionary funding is still in the vicinity of about $7 million. That is money that the Yukon can determine where it wants to spend it. The priorities of the government determine where that money is going to go. They choose to take that money and put it into a further increase in the Alaska Highway line, putting it in the vicinity of $40 million again this year. Every year this project has been run, there have been huge lapses because the spending cannot be undertaken in any one given year. It has not happened yet. There have been huge lapses in each year.
In talking with some of the lodge owners, they say that, in their minds, the road construction has been harmful to them because a lot of the visitors to the Yukon, who travel up and down that highway, are overwhelmed by the waits, the stops, the dust, the dirt and the length of time it takes to travel through the construction. They are absolutely infuriated with it because it is almost too much at once. So, the Minister should be careful to understand that our distinction refers to discretionary spending.
We negotiated that agreement, and would certainly concur that the vast majority of that should be channeled to the fund for which it was originally intended. Last year, briefings with Finance officials indicated that there would be no objections raised by the federal government if we planned to do something else with the money. To my knowledge, none have been raised up until this point. The government made a red-herring argument that we could not channel it that way because we would be upsetting the federal government. They said that it could not be that way and that we could not channel it that way. However, when the Finance official was questioned, he stated that there had been no such objection raised by federal officials, nor did he have any knowledge that one was on its way.
The most interesting thing the Minister stated in his speech, that had me writing vigorously, was his discussion about planning for the Tag operation. We have a mine just down the road that is a real, existing mine. It is actually in the process of starting up, and has 200 people working on it. It is a mine that has been there for 25 years, and has been operating for just over 21 of those years, and it is a mine that deserves some infrastructure attention. When I look in this particular budget under the Campbell Highway, I see an O&M budget cut of two percent, which shows that the actual budget in that area has been cut, and I see no planned project for capital expenditure for any chipsealing or BST improvement on that highway. I am extremely disappointed, because I would have thought that, had the government been planning properly for the next year, we would have seen, after two years of virtually no BST improvement to that highway, the government putting something in there for Faro - the area that I represent. However, they chose not to do it. Now they are talking about the Tag deposit, and I heard from Cominco officials that it is six years away, at best.
In the next breath, the Minister said that their position is that they are not going to put millions of dollars into roads unless the mines come up. He said that is because they did not want to have all of this money spent on roads if there are not going to be resources there. That is a direct contradiction of the great speech of the Government Leader, in which he spoke as if he were John Diefenbaker. He said that they also laughed at John Diefenbaker and his roads to resources program. There was something about Eskimos in the speech when he spoke about the Dempster Highway.
He said that people laughed at Diefenbaker, and that they should not have done that. The concept of the Yukon Party government, at that time, was to build the roads, so that the roads to resources program could make it more easy for companies to operate. By supplying roads, they felt that they would increase the infrastructure levels and encourage and contribute to the investment climate. At that time, I made fun of them. I reminded them of the movie, Field of Dreams, where a man built a ball field because he was told to build it and the people will come. I scoffed at them then.
Now the Minister is completely reversing his position and saying that he is not going to build those roads unless the mines are already there and committed. There is no roads-to-resources policy for this government. Once again, there is a major flip-flop on a big mining issue. This is not a government that has done anything substantial for mining in terms of one program. They are simply fortunate that the economy has improved and that there is now a bigger demand out there for metals. Rising metal prices have spurred the increased demand for metals and exploration. This is occurring Canada wide, not just here. They are living in a dream world ivory tower when they think about their particular contribution to the world economy.
The second interesting aspect about the statement that they are not going to build roads to resources unless the mines open up, which is a departure from other policy statements they have made and in direct contradiction to other statements made by the Government Leader, is that, in a letter to Archer Cathro, they stated that they are prepared to accept the building of a railroad to the Division Mountain coal property as a principle that they could accept. They made this statement on a whim. When they were asked about the feasibility study for Division Mountain coal, they admitted that they had not yet reached that stage, even though it was the cornerstone of their Speech from the Throne. Their answer to that was that at least they had a vision. Their vision is so cloudy, it is pathetic. It is irresponsible.
