Thursday, February 23, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Heavenly Father, creator and leader of all people, at the beginning of today's sitting we have asked for guidance and wisdom in our deliberations. We pray that you will help us work in the spirit of cooperation and in the best interest of all Yukoners.
Quest winners, congratulatory message
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It seems that over the last couple of days some of our Yukon athletes have been doing an admirable job of representing the Yukon, and I would like to ask the Members of the Legislature to join me in congratulating them.
I would like to begin by congratulating the brave men and women mushers and their teams on completing the Yukon Quest international dogsled race. I would especially like to congratulate Frank Turner of Whitehorse, Cor Guimond and Cowboy Larry Smith, both of Dawson City, for their top place finishes.
The Yukon Quest combines the challenges of the northern frontier, the ingenuity and strength of character of individuals and the outstanding community spirit of the hundreds of volunteers with the excitement of a world-class sporting event.
On behalf of all Yukoners, I would like to congratulate the mushers and the teams who finished the race, and say good luck to those who are still on the trail. Once again, thanks to the numerous volunteers and enthusiasts who helped make this year's race a success.
Mr. Joe: I would also like to congratulate my good friend and long-time supporter, Frank Turner. He has been doing this for a long time. He has never given up; he just keeps trying. Good for Frank Turner. For the last two years, I have gotten my best advice from him. I should not say it, but between Frank and I, we have been telling a lot of jokes. I will leave it up to him to tell them. Once again, congratulations, Frank.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I, too, would like to just add to the comments by the Government Leader and by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun. Frank Turner is a constituent of mine. I am glad that the Member for Mayo-Tatchun gave Frank some advice. Frank has been in the race ever since the Quest started and it has been 12 years. He has had to scratch several times., The next closest he came in was fifth or sixth, something like that. He has been all over; there has not really been a pattern, but he has done very, very well this time.
I think that we should also show appreciation for his wife Anne, who has had to put up with all of this hullabaloo. My heartfelt congratulations go out to Frank.
Canada Winter Games athletes, congratulatory message
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have been informed that Gerard Frostad won a gold medal today. He also won a bronze medal in the Nordic skiing event on Tuesday at the Canada Winter Games. Doris Hausleitner won two silver medals in cross-country skiing at the Canada Winter Games. I would ask the House to join me in congratulating all of these fine athletes.
Ms. Moorcroft: On behalf of the Opposition, I would just like to congratulate all of the athletes who are doing such a fine job at the Winter Games.
Mary Hanulik, ninetieth birthday celebrations
Mr. Millar: I would like to ask all the Members of the House to join me in extending birthday greetings to a long-time constituent of mine, Mary Hanulik, who will be celebrating her ninetieth birthday tomorrow.
Mary was born on February 24, 1905, in Czechoslovakia. She married Joseph Hanulik, and they had one son before Joseph left to seek his fortune in the Yukon, travelling across Canada in the Depression-era style of hitching rides on trains. In 1934, Joseph sent Mary and their son a one-way ticket to Dawson and she has lived in Dawson City ever since, adding two more sons and a daughter to their family. Mary is an avid gardener, loves to read and continues to do her own baking. Please join me in wishing Mary a happy birthday and health and happiness in the years ahead.
McDonald's Rendezvous spelling bee, congratulatory message
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I would like to congratulate the winners, as well as all the students who participated in the McDonald's Rendezvous spelling bee. I understand that students from all over the territory participated, including elementary, junior secondary and secondary students. Each school was able to send up to two representatives to participate in the finals, which were held yesterday at the McDonald's restaurant in Whitehorse.
Thirty-nine students participated in this final competition. The students competed in either French or English, depending upon their first language. Marc Beaudin, a grade 4 student at l'École Émilie Tremblay, in Whitehorse, was the overall Yukon winner. Amy Klassen, a grade 6 student at Selkirk Street Elementary, finished second overall, and Yannick Bedard, a grade 8 student at l'École Émilie Tremblay, placed third. I congratulate the winners, as well as all the students who took part in the spelling bee, for their efforts.
Speaker: It is good to see everyone getting into the Rendezvous spirit and we hope it will carry on for the rest of the day.
We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors?
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have two legislative returns.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Bills to be introduced?
Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers.
Notices of Motion.
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Mining initiative
Mr. McDonald: I am sure we are well into the Rendezvous spirit, if one counts cabin fever as part of the Rendezvous spirit.
The question I have is for the Minister of Economic Development about the Whitehorse mining initiative. The Minister knows that this is a national initiative that brings industry and environmental interests, business, labour and aboriginal groups together to bring certainty to the mining industry. The Yukon signed on to the accord in September of last year, and has consequently made some very significant commitments to see it come to life in the Yukon.
Can the Minister tell us precisely what the government has done to bring the agreement they signed to life?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am sure the Member opposite has looked over the document. There are something like 187 recommendations in it. We in Yukon are trying to follow those recommendations.
Mr. McDonald: That does not tell me very much, frankly. I asked specifically what the government was doing to follow the spirit and the letter of the Whitehorse mining initiative and the Minister indicated that they are going to support it.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not the government is going to follow some of the basic recommendations, which include developing action plans to give effect to the accord and making sure the accord is widely publicized in the Yukon so everyone has a chance to learn what measures are contained therein?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The essential stakeholders, groups such as the Yukon Conservation Society, environmental people, and the mining industry, all have copies of the Whitehorse mining initiative. As the Member is also aware, the mining legislation we have in the territory is federal. As I said before, we support the Whitehorse mining initiative, and I believe that we are in compliance with most, if not all, the recommendations that are contained within the document.
Mr. McDonald: We will see about that. One of the basic tenets of the Whitehorse mining initiative is to communicate and promote this accord with the respective constituencies and to familiarize people in the Yukon with the recommendations. During the meeting of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment on mining, the matter was only raised in a passing reference by one person, who happened to make a submission that contained reference to this initiative.
With respect to this first, basic part of the mining initiative, can the Minister tell us what the government is doing to make the terms and recommendations of the initiative known publicly?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Most, if not all, the people at the conference were fully aware of the Whitehorse mining initiative. We have not put an ad in the paper saying the document is available. However, all the major stakeholders are very much aware of it.
Question re: Mining initiative
Mr. McDonald: That is not true. The person who raised the subject of the Whitehorse mining initiative at the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment's mining symposium was asked to explain to participants what the initiative entailed.
According to the Minister's own words, this initiative is supposed to be the focus of the government's mining strategy and their business planning exercise. This is a major, new initiative and a very complex one. Even though the Minister signed it, he has not even formally announced it.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not they are going to do what other jurisdictions have done, which is to set up an advisory council to help implement the complex terms of this initiative?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have not set up a group to advise on the implementation of recommendations in the Whitehorse mining initiative, but the Department of Economic Development is working on that particular initiative.
All the mining companies in the territory are very much aware of the recommendations. They have at various times spoken about them. The document is available, and we will certainly make it available to anyone who is interested, but it seems to me that the stakeholders are all very aware of that document.
Mr. McDonald: I do not think that there is anything further from the truth. Unfortunately, the fact that the basic elements of this document are not known - they certainly were not known to the people at the conference - speaks volumes.
The Minister said that he is not going to establish an advisory committee because he does not think it is necessary. Could the Minister tell us whether or not they are going to develop specific action plans and consult with stakeholders on those action plans to bring the recommendations in the accord into effect?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, we will be developing an action plan, but as I said before, most of the initiatives will be dealt with by the federal government because of the federal legislation for mining.
Mr. McDonald: Even though the government has indicated that this is the central focus of their mining strategy, I had to expect that the moment there was any discussion about details they would punt it into the federal court.
Could the Minister tell us whether or not the government is going to follow the same ill-considered course of action with the Whitehorse mining initiative that the government established with the transfer of the forestry resources: that is, to deal with the tough policy issues only after the transfer of responsibility takes place to the Yukon Territory?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The energy and mines branch is in the preliminary process of developing policy with respect to mining at this time.
Question re: Federal budget, deficit reduction measures
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Finance regarding his trip to Ottawa last week.
The Minister was in Ottawa at a meeting of finance ministers and provincial treasurers. He filed a report the other day saying that his advice to Mr. Martin, the federal Minister of Finance, was to rely on expenditure reduction measures, rather than tax measures, to bring the federal deficit under control. He also noted in his report that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance has recommended a ratio of eight to one between expenditure cuts and tax increases.
Did the Minister, in his tête-à-tête with Mr. Martin, tell him that he could live with the committee's recommendations?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that the Member opposite is fully aware of the tense debate that is going on across Canada today. Hundreds of people are concerned that the federal government will not cut as deeply as it should, and will rely on revenue increases in an effort to deal with the deficit.
The message Mr. Martin got from not only me, but from every finance minister in that room, was a caution about relying too much on the revenue side of the ledger.
Mr. Cable: That does not exactly answer the question.
As the Minister will recollect, Mr. Harcourt was good enough to give Mr. Martin some advice from British Columbia. Last week, in the House, the Minister stated, "I hope the federal Finance Minister will take advantage of our robust economy at this time - our growing economy - and be very ruthless of the cuts that he makes." Did he give Mr. Martin any specific recommendations about where to cut?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not think it would be appropriate for any of us across this country to give specific recommendations about where to cut. Even Mr. Harcourt, in his paper to the Department of Finance, suggested different programs that he would like to see cut. As the Member opposite knows, and as I filed in my report, it was a very short meeting. I do not believe that Mr. Martin was there looking out for our input; I believe he already had his budget drafted. Most refreshing was the fact that the federal Finance Minister was getting hammered just as hard, or harder, by the Liberal provincial governments as he was by governments of other political stripes, and that was most refreshing.
Mr. Cable: The Minister's report finished with some very nice prose. It reads, "To sum up, the seventy-first meeting did not produce either of the scenarios traditionally associated with St. Valentine's Day - sweetheart deals or massacres. It is hoped that the final outcome will lie somewhere in between those." Could the Minister be a little more specific and tell us what he meant by that wonderful, florid prose?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: After watching the performance of the federal Minister of Justice and the very close relationship he had with the local Liberals, I thought maybe the same sort of communication went on between the Finance Minister and the local Liberals.
