Thursday, February 16, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with silent Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Speaker: It is my pleasure today to introduce to the House Senator Randy Phillips, Senator John Torgerson, Representative Al Vezey and Representative Cynthia Toohey from the Alaska State Legislature. They have come to the Yukon to participate in an annual exchange that we have had for a number of years between the two jurisdictions. I would ask all Members to welcome them to the House at this time.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I would like to draw to the Members' attention the presence of the former Member for Vuntut Gwitchin in the gallery, Norma Kassi, and welcome her.
Speaker: I also see one of my constituents, Nathan Kalles, from Watson Lake, whom I would like to welcome.
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have a document for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Are there any Introduction of Bills?
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, development in
Mr. Penikett: I have a question for the Government Leader.
Alaskan legislators have recently voted in favour of opening up the Arctic Refuge to oil exploration, thus putting at risk the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd, on which the Gwitchin Nation has depended for generations. I would like to ask if the Government Leader is satisfied that his administration has done everything possible to communicate as complete an understanding as he possibly can of Yukon's position on this issue about this shared resource, the Porcupine caribou herd, to our Alaskan friends and neighbours?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Have we done all we can? No, but we will be doing more. I have contacted the new Governor of the State of Alaska, and have drawn the position of the Yukon government to his attention. As the Members opposite know, there was an understanding with the former Governor of Alaska that such developments in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would only go ahead if the Vuntut Gwitchin people were satisfied that the Porcupine caribou herd could be protected.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Government Leader for his answer. As all Members of this House know, Yukoners and Canadians have no particular interest in interfering in Alaskan, or American, energy policy debates. However, I would like to ask if the Government Leader believes that Alaskans have a full appreciation for our shared responsibility, according to international agreement, for the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd, whose range includes both of our jurisdictions.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There is a joint international committee for the management of the Porcupine caribou herd, so I would expect that the Alaskans and American people do have an understanding of our concerns and, from everything I have heard from them so far, they realize that the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd cannot be jeopardized, and we will continue to make that case with the Alaskans and the Americans at every opportunity we get.
Mr. Penikett: This Legislature has had no reports on any assessment by the Canadian Embassy in Washington on the new Congress's attitudes on this question. I would like to ask if the Government Leader knows if the new members of the United States Congress are fully aware of the fact that, as a consequence of the Yukon land claims settlement, a new national park was created in the northern Yukon on the Alaska border and adjacent to the Arctic Refuge, and that by law in Canada no mineral or oil exploration is permitted in our national parks.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not certain whether the new Congress in Washington is fully aware or fully cognizant of those facts, but our MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin will be joining a delegation to Washington next week to bring the Congress up to date on the concerns of the Vuntut Gwitchin people and of the Gwitchin nation with respect to the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd.
Question re: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, development in
Mr. Penikett: I do not know whether the Government Leader has ever raised this issue with External Affairs Minister Andre Ouellet or Prime Minister Jean Chretien, but if he has, I would like to know what assurances he has received from those gentlemen that there will be no liberalization or weakening of Canada's position in respect to the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd when the Prime Minister discusses this issue with President Clinton next week, as I hope he will.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: At this point in time I am thinking very seriously about writing to the Prime Minister to urge him to bring that topic up in discussion with the President. Our MLA for the Vuntut Gwitchin will be joining the delegation traveling to Washington to ensure that Congress is fully aware of the concerns of the Vuntut Gwitchin Nation.
Mr. Penikett: May I take it from the Government Leader's answer that he has not heretofore raised this matter with the Prime Minister in any of their previous meetings and that the communication to the Prime Minister, prior to the meeting with the President Clinton, will be the first time there has been formal communication on this question?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is correct. As the Member opposite is aware, this issue just arose in Alaska with the resolution that was passed by their Legislature. I have not had the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister since that resolution was passed.
Mr. Penikett: The record will show that considerable effort by northern politicians caused the former Prime Minister to put this issue on the agenda at one of his meetings with the former President of the United States. I think that is something that should be done here.
The Government Leader has indicated that he is soon to meet with the new Governor of Alaska, Tony Knowles. For the record, could the Government Leader tell us exactly what position he will be taking with the Alaskan Governor on the question of risks to the Porcupine caribou herd calving ground in light of oil exploration in the Arctic Refuge?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have stated publicly before, and I will state publicly again for the record, I have communicated to the Governor of Alaska that there should be no development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that would compromise the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd. Furthermore, there should be no development unless it has the support of the Gwitchin Nation.
Question re: Electrical inter-tie with Alaska
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader as the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation, about Alaska and electricity. When the Government Leader met with Governor Hickel in late 1993, one of the topics discussed was shared electrical power. I know the Minister has talked on a few occasions about an electrical inter-tie with Alaska. Are there any ongoing discussions with our Alaska counterparts about the electrical inter-tie?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, there are no ongoing negotiations. I believe the Member will recall that when we had the meeting here in Whitehorse a year and a half ago with the then Governor of Alaska, he and I both stated that this was something that would happen some time in the future. It would be an opportunity to work toward that as we start to do our planning. The Member opposite may be aware that Governor Hickel was a great proponent of a highway link from Juneau to Atlin. He also saw this as a possible energy corridor.
Mr. Cable: Has the Minister, or his corporation, costed the proposed inter-tie that was discussed with Governor Hickel - which is between Whitehorse and Juneau, I believe - in the context of building a new power plant in the Yukon and sharing electricity with our Alaskan neighbours?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe it would be very premature to talk about costing such infrastructure when I just clearly stated that the Governor and I both said this would happen in the future. We do not see it happening in the immediate future but at some point there will be electrical grids that will run from here to Alaska, as well as tying in with British Columbia.
Mr. Cable: On a related topic, the Alaskans are committed to the construction of a coal-burning plant in Healy, Alaska. Is it the Minister's corporation or his Economic Development department that is monitoring that project?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe representatives from both the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Department of Economic Development have visited that facility in Alaska. I know they are monitoring it very closely. From my understanding, this is a state-of-the-art facility, and it is heavily subsidized by various levels of government. They are closely watching what the Alaskans are doing with coal-fired generation.
Question re: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, development in
Ms. Commodore: I also have a question for the Government Leader regarding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Government Leader stated in the House that his government is committed to the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd because of its importance to the Gwitchin people. Since the Government Leader will be meeting with Governor Knowles on February 27, and one of the items for discussion is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, can he tell us if he has invited a representative from the Vuntut Gwitchin Nation to attend the meeting with him? Has he done that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, I have not.
Ms. Commodore: One of the questions that we asked him last month - and we still have not heard whether or not that is going to happen - was that the Government Leader and Cabinet Members were planning to attend a meeting in Old Crow to meet with community people there. One of the items for discussion was Governor Knowles' position on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the meeting was cancelled. I would like to ask the Government Leader if he intends to travel to Old Crow to talk to community people in regard to this issue, which is very important to them? Will he do that prior to his meeting with Governor Knowles on the February 27?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We certainly did intend to go to Old Crow, but the weather did not allow us to do that. I do not know if I will be able to make it to Old Crow prior to the meeting with the Governor. This will be our first meeting with the Governor. It is a meeting to get acquainted and also to discuss various issues that both the Yukon and Alaska have to deal with, such as the South Klondike Highway, facilities at the port of Skagway, as well as our concern about the Porcupine caribou herd.
Ms. Commodore: Our Member of Parliament, Audrey McLaughlin, has sent a letter to the Governor of Alaska and stated that failure to protect these lands will adversely affect the livelihood of the Gwitchin people on both sides of the border and will result in irreversible damage to the environment. She has also indicated that same concern to our Prime Minister.
I would like to ask the Government Leader why he has, up until this time, not indicated his concern to our Prime Minister?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just said that I would be making the Prime Minister aware of it.
All of a sudden, the Member opposite has the answers to everything. I just said that this is an issue that just arose. Because of the resolution that was passed by the Legislature in Alaska, we are taking action in other ways. As I have said, we have already contacted the Governor. We are sending our MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin to Washington to make the case known. I will be talking to the Prime Minister, prior to his meeting with the President.
Question re: Yukon River salmon treaty
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Government Leader. I should remind him that there is such a thing as a fax machine. I know that he could get a fax off to the Prime Minister in no time at all.
I would like to ask the Government Leader about the Yukon River salmon negotiations. Many salmon that spawn in Yukon waters in the Yukon River are harvested in Alaska prior to returning. A recent Canada/U.S. deal provides $400,000 a year for three years to the Canadian government for compensation for the catch of these stocks. What is the position of the Yukon government regarding this Yukon River deal?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We have been involved in this. I believe that the Member opposite knows that this was between the United States federal government and the Canadian federal government. However, the Department of Renewable Resources has been involved in the negotiations for a 10-year period.
Our position has always been that there has to be some sort of rehabilitation and enhancement of the stock. There has been an interim agreement signed. That agreement provides for the establishment of a management group.
There are still a few outstanding questions, such as the harvest levels, which have to be agreed upon. It looks like we are moving in the right direction.
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Government Leader. He has just announced to us that he has an upcoming meeting with the Governor of Alaska. I would like to remind the Government Leader that this is a serious issue regarding Yukon subsistence, commercial and sports users of the fishery. I would like to ask him what position regarding compensation he will be taking on behalf of the Yukon government with the new Governor of Alaska?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I said earlier, we are still going to negotiate. As the Member pointed out, there is a $400,000 per year fund coming from the U.S. government. The long-term, actual compensation has still to be negotiated. We do not have a firm position on the actual number yet, but we are working on that.
