Monday, April 10, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with silent Prayers.
In Remembrance of Margaret Brown
Mr. Penikett: I rise to bring to the attention of all Members the passing this morning of Audrey McLaughlin's mother, Margaret Brown, age 80, in Regina, and I would ask all Members to join me and my caucus in extending our condolences on her bereavement.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I rise today to convey the government's deepest sympathy to Yukon's Member of Parliament, Audrey McLaughlin, for the passing of her mother, Mrs. Margaret Brown. We hope that the knowledge that the people in her riding are thinking of her will help in some small way during these coming days.
Recognition of the ninety-ninth birthday of Sarah Abel
Mr. Abel: I would like once again to pay tribute to a very well known and highly respected elder of the Vuntut Gwitchin. My grandmother, Sarah Abel, celebrates her 99th birthday today with family and friends in Old Crow. She is an active church leader and stays very busy with community affairs. She still provides valuable advice to the young people of Old Crow, and over the years has contributed greatly to our quality of life.
I ask all Members of this House to join with me in wishing her a very merry ninety-ninth birthday.
Recognition of the 40th anniversary of Danny and Betty Joe
Mr. Penikett: I have some late-breaking news. I would hope that all Members would want to join the Official Opposition caucus in extending 40th wedding anniversary congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Danny and Betty Joe.
Speaker: Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have the report of the finance ministers meeting for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have some legislative returns for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Petition No. 2 - response
Hon. Mr. Brewster: In response to Petition No. 2, presented by the Member for Klondike on March 27, 1995, I would like to make the following statement. In 1978, the government of the day adopted the Whitehorse periphery area development regulations in an attempt to control land development activities in the area surrounding the City of Whitehorse. The previous government undertook the preparation of the Hootalinqua North district plan. It is my understanding that the residents of all areas opposed this plan because they felt that the zoning planning should be tailored to the needs and wishes of each of the local areas. These areas included the Hot Springs Road, the Mayo Road, Shallow Bay, Grizzly Valley, Jackfish Bay, Ibex Hamlet and Deep Creek.
Five of the area development committees were developed in cooperation with the department to develop zoning and to develop recommendations for their particular area.
The Shallow Bay area development committee undertook a questionnaire on March 30, 1994, to gather input from residents on proposed amendments to the interim periphery development area regulations. Of the 29 responses received, 15 indicated that they wanted to maintain a 15-acre minimum lot size and one respondent did not recommend a minimum lot size.
On May 6, 1994, the former Minister of Community and Transportation Services, the Hon. Mickey Fisher, was presented a petition by an ad hoc group of Shallow Bay property owners opposing a minimum lot size of less than 15 acres.
As the Shallow Bay area development committee had already been organized and zoning planning had begun, the former Minister referred the petition to the area development committee for further discussion.
On October 13, 1994, the Shallow Bay area development committee and the petitioners met to discuss minimum lot size. The meeting did not result in resolutions acceptable to both parties. The petitioners held their position and the committee felt that little had been accomplished.
The only issue in the Shallow Bay area that has not been resolved is a minimum lot size. A draft set of regulations, based on the March 1994 survey results, excluding the lot size issue, are currently being prepared.
Because no clear consensus has been reached with regard to minimum lot size in Shallow Bay and an attempt to achieve a possible compromise, a new survey was mailed to Shallow Bay residents on March 13, 1995. The new survey asks if residents wish to maintain the status quo or permit subdivision to 7.5 acres.
Speaker: 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?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Thomson Centre, staff requirements
Mr. Penikett: On March 21, the Minister of Health announced that, in response to demands from the Alzheimer's support group, he was adding seven beds at the Thomson Centre. Can he now confirm that, while he added new beds, he did not add any new staff to the facility to handle the increased workload?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am getting a full briefing on the exact situation at the Thomson Centre at this point in time. Certainly, the instructions were to add staff as the additional seven beds were opened. All of them are not open yet. Arrangements were made to add staff, so I do not think the Member opposite's statement is correct.
Mr. Penikett: It would be cause for concern for all of us if the Minister's instructions were not carried out. But I would like him to confirm if the Thomson Centre - which he just indicated will shortly have 17 special-care patients - will have only three people on the day shift and only two people on the floor between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. to care for all these patients?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If there is a shortage of staff, I will get back to the Member with the reasons why. As we know, the special-care area in the Thomson Centre is a difficult one in which to keep staff.
Mr. Penikett: Exactly, because caring for Alzheimer's patients can be extremely physically difficult, stressful, and, as we all know, there is some potentially dangerous work.
I wonder if the Minister can explain if he is aware that five of the 12 workers in this unit have recently had workers' compensation claims, and if he knows if anything has been done to create improvements in the occupational health and safety of the staff at the Thomson Centre?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Once again, I thank the Member for his very detailed question, and I will certainly get back to him.
Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital, elevator
Mr. Penikett: I will ask a question which requires no detailed knowledge at all. I wonder if the Minister can confirm that the outside experts he brought in to keep Yukoners away from the hospital construction project actually designed a hospital elevator that was too small and had to be redone?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There was a change order to the actual elevator, but change orders are fairly routine in large contracts. The Member opposite, of course, was in charge of the government when it had terrible cost overruns on various projects - projects that were out of control, according to the all-party committee, known as the Public Accounts Committee, which did the special report on capital projects, as I recall.
Mr. Penikett: That is extremely interesting. I wonder if the Minister, though, could confirm this simple fact that has been reported to us, namely that the elevator designed by his outside experts was actually too small to accommodate a stretcher patient. Can he confirm that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will get back with the details about it. I know that there was a design change to the elevator. These change orders occur in large projects. The issue is really whether or not we will be on time and within cost in building the hospital. If we are, then we will have done much better - much, much better - than the previous administration did with the horrendous cost overruns on numerous projects that had numerous change orders.
Mr. Penikett: My colleagues over here look forward to the day, not too many months in the future, when they too will be able to stand in the House and say how much they have improved things since the old days of the Members opposite.
The record shows that the Minister has brought up his outside experts to redesign the hospital so that only outsiders can build it and he has just now mentioned change orders. I wonder if the Minister would be prepared to table a legislative return listing all the change orders since the new hospital construction project began, also showing the impact of such changes on costs and the building schedule.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are certainly always prepared to provide that type of information and we will see what can be done to develop such a legislative return.
Question re: Ibex Valley, commercial land applications
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. The Minister was at a meeting the other night of the Ibex Valley area residents to discuss three commercial land applications before his department relating to land in that area. There was some discussion about the zoning requirements in that area and the Minister said he would review the matter and get back to the hamlet council.
Has the Minister determined whether the three spot commercial uses to which the three outstanding land applications relate are permitted under the Area Development Act regulations?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: One of them is in front of the Lands Application Review Committee, and as I said at that meeting, it has been put on hold until the regulations are completed. The other two have not come before LARC yet.
Mr. Cable: The issue, of course, was not what the Minister just related. The issue was whether in fact the spot commercial uses are permitted under the Area Development Act regulations. The Minister indicated at the time - and this was a few nights ago - that he was going to determine for the residents whether the spot commercial use is permitted. Has he had an opportunity to do that, and if so, what conclusion has he reached?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: No, the department has not come back to me with a briefing. The land development people will also be at a meeting on Thursday to talk with the people in the Ibex area.
Mr. Cable: One of the other issues that was brought up the other night was a perceived difference in the way in which land applications were being processed. In the past, there was some indication that applicants had to go to the Ibex Valley council first to get either its approval or its advice that the application was acceptable. Has the Minister recently instructed his department to handle the three land applications that were discussed the other night in a manner different from previous land applications?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have instructed the department to go to the Ibex area with anything they are trying to do to change the regulations in that area.
Question re: Alcohol and drug strategy, confinement of pregnant women
Ms. Commodore: My question is to the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services and is with regard to his alcohol and drug strategy.
Following the ministerial statement announcing his alcohol and drug strategy and FAS/FAE plan, the Minister made statements to the media. He said that his suggestion of putting pregnant women in jail if they will not stay sober was made to see what the public's reaction would be. He said that he was surprised that there was no reaction from First Nations. Can I ask the Minister what he meant by that? Why did he single out that specific group?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Firstly, there is a mistake in the premise that I ever said that we would put anyone in jail under the proposals to prevent FAS/FAE.
We acknowledge that, should the department go to court for an order from a judge regarding certain actions that the court might order for a person to prevent FAS from occurring and that person disobeyed the court order, she would certainly be liable to be brought back for contempt of court proceedings. We have never said that we have the power to put people in jail.
Ms. Commodore: It was a suggestion that I heard on CBC Radio.
The Minister also said, at that time, that he knew of one community where 70 percent of the children were affected. Since he appears to have substantial information on one specific community, can I ask him if he has implemented his FAS/FAE plan in that community?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Once again, and perhaps not surprisingly, I have been misquoted by the Member opposite. This government has said that there are some communities in the Yukon where special-needs children comprise as much as 70 percent of the school population. The government has never said that it had a handle on just which students had FAS or FAE, or the children who are affected with that syndrome along with other disabilities, to bring them in to the special- needs category. At this point in time, there is not a survey that provides a precise number on the number of people afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome in any of the communities.
Ms. Commodore: I can let the Minister know that there is one specific community in his riding that is very upset about being singled out as the community with a problem. The Minister has also said that his department is making arrangements for mothers to get help from healing centres. I would like to ask the Minister what he has in his budget for the use of those healing centres. If the Minister says that people are going to be using the centres, how much is he willing to spend on the centres?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If the Member took the time to review the FAS/FAE proposal that is in the package, it proposes working with women who are at great risk of having FAS/FAE children during the term of their pregnancy.
In some circumstances, arrangements would be made to find alternate housing for the mother, and possibly for other members of the immediate family, in order to get that person away from a dysfunctional drinking situation during the term of the pregnancy. These arrangements will be made on a case by case basis. There is no global program that simply sends money to healing centres without there being a specific service provided.
Question re: Health ministers meeting
Mr. Penikett: I, too, have a question for the Minister of Health. According to a press release from the British Columbia government, the provincial and territorial health ministers from across Canada are meeting today to discuss and prepare a response to the federal budget. Given the discussions that we had during his budget about the position the Yukon government would take concerning the deep cuts the federal Liberals were making - cuts that put the future of medicare at stake - could I ask the Yukon Minister why he has chosen not to attend this meeting?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: When the time of the meeting was being determined - and it was not finalized until quite recently - it appeared as though we would be in our budget session on Health and Social Services. I was not prepared to make arrangements to commit to going to a meeting when it looked as though we would be in the midst of our budget. We made arrangements for the deputy minister to attend, and he is attending. We decided not to make last minute changes and go to the expense of my attending as well.
Mr. Penikett: The host Minister has described this conference as being one to deal with the urgent concerns of the provincial governments about the recent federal budget. As the Minister knows, that is to cut medicare, higher education and Canada's social service net. Indeed, the B.C. Minister has said, "Ottawa has retreated on medicare, cutting support for universal health care right across the country. It is important that the provinces and territories remain in close communication during this critical time." Does the Yukon Minister not share this sense of urgency, as articulated by his colleagues?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Certainly, I do. We discussed the concern about cuts at some length during the budget debate. We have our senior administrator attending the conference, and I will be in communication with him. Certainly, we will be supporting reasonable actions on a common front with other ministers.
Mr. Penikett: I have been to many ministerial conferences, and it is rare for a deputy minister to speak with passion or political conviction on a political question such as the future of medicare.
Given that I note the agenda includes a number of items, among them the Kwiya Commission's recommendations about the blood system, physician resource management, and a master agreement for the management of Canada's blood supply, as well as the National Forum on Health, will the Yukon take a position on each of these questions? Will the positions become public?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We have worked with ministers across Canada on these issues. One of the items on the agenda is an agreement with the Red Cross regarding the manner in which the Red Cross relates to the handling of blood and the blood agency. Our petition regarding the issues, as they are finalized in Vancouver, can be made public.
Question re: Airport safety
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader has no doubt heard that Transport Canada has decided to reduce fire protection at a number of airports, including the one at Whitehorse. The coverage will now be reduced to one fire truck and one firefighter.
Have either the Government Leader or the Minister responsible for transportation formally protested this move to the federal government by way of a letter that can be tabled in the House?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have not tabled a letter on it yet. We were assured that, with the new equipment, no more would be required. The department is now looking at where we should go from there.
Mr. Penikett: Given the importance to public safety of this question, I find the Minister's answer very confusing. The federal government is saying, in essence, "Let us reduce our costs, because the chances of an aircraft crashing are minimal." However, as the firefighters have been pointing out, this is like saying, "If you have not had a fire in your house, let us cancel the fire insurance to save money". I would like to ask the Minister if he could tell us, in plain English, if he agrees with the position that has been taken by the federal government, or does he support the position taken by the firefighters on this matter?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I would have to look at their proposition to see what new equipment includes, and a few other things like that, before I make a decision.
Mr. Penikett: That is very interesting. It does not matter how good the equipment, there is obviously a limit to how much one person can do. This Minister should certainly know that.
I am sure that all Members regret the Liberal gag order to silence employees, or to order employees not to discuss this very important public safety issue; however, since, as I understand the proposal, Whitehorse is going to be reduced to one firefighter and one firetruck per shift, which I am sure many citizens will not find sufficient to suppress fires and save lives at the airport, is the territorial government still prepared to proceed with devolution of this service on these terms?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: There is not doubt that it will be discussed on those terms. If devolution had been completed, we could make our own decisions about it.
Question re: Historic Resources Act
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Minister of Tourism. It appears that we in the Legislature, particularly in the Opposition benches, are not the only ones who believe that the proposed changes to the Historic Resources Act are the result of a rushed consultation process. The Yukon Historical and Museum Association in a letter today expressed firm opposition to the two key features of the proposed Yukon Party amendments: the clauses dealing with the designation of historic sites, and historic objects. Is the government persuaded by the association's arguments enough to withdraw the proposed amendments?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I just received the letter this morning. I have not had a chance to look at the letter in detail. It is interesting that it seems that letters go from YMHA to the Opposition before I get them. The letter arrived at my desk; I have not had an opportunity to look at it. I understand that it is a three- or four-page detailed letter, but I will have a very serious look at the letter and the concerns expressed in it.
Mr. McDonald: I have had a chance to read the letter. It only took me about a minute to do that.
I remember hearing on the radio, just after 12 o'clock, an interview by a representative from YMHA on the subject of the response to the Historic Resources Act, so the Minister should not be too surprised that this is already in the public forum.
The Minister will know that a chorus of First Nations and the YMHA have expressed serious concerns about the consultation being rushed. In fact, some have charged the government with failure to respect the land claims agreement. Will the government be respecting the umbrella final agreement and be providing First Nations sufficient opportunity to respond to the proposed amendments?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, we will be providing consultation, as is required under the UFA.
Mr. McDonald: I am sure that there will be many people who will be very appreciative of that change in government policy.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not the government has considered program support to encourage the owners of private heritage property to maintain their buildings in good condition and to leave the property in vintage condition, such as that which exists elsewhere, particularly in the field of property tax breaks, et cetera - measures that are employed in other jurisdictions to further the protection of heritage property?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There is already a program within the heritage branch for upgrading and working on heritage buildings, but I remind the Member that I believe that in many cases those types of bylaws are municipal bylaws, which can provide for grants-in-lieu of taxes for heritage-type facilities.
Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital, construction
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services about the hospital construction.
I heard the project manager, James Graham, on the radio this morning saying that the general contractor for the construction of the new hospital will be a manager, not a builder, and that he will be managing the construction. I would like to ask the Minister why it did not say this in the prequalification specs that Cabinet authorized and were advertised in the paper.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The scope of the project and the details required were all set out in the ad.
Mrs. Firth: They were not set out in the prequalification ad in the paper. It said nothing in that ad about the contractor being required to be a manager, and not a builder, and that he would just be managing the construction. In fact, it said that one had to submit proof of experience in acute-care hospital construction. There was nothing in that ad about the contract being for a manager and not a builder, absolutely nothing. I would like to ask the Minister how an ad can say one thing for prequalification, and then the project manager, in an interview on the radio, can say something entirely different from what the ad was requesting.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We get quite used to incorrect information being bootlegged into the preamble of the Member opposite when she asks questions. Firstly, of course, she said that the prequalification tender and the ad in the paper were not in compliance with the rules, and she was wrong about that. She is stating that the person on the radio this morning said that what was required was a manager, not a builder. That is really a misrepresentation, a gross one, of what the gentleman said. I heard the interview, live on the radio. The people who tendered had sufficient information upon which to base their tender. This is simply another red herring being dredged up by the Member for Riverdale South.
Mrs. Firth: Of course the Minister knows he is wrong and, if I had enough time in Question Period, I would read out the whole prequalification, just to point out to the Minister that it says absolutely nothing about the contractor they were looking for being a manager rather than a builder. I have Mr. Graham's comments here, in black and white - a transcript of the interview this morning, saying that we should put the general contractor into some kind of perspective. It does not say anything about that in the prequalification. The general contractor should use his own forces to do the general contracting work, which people normally think a general contractor does. Then he goes on to say, "The general contractor we are looking for is a manager rather than a builder. He is managing the construction and that is why we feel he has to have lots of experience and understands what has to be done."
