Wednesday, February 22, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Most gracious God, as we commence proceedings today in this Assembly we ask for divine guidance so that our words and deeds may bring to all people of this great territory hope, prosperity and a vision for the future. May the deliberations in this Chamber be characterized by temperance, understanding and reason to the end that we may better serve those who have made the Members of this House guardians of, and trustees for, all the citizens of the Yukon.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Cable: I would like to introduce Krista Meekins, the president of the Yukon Young Liberals, and her guest Alice Smith, the national vice-president of the Young Liberals.
I discovered yesterday that Alice and I were both born in Hamilton, Ontario, but a couple of years apart.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to introduce one of my constituents who is in the gallery today. Robbie King is the president of the Yukon Injured Workers Alliance.
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Are there any Bills to be introduced?
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Speaker: Before we begin Question Period today, upon review of the Blues, as well as the actions of some of the Members during the past few days, I am compelled to once again remind Members of the rules that they, themselves, have developed and approved. The Standing Orders are the only tool that I have to keep a degree of order in this House. I would specifically like to draw hon. Members' attention to page 12 of the Standing Order 19(1)(h), (i) and (j), which states: "A member may be called to order by the Speaker if that member imputes false or unavowed motives to another member; charges another member with uttering a deliberate falsehood; uses abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder."
On the matter of the link between questions and answers, I will attempt to be more forceful and will not entertain a further question from that Member until another Member has had a turn, or that particular Member's name next appears on the roster. As well, in both the questions and answers, I will attempt to take into consideration - although this may be difficult at times - Standing Order 19(1)(a): "A member will be called to order by the Speaker if that member: (b) speaks to matters other than (i) the question under discussion."
While Beauchesne is considered the parliamentarian's bible, I would suggest that Members may wish to use the language one would use in one's home as a guide. If one does not wish to have one's children talking that way, do not try it here.
We will proceed with Question Period at this time.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation letter
Mr. Penikett: Mr. Speaker, in observing your injunction about temperance, understanding and reason, I would like to say what a wonderful day this is because I had always thought the Member for Riverside was a young Liberal.
I want to ask a question of the Government Leader about the July 5, 1994, letter from the Yukon Energy Corporation, which accuses a Dawson hotel operator of conflict of interest because his business was in arrears on its electrical account. However, the account is a private matter between two private companies - the Yukon Electrical Company Limited and the Dawson hotel.
How did the Yukon Energy Corporation get access to this information, and how does the Minister responsible defend the use of this private information to smear a Utilities Board member?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know how the Yukon Energy Corporation got that information, but I will check into it and get back to the Member.
Mr. Penikett: Given the attention to the letter yesterday, I would have thought the Government Leader would have done that before now.
When the former Minister received this infamous letter, did it occur to him or the Government Leader that its contents were highly inappropriate? Why did the Government Leader not ask the Yukon Energy Corporation to withdraw the letter and limit itself to more legitimate policy issues, rather than secret personal attacks on Public Utilities Board members?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We went through this for 40 minutes in Question Period yesterday, and we will probably do that again today, as the Member for Faro says. The reality of the situation is that the board of the Yukon Energy Corporation is entitled to its opinion, just as the Utilities Consumers Group, Yukon Electrical Company Limited, and Yukon Utilities Board are. I have reviewed the files and the Member opposite had delivered to him this morning a copy of the April 27 letter as well as the letter of January, which stated that this government had no hidden agenda. I thought that should have cleared the air on that topic.
Mr. Penikett: The hidden agenda is only one of several issues arising from the letter. I would like to table the letter that is being referred to. I would like to ask the Minister this question: does he defend the use of private information to get at or to smear a private citizen, which to me smacks of McCarthyism? I would like to ask him if he will apologize to all of those whose reputations were attacked by this government corporation, for which the Government Leader is responsible and accountable in this House?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Until I have time to talk to the chair and the president of the Energy Corporation about the matter, I will take that question under advisement.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation letter
Mr. Penikett: Another section of this infamous Yukon Energy Corporation letter says, "In the case of Mr. Stephens, his role as a major intervener against the Yukon Electrical Company Limited's parent company, Alberta Power Limited, in hearings in Alberta adversely affects his neutrality and his advice to the Yukon Utilities Board. We are certain you will hear more fully about this issue from the board of Yukon Electrical Company Limited." Has the Minister heard from Yukon Electrical Company, and what did it say?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Surely, the Member is not that naive to think that after I tabled the letters this morning and said that the request by the Minister would be treated in confidence, that I would sit here and debate the contents of the letter.
Mr. Penikett: I am afraid the confidential transactions between this government and Alberta Power have now become a matter of intense public interest for obvious reasons.
Will the Government Leader agree that it is not only a conflict of interest for an Alberta-owned utility to recommend the installation of an Albertan as a regulator for Yukon utilities, but for a Yukon public utility to do the same amounts to a treasonous betrayal of the public interest and the people of the Yukon? Would he agree with that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, I certainly would not agree with that at all. The Member opposite is on a witch hunt when there is no witch. We have many outside boards that rule on issues in the Yukon - the Yukon Court of Appeal, for example. We do not do it in-house; we do not do it with Yukoners, we use the B.C. Court of Appeal. There are many other instances. This is not something that is totally new or unknown to Yukoners.
Mr. Penikett: What a funny use of the language the Government Leader has.
He talks about a witch hunt, but what is under discussion is an incredible letter from a public official, which completely eviscerates members of the Utilities Board. The Government Leader says I should not have it. The point is that the letter should never have been written. That is the point and this government should have said so.
The issue here is that we have secret privatization negotiations, we have confidential -
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please ask the question.
Mr. Penikett: I am asking it, Mr. Speaker.
We have backroom deals. There is clearly something quite insidious in the relationship between the government and the utilities, and the consumers are paying for it.
Will the Government Leader resign as the Minister for the Yukon Energy Corporation and appoint someone who this House can trust to protect the public interest of the people of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Here is the Leader of the Official Opposition trying to portray himself as the great defender of democracy, and then he is asking us to muzzle one part of the public so that they would not have any say at all. I thought that was what democracy was about - everybody being entitled to their own opinion.
Question re: Environment ministers conference
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Renewable Resources on the environment ministers conference last week.
The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, of which the Minister is the chair, issued a press release on Monday stating that the Ministers had approved a national action program on climate change, with the objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions. The press reports indicate that there was a difference of opinion between various governments as to whether to rely solely on voluntary measures or a mix of voluntary, regulatory and tax initiatives. Eventually, they decided to rely solely on voluntary measures, following the lead of Alberta.
What was this Minister's position and the position of this government at the meeting?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We supported the voluntary measures.
Mr. Cable: How many governments initially wanted a mixture of voluntary, regulatory and tax initiatives to bring about a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
I can see the Government Leader chuckling; he must not take greenhouse gas emissions very seriously. Perhaps the Minister does.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We definitely do take greenhouse gas emission very seriously. I believe that 167 countries in the world have spoken about the issue.
Interestingly enough, it was the Member opposite's federal counterparts who were after the regulatory, as well as voluntary, measures. That is really as far as I would like to go. It was a consensus that was reached at the conference.
Mr. Cable: The press release issued - presumably with the Minister's approval - talked about developing sustainable options to achieve further progress in the reduction of emissions by the year 2005. What are those further sustainable options that the Minister sees as being applicable to the Yukon Territory?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We have a number of initiatives in the Yukon that we want to explore. One is the small wind generator that we have on top of Haeckel Hill. This type of facility definitely helps us reach our goal.
If I may, I would like to explain that if we do nothing, Canada would fail to meet the commitment that was made, I believe, in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, by 13 percent. However, if we continue to do the things we are doing, there is good chance that we will either meet our commitment of the 1990 levels or come very close to it.
Question re: Yukon Utilities Board, conflict of interest
Mr. Penikett: I am sure that citizens of the Yukon will be quite disturbed to find that the Government Leader of this territory thinks it is perfectly okay for public corporations to engage in secret attacks on members of another public body.
For the record, does the Government Leader think it is appropriate for a public official to write a confidential letter - accusing Public Utilities Board members of conflict of interest - to the Minister who had the power to appoint Public Utilities Board members?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Quite clearly, the Member has a copy of the letter. He sees that the letter is laid out very carefully, and that it lays out the interpretation of the legislation under which the Yukon Utilities Board operates. This is an act that was drawn up by the Member opposite - I believe section 11(1) states conflict - and the opinion expressed was the opinion of the board.
Mr. Penikett: That is interesting because it is contrary to the information I have. The understanding that I have - of course the Government Leader thinks it is appropriate to conduct secret attacks - is that when a body appears before the board, if it has some concern about the impartiality of a board member, it identifies that concern in public at the outset of the hearings. I disagree with the Government Leader.
Does the Government Leader agree that there was an appearance of conflict of interest when the Government Leader gave one Minister the power to appoint members to both the Yukon Energy Corporation Board and the Yukon Utilities Board at the same time?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Absolutely not. I do not know where the Member is coming from with that question.
Mr. Penikett: We are identifying the huge chasm of opinion between the two sides of this House on what constitutes conflict of interest.
Does the Government Leader agree that there was an appearance of conflict of interest when both utilities were allowed to make confidential submissions to the utility regulation review process prior to public hearings, and when the Department of Justice regulatory review document was drafted by an employee seconded by the Yukon Energy Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Quite clearly, there was not, because if the Member had reviewed the information that was released this morning, he would see that the Utilities Board had the same opportunity to make confidential representations to the Minister.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: They had the same opportunity.
If we want to talk about the appearance of conflict, the Member opposite should review some of the very serious deliberations that he and his government were in where there could have been a perceived conflict of interest.
Question re: Yukon Utilities Board, conflict of interest
Mr. McDonald: The Minister just now appeared to defend, with some spirit, the use of non-Yukoners on public boards. He did so in the context of answering a question about using non-Yukoners on the Yukon Utilities Board. I am sure that the Minister knows the accepted tradition in the Yukon that utility regulation be overseen by Yukoners. I thought we had this clear.
Let me again ask the question: does the Minister believe it is a conflict for a Yukon businessperson to sit on the Utilities Board - something that the chair of the Yukon Energy Corporation alleges is a conflict?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, the chair laid out his interpretation of the legislation. I have not yet had time to review it and have Justice make recommendations to me.
Mr. McDonald: I thought the Minister had taken time this morning to clear the air on the matter. I thought that yesterday's answers to the questions were quite clear that the Minister believed that Yukon businesspeople had every right to sit on the Utilities Board. I now have no such reassurance that the Minister is clear on this point. I want to ask him very specifically, does he believe that Yukon businesspeople should be allowed to sit in judgment of the utilities by being members of the Utilities Board?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not have any difficulty with Yukon businesspeople sitting on the board. The fact remains that there is an act in place that lays out what is and what is not a conflict. The chair of the Energy Corporation perceived it to be a conflict and laid those concerns out for the Minister's perusal when we were putting together the format for the workshop. I believe that the act should either be followed, or it should be changed.
Mr. McDonald: The act does not say that businesspeople sitting on the Utilities Board are in conflict. The act says that people who are residential consumers of electricity will not be considered in conflict. The chair of the Utilities Board has taken this one step further, and the Minister appears to disagree with the chair of the Utilities Board in assuming that these business consumers are in conflict when they sit on the board.
Has the Minister - or any other Minister - taken the time to clear the air with the chair of the Yukon Utilities Board to let him know that the government's position is that businesspeople have the right to sit on that board?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have not met with the chair of the Yukon Utilities Board for some time, but I will be getting advice on this with respect to the interpretation of the act and I will be discussing it with the chair of the Yukon Energy Corporation board.
Question re: Electrical rates
Mr. McDonald: I have a question on a related subject.
In one of his more jovial moments, the Minister indicated to the Legislature that, as far as he was concerned, energy rates will not rise in the next two years. He had been hounded by the Opposition, after having criticized the Opposition for politically interfering with the rate structure - holding the rates down - over the last many years that the Yukon NDP was in office. The Minister indicated that the government would hold the rates down for the next two years. Can the Minister tell us whether or not, if elected, the Yukon Party would raise the rates immediately after the next election?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: On the one hand, I am very, very pleased to see that the Members opposite have seen the light and can see that there is a very real possibility of the Yukon Party government being returned with a majority government next time.
What I was saying is that it would be at least that length of time before there would be any possibility of any increases. Just because there is going to be an increase in the rates, that does not mean that the ratepayer is going to be paying any more. As the Member knows, the more users there are of the system, the more the costs are diffused.
Mr. McDonald: I can see the Minister is still in a joking mood. I realize that we are engaged in one of the most hypothetical fantasies that could be imagined, at least by the Yukon electorate.
Given that the Minister indicated very firmly that the rates would not be raised between now and the next election, is he also indicating that the costs to both the residential and commercial consumers will not rise after the next election?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It would be my hope, with the upsurge of economic activity that is happening in the territory - thanks to this government. Thanks to this government, we will be able to broaden our user base so that we would, in fact, not have to have any increases for anyone.
Mr. McDonald: I think we must tie this issue down in the coming weeks because the Minister is still in that joking mood and he may be facing a fairly stern electorate in the next little while.
The Utilities Board generally holds hearings regularly. The Minister indicated that he saw no reason for a hearing over the next year, even though the circumstances at the Anvil Range Mine are changing as we speak. Can the Minister indicate to us why he believes that a rate hearing is not necessary under the circumstances?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Quite clearly, the actual mine load will not be known for some time. The Member for Faro knows now, but he is one of these very fortunate people who knows everything and no one can tell him anything different. It is going to be some time before we know what the load at the mine is. As the Members opposite know, there is generally a trial period in place before they go to the Yukon Utilities Board for a rate that will be charged for the service. It will be late 1995 or early 1996 before there will be an appropriate time to hold a hearing.
Question re: Maintenance enforcement program
Ms. Commodore: My question is for the Minister of Justice. I would first of all like to thank him for the briefing we had yesterday with his officials in regard to the maintenance enforcement program. However, we do have further questions.
Yesterday the Minister announced major changes to the maintenance enforcement program through a press release that was delivered yesterday morning. Some of the changes he is making are good.
Is the Minister aware of the parliamentary tradition that, when the House is sitting, he is required to announce new policies in this Legislature, the body to which he is accountable? This is the second major announcement he has made to the public, rather than in this House, and I would like to ask him whether or not he is aware of that tradition.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I made the press release available to the Members. They were getting a briefing that day prior to anyone else knowing about it and before the media got it. It just appears that it does not matter what one does; even when it is a good thing, one still cannot do it right. It is a negative approach by the side opposite. I thought I made the information available to the Member. In fact, I went one step further - further than the side opposite ever went with us. I provided a briefing with my officials in the department - a one- or two-hour briefing on the whole program - so they could understand it better. If the Member feels badly about my not tabling this in the House, I will apologize to her for that, but I do not apologize for providing more information to her than she ever provided to us.
Ms. Commodore: The Minister of Justice missed the whole point of the question. We are talking about the Legislature and parliamentary tradition. Is he not aware of that? This is the second major announcement he has made to the public while we were sitting in this House. Does he understand the parliamentary tradition that he is required to announce new policies in the House? That was the question.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I understand that parliamentary tradition, but the parliamentary tradition of the side opposite is to put it in place only when it suits them.
Ms. Commodore: Unfortunately the Minister keeps missing the point, which is not unusual for him. In his press release, the Minister indicated that he was going to be introducing changes to the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act that would apply administrative sanctions to custody payments. He is aware that we had indicated in this House that we were going to introduce amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act that he introduced, so that payments for maintenance enforcement would be included in that. I would like to ask the Minister whether or not he will be introducing the amendments to the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act while we are in this sitting.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, that is what I intend to do.