Mr. Harding: It has been well documented that the Yukon Party government has been a "no-show" at very important Canada/U.S. Pacific salmon treaty negotiations. I would like to ask the government, since we raised this and complaints were made by Yukoners about this, has the Yukon government been showing up at these talks?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The last set of talks were here in Whitehorse, as a matter of fact. We did not have a representative at the actual signing ceremony.
Question re: Skagway port facilities, public ownership
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask the Government Leader about some transportation issues that affect many Yukoners and people travelling to the Yukon. The Yukon public has been held to ransom by the monopoly of a privately owned port service in Skagway. The previous government spent $30 million to upgrade the Skagway Road to promote competition. Many Yukoners believe that our long-term needs would be best served by public port facilities in Skagway, to ensure competitive rates. What has the Government Leader done to lobby on Yukon's behalf with the Governor of Alaska and Skagway to ensure that the port facilities in Skagway are publicly owned?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is aware that elections have just taken place in Alaska. A new governor has just been elected, and I am going to be having my first meeting with him in about 10 days.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask the Government Leader if he is going to answer the question and tell us what his position is on a public port facility in Skagway and what representations he will be making to the Governor of Alaska and to Skagway.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have already raised my concerns with the Mayor of Skagway about access to the port of Skagway. I will be raising the same concerns with the Governor, and it is important to both the Yukon and Alaska, and especially the people in Skagway, if it is going to be the tidewater destination for the concentrates that are mined in the Yukon. It will have to have a facility that is competitive.
Ms. Moorcroft: Another longstanding hope of the Yukon is to ensure that there is competition for the marine haul from the lower 48 states and from Vancouver to ship goods to the Canadian north through the port at Skagway. What has the Government Leader done to encourage competition on the high seas?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is one thing we will not do. Maybe the previous administration would have bought some barges, but we will not. I can assure the Members opposite about that.
The Members opposite are fully aware that we could not get any Canadian company to provide barge service to the Yukon through the port of Skagway and, as a result, the contract was given to one of the Lyndon companies. It is a very tentative contract, however, and can be reversed at any time when a Canadian company wants to enter the field.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, rates
Mr. Penikett: Thousands of listeners to CBC Radio were fascinated this morning to hear the government quoted as saying, "We had a government in power before that, regardless of what costs were, reduced energy costs to get re-elected." Given that this contradicts many of the previous statements by Members opposite, including the Government Leader, could I ask the Government Leader if he really believed what he said yesterday?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Certainly.
Mr. Penikett: Is he the same John Ostashek who, in his capacity as Leader of the Yukon Party, wrote a letter to the Yukon News during the 1992 election promising even lower electrical rates if he was elected? If so, what did he mean by the promise to go lower than low, a promise he broke as soon as he was elected?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: If the previous administration had not made such a disaster of the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation, Yukoners would not be paying the rates they are paying for power today.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader does not have to act like a prisoner of war; he can give us something more than his name, rank and serial number.
What exactly is the truth? Was he misleading the people during the election or was he attempting to mislead Members in the House yesterday?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The truth is, the previous administration used the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Development Corporation as a political tool. I can assure this House that this government will not do that.
Question re: Yukon College witnesses
Mrs. Firth: I have to tell you that this is one of the most difficult governments to get the truth from, and I have had some experience with a couple of issues.
My question is for the Government Leader.
Last evening we had the opportunity to question Yukon College officials who appeared as witnesses before Committee of the Whole. The witnesses appeared before the Legislature for one hour for eight Opposition Members to ask questions. Needless to say, there was not enough time for Members to examine, in any detail, the budget for the college. I would like to ask the Government Leader if he will request the Minister of Education that officials be called back to the Committee to answer questions that are of concern to Members of this Legislature and to many Yukoners.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The simple answer is no, I will not. We asked the witnesses to appear as a courtesy to the Members opposite, to give Members an opportunity during Committee of the Whole to ask some questions. If one were to look back through the history of the Legislature, when witnesses have been called they have been called for a one-hour period. They have not been called for endless periods.
If the Member wishes, I will ask the Minister of Education if he will request a briefing for her by the college board.
Mrs. Firth: It does not really matter what happened in the past. I am making the representation that it is the common consensus among all the Members in Opposition that we would like more time. This is a budget of over $14 million, $10.5 million of which comes out of Yukon territorial government revenues.
The chair admitted last night that they were running in a deficit position. He certainly did. The Minister of Education is saying no, he did not. I have the Blues here. The Blues say - this is Mr. Holt speaking - "The actual budget for the college is over $14 million. The grant we get is only part of the budget."
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please ask the question.
Mrs. Firth: The Members have said that he did not admit to there being a deficit. I think that it is only fair that I demonstrate that he did.
The college president said-
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please ask the question.
Mrs. Firth: I will sit down and take another question, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Yukon College witnesses
Mrs. Firth: This is a new question. I will have more than a one-line preamble.
Last evening, Mr. Holt said, "We have only been in a deficit position for one or two years and they are very small deficits - $30,000 to $60,000 a year, which was regained the following year quite easily.''
I think that is very clear that he is saying that they have been running in a deficit position for two years.
I would like to ask the Government Leader why he does not want the public officials from the college to come to this House and be publicly accountable for the expenditure of their budget?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We agreed to bring the following officials forward: the chair, the president and the person in charge of the finances at the college. We did this last evening. It was agreed it would be a one-hour time period, which was set by precedent in the past. When there is a concern expressed that there was not enough time, we extended the period by 15 minutes by agreement.
I just cannot understand why the Members opposite could not get the pertinent questions asked in that time period.
Mrs. Firth: I know why he cannot understand. It is because when he was a Member in Opposition and the college came here, he could not think of an hour's worth of questions. That is why.
I want to know why the Government Leader objects. Why on earth would this government object to the public accountability of Yukon College, which spends well in excess of $14 million a year? Why would he object to having college witnesses coming to the Legislature and offering more than one hour's opportunity for questions to be asked? Why would he object to that kind of public accountability? This is supposed to be an open government.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite says that this is supposed to be an open government. Let me refresh the Member's memory. She has a very selective memory. If she wants accountability, perhaps she should put a motion on the floor of the Legislature suggesting that we recreate the college as a department of government instead of giving it the autonomy to run its own affairs.
Question re: Marine haul
Ms. Moorcroft: I have another question for the Government Leader. He did not seem to understand my last question. His answer was complete gobbledygook.
Another long-standing hope of the Yukon is to ensure that there is competition for the marine haul from the Lower 48 and Vancouver to ship goods through Skagway. What has the government done to encourage competition on the marine haul?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not sure if the Member opposite is even aware of how small the volumes are that come to the Yukon through the port of Skagway, especially with the mine at Faro shut down. The Canadian company that was operating the marine haul decided to quit because it could not keep it going due to the low volumes. As a result, an American company picked it up, because it had economies of scale by hauling also to Skagway and other places along the coast.
Ms. Moorcroft: This is the man with the big vision. As a Conservative government, it is the one that wants to encourage competition, yet the Government Leader cannot answer the question about how he would do that.
Let me ask him another question. This year, Canada is spending $3.7 million on the Top of the World Highway. The government said that it is not getting cooperation from the Alaskans on simultaneous upgrading of the Taylor Highway. What has the government done to secure cooperation to get the Taylor Highway in Alaska upgraded at the same time as the Top of the World Highway?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: The Member for Mount Lorne does not know what she is talking about. I have been to Juneau and we have talked about this. The Alaskans have entered contracts to start their project. We made a bet a couple of years ago that we would be first to the border. Just because we win a bet does not mean there has been no cooperation. There has been complete cooperation all the time.
Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps those Ministers should go back and read the Blues. I do not want to be ruled out of order by quoting them to him, but I think he should take a look at the budget debate for Community and Transportation Services.
As we are often reminded, celebrations are imminent for important anniversaries in the Yukon. I expect the government is trying to draw as many tourists as possible to the Yukon to celebrate with us.
Has the Government Leader said anything to the Government of Alaska about examining the ferry schedules between Juneau, Haines and Skagway with the hope of increasing the number of runs or changing departure and arrival times to better suit tourists and Whitehorse and Juneau residents?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I thank the Member for the question. Yes, we have been discussing this very issue with officials in Alaska. We have one person in the Yukon, Klaus Roth, from the Department of Tourism, who is a member of the Alaska Marketing Council, and he makes them aware of that. We also have joint, cooperative marketing with Alaska, as well as the Tourism North program, which is an extensive cooperative program between B.C., the Yukon and Alaska. I think the Alaskans are fully aware of the upcoming anniversaries and the need to improve our infrastructure for those years.
Question re: Agriculture policies and regulations
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Renewable Resources with his agriculture Minister hat on.
Last fall, the Minister's department put out its quarterly bulletin, entitled "Infarmation". On the front of the bulletin was a letter from the Minister of Renewable Resources. I quoted this the other day. It said, "My government will continue to work closely with industry in a number of areas. These include identifying areas of agricultural land, planning of these areas, marketing, development of appropriate infrastructure, extension services, and development of policies and legislation, which will provide the framework for continued growth of the industry."