People out there hear the big talk about a big coal project and how it will mean big jobs. People living in the trailer courts in my riding and elsewhere in the territory get excited about it. However, it is only fluff. This government runs in circles, higgledy-piggledy, claiming at one point that the Casino project would be our great savior. Then it was big oil and gas fields. Now, it is Division Mountain coal. I wonder what is next.
I read through the first little speech that they gave in December 1992. Then I read
through the capital budget speeches in order to refresh my memory about each particular
theme before I came into this House. Each speech has a so-called vision about each project
that is just around the corner.
They dangle it out there for Yukoners, to keep them interested in the economy here in the Yukon. In some respects, it is quite cruel. In many cases, as with the Division Mountain and Casino project, feasibility studies are not even completed yet, so it is preposterous to make them cornerstones of a throne speech or budget speech.
It was almost as if they believed they had contributed the ore in the ground for the Casino project. They said the Yukon has Casino, and this will mean jobs for Yukoners. They failed to say that there is not even a feasibility study completed on it yet. There has been some drilling and exploration, but my understanding is that the financing, operation and infrastructure requirements are absolutely astounding. Yet, when the Anvil Range people were trying to buy a real mine, one that had produced for 25 years and had the infrastructure in place, they could not get a simple letter of support on their bid. They got no help whatsoever from this government. The chairman went on the radio and said that it seemed as if people in Ontario were more interested in getting the mine in Faro going than the Government of the Yukon. Based on what I saw and heard, I could not agree with him more.
Yet, they were quite prepared, in the throne speech, to mention Archer Cathro, a campaign contributor in the last election, 10 times over, and their Division Mountain coal project and how it is just around the corner and how it will mean jobs for Yukoners. We accept the philosophy of coal. They gave them a letter of support, no problem. Why is that? Why do you suppose they would take something they have in the hand, which has produced very well for this territory, and choose to ignore it? The work going on in Faro is being done totally in spite of this government, and certainly not because of them.
We have a government that has reversed its policies. The first time I heard the government's new policy was that they did not have a roads-to-resources policy and were only going to build roads on a demand-need basis. When they first came into office, that was their plan. You put the power in, you put the roads in, and the mines come. Now, the mines have to be there and be ready, then you talk about roads and power. We agree with that philosophy, but that was not their initial philosophy. Perhaps, after a couple of years, they are learning.
This particular budget is, once again, a good illustration of Yukon Party economics and Yukon Party policy - massive spending in a jurisdiction with no debt, and it never has had a debt. Yet, it claims to be fiscally responsible. Why? Because they balanced the budget and there are no tax increases. Well, the NDP had no tax increases in seven years in government. The Yukon Party brought in the biggest tax increases in Yukon history. Somehow, they have made a virtue of the fact that, after bringing in the biggest taxes in Yukon history in one year, they do not have any in the next couple of budgets. Well, there should not be any tax increases. And to use the comments of the Government Leader during the election campaign of 1992, he said, "That would be obscene, Mr. Penikett, for you to raise taxes." Yet, he brought in the biggest tax increase in history and now brags that his one-half billion dollar budget has no tax increases. He brags and makes a virtue of the fact that it is a balanced budget. Well, in five of seven years the NDP brought in balanced budgets. They were not invented by the Yukon Party. The only year there were any current year deficits was during the year of the NCPC transfer and in the 1992-93 year, in which they were going into formula financing negotiations and were investing the surplus. We do not negotiate like the Government Leader, who announces on CBC Radio that he is going to take over the federal government programs that are fat and juicy, cut them back, and then channel the funds into some other source. We do not show all our cards at one particular time, as do the Members opposite. I think that was one of the biggest laughs of 1994, if I remember correctly.
Then, of course, they negotiate for further cuts from the federal government with their wage restraint legislation. They say they are preparing for the cuts to come, while at the same time the federal Minister of Finance, Paul Martin, issues a letter to the Government Leader and Minister of Finance saying that he would be prepared to consider a freeze for this year. Anybody who knows anything about negotiating would know that, if he says that in a letter, as his opening position, then one is looking at a pretty good negotiating position. If he was only looking for a cut or a freeze, he would have started by saying that he was not prepared to entertain anything other than a small reduction. At that point, one might be able to negotiate a freeze, or something similar to a freeze, but he opened it right up. He told us that he would accept the freeze. So, the merits of the Yukon Party, when it comes to negotiating prowess, is somewhat lacking, to say the least.