Question re: Street people, program for
Ms. Commodore: I will have further questions for this Minister regarding that. However my question now is for the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services. I am sure that the Minister is aware that we have a problem with street kids in Whitehorse - children who, for one reason or another, do not want to go home at night. We were recently told that as many as 20 kids will sometimes seek shelter at night in a public building in town. One of the Yukon Party's election promises was to work with community organizations to establish a street-people program, to help people who are incapable of helping themselves. I would like to ask the Minister, or possibly the Government Leader, because the Minister is not a member of that party and is not bound by their election promises, if he could tell us the status of that election promise, now that we are into the third year of their mandate?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: A lot has been done with regard to working with youth - encouraging youth centres, working with groups within Whitehorse and other communities, working with youth with regard to crime prevention - numerous programs. The issue of whether there are kids who have no place to go in Whitehorse is an issue that is very sensitive. In many cases, these are kids who are willingly away from home - from a haven that they have. If they are in difficulty, they can always go to the Department of Social Services and that department will look into the situation and ensure that they are not left entirely on their own.
Ms. Commodore: I guess I am going to have to ask the Government Leader specifically about that election promise because it was not answered.
I have a copy of a proposal called the youth action plan. It is in regard to a youth safe place and provides the requirements to set up a safe house for kids. It says in the proposal that they have informed the Minister about this issue.
Has the Minister been presented with this proposal, which was completed by Patrick Singh, a new member of the Liberal Party, from the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, and may I add how pleased I am to see the Member sticking up for those unfortunate members of the Liberal Party who do not feel represented in this Legislature.
Ms. Commodore: I was actually sticking up for those kids on the street.
The proposal had 10 letters of support attached to it, and included in those letters of support was a letter from the community connections programs youth services and another one from youth probation.
Because he has seen the report, are there discussions going on within his department to look at the possibility of setting up a safe home for kids?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I believe the report was handed over to the department for review. I am not exactly sure about its status at this point.
Question re: Kids-at-risk program
Ms. Commodore: I hope that the Minister will bring me back that information. My next question is also for the Minister responsible for the Department of Health and Social Services.
I recently received a call from a woman with a teenage son who unfortunately has a problem with substance abuse. Does the Minister's kids-at-risk program, which he has just talked about, have resources available this young person can take advantage of?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I can get back to the Member with specifics. We have hired the two additional workers with alcohol and drug counselling to deal with young people who are suffering from drug or alcohol abuse.
Ms. Commodore: The mother of this young boy has been seeking help for a number of months, and she was told that no treatment was available unless the kid broke the law and was ordered by the courts to take a substance abuse treatment program.
Since the Minister was talking about his kids-at-risk program, is that the case? Is that government policy? Would this boy have to break the law and be ordered by the court to take substance abuse treatment first?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will have to look into this. I need to ensure that the representations made by the Member opposite are exactly correct. There are quite a few possibilities that present themselves in the manner in which that question was framed.
Ms. Commodore: My final supplementary is in regard to the mother who has been seeking help for her son. Incidentally, this boy was trying on his own to get some help. They were told that there was treatment available for them in Alberta somewhere, but that they would have to pay for it themselves. They of course cannot afford that.
Is that the case? Is treatment available? Is there any funding available for these young people who need treatment for substance abuse and must travel outside the territory? I am asking these questions on behalf of a constituent from the Ross River-Southern Lakes riding.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Once again, I will look into the specific issue, the age and circumstances, and get back to the Member.
Question re: Environment ministers conference
Mr. Cable: I have some further questions for the Minister of Renewable Resources.
During the meeting of environment ministers last week, the press reports on the meeting and the national program relating to climate change and greenhouse gases indicated that some of the provinces were not satisfied with the strictly voluntary measures proposed in the plan and are taking further initiatives. Does the Minister know what these initiatives are?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe that the Province of British Columbia is going to bring in some regulations with respect to automobile emissions. I am not sure about that, but it is certainly one of the things that was discussed by Minister Sihota.
Mr. Cable: Does his government intend to review the initiatives taken and to be taken by other governments with a view to deciding whether or not they will be adopted in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Most certainly we do.
In our meeting in November, it was decided that the provinces and territories are to report back to the main body - the CCME - with their options and how those options are or can be implemented and the effect they will have on greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Cable: I gather also that this will be the topic of the Minister's meetings in Haines Junction in May. Would the Minister table the report of his activities at the meeting and his conclusions, together with a copy of the National Action Program?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I will. In fact, I believe that is a requirement when we pair that I have to provide a report. I only have one copy of the National Action Plan, but I will have that photocopied, circulate it and table my report.
Question re: Heritage celebrations
Mr. McDonald: The Minister of Tourism will know that we are well into Heritage Week in the Yukon with some celebrations, including the heritage awards ceremony that has already taken place.
A challenge for the territory that is about to celebrate a series of centennials all devoted to the gold rush is to remind everyone that Yukon has a rich pre-gold rush history, as well.
A number of First Nations persons at the awards ceremony spoke to me about this. They indicated that now that they have finally signed a treaty with government, there should be efforts taken to promote the cultural, economic and social heritage in the territory.
What is the Department of Tourism doing to achieve this goal?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We are doing several things. First of all, we have a very active First Nations representative on the Anniversaries Commission. We also will be working with First Nations. They are having their first annual conference of the First Nations Tourism Association in March. I believe Tourism officials are providing them with some information and working with them on that conference, as well as including them in all the documentation and the information that we provide with respect to First Nations' involvement in the gold rush.
Mr. McDonald: The point of the question is that a fair number of First Nations people feel that the focus, not only in terms of the political rhetoric but also in terms of the financial support, is going into anniversaries - anniversaries that relate to gold rush activities - and there is a suggestion that, if one was going to be true to promoting the full history of this territory, one ought to be promoting pre-gold rush history as well, the history really of aboriginal people in the territory - the living, cultural, rich history of that period.
The UFA itself obligates the government to take action in this area. Can I ask the Minister to be more specific about the activities they are taking through the Department of Tourism that are going to promote aboriginal heritage prior to the gold rush?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Perhaps one of the reasons why, at the present time, the First Nations feel that not so much priority is being put on their history is the fact that we are celebrating, in the next few years, the gold rush history and the history of the RCMP. This is a different era in our history. In 1992, when the former government was in power, we did not concentrate as much on First Nations' history as we did on the history of the Alaska Highway. Those are the birthdays that are happening and that is why we are focusing on them, but we are certainly not leaving out First Nations. In fact, more meetings are taking place and there is more involvement now with First Nations trying to encourage them to get into the tourism business with respect to building cultural centres and being involved in them. We are working with them on a living cultural centre and trying to get them more involved to expose the First Nations' history of the past, because it is very rich and it is something on which we have to work very hard.
Mr. McDonald: No one is denigrating the efforts of the government to promote the anniversaries. They are coming and there is a real opportunity for the tourism industry, but that is not the point I am making and that is not the point the aboriginal people are making. They are saying that there ought to be significant attention paid to giving some exposure to aboriginal cultural history, and they make the obvious point that visitors want to see that when they come here, virtually more than anything else.
Can the Minister say, in the context of support for the living cultural centre - for which I believe there is a $50,000 commitment in the budget - whether or not there is going to be a significant financial commitment, even equivalent to that which is proposed for such tourism projects now as the visitor reception centre, the Beringia Centre, the multi-million dollar projects? Is there going to be a significant financial commitment to this living cultural centre as well?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I think it is premature to say that there will be a financial commitment of so many dollars. I can tell the Member, though, that the people leading the discussion on the living cultural centre are the First Nations themselves. They are doing the studies, and all the preliminary work with the First Nations to decide what type of living cultural centre there will be in the future. There may be one in total, or perhaps each band will want to do one of its own. That is the type of consultation going on. We have not yet heard back from them on whether or not there is a request for such a facility and whether or not they want to participate in building one. They are still in preliminary discussions with their own First Nations people about that.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Due to the spring-like weather and the onset of Rendezvous, I totally forgot to table a legislative return. I would ask unanimous consent to table it at this time.
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
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?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to Order.
We are dealing with Bill No. 4.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 1995-96 - continued
Department of Education - continued
Chair: Is there further general debate on Education?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I thought it appropriate to begin today's discussions by commenting on the lengthy defence by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini of his colleague on the issue of scholarships. It was a rather bizarre performance indeed. I say that for quite a few reasons. Aside from the obvious sidestepping and dancing that was done, which we will get into later, I will start with the statements made by the Member.
The programs that the Member opposite was claiming credit for were introduced by the previous Conservative government, well before the NDP even came into power. I refer the Member to page 22 of the Department of Education's 1982-83 annual report - when the Member for Riverdale South was Minister of Education. It specifically lists the YTG summer student career development program and a special employment assistance program for Yukon students, SEAP. These programs predate the NDP term in office and provided post-secondary, career-related work experience within the Government of Yukon under the student career development program, and in the private sector under the special employment assistance program for Yukon students.
I guess the Member opposite might claim credit for changing the names of the programs, but not for introducing the concept of summer employment programs for students, or the programs themselves. While he is at it, he can also take credit for eliminating the youth venture capital program - which provided interest-free loans to Yukon youth to plan and operate small businesses to create their own summer employment -
and the Yukon employment incentive program, which provided access to employment training opportunities for social assistance recipients. These programs are found on pages 32 and 34, respectively, of the Department of Education's 1985-86 annual report. Both these programs were developed under the previous Conservative government.
The summer student career development program was changed to the student training employment program, STEP, which after the NDP government had been in government for eight years was expanded to include private sector employers in 1992. This was done without consultation with the stakeholders, and it was probably done because it was a good idea.
The summer employment assistance program, SEAP, was changed and incorporated with the federal student employment initiative under the name Challenge, which provided a subsidy to the private sector employers, government and non-government organizations that employed students.
I want to point out that in 1982-83 SEAP was funded to the level of $200,000. By 1992, the NDP had reduced funding to this program to $150,000.
Yesterday, the Member also said in passing that this Minister was under the mistaken impression that it was something new; that the effective transition program we have announced was new and that we were mistaken. That is incorrect as well.
The NDP did not do what we are doing in that program. There was no opportunity for students to enroll in college courses and receive both high school and college credit. Students could previously take college courses, as they always have done, but this is the first time, as I announced, that they will receive both high school and college credit.
The problem does not end there. I really had a number of people comment about the clumsy performance in trying to defend the young fellow in the back there, simply because he had said some things that he probably ought not to have, or regretted saying, "The NDP, when they were in power, developed some extensive scholarship programs that were all developed in consultation with the stakeholders.''
The scholarships, which the Member referred to over and over again, of course, refer to a program available to people who compete in some way for it. Everyone knows what was intended by the use of the word; changing it is to be very slippery indeed. I think that most people who heard him yesterday would find it to be slippery. This, from a person who takes umbrage at this sort of thing.
I will quote the Member's remarks from February 14 in Hansard, page 949, "I really resent slippery answers when I am asking specific questions." Guess what? In my view, his answers and lengthy defence fit the bill when defending, as he always does, his record and defending his junior member - I suppose he went against one of his other golden rules that is found on that same page, which states, "I do not appreciate getting bureaucratic responses." Nor do I.
The sad thing is that, after going on and on in order to run out the clock, it was he who in passing mentioned that the Yukon excellence awards were crude: cash for marks. It was he who said in this Legislature - as he often seems to feel and to say - that he is boring. On page 1070 of Hansard, he says, "I do not want to bore the Minister." I note, as well, the same concern, thoughtful or otherwise, expressed February 6, on page 797. He said, "I will try not to bore you with this line of questioning." That is a quality that he attributes to himself. When all these things are added up, it leaves a feeling that the defence of yesterday was slippery, and many feel that his speech was bureaucratic. He was really accusatory toward the Member for Laberge in his hysterical rantings on the previous occasion, and he is boring, according to his remarks. He is slippery, bureaucratic and boring. I would think that these are excellent qualities for the putative leader of the Yukon New Democratic Party.
One would hope that people in this House can take what they dish out. I am quite prepared to handle myself in any way necessary; it is "dealer's choice". I am not going to sit back and allow them to get away with whatever they want and only mildly respond. Again, it is "dealer's choice".
Let us go back to some of the issues we were talking about yesterday and about which the Member for McIntyre-Takhini feels so very strongly. One is the issue that the former government consulted, and we have such a wonderful education system in the Yukon as a result.
The fact is that this education system in the Yukon - the public school system - is the most expensive per student in Canada. It is far more expensive than the provinces. Those measurements are based on nationally-accepted criteria. What did the previous government get? It measured input, which it does every time it wants to discuss anything. More money? That is all one needs.
Let us put the cards on the table: the fact is that there was little, if any, real performance measurement. When we finally introduced nation-wide standardized testing, this jurisdiction, which spent far more per student than the others, did not measure up.
We can apply adjectives as we like. I was criticized for being too harsh. The critic on the other side said that he was disappointed. Of course he was disappointed, and of course he disagrees with some measurement of output. However, let us get some facts straight. This was not a perfect education system. The consultation must not have been so great if we ended up with a system where our students, while the money is pouring in, do not measure up to national standards. A lot of parents, students and people in the business world are concerned about that.
On the education review, I am always happy to enter into a dialogue, however unorthodox, with the Member for Faro. Normally when he catcalls, he is not quoted in the Hansard, but we remember what he sys.
The review came up with 83 recommendations. It expressed the concerns of parents and other stakeholders with aspects of the education system. It does not measure up when performance output is measured. Those are all facts. All I am saying is that we have to do better. We have to find ways of doing better and of getting better value for our input, and surely every single stakeholder would have to agree that there is something amiss. Surely the former Minister cannot stand in his place and say it was perfect, that he consulted and everything was perfect. That is what he does. He says, "Everything was perfect when I was there. Heavens above, yes. How dare anybody criticize the education system." Well, I am sorry.
As we well know, there are people who will not even let their children go to school here. They spend all kinds of money to send them outside for education because they have no faith in the public school system. There are people who take their children out of the public school system and educate them at home - some for personal or religious reasons, and others because they have no faith in the public school system.
It is incumbent upon everybody to take a hard look at that and agree that we have to make some changes. Of course it has to be done in consultation with the stakeholders and it has to be done in a way that is appropriate; but playing cheap politics, defending a statement by a colleague on very slippery ground, and becoming enraged when it is suggested even for a minute that people are not all that happy with the education system - at least many of them are not and that is a fact - just does not do it for me.
I am firmly convinced that with the changes that have been recommended and with the approach that has been tabled as a response by the department to the review, we can make things better.
I do not pretend to have all the knowledge - I do not. I do not pretend that what we are doing is perfect - of course not. I do not stand up and fatuously defend statements that, clearly, were not intended in the manner in which they were defended by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini yesterday. I look forward to continuing a budget debate, and I would hope that the side opposite would stop playing games, and let us get it on.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister's last few words, "let us get it on", are probably the ones I will listen to most and follow with care, because the Minister has said a number of things today that are definitely worth responding to. I do not want to get into what has become a habit for this Minister, which is to play a macho game about wanting to go toe-to-toe and duke it out and that kind of stuff with other Members. Nevertheless, the Minister will know, having been in the Legislature for a fair number of years, that I am more than happy to engage in policy discussions and to debate what the facts are. Every time I am poked, I will respond.
The Minister can take that as a challenge being met. He has made it a challenge and he has essentially thrown down the gloves. I am happy to respond in kind. I guess we will spend the afternoon and evening doing that. I did have other things to do, but I am certainly happy to participate now.