Cabinet approved this. Why is the prequalification specification different from the interview and the requirements of what the general contractor was supposed to do? Why are those comments given this morning different? The companies that bid had no idea that they were being used as a manager and not a builder. Why is there that discrepancy?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The Member opposite is just clearly flat-out wrong, as she normally is when she asks questions that involve these kinds of issues. As a result of her cross-examination and legal expertise during Question Period about a week ago, we even went to the trouble of having an outside legal opinion prepared on whether or not the rules had been followed. That opinion came back, that, yes, the rules had been followed. We have no doubt in our minds whatsoever that the prequalification notification and ad are perfectly within the rules we operate under. She is just flat wrong.
Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital, prequalification of contractors
Mrs. Firth: I will wait to get all of this information that the Minister is standing up and spouting off about here in Question Period today.
I want to ask the same Minister a question about the same prequalification specifications. Since there was nothing in the prequalification specifications indicating how much local hire or local purchase was going to take place, and Mr. Graham said this morning that, apart from the business incentive policy, there was nothing else that the government could do specifically with respect to local hire or local purchase, how can the Minister stand up and tell Yukoners that they are going to get the majority of the work on this job, when the government has nothing to substantiate that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The majority of the jobs and the work thus far have been done by Yukoners. The use of a general contractor from outside of the territory is certainly not unique, and I can provide Members with all kinds of examples where this situation occurred under the previous administration.
We have every reason to believe that most of the work under phase 2 of the hospital will go to Yukoners. In that, it is not unlike the circumstances when the federal building was built by PCL. Other examples are when the Thomson Centre was built with the general contractor being from Alberta, as was Yukon College.
Mrs. Firth: The first part of the contract went to a Yukon contractor; that is why there were Yukoners working on the job. Nothing in the prequalification tender indicates how much local hire or local purchase is to take place.
Mr. Graham has said that all the government did was to give the business incentive program to contractors who had qualified. Yet, the Minister constantly stands up in the House saying that the government has reason to believe that most of the work will go to local people. I want to know what those reasons are. Yukoners want to know. How does the Minister substantiate that claim?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Like most issues such as this, it is a matter of common sense. One relies on the experience of previous large contracts in the Yukon; one looks at what occurred with the building of, for example, the Andrew Philipsen building, Yukon College, the Thomson Centre and the federal building. One looks at the package of incentives that was available then and what is available now. Most anyone who looks at the history would agree with us in saying that we have every reason to expect that most of the people working on the site will be Yukoners.
Mrs. Firth: So, it is just history and common sense - no facts to substantiate it.
The James Graham contract was to provide overall project management for the construction of this hospital. In respect to the contractor that is now going to be hired to be a manager, rather than a builder, can the Minister tell us what the reporting relationship is going to be? I understood that Mr. Graham was going to be the project manager, and now we are looking for another manager. Who is going to be responsible for the management of this project, and what is the reporting relationship?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There is an attempt here to simply twist the facts and be as illogical as possible - I guess that is deliberate - to confuse Yukoners and to try to create a political issue. The prequalification was for companies that wish to qualify to bid on the project as the general contractor. Those that have been selected will be bidding as the general contractor.
A large part of what a general contractor does, in a situation such as this, is to manage all the subtrades and coordinate their work on the site. In a situation where the general construction portion is small, in comparison to the subtrade portion, the general contractor devotes a lot of time to managing its subtrades. There is nothing unusual about this, and nothing strange, devious, or otherwise. It is a straightforward situation where phase 2 of the hospital construction job is going to involve a large percentage of subtrades and not a lot of general construction.
There is still a firm bid, which will emanate from the successful bidder, that will include the costs of the subtrades. The successful bidder will have to ensure - in order to ensure that that person makes money on the project - that all of the various components and subtrades are managed in such a way as to build the hospital, from the builder's point of view, as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Question re: Ibex Valley, commercial land applications
Mr. Cable: I have some further questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services about his meeting with the Ibex Valley area residents last week.
In the first round of questions, the Minister indicated that he was going to send the applications to the Ibex Valley council. Will the decision that will come from the council be treated as advice only, or will the Minister be accepting the decision?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I am very glad that I had meetings so that the Member for Riverside can produce some questions.
It would depend a lot, of course, on whether or not their recommendations are reasonable and just what the recommendations are. Knowing the people out there, I am quite sure that they will be reasonable.
Mr. Cable: The Leader of the Official Opposition said that the Minister took a shot at me. He should not do that; we were at the same meeting together.
The Minister is saying, in a long and roundabout way, that the application going before the council will result in advice, not a recommendation that will necessarily be accepted. I will pass that on to the appropriate people.
The Minister also indicated that he would be giving assistance on the preparation of a community plan. Can the Minister confirm that he will either be seconding his staff or providing some cash for the preparation of the community plan?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I guess I had better not take any more shots at the Member for Riverside. He is getting a bit mean and becomes a lawyer in order to confuse things.
I said that we would be looking at all those things. My people will be out there this Thursday. Perhaps the Member for Riverside will be there again so that he can come up with some more questions.
Mr. Cable: Now we have the Minister telling us that there will be some support for a community plan. At least, I hope that is what he was saying.
Could the Minister tell us why these three applications - actually, judging by his answers in the first round, they are down to two - are being processed before the community plan is being brought into place?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: My understanding is that that is what the Lands Application Review Commission is for: it is so that anyone can put in an application and a decision will be made as to whether or not they can go into that area. In this case, they are being put on hold.
Question re: Legislature, fall session
Mr. McDonald: I have been in a number of communities in the past few weeks. So far, the most often-asked question is when the next election will be held. The Government Leader was behaving in a rather cagey manner when he was asked about the introduction of a new budget before the next election. Does the government intend to have another full legislative session to debate budgets and other legislation, beginning this fall, before the next election?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said last Thursday, if the Opposition does not speed things up, we will still be here this fall, so we will not have to worry about whether or not another session is called.
Mr. McDonald: Why is the Government Leader so unable to commit to a fall session before December when there are still 18 months of his mandate available to him?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I also did not say there would not be one. I did not say that at all. We have been here some 64 days already - the longest session in the history of the Yukon. We have still not completed the budget, and the Opposition is worried about the next session.
Mr. McDonald: This is our life. We love this business. We love representing our constituents, and we are looking forward to the next opportunity.
Given that, if history is the judge, this session will wind up within the next month or two or three, will there be a fall legislative session to debate the budget for the next fiscal year and other legislation before the next election? Will there be a fall legislative session?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I know that the newly acclaimed leader of the NDP is anxious to get into the trenches and to fight the next election, but perhaps we should get this legislative session finished with first, before we start worrying about the next one.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the 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. We are dealing with Bill No. 3.
Bill No. 3 - Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Department of Renewable Resources - continued
Chair: Is there further general debate on Renewable Resources?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have some information for circulation in response to questions that were posed on Thursday.
Mr. Harding: I was reading the Blues from Thursday, April 6, today. I was looking at some of the debate between the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister of Renewable Resources. I read the comments of the Leader of the Official Opposition concerning a meeting that he had had with Mr. Mayr-Melnhof and Mr. Bernd Schmidt, who, it was clear in the presence of Mr. Mayr-Melnhof, was working as a development officer. I also asked a question about the general manager of the three outfitting areas - in some sort of umbrella organization over these three areas. I have also had conversations with Mr. Mayr-Melnhof where all of these issues have been thoroughly discussed, some of it on the record, some of it off the record. Some I would like to repeat, but I cannot repeat everything.
There are some very unusual business arrangements here involving these particular areas. This is further complicated by a document that was given to the department a couple of weeks ago regarding Safari Adventures, signed by Bernd Schmidt, on behalf of Mr. Fritz Mayr-Melnhof.
I certainly felt that there must be some authenticity to this document, because I am aware that Mr. Schmidt has been talking to some First Nations about Mr. Mayr-Melnhof's operations under the umbrella organization of Safari Adventures. Also, I have spoken to Mr. Schmidt twice. Once he asked for a meeting with me and he came to the legislative offices. He phoned me a couple of weeks ago, as well, to ask me when I was going to respond to this document, which he had sent to me. He had also distributed this document to the Yukon Fish and Game Association and the department, as well as others. I certainly thought that there was some authenticity to this, given the close relationship I thought existed between Mr. Mayr-Melnhof and Mr. Schmidt.
I was wondering what the department found out when they were given this document. I have read the comments of the Minister on Thursday, where he said that he was having Justice look into it and that it may not be authentic. He was raising questions about its accuracy.
I wonder, given that the department has had this for a couple of weeks and that outfitters who are involved in these arrangements have obviously complained that they had no knowledge - according to the Minister's comments - what the Minister can tell me about this particular document and what he can tell me about Mr. Schmidt's and Mr. Mayr-Melnhof's involvement in it.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The department was going to determine the authenticity of the document and also whether there has been some sort of contravention to the Wildlife Act because of the document. In fact, the department had referred it to Justice.
Since then - as of 8:30 this morning, I believe - I received a letter from Mayr-Melnhof. In that letter, he does say, "Please give a copy of this letter to Mr. Hoffman, and if you consider it appropriate, please feel free to also give a copy to Mr. Harding," which I will do. As Members can see, this is a very bad facsimile, so I am waiting for the original. I will give a copy of it to the Member opposite. Meanwhile, I will just read one paragraph.
"Mr. Schmidt is not the general manager for the Safari Adventures, nor is he an employee of that company, nor its development officer..." Then it has in brackets, "(not withstanding that he signed a March 4 letter to Mr. Harding as Safari's development officer)".
"In this regard, Mr. Schmidt apparently took it upon himself, without Safari's knowledge or consent, to represent himself as such.
"Neither I nor Safari signed the operation manual or any covering letter by which the document was sent to any government person or anyone else. Apparently such letters were signed by Mr. Schmidt for me, using my name without my knowledge. Furthermore, neither I nor Safari have accepted this proposal, nor is it something we will implement."
There is quite a bit more to the letter, which I will pass on to the Member.
Mr. Harding: That is alarming. I know that there would be some sense on Mr. Mayr-Melnhof's part to dump his close relationship with Mr. Bernd Schmidt, given the fallout that occurred with this letter. I had one of the outfitters who was involved in one of these arrangements with Mr. Mayr-Melnhof phone me on Thursday night, and he told me that, in fact, he has taken civil action against Mr. Schmidt. When I responded that Mr. Mayr-Melnhof has said to me and to Mr. Penikett in the past that he does own and control the territories and has considerable weight on what decisions are made in those territories, he said, "Well, Fritz likes to play his games."
I get more and more confused as each piece of information is dumped upon me and I pass it on to the government. I certainly feel that there are some questions. If Mr. Schmidt had no relationship, why was Mr. Mayr-Melnhof entertaining a visit with the Leader of the Official Opposition in the company of Mr. Schmidt, where they expressed, clearly as employees, according to the Leader of the Opposition, a discussion about the outfitters in the territory.
Mr. Elliott, one the 51-percent owners of a territory, as far as I am aware - from what I have been told - is no longer going to be with Safari Adventures or involved in an arrangement with Mr. Mayr-Melnhof in the coming few months. He may work through this hunting season, but I am told that that may be the last of his involvement. I have heard first-hand from Mr. Mayr-Melnhof some very interesting comments about the three people with whom he struck up these arrangements.
I am not coming at this issue from Pluto. I have talked to just about everyone involved in this situation. It is amazing the number of outfitters with whom I have spoken who say to me that they are against the particular arrangement that is going on and that they think it is a great thing that I am raising it and they want me to continue. Of course, the Yukon Outfitters Association is of the view that this should not be looked into, because even though things are already happening, they think the situation may become worse.
I do not prescribe to that position. I think that if it is already happening we have to look into the situation, wait for the outcome of Charter challenge and whether or not we can improve our laws to strengthen them, or whether or not there are things that Yukoners may want us to do. I am not going to buy the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil approach to this problem.
I do know that this is of a lot of concern to Yukoners. I was just in three different communities over the weekend, and certainly everyone that I spoke to who follows the Legislature raised the issue with me. There is a panel that the Yukon Fish and Game Association is trying to start to discuss and explore the issue further.
I have a problem with the way the issue has developed. It is unfortunate, because I know that a couple of the people who are involved in these arrangements are very worried about the money that they have involved in the arrangements. They have told me that they own their areas, but no one has ever shown me any of the deals that they have. All that I have seen is a share registry that says 49 percent belongs to Fritz Mayr-Melnhof and 51 percent belongs to Mr. X. There have been seven Mr. Xs during the last three years in these three territories. This causes me a bit of concern.
I would like to see the arrangements that the people have with Mr. Mayr-Melnhof so that we can find out just who actually owns and controls them. If one can have the rug pulled out from under them and can be manipulated because of their financial arrangements to the degree that their decisions are influenced greatly, then that person is not in control. It is rather like a bank manager saying he owns the bank. He is responsible for the day-to-day running of the bank, but that does not mean that he actually owns the bank. The responsibilities he is given are the ones deemed to be his responsibilities by the bank. This is a somewhat analogous situation.
Given the conversations I have had with Mr. Mayr-Melnhof, and the ones the Leader of the Opposition has had with him, and the information that has been provided to me by Mr. Schmidt, this issue has really heated up. I really feel for the people involved. The other night, a person phoned me up and was very upset, worried about losing a lot of money, and was also worried about the publicity that has come from this. I can certainly understand that, but what I want to do is try to get to the bottom of this issue. I am not out for blood. Basically, I just want to see what the arrangements are, then find out what our legal position is - that may not be done just with a legal opinion - and find out if perhaps our laws need to be strengthened to protect residency and local control of the wildlife resource.
There is a difference between foreign ownership and foreign investment, and I acknowledge that - I always have. When there are control mechanisms built in - either through the financing arrangements or the financier being able to pull the feet out from under the resident - I find that questions are raised. I do not know the details of what is happening with Mr. Elliott. However, I have heard from insiders in the industry - very good sources - and from people like Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Mayr-Melnhof, who are right in the deals, that something not very pleasant went down there. So, I am concerned about how this issue continues to unfold.
It is interesting news that the Minister gives me today, that Mr. Mayr-Melnhof has totally removed himself from Mr. Schmidt, and Mr. Schmidt is finding himself - at least, according to one person - at the end of a lawsuit. It continues to carry on.
I am interested in the Minister's response to the overall confusion surrounding the agreements, and if he is interested in seeing the precise financing arrangements to find out what kind of control is there. I do not feel confident enough that this is actually the 51/49 percent ownership split that is registered with that game branch and the corporate registry.
I would also point out to the Minister that, two weekends ago, I was in First Choice Video looking at hunting videos, and I came across a video about hunting in the Yukon and B.C. On the back, it said Fritz Mayr-Melnhof takes you through his outfitting and hunting territories in the Yukon. I rented the video.
It named Safari Adventures, and there was a promotional video of a fellow in Germany receiving his brochures of the three areas Safari Adventures has some association with. It talked about the three hunting preserves in the Yukon. It showed Mr. Mayr-Melnhof's Austrian home - a huge mansion - with himself outside sighting in a rifle. It was an interesting promotional video.
It confused me even further about what was going on in these side-deal financing arrangements. The only side deal I have seen so far I told the government about last year, which clearly set up a relationship whereby there was a total control mechanism for the non-Yukon resident.
I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments about the confusion and information that has come down on this particular issue.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would just like to straighten out one point. I attended the meeting of the Outfitters Association in Haines Junction a week ago Friday. The outfitters are very supportive of having the Fish and Wildlife Management Board review this whole Mayr-Melnhof situation. They are not opposed to it at all. In fact, if we are going to talk about making the outfitters' qualifications somewhat more stringent because of the possibility that section 89 of the Wildlife Act may be in contravention of the Canadian Charter of Rights, the outfitters would also support that, and they would like to have some input into how we go about setting these qualifications. I want to make the point that the outfitters are very supportive of us taking this whole thing to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board.
Regarding this film that the Member is talking about, I have a copy of it, and I have watched it a couple of times. However, Mr. Melnhof claims that he is a broker, and that he solicits European clients for the outfitters. He does claim that any outfitter could use his services on a contractual basis if they chose to. One of the outfitters phoned me - it was not to do with Mayr-Melnhof - there is another outfitter in Yukon who owns a 49-percent share of one outfitting concession, and fully owns another one. I think that the Member opposite had spoken to him. In fact, I saw him sitting up in the gallery here one day. He phoned me and offered to bring in the financial arrangements that he has made with people. I told him that I was not interested.
Again, the Department of Renewable Resources has absolute control over the outfitter. Wildlife management is where our interest lies, not on where an outfitter gets his money to buy an outfit. I do not believe that they have to show the share ownership when they get their outfitters' certificate. They do have to show the share ownership and directors of the company, but where they borrow the money is really none of my business.
Mr. Harding: With all due respect, the Minister's position is totally ludicrous. He is telling us that he does not care if the share registry and ownership are legitimate. Nothing else is his business. He just accepts what the share registry states from whoever is applying for the concession certificate licence. If that is his position and he accepts that this information, which could not be accurate or correct, is beyond reproach, then there is no point to the whole exercise of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board investigating it.
If there is some suspicion and evidence, even of something minor, the act has provisions for the Minister to investigate it. I believe that if there is some question, it is the business of Yukoners, who own the wildlife, to find out precisely what the details are. The law was written for a reason. It is Yukoners' business. It is not a business that sells shoes; it is one that harvests public wildlife.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: The Minister of Tourism totally misses the point. I do not understand why the Conservative government would write a law and then say it does not really care about whether or not the information provided to show accordance with that law is accurate. That is our business. If the investigation into the arrangements is going to show none of this, then it is not going to be an accurate or fruitful investigation, and the issue will continue to be raised by me and by others. I guess time will tell.
