Tuesday, April 11, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with silent Prayers.
Speaker: Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to welcome one of my constituents who is in the gallery this afternoon. Jennifer Nathan is the coordinator of the Innovators program.Applause
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have five legislative returns for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Are there any Bills to be introduced?
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Education, federal funding cuts
Ms. Moorcroft: Shortly after the Liberal job-cutting budget was released, the coordinator of the Innovators in the Schools program received a pink slip by fax, announcing that the program funding would be cancelled and the position eliminated. The Innovators program allows teachers to use several hundred very enthusiastic resource people for free and connects business, science and technology in the community directly to students in the classroom. The recent bridge-building content, the annual great northern paper airplanes contest, several levels of science fairs and the Women Do Math conference are examples of projects this program has been involved in. Has the Minister of Education asked Industry Canada to continue to fund this program?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: No, I have not yet.
Ms. Moorcroft: In January, the Minister announced that he expected to register about $182,000 in the Yukon excellence awards vouchers this year, and that he would be delighted to discover that they had seriously underbudgeted. This money is being earmarked for a select group of gifted students. Innovators is a program that benefits all students, and draws on the resources of the community. Since Industry Canada will not fund the Innovators program, will the Minister fund it at its present $69,000, which is less than half the amount budgeted for the Yukon excellence awards?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is our position that we will not be stepping in to take on the vacuum left by the heavy-duty slashing by Paul Martin and his colleagues in Ottawa. That has been our position with regard to our relationship with the federal government for some time in areas such as legal aid and court workers, and other areas. We have no intention of taking on the responsibility for funding what have been federal obligations.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Department of Education's learning resource insert in the newspapers last week praised the Innovators program, which has 200 local scientists, who volunteer to speak to students about their work, involved in it. The Minister just wants to claim the credit, and not put any money behind it. Talk is cheap. I would like to know if the Minister intends to allocate funding to support the Innovators program so it does not disappear because of the federal budget cuts.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is interesting that the Member, along with her colleagues, in one breath would chastise the Liberal government for its Draconian cuts and, in the next breath, expect us to encourage that type of action by filling the Liberal government's shoes whenever it vacates its responsibilities. Our position is very clear. The federal government is completely aware of it, as are the provinces, which support the same stance against the federal government with respect to programs such as this - legal aid, courtworkers or whatever the program might be. We have no intention to simply bow to the Member's sudden passion for selective support of various programs.
Question re: Education, federal funding cuts
Ms. Moorcroft: I have always been in support of programs like the Innovators in the Schools program. The Minister of Education stood here and acknowledged that the A Cappella North report contains a lot of disturbing statements about young women's experiences in the Yukon school system and said that it is "appropriate that this situation is remedied". A large part of the Innovators program is to help innovators act as positive role models in Yukon classrooms. We have a program that has a positive effect on girls and boys in the classroom, and the government said that it wants to continue to integrate gender equality programs into the core curriculum. Why can the Minister not make the commitment today for his government to fund the Innovators program, since the federal government will not?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That is the very reason. The Member is making her impassioned plea to the wrong person, in the wrong forum. It is the Liberal government that is making these cuts, not us. We made it clear from the outset that we will not be picking up those programs that the federal government cuts.
Ms. Moorcroft: We are used to our pleas falling on deaf ears and the Minister has just confirmed it.
Unfortunately, the employment equity report shows that progress toward gender balance within different occupational groups in the past year has been slow. The most significant decrease has been the decline in the number of women in science and technology jobs, in part due to the lack of qualified women candidates.
What plans does the Minister have to develop and integrate core curriculum to encourage young women's interest in science and technology jobs?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There are a lot of developments and activities within the schools that move in that direction. I will be happy to bring back a written response to her question, but I suggest that perhaps she should clip Hansard and send it to Paul Martin, with an accompanying letter. For that matter, perhaps we can do that for her.
Ms. Moorcroft: This Minister's uncaring attitude is pretty clear. We have been shocked by the A Cappella North report into accepting the unfortunate realities that face young women in Yukon schools. An immediate and concentrated effort on the part of this government and all the partners in education is necessary to improve the options open to young women for their futures. I do not want the Minister to bring back written lists; I want him to be able to answer questions.
How does the Minister intend to monitor and assess the progress in the schools in achieving equality in the education system?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is interesting that she is taking this tack; she wants us to suddenly fill the shoes of the federal government whenever it cuts funding and wherever it cuts. I would be very interested in knowing what areas in education she would like us to cut in order to shore up the areas that have been totally left without support by the federal government.
With respect to the A Cappella report and the response to the stakeholders, including the Department of Education, she has been told over and over again about the various initiatives that have been commenced by the department and by the stakeholders. We had a thorough debate on the subject not too long ago, and I am quite happy to bring back a briefing note for her in case she is unable to find the Hansard with the debate in it.
Question re: Business incentive policies
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Government Services on the business incentive policy. The Minister, in the debate on his budget, was asked whether the business incentive policies were achieving their goal and he subsequently wrote a letter to the Members of the Opposition indicating that the Business Incentive Policy Review Committee, an industry advisory group, had asked Government Services to review the policies to determine whether or not the policies are meeting their objectives. He went on to say that work on the project was expected to start next month, to be completed by the end of March 1996.
Could the Minister indicate who is doing the work of reviewing the business incentive policies?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will bring back the names of all the individuals involved and provide them to the Member.
Mr. Cable: Could the Minister indicate in the House now whether it is solely a government-sponsored review, involving public servants, or is there industry input into the review process?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, it is not solely government. There will be industry input. That input is very important for the review.
Mr. Cable: Could the Minister, in his return, also indicate what the terms of reference are for the review?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I will.
Question re: Education, federal funding cuts
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Education. The recent Liberal budget had a startling impact on the Yukon global education project. Among other tasks, this project provides resources to teachers to educate students on issues of racism, gender equity and environmental concerns and it increases environmental awareness. Its focus is to open the minds of students on the issues from a global perspective. The Liberal budget slashes the vast majority of that funding. Has the Minister been briefed on this development and what is his reaction to it?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, I have been made cognizant of this further cut by Mr. Martin and his friends in Ottawa. I think it is regrettable. However, we can expect more of the same from the Liberal government, which is cutting programs all over the place.
Mr. Harding: The House recently passed a motion regarding the A Cappella North report, saying that, "The Yukon education system should continue to offer ongoing programs to ensure all students have a common understanding of harassment and unacceptable behaviour, and that gender equality principles continue to be addressed, and that equity for young women and men be integrated into the core curriculum of Yukon's education system." If the Minister is not prepared to pick up some of the funding for this program that the Liberals have cut, what new programs and initiatives is he going to bring into the schools to deal with the findings of the A Cappella North report?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The details of those programs were substantially outlined during the debate we had in this House on the A Cappella North report. If the Member wants, I can send him a copy of Hansard or bring forward a complete written response, and would be more than happy to do so.