First of all, the Minister claims that the defence yesterday of the NDP's record with respect to promoting scholarships was somehow a slippery attempt to, in essence, deceive people into thinking that the NDP had something to say about the promotion of scholarships. That is not true at all. In fact, even though I did have some things to say near the end of my remarks, the Minister was quite effective in shouting me down. The moment that I was probably into my fourth or fifth minute of being shouted at by the Minister, I immediately thought about time-out rooms. Certainly, I gained new respect for teachers who have to deal with special-needs students who simply cannot behave themselves.
I have never really been in a position where I was being disrupted so sorely that I simply could no longer make the case. I can tell the Minister now, for the record, that if a teacher or anyone else approaches me again and says that they have trouble dealing with children who act out and simply do not know how to behave themselves, I will relate to them my own experiences and indicate that I do have a lot of sympathy for their concerns. It is hard to make a case or explain one's position when the Minister of Education, of all people, is howling at you from across the floor, to the point that nothing can be heard and people cannot hear themselves think.
If the Minister wants to expand the notion of time-out rooms or wants to improve the system in dealing with children with behavioural problems, I know from his own experience and our experience with him, that he will get our support if he is being constructive.
The Minister indicated that the remarks yesterday in promoting scholarship somehow were inadequate in explaining the NDP's record in promoting scholarship.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: Oh, the Minister is going to start his howling again; maybe we will wait. Perhaps the Minister would like to step out of the classroom for a moment and, when he feels he can behave himself, he can return.
The point I made is that "scholarship" refers to grants in aid to students to further their education. It often does mean - the Minister is shaking his head - that "grant in aid to a student to further their education" comes from Webster's dictionary, because I knew the Minister was going to play silly games this afternoon, so I thought we might invoke a little bit of a definition.
Nevertheless, it does refer to grants in aid to a student to assist in promoting their education. It also makes reference to the character and qualities or attainments of a scholar. In the context of the second definition of the word "scholarship, if one provides public funds to aid in that scholarship, then that qualifies for what a scholarship is.
There are what I referred to yesterday as crude ways of attaining that goal and some of that can be referred to, at times, as cash for marks - simple cash, like a cheque for marks. It can also mean tuition for good performance or marks. It can also mean that if you perform well in the classroom that your university education could be funded by the government, and that is the case with, for example the Yukon native teacher education program, which the Minister conveniently did not list as being part of the slippery defence of the NDP's record, but he characterizes it as being a separate offence of the NDP's record.
He did not bring up the issue of the bachelor of social work program or any other program that has been established in the past to promote scholarship.
The Minister indicated that the summer student career program, or the rejigged STEP, was an accomplishment of the previous government. There were many things that the previous Conservative government did that the NDP found useful and considered as worthwhile programs that met well-defined objectives. Certainly they would be continued, and from time to time they would be rejigged to meet existing circumstances, not unlike the program to encourage students to get college credit while they are going to high school.
The program may have been initiated before this current Minister came to office, but it may be quite legitimate for him to rejig it. It should not be claimed as something new, but the fact that it has been rejigged suggests there is a new twist. The Minister indicated that his program, which he claimed was new, was simply a rejig of the NDP program.
The NDP indicated that they had undertaken some programs to promote scholarship that were rejigs of previous Progressive Conservative programs. There are some programs that were developed, fostered and promoted during the NDP reign that had nothing to do with the previous Conservative government. I listed some of those - this is another one - and they all promote scholarship, which is quite legitimate.
The Minister's definition of scholarship was that people should, in some way, compete for it. Yes, they compete in the sense that the offering cannot be given to absolutely everybody. They compete in the sense that they must do well in school in order to take advantage of the program - the public investment in them. However, there are a wide variety of ways in which to accomplish that task, and I indicated precisely what they were. The Minister took the evening to use the new computer searching system to draw out every time that the Member for McIntyre-Takhini used the word "boring". He probably discovered the two times that I used the word "boring" in reference to myself. From time to time I am, indeed, boring. I am certainly not as flashy a character as the Minister of Education. However, being boring is not necessarily bad. As my mother used to say, if you are bored, it may be that you are boring. I accept that advice. Nevertheless, I am very familiar with many of the programs that the Progressive Conservatives had instituted in the 1982-85 period and the NDP had instituted in the 1985-92 period. The Minister is under the impression that somehow, because the NDP felt that it had, on balance, a good record in education, it had elevated its own sense of accomplishments to the point of perfection.
I do not know where the Minister got that impression at all, because we certainly did many things and are proud of our accomplishments, but the system was never perfect. It is not perfect now and will not be in 10 years' time.
I was not attacked regularly by First Nations, by parents, by teachers or by the Opposition, and I remember undertaking and making announcements regularly in the Legislature regarding education, undergoing debates about education, bringing into the House the College Act, bringing into the House the Education Act, for which there was virtually no debate. All 300-plus clauses of the Education Act itself were debated in an afternoon. That ought to say something. Frankly, it does not mean that the Education Act is perfect. It does not mean that it cannot be improved, but what it does mean is that, for its time, it was relatively non-controversial in the sense that people did support it. The fact that the only serious criticism during the Education Act debate was that the Yukon Party did not believe corporal punishment should be removed suggests that they did have some faith in the principles and objectives of the act.
The fact that the College Act received virtually no discussion suggests that there was some good consultation there. It does not mean that the people involved in the Education Act or the College Act - who, incidentally, did not include simply the Minister of Education but literally hundreds and hundreds of Yukoners - had come to the perfect solution for all time, something that could never be improved.
I would like to advise the Minister that many of the things that were considered accomplishments during the NDP government period were not generated by the political arm of government at all. They were generated by the partners in education, including members of the Department of Education, who, I understand, were left out of some of the critical decision making, people one would normally expect to be essential in analyzing programs or new initiatives. The ideas from the partners - teachers, parents and First Nations - ended up as programs supported by the government. It is their work that we embrace today. Some programs did come from the political arm, but a lot of programs came from the public. That is the point to promoting partnership, because the creativity and the critical mass of this small jurisdiction, which generates ideas and makes things happen, must come from everyone. There must be a good partnership. It must allow ideas to percolate and encourage ideas to ultimately develop program concepts into programs. This is the point that was always made in the Legislature. Presumably, that is the reason the Minister felt that things were reasonably well in hand, that he did not need to engage in a lot of public discussion about education in the seven-and-a-half years that I was Minister of Education.
The Minister is not beyond making a few statements that are patently false. Unfortunately, I was not present, but the other day he made the statement that the NDP did not believe philosophically in training in the communities.
How patently ridiculous. Today and yesterday he said that the NDP does not believe in testing - had absolutely no interest in testing whatsoever. He did not mention the fact that the CTBS - which was not a creation of the NDP - was something that the NDP encouraged, and it also encouraged the B.C. departmental exams. The fact that students are given tests all the time is something that was not ever discouraged by the NDP government.
My children come home and tell me about tests that they have undertaken all the time.
The Minister indicated that the school achievement indicators program was something that was not promoted by the NDP, but it is being promoted by the Yukon Party. So, I can tell the Minister that when the idea for the school achievement indicators program came out, the NDP, who were in government at the time, supported the project, indicating that it is good to have good testing instruments. However, we have to understand the limitations of those testing instruments and not draw inappropriate conclusions, such as "the whole education system has gone to hell in a handbasket", or "everything is terrible in the education system", or "the progress of students in the education system is abysmal and terrible".
If the Minister were actually listening to the department officials and the officials were saying the same things to him that were said to me, then he would be a lot more careful about making those rash generalizations, because that is an enormous statement of lack of confidence in the system, from every teacher right through to the deputy minister in the department, to First Nations and to parent groups that spend an enormous amount of time trying to make the system work and work well.
The Minister indicates that somehow we are supposed to apologize for this being an expensive system. Well, government in this territory is expensive, on a per capita basis, and it has not been made any better by the growth and budgets from 1985 through to 1995. The cost of government in this territory is high, on a per capita basis.
The cost of running the school in Destruction Bay for a few students is high. The cost of trying to provide a full range of programming in rural communities where you have small student numbers is high. Do we apologize for that? Should we apologize for that? I do not think that we should apologize for the fact that we are making this kind of financial investment in our school system.
Now, some concerns were raised by various people that, on some test scores, we should be looking at ways to make improvements. If people are interpreting the test - given the very small test population in this territory; I mean we are talking about the equivalent of a single graduating class from a single high school in another jurisdiction, where, for example, those students in chemistry and in math may be taught by one to three teachers in the entire territory - and comparing that conclusion against millions of students taught by thousands of teachers in other jurisdictions and drawing statistical conclusions from those results, that is something we should do, but we must consider the populations when interpreting and comparing the results.
Everybody ever associated with the student achievers indicators program has acknowledged that fact, including the Province of Alberta, which did the groundwork along with Quebec, I think, to design the program, the testing procedures and the testing instruments.
For the Minister to now simply say that things are absolutely abysmal and consequently everybody out there who is trying to do a job is being given this incredible vote of non-confidence by the Minister based on a test score from a very small sample of the population is to ignore what the designers of the testing instrument said to watch out for from day one.
The Minister talks about wanting not to play political games. My gosh, if there was ever a political game being played with enormous consequences, it is the one he is playing now.
He indicates that some people in this territory have opted out of the public school system and some take their children down south. Is he under the impression that this is new? Is he under the impression that, in the period 1982-85, or in the period when he was the Government Leader, people were not doing this?
Part of the problem this education system faces is that in some small communities a full array of programs cannot be offered without an even greater financial investment in the school system. If a child in Mayo, for example, wants to get into a chemical engineering program at UBC, he is not going to make the grade going through the J.V. Clark school, because the offerings are not available to him. He has to go somewhere else to get those offerings. He may feel that, given that the government is spending lots of money, why not provide those offerings. That argument has been made in Watson Lake for as long as I have been in this territory, I imagine.
Certainly from 1982 until now - the time I have spent in this Legislature - I have heard complaints that Watson Lake does not have the full range of science courses available in that school. A full range of math courses is not available in that school because many of the students have designs on attending institutions that have a full array of credits in the science fields.
Unless one adds another teacher or two, or more, given that some of the teachers do not have all the qualifications to teach a full array of science courses at the grade 12 level, then one is going to have difficulty providing satisfaction to those students.
When I was in Watson Lake, I talked to a lot of people there about that particular concern. I wish the system could invest even more money to respond to everyone's desires, but the system cannot without compromising something else.
There are some people who have removed their children from the school system for religious reasons because they do not like what is being taught and they do not like other students who share different moral ethical values going to school with their children.
The Education Act, which the Minister presumably supported, acknowledges their right to an education someplace else: as long as the children were being taught the basics, they could have an education system with an education plan appropriate to their spiritual needs. It would be very difficult to change the public education system in this territory to meet the religious requirements of every family who pulled their children from the classroom because they objected to the fact that religious instruction was not being taught, so there has been a trade-off.
If the Minister has statistics that suggest that more people than ever, as a percentage of the student population, are removing their children from the classroom, not because the offerings were not there or due to a religious conviction, but if it was due to some other reason, then I would like to see those statistics. Perhaps there is some merit in what the Minister says. I do not believe those statistics are available or that the Minister can justify his claim.
If I was to make some generalized statements about the Yukon Party's time in office, just simply using some of the rhetoric they have used, I could say all kinds of unkind things - and untrue things - about the Yukon Party government's period in education. I think the criticism has been much more measured than the Minister would care to admit. There are things that have happened recently that have given us some cause for concern.
The fact that people, from time to time, have been at war with the Minister of the day, including leaders of the representative groups of the partners in education, suggests to me that there may be a problem. It is not a traditional or typical problem that the department has faced in the past.
In some cases, some people have told me that they agree with some of the things that the Minister has done, but they resent Ministers - not this Minister -not consulting properly, because they expected proper consultation.
If the Minister cares to ignore that, wants to pooh-pooh it or tell me how it is the luck of the draw - or give me some other card-playing analogy - and how things are tough all over, he can do that. That is fine. It is no skin off my nose. We have done our duty. But when the Minister makes those claims in the House and wants to pick a fight, then we are here.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is always interesting to hear the Member opposite when he backs up a bit from the comments he made the day before. I seriously wonder if he believes that scholarships and scholarship programs, in the sense that they were being debated here prior to his intervention, are the same as promoting scholarship, as he neatly tried to twist the phrase around to get a different meaning entirely. He would have us believe that any kind of assistance to students amounts to a scholarship. Assistance to more than one student would be scholarships, I suppose. Other programs that give money to students are scholarships.
I do not believe that the average person, the person listening to or reading the debate, would think for a minute that we were talking about such things as student loans or summer employment when we speak about scholarship programs as opposed to programs that would promote learning. There is a nuance. It is pretty plain to most people, and I am sure it is to the Member opposite. However, he can play out the game as long as he wants. I just cannot believe that he is sincere on that score.
With respect to the other matters he raised, no, I did not go through a search for the times that the Member opposite has apologized for being dull or boring. I just recalled that, in the last couple of weeks, there were two occasions, and I found them pretty quickly, because they were still fresh in my mind.
Regarding the rather crude political gamut that he opened with in his response this time, about children not behaving themselves and having to be called to order and that sort of thing, I know that the Member opposite has been called to order many times since I have been in this House. He has argued with the Speaker and with the Chair on occasion when the ruling has been against him. I have also sat here and listened to him heckle, and I have heckled on occasion myself. I point that out because, if we are going to assume a tone of reasonable men, let us balance the scale on both sides.
Now the Member is saying that some of the programs to promote scholarship that he discussed yesterday were not developed by the NDP, but were existing programs that were improved. That is a change, and it is interesting to know. One certainly would not have gathered that from the context of yesterday's debate, so that is a step forward. Do I, at any time, suggest that I or we on this side discard a policy or program because it was initiated by the NDP. No, I do not. Do I feel that the initiative that would provide credit in both high school and college - for high school students taking college courses - is somewhat new? Yes, at least in the sense of the comments made by the hon. Member yesterday, regarding summer employment.
Yet, when he was provided with the draft ministerial statement, he said that this was not it at all. Again, we can get down to nuances, which really seems to be the game plan of the side opposite when we discuss the education budget - to go on and on about issues. Do we disagree about consultation? No, we are quite happy to consult and do it on an ongoing basis.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We can go back to when the NDP was in power. There were lots of things that they did not consult about and they sprang on the public - like the Watson Lake sawmill, or the sudden decision imposed upon the regulatory authority to reduce the rates just ahead of the 1989 election, or the sudden selling of the embarrassing Watson Lake situation to some fairly slick promoters from Vancouver just before the 1989 election. If the Members opposite think that there were not lots of people who found their consultation process - Year 2000 and the rest - a farce, then it is simply because they do not know a lot of people whom Members on this side know, because a lot of people held that view. If they think for a second that everyone consults in the same manner, that is simply not the case. The fact is that there seems to be a propensity to lean on an Education Act that was put through this House, which is simply a framework. I applaud the previous administration for getting it through fairly smoothly. In their minds, it seems to equate to a statement that the education system is perfect.
I remember saying, of course, that it was not perfect. However, the side opposite takes great umbrage at this side criticizing the state of affairs, and our pointing out that it costs more per student and that the output has to be improved.
The statement that we should not apologize for high costs in government is true as far as half-truths go. The problem is that one should apologize for a high cost in government if the performance - the output - does not measure up. We have to have a balance in the equation, and that is what we are saying.
The Member opposite then takes a statement about people opting out of the school system and says that I am trying to make the claim that something drastically changed for the worse under the NDP. Not at all. I said that I agreed that some opted out for religious reasons but that there are a lot of parents who are not happy with the school system but would much rather keep their children in public schools here, that they do not take them out of the school system for religious reasons but because they do not feel their children will receive an education that maximizes the child's potential. This is a critical issue and very dear to the hearts of the parents I speak about and speak to. I know quite a few parents in that boat. I know that some of the rural schools have had tremendous problems over the years.