Let me also say that I spoke to the gentleman that the Minister was referring to. He offered to show me his side arrangement - this is Mr. Andrews of Devil Hole - as long as I agreed to keep it confidential. I had a good discussion with Mr. Andrews. He was quite upset about the publicity surrounding his territory. I told Mr. Andrews that I had phoned Kevin Olmstead in California two or three weeks ago and asked him about his relationship with Mr. Andrews. He told me that he was a partner and an owner. He told me that, and I have the record of the call from my office.
When I raised it in the Legislature, I heard Mr. Olmstead say on CBC Radio that he had no financial connection at all. I then talked to Mr. Andrews on the phone. Mr. Andrews told me that he did indeed lend him the money to buy the territory, but that he had 100 percent of the shares, he had total control and that Mr. Olmstead could not yank the rug out from underneath him. I am pretty confident, in a cursory sense, that Mr. Andrews has control of his outfitting territory and cannot be unduly influenced by outside investors to do things that otherwise would not be consistent with the spirit and the intent of the Wildlife Act.
I have had lengthy, detailed conversations with a number of outfitters about this, but that is what Mr. Olmstead told me. He may have just been talking off the cuff and likes to tell people that he owns a territory in the Yukon - I do not know. Maybe that is what Mr. Mayr-Melnhof likes to do, too, but I do know that Mr. Mayr-Melnhof told me that he paid for the entire area that Mr. Ostashek sold him. He told me that.
I could swear to that. I know what is going on here, and I think the Minister does too, but for him to say that it is nobody's business when the vice president gets on CBC and says that Mr. Mayr-Melnhof is a silent partner and that he, himself, has total responsibility over an area in which Mr. Mayr-Melnhof has said to me, anyway, that he has considerable control, then I find it is the public's business, because the harvesting of wildlife that is at issue here is a public resource. If there are no problems with the side arrangements for the financing, then what is the big issue? What is the problem. Why should the public not see them? They will show ultimate control. They will show the terms and conditions. The deal that I showed to the government last year that was offered to one Yukoner was clearly full and total control by a non-Yukon resident.
That should be of interest to the Minister. If he does not share that view, then this is not going to be a fruitful exercise with the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. If it is going to be totally controlled by the Outfitters Association, then again it will not be a fruitful initiative. I would like to see some First Nations and some resident hunters involved in this as well.
Let us not forget that the vice president of the association has an arrangement with Mr. Mayr-Melnhof himself, and he is undoubtedly going to go out there to try to protect his investment or his arrangement. That is going to be his driving interest, and he may feel it is perfectly legitimate. If I knew the arrangement, I may feel it is perfectly legitimate, but the agenda has to be clear to the Minister.
All I want to do is get to the bottom of it, understand what the arrangements are and be sure. If someone can go on the radio and say they have no worries about the arrangements - silent partner or just a banker - why would anybody object to the Minister and the public seeing the arrangements?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think that we are confusing two issues. The one issue is the control of wildlife in the Yukon. I believe that the Yukon has greater control over its wildlife harvest than any other jurisdiction in Canada. The government continues to monitor the actual harvest. The First Nations and resident hunters have been very cooperative in providing information for us. The government will continue to monitor and keep absolute control over the management and harvest of wildlife.
The government is preparing a letter to send to that board, asking it to take on this task. I have spoken to the chairman of the board who has indicated that the Fish and Wildlife Management Board would be interested in doing so, and I guess this issue will be discussed, I believe, some time this month at its meeting. I believe the Fish and Wildlife Management Board will formally accept the task. The government will support whatever methods are necessary for the board to acquire information, such as public hearings or public consultations. As well, they will receive whatever they want or need from us and whatever they want and need from the Yukon Outfitters Association - I believe the association is going to cooperate fully with them - and certainly, Renewable Resources will cooperate fully with the Fish and Wildlife Management Board.
I think that possibly that board's inquiry into this whole situation should, when it is completed, shed a little more light on to what is happening and whether or not there are any contraventions of the Wildlife Act.
Mr. Harding: It disturbs me that we would write a law that was clear in spirit and intent, then stand by while the law was circumvented, and say we could cover it off in another way. If that is happening, it disturbs me.
For me and a lot of Yukoners - who have expressed total agreement with me - this starts with three areas. There are 21 in the Yukon. If we do not put all the cards on the table and find out what we want, we will have the same situation as has occurred in B.C.
I will read a few excerpts from an article in the Vancouver Sun, dated November 26, 1990. The headline is "Rich Foreigners stake claim to B.C.'s Wildlife". It says, "They are rich, influential and almost certainly male. They live in the U.S., Germany and Austria, and they exert influence over wildlife inhabiting vast and remote areas of B.C. Unknown even to wildlife branch officials, they are the faceless foreign businessmen who pay up to $1 million for the best guide outfitting areas. They hire B.C. nominees, or frontmen, to work their areas." Some of the people who work the areas may, over time, have a deal to acquire a percentage of the shares, and they may feel this means ownership but, in the meantime, is that consistent with the Yukon law?
People always ask the difference between a lead-zinc mine and wildlife. This question is also asked in this particular article, and it says, "Part of it is highly emotional, confirms Bruce Voth, conservation officer in Fort St. John. British Columbia belongs to British Columbians and Canadians, and why should we allow foreign ownership in something like hunting rights. But Archibald Lang, owner of the Yukon's Watson Lake Hotel and president of Turnagain Holdings, a vast guiding area in northern B.C. near Lower Post, cannot understand opposition to foreign ownership." He goes on to say why there would be resentment.
It goes on, "However, Mr. Lang agreed foreign investment could also have the effect of inflating the value of a guiding area." I guess that is what it comes down to for me. We lose a bit of control over the resource, and it becomes a rich man's game. It is a vicious circle of investment. The outfitters - the people who really love the business, and I know all the people involved in the industry love the business; many have been in it as guides and wranglers and worked their way up - want to do this. It is a lifestyle they like, but they do not have the money - because guides do not make a lot - to buy these outfitting territories.
Along comes someone with big bucks. The person selling the area knows the kind of money they are talking about. A few years ago, who ever heard of $800,000 for an outfitting territory in the Yukon?
It has now been reached. What these outfitters are faced with, in order to get into the outfitting business, is to make arrangements with someone with big bucks. All that does is exacerbate the problem, because the price keeps going up and up and up. It is good for existing outfitters who want to sell their territory, but it is not very good for Joe Yukoner who wants to get into the business.
After all, what are you buying? You are buying a publicly granted privilege to guide non-resident hunters. You are buying some cabins, some horses and some equipment, and very often little else, except the blue sky that sits over top of you, and you cannot buy that. Is that really worth $800,000? It is, if the return is there. You have to shoot one hell of a lot of moose, caribou, sheep and grizzly to make that money back. The problem with the control is that that kind of pressure is going to come from the foreign investors. Sure, they may be hunters, and they may be interested in coming along on the odd hunt, but they are buying that outfitting business to make money. You can book a lot of hunts, sheep hunts and caribou hunts for $800,000.
I just want to say that to the Minister. That is where I am coming from. That is where a lot of Yukoners that I spoken with are coming from. That is where the Yukon Fish and Game Association is coming from. That is where the resident hunters and the First Nations people, who call me from all over the place to talk about this issue, also feel very strongly about it. That is the bottom line.
I think Yukoners have to deal with the question. I do not think we can hide behind our existing laws and say that if we challenge them or if we look at them, they will be struck down. I think perhaps we must turn the rocks over and find out precisely what we have, what we can do and what we cannot do. Based on that, Yukoners will decide what kind of outfitting industry they want. I think that is fair and democratic and that is the process I would like to see.
Chair: Is there further general debate on Bill No. 3?
Mr. Harding: I am disappointed that the Minister did not have it in him to respond to that, but I am getting used to that.
I would like to get into the issue that I asked the Minister about the other day - or, the one that I have been asking about for a long time, and that is the issue of the forestry policy. The Minister has put out a document detailing the Yukon government's involvement in this forestry policy. I was asked by the media for my comments on it. I said that I had not had time to read it. Then I read it, and found out that it did not take me long to read it.
I did not really criticize that because I am glad that the government is starting. In some ways, I am disappointed - given that the Minister told us on February 8 that three departments were working on forestry policy - that this was the extent of the work that had been done and that there was very little, in terms of potential position taking, in the document.
I would like to ask the Minister how he sees this document - which does not really go into much detail and does not really pose much in the way of position taking or the direction the government wants to go - turning into a comprehensive, made-in-the-Yukon forestry policy. I see a major gap between a comprehensive policy and the document the government has tabled.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The departments have been working for some time. The departments have collected quite a lot of background information. The framework document is an outline of what we are going to do and how we see a consultation process being developed, the things we want to look at and so on.
We have been in touch with First Nations and the CYI to initiate a dialogue. We have been in contact with some of the key stakeholders and interest groups. What we have to do is establish a complete consultative process, and that is what we are doing.
What some people are forgetting is that the federal government is still totally responsible for forestry in the Yukon. The reason we did not involve people specifically in forestry policy in the past is because, under devolution, there is a fund that would provide, I believe, $150,000 to actually develop our policy and legislation. We were hoping to access that funding.
Now that devolution is not going to take place this spring, we felt that we should go ahead using our own resources. Consequently, we have two people - one from Renewable Resources and one from Economic Development - who are devoted to the development of policy. It is going to take quite a lot of consultation with the various stakeholders and interest groups. It will be a lot of work. That is where we are now, and that is all that the framework document was intended to do - to lay out how we see the process of policy development going ahead.
Mr. Harding: That is a change from what the Minister said on the radio on February 8. Has he ever seen a transcript of that interview he gave on the radio? I have referred to it many times. Has he ever seen a transcript of what he said about forestry policy, how it was going to happen, and how much detail was going to go into it? Has he ever read that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I cannot recall; I probably did at the time. I may very well have seen it back in February, but I do not have a copy of it. I do not recall exactly what it says.
Mr. Harding: Does the Minister know that he said he was going to develop some clear definitions of approach toward this particular policy development? Does he know that he said he was going to develop a comprehensive, made-in-the-Yukon forestry policy?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is exactly what we are doing.
Mr. Harding: Where is the beef in this document? How is he going to do that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The document outlines the strategy actions, and that is exactly what we are going to do. It is a long process. There are probably things that will come up in the consultation that we do not have written here. That is the idea of consultation - to find out what all the issues are. I am quite sure that we will when we get around to speaking to the public, the stakeholders, interest groups and so on. There will be all sorts of things that people will want to see in our comprehensive policy.
Mr. Harding: For something of a detailed nature such as this, there is usually a discussion paper - a white paper - a clear identification of options put to the people, with an explanation of existing practices and potential pros and cons. That would be what I would call a comprehensive position paper. I do not want to be too critical of this document, because I am tickled that the government has finally put something on paper that we can start to work with. However, I am critical, in that there is not really much here to show us any vision of where the Yukon government might like to go in terms of forestry. The government has been very careful in this document not to take any position on any of the major issues out there, and to make no comment on existing situations.
How do we bridge that gap? The Minister is chuckling about something - perhaps he could tell me.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I get a kick out of this. If we had put in the Yukon government's position on several of these items, I am sure the Member opposite would be saying, "What do the people have to say; why do you not ask the people; why are you doing it here?" I just cannot believe that he is over there now, saying, "No, you should not come out with just asking the people; you should develop your position."
The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment is having a forestry conference in, I believe, June of this year. It will be providing information to the people. We will be talking to specific stakeholders. I would expect that, after some of these initial consultations, we will issue a discussion paper - a sort of what-we-heard kind of paper - and then probably - we have not outlined the process down to that detail - the whole thing would culminate in a conference, perhaps eight months or a year from now.
So there will be full opportunity for input, with the proper papers and position papers available, when the time comes.
Mr. Harding: Some positions can be issued, and the people can be asked what they want. They are not mutually exclusive propositions.
It is clear that, in education, for example, the government wants to move ahead with increasing standardized testing. They could put that in a questionnaire, and could also put in that questionnaire what the practices are in the schools right now and they could ask people if they agree with the government.
But they are not doing that. They are pushing ahead.
In forestry, the Minister has told this House that he is against raw log exports. That is not in the document. He has told us that he supports a moratorium on new commercial timber harvest permits. That is not in the document. So he has taken positions, and there are others, that could have formed the basis of a discussion. It could ask Yukoners if they agree and would like a change in policy, or it could pose questions to Yukoners. They do not have to be mutually exclusive propositions like every other consultative process this government undertakes, with standardized testing in the schools a prime example.
Does the Minister understand that concept?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I understand the concept. We have chosen not to use the particular method the Member is talking about. There are some very broad, basic principles laid out in the paper, and it is our feeling that we want to get input from all of the stakeholders, interest groups and First Nations, and that is what we will do. When we have input, it may very well be that we will put out a discussion paper for the general public and there may very well be a large conference. We will be providing a lot of detailed information to the various groups during the consultation process.
I am somewhat disappointed that the Member opposite is not in favour of our framework for the government's involvement in forestry. I thought that he would have been supportive of the consultation process, but he obviously is not supportive of any process that this government puts in. That is his prerogative.
Mr. Harding: I am sorry that I hurt the Minister so. If he were listening, he probably should have heard that I am glad that the Minister has finally put something on paper. What I would have liked to have seen is the Minister go a little bit further by explaining what is happening in the forest situation right now.
One of the things I hear from the Southeast Yukon Forest Association all the time is about the amount of misinformation and ignorance about what is really happening in the forest industry in the Yukon. There is no real beef in that area of the document and there is no beef in the sense of enlightening us as to what the Yukon government's position has been thus far.
The government undertaking a consultative process is not my criticism. It is something that I have been requesting on forestry issues for a number of years, since I have been in this Legislature. The Minister should not feel too hurt by my comments and I do wish him the best of luck in moving this process along. I do not think he should dawdle on it.
Speaking of another process that seems to be a dying a bureaucratic death, could I ask the Minister about the issue of outfitter quotas?
I will back up a step. In February 1993, I obtained a transcript of the former Minister, who was talking about outfitter quotas. He did not see them coming that year, but he certainly saw them in the next year. He was quite convinced that they would be here in the near future and that they are needed, because of the umbrella final agreement.
I know that last year, in January and February, the government paid for a task force to talk to Yukoners about outfitter quotas and to make some recommendations. I read a detailed summary of their findings in the Yukon. That was over one year ago. I have heard nothing about it since. I now hear the Minister say that there is a discussion paper about outfitter quotas and possibly two more to come.
Given the Government Leader's stated comments that he is against outfitter quotas, I just wonder when we will see them. I had a conversation with the Fish and Game Association last week, and they are very interested about when they will see quotas, as well.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The outfitter quota committee has a final meeting scheduled for the middle of this month. The intent of the meeting is to complete the drafting of its recommendations. That will then be submitted to the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board.
The papers I was talking about the other day would include the final two papers. My understanding is that one paper is complete and it is only a matter of the completion of the other two: one on moose and the other on caribou, I believe.
Mr. Harding: So let me get this straight. The Minister says that the outfitter quota committee has to give some further consideration to its findings. Is there the same makeup on this committee as the travelling group that visited the various communities throughout the territory? The reason for my question is that some of these people have been removed from the Fish and Wildlife Management Board.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I will have to get the names of all of the members on that committee, because I am not certain whether or not changes were made since it was first struck.
Mr. Harding: It is an important point, because the membership of the board has changed and I am interested to see if people, such as the former co-chair, Sonya Stange, who was on the outfitter quota committee, are included in the group that is still considering these propositions. If there has been a break in continuity, that will be an issue with me.
Now the Minister said that this subcommittee of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board has to report back to the full committee with its recommendations. Am I correct? Is that what the Minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That was not a subcommittee of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. This was an ad hoc committee that reported to the Minister, but they are submitting their papers to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board.
Mr. Harding: This board was constituted over a year ago and the Minister has told me that he is going to tell me who is still on the board. What is the reason for the length of time taken to report the findings?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Apparently, committee work was on hold during the late summer and fall, pending attendance of the Yukon Outfitters Association, which had been occupied with field operations during that period. A meeting of the committee was held on November 28. Final recommendations from the committee will be forthcoming. This is an older note, and we have actually received some of those recommendations.
The summer and fall last year were busy for some of the people, so the committee had to hold off on its meetings until the summer season had ended.
Mr. Harding: What does the Minister think about having this issue go from the ad hoc committee to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board? Is he not convinced that recommendations of the ad hoc committee would be well enough conducted and would have to be subject to further review?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We are required to pass anything to do with wildlife management through the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. That is one of the reasons. It is a legal requirement. We also want the board's input on anything to do with wildlife management.
Mr. Harding: It is my understanding that, in the past, the Fish and Wildlife Management Board has made some recommendations about outfitter quotas and has discussed the issue at great length. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure whether or not they have made recommendations with respect to outfitter quotas; I have not seen any notes on it. We do have a legally constituted board under the UFA, so I think that it is only proper that the Fish and Wildlife Management Board review this in some detail. There is a legal requirement for us to give them that opportunity.