Mr. Harding: The global education program helps facilitate progressive, professional and curriculum development. It is presently working on equity workshops in the schools. The government's budget cuts may make completion of these workshops impossible, as the funding for them ends in July. The details the Minister provided during that debate were regarding workshops, not initiatives to establish core curriculum in the areas that that motion talked about. Therefore, the Minister is incorrect in stating that.
If we are to truly do something about the findings of the A Cappella North report, what movement toward new programming and initiatives to put that programming into the core curriculum is the Minister undertaking, in light of these Liberal budget cuts?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Once again, we debated this quite thoroughly. Our department and the stakeholders take the findings of the A Cappella North report seriously. We will be reviewing the complications we face because of the federal cuts. However, we will not step forward to fill the vacuum left by the federal government in its haste to cut money from a jurisdiction such as ours.
Question re: Queen's Printer, operating efficiency
Mr. Penikett: I want to tell the Minister of Government Services that I am simply dazzled by some of the documents coming from the new and improved Queen's Printer - the glossy coloured graphs, the pretty pictures, the lovely, multi-colour bar charts, the delightful customer surveys in pastel shades, the flashy new letterheads, even some lovely, personally engraved Queen's Printer bookmarks.
It is four colours actually. I wonder if the Minister could explain to us how these flashy new materials in the delightfully bright colours are actually making the work of this branch more cost efficient and economical for the taxpayers?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Members opposite are certainly drawing the new Queen's Printer agency to the attention of the government and to the Opposition.
Also, the bookmark that the Leader of the Official Opposition held up is an introduction to the Queen's Printer courier service. What the department expects to be doing is picking up documents and bringing them to the Queen's Printer and delivering them back to government departments on a timely basis. This department will be doing this work cheaper with our copiers than using the convenience copiers in this building.
Mr. Penikett: I assume that this flashy, wonderful material comes to us by way of that technological marvel, DocuTech. I am also curious about how all of these wonderful new materials are going to benefit the taxpayers, since I understand that the equipment was intended largely for internal use.
Could the Minister tell us exactly how the economy, efficiency and value for money of these new materials will be evaluated by the new Queen's Printer agency?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: One of the most important reasons for the special operating agency is that for the first time, things like cost effectiveness, the price per impression for every document that goes through the Queen's Printer and the costs per impression for copies made on convenience copiers will be measured. All of the costs for running the Queen's Printer will be calculated and divided so that we know exactly what it costs to run that operation and what it costs to operate each department. Essentially, implementing these measures to track expenses is what this is all about.
Mr. Penikett: This is all very interesting, but I fail to see how these new things will be a big improvement from the olden days when we simply used to look at the counter on the copying machine, see how many copies were made and divide that number into the total cost to arrive at a price per item.
I am also curious to know when exactly the Queen's Printer became the Queen's Printer agency. I also want to know if the wonderful new courier service advertised in the Minister's bookmark is essentially the same as the old mail service, with the exception that it now operates fewer hours - 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. That is an interesting definition of efficiency.
Could the Minister indicate if that is the case?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is really interesting, because if the way the Leader of the Official Opposition calculated the costs of government was to simply look at the number of copies on the counter and the cost of the machine, it is no wonder that the costs of government were out of control under his administration. There is a lot more to it than that.
The new courier service will pick up documents more quickly; it will deliver them back faster and, we hope, on time, encouraging departments to use the copiers at the Queen's Printer that are a lot cheaper per copy that the convenience copiers. The problem in the past has been that no one wanted to use the Queen's Printer because it was a lot simpler just to go to their convenience copier and make 500 to 600 copies. They never knew when their material would be picked up and when it would be brought back. That is what we expect we bring in.
Question re: Queen's Printer, operating efficiency
Mr. Penikett: It is a little different in our caucus. We will probably want to use the Queen's Printer because our copier rarely works, but that is another subject.
The Minister talks about efficiency and economy. I notice that the most prominent colour, and in fact the biggest line in his "Queen's Printer print room copying year-end stats" is a big red one. Can I ask him how this sea of red ink is evidence of increasing efficiency and economy in the new Queen's Printer agency - if I have the title right?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I think the Leader of the Official Opposition is looking at the predicted number of copies that will be produced in the Queen's Printer print room as opposed to convenience copiers. Yes, we are predicting a substantial increase and saving through our courier service by using the Queen's Printer.
Mr. Penikett: As my colleague for McIntyre-Takhini says, we will not know how good it is to be buried in paper in the time to come.
I want to ask the Minister - it is an entirely serious point in terms of economy and efficiency. I am looking at one of his other charts, "In-House Printing Monthly Impressions by Year", where it shows undulating waves of colour going back and forth across the page. From an aesthetic point of view, it is quite lovely and wonderful. It could easily be a painting from the early French period between the Victorian era and the First World War. I do not understand what information this actually provides that could not have been provided in black and white on a single page, and how this is more economic and more efficient than the previous boring, monochromatic chart that we used to get.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: With respect to being buried in paper, that is not the case. We are moving toward using less paper, as we talked about in debate on the Government Services budget. We hope to be hooking up more of our systems to local area networks and to be able to transfer files and materials from one computer to another, rather than photocopying them and sending them, or sending them by fax. With respect to the chart that the Leader of the Official Opposition held up, I suppose that it is historical information. It does not do a lot for me either. With respect to it being in colour, again, I agree with the Leader of the Official Opposition that it could have been done in various shades of black and white. It is my understanding that it was done on the colour copier that the Queen's Printer had, that has since been returned.
Mr. Penikett: That is extremely interesting. One of the lovely pages in this book is something called "the document management strategy", which is in red and black, and is called "Docutech cost savings potential". The total potential cost savings per year were listed as $196,950, which the Minister will notice is printed in red ink. Is the Minister indicating that these savings will not now be realized, since the machine will be saved, or is he still hoping to achieve savings in that order of magnitude, but in black ink and not red?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is exactly what I am saying. We do expect to achieve some level of savings. I have not analyzed those numbers, but I hope that it is in that magnitude. It may even be a little higher, without the necessity for using colour to illustrate the saving.
Question re: Contingency fund
Mr. McDonald: That is a really interesting theory - more spending equals more cost efficiency; more copying capacity equals fewer copies produced. I am interested in how that theory relates to the government's general spending practices, but I have a question for the Minister of Finance.
The government has identified approximately $8 million in contingency spending for this year, and has not yet told anyone how it wishes to spend it - that is, if it is interested in spending the money - but it has told the public that there are many potential uses for it. Has the government committed to spending any of the contingency fund identified in the main estimates budget?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am sure we have. I do not have the details in front of me, but I can get a report back for the Member opposite.
Mr. McDonald: The House is sitting. We are all here eager to debate spending proposals.
Last year, the government committed a number of expenditures while we were debating the main estimates budget. I would like to ask the Minister this: what specific projects has the government committed to spending the money on and does it includes the Dawson highway camp relocation or the waterfront development project?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, I do not have the information in front of me. I will bring a detailed report back for the Member.