For example, in Carcross we have parents who have been taking their kids out of school and sending them to a private tutor and paying for that tutor. We have parents in the Carcross area who, in the past, have not sent their children - and some still do not - to the Carcross School, but insist that they go to Golden Horn. We have parents who have moved from Tagish to Whitehorse because of their concern about the school. There are situations like this in Ross River and throughout the territory; it is not a perfect situation. It seems to me that we can do better and that is what we will strive for.
Mr. McDonald: First of all I want to disabuse the Minister of the notion that I am backing up from my remarks from yesterday. I am doing no such thing. The point that I was making yesterday and that I am reiterating today - if the Minister wants me to make it more forcefully to prove to him that I am not backing away, then I can - is that the notion of scholarship, which is to provide assistance to students to perform to a certain level - and implying that there is some competition for whatever financial assistance is provided, whether it be through the provision of some programming or whether it be a bursary, or a job opportunity - is something that the NDP has promoted and continues to promote.
Yesterday, the Minister, in some dismissive remarks about the NDP's position, suggested that he was sure that the NDP government would try not to make these elitist. Yes, there was a conscious effort to try to make these as commonly available as possible, as long as we are promoting scholarships in the broader definition of the term.
The Minister made some remarks about wanting to point out that everybody had hooted and howled in the Legislature. Well, yes, from time to time emotions are raised and, from time to time, a time-out room might be desirable for a lot of Members in this Legislature. However, the Member's performance yesterday was one that took the cake and brought to mind the need for perhaps a more conscious action by Members to disabuse the Minister of the notion that he can get away with that kind of behaviour.
The Minister indicated today that he was only trying to set the record straight. I find it interesting that the Minister would actually go back into Hansard to look for the times that I call myself boring, as if that is relevant to anything. It did support the notion that he wanted to make a personal shot and make it as effectively as he could. I am not hurt. I am still here and I am prepared to discuss the issues with him.
The one thing that I do find interesting about this Minister's positioning is that he spends an inordinate amount of time talking about the NDP's record. Obviously, that period from 1985 to 1992 was an intense experience for the Minister. It must have been a really invigorating period for him, because he seems to draw out that experience in virtually everything he says.
Every statement he makes, he cannot resist talking about that period. I do not want to talk about all the things that the Minister talked about today because I think we are in Education estimates, but I would be more than happy to if the opportunity arises again. I will talk about the experience of consultation in the context of education in the past and the way in which it is being constructed now, and the way it looks like it is going in the future.
In the past, consultation has been a hallmark of the Department of Education. It has refined its - and even codified in law - requirement to consult and to respect other partners in education. There is no doubt about that. That is not to say that any consultation process is going to be easy; there is no such thing. Obviously people come to the equation with different views. They sometimes come with high emotions if the stakes are high. It is difficult to bring people together and come to common conclusions.
I believe, based on what has happened in the last year or so with educators, First Nations people, parents, teachers taking direct runs, in public, at the government, is something that is not expected. For Ministers to fire back in the Legislature at the Yukon Teachers Association, for example, for a review committee to publicly chastise the Minister for misrepresenting, in the Legislature, the results of its report, is not expected. For the Minister to fire back is a new occurrence. It is not something that we have come to expect.
Saying that somehow something has gone wrong is not the same thing as saying that things have gone irretrievably wrong and everything, incidentally, that was ever done before this Minister came to office was perfect, and everything that this Minister will ever do will be rotten and terrible. The obvious point that is being made is that there are a lot of very upset partners, as we have come to characterize them, in the education system.
They believe that there is an authoritarianism, an anti-democratic element, slipping into the education system. They believe it is a throw-back to the time when the senior levels in the department, along with the Minister, decided everything. They are worried about the direction in which things are going. They are not saying that the Minister is Hitler and is deciding absolutely everything; they are saying that the direction the department is taking, by not consulting with them in critical areas and misrepresenting what they understand to be their message to the government through the government's own review processes, is a growing problem.
The Minister indicates that we have to improve what he calls outputs. Given that we supported the concept of the school achievement indicators program, there is nothing wrong with improving output, so to speak, because that can always be improved upon. There should never be a time when the education system feels that it has accomplished everything to be accomplished, so just sits back and does nothing. Improvements can always be made, and we should be striving for improvements in the education system, if nowhere else. What is being said to the Minister and the government is that we should not fixate on certain testing instruments and draw inappropriate conclusions from them. That is what is being said.
The Minister sometimes makes it sound as if teachers, some parents and perhaps First Nations - the partners - do not believe their children should accomplish anything in the education system. I know that is not a fair characterization.
However, when we design a system to promote not only learning, but also a love of learning - that is in the preamble to the act, I believe - and talk about wanting to be competitive in a world of the future - which we cannot define, so we end up talking about objectives such as problem-solving and encouraging students to use information more efficiently to both personal and economic advantage - we are really referring to the desire to have a system that has broad objectives and can test the output, so to speak, in a variety of ways, and we are pleading with the government not to condemn all the good work that does take place and not to fixate on a particular testing instrument or misinterpret the results of that instrument.
The Minister has indicated that some kids have opted out of the school system because, as he puts it, they will not receive an education that maximizes their potential. That is a mouthful. The Minister is saying that the children are missing something in the system. Perhaps what we should do is have a discussion on what they are missing. If they are not going to achieve their potential in the system, what is it that they are missing? If we have any clear ideas about that, we ought to have a discussion.
We have already agreed that some parents feel their children are missing religious instruction. We cannot do much about that. There are some children who are missing course offerings in rural communities. We cannot do much about that either, unless we expand the facilities and expand the staff with qualified teachers in those communities, to provide the full range of options. What else are they missing? How else can we respond to these parents' concerns?
The Minister cited a very interesting example - the Carcross School. The Minister, having represented the area for a while - I also know, very well, what has been happening at the Carcross School, at least over the last eight or ten years - will know that many of the parents do not want to send their children to Carcross, but would prefer to send them on a long-distance bus trip to Golden Horn School. They are sending their child north, so to speak, because they do not like the disruption and the climate in that particular school. There are many reasons for that. What is the school missing? How can the climate be improved? That is a legitimate debate.
I think the point to make here is that if we are going to talk about what is missing and why parents pull children from the schools and why parents want more, we should find out what is the "more" that they want.
Testing instruments alone do not promote learning and they should not be used to promote learning. What is wrong with the programming? If the Minister has already drawn the conclusion that things are bad, what is it that is happening, specifically, to make things better? If the Minister has drawn the conclusion that things are bad, has he drawn that conclusion from the one or two test results that he has received? These are all legitimate questions. Let us all have a discussion about that.
If the Minister is ultimately looking for more resources and has a clear sense about where he wants to allocate those resources, then maybe he can make that case, but I think the education system is deserving of us moving past the rhetoric stage. I think that that conversation would be quite useful.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It seems that the Member normally has a pattern of beginning with political stuff and then talking endlessly about what he considers philosophical issues, in the hope that the side opposite will get his opening comments.
Of course this happened when he first started talking about disobedient children in school that cannot behave themselves. He went on at some length and became philosophical. This time he started out with his observations that I and others on this side of the House take pains to remind this House of what the previous administration did or did not do during its tenure in office.
That is true. We do that. It is a habit we picked up from the folks opposite, particularly the Member who just spoke and the current territorial Leader of the NDP, actively working since his announcement almost a year ago to be the federal Leader of the NDP.
They were in power for almost eight years and all through that time they took great delight in going on and on and on about the previous administration. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
The Member would have us believe that there is widespread concern that suddenly the department and the Minister and other players in the education system are not going to consult. That is not what we are saying. It is inconsistent with what we are doing, and I do not really believe that the concern is nearly as widespread as the Member would have us believe.
However, the concern has been expressed, and we certainly intend to send out the message loud and clear by our actions, as well as words, that the door is open. We will go out and consult. The department will continue, in the manner in which it has for a considerable period of time, to consult with the stakeholders.
The Member opposite made some comments about standardized testing and performance measurements. There is nothing new in what he said. There is no basic disagreement between us. No one has said that we are going to rely on a certain test or on certain types of testing as the be-all and end-all. We recognize the pitfalls, and we are bringing in experts to consult with the stakeholders to develop a plan that will receive further consultations of the stakeholders - experts in their field.
I do not pretend to be an expert. Like the Member opposite, I do not pretend that I am an expert in education; I am a Minister. I am certainly not the person who sets the curriculum or determines the type of tests that ought to be used, or that sort of thing.
The former Minister made the rather interesting statement - and I am sure that this is a direct quote - "testing instruments should not be used to promote learning." I totally disagree with that. I think that diagnostic assessments are a form of testing. The kind of testing that teachers, themselves, do from time to time in the classroom can be used to promote learning. They can be used to assess whether or not the student is learning, and if not, why not - at least they are certainly one manner of doing it.
It is my view that for some students, not all, testing and knowing that there will be a test often motivates a student to strive to study and learn the subject matter to be tested. I am not saying that this is black and white either.
I do think that the bald statement that testing instruments should not be used to promote learning is one that I certainly cannot agree with, and I was rather surprised to hear it. Again, it is one of the kinds of statements that, if we are going to be talking about rhetoric sometimes being a bit alarming for those who hear it, that type of a statement is certainly one that I think would be of concern to educators.
The Member talks about some of the problems and he feels that we should fix them here - we will just have a debate and all will come clear. What has happened, in case he had not noticed, is that the former Minister on this side put together a lengthy, intensive consultation process that has reported, and we are using the comments and the recommendations as the base for departmental action over the next period of time. Our response has been tabled here and briefings have been held. We welcome feedback on that document, but that is the process that we have gone through, and we are dealing with the recommendations and the arguments involved.
Four people, who were signatories to the review document, took exception to what they thought was said in the Legislature on a certain day. I refuted that and clarified the misunderstanding in the House, filed the statements and answered to the charges.
The Member for Faro laughs, but he is the heckler. For the Member to suggest that anyone in this House heckles as much, or even a small fraction of the amount, as the Member on his side does - whom he was visibly defending yesterday afternoon - and if he really expects us to believe that any other Member heckles as much as the Member for Faro, then he expects an awful lot from the rest of us.
Those are my comments on what was just said. I will listen with great interest to what follows.
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Minister for that. I just realized that perhaps the Minister is a little disconcerted with my tendency to respond aggressively to his remarks and then speak on the actual subject at hand as a second element to my comments. Perhaps I should respond only to the Minister's opening comments, and then respond to his philosophical comments after there has been an opportunity for discussion. I do not want the Minister to be under the impression that I am trying to steer him away from a political confrontation. I want that political confrontation. That political confrontation is good for us, and if the Minister thinks for one moment that this government has a good reputation in education right now, he is nuts.
The Minister makes reference to the fact that the government Ministers take pains to remind people of the NDP government's accomplishments and its failures. That would not be so bad if they had a clear coherent strategy of their own, but it is pretty bloody obvious that they have no such thing.
Perhaps what I will do, just to make the point clear to the Minister, is I will put an arrow down at the bottom of my notes so that I will remind myself to speak to the issue again at the end of my remarks so that the Minister will not feel that I am trying to steer clear of the political discussion.
This Minister is the one who takes joy in taking shots at Members for their ability to provide leadership to their parties and makes a point that it is important for all Members to realize and acknowledge that there are Members here, such as the fellow who sits next to me, who have been successful leaders in a political party and may be aspiring to leadership responsibilities in the party at the federal level. Who is this Minister to talk? He has been looking for the Conservative Party leadership and the Yukon Party leadership for years, and still claims that role even now. He is the one who has made a number of different attempts at sitting in the Legislature, including in the 1970s - we could talk about that if he wishes - and took over the leadership of the party just before the Progressive Conservative Party was defeated. When the PCs decided that they did not like the Progressive Conservative Party, they changed it to the Yukon Party, and ultimately the Minister left - not to become a private Member in that party but to take on an independent role. He was not prepared to play the party game at all if he was not leader.
Now, there is a charade in this House about independence. What nonsense. There is no independent role for this Member. This Member is the erstwhile leader of a party - a leadership that he could not get formally. He now gets it behind the scenes. I will come back to that point at the end, just to make the point to the Minister that I am not trying to avoid that confrontation. I am happy to engage in it.
With respect to the Minister's contention that the concern in the community about the government's consultation record is not particularly widespread, I would ask the Minister to wake up to the fact that when there is a review committee deciding that it is going to write a letter to a newspaper rather than resolve any misunderstandings about a Minister's remarks in the Legislature, that is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. It is a sign of a relationship that requires repair, if possible. It is a sign that perhaps there was not a relationship in the first place. Those are the members of a review committee that the government appointed.
This review committee did not have a friendly start. That also has been raised in the Legislature, so I will not repeat it. However, in discussions that I have had with members on that committee, they have indicated to me - though there are two members I did not talk to prior to the committee being struck - that their rationale for being on the committee was not because they were eager to provide for a review under the terms that the government had requested. Their reason was that they wanted to fill a seat to ensure that good things that they believed in would not be torn down.
They sat on that committee with the understanding that they would be able to protect their interests, not enhance their interests.
The Minister indicates that he believes in consultation. Well, presumably, he will have a year or two to demonstrate that he does believe in consultation. He will have some work to do, in my opinion, to develop the kind of relationship with the partners in education that is ultimately a constructive one.
That relationship is ultimately one where the Minister will feel that he does not have to take direct runs, in the Legislature, at what he calls the political actions of his own review committee; it will be one where the first instinct will be to pick up the phone and say, "Look, there is some kind of problem here; there may be a misunderstanding; let us work this out, because I do not have anything but everyone's best interests at heart."
Obviously, we are some distance from that at this point, and if the Minister wants to say that he is committed to improving things, then I am behind him 100 percent.
Now, the Minister had indicated that I had said, in his view, that testing should not be used to promote learning. Well, the broadest sense of the term, which includes what he referred to as the motivational factor, there is some motivation as long as it is not to the exclusion of other things. All we have heard about from the governing side in this Legislature is their sense of what is out there to promote learning.
As an instrument itself, for teachers, what it does is what the Minister said it should do in the first place, and that is, as an instrument, determine whether or not a student is learning and it is that to which I refer.
I will get back to the leadership point. I am winding up.
When it comes to leadership, this Minister has nothing on anyone in terms of his own abilities to lead or his own commitment to party loyalty, and he has a lot to learn when it comes to showing leadership in the education system or in the public school system. Obviously, there are not many leaders of the various groups who feel that the present Minister is providing leadership in the broadest sense of the term. To provide leadership is to provide inspiration and encourage people to do good work.
Instead, what we have are letters in the paper and direct shots being taken at public groups. by Ministers in the House In the past - and this did happen from time to time - if a Minister took a direct shot at teachers, for example, there would be howls coming from the Opposition benches about how unfair it was to criticize people in the public, the citizenry, the volunteer groups - people who are out there trying to do a good job.
I think the relationship has gone sour now. If the Minister is going to show true leadership, he can at least improve that relationship.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is really interesting to hear the pollster over there. He has the pulse of the folks in the Yukon, of all the stakeholders, and he advises us in the House on the mood of the public. They consulted and everyone is happy with them.
They called the last election early, as I recall. If everything was so great, if their sense of the public mood was so good, why did they get dumped by the electorate last time? Why did a vast majority of people, including all the stakeholders - First Nations, parents, teachers, a majority across the board - vote against them? Because that is what happened.
They were in power. They knew what was going on because they were perfect. What happened? Well, apparently folks around the Yukon did not think they were altogether perfect. They have the pulse. They have the contacts. No one else does. So it is a curious thing that they called an election early because they thought they could take advantage of their reading of the public.