Question re: Mining initiative
Mr. McDonald: I have a question that relates to both finance policy and the Whitehorse mining initiative. First of all, I would like to ask the Minister of Finance whether or not he expressed to the federal Minister that the model used in the Yukon, which was to increase taxes and increase expenditures was a success story in the Yukon and should be applied nation wide?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would like to refresh the Member's memory by repeating what I told the Member for Riverside. I believe that Canadians will not stand still for any further increases by any level of government.
Mr. McDonald: The Whitehorse mining initiative does speak to the need to protect the mining industry and infrastructure support for that industry from any government financial restraint measures. Does the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Economic Development accept that recommendation, under the circumstances?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite may be aware that the Natural Resources Committee in Ottawa made recommendations to the Finance Minister on nine or 10 initiatives that came out of the Whitehorse mining initiative for mine reclamation funds and how to help mining companies in that respect. It was basically looking for interest in the reclamation funds to be non-taxable until such time as they were expended. I specifically raised that issue with the Finance Minister and asked him if there would be anything in this budget that flowed from those recommendations, as they will be addressed in this budget. The federal Finance Minister was good enough to advise me that there would be nothing in this budget.
Mr. McDonald: The Whitehorse mining initiative, which the government signed, states that in an area of declining budgets it is important that governments find the means to ensure that there are no cutbacks to the mining industry, to ensure that the long-term health of that industry is protected. Does the Minister fully buy into that recommendation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Everything is a balancing act and each section of society is going to fight to protect itself. It is the NIMBY situation: we need to balance the budget but "not in my backyard". I believe the federal Minister has to be very cautious as to how he addresses those types of cuts because the federal philosophy is that we have to have job creation to fight the deficit - that is the only way we can do it - and if he comes down too hard with cutbacks to corporations he may have a negative effect on job creation in Canada.
Question re: Environmental assessments for mining projects
Mr. McDonald: We will be watching very closely the balancing act on Monday.
Regarding the Whitehorse mining initiative, I would like to ask the Minister of Renewable Resources or the Minister of Economic Development to tell us whether or not they are acting on some of the recommendations. Included among those recommendations is the need to conduct environmental assessments for mining projects in the broader context of what they call an integrated land use planning process. Can the Minister indicate what the government is promoting in assessing the various mining projects that are currently on the table, in terms of this integrated land use planning process?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: When the Member mentioned Economic Development and Renewable Resources, he hit the nail on the head. In the Department of Renewable Resources, we are doing land use planning, in terms of regional land use planning, which does take into account the potential mining activities.
Mr. McDonald: When it comes to making approvals and signing off the industrial support agreements with mines like Loki Gold, is the Minister saying that the government has advocated that the environmental assessment for that kind of a mine be done in the context of an integrated land use planning process?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Not at all. We have not even started to look at all of the areas of regional land use planning in the Yukon. It is just not possible; we do not have the resources. However, the environmental assessment review process is very thorough. It is a federal process. The development assessment process - DAP - should be coming into effect with land claims. In the areas where there is no regional land use plan, it will be protected in that manner.
Mr. McDonald: I understand that the government cannot assess every mining project in the context of an integrated land use planning process. Can the Minister tell us whether or not there is any mine currently going through an environmental assessment in the context of an integrated land use planning process?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, I do not believe there are any at this moment.
Question re: Mining initiative
Mr. McDonald: From the Minister's comments, I was under the impression that this was well underway, that the government had bought into the recommendations and they were being followed. I wholeheartedly accept that the government cannot do everything everywhere, but I did think that it would be doing something somewhere.
The Whitehorse mining initiative speaks to the need to create and set aside from mining development protected areas required to achieve representation of Canada's land-based natural regions by the year 2000. Obviously the Minister has given this a lot of thought, and there has been a lot of discussion about protected areas in the territory. Is he going to meet the goal of protected areas by the year 2000?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure. It is certainly our intention and hope to meet that goal of representative areas. Again, with the resources that we have, I cannot stand here today and say that we will meet the goal. That is what we hope to be able to achieve, and that is what we are aiming for. Whether or not we will make it, I am not absolutely certain.
Mr. McDonald: I know the government believes in testing. We had some discussion about that the other day. In this particular case, the government has received a less than satisfactory environmental report card from the World Wildlife Fund. Can the Minister tell us what remedial work is going to be done to improve the marks on this score over the next couple of years to ensure that there is a reasonable fighting chance to meet the commitment they signed on to: to ensure that there are sufficient endangered spaces protected in the Yukon by the year 2000, which is only five years from now?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that, in the Yukon, there are something like 22 areas that are rather unique. We have been doing internal work within the Department of Renewable Resources by looking at each one of the 22 possibilities, finding areas that will fit one of the categories, and then trying to determine what the mineral and forestry potential are - the other factors involved in setting aside an area. We have identified some areas where we need to do further work, but there are 22 different categories. Since there is more than one area in each category, we have to look at each one to see which would best fit.
Mr. McDonald: The government signed on to the Whitehorse mining initiative last September and it was clearly aware of the complications. Not every jurisdiction signed on. Obviously this government felt that it could sign on and meet the commitments in this document. Can the Minister tell us precisely what protected areas the government plans to identify in the next couple of years, which only leaves three years until the year 2000? Can he verify that these areas will, in fact, be protected from mining - meaning that there will be no mining activity taking place in those areas?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Once we have identified the areas and done an assessment, then, as I have said before, it is our intention to have those areas protected from mining and any other activity. That is why we need to do an assessment of each area prior to putting the actual protection on them.
Question re: Mining initiative
Mr. McDonald: I think what we really need right now is a quick Cabinet scrum right away. Perhaps the Minister could start off by telling his Cabinet colleagues what was in the Whitehorse mining initiative.
Unfortunately, the Minister did not answer the question about what the action plan was for the next two years. There are only five years between now and the year 2000. According to the commitments the Yukon Party government has made, it will be protecting at least 22 areas from mining activity over that period of time. What does the government intend to do over the next two years? How much area in what areas is the government intending to protect?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not have the details right at hand. We may not be able to identify all those areas within the two years. My colleague has been good enough to remind me of one area that we have done something about already, which is Tombstone.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
The Member opposite says it is only a tiny fraction. That is debatable. I said it was supposed to be a certain size, and I think we have identified it as a protected area.
Mr. McDonald: I thought that the note that the Minister of Tourism sent to the Minister made reference to something like, "Abandon ship".
After about three or four years in the Legislature, we have now talked about protecting one area out of 22 in the Yukon from mining. There are only five years to go between now and the year 2000. Obviously, to sign on to the agreement, the Minister must have acknowledged that they had a fighting chance of achieving the goals established in this document.
The goals also include the establishment of a comprehensive mining-
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please ask the question.
Mr. McDonald: Sure. The goal included establishing a comprehensive mine reclamation planning process. Is that part of the government's plan? Are they going to do it soon?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, it is.
Mr. McDonald: Incorporated into that plan, will the government be setting aside funds for old mine reclamation where responsibility cannot be assigned? Is that part of the plan?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Not this government. The federal government is responsible for the reclamation of mine sites, and we will continue to lobby the federal government to have the sites cleaned up.
Question re: Division Mountain coal project
Mr. Joe: I have a question for the same Minister, the Minister of Economic Development.
It was brought to my attention that no one from the government has talked with the Northern Tutchone Council about building a coal mine within the boundaries of their traditional territory.
This is my people's land. They do not know what this government is planning to do. Will the government talk to my people about their plans for this area?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I did not hear all of the question. Did the Member say "gold mine"?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Coal. Where is it?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Braeburn. With regard to Division Mountain coal, I know that there are land selections in a portion of that area. Cash Resources, through Archer Cathro, is currently working with Champagne-Aishihik on the area that is within their land claims selection.
Mr. Joe: I do not know what the government is trying to say, but this is a concern to people. The chief and council are concerned that coal mining in the traditional territory will harm the forest and water. What plan does the government have to ensure that the forest and water will be protected against the poison from the coal mine? Will this government tell people about its plans, please?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Right now, the whole Division Mountain coal project is in the exploration stage. If and when it turns into an actual operating mine, there will be a whole environmental review process. I believe it may very well be done under the DAP process, at which point those exact things will be considered very carefully.
Mr. Joe: I have another question. Is the government doing any studies to find out whether it is cheaper to run on coal or with diesel?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. The Energy Corporation has certainly looked at various methods of generating power.
Question re: Carbon dioxide emissions from coal mining
Mr. Penikett: The Minister speaking today is both the Minister for the environment and the Minister of Economic Development. His government's throne speech promoted the Division Mountain coal project, which will almost certainly increase Canada's carbon dioxide emissions. He is also the Minister of the environment and, indeed, chair of the Canadian Council of the provincial Ministers of the Environment, which is committed to reducing greenhouse gases. Can I ask the Minister how he plans to do both?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Obviously, the Member opposite is fairly familiar with the emissions from both diesel fuel and coal, so I do not necessarily need to remind him that coal does, in fact, produce about 10 percent more emissions. However, if one takes into consideration the drilling, the refining, the further remanufacturing and the transportation of diesel to Yukon to then make electricity, it may very well be that coal would, on a national or global basis, produce less greenhouse gas.
Mr. Penikett: This House has noted that the Minister was promoting the mine before any feasibility studies had been done on that question.
Since, as I understand it, the coal project would have to be scaled with huge surplus capacity, and I understand that the proponents are talking about government guarantees, does he not agree that a project of this scale and this size, with surplus capacity and with very significant excess carbon dioxide emissions, would probably put alternate energy sources, such as the wind generator that he referred to yesterday, out of business?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I certainly do not think it would put the wind generator out of business. It probably would put most of the diesel generators in Yukon out of business. I think that is what we need to look at.
As more mines open, we are going to require more and more power, which will have to be picked up by diesel.
Mr. Penikett: There are questions about inter-ties and energy transportation costs, as well.
Let me ask the Minister the following question: as chair of the environment ministers conference, does he agree with the Globe and Mail's assessment of the recent ministerial meeting: that the politicians there believe that redirecting money to energy conservation programs such as upgrading home insulation would create thousands of jobs and cut energy conservation and therefore greenhouse emissions? If he does, is Economic Development looking at sponsoring a SEAL-type program that would lead to the removal of electric baseboard heaters, for example, which are a massively wasteful and expensive system of home heating and are widely used in Whitehorse at the moment?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe that that Member opposite is aware that the SEAL program and the other program - I cannot remember the name of it - under Yukon Housing for energy efficiency and upgrading of homes for safety have been combined. They are currently available through Yukon Housing.
