Tuesday, March 21, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with silent Prayers.
International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I would like to bring to Members' attention and to the attention of everyone in this House that today is a very important day. March 21 is designated by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
This date was chosen to mark the anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre of peaceful protesters against apartheid in South Africa, which occurred on March 21, 1960.
I think that it is appropriate today that we join with others around the world and reflect on racism and the principle of racial equality. While our society has clearly made great strides in promoting racial harmony, there is much work to do and a long distance to go before we can honestly say that racism is not a problem in the Yukon.
Having said this, I think this year we have some cause for optimism. This year we have a very concrete example of our commitment to racial equality and one that makes the Yukon a model, in some respects, for racial relations.
The Yukon land claim agreements, which finally became legal on February 14, 1995, established four of our First Nations as self-governing entities. I must say that there are few examples around the world where the rights of self-determination of groups that have suffered discrimination have been given such resounding and unequivocal statutory recognition. I believe that we as Yukoners should be proud.
Regrettably, there is some danger in overstressing the positive. We cannot forget that racism still does exist and that effects of past racism continue to be felt and continue to impact the lives of many people in the Yukon.
We must therefore strive in all we endeavour to combat racism in all its guises. I ask Members to consider this goal and commemorate this important day.
Ms. Commodore: It seems that we stand here every year and talk about the elimination of racism in this world, and we continue to see it going on each and every day. The Minister indicated that a lot of changes have been made, and he talks about a lot of work that still has to be done.
He also mentioned land claims as an example of how we were able to proceed with something that was very positive. I do not think that the aboriginal people of the Yukon will ever forget the racism that was involved in that, and we hope, as we proceed with the rest of the negotiations for the other Yukon First Nations, it will be a little bit easier than it was a number of years ago. We, as a party, have always supported human rights. The Member knows that we fought very hard to introduce an act and pass it in this House. We found, unfortunately, at that time that racism was worse than we had even imagined, but all the work that has gone in to eliminating racism has been very positive, and I know it will get better.
Mr. Cable: I had the pleasure of attending a ceremony in the foyer of the building a few moments ago, and I enjoyed the reflections of the various people there. It was notable in two respects. When asked to speak, virtually none of us did. We had some trouble coming to grips with the idea in articulating our thoughts. It was also notable in another sense in that, rather than there being a giant step forward for mankind, as there was when the first person landed on the moon, there was one tiny step forward in the improvement of race relations.
I look forward to doing this every year, and I am sure that the rest of the Members who were there will also.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Penikett: I would like to call your attention to the presence in the gallery today of a very distinguished visitor, the former Member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories, Mr. Wally Firth, whose first campaign I had the pleasure of managing in 1972. Mr. Firth was celebrated because he was the first northern native to sit in Canada's Parliament, and only the second Metis in Canadian history. He has, of course, many Yukon connections, in that the Firth River in the Yukon is named after his grandfather, and his mother is, in fact, from Old Crow. He is here in the gallery today with his cousin, Linda Netro. I ask all Members to make him feel welcome.
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Are there any Bills to be introduced?
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Thomson Centre: additional beds being opened
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I rise today to inform this House that seven additional beds at the Thomson Centre will be opened shortly.
Several weeks ago, Members opposite were extremely critical of what they referred to as inaction on the part of this government to meet the needs of those requiring extended or long-term care. They queried why we did not open additional beds at the long-term care facility. What they were unaware of was that the Department of Health and Social Services had already undertaken the necessary steps to open new beds.
In fact, of the seven new beds, two are already occupied. Residents moved in two weeks ago. The remaining five beds will be available within the next two weeks.
With the opening of these additional seven beds, there will be a total of 72 extended care, long-term care beds in the Yukon. The accepted bed ratio for continuing care facilities in Yukon is 50 to 55 beds per 1,000 people over the age of 65 years.
There are 1,308 people over 65 in the Yukon, which means that the bed ratio should be 65 to 72 available beds. With the opening of the additional spaces, we will be at the high end of that ratio. This allows us time to prepare for the future and, at the same time, maintains the cost efficiency of the centre by maintaining bed ratios. It also allows us the opportunity to balance institutional services with increasing community care services and to plan for anticipated needs in years to come.
The speed with which we were able to open these new beds is because of a unique partnership between the department and the Yukon Hospital Corporation. We are jointly recruiting to staff the new beds. The hospital has been able to offer us assistance, in that it has more flexibility in recruiting and has been able to undertake this on our behalf. The new staff would be employees of the hospital, on loan to the Thomson Centre and the Yukon government.
Since it is anticipated that the Thomson Centre, along with Macaulay Lodge, will be merged with the hospital, this appeared to us as the best way of doing this, in a manner that would make additional beds available as soon as possible to those most in need. It is a credit both to the department and to the hospital that we were able to respond so quickly to an identified space need.
Mr. Penikett: I am actually very pleased to hear the announcement today, and to hear the Minister giving credit to the staff. I am sure he will be pleased to know the contents of a letter I received, dated March 15, which I will read.
"It means five victims of Alzheimer's disease are not risk at the community and are safe in a supportive environment designed for their needs. We thank you on behalf of the families and health care staff who were very concerned about these individuals." It is signed "Sincerely" - an officer of the Alzheimer's support group.
I would also like to just make passing reference to the penultimate paragraph in the Minister's statement, which relates to a topic about which I have previously expressed concerns and will do so again during the Minister's estimates - my concern for the continuing care continuum from seniors' housing through nursing homes through the extended care facility. It is my view, and the view of many professionals, that acute care facilities such as the hospital may be incompatible with continuing care programs - not necessarily so, but they may be - and combining the governance of the two must be done in the way that does not compromise either program. I will certainly be asking questions about that when we get into the Minister's estimates.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Outfitting areas, foreign ownership
Mr. Harding: The Minister of Renewable Resources stated that he wants to send the issue of non-Yukon/non-Canadian ownership and control of Yukon outfitting territories and how that relates to our Yukon Wildlife Act - which presently prohibits it - to the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board.
We support this move as a good start. However, this board has no powers to summon persons, papers or records, which makes it difficult to really get to the bottom of the matter. On the face, sales transactions may appear to be in compliance with the law, but one has to get into all criteria of the ownership to establish what is really occurring.
Is the Minister prepared to offer these types of power to the board in this case, so it can really get to the heart of this matter?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I guess the Member is asking if the government needs to know about every financial deal that every business in the Yukon Territory is involved in. If I own a business, I think my financing is my business. I do not think the Government of the Yukon should be involved with where I get my financing from. That is more than socialism; that is communism. I would not go along with the Member's recommendation.
Mr. Harding: The Minister said on the radio this morning that he wants "to get a very thorough review done." That is a quote.
This outfitting business is all about harvesting a scarce, public resource, which is our wildlife. When they make money, they make it as a result of harvesting Yukon wildlife, which is owned and controlled by Yukoners. That is why we have a separate law and that is why the law, the Wildlife Act ,requires some disclosure about the details surrounding ownership.
If this review that the Minister has referred to is just going to be a wimpy political exercise, then it is not worth it. Is he prepared to at least consider giving some powers of investigation and summons for persons, papers and records so that the Fish and Wildlife Management Board can really look into this matter. Would the Minister consider that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The terms of reference for the Fish and Wildlife Management Board are laid out in the umbrella final agreement, and the board members will be provided with all of the information.
I would like to see the Fish and Wildlife Management Board make some recommendations with respect to potential changes to the Wildlife Act. That is its mandate, and it will be given all of the information that is currently available through the Department of Renewable Resources.
Mr. Harding: My worst suspicions are confirmed. It is obvious that we are going to have to rethink our support of this so-called thorough review the Minister referred to. It is obviously a political exercise designed by the government to create some breathing room from the political pressure they have been facing.
One of these transactions involved the Government Leader. I think that in order to clear this up, perhaps he should be able to go before the board and tell them exactly what happened, in the form of testimony.
I think it is important that we get to the bottom of this matter, and we are not going to do it with this flimsy political exercise. Will the Minister consider giving the board, in this case, some wide-ranging powers to investigate ownership?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I should remind the Members that the sale of the Government Leader's outfitting concession took place long before Mr. Ostashek was the Government Leader, and long before he was president of the Yukon Party.
The Members opposite were fully aware that the now Government Leader, in his capacity as owner of the outfitting area, and Mr. Mayr-Melnhof, who was the financier, and Ross Elliott, who became the concession holder, all went into the offices of Renewable Resources and told department officials exactly what they wanted to do in regard to the sale of this outfitting area.
I can excuse the Member for Faro because he was not here at the time, but some of the other Members opposite were fully aware of all the transactions that took place.
Question re: Outfitting areas, foreign ownership
Mr. Harding: That is simply not true. If there is no problem whatsoever, I cannot see why this government continues to refuse to hold an in-depth review into this matter, where people will be required to tell their stories under oath. Unfortunately, the government will not do that.
Let me ask the Minister about another issue. I was flipping through the same hunting magazine that I found the other ad in, and I found an ad for a Yukon outfitter called "Devil Hole Outfitters". One partner in the ad has a Whitehorse address, and another has a California address. When I tried to check the share ownership registry of this company, I was told by the Department of Justice that the company did not have to file it; however, under the Wildlife Act, in section 106, it states that share ownership must be turned over to the Minister before an outfitting certificate may be granted.
Given that the permit was recently granted by this Minister, can he tell me the share ownership of Devil Hole Outfitters, and if he does not have the information, can he bring it back as soon as possible?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Member just put this on my desk a few minutes ago. I know nothing about this particular concession. I do know Dave Andrews, one of the fellows mentioned in the ad, but I know nothing of the shares with respect to the company. I will investigate this.
Mr. Harding: It is alarming that the Minister knows nothing about this, because he is responsible for the granting of the concession on the certificate in this case. Until we know some of the details, I guess we will have to wait to see if there is cause for greater alarm.
The person with the California address listed in the ad also owns a northern B.C. outfitting territory. To the Minister's knowledge, is he a Canadian citizen or a landed immigrant?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As far as I am aware, he is.
This is kind of interesting. I know one resident in the City of Whitehorse who actually owns submarines in Hawaii. I know several who have businesses in Alaska. Yukoners have businesses all over the world. I guess the Member is saying that they do not want anyone from anywhere else in the world to invest in the Yukon, and yet I showed Members a brochure yesterday in which the previous government was inviting investment from all over the word into Yukon - yet, that Member is telling me that he does not want investment. He cannot have it both ways.
Mr. Harding: The Minister is being absolutely ridiculous. On one hand, the Minister says that he supports the law in the Wildlife Act, and then he gets up and criticizes the Opposition because we do not want outsiders controlling decisions about our wildlife. That is a specific industry for which a separate law was created by the Conservative government to protect Yukon wildlife.
The Minister is talking about apples and oranges here in a terrible attempt to deflect the actual issue. Can the Minister tell me what the process is when someone comes in, as happened in this other territory that I recently mentioned, to get an outfitter's certificate and concession licence? Is there a request by the department for them to declare that there is no other ownership arrangement being negotiated than the one that is filed with the game branch?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: What they have to do is file with the game branch. I think the Member is aware of the application. The concessions are granted in the name of the resident.