It is fine for people to give opinions - opine - about the mood of the public and how people feel, letters in the paper and that sort of thing. There is nothing wrong with that. I guess it is part of politics. Certainly we listen and certainly that Minister has a right to make all these comments and offer his sage advice. It is just that I hope he will excuse us if we on this side do not take it to be gospel. I hope he will excuse us if we wonder whether or not what he is saying is really what he believes.
We have to treat that information in that way because we have heard all afternoon about how they did everything right and we are doing everything wrong, that people were happy with their consultations and are terribly unhappy with ours.
Yet, if they were consulting, they obviously were not listening in the time frame leading up to the last election call because they were absolutely shocked and dumbfounded by the rejection imposed upon them by more than 60 percent of the people in the Yukon who voted. That is what happened. More than 60 percent voted.
I am sure - and it is very easy to do - the Member opposite will stand up and talk about the election in 1985. I have never run around saying I was consulting for the previous X number of years. I have never said I had that kind of a read because I had done everything perfectly. I do not recall ever suggesting such a thing. It is interesting to note that, while that particular government lost the election then, it got a significantly larger percentage of the popular vote than the NDP government that won, and that slightly more than 50 percent - not more than 60 percent - voted against it.
Forgive me, Mr. Chair. I know that you are a patient person, having to sit through hours and hours of what has been described by one of the speakers as boring, but I have to stand here and say that no one in his right mind would take that stuff and not react just a little bit. Why were they thrown out? Why were they dumped unceremoniously? They picked their spot. There was a brand-new face in politics leading the Yukon Party, and they ran with it.
I remember reading in the paper that there was a victory party going on in Dawson for the incumbent until he suddenly realized that he had lost. They got the beer and stuff together and they were celebrating, until the votes came in. It was a cake-walk - just a cake-walk. The fact is that elections were called by the government in power, the government that said it was in constant communication and consulting with all the people. It was a group of people who picked their time for an election, when none of the seasoned observers thought anyone else had a chance. What was the result?
How could we take the opinion of the former speaker as gospel truth with respect to what people think about them or us? I have no doubt that there is some evidence upon which a person could base their opinion. There is some evidence upon which I can base mine.
Let me say very quickly that I do not pretend to be a pollster. I am not a person who stands in this House and says that I have it right and everybody else - the majority of Yukoners - have it wrong. I do not think for a second that it is as clear cut as that and I appreciate the advice. I will certainly weigh it. One always weighs advice. It is certainly not that I am not listening, because I would have to be a fool not to try to listen. We have been here for a long time; there has been a lot of listen to, and I am sure that there will be a lot more. Let them get off their high horse over there and get down to some real issues.
They do not have a very good polling system; they proved that. They called the shot in the last election, and they were wrong. I hope they can admit that.
Mr. McDonald: This discussion is not boring to me; I like it. If other people find me boring, I am sorry for that. There is not a darn thing I am going to do to change it. I am going to continue on as I have so far.
The Minister is under the impression that we have not even been talking about real issues, that we have been throwing a few political shots back and forth across the Legislature, that we have not been talking about real issues this afternoon. Partnership in education is a real issue. Consultation in education is a real issue. I know this Minister knows all about calling elections early and having to live with the consequences of that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: The Minister suggests that perhaps I could raise the issue of the election in 1985 as an example, and perhaps I should. It was at that time that the Minister was first elected as leader of the then Progressive Conservative Party -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: The Minister was the new Conservative leader in the territory. He was going to tell all the people in the territory how things should work. He was going to make things right. He was going to do things the way no one had been able to do them before. It was his birthright.
There were generations of Phelps', and he was going to set the world on fire.
Well, his first election was a bust. It was a surprising one. The PCs stumbled around these Chambers in this government building after that election as if they did not know what hit them. Then they had the opportunity to correct all that in 1989. They could bring things back to the equilibrium. The Minister was still the leader of the party. The party had not yet eviscerated him. When it came time to correct the NDP anomaly, what did the Minister do? He lost the next election.
So, I know the Minister knows about losing and the hurtin' feelin' that comes with losing big. But what did the Minister do in the face of that? First of all, he cut the party's ties with the federal party. He felt that it was really the federal party that was causing its popularity to plummet. It did that. Then the party decided that perhaps it did not need this Member at all as leader. It felt that perhaps he did not set the world on fire. Perhaps not everyone was buying into his notion of birthright to be Government Leader. So, the party found someone else.
This Minister had a hard time working within that environment. If he was not leader, he did not want to play. He decided to no longer be a member of the party. He abandoned the PCs and the Yukon Party. He said he was an independent.
In the last election, the NDP got its butt kicked.
The NDP received 36 percent of the popular vote and the Yukon Party got 37 percent of the popular vote. I would venture to guess that a few people thought they were voting for some independent candidates during that election campaign.
At the very first opportunity, this charade about independence was thrown right out the window. The Minister could not wait to jump into the government benches, while another Independent sat back wringing his hands wondering how he might repair the relationship so that he could also stop being an Independent. As soon as the right offer came along and he got the right payout - the trips were not enough, but when it came to a Minister's spot, that is when he got in there - we put to rest the notion that there was ever any Independent candidates and this charade during the election that somehow something was different.
The Minister seems to think that the NDP government was kicked out for some good reasons, and there probably were some good reasons. I can think of a few things that we could have done a lot better. I wish we had, I wish we had thought of it earlier, but we did not. I know there were things we could have done better even in education. We did some things well, but the system was not perfect.
We did so well that it was not even an issue during the election campaign. I challenge the government to bring out the press releases on education during the election campaign that said what they were going to do after getting elected - except for the one convoluted statement about public schools in the four-year plan that no one ever read. Where are the speeches that were given? Where is the issue? Where was the issue? I canvassed hundreds and hundreds of homes during that election campaign, and I came across people who were interested in talking about the kinds of things that the government was talking about in education perhaps a handful of times - maybe not even that many times.
That was not an issue in the election campaign. There were all kinds of other things that were issues. It may have not been an issue partly because there was hardly any debate in the Legislature about education.
When did we talk about education policy? We talked a lot about whether or not some guy was recruited in the best possible way, or we spent an enormous amount of time talking about whether or not a school bus was going to go to one community or another.
The Minister spoke about two things that I can remember, at least. One was school busing to Carcross, and I thank him for his support on that particular issue. I was not sure where the entire Opposition stood on that point. He also spoke about the construction of the Golden Horn School.
He made statements in the Legislature about education regularly and got nothing but glowing comments. We had discussions in the Legislature during Committee estimates, but it was all about building buildings, about the number of teachers, about the mechanics of running an education system, and never anything about philosophy.
When did this new-found interest in testing instruments come forward? It was not raised. No one went on and on about anything of a philosophical nature about the education system.
That may have been why it was not the big election campaign issue. Since then, in the last 18 months, I have attended two teachers' rallies and seen the gallery filled to capacity with teachers and parents interested in education issues. One might think that is simply an indication of a healthy interest in education and of people wanting to see what is going on. However, it could also be interpreted as being - in part, at least - an expression of some concern about what was happening and people wanting to see the discussion for themselves.
Again this afternoon, the Minister made statements that the Opposition was somehow trying to paint the fact that everything the NDP ever did was right, and there were no flaws, and everything the Yukon Party ever did was wrong. Who said that? I pointed to a couple of places where I thought some improvement could be made, and not once have I said that the NDP had a perfect record in education. Not once have I said that everything that could have been done was done. Where does this Minister get off making those inflammatory remarks?
The Minister indicated that he would be a fool not to listen to the partners in education and to the public. I agree with him. He would be a fool if he did not listen, and he will get into a lot more trouble if he does not listen in the future.
That is the point that is being drilled home time and time again, and not just in the Legislature. This does not just come from Opposition Members who are speaking in the wilderness, speaking in a vacuum, deciding to pick on Willard Phelps today because it is his turn. The Minister responds by saying that he can tough it out with the best of them and go the full 12 rounds.
The fact that the parents and the teachers may have been expressing concerns is the issue, not whether or not the Minister of Education can last 12 rounds in the Legislature - who cares? This is not some bet in a bar about whether or not the Minister can last all night. This is about whether or not the government and the political level of this government - of which the Minister is fully a member, heart and soul, of the Yukon Party - can repair its relationship, which is obviously bad, with the partners in education.
If he is going to show leadership, it is going to be about whether he can repair that relationship, and not whether or not he can last 12 rounds in the bar.
Chair: Is it the wish of Members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with the Department of Education.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I intend to be somewhat brief. I want to point out that the previous speaker did miss the point. He took the opportunity to unleash a lot of pent-up anger and bitterness over the fact that the NDP did lose the last election. He made a lot of personal comments that are not entirely accurate, but we will set that aside for now. The central point was that we had to take a polling - the sense of mood of that Member, like anyone else - with a grain of salt, because their polling and their reading of the electorate has not always been exactly accurate. I understand why he might want to lash out in the way that he did. That is fine. We are quite happy to carry that on any time.
The real issues were discussed at some length. People can judge whether or not his spirited defence of the critic yesterday was a misuse of the notion of scholarships and whether or not he was on topic.
I and many like me say that he was not. I and many like me say that it was a slippery defence. I and many like me say that many of his remarks were bureaucratic, even though he chastised, with some heat, one of the Members here just a few days ago for what he saw as that Member exhibiting those characteristics.
I will leave it at that unless Members opposite want to carry on with the debate.
Mr. Harding: I certainly do want to continue with the debate on the issue of consultation. I have sat here since the Minister's first outburst opened the debate this afternoon.
Given the Minister's history in this Legislature and his short history as Minister of Education, I find it quite ironic that he would have the audacity to call the comments made by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini "slippery". His record on slipperiness is clear, and it is supported by Members of the Opposition, by the people in charge of the task force struck by the government, and by the members of that task force on education who were appointed by the government.
The Member's comments have been, I would say, the most convoluted and - Mr. Chair, you called the Minister out of order for using the word the other day, so I will not use it; it was on the tip of my tongue - selective use of the language has misrepresented the views of Yukoners regarding the education system in his very coy lawyer-like way. I want to get to that in more detail shortly.
The Minister opened his tirade today by saying that he was going to play the macho man that he usually tries to be. He said he was going to be "dealer's choice" and that it was up to us if we wanted to, in his words, "play our games and not discuss substantive issues", then he was going to do it and he would respond, as he said, "in kind".
Part of the reason we are going through this entire exercise with the Minister is simply because of that attitude. There is a clear lack of understanding by the Minister that the issue of consultation with the partners in education is a paramount theme. It is not an airy, political issue. It is a paramount theme. Unfortunately, the Minister has yet to realize that.
Just to recap yesterday's debate a little bit, I quite quickly got onto the subject of consultation with the Minister. On the page containing my issues on education, it is the first one, because there has been so much disgruntlement expressed by the partners in education about this government's policy directives and initiatives in the area of consultation. There have been so few initiatives that it has even undertaken that it is somewhat unbelievable that what little it has done has sparked so much criticism and concern.
Yesterday, we got onto the issue of the Minister's style of consultation. I asked him what his style of consultation was, after I had pointed out the concerns that had been raised by so many people. He refused to answer the question and he tried to turn the consultation issue into a scholarship debate. The problem this government has with consultation does not start or stop, or begin and end, with scholarships.
It is much deeper. Just to name a few of the areas where they have had problems, there was the delivery of the education review announcement; the education review action plan; the wage restraint legislation; the excellence awards; the determination of the school council liaison position; and the implementation of Strand tests. I know that some of these initiatives came before this Minister and that government, of which he was a firmly placed Member, sitting around the Cabinet table of the Yukon Party government, and as the new Minister he should share in the concern that the relationship between the partners in education has broken down.
The failure of consultation runs deeper. People are speaking out; letters are written to the Minister; letters to the editor are showing up in the papers; people are on the radio; and petitions have been circulated. There is public outcry. Perhaps it is not loud enough for this government to see that they are not doing what the people want, because there are no massive protests in the Legislative Chambers at this time. However, given the special state that existed between the partners in education, it is significant.
Those failures are a critical issue. The Minister should just stand up and say that he is concerned about the representations made by some people and the partners in education, that he is going to do better, that he is sorry they are upset, and that they have a legitimate point.
We are going to talk to them and listen to them, and we are going to put a couple of our planning items on hold, and run them by those people to get their input, and listen to it, hear it, consult with them, make some adjustments that they recommend, then we would not even be here this afternoon talking about consultation. We would be on some of the other important issues that I want to talk about, like distance education, computer technology in the schools, native language instruction, First Nation curriculum in the public schools - things such as these.
Consultation to me is critical. That is why it is on the front page of the Education Act. Partners in education means discussion. Yesterday, the Minister made an accusation that I was suggesting that what I wanted was to effectively give a veto to the partners in education, a ridiculous notion that was dismissed quite abruptly by any sane person listening to the debate. From the comments I received today, there were a lot of people wondering what the Minister was saying and why he was so stubborn in his defence of his actions.
The Minister has once too often stood up, 27 months into this government's term, and said that the NDP had the most expensive education system in the country but it never measured the output. That is his favourite line, after 27 months into the government's mandate, which will be coming to an abrupt halt in probably 18 to 20 months.
It is an interesting argument coming from that Minister, because when the criticism that this government is cutting back on the system that he likes to call expensive and has no measurement of output, is directed at the government in the responses to the throne speech and in our responses in this Legislature, he says to me, in answer in debate, that in actual fact I should not be criticizing the government for cutting back because he is pumping more money into the system.
He likes to have it both ways. On one hand, he says the NDP was responsible for a system that was expensive and did not measure output. Yet, when he is criticized for cutting back in the areas where I think there should be bigger expenditures, he says the Member should not criticize me because I am pumping more money into it. Let us keep in mind that the Minister still does not have a clue about how to measure output.
I will read the comments made by the Minister yesterday in Hansard: "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 always seems 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. In all of these areas, this government has steadily increased its commitment, in terms of dollars, year after year, overall." That was his statement yesterday. It is odd that he does not mention output.
When the Minister's feet are put to the fire a bit, he likes to argue both sides. His favourite critique of us is that we had an expensive system with no measurement of output. That is patently ridiculous, based on the fact that we had CTBSs and LPIs, supported SAIPs and B.C. grade 12 departmentals. These are just a few of the tests we conducted, aside from the tests the teachers gave their students themselves. These are the testing initiatives the NDP had. The Minister believes only in testing output.
We have a big philosophical difference of opinion about that. I think the measurements of personal bests and effort are also a sign of output, not just someone who gets 80 percent on a test score. Unfortunately, the Minister has a deep philosophical division with us on that. I am sure it will continue, given his stubbornness.
I would like the Minister to be consistent in his critique for once. If he is going to criticize us for putting too much money into a system that did not have measurement output - by his definition - then he should not stand here and defend the criticism by us that he has not addressed the needs out there enough in areas such as special needs by saying he is pumping more money into it - again, with no reference to output.
Yesterday, he mentioned the Chretien position on free trade. I think the position the Minister has taken is quite analogous to that - both sides.
I would never purposely suggest that the Member has purposely mislead this House or Yukoners, but some people of the Yukon public have suggested it. All I have to do is pick up the Whitehorse Star from Monday, February 13, 1995. I refer to a letter from the president of the Yukon Teachers' Association, the Council for Yukon Indians, Yukon school councils and the president of the Association of Yukon School Administrators. They are education experts, hand-picked by this government ,who undertook to take on the task of an education review to the tune of $130,000.
The headline for this letter to the Minister reads, "committee's views are being misrepresented". It is an open letter to the Minister of Education. I will read a couple of paragraphs from the letter, so that I can show the Minister that it is not me, but other people out there saying it. Because the Minister is one to talk about polling, this is a good way to establish polling.