Mr. Harding: I would like to see them review it too. I would only point out that the Minister seems to pick and choose when he wants the board to consider things. With the game farming regulations, he said it was good enough to have a subcommittee letter from the former co-chair Sonya Stange. That constituted a consultation under the UFA, regardless of CYI's position, which felt quite differently about it. In this case, he feels that perhaps they should have a go at it. Perhaps they should have had a full go at game farming regulations, as well. Perhaps the subcommittee should have had an opportunity to report back to the full committee and to arrive at some solid, full conclusions.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do have to point out to the Member opposite that the outfitter quota committee is not a subcommittee of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. It is a committee appointed by the Minister and it is to report to the Minister and provide information to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. It is not a subcommittee of that board.
Mr. Harding: I am aware of that, but there were members of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, such as both the co-chairs, on the outfitter quota committee. I do not understand the logic behind making such a huge distinction. If the principle is that the Minister wants the Fish and Wildlife Management Board to have a full look at this in all situations, and to be in accordance with the UFA, then perhaps he should have done that with the subcommittee, with the Fish and Wildlife Management Board reporting back to the full committee on the game farming regulations. Perhaps he should do it with the ad hoc outfitter quota committee, which had members of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board reporting back to the full board with regard to the quota system, if he wants to be consistent. I am not always sure that he wants to be consistent.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know if I should even bother responding to that. The outfitter quota committee is nothing more and nothing less than an ad hoc committee. The committee is providing recommendations, which will go to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. I do not see anything wrong with that process, and I do not see why the Member keeps harping about it.
Mr. Harding: Go ahead. Go ahead and send it to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. I am simply pointing out that with the game farming regulations the Minister did not see the need for the full committee to report on the findings of the subcommittee of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. So, the Minister is not being consistent, whether it was an ad hoc committee or a subcommittee. I pointed out to him that the ad hoc committee on outfitter quotas had members of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board right there. If the Minister wants to send it to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board from the ad hoc outfitter quota committee, he should go ahead and do it. It is a good idea. He did not do it with the game farming regulations and he received a very scathing response from the Council for Yukon Indians. If he thinks that is okay, then I guess that is how he runs the department.
Mr. McDonald: I have some questions for the Minister about the abattoir project. I wonder if the Minister could please give us an update on what is happening.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I understand that the Yukon Agricultural Association applied for funding through - I believe there are three departments involved in the infrastructure funding, but I think it is headed up by the Department of Community and Transportation Services - the infrastructure program, but the decision has not been made about which projects are being funded.
Mr. McDonald: I understood the application date closed in mid-February. Why has the decision not been made?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I understand there is supposed to be a meeting of the departments involved. I am not sure when that meeting is to be held, but I am quite sure it has not been held yet. That is when decisions are made on the projects.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister will know that there are a lot of people watching the government's and the department's response to the abattoir project. There was a lot of talk a couple of years ago that this government was the only one that could really put the abattoir project together, and what a laugh that commitment was.
It has been fairly obvious that the abattoir project itself has been scaled down quite considerably, but it remains underfunded unless there is a commitment through the infrastructure funding program.
It has been a couple of months since the deadline closed. Why would it take a couple of months for the steering group to get together to actually consider the applications?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Community and Transportation Services is the lead department in infrastructure funding projects. A note I have here states that they have received 24 applications under the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program and that presently these projects are being reviewed internally. I do not know where it stands now. I believe there is supposed to be a meeting to actually approve or reject several of these fairly shortly, but again I do not know the exact dates.
Mr. McDonald: Can he give us some indication of the total value of the 24 applications under this program? Are we looking at an application coming forward from the Yukon Agricultural Association that is going to compete with millions of dollars' worth of other proposals in different applications? What is the likelihood that the Agricultural Association's project will be positively received? Can the Minister tell us anything at all?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No. I do not know about any of the other projects. The only one I know of that is included for sure is the abattoir. My note does say that the project applications exceeded $5 million. I do not know anything about the other projects.
Mr. McDonald: As far as the Minister is concerned, does the Agricultural Association's proposal fit the criteria of the infrastructure program?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe it would fit the overall criteria.
Mr. McDonald: Obviously then, if it is rejected it will not be because it does not fit the criteria. It may be rejected because there are other applications that have, in the committee's mind, greater value. Can the Minister tell us who is on the decision-making committee?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I will have to get that information and provide it to the Member. I am not sure at this point.
Mr. McDonald: I would appreciate that information coming back.
Does the Minister have a sense of what the total cost of the project would be for the construction and operation of an abattoir? Does he have a breakdown of what the realistic funding sources would be?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There were at least two different studies. We do not have the information on it here. My understanding was that the application that went to Community and Transportation Services under the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program was one that had gone forward before. I believe that the facility was just under $1 million, but I do not know what the ongoing operational costs were. I can get that information and provide it for the Member.
Mr. McDonald: I would like a full breakdown of the costs of the proposal.
Does the Department of Renewable Resources regard the proposal as realistic and acceptable?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Department of Renewable Resources is committed to the abattoir project, but one of the qualifiers is that there must be documented industry support, as well. I believe that the department said about one year ago that it wanted to see the industry provide a commitment for the ongoing operation and maintenance and for the upfront capital funds, which would be, I believe, 10 percent of the cost of the project.
Mr. McDonald: The government's position is that all of the operation and maintenance costs associated with the abattoir should be the responsibility of those operating the abattoir and that the government will have no part in providing even initial operating costs for this project - is that right?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, that is right.
Mr. McDonald: Is the project that has been identified before the Canada/Yukon infrastructure committee considered to be a viable project? Is it an appropriate-sized project? Has all the proper research work been done? Does the government believe this concept of an abattoir is acceptable, and that if the basic capital comes together through the federal program and from industry, it will indeed support this proposal?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The studies that the Agricultural Association conducted, with assistance through the renewable resource portion of the economic development agreement, indicated that an abattoir could become self-sufficient in a five-year period. The Agricultural Association documented the method that it was going to use to pay for the subsidies of the operation from the end of construction until it became self-sustaining. This was outlined in various reports. That is the information that has gone to the Canada/Yukon infrastructure funding group.
Mr. McDonald: I appreciate that information, but the question is specifically about the proposal put forward by the Agricultural Association. I recall some discussion about the possibility that the abattoir, as conceived by the Agricultural Association, would not be self-sustaining for the initial startup period.
The Minister just indicated to me now that the government is not interested in an operating subsidy of any sort, even for that initial operating period. At this point, is the proposal being put forward by the Yukon Agricultural Association acceptable to the government? Does it believe it to be a realistic proposal for the industry? Does it also contain the elements - in terms of cost-sharing arrangements - that the government would find to be acceptable?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, I have not seen the current application. I have seen other applications, and I believe this is one of the old ones, but I have not seen the actual application that has gone to Community and Transportation Services. I do not know, but I expect that application to contain how the association expects to pay the ongoing operation and maintenance costs. That has been a requirement of government.
Mr. McDonald: I am a little surprised the Minister has not seen the application. Both the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and this Minister had committed to personal involvement in the development of the abattoir over a year ago. I would have expected the Minister to have a handle on the current incarnation of this particular project.
I would bet any money that the department has seen it. What is the department's view of the project? Does it meet the guidelines the Minister has just enunciated with respect to its viability and funding allocations and responsibilities from both the private sector and through government?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As far as I know, the director of the agriculture branch may very well have seen the application, but there has not been any word or reminders from that branch to me or the deputy minister.
To get back to what the Member first said, I would like to point out that the government's commitment at the beginning of the project was to find some land to assist the Yukon Agricultural Assocation, which the government has done. The government has reserved Lot 563 on the Hot Springs Road. There is still some more work to be done on that, but the government has reserved that land. The property has access to power and water. I am not sure how many acres the parcel consists of, but I believe the total size of the property is around 160 acres - it may be a little less, perhaps 140 acres. We have reserved this parcel of land in the name of Community and Transportation Services for agricultural infrastructure.
That was my initial commitment when I was the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and the department has fulfilled that commitment.
Mr. McDonald: I will come back to the land issue in a few minutes. I would point out to the Minister - and the Minister will remember this - that the Minister sitting in the House right now committed to us that this project would get off the ground, no matter what, because the Minister was going to become personally involved. Frankly, one year later, we do not know whether or not we have the land or the funding tied down. We do not know the status of the application, even though it was submitted a couple of months ago, or if the application meets the basic criteria that the Minister has just enunciated.
We do not even know why the committee that was supposed to review the applications under the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program has failed to meet to approve the projects. There are a lot of things that we do not know. That is quite disconcerting for someone who takes the Minister at his word, from his newsletter - I do not have a copy of the Minister's newsletter here, but I am sure he is familiar with it - that the government has a commitment to the abattoir project.
So, I make the points. I do not want to belabour the general stuff too much, but I will reserve most of my remarks for more general discussion about whether or not the government supports the abattoir project in reality at all. Perhaps, I will reserve those remarks for later. Right now, I am just trying to get the basic information on the record - where everything stands and what the current situation is.
Is there a standing instruction from the Minister that if the agriculture branch notices that the project put forward by the Yukon Agricultural Association does not meet the basic criteria - in the Minister's words - the bell will be rung and someone will try to deal with any existing problems prior to a funding committee deciding whether or not an application will get the green or red light? Are we confident that, because the Minister has not heard from department officials about this application, that there is probably nothing wrong with it from the government's perspective?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There are a couple of things. The Member says he does not believe me that the land has been committed. I just ask that the Member call lands branch and ask about it. If he does not want to believe me, that is his problem. Nevertheless, the land is committed - Lot 563.
The Yukon government is committed to the support of the abattoir as long as there is demonstrated industry support for it. Last year, we did tell the Yukon Agricultural Association that it would have to come up with 10 percent of the project costs. I am not sure how that works with the Canada/Yukon infrastructure funding agreement, but if the criteria can be met - whatever that may be - then the Yukon government remains committed to the project. There is no question about that. We have said that we will remain committed to it, and we will.
Mr. McDonald: I frankly do not give a hoot whether the Minister says he is committed. I am asking detailed questions to find out whether or not he and his department are in fact committed to the abattoir project. I did not say anything like, "I do not believe the Minister did not commit Lot 563 for the abattoir project." I did not say that at all. I said that I have doubts about the government's commitment to the abattoir project generally. I have serious doubts about the government's commitment to get personally involved about the -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: Just one moment. That Member will have a chance in a couple of seconds.
I have doubts about the government's commitment to this project, generally, after the Ministers themselves indicated that they were going to get personally involved. Their personal involvement is in a project about which the Minister does not have a clue as to what is happening.
If the Minister wants to get down and dirty and chippy, I will do it right now.
The Minister of Renewable Resources, the Minister responsible for agriculture, does not know, after two months of the government sitting on an application, the first thing about this particular project. He does not know whether or not this project meets the criteria that his colleagues have established for support for the abattoir. He does not know, after two months.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
The Minister kibitzes once again that the people have not brought this particular project application to him.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: That is the point. The Minister then kibitzes, "Why should they?" That is a good question: Why should they? They deliver the project proposal to the government and I am certain they let the Minister's own department know what the project involves. Let us be clear about something. Not everything has to go before the Minister's eyes. The Minister has a department, and that department should be able to evaluate the project.
What is going to happen if a project does not fit the criteria the Minister has just mentioned? It will be turned down and we are going to be waiting another year listening to this claptrap about wanting to support the abattoir project. This is after umpteen applications. One project application went forward that had a lot of apparent support from a lot of different people.
The project seemed to be supported by the Minister's own department, at a public meeting, when the details were exposed. Then, we come into the House to find out that it is not acceptable at all. It is not considered a viable project, nor a realistic one. It does not contain any of the elements that would cause the Yukon Party government to provide the financial support. What happens to the project? The project's funding sources collapse. We are then forced to think about other funding sources.
If I were a proponent of the abattoir, I would be downright annoyed about this Minister's involvement even in the last eight months. I will get a lot of questions on the record with respect to the specifics.
Does the Minister's department know about the application? Because there has been no communication to the deputy nor the Minister, does that mean that the current application, on the record, is acceptable to Renewable Resources, as far as its funding allocation is concerned, and as far as its basic project viability is concerned?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think the Member opposite is talking claptrap. I think that is his word. Those Members talked about it for years and years with no commitment whatsoever and no commitment for land. The Yukon Agricultural Association went through 80-some pieces of land, trying to find a piece of land. We made a commitment. There is some funding in the Renewable Resources budget. We have committed up to $200,000 toward the capital cost of the abattoir, again, depending on industry support. We have committed the land, which the Member does not seem to want to believe. As far as I know, the application has been accepted by the agriculture branch. It is not up to Renewable Resources to approve the Canada/Yukon infrastructure funding projects. That is another process. The Yukon Agricultural Association has applied through that process. Those projects will be reviewed in due course.
Mr. McDonald: I have talked to the proponents about the NDP government's commitment to the abattoir, versus the Yukon Party's commitments, and I can tell the Minister - and the Minister can take it for what it is worth, although he does not seem to be listening very carefully - that they are much more upset with the Yukon Party government than they were ever upset with the NDP government on this project.
The Minister indicates that the Department of Renewable Resources probably thinks that this project is satisfactory, that this project proposal put forward by the Yukon Agricultural Association is a viable project, and has also got its funding sources down right, as far as the government is concerned. Is that correct? Is it the department's position that this project proposal is a viable project?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The proposal that has been put forward to the Canada-Yukon infrastructure program is the same proposal that was put forth in 1990 or 1991 - I am not sure which. I am making the assumption, because it was an acceptable project at that time, that it is acceptable now; however, I will provide that information for the Member opposite. If I am in error, I will correct it, but I believe that is the case.
Mr. McDonald: I appreciate that commitment. I know the Minister will understand that I do not want this line to clear until I have the information. I am not prepared to clear general debate on Renewable Resources until we get the information. We will just keep on working this proposal through. The Minister will get back to me with respect to information about whether or not the Department of Renewable Resources regards the proposal as being viable.
Can the Minister give us a breakdown of the project proposal funding, and where the sources of funds are proposed to be coming from, in order to make this project proceed?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I already committed to providing that information, 15 or 20 minutes ago.
Mr. McDonald: I do not recall him making that commitment. If he did, I apologize. Again, I do not want to clear Renewable Resources until we get it.
The Minister said that the $200,000 is a commitment from the Department of Renewable Resources. Is that in any budget proposals at this present time?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is $50,000 for this year, but we did commit that if the project were to go ahead we would find an additional $150,000 before the completion of the project, so that we would have an overall commitment of $200,000.
Mr. McDonald: If the Minister had indicated that his government was prepared to advance $200,000 toward the abattoir project, why did it not put $200,000 in the budget for the abattoir? Why did it put in only $50,000?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We were not sure if the abattoir project was going to go ahead. I think that there was $200,000 in the budget the previous two years, and that money lapsed. We put in a lesser amount, but we said that if the project went ahead we would budget in following years for the remainder.
Mr. McDonald: I am just going to check on the claim that the abattoir project was in there for $200,000 in previous years. I just want to make sure that we get all our facts straight as we go through this matter.
That does not explain why there was $50,000 in the budget for the abattoir. The Minister has indicated that the $200,000 total would be for the capital costs associated with the abattoir, because it was taking no responsibility for the operation of it. I do not understand why the Minister would have identified only $50,000 unless his government had planned to use that money for something other than the capital construction of the abattoir. I mean, either you spent $200,000, or you do not spend anything, as I understand it. Maybe the Minister can correct me.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We wanted to keep the project on the books. When the budget was put together, we were not sure if the abattoir would go ahead. It was likely that $50,000 would have paid for the design, if it did go ahead, and the remaining $150,000 could go into the following year's budget.
Mr. McDonald: Last year in the budget, there was $50,000 for the abattoir, not $200,000. I will check the budgets from previous years to find out if they were for $200,000. We will check that figure.
The Minister is saying that the reason they did not have $200,000 in the budget was because they were not sure if the money would be spent in that fiscal year and were reserving the budget for the following years - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is more or less correct. I stand corrected, but there has been money in the budget for the project for about the last three years. It has never been spent. We put $50,000 in with a commitment to the Agricultural Association for up to $200,000. If the project were to go, probably $50,000 would pay for design work.
Mr. McDonald: Could the Minister tell us when this capital budget was developed and when the funding proposals went from Renewable Resources to Finance? When was that decision made?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure of the exact month, but it was likely in August 1994.
Mr. McDonald: So, in August 1994, the Department of Renewable Resources did not have confidence that the abattoir would be built before March 31, 1996, and consequently felt it was not necessary to put the extra $150,000 into the budget - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Just before that, the Agricultural Association had lost its commitment from, I believe, the Community Futures Committee. We wanted to keep the project alive if it was able to resurrect it in one way or another. We put $50,000 in, which could very easily provide for the design. If they were able to come up with the additional funding and required it in the 1995-96 year, we could possibly have looked at some other method. It seemed likely that the design would happen in 1995-96 and construction would occur in the following year.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister is aware that the project is already designed, is he not?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding was that there would be quite a change in design. The association was looking at several different designs.
I do not know if it had an actual design or just a concept design. I do not know if it has a detailed design. The note here states that the design is based on the cost of the facility and equipment in a 1991 study carried out by a consultant, with additional costs built into it for consulting engineering and so on. If there was a design from 1990 or 1991, there definitely would be changes to it.