This budget has an absolute pile of money, yet does not even make mention of the lapses that we are going to have from last year's budget. We all remember the debate when we said that the government did not need those tax increases because it had these lapsed funds, and the situation was never as bad as the Opposition says it was. Of course, they said that they needed the tax increases in order to balance the budget because the budget was tighter than a drum. When we wanted to make tiny, little changes to that water-tight budget - I think we brought in some 44 amendments - we had to go through gymnastics in order to accomplish these minor amendments.
Then we find out from the government on the day they table the wage restraint legislation that they had a $20 million surplus. It looks more like $30 million in the budget now, since the supplementaries are in and everything else. No one, in their right mind, is going to believe that there is a tighter-than-a-drum budget here, and that there are going to be no lapses, yet they do not incorporate them in any of their projections whatsoever. Right to the bitter end, I suppose, they are going to insist that there will be no lapses and this budget is tighter than a drum. And then they are going to shoot themselves in the foot, as they did last year, when the lapses came down. I feel for the poor Finance officials - I really do - because the politicians get in here and make grandiose statements about the financial situation of the government and then end up getting blown away in the end. Maybe they are learning, after a couple of years, but I think most Yukoners have already determined that the case is closed and that this is a one-term government. Its lack of vision, its lack of responsibility, and its lack of honesty in telling the public what the real story is, I think, are the key issues on the minds of people, and we certainly intend, in the one session that we now have, to point out the problems this government has in terms of telling people about what the real story is in the Yukon, and its problems in terms of coming up with any kind of a concrete vision - not an airy vision that can be puffed away with a couple of questions in Question Period - but a solid agenda. That is entirely lacking from this government.
In the Friday, December 9 paper, there was an editorial. The headline read, "Ostashek's visions are like desert images". It spoke of the gambling policy and the lack of a gambling policy. The point was made that the decision was announced in the throne speech, but that there has been absolutely nothing done in this budget, or in any other policy work we have seen, other than the policy of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment and its consultative process on the particular issue. They say they accept it in principle, but we have to find out in the last year of their mandate what that means.
Another vision had holes blown through it in the first week of Question Period. I have to say that it gets pretty easy the longer you are over here to blow holes through things, and I think that is always the case when you are in Opposition, but it is like shooting fish in a barrel when it comes to the dream schemes of the Government Leader.
Everyone will all remember the interlocking power grid between B.C., Alaska and the Yukon. The Government Leader had a special meeting with the Governor of Alaska when we were there on a legislative exchange. Of course, the big vision man - our Government Leader - was told that that particular proposal was much too expensive and not feasible. The editorial says, "And Ostashek has never mentioned it again." That particular motion the Government Leader tabled in the legislature has never been brought back. Why? Because it was a dream scheme and we proved it.
There is nothing wrong with visions, but do not make them the cornerstones of your budget speech if you cannot sustain a minute debate in the Yukon Legislature about the so-called visions.
There was the Division Mountain coal project - another vision. The Government Leader defended it by saying that at least they had a vision. He has a vision, but he has no sense of how he is going to achieve the desired goal. We are not even sure if he knows what that goal is. He says he has accepted coal as a philosophy. I spoke about that a little earlier this afternoon.
The other particularly disconcerting thing in this short legislative session of two weeks was on the industrial support policy. The story says that, "although it is conducting complicated negotiations with a number of mining companies, it has only tabled a draft industrial policy, noted Harding. Question: Is this now the industrial support policy, he asked? No, it is not, replied the Economic Development Minister. The actual policy will be tabled in a very short time."
So, I asked what the policies were, but the Minister would not, or could not, answer. He said they were laid out in the throne speech and, as soon as it is available, it will be developed and given to us.
This is a government that talks big mining. It is over two years into its mandate, and they try to claim that they have been responsible by promoting what they call a solid investment climate, which has always been here. According to the president of Loki Gold and other former mining company people in the territory, the Yukon has always had a good investment climate, so there is no differentiation between their particular government and the previous one in that respect. They have done virtually nothing to create a stronger investment climate that I can see.