"As members of the committee appointed to complete the education review for the people of the Yukon, we feel that we must now speak up as to how the recommendations made by the committee are being misrepresented to the Yukon public." It goes on to say, "We would like to state unequivocally that the statements made by yourself..." - and this is referring to the Minister of Education - "...in the Legislature on February 2 are false..." - false, false - "...and misrepresent the public's views expressed to the Education Review Committee." That is an extremely strong statement.
What does the Minister do? He lashes out. He has the department trying to come up with some kind of an argument for his defence. It was sad, because he manipulated what he said. It was obvious to anyone who read Hansard, or who watched Question Period on television, that he stated there was an overwhelming call by stakeholders in the Yukon to have expanded cumulative and diagnostic testing based on his SAIP scores. That is what he intimated, and that is what everyone heard.
He justified these comments in his slippery lawyeresque way, by saying that he had not said precisely that. Let me tell him that he left that impression with this committee, because it wrote a letter saying that.
The Minister can bury his head in the sand, or he can admit that he left that impression with people, because he did. He can read Hansard all he wants. His clever command of the language is not going to get him off the hook this time. He is guilty - period - case closed.
It was a sad day in this Legislature for me, because the Minister refused to take any responsibility for making those statements after going into a hysterical, political rant about testing and his prized excellence awards. It is the kind of thing that he was called out of order for. He said that the results were "dismal" - and it was prefaced with a word that he was called out of order for using. The results turned from "disappointing" to that, because of the heated political climate in the Legislature that day.
I would say to the Minister that he has to remember that he is supposed to be, without question, a person who takes his position as Education Minister seriously. However, he cannot bring himself to admit that he has a problem, and for us that is the crux of the issue. It causes us to stick to this particular issue in order to try and extract from the Minister some sense that he wants to reconcile with the partners in education.
Unfortunately, it appears that is not going to come.
The Minister often stands up and says that we brought forth an attitude that the system of education in the Yukon was perfect under the NDP administration.
Well, let me read to the Minister from the February 21, 1995, Hansard. These are my words: Hansard says, "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" - I hope the Minister heard that - "but our legislation provides a solid framework to address the issues that are a concern out there."
Well, that is a pretty clear statement, those are the facts of what I said and that is what I think. It is clear; it is concise; it is to the point. I hope that the Minister will stop using his slippery language to imply that we feel any other way about the system.
The Minister also likes to make a lot of reference to a comment I made in this Legislature that has been justified extremely well by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini and former Minister.
Yesterday, he said that he recalled Members on this side accusing them of teaching greed in schools, in reference to these scholarships.
If he can provide some proof of that, perhaps he can show it to me. That Member made a statement that I do not believe he can back up.
He said also in his last comments that no one will base the performance of the system on testing, but yet he has done that. He is the one who said that the results in our system were dismal, based on the SAIP scores. The cautions that were given to him by the former Minister of Education are extremely legitimate, given the sample size in the Yukon, given the diversity in our school systems, and given the barriers between urban and rural education that we have here. To draw too much from that and to think that the simple solution is to provide more testing is certainly not the answer.
The Minister constantly, whenever he gets up, likes to talk about the NDP. It is quite disturbing to see how burned and how permanently etched on his psyche are his two election defeats at the polls as Leader of the Conservative Party, that have created a stain on his life, so that every time we want to talk about substantive issues in this territory, that burning, burning sensation that he gets as a result of it is etched on his brain forevermore, and he spouts out.
Everybody knows the story of what happened at the poll defeats. Conservatives tell me about it. They tell me about an aggressive young politician - a good old boy, a local boy made good, a barefoot boy from Carcross - who was going to do a deal with MP Erik Nielsen. They were going to rule the Yukon, as had his father before him. What happened along the way was that Tony Penikett and the NDP showed up. Tony Penikett and the NDP put a stop to the dreams of the barefoot boy from Carcross and halted him right in his place. It was an unfortunate event - and I grieve deeply for the Member for Carcross - but I would ask him to just let it go some day. It will make him a much better Minister.
The state of denial -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: The Government Leader is yelling that I have just come to the Yukon. He has been here for 22 years. He is a man of great principles. He is an expert on everything in the Yukon. He thinks that one's commitment to the Yukon and the contribution one makes to the Yukon is based on longevity. Given his contribution to the health of the Yukon, socially and economically, I do not think his longevity is any indication of what is contributed.
The Government Leader says he has seen my flash in the pan before. This man with his deep commitment to the Yukon, who sold his outfitting territory to a non-Yukon resident in a slippery deal has no place to sit here and heckle across the floor about commitment to the Yukon and about principles. This man - the Government Leader - who is against grants, but took $25,000 for his outfitting business.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: He said I could not hack it as a guide. I never was a guide; I do not know why he would say that I could not hack it.
Mr. Harding: Yes, we should have some order in here. There are little hecklers on the other side who are trying to disrupt the speech.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: I will not deny that I am oft to heckle the Members opposite when they are badly spouting out their misguided statements in Question Period. It is something I really cannot help. They seem to only open their mouths to change feet on almost every question that they are asked in this Legislature.
I think the real issue here is that the Minister has gone into a state of denial. I do not know what the deep-rooted reason for that is. Perhaps it is that etching on his brain that I referred to earlier that occurred during his two defeats at the polls to the NDP. I am not sure exactly what it was, but certainly this state of denial has hurt his ability to function as a Minister - to be able to stand here on the floor of the Legislature and say, yes, there is a problem out there.
There has to be a problem out there. People and the partners of education do not write letters, go on the radio and get as consistently concerned as they have been for the last 27 months since the announcement of the education review.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: I would think that that Member, of all Members in this Legislature, would refrain from heckling, given the tremendously low level of contribution he has given to any debate in this Legislature, ever. Just a simple "yes" person for the government.
The issue of consultation is of great importance, and it is unfortunate that the Minister does not think it is a real issue. I certainly believe it is a real issue and I believe that the Minister's inability to admit to the partners in education that there have been some serious gaps by the government is going to inhibit his ability to carry out work on this portfolio, and he will end up with the same fate as the previous Minister, who was fired from Cabinet.
That Minister took the same approach until his fateful end, when he was given the boot from Cabinet and that portfolio, when his credibility had dried up to the point where there was nothing left. Unfortunately, I think this particular Minister is also headed in that direction, unless there is some recognition by the government that they should open up a little, talk to the partners in education and stop this facade that everything is wonderful, and that they are doing a great job.
We are not experts on polling, but because of the number of people who have talked to us about their concerns in education and what this government has done in the area of consultation, there are some areas that have to be addressed.
If this government is not prepared to stand up and say that it has made some serious mistakes in the area of consultation, then we, at least, believe we have done our job. As the Official Opposition, we have tried to point that out to the government. It would be in our best interest not to do that because, politically, it is excellent for us, to have the government keep its head in the sand on these issues. I would hope, in a purely greed-like political sense, that the government would continue doing it. But I am more concerned about the education system for Yukoners.
I would hope that the partners in education would attain a greater level of respect from the Minister. I am prepared to try to convince the Minister to do this in Committee debate - even if it is bad for us politically - to try to get him to do something responsible in education. We have been doing that for a couple of days now. Unfortunately, it does not seem to sink in with the Minister, and he is not prepared to even acknowledge, for one second, that the Minister and the government have roles to play and some healing to do, and that they have to regain some credibility in the education community.
If he thinks they have a stellar record in that area, then he is sadly mistaken. That is a serious problem and a concern of mine. That is why we are spending so much time on the issue of consultation. It is the number one issue in my book on education, and it will continue to be as long as the Minister refuses to heed the recommendations, advice and concerns that the public has raised with him.
Mr. Chair, at this time I move that you report progress.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: Well, the Members opposite think I have some difficulty talking about this important issue that means a lot to me and so much to the parents, the teachers and the school councils out there in the education system-
Chair: Order please.
Mr. Harding: I have no problem talking about it.
Chair: Order please. The Member has now spoken for 30 minutes, which is the time limit in Committee of the Whole. Does any Member wish to speak? If not...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Okay, there is just one more thing I would like to say. I wish Members on both sides of the House would refrain from calling other Members "slippery". I do not know, but I do not feel that it is right to refer to other Members as being slippery.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Well, Mr. Chair, I do not know that I really want to bother responding to what amounts to little more than a school yard taunt, "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah." There is nothing whatsoever new in what was stated in all of this - certainly nothing that has not already been countered in argument here.
As expected by us all, there was nothing even faintly intellectually stimulating in the talk. It was schoolyard taunting and little else. I am sure that we can carry this on for some considerable period of time, but I would hope that some of the Members in the House would get kind of worried that we will be here until June. A couple of people want to repeat over and over again things that people do not care about.
The Member for Mayo-Tatchun, the Minister of Justice, the Member for Kluane, the Chair: we all like to get out in the summer and go fishing and hunting. However, because of this childish behaviour, we will not be out of here. This is some kind of gamesmanship that I am sure frustrates the Member for Mayo-Tatchun as much as it does the Chair, the Member for Riverdale North and myself. It is really a concern that we cannot work together and do some business for the people of the Yukon. We have a bunch of bills to go through after this budget debate is over. At this rate, we will be here for most of the summer. I do not think we are serving the people of the Yukon with the childish histrionics that were just displayed by the critic. I suggest that we clear the item.
Chair: The time being 5:30 p.m., we will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with Bill No. 4, Department of Education, general debate.
Mr. Harding: I heard a couple of the comments made by the previous speaker, just before we broke, and I take issue with the content of the comments. He has reached the bottom of the barrel.
I believe that we in the Official Opposition have done what we feel is our role, in terms of the presentation of our concerns to the Minister on the issue of consultation, and I am sure it is one that will continue to come up. We believe that the Minister has chosen to take the same path that his predecessor took, which will probably be harmful to the system. Nevertheless, it is obvious from his comments over the last two days that he is not prepared to tell us that he is going to reach out to the partners of education who have some concerns.
That is all we can do. If the Minister wants to continue down this path, he can continue to go down it. We will continue to raise the issues, and I am sure that the partners in education will continue to raise the issues. We feel that we have done our part in bringing them forward. It is unfortunate that the Minister did not see consultation as a serious issue; nonetheless, we see it as a serious issue. The reason for that is because of the concerns the partners in education have raised, which substantiated our concern. That is the reason we spent the length of time we did and put the amount of effort we did into bringing those concerns to the government. The Minister is no doubt interested in moving on to other aspects of the education debate, as am I. I think we have exhausted his position on consultation. To our sorrow, it is not the response we thought we would get. Politically, it is probably good for us, but, unfortunately, it will not be good for the system.
There are a significant number of issues we have to go through. Perhaps I could start with other areas of the debate by talking about an issue that is an important initiative in the schools today. I can tell the Minister that this is not a great initiative based on anything other than what I heard from people in the communities. Particularly on my last tour through the territory, I spoke with people in the communities, school councils, First Nations and other people concerned about education.
One initiative that I would like to see the Department of Education thoroughly explore with the partners in education and which I hope to see brought forward - because there was a strong desire expressed to have this brought forward - is a curriculum developed to teach an understanding of the provisions of the land claim and self-government agreements, and what they mean to public school students as they grow older and become adults in the Yukon. I believe this would be consistent with the recommendation made by the Education Review Committee on local and cultural curriculum.
We think this is a good idea because the agreements are difficult to understand, they are lengthy and complicated, but if they were broken down, they could be put in a format that the average student or person could glean useful information from. This would provide a better level of understanding between native and non-native people on what the agreements mean.
Parents are not well educated about the land claims self-government agreements. That is just a fact of life. They are extensive documents, and it is difficult to know the key provisions and how things will work from the cursory gleaning people have gotten from the newspapers and radio reports as the process continued over the years. I think that it would be a very interesting exercise for Yukon schools to look at this in the curriculum - look at developing something for the different levels within the school.
Of course, it would have to be structured in a way that would match the levels of accomplishment that students in different age groups could attain. I think it is something that would be of great benefit, so that students, children and parents have an understanding of them and are able to share the understanding on a broader scale.
If we teach today's youth about the agreements, there is a good chance that when they get older they will know what is involved in them - the new order of government and what it is going to mean for the decision-making process in the Yukon. They will be able to pass that on to their children in conjunction with the program that will be available in the schools.
I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts on the the exploration of the development of First Nations umbrella final agreement and self-government agreements.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Certainly, the point is an important one and I fully agree that the land claims agreements are extremely complex and difficult to explain without a great deal of preparation and a careful reduction of the legal language that some lawyers say is meaningless, or cut down several ways to language that adults and children from the rural communities can understand. I know that over the years there have been numerous attempts, some of them quite good, and the land claims agreements have changed.
I have seen in the course of 25 years of land claims negotiations, in anticipation of a final agreement, three or four sets prepared by the federal government, at least two that were produced by CYI and a couple by the YTG - perhaps more than that, I am just going off the top of my head - that were fairly basic.
I am advised in the education handbook for 1994-95, under the humanities there exists a teacher resource book for land claims and a student resource book for land claims, which can be found on page 30. The point, of course, about those resources would be that they would have to be updated to reflect current nuances in the agreements, and so on.
I would also point out that in the action plan the department is in the process of establishing a First Nations education coordinator position to develop an overall curriculum development implementation plan in conjunction with the CYI curriculum branch. This is one of the areas that ought to be a fairly high priority, given the historic proclamation that took place on February 14.
I agree that it is a good idea. I also agree that there are a lot of people and beneficiaries in the Yukon who would like to know more about their agreement. I am encouraged by the recommendation from the Member and will be pleased to keep him informed as matters progress.
Mr. Harding: From the Minister's answer, I take it that he essentially agrees it is a reasonable idea to investigate. I do not believe I am suggesting something too complicated. There could be different levels in different grades regarding understanding the agreements and their basic fundamentals. In some of the higher grades, there could be a system where students would go into the details of the agreements. In F.H. Collins, there is grade 11 and grade 12 law. If there was this type of curriculum, those courses could investigate the agreements in a more detailed fashion.
Part of the core curriculum has to be an understanding of the agreements.
I think the Minister gets my point. He mentioned the Yukon First Nations education curriculum coordinator, and he referred to the action plan. Before I ask the follow-up question regarding that coordinator and how that individual would relate to the development of this curriculum, what is the status of the recruitment for this position?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Before I answer that question, I note that the existing student resource book and teacher resource book on land claims are for grades 9 and 10. I agree that it should involve more than just one grade, as well as different types of materials. I am sure that it might be possible to do a video.
For what it is worth, from my experience, the process was an attempt to take very complex issues and boil them down to the salient points. It is hard work. It is not an easy thing to do and get right. The simpler it is made, the more one has to think about what really are the core parts of the agreement.
With regard to the position of the Yukon First Nations education curriculum coordinator, it is currently being advertised.
Mr. Harding: What are the time lines for the eventual conclusion of the recruitment?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We anticipated target is April 1.
Mr. Harding: Some of the concerns I heard regarding the previous position were positive and some were not so positive. One of the difficulties is that a person is placed in the position of liaison with 14 different bands, each of which has a different view, a different culture, to a degree, a different background, and each has something to contribute to the equation. One of the concerns I heard is that it is difficult to try to develop one unanimous position from the differences among the 14 bands.
The curriculum that I am speaking about might be one in which the umbrella final agreement is taught broadly, and the curriculum could be tailored to whichever band is in the area. It would take some liaison work with the First Nation education coordinator.