Question re: Federal budget
Mr. Cable: I have some further questions for the Minister of Finance about his trip to Ottawa. There were a couple of questions that he did not totally answer, and I am sure that was just an oversight.
As I indicated in the first round of questions, the Commons Standing Committee on Finance had recommended a ratio of eight to one between expenditure cuts and tax increases. Did the Minister indicate to Mr. Martin that he could live with the committee's recommendations? I would like to report on the Minister's position when Mr. Martin makes his daily telephone call tomorrow.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member for Riverside never ceases to amaze me. I did not recall that I had a daily telephone call with Mr. Martin.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: He says he does. Perhaps he could enlighten me when he receives the telephone call. Mr. Martin was very evasive. As I said in the closing remarks to my statement to the House, we will have to wait until Monday.
Mr. Cable: This is going to be painful - for the third time. Did the Minister indicate to Mr. Martin that he could live with the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Finance: that is, that there should be a ratio of eight to one on expenditure cuts and tax increases?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, I did not. I want to draw to the Member's attention, in case he does not recall it, the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Finance were when Mr. Martin was looking for $9.5 billion over the next two years. I understand now that that figure is closer to $15 billion.
Mr. Cable: I think we are giving the Minister of Education some ammunition for math testing.
In the Minister's report, there is a reference to the federal government's commitment to cut the federal deficit to three percent of gross domestic product by 1996 and 1997. Does the Minister think this is an ambitious target? What is the Minister's position?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I realize that the Member for Riverside is a very well-read individual. He reads the papers, and he reads the publications that come out. I do not think that there is any think-tank in the country that is saying that three percent of GDP is sufficient. If the Member opposite watched the CBC program, News Magazine, last night, he would realize the seriousness of the problem that is facing Canadians today.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that 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 that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess?
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 any further general debate on the Department of Education?
Mr. Harding: I want to begin my remarks today by saying something that might come as a bit of a shock to the Minister, but I received the press release today and it is consistent with the letter I received from the Minister about the issue of developing a draft assessment plan.
We talked about the issue of consultation for two days in this Legislature and I think it is a critical issue in education - I have probably said that 20 times to the Minister in the last two days - and I hope we have impressed upon him how important we feel it is. It is often the centre of the political issues that unfold surrounding education. The reason for that is its paramount importance.
However, in looking at the press release provided by the Minister today, I would say that it looks to me, on the face of it, to be a fairly solid plan for getting the input from the stakeholders. I would like to say to the Minister that if it is carried through, as it is billed, it is probably going to work okay. I would just say to the Minister that I hope there is some sincerity. He gave me the impression during Question Period that he planned to push ahead, come heck or high water, but it appears that he is taking a bit of a step back from that and I applaud that. I hope that the assessment plan group gets some cooperation from the stakeholders. I hope that the government cooperates with the stakeholders, because I know that this is an issue that has sparked a lot of interest.
When I visited many of the staff rooms and talked to educators, I wrote down a list of subjects that I would like to talk about.
When I opened the floor to debate, this subject usually came up without anyone having to be prompted. There is a broad range of controversy surrounding the issue and I am going to get into a bit of that later. I would just at the outset say that I hope that the consultation process is sincere. I do not think at the end of the day the Minister is going to get everyone on board on this issue because of its divisiveness. I think there is some real room for the Minister, in the drafting of this assessment plan, to rebuild some bridges that I think need rebuilding.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We certainly intend to proceed as outlined in the press release, and I do not think that the people from B.C. who are involved would come on board unless they believed that we would proceed in this way.
Mr. Harding: Last night, we debated student financial assistance, and that enters more into the realm of advanced education, as it stands right now with the existing system. I am going to leave that to my co-critic and perhaps join in when we get back to that issue, because we think it is important. We know that there have been no changes since 1983, but there have been a lot of changes to advanced education to make it more affordable, and we think it is time to evaluate what we are doing about student financial assistance. The review of 1991-92 would be helpful to that end, but we will get back to it later.
The first question I have for the Minister is with regard to the Pathfinder initiative he announced and how it relates to the education review. Number 17 of the review says that an evaluation system for a newly initiated or pilot program is to be established and implemented, and that evaluation system is to include consultation and input from stakeholders. In the development and implementation of the Pathfinder pilot program, was the government true to the recommendation and the action plan announced in response to this recommendation?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I may have to come back with further detail, but this was highly recommended by teachers and administrators and developed in conjunction with them. Being a pilot project, it will be evaluated by the stakeholders. I do not have the documentation that shows the details, but I can get back to the Member on it.
Mr. Harding: I guess I will have to accept that. In the evaluation of what detail the Minister has to provide to me, is he aware of any formal representation from any of the stakeholders that this program was desired?
He mentioned in his response to my remarks on the ministerial statement that it had been demonstrated at the YTA conference, but that differentiates from a formal position or recommendation. Is there some substantiation of the approval for this program or some substantiation of the discussion surrounding the development of the program?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I can get details of that, but the department and school personnel went out and looked at sites in British Columbia to assess the Pathfinder program where it has been implemented. It was done in consultation with administrators and school teachers.
Mr. Harding: I will look forward to receiving some detailed information on that.
One thing I have heard from many educators in the Yukon is that while we have a significant number of computers in the schools, a lot of them are outdated. I know that a lot of the schools I toured were still using one-sided floppy discs. The technology was fairly outdated.
I know it is a typical political response to respond to the concerns about this by saying that the ratio of computers to students is very high, but a lot of them are so outdated that they are almost archaic. While I am not a believer that one has to buy the latest model of everything, it gets to the point where one is impeding the growth of schoolchildren's knowledge in that area. I would like to ask the Minister what his thoughts are about that, because I do believe that we have to make a stronger commitment to upgrade technology in the schools. While I know that there have been some new computers purchased in some schools, we still have a long way to go to properly upgrade the technology and computers in the schools.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That is recognized, of course. There is an active program in place to replace computers. Between now and the year 2000, the plan is that computers in the following schools will be upgraded to contemporary standards: Christ the King Junior Secondary, J.V. Clark, Watson Lake High, Whitehorse Elementary, Selkirk Elementary, Jack Hulland Elementary, Johnson Elementary, St. Elias Community School and Tantalus School. During that time, the schools that do not have a computer lab of comparable size to the population base, or lack the space within the school, will experience equipment upgrading and the development of small-scale labs, dependent upon the dollars that are left over each fiscal year after the major upgrading has occurred.
Mr. Harding: Can the Minister provide me with more detail about the implementation of that plan? For example, how will the computers be purchased? Will it be on an incremental basis? How will the schools have input into what equipment should be purchased to best meet their needs?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There is $125,000 per year in the budget that goes toward the work I just described. Replacement and capital upgrading of all kinds in the schools is done in consultation with the school councils and administrators.
Mr. Harding: Does the Minister feel that the expenditure in that area is sufficient at the present time, given the priorities that he has to deal with, or would he like to see it increased? Where does he stand on the question of technology in the schools?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The $125,000 is the line item for computer purchases. There is considerably more spending in conjunction with the schools. The information technology expenditures for 1994-95 are projected at $916,144. The same level of overall expenditure is projected for 1995-96. There will be 83 percent, or $763,136 of the entire projected information technology expenditures in 1994-95 directly connected with equipment and service for schools. Libraries and archives expenditures are projected at $13,191.
Mr. Harding: I will get into the numbers in a minute. What I would like to do is to get a sense of the Minister's approach to this issue. I do not think that one would call it a philosophical view, but given his knowledge, time in the portfolio and the discussions that he has had with people in the schools, is he satisfied with the priority we are giving to the introduction of information technology and computer technology in the schools? From the representations that I have had made to me, it seems that it is an important point in the schools.
It would be nice to know if the Minister feels the plan is sufficient at this point or if we should be giving it a greater emphasis in the schools.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The response to the education review on pages 6 and 7 speaks to the education plan and technology education, and speaks of such things as placing increased emphasis on technology education in the professional development; it speaks to encouraging more teachers to pursue professional development in this area such as the University of Juneau, Alaska, M.Ed. course offered in Whitehorse during the summer of this year. The department has established a computer technology and networking committee to provide recommendations to senior management on major issues relating to acquisition and utilization of networking in departmental and school-based technology by March. There are a number of other comments made here. I can read them out but that may not suffice.
We see it as a priority. If the Member is asking whether or not we are going to suddenly find more money within the departmental budget to increase what we are doing this year, the answer is, "I doubt it."
Mr. Harding: I guess that has to do with the level of priority given to an issue by the government of the day. The Minister stated, if I heard correctly, that there was $925,000 spent in the last two years, or did he say that $925,000 was spent in the 1994-95 fiscal year and then expected in the 1995-96?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Both years, in which 83 percent was spent for equipment and service for schools.
Mr. Harding: That number does not seem to compute with the number in the current status of evaluation in the education review action plan from the Minister. That number says purchases of computer equipment in the schools amounted to $800,000 in the last 2.5 years. I would expect that would include 1994-95. Could the Minister tell me why those numbers do not seem to jibe?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will have to ask the department where it got the number from.
Mr. Harding: I look forward to seeing how the issue of improving the technology in the schools is handled by the Minister and the government. It is important, and I find it interesting that we - this government or the previous one - seem so often to approve millions of dollars for computers for the civil service. We have roughly 3,000 civil servants, and we have many more students than that. We approve expenditures a lot easier to improve technology for the civil service than for the classrooms.
While there are some reasons for that, there is also something fundamentally improper with it that we have to look at. While I am not a proponent of investing in the absolutely latest gadget or model of computer that comes out, and while I am not a computer bug, I believe computer technology is important and that there are certain fundamental changes and technological advances that come along that students would greatly benefit from exposure to.
I hope that the Minister's program for improving technology in the classrooms is successful. I hope he recognizes the point that we spend a lot on upgrading the civil service, and for the same reasons we should be upgrading technology in the classroom.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I appreciate the Member's point. One can always spend more, but I think that, when establishing priorities and gauging how much is appropriate to spend, one good objective assessment is to compare our school system with other school systems in Canada. We are right at the top.
