Tuesday, February 21, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
I requested permission from former Speaker Johnston to use his prayer to open the proceedings today. He was pleased to grant us permission.
Oh, Great Spirit, creator and leader of all people, we are thankful to be gathered here today. Oh, Great Spirit, I ask that you touch and bless each and everyone in this House. Grant that we, the elected Members, will only make strong, fair and sound decisions on behalf of the peoples we represent throughout Yukon. Amen.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We have three guests in the House today that I would like Members to make welcome. With us today are Luc Maurice, the executive director for the Governor General Study Conference, Keith Hildahl, the chair of the Yukon portion of the conference, and Debra Nurmoyle is the co-chair of the Yukon tour. They will be bringing 16 people here this summer to participate in some Yukon activities. I would like all Members to welcome them in the House today.
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have some documents for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have for tabling a legislative return.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Are there any Bills to be introduced?
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Pathfinder learning system
Hon. Mr. Phelps: A couple of weeks ago, my department published a supplement in the Whitehorse Star and Yukon News that discussed how the Yukon school system has adapted to help students who need a learning environment beyond the ordinary classroom, how we are pursuing the goal set for us in the Education Act of designing an education appropriate to the individual learner. The supplement was entitled Educational Opportunity - The Alternative Paths.
It is my pleasure today to announce that in September of 1995, as a pilot project in two Yukon secondary schools, we will be undertaking a learning program that perhaps goes further than any other in allowing the individual student to walk down the path to learning what works best for him or her.
Appropriately, the program is called the Pathfinder learning system. It was developed in Ontario and it has been used successfully over the last few years all across North America, both in public schools and in a variety of adult learning environments.
For instance, it is currently being used by at least 22 school boards in British Columbia. It is a computer-managed curriculum that automatically and frequently tests the student, giving assignments that concentrate on the student's weakest areas and continuing to focus on those areas until the student achieves a pre-set standard of achievement, such as 75 or 80 percent.
Only about 25 percent of a student's time is actually spent on the computer, meaning that, on average, four students can use each Pathfinder workstation. The rest of the time is spent working independently with the multitude of curriculum materials that accompany the system - books, videos, audiotapes, work kits, and so on - or in working, one on one, with a teacher.
For the teachers, the Pathfinder system means that very little time is spent marking tests or keeping records; the computer does all that for them. Instead, they spend almost all of their time with the students, doing what they do best: tutoring, motivating and facilitating. They can also customize the Pathfinder curriculum to incorporate other materials, assignments or test questions beyond what the system already offers.
Pathfinder essentially frees both student and teacher from the tyranny of the timetable. Because it allows students to work at their own pace and not be obliged to learn at the same rate as the rest of the class, the Pathfinder system has been found to work very well with students at both ends of the achievement spectrum - the intellectually gifted as well as the potential drop-out.
As well, Pathfinder allows small schools with a few secondary teachers the opportunity to offer a greater variety of courses. The Yukon has joined a consortium of British Columbia school districts to further develop curriculum exclusively for Pathfinder. This will allow us to fine tune the curriculum for our own needs, and expand the course offerings in our smaller high schools.
At a cost of about $160,000, we are in the process of setting up eight Pathfinder workstations: five at F.H. Collins Senior Secondary in Whitehorse, and three at the Robert Service School in Dawson. They will offer a full range of academic subjects in grades 8 to 10, as well as some courses in grades 11 and 12, and an employment and lifeskills module. In the near future, we will be training teachers in their use so they can, in turn, teach the students. Then, in the fall, some 30 Yukon students will begin taking their courses on Pathfinder.
We are excited about the possibilities of Pathfinder. We think it has the potential to dramatically lower our drop-out rate, and raise student achievement levels at the same time. I very much look forward to sharing the results of the next school year's pilot as it progresses.
Mr. Harding: I would first like to preface my comments by saying that I hope this announcement is a result of consultation with the Yukon education partners. Dealing with the partners in education in advance of the announcement of the initiatives can certainly help to smooth out any potential wrinkles that might be created by adopting this model for our system in the Yukon.
On its surface this looks like a solid initiative, following the footsteps of what I think are some of the more progressive education moves by Ontario and British Columbia. It is much in keeping with our philosophy of broader learning. It certainly looks as if testing will be used as a learning tool rather than simply as a benchmark. I think that is positive.
I look forward to further questioning regarding this initiative in general debate and in the estimates this afternoon and the coming week. Thank you.
Mr. Cable: I think the initiative shows the Minister's creative mind at work but I do share the previous speaker's concern that the program be brought in with consultation and be carried out with consultation, so that we know that it is going to work and that we get the maximum result. So, perhaps in reply, the Minister could indicate what consultation did take place with the major stakeholders.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We certainly got the theme. I can tell Members opposite that the Pathfinder learning system was demonstrated at the YTA conference in October 1994. It received an enthusiastic response from teachers and administrators. Department and school personnel visited sites in British Columbia to become acquainted with its possibilities in a variety of places. There were extensive discussions at the departmental and school levels. The pilot project was proposed. The equipment will be shipped from Vancouver this week. Training will start February 27 in Whitehorse and on March 3 in Dawson. The training will be done by Pathfinder.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Public Utilities Board chair, conflict of interest
Mr. Penikett: The Utilities Consumers Group has issued a press release today attacking the government for the contents of a confidential letter from the chair of the Crown corporation - the Yukon Energy Corporation - for alleging that members of the Public Utilities Board, including its chair, Ms. Edie Walters, are in a conflict-of-interest position.
Does the Government Leader agree with the statement contained in this letter from the chair of this Crown corporation that, because the chair and her husband derive a substantial amount of their income from the ownership and operation of apartment buildings, motels and hotels, which are large commercial consumers of electricity from the Yukon Electrical Company Limited, they are therefore in a conflict-of-interest position?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not think anyone in the Yukon could sit on a board such as the Public Utilities Board without being perceived by some people as being in a conflict-of-interest position. I do not necessarily agree with the comments made by the chair of the board, if that is what he asked.
Mr. Penikett: We are not talking about some people. We are talking about the chair of a board of a Crown corporation. We are talking about a letter that is, while signed by the chair, clearly, according to the computer coding at the bottom, from the computer of the president of that corporation, who is a public servant.
I want to therefore ask the Government Leader the direct question again: does he agree with the allegation contained in the letter that board members such as Mr. Laking, the owner of the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City and Mr. Duncan, who owns an equipment supply business in Whitehorse, are in a conflict-of-interest situation on the Public Utilities Board?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No.
Mr. Penikett: That is very interesting. The evidence given by the president of the Yukon Energy Corporation, from whose computer the letter came, in Committee of the Whole the other night, indicates that he does not take his direction on matters of policy from the board but from Cabinet.
I would like to know if there was any policy direction given to the president of the Crown corporation or the chair prior to writing this letter, which alleges, among other things, that Mr. Willis, who is the counsel for the board, is in a conflict-of-interest situation by virtue that he is also the counsel for the Water Board and the City of Whitehorse.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We are going back to a period before I was the Minister responsible for YDC, but I do not recall any such direction being given to the president.
Question re: Public Utilities Board chair, conflict of interest
Mr. Penikett: That is very interesting. The letter from the Energy Corporation to the then Minister, the Minister who was then responsible for both the Energy Corporation and the Public Utilities Board - something that we on this side of the House thought was a conflict of interest - alleging conflict of interest by members of the Public Utilities Board was a reply to a letter sent by the Minister responsible for the Energy Corporation.
I would like to ask the Government Leader if he is prepared to table the letter from the previous Minister and is he prepared to state categorically that the contents of this letter signed by Mr. Ernewein are in no way based on instructions from any Member of his Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not prepared to table the letter. The Member opposite seems to have a copy of it already, so I do not know what merit there would be in tabling it, but I can say again categorically that it was not written on the instructions of any Member of Cabinet.
Mr. Penikett: I have a copy of Mr. Ernewein's letter, but I do not have a copy of Mr. Phelps' letter and I would like to see a copy of it.
Let me ask another question. I have twice asked for assurances from Ministers opposite that they in no way had anything to do with the recommendation - coming from both the private utility and the public utility - that we surrender some of the regulatory control of the Yukon Crown corporation to Alberta regulatory authorities.
I would like to ask the Government Leader why the letter from the Crown corporation to Mr. Phelps contains the following sentence: "We also recommend that you provide for the Yukon Public Utilities Board to retain staff, including counsel, who work for the Alberta Public Utilities Board and/or the B.C. Public Utilities Board." Why is a Yukoner, appointed to a Yukon Crown corporation by the Yukon Party government, wanting to turn over any measure of regulatory authority over our utility to an Albertan? Can the Government Leader explain why that would be in the Yukon Energy Corporation's interest - we know why it would be in Alberta Power's interest - but why would that be in the Yukon Energy Corporation's interest?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe the Member opposite is missing the whole point about what was happening at the time. The concern of this side of the House, as well as the public, was the cost of regulatory hearings in the Yukon, which were totally out of sync with the size of the utility and the user base of that utility.
At that time, the Minister was looking for a focus upon which to have a review of the Utilities Board, as well as input. There was no instruction; he was looking for input. If the Member opposite will look at what happened during the Utilities Board review, he will see that all those topics were discussed.
Mr. Penikett: The outrageous cost of the rate hearings last time was the result of $1 million being spent on outside lawyers and accountants by the utilities. What was this government's response to that? It recommends bringing in more outsiders to regulate our public utility.
It is quite clear that there are secret communications between the Crown corporation and the Minister, as well as a hidden agenda. Can the Minister explain why, in the letter from the Yukon Energy Corporation, it says, "We will pursue the recommendations in the above matters in our staff's submission to the Department of Justice. Some of these matters also overlap with the Yukon government's examination of YEC privatization options, as well as the integration of the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Electrical Company Limited ..." - something that the government opposite has denied is happening?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Let me first clarify this for the Member opposite, since he seems to be having trouble understanding what was transpiring, even though he has a copy of the letter. It was not the response of this government, it was a recommendation made by the chair of the board. As for integration of the YECL and the Yukon Energy Corporation, that was something that started under the previous Member's administration.
Speaker: Order. Before we proceed with the next question, I would like to remind the Members of guideline number 7: a brief preamble will be allowed in the case of main questions, and a one-sentence preamble will be allowed in the case of each supplementary question. I believe that has been abused slightly.
Question re: Electrical distribution, participation by communities
Mr. Cable: I have some questions about other correspondence of a similar paranoid nature that has come out of the Yukon Energy Corporation. The questions are for the Minister responsible for the corporation, the Government Leader. The Government Leader will recollect that he was in Mayo last September at the Association of Yukon Communities general meeting. At that meeting, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Norm Jaycox, from the Northwest Public Power Association, spoke on the merits of municipal involvement in electrical distribution. This elicited a rather chippy letter to Mr. Jaycox and a similar chippy letter to his boss at the Northwest Public Power Association from the president of the corporation. The letter to Mr. Jaycox's boss finished off with this paragraph, "In future, it would be appreciated if Mr. Jaycox would do me the courtesy of advising me when he is coming into the territory and on what issue he will be making a presentation, so that we are not taken by surprise when we find the Northwest Public Power Association taking a role that is essentially adversarial in nature toward the Energy Corporation."
Does the Minister agree that, in coming to the territory and representing this public power association and advocating municipal involvement in electrical distribution, that Mr. Jaycox was acting in a manner adversarial to the interests of the Energy Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding is that the president of the Yukon Energy Corporation was trying to point out to Mr. Jaycox that he thought it was inappropriate that he would come to the Yukon and give a speech about electricity and not notify the Yukon Energy Corporation, which is a member and pays dues to that association.
Speaker: Before the Member continues, if that last preamble was brief, I would hate to see a long one.
Mr. Cable: It was necessary to set the stage, Mr. Speaker.