Question re: Subdivision Act
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services about the Subdivision Act. When the Subdivision Act was being debated last year, the Minister's predecessor provided a handout to the House, entitled "Subdivision Act Regulations Framework". It sets up four steps for creating the regulations under the act, starting with the preparation of a draft by a working group, then some public consultation, then a re-draft of the regulations after the public consultation, and finally, a presentation of these regulations to Cabinet. Where does the government stand in that process?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: It should be in progress and will probably go before Cabinet toward the end of this month or, at least, within the first two weeks of April.
Mr. Cable: Yesterday, some questions were put to the Minister about the advisory committees in the north Whitehorse periphery area - those groups that had been formed to provide the government with advice in relation to various pockets of population in the north Whitehorse area. The Subdivision Act speaks about planning schemes, and these are defined to include local area plans. Will there be local area plans for each of the areas in which the government has struck advisory committees?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Yes, there will be, and they are in process right now.
Mr. Cable: One of the things that the regulations will deal with, of course, is the issue of subdivision. That is one of the planning issues that the advisory committees will deal with. Does the Minister think that striking the groups to deal with subdivision before the subdivision regulations have been put in force is putting the cart before the horse?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: The process has been going on for some time. I am not sure if that means putting the cart before the horse or not, but we will be proceeding with it. The people will be able to vote. The only thing I am insisting on is that we go through the Bureau of Statistics to get an impartial party to oversee the voting process, rather than the lands branch.
Question re: Electrical rates
Mr. Penikett: The Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation announced in October 1993 that, beginning November 1, 1993, "energy rates would be frozen for the next two years." Calculations by the Utilities Consumers Group shows that the general customers in the communities have been paying up to $25 more a month since July 1, 1994.
I would like to ask if the Government Leader is aware that the two-year rate freeze is flawed and that ratepayers all across the Yukon, from Old Crow to Watson Lake, have been suffering increased power costs. What is he going to do about it?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member for bringing that to my attention. I was not aware that the rate relief program was flawed and that consumers were paying more than we said they would be paying.
Mr. Penikett: If I remember correctly, the Government Leader promised that any rate fluctuations would be met by corresponding increases in the level of bill rate relief provided by the Yukon Energy Corporation or by government funds.
I would like to ask the Government Leader if this policy applies only to Whitehorse customers or does it apply to communities, as well?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that Cabinet was quite clear when it announced the policy. It applies to all consumers of electricity in the Yukon.
Mr. Penikett: According to the Utilities Consumers Group, some customers in Watson Lake and Dawson City have been paying up to $25 more when using 2,500 kilowatt hours a month. Customers in Beaver Creek, Burwash, Destruction Bay, Pelly Crossing, Stewart Crossing and Swift River have all been paying about $23 more when using 3,000 kilowatt hours a month. I understand, as well, that customers in Old Crow have been paying more each month when using more than 3,000 kilowatt hours a month.
Can the Minister explain what appear to be exceptions to the rate relief program, and is he prepared to undertake now to provide reimbursement to the affected customers?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thought the Member was aware that the rate relief only applies to the first 1,000 kilowatt hours. I believe that has always been the case.
I will check on that for the Member, but I am quite certain that that is the policy.
Question re: Social assistance, fraud investigations
Ms. Commodore: My question is for the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services regarding a report that was tabled in this House. The report on the incidence of fraud in social assistance and recommendations as to future actions, dated March 15, 1995, states, "there is a potential for approximately $450,000 to $550,000 each year being paid out as a result of client fraud."
We are told that one of the ways the department arrived at these figures was to take a single incident of fraud and multiply it by 12 months, assuming that the fraud would continue for a full year. Is this the method that was used to arrive at the $500,000 estimate, and does the Minister believe that the figures used are truly representative of the potential for fraud?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That is only partially the correct assumption. The other methodology, of course, is to take the incidence of fraud in a representative sampling, which is between four and five percent. If one applies that to the actual budget paid out in fraud, one comes up with very much the same figure. If one is talking $10 million to $11 million a year being spent on social assistance, and four to five percent being the best guess of the amount of fraud, one comes up with the same numbers.
Ms. Commodore: Unlike other jurisdictions, Yukon recipients of social assistance have more personal contact with their social worker and therefore it is difficult for acts of fraud to continue over an extended period of time.
Has the Minister considered hiring more social workers - people who will know their clients better than an investigator - to deal with the potential problem of fraud?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, we have. It is our view, though, that there is an ethical difficulty with having social workers charged with the function of investigating for fraud. The social workers are being trained to detect various tell-tale signs, and then to bring this to the attention of their supervisors, who will ensure that the files are followed up either by an investigator or by verification workers.
Ms. Commodore: Last summer, the Minister hired a number of students to join the fraud team. Does he intend to do the same thing again this summer?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is our intention to engage people to perform a verification function. Whether or not it will only be done during the summertime is a different issue. We may find it more of a deterrent if we have this function performed from time to time throughout the year, so as not to signal when applications are being scrutinized.
Question re: Social assistance, fraud investigations
Ms. Commodore: In the same report, it is recommended that an investigator be retained on contract, and that this person should be a former police officer. How can a social assistance investigator take on the role of the RCMP, and why is that necessary?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: My preference would be to engage someone who has extensive experience as a RCMP member. There is some difficulty with follow-up by the RCMP on files given to them. Hence the long delay in some of these matters being concluded. We feel that some of the work could be done by a well trained investigator.
Ms. Commodore: The fourth recommendation states that a direct link should be established between the Crown and the investigator, which would allow the department to go directly to prosecution. Can the Minister explain why this decision was made without having been vetted by the Health and Social Services Council, as is recommended in the following recommendation in the report?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Again, the Member is operating on the basis of a false premise. The report was vetted by the Health and Social Services Council, which wrote us a letter with its recommendations regarding the matter. Unfortunately, that was a false assumption by the Member.
Ms. Commodore: Sometimes people are not always right in their questions. If I was wrong, I apologize.
There is a concern about the accountability of the fraud investigator. We are told that the previous investigator was a problem. There were several complaints about inappropriate behaviour, where clients felt they were under investigation, although innocent.
When the Minister made his ministerial statement in this House, I asked this same question: what ability will social assistance recipients have to protect themselves against the power of this individual and the rest of the fraud squad?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is important that the investigator act on the basis of very clear criteria. The protection of individuals who may be investigated for fraud is similar to the protection of other citizens who are investigated for fraud and criminal activities. I would expect, of course, with the passage of the Ombudsman Act, that we will see a lot fewer problems with the bureaucracy, which grew in leaps and bounds under the previous administration.
Question re: Education, school construction
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the "less-for-more" Minister, the Minister of Education. The Yukon Party's four-year plan, the "Time for Change" document that contained all of their election promises, stated under the headline of "Providing Effective Education" that the Yukon Party promised to construct new schools as required, beginning with a new high school and junior high school in Whitehorse. However, it appears that the people of Porter Creek, who want a new high school, are seeing this promise broken. Why is that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: As this is day 53 of this session, there has been a lot of recycling and recycling and recycling. It is unfortunate that the Members are totally without fresh ideas to bring forward in Question Period and have to go over and over and over previous debate. It is of little surprise that we are not even halfway through the budget, yet we are looking at a record session already - at great expense to the taxpayer.
The Member knows the answer to that question; however, I can certainly ensure that if his researchers are incapable of looking up the debate, I will have it sent over to him.
Mr. Harding: The Minister has never given me an answer. In fact, the record will show that, when I asked him questions about this in Committee of the Whole, he petulantly sat there and refused to get up and answer the question. He is doing the same again this afternoon in another forum.
The Jack Hulland school council has sent out a newsletter complaining about these broken promises. In that newsletter, they state criticisms that (1) decisions are being made by the Minister and only a select group of stakeholders, (2) the government does not think Porter Creek is a distinct community, (3) a lack of respect has been given to the council by the government and (4) there is an absence of leadership and consultation by the government.
What is the Minister doing to create this impression in the minds of these good citizens?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am really not sure. I know what I am not doing, and that is standing up day after day wasting the time of the House and the taxpayers by continuously relating the same tired, overworked questions, as the Member opposite seems to prone to do.
Mr. Harding: It is unfortunate that this Minister is taking this school council's request for new schools in such a joking manner. It is sad, because they still want this request from the Minister and he does not take it seriously.
I have a question for the Government Leader, who, with the other MLA living in Porter Creek, went to make a representation to the school councils about this very issue. I would like to ask the Government Leader what message he conveyed to the school council and whether or not that school council is in favour of the request for a new high school, as the government promised, or is the government continuing to do an about face?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: If the Member opposite is so well informed and had all of that information he must have known the message that was conveyed by me to the school councils in Porter Creek.
Question re: Education, Dawson school construction
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Minister of Education. Dawson City has a new school, approximately five years old, with the capacity for 300 students, and two new modulars with the capacity for 40 students, totalling 340 students.
The Minister and his department are predicting growth in the student population to increase to 362 students to the year 2002. The Minister has announced his plans for a new $4.5 million school, for 175 students, to give a total capacity of 515 students in Dawson. Yet, the growth that is predicted over the next seven years will be 22 students. How can the Minister justify this expenditure of $4.5 million for 22 students more than they have now?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The growth projections are not all that precise. There is a range. It could be considerably more than 362 students. We talked about the student population possibly being in the 370 range, or higher. As well, there is the situation in Dawson where there is a large bulge in the elementary grades K to 6, which tapers off dramatically in the higher grades. This is what people in Dawson believe - when I say people, I mean student council, staff of the school and others - is changing rapidly. What we are doing at this point in time is ensuring that we build a school that is going to last well into the future, will have the capacity to be expanded, unlike the unfortunate situation that now exists in Dawson, where the school was too small before it even opened.
Speaker: Order. The Member for Riverdale South has the floor.
Mrs. Firth: This is a government that preaches fiscal restraint and is telling other Yukoners that they cannot have new schools - Grey Mountain Primary, which is presently housed in 32-year-old trailers, and J.V. Clark School, which is a very old school in desperate need of repair. I would like to ask the Minister how he justifies and defends this decision. Where is the fairness in spending $4.5 million for 22 students, when he is telling these other people they cannot have new schools?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The Member opposite has wanted us to build a huge school for a declining population when there is ample space in Riverdale. She and her soul-mate from Faro have the same difficulty. They have been in here asking question after question and they have run out of questions, so they turn to the same pages of Hansard from three or four days ago of the last 53 days that we have been sitting, to try and find something to ask, because they are totally out of questions.
Mrs. Firth: As I suspected, the Minister cannot defend it. He has been making feeble attempts to defend it over the last few weeks. It sounds to me like all of the options have not been reviewed prior to the Minister making this announcement. It sounds like one more modular classroom would accommodate the current needs, and give them some time over the next seven years to do a proper review of what the real needs are going to be. I would like to ask the Minister if he has even considered this as an option for 22 kids.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: What we have in Dawson is a situation where the planning for the previous school was shameful. Now we are in a situation where the playgrounds are inadequate, where there is no place for the kids to play and parents are very upset by that. We have a situation where the school is overcrowded, where we have teachers in the hallways and all kinds of problems at this point in time.
When we were last in this debate a couple of weeks ago, the Member and her soul-mate from Faro backed toward the end because they were worried that we would send this information to Dawson. She can rest assured that this debate will reach Dawson. She said then that Dawson could have a school, but please give us one for Grey Mountain as well.