Mr. Harding: Can the Minister tell me how that is? I know that we are at the top in terms of numbers of computers per student, but are we also at the top in terms of the technology?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I would assume so, from what I have heard. I will see if there is any kind of comparative data. Every school system does not have as many computers as we do, on a per student basis, and has the same issue facing them, which is how to appropriately upgrade and replace. It is a capital replacement issue, and is very similar to what is occurring with Yukon College.
The reason we increased their capital grant - the large increase - was so that it could replace, on a reasonable and continual basis, the equipment and other capital facilities, such as flooring and so on that depreciate.
Mr. Harding: I understand what the issue is. I look at it in broader terms than simply capital expenditures. I suppose it depends upon what kind of priority the education system will place on improving technology in the classrooms, which always comes back to the amount of money one is prepared to spend. It also comes back to the amount of priority this is given by the decision makers and whether or not they want to improve the technology.
The list for our schools, as provided by the department, is that computers in use are as follows: Apple IIe and IIgs, 483; Macintosh, 700; and IBM-compatibles, 37. The department claims there is a ratio of one computer to every 4.5 students. It would be interesting to see how we stack up against other jurisdictions in the country in terms of the ratio and the degree to which we have advanced in our computer technology. It would be a useful comparison. If we are in a position at the top, there is no reason why we should not stay there, and I think that that is where we ought to be.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will see what information is available and forward it to the Member.
Mr. Harding: I am going to have a lot of paper sent over to me. I hope that the Minister can provide some information, because I am really trying to test his knowledge and his philosophies on issues. I am also trying to find out what his priorities are and what he wants his department to explore and concentrate on. The Minister seems to be much more able to give me answers on issues such as expanded, cumulative, diagnostic testing, but not on issues like this.
Perhaps the Minister could tell me something about his views on distance education. The rural schools have made some representations to me that they feel that part of their inability to compete - for lack of a better word - or to offer the type of education that perhaps the Whitehorse schools and the other urban schools can offer, is the fact that they do not have the student populations to offer as broad a range of courses to justify the costs in the rural communities.
Some of the people in the communities really believe that distance education could help to solve some of this, given the proper staff, computer access and the proper infrastructure work being done to accommodate it. This not only applies to public schools, but also to advanced education.
It seems to be the feeling in the public that we can really utilize advanced technology to broaden the educational services in the rural communities. However, some people have expressed to me that it is very expensive to provide distance education due to the cost of phone lines and the time spent accessing the information, which can become very expensive.
Has the department been exploring the public school's relationship to distance education, and does it look like it could be a feasible option for improving the courses we can provide in the rural communities, and even in Whitehorse for that matter?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The answer is twofold. The Member was here when the presentation was given by the Yukon College and, of course, Yukon College is doing some innovative things with regard to distance education. We are evaluating that and will be following it up if we see it as feasible.
The other answer is that we have the pilot project, Pathfinder, which is another avenue that should prove worthwhile if the pilot project proves to be a success, which I believe it will.
Mr. Harding: What would the Minister be looking for in what the college is doing to see how well it is going to stack up in an adaptable model to the public school system we have here?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If he is talking of distance education, then he is talking about where an instructor is in one place where the course is offered and the students are in another, using technology so that the teacher can teach from one place to another place a distance way. The technology that the college is working on has that goal, and we are following that closely.
Mr. Harding: This all seems quite preliminary. Is there a formal plan for the Department of Education to follow this through? There is more to it than just that. If a physics course is to be provided in Mayo, for example, I do not think we can get away with just beaming out a physics instructor at long distance and having the students in the high school there on their lonesome trying to understand exactly what is going on.
There also has to be some support for them at the other end. There is also the cost of the information being provided, and that relates to things like phone lines and what not. Has there been some work done to investigate what the cost might be, or is the Minister just going to let the college carry the ball on that one and then try to adapt the model that it comes up with to the public schools where he thinks it might be successful?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If the Member looks at page 21 of the departmental response, the department states that it is following the Yukon College testing of distance education technology. The Department of Education's computer technology and networking committee will be directed to examine and record the potential for shared use and cost sharing with rural schools. That is the mode we are in. It would be senseless for us to try to duplicate what Yukon College is doing.
Mr. Harding: I agree whole-heartedly with the Minister on that. I do not want to see duplication. I just want to ensure that there is a parallel process in the department examining what the college is doing - and there is a lot - and the Minister will know the action plan has a lot of references about reviewing this, following that, forming this and meeting on that. I am just trying to get some nuts and bolts out of this to find out just where the hard research is being done and where we are really moving ahead. I know that further action plan updates will give me indications of that. This came out in December 1994. It is roughly two and a half to three months old.
That was roughly two and a half or three months later. The education review came out some time prior to the action plan. It has been awhile, so I am hoping to make some progress on issues such as that. That is why I am asking questions about the nuts and bolts of the reviews and committees and evaluations that are referenced in the action plan.
There is some support out there for minor changes to the Education Act that I have heard from some administrators. They are not structural changes and would not be too difficult. This government has been in power for 27 months and it seems to feel, at least in Question Period, that it has a philosophical approach to education that is different from that of the NDP. One would think that if that were really the case, it would be reflected in the Education Act. Has the government been looking at bringing in any changes to the Education Act?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Not at this time. I do note that one area of possible concern - it would be a modest amendment - is the definition of "teacher" in the act. I am sure that we would get the support of all of the parties on this. "Teacher" is defined in such a way as to define a person holding a valid and subsisting certificate of qualification or letter of permission issued pursuant to the regulations, who is appointed or employed pursuant to this act to give instruction, or to administer supervised instructional service in a school, but - and this is the part I would be interested in changing - does not include an aboriginal language teacher.
Mr. Harding: If the Minister wants to bring forward the provision that he voted for when he was in Opposition, we certainly will be amenable to taking a look at possibly supporting him on that.
The next issue I would like to talk about is the changes to the Education Act. Perhaps it is another one of those issues that could be described as a philosophical issue. Most of the administrators that we met with talked about some changes to the Education Act. Some of the things they liked about the act were the provisions that allowed them some autonomy - decision making, school planning and the starting date of a school year - but I also found that there was some concern about it, that it did not always lead to the system running smoothly. For example, I heard complaints about some schools starting earlier than others. That created difficulty in organizing professional development days, conferences and that type of thing. The other concern I heard was about discipline policies. A number of people asked why there is not a broad policy on issues of harassment, and why harassment is okay in Faro, but not in Carmacks - those types of concerns and questions.
Has the Minister had the chance to consider any of the representations he has had made to him, and what are his thoughts on the extent of autonomy - whether the decision making should be expanded to the schools and the school councils, or whether the department should have a greater role in terms of those broad, societal issues, such as discipline or harassment, and those types of more broad issues.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We have no intention of changing the current act or policies in that regard.
Mr. Harding: Has the Minister had any representations made to him about that or have I just brought that to his attention for the first time?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have had representations and discussion with lots of people who have had things to say about those areas. Our position at this time is that we are comfortable with the policy as it currently stands.
Mr. Harding: What is that policy? I am not sure it is always consistent. An example is harassment. There was a policy circulated that was supposed to be adopted by everyone. However, in other areas, that does not seem to be the case.
One of the complaints I heard from the school council, to be frank, was that the department likes to throw controversial issues at them, but does not give them the support to deal with those issues when they come up in the communities.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The powers and duties of the school councils are set out in section 113 of the act. We have no intention of changing the section at this time.
Mr. Harding: I have the Education Act here, too. I can, and have, read it. I have the action plan here that the government provided, but I am just talking to the Minister, in Committee of the Whole, about some of the things that we are hearing. I would just like him to put away what is in the act for a moment so that we can talk about what is happening out there and what people are saying. Then, we could talk about the act and what that says. Perhaps the two will meet; perhaps they will not.
To my knowledge, the department circulated a violence-in-schools policy, which was to be adopted by all of the schools. Is that not correct?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes.
Mr. Harding: In the case of that policy, why would that particular one be picked to be circulated when an issue, such as harassment or discrimination or smoking on school grounds, would be considered to be in the domain of the individual school council?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am not sure what the Member wants. Does he want a legal opinion about section 113 of the Education Act? He has been talking about consultation and partnership. The position with regard to the policy in question is one that is being developed in partnership. A draft was sent around and it had feedback from school councils. It is hoped that it will be adopted, once it is finalized.
Mr. Harding: Do not worry, Mr. Chair. I will not seek a legal opinion from a lawyer who was forced to become a politician to make a living. I will not do that, nor will I ask the Member for Riverside a legal opinion, or the Member for Porter Creek South.
I do not want a legal opinion, but I would like to ask the Minister to respond to what I am telling him was said to me - that in some areas the department is willing to send out a suggestion. I am not opposing what the department did regarding the violence-in-school policy. As a matter of fact, we thought there was an absence of one, and I believe we made a number of representations to the former Minister to start working on one. I do not think the concern here has to be exclusive to a policy of autonomy or a policy of direction from the department to be sent out for consultation with the school councils. Some of the school councils I talked to said they would like to have, in some cases, that sort of cohesive discussion, initiated by the department, about those broad societal issues, because they did not want ad hoc decisions made in different communities on these societal issues. That is all I am saying to the Minister. There seems to be, on some issues such as the violence-in-schools policy, a willingness of the department to get involved in other issues like discipline in the schools or harassment. There seems to be more of a leaning toward letting the individual school councils take on that policy themselves.
Some of the school councils felt comfortable with that but some of them did not. I am just asking the Minister if, on issues of that nature, he feels there should be a more cohesive approach taken among the school councils in conjunction with the department, or would he just like to leave it at the status quo, take some issues like violence in the schools, develop a policy through the department in consultation with the school councils, or just let the school councils deal with it in a totally autonomous fashion?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I draw the Member's attention to section 113(2)(e), which sets up the legal jurisdiction for the council to establish rules and policies on any matter within its jurisdiction. I really do not know what the Member is trying to get at. In some cases, the department may make recommendations to all the student councils and suggest that there should be a policy that is followed by all. In other cases, it may not be deemed appropriate. All we are talking about here is who takes the lead role in terms to suggest something.
Mr. Harding: That is pretty important. Who takes the lead role is a critical question when you are talking about issues. The Minister shrugs as if to say it is not; well, it is.
Surely the Minister heard the concern throughout the territory that became a public issue even though it has been going on in the schools for the longest time. There is violence in the schools. A department official was on the radio saying that the department going to get heavily involved in a policy.