They talk about a mining facilitator. Every time we ask what specific step they have taken to improve the climate for mining in this territory, they say they have hired a mining facilitator, an $84,000 appointee. I do not know this particular individual. I hear from the critic for Economic Development that he is a very qualified and capable individual, but that is not the point. The point is to not try to get us to buy the fact that hiring an $84,000 bureaucrat is what is responsible for the mining activity in this territory. It could have been a minor help. It is one small cog in a comprehensive industrial mining support and energy policy. It is a joke, and it is an insult to the integrity and intelligence of this Legislature.
The government would try and tell us that this particular job is responsible for the alleged greater activity in mining. I will get to that subject in a while. This particular person could not have accomplished what the Yukon Party has claimed they have. If they have, they should wear a suit with a red "S'', because, obviously, they are on a higher plane than we are. Supposedly, they have gone to London, England and fixed the London Metal Exchange, in order to get those prices up. In this way, they got the Faro mine going again. They then went over behind Finlayson Lake and found the Tag deposit. It is completely preposterous to suggest that this kind of news has been created by a person who, I am sure, is working to some degree with the Yukon Energy Corporation and with some of the mining companies in the Chamber of Mines, looking at some substantial things. However, they certainly could not have any massive role in Cabinet, or they would have to compete for time to move things ahead.
There are so many companies doing business, it would be impossible for one particular person to have all of this good stuff attributed to him. I would say to the government that there has got to be more than an $84,000 mining facilitator.
The other cog in the policy for an increased investment climate in the Yukon - if I get this right - is that they went to the Cordilleran Roundup. You, yourself, Mr. Speaker, when you were the Minister, also went down. I think there was an $8,000 to $10,000 booze bill racked up, buying booze for miners. You wore a name tag that said "I am the Economic Development Minister for the Yukon and we are open for business". This is the great saying of the Yukon Party, and that single-handedly attracted tremendous amounts of business to the Yukon. One would wonder why they did not keep you, as a reward, in that particular position in Economic Development, if you did such a great job. Perhaps you should have stayed in that position. They did not see to that, and actually it has changed twice more. I do not know why you were not rewarded in a more suitable manner for the good works that they attribute to you.
The other thing that I would say that concerns me greatly is the failure by the government, who make such a harangue about the B.C. government and how it is unfriendly to mining, to point out that mining activity in many areas of B.C. has increased at a greater rate than has activity in the Yukon, over the same period of time that they have been in office.
They try to portray the British Columbia government as being evil toward mining, and that is actually not the case. We all know that, when there was an NDP government here, mining and mineral production was much higher than it is today. I would say that the case is closed on that particular issue. The Yukon Party likes to hold itself up as if it has a monopoly on economic development and economic activity, but I think that a lot of people in this territory know that that is not the case, and that this government is lacking in vision when it comes to the economy. It believes in spending one-half a billion dollars a year, but that their role in the economy is limited in terms of providing jobs for people and working at improving our economic situation in the territory. They believe that the key to economic activity is simply in the creation of roads, and that that is their role. They spend $500 million a year and they pave the roads. We could call it the Yukon Party paving company, because that is what they believe is the only contributing factor to the Yukon economy.
The Government Leader has said in this House that education spending is debt creation, and that O&M is somehow portrayed as evil, whereas capital expenditures are portrayed by the government as good. It does not surprise me that they would be so short-sighted as to say that O&M spending is evil. What about education? I would argue that education spending and investment is as much a part of infrastructure or economic development, or anything that you want to say about economic development in this territory, as roadbuilding.
The problem is that the government is spending record budgets but they do not balance them. They are short sighted and narrow visioned. That is the complaint that I hear most out there. I am hearing it from some people that I thought were dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives but have obviously moved away from the dark side. I have heard the government called everything from the evil empire to the junta, and everything else, and these things are being said by Conservatives. Obviously, people out there are not pleased.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: As the Member for Mount Lorne says, they seem to be seeing the light. We are two years into the government's term and, as I said earlier this afternoon, the government has a significant amount of money available. Tremendous wads of cash are being sent in from the federal government in Ottawa and they are spending every penny of it. They have a creative way of keeping books, but when we sort through it at the end of the day, we find that they are spending it.