Question re: Education, Dawson school construction
Mrs. Firth: I have a question I would like to put to the Government Leader. The last word from the Yukon Party government, about a year ago, by the Government Leader, was that the highway maintenance compound in Dawson City would not be relocated in fewer than 10 years. Yet, in a surprise development, the Yukon government has suddenly come out in favour of locating a new elementary school where the government's highway maintenance compound presently is. This is going to cost taxpayers $3 million. I would like to ask the Government Leader why his decision has been overturned and Yukon taxpayers are going to have spend this extra $3 million?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Again, the Member opposite gets up with only half of the information. In the statement I made in Dawson at the time, I said there were no plans to move the highway maintenance compound for seven to 10 years. However, because we are a commonsense government, and the lot that was picked for the school was too small, we decided that it was better to move the compound now - when it has to be moved in the near future, anyway - and have a better site for the school in Dawson.
Mrs. Firth: The common sense that this government has would not fill a thimble. This compound position is not a reasonable choice. The Minister and the residents of Dawson prefer this choice because of its "aesthetic value". The Minister stood up in the House and said "its aesthetic value". We are going to give Dawson a $3 million cosmetic surgery? We could build a school in one of the other communities for $3 million - a whole school. I would like to ask the Government Leader why his government would spend this amount of money, when it cannot defend it, and it cannot justify it.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Again, this is a Member who, all of a sudden, is defending the interests of Dawson City - something she knows absolutely nothing about. She talks about commonsense government. At least this government has not been criticized for shutting down school buses, as she was when she was the Minister of Education.
We have done the proper thing. The government is moving the compound because it has to be moved anyway. We are not making the same mistake as the Members opposite when they were in power; they built a school that was full before it was even open.
Mrs. Firth: Lay those school buses on me; I never heard anything so silly.
I want to know what this government is doing. These are the people who claim to be commonsense, reasonable people. The total price tag for this new school project for 22 children is going to be $7.5 million. I bet it even goes beyond that. The Government Leader cries fiscal restraint and probably will be standing up in another year to say, "We're broke; we have no money."
On the point of money, I would like to ask the Government Leader where, since there is no money in the budget for this $3 million cosmetic face-lift for the community, he is planning to find that money?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The Minister of Community and Transportation Services and I went to Dawson and met with eight different stakeholder groups in a public meeting. There was broad consensus - total consensus, really - that we should move in this way. The same Member who is asking all these questions was demanding that we impose a decision on these people the day before we even left to talk to them regarding moving the psychologist position from Dawson to Whitehorse. We operate in a far different way from the Member for Riverdale South. We are not going to dictatorially impose our decisions on the people of Dawson.
The people of Dawson with whom we spoke support what we are doing. From a commonsense point of view, it is the only way to proceed that makes sense. We want to build a school that we can be proud of. The school is going to serve Dawson for the foreseeable future. That is what we are going to do.
Speaker: The Hon. Member for Riverside.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. The Member for Riverside has the floor.
Question re: Government employee downsizing
Mr. Cable: I was enjoying the exchange, Mr. Speaker.
I have a question for the Government Leader about the size of the public service. A few weeks ago, the Government Leader was on the radio talking about attrition in the public service and how he was saving it from the bad federal Liberals by permitting people to lose their jobs. He eventually gave us a legislative return, which showed that the number of full-time equivalents has dropped since he came into office - approximately 100 full-time equivalents - but also showed that the number of people on the payroll has increased.
Do the Government Leader and his government have a goal for the size of the public service, either in terms of full-time equivalents or the number of people on the payroll? The corollary of that is: does he have a goal for the amount of attrition that he is working toward?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that the Member has asked this question before; if we had a certain number of FTEs we wanted to see in government. The answer is no. Things change from time to time.
Along with the reduction of about 100 or 110 FTEs, the Member opposite has to be aware that we have also staffed the extended care facility since then, we have expanded the number of beds in Macaulay Lodge and we have staffed the Teslin jail. We have taken on a lot more responsibility and we still have fewer FTEs than when we took over government.
Mr. Cable: I was clearly asking the Government Leader if they had any goals. Everyone either dies in the saddle, quits, or retires. Sooner or later, if there is no particular target, the public service will simply disappear.
Is the Government Leader saying he has absolutely no goals whatsoever for the size of the public service, or this attrition exercise he is engaged in?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have said, time and time again, that we will deliver government services in a far more efficient manner, and we are doing that. It is quite dramatically different from when the Members opposite were in power.
There is no set goal, but every time someone leaves, we review that position and whether or not it needs to be filled. If it does need to be filled, we fill it; if it does not, it is eliminated.
Mr. Cable: There are a number of decisions that flow from the size of the public service and where the Government Leader is going, such as the amount of leased space that will be needed in the future, and the size of the Public Service Commission to look after the public service.
If there are no set goals, how are the government's Ministers going to deal with staffing the Public Service Commission, or the projection of the amount of leased space needed in the future?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Government Services does an analysis of the space requirements for government on an ongoing basis. I do not believe one sets the size of government by saying we will have X number of employees. One looks at the programs being delivered and at whether or not they can be delivered with fewer people in a more efficient manner. That is how one controls the size of government.
We are reviewing programs on an ongoing basis. It is not something that has a start and a stop date. It will continue to be ongoing as long as we are in government.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of Government Private Members' Business
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to inform the House that the government private Members do not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, March 22, 1995, under the heading Government Private Members' Business.
Speaker: We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the 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 Committee 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.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 1995-96 - continued
Department of Government Services - continued
On Operation and Maintenance - continued
On Information Services - continued
On Client Services
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The increase in this line item is 22 percent. A 17-percent net increase of $95,000 in personnel is the result of the following increases totalling $105,000: $68,000 to fully fund the manager, systems support position, as the incumbent was acting as the manager of client services in 1994-95; $25,000 to fund the data administrator position partially vacant in 1994-95, and $12,000 to reinstate the programmer analyst auxiliary position. The following was offset by decreases of $10,000: a $5,000 reduction in acting pay requirements; a $3,000 reduction in salary for the data resource coordinator; a $3,000 reduction in salary for the data resource coordinator; and, a $2,000 reduction in the Yukon bonus due to the flat rate.
The net increase in Other is $70,000. Increases totalling $75,000: a $36,000 increase in contracted services to provide backup maintenance support for the general ledger accounts payable and purchasing systems; a $28,000 increase for the Gartner Group Industry Services, due in part to increased use of online data access to assist with project development research; a $7,000 increase for video conferencing long-distance charges associated with training workshops; a $4,000 increase in travel to bring instructors in to facilitate on-site training for branch employees. This is offset by a $5,000 increase in internal recoveries associated with training courses sponsored by the information services branch.
Client Services in the amount of $894,000 agreed to
On Information Centre
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is a four-percent increase. There is a three-percent in personnel, amounting to $11,000 to fully fund the manager's position, which was staffed on an acting basis in 1994-95, and a $2,000 increase in Other, which is required to provide micrographic training as identified in the branch training plan.
Information Centre in the amount of $353,000 agreed to
On Records Management
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Again, this is a four-percent increase with respect to the manager's position and an increase in Other for training.
Mr. Harding: Does this pertain only to professional development?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, it pertains to professional development.
Records Management in the amount of $367,000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is a total of a four-percent decrease, overall. There is a four percent net increase of $10,000 in personnel; an increase of $21,000 to convert the telecommunications clerk position from half time to full time. This is offset by $11,000 in the following decreases; a $9,000 decrease for a one-time reclassification payment in 1994-95 associated with the manager's position; a $1,000 reduction in overtime requirements; and, a $1,000 reduction owing to wage restraints. There was an 11-percent net decrease in Other, amounting to $33,000.
The increases totalled $37,000; $36,000 was an increase in communications costs to provide Internet access for the government via YukonNet, offset by decreases totalling $70,000; a $33,000 decrease in contracted services was required in 1994-95 to fund the local area network installations and implementation; a $37,000 decrease, because in 1994-95 additional funding was required to undertake cabling projects, which have been completed.
Mrs. Firth: I want to ask the Minister some questions about the comments he made in his opening presentation, and he has just referred to it again as the Y-net. The Minister has said that it is going to establish a Yukon-wide information highway. The supporting infrastructure for the highway is a private government network, Y-net, and he went on about the benefits of it. What exactly is this private network, Y-net going to be?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is simply the government communications system, not to be confused with YukonNet, which is operated by the YukonNet Operating Society, independent of government. It is simply our internal communications. We send electronic mail back and forth, for example, from Whitehorse to Dawson.
Mrs. Firth: Who will have access to it?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Just the government right now. However, when the YukonNet Operating Society sets up, we will work with it so that the communities will have access through our system.
Mrs. Firth: Will it be publicly accessible at all?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, it will.
Mrs. Firth: What kind of things will be listed? What does the Minister anticipate people will have access to? What kind of information?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It will give access to the whole Internet system - not just for Whitehorse.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell us how the network will be accessed?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, not at the moment. We are working with the YukonNet Operating Society to work that out. I can get back to the Member with a more specific answer from the department. I do not have that information with me.
Mrs. Firth: I appreciate hearing that. I would like to know if it will be through the use of a modem or telephone lines. Are they going to directly wire all government computers? I would be interested in knowing what the plans are for that.
In terms of the data that is provided to the public, such as board appointees, are they looking at updating appointments? Will it be used in that capacity so that information can be updated and referenced immediately?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is the idea. Eventually, we will have that. That is one specific application that will be available.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell us what the total cost of the project will be, from beginning to completion?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, but I will inquire about it. I will bring it back for the Member.
Mrs. Firth: The decision has obviously been made to go ahead with this. Is there no figure attached to it?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: At risk of being tied to this figure and having to explain it later, the idea is to reinvest the savings on telecommunications through the purchase of the telephone sets, rather than a monthly lease. Through the negotiation of lower long-distance rates, that will be reinvested. That amounts to about $500,000. That has been the internal estimate to connect the 10 communities to Whitehorse. That is as specific as I can be now, but I am prepared to go back and get an outline of the program, with numbers, for the Member.
Mrs. Firth: That makes me a bit nervous. I am sure the Minister can appreciate that. There has been a decision made to proceed with something, yet there are no numbers to justify it. To substantiate what it is going to cost, the Minister just made a comment about savings on long-distance rates. Do we even know that that has happened yet? The Minister is saying that it has. So, the government is anticipating saving $500,000 there. I would like to see some figures, if the Minister could provide that information to us. Before I say, "Okay, let us go ahead with this", I would kind of like to know what it is going to cost and what the benefits are going to be to the Yukon taxpayer, and not just for the convenience of government inter-communications links. I want to know how people in Riverdale South are going to be better served by this expenditure.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We will do that for the Member.
Telecommunications in the amount of $517,000 agreed to
Information Services in the amount of $4,206,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
Chair: Is there general debate on the supply services branch?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This line shows a nine-percent decrease. There is a six-percent decrease in personnel amounting to $10,000, due to a change in the staffing of a director's position, which resulted in a reduction of salary and a decrease in the Yukon bonus. There was a decrease of $5,000 in Other as a result of the Purchasing Management Association of Canada training requirements for the purchasing officers in 1994-95, which will not be spent in 1995-96.
Administration in the amount of $155,000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Nordling: There is virtually no change in purchasing. There is a $3,000 increase required to fully fund two positions, which were partially vacant in 1994-95, and there was a decrease of $7,000 as a result of the purchasing system training undertaken in 1994-95 that will not be undertaken in 1995-96.