The issue of harassment comes up and the department is not as quick to get involved. The issue of discrimination in the schools is a serious question - who is to take the lead role? Why would the department, for example, in the area of violence in the schools decide it is going to take a lead role, but in other areas decide that it is not?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is always the same. We have a young fellow over there who is a socialist. He believes there should be rules for everything - rules and red tape - that no matter what comes along, there is a big book that contains the rules for everything. One opens the book to page 24, and it says "If student A slaps student B, turn to page 746 and look under C. Then turn to page 868 in volume VII ..." and so on. That is the socialist way. They are bureaucrats, people of red tape, who think one can plan for every possible contingency, which is one of the reasons they were thrown out of office. People wanted a commonsense government, one which dealt with principles and applied them. That is how our legal system works - with the common law of Britain, Canada and the United States - and that is how sensible people proceed in these matters.
With the greatest of respect, I submit that the Member's question is absolutely ridiculous and childish, or he is so caught up in socialism - the dying political philosophy - that he really does not understand what he is talking about. Either way, we will just have to disagree.
Mr. Harding: If the Yukon people wanted a commonsense government, they sure did not get what they asked for with the Yukon Party, the band of the loony right, the ideologues who live in a hazy world of railways to Carmacks, pipelines to Watson Lake and interlocking power grids between Alaska, B.C. and the Yukon, with all three jurisdictions selling power to each other, regardless of the cost to hook these jurisdictions up.
I do not want the Minister to sink the debate into the depths he wants. I am asking serious questions. I could not believe it when he stood and started babbling on about socialism, or that he could possibly think I had anything other than the best of intentions in dealing with this particular issue.
This was the subject of some discussion among school councils, educators and me since I have been the critic, which is about one year now. This was also the subject of much discussion in the public domain, especially, when it was extensively brought to light by the media - surrounding violence in the schools that is taking place in some of the schools in the territory.
I do not understand why, when discussing an issue of this importance, he would stand up and spout off about socialism. I want to know whether the Minister is prepared to have school councils take a lead role in the development of policies and responses to broad societal issues of importance to the Yukon, or whether the department should, and I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Minister would stand up and give me such a chippy response.
I guess it is typical of this Minister, when stuck with no other answer and limited knowledge of the subject, to stand up and scream socialism. He hisses the words. I guess it has some resonance among some of the good old boys, but I think the people who are concerned about violence in the schools and school councils who are concerned about policies on discipline and issues of that nature would be somewhat insulted that the Minister would not engage in a debate about who is going to a lead role in the development of policies to address this issue.
I certainly do not criticize the government for not coming up with a telephone-book policy, and I think that all policy development in this area should be done by the school councils in consultation with the department.
They do not have to present a telephone book. If the Minister really and seriously took the time to research what I said about the Department of Education-directed policy of harassment in the schools, he would see that I never criticized him for not being more extensive and for not having a clause 741(c), which he referred to earlier. There was some criticism of the policy, but it was in a broad sense and it certainly did not have anything to do with the length or the content of the policy.
I would ask the Minister to refrain from sinking the debate into the political rhetoric that we both engaged in for the last couple of days, and just explain to me how we, as the Yukon, and he, as the Minister responsible for the Department of Education, will decide to work with school councils in order to deal with some of those issues, like the one they decided to deal with - violence in the schools - in the coming couple of years, to ensure that there is some consistency and some societal cohesiveness in how we approach issues like violence and discipline in the schools. Can the Minister do that without being offended that I asked him the question?
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask the Minister to respond to the issue of policy development. The Minister just gave us his little spiel about the socialist way is being red-tape people who have to have a plan for every contingency, so that no matter what happens, somebody could turn to some page in volume VII of the policy manual and come up with a response. Then he drew the parallel that his government was the commonsense government that would deal with principles and apply them. Let me just explain to the Minister the principle I am talking about and the principle I would like him to respond to.
We are asking questions about serious issues. I believe every student has a right to a safe and healthy learning environment. I believe that part of a healthy learning environment is one where students and adults in the schools are not going to encounter violence. That is one of the reasons why I asked the former Minister of Education what work his department was going to do to ensure that all schools had a clear policy on violence and harassment. I also made the argument last night that part of a healthy environment in the schools would be a smoke-free environment, and I asked the Minister if he would be prepared to consider a policy where no smoking would be allowed on school grounds.
The department did take a lead role in devising a policy on violence in the schools and in circulating it to all schools. Under the provisions of the Education Act, school councils have the right, as they should, to make their own policies and to add to their policies. Some schools, for example the Porter Creek Junior Secondary School, has a harassment policy that goes a long way beyond the violence-in-schools policy that was circulated by the department.
What I am asking the Minister to respond to is this question: on what issues does the Minister think the department should take a lead role in developing policy and then circulating it to the schools and school councils for them to accept and/or add to and implement?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Where there is an obvious void in policy and it is deemed to be sufficiently serious, such as the obvious void that existed when violence became an issue. For problems pertaining to things such as harassment, issues arising from the A Cappella report, and those kinds of areas, the department may decide to try to initiate some standards, in consultation with the school councils, to be adopted by them. It is one of the areas that is made on a case-by-case basis and would only happen when school councils felt, by and large, that the department should properly take a lead role in drafting something for discussion.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister just indicated that those decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis. What does he think the guiding principles are in determining whether or not the department should play a lead role in policy development?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The main principles would be these: is there a need for a policy? Is there a void? Is there some urgency in assisting to see that a policy is put in place to alleviate a problem of a crisis nature? It was deemed to be that way with harassment, and with violence in the schools and other kinds of situations that arise where it is felt that the situation is fairly serious. If the department feels that the void ought to be filled, then they may get involved.
Ms. Moorcroft: Several people have expressed to me that students smoking on school grounds is a very serious issue. People have also said that it is an issue where there is a policy void. As we were discussing last night, smoking causes lung cancer and kills people. We could call it a crisis that more teenagers are smoking. Is the Minister prepared to consider having the department play a lead role in developing a policy for having a smoke-free environment on school grounds, and then, as he was just saying, circulating that to school councils and involving them in the final decision?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I do not think she has finished her question yet. I guess she has.
We have not received any representations from school councils with regard to that issue. Certainly, they are free to develop their own policies. If they want us to, they are certainly welcome to make that recommendation to the department, and we will consider it and act accordingly.
Ms. Moorcroft: What the Minister has just told me then, in effect, is that if the school councils make a recommendation to the department - one school council, or an MLA, or any number of parents make the recommendation that the department implement a smoke-free school grounds policy, then he will consider it, but up until then, he is not prepared to consider it?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I know that the NDP take some delight in imposing their views on people. I guess our position with regards to school councils is this: a school council could very easily pass a very simple policy about smoking, or banning smoking from the school ground; that is something they can do. They do not need any special assistance from the department policy people. It is a very straightforward issue they can deal with on their own.
If the Member is asking me, should the government do it, I would say no. I would say that it is really up to the school councils to make that decision. That is the essence of democracy, the essence of consultation.
Mr. Harding: It appears that the Minister is going to continue to pick and choose the areas where he does and does not want to impose things. This government's record of imposing unwanted things - gambling, for example - is pretty clear.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for calling the Minister to order.
The interesting debate that has been going on here is, I believe, a double-edged sword if the role of the department in policy direction is compared with the autonomy of the school councils. The Education Act was designed to empower the councils. The department, rightly so, is often reluctant to enter into that domain. I started by saying that a number of school councils had expressed an interest in having the department issue some general direction in a number of areas. I used the example of the violence-in-schools policy, where the department did give some general direction. I do not call that Big Brother, like the Minister would. I call it some general guidelines, on which the school councils had some significant input, to formulate an overall policy.
The Minister and I obviously have differing views on the way in which to accommodate policies on difficult issues and to try and work with the different school councils when addressing them, both on an individual and collective basis. So be it, I suppose. We are not getting anywhere with the Minister on this. I suppose we will just have to wait until he stands up and starts screaming "socialist" before we know whether or not we have hit the right button as we go through the list of issues.
This issue should be a good one, as this government professes to be a government of businesspeople and a Conservative administration. One of the things I would like to see in our education system, which we have probably never done a good enough job of during the nine years I have been in the Yukon, is in the area of partnerships between schools and local business.
There were some inroads made in that area, but we have a long way to go. We hear from a lot of students and teachers that they feel there is an opportunity in our small jurisdiction to do some unique things toward building such partnerships. One of the fundamentals that could be used to do that is cooperative programming. This can be difficult in the rural communities because of the logistics and the lack of businesses for placements in cooperative programs.
I believe it is important for students in public schools to have some exposure to the business and working world, to have some hands-on experience in jobs that they may have an interest in, so they can get a basic idea of what they may want to do when they leave school.
The general feeling I got was that we are not doing a good enough job in that area.
I wonder if the Minister shares my view that it is an important priority and that we should look at ways to improve our capability in the area of partnership, and liaise with businesses to provide some hands-on cooperative experiences to students, not only in the Whitehorse area, but the rural students as well.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I agree. Of course, pages 2 and 3 of the response to the Education Review Committee report discusses the current status of the programs. I can read that into the record if the Member wishes. If the Member feels that is necessary, just let me know.
Mr. Harding: The purpose of Committee of the Whole is not to have the Minister drop a bunch of documents on me. I can read.
I do not know why the Minister is behaving like a petulant child. We are asking some legitimate questions and he is being incredibly snippy. I do not know if he has a flight to Las Vegas that he has to catch, or what is going on, but I certainly would like to get some cooperation and discussion flowing in Committee of the Whole. Is the Minister telling me that he has nothing to add to the concept of cooperative education, other than a few words that are written in the action plan?
I can read the action plan, but I wanted to get a sense of what further initiatives and priorities have been developed since this plan came out in December 1994. The plan talks about getting things ready for next year. I would like to get a few more details and snippets about his thoughts on this plan.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: As the Member knows, we strongly support the recommendation in the review. We have laid out an action plan, which we intend to follow. There are a lot of good things happening in the schools. Just recently, I received a work-experience report on some of the students who are spending part of their time out in the work world. It made good reading. We will continue to move in the direction that we are going, which is to improve the transition. Aside from that, I do not have much else to say. I guess we agree on something.