Mr. McDonald: Some of these projects may be in the millions of dollars. I would be surprised if Ministers do not know if they have committed a portion of the $8 million from the contingency fund, particularly when we are talking about very large projects.
Is the Minister not aware of any large projects for which the government has committed some spending that are not currently contained in the main estimates budget?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Knowing the kind of nit-picking debate that goes on in this House, I would hate to stand here and state incorrect figures. I will bring a return back for the Member so that he knows exactly what is happening.
Question re: Contracts, sole sourcing
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Government Leader about a Cabinet decision. On March 30, Cabinet confirmed its earlier decision to give Ministers the authority to sole source contracts that are above the regular sole sourcing limits, and which Cabinet just increased from $10,000 to $25,000. It was bad enough when the whole Cabinet sole sourced almost $1 million for the DocuTech machine. Now, the government is saying that each Minister should be able to do this without Cabinet approval. I would like to ask the Government Leader what was wrong with the system the way it was before.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We debated this at some length in general debate on Government Services. I undertook to the Member for Riverdale South to bring those issues to Cabinet. I did bring them up, they were discussed, and the decision was confirmed. The decision was based on the recommendations of the stakeholders.
The significant thing here is that the sole-source limit was increased from $10,000 to $25,000 on value-driven contracts, such as consulting, which are normally considerably higher than that. The sole-source limit on price-driven contracts remained at $10,000 and, again, this was the consensus reached by the stakeholders, who were consulted for over a year on these matters.
Mrs. Firth: The reason I am asking the question is because I have received the information, and I am sure that the stakeholders did not recommend that the Ministers all have the ability to go out and sole source for whatever they want, whenever they want.
I think it is very dangerous to have this Cabinet sole sourcing, let alone each Minister sole sourcing contracts from whomever, whenever. After the Boylan contract and the incident with the DocuTech, I think the preference would have been to see the system tightened up, and not opened up, as a free for all for all of the Ministers. I would like the Minister to tell us the rationale for the change. Ministers never did this before. Why do they have to do it now?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The premise of the Member for Riverdale South's remarks is all wrong. She has confused the issue. She is misled with respect to what is happening.
To answer the preamble and to try and answer the question, Ministers are accountable for what they do, and it was the stakeholders who suggested that Ministers have the authority to do that so that there would not be the holdups that take place sometimes with respect to contracts that could be sole sourced so as to avoid the time that it takes to get it through Cabinet.
The Member mentioned the Boylan contract and the DocuTech contract. Both of those were Cabinet decisions and both were discussed. The Member for Faro says, "That is the problem"; well, that problem would not be solved by what we are doing here. The Member for Riverdale South is advocating that Cabinet approve sole-source contracts. That is what happened before. I do not know how the Member for Faro or the Member for Riverdale South thinks that there is going to be any less accountability. Every sole-source contract will be reported twice a year and the Minister who is responsible for that will be held accountable in this Legislature. That is what ministerial responsibility is all about.
Mrs. Firth: If, collectively, this group across the floor could not make good decisions - and they did not, because both those decisions were bad ones - independently, it gives a lot of concern to the Yukon public about what is going to happen with respect to sole sourcing.
The public impression is that Ministers are getting themselves set up to support their friends before they are turfed out of office. That is what I hear on the street and that is what contractors tell me, and that is what the impression is in the public.
The Minister cannot defend it. The Government Leader obviously cannot defend it, because he will not even stand up and respond. He has passed if off to the Government Services Minister. They cannot defend what they are doing. The question out on the street is, "Why do these Ministers think they should be able to do this when it has never been the practice before?" Why do these Ministers all want to be able to give out contracts for any amount without going through proper tendering procedures?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Again, I think the Member for Riverdale South is misrepresenting the situation. We went to the public -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member for Riverdale South is saying "Talk to my constituents". The contract regulations review committee talked to dozens of people. We talked to the Contractors Association, individual business people, and those who dealt with government. This consensus was reached by them and was one of the recommendations. Cabinet accepted that recommendation.
The other things the Member complained about were the DocuTech agreement and the Boylan contract, which looked into selling a portion of the Yukon Energy Corporation to CYI - First Nations - saying those were bad decisions.
It will be proven that they were not bad decisions. If the Member does not like those decisions, having Cabinet approve sole-source contracts will not solve that problem, because that was the situation when those decisions were made.
Question re: Little Salmon-Carmacks territorial agent/aboriginal language interpreter
Mr. Penikett: I understand the Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation has asked the Government Leader to consider relocating the territorial agent/aboriginal language interpreter to a more accessible location at the new Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation building. I also understand that a government official recently met with the First Nation to discuss the possibility.
Can the Government Leader tell us what the territorial government's position on this request is?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding is that the office space required for the aboriginal language interpreter in Carmacks will go to invitational tender in Carmacks.
Mr. Penikett: I appreciate the information from the Government Leader on that point.
As I understand it, the current lease is with a Mr. Howard Tracey, but some aboriginal clients are barred from Mr. Tracey's property. Has this been a factor in the Executive Council Office decisions in this matter? In other words, has access to the office been a problem?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding is that those allegations have been made, but it is also my understanding that they were never discussed with the landlord.
Mr. Penikett: I cannot understand why that would be.
Could I ask the Government Leader, since he has indicated that it will go out to tender, does he know the termination date of the current lease, and what does he know further, which speaks to the changes made by his ministerial colleague in Government Services? Will this tender simply be for the provision of space? Will it be evaluated simply on the basis of price, or will there be a value dimension in the evaluation of the contract?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have not seen the details of the invitation to tender that is going out, but I believe that it will address all of the issues raised by the Member opposite. My understanding is that the lease with the Carmacks Hotel has been on a month-to-month basis, not on a contract basis.
Question re: Business incentive policy
Mr. Cable: I have some more questions for the Government Services Minister on the business incentive policy.
There has been a fair amount of discussion in the House recently on the use of local hire and local materials in large government projects. There has also been some discussion on the difference between projects run by project managers and by general contractors.
In order to clear up some of the confusion, is the Minister prepared to table the local hire and local material rebates, given under the business incentive policy by project for the major projects run by this government since it came to power?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will check to see what is available. The Member is asking for every project for which business incentive rebates have been a claimed for construction and local hiring since this government came to office. It may involve a considerable amount of work. I am not sure, but I am prepared to look into it for the Member and get back to him to tell him if it can be provided.
Mr. Cable: The discussions arose in relation to the hospital contract. What I am after are the rebates given in large projects, and I will let the Minister use his own judgment on that.
On another matter, under the business incentive policy, the Business Incentive Policy Review Committee is supposed to provide an evaluation each year to the Minister. Has the Minister received an annual evaluation from the committee on that policy, and is he prepared to table the latest evaluation?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will see what we have for the latest evaluation and provide it to the Member, but as the Member pointed out in his earlier question, we will be undertaking a review of the whole efficacy of that program. Again, that was a commitment I made in debate on the budget.