One of the things I find particularly galling about this budget are the little subtleties. An example is that this budget was billed at $489 million. When I look at the total expenditures predicted in the budget book, it states $489,508,000. I always thought one rounded up in accounting principles but, apparently, the Yukon Party chose to round down. That is a first for me. I am not an accountant, but I am sure that I learned in about grade three or four that one should round upward. As this particular government is wont to do, they harmonize downward, whether it is regarding the Environment Act or the Employment Standards Act, or anything that is progressive in terms of legislation, such as conflict-of-interest legislation. There is not a progressive bone in their bodies, which is unfortunate for Yukoners, to say the least.
Aside from that, there is a total budget expenditure listed of $489,508,000. It projects a surplus of $8,272,000, which they place in a contingency fund. However, they have failed to either put that contingency fund in the expenditure column, which would increase the budget up to the $500 million range that I have talked about, or to put it into the surplus position of the government as a projection at the bottom of the page.
For two years in a row, we have had this creative bookkeeping, which tries to create
the impression that, firstly, they have balanced the books and, secondly, that their
spending is down, because this contingency fund is knocked out of the total expenditures
and, thirdly - and this is an interesting Conservative twist - that we have no money. They
are claiming that there is no surplus, because the evil NDP spent it all three years ago,
even though they have sucked back another $1.5 billion from the federal government. When
the transition home, or women's shelter, in Watson Lake needs money, the Minister for
Health and Social Services stands up and makes his ridiculous argument. After he gets
blasted on the radio about it, we discover that it is not a question of money or anything
else that he has been saying; it is, instead, a question of priorities.
When the liquor store in Watson Lake needed $1 million, what did this government do? It put it there. But, when we talk about contributing to the big problems in the economy and in the education system, with special needs children, we get a mere pittance of an increase. I believe the increase in the special needs budget, to cover the needs I heard about in the communities, over and over again, is about $140,000, out of a $500 million budget. The discretionary capital - money we can spend on whatever we choose - has about a $7 million line item increase over the $32 million that is coming from outside sources for the Alaska Highway. What does that say about the young people who have special needs or are gifted children, who need a little more help so they can contribute socially and economically down the road? It shows they are very low on the priority list. What does it say about the gifted children in the classroom who are striving for greater heights but are spending a lot of time helping the people in the middle and the bottom, who are struggling to get through the courses? It says it is not a big priority, because the Government Leader believes that is debt creation. I think the money spent there is wealth creation, and I believe it is an investment for the future so that these people can contribute at some later date.
That is my vision. At least I think I know how I would get there, given different roles. It gets very frustrating to be in Opposition at times, as the Members opposite often said when they were over here. It can be quite easy to throw stones, but I feel I am at the point where I see things happening that are wrong. I believe they could easily be fixed, given a change in priority of the government. However, the government has become so stubborn that, whatever we say, it does the exact opposite, or they wait to take whatever we say and, about a year later, bring it in with a new name and say it is something they thought up.
Everything in the throne speech is virtually Opposition-driven.
Speaker: Order please. The Member has three minutes in which to conclude his remarks.
Mr. Harding: As a case in point, I went to the FBDB meeting where the Minister of Economic Development got up and said that they were going to undertake a regulatory review. Well, I have been listening to the Member for McIntyre-Takhini for two years. He used to ask the Speaker about it - you, yourself, Mr. Speaker, when you were the Minister of Economic Development - when a comprehensive, regulatory review was going to be initiated, as well as when some venture capital would be found, and when the banks would be brought in to talk about access to capital. Nothing has been done. There was a tourism summit a couple of years ago, there was a housing summit about one and one-half years ago now, and there was a one-day Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment meeting on mining. So little has been done, but $1.5 billion will have been spent by the end of this budget year, which does not even include the five months in 1992-93 when the Yukon Party was in government.
It is a pitiful record. Once again, the community I represent has been cast aside in
terms of a dividing up of investment in the territory, whether it is for roads or for
capital projects in the community that will create jobs. There is very little in this. I
would like to be more complimentary about it, but unfortunately it is not in me after
having read this document.