Purchasing in the amount of $403,000 agreed to
On Queen's Printer
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This represents a five-percent increase in O&M and 11 percent in personnel. The amount of $46,000 was required to fully fund three positions, which were partially vacant in 1994-95, due to leave without pay and maternity leave.
There was a net increase of $11,000 in Other. There were increases totalling $42,000: a $13,000 increase in the Hansard contract and an $11,000 increase in repairs and copier charges for the two Xerox photocopiers.
There was a $9,000 increase in maintenance for design unit computers, printers and darkroom equipment. There was a $6,000 increase in composition, editing and printing of the Yukon Gazette, offset by decreases totalling $31,000.
There was a $22,000 reduction in costs for the coming year, due to the printing of statutes and regulations in 1994-95 and a $9,000 reduction to the publications catalogue, which again was done in 1994-95.
Mr. Harding: Does this operation and maintenance budget include all the references to the new DocuTech copier contract that was approved this year by the government?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes. The capital is reflected this year. The operation and maintenance expenditures for the DocuTech will be within this budget. It is simply replacing the operation and maintenance we would be spending on the two 1090 photocopiers we had previously.
Mrs. Firth: There are plans to set up one of the 1090 photocopiers in the main foyer of this building - is that correct? There will still be costs associated with that one.
Can the Minister tell us how much the overhaul of the 1090 photocopier cost?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not have that information with me, but I will get it back to the Member.
With respect to the 1090, we are considering setting it up in the mailroom downstairs in this building, for use as a quick-print centre to do a lot of the work that is done by the 27 copiers presently in the building. The maintenance costs for it should be covered by the reduction in maintenance for the other convenience copiers in this building.
Mrs. Firth: Does the Minister have some figures on how many fewer convenience copiers will be required, and does he have any idea of the impact it will have on the business community presently in the business of providing convenience copiers to the government?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not have specific figures that I can give the Member now, but we do not foresee there being that many fewer copiers, because most departments want to have their photocopiers nearby and convenient. When these copiers are replaced, they will be replaced by lower capacity copiers with lower maintenance charges and usage than in the past.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to have any written substantiation or analysis that the government has done in that regard. It is only logical that if the government is going to have a quick-print centre, and it wants people to use department copiers less with more work being completed at the quick-print centre, the government must be anticipating that it will not need that many convenience copiers.
I would like to see the department's rationale for taking that particular step.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, we can provide that information for the Member. That information is being gathered right now as part of the whole process of office automation, document management and the replacement of the liquid toner copiers.
Mrs. Firth: I will look forward to receiving that information, including all of the aforementioned information.
I want to ask the Minister a question about the reconstruction taking place to accommodate the person hired to maintain the Xerox photocopier and the office for the purchaser. When are these offices going to be complete? Is the Xerox representative and the buyer located right next to each other? Can the Minister tell us how the buyer is going to draw up tender documents and specifications when it comes to tendering the purchase of equipment from now on?
I gather that all of the photocopy equipment is going to be purchased through the Queen's Printer as opposed to Government Services. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No to the last question. The purchase of photocopiers will still be with the purchasing branch. There may be some input by the Queen's Printer, but it will still be done through the purchasing branch, as it is now.
The office of the Xerox Business Services individual will, I expect, be upstairs in the Queen's Printer near the print buyer's office. The addition will essentially house the mailroom and most of its equipment that is presently in this building.
Mrs. Firth: What is the function of the print buyer who is going to be relocated into the Queen's Printer's office, and where did this function take place before it was moved to the Queen's Printer - or was it in the Queen's Printer's office?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It was in the Queen's Printer's office and remains there. It is simply a new office space that has been built upstairs with the Queen's Printer. The Member may not have seen it when we were on the tour. Document storage was moved out and two offices were built in the space vacated.
Queen's Printer in the amount of $1,122,000 agreed to
On Asset Control
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This line remains essentially unchanged. A $1,000 decrease in personnel is attributable to wage restraint.
Asset Control in the amount of $180,000 agreed to
On Transportation and Communication
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This increase of seven percent includes $30,000, which is required to reinstate the communications clerk position in transportation and communications, which was vacant in 1994-95. There is also a net increase in Other of $76,000. There is a $100,000 increase in fuel costs associated with pool vehicles, which is offset by decreases totalling $24,000.
There is a $14,000 reduction in vehicle repairs and maintenance, due to the replacement of some of the older models in 1995-96. There is a $10,000 reduction in contract services requirements that were spent in 1994-95 for the evaluation and development of a transportation information systems program.
Transportation and Communication in the amount of $1,847,000 agreed to
On Central Stores
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The increase consists of $13,000 in personnel, required to reinstate the inventory and warehouse support clerk on a part-time basis; an increase of $10,000 in Other, the result of providing funds to cover freight costs for shipment of goods from central stores to departments in Whitehorse. This will result in the discontinuation of the freight surcharge instituted in 1992-93 and will be reflected in decreased expenditure for these costs in all other departments.
Central Stores in the amount of $217,000 agreed to
Supply Services in the amount of $3,924,000 agreed to
On Property Management
Chair: Is there any debate on property management?
Mr. Cable: I have a few questions that follow up on some from Question Period.
The Minister heard the questions about the size of the public service. The question I would like to put to the Minister is this: are there any long-term space projections for the public service? I am referring to the commercial space that is referred to on page 7-16.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The only long-term prediction is that the space requirements will not grow. As a government, we are trying to consolidate the space that we have, and not add any additional space unless programs are devolved from the federal government. We may require more space then, but we hope it will be the same space that those employees now occupy. We do not plan an overall increase in space.
Mr. Cable: In what sense does the Minister use the term "consolidation"? Does he mean lowering the number of leased premises?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No. It involves getting the departments together into one space. An example is the Department of Health and Social Services, where we have moved part of the department out of the Tutshi Building into the Swiftwater Building, where most of the other department is. It involves getting the departments together with no additions in overall space requirements.
Mr. Cable: Is the Minister saying that there are no plans on the books for any publicly owned commercial space?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, there is not, other than a building on the Taylor Chev lot that will house the Tourism offices, along with a visitor reception center.
Mr. Cable: In the supplementals we just dealt with, if I recall correctly, the Minister just mentioned that two project manager positions were not filled, and there was subsequently a reduction. Have those positions been brought back into this budget, and if so, to what projects do they relate?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, they have been brought back in. They are not assigned to any special project. Whatever project manager is available will do the project - for example, the Golden Horn School addition, or setting up the portables in Dawson or in Watson Lake. The project managers are not assigned to any special projects, other than the project manager who is assigned to the hospital - in fact, seconded to Health and Social Services.
Mr. Cable: The Minister heard the debate today about attrition, as I mentioned a moment ago. Does the Minister see that, as a result of the attrition move, there will be a reduction in leased space? I am just looking at the figures on page 7-16. The publicly owned facilities have been unchanged, assumedly because there have been no buildings. The lease space appears to have gone up very slightly, and then back down again. Is there any trend expected in the amount of privately owned lease space?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, other than a trend to remain virtually the same for the foreseeable future.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is a one-percent increase of approximately $4,000, the result of reinstated merit increases.
Administration in the amount of $376,000 agreed to
On Facilities Management
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is an overall four-percent increase. There is a six-percent increase in personnel, of $277,000 in total, due to the reinstatement of auxiliary positions, such as custodial workers, groundskeepers, security guards and building engineers, in order to restore full-level services. There is a decrease of $10,000 in Other, consisting of a $25,000 reduction in requirements for building materials and plumbing supplies, due to the transfer of the Macaulay Lodge to the Hospital Corporation. This is offset by a $15,000 increase, as charge-backs for weigh scales and grader stations have been eliminated.
Mr. Harding: The Minister stated they had reinstated some positions because they wanted to restore a full level of service. That implies to me that there had been reductions made in services. For what reason did the government decide it needed to reinstate the full level of service? Was the previous level of service inadequate?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is correct. There were complaints about the appearance of this building and the grounds - that there were not enough security staff, people could not enter and leave the building, and buildings were left unattended at times. As a result of those complaints, we have managed to reinstate the level of service.
Facilities Management in the amount of $7,697,000 agreed to
On Regional Services
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is a one-percent reduction. Personnel costs are estimated to increase by $5,000, which does not result in a percentage figure over 1994-95, as interdepartmental recoveries have been eliminated. There is a net decrease of $30,000 in Other, attributable to a $70,000 decrease in contracted agreements for annual building maintenance services - school heating plants will be maintained by building engineers, a $9,000 reduction in utilities due to a refinement of projections; and these decreases are offset by increases totalling $50,000, including a $24,000 increase in plumbing, electrical and building materials for grader stations; a $15,000 decrease in interdepartmental recoveries, since Government Services is not charging Community and Transportation Services for grader station maintenance; and an $11,000 increase in employee travel in the Yukon for regional services staff to attend training sessions and obtain the required certification for supervision of the school heating plants.
Mrs. Firth: I am waiting to get the information from the Minister about the space allotments or requirements, so I may have some more questions about that after I receive the information. I notice on the statistics page 7-16, there is a very modest reduction in the amount of leased space being forecast for 1995-96. Can the Minister tell us what the plans are? Is the government planning to lease less space or more space? Is it looking at buildings being constructed and government taking them over, which was the suggestion I believe came from the chamber, instead of the government tendering for the construction of buildings to have them done privately? I know there has been some moving around of government offices, some new space leased in a brand-new building, and I would like to get some idea of what the government's plans are with respect to this whole idea of privately owned buildings versus leasing space.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The space requirements are not forecast to change in the near future. What we have done is some consolidation to reduce the fragmentation of departments. I gave an example earlier to the Member for Riverside of the Department of Health and Social Services moving from the Tutshi Building into the Swiftwater Building to partly consolidate that department. I believe we will have some consolidation with the Department of Economic Development, with the oil and gas branch joining the rest of the department in the Shopper's building, but the only plans there are for building government buildings is the visitor reception centre and office space for Tourism on the Taylor Chev property. We are looking into how that will be done, and at all the options, and a decision has not been made if it will be government owned or if we will ask that it be built for us on a lease-purchase basis or a lease basis. That decision is yet to be made; we are looking at the options.
Other than that building, there are no plans for additional government office space. The move of the family violence prevention unit from the Financial Plaza to Lowe Street was simply to reduce the cost of that space. It was tendered and the successful bidder was the Lowe Street property.
It is intended to re-tender for lease space, but there are no plans to increase the amount of space required.
Regional Services in the amount of $2,108,000 agreed to
On Realty Services
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We heard some Member of the Opposition whistling at this amount. My official thought that I should make it clear that despite the fact that this is not privatized, 75 percent of all of that money goes directly to the private sector.
The four-percent change is a decrease of $4,000 in personnel as a result of wage restraint measures and the flat rate Yukon bonus. In Other, there is a four-percent increase, amounting to $163,000. There is a $132,000 increase in rental expense, which is offset by a $31,000 reduction in inter-departmental recoveries relating to the termination of space leased by Health and Social Services, the drop-in centre in Old Crow and the expiry of a lease in the Whitehorse Performance Centre for Department of Education offices.
Mr. Harding: Could the Minister explain to this neophyte critic where the majority of this $4,467,000 is going and what it is for?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Other than personnel expenditures, the Other expenditures are comprised of two items, which are $4.5 million for rental and lease costs for office and storage space, offset by $175,000 in internal recoveries for rental of office space from corporations and third-party tenants.