The context of the letter, which I am assuming the Minister has read, seems to be quite adversarial to the involvement of municipalities and public power. Does that represent government policy at the present time?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: At the present time, yes. I said so, quite categorically, in October that, with negotiations with CYI not proceeding at this time, the Yukon Energy Corporation would remain in its present structure for the foreseeable future.
Mr. Cable: There seems to be a number of letters emanating from the Yukon Energy Corporation, both on public policy matters and, in particular, on the operation of the Yukon Utilities Board. Is the Minister prepared to entertain the suggestion that we have the Auditor General do a value-for-money audit on the Yukon Utilities Board, so that we do not get involved in these somewhat windy and paranoid public debates?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not certain how the Member opposite perceives that a value-for-money audit by the Auditor General would deal with the policy questions that he is asking.
Question re: Alberta Public Utilities Board chair
Mr. Penikett: To pursue the subject of wind and paranoia for a minute, I would like to ask the Government Leader if he shares the view, expressed by the chair and, apparently, the president of the Yukon Energy Corporation, that because the secretary to the Public Utilities Board, Mr. James Slater, is also employed as a researcher in the office of the Leader of the Liberals and, because that office sometimes contacts the utilities for information on behalf of both the Public Utilities Board and the Liberal Party and therefore does not identify for whom the request was made, there may be occasions where responses to information requests made on behalf of one of those two employers would be inappropriate were it to be made on behalf of the other? Is that the view of the Government Leader?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is quite clear that the letter is stating the opinions of the chair of the Public Utilities Board, and not the opinion of this government.
Mr. Penikett: That is quite a mystery. When the president was here a few days ago, he made it quite clear that, on matters of policy and day-to-day business, he did not take instruction from the board or chair, but from his Minister. Now his Minister is trying to say that he is on his own; that he has nothing to do with him; that he did not know anything about it. Did the Government Leader know that the chair and, presumably, the president of the corporation had recommended to his predecessor that he consider the appointment to the Public Utilities Board of a chair and, perhaps, an additional member, who is a senior member of the Alberta Public Utilities Board, with experience specifically in electrical power regulation? Did he know that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is looking for some hidden agenda that is clearly not there. We have said this in the House and in the public time and time again. We even went so far as to hold a consultation with the stakeholders on the restructuring of the Public Utilities Board.
The Minister was soliciting ideas as to what kinds of options should be brought forward for the stakeholders to review on which they could make recommendations about how we could restructure the Public Utilities Board to operate in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.
Mr. Penikett: The record will show that we are dealing with confidential communications between the utilities - the Government Leader says "what is wrong with that"; we will get to that - between the utilities and the Minister who is responsible for the utilities and the Minister responsible for the regulation of the utilities. Then he is telling us that there is nothing wrong with that kind of confidential communication.
I want to ask the Government Leader why he told the stakeholders review - the seminar it had and to which I, who had made an intervention, was not invited - according to the notes I have from the Utility Consumers Group, that the submission on regulatory reform made by YEC would remain a confidential document and would not be circulated to participants. What exactly is he trying to hide here? What is the government covering up?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have stated quite clearly that we are not trying to cover up anything. We are not trying to hide anything. If the Minister wants to get a frank opinion from someone and he asks for it and says he is going to treat it in a confidential manner, I think that is quite legitimate. It is quite legitimate to find out how people are feeling. The Minister would not be able to get that kind of information if a person thought for one minute that that letter would show up on the floor of the Legislature like it has.
Question re: Alberta Public Utilities Board chair
Mr. Penikett: Let me ask the Government Leader this: what business does a Minister of this government have asking the utility for a confidential and secret recommendation on the structuring of the board that regulates it, a recommendation that does not become public, does not become part of public discussion, that does not come directly and openly to the Legislature? What business do public officials have writing letters like this, which contains personal attacks on the independence of the board members, attacks on the council, attacks on -
Speaker: Order please. Question please.
Mr. Penikett: What business does the government have sanctioning that kind of secret communication?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Quite clearly that was not the intention and quite clearly it was stated that the Minister was trying to put together a paper, wearing his other hat as the Minister of Justice, for discussion by the stakeholders. That is all he was doing.
Mr. Penikett: That is the problem, Mr. Speaker. We have a Minister wearing two hats. We have a utility attacking other people for wearing two hats and no one in the utility or the government seems to recognize the irony of that situation.
Let me ask the Government Leader again, since the president told us that he reported to his Minister on matters of policy, did the Government Leader know anything about the contents of Mr. Ernewein's letter before it was sent?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Clearly, no.
Mr. Penikett: I want to ask, then, who is making these decisions. The president says the Cabinet makes the decisions of policy or the Minister makes the decisions of policy except on those occasions when the staff makes the decisions. It was clear from the evidence presented by the president that the board only gets advised after the fact.
Is the Minister, on his feet, going to tell us that this communication, attacking the integrity of board members and the council and their other staff, was entirely an independent initiative of the chair and the president?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not even certain the president had anything to do with that piece of correspondence. As I have said, and the Member opposite has quite clearly said, it was in reply to a letter that the Minister wrote soliciting views of how to restructure the Yukon Utilities Board so that it would be more cost effective and efficient.
Question re: Alberta Public Utilities Board chair
Mr. McDonald: I would like to know why the Minister is not prepared to release the letter that was dated April 27, 1994 to the Yukon Energy Corporation's board of directors? This letter does not constitute advice to Cabinet and does not fall within the realm of discussions between a Minister and his deputy. Given that this letter was discussed with the board of directors, ostensibly by the chair, why can this letter not be made public so that we will know, or we will have at least greater certainty, that what the government is telling us about it not having a secret agenda is in fact the truth.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: If I thought for one minute that the letter would answer the Members' questions and stop the allegations of a secret agenda, I might consider tabling it. However, w
e are not in the habit of tabling correspondence in this Legislature for the Members opposite to peruse.
Mr. McDonald: I do not know what the Minister is referring to. I am indicating to him that there is a serious problem here.
The chair of the Yukon Energy Corporation, which is a public Crown corporation, is expressing no confidence in the entire process that regulates the public's corporation. It appears that the Ministers and the chair are seriously out of sync on this fundamental policy point. We must be clear that the Ministers have not been generating the position and allowing the chair of the Yukon Energy Corporation simply to regurgitate it back-
Speaker: Question, please.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to ask the Minister, given that he has indicated that it might help us understand the government's position, if he will table that letter?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, this government is not in the habit of tabling correspondence. I will review the correspondence and see if there is any merit in tabling it in this Legislature.
Mr. McDonald: The chair of the Yukon Energy Corporation has spared absolutely no one in his vitriolic attack - not the secretary to the board, the board members or any businessperson who ever wanted to sit on the board. Given that the chair of the corporation is so out of sync with the stated position of the government with respect to the regulatory process, what is going to happen to the relationship between the chair of the corporation and this government? Is there going to be a change in that relationship?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will go back to the original question. I believe that the Minister was soliciting frank input and that the chair of the board took the Minister at his word and replied to him in confidence. He did not expect the letter to be public knowledge.
Question re: Alberta Public Utilities Board chair
Mr. McDonald: The chair of the public Crown corporation, which is charged with the responsibility of providing electricity to the territory, does not believe that a citizen of this territory - a businessperson in this territory - has the right to sit in judgment of that corporation.
Does the Minister not find that to be a serious problem? Does he not feel that the Minister should at least be taking action to correct this major miscommunication and major difference of opinion between the government and the chair?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I told the Member opposite that I will review the chain of correspondence that went back and forth. If there is any merit in tabling the April 27 letter referred to by the Leader of the Official Opposition, I will do so.
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Minister for repeating his answer to a previous question. I am asking the Minister this fundamental question: the chair of Energy Corporation does not believe a businessperson can sit in judgment of the corporation; what is the Minister going to do to correct that impression?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: In my opinion, the Minister of the day was soliciting personal information, which the chair gave him in what he believed to be a confidential manner. The Minister solicited the information in order to put out a workplan and a worksheet for the stakeholders that are involved with the Energy Corporation - the user groups and the utilities. A workshop was to be held so that the government could come up with a process for making recommendations to streamline the Utilities Board. That has happened. There have been no changes made on the basis of the letter that was written by the chair.
Mr. McDonald: The letter from the Energy Corporation reads more like a hit list of the board and the board staff, and less like a serious policy recommendation by the Energy Corporation to the Minister responsible for both Justice and the Energy Corporation. Given that the Ministers know that the chair of this public utility does not believe that businesspeople can sit on the Utilities Board and pass judgment on the corporation, what is the Government Leader going to do to correct that impression, because we know that that impression remains?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not certain how the Member opposite knows that that impression remains. He must have some information that I have not been privy to.
Question re: Gratuities for public servants
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Government Leader in regard to the conflict-of-interest investigation report he tabled in the House this afternoon. The report deals with the deputy head who went to an IBM conference and attended the Commonwealth Games at the expense of IBM.
For those people who have not seen the report, the Minister approved the trip. The employee took one day of leave; the other two days he was on government time.
The findings of the investigation indicate that in the receipt of free room and meals there could be a perceived conflict of interest.
What happens now?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I told the Member yesterday, we will be filing the report of the findings. The rest is a personnel matter that will be dealt with internally.
Mrs. Firth: The conflict-of-interest policy of the government says there can be no real or perceived conflict with their work responsibilities - in reference to government employees - and that there is an obligation to obey the law as well as to act in a manner that is so scrupulous as to bear the closest public scrutiny.
What happens now?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I told the Member and the House yesterday that this is a personnel matter, and personnel matters will not be discussed on the floor of the Legislature.
Mrs. Firth: The person involved is a deputy head, a role model, one who has authority to approve this kind of travel, and nothing is happening. The Yukon public is not going to accept this.
Why is the Government Leader refusing to do anything about this obvious breach of the rules that the government has in place?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is again making assumptions that nothing is being done. What I said is that it will not be discussed on the floor of the Legislature.
Question re: Gratuities for public servants
Mrs. Firth: The individual involved in this incident is a deputy head in charge of the department that issues the majority of government contracts. He is a role model to other employees, and a person with the authority to approve this kind of travel. There is a perceived conflict of interest here, and the Government Leader will not tell anybody what, if anything, is going to happen. I would like to ask the Government Leader this question: how does he intend to maintain any integrity in the tendering process when this person is running this department, and he will not tell anybody what he is doing with respect to this situation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This Member is notorious for wanting to wash people's laundry in public. Because this was raised in the public forum, we have gone the extra mile and prepared a report dealing with the issue. This issue, like the issue of wages, is a personnel matter, and will not be discussed in a public forum.
Mrs. Firth: In the two and a half years that this government has been here, I have not heard such a bunch of nonsense. Who do they think they are? The only disgusting thing here is them - all of them. One of them is the Health and Social Services Minister -
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please ask the question.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. The Member for Riverdale South has the floor.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister of Health and Social Services is yelling at me to raise this issue outside of the Legislature.
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please ask the question?
Mrs. Firth: I will ask the question. I have raised this outside of the Legislature. I was the one who brought this to the attention of this government, because the government did not know what was going on.
Speaker: Order. The Member has had her chance. Ask the question and get on with it.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to ask the Government Leader what he is going to do to maintain the integrity of the contracting process within his government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This has nothing to do with the integrity of the contracting process.
If the Member opposite wants to talk about integrity, she should perhaps look at her own paycheque.
Mrs. Firth: What a stupid man. Listen to that. When it comes to conflict of interest, this government's reputation is in shreds - absolute shreds.
What is this government going to do? What is this government going to do to give some comfort to Yukoners that there is still some integrity in the tendering system of this government? Tell them one thing that the Government Leader is going to do. What is he going to do? Absolutely nothing.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member cannot even keep quiet when she sits down.
Quite clearly, this has nothing to do with contracting - absolutely nothing. We have stated it quite clearly and have filed a report in this Legislature that the matter was investigated. That is not good enough for the Member opposite.