Mr. Cable: In the first round of questions the Minister indicated that there was a committee set up to review the policy, and I believe he just reiterated that statement. Will this committee be looking at the administration of the hospital contract to determine whether or not there has been maximization of local hire and local material purchases?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I am sure they will be including that. I believe that local contractors got all the work during the first phase. I expect that they are hiring locally and buying most of their materials locally. I am sure that would be looked at and if there was any claim made by them it would be recorded. If there has not been any claims by local contractors with respect to local material, then we would wonder why they were not buying locally.
Question re: Faro Real Estate Limited, rent increases
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation.
According to the Minister, the Yukon Housing Corporation board and the Minister were going to meet this past weekend to discuss some of the issues that I had asked the Minister about respecting Faro Real Estate - specifically, the issue surrounding the re-establishment of the rental/purchase agreements at a reasonable price and a 37-percent rental increase for 10730 Yukon Ltd., which is an offshoot of Faro Real Estate. As well, I had asked about the overall, across-the-board rental increase of 10 percent applied for by Faro Real Estate. Could the Minister tell me what decisions were reached at that meeting?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, there was considerable time spent by the board discussing all of those issues on Saturday. What the board did was give the Yukon Housing Corporation staff very specific instructions with respect to negotiating a rental increase with Faro Real Estate.
The Yukon Housing Corporation was attempting to contact Faro Real Estate to pass on the position of the Yukon Housing Corporation. I am not sure if Faro Real Estate has been contacted yet. I do know that yesterday afternoon, when I had hoped to report to the Member, they had not been contacted.
I do not want to have the negotiations take place on the floor of the House, but I can tell the Member that his representations were considered very favourably during the board's discussions.
Mr. Harding: If the Minister is not prepared to state the position that was reached by the board, because he referred to specific instructions from the board to the administration, is he saying that those specific instructions referred to some sort of a negotiating-terms-of-reference mandate for the administration of the Yukon Housing Corporation to deal with the issues in negotiations with Faro Real Estate?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No. I suppose negotiations may be a word that may confuse matters a little bit, but the board provided a specific position, asking that it be taken to Faro Real Estate with respect to what it wanted and what it expected to see happen in Faro. As soon as that has been communicated to Faro Real Estate and as soon as that has been confirmed to me, then I will let the Member know what that position was, although I am sure he can guess what it is.
Mr. Harding: The Minister attended the meetings and heard the many representations that I made to him on these important issues in the community. I would like to ask him what position he took with the board and what representation and recommendation he made, based on the issues that I raised with him.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I was more an observer at the board meeting than a Minister influencing them. I listened carefully to their deliberations and I thought that they were certainly on the right track.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of Opposition Private Members' Business
Ms. Moorcroft: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to inform the House that the Official Opposition does not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, April 12, 1995.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the Committee to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 3 - Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Department of Renewable Resources - continued
Chair: Is there further general debate on Renewable Resources?
Mr. McDonald: I left the Minister with a number of questions that he committed to respond to, so I would ask that he do that. I have a list of the questions and checked Hansard today to make sure that I had as complete a list as possible.
If the Minister has any information he wants to volunteer, it would be a nice touch.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If Members would just bear with me for a moment, I think we have most of the answers to the questions asked yesterday.
There was a question about the minutes of any land meetings at which federal officials said that they would be unprepared to transfer more land than the 20 acres. The question asked the size of the lot. It is on Lot 288 that there is an actual land claim.
The next question was regarding the role of the Yukon Agricultural Association and the government in the umbrella final agreement on the consultation on zoning and land use. The lot is currently zoned rural residential under the interim Whitehorse periphery development regulations. A 20-acre parcel within Lot 563 would require rezoning to facilitate an abattoir development. This would be achievable in two ways: either by designating the parcel as agricultural pursuant to the agricultural development area regulations, which would require an application for the parcel by YAA to the agriculture branch, an internal review by Renewable Resources, public and First Nation notification of the land application review commission agenda 30 days prior to review, and then a review through the land application review commission process for intergovernmental First Nations and third-party concerns. The second way that could be done would be to designate the parcel as agricultural under the proposed Hotsprings Road area development regulations.
These regulations are currently under review by the Department of Community and Transportation Services and are being prepared through a public process. If the regulations are approved, an abattoir will be a discretionary use, which requires public consultation before the development officer can make a decision.
There was a question about the abattoir infrastructure application consultation, and whether the department had been consulted or knew about it as a result of consultation with another department.
On January 29, 1995, the Yukon Agricultural Association submitted an application to the federal/territorial infrastructure program for $972,085. The president of the association, Doreen Gerard, met with the agriculture branch in mid-January to inform them of the Yukon Agricultural Association's intention to submit an application for an abattoir to the infrastructure program by the end of the month. Mr. Beckman asked Ms. Gerard if this was a new application or a version of the previous application and was told it was a scaled-down version of the 1991 proposal.
The day after the Yukon Agricultural Association submitted the application to the infrastructure program, the president gave copies of the application to Mr. Beckman and to some of the agriculture branch staff.
I still do not have the information regarding the Agricultural Planning Advisory Committee. We still have to check the minutes of that meeting.
Mr. McDonald: What the Minister is saying with respect to Lot 288 is that the territorial government did not actually make a request of the federal government for the use of the land because there was a land selection on it at the time from First Nations - is that right?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Apparently the Kwanlin Dun had requested that particular lot, and we had opposed their selection of it because it was a forestry experimental area. Then when we actually requested a portion of it for the agriculture branch, the Kwanlin Dun felt that they had a prior right to it, if it were going to be changed from forestry use to something other than forestry use, so they put a claim in on the whole parcel and I understand that that is the way it stands today.
Mr. McDonald: With respect to Lot 563 on the Takhini Hot Springs Road, the Minister has indicated - and he can correct this version of what he just said if he has to - that the government has set aside the total lot for the abattoir and for future agricultural industry development.
He indicated that 20 acres would be provided for the abattoir project and that if it required rezoning, consultation with First Nations would take place, government to government, through the committee structures. If the agriculture regulations are changed, the use of this lot would permit a facility such as the abattoir and consequently no consultation would be required. Is that a fair summation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Even under the proposed new area development regulations for the Hot Springs Road area, it would still require consultation. The note said that if the regulations are approved an abattoir would be a discretionary use, which requires public consultation before the development officer can make a decision. It would be discretionary use, which would mean that it would still require consultation with neighbouring properties.
Mr. McDonald: Consultation would be required in both cases, but if in the first case it is a simple rezoning measure, it would be government-to-government consultation - is that right?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is right. The only thing is that the land application would have to be reviewed by the Land Application Review Committee for intergovernmental, First Nations and third-party concerns. If the neighbouring people did not want that type of facility, they would have input through the LARC process.