Mr. McDonald: Just for the record, the 1993-94 estimates show a proposed expenditure for the abattoir of $1.00. The next year it is $50,000, and this year it is $50,000 again. I would like to know why the department would have proposed $50,000 last year for the abattoir and $1.00 the year before. That is all water under the bridge, and people can draw their own conclusions about those funding commitments and the reasons for them.
The Minister has indicated that the $150,000 would be sought through a supplementary vote. Was the commitment for $200,000 clearly expressed to the Yukon Agricultural Association when members of that association met with the Minister in December 1994?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know if it was expressed in the December meeting. I have had several meetings with the association president and secretary, and I certainly expressed the commitment at one or more of those meetings. However, I do not know if I expressed that at the meeting in December.
Mr. McDonald: The only reason I asked was because the Minister, in responding to questions asked in the House in January, indicated that he made it very clear that there was a $200,000 commitment from Renewable Resources, and the Minister stated that he had indicated that commitment to the Yukon Agricultural Association in a recent meeting with them. I spoke with people who attended that meeting, and they disagreed with the Minister's recap of what he had told the members; in fact, they contradicted him. I wanted to clear this point up. It is not a big point, but it is worth some brief discussion.
The land question is an interesting one. Could the Minister tell us how large the lot was on the Takhini River bridge site that the Yukon Agricultural Association had wanted? I cannot remember the lot number, but it was a forest reserve at the top of the hill as one travels over the Takhini River bridge going north, on the left-hand side of the highway. How big was that lot?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I cannot recall. That lot belongs to the federal government. It is a forestry reserve lot and, initially, the Yukon government wanted to get 20 acres of that lot. Then one of the members of the Agricultural Association approached Kwanlin Dun and was trying to making some sort of a deal. I cannot remember exactly how it worked, but eventually the whole lot came into question and it was very, very large - I believe it was over 200 acres, but I do not have any information on it here. I could get back to the Member with that type of information.
Mr. McDonald: At the time, what was the size of lot that the government found to be appropriate for the abattoir? What did the government indicate to the Agricultural Association would be an appropriate lot size?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Initially, they were talking about 20 acres.
Mr. McDonald: I recall the Minister of Renewable Resources at the time saying that the fact that they had requested so much more land was something that surprised him, and actually upset him. How large is the lot that the government is currently looking at? The Minister said 160 acres. Is the whole lot going to be used for abattoir purposes or is the government going to be restricting that to the 20 acres as well?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not exactly sure at this point in time. We have reserved the whole lot. I believe it started at 160 acres, and then there is a piece taken out for rural residential, so I am not sure exactly what is left. What we want to do is keep the whole thing in reserve and then we will sit down with the Agricultural Association and with the area residents and so on and determine proper zoning for the land and exactly how much they need for the abattoir facility as well as some possible future infrastructure uses they may need.
Mr. McDonald: That is probably a sensible approach, in terms of planning for the future. Can the Minister tell us why the government might have been so concerned about the growing size of the parcel near the Takhini River bridge, if it is prepared, at this point, to consider a fairly large parcel now on the Takhini Hot Springs Road?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Our main concern was the fact that the federal government owned that particular piece of property, and it was willing to provide to us approximately 20 acres. When it got to talking about the whole piece of land - again, I cannot remember how many hectares of land that was, but it was quite a large piece of land - the federal government very quickly expressed a lot of concern about the amount of land that the association was requesting for an abattoir. This government was simply echoing the federal government's concern because it had agreed to provide us with 20 acres of that parcel. However, I do not think its intent was to give us the whole parcel.
Mr. McDonald: Was the Yukon government prepared to request the whole parcel, or was it simply not going to do that? What was the Yukon government's position?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not recall if we had actually made a formal request for the whole parcel or part of it. Again, I could probably find out that information, but I cannot recall it off the top of my head.
Mr. McDonald: Can the Minister commit to returning to us with information about whether or not the Yukon government actually requested the parcel of land at the top of the hill at the Takhini River bridge?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I can get back to the Member. For the Member's information, that lot number is 288.
Mr. McDonald: That is a familiar number - Lot 288. The Minister indicated that the federal government expressed serious concerns. Is that expression of concern documented anywhere? Are there any letters? Are there any minutes of any land meetings where federal officials indicated they would be unprepared to transfer more land for the abattoir than the 20 acres?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I was not the Minister at the time, so I do not know if there were actual letters, or telephone calls, or meetings, but we should be able to dig out the information and provide it.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there further general debate on Renewable Resources?
Mr. McDonald: Can the Minister give us the information that he committed to giving us about the viability of the funding breakdown and whether or not the federal government resisted the request of the whole of Lot 288, please?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not have the information on Lot 288. That is going to come from the department later.
Going back to the outfitter quota committee, I think a question was asked about who the members were. The members are: Sonya Stange, Chris Woodrig, Jack Smith Jr., Don Toews, Jimmy Rear, Dave Dixon, Billy Germaine and Brian Pelchat. Those are the latest committee members.
I have some information on the Canada/Yukon infrastructure agreement. The Yukon government has agreed not to advise applicants of approval or make any official announcements until Ottawa has done its review, and signed off the projects. It is actually Ottawa that has the final say. However, we will advise an applicant if their application did not get approval at the management committee level, so that they can seek funding elsewhere. The current status of the projects is that they are still being reviewed by the Yukon government officials internally. They then go to the federal-Yukon management committee, which includes representatives from the federal government, the Yukon government, and observers from the Association of Yukon Communities. After those people have reviewed them, they go to Ottawa for final approval.
The final one that I have information about is the breakdown of the abattoir. The total construction comes to $972,000. If it is broken into two phases, the first phase would be $584,150 - that would be in 1995-96. The second phase in 1996-97 is $387,935. The Department of Renewable Resources funding could fit both of those phases. There is $15,000 for revision of the tender package for 1995-96.
There is an amount for the revision to the tender package, $15,000; site development, $82,000; consulting costs, $15,000; project management and engineering costs, $65,000. The $50,000 could be used in any of those areas, with the remainder being utilized in the following year.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister indicated - to deal with the last issue first - that there is $15,000 for the tender evaluation, $82,000 for site costs, $15,000 for further consulting work and $65,000 for the management of the project. What is the balance to be used for?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I did not give a full breakdown of the amount. There is $400,000 for the construction of the facility and $7,150 for operation and maintenance costs. The application indicates that the association is asking for the whole project funding from the Canada/Yukon transportation infrastructure program. I have a form here with the total indicated on it and that total is the same as the total of the breakdown. In other words, it is $972,085.
Mr. McDonald: So the Yukon Agricultural Association has made an application for the construction of the abattoir and has omitted any reference or any need for the $200,000 from Renewable Resources - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It does not seem to be indicated on the expenditure forecast at all, and this is from the original application, I understand. It does not indicate that the association is asking for our $200,000 at all.
Mr. McDonald: There is obviously a bit of an oversight on somebody's part. The $172,000 includes some operations costs. That clearly would not be acceptable from the Yukon government's perspective - is that not correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I indicated earlier, our initial commitment was to provide funding, but we required support from the industry. Previously, we indicated 10 percent of the total project cost. When the association was dealing with the Community Futures Committee, that was also its commitment. I am not saying that we would double it by requiring 10 percent from each of us. Community Futures and the department wanted the industry to contribute 10 percent total of the total cost.
Mr. McDonald: The total amount requested from the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program is $972,000 - is that right? Is it the total amount? Did he make that clear?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, that is as near as we can figure it. It says, "total funding, $972,085."
Mr. McDonald: According to the Minister's criteria with respect to the capital contribution for the industry, this would not be seen to be an acceptable application - is that correct? According to the Minister, $97,000 has to come from the industry - is that not right?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is the way I would see it if Renewable Resources was going to be involved in the funding. I am not sure how the funding works under the Canada-Yukon infrastructure agreement. There may be no requirement, and maybe that is why the Yukon Agricultural Association has not approached the Department of Renewable Resources, because there was no question that the department was requiring a 10-percent contribution. However, I am not sure how it works under this other agency.
Mr. McDonald: Is it the Yukon government's position that, should it spend any money of its own at all - outside of this particular program - that 10 percent of the total project cost would have to come from the Yukon Agricultural Association?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, I do not know what the rules are for the Canada/Yukon infrastructure funding. I do not know if there is a requirement for an organization such as the Agricultural Association to provide some funding.
If Renewable Resources is to provide funding directly, there would definitely be a requirement for a commitment from the industry.
Mr. McDonald: If the Canada/Yukon infrastructure management committee decides that it cannot support the entire amount, but only a portion of the amount, and the Yukon government's Department of Renewable Resources or any other government department is asked to kick in to this project, the project proposal would have to include, then, $97,000 from industry - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: When we were dealing with the Community Futures Committee, where it and the department were both going to be funding this project, that was certainly the intent.
If, for instance, the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program were to provide $900,000 and the association came to us for $72,000, we would certainly have to sit down with all the groups to discuss whether or not it should be 10 percent of our commitment or 10 percent of the total Yukon commitment. I am not sure what the rules are for this program between Canada and the Yukon.
Mr. McDonald: As I understand it, if for any reason this project is not approved in full, and there is any expectation of funds coming from YTG for the capital costs associated with this project, the industry would have to come up with at least $97,000. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, I did not say that. There would be no question about the association having to come up with 10 percent of the funding from Renewable Resources. However, I am not sure what the agreement is between Canada and the Yukon on the infrastructure program. I do not know if there is a requirement under that program for the organization to come up with some funding.
If there is no such agreement - if an organization could receive the full amount with no commitment from the organization, but if it were required from Renewable Resources - then only the portion that came from Renewable Resources would be subject to the 10 percent.
Mr. McDonald: I thought the 10 percent referred to a percentage commitment from the industry toward the total cost of the project. I was not aware that the 10 percent referred to 10 percent of the Yukon government's commitment to the project. Has that always been the position, that the 10 percent would only refer to 10 percent of the Yukon government's financial commitment?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It was when they were asking for money from the Community Futures Committee that the 10 percent was required. It was 10 percent of the total project cost. It may be that we are playing under different rules under the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program, but I am not sure of that.
Mr. McDonald: That point remains unclear until the Minister clarifies it for us. I am not referring to that at all. I am trying to tie down what the industry commitment is supposed to be.
I have a question from Mr. Cable on February 8, which essentially asks the same question. It appears from the Minister's answer that the industry would have to contribute 10 percent of the whole project, and then the balance would be made up of support from various government funding programs. All this time I have been labouring under a misapprehension. I even dare to say that there are probably people in the industry who are labouring under the misapprehension that 10 percent of the project is 10 percent of the whole project.
If the Yukon government, outside the Canada/Yukon program, commits $50,000 toward a $973,000 project, the industry would have to come up with $5,000. If it committed $200,000, the industry would have to come up with $20,000 - is that right?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, that is correct now, and it may very well be that they would have to come up with more, depending on what it says in the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program.
Mr. McDonald: According to the Minister, from his reading of the note, the capital costs are $972,000. The association has requested that $972,000 so, if it is true that it must come up with some portion of the cost, already it has not acceded to the program guidelines. That is something we have already established.
In reading out the list of items that make up the total cost of the project, the Minister read out a list of items that do not add up to $972,000. Can he complete it for us, please? He has $15,000 for the tender, $82,000 for the site, $15,000 for consulting, $65,000 for management, $400,000 for construction and $7,000 for O&M. Is that it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is phase 1, 1995-96. Then phase 2, 1996-97, is installation of equipment, $252,360; completion of building facility, $65,575; project manager and engineering costs, $20,000; consultant costs, $10,000; O&M costs, $40,000; and that total is $387,935. I have not added these but it would appear to total the $972,085, or very close to it.
Mr. McDonald: In the first year it was how much, for phase 1?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is $584,150.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister indicates that the infrastructure committee will sit at some point. Can the Minister tell us when it will sit to decide this application? He indicated that YTG is still reviewing it. When is the reviewing going to stop and the committee stage going to start?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure of that date. It is the Department of Community and Transportation Services, the federal government and AYC, so I am not sure.
Mr. McDonald: Can the Minister find out from someone for me when the committee is expected to sit, please? Who, precisely, is now reviewing the application? Who has been reviewing it for the last couple of months? Which department and who in the department?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe it is the director of community services in the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
Mr. McDonald: Is the agriculture branch and Renewable Resources at all involved in it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure whether they have been involved at this stage or not. I expect that they will be brought in at some time, but I am not sure if they have been at this point in time.
Mr. McDonald: Will the Minister commit to giving me some information? There was a question put to the Minister on February 6 about this application - about whether or not the application is even realistic. The Minister indicated at the time that he had not seen the application. One would have thought that the Minister would make it his business to have someone report to him about the application.
When does the Minister feel that this application will be reviewed and when does he foresee the Yukon Agricultural Association receiving a response? Does he think it will be in the next month?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I will have to bring that information back, because I do not know when the management committee actually meets or how long Ottawa will take to approve the application. However, I can bring back the information about when the management committee meets and how long it will be after that time when the applications are sent to Ottawa.
Mr. McDonald: So the director of community services is reviewing the application. Does the Minister know if the director has finished his review? Is there more work to be done on that, or are they simply waiting for the management committee to meet?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I really do not know. The note that I received from Department of Community and Transportation Services during the break states, "... still being reviewed by Yukon government officials internally". I take that to mean that the officials still have not completed their internal review. Again, I will provide information about when they expect the management committee to sit.
Mr. McDonald: How long does the Minister expect it will take for the federal government to consider the application, once the Yukon government finishes its review?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know.
Mr. McDonald: Why is it taking the government so long to review this application?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: This is not my department, and I do not know why. All I know is that there were 24 applications that totalled something like $5 million. I do not know when the department started receiving the applications, or when the deadline is for the applications. I can get that information for the Member. I do not like to speculate because, as I said, it is not my department, and I do not know the exact dates.
Mr. McDonald: I do not want the Minister to speculate either. I just want hard information, otherwise we are wasting our time here.
The Minister is laughing. Is there a reason for that? I do not understand. Is the Minister saying that the questions are a waste of time? He is nodding - I would like that on the record, if he does not mind. Is he saying that the questions I am putting to him are a waste of time?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have indicated several times that I am not responsible for this particular project and that it is in a different department. I have indicated that numerous times. The Member keeps asking me questions. That is okay; I will try my best to get a response for him. However, I do not quite understand why he did not ask the appropriate Minister at the appropriate time.
Mr. McDonald: The only place this comes up in the budget is in the Department of Renewable Resources capital estimates, page 92. We are in the Department of Renewable Resources. I did ask these same questions of the Minister at the beginning of February. If the Minister ever wanted notice for a question, I would think that two months' notice is pretty good timing.
I am not being pigheaded about insisting that the Minister provide the information off the top of his head. I only want hard information, and if the Minister has to go and get it, that is fine. We are in the Department of Renewable Resources; there is a department of agriculture; we are talking about an abattoir that is used for the agricultural industry - this is the time.
The Minister has described the land at Lot 563 on the Hot Springs Road as being approximately 160 acres. The Minister indicated previously that this was a previous agreement for sale and it is now being kept for the abattoir project. Can the Minister tell us something about the consultation that is taking place with respect to the land itself? Is there general agreement now that this land is going to be the site for the abattoir?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding from the Department of Community and Transportation Services is that the Yukon Agricultural Association would - if it wants to take advantage of this particular piece of property for the construction of an abattoir - have to contact the neighbourhood and get a rezoning of the land from agricultural to something like agricultural infrastructure.
The lands branch - I saw the reservation - has reserved the land. I am pretty sure that it said "reserved for the Department of Community and Transportation Services for agricultural infrastructure", but I do not know how much would be dedicated to the abattoir and how much would be dedicated to vegetable storage or some other type of infrastructure.
Mr. McDonald: The position is that the Yukon Agricultural Association is responsible for bringing the public on side in order to get the zoning changed - is that right? Is the association the lead agent?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, that is my understanding.
Mr. McDonald: Is it the position of the government that, when it comes to discussions, First Nations and the Agricultural Association will be leading those discussions?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. If there was a necessity to consult with First Nations. I am not sure if there is in that particular area. I believe that there is no First Nations land in the immediate vicinity.
Mr. McDonald: As far as the Minister is aware, then, neither Ta'an Kwach'an or Kwanlin Dun have selected any land in the area. They would not be considered, at any time in the future, to be residents or property owners in the general area.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe that Community and Transportation Services has some kind of formula. I am not sure exactly what it is, but it is a type of rezoning. Normally there is consultation with the immediate neighbours. I am not sure what the distances are. In this particular case, I do not think there is any First Nations land within an area that would be included in a consultation.
Mr. McDonald: Is the Minister including selected land or land identified for possible selection?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, but, again, I am not sure. I have not seen the most recent land selections. There may very well be some First Nations' land there, in which case the department would consult with the appropriate band; however, I do not know if there is.
Mr. McDonald: Does the Minister feel the Department of Community and Transportation Services' policy with respect to adjacent land users is consistent with that which exists in the umbrella final agreement, in terms of consultation, so that he feels satisfied that existing Community and Transportation Services policy will be adequate to the task when it comes to consultation with First Nations in the area, or with potential First Nations settlement in the area?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know what the closest First Nations land is, and I am not sure what it says about consultation with First Nations for non-First Nations' land in the umbrella final agreement, but I am quite sure that Community and Transportation Services will make sure that consultation is carried out in accordance with the law.