I am sorry, but this government is not about to speak about personnel matters on the floor of this Legislature.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, president's statements
Mr. Cable: I have some further questions for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation on its goings on.
The letter that the president wrote to the Northwest Power Producers Association appears to contain matters of public policy. Does the Government Leader, in his capacity as both Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation and as Government Leader, think that it is appropriate for the president to speak out on matters of public policy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not sure what statement the Member opposite is referring to. Public policy is public policy; it is not secret. The president has every right to speak out about public policy.
Mr. Cable: Is it appropriate for the president to speak out on matters of public policy that are under formulation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would say no, it would probably not be appropriate for the president to speak out on policy that is under formulation. In fact, if the policy was under formulation, I have reservations about whether or not the president would be aware of it at the time.
Mr. Cable: Let us go back to the last question from the first round, which dealt with the Auditor General. What is the Minister's reservation about bringing the Auditor General in to do an independent appraisal of the operations of the Yukon Utilities Board, so that we do not get the extended debate that gets us nowhere, because the government does not answer the questions from this side?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is fully aware that there is an Auditor General report now being done on the service contract between Yukon Electrical Company Limited and Yukon Energy Corporation. Let us get that one finished first, and then we can look at whether or not there is any merit to having a value-for-money audit done by the Auditor General.
Question re: Land availability
Ms. Moorcroft: I have a question for the Government Leader. It seems to be his day today.
Yukon land costs too much for people to buy because there is not enough land available. Yukoners want land they can afford. If there was not a shortage of land, the price would go down. What is the government doing to make more land available?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I guess I am rather floored by the question. The Minister responsible for that department was on his feet for three weeks here answering those very questions for the Member opposite.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister was on his feet for three weeks, but I will challenge the Government Leader to find me a single answer I got from that Minister about what this government is doing to make more land available. The answer is nothing. That is why I am now asking the Government Leader, but he cannot answer the question, either.
The Lands Act sets out how people will get land. Can the Government Leader tell me how changing the Lands Act will help the Yukon government get more land from the federal government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is quite easy to see that there is a leadership race on for the Leader of the Official Opposition. I think it is between the Member for Riverdale South and the Member for Mount Lorne.
The Minister clearly laid out the lots that are available for the building season this year. As a result of his consultation with the contractors and the general public, he feels that there is a substantial amount of land available for the next building season.
Ms. Moorcroft: They are clearly pretty devoid of leadership over there on the government benches; they are also devoid of answers.
There is not a significant amount of land available and the Government Leader has, with all due respect, not answered the question. I am going to ask the Government Leader the question again. The Yukon Lands Act sets out how people will get land. Can the Government Leader tell me how changing the Lands Act will help the Yukon government get more land from the federal government? Can he understand that question and could he try to answer it, please?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is not a problem of the Members on this side understanding the questions. It is the Member for Mount Lorne understanding the answers. That is where the problem lies.
Quite clearly, until we can get control of more land, there is going to be a problem. The Member opposite is fully aware of that. We are making land available over which we have some authority. We believe, as does the Minister, that there is sufficient land available this year and that there should not be a land shortage for people who want to build this summer.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of Government Private Members' Business
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to inform the House that the Government Private Members do not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, February 22, 1995, under the heading of Government Private Members' Business.
Speaker: We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
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.
Bill No. 3 - Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Department of Education - continued
Chair: Is there further general debate?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I move we report progress on Bill No. 3.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 1995-96
Department of Education
Chair: Is there any general debate on capital and O&M estimates?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have some comment on the operation and maintenance budget. Is the preference to do both together?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Fine, I will do both together.
With respect to the operation and maintenance budget, it is my pleasure to rise today to point out some of the highlights of my department's budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The total operation and maintenance request is $74,080,000, an increase of some two percent from last year's forecast. Of this figure $48.4 million, about 66 percent, is for salaries and benefits; $9.4 million, or 13 percent, is for programs; $15.8 million, or 21 percent, is for transfer payments to various organizations such as the Yukon Teachers Association, the First Nation Education Commission and Yukon College.
In the latter area, I would point out that many of our contributions have increased substantially. Funding to the First Nation Education Commission has increased by 25 percent to $50,000 this year. The operating grant to Yukon College is up to almost $400,000, totalling $10.5 million. Our support of the bachelor of social work program at Yukon College has increased by $20,000. In addition, there continues to be considerable support for education-related activities such as teacher professional development where there is over $1 million in various forms, and student-focused events costing approximately $30,000.
Employing the bulk of our staff and operating our schools, the public school's branch has the lion's share of the operation and maintenance budget at $54.3 million. Of this figure, 81 percent is for wages and benefits. There are over 660 full-time equivalents allocated to school-based positions - a substantial investment in our programs and our students.
Of particular note in public schools, there is an increase of $159,000 for school busing across the territory. There is an increase of 11 percent, or $143,000, in the special programs division, including $73,000 for school psychological services. There is $45,000 for program materials and $22,500 for contract services.
We are committed to giving students with special needs the best education possible, and we will be listening very closely to the recommendations of the departmental task force currently examining this area. The task force includes representatives from the teacher and the administrator associations.
Overall, expenditures on special-needs programming have increased this year to $8,970,000, an increase of over $1 million in three years. This figure represents about 16.5 percent of the total O&M budget for the public schools branch, and currently less than nine percent that the total school population are designated as exceptional. That is a demonstration of how strongly we are committed to special-needs education.
In advanced education, the major changes are the increases in transfer payments to the college and the BSW program, which I noted, and the continued funding in the amount of $500,000 for the recently announced Yukon government apprenticeship training program.
There are no major O&M changes in the libraries and archives branch, although I should mention a major project which will involve both capital and O&M dollars, and that is the accession of Erik Nielsen's papers. This is a substantial acquisition by the Archives and undoubtedly a source of much fascinating research by Members here in the future.
The evaluation, research and planning branch maintains an identical budget in the 1994-95 forecast, and will continue the important work of monitoring our action-plan response to the education review tabled in this House in December of 1994. This work will include the development of a comprehensive student and system assessment plan for public consultation by the spring of this year.
The recent national testing results in reading and writing demonstrate a particular need to more closely monitor our students' progress in these areas and underline the themes of accountability and consistency often reiterated in the Education Review Committee's final report.
The report placed great emphasis on the acquisition of basic skills to develop the students' ability to think critically, solve problems and access information. We share the committee's concerns in this area, and the department's work in the coming months will share that emphasis.
Our response to the education review will undoubtedly have a considerable impact on budgets down the road. The action plan we recently released is of the highest priority for us. Aside from the initiatives noted, the 1995-96 O&M budget for my department perhaps has a largely status quo look to it. It is a status quo, however, that boasts one of the largest per-student , of $11,380, based on nationally accepted criteria, and one of the lowest student/teacher ratios in Canada, of 13 to 1. It is a status quo as it also has more instructional computers per student than any other jurisdiction in the country, and we are committed to maintaining that position as part of our determination to prepare our students for today's world of work in the best way possible.
Despite these impressive inputs, however, and a very well-financed and well-equipped education system, two of the most important outputs of any such system - good student performance and a low drop-out rate - remain disappointing. I re-emphasize to Members, as I do to the people who work for the department, that we must continually look for ways to improve those outputs.
With regard to the capital budget, I would like to touch on some of the highlights. In public schools, the total capital expenditure is $9,236,000. The largest item is $4.25 million for the new French first language school in Whitehorse, in the Granger subdivision. Construction will begin this coming summer, and continue over next winter, with openings scheduled for the fall of 1996. Of the $4.25 million, $2 million will be recovered from the federal government. Over the length of the project, we expect to spend approximately $6 million and to recover about one-half of that from Ottawa.
The students and staff of l'École Émilie Tremblay have suffered far too long in their totally inadequate group of portables on Nisutlin Drive. Enrollment has been steadily rising. As soon as we took office, we began the search for a new site for the new school. The search has taken longer than we had hoped. At last a new school is on the horizon.
We have allocated $300,000 in the coming year for the design of a new elementary school in Dawson. We are working hard with the City of Dawson to find the right site.
If all goes well, we will be allocating the bulk of construction dollars in the 1996-97 fiscal year, and opening the new facility in the fall of 1997.
School-based equipment purchases in the budget are being increased by 23 percent, to $535,000. These funds will be provided directly to each school to be spent on new and replacement equipment for offices, science labs, gymnasiums, libraries, industrial education shops, and so on. They will be spent almost entirely at the discretion of the school, as part of the school plan approved by each school council. Schools also have direct control over $250,000 in a fund allocated to school-initiated renovations.
Members are aware of the major increase in school-based capital maintenance being undertaken in the current fiscal year to stimulate winter employment in many different communities. That work will continue in the next fiscal year with $915,000 dedicated to capital maintenance in our schools.
Some of the other major public school projects in this budget are the completion of a new teen-parent centre at F.H. Collins High School for $400,000; major renovations at Grey Mountain Primary and Christ the King Elementary for $200,000 each; further upgrading at F.H. Collins High School for $300,000; and further improvements to the air quality in various schools for $350,000.
We are spending $100,000 this year on a distance education pilot project for our rural high schools. This is in response to recommendations in the education review that we must accelerate access in rural Yukon to specialized high school courses, which are presently only available in Whitehorse.
Members will also note a figure of $737,000 for modular classrooms. This will fund six portables, one for l'École Émilie Tremblay to see that school through one more year at its current location, and five for the two Whitehorse junior high schools, which are experiencing somewhat of a population bulge at present and are having some of their classroom space rededicated to special-needs programming.
Beyond public schools, the major capital item is $750,000 for a capital transfer grant to Yukon College, a 150-percent increase from the current fiscal year. The time has come for some substantial upgrading of the machinery and equipment in many of the college's classrooms, including computers and trades training equipment, and the bulk of the grant is for that sort of work. Prioritizing disposition of the funds will be up to the college board of governors.
In libraries and archives, $275,000 has been allocated to an expansion of the storage vault at the Yukon Archives, largely to accommodate records of the Yukon government, and $146,000 for the automation of various equipment at the Archives to better serve the public. There is also an 88-percent increase in the budget for community library development, most of which will go to upgrading collections and equipment in libraries across the territory. There will be $40,000 spent on substantial renovations to the Watson Lake Community Library.
Overall, our request is for $11,127,000 in capital funds for 1995-96, which is an increase of some 17 percent. I look forward to questions from the Members opposite.
Mr. Harding: I should preface my questioning by some thoughts that I have prepared on our education system in the Yukon, and then I would welcome the debate on the issues that I raise with the Minister, as he will have a clearer idea of our party's vision of the education system in the Yukon.
I rise because I believe that the issue of education for the government of the day is one of the most serious and daunting responsibilities. Our communities are crying out for educational opportunities and training. Their needs are as immense and varied as their surrounding landscapes. These needs are tough to meet and require an unprecedented commitment from all of us as legislators to do a better job of addressing them.
As New Democrats, we believe in the system we created in 1990 with the development of the Education Act. As many of us will remember, it was a consultative masterpiece of legislation, unanimously supported by this House with very little debate from the Opposition Members of the day about the principles that were in it. Very few concerns were registered.
To my knowledge, this is the most progressive piece of educational legislation in Canada. It sets forth a vision and philosophy intended to prepare our students to become full participants in the global society of the 21st century. Almost five years later, this government spent $130,000 - over $100,000 more than originally anticipated - on an education review. Having read the results of the review and having compared it with the previous Education Minister's wanted educational direction, I daresay it was a protective and informative exercise. Many of the recommendations surrounding core curriculum, the basics, special needs, and locally relevant curriculum are not only wholeheartedly endorsed by the New Democrat caucus but are stated goals and objectives of the Education Act itself.