Beside the Agricultural Products Act amendment that was brought in, and the game farming regulations, what is on the Minister's menu for policies and legislation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not see a requirement for any new legislation. If the Agricultural Association proceeds with the abattoir, we will have to look at meat inspection, but I do not see any other need for legislation in the near future. There have not been any requests from the Agricultural Association for such legislation.
Mr. Cable: In his opening letter, the Minister also spoke about extension services. What does the Minister see for the future of extension services? Are they going to be enlarged, held at the present level, or reduced?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As the Member opposite knows, the agriculture branch of the department provides extension services to the industry. We do not intend to lessen the extent of the service. I do not believe there is any necessity to extend it at this time. If there were, for example, a large poultry producer, we might concentrate on that by providing additional information in some sector. However, there is no intent to lessen the service.
Mr. Cable: What sort of linkages does the Minister's department have with our Alaskan neighbours in agriculture? Are there any services involving plant breeding exchange of information, or that sort of inter-tie?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not fully aware of all of the information exchange, although there are some exchanges. We have a lot of information from Alaska, and we have provided information to it. The Yukon Agricultural Association normally has Alaskans present at its annual conference, and we attend conferences in Alaska. There is quite an exchange of information between the two jurisdictions.
Question re: Forestry policy
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources regarding forestry policy. The federal government has slapped a moratorium on new permits in the Watson Lake area because timber demand has far exceeded maximum cutting limits. The Minister told us yesterday in Question Period, "The sustainable harvest is much, much in excess of what is being cut now." Was that statement an indication that the Yukon Party will be proposing higher cuts in Watson Lake and other areas when it develops its forestry policy?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, it is not at all.
Mr. Harding: I would like to follow up on that issue with the Minister because he said that he believes and is sure that "The sustainable harvest is much, much in excess of what is being cut now." He made a definitive statement about what can be sustained for a harvest. I would like to ask him what he meant by that statement and how is that going to reflect on their Yukon forestry policy development?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The information that we get from the federal government was something to the tune of a million cubic metres. We do not believe that, but they base that on inventories that they have. If all of the CTPs - I think there are 26 in the Watson Lake area - and the timber harvesting agreement cut to the extent that is allowable under the CTP, it probably would exceed the sustainable harvest, but they have not cut anywhere near what the CTPs allow.
Mr. Harding: Obviously the Minister, as a bureaucrat, is well-trained in the art of slippery answers.
Yesterday, he told this House and the people listening in the Yukon that the sustainable harvest was much much greater. Can the Minister tell us, in plain English, exactly what he meant by that statement and how it is going to reflect on the Yukon Party development of a forestry policy?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think I just did. I will let the bureaucrats know that the Member opposite thinks they are slippery.
I am not going to stand here in the House to try to determine policy. The policy will be developed. The federal government has inventoried at least 50 percent of the forest in the area, but we do not necessarily believe their figures. We want to get a better handle on the inventory, and then we will determine from that what can be considered sustainable.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will be discussing Bill No. 3, Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95.
Bill No. 3 - Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Chair: Is there further debate on Economic Development?
Economic Development - continued
Mr. McDonald: When we completed discussion on this department last evening, we were talking about core funding or fee-for-service funding arrangements for groups or organizations. The Minister had introduced us to the fact that the department was undertaking a review of the policy that would guide the government's actions in providing fee-for-service arrangements. The Minister did indicate, as I understood him, that the basic policy would require that there be a service provided by the group, either to the government or to someone else, and that the government did not want to cut off funding to anyone currently receiving funding, but that there might be another restriction where the government would consider funding groups that the government felt were important to them. This is very interesting and I would like to explore it a little bit further.
Could the Minister answer the question I put to him last night, because he called time-out before he answered my question. I asked him whether or not the government would consider a fee-for-service arrangement with groups other than the three groups that he identified, which included the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Mines and the Klondike Placer Miners Association.
What is the department's policy on this question?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If an organization is providing a service or applies for funding as part of the assessment of its application, and shows that it can provide a service that meets the objectives of either the government as a whole or of the sponsoring department, then we would certainly look at its application.
Mr. McDonald: When the Minister says that it must meet the objectives of the government, what is he referring to? Is he saying that the organization must support the generally stated objectives of the government of the day or that the organization must provide a public service that is recognized by the government, or what? What precisely does the Minister mean?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is why I said that it would depend on the objectives of the department or of the government, because it would have to be some service that the government generally feels is beneficial and meets its objectives. It would have to be a service that - I think I said this yesterday - would be cost effective. In other words, the organization could do it as cheaply, or cheaper, than if the government were to provide the service.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister is saying that if an organization can provide a service that the government wants undertaken, or is doing, more cheaply than the government currently provides the service for, an organization would be eligible for a service arrangement - is that it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not necessarily saying that it would be something that the government is already doing. If it were something that the government intended on doing at some point in time, or if it were something that the government felt met its objectives and was generally acceptable to the government, then it would be considered.
Mr. McDonald: It would not include, then, performing a service that the government is currently undertaking. If the government is doing it, then that is not an eligible service - is that right?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would not think so. I would not think that, but if the government is providing some service, whatever it may be, and an organization wanted to provide that service, we may very well look at it. It may very well have an ability to provide a much better service than the government can. I cannot think of an example of that, off the top of my head. I do not think that the idea behind the concept is for the government to get out of certain areas of government service. I do not think that is the idea at all.
Mr. McDonald: The organizations that would be applying for some sort of fee-for-service funding would be providing a service that the government regards as being important. How does the government make the determination that an organization is doing important work? It would have been fairly easy to understand if the government were already doing the service. Obviously it would think that that work is important. If it is not something that the government is currently doing, how would the government make that determination?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: When the organization applies for funding, there would be some sort of assessment of the request. It would depend on budgets and other things, but there would be an assessment done by the sponsoring department to determine if the particular service that the organization was offering would be one that met the objectives of the government or the department.
Mr. McDonald: I am still a little unclear about that final point. It seems that virtually any organization coming forward could argue that it had objectives that were similar to, or the same as, the objectives listed in the budget book for the Department of Economic Development, in this case. The Chamber of Commerce has an objective that it wants to support economic activity. The Yukon Federation of Labour also wants jobs for its members, and wants economic activity. There are very few organizations in this territory that do not share the objectives of some department. Even recreation groups could argue that they want to promote the health and fitness of people in the territory. I am not certain about how the weaning process is going to take place - how the government is going to focus its commitment to fee-for-service funding, if it is only requiring that groups or organizations share the objectives of the government. Are the objectives of the government that the Minister is referring to more specifically stated in some way than those that are listed in the budget book, or are they stated generally, as they are in the budget book?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think they have to be more specific than the general statements that are in the budget book. I agree with the Member, in that most organizations do fit one or more of the objectives of the various departments as laid out in the budget book. I think they would have to be far more specific than saying that they met one or more of the objectives.
Mr. McDonald: Can we assume, even though these agreements with the Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Mines and the KPMA are short-term agreements, that these organizations meet the objectives of the perhaps more narrowly-stated objectives of the Department of Economic Development?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not exactly sure. As the Members are quite aware, two of the three agreements tabled were more or less core funding. When we go to renew those, we are going to want to see what kind of service they will be providing for the Yukon government.
Mr. McDonald: I guess I am still not certain about how this process is going to narrow down the applicants and how the system is going to support worthy organizations.
Perhaps I will be specific. If the Yukon Federation of Labour came forward and asked for a fee-for-service arrangement similar to that given to, say, the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, would that qualify for consideration?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, it would depend upon exactly what it agreed to provide for the Yukon government. The organization could make application, and it would be carefully scrutinized by the department. If the service it said it could provide was something the department or government wanted and needed, then there is a good chance it would be funded.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister will probably know by now that the Yukon Chamber of Commerce's fee-for-service arrangement was provided not so much because it was going to give the department basic statistical information the department did not think it could collect, but because it wanted the information provided to be the unvarnished view of the business community as a whole. For the business community to canvass its members properly, it required time and effort. Consequently, it made a case for funding to be able to do that.
If one looks at the recast agreement between the Chamber of Commerce and the Yukon government, the government is asking for three things in return for $36,000 in a year: information and statistics on the general economic condition in each community chamber's jurisdiction; supplementary information and dissemination and collection service, meaning getting information into the business community's hands; and support services for the department's trade and/or investment activities, which means provide advice on how to better communicate with the business community.
Those are all worthy causes, and probably no public servant could provide that service the way the Chamber of Commerce could. Consequently, the fee-for-service arrangement was struck.
If one cared about what labour, for example, thought about the economy - labour obviously has an interest in economic development, in jobs for workers, and a vested interest in a healthy economic climate, and organized labour is more trustworthy as a disseminator of workers' opinions than is the opinion of a public servant who is trying to determine what workers' opinions are about activities.
One could argue that the Yukon Federation of Labour could do everything for its members that the Yukon Chamber of Commerce is doing for its members. The question is this: does the government regard that as a valuable service? They are both engaged in economic activity, they both have members who are economic participants and they both have a vested interest in a healthy economy.
Could the Yukon Federation of Labour apply and be favourably received by the department if it put in an application identical to that which has currently been signed between the government and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure. We are going to look very carefully at the agreement with the Chamber of Commerce because it expires at the end of March, or some time near that. Even though it does specify, to some extent, some sort of ongoing activity, what we are thinking about in the non-government organization funding policy is to provide a fee for a specific service, rather than an ongoing annual service.