Mr. McDonald: Good, I am glad to hear that, but how will it work? Will Community and Transportation Services provide direction to the Agricultural Association to conduct negotiations with the First Nations or will the government take it upon itself, government to government, to undertake negotiations if negotiations are necessary?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, I do not see what this has to do with Renewable Resources whatsoever. The Member said it was in the budget, and there is some money in our budget. The Member knows full well that Community and Transportation Services was heading this up previously.
I do not know exactly how the consultation will be conducted. It will be conducted in accordance with the umbrella final agreement and in accordance with the policies and procedures that Community and Transportation Services normally uses. What that may entail, I cannot say at this time.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister did not answer the question. The question was whether or not the government would take the responsibility for discussions with First Nations, or if the Yukon Agricultural Association is supposed to undertake those discussions. Which one is it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is whatever the umbrella final agreement says. I said that the department will do it according to law, and that is all I can say on the matter.
Mr. McDonald: The last time the Yukon Agricultural Association tried to undertake some discussions with First Nations on zoning, the Minister got extremely upset and accused it of making side deals. So I want to know if it is going to be the Yukon Agricultural Association that is responsible to discuss the rezoning requests with First Nations, and the acceptability of this land with First Nations, or is government going to do it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is a totally hypothetical question.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have indicated to the Member opposite that I am not the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and I do not know what that department's processes are. I indicated further that whatever the department did it will do according to law. I do not know what those processes are and it is not my responsibility to know what those processes are.
I can bring the Member the written procedure that the Department of Community and Transportation Services will use at some point in time. If that is what the Member is looking for, I can certainly provide it.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister did indicate that he felt that these were stupid questions and pressed his mute button in order to avoid that comment getting on the record, but I would like to tell him that these are not hypothetical questions at all. If I were a member of the Yukon Agricultural Association, I would be trying to ensure that it would not be a linear process - where one decision leads to another and the project development takes place over a very long period of time. I would be out right now, in anticipation that the project is going to be funded right now, trying to get agreement with First Nations, if that were my responsibility for Lot 563.
That is not hypothetical. I am getting very close to asking for a ruling from the Chair about whether or not these questions are admissible, because this is the abattoir project. There are a number of elements to the abattoir project, including land development and access to funding. I am not going to be put off one bit by Ministers who say, "Look, this is my little window on this project and I cannot answer any questions about anything else."
If the Minister wants to find out and come back with the information, that is fine. If the Minister wants to tell me that he is going to resist answering the questions, then we will continue to ask the questions.
Can the Minister find out for us whether or not the Yukon Agricultural Association, the farmers' lobby group - the people who are pursuing this proposal - is going to be expected to undertake consultation with First Nations on the rezoning of the lot on the Takhini Hot Springs Road?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have already indicated that I would get back to the Member - I have indicated that several times - with the process. I will ask the Department of Community and Transportation Services to look at the numerous questions in Hansard and provide the Member with a response that will, in fact, uphold the law.
Mr. McDonald: I just want to let the Minister know that because I started asking all these questions in early February, I will expect these answers - they are not too hard to get, I know that - before we leave general debate in Renewable Resources. Has he been able to determine from the Department of Renewable Resources whether or not the Department of Renewable Resources considers the project application to be viable? He did not answer that question.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Apparently the agriculture branch has not had the opportunity to assess the application thus far.
Mr. McDonald: Is that not potentially quite a risky thing to do? The agriculture branch has formally seen the application for a couple of months. What happens to the project if the Canada-Yukon agreement either accepts, or accepts only partial support for, this project and the Department of Renewable Resources decides that it is not viable?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that the agriculture branch has not seen the application.
Mr. McDonald: I can hardly believe it. The agriculture branch has not seen the application for the construction of an abattoir? It was submitted to this government over two months ago. I cannot believe that. The agriculture branch has not even seen the application?
Can the Minister over dinner break just clarify that? I cannot believe it. It borders on negligence, and I do not want to make that kind of charge. Can the Minister check over the dinner break and clarify that point. It is really important - it is a big point. I will not say anything more about it. Could he do that over the dinner break, please?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, we can confirm that. My information is that they may, individually, have looked at it, but they have not received a copy of the application. I will check that during the dinner break and confirm it.
Mr. McDonald: I do not want to get into any technicalities about whether or not the applications were made formally to the agriculture branch. I want to be clear that the agriculture branch has not seen the application, whether or not it was submitted informally. If not, at what stage will the agriculture branch be consulted? Has it been consulted? Would they know about it, through consultation with another department?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I will check on that over the supper hour, because I am not certain one way or the other.
Chair: The time being close to 5:30 p.m., we will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board witnesses
Chair: The Committee has passed a motion calling for witnesses from the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board to appear before it.
Chair: At this time, while the Committee has before it the supplementary estimates for 1994-95 and the main estimates for 1995-96, I would like to welcome Mr. Bill Klassen, chair of the board, and Mr. Ron Farrell, president, and I would like at this time to also remind Members and witnesses to speak through the Chair.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am pleased to welcome Bill Klassen, the president of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, and chief executive officer Ron Farrell to the Legislative Assembly.
A number of Members requested that they attend the Legislative Assembly so that they could make a presentation and be questioned about the operations of the board. They are here tonight. I believe they have brief opening remarks, and then they will be prepared to answer any questions that the Members may have of them.
Mr. Klassen: Thank you, Mr. Chair. My remarks are indeed brief. I would simply like to remind the Members of the Legislative Assembly about the principles that govern workers' compensation matters in Canada. These are known as the Meredith principles and they were established in 1913 by William Meredith, who later became a chief justice of the Supreme Court of Ontario.
These principles are that the liability of employers for injuries in the workplace should be collective, rather than individual, with employers paying into a central fund, which is used to pay benefits to injured workers. The benefits payable to injured workers must be guaranteed in legislation.
In return for guaranteed compensation, the workers have no legal right to sue their employers or co-workers for negligence resulting in workplace injury. This is known as the historic compromise of the workers' compensation system.
The other three principles are that the workers' compensation is a no-fault system. The system should be administered by a body independent of government, with equal representation from labour and industry, and with a neutral chair. The board must have judicial-like authority for making final decisions on claims for compensation without an appeal to the courts.
The Workers' Compensation Act, which the board is currently administering, came into force in 1991, and that legislation is based upon the principles that I just read to you.
We appreciate being invited here and we will now respond to questions that the Members of the Legislative Assembly may have.
Mr. Harding: I would like to start off by calling the attention of Members to the presence in the gallery of members of the Injured Workers Alliance, under president Rob King, to observe the debate. I am sure they will enjoy an opportunity to hear first hand the Members of the Legislature exchanging some information and asking questions of the Workers' Compensation Board.
What I would like to do right off the bat is cut directly to the chase. We, as Members of the Opposition, have had very many concerns raised with us about the Workers' Compensation Board and the system in the Yukon at present and how it is serving our clients. I thank the president and the chair of the board for coming tonight to answer directly to some of these questions.
The last two years have seen a tremendous amount of negative publicity splashed on the covers of the media and on the radio about the compensation system in the territory. I would say that, in the nine short years that I have been here, suffice it to say that it has been unprecedented. There have been a lot of questions raised about the running of the board. Is it properly serving the people it is supposed to be serving, namely the workers who are hurt on the job while they are performing services for their employers.
In his opening comments, the chair of the board spoke about the historic compromise. As we all know, the principles of our present compensation system were based on the principle that workers would give up their right to sue an employer. In exchange for that, they would get a basic level of compensation that would be collectively funded by employers. That would provide certainty of care for the workers, and it would also provide some certainty of coverage and cost limitations for employers.
I will run through some of the issues that have been raised with us, so that the board hears it directly from us. Over the last couple of years, we have heard concerns that there has been too little support for workers at various levels of the claiming process. Also, we have heard that there has been too little support in the process of appeal that we have built into the act at the internal stage, and also at the stage where workers might have to appear before the board. We have heard complaints about the turnover of employees at the board, and that a lot of the workers are not happy. I know that the president of the board will probably speak about some surveys that have been done on that. Since the time I have heard of these surveys, I have heard further complaints. We have heard complaints of low morale of the workers at the board - people who are hanging on there, but are not particularly happy in their jobs. They feel they are not fulfilling what they want to be fulfilling as compensation workers at the board.
We have heard complaints that there has been excessive claim dismissal, which is exacerbated by a shift in focus away from the primary purpose of workers' compensation, which is to compensate the injured workers that are hurt on the job. We have heard that there have been cuts to accessibility to rehabilitation and care services, and that the board has cracked down, if you will, on these types of services, which are so important to injured workers.
We have also heard that contracting out of services has been hurting responses to requests from workers who have been injured, due to a lack of continuity. There is not always a consistent person in a job, so that when an injured worker comes in and responds with a concern, that person may face someone else a month or two later to deal with a particular problem. They may say that they spoke with a previous person some time ago, but the injured worker will have to refile, or provide the information again, because the person is a new worker at this particular job and is only there for a limited time. Those are just a few of the complaints that have been brought to our attention.
In order that the chair knows where we have heard the complaints, they have come from constituents; they have come from labour and business leaders; they have come from board employees - both present and past board employees. Of course, they have come from many, many injured workers, who are the clients or the claimants and who are looking for the services of the board.
I have been to the last two annual general meetings of the Workers' Compensation Board and I have witnessed the chair answering the people's questions, along with the president. It struck me that both meetings were quite similar in terms of the types of complaints, even with regard to the specific subject matter.
Following those annual general meetings, we have continued to have very negative media attributed to the board. We have had continual complaints of injured workers, which have been well publicized. I would like to ask the chair what is happening. Why is this happening? What are the chair's feelings about what the reasons for this are and what is being done to improve the situation?
Mr. Klassen: I will try to respond to the questions that have been raised. For some of them, I will ask the president to respond to the questions or points that have been made. The board that I chair and the president are certainly aware of the concerns that Mr. Harding has raised. These concerns are brought to the attention of board members directly and to the attention of the president and staff of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
There is nothing in the comments or questions that Mr. Harding has raised that is new information. The board and, I am sure, the president as well, because of the conversation that he and I and other board members have had, are at least as concerned as people outside of the organization about these complaints. I will try to go through the points that have been raised in the order that they have been raised.
Regarding the concern about too little support for workers in the period of time since the new legislation has come into force, the board has hired a workers' advisor. That was done in response to concerns that were raised during the time that the new legislation was being discussed in public meetings around the territory.
The concern was that the system was complex and not easy to understand for someone not used to dealing with it regularly, so we established the position of workers' advisor to help people negotiate their way through the system.
The workers' advisor is available to assist workers who have a claim, both to assist them at the internal review committee level when it has not been satisfactorily addressed within the system up to that point and also to assist workers when they bring an appeal before the appeal panels. We are aware that no one person will be capable of dealing with the concerns or handling the appeals of all parties, but we are confident that the workers' advisor is doing his best to assist workers.
Of course, that is not the only means of support for workers, but it is one that has been put in place within the last two years in an effort to make it easier for workers who have a compensation claim to work their way through the system and have their claim satisfactorily addressed.
There is concern expressed about the turnover of employees at Workers' Compensation. Perhaps Mr. Farrell can speak to that more precisely than I. However, my understanding is that the turnover has been approximately 12 percent. I do not know how that measures against government agency turnover. I do know that some people have left due to promotions, or to go to more senior positions than they occupied at Workers' Compensation. While the turnover is a concern for us, because of continuity in the handling of claims and other matters, as the chairman of the board, I do not think that level of turnover is excessive.
Morale is always a concern in any organization where the first consideration is the delivery of service to the client - in this case, the majority of the clients are injured workers. Some of our clients are also employers. An organization without good morale does not respond as well to its clients' needs as it should. The view of the board - and I am speaking for the board of directors - is that morale is currently very good in the organization. I was over there this morning. If morale is poor, one does not hear laughter in a place of work, and I hear a fair amount of that when I am in the building. I recognize that is only one measure of morale, and performance is another.
Perhaps the Member could indicate what he meant by excessive claim dismissal. I do not know how to respond to that, but if he could elaborate, the president could respond to that.
I will also ask Mr. Farrell to respond to the cuts in accessibility to rehabilitation.
Regarding the point about lack of continuity and requiring compensation claimants having to provide information again, I do not personally know of that happening. I do not dispute it, but perhaps that is something that Mr. Farrell could speak to.
The primary concern of the Workers' Compensation Board is to provide good service. We can always improve our record on that. Improvement of service is something that the board, including the president, strives for.
With your permission, Mr. Chair, I will turn the microphone over to Mr. Farrell and let him provide some more detail, and then we can perhaps have an elaboration or an explanation on the one point that I was not clear on.
Mr. Farrell: Perhaps I can start by speaking to the question on claims adjudication. Over the past two years, claims have become even more complicated than they were in the past. The staff has more policies and different legislation to deal with when they are considering entitlement to claims. The claims that we deal with today are different than they were when this system originally started.
In the beginning, we talked about injury by accident and it was very clear when an accident occurred. There was an event, somebody was injured - they fell off a ladder and were hurt. The adjudicator could quite easily determine that it arose out of and in the course of employment and therefore they had entitlement.
In the past decade, particularly in the last several years, the kinds of claims are more complex. The claims consist of repetitive strain injuries, occupational diseases and the kinds of claims that are not as easily adjudicated, and it takes longer to acquire the necessary information to make the entitlement decision.
Sometimes this requires gathering data from other jurisdictions. Sometimes it requires gathering medical data to determine the relationship between a pre-existing condition or a previous injury and the kinds of complexities of those different pieces of data in determining whether or not entitlement exists.
We recognize that those are difficult things and we recognize that adjudicating claims sometimes does take longer. That, together with a phenomenon of late reporting, we recognize has led to longer periods of entitlement than we would like to have, but we feel that the periods from registration of a claim to first decision are still in the realm of reasonableness and that the average time is just over 30 working days.
I know that seems like a long time, and we recognize that it is for somebody who has been injured and is waiting for a wage replacement but, as I have described, the complexity of many of these claims makes it impossible to process them more quickly.
With regard to our approaches to claims adjudication and delivery of services, we have done a number of things over the past two and a half years. Prior to my arrival, there was a creation of a client services branch with rehabilitation counsellors. In recognition of the importance of getting early assistance to workers, one of the first acts that I performed on my arrival was to double the staff - it was not as dramatic as it sounds - we had one rehabilitation counsellor and we immediately created a second position and staffed that position.
The approach to intervention is to have medical rehabilitation implemented as quickly as possible. To do that, we have created the position of an occupational health nurse, who works with the treating physicians to get medical treatment as soon as humanly possible to the worker who has been injured. We have also developed a rehabilitation centre from which we purchase services. The intent of that process is to get people into the rehabilitation program as quickly as possible, and thereby reduce the effects of the injury.
The complexity of the claims, as I said, means that these things do take longer and sometimes require a lot of data gathering with other boards, but I do not think that we in any way have reduced the number of rehabilitation services. If anything, we have increased them and are continuing to look for ways to carry out the rehabilitation more quickly.
I also want to address the question of complaints and concerns by advising that we have, in the past six months, started a process of consultation and regular communication with labour organizations and employer organizations. I meet with them on a three- to four-month basis to hear what the concerns are, to learn first-hand what they are being told and to intervene to find solutions as quickly as we can. Usually, my senior managers are involved in that consultation and they continue that dialogue after the meeting.
So, I think we are aware of the concerns that we have heard tonight and we are addressing them as quickly as we can.
I do not think I have any more to add at this point.
Mr. Harding: Just to sum up the president's comments, he said, in terms of responding to the concerns and complaints that had been raised, they had double staffed the rehabilitation counsellor position, taking the staff from one to two. He said that medical rehabilitation is implemented as soon as possible now and he said that they have a rehab centre from which they purchase services and that, if anything, the services have increased.
I guess the simple question is this: if everything has improved in terms of services, as the president says, why do the complaints and concerns seem to resonate? Can we get to the reason for why it is happening? If these things are having a positive impact, why do people still feel a real sense that the direction has drifted within the workers' compensation system? I do not want to get into specifics or into the specific items that I listed initially, but why is that feeling there and what is being done to address it?
Mr. Klassen: I am not sure that I can answer that question.
During the last couple of years - and I recognized that the employment situation, as reported in the news, has improved here recently - and during the period of time when the employment situation was more bleak after the mines shut down, there was an increase in the number of compensation claims that had to be dealt with.
That may account, in part, for the fact that there were comparatively more people seeking compensation. We were not responding, obviously, based on the complaints, as quickly as people felt we should. Thirty working days, as Mr. Farrell has mentioned, may not seem like a long time if one is gainfully employed, but if one has been injured and is waiting for a claim to be processed, it is a long time. That may account, in part, for the feelings of frustration.
Some of the complaints may, no doubt, have to do with the decisions that have been made at appeal. I do not know if that is the case. There is an appeal process that is set out in the legislation. The appeal panel is made up not of professionals but by members of labour and employers, who have been appointed, along with neutral chairs of the appeal panels, to hear these matters and to deal with them on a practical or common-sense basis.