This review was not a call to abandon the principles of the Education Act. It was not a call to abandon the concept of mainstreaming. It was not a call to abandon locally developed curriculum or outdoor education, nor was it a call to focus exclusively on reading, writing and arithmetic - the direction in which the government was headed when it kicked off the review at the famous Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Instead, the review identified the areas in the system on which we, as legislators, need to focus. We need to analyze objectively what is going on in our schools, without a lot of pompous political rhetoric wrapped around it. I believe our system is far from perfect but our legislation provides a solid framework to address the issues that are a concern out there. I believe the Minister shares this view with me to some degree.
We need a system that is receptive and flexible, and one that is responsive to the changing needs of students, parents and educators. The system must be inclusive so that partnerships are strengthened.
The inclusiveness of our system makes people feel comfortable with our education system and more apt to get involved. This is a key to success.
Our system must stimulate creative thought processes, problem-solving abilities and self-worth. It must effectively communicate to parents a clear picture of the progress and abilities of each child. It must identify the skills and knowledge that industry and business will require, and it must respond to the changing economic environment in a timely fashion.
Above all, it must prepare our students to meet these challenges and cope with these demands. We do not want students who simply memorize and regurgitate information. We want students to create and stimulate new thought, motivated to do their personal best and become empowered through education in all levels of our society.
How do we get there? The communities know how to get there; the educators know how to get there; the parents, the business community and all the major players know how to get there. Their message has been loud and clear to me. Listen to it just one more time: partnerships, alliances, consultations and compromises, cooperation, participation and inclusion.
Given the historic passage of self-government legislation a week ago, it must be recognized that the First Nations of this territory play an integral role in every facet of educational life. Strong partnerships will not only bring together the wealth of human resources necessary to achieve our objectives, but they will also serve to identify and ultimately define the ways in which we meet the educational needs of the future.
The 1995-96 budget, and future budgets, must reflect these philosophies. In some areas, it does.
It must ensure that public and advanced education is well funded. Simply put, this government has to stop nibbling away at existing financial commitments to the education system and realize that the problems and needs identified by the review will not go away with band-aid solutions like the recently announced Yukon excellence awards program.
Was the program really a priority? Was it formulated with participation from all stakeholders? Does it provide any kind of solution to the myriad needs in our education system? The answer to all of these questions is no.
The main problem with the excellence awards is that so far it has stood alone as some kind of a response from the government to our problems in the educational system. I do not think that it provides what it was billed to provide by the government. The excellence awards program, when coupled with other initiatives and done in consultation with the stakeholders, probably could have been a positive tool.
There is a tremendous amount of controversy in the education community about the awards. People in some of the urban communities like them because they will benefit most, as has been dictated by the numbers; people in the rural communities speak to the fact that it increases the educational deficit and that only two percent of the students in the rural communities qualified retroactively for the awards.
The program does not reward personal bests and achievements, and I do not believe it serves as an incentive to stay in school. The students who are already making 80 percent or greater do not need incentives; they are already motivated to learn, as logic would dictate. It is a program that fails to recognize the socio-economic realities of the majority of Yukon students, widening the educational deficit between rural and urban schools and leaving the efforts of others unrecognized. The criteria for this program is based on the controversial issue of standardized testing, an initiative this government has been called upon time and time again to not proceed with unless it is done in full consultation with all of the people and the partners in education.
The expenditure for this program also raised some questions. There is $180,000 estimated by the government. Will this mean one less teacher's aide in the classroom? One less computer in a Yukon school? Will it mean one less professional development day? If so, one would have to ask this question: is it not too great a price to pay on a stand-alone-initiative basis?
We need to invest in education, but we need to spend the dollars wisely. I think that is a mutual objective that both the Minister and I share. It should be our goal as legislators and servants to the people to create an environment that fosters and enhances educational initiatives at the local level, where each community has the opportunity and financial wherewithal to tailor a curriculum to meet a community's specific needs. That is the beauty of the flexibility of our small jurisdiction. It is costly, but I think it is worth it. We can no longer continue to bury our heads in the sand and continue to under fund, and in some cases cut, in the area of special-needs programming.
The Minister makes much of output measurement. I believe in output measurement and I also believe in incentives such as scholarships, but I am fearful of putting too much emphasis on standardized testing as the be-all and end-all for measuring output, and there are many reasons for this, not to mention the fact that quite often teachers can teach for testing. That can create some unreliable figures, which we are basing the output on, for the system.
I respect the desire to have output measurement, but the issue of standardized testing needs to be reviewed very closely by the partners in education. I have some faith in it. The previous government - the New Democratic Party - supported initiatives such as the Canadian tests for basic standards, the LPIs, the grade 12 British Columbia departmentals, and actually supported the school achievement indicators program at a ministers of education conference.
Our record on standardized testing is that we do believe it has some merit, but the results of the testing should be used as learning tools so that they can provide better education in the classrooms. That has to be the ultimate goal.
Teachers' aides, learning assistants, and in-house training, just to name a few, are all sadly lacking in our communities, and are non-existent in some.
Waiting lists for assessments are backlogged in almost every community. There is a real problem out there, and this government had better heed these words: these children are members of our society for life. Are we going to make an investment in their future now or spend untold amounts later in life, as these now adults, lacking the skills necessary to function independently, become reliant upon government-funded programs and safety nets, some of which may not even be in place by then.
When talking about investing in the future, funding special needs and allowing mainstreaming in the schools to work, by ensuring that it is adequately funded, will have long-term benefits for generations to come. When we talk about investing in the future, we need to recognize the gifted children of this territory and provide them with a stimulating and challenging learning environment, lest we lose them to major southern centres because we are not able to meet their needs.
In his introductory remarks, the Minister talked about increases to the special-needs budget. I would simply say to him that the needs out there are tremendous and, while there have been some increases in the budget - I believe it is $143,000 this year - the Yukon excellence awards program was $180,000. I think it is a matter of priorities. I would say that the Minister should not look at the past budgets in isolation. I think we have to look at the needs out there and then base the budgets, not on the incremental increases, but on how we are addressing the needs out there. I would simply submit that to the Minister.
I believe we have an opportunity to become leaders in the field of distance education, with the introduction of Internet and the network of Yukon College satellite campuses across the territory. We are in the unique position of being able, with the political will, to deliver university-level programming or vocational training, or simply to access vast amounts of information reaching even the most remote communities in this territory. We have the opportunity, once again, to become pioneers, but this time on the educational frontier.
I think the schools are interested in furthering the technology that they have to work with. While it is true that we have a high computer/student ratio, many of the people I have spoken with in the schools say that the computer technology is very badly outdated and that the computer/student ratios do not accurately reflect the level of computer technology the students are working with.
I think that is a legitimate point and, after touring most of the schools in the territory and seeing the older model computers, one would say that the people who make that concern known have a reasonable complaint.
The technological advances mean that we can be more responsive to the advanced educational and vocational demands of each community. We need to pool our resources in order to ensure that the system is flexible enough to allow communities to work cooperatively to achieve common objectives. If we are to be realistic about providing these services, we have to be prepared to provide incentives, opportunities, facilities and finances.
It is interesting to note that, as a government, both in the previous administration and in this administration, we spend a tremendous amount on computers for the civil service, but we do not invest the same types of ratios of money in advancements in technology in the schools so that our students can be taught the benefits of the latest technology. I think that is an important point.
We have to be imaginative and inventive when finding solutions to problems faced by our communities. We hear of many original cost-effective and sensible solutions that warrant serious consideration. We need to start listening to what these people are telling us. We need to come out in support of our educators - our teachers, our parents, our librarians, our teacher aides, our learning assistants, the volunteers, of all of the participants in our school system. That is an incredibly important point. We need to provide the training and support wherever necessary. We need to pay our teachers well, to respect them as people and as educators. We are giving them an incredibly important task. They are educating the next generation, the economic and social future of this territory.
This government is now half way through its term. It has thus far lacked any vision or direction in its education policy. Rather, it has chipped away steadily at much-needed services in our schools. The unnecessary wage rollback of teachers' salaries, cutbacks in funding to desperately needed teaching assistants, token increases in other areas like special needs, and absolutely no increase in professional development are a few small examples.
Are these the actions of a government committed to providing the best education possible? The challenge before this government today is to take heed of its own Education Review Committee, to do more than issue platitudes or throw dollars at the academic elite. It must stop trying to reverse system output by overdoing standardized testing. These tests will just become part of a curriculum designed to teach for a test result.
The government needs to present us with a budget that has addressed the needs identified in its own education review. It needs to show its commitment to the youth of the territory and respect for the people who will play key roles in the educational future of the territory.
Preparing our students also means educating them about land claims and self-government laws that now have a direct impact on their lives. I believe that there is room and the need in the public school system for land claims and self-government curriculum, so that the youth of today knows the agreements well that they will be living with and will be charged with operating under in the future, and perhaps even sees to the joint partnerships in them as adults.
This third level of government has now come into being, forever changing the political landscape. We need to respect and embrace this change, and we need to educate every Yukon student to foster an environment of understanding and tolerance. This must be done through consultation, through strong partnerships and through a lack of political wrangling. If the government adopts that approach to reform and revises the education system to ensure that the needs that still remain are being addressed, we will move a lot further in the field of education.
I believe that partners in education is a key theme. It is a theme that works well when put into practice. I believe that the responsibility of all the stakeholders must be strong. In order to have that strong sense of responsibility, they have to be involved in the process. The bridges must be built. That includes, wholeheartedly, the parents, as they are one of the key features to a successful education system.
I urge the government to clean the slate from the last 26 or 27 months, in which there have been a series of problems in the education system emanating from the direction the government has taken. I urge it to start anew by involving the partners in education, so that we can move forward in the next couple of years to address the needs in the territory.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will not take issue with everything that the Member opposite said, but I will take issue with a couple of the themes that run through his opening speech. I think the first point I want to make, for the record, is that our commitment to education in the areas about which he spoke has gone up considerably since his party was in office.
He seems always to single out special education. Special education itself has gone from $1,157,000 to $1,466,000, an increase of 27 percent. He talks about educational assistance, which has gone up from $1,915,000 to $2.3 million. He talks about learning assistance and program implementation teachers; that area has gone up from $3.3 million in 1992-93 to $3.5 million in 1995-96. Remedial tutors have gone up from $482,000 to $576,000. School councillor funding has also increased. In all of these areas, this government has steadily increased its commitment, in terms of dollars, year after year, over all.
I know that the issue of the Yukon excellence awards has upset the Members opposite; they seem to be against these scholarships. It is my view that there is broad, deep support for them. I believe that they will have a positive impact on student achievement - not across the board; it is certainly not the be-all and end-all. It was never intended to be the cure, but it is one modest improvement that I personally believe will stimulate some students beyond what we have been seeing in the past.
I know it was a political speech that the Member opposite read out, but he seems to want us to believe that somehow, as a result of the Education Act being passed through the Legislative Assembly, the education system was perfect when they left office. It was a mammoth piece of work, and it did get through the House with limited debate, but that does not mean to say that the education system is perfect or even really very good.
Again, we have had indications of output measurements, standardized tests, that have been given across Canada and agreed upon as to content by the ministers of education across this land, and it can easily be seen from those measurements of output that students were not doing that great in math or literacy in Yukon schools. I would add to that that quite a few parents are concerned enough to take their children out of the public school system and are either teaching them at home or sending them outside to school, at great expense, either to board with family or attend schools where they can also obtain room and board. There are numerous parents who are bypassing the public school system to put their children in the Catholic school system, because they are seeking something that they feel is lacking in our public school system.
This obvious lack of perfection, indeed, the obvious drawbacks in output measurement, or as measured by nationwide exams, has led us to question many of the things we do. This, in part, led to the task force that reviewed the public school system and reported to the Minister. We are taking their recommendations - I believe there were 83 - very seriously and the department has responded. One of the main directions the department is taking is to implement its response to the report of the task force.