Mr. Abel: I am pleased to rise in support of the 1995-96 budget on behalf of my constituents. First, however, I want to wish all of the Members of this House, Yukon First Nations and all Yukoners a happy and prosperous 1995.
I take note of the fact that the government plans to spend a total of over $2 million in the community of Old Crow in the 1995-96 fiscal year. Of that, $1,780,000 will be devoted to operation and maintenance expenditures, with $300,000 for capital expenditures. For a small community like Old Crow, $2 million is a lot of money. I can assure all Members of this House that this money will be put to good use around the community and to improve our facilities.
Work is being done to improve the Chief Zzeh Gittlit School in phase 1 of the mechanical renovation project. The fire sprinkler pump was upgraded, and the sprinkler system was expanded and related work was done. The second phase of this renovation project is about to begin, and it involves the installation of an emergency generator and an upgrading of the electrical service. The combined cost of the two projects is in the range of $360,000, and it is something I have been urging the government to do.
I am most pleased the Minister of Education has listened to, and acted upon, my concerns. There will also be some work done on the teacherage, including interior painting and relocation of an air handling unit, as well as other interior work. The windows of the teacherage will be replaced this spring. Steps have also been taken to alleviate the high rental rates charged the teachers living in the teacherage.
The people of Old Crow are very proud of our school. We know how important education is to our children, and to our future, especially now that our land claims have been sealed. We also know how important it is to keep our children busy, and I am very pleased that the Old Crow cross-country ski project is continuing for the season. The project is important because it addresses the needs of our youth, and encourages parents, the school, and the community to become involved. The Sprung tent covering the Old Crow skating rink has also helped tremendously in this regard. The children of Old Crow enjoy this facility very much, as do all the people in the community. I hope that the official opening of this facility can take place later this month, and we are very proud of it.
As we begin this new year, the people of Old Crow are filled with hope. We have
achieved the land claims settlement that we worked so long and so hard for all of these
years. The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation now has the means to provide for its people and
for its future. We will work with the Government of Yukon and other Yukon First Nations to
improve the quality of life in Old Crow, to protect the environment, and to preserve the
Porcupine caribou herd for future generations.
Ms. Moorcroft: The budget that we are debating shows a 6.6 percent growth rate from last year. I was really puzzled when the Minister of Community and Transportation Services stood up and was quite upset with us because we were talking about two-percent budget increases. He wanted to know from where we were getting these numbers. I do not know how many of the Ministers have taken the opportunity to read the budget, but the operation and maintenance estimates in the financial summary shows a two-percent increase in total expenditure. It appears that it is necessary for us to point that out to the Members opposite.
There is a five-percent increase in the capital budget, and the operations and maintenance budget is also showing a slight increase from $342 million in the present year to over $343 million in the 1995-96 budget.
There was no financial emergency. When we add in the surplus from last year and the
contingency funds, this government does have a lot of money. It is spending $500 million
dollars here. This is very disturbing, particularly in light of the public service wage
restraint legislation. How can they justify this cut, which showed up in employees'
paycheques today, when they have a $10 million surplus? Spending is not going down.
The Yukon Party has introduced the three largest budgets in the Yukon's history, and each one has been bigger than the last. This is quite a contradiction, when they speak of being fiscally responsible and of the deficit we apparently had in 1992-93.
Also in the budget speech, and in the throne speech, the government has referred to their ambitious agenda and of this big budget as being the cornerstone of that. As the Member for Faro said this afternoon, the ambitious agenda over there is like angel food cake. As legislative projects, they have access to information and conflict of interest, both of which were pieces of legislation covered in the Public Government Act passed in this House under the previous administration, as was the Heritage Act and the Employment Standards Act, so, we do not see a lot of their so-called ambitious agenda.
What we are going to have is a debate about priorities.
The government said the government payroll was too high and that wages were too great. We are puzzled to note that the public sector wage allotment has gone up. We have asked for facts on the public service in the budget lockup, and we are looking forward to having them explained.
As the Member for McIntyre-Takhini said, going to the one-session approach looks as if we will have more Commissioner's warrants and more of the money being spent without the Legislature being in session so that government Members and Opposition Members can debate the spending.