Mr. McDonald: The point I am trying to get at it is this: who is responsible for what? I guess the Minister understands that. If Lot 563 is, from the government's perspective, the desired location, what role would the government expect the Yukon Agricultural Association to play in seeking a consensus, or some notion of approval, from area residents and First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would expect the Yukon Agricultural Association to consult with the area residents, probably in cooperation with the government. The Yukon government would likely speak to any First Nations concerns that are there, with the cooperation of, and maybe in conjunction with, the Yukon Agricultural Association. However, I think it would be led by the Yukon government.
Mr. McDonald: Would the Yukon government be upset if the Yukon Agricultural Association were to initiate discussions directly with First Nations in the area about this particular site - even without the Government of Yukon's participation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not think that we would necessarily be upset if the Yukon Agricultural Association indicated to the government that it is interested in taking the lot. A letter was written to the association in May 1994, which indicated that the site is available and that the association would have to submit an application for the site. We have not received an application from the Yukon Agricultural Association to date. I think that before the association actually consults, it should indicate to the government that it is interested in pursuing the site.
Mr. McDonald: My impression of the situation in that particular neighbourhood is that there is a considerable degree of cynicism about the way developments are handled. There may be significant resistance to an abattoir on this particular lot. Is the Minister aware of that potential resistance? What is his view?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have spoken to some of the people who live nearby. Now, I have not spoken to all of them, that is true, but those I have spoken to about it were quite favourable to having the abattoir located there, as well as other agricultural infrastructure at some point in time as it was needed.
Mr. McDonald: When the government sent the letter to the Yukon Agricultural Association, did it at that time also inform the First Nations in the area that this was what the government was recommending, or was suggesting might be a possible site for the abattoir? What response did the First Nations give the government?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It was just a matter of reserving the lot. In other words, not putting it up for sale, reserving from sale. That was the notification that was sent to YAA. As far as I can recall, there was no notification given to First Nations, because YAA had not indicated that it wanted to take possession of the lot, nor has it done so to date.
Mr. McDonald: The Yukon Agricultural Association, to the Minister's knowledge, has not agreed to this particular site. What discussions has the government had with that organization?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have spoken with some members of the executive of the Yukon Agricultural Association, and they are aware of that lot. I do not know if they have actually inspected it, but there has been no application received by either the agriculture branch or lands branch to date.
Mr. McDonald: Should this lot not be acceptable to area residents, or should there be something that prevents the government from using this particular lot, what is the backup proposal the government would consider as a site for the abattoir?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There were actually 10 sites looked at about a year ago. Besides Lot 563, I believe there are some other possible sites from among them.
Mr. McDonald: Have all these sites been communicated to the Agricultural Association? Have they also been communicated to First Nations that may have land selections in the area?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that the sites were briefly discussed. I believe the Yukon Agricultural Association had a committee that looked at the various sites. I am not sure if that committee is still in force. They were possible sites the association looked at. There were actually no discussions or negotiations with the First Nations. Some were titled lots; some were selected by the Kwanlin Dun, or one of the other bands, and if one of those sites were looked at, they would have to be negotiated with the relevant band. With some, there were no land claim concerns.
Mr. McDonald: Does the government, as a matter of policy, accept that if the actual site for the abattoir does not sit on selected lands, there is still an obligation to consult with First Nations as to compatible land use with selections they have in the area?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, certainly, when and if we get an actual application.
Mr. McDonald: I was at an Agricultural Association meeting one year ago, and I recall that a proposal was put forward by someone that an existing farm be permitted to subdivide or sub-lease a portion of its property to the Agricultural Association for the purposes of supplying a site for the abattoir. What is the government's position on that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Essentially, the government rejected that particular proposal because the agricultural policy does not permit the subdivision of agricultural land down to less than, I believe, 65 hectares, which is, I believe, approximately 160 acres.
Mr. McDonald: Is it a matter of general policy that the government is not interested, now or in the future, in subdividing agricultural land to a size less than what the Minister mentioned?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is the current policy, and that policy is being reviewed this year. However, it is the current policy as put forward in consultation with the Agricultural Association.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister mentioned that the policy is being reviewed. The government is not reviewing the policy with a view to considering allowing subdivision of agricultural land, is it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is not the intent of the government at this time to allow subdivision of agricultural land. However, I understand from some of the agricultural people that it is something that they want to discuss among themselves and with our people, when the whole policy is reviewed.
Mr. McDonald: Does the government have a clear position on this matter? Does it stand firm on the question of subdivision of agricultural land, as it did with the proposal to subdivide a piece of property for the abattoir, or is it amenable to thinking about the possible subdivision of agricultural land?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Right now, it is not the intent of the government to allow subdivision of agricultural land down to less than the 65 hectares noted in the agricultural policy.
Mr. McDonald: I know the Minister understands the sensitivity of this question, and that is why he is not being very clear. If I were to ask the Minister of Finance whether or not he intends to raise taxes, he would give us, I am sure, a conclusive answer "no". If I were to ask the Minister of Community and Transportation Services whether or not he is prepared to privatize highways, he would say "no". However, when I get a response such as "not at this time", or "at this moment, the policy is that we will not permit the subdivision of land", it makes me very nervous or suspicious that maybe there is something else going on. Has the government indicated to anyone that there may be circumstances in which it would consider allowing the subdivision of agricultural land?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: A request came in from the past president of the Agricultural Association to allow subdivision of agricultural land for family members.
I do not believe there is any written correspondence on this, but I know that when I was the Minister of the Department of Community and Transportation Services I was requested to attend an Yukon Agricultural Association meeting to talk about that.
My initial reaction was no, the government would not allow the subdivision. If the Yukon Agricultural Association agreed to it, then I would be willing to go back to Cabinet and discuss it at the Cabinet level.
It was interesting, because at the Yukon Agricultural Association meeting that I attended, the other members that were in attendance basically disagreed with the whole idea.
I have heard from other members of the Yukon Agricultural Association since then, so I do not believe it is a dead issue; I believe it is still alive and well with some Yukon Agricultural Association members.
Right now, as the Minister of Renewable Resources, I certainly do not favour the subdivision of agricultural land, but again, if the Yukon Agricultural Association came on strongly, I would be willing to bring this before my Cabinet colleagues. Again, it is certainly not something that I favour.
Mr. McDonald: Did the motion at the Yukon Party convention, which I believe was in Dawson, have any effect on the government policy and the government Minister's intentions?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not recall the motion. In fact, I was not at the conference; I was at the AYC convention that weekend, so I do not recall the actual motion.
Mr. McDonald: It was reported in the papers. I was not at the convention either, so consequently I am not in a position to be able to tell the Minister any more about what precisely happened, but certainly it was reported in the papers that a motion was debated respecting the division of agricultural properties.
I will just ask the question again: did that have any impact on the government's move to consider this matter?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Certainly not. As I said before, I am not aware of the motion. It did not influence my outlook on the subdivision of agricultural land. It has not influenced me, but maybe it should have. I do not know what it says.
Mr. McDonald: To go back to the abattoir for a moment, the Minister indicated that he was going to provide some information about this, and I will just run down a list of the questions. Maybe he knows what they are.