That is where I was having some trouble last night, because I do not know how many organizations we have that actually provide information on a monthly or quarterly basis. I am not sure if we should be funding them on an annual basis. If they provide statistics every three months, maybe we should be paying them every three months for that particular service. I cannot say that the Yukon Federation of Labour would qualify, but I am also not saying that the Chamber of Commerce would continue to qualify.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister indicated last night, I believe, that whatever policy the government was going to adopt, one of the objectives was to not cut off any organization that currently receives assistance. It suggested to me that either the government was planning to grandfather-in organizations that currently receive funding or it would tailor-make a policy to ensure that those organizations currently receiving funding would continue to receive funding. Maybe the Minister could clarify his thinking on that point for me.
It makes it difficult once again then to determine how the government is going to define what the specific service is and how the government is going to choose the best organization to provide that information. It is typical in jurisdictions everywhere that governments like to receive opinions from organizations in a balanced way. They like to hear from business and from labour and they want to ensure that those organizations are treated in some ways fairly, and in some respects equally, so that they do not demonstrate a particular bias in terms of public policy.
The previous Ministers have avoided the question of providing fee-for-service funding or even core funding for the Federation of Labour by saying that if they applied they could get it, but the budget was only so large and it was "first come, first served", and the people who had it before were already in line. So they could apply but they would not get it, even though they were eligible for it. That was a particularly unsatisfactory arrangement from some people's point of view, and unsatisfactory from our point of view as well.
Can the Minister respond to the issue about whether or not organizations are going to be cut off if they do not meet the new policy guidelines? In addition, how is a specific service going to be identified, and how is the government going to choose which organization can best provide that service, if a number of organizations are able to provide that service?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I guess I should qualify what I did say about grandfathering organizations in. I do not think we would drop this on an organization as a big surprise. If there has been an organization - and I do not know if there has been - that we have provided with core funding for many, many years, and we felt that the organization was not providing a specific service that we necessarily needed or wanted, I do not think that, on April 1, we would automatically cut that organization off. I think that if there is such an organization, it will be given fair warning that, unless it is ready and willing to provide us a service, then its funding will be cut. I guess what I am saying is that we will provide ample notice to the affected organizations. We are not going to carry on the core funding year after year after year.
Naturally, any organization that makes application is going to be subject to budget capabilities. Only so many organizations can be funded. They would be funded on their merit, and so on. How to actually identify the type of service that the government wants is going to pose a problem for the department. As I said before, the organization would have to meet with the government's overall objectives or the department's objectives, or both, and it would have to be an actual service that the government wanted or felt was a necessary service. The department will have to analyze and assess each application as it comes in.
Mr. Penikett: I have watched my colleague's valiant efforts to define this issue and exact from the government a clear statement of policy, and I must say that I admire his fortitude.
Perhaps I can be a little more direct and blunt. The Minister has, as his advisor today, Mr. Terry Sewell, the ADM of the department. He has been around government for a long time. He will know that, when the Department of Economic Development first began funding groups, which was during my ministry of that department, it was interested in obtaining from a wide variety of public organizations their views, analyses and expertise, as economic actors, on a wide range of policies and strategic questions that the department had under consideration. For that reason, the Department of Education, in those days, funded the Yukon Federation of Labour, First Nations, the women's community, the Yukon Conservation Society and, as well, chambers of commerce.
I want to ask the Minister a very direct question. Since the government of the day was trying to obtain a variety of views and perspectives, and a full range of public opinion on important economic questions facing it, does the Minister agree that that was an extremely fair way to go about it - to fund a variety of organizations, so that the government had the benefit of a variety of opinions?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Certainly, I agree with that. I could be wrong, but I believe the Member is referring to the Yukon Economic Strategy, where a lot of organizations were involved in providing advice and coordinating consultation, and so on. Again, I think that would fit in with what we are saying about the fee-for-service idea. It may go on for some time - six months or a year - and there may very well be a lot of groups involved for a period of time to provide specific advice on a specific topic.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Minister. He has made an excellent point: the government originally decided to fund a variety of groups to give it the benefit of its advice in the development of the Yukon Economic Strategy and the Yukon Conservation Strategy. I am then forced to ask the Minister if he agrees that it is the law in the Economic Development Act, the Environment Act, the umbrella final agreement under land claims, which requires annual reviews under that strategy and invitations to a variety of groups and public interest groups to participate in that strategy, and if it was logical in 1987 and 1988 to help these groups by providing funding to conduct research and prepare their positions, surely it is logical to continue to do so now, since the law requires annual reviews of those strategies?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know if we are going to get into it or not; I hope not. I am not going to argue with the Member opposite about whether it is or is not the law. I have researched it, and the Yukon Economic Strategy is referenced in a lot of legislation. The annual review is referenced in the strategy itself. It is contained in the Economic Development Act, where it is called the Yukon Economic Strategy. We could go on and on for many days on this topic.
What the government wants to do in the annual review of the Economic Strategy is to review it on a sector-by-sector basis, where we will have the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment review a sector of the economy, whether it is mining, small business, or home-based business, whatever it may be. I believe that the strategy requires that 25 percent of the invited delegates shall be First Nations. I believe we have conducted one review in mining and are in the process of an energy review now.
Regarding the mining review, 25 percent of the invited participants were First Nation persons. We certainly do not intend to change that.
Mr. Penikett: I am glad the Minister is doing what the law requires and inviting First Nations as one-quarter of the delegates. I do not want to invite debate about the law, since neither the Minister is the law, and nor am I. However, I do know what the intent of the laws was, because, in the case of two of those three laws, I was the sponsor. I know what the legal advice in the government said at the time; I know what the people, in the case of the umbrella final agreement, agreed to at the table; I know what the intent of all the parties was - I have no doubt about that, and the government has tried to wiggle out of those legal obligations.
I think the minutes of the Council on the Economy and the Environment that I quoted the other day are quite clear that, at least some people in the government concede, the economic strategy referred to in the Economic Development Act, the Environment Act, and the umbrella final agreement is the same economic strategy that was adopted unanimously by this House in May, 1988, and cannot refer to any other strategy, and certainly not to a strategy that was developed subsequently by another government. It is illogical for a law to refer to some future strategy that exists only in somebody's imagination.
Let me pursue the logic of what the Minister says. Even if they do the annual reviews on a sectoral basis - and I may not agree with that; that does not matter, and I am not going to debate that point with the Minister now - let us consider the logic of the situation. He said that the Council on the Economy and the Environment is going to be managing or supervising or leading these reviews. That is fair enough. In law, the Council on the Economy and the Environment is structured with very specific representation from business, labour, women, First Nations and environmental organizations.
Following the logic of the Minister's first answer, which says that he agreed that fairness required the government to canvas a range of views and to assist those organizations in developing their views, does the Minister not understand that it seems unfair to some organizations that only one, two or three of the groups represented on the Council on the Economy and the Environment receive funding assistance from the government - the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Mines and the Placer Miners Association; some would argue the groups that least need the government's assistance are the ones that are getting it - but all of the other groups that are included on the Council on the Economy and the Environment - environmental interests, women's interests, First Nations interests, municipal interests, labour and so forth - do not get any funding from the government. Would the Minister not agree, at least at the level of appearances, that this does not seem to be fair?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think there is more than what the Member has said. For instance, the AYC is involved, and we fund it. We fund various women's groups. I do not know the details of all the funding.
I am not sure exactly what the Member is getting at, because the last review was six hours. The total review on the Yukon Economic Strategy was six hours, with an hour off for lunch. I am not sure exactly what he is getting at about the funding. I was here when the development of the strategy occurred. There were major meetings throughout the territory and a lot of people attended the meetings. I suppose there were even people from Old Crow going to a meeting, for instance, in Haines Junction. There was probably some necessity to have some sort of a reimbursement for expenses and perhaps lost wages, or whatever. I do not have any problem with that. The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment will review the Yukon Economic Strategy.
I would like to point out, just as an aside, one of the problems I have with that economic strategy. Even though one does a review and makes commitments, there is no means of changing the strategy without changing some legislation, because it is in the Economic Development Act as the document - and I may be a little bit out, and I may be a bit off here - entitled the Yukon Economic Strategy adopted by the Government of Yukon in 1988, or something to that effect. Even though one does a review, the strategy cannot be changed.
Mr. Penikett: With respect, the Minister is dead wrong. I do not know if the Minister has ever encountered the Encyclopedia Britannica. It is a wonderful document, and it stays relevant every year by providing an annual update. That is exactly what was contemplated with the Yukon Economic Strategy in the way it was written. Right in the strategy, it says there will be annual reviews, a report done on that review, and it was clearly contemplated - if you imagine a ring binder - that that annual review would be added to what was already there. It would be an organic document that would grow and change over time, and it was clearly contemplated - although not done by this government - that after the annual review, the findings, conclusions or recommendations of the review would be brought to this Legislature, debated, and then adopted in the same way as the original strategy.
It can be changed, and it should be changed every year. In fact, the whole idea of the strategy was not that it was a Soviet-style, five-year plan, but that it was an organic document that would change, grow and evolve over time.