Mr. Harding: Eureka! Eureka! Actually, there are a number of things on which I agree with the Minister. That is why it is interesting in Committee of the Whole to find out where those areas are. However, in order to do that, I have to have some two-way conversation with the Minister. I hope we will have some more of that - of a non-political nature.
Can the Minister give me some of his thoughts on how he and the department feel that we can do a better job of career counselling, planning and cooperative programming in the rural communities? It is a greater cost and, as I mentioned, there are problems with the logistics of getting students into businesses and having enough businesses to take the placements. Is the department thinking about how to cope with some of those problems?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If the Member is speaking about the very small communities, there are very few students in the high schools. We heard some words from the Member for Mayo-Tatchun regarding the aspirations in Pelly, for example, of having their students remain within the community and be involved. The implementation of land claims and the resulting development corporations are extremely important, and I am sure they will serve very adequately to engage those students who are desirous of remaining in their communities and being involved in the implementation and future of their people. I fully support that. It should move along quite well in the larger communities that have businesses. We will proceed as we are in Whitehorse and in some of the other larger communities.
Mr. Harding: I accept that from the Minister and I thank him for his answer and I do also note that there are a lot of students who want to spend as much time as possible in their communities. That is something the department has to be aware of at all times in its policy deliberations, given the confines of budgets and the factors that bind the decision-making process.
The issue of special needs is one that was debated in a somewhat hot fashion over the last couple of days. Before I begin this discussion with the Minister, I would like to tell him that I will do my best to avoid getting too political about this - although everything is political. As a specific subject, I do feel that I have to talk a bit about special needs and I hope he will not be too defensive.
I have heard a lot of concerns from people. By far the most overriding concern has been special-needs education.
I know what the action plan said about special needs. It talks about an internal review of the department, but it does not say much more about what is going to happen with special needs.
I did make the point the other day that it was not until 1989 or 1990, in the development of the Education Act, that special needs were given the focus that they were due in the Yukon. Just so that the Minister does not say it, I know that we were in power for four of those years.
I have gone through the budgets. The amount of commitment that the government made to special needs after 1989-90 is incredible. The resources that were given to address the needs in the communities grew in leaps and bounds, ranging from 24 to 64 percent, and then to approximately 200 percent in 1992-93. I will admit that there has been some increase in those areas, but the present expenditures have leveled off.
We can call them expenditures or investments or both. I believe that they are investments, because there is a lot of hurt and need in the communities in this particular area - a tremendous amount. Are we realizing the need as well as we should be? Are we committing the investment to the needs that we should, given the recognition of the size of the problem? Can we do a better job of meeting those needs? I admit it is a daunting problem. It was probably the paramount issue with the teachers, school councils and staff I met with at almost every school. Some schools felt that they had adequate support to address the problems, but there were also many concerns.
One of the concerns that I heard consistently was about assessments - time for assessments, backlog of assessments - and the amount of time that it takes for the student assessments to come back after the team has assessed the student and arrived at the decision that one is needed and, after the point of the assessment, the response from the department stating the level of special need the child or student would have. I want to tell the Minister that I did hear this.
He may choose to stand up and give some statistics about the commitment of the department in that area. However, I would rather get a sense from him about whether or not he has heard the many complaints about assessment times. Does he feel that perhaps we need to increase the resources we put into that area, or does he have an approach that perhaps we need to do some work at the front end to try to give students the tools so that they do not even need assessments?
Can he give me some thoughts about the concerns regarding assessment times, and how we might do a better job of dealing with those concerns in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I think, by and large, we are not doing badly. Some concerns are communicated to me from time to time about a child who has had to wait longer than would be appropriate. One factor in the delay is that one of the positions - the one located in Dawson City - is being advertised again. With that position having been vacant, there have been some delays throughout the territory.
Mr. Harding: I am not getting that impression from the people I talk to. Maybe I am talking to just the people who were upset and that very well could be. It appeared to me, and continues to appear to me, given what I have been told by people - not just on the community tour, but through correspondence and the phone calls I receive - that assessment times and the service in the rural communities at this point is very, very poor, are not in a good state at all.
The issue of the Dawson psychologist is important to a lot of people. I make representation to the Minister that the residents of Dawson feel that that position is vital. I guess there is really no room for debate. I could just tell the Minister what I have been told and that I feel very strongly about the situation. The perception is that we are doing badly. Either we must realize that what people think is legitimate, or we have to deal with the perception, one or the other, if we are going to address the problem at all.
Could the Minister provide me with any details as to how the psychologist position that has been advertised is coming along? Does it look like there are any takers? Has anyone expressed a serious interest in doing it? What, basically, are the problems with filling the position?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I suppose there is an issue with it being a remote posting. The first time the position was offered, it was rejected. Now they are trying to fill it. I understand they are even looking at a contractual position.
Mr. Harding: I hope the Minister is successful in filling that position. I hope the Minister hears what I have said to him about the perception out there. I have lots of examples of people who were waiting inordinate periods of time for assessments to come back. At Del Van Gorder school, for example, the assessments were done in October 1993. They had not yet been reported on in 1994 when I went on the community tour. There are a couple of examples like that. There were a number of other examples given regarding children whom the staff and parents felt had some special-needs requirements, but it was felt there had been what is commonly referred to in the schools as a quota for assessments throughout the school system.
Can the Minister comment on the quota for assessments? Can he explain to me what the department policy is with regard to whether or not there is a cap on the amount of special-needs resources for a particular school in a community and whether or not there is a cap for the amount of assessments that can be given to a school?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am not aware of any quota or cap with regard to doing assessments. The limiting factor is the amount of time the psychologist has to do the work. That is why it is very important to fill the vacant position.
Mr. Harding: The problem is that we do not have an area 3 psychologist now, so it does not make for a level playing field for those in the rural communities who were serviced by that person doing the assessments. That is a serious concern for those communities, which I heard loud and clear.
There is a de facto quota if we do not have the resources to meet the assessment needs out there. Would the Minister not agree with that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Of course there will be a delay if the demand exceeds the supply. Referrals are acted upon as quickly as possible. There is no quota for any school. It is simply a case of the department doing the best it can with the always-limited resources.
Mr. Harding: It seems as if we are classifying special-needs children by budget priorities rather than need. That is a concern I hear. We have just gone to the extent of describing special-needs children in the free-market terms of supply and demand. I have not heard that one before; that is a good one.
I think of them as being more than just units of supply and demand. I think of them as children in the schools who are having serious problems we have to address.
I have to admit that I had never been in a lot of the schools before, but it was a shock to hear stories from parents that described serious problems. There was some real hurt in the classrooms, as there always has been. This is not a new phenomenon, but we were at an enhanced level, in 1989-90, when the Education Act was starting to meet the needs.
The perception out there right now is that we are not doing a very good job. I guess that leads to the backlogs that the Minister referred to. I would like to hear the Minister tell me today that he is going to make it a priority of his to do everything in his power, even if that means making it a bigger budget priority, to deal with special-needs concerns. Unfortunately, I do not think I am going to get that. I hope the people out there do have their needs met as soon as possible, as best as we can expect, given its present priority for the government.
The problem is that the needs are extremely great and the resources are not great enough to meet them. My view is that we have to increase the resources to meet the needs and make it a priority. Special needs is so fundamental to our system in the Education Act, because we believe in putting everyone in the classroom and giving everyone an opportunity at lifelong learning. Those principles espoused in the act mean that the classroom is different from how it ever used to beIt is hoped that children will stay in school a lot longer and interact and socialize with children of different levels of knowledge in the classroom.
The only way that this can work so that the gifted children, the average learners and the people who have special learning needs can mesh is if they have adequate resources. In this way, other people, as well as the teachers, can work with the children to give them the kind of attention they are going to need. This means that everyone in the class progresses and too much attention is not given by the teacher to the children who have special requirements, and so that they get some assistance in dealing with the situation. That can only happen if some kind of internal assessment is done for special-needs children in the classrooms.. If that cannot be handled internally - within the school - then they go to the department.
The question is whether or not they need further assessment. At that point, if they do, it is hoped that things roll in terms of resources. That is the theory.
It is important that we have those resources so that everybody progresses.
I would say that this has to be a priority of the government, and while there has been some increases in investment in that area, I think that, given the representations made to me, I would submit to the Minister that this must be given a higher priority.
Mr. Cable: I have just a few questions. I would like to start with the education review report. I noticed that the report was accompanied by a covering letter dated September 28, 1994, and very shortly thereafter, in December 1994, we received the response from the Minister's department. It appears that the Minister and his department were quite anxious to deal with the matter and generally accepted the report.
The report contained 81 recommendations. Were there any major areas of disagreement with the Education Review Committee report?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The department looked upon the recommendations quite favourably. There were some disagreements, and one came to light in Question Period, where a recommendation was not based on anything found in the rationale leading up to it. Undoubtedly, there is always going to be some argument about resourcing and how much. As a general rule, there was nothing that stood out as an area of fundamental disagreement.
Mr. Cable: Would it be safe to say then that the Minister and his department were generally satisfied with the workmanship of the committee?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, we were pleased to receive a unanimous report. By and large, the recommendations were reasonable. Therefore, we developed an action workplan based on those recommendations.
Mr. Cable: I have only a couple of specific areas I want to ask about. The Minister was asked questions by me in Question Period and he answered by way of a letter on February 14. It dealt with the recommendations relating to the liaison person.
It was under recommendation 65(2). The Minister indicated that he was not sure why they had wanted an autonomous position. Has he had an opportunity to discuss the matter with the members of the Education Review Committee?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: No, I have not had that opportunity. As the Member is well aware, the committee does not exist as a committee any more. If one reads the rationale, clearly we have met what was expressed as the need, which is to place more emphasis on the importance of the position - to have a consistent contact person in the department who can supply advice and support to the councils on the many issues that arise. We have appointed an official. We will see how that works.
Mr. Cable: The discussion, or argument, seems to hinge on the word "autonomous". In discussing the matter with one of the members of the Education Review Committee, I gather that was what was wanted.
I thought the Minister had indicated that he was going to follow up to determine why they wanted an autonomous position, rather than one in the line structure of the Department of Education. Is the Minister saying that he is not prepared to do that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The committee came forward with some recommendations to the Minister. We read the report carefully and looked at what was expressed as a problem. We feel that we can meet that need by acting in the same manner in which we have acted. If that is not sufficient, then we will go from there, but we have already moved to set up a position to provide the solution to the problem as expressed on page 51 of the report.