Realty Services in the amount of $4,467,000 agreed to
Property Management in the amount of $14,648,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance in the amount of $24,847,000 agreed to
Chair: We will move on to the capital estimates. Is there any general debate on the corporate services branch?
On Corporate Services
On Business Incentive Policy
Hon. Mr. Nordling: There is a $58,000 increase as a result of transferring costs associated with the business incentive officer from O&M. The decrease totals $96,000, directly attributable to capital expenditures planned by other departments for eligible projects. The 1994-95 forecast was up significantly, due to an increase in expenditures by other departments.
Mr. Harding: The line item for the O&M for the business incentive policy was also in the vicinity of $709,000. Am I correct in assuming that the total budget is then about $1.3 million?
Mr. Harding: I am sorry. My confusion was due to the fact that we went through the supplementaries first.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to ask the Minister if he will set a goal for his next budget. Will he look at this particular item to see whether or not we can get rid of the business incentive policy, which is a socialist policy, I believe, brought in by the previous government. Would this Member look at removing this policy from his books before he brings in the next budget?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I will do that. We mentioned it briefly in the O&M debate. My defence was spirited but hollow, in the opinion of the Member. I believe I simply said that the program seemed to work and that businesses were happy with it. I certainly will look into it further.
Mr. Cable: The Minister just said that the program works. What indicia is he using?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: I like using that word every now and then.
Does the Minister have any feedback about how the business incentive policy is achieving the goals that were originally set out?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not have an analysis of what would have been bought outside the territory had it not been for the business incentive policy, which indicates that there were considerable purchases of Yukon materials.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Leader of the Official Opposition is making an excellent point. I will look into that point further for the Member for Riverside and get back to him. I will let him know if I have that information.
Mr. Cable: I was just wondering if, outside of the rhetoric of polarized politics, this program just goes on forever, without any checks now and then as to whether or not it is working. Have there been any previous checks?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: The Members are saying that there are many checks. They seem a little giddy; I guess it is almost time to get out.
Has there been a program review to date?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am sure that it is looked at from time to time. There were no problems or complaints about the operation of the program. Yukon materials are being bought. I will find out if that is as a result of this program or if it is simply a bonus or a top-up for the businesses using the program.
Mr. Cable: What does the Minister intend to do if he finds that it is the latter?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: As suggested by the Member for Riverdale South, I would consider eliminating it. If it does not encourage businesses to use local products and local manufacturing, it is not achieving what we expected and we would not require the program.
Mrs. Firth: I know where the Official Opposition stands on this issue, and everyone in the House knows where I stand on this issue. The position of Liberal Member is the only one we do not know. He has asked some questions. I know that it is not appropriate that we ask the Liberal Member a question, but I am sure the Minister could, in some way, try to drag his opinion out of him.
Mr. Cable: In responding to the question, I stand firmly on the side of justice.
If we find that the program is working, after we have the program review, I would think it natural enough that the Member for Riverdale South and I would get in bed solidly with the socialists.
Mrs. Firth: I do not think there is a big enough bed for that to ever happen. I just want to put on the record that, in the event that we ever do have a Liberal government in the Yukon, this has just been an example of the kind of tough decision-making abilities it is going to have. As the Member for Faro says, they will come down tough on both sides of the issue.
Business Incentive Policy in the amount of $671,000 agreed to
On Office Facilities and Equipment
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will take a moment to see if I can explain this. I heard an exclamation from the Member for Faro. When I talked to the department about this, it was explained that this is office facilities and equipment for the whole Department of Government Services. It is not simply for the corporate services branch. This line will not be seen, for example, under the information services branch, which is next. The analysis showed us, in Government Services, as poor cousins, when compared to other departments. I will run through the list of the expenditures that total $436,000.
The planned expenditures are $54,000 for furniture replacement - again, throughout the department; replacement of four fax machines for $10,000; replacement of three photocopiers for $27,000; and office renovations at $30,000. Also included are workstations for a total of $84,000, made up of two new printers for $9,000; six replacement workstations for $27,000; seven new workstations for $33,000; one replacement monitor for $1,000; software upgrades for $13,000; and, $230,000 for systems development, for a total of $435,800.
Mr. Penikett: There was an excellent program introduced by a previous government, which encouraged the purchase of locally manufactured furniture, rather then shoddy, inferior material from offshore. I wonder if the Minister would be prepared to give to the House an assurance that that excellent program will be continuing under his administration and the administration of Mr. Brandt?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Under our excellent administration we have actually fulfilled the obligations made by the previous government under that program. At the moment, we do not have plans to extend the program simply as a commitment to purchase locally made furniture whether or not we need it. However, we will certainly look at it on an as-needed basis. If we can get competitively priced local furniture, we will certainly consider it. We do not have any plans at the moment to reinstate the same program that the previous government had in place. One thing that we will be doing - and I believe that I mentioned it last night - is to replace the tables and chairs in the cafeteria. I believe that they will be replace with locally made furniture.
Mr. Penikett: I am glad to hear the last point. I would like to ask the Minister if he might come back with a legislative return indicating where he is going on this question.
If I may be permitted a minute, I would like to say that the Minister may recall that for some younger people, the display of locally manufactured furniture, which we commissioned as an experiment back in 1985 or 1986, was seen as something quite revolutionary. Of course, their grandfathers would not have found it remarkable that there were local craftspeople who could build quality products for a competitive price. However, for people who grew up in the age of mass production and with the assumptions that manufacturing was something that was done elsewhere, the idea that we could produce a quality product here in the Yukon seemed quite surprising.
One of the things that the manufacturers have told me - and at one time there were half a dozen that were supplying the government and some people in the private sector, and who were doing it largely in the winter when the demand for their skills as construction carpenters and cabinet makers were not in high demand - was that the government's pattern of purchasing - that sustainable demand - enabled something like a half million dollar industry to exist here, which had not existed previously. Not that it was completely absent, but it was somewhat more substantial, and it provided, admittedly not many jobs - perhaps only half a dozen - but that those local jobs were worth having, and the leakage - a Member of Economic Development looked at it - on the furniture account was something like 27 cents on the dollar as a result of local purchasing versus 72 cents on the dollar as a result of outside purchasing.
The Minister is quite within his rights to change the direction of the policy or amend it over time, given the experience we have had over the last few years. However, whatever the Minister does, I want to put in a plug for the local manufacturers. They have done good work, and some of it is evident in this Assembly. They give us a quality product.
Because this is a small market, the government, by creating some sustainable demand, helps make it possible for local manufacturers - who are small-scale crafts people, for the most part - to supply their product to businesses that want a quality product. Government contracts allow them to stay in business and develop a product line that, admittedly, does not have a market beyond our borders but does have one within our private sector. In my modest view, this is a classic win-win situation - it is good for the people who work in the industry and good for local consumers.
I know that there was one supplier of offshore office equipment to government who felt injured by this policy, but I know that we continued to purchase other equipment from that supplier that could not be manufactured here. I only make the case for continuing to show some faith in local manufacturers, in the hope that we can do some good for the local economy by these purchases.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I accept that representation from the Leader of the Official Opposition, and I am quick to agree with him that local manufacturers have provided us with a quality product. They are quite competitive, and we will look at locally purchased furniture and equipment if it is at all justifiable with respect to cost. The quality is certainly there.
Mr. Penikett: The whole point - and I think Mr. Brandt will know this - is in the way the contracts are written to supply this work. He could write the contracts in such a way that we could get it all from the Sears or Eaton's catalogue, or we could write the contracts in a way that encourages local manufacture. Really the only question I would ask is this: can we have the necessary assurances that some effort will be made to write the contracts in a way that at least creates the opportunity for local manufacturers?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I will give that assurance. Our goal is to create the opportunity of purchasing locally, if possible, within reason, and to create, as the term is often used, a level playing field. We do not want to rule out anyone with the tendering process.
Office Facilities and Equipment in the amount of $436,000 agreed to
Corporate Services in the amount of $1,107,000 agreed to
On Information Services
On Information Resources Infrastructure
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I already hear disagreement from the Member for Riverdale South. However, I will defend vigorously the need for information technology within government. What I will do is give a breakdown of not simply the increase but what is included in the $3.4 million. It is as follows: t
he central facility, which is the mainframe, $775,000, mostly for new storage space; telecommunications network development, $450,000; corporate data administration, $250,000; corporate systems development, $1,060,000 - that is an increase from approximately $500,000 last year, and as I mentioned in my opening remarks, it is to develop the human resource information system and financial management information systems; specialized corporate use equipment, $70,000; training facilities and equipment, $30,000; records services equipment, $6,000; and, departmental impacts - that is requests from departments, $747,000; for a total of $3.4 million.
Mr. Penikett: I wonder if someone might be willing to tell us what the position of the Yukon Party is on this matter?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I believe that they are supportive of the initiative of Government Services with respect to information technology.
Mr. Harding: Well, the government is certainly showing its support and we know they are supportive, because the Minister responsible for Education actually commended and applauded the Minister of Government Services for his DocuTech decision, even though his budget for new information in the schools pales in comparison to this particular budget. Nonetheless, the Minister of Education is firmly behind this Minister who used to say, "He will back you until your nose bleeds."
The interesting observation that I would like to make is a little bit disturbing. The 1993-94 actual on this item was $1.2 million and the 1994-95 forecast is $2 million. The estimate for 1995-96 is $3.4 million - that is an alarming growth.
I - unlike the Government Leader and the Deputy Government Leader - like using computers and information systems; however, I think this can get out of hand. Computers and information systems have been a problem for all governments, but what I find disturbing as the Education critic is that the growth in the budget, in terms of new technology at the public school level, is not increasing anywhere near the level of the increases taking place in the amount of computers and technology purchased for the government departments. The students in the public schools are the future leaders of the territory. I believe we have to make a strong investment in schools and try to focus - even though we demand a lot of the government - on the public school system and the technology that they are exposed to.
Just look at some of the CD-ROMs and the Internet technology available and compare that to the Apple IIEs, which make up the majority of computers present in our school system. I am not prescribing that we purchase every latest gizmo, but there have been substantial improvements in technology that I think young children have to be exposed to, to some degree. Students are getting some of that exposure, but I think it has to be more focused.
I will end my speech, but I think we have to realize that there is always a new information system that is going to improve the ability to get information out in three seconds instead of four, but at the end of the day we have to ask ourselves how this benefits the Yukoners we are trying to serve. We have to ask ourselves if it is cost effective.
Mrs. Firth: I want to register my opposition to the increase in the expenditure of this money. I do not know why we need the central facility. It would be interesting to see some justification. I do not think we need it.
I recognize that the Auditor General made some comments about human resources, information systems and so on. When I look at an expenditure of funds, I try to look at it in the context of how it will make the quality of life for Yukoners better. I do not see this 68-percent increase in information resources for the mainframe computer and its components making the everyday schooling of the kids who have to go to Grey Mountain School any better or generally making the quality of life any better for the constituents I represent or for all Yukoners.
If we are in a time where we have to make some tough decisions and set some priorities because money is going to be tight, I think we should be looking at directing it into areas where it will better serve a majority number of Yukoners, as opposed to this beefing up and supporting government infrastructure.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I accept a lot of what the Member says as valid. In defence of this expenditure, it does support and benefit all areas of government. I hope it will make it easier for people to deal with government on a day-to-day basis, and thus make their lives somewhat easier.