I have never objected to the idea that government, or public opinion, would change and the document would grow. The whole idea was that it would stay relevant and timely; it would remain a democratically inspired instrument by the annual reviews and by the full participation of a whole range of interests in our community, and that debate on the document would be accessible to the general public and the public's representatives in this Legislature would have a say in it.
That has not happened since this government came into office.
Let me say something else about what the Minister said about economic development funding. It is true that the Association of Yukon Communities receives funding from the Department of Community and Transportation Services. The Minister and I both know that. I am not talking about that. I am talking about the funding that organization, or other organizations, receive from Economic Development to assist in economic planning and strategizing about the economy. Likewise, I am talking about the funding for women's organizations, but I am not talking about the ongoing funding women's groups may or may not receive from the Women's Directorate. I am talking about the money that was specifically provided to enable them to hire a part-time researcher in order to help them develop their positions for the original strategy and the annual reviews.
The Minister complains that the last review of the strategy only took six hours. That is not my fault; I do not think it is the fault of any of the participants. I suspect that if every group had come to the meeting with fully prepared position papers, which they had been assisted in preparing with a little seed money from the government, one would have had a much richer debate as well as more complex, detailed and useful findings. I am only speculating about that.
Let us just take the mining industry review, which has been one of the reviews the Minister spoke about. I do not have a problem at all with the idea that the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Mines and the Klondike Placer Miners Association should play a key role in that. They are absolutely essential players in the discussion about mining. However, as an ex-miner, I believe passionately that the union in this territory that represents mine workers - the United Steelworkers or the Yukon Federation of Labour, or both - should also have a chance to participate in mining policy debates, and that they should have been assisted by the Department of Economic Development in preparing to participate in those discussions.
I feel the same way about the First Nations. As the largest private land-holders in the Yukon, as a result of the proclamation earlier this week of the land claims and self-government agreement, they have a huge stake in what happens to the subsurface developments on their own lands. The Council for Yukon Indians and most First Nations at this point still have tiny staffs. They do not have any specialists who are devoted to mining issues, as does the Department of Economic Development. It would have been extremely useful for them to be able to get a little bit of money from the Department of Economic Development to hire perhaps a freelance geologist, a mining engineer or some of the local consultants around here to help them develop positions that they could have brought to the review of the mining sector and had them debated by the other players and had the rapporteurs, which, I am sure, are provided by the Department of Economic Development, pull that material together, do a summary report and had that report debated in this Legislature. It would have been an extremely good exercise. Then the report or chapter could have been appended as a new chapter to the Yukon Economic Strategy. I would totally support that. I think it would be very healthy and useful.
I am not trying to denigrate the contributions of the Chamber of Mines, the Chamber of Commerce or the Klondike Placer Miners Association, but to argue that the people who actually do the physical labour of digging the ore out of the ground should also have a say here. The landowners, on whose mine the land will be developed, also should have a say. I also believe that they have an equal claim to the resources of the Department of Economic Development to assist them in preparing positions. That is my position, and I would like the Minister to comment.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Essentially, I do not have a big problem with what the Member is saying, but how big should a review of the Yukon Economic Strategy be? The big debate last year about whether or not it was law and whether or not it was the economic strategy, and all that sort of thing was very interesting. I went out and asked 11 people. One of them happened to be my own daughter, and she did not know what the heck I was talking about. Ten of those 11 people were in this building, two of them were deputy ministers, and four or five of them were managers or directors - very senior people. Out of the 11 people I asked, only one knew what the Yukon Economic Strategy was - and that was including two deputy ministers. To be fair, those deputy ministers were not here when the thing was created, so maybe it was not relevant and they had not heard about it. They subsequently heard about it.
I do not know how big a review needs to be done. The Yukon Economic Strategy, if I remember correctly, took over two years and a lot of effort by a lot of bureaucrats and a lot of effort by a lot of ordinary people throughout the territory. Certainly, some of those people were paid to provide their input, but I do not think it is necessary every year. I just cannot see trying to encompass that many people to do a review. The YCEE, if they do it by sectors, can bring in people. My understanding is that, when YCEE did the mining review, some of the unions were invited to participate. I do not know whether they attended or not; I cannot recall, but briefs were sent to them.
I do not have too big a problem with what the Member has said. There are budget constraints. Is it necessary to go through that very large consultation process each year? I submit that it is not.
Mr. Penikett: First of all, the Minister should be extremely careful about what he hears from deputy ministers or assistant deputy ministers when he consults with them on an issue like this, because, in my experience, excellent as they are, deputy ministers tend to tell Ministers what they think Ministers want to hear. They may have perceived that the Minister wanted to hear that nobody had ever heard of the Economic Strategy. I am not suggesting that there is a huge need for a lot of publicity, but I prefer to think of a process, like the Economic Strategy, that stays relevant to people's lives. I remember people who participated thought of it as the most exciting event in their lives, because it was the first time they had been asked by the government to participate, over a period of time, in a major policy-making exercise.
People will become cynical about processes if they have been promised that the process will not be over in some months, or end with a big conference over a couple of weekends, but will continue over time. When that does not happen, they tend to get turned off.
Let us just talk about mining for a moment. This department has a budget in the millions. It is paying several thousand dollars a year to the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Mines and the Placer Miners Association. If the Council on the Economy and the Environment wanted to have mining as their subject for the economic review one year, I think that is fine. Given that we have had most of our mines shut down for the last few years, that is probably a good idea. In order not to make a major dent in the Minister's budget, we did not need to have a large conference. The range of opinions in the mining industry could have been canvassed by a few dozen people. He did not need to have the hundreds that participated in the original strategy. It could have happened over one weekend. I do not think it needed to be a hugely expensive process. The people who should have been involved are pretty obvious. They are the groups that the government is already funding - the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Mines and the Placer Miners Association. Given the total budget of the department, it could have given a bit of money to the United Steelworkers, which is the one group certified to represent miners, and perhaps to the Federation of Labour, because they had some other interests in related industries - trucking or associated industries. As the Whitehorse mining initiative does, they might have wanted to also include the Conservation Society and the First Nations.
I do not think we needed to have a hugely important process. I agree with the Minister that having done a review of mining one year, you do not need to do it every year. What strikes me is that if it was logical to do mining in the past year, which I think it would have been, what is crying out for this kind of public discussion in the coming year is forestry.
Given the tensions in Watson Lake between First Nation users and non-First Nation users; between British Columbians coming in and taking the raw logs out; the tensions between the gaps, or even errors, in federal policy, such as the export of raw logs and the views that are clearly expressed in this House - big issues around stumpage fees, and so forth - it cries out for an annual review of the Yukon Economic Strategy.
If I were Minister and making a recommendation to YCEE, I would suggest that next year's conference should be exclusively about forestry, making that the only topic. But if that is done, the YCEE members cannot be the only ones involved, as excellent as they are. An effort should probably be made to ensure that not only the First Nations groups that are involved in forestry, but the other small operators - for example, there is a forestry association based in Watson Lake, as I recall - and other groups like the forestry association should also be involved.
Not only should they attend, but if one wants them to do coherent, articulate briefs, give them a few thousand dollars to hire a researcher so they can come to the conference prepared, and not just talk off the tops of their heads, as is often done.
I think that would be very useful, not just for the government, but for the Legislature. If there is a conference like that, someone like Mr. Sewell, or some of the other people in the department, could write up a report based on the conference. Maybe two or three people from the department would have to work a little overtime. Anyway, a report could be written up, circulated among the people who attended, brought to this Legislature as the annual update, and the Minister could present it to the House - not as his views, but as the views of the conference. It could then be debated. The Minister could add his comments, opinions or recommendations, and add them to the strategy. I do not see that as a hugely expensive process. As a policy maker, or someone who would like to contribute to policy, I would see that as an enormously beneficial activity for the department, and it is one that does not cost much.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not think the Member and I are too far apart on this issue. I guess it is the magnitude that we have a little difference of opinion about it.
I was involved in putting on a very large conference about a year ago. The amount of work that the department took on to host that conference and the overall cost of doing it was extremely high. The conference ended up being a two-day conference. The time to produce a discussion paper, circulate it, consult with groups, produce a "what we heard" document and then bring people in for the conference was extremely time-consuming to the department. This also detracted from a lot of other things that the department was supposed to do.
I am not saying this was bad, but it certainly gave us a wide range of views of people in the Yukon. I do not know to what extent we need to do it, but I generally agree with the Member.
We had a forestry symposium a couple of weeks ago. The department was involved and there was some very good information exchanged. A lot of material was picked up and the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment is considering it to be one of its top priorities. It is reviewing energy right now and I expect that forestry will be the next major subject it will be considering.
Mr. Penikett: Let me just make this representation. Some time ago - I do not remember; in the last few days - the Minister gave us the list of current policy activities of the department, which is a huge, long list of projects that the department is involved in. That is fine, but few of those projects are ones that the ordinary citizen has any contact with.
I will make this as a non-partisan comment. Mr. Sewell has heard me speak on this subject before, but I believe two things are absolutely essential to good public policy-making. One is good research, and two is good democratic debate about it. I think if one does those two things, if one has those two components to policy - good research and good public debate - you tend to get policy that lasts, that endures, that stands the test of time. Not for all time, because all policies have to be updated. But you tend to get policy that is pretty solid and has a good foundation.