Those issues aside, I agree that the needs of students throughout the Yukon are complex and varied, and that the response ought not to be geared to political philosophy, but we hear from the stakeholders what we see as reasonable responses to those concerns. We attempt to do this as sensitively as we can, given a limited budget - and all budgets are limited. We have to make choices. When that happens, we do not please everyone - that is the nature of the position of being Minister of Education.
We expect criticism, both constructive and destructive, and we will do our best to take steps to ensure that we have a handle on the quality of education being delivered in our schools. This will involve some performance-output measurement. We continue to put even more resources into education, as has been the case in the past in virtually every area this department serves. While the critic opposite would like to will it not so, compare the NDP's best budget to ours. There is no question but that the system has more input than before in terms of where the real needs are.
I realize that the critic opposite is anxious to get on to specific issues, and I will give him that opportunity now.
Mr. Harding: I have a few comments in response to the Minister's remarks.
Based on the Yukon Party budget comparison, he made the claim that spending has been drastically increased in the budget. I will produce for him a net spending comparison and net education investment that shows that, in actual fact, the spending that has been committed for this year is long overdue. The first two budgets of this government contained no planning for new school development in this territory, and there were very well-documented needs for such investment. This budget contains some planning money for the construction of schools that I welcome and is long overdue, but the fact remains that investment in education by this government has been badly lacking. There were deep net education spending cuts in the first two budgets of this government. We have proven that in this Legislature and it is a widely held view by educators and by people in the Yukon. That is not a political statement; it is the truth.
I welcome the planning of new schools and I welcome the $143,000 increase in special-needs programming, but I also want to point out to the Minister that the Education Act only came about in 1990. Looking through the development reports - in 1985 the "Yukon Rural Education Assessment of Performance", in 1979 the "Rural Students in Urban Schools" - and looking through two draft Education Acts, special needs became identified in 1990 as a specified and determined need to be addressed. It only makes sense that there would be some increase in the budget, even by this government. This year the increase was $143,000.
My submission to the Minister is that the budgeting process should be determined by needs, not by incremental increases in the budget. I am not arguing that you can meet every need, but I am saying to the Minister that there is a strong perception - I heard it in every school that I went to - that we are not doing enough to meet those needs. He just said that he is doing more than the previous government, but I think he is totally ignoring the point.
Whether it was us in government or whether it was the present government, since 1990 there has been a fundamental change in how Yukoners deal with the issue of special needs. It has been recognized that the system created by the Education Act only works when it is properly funded, because we bring everyone into the fold - gifted students, average students and students with other special needs.
If students are not adequately provided for in our system, because we bring everyone together, then the system cannot adequately do its job and that will bring down results. It is an expensive system, but it is one that Yukoners decided they wanted and it is one that they decided they wanted once again in 1994 as a result of the public schools curriculum and special- needs programming review that this government conducted in 1994.
The Minister also stated that there is broad public support for the Yukon excellence awards. I certainly have not heard a lot of support for this program, but it would not surprise me if parents whose children receive scholarships were happy with those scholarships.
Of course, if parents have children who receive funding for scholarships so that the parent or student will not have to pay for that education themselves, the government will have broad public support for such a program. That side is an easy win. The question is whether or not there are other priorities out there, and was it done in consultation so that issues of concern to the partners in education could address the issue?
I have no problem with the Yukon excellence awards program. I do not even agree with many of the people who have raised fundamental concerns, but I do not agree with it on a stand-alone basis derived in a non-consultative fashion. That is the problem.
If I were the Minister, I would have liked to have sat down with the partners in education and said, "Here is the education review. It calls for many expenditures from this government. If we had $180,000 to spend, is the Yukon excellence awards program the place to make the most effective expenditure?"
Let us not forget that when this award program was created, the Minister billed it as a stay-in-school initiative. I do not believe that any parents or educators that share in this broad public support believe that is what the program is going to be.
I received one letter from an administrator who said that his children had qualified for the award, and that that was going to spur them on to try harder in other areas where they might get another award. I think that is great, and do not take issue with it. However, I do take issue with the fact that it was not done on a priority basis.
I had one brief from a group of teachers, administrators, people involved in the system and a school council. They were concerned with partnerships and they wanted to know who was consulted because they were not aware of it. One of the concerns they had was that the theme of partnerships in education includes responsibility in education, and that the issue of responsibility also pertains to parents.
One person said to me, "This is supposed to be a Conservative government that wants to impress responsibility upon people." Our educational institutions are already heavily subsidized - universities, for example - and people told me that they resented their taxpayer dollars being used to further subsidize these institutions when there is a large responsibility upon the parents in the system to try and ensure that their children are doing well. There should not be a further - as they put it - bribe from government, such as the money-for-marks program. They were not opposed to the odd scholarship program in the schools, but it disturbed them that it should be on such a wide-ranging basis - I am just telling the Minister what I heard.
The former Minister of Education, who was probably the worst the Yukon has ever seen, laughs. However, that is the truth.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: The Minister said that I do not do my homework. This is the same Minister who, when he was the Minister of Education, at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, got up and thumped his chest. Then he ended up ducking an onslaught from the partners in education. His credibility was shattered and he was subsequently thrown out of the position in Cabinet. What more do I need to say?
I have also heard from others, during consultation, that their overriding concern about the Yukon Excellence Awards is that they are wondering if this is a priority. The only school from which I got a sense that there is a majority of people in the education field who are supporting the awards was F.H. Collins. That does not surprise me. F.H. Collins is an urban school. The larger percentage of the students there have qualified retroactively for the awards. However, I heard from rural educators that they were quite angry. They felt that the awards would widen the gap between urban and rural education.
I believe that these concerns could have been worked out had the awards program been done in a more consultative manner. I think that just about everyone would not be opposed to the concept of further scholarships, providing that their concerns had been heard. The Minister has obviously dug in his heels on this one. He is choosing to not understand those concerns. That was the failure of the last Minister; I hope it will not be the failure of this one.
The Minister also said that he wants us to believe that the education system was perfect when we left office. That is pure folly. We knew that the system was not perfect. The Education Act was a tool created to try and do the best job possible in the education system. I freely admit that the system was not perfect under the NDP. The Education Act was not perfect under the NDP; however, I would say that it provided us with the tools to address the needs in the communities as best we could.
The Minister also spoke about the results that we have received from testing. When the SAIP results came out for the Yukon, he said, "Personally, and of course as Minister of Education, I find the SAIP results for the Yukon disappointing.''
Then in Question Period he described the results as "damn dismal.'' I do not know if he was just taken by surprise in Question Period, but there seems to be a difference between "disappointing" and "damn dismal.'' I caution the Minister feeling that because he is being battered politically he must entrench himself so deeply in his agenda that he would, in a very questionable manner, choose to describe results that were disappointing as "damn dismal", because the connotation of the two descriptions invoke different action plans, one would hope.
The result, as I read the SAIPs, were disappointing. I agree with the Minister, but I would caution him against basing everything in the Yukon on national tests, given the diversity in our communities. I think if we put too much emphasis on those tests, we can get ourselves into a serious problem in the Yukon.
Testing has a lot of pitfalls, and I am going to discuss this with the Minister. As one math teacher told me, "I am now giving three tests for the government before I give a test from the teacher.'' He really feels that he, as a math teacher, is overdoing the testing and that he is not teaching the kid anything, he is just testing the kid.
These concerns of the people who are doing the work with the students and the parents have got to have their case heard, I think, by the Minister. He has given me a letter saying he is going to implement a plan for testing and consultation with the stakeholders. I welcome that. That was not the impression I initially got from the Minister in Question Period or that a lot of people who phoned me got from reading Hansard and watching Question Period on TV. Nonetheless, the impression that he left was that he was going to move ahead with his agenda - period. Now he is saying he is going to do it in full consultation, which is the same sort of track that was the difference between the former Minister of Education's education review announcement and the assembly of the Education Review Committee, and the resulting report, which was quite different from the direction in which the Minister announced he wanted to take the education system.
We may see that happen again, because there are a lot of concerns and most people do not want to address the concerns by simply adding more testing to the situation.
What about the education review? This review was a document that stated our system was not as overwhelmingly unpopular as the Minister thought. I would ask him to heed what is said in the education review. While there are parents and educators who are concerned about the education system, this document - which was the broadest consultation I have seen from this government - to a large degree endorses our system. It says there are a lot of needs; there are 83 recommendations.
When representations are made by people who think the situation is worse, I should remind the Minister that this document was the result of broad Yukon consultation - First Nations, communities, parents, educators, students and administrators. There was no kitchen cabinet, or people in charge of the back-to-basics movement in the Yukon, but the broad consensus. They are the ones who developed this document.
If the Minister is receiving calls from people complaining about this document, I would urge him to return to its origin of broad consultation.
While it looks like we will be going back and forth on this document this afternoon, the Minister should heed the results of the education review and the fact that it resulted from a broad consultation. He should realize there are great needs out there. Rather than judging them by incremental budget increases, we should judge them by how they are addressing needs.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There were a lot of issues raised, and I will go through them point by point. I think the mistake the Member is making regarding the issue of special education, in saying that the increase this year is only a hundred-odd thousand dollars, is that he is focusing on the administration side of special education. It is quite true that there is an increase in the administration this year; however, there is also a large and significant increase across the board, and there has been since they were in office. The educational assistants, the program implementation teachers, learning assistance teachers, remedial tutors and school counsellors are where the delivery is, and that has gone up, too. Back in 1992-93, the budget was $7.8 million for the whole package, and this year it is $8.9 million - almost $9 million - $8,975,787. The Member has to look at the whole package, and not just at those who work out of the head office, so to speak, of the department. We are committed, and I am pleased that we have been able to increase our resources in this regard.
I have some difficulty trying to pin down the position of the side opposite on the Yukon excellence awards. I understand that they are against the scholarships, as they have been brought out, and I would really like to know if they will - as Mr. Chretien did with the free trade agreement - come out and vow to revoke the scholarships - the excellence awards - should they ever get into office. I am sure that a great many of the stakeholders would be interested in knowing their position.
I had to assume it was the position of the lone Liberal here because, of course, he did not have any policies, as he mentioned in a newspaper article - after two years, he figured out that one of the problems with Liberals was that they had no policies. Now he has a policy of being against scholarships, so that is a good start. At least, it is a very clear policy.
Certainly, I believe they are good, and will have a salutary impact on a substantial number of students. I have been pleased with the vast majority of people who have spoken to me or communicated with me about them.
Again, I guess there are some semantics in this, but we have never claimed they were more than what they are or that this was the be-all and end-all or the only thing we intend to do. We have a whole response to the document that our department worked long and hard on and there is an action plan to deal with the result of the consultative process that was done.
Regarding the issue of developing standardized testing and assessment plans for students, again, it was never our intention that this would be done without discussion or consultation and that is made clear in the action plan that was tabled in this House and made public some time ago. Certainly, I have never said anything to move from that position. We are in the process now of developing some draft documents in consultation with all the stakeholders. We will continue discussions with them and move ahead. There has been no change from day one, since the day we tabled the response to the Education Review Committee.
I understand that we do have some political differences here and that the Member opposite may possibly highlight some things that we do not, and take money away from other aspects of the program where we are spending it, but that, of course, is the nature of democracy and we expect constructive criticism, or destructive criticism, whichever he wishes to offer.
Mr. Harding: I think that my criticisms of this government are always constructive. If they are destructive, it is only because the Minister chooses to ignore them. They are not destructive to the educational system but, rather, to the Minister.
It is obvious, from the continual attempts by the Minister to justify what is being done by the department in the area of special needs, that there is a serious position of defence being taken - a sort of hunkered-down mentality. I guess that is natural, but I would simply say to the Minister that he has to look at what needs are out there - not the incremental budget increases, but how well the needs are being addressed. I have a different philosophy from the Minister. Because he is philosophically opposed, I may never make this point well enough for him to understand it.