The operating costs of abattoir were something he was going to get back to us with.
On the fundamental question of whether or not the agriculture branch did in fact review it, the Minister has had the morning now to think about it. He has just indicated to us that the branch director and the members of the branch received a copy of the abattoir proposal at approximately the end of January or the beginning of February. Yesterday he said that they had not reviewed it or reported back to the Minister on the review.
Is it in fact the case that they did not review that proposal, which they received a couple of months ago? Do they believe it is viable? Do they believe that, from a technical perspective, the assumptions the Yukon Agricultural Association is making about production and the harvesting of domestic animals are realistic for the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The projected annual operating costs are approximately $47,150 per year. When we were discussing this yesterday, we had one of the agricultural people on standby, and that person had not known about the application. However, the director of the agriculture branch did receive a copy of the application. I do not know that it has been thoroughly reviewed by the branch. The 1991 proposal, which was very similar to this one, used the same design and so on.
The director of the agriculture branch indicated that, if the agricultural industry were able to come up with a number of animals stated in the study, it could become a viable operation. He further said that the current agricultural land base was sufficient to sustain that number of animals. I think that is as far as anyone has gone in saying that the project is viable. It could be viable if the number of animals projected do actually get raised in the Yukon.
Mr. McDonald: I guess the acid-test question ultimately is, first of all, in the Minister's and the government's view, are the assumptions realistic? Are they achievable? Does the government believe that the industry will do what it says it is going to do? Does the government think that the basic assumptions underlying this proposal are realistic? Does the government have faith that this project - as conceived for the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program - can succeed and, with government support, will succeed?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, I am not going to say any more than what is stated in the report. If the agricultural industry indicates its support and raises funding to provide major support toward the project, I think it has a very good chance of going ahead. The information we get from our agricultural people is that the land base is here - if it is turned into grazing and used for the raising of grains to feed the animals and if someone bought the animals.
I am not going to say that I think this is a wonderful thing - I am not an expert - and that we are going to supply all the poultry, or all the pork, or beef, or whatever, for the Yukon. I do not know that. However, the indications are that it can happen, provided that the industry people want to do the things that would be required, such as turning a certain amount of land into grazing, a certain amount into crop growing, and a certain amount into facilities for raising red meat and poultry. I guess what I am saying is that, yes, the project could go, if all of the other factors come into play.
Mr. McDonald: I will rephrase the question one more time. I realize that the Minister is reluctant to give a definitive statement of faith in the industry - what he knows of it and its enthusiasm and expertise - in terms of supporting an abattoir project and growing to meet the operating demands of the abattoir project as conceived by the association.
There certainly is a need by someone to stick their neck out a bit and express support for the industry, given that the operating assumptions of this abattoir are that it is well known that the abattoir is going to lose money in the initial years, and that the great unknown, over the next four or five years, is whether or not the industry will grow and the market will accept a greater production of harvested animals through that facility.
I do not think I am going to get what I referred to as a definitive statement of faith from the Minister, but I would ask him this question: if the funding comes together for this project in the manner that the Minister has identified - either under the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program or the Department of Renewable Resources, along with some contribution from the industry, or any combination of those - and if land can be selected for an abattoir, should this project proceed and should the public investment be made?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If the industry shows its support toward this project, the previous government - through its economic strategy in 1986-87 - and this government committed to providing some funding toward the project and the acquisition of land for it. If the industry can pull it together and also put in a commitment, yes, I think it should go.
Mr. McDonald: I think I have as much as possible on that subject from the Minister today. I understood that Lot 563 on the Takhini Hot Springs Road was suitable for agricultural activities. Soils were such that it was best suited for some land-based agricultural activity. Does the Minister know that to be the case?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not have the soils classification for that particular lot, but my understanding is that there were class 5 soils on that lot, which is indicative of its being suitable for agriculture. I believe it was initially out on an agreement for sale, but the person who had the agreement did not do the improvements, so it reverted back to government. I understood it was suitable for agriculture.
Mr. McDonald: Does this lot have to be subdivided if the government provides 20 acres for the abattoir? How is the government planning to do it? Is it going to be giving the full lot to the Yukon Agricultural Association or to the abattoir proponents, or is it going to be giving only a 20-acre portion to the association? If it does give a 20-acre portion, is it going to be subdividing the lot?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The whole lot is reserved, but the letters that have been sent to the Yukon Agricultural Association indicate that the government would be willing to provide 20 acres. If that is the case, then it would require another subdivision. There has already been a 20-acre parcel taken out of the lot.
Mr. McDonald: What is the government's policy about subdividing this particular old agreement for sale? Is it possible, technically, to subdivide the old agreement for sale? What was the other 20 acres used for?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe there would be any difficulty in subdividing the parcel, because it is, I believe, currently zoned as rural residential; rural residential can be subdivided down to 15-acre sizes. I do not believe there would be a problem subdividing it.
Mr. McDonald: I would not mind the Minister providing me with some definitive statement on that particular issue from the lands branch. If he can commit to do that, I would appreciate it.
The Minister indicated that 20 acres have already been removed from that lot for other purposes. What happened there?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not exactly sure when it happened, but it was some time ago. I am going from a reference plan of the area. It looks to me - it may be a little more or a little less - like a 20-acre parcel has been taken out of Lot 563 to make room for a residence.
Mr. McDonald: Was that the residence associated with the person who held the agreement for sale, or was that done subsequently to the agreement for sale expiring, or the government taking it away?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not really know what the history of that matter is. I would have to get that information from the lands branch, and I can certainly provide that information to the Member opposite, along with the information about the current zoning of Lot 563.
Mr. McDonald: The zoning issue is probably less important - although it is an important feature of course - than my interest in whether or not a lot under an agreement for sale, though it has expired, can be subdivided in this way. I would be interested in learning the government's policy on this point.
Perhaps the Minister could also provide the correspondence that the government has undertaken to the Yukon Agricultural Association, or to any other persons with respect to what the government intends Lot 563 to be utilized for and what the uses of that property could possibly be. Could the Minister provide that information - I am not insisting upon receiving that information now - at some point?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have some correspondence here with respect to Lot 563 - it is the May 31, 1994, letter that I was referring to. However, it is not very readable. I will get a better copy from the branch and provide that, along with the other information, to the Member.
Mr. McDonald: Is it a matter of policy as well that if, under the agricultural land policy, a proponent subdivides a portion of the property for their own residence, and ultimately is unable to fulfill the expectations with respect to the use of the balance of the property, all of the land is taken back by the government, or is only the land that remains for agricultural purposes taken back?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know. I do not believe that is in the agricultural policy; I do not recall ever seeing it there. I do know that there are instances where someone got a parcel of land on an agreement for sale, with a requirement to do certain improvements, built a house, and then, over many years, lost the land and yet retained a certain portion of it for a house. I do not believe there is anything in the agricultural policy about it, but I know that it has happened on occasion.