Mr. Cable: I understand what the Minister is saying, but I had the impression during Question Period that he was going to follow up on this.
As the Minister just indicated, it was not apparent from the body of the report why they were asking for an autonomous position. I thought this was the question in the Minister's mind, and I thought he was going to explore it further to find out where they were coming from.
The Minister had, in fact, indicated that he could not divine from the body of the report why that word had been inserted in the text. Did I misunderstand what the Minister was saying during Question Period?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am saying that if this position is not working out, and if there is some special reason why an autonomous person might be better, then in our view and the view of the school councils, we would certainly look at the position.
However, I would think that it is very obvious that by appointing a senior person to the position we have moved very quickly to resolve the problem expressed by the committee in the report.
Mr. Cable: The Minister, of course, got a letter from some of the members of the committee - it would appear to be the majority of the committee - indicating that the appointment, as described, did not meet the requirement of autonomy. I would have to suggest to the Minister that there is a breakdown in communication somewhere.
He was good enough to send me a letter, dated February 14, 1995, and just for the record, the Minister indicated, "The Department of Education has not ruled out the possibility of working with school councils to set up an autonomous position. After this year we will, with the input of the various school councils, evaluate the effectiveness of the position within the public schools branch of the department.''
Does the phrase, "after this year'', mean after this present fiscal year or after the end of next month? Is there going to be an evaluation at that time?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The position is that we give it a year to try it out to see how it works, and then evaluate the situation. That is what was intended. That would mean, presumably, a year from now. It could be a year and three months until the end of the next school year. It is just simply a commitment that we will try it this way, and if it does not work we will evaluate it in conjunction with the various school councils.
Mr. Cable: Let me move on to another topic. This is recommendation number one, that numeracy and literacy be the priority and the core of the curriculum. There appears to be a substantial reworking of the core subjects. Now, I am no expert in the area, and I do not pretend to be, but it appears to me that there has been an emphasis on math and a rejigging of the time spent on math in the core subjects. Am I reading the action plan correctly?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, the Member is correct. It is consistent with changes within the B.C. curriculum.
Mr. Cable: The question put to me by someone was this: has the emphasis on math come at the expense of the other core subjects, particularly science?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Not to my knowledge, but I am prepared to come back with information if I am incorrect.
Mr. Cable: I would appreciate it if the Minister would do that so I can respond to the person who raised the inquiry.
I would like to deal with a topic that has had some heat in the House, and that is the Yukon excellence awards program. I should alert the Minister to the fact that there are many people who are not negative about his initiative but who have some apprehensions about whether or not it will do what he says it will and whether or not, in promoting scholarship in some students, it will act to the detriment of other students.
As I understand the rationale for the award, it is two-pronged; it will keep students in high school longer, and it will encourage them to go on to post-secondary school. Am I reading that correctly from his ministerial statement?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are providing a scholarship with the Yukon excellence awards. We are saying that we think students who work hard and perform well ought to be recognized, and that this will provide an incentive to some to work hard and be recognized. In our view, it is a modest step and certainly not intended to be something that, by itself, is going to resolve any perceived problems we have in the high schools.
Mr. Cable: It appears from the program that students who take advantage of it will not be able to use the funds or obtain the credits until they go on to a post-secondary school. Therefore, instead of a two-pronged rationale, it is simply a single rationale: to increase attendance in post-secondary education. If one does not attend a post-secondary school, one is not rewarded.
Is the Minister saying there are rewards before getting to post-secondary education?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Not at all. I am saying this is not "the" rationale; there are not two or three rationales. We are talking about a scholarship.
There is a scholarship in B.C. Just to give a comparison, the British Columbia provincial scholarship program is similar, but the selection process is more limiting. We are simply saying that we feel it is very important that excellence in education and achievement be recognized. There are many people who feel that some students, for reasons of peer pressure or whatever, really do not see studying and doing well in school as a positive thing.
The same students may get involved in sports and work really hard at that. Not to be ignored, there are certain peer pressures that take place. We are saying that students who do well in school ought to be given some sort of recognition, and other students ought to be encouraged to do their best.
Mr. Cable: Just let me relate to the Minister the apprehensions that have been expressed to me by members of the teaching profession. The word "elitist" has been used. Just let me tell the Minister what I have heard, and perhaps fill in some blanks as I go along.
Their position is that some of those students who do well, on average, come from homes that are more educationally nurturing, so the motivation is really questionable. They seem to think that it may simply be a freebie to the middle class and that, in doing so, it may act as a disincentive to those students who have less nurturing homes and who cannot achieve 80 percent, either because they simply do not have the motivation at home, or they are under a lot of stress to obtain higher marks. So the Minister may actually be increasing drop-outs.
If one looks at the program, it is actually a bursary system, rather than a scholarship system - large numbers past the post get the money. It is not where the top one or two students are awarded with scholarship funds to go on to post-secondary education. Large divisions are being created between the students. Those teachers feel that that will be stressful on those students who have some difficulty with school, and find it somewhat stressful, because of stresses brought from their homes, and they are more likely to drop out.
Does the Minister think there is any validity whatsoever to that position, a position that has been expressed to me by more than one teacher?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I now know where the putative Leader of the Yukon Liberal Party stands on the issue. It should have been obvious right from the start. I do not really believe that the arguments made by those who are opposed are very convincing. The broad majority of the people I have talked to at the high school and the junior high level - the student council and the teachers at F.H. Collins, for example - broadly support the program. There were some who were concerned about these awards somehow or other replacing the grants, but once they were assured that they would not, they gave their support. There was a problem with communication.
Of course, there are some teachers - I have no way of qualifying this - who would support the putative Leader of the Liberal Party's position. It is an area in which we probably will not achieve agreement, but I have received a lot of phone calls, letters and communications from people who are really pleased with the program.
One common thread of constructive criticism regarding this has to do with one modest aspect of what the Member for Riverside has suggested, and that is that there ought to be other forms of recognition for students who work hard to improve their marks but cannot achieve the scholarship level of 80 percent.
My commitment to some of the groups that I have been meeting with is that we will look at that issue and come out with something - perhaps a discussion paper - for consultation on how we might appropriately do something to meet the needs of that type of student. For example, there may be some kind of an award in modest recognition of a student who increases his or her average in a course by a certain percentage but does not receive 80 percent.
There are other things that can be looked at. It is an area that I think is fairly complex and requires a good deal of work and consultation, but we are certainly interested in the suggestion. I know that there were two letters in the local newspapers that made that suggestion, and we are at least going to do some work to try to engender some discussion among the stakeholders about what might be appropriate.
Mr. Cable: Of course, the program may or may not be the problem. What the problem is is a lack of listening skills of the putative Minister of Education. The people that have given the information to me are devoted professionals. They are interested in kids and in teaching them. They have some apprehensions that the Minister is strictly off the wall on this program.
Rather than feeling threatened about it, perhaps the Minister could sit down and listen to what is going on in the teaching profession. These are the people who have to deal with the kids every day.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: There is a little bit of noise coming from the front ranks across the way.
Let me ask this question: in the original handout that was given to the press, some documentation was missing that accompanied another handout. In that other documentation - not the one that went to the press - there was a question-and-answer paper anticipating some problems that would be discussed.
One of the questions is: "Why is there such a difference between rural and Whitehorse students?" The answer is: "There is no ready explanation for the difference. The diagnostic assessment program is designed to assist all teachers in monitoring each student's progress relative to the requirements of the curriculum. Clearly, greater attention to assisting teachers in rural schools in how to use the results of diagnostic assessments is needed."
Preceding that is another question and answer. The question is this: "How many rural students qualified for an award?" The answer is: "A total of 332 rural students were eligible for an award, for which seven students qualified. In comparison, 916 Whitehorse students were eligible for an award, for which 167 students qualified."
That indicates to me that a single broad-brush approach to motivating students is not going to work. Does the Minister not have any apprehension about the way those statistics read?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Of course I do, and I really feel that steps have to be taken with regard to improving the performance in rural schools. I am somewhat dumbfounded, first of all, that the Member suggested I am threatened by the putative Liberal leader. I can assure him I am not. I do not feel that way at all, and that seems to be his chief advisor on this issue.
That aside, I have said over and over again that this is one modest thing that is being introduced. We are looking at other ways of awarding students who strive to achieve and do well. We are looking at the issue of diagnostic assessment. We are looking at pilot projects such as Pathfinder. There are all kinds of things that come into the mix. To try to isolate one modest step and tie to it a cause-and-effect relationship, which is exactly what the Member opposite is doing, is to make a fundamental logical error.
We are not claiming great results for any one of the steps. We are doing a bunch of things that we hope will improve the performance measurements of students, and this is just one step.
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?
Mr. Cable: Before the break, we were talking about the rationale behind the Yukon excellence awards. I have some questions on that rationale. There is active discussion in the news media on scholarships and there are differences of opinion being expressed by members of the Yukon Teachers Association, and I think the Minister at one juncture brought up - I do not know whether it was facetious or not - the fact that the YTA is supportive of a scholarship, which eventually led to some rejoinders.
There was a quote in the news of January 30 on CHON/FM saying, "YTA vice-president, Kerry Huff, admits the four scholarships are restricted, but he says the problem with the excellence awards is that they are based on only one test.'' Then there is a quote from Mr. Huff, "It is based definitely on one particular cumulative test, whether it be a term test or whether it be a B.C. final, a departmental, but it is not based on the year's work or efforts. The process is based entirely on one arbitrary test at the end of the year.''
Does the Minister think there is any merit to Mr. Huff's comment?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Is this a multiple choice of right or wrong?
Mr. Cable: I am sorry, did the Minister say yes, there was some merit?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am not sure what his argument is. Is he saying that the marks are based on the cumulative tests? The marks are based on the grade 12 provincial exams. I am not sure what the point is.
Mr. Cable: I thought it was fairly self-explanatory. Mr. Huff is saying that the end-of-the-year Damocles sword hanging over the students may not be the best gauge of whether or not they should receive an excellence award.
Does the Minister not attribute any validity to what Mr. Huff is saying? Should I read it again?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I thought the Member was asking me if the scholarships were based on the cumulative exam at the end of the year, or the British Columbia provincial exams in grade 12.