Times certainly are changing. There is virtually infinite demands not only from the Department of Education, but from every department with respect to updating technology. I suppose we will be faced with this challenge for the foreseeable future.
Mrs. Firth: I just want to follow up on that. The only way to make it easier for my constituents to deal with government is if we have less government. I will just leave it at that.
Ms. Moorcroft: I have a question as well about the $3.4 million for the information services program. The Minister just indicated, in defence of the funding, that it supports and benefits all areas of government. Is this the budget area that supports the Internet project? Could the Minister let me know what portion of the Government Services budget, overall, is going toward providing Internet service to government departments, and in what communities, as well as what areas, of government?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: There is some here, because apparently we cannot do it without the mainframe. Part of the expenditure is in the corporate services area.
As I was explaining to the Member for Riverdale South earlier, I will get information back to her on the Internet connection to the communities. What I explained was that we would be using the savings that we have achieved in telecommunications for the Internet. The number that I gave to the Member for Riverdale South, and I will try to verify a total cost for the program, was $500,000 to connect 10 communities to Whitehorse, and therefore to the rest of the world.
Ms. Moorcroft: I am sure that the Minister will attempt to bring that information back shortly. I would just mention that I would have thought that he could have been prepared with it, because there have been several questions in Question Period about developing the use of Internet in the government.
Information Resources Infrastructure in the amount of $3,388,000 agreed to
Information Services in the amount of $3,388,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
Chair: Is there any general debate?
On Office Furniture
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is the line item the Leader of the Official Opposition was referring to earlier. The purchase of locally made furniture was part of the experimental project and was seen as a success, and commitments were made to buy locally manufactured furniture, which have been fulfilled. There are no plans to buy furniture under that program in 1995-96.
Office Furniture in the amount of $1.00 agreed to
On Acquisition of Used Assets
Acquisition of Used Assets in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
On Queen's Printer Equipment
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is a decrease of 57 percent. I will run through the requests for funds for replacement equipment: $3,000 for a cellowrap machine; two printing sorters, $30,000; one sorter interface upgrade, $12,000; laser printing equipment, $30,000; a production paper drill, $20,000; and upgrading of data storage in electronic design, $15,000.
Mrs. Firth: I would have thought that the DocuTech could do all those things that the department is buying equipment for. As the Member for Faro said, it slices, dices and julienne fries.
I do not want the Minister to get away with passing this off as a big reduction of 57 percent. The Queen's Printer has received more than its share of money for the purchase of equipment. This reduction is absolutely justified, and it probably should have been even more.
Queen's Printer Equipment in the amount of $110,000 agreed to
On Transportation, Motor Vehicles
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We have discussed this line item somewhat in earlier debate. Again, it supports the replacement of 57 vehicles this year to upgrade the fleet.
Transportation, Motor Vehicles in the amount of $1,032,000 agreed to
Supply Services in the amount of $1,147,000 agreed to
On Property Management
On Capital Maintenance and Upgrade
Hon. Mr. Nordling: There is a reduction in the line because of the increase in projects in 1994-95. There are 39 facilities supported by this line item. There are 16 government buildings, eight warehouse storage buildings, seven workshops, ambulance and firehalls, five Yukon Place buildings, two residential units located on the waterfront and the Chateau Jomini complex in Faro.
Capital Maintenance and Upgrade in the amount of $405,000 agreed to
On Energy Conservation Retrofits
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The funding of $60,000 requested this year is to undertake a study to determine the energy consumption of various buildings and to fund changes to the operating systems of those buildings where it has been established that energy efficiencies can be achieved.
Energy Conservation Retrofits in the amount of $60,000 agreed to
On Building Development Overhead
Hon. Mr. Nordling: There is an 18-percent increase in personnel in this line, which amounts to $180,000 over the 1994-95 forecast: $68,000 to fund the new estimator position; $64,000 to fund a new project inspector position; and $48,000 to fully fund two positions that were partially vacant in 1994-95 - the facilities planner position and one project manager position.
There is an increase of $139,000 in Other: $110,000 increase in contracting for legal services, records drawing upkeep for as-built plans, contract dispute resolutions and inspection design reviews; $15,000 to acquire computer workstations for the new project inspector and estimator positions, and the architectural projects officer position; $10,000 to replace the blueprint machine; and $4,000 minor increases for advertising and printing materials.
Mr. Harding: Speaking of contract disputes, what is the total cost so far of the Taga Ku lawsuit? What is the expected legal cost to complete the appeal? If the Minister can only give me ball-park figures today, could he give me a more detailed response in a legislative return?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I will get back to the Member with that. I will ask the Department of Justice how much has been spent and the estimate for the appeal. I believe that information is, or has been, available to Members.
Mrs. Firth: I believe there was $100,000 for legal services. What is that for?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It is not just legal services. It is for records drawing upkeep, for as-built plans, contract dispute resolutions and inspection design reviews. I am not sure what the break-out of the $110,000 is for legal services, but it is legal services with respect to all contract services.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister define something for me? Does this money have anything to do with disputes that contractors might be having with the government, or does this department just refer it to the Department of Justice? What exactly do they do in Government Services with respect to contract disputes and resolving the disputes? Would a contractor have its own lawyer and the department have a lawyer and the dispute would be resolved in court? Perhaps the Minister can define for us how that works.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I may have to come back to correct the record, but my understanding is that if there is a dispute where legal action is taken, it is referred to the Department of Justice, and it either handles it in house or contracts it out for legal services. These would be legal services for Government Services, for example, with respect to drawing up contracts, lease agreements, and that sort of service. Court actions would be through the Department of Justice.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I thank the Member. She has described it as corporate legal services. I believe that is the correct terminology.
Mr. Cable: With respect to building development and property management, is that on the drawing board for the special operating agencies?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes it is, and the idea is that we will have measurable services and accountability so that when property management, for example, manages this building, we will know how much per square foot it is costing and how much it costs for other government buildings. That way, we will know whether or not we are efficient.
Mr. Cable: The Minister has launched the special operating agency concept with three SOAs. Is building development and property management in the next go-around?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: As the Member for Riverdale South says, it is in this go-around. The whole property management branch will be one special operating agency, so it will be, in a sense, considerably larger than, for example, fleet vehicles. The fleet vehicles special operating agency will be quite small. It will simply manage our pool fleet.
Building Development Overhead in the amount of $1,482,000 agreed to
On Common Facilities
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The decrease this year is due to the completion of the Watson Lake building.
Common Facilities in the amount of $80,000 agreed to
On Property Management Equipment
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is replacement equipment for tradespeople.
It would be saws, hammers, ladders and vacuum cleaners - that sort of equipment. As it wears out, it is replaced.
Property Management Equipment in the amount of $15,000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This pre-engineering component was originally established to provide departments with winter planning funds for smaller projects in order to facilitate early project commencement in the spring.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member for Mount Lorne made a comment on "winter works". It was not only for winter works, but to get things started earlier, so we do not end up starting spring projects in June and July.
Ms. Moorcroft: There is a significant amount of money in the Department of Community and Transportation Services and Education budget for pre-engineering. I am just wondering what the difference is and why there is an addition for another department to engage in pre-engineering.
Does this mean that additional staff have been hired to do this work, and with which other departments will they be working?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, we have not hired additional staff for this. We do not know with which department we will be working.
I expect that if a department is talking about a project that is to start in the spring, in our Government Services budget there is money set aside that we can use to launch that project for them.
Pre-Engineering in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
Property Management in the amount of $2,092,000 agreed to
Mrs. Firth: Just before we pass all of these budget dollars I would like to ask the Minister when he anticipates my being provided with the information that he has made a commitment to bring back to the House. Once the budget is passed, I do not want to have to chase after the Minister to get the information for me. I have about seven or eight outstanding items I am expecting information on. Could the Minister provide us with a commitment as to when we can expect to receive that information?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I will attempt to get that information immediately for the Member. I hope that I will have all of the information to the Member by the end of this week. If not, I will have an explanation as to why I have not been able to obtain that specific information.
Capital in the amount of $7,734,000 agreed to
Department of Government Services agreed to
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 4.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 3 - Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Department of Health and Social Services
Chair: Is there any general debate on the Department of Health and Social Services?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Today I am pleased to introduce the first supplementary estimates for the Department of Health and Social Services for 1994-95. You will recall that in May of 1994 when we debated the operation and maintenance main estimates, I indicated that the department was expecting a significant lapse of money. I also indicated that the full extent of these lapses was not known at the time the 1994-95 budget was developed and debated.
This is the first opportunity for me to reconcile the 1994-95 main estimate amounts with our year-end figures and longer-term trend analysis, especially as they relate to our social assistance and health care expenditures.
Today I am requesting a revised vote of $93,042,000 in operation and maintenance expenditures and a revised vote of $15,052,000 in capital expenditures. This amounts to a reduction of $4,774,000 in operation and maintenance, and $2,922,000 capital.
With respect to the O&M supplementary, 96 percent of the reduction was related to two program activity areas. Social assistance accounts for a total combined reduction throughout the territory of $1,924,000. Within the health services branch, reduced estimates related to health insurance account for $2,670,000, or 56 percent of the $4,774,000. There are other offsetting increases and decreases relating to health services, which I will explain in more detail in the line-by-line debate. However, the major reductions in projected expenditures are related to these two program areas.
With respect to social assistance, the forecast reductions include a reduction of $1,424,000 for Whitehorse social assistance and $500,000 for regional services social assistance.
Since 1988, the rate of growth in social assistance expenditures has been staggering. For example, in 1990-91, social assistance expenditures increased by almost 60 percent over the previous year. Between the period 1988-89 and 1993-94, social assistance expenditures grew from $2,236,000 to $9,496,000.
I am pleased to indicate to the Legislature that the trend seems to have peaked and is turning downward. I firmly believe that the social assistance reforms initiated by this government are having a positive impact on program administration, on better targeting our expenditures, on increasing the employability of our social assistance recipients and on increasing the quality of life of people who have had to turn to this program as a last resort.
In the area of health insurance we have seen some increases and some decreases. However, the overall impact is a projected reduction of $2,670,000. The major decreasing trend that we are experiencing in health insurance is in the area of out-of-territory hospital costs. The downward trend began in the first quarter of 1994, and it appears to be continuing. This is translated into an overall projected reduction of $1,775,000 for this fiscal year.
In- and out-of-territory physician costs are projected to decrease by $919,000, due to a decrease in utilization. Changes that I announced to the chronic disease program are expected to reduce expenditures in this budget by $220,000. We expect a slight decrease of $45,000 for in-territory and out-of-territory medical travel costs.
We are seeing some increases. There is an increase in volume in both the extended health benefits and Pharmacare programs, and these are projected to increase our expenditures by a total of $107,000. We are slightly increasing our contribution to the Yukon Nursing Association.
There are other changes in health services reflected in this supplementary. Briefly, they include a decrease in funding associated with the delay of the phase 2 health transfer and a decrease in block funding to the Yukon Hospital Corporation.
These decreases are offset by projected increases related to ambulance services, an increase in health promotion initiatives and a projected increase of $722,000 to services supported through the medical services branch and related to our community health programs.
I will provide more details related to these offsetting increases and decreases in the line-by-line debate.
On the recovery side of the O&M supplementary, we are forecasting a reduction of $3,317,000. Combined with the projected $4.7 million in reduced expenditures, we have a net favourable impact of almost $1.5 million on the department's 1994-95 budget.