I do not know that I can answer the question as to why there is a feeling of distress or frustration among people out there. As Mr. Farrell has indicated, we are trying to deal with the complaints through a practice of early intervention to move these cases along more quickly. If the Members of the Legislative Assembly and others besides the Members are receiving complaints, obviously we are not yet doing our job as well as we could. However, in defence of the staff at Workers' Compensation, it is a difficult field in which to work. They make the best judgments that they can based on the information that is provided to them. I believe that is all we can ask of them. I do not know if Mr. Farrell has anything to add to that.
Mr. Farrell: The only addition I have is that if we are looking at something that has changed in the past two years, it is the complexity of the business and the fact that we do have new legislation. In the past two years, we have had a very open approach to providing policy. The board produces written policy, and the policy is available. It may be related to the fact that more people are aware of entitlement under the legislation, and therefore bring forward appeals more frequently because of their more informed state.
Mr. Harding: We have very limited time this evening. I have many issues to discuss with the board, so I will keep my questions short, and I hope the members of the board will keep their answers as short as possible.
The president has stated he feels that the claims have become much more complicated, and that things such as occupational illnesses and ongoing or recurring claims are now becoming more the norm for claims, and that these take longer to process. I find that fairly difficult to understand. I have been in the Yukon for only nine years. I was involved in mining when I first came here in 1986, and we were talking about occupational illnesses. People were getting care for occupational illnesses, and care for ongoing claims.
I do not think that legislation changed that much. My question is this: what specifically is the board directing the administration to do to deal with the concerns that have been expressed? What new initiatives has the board asked the administration to undertake to deal with all of the many concerns that have been raised by so many of the client groups?
Mr. Klassen: I will try to keep my answer brief. The responsibility of the board of directors is to provide general policy direction and not to provide specific direction about how the administration is to carry out its responsibility.
Under the new legislation, the board has the responsibility of preparing legislation in all of the areas that the act speaks to. We have been carrying that out. As to specific direction, the board meets monthly, as is required by the act, and we discuss with the president the concerns that are current and matters that have been brought to our attention. We provide guidance to the president on these, but I am not sure if I can tell you specifically what we are saying to him in each instance.
Mr. Harding: Perhaps therein might lie a bit of the problem, because I am not getting a sense of comfort that there is a real strong move to address the concerns that have been raised. As a Member of the Legislature, to hear so many concerns from so many different people - who are very reasonable people - I feel that there has to be some legitimacy to them. Perhaps it might take a more aggressive effort by the board to direct the administration to find some solutions and improve the situation for the injured workers, who are feeling that things are not moving as they should be. The initiative to have further consultation meetings every three or four months is one small step that could be taken.
Let me just move into an area that I think is very symbolic to the workers in the Yukon. It has been raised at two AGMs and, I am afraid, due to the limited time, if we do not get into it, we are not going to address it tonight. That is the issue of the workers' advisor.
At two AGMs, I heard concerns and questions raised with the board about the location, role, term of employment, and accountability of the workers' advisor to the president, rather than to the workers, and directly to the board. I have yet to see anything substantive done to change that role drastically.
It must be incredibly difficult for a worker to go before the board, even though there are employee representatives on the board. To go cold before that board to try to argue a case would, for me, be incredibly difficult to do. The position that has been taken by many labour people is that the workers' advisor is indeed a workers' advocate - a purely, unabashed representative of the workers who has to have a fairly independent role in terms of forwarding the case in a reasonable fashion to the board.
Workers can get their point across with the board, because, after all, the board that is opposing the claim has all of those people working full time to come up with the arguments as to why this injured worker should not be entitled to benefits and their decision should be ratified by the board. Perhaps the chair could tell us if he is going to, through the board, be changing this position?
Mr. Klassen: I should point out that the chairman of the board has no authority to act on his or her own. The chairman is simply there to assist and lead the board in its discussions, and so on. The board certainly can take action on the concern that has been raised. The workers' advisor position was established - and it is not one that is required in the legislation - in order to assist injured workers. Initially, the position was housed in an office upstairs. We recognized - the board and the president certainly recognized it as well - that for an injured worker to come all the way through the building and contact the workers' advisor upstairs, was, all by itself, intimidating, so we moved the workers' advisor downstairs, close to the door, so that they would be readily accessible. We debated as to whether or not the position should be in an office away from the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety building, but the board concluded that because of the access that was required to the information that is in that building, and the people who are in that building, it would be to the workers' advantage to have the workers' advisor housed there.
The position of workers' advisor and the role it has been playing is being evaluated and perhaps Mr. Farrell can speak briefly to that. We recognize the importance of that position. This is the board's view and not my personal view - the board's collective view is that it is a workers' advisor position, although he certainly plays the role of advocate and represents workers before the appeal panel. Perhaps Mr. Farrell can speak briefly to the evaluation of that position's role.
Mr. Farrell: The evaluation was part of the original decision to create the position. It was created as a two-year term to determine if it would meet needs that appeared to exist. At the end of the two-year term, the evaluation was begun. Part of it has been completed. After it was presented to the board, we determined that it should be done in consultation with the users. Therefore, it is being expanded to include that aspect.
We hope to have the results of the evaluation by the summer, and to bring back to the board the question about where we go from here.
Mr. Penikett: Mr. Klassen, we have known each other for a long time, so I hope you will take my comment seriously. I cannot go into detail, because we do not have a lot of time tonight.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a senior Member of this Legislature from the other side about the number of complaints and negative comments we were hearing about the Workers' Compensation Board. I had agreed with the people who had told me they had never before heard so much negativity. It would be fair to say that, in all my 17 years in this Legislature, I had never heard so many grassroots grievances about the board.
Without going into a lot of detail, I can sum up the feeling of many injured workers. Mr. Farrell is right that some of them have been unemployed for the last couple of years, which has not been a pleasant experience. The employment situation is improving, but we still hear complaints.
There is a problem at the base of attitude, of a feeling of unfriendliness - I will not go so far as to say hostility - and a lack of sympathy for them and their situation - not just the physical injury, but also the economic plight in which they find themselves. As a former asbestos miner, I am not impressed with the argument that the claims are more complicated now or that we have more repetitive stress injury complaints - perhaps we do - or occupational diseases, because I was certainly dealing with those as a shop steward 20 years ago, and I have certainly dealt with them all the years I have been in this Legislature.
I recently had an example of a constituent who had gone, in my view, perhaps to the unnecessary expense of hiring a lawyer because he had not even had explained to him exactly what his rights of appeal were on a decision from the board. I have never had that experience before.
I would like to ask Mr. Klassen, as a policy maker, a direct question, which picks up on the question of my colleague, about the workers' advisor. Why can the workers' advisor not have the reporting relationship change so that the position would report, for example, directly to either a committee of the labour representatives on the Workers' Compensation Board or to some other outside body, which might involve a genuinely representative body of workers so that that person, rather than reporting to senior management, be free to be the untrammelled advocate of injured workers when they appear before the board, even in difficult and complex cases, because those are the most difficult ones for all of us when there are back injuries and conflicting medical testimony and so forth. Why can that not be done?
Mr. Klassen: I will answer Mr. Penikett's question about the reporting relationship. First, I would like to respond to the concern that there is more grassroots level of dissatisfaction with workers' compensation.
I do not know that I can explain it except it perplexes me that that should be the case, because some of the staff in the claims department are the same staff who have been there since before the two-year period that has been cited, so I do not know why some people now should feel that they are being treated with less than a caring attitude. Perhaps Mr. Farrell can give us his perspective on that.
As to the reporting relationship, the dilemma for us as a board - I am speaking now as a board of directors - is that, in the administration of the organization, the Crown corporation, or whatever you want to call the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board as an entity, there is a clear separation between the role of the board in providing policy and oversight investment of the fund, and so on, and the day-to-day administration of that organization.
My personal view - and I express this as my personal view, this is not something that I have necessarily discussed with other members of the board - is that members of a board of directors should not get involved - and I feel this quite strongly - in the day-to-day administration of that organization. The reason is that if it starts to mix its policy function with that administrative responsibility, you can end up in a situation that I think could become - and I speak from the experience of having been in senior administration positions myself - an untenable situation for the president of the organization where there is staff who report to another boss, but who are, for all intents and purposes, part of the staff of that organization. I think it becomes difficult for the person in that position, the workers' advisor in this case.
Perhaps we have not thought long enough and hard enough about how a different reporting relationship might be structured - again, this is my feeling, but certainly as a board we have not seen fit to ask the president to create a different reporting relationship. The workers' advisor position was established to report to the president, so that it would not be under a director and therefore even more closely supervised, as it were.
The workers' advisor, from my perspective, has a lot of latitude in carrying out his responsibility. I certainly grant you that anyone in an organization will ultimately think about who does his evaluation, but I do not think that would be any different, even if the position reported to some members of the board.
Mr. Cable: I would like to follow up on the workers' advisor. I have a potpourri of questions, and I will ask most of them on my feet. Perhaps the witnesses and the chair can respond.
I would like to find out what the main reason was behind establishing the workers' advisor. Was it to deal with perceptions or to deal with the administration of appeals? I would like to find out whether or not the board pays this person full time to be the workers' advisor, or if this person has other duties.
I would also like to follow up on the president's comments - or perhaps it was the chair's - that this person is located within the Workers' Compensation premises for administrative efficiency and why the attitude was taken that that is more important than the perception of neutrality. I would also like to find out whether or not this concept is modeled on workers' advocate concepts in other jurisdictions.
Mr. Klassen: The reason the workers' advisor position was established - and the Member has to understand that I am working from information that was provided to me after I became the chair, because the rationale was established prior to my coming on the board - was to advise injured workers about how to negotiate their way through the workers' compensation system and to assist them at appeal. It was for both assisting them with their claim and, if the claim was not satisfactorily addressed by the system - satisfactory to the worker - then the workers' advisor was also available to assist at appeal.
The workers' advisor position is a full-time position. Perhaps Mr. Farrell can go into more detail on that. The housing of the workers' advisor within the Workers' Compensation building - if I left the Member with the impression that it was for administrative efficiency, that was not my intent - is certainly so that he is more efficient, but also for the advantage of the worker. The board's feeling was that if he was on the premises and was in daily contact with the people from whom he had to seek information on behalf of the worker, it would be more effective for the worker.
As to how the workers' advisor spends his time, perhaps Mr. Farrell can elaborate because of the evaluation that is underway.
Mr. Farrell: Yes, the position was created as a full-time position and, during the evaluation, it was discovered that less than full time is based on handling appeals and that there is a great deal more that can be accomplished by the workers' advisor. In addressing the question of the model at the same time, I have had experience with a couple of different models of workers' advisors in different jurisdictions and certainly it is the board's problem to grapple with whether it should be inside or outside. It has been my personal experience that when the workers' advisor is outside the board, they do not have the day-to-day access to the files, the day-to-day access to the computer systems or the day-to-day access to the people to maintain the kind of awareness of claims processing that will help them to intervene quickly on behalf of injured workers.
I agree that a perception is created by them being inside the building, and it is one that we will have to grapple with when we look at the evaluation, I suppose, but certainly the efficiency of someone who has access to that information very quickly and can intervene and get the right decision made by someone prior to ever having to go to appeal is much more efficient, in my experience.
Having to work from outside means that one has to go through requests for access to information and printing of files and copying of files and the sending of files outside. One does not have access to the computer systems and so on, so it makes it less efficient, in my past experience.
Mr. Cable: Let me suggest to the witnesses that the perception of an arm's-length dealing with the board is much, much more important than the access to computers. I know many injured workers view Workers' Compensation as a virtually impenetrable bureaucracy. Whether or not that is true, I do not know, but it is reinforced by the fact that there is a master-servant relationship between the board and the workers' advisor, and that is spelled out in spades where the terms of reference say, "The first responsibility of the workers' advisor is to the board." So the perceptions that are trying to be eliminated by this person who is ostensibly neutral - but not really - are not really dealt with.
The Leader of the Official Opposition has suggested that this person be taken off somewhere separately, and I would like to make a representation to the witnesses that they consider whether or not this person - while being paid by the board, and I think we just established that he works full time - should be hived off into the ombudsman's office. We are about to establish an ombudsman, and it would be very useful to have this advocate as part of the ombudsman's duties.
In some jurisdictions, the various advocacy functions are now being lumped together, where the advocate is desirably at arm's length from the government. I would like to hear the witnesses' views about whether that is a function that could be usefully put in the ombudsman's office
Mr. Klassen: The suggestion is one that I will certainly take back to the board, and we will discuss it there. Of course, for that discussion, I would want to be fully aware of what the ombudsman's office responsibilities will be. My first impression is that it is something that may assist us in this dilemma over the perception that the workers' advisor is not as independent as he should be. I appreciate the suggestion, and I will take that one, along with the suggestion from the Leader of the Official Opposition about the reporting relationship to the board, and discuss them with the board.
Mr. Cable: There is a group of injured workers, some of whom are sitting here in the Legislature this evening - the Injured Workers Alliance - that may serve somewhat the same function, or there may be an overlap of function. What does the board anticipate doing in the future to communicate or liaise with this group? Is there any formal structure anticipated?
Mr. Klassen: The Injured Workers Alliance had representatives at the annual meeting. I am aware that there has been contact - or at least attempted contact - between the workers' advisor and the Injured Workers Alliance. I will ask Mr. Farrell to respond to the question about other contact.
Mr. Farrell: I have had one meeting with the president of the association, and it was on a matter apart from the association's business. I took the opportunity to question him about how the association planned to proceed, what it hoped to accomplish, what its goals are and how we might work together. I was trying to determine if the intent was to advocate for changes in legislation, to advocate to the board for policy changes or to assist workers in making appeals. We really do not have a clear picture of that yet.
At that point, I offered my assistance, if the intention is to go in one of those directions, by explaining how to best go about it. For instance, if it was the question of disagreement with a particular policy, the association might make representation to the board, because the board approves policy. As time goes on, and we have a clearer understanding of its goals, we will try to assist the association again.
Mr. Cable: When an injured worker wants to review and possibly copy the file, I gather there is a release form signed. I gather that release form prevents the use of that information in subsequent court cases. Do I understand that correctly? If not, what is the purpose of the release form?
Mr. Klassen: The purpose of the release form is to satisfy the board that the purpose for which the information is being made available is for workers' compensation purposes. Mr. Cable is no doubt aware that judicial review of the board's decisions addresses only the matter of whether or not the board has acted within its jurisdiction. Perhaps Mr. Farrell can elaborate upon the purpose of the release form.
Mr. Farrell: I am not sure I fully understood the release form that was being referred to, but if it was the release of information to a worker, who is wanting to see the information in his file, the release sets out the parameters for the use of the information. There are certain other kinds of releases that employers might ask for. If an employer asks for release of information and access to the file, then certain restrictions apply to medical information and so on. Those perhaps were different release forms that we were talking about.
Mr. Cable: That particular issue did concern me. Let me ask the question in a different way. If a worker wants to review their file, I assume they are entitled to that. Are there any restrictions whatsoever on the work, using the information taken out of the file?
Mr. Klassen: Neither Mr. Farrell nor I are absolutely certain there are any restrictions on that. We will review the legislation and provide the Member with an answer to that. So far as we know at the moment, or can recall, there is no such restriction.
Unanimous consent requested to extend witnesses' appearance
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Several Members have asked for more time with the witnesses, because they have further questions. I would therefore ask for unanimous consent for the witnesses to remain until 8:45 p.m.
Chair: Is there unanimous consent?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Mrs. Firth: I have some money questions for the witnesses. In the 1993 annual report, in salaries and benefits under administrative expenses, from 1992 to 1993 there is almost a $500,000 difference. It has gone from $2.1 million to $2.6 million. Can the president or the chair explain why there is such a large increase in cost, and could they give us a figure for today's budget, as to what the operating and maintenance budget is for administrative costs for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board?
Mr. Farrell: The board expanded to include occupational health and safety in 1992, and the cost of the occupational health and safety branch became part of the administrative expense. The actual operating costs for the branch are higher than half a million dollars, but there are some recoveries with regard to the mine safety program. That is largely the reason for the change. We have had a flat-line administrative budget since 1993, so for the past two years the budget has remained the same.
Mrs. Firth: On the review that is presently going on and seems to be spanning over a few fiscal years, could the witnesses tell us what the cost is going to be and where the money will be found for it?
Mr. Farrell: I am not sure which review is being referred to. If I can have some clarification, I can probably provide the answer.
Mrs. Firth: I am talking about the major review of the occupational health and safety regulations. The president could give us the cost of all of the reviews that are being done. We would certainly be interested in those figures.
Mr. Farrell: The occupational health and safety regulation review got underway in 1994. It was budgeted at just under $100,000. It was a Cabinet submission that actually slightly revised the original government-approved review by the previous government. That review has continued during the fall of 1994, and we hope it will be largely completed by the end of 1995, within budget.
With regard to the question about the source of the money, it will be coming from the compensation fund.
Mrs. Firth: What are the costs of the other reviews?
Mr. Farrell: There is another review underway with regard to the actuarial calculations that had been used to verify the funding position of the board and to set out a funding policy. That review will cost approximately $50,000.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to ask a question about assessments. Are they increasing? I have heard that assessments will be increasing substantially. Could the witnesses answer that question?
Mr. Klassen: The legislation, when it comes into effect, obliges the board to keep the assessment rates constant. I believe that in 1996, the actuarial review that Mr. Farrell referred to will look at the funded situation of the board. We are currently one of the few boards in Canada that has sufficient funding to cover all of our liabilities.