I am sorry, I gather Mr. Huff is saying that is bad. I simply take the position that this is a scholarship, the criteria are very clear, and I disagree.
Mr. Cable: On a technical aspect of the awards, let us say there is a student who enters the school system and then leaves the territory. Are these credits transferable? Do they accumulate to the student? Let us say it takes two years and there is a little nest egg of $3,000. Does that follow them out of the territory? Has this aspect of the awards been given consideration?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Well, I do not know that the awards would follow them outside of the territory, but they can be applied to post-secondary education, because the student has won a scholarship and the terms are pretty clear.
If a student in grade 9 is awarded an excellence award of $100 because he or she attains at least 80 percent in the cumulative exam for math, then that student's family moves to British Columbia and he or she later goes to college, that student is entitled to draw down the award toward the specific goals that are set out in the criteria.
Mr. Cable: What is in it for the taxpayers of the Yukon to be rewarding students who have moved out of the territory and complete their education elsewhere? How does that benefit the taxpayers of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The criteria are the same as the Yukon grant, so the student has to have the requisite two years in the public school system, as set out in the act. It is no different from the situation of the grant itself.
Mr. McDonald: I have a couple of questions about the same program, while we are on the subject. The Minister, in answer to questions by Mr. Cable, indicated that there were any number of objectives for the excellence awards program. The one very specific and stated objective in the ministerial statement is that it would encourage students to stay in school. I wonder if the Minister could elaborate a little bit about how that works. How can this be considered to be a stay-in-school initiative?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The position is as follows. We have students who go to high school who do not think that studying is cool and who have a negative attitude toward students who work hard in school. Oftentimes, these students drop out. I know of some, and I know of parents with children such as that. The introduction of the scholarships is, we hope, one way to try to change it around a bit.
We do not hear nearly as much of the same kind of negative attitude among groups of students with regard to people who do well at sports in school. We are simply saying that academic achievement should be given some kind of similar stature.
I am of the view that there are a lot of students - as there were when I went to school - who really feel that it is not cool, to use an old phrase, to study and do well. A lot of these kids have the potential to do well. I personally believe that this, by itself, will make a difference. However, by itself, it certainly will not achieve any desired outcome.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister might be surprised to hear that the phrase about whether or not something is cool is still very much in use. My own children indicate whether or not they like something or consider something worthwhile by calling it cool or not cool. That has not changed - not much, at least.
The rationale is one that I find interesting. The Minister indicates that if a child is in danger of dropping out, for any number of reasons, and the child is not doing well in school and is suffering low self-esteem, the child will change his or her mind if they see someone else who is doing very well being promoted even more and given even more encouragement than they are. I do not know whether or not that rationale is very cool. I think the Minister recognizes that there is probably some significant division of opinion as to whether or not his rationale of supporting this as a stay-in-school initiative is valid.
There is probably some broad agreement that more support for post-secondary education is, by itself, a laudable goal, but to make reference to this as an incentive for people who are on the edge of dropping out of school is something that is still unclear and unproven.
The awards program is slated to be initiated this coming year. The Minister may have mentioned this, but what does he anticipate the yearly cost associated with the awards program will be?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The first-year costs for the total of the awards will be $84,000, but the actual pay out is estimated at $39,000, because it only gets paid out as the students draw it down while attending university. There is nothing that says that they have to draw it down immediately. If students wish, they can bank it for awhile until the grant runs out. A student going into medical school might wish to use very little for the first few years, and that would be their choice. The best estimate we had was $180,000 per year that would be awarded. At some point in time, that would probably remain constant. If there is an improvement in marks, the estimate would appear to be low.
Mr. McDonald: I have a couple of questions about slightly different subjects, one of which has already been raised this afternoon, concerning school council training and the role of the department in providing that training.
The Minister indicated that, in response to the recommendation from the Education Review Committee that training be provided by an independent non-department person, the department would provide the training in house. In my experience, school councils have looked for some measure of independence in the past and would readily appreciate being trained by somebody other than the department, which they see as having an agenda they may not share. For the department to provide the training, it was suggested by some school council members that this was a way to engineer or manipulate one's way of thinking about the system and about what the rights and responsibilities are of parent volunteers, who form at least one component of the partnership in education.
I am a little surprised that the Minister would think that conducting this training through the public schools branch somehow meets the goal of independence for school councils. In the past, personnel in the public schools branch did provide training. It was expected that regional superintendents would provide some orientation for new school council members.
In the short time that I witnessed the implementation of the act, that was perceived not to be a satisfactory solution from the perspective of parents and school councillors. Can the Minister indicate to us how he believes the aspirations of the school councils and the school, both collectively and individually, might be enhanced by the department providing this training and orientation?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I do not really see the point; I am not really following the Member opposite on this. I am looking at the recommendation, and 65(1) speaks to the necessary training and funding that is put in place and offered to school council members on an ongoing and relevant basis. That is one recommendation.
When one looks at 65(1) and the action plan, the department talks about alternative training approaches to meet school councils' needs. The department's current status is that it has some training modules and materials available. That is one issue.
Then I see 65(2) as emanating from a problem of liaison between school councils and the department. The critique on page 51 deals with that problem.
Some people may be concerned that there is not a great enough profile with the liaison position, in that it is not a training position - that certainly is not my understanding.
In order for the department to meet that need during the first year it was important for the department to appoint a senior person in the department to fill that need.
I certainly never understood the autonomous position being a trainer. I always saw it as liaison that was required. That is the way I read it.
Mr. McDonald: I read the Yukon Education Review Committee's report and the explanation that led up to the recommendation. I did not necessarily accept the department's interpretation of that recommendation or the current status as being the view of the Education Review Committee.
One might be confused if one only took the department's reinterpretation of the report and tried to draw conclusions from it, which may be the reason for the Minister's confusion here. I am telling the Minister that that stems from my experience and discussions with school committees, school councils, school associations, the education council and many people.
As it is consistent with the Education Review Committee final report, the concern is that school councillors, parent volunteers and people who are the partners in education who represent parents and children feel that they need to have something of an independent voice, given that much of the control remains in the Department of Education.
Obviously, they would like an independent voice, collectively, but they would also like to have some sense that they can design their own future as individual school councils.
Given the frequency of elections, it has always been a concern that new school council members are going to come on to the scene and are not going to be fully tuned in to what their own rights and obligations are. They feel that training is required to bring them up to speed. It is not only the training module that is important. The person who interprets the module and who does the training is also important. That makes sense and, on the face of it, is an obvious point to make.
Presumably, the reason the education review final report has requested an autonomous position is to ensure that if there is a bias, it is a bias in favour of parents' rights as school councillors. There is also a feeling that ongoing discussions between school councils about issues of importance ought to be conducted and facilitated by somebody other than the department, the department being just another partner, in their view.
It would be fairly easy to convince the uninitiated that one was taking action by saying that a special team is being set up to undertake this work, and that there is going to be special emphasis within the department to make it a priority to undertake this kind of training. One could even argue that the status quo was a very effective way of providing training, because the status quo, as I understood it, was that the regional superintendents would be out in the field meeting with school councils virtually every month, able to clearly communicate what was happening in Whitehorse because they were down there. They knew the latest in both administrative affairs and pedagogical techniques. They were the insiders in the department who could make things move and shake, so they would be the people who would be best positioned to provide the training and the ongoing liaison with parents and councils.
Unfortunately, that is not what school councils are looking for in response to a certain need they have. They need superintendents to do that kind of work. They need ongoing discussions with the department personnel, both in curriculum and special needs programming, but they also indicate - and have consistently indicated for years - that they would like to see more autonomy given to their own organizations, so that, when it comes to balancing the interests of the partners in education, they can truly play that role thoroughly, coming to that equation, that balancing act, from a position of some strength, hence the desire for a territorial association and also a desire for someone outside the department to interpret information, particularly for new school councillors, information that is important for them in conducting their business and doing their jobs.
That is my reading, which I think is shared by a lot of people. Can the Minister indicate why the department has recommended here in the action plan that the public schools branch support services division should be the liaison and information source for councils?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: He has taken that interpretation. I understand the argument. That certainly was not made clear in my reading of the discussion.
It is certainly an area that we will speak about to the school councils. I think, though, that I would like to consult with them and see how this position works before making any final determination of whether or not it should be an autonomous position. Certainly the concern that the Member is alluding to is not made in the report. I understand what he is saying. I will be sensitive to it.
The department, obviously, was concerned with the statement that there was not any kind of consistency.
This position from the department was not working out; that is what they moved to correct. The other issue is one that will be open for discussion, once we have tried this.
Mr. McDonald: Obviously, I cannot quarrel with the Minister's desire to consult with school councils. I think that they would probably appreciate the contact. I think that they would probably have a fairly long agenda for the Minister, including items like this one.
I have a question about the Education Appeal Tribunal. I know that there has been some pretty significant teething problems with the whole concept of the application of the Education Appeal Tribunal. There have been concerns expressed about the formality of that process. It is a process that intended to avoid formal court proceedings, but it has, in the minds of some people, turned into something akin to formal court proceedings, with lawyers, confrontations, position-taking and a lot of bad feelings, as well as a lot of expense.
There had been a move within the Education Appeal Tribunal some time ago to move toward mediation to provide resolutions to problems that various people faced. Can the Minister indicate to us how he sees this situation and whether or not he sees mediation as an appropriate direction to take at this point? If so, how is the Appeal Tribunal pursuing that particular direction?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will be fairly brief. Mediation has been used in the one case that I am aware of. We have recently had discussions with the Chief Justice of the Peace who is keen on mediation with regard to this. I believe that there are some vacancies awaiting appointments. He is very keen on moving in that direction.
I certainly fully support that direction. I look forward to meeting with him and appointing the appropriate people to the vacancies. I am just not sure how many there are and that sort of thing. I would really hope that what was intended to be a system that would avoid the expense of litigation would not turn into a costly nightmare for people who are trying to resolve some differences with the system.
That is the direction that I will be taking. I am aware of what has been going on with regard to training the mediators and some of the successes that have been enjoyed in that regard.
Mr. Chair, while I am on my feet, I move that we 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: The 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. Monday next.
The House adjourned at 5:28 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled February 23, 1995:
Fur industry: Yukon government's financial support of (Fisher)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 944 and 955
Loki Gold: dates of and general content of meetings held between Loki Gold and government officials (Fisher)
Oral, Hansard, p. 949