On the 1994-95 capital budget, I am requesting a reduction in funding of $2,922,000. This is made up of a decrease in the Whitehorse hospital construction project of $4,688,000, which is offset by an increase of $1,766,000, related primarily to various winter works projects.
On the hospital construction project, the reduced expenditures are related to projected costs that will occur in 1995-96. The overall cost and schedule remains unchanged. This reduction is accompanied by an identical reduction in capital recoveries.
Briefly, the increases that we are anticipating are related to the following: an increase of $200,000 in policy, planning and administration, related to Crossroads renovations and systems development to support changes in the formulary, chronic disease and medical travel areas; a
$374,000 increase to family and children's services, related to changes in the young offender facilities and child welfare facilities; a $502,000 increase to social services, to upgrade the Crossroads building and to convert part of the building to the detox centre.
There has been an overall increase in Health and Social Services of $690,000, not including hospital construction changes. This is made up of increases for facility and equipment changes to No. 2 and No. 4 Hospital Road, ambulance building renovations and the purchase of a new ambulance, t
he completion of work at the Thomson Centre and renovation to the Macaulay and McDonald Lodges. Together these increases total $1,141,000 in new capital expenditures, which are offset by a reduction of $451,000 related to our contribution to the medical services branch. In this case, the full amount budgeted for maintenance of community health facilities is not required this year. This provides the highlights for the 1994-95 supplementary for the department for both capital and O&M budgets.
Mr. Penikett: When the Minister began his remarks, I had a sinking feeling that we were somehow going to get into a general debate on the supplementaries and that he was going to break ranks with his colleagues and we were going to have separate general debates on the supplementaries and the mains. By the time he was half way through it, I was serene on that point, because it seems we are not going to have to do it three times, just once.
However, as before, the Minister knows that there are two critics for his department in the Official Opposition. If I could advise him now, we are going to be proceeding on the basis that I am going to enter general debate first, as the Health critic, and then we are going to move to social services issues with my colleague, the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
I would like to indicate at the outset the approach I want to take so that the Minister may organize his own material. I want to spend most of my time that I am budgeting for this process in the general debate and the reason for doing that is because I think there are some very profound questions about the future of the medicare system in the country.
The Minister has alluded to that. When I asked him about community health centres the other day, he indicated that the uncertainty created by the Martin budget meant that the department might not be able to proceed with some of the reforms and the initiatives that are being pursued in certain progressive jurisdictions.
While I want to spend some time on what is happening to medicare nationally and focus on the kind of positions that this government may be taking in those national forums - because the Minister is the person who will be speaking for us on those occasions - I do not want to get into a highly technical debate. I want to ask about policy in this discussion. After having explored the government's position on that a bit, I will then get into some of the more particular questions around the health insurance program, the hospital program, the integration of the extended care facility and the hospital program, and some questions I have about implementation of the Health Act - questions all of which I have signalled by questions in Question Period as being interests of mine.
I want to conclude my contribution to the debate with a discussion about the trend lines that the Minister indicated about his budget. At that time I will introduce a computer printout we have made, which shows the estimated actual forecast expenditures of the department for the last several years, and includes a bar chart on personnel costs. I will not get into it now, but I will signal to the Minister that what this chart shows to me is a slightly different interpretation of the numbers than he has given. One is that the personnel costs are almost flat-lined. The highest they have been is 24 percent, and the lowest has been 20 percent. They have been around 21 percent for most of the last many years - that is of the department's total budget.
The estimates have gone up and down. The forecasts have generally been up, though in the last year or the year we are still in, they are forecast to go down. What I finding interesting, and the real crunch, is that the trend line on the actuals seems to be a fairly predictable trajectory upwards. The Minister may have reasons why that is not going to be the case in this year and the coming year, and that is what I will want to come back to as the final point in the general debate.
Having outlined where I want to go, I would like to now start by pointing out to the Minister some of the news stories that have appeared both in the local and national media, raising questions about the future of medicare as we know it. I am looking, for example, at a story by Edward Greenspun for the Parliamentary Bureau of the Globe and Mail, entitled "Farewell social Canada: Ottawa enters its twilight years as a force of social activism".
It is a story about the Martin budget and includes the reference to the comments made by the Prime Minister, for example, quoting him from Morningside, I believe, when he said that medicare was never meant to pay for eye glasses and ambulance services and that it was supposed to be temporary in nature and to deal with major health crises in a family. I would say right off the bat that I totally disagree with that view of medicare.
I understand that there has been enough of a negative reaction that the Prime Minister has somewhat restated his views recently in a speech in the House of Commons, but there is a whole range of stories in the national media, including one I noted that makes the point that if Ottawa cuts much more of the cash transfers to the provinces it will find itself without the clout it needs to enforce the Canada Health Act, and I think that is a view that has been expressed by a number of provincial ministers from time to time.
What I would like to do is put some propositions to the Minister about what is happening to health policy and medicare. He can respond either nationally or locally, but I am going to ask him the questions in a national context, because it is that funding source I am worried about. I would like to ask the Minister for most of these questions simply if he disagrees or agrees with the propositions I am going to put to him.
The first is, given what has happened in the federal budget and given the direction we seem to be going, would the Minister agree that we cannot be absolutely confident about the future of the health insurance system? By that, I do not mean will it completely disappear. I think that that is unlikely, but does the Minister think that, for example, the principles in the Canada Health Act are supportable - or the federal government's ability to enforce is able to be maintained - if it proceeds with the block funding approach it is proposing, where it will roll all the social expenditures into one lump sum. Indeed, I gather it will not be negotiable; it will be "take it or leave it" and the company will have the option of leaving it.
Would he agree that there is a serious question about the future of medicare?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, I would agree that there is a serious question about the future of medicare. From my reading of the correspondence and the news stories, the position the federal government is moving to is that it sees some difference in the regions, from province to province to territory. It sees some optional areas left open to the local jurisdiction, and it will try to maintain some across-the-board standards, but its resolve to maintain the same standard right across the country would seem to be diminishing rather rapidly.
Mr. Penikett: In the past, the Canada Health Act and the medicare system seem to have operated on the basis of the principle access to quality health care is a fundamental right of Canadians and that unique quality in health status was economically, socially and morally unacceptable to Canadians. Would the Minister agree that the changes he just mentioned at the provincial level and the cuts in the federal budget have a potential to seriously erode that principle?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I think they do. A very straight-forward example would be uninsured services to native people, where the budget has been dropping drastically. At one time, First Nation beneficiary members had a level of service that was far greater than the services provided by the federal government or their provincial counterparts. That has changed quite dramatically and seems to be eroding to the point where it would be below some of the services offered at the provincial level.
On the other hand, without belabouring the point and not knowing how far this solution takes us, we are seeing, on the part of each and every jurisdiction in recent years, a commitment to offer more efficient and effective service.
There has been a move right across Canada toward regional health boards, which I know we are going to talk about a bit later, to less use of chronic-care beds, with more being done in the home, preventive medicine, and so on. Many of the jurisdictions have accomplished quite a lot. New Brunswick and Saskatchewan are prime examples of amazing efficiencies, while maintaining a service that is pretty close to what they had before.
Whether or not those kinds of efficiencies are going to be enough to ensure that insured services will be sustained to the level to which we have become accustomed is the $64,000 question. I think we are all nervous as we await the signals from Ottawa.
Here we are doing a lot of revision and reviewing of existing programs. We will get into charts a bit later, but I think we can show that we have levelled off most of the expenditures, and have brought them down in areas such as chronic disease. We see those kinds of efficiencies taking place in other areas of health as we introduce formularies for Pharmacare and efficiencies in the design of the hospital and how it is being run, and so on.
There is no question that we can only effect so much savings in this way before, at some point in time, the quality of the services begin to deteriorate. It is a matter of where that cut-off point is.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Minister for those observations and I think that he is quite right that there have been, in some cases, some quite dramatic and remarkable reforms in some of the provinces. In my point of view, some of these reforms have been very good and constructive, but I think others have created some pain.
If the Minister has not read it, I would recommend a book entitled Healing Medicine: managing health system change the Canadian way, by Michael B. Decter, which is a book that I just finished reading that describes some of the changes taking place in all of the jurisdictions. Mr. Decter was a deputy minister in Ontario, a province where health care costs have been rising by 10 to 12 percent per year over the decade and he got it down to one percent per year, or something like that.
The question of efficiencies is a very interesting one, because in this age market ideology seems to have admittedly triumphed as you watch the debate in the United States about whether they were going to go to a single-payer system or some other complicated model such as President Clinton proposed. One of the inescapable realities was that our system was administratively less costly than the American private insurance model. The percentage of GDP going to health costs has always been lower in this country than in the United States.
I guess that is part of the reason why people have pointed to the Canada Health Act, which talks about a commitment to public administration as one of the key principles. I noticed in Mr. Martin's budget speech that he referenced the Canada Health Act principles, but earlier in his speech he talked about privatization saying that health care in Canada will be privatized, which suggested in my mind a certain kind of political schizophrenia in the federal Minister's thinking.
I am not asking this question just locally, but in terms of his participation in national debates, which are bound to come on this question. Does the Minister agree that, in Canada, the public, single-payer insurance system continues to make sense in economic terms?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, certainly, that is my position with regard to the current coverage of insured services and the principle under the act.
Mr. Penikett: As I understand it - because of the reforms that have been happening over the last few years - the total health care spending in Canada has stabilized at approximately 10 percent of the gross domestic product, whereas it is predicted that overall health care expenditures in the United States will approach 20 percent of the GNP by the end of the century - which is not that far away. That suggests very different kinds of things about efficiency.
That is one of the things I found quite ironic about the Government Leader's favourite book by Osborne and Gaebler, because, for all the talk about creating smaller delivery units, and the private sector style of delivery, and competition between agencies, there was, in medicare, a wonderful example of a national system - even though it is operated inter-provincially. However, it is a large-scale system that is, in fact - contrary to current ideology - more efficient than, if you like, the smorgasbord of systems that operate health management systems in private hospitals operating in the United States. Let me not dwell on that, though, because we only have so much time.
Would the Minister agree that the fact that Canada has a generally lower mortality rate and a higher life expectancy than the United States can be attributed, in part, to a system that ensures health care coverage for every citizen? Would he agree that that is true?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is a qualifier, in part. I think it is one of the factors one looks at. There are a lot of others. As the Member knows, one looks at the various determinants of health as the experts are building them now, and there are a lot of other factors - everything from violence in cities in the United States as compared to ours, to the disparity between low and upper income groups. One of the determinants has to be the universal care under health insurance.
Mr. Penikett: I take it the Minister would also agree that what the Americans call the public single-payer system, like we have, makes sense in terms of democratic principles or public accountability, since it at least offers some opportunity for popular control or citizen influence over public policy decision making, something that does not yet exist in the United States, for example.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I agree with that. However, I think it is important at the same time to recognize and admit to ourselves that one can try to compare our system with that of the United States or that in another country, and sometimes not have a completely apples-to-apples comparison. There is certainly no question that, for a period of time, the health care system in Canada was somewhat bloated, and that has been shown by efforts made by all the provinces to become more efficient and effective, while maintaining the principles that continue to exist in the act. There have been a lot of success stories.
It is democratic to support the system, but that is not to say that, without a fair amount of scrutiny and a lot of review and revision, as well as care taken about how the various programs are delivered, they cannot get out of control.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Minister for that answer and that suggestion. Rather than making special comparisons, let me make temporal ones between then and now, with a focus on federal funding.