Has the Minister evaluated the coordinator position, and has he looked at some of the benefits and some of the things that may have been identified as a potential problem with the position? Can he tell me how he could see that position working on the type of curriculum that we have been discussing?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I think one of the first areas that the position would be looking at and working on would be developing a plan in conjunction with First Nations and the Council for Yukon Indians curriculum branch. They will have to start by developing some working arrangements and goals and objectives. It is very difficult at this point in time for me to assess how quickly that might be formulated. I think the reservations are straightforward. It is just that, as the Member has said, we have some First Nations that have completed their agreement and are in the implementation stage, and some that are striving to complete theirs, and yet others who have expressed some reservations about the settlement and the impact on their particular nation. We will be able to assess it better once they have had their initial meetings and consultations, and will be able to attempt to formulate some kind of a plan that makes sense to all of the players. I must say that there is a great deal of uncertainty with regard to CYI's exact position, vis-a-vis the First Nations, in some of these areas. It is not for us to determine; it is for the First Nations to tell us.
Mr. Harding: I accept that, but if the First Nations and the people in Education know that the Minister is committed to providing some support, making it a priority and doing the tough work in partnership, then I think that it could work. Certainly, to have it driven by First Nations and people in support of it in the non-native community would be the ideal situation.
I look forward to seeing the idea being bandied about by the First Nations education coordinator, and I hope that he will provide me with some responses about what is developing in that area, if anything. Although I was told by many people that they would like to see it, I have no formal way of knowing, based on representations that I have had made to me, if it is as overwhelming popular as I was given the impression that it is in the communities.
A serious issue that I have been told about and that I have talked to people about in the communities is that some people who are trying to teach native languages in the schools are having a bit of a rough time with it, mainly due to the fact that family history or First Nation history in the community is split for some longstanding reasons. It is, I have been told, making it difficult for some native language instructors to entice aboriginal children into the classroom and to entice their parents into thinking it is a good thing to have in the communities. Has the Minister been made aware of these concerns? Has he done anything to try to address them?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: My understanding is that the program is working fairly well in most of the communities. Certainly there are some sensitive issues in a community such as Whitehorse, where there is often children from several language groups attending a class. I have had some discussions about the problem, but I do not have any particular insight about solutions.
In looking at the communities and the numbers of students in the classes, there does not seem to be any particular community that is noticeably low on the number of students, from this information. However, if there is a specific problem, I would certainly like to be made aware of it.
Mr. Joe: When we are speaking about communities, what is the difference? The difference I see is in the school curriculum: language, culture, and high school, grade 12. The reason for having grade 12 in my riding, in Pelly and Carmacks, is so they can learn both sides. They can learn their culture and when they get through grade 12, and they decide that they want to train to be an engineer or anything else, such as a computer programmer or something, it is up to them to take that.
We used to send our students to Whitehorse to complete their grade 12. We have a great problem with that. They are educated here, but, besides that, it is what they learn from being in the city. They learn lots of things on the streets and at parties. Instead, they should be learning about their culture. I think there is one good reason for that, and I think it is working. Now we have one or two working on land claims and two taking computer courses. That is why I say it is working.
I had a bit of a problem understanding what they are talking about. There are too many things going back and forth. I think we should go for real issues that we are supposed to do for the people of the Yukon. People are listening, with lots of respect.
One problem we have in Carmacks is language instruction. There is going to be a building. What I want to know is if the Minister is going to support the need for that language instruction in the new First Nations building.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The changes in Pelly Crossing are really good, I think. I am looking at the students taking language courses. Pelly Crossing has one of the highest attendance rates. There are 70 students taking First Nation language in Pelly. I appreciate what the Member is saying about trying to keep some of these people in Pelly Crossing. It is particularly important that they get involved as they learn because of the land claims implementations coming up. It seems long to us, but it will seem pretty fast for young people.
I know that the former Minister went to the first graduation of the grade 12 students in Pelly. He was very impressed with the community support for the changes in the high school.
I am not fully aware of the issue in Carmacks, but I will certainly look into it and try to bring an answer back to the Member.
Mr. Harding: I talked to a number of native language instructors when I was on the community tour - and since then. One of the concerns that they had as a group was, to be blunt, their pay scale.
They feel that their contribution in the school is quite essential, especially with the move to making native language and native curriculum part of the core curriculum, consistent with the education review. The people that I talked to - I am not sure if it is unanimous - felt that that should be reflected in their pay scale. I am looking for some comment from the Minister, not only for recognition of their importance, but also that he will undertake to try to see that reflected in the remuneration for the people who are native language instructors.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am aware of that concern. I have also had representations made to me at the schools by the First Nation language instructors, and I am looking into it. One difficulty is that they are under a collective agreement in a separate schedule - that poses one problem. We are looking at the hours, and the situation is under review right now. I do not know how soon we will be able to respond to the issue. However, I thank the Member for bringing it forward, because it has also been related to me.
Mr. Harding: I will not say much more about it, except that I will be watching for the Minister to follow up on that commitment. There are provisions in the collective agreement that help to address areas that were not addressed in the - I dare not say negotiations - discussions for the development of this particular agreement. I will leave it at that, and I will be waiting for the Minister to get back to me with the follow-up on the commitment that he made to respond to that concern.
The other issue that I want to ask about is regarding his position on the native language and its role in the curriculum in our schools. I find that some of the schools have younger students taking both the native language and English, and some have students taking the native language or English - they have a choice. To my knowledge, this is not consistent throughout the territory. Is that something the Minister encourages, or does he take the position that he would like to see more uniformity in language instruction across the different communities?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I must profess that I have no set views on the issue raised by the Member. To some extent, this is an area where a lot of guidance is needed from the teachers, the school councils and parents. With regard to the language choices made by students or their parents, I must confess that probably my poorest subject ever was learning second languages.
Mr. Harding: It is an important area. If the Minister wants to come back to it after acquiring more information, that is fine with me. There are a couple of issues here. One is the ability of the school council to set preferences for languages within the parameters of what we determine is core curriculum, and for the council to have the autonomy to do that. The other issue is what languages should form part of the core curriculum.
Does the Minister believe that native language should be part of the core curriculum in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Again, I just do not have a real solid position on that. There has been no change to whatever the position was formerly. It is an area that is of interest to me, and it is one that I have not got to yet.
Mr. Harding: I will give the Minister notice that, perhaps later in the general debate, we will come back to that after he has had a chance to bone up on it. The reason I am looking for some answers is because I had a lot of representations made to me on this subject, and I am hoping to nail down some direction and some commitments from the Minister in this general debate, as I realize we will not be here for probably another eight months. This is the only session we have in this particular year, so I think that I will stand this over and come back to it.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I do have the section of the act that deals with language instruction. It is section 50, which says, "A Minister may authorize an educational program, or part of an educational program, provided in an aboriginal language after receiving a request to do so from a school board, council, school committee, local Indian education authority, or, where there is no authority, from a Yukon First Nation." It goes on to say that the Minister shall consider, in deciding whether to authorize instruction. So, it is certainly possible to have it happen under the act. What I can do is let the Member know what the policy is in that regard. I am not aware of any changes in the last couple of years regarding the policy, but I will endeavour to get it for him.
Mr. Harding: I would like to ask the Minister about the action plans in the area of native language education that the department is going to review as a result of consultations with the First Nations Education Commission, together with a review of appropriate federal and territorial legislation in response to recommendation 14, which reads "...and also that the department would re-examine with stakeholders the specific provisions of the Education Act as they relate to language in the school." Has any of this been done since the review was completed?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The review has not commenced yet. We are waiting for the position to be filled.
Mr. Harding: The curriculum coordinator position? The Minister is nodding his head.
The action plan, irrespective of that says that, states that, "The department and the Native Language Centre will meet with their staff in the near future to review the materials currently available or in production and to discuss different ways to accomplish a number of goals listed in the action plan." Could the Minister tell me the result of the meetings to review the materials?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There have been meetings between the assistant deputy minister and the Native Language Centre people. There have been additional materials acquired as a result of the meetings.
Mr. Harding: Has there been any field testing of those new materials, or any in-services on class control or report card writing? Has there been anything concrete done?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will have to get back with that information.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would just like to follow up with a couple of questions on the personnel matters. The Member for Faro and I have been talking about this, and he has just been asking about the new native curriculum coordinator.
At the outset, I would like to say that the briefing offered by the department was helpful, and the information we were provided at that time was that there were 813 positions within the Department of Education, and that 91 percent of those positions are for school support.
I also have here a report that was produced as a result of questions asked in the budget lockup about positions that had been created and deleted within different departments. For the Department of Education, there is a coordinator of curriculum development position, which has become redundant with the change in the program focus. A director of policy and planning position has become redundant. The director of corporate services and a number of custodial worker positions have been made redundant. There are other changes.
Does the Minister have an organizational chart for the department? I think we received one before this Minister took over the portfolio, but there have obviously been some significant changes and reorganization. Would he be able to provide a current organizational chart?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, I would be pleased to do that.
Ms. Moorcroft: Following up with the line of inquiry on the native curriculum coordinator, how does that relate to the reason for the decision to abolish the coordinator of curriculum development position because of a change in program focus?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am sorry, I did not hear the question. Who was abolished?
Ms. Moorcroft: A coordinator of curriculum development position.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am not aware of a linkage, but I will make inquiries and get back to the Member.
Ms. Moorcroft: Just to make it clear for the Minister, the inquiry is because, according to the action plan coming from the education review, there is a position being established for a native curriculum coordinator. There is also a change in the program focus indicated on the listing of positions deleted from the Department of Education. I would like to know how those two decisions relate to each other and how the other positions that have been taken out of the department are related to the change in focus within the department.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will get a written answer for the Member. Does she have a date on the information that she is referring to? Is it as of a certain date?
Ms. Moorcroft: The report, in its entirety, is quite lengthy. I just have the positions in front of me that have been deleted and created from November 23, 1993, to November 30, 1994, within the Department of Education. There is a report like this for every department. I am sure the Minister could get it from the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission if the department does not have it. I expect that it would have been involved in preparing the report.
I would like to ask some questions related to the Mount Lorne riding. The Golden Horn School council wrote to the department earlier this month. The school has been open for five years, but it still does not have a completed sports field. The school council decided that it did not want to wait for the completion of the three-year pilot project on the low-maintenance grass that has been done at the Hidden Valley School. Both Golden Horn and Hidden Valley have water delivery, so there are some problems with having low-maintenance grass. It is also not known yet if it will work out, until that pilot project is completed.
The school council requested the department to shoot the levels on the playing field in the spring and summer of 1995 and add base fill to bring them up to grade and level them. Then they would like it to top it with 10 centimetres of crushed gravel or decomposed granite and then install soccer goalposts and a baseball backstop. This is a less expensive option than doing a full completion of the playing field in one year. The reason the school council recommended that option is so that it could be budgeted into the 1995-96 fiscal year. I would point out that that would be a fraction of the cost of the turf that is in place at Holy Family School.
Can the Minister tell me if the budget will have the funds required to complete the sports field at Golden Horn this year?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There is an item about asphalting the play area, and then there is another lump sum for schools. We will have to find out and come back with an answer about whether or not that particular item is contemplated in either the asphalt or the lump sum line item.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Golden Horn School has almost full enrollment now; it has 220 students. I would just make the representation that completing the sports field will benefit many people - not just the students at the school but also community members who use it. I hope that the funds will be found to complete it. When the Minister comes back with an answer, can he let me know if the department is going to exercise the option of full completion of the playing field by the fall of 1995, which would reduce contracting costs, or if it will be done over two years? If it is done over two years, the school council is also looking for a commitment that the playing field surface will be monitored, so that if it needs to be corrected, it can be.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will endeavour to come back with that information. It was a skillful representation in the form of a question, I think.
Ms. Moorcroft: I do not want to make it too hard for the officials who are going to have to read the Blues and come back with the answers. However, I am sure that the Minister understands the need to represent our constituents' interests.
I would like to ask the Minister about another constituency issue. I have been asking the Minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services - a couple of them now, and I am on the second Minister of Education about this particular issue - about improving the road access into Golden Horn School. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services told me last week that his department was looking at two possible options for improving the road. The previous Minister of Education indicated that what would be a priority of the Yukon Party would be to ensure that the departments work together, and that if there is a school, there will be a good road to it, and if there is land development, it would mean more school enrollments and that the school would be added to.
Can the Minister tell me whether or not he will support having the road into Golden Horn School upgraded? Can he make any kind of a commitment for a speedy decision on that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I can make a commitment to look into it. I am somewhat aware of the road. I will certainly take the representation seriously, and I will try to get some kind of a reasonable response to the Member. However, it will take some discussion, and I will have to be brought up to speed on it.
Ms. Moorcroft: My constituents have been complaining about the road surface. It is not the best road in the territory and it does see a fair amount of use, so I hope that the Minister will offer some assistance in seeing a speedy upgrade of the road, preferably with chipseal on it.
The Golden Horn School now has a new gym, which is now in use and is very popular. I believe there are, as a result of the new gym and new classrooms, additional custodial workers at the school. Is that a half-time custodial worker, or does the Minister know what the custodial worker resources are at the school?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will have to get back to the Member.
Ms. Moorcroft: In reviewing the information we have available to us about what is happening in schools around the territory, I note that the F.H. Collins High School will have E-mail and YukonNet available to its students in the current year. In today's world, I think those research skills are essential.
When I was in the rural communities, I heard many people in many communities talking about how beneficial this would be to the education of our students. There is a potential to share resources. If YukonNet is in school libraries, it could also be used by public libraries, college campuses and community members, and would save a lot of money.
Specifically, I would like to know if the new computer lab at Golden Horn School will be participating in the Internet pilot project. Generally, I would like to know what the Minister of Education's policy is on the improvement of technological capabilities in school libraries, such as having E-mail and YukonNet available for students.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Well, being somewhat computer illiterate, it might surprise the Member to know that I very strongly believe in, and am a strong supporter of, upgrading the computers in government and moving in the direction of making new technology available in our schools as soon as is feasible. Of course, cost effectiveness has to play a part.
It is my understanding that there are now two ways that Yukon schools can access the Internet: one is through the YukonNet Operating Society, which the Member mentioned, and the other is the Community Learning Network, which is the British Columbia Ministry of Education network and is operated by the ministry's technology and distance education branch.
We are paying for two lines from the British Columbia ministry to connect to the Community Learning Network, and the accounts, at present, cannot exceed more than 50 users. Access is gained through a local Whitehorse number, which means there are long-distance charges to Whitehorse and no long-distance charges for the Whitehorse schools. That is my understanding.
One school, according to my briefing note, has joined the YukonNet Operating Society and obtained an account. I know the Member is fully aware of how that operates.
Ms. Moorcroft: Does the Minister know how many Whitehorse schools have access to the community Internet service? It is all very well to be able to dial in a Whitehorse phone number to hook into the Internet, but the computer equipment and computer labs in schools have to have the computer capability to support the access. Does the Minister know which Whitehorse schools have that ability and whether Golden Horn School is one of them?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: A school with a modem can dial in. As of this date, which was February 20, accounts had been created for Yukon teachers and students, but not all of these users are considered to be active. It includes 26 accounts for parents who have participated in the parent networking project. Most but not all schools are represented in these accounts. I am not sure which are missing.
Ms. Moorcroft: I understood that the Minister indicated that, generally, he did support this initiative. I will wait for the written answer on whether or not Golden Horn School will be in the loop, or on the Net.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is there further general debate on the Department of Education?
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask the Minister some questions related to the prevention of disease and ill health as a better goal than treatment of disease. I do not want him to think that I am confused and getting into the Health estimates, because this is an Education issue.
I am disappointed, as are a number of parents and educators, that the Department of Education has decided that Phys Ed 11 will no longer be mandatory. It is a known fact that many of our 16- and 17-year old students are not fit, and in fact many of them are not as agile as their parents. I am particularly concerned for the well-being of teenage girls. Recent studies show that many girls prefer not to participate in sports activities. This produces a pronounced detrimental effect where we are sowing seeds for future health care costs if we are not creating an awareness of fitness, activity and healthy lifestyles. Part of the problem may be that Phys Ed is not necessarily a rewarding experience for girls. The sports arena is a male-dominated one. However, I do not think one is going to solve the problem by simply deciding that Phys Ed will not be mandatory.