Mr. McDonald: Maybe this could be part of that same legislative return, but I would like to know how the government handles situations like that and what the situation is, particularly how soon a subdivision for the residents can take place and whether or not it can take place only after all the obligations under the agreement for sale have been satisfied.
If the Minister could come back with that information, I would appreciate it.
Can the Minister tell us, from whatever he has been able to find out, what the deadlines are going to be for the approval process for the abattoir project? We heard that the director of community services is still reviewing it. We are not sure when he is going to complete his review. We do not know when the management committee is going to meet. The Minister committed yesterday to coming back with information about that. What can he tell us?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe I did come back after the supper break, and there is nothing new on the information that I provided after supper last night.
Mr. McDonald: Yes, I read Hansard this morning, including last night's material, and I was hoping the Minister could give us something a little more definitive as to what precisely was happening there. Obviously he will wait until he has undertaken to investigate further.
What is the relationship between the government and local hamlet councils respecting the selection of land? Have they been fully involved, as well, in the consultation process? Have they been advocating for a particular site or other?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: For what kind of land?
Mr. McDonald: Land for an abattoir.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have not heard one way or the other from either of the hamlets.
Mr. McDonald: Did the Minister speak to the hamlets about what was going on? Has he provided them with information and they just have not responded?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe that there has been any information provided to or from the hamlets, because there has been no actual application for land for an abattoir.
Mr. McDonald: The problem a lot of people face is that no one wants to go through the formal, lengthy process of making application unless some basic bases have been covered to ensure that an application that is ultimately made has the best chance of survival. Quite obviously, it would be highly desirable for the governments - I refer to the Government of Yukon, the federal government, the First Nations, the hamlet involved and the Yukon Agricultural Association - in order to ensure that there is at least some meeting of minds on an appropriate location.
The word I hear about Lot 563 is that it is going to be somewhat controversial. People are already eagerly looking for backup parcels, knowing that this is probably the last chance that the Agricultural Association is going to have for funding. Given that the Government of Yukon has committed $200,000 to the project, but at the same time will be cut back between $20 million and $40 million next year, and, given that the federal government's programs are all falling away and that there will be quite an arid landscape when it comes to funding from that direction, I think that a lot of people realize that it is now or never, and they do not want this opportunity to fall through.
Does the government not feel that it is appropriate to be conducting round-table discussions with other governments to see if this particular matter can be addressed and discussed so that we can perhaps put this process on a faster track?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The last paragraph of the letter that I will provide the Member opposite says: "In closing, I look forward to hearing from YAA in regard to whether you wish to pursue an application for a 20-acre parcel within Lot 563. We are prepared to meet with the YAA to clarify and resolve all outstanding issues associated with the processing of such an application."
Until we actually hear from YAA that it wants to pursue the acquisition of a parcel of land, we cannot go out and start making deals. We reserved Lot 563 merely on speculation; we did not want to have it sold if the Yukon Agricultural Association is interested in pursuing an abattoir. Until we hear definitively that it does want to pursue the acquisition of land, I do not think that we will start negotiating or discussing it with neighbours, Indian bands and so on.
Mr. McDonald: The fact that we are working here in our protected environment and away from the public is probably serving the Minister fairly well, because I think that a number of people who have been involved with the many different land proposals in the past are extremely frustrated with attempts to get land for the abattoir. As I understand it, many suggestions have been made. Many of them have been the subject of intense media attention. I think that the association has shown tremendous patience in trying to get the best spot.
I am certain that, at some point, the Yukon Agricultural Association is going to formally respond to the Minister's proposal that Lot 563 be used. Ultimately, I think someone should want to have a meeting of all the governmental interests, along with the Yukon Agricultural Association, to talk about site selection and what the most appropriate opportunities are, before going to speak to area residents. Clearly, what seems to have happened is that a lot proposal has been raised, and one or more parties torpedo the proposal from a distance, and may torpedo it for good reasons - who knows? Maybe it is for land claims reasons, or because the federal government does not want to transfer the land, or maybe it is a forestry reserve, or maybe it is any number of things.
The point is that, every time an application is made, the Yukon Agricultural Association gets out there, panting away, trying to do all the groundwork, and trying to work through all of the diplomatic niceties with the various agencies, government offices, and so on, only to find that something falls apart. I think, in fairness to the Yukon Agricultural Association, it has worked extraordinarily hard to try to make this thing come together. No one can fault them for feeling frustrated. No one could suggest that it has been anything other than aggressive in trying to see this project come forward.
I only make the recommendation that it may be appropriate, in the very, very near future, to have discussions or ask other governments to join with the Yukon government and the Yukon Agricultural Association to have discussions about this project and the siting. I refer primarily to the Yukon government and the First Nations, but also the appropriate hamlet in the area.
I am sure that any known concerns can be laid on the table up front before anyone works like a Trojan to work through an application. I will make that suggestion. Perhaps the Minister may accept it; perhaps he will not.
I believe I have covered most of the issues that I covered last night.
I have a last thought on Lot 563. I understood it to be prime agricultural land. At least, the Minister identified it as class 5 land. In terms of the Minister's priorities, if it is not selected by First Nations, would it be more appropriate for that land to be used for a land-based agricultural activity or for an agricultural project that does not require good arable land, such as an abattoir?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It would be preferable to see land with class 5 or better soils in production, but an abattoir does fit in with the agricultural community. Being that the land surrounding that particular parcel is all agricultural land, it would seem that the abattoir and/or vegetable storage facility fits in with the area usage. Although I would prefer to see it in actual production, I believe it could be considered as an agricultural use and permitted.
Mr. McDonald: I understand what the Minister is saying, although I do not agree with him in terms of prime uses. Obviously, there is precious little land that one could call arable land in this area and obviously, if one had the option of different land sites, one would want to use arable land for land-based agricultural purposes. Therefore, one would try to find land that is less dependent upon arable qualities in order to support agricultural and industrial activity. As Mr. Speaker would say, that is just a disagreement between Members.
With respect to the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program, did the government direct officials who are sitting on the management committee of that program to consider the abattoir as a priority project?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure. The Department of Community and Transportation Services conducts the initial review and it goes to an internal committee. We have very recently discovered that the Department of Community and Transportation Services wanted to involve someone from Renewable Resources. I have not spoken to anyone from the Department of Community and Transportation Services about this issue at all. The official from Renewable Resources knows that an abattoir is in our budget, so obviously it is a priority with the government, but I expect that the department is going to be looking at all of the projects and that the projects will be judged on merit.
Mr. McDonald: By that answer, does the Minister mean that the Department of Community and Transportation Services has only recently asked for Renewable Resources' input? When will the agricultural branch be involved in reviewing the application internally?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Apparently they will be asked to review it within the next few weeks.
Mr. McDonald: Is the Minister able to tell us when the management committee of this program is going to be meeting - the committee that is actually going to make the selections?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know. I think I indicated yesterday that I do not know what date the management committee meeting is set for.