One of the joys about the Yukon is that it is a relatively small community. It is possible to reach most of the players and most of the people who are interested in some policy area.
I have no problem with the recent forestry symposium that the Minister talked about. I think it would be a logical follow-up to have the department take some of the documents that came to that conference and circulate them to some of the obvious players. If YCEE is interested, bring it in for consultation.
I would argue, to make this point again, that it does not need to be hundreds of people and it does not need to be a long time. I think one or two good policy papers, or three or four good policy papers, are better than the 50 and 60 we sometimes have floating around in the economic strategy process. The better papers tend to be ones that are not all from one point of view, but tend to maybe have different points of view that tend to stimulate discussion. People are much more confident at the end of that discussion. They know what they think and they know what they think the government should do.
I would make the representation that that kind of policy debate is good, especially if one completes the process by having reports that go public and that come to the Legislature. The Minister himself, some Wednesday afternoon - or it can be as part of government business, it does not matter to me - can then sponsor debate on it, and finish the public debate policy, if you like, by having an airing here, not just in Committee on the estimates.
I want to just make this last point, having made the representation. The Minister says that there are not a lot of people who are interested in the Yukon Economic Strategy or who know about it or that process. I have to tell the Minister that I, in the last few weeks since we have talked about the advent of the proclamation of the land claims and self-government legislation, talked to three leaders and three First Nations who were extremely critical of this government for its failure to implement the provisions of, I think it is, chapter 22.7 of the economic planning provisions, which talk about the annual reviews of the Yukon Economic Strategy.
I think that, unless we show good faith to those agreements that we made and try to keep them, we are all going to be embarrassed by other political battles and court battles in the years to come.
I will only make this final point to the Minister. The last two Ministers of Economic Development in this House both seemed to indicate to us that, if pushed, or, begrudgingly, they would consider the possibility that other groups could apply for funding from Economic Development and they might be considered.
I want to ask the Minister this question: in the last year, did the Department of Economic Development invite any of the groups we have been talking about today - for example, the groups that are represented on the Council on the Economy and the Environment - other than the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Mines and the Placer Miners Association, to come to the department to get a bit of research money or to sign a service agreement or something, so that they could properly canvas the members of their own interest group about economic policy matters or some other matter under review and provide high quality advice to the Council on the Economy and the Environment and to the government?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The department certainly did not go out and solicit those people. It was open. If any of them wanted to take advantage of some funding opportunities that exist in the department, they would not have been told that they would not be given proper consideration.
Mr. Penikett: Let me ask the Minister a crassly political question. In answer to my first question, the Minister agreed that the original funding arrangement by the department, which funded a variety of organizations with a variety of views, was a fair approach and an appropriate one in the context of the development of the Yukon Economic Strategy. Does the Minister not understand the perception problem for his department and, indeed, his government, in that the appearance now is that the only groups who are getting funding are the groups that essentially support his party and his government?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Perhaps that is the Member's opinion. It may be based on something that he has been told. I do not necessarily agree with that observation. I really do not know. Many groups and organizations are funded by the Yukon government. I would not go so far as to say that the three that are funded by Economic Development - the Chamber of Mines, the Chamber of Commerce and the Klondike Placer Miners Association - are totally supportive of the Yukon government. We have had some letters from them that were not that complimentary. I am not going to agree with that comment.
Mr. Penikett: I hope the Minister will not misunderstand this, but I would love to see those letters. Would the Minister be prepared to table them?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister is probably right that these organizations are not necessarily complimentary to the Yukon Party government, but that is not the primary point. The fact that no one applied in the last year is understandable after one reads the discussions in Committee last year, when it was patently obvious that anyone who had applied may have been favourably considered at one level but, because there was no money, would be rejected. It was obvious that the people who were already receiving funds would swallow the whole budget, and there was no point in going through the process of making an application.
I know that the Yukon Agricultural Association has been interested in seeking a fee-for-service arrangement. This is a very live issue for this association. What comes from the new policy will be very important to many organizations, as well as to us.
The one singular point I think most organizations have acknowledged about a fee-for-service arrangement or core funding is that those organizations that do receive money become empowered to become a more effective voice for their organization than is possible for other organizations. Because the funded organizations have an office, someone who is familiar with what the government is doing, someone who has time to read through documents that may affect the regulatory regime that affects their industry, or may be aware of and studied government reports or other industry reports, the spokespeople provide more effective voices for their industry and their members than do organizations that have only a volunteer board and management.
This is something that does not escape anyone's attention in the public, and that is the reason why there is a lot of interest and some concern about who is and is not given funding.
The Minister indicated to us that an arrangement is ultimately going to be made or evolved whereby the government is going to decide what service it wants, and that it may be asking organizations who provide that service if they can provide it cost effectively.
Is the government going to list these services in some way, or make it clear what services are required, or is it basically up to some organization to come in and convince the government that they have a service that should be provided and the government should pay for it? How is that process going to work?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It would be the latter.
Mr. McDonald: Organizations - for example the Chamber of Commerce - essentially, then, come forward and say to the government, "You need to canvass our members. You cannot do it properly. They do not trust you." They have said before that they do not trust the public servants to interpret their thoughts and their aspirations. "We can do it better. If you really want to know what is going on in the business community, the agricultural community, the labour community, whatever community, you had better hear it from us directly." How does the Minister determine whether that is something they think is useful? Otherwise - and the Minister can appreciate this - it seems like it is completely open season. Anybody can come in, and if they get the Minister on a good day, they can walk out of the office - not necessarily the same day, but eventually - with $36,000 and the ability to express their voice powerfully in the community, to the media, to their members. They get a handout. If they cannot convince the Minister, because the Minister has had it "up to here" with all the requests, they can walk away with nothing, like the Agricultural Association.
Obviously, if there were clear criteria to encourage a tighter selection process, there would be less cause for concern.
Can the Minister tell us what his thinking is about that?
Could he also indicate that, if there are services that government thinks organizations should provide, are they going to espouse those services in some way, through a tender process, and make it clear to the public generally that these services are available to be performed, so that they can get the best bid. How is it going to work?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We do not have hundreds and hundreds of services or functions that we are looking at. In the Department of Economic Development we currently fund three organizations.
I guess the service or function that we would want would be predetermined. We actually are funding - it is a very small amount, but it is enough to help out a little bit - the Agricultural Association, through Renewable Resources, to conduct a small study about agricultural areas in Hootalinqua.
If we want to look at possible agricultural areas in Hootalinqua, we would not go to the Steelworkers Union, but would go the Agricultural Association. They are the people that would be capable of doing it. Possibly, if the Member digs deep, he will be able to find one that might cross the lines, so that there may be a couple of organizations which could take on a certain task.
Generally speaking, if we wanted a survey of small business, I think we would ask small businesses throughout the Yukon and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce. If we wanted to get some more information on mining properties, we would go to the Chamber of Mines. I do not see having a whole herd of organizations coming in to bid on some small project that we may have in mind, such as the agricultural suitability in certain areas of the Hootalinqua planning area.
Mr. McDonald: What the Minister is essentially saying is the services the government is going to be providing for or paying for will not include such generic services as the ongoing canvassing of the business community on its thoughts about a particular project or about the regulatory regime in general. It will be something very specific, something tightly defined, something that ensures that the funds provided will meet the specific needs of that project and will not go further than that, so a fee-for-service arrangement, like the Yukon Chamber of Commerce arrangement, would not be entertained because the funds are not tied to a specific project. There will be no suggestion in the future that this is a back-door way of funding an office. Not only do they have to provide a specific short-term project, but each project has to be done cost effectively - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is basically the way that I see it. We may very well find that something falls through the cracks. Generally, the way I see it is that it is a fee to provide a specific service - probably a predetermined service - something that comes out of government. Looking at possible agricultural land in the Hootalinqua area is a fair example of the types of services that I am thinking of. It is very specific, and the Agricultural Association is geared to handle it. It has a lot of members who live in the area who know the soils better than most people in government, so why not have it do it? It makes perfect sense to me.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister does not have to worry about things falling through the cracks because, as he probably imagines, the Opposition is always under the floor boards and will find whatever slips past their scrutiny.
Is the policy the Minister is anticipating going to be government-wide? He mentioned it is being sent around to other departments. Is this something that will be supported by all departments when it is finalized?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, it is.
Mr. McDonald: It will make for some very interesting discussions in other departments, in that case. I can anticipate there being some major changes in the way things are being done in other departments.
With respect to the review of the Yukon Economic Strategy, we have come some distance from the days when Yukon Party Ministers feigned ignorance of what the Yukon Economic Strategy was all about. We have now come to the point where all acknowledge its existence in law, the need for updates, and the need to involve other people. This has only taken a couple of years, so we are making progress.
One of the good things about the economic strategy process was that, while it could be very useful to study the economy on a sector-by-sector basis, it can also be equally useful to do an economy-wide review of activities, because it allows for the cross-fertilization of thinking between industrial sectors.
One of the things that was most often said, almost as an aside by the citizen participants in the economic strategy process, was that they were introduced to people in other economic sectors for the very first time in their lives, even though they lived in the same community and their kids went to the same schools and they shopped in the same stores.