I note in the budget address, in looking at Community and Transportation Services, that there is $8.3 million for residential land development in order to ensure a supply of lots for Yukoners. I also see, in the revenue summary, an estimate that the gain on the sale of lots is projected to be zero in 1995-96. This sum, the revenue from the gain of sale of lots, was $31,000 in 1994-95, and it was $892,000 in 1993-94. I must ask who is going to benefit from the sale of Yukon land? Is this government going to turn that residential land over to First Nations to develop, and is that why the profit is not going to the government coffers, or are they going to turn over the land to private developers?
There are many people living in trailer courts in the Yukon. There are a lot of renters, and there are a lot of first-time home buyers who are looking for land to buy. There is a real need for affordable land, and I will be following up on those issues in the Community and Transportation Services debate.
With this budget, the community development fund will soon be gone. The government has indicated that they will not be providing any funds through that avenue again.
We have heard many questions from people in rural communities about how unincorporated communities will be able to fund projects. We will be exploring that in the budget debate. We have also heard questions about sports and recreation funding.
I am pleased to see that the government is finally spending some money on education. There is a teen parent centre being planned on the F.H. Collins property for 25 students and their children. That is certainly a worthwhile program. The French first language school is getting started. I am very pleased to note that the Yukon College budget has increased. With the budget squeeze that the college has had over the last two years, it certainly needs that budget increase. It needs to put some money into reserves and to put some aside for replacing capital equipment as it wears out. The college has been in use for several years now.
The MLA for Faro and I travelled, as Education critics, to the rural communities in the Yukon. We heard a lot of requests for increased training opportunities. We heard a lot of requests for more distance education. We heard people talking about First Nations training provisions in the land claims agreements. I would like to know if the government will be making an honest attempt to deal with First Nations in good faith. That is certainly a challenge for Yukon politicians in the 1990s.
We heard that the Yukon training allowance is far too small, and that it has not been raised for several years. That is a concern of members of the communities that we will be following up on.
We also talked to teachers around the territory who are very concerned about the professional development budget being gutted in the last so-called collective agreement. At one time, professional development was considered a priority of the government and in the budget. In the Yukon, with so many rural communities, there is a lot of professional isolation and a very limited communication budget.
In the budget address, the Government Leader stated that the policy of the Yukon government is to build new schools and to upgrade existing facilities where there is a demonstrated need.
We all remember the debate about the reduction of the $4.5 million in the Alaska Highway line item, when a majority of Members supported a reduction in that particular line item in order to change priorities. The Members of the Legislature wanted to support the J.V. Clark School in Mayo, and the Grey Mountain Primary School, and their need to improve or replace their facilities.
The government seemed to have no intention of giving that money to those schools. We heard that the former Minister told the Association of Yukon School Councils that Grey Mountain Primary and J.V. Clark schools would be on their way, and I guess we will have to wait and see if that is what they do.
The priorities of this government are not ones that we share. This government chose to spend $1 million on a new Watson Lake liquor store, and as the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has said, there is too much drinking in the territory. Even while this government has chosen to spend $1 million on a new liquor store, they continue to refuse to find $15,000 for the Watson Lake transition home, so that they do not have to close their doors before the end of this fiscal year. It is not too late. Perhaps they are going to produce the money at the last minute - at the eleventh hour - and say, "We are going to be the good guys here. The shelter will not have to close its doors. We are sorry that you had to worry right up until today, but now you can stay open until the end of the fiscal year".
I think that this government has a very bad case of misplaced priorities. We will be raising a number of issues in the budget debate. The government has made some very selective and inappropriate cuts. It has also budgeted a lot of money for computing and office equipment. It is the same size as the Education capital budget. As I said, there will be a lot of debate on the priorities of this government as the budget goes through the House.
Motion to adjourn debate
Mr. Millar: I move that debate be now adjourned.
Speaker: The Hon. Member for Klondike has moved that debate be now adjourned.
Motion to adjourn debate on second reading of Bill No. 4 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 be now adjourned.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:27 p.m.
The following Legislative Return was tabled January 4, 1995:
Public Affairs supervisor for Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Electrical Company Limited: Communication Policies and Procedures (revised June 1994) for the Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Electrical Company Limited (Ostashek)
Oral, Hansard, p. 235