The information that will be coming out of that review will indicate whether or not there is a need to review the assessment rates to determine if they are at a high enough level. The fund has earned dividends at a high enough rate to allow the assessment rates to remain constant, not that we would have had a choice in the matter, in any event, because of the legislation, but as a result of that actuarial review the assessment rates will be considered in late 1995 or 1996.
Mrs. Firth: Could the witnesses tell us when the review will be complete? They made reference to looking at a funding policy. When will the review be complete and when will we be made aware of the results of the review, as Members of the Legislature?
Mr. Farrell: The funding policy requires a good deal of research and data gathering to set out various options for consideration by the board. We hope to have that to the board for its consideration before the summer of 1995.
My personal ambition is to have the board consider the options and make some decisions about the funding for the end of 1995.
Mrs. Firth: I have just one more question.
I have been reading the roles and responsibilities of the president and the board. The board has a responsibility to evaluate the performance of the president. Could the chair of the board tell me if that has been done and on how many occasions?
Mr. Klassen: The board does, indeed, have, under the current legislation, the responsibility to evaluate the president's performance. That is based on the fiscal year of the board, which is the calendar year. It was completed for the calendar year 1993, but has not yet been completed for 1994. I anticipate that it will be completed by the end of April.
Ms. Moorcroft: I believe that the Workers' Compensation Board can require injured workers to see the board's doctor and, as well, that the board can and does refer injured workers to medical experts outside the territory. The question I have is whether or not an injured woman is able to be seen by a woman doctor, if that is her choice.
Mr. Klassen: The answer to that would be yes.
Mr. McDonald: I am sorry to have to go so quickly through a number of questions. I do not have three or four questions; I probably have three or four hours' worth of questions. I am not being cute about that; I really do have that many for the witnesses.
Just briefly, I have been in the Legislature for 12 years, and I think that I have heard more complaints about the board in the last two than I have for the previous 10. This is coming from someone who has been associated with the revamping of the act and someone who has been quite involved in board policy and legislation, probably moreso than my predecessors, who did not have to do that.
I would like to say that the workers' advisor position can be located inside or outside the board building, but I think that the reporting relationship is a very important one. With all due respect to the concerns about the advisor not having access to the day-to-day files, I think that is a debatable point. Obviously, any workers' advisor would have to have thorough access to information contained within the board, and whether the person is located inside or outside the building would be irrelevant.
The problem that many injured workers say they face is that the workers' advisor essentially does respond to two masters. First, there is the worker, who is their primary mandated boss, in a sense, but there is also the board. That conflict often makes the workers' advisor position very schizophrenic. It could be handled by ensuring that the workers' advisor reports first and foremost to workers' needs. I just make that comment, because I think it is important to state the position.
The board has developed a strategic plan and has indicated that it would go through a consultation process in its development. Can either witness indicate to us briefly - we only have a couple of minutes left - who was consulted and whether or not the strategic plan contains - because it says in the staff memo that refers to strategic planning that there will be consultation with stakeholders - who was consulted, and can the witness also indicate what performance indicators are contained within the strategic plan, so that the board, the public and the stakeholders can assess the board's performance?
Mr. Klassen: The strategic plan was developed in 1993. We have developed another one where we review it annually. Outside of the annual meeting where the board reports to its stakeholders, there has been no consultation on the strategic plan, except for meetings the president has held with others, such as the labour and employer groups.
I have just been reminded that it was mailed out for comment to stakeholders.
As far as performance indicators, they are not in the strategic plan. The plan is reviewed annually. Then the president and senior staff of Workers' Compensation develop an operational plan, which has performance indicators in various areas of responsibility. That operational plan is then reviewed by the board. Based on the operational plan, the budget is developed.
The system we are operating under is that we review the strategic plan in the spring of the year; the operational plan is developed by early fall; the budget is based on that. There are performance indicators in the operational plan.
Mr. McDonald: I will have to cut this short. Would the chair of the board be prepared to provide what he refers to as performance indicators to judge the performance of the board - the president and staff - to us, or make those public, so we have a clear understanding of what the board regards as sound performance indicators? Can he also tell us if the board's policies are generally published and circulated to relevant organizations around the territory?
Mr. Klassen: I will discuss Mr. McDonald's request with other members of the board and I will discuss it as well with the Minister. If the performance indicators are to be made available, they will be made available through the Minister to the Legislature.
I have just blanked on the second question. Could it be repeated please?
Mr. McDonald: Are board policies published and circulated?
Mr. Klassen: The board policies are made available. What we intend to do, but it is not yet the case, is to make binders. There are a large number of policies now and we will make these policy binders available to the large employers, to the labour organizations, and if people want a specific policy they can come to the Workers' Compensation Board and request it or write in and ask for it.
The concern we have about generally disseminating them is that the policies are also subject to regular review, and we want to make sure that the copies of the policy or the versions of the policy that are in the public domain, as it were, are the most up-to-date ones. So, yes, the policies are available generally, with the rider that we want to make sure that the policies people are referring to are in fact the most recent ones.
Chair: I would like to thank the witnesses for appearing before Committee of the Whole.
At this time I would like to excuse the witnesses.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I would also like to thank the witnesses for coming tonight. I know there were far more questions than time allowed. I would remind all Members that they are welcome to contact the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board directly through either the chair, Mr. Klassen, or the president, Mr. Farrell. I am also available, as the Minister responsible, to assist any Member with issues or concerns they may have with regard to the board.
Chair: Is it the wish of Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess at this time.
Bill No. 3 - Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Department of Renewable Resources - continued
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there further general debate on Renewable Resources?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have some information. The process for reviewing the applications for funding under the Canada-Yukon infrastructure program is as follows: the Department of Community and Transportation Services receives the applications and does the initial review and screening of the applications. The applications are to be reviewed by an internal government review committee to be comprised of senior government officials, including officials from Renewable Resources. We understand that this review committee will be meeting very shortly.
The internal committee will review all of the applications received to date for the 1995-96 year, as well as some applications carried over from the 1994-95 year. The deadline for applications was January 31, 1995. Following the Yukon government's internal review of the committee's nomination of projects, the next step will be a meeting of the management committee, comprised of two officials of the Yukon government - Bill Forsythe, director of community services and Bob Snyder, director of financial programs, Economic Development - and two representatives of the federal government - Mike Ivanski, director general DIAND, and Ron Chambers, director of economic development DIAND - who make recommendations to Ottawa. These recommendations require the approval of two federal Ministers, the Hon. Art Eggleton, the Minister responsible for the infrastructure program, and the Hon. Ron Irwin, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Respecting contributions to non-government organizations, there are no specific requirements for such contributions. However, the management committee has encouraged applicants to contribute toward the project.
I would like to pass over the guidelines and requirements for the funding of capital projects under the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program and a blank infrastructure program agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon.
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Minister for that information. I have a few questions about it and I will also have a few questions about the Department of Renewable Resources' involvement in the project.
The Minister indicated before the break that the Department of Renewable Resources had not seen the application put forward by the Agricultural Association for the abattoir project. Can the Minister tell us whether or not he has verified that with his officials?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We understand that the director of the agriculture branch had received a copy of the application that went to the Canada/Yukon infrastructure committee some time after it was sent in. I am not sure of the exact date, but he apparently has received a copy of it.
Mr. McDonald: So did he receive a copy of it approximately at the end of January, very early in February?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think that the Agricultural Association put in its application some time in January, prior to the deadline. He received a copy of it some time fairly shortly after that.
Mr. McDonald: Was the Minister able to determine whether or not the Agricultural Planning Advisory Committee also discussed this particular application at this January 11 meeting?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would have to check that. I do not have the information here as to whether or not they actually reviewed it.
Mr. McDonald: Contrary to what the Minister indicated before, the agriculture branch has, in fact, seen the application and certainly has had a couple of months to review the details.
Can the Minister then tell us what the department has determined about the project's viability? Is it viable in the opinion of his department?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have not actually received a briefing on this particular application, but it stems from the original application that was sent in back in 1991. At that time, it was considered a viable project by the agriculture branch.
Mr. McDonald: Is the Minister referring to the $1.9 million project or the $972,000 project? Which project is he referring to as being viable?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We may have the numbers here. I am not sure what the total was in 1991. The briefing note says that the YAA submitted an application to the federal-territorial infrastructure program for $972,085. This proposal is based on the cost of the facility and equipment in the 1991 study carried out by consultant Bruno Muesli, with additional cost built in for consulting engineering, operation and maintenance costs.
Mr. McDonald: First of all, can the Minister tell me whether or not the project that was submitted to the government in 1993 was a viable project, in the government's opinion?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The department indicated that the project would be viable if the number of animals reached the number that was indicated in the study. I cannot remember what the number was for beef, poultry or pork, and so on. My recollection of it was that if that number of animals could be reached, the abattoir would operate on a paying basis.
Mr. McDonald: I was under the impression - and the Minister can correct me if I am wrong - that the business plan that was submitted by the Agricultural Association in 1993 was, in the government's mind, unrealistic. The government objected to it quite strenuously in the Legislature. If the Minister is saying that these are all essentially the same project - the project that is before the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program, the project that was submitted in 1993, all leading from the study prior to that - I am not certain that I understand any longer what the Minister refers to when he says that the project is or is not viable.
Is a project viable if it is unable to make money or to cover its costs within the first five years, on the assumption that, over the first five years, the industry will grow and ultimately make the abattoir a paying proposition? Is that what the Minister refers to as viability?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is correct. The agriculture branch agreed that if the number of animals reached the projected number within five years, then it would become viable as outlined in the study report.
Mr. McDonald: Perhaps we should have been a little more aggressive in asking questions in 1993. We might then have had a different level of debate about the previous proposal; however, I will not bring up old history.
I would like to ask about the existing proposal. The Minister now says he understands the project proposal to be viable because it was based on a previous study submitted in 1991. The Minister indicated he has not yet been briefed by his department on the project, even though the proposal has been in the department's hands for a couple of months. Why is that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Mainly because Community and Transportation Services is the agency receiving the applications. With respect to the size of the abattoir and so on, this application is similar to the 1991 application. The agriculture branch has said that it feels that the project could be viable if these numbers in animal production are reached. I expect the department felt it was not necessary to brief me further. It is the same as the application in 1991, and not much has changed. The land is available if it receives approval.
Mr. McDonald: I recall the presentation by the Agricultural Association at Hidden Valley School, at which time representatives of Community and Transportation Services lands branch and the agricultural branch from the Department of Renewable Resources both spoke quite highly of the project proposal. I think that Mr. Randy Lewis was one of the presenters, and I detected department officials' unbridled enthusiasm for the project. It was a shock to all of us to come back and find that the Ministers did not share their departments' enthusiasm. I am a little surprised that the Minister has decided to leave it up to his officials to determine exclusively if this is in fact a viable project and that there will be no further delays. I make that point, and I would urge the Minister to be briefed on the project just in case there are any problems the Minister could help deal with.
Is the Minister confident that the 10-percent equity requirement from industry toward this particular project is 10 percent of YTG's contribution and not 10 percent of the total project cost?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think that the management committee of the infrastructure program will have to deal with that in the actual application. It says in the form that I passed to the Member opposite that applicants have been encouraged to contribute toward the project. If it is required, I expect that it will come out of the management committee recommendations. If the application is approved, I expect that it will talk about the proponent's contribution at the same time.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister knows that I am not referring to the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program at all, because he has already made it clear - and I have accepted his word - that the program does not require, though it is thought to be desirable, an equity contribution from the proponent.
I am specifically referring to the funding criteria from the Government of the Yukon, should it provide funding assistance to the abattoir project. What I asked before was that if the Yukon government was, at any time in the future, expected to provide any funding at all - any portion of the $200,000 commitment that the Minister mentioned again was available to the Agricultural Association for this project - would the Yukon government's position be that the contribution from industry would be 10 percent of YTG's financial contribution, outside of the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program - the financial commitment that the Yukon government would make, or would it be 10 percent of the total project cost?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The problem all along, when going back through the various letters and so on, with this project is the industry support. There is a letter in May 1994 to the president of the association. There is one dated February 1994 to the association saying that the industry had to show support.
On the Canada-Yukon infrastructure program, Yukon is on non-local government projects, where there is no local government with a taxing authority. The Yukon and the federal government each provide 50 percent. On the other projects, where there is a municipality, or some organization that has taxing authority, the program is funded jointly with each level taking on one-third of the funding.
I do not want to say that in the House right now, because it has not been discussed, that I am aware of, but I would expect that, if the association's application was successful, it would have to provide some sort of funding support. I am not sure if the amount would be 10 percent of the Yukon government's contribution, or 10 percent of the whole project, or perhaps only 10 percent of any additional funds that came, for instance, out of this $200,000 that we spoke of earlier. I am not sure what the recommendation will be on that but, as I stated before, in the material that I passed to the Member opposite, it does say that proponents are encouraged to provide contribution toward the project.
Mr. McDonald: The situation, as the Minister described it, for the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program becomes more complicated by the minute.
I will have to read the guidelines for myself to determine what they actually state. I am not referring specifically to the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program. Surely, that program is not going to decide the terms and conditions of any additional YTG grant, which might include the $200,000 that the Department of Renewable Resources has already indicated might be forthcoming.
If I were on the management committee, obviously I would be tempted to recommend - if I supported the project and felt that it was priority - that the project be approved to the total amount, minus the $200,000 commitment that the Department of Renewable Resources has already indicated it would provide. That would leave more money left in the fund for other projects.
If that $200,000, or a portion thereof, is provided toward the project, will the Government of Yukon insist that the industry association, or the industry generally, provide 10 percent of the YTG contribution or 10 percent of the project total?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not like making policy while standing here on my feet. We would want to see the recommendations coming from the management committee before determining the exact contribution. There is no question that the $200,000 from Renewable Resources would be subject to the 10-percent contribution. As to whether the whole thing would be subject to a 10-percent contribution, I cannot say right now, because it is a different program that we were involved with before. Under Community Futures, the funding arrangement was 10 percent of the total project cost. However, because this is a different program, the funding arrangements may be different. We would need to speak to the federal government about it.
Mr. McDonald: Is the Minister saying that the management committee of the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program will dictate the terms of any contribution that is made to top up the amount of funding available, including the Department of Renewable Resources' contribution?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, I did not say that.
Mr. McDonald: I am glad to hear that.
When the Minister mentioned the $200,000, did he say that if there was any commitment from YTG beyond the financial commitment it will provide under the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program, the commitment expected from industry will be 10 percent of the financial commitment that YTG has to provide? Is that right?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, that would be correct.
Mr. McDonald: All right, then. I want to get back to the application. The Minister has not seen the application; the department has seen the application. The department has not yet informed the Minister about the details of the application. Does the Minister feel confident that this application will be received favorably by the government? What is the position? If the Canada-Yukon infrastructure program does not provide funding for this project, what is the Minister's plan of attack?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We have committed $200,000 and a piece of land to the Agricultural Association. I would like to correct the amount of land. The actual commitment is a 20-acre portion within Lot 563. Right now, all of Lot 563 is reserved for agricultural infrastructure. However, the commitment to YAA was for a 20-acre portion.
Regardless of what happens with the infrastructure funding, those commitments are there and we will offer them for some period of time.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister will remember that Lot 288 at the Takhini River Bridge was a fairly large lot. The Agricultural Association had asked for something larger than 20 acres on the understanding that it would be for industry infrastructure. It does not seem to me that the plot of land on the Takhini Hot Springs Road is much different in character from Lot 288 - a certain portion for the abattoir, and a larger portion for industry infrastructure some time down the road.
I am and remain puzzled by the previous Minister of Renewable Resources' angry response to the industry when it made a request for a piece of land larger than 20 acres for its long-term infrastructure needs.
The $200,000 commitment that the Minister indicated he is going to stand by, presumably, in perpetuity, the Minister will know is approximately one-fifth of the project cost.
We have gone through a number of different program funding requests. As the site selection drags on, these federal programs, particularly, seem to fall away. The Minister will probably know that, in a year or so, there will be virtually no federal contribution of any kind that we can count on, given that the economic development agreements and future territorial/federal funding programs will be an extinct species. Obviously, $200,000 will probably be all there is and it will not be enough.
Is the Government of Yukon's position on the management commitee of the infrastructure program that this is a priority for the government?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know if the management committee will consider it a priority or not. For this year, there is something like $1.2 million available. I believe there is also $5 million worth of projects. I expect that the management committee will have to prioritize them, and we will see how that works out. I cannot speak for the management committee on what they will consider a priority.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 3.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole considered Bill No. 3, Third Appropriation Act, 1995-96, and directed me to report progress on it.
Further, witnesses from the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board appeared before Committee of the Whole to discuss matters related to the board. At 8:28 p.m. the Committee, upon the request of the Hon. Mr. Nordling, gave unanimous consent to extend the time with the witnesses to 8:45 p.m.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the 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 Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:28 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled April 10, 1995:
Finance meeting with Hon. Paul Martin, federal Minister of Finance, and Ministers of Finance from the Yukon and the N.W.T.: report on April 4, 1995, meeting (Ostashek)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled April 10, 1995:
South Access Road: accident reports and statistics during the period of January 1988 to February 28, 1995 (Brewster)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1531
Two Mile Hill: catch basin installed in September 1994; costs (Brewster)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1610
McLean Lake area squatter: departmental responsibility for initiating court action; background to eviction (Brewster)
Written Question No. 11, dated March 30, 1995, by Mr. Penikett