Not only were they able to understand better what the mining community was saying, for example, or what the conservation community was saying, but they were also able to identify cross-sectoral opportunities between industries. I guess that, in those days, I was particularly interested in the tourism/mining cross-fertilization, because I know that some placer miners in the Mayo area, in order to better explain their operations to not only tourists, but also territorial residents, in one case essentially made placer mining a tourist attraction. It gave a couple of young people who worked at the mine jobs and also served another useful purpose. It brought home the reality of what the mining industry means. This arose from the process and was a very useful conclusion. It does not have the same resonance when one is simply focusing on the mining industry, forestry or tourism, where one does not get that cross-fertilization as much.
Can the Minister respond to that? Does he think that that kind of review is useful?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I agree with the Member that this would be a side benefit from a very large consultation process like the Yukon Economic Strategy. However, again, I really do not believe that, in a review, we need to go through that large a process. There are some benefits from having a large group of people coming together. The person running the tourist-oriented business finds out about the placer mining business, or the other way around. Both can cash in on it. Perhaps they were not aware of the opportunity before. There is no doubt that that is a side benefit.
What is the cost? Is the benefit worth the cost? I do not know if I would be able to figure that out. I suppose I cannot argue with it, if one is intending to have a large get-together of people. However, I do not think the side benefits should drive a review. I do not think we would have a review because it is good for a lot of people. How much will it cost, and is there enough benefit to warrant that kind of a review?
Mr. McDonald: I do not think we have to get locked into the notion that for there to be a review as comprehensive as the original economic strategy in the future, we necessarily need to have thousands of people involved.
One of the reasons why the original economic strategy review was so large and so comprehensive was because it was essentially the first time it had ever happened and a lot of people wanted to be involved.
The need to canvass everybody in every community was made clear to the people who designed the process. Now that people know what the opportunities are, it may not be necessary to be thinking of thousands of people getting involved in meetings around the territory.
One could argue that the conference on mining was too broad. People were even complaining about that at the YCEE one-day conference on mining. They were saying they only had one day to talk about all of the issues facing mining and one-half of the day was taken up by people making speeches to each other. That is a reasonable criticism.
It does not mean that one should do nothing. It does not mean that there was not something useful from that one day. The thing that screamed out from that one day is that the government should be working on the development assessment process as a top priority - not as another process, but as the only process. The one day was useful all by itself. I have never criticized the council's efforts for that reason, because I found the single message very important. All of the issues facing mining certainly were not canvassed in that one day.
People were even complaining about the Geoscience Forum, which was a number of days and much more focused, but they were saying they did not have enough time to discuss all of the issues there.
One cannot satisfy all of the people, but it does not necessarily mean that one must get locked into a particular consultation design. There are a number of different ways of handling it.
I would, as a constructive suggestion, encourage the Minister to consider processes and reviews that encourage a little bit of cross-fertilization. The territory can quite easily slip into the balkanization of various industry groups talking among each other, and the understanding between those industry groups cannot be enhanced if they are not speaking one with the other. So, I would make that point.
I notice that our colleague at the end of the row, who has an interest in core funding and has asked a couple of questions about the Yukon Agricultural Association, may want to participate.
I have a number of questions and a number of issues that I would like to canvass here. They are not going to focus so much on core funding any longer. I would just make the point, to cap it off, that if there is a fee-for-service arrangement that is a thinly disguised way of providing office support, then we are obviously going to have to get deeply into the discussion again, and it is only going to serve to raise the anxiety levels of other organizations - perhaps competing organizations - that feel they are not going to have the ear of government if they do not receive the resources to provide the good research, the articulate voice, respond to media concerns, canvass their own members, et cetera. This is important to these organizations. I know they talk about it all the time, and that is why I have spent so much time on the subject now.
I wanted to talk about some of the economic planning, and I wanted to talk about the subject of economic forecasting. A number of questions have been asked of the Minister about the role of the department in providing economic forecasts and whether or not all of the anticipated developments in future years have been taken into account, and whether or not these forecasts are somehow going to be vetted by political people.
Before the Minister responds, I will just remind him that at one point a forecast came through that was not considered politically correct, but did, in fact, more accurately predict a nosedive in the GDP than was suggested by the political arm of government.
That experience in the Legislature has made us very wary observers of government actions and has heightened our interest in seeing that not only is the proper economic forecasting done so we can all see it and benefit from professional advice on economic matters - which is provided and paid for by the public - but also that it is not the rose-coloured version of events. It is not simply another treatise issued by the communications advisor to Cabinet, but is, in fact, a sound economic analysis.
Could the Minister tell us what the department's and the government's current thinking is on this matter?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The other day - I cannot remember when it was - there was a question about whether or not the payments made to the four First Nations since the proclamation of the legislation had been taken into account. At the time I was not sure. I did check with the department right after that and it has been taken into account on the forecast.
On the question of whether or not the forecast is going to be vetted by politicians or whomever, there are a couple of things that I have initiated since becoming involved with this department. The first thing is that we are changing the name, and it is now going to be called the Yukon Economic Review and Short-Term Outlook. I think that Members opposite are aware that there are two people working in the department who are very qualified. However, they are not capable - I had better be careful what I say here - they certainly have the ability, but there are only two of them in the department, which does not allow them to do a very detailed economic forecast and look at every sector; they just do not have the resources to do it. So, we are calling it a short-term outlook.
I am just going to give the Member a bit of an outline about how this process will work, which I hope will ease the Member's mind about political vetting. There will be drafting done by the Department of Economic Development; it will be put together by our two economists. Then it will go the departmental review working group, which is made up of people from Community and Transportation Services, Tourism, Finance and Renewable Resources, to be reviewed for accuracy, and so on. It will come back for a final draft, and then go to the public affairs bureau for a grammatical and sentence structure check - that sort of style review. Then the Deputy Minister Review Committee will look it over for final accuracy. After it comes back from DMRC, it will go to the Minister of Economic Development for his approval. Once it is approved by the Minister, it will be produced and released to the Yukon Legislature.
Actually, Mr. Chair, I could table the little chart I have that outlines that if you would like. We will bring it back after the break.
Mr. McDonald: Thank you.
I am interested in a couple of things the Minister indicated. I must admit that I was with him up until he indicated that the deputy ministers were going to review something for accuracy. The deputy ministers are supposed to be good managers. Most of them - what the heck, all of them, probably - are well-meaning people. The notion that they are somehow technicians or good economists makes me quite skeptical. They might be, but that is not their job function. Some might be good in that field but then it is not their job function.
What they are very good at is identifying and screening political issues for Ministers. They are very close to the political level of government. They have a vested interest in ensuring that the Ministers are not embarrassed. I am extremely nervous about that element of the review. In fact, the more I think about it, the more nervous I get. Perhaps by the time the break is over, I am going to be downright hot about it. We will see.
I think it appears that the working group involves departments that may check figures for accuracy - housing numbers, the length of a highway, the number of cars that travel down the road, the number of visitors who come to the territory, the bulk tonnage that is freighted through the Skagway port and that which comes up the Alaska Highway. These are the details that should be checked by technicians. As long as they are checking it for accuracy, then that is fine. I think a review by the public affairs bureau, if it is for grammatical correctness, is obviously a worthwhile goal. Economists and technicians are not necessarily great grammarians.
The Deputy Minister Review Committee seems to be a scary prospect. I will think about that with my colleagues over the break.
I will leave this question with the Minister. The Minister indicated that the two economists in the department do not have the resources to do a good job. Again, that is a criticism that they did not do a good job in the past, because they were doing the job before. What we took from the report was that this was the opinion of two professional economists. Whenever I listen to some one from the National Research Council commenting, I think that is the opinion of the National Research Council. When I hear comments from the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, I think that is a good, conservative think-tank, so that is what the Conservatives are thinking - or at least what passes for the intellectual arm of conservative thinking in this country, inasmuch as one can conceive of that idea. However, i
t has always been the impression that, no matter what they provided, it was their professional advice and it was unvarnished.
Perhaps we can think about that over the break.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is there further general debate on Economic Development?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Before the break, I offered to circulate our draft of the process. We have scribbled all over our copy so we are getting another copy sent over from the department. I should have it before we break tonight.
Mr. McDonald: Precisely what is the role that the deputy ministers are expected to play in checking for accuracy? What precisely are they supposed to be doing?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think the Member opposite is aware that deputy ministers have always been involved in the process. In the departmental review, the working group that reviews the document consists of only four departments, so this will be the first place where all departments can have a look at it. It is for an accuracy review by DMRC. The ADM and I were talking about this during the break, and certainly the Deputy Minister of Tourism, for instance, would want to see his numbers way up there because he likes tourism.
He may very well make that sort of representation. I do not know if he would, but he might. If he did, the economists are still involved, and what the
deputy ministers may be expected to do is to confirm that the numbers the economists have used are accurate.
Mr. McDonald: I have some difficulty with the concept. First of all, the only reason I am really concerned about deputy ministers reviewing it is because we know from the past, at least, that there has been a proclivity among some Members of the Yukon Party government to want to present a politically correct document. Just because we know that the Ministers will not be checking it does not mean that we know that the Ministers will not be talking to their deputies about it and that the deputies will not be keeping an eye out for politically incorrect conclusions.
I can understand that the economists, who are in touch with the basic economic indicators in the community and speak to the Bureau of Statistics regularly, would be able to provide a core of a report that gives us some idea of where the economy and the various sectors within the economy are going.