Would it be too extreme to say that there is a danger that the medicare system is being dismantled, in part because of changes, like those in established program financing over the last several years -
I am told that in every federal budget for 1982, 1986, 1990, 1991 and 1993, there were cuts of some kind to those programs - and that the funding for health care and the diminishing cash transfers, particularly in poorer jurisdictions, have created a real crunch?
In fact, I have on my desk one report that talks about the provinces having lost over $40 billion in cuts in federal cash transfers since 1982-83. This off-loading has probably contributed to, or made necessary, health care cutbacks by provincial governments. It may have even contributed to some provincial deficits. In turn, it may also have contributed to the provinces off-loading, in some cases, on to local governments, voluntary organizations, perhaps even families, which can in the long run, to get back to the other point the Minister made, have a serious negative effect on the health status of this country.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There is a new elasticity within the system, which allowed for some cutbacks. The jurisdiction rose to the challenge, by and large, and basically coped with the cuts until the last budget. The real issue, though, is whether or not we can have further cuts and maintain the principles of our health insurance program.
What concerns me very greatly is the manner in which the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and Minister of Health now speak. They seem to be saying that there will be further cuts, and I think that goes without saying. They also seem to be prepared for some fundamental changes to the universal aspect of our insured health care system. Certainly, many of the things that are being said and some of the quotes the Member has made in his opening comments, as well as some of the things I have heard in addition to that, particularly from the Minister of Health, would indicate that they expect to cut back the funding to the point at which it is going to mean some fundamental changes to the system.
Mr. Penikett: The Minister has made several points, including the one he made earlier about the growing inconsistencies about the level of services from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within this country, which cuts to the heart of what some people, going back to Mr. Trudeau's day, used to call the Confederation principle - the idea that wherever you lived or whatever the state of the local economy, there is a certain equability about the level of educational, health, and social services that one could expect as a Canadian.
Let me focus for a second on one program, which I think is still a federal program - the children's dental services - which, in my view, is probably one of the most superb health preventive initiatives that has been financed by the federal government. As the Minister, who has been in here a long time, well knows, it was driven by a compelling need, given the condition of children's teeth in this territory a generation ago and the lack of quality dental services, particularly in rural communities.
I would like to know if the Minister has received any signals about that program or the future of that program. It may be on the devolution table. As I look at what has been happening in the federal government, it seems to me that those programs that are delivered only in one region and only to one group of citizens - a very specific program - are particularly vulnerable because they are not universal - they are regional - and there is probably very little political consequence or very little political risk for the government involved in cutting them.
Can the Minister tell us what - I am just using this as an example - the fate of that program is likely to be?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: As the Member is undoubtedly aware, we are trying to get phase 2 of the health transfer going. We are in a situation where they have promised to maintain the funding levels for a limited period of time. I think the target date for getting the whole thing done and agreed to is October, with the transfer in March - that is, the agreements in principle among all parties, including First Nations.
If things proceed and we are able to start negotiating, and if First Nations are prepared to enter into the negotiations on the basis of the memorandum of understanding to which they agreed in the beginning of phase 1, as well as the principles surrounding the transfers, we will be looking at taking on the entire package at the current levels.
Our biggest concern is whether or not the First Nations are going to join in and be full partners in the devolution talks. We are unsure about exactly how they intend to proceed, because there is a great deal of uncertainty over there in terms of whether or not the CYI will play a role, the First Nations themselves or other agencies of First Nations.
If all goes well, and the intent of the federal government and of this government to negotiate the transfer and have it take place within the upcoming fiscal year continues, we will maintain the funding. Of course, if that does not happen, I will be quite concerned about fairly drastic cuts. That would really put us in a situation where there would be some very hard choices. An excellent example is a very universal program for kids, such as dental health.
Mr. Penikett: Not that it will make any difference to the federal government, but, for record, I would like to say that I am a strong supporter of this program and would not want to see it cut or have its funding reduced. I would hope that we can see it continue.
Perhaps the Minister has a more compatible relationship with his federal counterparts than we had, because the promises to maintain programs while under negotiation for devolution, to be blunt, were not kept during the time we were in government.
I would only say that if the Minister is vigorous in defence of this program at the federal level, he would certainly have our support, because I think it is valuable.
The Minister suggested that one result of the federal off-loading, or cuts, over the last two years may have been to force some of the provincial jurisdictions to achieve greater efficiencies. That may well be the case, although I suspect some of the pressure was internal. I seem to remember Premier Devine telling me that he was facing a serious problem in Saskatchewan of the possibility of health care costs approaching 50 percent of the provincial budget, which was something that even the province that was the home of medicare could not contemplate.
I am sure the Minister would agree that one of the consequences of the federal cuts has been to reduce services in some places in the country, as well as to lower the standards of care and, perhaps, even a pressure to privatize the delivery of some services, such as Alberta seems to favour.
Would the Minister agree with that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I would. I do not know that it has happened yet, but it is on the verge of happening and may have in one or two jurisdictions. It seems to me that the elasticity in the current system has been pretty well used, and further cuts will mean some fundamental changes to the level of service, universal service, and so on.
One of the points that I briefly wanted to mention is that one way in which we are somewhat different with regard to phase 2 of the health care transfer, as compared to other devolution areas, is that we pay 70 percent of the costs. As a result, the cuts by the federal government do not result in such great savings to them, so there is less of an incentive to cut there than in forestry, land use planning, or some other area that it is contemplating for devolution.
Mr. Penikett: The trouble is that on big budgets it could add up to a hell of a lot of money. When I look at the national figures, public health care spending has dropped five percent since 1977. During the same period, private spending has increased from 23 percent to 28 percent, so some of the shift has been to push areas that were not previously in the marketplace have now come into the private market.
With respect to the small, perceptive point the Minister makes about elasticity, I would only say that I think he is generally right but there are also some areas for opportunity. The trouble is that they are politically difficult. I confess that when I heard a colleague in the House the other day suggest that the Minister might introduce a fee-for-service system for psychological services in Dawson City, my heart sank, because I think that would be - and let me put it politely - a fundamentally stupid thing to do in terms of the finances of the territory.
Tommy Douglas would probably admit today that the concession they made after the doctors' strike in Saskatchewan to go to the fee-for-service model has been costly to the insurer in this country. I do not believe in forcing doctors into another model, but I believe very strongly that people need some accountability. I suggested the cheap model, which would be posted in doctors' offices, stating what it would cost a patient to see a doctor about a cold. Some doctors did not like that, because it showed they were earning less than plumbers - or purported to. Some provinces send out bills or statements every year, and that may be a bit too expensive in my view, but it is one way of dealing with things.
I think we need to be, without creating hostility or antagonism, testing other models. I will use the example of the negotiations for a doctor in Faro. I remember the negotiations the last time. It was quite clear that a fee-for-service doctor might not have a kind of income that they needed to attract a doctor, plus they would have the disadvantage of having a part-time income, but being on call 24 hours a day. So they would have a part-time income for a full-time job. As I recall, we ended up topping up the fee-for-service arrangement. It was not my decision, but I was part of the Cabinet that made the decision. I think that, had we been wiser back then, we might have said, "Look, there are other arrangements we should be looking to make with you - ones that can give us a better estimate of our actual costs." I think that if you are going to have a resident rural doctor, I do not think a salaried arrangement should be entirely out of the question. I think we should be looking at that. Even if it does not actually lower costs, it gives the Minister something that I think he desperately needs, which is predictability or certainty, which the system can use.
Let me move on and ask, after having made my comments, the Minister about his. One of the things that is connected to this pressure on the public system and the increased spending in the private system is in institutions that are related - not health care institutions - but related ones.
We spoke of extended care, but in southern Canada a lot of private for-profit institutions are springing up to deliver home care, respite care and other continuing-care services. Hospitals are restructuring in a way that perhaps releases patients earlier or, in more radical terms, in many provinces there is a complete closure of mental health facilities, for example, which pushes people either out on the street or, sometimes, into private-sector models. I do not know the details of this, but I have heard from some provinces that, having to subsidize the private arrangements has, upon reflection, actually been more costly than originally imagined, because they get into either the fee-for-service or per diem process, which are quite expensive.
Perhaps I could ask the Minister to focus locally where we have most of such institutions still in the public sector. I would ask him if he sees or feels, as Minister, any pressure, other than changes in the hospital delivery model, to which I will come back later, to move any of those services into the private sector. I am not talking about classic privatization - this is another story I will get back to - but, in the United States, people previously in home-care programs may have been cared for by nurses or had a certain level of care and then consciously go to less well-trained staff or look for a lower level of skills, which are more affordable from the point of view of the department. Is the Minister feeling any such pressures as a result of the federal cuts?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: To go back to the issue of the possibility for exploring other ways of reimbursing doctors in rural settings, perhaps a salary might be the right answer, but we do not know for sure whether or not that doctor is leaving.
It has been an ongoing saga.
With regard to patients knowing about the cost of service, and so on, we have been advertising in the local media - as I am sure the Member is aware - to give people an idea of the cost to the system for various fairly taken-for-granted procedures at emergency, or the cost of having a baby, and that sort of thing. I am quite interested in what is happening in some other jurisdictions, particularly New Brunswick, where a special credit card is used. It goes on to the computer and before the patient leaves, the service obtained from the doctor is signed for.
One of the things people have to say when they come up to me on the street and want to talk about the cost of health care - which is a great concern to a lot of people - is that they would sure like to be able to check and make sure that the doctor is not gypping them or the system. One way of doing it would be with a credit card system.
I do not believe in mailing out annual bills to people, because that may make it difficult for family members to see a doctor about sensitive areas, especially if the bill is mailed to their home. I do think that an individual's account should be available to them to look at once a year, if people so desire. There are a lot of people who would, and I think that would be a very healthy thing for the system.
In speaking about the privatization of institutions and that sort of thing, that is not our intention. There is nothing on the horizon with regard to that, but we will be looking at a number of innovative things.
In addition to the salary potential for rural doctors, and perhaps within the hospital for certain physicians, we will be looking at nurse practitioners and the possible pilot project for the creation of a wellness centre in Whitehorse. However, we will not move on that until we have phase 2 completed, or at least the health centre in town transferred; then we could look at some innovative things there.
Those are the kinds of things that doctors really do not do.
We have an agreement in principle with the YMA to explore these areas. This was, in my mind, a potential breakthrough, because there was a resistance when we first talked about it in the Joint Management Committee.
We do want to look at those kinds of things. When one talks about the possibility of using lower-paid, less-qualified people, yes, it is possible for certain things where we do not feel they need to be provided by a doctor. In fact, some doctors are not really interested in providing the kind of service that some nurse practitioners would gladly provide. It is certainly not with a view to reducing the quality of care; rather, it is with a view to increasing the service provided and quite possibly encouraging people to pay more attention to their health. It is a lot easier to drop into a wellness centre instead of into a doctor's clinic for many people, and so on.
Those are all things we are interested in doing. We have had a lot of discussions within the department.
However, we cannot move too quickly, because a lot of it is that we would like to have phase 2, or phase 2 of some of the facilities, transferred to us so that we can utilize those dollars and those people to expand some of the services, as a pilot project.
In view of the time, I will move that we report progress on Bill No. 3.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1995-96, and Bill No. 3, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95, and directed me to report progress on them.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole.
Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:27 p.m.