I believe that the government has to look at what is going on in the communities. I am not kidding about this, nor am I being political about it. In each community I visited, and in calls and letters I receive from people who have children and are concerned about special needs programming, I repeatedly hear that the time to get assessments made is too long, that there is a lack of assessment people in the communities and a lack of teacher aides. Even with the budgetary increases that the Minister has alluded to, these people are not feeling that the needs are being met so that their children can grow.
The Minister can stand up, once again, and tell us what is in his budget. I am simply telling him what I heard. I came to the realization that the needs are greater than the department and the government have realized.
I heard that everywhere. It was one of the biggest issues. As a critic, I get far more letters and concerns raised about special needs than any other issue. I have never even had a letter about the basics. I once saw one that showed up in the letters to the editor, but I have never had one addressed to me, or copied to me. I just pass that on to the Minister. If he wants, he can choose to dismiss it as political criticism, but I believe that the commitment of the Government of the Yukon to special needs children has to be stronger. If I am ever in a favourable enough position to be where the Minister is sitting now, I would expect him to be challenging me on that very point if I was not paying it the attention that he felt it needed.
Every time one talks to department officials about special needs programming, they tell us that everything is great and good. I went to a briefing last session for over three and a half hours where everything was laid out for me. I got very little sense that there was any understanding that there was a serious problem out there. I was buried under an avalanche of information.
When one goes out to talk to the people in the communities, they do not take that view. Even when I speak about expenditure increases in that area, they say it is not enough. There are serious social and economic problems in the communities - and, in many cases, in Whitehorse - that have to be addressed.
If the Minister wants to stand up again and tell us to look at how wonderful his budget is and how it is doing more than any government ever before, he can do that. However, he is totally missing my point.
The Minister also talked about trying to understand our position on the Yukon Excellence Awards and if we would do a Jean Chretien. Our position on the excellence awards is this, and the Minister should listen closely, as it is for his ears: the NDP is not against scholarships. If we were in government, we would talk and consult with the partners in education about Yukon Excellence Awards. If the partners in education tell us that they are something that they want continued, they will be continued. I hope the Minister understands that. I hope it is clear. It is our position - it is not a moving target.
The criticism we have leveled against it about consultation and question of priority are consistent. I have not strayed from those criticisms since the first time I stood up in Question Period to ask him about the awards. The questions are as legitimate now as they were then, regardless of the parents whose children have retroactively qualified for those awards and are glad that their children will receive an economic benefit to go to a college or university.
I also have told the Minister that I have a lot of concerns the other way. Perhaps he is just going to continue to ignore the point, but when the government brings in an initiative in education, it appears to me, from the short time I have been in this Legislature, that the substance of the initiative is often not always the important point. Rather, it is the process - how it is done - and the sense of shared responsibility. To me, that is a critical point.
There is an excellent letter from the principal of the Haines Junction school in the letters to the editor column. Of course, the Minister will say that principal was a former NDP candidate so his opinion is worthless anyway. However, I thought the letter made an excellent point, and that person has a lot of credibility in the education community.
His point was that perhaps we could have supported the Excellence Awards, but we will never know, because we were not consulted. It was not a flippant point that the government should ask for its blessing. It was a legitimate point that the concerns of the partners in education have to be heard. If they are not heard, they cannot address potential problems.
We have a unique education system in the Yukon, and we have to ensure that when we adopt programs and principles from other jurisdictions - such as the Excellence Awards, or today's ministerial statement regarding Pathfinders - that we make sure we model them for the Yukon, like we did with the B.C. curriculum and the Year 2000. That is what the Education Act did. Some things were good for there, some were good for here; some things were kept in, some were left out.
Those decisions should not be made by the government in isolation. The Minister should heed those representations and quit being so defensive about them. They are not made to the Minister in a political fashion. I heard unsolicited concerns about special needs and the department, and about how the Yukon excellence awards were brought in. The Minister now knows our position on the Yukon excellence awards, and he should have known it before.
If the Yukon partners in education still want those awards when we are in government, they will be there; if not, they will not.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: With regard to the special education issues and the needs, I take the representation of the Member seriously. It is an area of concern. Each community's social and school problems are areas that concern us in Education, as well as in Health and Social Services and Justice. We are continually working on providing a better, holistic approach, particularly to the rural communities, and these things are evolving.
By my remarks, I did not intend to do what I accused the Member of doing - he says incorrectly - by stating that everything is perfect at this point in time. We have to strive to change and do better, and special education is a very important part of our system and will not be neglected.
With regard to the Member's position on Yukon excellence awards, I remain somewhat puzzled by what their position is. I recall Members on the side opposite accusing us of teaching greed in schools in reference to these scholarships. I just took it, from very hostile language and the use of hyperbole by the Member opposite in a heated debate, for philosophical reasons, that he was utterly opposed. He now says that is not the case and that Members on the side opposite would consult before removing the scholarships, and I am sure that will relieve many of those who are keenly interested in this issue.
I will reiterate that the scholarships are extremely important to students and it is my sense that the scholarships enjoy much support among teachers and parents as well.
Mr. Harding: I challenge the Minister to produce the Hansard where he says that I stated the government was promoting greed in the schools with the Yukon excellence awards. I challenge the Minister to provide that Hansard to me.
Can he provide that? Does he have that with him?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: He yelled it out during debate when someone else was speaking. I will look to see if he said it on the record. He was the heckler who said it. We all heard it on this side.
Mr. Harding: Clear as mud. The Minister was trying to make a point without the information that he needed to back it up. The only time I can ever remember thinking about any reference to greed in schools was during a conversation I had with a businessperson in Ontario ,who was one of the division management heads for Dupont, who told me, over Christmas, that he felt that our schools should be teaching competitiveness in the schools, that we needed a sense of competitiveness in our children so that we could become a nation that would rise up and topple the other nations of the world, economically.
I took some offence to this position of the Canadian division manager for Dupont, because I did not believe that we should be teaching the principles of competitiveness, in an overbearing manner, to our students. We do a lot of competitive things in our society as it is. The sports and extra-curricular activities that go on in the schools, the challenges among students who are concerned about how well they match up with others are all involved in competitiveness. I think that the competitiveness element is fostered, to a large degree, in the schools and it is strong. I do not think that the government has to take a cognizant policy directive that it must foster more competitiveness in our schools, so that our students can become the purveyors of all they see.
I think that that may be the only time I ever thought about anyone who was teaching greed in the schools. I told him that because I believe that what he was referring to was greed - the fact that one should teach students to get as much as they can from the other person. I said, what about a caring, compassionate society? What about caring for one's fellow man or woman?
He said, "You know, that is all socialist stuff." I said, "Well, if that is socialist stuff, I am glad I am in the party that I am in." He was a Liberal, by the way, believe it or not.
That would be the only time I think I have ever thought about teaching greed in the schools, and let the record show that the Minister was incorrect on that point.
I believe I might have referred to the excellence awards as money for marks. Maybe that is what he was thinking about, and I will stand by that description.
Before we move into a more detailed conversation on the issue of consultation, perhaps I can hear the response from the Minister, if there is any, to the comments I just made. Perhaps he could then move on, or perhaps I have to respond again.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Move on.
Mr. Harding: I would like to talk to the Minister about consultation. He is usually pretty good in Committee of the Whole about not getting too hot under the collar, like he does in Question Period, but it is a serious issue. It is a political issue. There is no question about that, but it is one that is important and key to our educational system and its chances of success.
This government has been in power now roughly 27 months, I believe - November 7, 1992 was the swearing-in; I never got 80 in math in high school. The Minister has seen, as he watched the debate in this House and as he watched the news reports and as he watched the gallery during the last session when it was full of a lot of educators who were upset with this government's stance, and as he listened to the media reports of people involved in the Teachers Association and school councils and First Nations groups who had been upset with the policy and pronouncements that were directives of this government, it became quite apparent that there were a number of issues that people out in the communities of the Yukon - and he can choose to respond to me, or he can respond to the concern that they raised, when he answers - were upset, not just with the wage restraint legislation, but also with issues like the excellence awards, the school council liaison selection, and a lot of people were very upset with the implementation of the diagnostic Strand tests, and how that was handled.
So far, when the Minister responds to the concerns raised about the actions of the government by some of the people that I have mentioned, I have seen that he becomes incredibly defensive and even lashes out at the people. In Question Period, he expressed a concern that they would come out politically - an advisory body would come out politically.
I do not know why he is so concerned about that. We have seen the Fish and Wildlife Management Board and just about every board in the Yukon come out politically at certain times. When he uses the term "come out politically", I assume he means that they will make a comment that is critical about how the government has handled their recommendation, or handled the consultation - I assume that is what he means, and he can correct me when he stands up if it is not.
He was concerned about that, and he lashed out at them. I heard a department official, who was at a meeting of the Yukon Teachers Association and was concerned about the Yukon excellence awards, being accused of speaking out of both sides of his mouth. The government said that the association had a scholarship program, so how could it call scholarships elitist. I think the Minister missed the point of what they were trying to say. What I think they were trying to say was that there are a lot of problems in our system, and there should have been some discussion with the people involved to see if this particular scholarship - on such a wide scale - is what we need in the Yukon today in terms of investing taxpayers' dollars.
I think their concerns were legitimate ones. If educators are not able to accept or understand what the Minister is trying to do in making policy, how is that going to be reflected in the teaching of the children in the schools? I think that is a fundamental question for the Minister to ask himself. Perhaps he had some teachers phone him to tell him they thought it was a good idea. One school wrote me and told me that the majority of the teachers there thought it was a good idea. However, they also told me that they were surprised and concerned at how it came about. That does not mean that they are against the scholarships and awards. It just means that they had some concerns, and I think that is what the Yukon Teachers Association was saying.
One member of the Yukon Teachers Association described the scholarships as being elitist. I have heard a few other people describe them as such. I am not entirely convinced that they are that elitist. I think that, given the right circumstances, there is room for scholarships. And I just told the Minister what our position is on the awards.
I would say to the Minister that it is obvious that we have a group of people in the education community who are not impressed with the consultative work of this government on a number of issues. I might add that there has been very little from this government on education issues to be upset about. Even so, it seems that almost every announcement - the few they have made - has kicked off a controversy: whether it was descriptions in the House about the education review; whether it was the education review action plan; whether it was the wage restraint; whether it was the Yukon excellence awards; whether it was the termination of the school council liaison position; or whether it was the implementation of strand tests. This government has not done much more than that in education in 26 months.
Every one of those initiatives was controversial, including the kick-off of the education review. Surely the Minister would agree that there has been a problem there. If he stands up and tells me that he is not concerned about that, then I would have to say that there is probably no hope for this Minister, because that is a list of very serious concerns, given that those are basically the number of initiatives that this government has undertaken in education.
Let us not forget that this government did not even build a school in its first two budgets. In this third budget, there is some planning money and some funding for l'École Émilie Tremblay - cost shared with the federal government - but that is it. We have a government that has not really done much in education, and whenever it has done something, the process has been flawed. At least, that is the opinion of the people who continually say that the government has not consulted.
Some of the moves by the government might be popular. I know that there are a lot of people in the communities who are concerned that their children are not receiving a solid enough education in areas such as the basics. I have heard that, and will freely tell that to the Minister.
I have also heard from a lot of Yukoners about how they want a broader curriculum. There is a bit of a confusion about what should come at the expense of something else. It is a difficult issue. The numeracy/literacy-emphasis initiatives by the government that were undertaken in response to the education review may have been popular out there. I do not know, as I have not received any positive comments, but I do know that there are people with whom it is popular.