Does the Minister know whether there is a priority in time-tabling being given so that Phys Ed can be a separate activity for girls and boys, rather than a co-ed activity, because that might be a factor in whether or not girls and boys enjoy their Phys Ed time? Does he know whether there are both male and female instructors so that separate Phys Ed activities can be scheduled? What is his position on the issue of no longer making Phys Ed a mandatory requirement for Grade 11 students?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I know the change was due to a change in the B.C. core curriculum. I know there are several different points of view on the subject. I might also add that I am aware that one of the major bottleneck areas, or overcrowded, over-used areas, is the gym in F.H. Collins. If that school needs anything, particularly at this point in time, it would be an additional gym. I do not have the briefing note here, and I will have to get back to the Member with regard to the precise nature of the change to the curriculum.
I do not have any quarrel with her general proposition about health prevention being important, and of being fit certainly being a determinant of the ability to study and learn. The fundamental drawback in my mind, at this point in time, would be the fact that the gym is over-utilized as it is. There probably is a problem that could be alleviated with a new gym there.
Ms. Moorcroft: The previous Minister, in his now infamous speech at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, said the government had to move away from physical education in our school system. Is this still part of that agenda?
It is well known that physical activity builds motivation and keeps stress levels low. Physically-fit people cope better in an increasingly stressful lifestyle. I do not think the Minister needs a briefing note on this. Why would we choose to deprive our children of every possible opportunity to enjoy a healthy and productive lifestyle?
If there are not adequate gym facilities, there is a swimming pool, and there is quite an active swim instruction program available to students. Other than during the coldest months of the winter, it is possible for physical activity to be done outside, such as going for a run up the Grey Mountain Road, or any number of other recreational opportunities other than activity in the gym. That is only one school.
I know that the Jack Hulland Elementary School has expressed its concern about dropping that program. I think the Minister should state whether or not he is prepared to re-examine that decision.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It seems to me that the decision has to do with whether or not that particular course ought to be mandatory. That is the issue. The issue is not if the philosophy of this Minister is at odds with the general principles of the Member opposite.
The decision not to keep Phys Ed 11 as a mandatory course was not centered on the suitability of the gym at F.H. Collins. The decision was based on the changes brought about to the British Columbia curriculum, and the Yukon followed suit. That is how it sits at this time.
I am quite prepared to hear the representations of the Member opposite and review the matter. I do know that there are some differing views, depending upon whom you are talking to. I know the position of the administration, and presumably the school council of Jack Hulland has some very strong views. I certainly was taken by the work they have done with extra physical exercise for some of the students in that school.
The claim being made and, I am sure, substantiated is that those particular students are not falling behind at all in their academic studies. As a result, they are spending more time on being fit. I think the discussion should be focused on the narrow issue, and that is the complaint about the change to the curriculum in B.C. and it being followed here. Certainly I do not think that necessarily provides a sufficient argument in logic to assume that we are not, in any way, committed to the overall principle. Yes, we want to encourage physical fitness. We believe in health promotion, and those remarks are transferable to a philosophical discussion on the health portfolio, as well.
Ms. Moorcroft: The last thing that I would like to do is to open up an acrimonious, principled debate here. It was the Minister who raised the issue of the gym facilities at F.H. Collins, which is why I responded to it. I am glad to hear that the Minister supports health promotion. There are a host of health problems related to the lack of exercise. I think that having a mandatory grade 11 physical education class raises the chances of adolescents being fit and developing good patterns for having a healthy lifestyle in the future. I would like to ask the Minister now to respond to the first question that I asked, which was about making physical education a rewarding experience for students. Separate physical education activities for girls and boys not only promotes fitness, but also helps promote self-esteem. Does the Minister support, as a principle, having separate physical education activities?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I would have to accept what the Member opposite is saying, in principle, that having separate activities promotes self-esteem. If there is sufficient evidence on that point, fine. I am not about to quarrel with it. I certainly support any measure that improves the self-esteem of any student. I am acutely aware of some of the low self-esteem issues that are predominant to female students in the high school years. I will endeavour to get back to the Member about the current situation and what might be done.
Ms. Moorcroft: I hope that the Minister comes back with a more complete rationale for changing the decision about deleting the mandatory physical education.
Another concern that has been raised to me by parents, educators and constituents has to do with smoking. Alarmingly, the number of teens who are smoking is increasing. We all know that smoking causes lung cancer and death. I would like to ask the Minister if he would support an initiative that would make smoking prohibited on school grounds. I know that when the government buildings were made smoke-free, it was controversial. Smoking is a very strong addiction. It is a hard habit to kick. A number of people have suggested to me that we would be doing our students a favour if it was prohibited to smoke on school grounds. Would the Minister consider that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am just trying to find the section in the act.
It is my understanding that that is the kind of recommendation that should be made by school councils. I certainly would have no objection to doing whatever was necessary to support that type of decision. I personally am concerned about smoking and the trend we are seeing, particularly since the federal Liberal government has become rather defensive about lowering the cost of cigarettes and the resulting increase. Sadly, the last statistics I looked at showed a marked increase in smoking among teenage girls. It is a shared concern.
I do think, however, that it is a shared concern. I would welcome an initiative coming from school council.
Ms. Moorcroft: The parents and educators who spoke to me about the issue and asked me to raise it were hoping that the government might be willing to play a stronger leadership role on something that has a very serious effect on our students. Smoking kills. The Minister should at least consider implementing a policy that would prohibit smoking on school grounds.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I certainly do not want to open up the debate on consultation again, but it seems to me that consistency would require the consultation and recommendation by individual schools and councils. My understanding of the intent of the Education Act is that that is the very thing about which they should be coming forward with recommendations.
Ms. Moorcroft: I am expressing the concern that smoking cigarettes, especially by youngsters, is very hazardous and should be avoided, if possible, on the grounds of our public institutions.
Earlier this year, the Department of Education hosted training sessions on non-violent crisis intervention. It brought up a resource person from Wisconsin to demonstrate techniques and strategies to prevent violence to and safely intervene when disruptive or assaultive behaviour goes too far.
I believe that all of our students should be able to go to school in an environment that is free of violence, whether that is from fellow students or adults. I would like to know how many teachers attended the workshops that were offered and whether any principals, administrators or representatives of the Yukon Teachers Association attended. Did any students attend? Will there be an in-service for teachers who were unable to be at the workshops on violence prevention?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will bring back the actual numbers in written form.
Ms. Moorcroft: In my response to the throne speech, I indicated that I would be looking to see if the Department of Education and the Women's Directorate would be working to expand the workshops in the schools about violence, increasing self-esteem and teaching youth about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality. I believe that the school violence policy, for example, could be written in more accessible language so that students could more easily understand and abide by the policy. The policy as written was very narrowly designed. Violence is not only fighting; it includes sexual harassment, name-calling and other behaviours that we seek to reduce, not only in our school yards, but also in all of society.
Could the Minister tell us what his position is on improving the policies in the school system to ensure that we have a harassment-free education environment, both for students and adults?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am certainly aware of the concern, and I know the Women's Directorate and the Department of Education are currently working on these issues. The A Capella North findings will be released shortly, and they of course have given rise to consultation with the players, such as the Yukon Teachers Association, the department, the Women's Directorate and others. I understand there are initiatives being developed that will be implemented very shortly.
Input on how to best refine or rewrite the current draft policy will be solicited from the schools and school councils this spring. In addition, there are initiatives that we will be able to announce resulting from the A Cappella report, which is going to be tabled soon, I understand.
Ms. Moorcroft: Education and training is an investment in our future, and we need to broaden our understanding of education. In particular, we need to embrace the concept of distance education and become leaders in that field. When I was in Beaver Creek, Watson Lake, Teslin, Mayo and all of the communities around the Yukon, I heard people speak about how much we need to improve our distance education facilities, share resources and offer more courses.
I could go through a list of communities, with three or four specific requests from each one about improving distance education and making education, whether it is distance education or on-site education, accessible to students and making it so that students are able to afford to go to school. I am speaking here about adult students.
We had a number of college students complain to us about the fact that the training allowances have not been raised in a long time. Presently, the rates are $140 for every two weeks, which does not cover very much when many adult learners have families to provide for.
In the report of the personnel in the Department of Education, I noted that a student financial services officer position had been terminated. It says that the duties were redefined in a new position and that this was part of a reorganization. The training and employment consultant and manager of employment training positions were also made redundant. I would like the Minister to tell us in what direction he is going regarding training allowances and student financial assistance for adult learners.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I recognize the complaint that the rates have not been altered for a considerable period of time. I will be reviewing the rates to see what the options and the costs might be. I have not yet reviewed it or the issue. I have children who went through the system. One is currently in university, and I am aware of the costs.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister has not had a chance to review it yet. I wonder if he has had a chance to review the fact that two or three positions within the department that deal with employment and training have been made redundant. It begs the question of how much of a priority training is when these positions are being lost.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I do not think that necessarily follows. Changes in department structure do not necessarily beg the question at all. The issue is whether or not it becomes a priority and is examined, and if anything is done about it. All I can say is that it is one of those issues that I have not had a chance to review yet.
Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps when the Minister has had a chance to be more fully informed of the personnel changes or when he comes back with an answer, he can advise us how many positions there still are in the area of training and employment.
The Minister just indicated that he had not had a chance to review that yet, but would be reviewing the training allowances. One recommendation that we heard from students was that a training allowance should be available to full-time students, whether they were full-time students in a single program of study or whether they were full-time students who might be taking two courses at the Yukon College campus and another two or three courses by distance education or by correspondence from another institution. Would the Minister be reviewing the definition of a full-time student and looking at making the training allowance more widely available to students?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Not at this time. I think there are two issues that have to be reviewed. One is the issue of rates in an interim time period, pending us discovering what the final result of the Axworthy cuts and changes are going to evolve into.
There is no point in us making sweeping changes in our allowances, whether they be student training allowances or the student grant, because I think it requires a fair amount of consultation and time, until we know with some certainty what the Axworthy changes are going to bring about. Otherwise we place ourselves in the position of undoubtedly having to go through the process once again, once those issues become clear. We know that we have heard the federal Liberals cry wolf quite a few times about the beneficial changes regarding unemployment insurance, social assistance and education that they are going to be soon letting us know about.
I would think that the issue of a training allowance will be looked at in the fairly near future as to whether or not the caps are unrealistically low and looking at a more thorough consultation, once we know what the federal government is going to be doing about student loans, training allowances, the CEIC and unemployment insurance. We keep getting told that all of these things are just around the corner.
Ms. Moorcroft: An announcement has been made that the federal budget will be delivered on Monday. The Minister said he is prepared to review the issue of training allowances. I would like to know how much of a priority it is. Can this review start on Tuesday, after the federal budget cuts are known? Can it start next month, or next year, or will it be after some other things have been done? When will the Minister be instructing the department to review the issue of inadequate training allowances?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I said there are two stages. One would be reviewing the level, which could commence fairly soon. The review would enable me to look at the level as it compares across Canada.
The issue of broadening and changing the structures of the training allowance, and some of the other grants and financial assistance, would properly wait until we have the package from the Axworthy changes. I do not think that they are going to show up in the budget. I would be absolutely dumbfounded if they showed up that soon.
Mr. Harding: I can appreciate the Minister's concern about the federal government's cuts to education, but from what I am hearing - and the speculation runs rampant - is that we may never see this Axworthy social reform paper surface again. It has basically been buried by the Martin-MacLaren agenda. By the looks of it, they have certainly won the battle in the Liberal Cabinet, and I think that we have seen the end of that social policy paper, with the exception of the cuts that are reflected in the budget. So, if they are not in this budget, then we probably will not see anything until the next budget. What I would say to the Minister is that we have people - in the vicinity of 440 or so, I think - who are recipients of the college student financial assistance right now.
They are going to enter another year of school next year, and I do not think we can hold everything off because of the federal Liberals - who have been all over the map on what they are going to do with the cuts - to see what they are going to do. While I appreciate the Minister's concern about what they are doing, I do not think we can wait. I think we have to take some initiative here.
There is a considerable amount of money being spent on the student financial assistance program and perhaps there is a way it can be done better to address the needs out there. At the present time, we require needs testing on the basis of spouse and dependents, or just on the basis of dependents.
Perhaps there are some ways that we could enhance the amount available for students. I would like to see that done in a much shorter period of time than what the Minister appears to be considering, given that the government has been all over the map as to whether or not we will ever see that Axworthy report again.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I hear the Member's representations, and I will take them under advisement.
Mr. Harding: What precisely does the Member mean when he says he will take it under advisement - in terms of a time line. Let me put it this way: if the budget comes down and there is nothing in it to respond to the Axworthy paper, would the Minister provide me with a more detailed response with some estimated time lines about how and when he is going to deal with the student financial assistance program?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yukon rates have not been altered since 1983. There has been low inflation in the last year or two. The previous government went through a consultation process, but no decisions were made regarding the overall issue of financial assistance and student grants. Now the Member stands up and demands action immediately. It is an issue that I have not yet reviewed, but we will be reviewing it. I cannot speak for Cabinet. I intend to be looking into it. That is all I can say.
Mr. Harding: I did not demand immediate action. I thought my request and my representation was fair, based on what we have heard from Ottawa.
The problem with the student financial assistance review that we undertook when we were in government was that the election came along. We are no longer in the position to make the decisions that the Minister and the government can in the positions they have held for the last two years.
I now know that the rates have been raised since 1983. I did not know it was that long - I thought it was 1984 - but it has been a long time. There were a lot of initiatives undertaken in the rural communities so that people who wanted to go to college could attend community campuses in an attempt to ease the burden and enable students to take courses in their own community, rather than having the financial burden of moving to Whitehorse to take courses. There were some initiatives undertaken by the previous government.
Since I have been here, I have learned that in the communities this is considered to be a serious problem. The results of the review that was undertaken by the previous government are available to the Minister and I simply say that if he is telling this Legislature that he wants to wait to see what happens with the Axworthy report, I think we are going to wait for a very long time. I think the budget that is going to be brought down by Mr. Martin is going to give a very clear indication of where Mr. Axworthy is going.
While I agree with the Minister, we cannot evaluate this in isolation from what the federal government is doing. This is a Yukon program. If the federal government is going to play around for a long time, we should take some action here. I will not ask the Minister to do it immediately, but I would like some form of time line. During the next session, I intend to hold the Minister accountable to that time line. That is my simple agenda.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: To begin with, I have no time line that sets a date by which I expect the federal government to come out with its final position on the matter of cutting the established program financing and moving some money into revolving funding for students.
I do not at all share the Member opposite's optimism that the cuts will not come. I do not share the Member opposite's optimism because I know that cuts are coming, and this is one easy way for the federal government to make some cuts.
I would expect that it will be tied to what is seen by the federal government to be necessary for the deficit. I know that we have not heard the end of this particular item, and in view of the time, Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 4.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 1995-96, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:29 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled February 22, 1995:
Yukon Utilities Board regulatory process review: confidential letter dated July 5, 1994, to the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation from the chair of the Yukon Energy Corporation Board regarding concerns about the composition of the Yukon Utilities Board and its support staff and the board's approach to specific issues (Penikett)
The following Legislative Return was tabled February 22, 1995:
Social assistance fraud: number of files being investigated by the RCMP; number of charges laid and convictions; estimated dollar value of fraud (Phelps)
Written Question No. 5, dated January 12, 1995, by Mr. Cable