As identified by the Minister, I see the point in having technicians from the department review the numbers for accuracy - the number of visitors who come to the territory is verified when the report goes to the Department of Tourism and that any conclusions that are drawn about what that might mean are reviewed by the technician in the department. The same would be true for Community and Transportation Services and for other departments that regularly receive or compile statistics or information that may be useful components of an economic review.
I understand that part of it, and I think that it is probably healthy and useful, as long as it remains at the technician's level. To have the deputies come along later to verify it for accuracy is a concept that I am having a lot of trouble accepting, because the deputy ministers cannot be counted on to be familiar with a lot of the technical information that is held in the heads of the department technicians.
We do know that deputy ministers, as a job function, have to be careful about politically incorrect conclusions. We do know that they participate in a lot of the political strategy sessions of the Cabinet - not the party, but the Cabinet. We do know that they are responsible for directing media campaigns to support government initiatives.
We do know that they have a sense of ownership for departmental activities. The Minister has accepted the reality of that in his comments.
To have the deputy ministers review a document for accuracy is like asking a person who is not a technician and familiar with the numbers to verify the accuracy of the numbers. They are not economists so they should not necessarily be passing judgment on whether or not some particular significance should be given to certain numbers or certain statistics, when they are not professionally qualified to be passing judgment on the conclusions of the document.
Given that we know they operate close to the political level, are aware of the political agenda and have a vested interest in protecting that agenda, given that we know they are not technicians and not familiar with technical numbers, given that we know they are probably not economists, it is suggested that there is not a really useful role that they could play. Even if the role is useful, our concerns would more than offset that benefit, and we are aware that they are too close to the political level to assume their opinions to be completely unbiased.
I think this may be a bit of a problem. It is one of those snags that has been referred to, now and again, in the Legislature.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I cannot agree with the Member opposite. The deputy ministers have always been involved in the economic forecast, under both the previous and present administrations. This is DMRC, so it is all of the deputy ministers from government, whereas in the working group - because it is a working group - there are only four different departments represented. The deputy ministers should be able to pick up any significant factors have been missed. I have a little more faith than the Member opposite possibly has. These people are professional people.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Member opposite says it is outrageous that the NRC is reviewing the economists' forecast. I disagree. The deputy ministers have a general overview of the whole department, whereas the working group people will probably be managerial or director level, and will know their own areas very well. For example, in Community and Transportation Services, someone from the municipal side may be very knowledgeable about the municipal side, but may know little, if anything about highways. Whereas the deputy minister, although he does not know all of the technical details of either the municipal or the highways side, will have an overview of the whole department - that is his job. If something has been missed, he would be the person who would be capable of seeing that, and he would bring it to the attention of the economists.
Mr. McDonald: I was in Economic Development for a short time - a short time in NDP government terms, the equivalent of three Ministers in Yukon Party terms - and there was never even a thought that the forecast would be vetted. I never even thought about it. It was just taken for granted that whatever was produced was it. I admit that I did not spend a lot of time thinking about how they produced it; I assumed that it was economists in their department and they would do some checking of the figures.
I did not spend any time thinking about that because I always assumed that whatever was being done was the accepted practice. The previous Ministers, including the previous Ministers in the PC government, always did it the same way. I just took it for granted that that is the way it should be done.
It was considered to be completely a non-partisan and an unbiased kind of approach, obviously, except for the biases of the economists. There was no hint, no suggestion, never any desire to interfere in any way with what the document said. The only time I remember any discussion about it was when the document was filed with Cabinet and we had some discussions about what the conclusions were. I do not recall ever having even a discussion with a deputy minister about what was in the report prior to releasing the report. I just do not recall that.
We now know, and it is well known to the deputy ministers now, that Ministers in the Yukon Party government have expressed an interest in seeing to it that the document produces a rosy picture. The reason I say "rosy picture" is because the Minister has indicated that this was supposed to be a kind of sales document to outside investors, that we did not want to scare them. We wanted them to feel this was a good place to spend money. That is what gave rise to the concern in the first place that we might have been hoodwinking some people into believing things were better than they were, simply because we were producing this document. Obviously, there was also the concern added to that that this was supposed to be the one statement about the economy that was not politically driven. We could use that as a touchstone to a lot of the discussions we were having.
Now that we know that deputy ministers are tuned in to the Yukon Party Ministers' interests, perhaps the deputy ministers are not the best people - if they ever were, and I cannot claim to know what the process was - to be passing judgment on the conclusions of this economic forecast.
Under the circumstances, it would be better not to seek their involvement. There may be other people in the departments, perhaps further from the political level, who might be able to provide the overview. However, I still do not see the need for that. The economists are professionally challenged with the task of giving the broad overview and trying to understand how things are going system-wide and economy-wide.
I understand that the forecast can be given to the Council on the Economy and the Environment for their input. That is certainly a supposedly non-partisan body. I would still like the public to see the document at the same time as the Council on the Economy and the Environment. I do not think that they should be vetting it; however, they can pass judgment on its conclusions.
Anyway, the point of the forecast is not that it is perfect advice, but that it is the best unbiased advice that we can expect to receive from professional economists. There should be some effort, in my view, to reassure everyone that it is unbiased. The procedure for determining and drawing conclusions should be done without any hint, particularly now that we know what has happened in the past, of any political manipulation of the process.
I would hope that the government would design a process that would bend over backwards to ensure that the political level of government is not involved at all.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe, compared to the previous method of vetting this thing, we have done exactly that. The deputy ministers - not the full DMRC - did review it previously and it was reviewed by Cabinet. This does not get reviewed by Cabinet. It is approved by me and then given directly to the Legislature.
I think this is a fairly major improvement, but I would once again like to reiterate what I said before about the role of the deputy ministers, which is to ensure that everything is included. If, for instance, a building is being built and it was somehow or other missed by the economist, the Deputy Minister of Government Services - or whichever the sponsoring department might be - may very well catch that and bring it to the attention of the economists. It is merely for an accuracy review and is very, very important. As I said before, if someone was taken from a lower level in a department, they may not be aware of all of the department's activities.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to get my position on the record on this matter. I do not care what the previous government did. I am only interested in what is happening now.
The way I understand it, an economic forecast is just that: it is a forecast. I do not see it as an advisory document. I see it as a forecast of something that may happen.
In my opinion, economic forecasts should be conducted by competent economists without any political interference. I do not think we have to reinvent how economic forecasts are done. I am sure there are hundreds done every year, everywhere in Canada. There must be some usual format that economists use when they are preparing economic forecasts.
As far as I am concerned, if the economists are competent they will get their information from government departments and the Bureau of Statistics - who are phoning and studying Yukoners to death by asking us questions ad nauseum about everything we do, travel, health, phones and everything. As well, they will have all the information about populations, population breakdowns, income levels and activity. All of that information is provided from within government and I cannot see any competent economist writing an economic forecast without first checking that information and all of the departments for that information.
After the economists complete a report, to have it go back to the departments to see if it is accurate does not make any sense to me.
If the economist is allowed to write their objective, economic observations, because that is what they are, then I think that information should be used as a tool for the deputy ministers to decide how they are going to deal with the information that is forecasted, regardless if it is good news, bad news or whatever.
It is the government's function to respond to the economic forecast. Perhaps the Minister can explain why he feels that his economists cannot objectively, in a well-informed way, provide economic forecasts for this government. This is why I challenge his confidence in the ability of the economic forecasters.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is for nothing more than completeness and thoroughness. The economists have to get their information from the departments, and they probably get it through the deputy ministers. It is for nothing more than an accuracy check.
Obviously, we have a difference of opinion, and that is fair enough. I believe in the integrity of the deputy ministers, because they are there as an accuracy check, and that is where we will leave it.
Mrs. Firth: Nobody is talking about the deputy ministers' integrity here. Does the Minister even think about what he is saying when he says something like that?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: No, I am not saying that I do not trust them. This Minister does not trust his economists to get information from the departments, and write it down in a forecast that is accurate. He is saying that he wants the deputy ministers to check it. If they are competent, well-paid, professional economists, why do they need deputy ministers babysitting the information that they put in the economic forecast? It does not make any sense.
It has nothing to do with the integrity of the deputy ministers - absolutely nothing. If these people are hired to do this job - to make these forecasts - let them do their job. Use what they do as a tool to deliver better government to people. Do not have some deputy ministers babysitting what they write - Gee whiz.
The Minister says that I am challenging their integrity. Why does the Minister not have confidence in his economists being able to do objective, professional, good quality, accurate economic forecasting, without it having to be checked by the deputy ministers?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Our two economists designed the process. Obviously, they want someone else to check it for accuracy to make sure -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Member for Riverdale South is saying that it is because I do not have any confidence in them. I think that it is exactly the other way around. I have confidence in the economists and I have confidence in the deputy ministers. That is why we asked for a redesign of the process. The Cabinet is not involved. The only political person involved is me, because I am ultimately responsible for it. The Minister of Economic Development gives it the final approval, and then it goes directly to the Legislative Assembly.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 3.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole considered Bill No. 3, Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday next.
The House adjourned at 5:14 p.m.
The following Legislative Return was tabled February 16, 1995:
Whitehorse Correctional Centre policy re harassing phone calls made by inmates (Phillips)
The following Document was filed February 16, 1995:
Yukon Economic Review and Short-term Outlook: process for drafting, review, approval and release (dated February 8, 1995) (Fisher)