In British Columbia, a similar initiative was quite popular. When it was first announced, the Minister got himself into some serious hot water. However, rather than lashing out, he worked very hard with the administrators and educators in an effort to get them on side. He knew that they would be teaching the policy that was arrived at by the government in consultation with others. Now, as I read the clippings the department sends to me, and the newspapers, it is obvious that there is some broad support for the initiatives.
Given the concerns that have been raised and the examples I listed - and forget, for a moment, the criticism that I raised - what does he say to the people who are obviously concerned about how the government initiatives in education are brought down?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There is a lot of ongoing consultation. I almost continually meet with groups of people representing various stakeholders, as does the department. The response from the department was based on recommendations made by a very broad consultative process, which started out with something like 2,600 questionnaires being returned and lengthy hours of consultation. If the Member opposite is saying that consultation is good and that we ought to consult, I certainly agree.
Mr. Harding: I guess I will have to be more specific in my question. This is a serious problem, and I believe it demands a better answer from the Minister. I will not run through the plethora of issues that have caused concern regarding announcements this government has made in education. I did when I was standing before.
The Minister said he has ongoing consultations and meetings, and that he meets with stakeholders on an ongoing basis; however, I fear he is missing the point.
The Minister of Education should always meet with people who want to meet with him. I believe the previous Minister in the previous government did that all the time. Aside from those ongoing discussions and consultations, when the government wants to bring in some new policy or initiative, it has to involve the stakeholders in a special manner, giving them some advance room to give their thoughts and views prior to the announcement coming down.
Sure, the education review came out and the department came up with an action plan. However, a lot of the aspects of this action plan have to be discussed with the partners in education prior to the government making any definitive announcement.
There is a difference between having meetings in the Minister's office with parents, school councils, educators, lobby groups and different stakeholders, and the government deciding it is going to make a directional or policy change in the system and unilaterally announcing it. Because those people who are meeting with the Minister have view they are letting the Minister know about. A lot of the time, if they are not clearly aware of the direction of some white paper, or discussion paper they are not going to be able to focus their comments or discussion to suggest alternatives to the action or policy that the government has taken. They may not always suggest alternative actions. They may agree precisely with what the government has declared is the direction it wants to go.
The point is that they should be talked to in advance of the announcement.
A clear illustration of that would be the announcement of the education review. There is none better. I think that is the shining example of a good initiative gone wrong because of the manner in which it was handled. I will just use it one more time to illustrate to the Minister the distinction between what I am saying versus his latest response and his analogy that his meeting with stakeholders on an ongoing basis is the kind of consultation that it takes to build strong partnerships.
The education review was a good idea. It has been four years, or three years at that point, since the Education Act was tabled. It was a new system. After a certain period of time, the education system must be reviewed. We have to see what we can do to do things better. We have to see what needs are not being addressed.
The Minister, though, made the fatal mistake when he announced it of prejudging the direction of the review in very clear, concise terms. He said that there has been too much focus on lifeskills, multiculturalism - which included First Nations culture in the schools - and physical fitness, and that we have to get back to the basics in order to be successful. What he should have said is that concerns have been raised with me by some people. We should talk about these things. We should have an education review.
It turned out okay in the end, but, at least in the interim period - and I have reviewed the clippings and the news and media reports - it turned into a very serious problem, because First Nations people were offended, educators were offended and parents who were involved in the Education Act development were offended. Finally, the Minister stood up in Committee of the Whole debate and said if there is one thing that he would ever like to do, it would be to take back the comments he had made.
He said that on the floor of this Legislature because he knew that he made a mistake. So I caution the Minister not to make the same mistake and to understand the distinction between ongoing meetings with stakeholders and consultation and direction in policy. Does he understand the distinction I am trying to impress upon him?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The issue of consultation is one on which we all agree, but the method used, the manner in which it is conducted, and that sort of thing, will differ, I am sure, between individual Ministers. I sometimes really wonder what he is saying. Is he saying that if we consult and some people are against a shift in policy that they have a veto as a result of the consultation?
Mr. Harding: I fear this Minister is seriously missing the point, which is disappointing because I know he is an extremely intelligent man and I am disappointed that he cannot see what I am trying to say to him.
The flippant comment about the veto almost does not dignify a response, but I feel I should say something. No, I do not think that stakeholders should have a veto. What I am trying to impress upon the Minister is that this is not all about vetoes and powers. It is about consensus building and it is about real tough stuff - real tough policy work. I do not think it is easy. It is about convincing people that what is being done, based on the representations submitted by Yukoners and based on what has been gleaned from other jurisdictions, is the right thing to do.
It is not about vetoes. It has nothing to do with vetoes. At the end of the day, in the policy work there may still be some dissenters, but that does not mean they have a veto. The point is, these people must be communicated with in advance. They must be listened to and their representations must be taken seriously. At the end of the day, they may still disagree, but at least they will not be able to say that their views were not heard, and that is important - especially in education.
I am not suggesting a veto in any way, shape or form. I am concerned about the comment that the consultation practices will differ between individual Ministers. So far, I have seen no difference between the previous Yukon Party Minister of Education and the new one. They both handle consultation the same way; neither do it correctly.
The only consultative initiative they have undertaken, aside from the meetings the Minister has said he has had, is the education review. I fear that perhaps the overriding recommendation of the review, which stressed partnerships in education, has been ignored. I am starting to question whether or not the point of the review has ever even been made with the present government. It is all about partnerships. It is not about vetoes or the power of particular facets of our education community, parents, school councils or anything else. It is about consensus building.
I do not understand what the Minister means by the words "differ between individual Ministers". I would hope that all Education Ministers, given the results of the review, would simply say that the consultation in the Yukon among the partners in education should be stronger.
What does the Minister mean when he states that consultation differs between individual Ministers? Does he not believe that when he wants to bring forward policy initiatives, he should talk with the partners in education about them prior to coming forward with them?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is not as simple as he would have it. I understand the politics of it. Consultation is an interesting process and people have different styles of it. If one is going to put forward a very straightforward and simple scholarship plan, as we did, a broad consultation is required. That is his point of view. In my view, it is not. He has some people who agree with him and some who do not. I feel that anything that is at all complicated or that is a drastic change from the current policy, or even a change of programs presently being offered, requires consultation. I doubt very much that the Yukon Teachers Association, for example, consulted with all the stakeholders before it put forward its scholarship. We do not understand why the concept is one that requires that kind of process. However, I know that we can go on about this forever. If that is the Member opposite's intention, please be my guest.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there further general debate on Education?
Mr. Harding: Yes, lots.
Prior to the recess, the Minister had just finished responding to my questions. In a somewhat disappointing manner he told me, in a quite patronizing way, that the consultation was not so simple a proposition as I thought it was and that the Minister understood the politics of what I was doing.
The reality is that the politics of what I am doing is probably not that smart, and I will tell the Minister why. If I really wanted a political win, I would not raise these issues as a concern. Rather, I would let the Minister continue down the path of folly that he has embarked upon and continually get bashed and lose credibility on education issues.
I have a genuine concern for the education system and I do not think it is well served by the Minister's actions and response to the issue of consultation that I have asked about.
Consultation sounds like an airy theme that one could go on about for hours and hours in general debate, in almost any particular department. I seriously believe - and I mean this in a totally sincere fashion - that education is probably the key area where one has to have solid relationships and solid consultation. That is why the 1990 Education Act was deemed to be about partners in education. That was the theme and the resounding message.
That was the theme and the resounding message that was relayed by the legislation. That is what it takes in education to have it work, because if the government is going to enact policies, and it does not have the support of the educators, or does not at least have some understanding about is from educators, then how are those directions in curriculum and policy going to be taught in the schools? The answer is simple: not that well.
It is complicated to do consultation but it is not impossible. The concept of partners in education, I believe, is simple. I do not sense that the Minister has much of an understanding of the issue when he says to me that he understands the politics of it. It is not a legitimate point. I reiterate to him that the politics of this, for me, would be to let the Minister continue. Every time he gets on the radio and says that he does not think he had to consult, it is just wonderful for us on this side of the House.
He speaks about the big win that he has gotten from the excellence awards - he has had all sorts of people phone him. I would submit to him that it is not hard, when you are handing out $180,000 to people, to believe that there are going to be some people who are pretty happy about it - the people who are receiving it. Of course they would be. At the end of the day, they are not the people who are going to remember the Minister for giving out $180,000 in taxpayers' money. The people who are going to remember the excellence awards are the people who wanted to raise some concerns about it but the Minister did not listen. Those are the people who are going to remember the excellence awards.
The Minister even made a flippant remark about the Yukon Teachers Association not consulting about the handing out of its scholarship. It comes back to the same thing every time with this Minister: he attacks the YTA. It is not just the YTA that has criticized him. We have spoken to First Nations people involved in education who are concerned about the lack of consultation about the Yukon excellence awards, but he does not make flippant remarks to them because he does not have the political fortitude to do that. He just thinks that it is an easy win to attack the YTA. I do not think that is responsible, given the serious nature of the issue of education.
This is a broad-ranging government policy directive. The YTA scholarship is not the same thing, and if the Minister cannot see that, then we have a serious problem. I do not want to act like a great defender of the YTA, but I am concerned because I believe that educators, and their organization and elected representatives, are a critical part of formulating a concise education policy that will be well received in the schools. I do not think that it is appropriate for the Minister to continually go on the attack, and make flippant, sniping comments in self-defence when legitimate criticisms are being levied against him.
I tried to point out to him that his ongoing office consultations are not the same thing as having consultation on new initiatives. He said that for a simple program like the Yukon excellence awards, he should not have to talk to anyone, just bring it about - it is a government prerogative.
However, even though the Yukon excellence awards cost $180,000 - which is not that substantial in a budget of $500 million - they are significant as a symbol of direction for the government. I hope the Minister can see that. There has never been such a broad scholarship policy based on cumulative diagnostic testing - or cumulative, at least. Many educators saw it as a clear link to that issue - a sweetener, if you will. That is why concern was raised about it.
Surely the Minister can see how there is a distinction between the type of consultation he has referred to and the type of consultation I think is appropriate for the Minister of Education.
The Minister said that everyone has a different style of consultation. What is his style?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am always pleased to have advice tendered by the Member opposite. It certainly shows goodwill on his part. I appreciate that.
I am certain of one thing: the extensive consultation undertaken was not the same, to quote the Member on page 908 of Hansard, February 13, "The NDP, when they were in power, developed some extensive scholarship programs that were developed in consultation with the stakeholders." I am sure the consultation was somewhat different, but perhaps we are talking about the same scholarships that were developed and he could name some of them for me.
Mr. Harding: Once again, the Minister is digging in a desperate attempt to try to deflect debate. It is pathetic and disappointing that, in only the second day of this debate, the Minister is forced to make such ridiculous statements.
How many examples have I given today on the floor of this Legislature of the consultative practices of this government - or lack thereof - in education? We have wage restraint, the excellence award, the appointment of the school council liaison person and the Strand test. The list goes on and on.
It is sad that this Minister so obviously lacks confidence in what he has done that he cannot stand here and tell us what he feels his style of consultation is, after making such a statement.
The Minister has presided over a party that made terrible decisions - the subject of much concern from people. I have listed approximately eight to 10 of them today in this debate. There is a concern and it has a direct impact on the partners in education. When I ask him a question about a comment he made on his style of consultation, why does he not stand up and tell me what his style is? Why does he not just answer the question?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: In order to do so, I would like the Member to explain his comments to the public of the Yukon, as recorded in the Blues on February 13, when he said, "The NDP, when they were in power, developed some extensive scholarship programs that were all developed in consultation with the stakeholders."
So I can further understand his very salient point on consultation, I would like the Member to tell us for which scholarships there was one type of consultation and for which scholarships there was another type of consultation, or whether all the consultations were done at the same time. It speaks of various programs that were all developed in consultation with stakeholders. Perhaps I could then see whether or not what we do on this side lives up to the high standard he sets when he explains these things to the Yukon public.
Mr. Harding: This is the Minister, who stood up in this Legislature and spoke about the overwhelming call in the education review for the standardized and cumulative diagnostic testing. I am not going to trade Hansard snippets with this Minister. He has stuck both of his feet in his mouth so many times since he has been Minister of Education that it is pathetic.
I will say that the issue of consultation, as I have raised it today, speaks clearly to a wide range of issues and not just the scholarships that the Minister is referring to in the Yukon excellence awards. I want to know what this Minister's approach to consultation is. I will tell the Minister what the NDP's approach to consultation was - it is the 1990 Education Act. That is our approach; that is our style. It involves the partners in education. The Minister's style is to stand up and say, "Well, I did not feel that I had to consult about the excellence awards." Obviously, he does not admit that there has been any problem whatsoever in consultation with this government. Can the Minister stand up today and tell me what his style of consultation is?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If the Member cannot tell us about all of the scholarship programs that were developed - each one of which was developed in consultation with the stakeholders - perhaps he could just give us a clue and tell us about one and about how the consultation took place.
Mr. Harding: I am not going to play kids' games with the Minister. The Education Act is a shining example of the NDP administration's commitment to consultation with the partners in education. The Members opposite, when in Opposition, voted for the act, and it was passed through this House unanimously. That is our symbol of consultation. What is this government's symbol of consultation in the field of education, and what is the Minister's style?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We still come back to the scholarship issue. He has a lot to say about the consultation, or the lack thereof, and I challenge him to show us how the NDP government spent more time in consultation with regard to the extensive scholarship programs that were introduced when they were in power, as per his remarks in Hansard. Surely, this would shed some illumination on the subject so that we could compare apples to apples.
Mr. Harding: If the Minister is admitting that he is ignorant in the area of consultation, he should stand up and say so. Will he do that? Perhaps I could then shed some light for him about consultation and how it is done.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Upon receiving the information that I have asked for, we could perhaps get off to some kind of start in this most wonderfully epic voyage.
Mr. Harding: The Minister's response is silly - to put it mildly.
The question I asked relates to serious issues, not just scholarships. I put forth an extensive list of areas where this government has been criticized - by not just the Opposition - for its lack of consultation, discussion and involvement with the partners in education. The Minister, because he obviously does not know or does not want to answer the question, is trying to deflect the debate. I think that is sad. He is the Minister of Education and is responsible for the system in this territory.
He is trying to use a sentence of thousands and thousands of words of debate in this Legislature to deflect that debate. That is ridiculous. The Minister should answer the question. We are trying to address the serious issue of consultation, about which there have been many criticisms of this government, time and time again.
Will the Minister tell me what his view of consultation is? I am not only interested in how it relates to scholarships by the Yukon excellence awards, but also how he feels he should approach a policy decision or a direction that has some substantial or symbolic effect on the education system? Does he feel that there have been no mistakes made by this government in the field of education consultation?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am a little alarmed. I am not sure what the Member opposite is embarrassed about, because he is obviously trying to hide something.
There were extensive scholarship programs developed in consultation with the stakeholders during the NDP reign. Give me any one of the examples. Surely the consultation - or lack thereof - was not that embarrassing to the Member, so I can really put this to the test.
Mr. Harding: The Minister is being ridiculous. Surely the Minister can look at the educational achievements of the New Democratic Party and see that our record is strong. He must be able to do that, because he voted for the Education Act. As I looked through Hansard, I saw that many of the initiatives introduced by the Minister of Education had broad support in this Legislature and in the Yukon. Why is he being so ridiculous?
I am asking the Minister about the myriad of problems that this government has had and complaints from the citizenry about not being involved in education decisions. I do not understand why the Minister is behaving in this way. Perhaps he is unable to answer or perhaps, in a flippant way, he is refusing to do so.
It is disturbing. I am sure that when people in the education community read in Hansard what the Minister has said today - and I intend to make sure that people do - they will see that in this Minister's approach to consultation, he refuses to answer the questions raised by the people in the communities.
First Nations people involved in education in the territory have expressed some serious concerns about the Minister's consultative process on the education awards. They expressed it on his decision for the appointment of a school council liaison coordinator and many times about testing. Can the Minister tell us how he intends to involve them in the process?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I really do not understand why the Member is so embarrassed about the extensive scholarship programs. I am sure that they are very good ones and are enjoyed by many people in the territory. I am dead certain that they are not elitist. I am sure that the extensive consultation the Member spoke of with such pride is such that he can give us some examples - even one example - of these scholarship programs and what the consultation entailed. I would be very pleased if the Member would acquiesce to that.
I see that other Members want to stand up and speak. I am prepared to listen to them, so I expect that they will listen to me, in turn.
I am interested in what he has to say about consultation and I am sure he could go on for several days. I can, too. I really am seriously interested in comparing apples to apples and that is why I have raised this issue.
Mr. McDonald: I can understand the Minister's point. He has only got one program that he can count as his own, and he is obviously proud of it. For him to be able to draw comparisons, he can only compare the one program he has got with the one accomplishment he has been able to point to as being something of significance.
I can appreciate the Minister's point and his wanting to dig into the issue of consultation on the question of scholarships. Given that the Minister has done nothing else of real significance, this is important to him. I will try to respond, so that he can have a sense of what the NDP government did to promote scholarships.
First of all, the Minister is quite correct when he said that he assumes that the NDP government would not promote elitism. He is quite correct that that is the case. Even though he never said anything in the Legislature about education while he was a Member, other than making reference to some school busing questions, I am sure he did listen to the many ministerial statements. I think I counted the announcements of new programs some time ago, and there were dozens and dozens every year.
I am sure that at least the Minister got some vicarious pleasure from the many good things that were happening in education in those days.
With respect to the programs that promote scholarships, there are indeed some programs that did promote scholarships. The Minister wanted one example; I will give him a couple, and I will talk to him a bit about the consultation process that went into developing those programs and to their implementation.
First of all, the whole notion of promoting sholarship involves rewarding people who do well and encouraging them to perform well not only in their studies, but to perform well in their work after studies, so that is something that we have attempted to do, both through the financial support that we have given - and that the government still continues to give - to people who engage in academic programming, but also in the requiring of work experience to supplement their academic work and to ensure that their academic work is backed with enough experience that they can actually find work.
One program that achieves both of those objectives was the summer program that allowed people who were already going to university to return to the Yukon and find work in the field in which they were studying.
This was a program not unlike, in some senses, the scholarship program, in that the Yukon Party government is trying to reward people who perform well. The summer works program was geared to those students who were undertaking post-secondary education and who wanted a work experience in the field in which they were studying, so that they could complement their in-classroom work with actual field work that would ultimately encourage them to do even better in their course of studies in the following year when they returned to school.
It was a useful program and it offered work to not only people who were doing jobs for government, but also to the private sector.
That program, when it was originally designed, was, I think, run past the post-secondary education advisory council, which existed in those days, prior to the Yukon College Board, and there was a lot of discussion on it. I remember I had many discussions with everything from municipalities to the college about that kind of program. It evolved over time. I like to think that it was made even better.
There was also the program in the schools, that I know the Minister was eager to announce recently because I think he was under the mistaken impression that it was something new, that encouraged people who were going to high school to take post-secondary education course work while they were going to school. There is not a lot of cost associated with this and it is not a bribe to them, but it certainly does encourage them to do well and perform well and to gain scholarly success.
It is certainly not as crude as cash for marks, but it encourages students who are doing well and need to be challenged to excel in a particular area, and it encourages them to take post-secondary course work that could ultimately count as credit, should those people wish to continue into formal post-secondary education. It is another form of promoting scholarships.
The Yukon native teacher education program is interesting, because this program also promotes scholarships. This was targeted for First Nation people, because there was clearly an absence of aboriginal teachers in the classroom.
I believe at one point in 1985 there were three or four aboriginal teachers in all Yukon classrooms, and a couple of qualified aboriginal teachers in the department. What was necessary and made obvious through the consultations that we had around and prior to the Kwiya report - which the Minister will recall as being a very exhaustive, very large and very expensive consultative process with First Nations - was
that First Nations people needed role models in the classroom; namely, teachers from the communities. There was a true desire to promote scholarship among First Nations people who felt that the existing programming in the territory did not meet their cultural needs. Consequently, the government took a slightly controversial view - at the time - that in order to correct this imbalance in the number of aboriginal teachers in the classroom, the government would have to target post-secondary programming for First Nation people at some considerable expense.
Aboriginal students who did well in school and who would be prepared to go on to post-secondary education would have this option available to them. One can make the economic argument that this is not unlike the scholarship program that the Minister is promoting, in the sense that if one does well, one receives financial benefit. Under the Yukon Party government's scholarship program, the financial benefit is supposed to be turned over to tuition, books and that sort of thing.
Of course, with YNTEP, the understanding was that if one did well, then the government would provide the tuition, books, instructional time, the classrooms and culturally appropriate programming. As I said, as much as I would like to take credit for the program and its success, this was, very clearly, the idea of the stakeholders and certainly of the First Nations, who were protesting that the school system did not meet their needs and was an alien system, in some communities at least, to their culture. They felt that there should be a number of things done, including the teacher education program, to make them feel comfortable with the territory-funded public education system.
They did recommend quite strongly that the YNTEP program be promoted. Consequently, a committee was set up that included the teachers, administrators, First Nations, the college and the university that was sponsoring the program, because there was a real desire to have a post-secondary program that was academically credible, in national terms. The groups got together and started to design the program from scratch. It took a considerable amount of time because the Department of Education wanted to do it properly. In the end, it did do it properly, to the point that we now have graduating classes coming out of Yukon College with university degrees from the University of Regina. The program does promote scholarship among First Nations people. Generally speaking, they are happy and pleased with the results.
There are always problems with the delivery end of these programs, and I do not want to bore the Minister, unless he wants me to, with some of the delivery problems I have been able to identify both prior to and since leaving office.
The consultative structures that were set up to generate the idea, bring the idea to fruition, and then monitor the program, were pretty thorough. The First Nations Education Commission, which was identified under the Education Act and in the umbrella final agreement, and which was regularly consulted on matters such as this, felt that this has been a successful initiative.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: I have given the Minister some pretty useful information. He asked for some response, and the government Minister now indicates that, even though these are some of the good things - and I have a list of good things that I would be more than happy to expound upon right now; I would talk about all of the consultation that was undertaken ...
Chair: Order please.
Mr. McDonald: I could talk about the Education Act and the training strategies that were undertaken and passed - and which were endorsed by the Conservatives while they were in Opposition, as well as while they were in government.
There are many other things that involved extensive consultation, and I will talk about those. If the Minister wants to know what we believe in when it comes to consultation, I am more than happy to explain it to him.
The Minister says that our success in consultation in education is somehow due to our failure at the polls in the last election. That was simply hogwash. The Yukon Party government never even had an agenda for education before the election.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: The Minister of Education has absolutely no respect for you, Mr. Chair. You should do something about that.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister of Education is behaving in a very childish way and he is due for some time in the classroom, frankly. I think the Minister needs some dressing-down. We will be more than happy to do that during the estimates debate, because he has demonstrated time and time again his incredible ignorance, not only about the department, but about the system, about the partnerships, about the stakeholders, about virtually everybody associated with education.
Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I move you report progress on the bill.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker 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: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 3, Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95, and Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 1995-96, and directed to me to report progress on them.
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. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:29 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled February 21, 1995:
Finance Ministers meeting (federal/provincial/territorial) in Ottawa, Ontario, February 14, 1995: report on (Ostashek)
Conflict of interest investigation report: attendance of Deputy Minister of Government Services at an IBM-sponsored conference, August 1994, in Victoria, B.C. (Ostashek)
The following Legislative Return was tabled February 21, 1995:
Whitehorse General Hospital: number of beds - old and new hospital; waiting list for continuing care beds; need for home care and home support being looked at (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 883