Mr. McDonald: I will sum up my comments by saying that I have a concern that the application has been in the hands of the government for two months. It has been reviewed by the director of community services, who is a fine person, but is not an agricultural specialist. That director of community services plans, in the next few weeks, to talk to the people who know something about the abattoir, and know something about the industry, inside the Government of Yukon. That means that the application will be in the hands of the government for three months before people who really know what they are talking about on a technical level are even involved. Ultimately, that suggests that the priority for this project is something less than what the Minister has given us to believe. To try and be positive about this, I would recommend that the Ministers do become familiar with the project proposal, that they do encourage officials to get together immediately to discuss this proposal, and that they indicate to officials who are going to be sitting on the management committee that this proposal matters to the Yukon government, and then we will see what happens from there.
When the Minister knows when the Canada/Yukon infrastructure management committee is going to get together, would he undertake to tell the Legislature - or the Opposition if the Legislature is not sitting - so that we will know precisely when things are happening and how they are unfolding?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I would certainly be willing to. I can make a note of it and provide the information to the Members opposite.
Mr. Cable: I have just a couple of questions on the abattoir. When the forestry lands were being considered for the abattoir, there were extensive environmental studies carried out, and I believe they cost quite a few thousand dollars. Have any environmental studies been carried out on Lot 563?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe that there were any assessments done on that piece of property.
Mr. Cable: Does the Minister or the Minister's official anticipate any unusual environmental problems, other than the problems that might have been contemplated by the use of the old forest reserve? For example, is there a creek flowing through the property? Is there a gravel base? Is there anything that would suggest that the property might not be readily usable for the purpose of the abattoir?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, there have not been any concerns expressed to us about some sort of natural feature that could cause problems. There was some assessment work done on Lot 288, but there had been an actual request for it to be done on that property. We still have not had a request for any portion of Lot 563.
Mr. Cable: If a request comes in, is the Minister prepared to allocate a portion of the $200,000 that he has spoken about to do the environmental studies? Are there some strings attached to the $200,000 that would prevent the Yukon Agricultural Association from using those funds for those types of studies?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not think there are any strings attached to the $200,000 if they are genuinely interested in Lot 563. If we get an application, we would do a preliminary assessment using our own people. If there were some features that we thought might require further investigation, we would probably hire some expertise, but we could likely do most of that assessment ourselves. Then, if we found land suitable for the purpose, we would go through a consultation process with the people and any affected First Nations.
Mr. McDonald: Just as a follow up to that question, the Minister indicated that an environmental study might have to be done for Lot 563. Is it the Minister's position that an environmental study, such as the one undertaken for Lot 288, should be done for any formal land request that is made of the government by the abattoir proponents?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, I do not think that a full-blown assessment is necessary. We do have to check the soils for septic capabilities. That is a fairly common thing that has to be done, even for some house lots in some areas. It is not an onerous task.
Mr. McDonald: Does the Minister believe that the environmental review that was conducted for Lot 288 was sufficient, too much or too little for its purposes? Is that the kind of environmental assessment that we should be undertaking for other land applications that may be put forward by the abattoir proponents?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know any of the details of the assessment of Lot 288.
Mr. McDonald: I think it makes obvious sense that if some environmental review is required for every formal application made, which obviously would involve some time and some money on someone's part, it would suggest that every human effort should be made to narrow down the list of available parcels. It would appear to cry out for some round-table discussions between governments and the YAA about what are the most likely opportunities. I will make that pitch again, I suppose.
Mr. Harding: I have some more questions for the Minister on a slightly different subject. I have a keen interest in the agricultural policy of the territorial government, and I am wondering precisely what the feeling is of this particular government toward that policy. Is the government fully committed to that policy as it stands?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The government is certainly committed to the policy. There may be some specific details that I am not aware of right now, but the government is committed to the policy and to reviewing it with the association and the Agricultural Planning Advisory Committee in this fiscal year.
Mr. Harding: There is commitment to this policy then, but perhaps the Minister has not committed some of the specific details. That is fair enough; he is going to have to review it in more detail. Essentially, he is interested and supportive of some of the program elements that are outlined in the agricultural policy. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes.
Mr. Harding: One of the key components of the agricultural policy is contained in section 12. It is one of the program elements of the policy that speaks about land tax rebates. It is my understanding that farmers who produce the required value of agricultural products have tried to apply, but have been refused.
The Minister just said he is committed to the program elements of the agricultural policy. I am surprised people were turned back from this. Has there been a Cabinet policy decision to leave this out of the approved agricultural policy? What is the reason for the refusal?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There has been no legislation or regulations put in place to provide tax rebates. However, properties that are classed as agricultural land pay a lower tax than similar rural residential properties. I believe the agricultural rate is 0.52 mils, and a similar rural residential property is charged at a rate of 0.80 mils.
Mr. Harding: This is the third budget session with this particular government. I am not sure how many legislative sessions we have been here for, and I have seen no proposed change from any Minister to deliver on the policy this Minister says he is committed to. Will it be forthcoming in this session of the Legislature? If not, why not?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It will be during this fiscal year. We want to discuss it with the Yukon Agricultural Association and the Agricultural Planning Advisory Committee, but there has been a commitment made. Whatever transpires will be within this fiscal year.
Mr. Harding: In plain English, the agricultural policy the government is committed to will have the nuts and bolts allowing this land tax rebate program in this fiscal year - is that the case?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It will be put in place this fiscal year for implementation effective April 1, 1996.
Mr. Harding: One of the people who had applied for this particular initiative in the agricultural program was told by the department when they applied that the reason the rebate would not be provided was due to budget cutbacks and that it was a budgetary issue. I am pleased to hear today from the Minister's mouth that that is not the case, because, as we all know, this government has tabled the biggest spending budget in Yukon history. It has not actually achieved any cutbacks through decisions of priority rather than the supply of money. I would just say to the Minister that he should perhaps straighten that out with the department officials who are telling people that that is the reason that they were not able to get a rebate this year.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I thank the Member opposite for that information.
Mr. Penikett: I have a couple of fairly general questions to ask of the Minister about his wolf kill program.
I first want to ask him if he had any response to the Yukon Conservation Society news release of April 7, 1995, which questions the wolf kill methods. The reason I ask is that while we had some brief discussions about the wolf kill program, we did not actually have any questions arising from the comment from the Conservation Society. I would like to ask the Minister if he has had any reaction to the press statement.
I will quote the first paragraph, and then the Minister could respond. "The Yukon Conservation Society challenges the Yukon government's claim that this year's wolf kill program was a success. According to the society, the killing of 12 coyotes, five wolverines and one moose, and the delay in the killing of at least five of the wolves caught in the snares should not be considered a successful program." It then goes on in some detail to elaborate.
Could I ask the Minister if he had any response to that statement?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe that the Department of Renewable Resources' communications person commented on CBC the following day, I believe it was. Then, the president of the Yukon Trappers Association was interviewed on the same question by CBC Radio today. I have not received any direct requests, comments or letters. It may be too soon. There may be letters coming to me, but other than those two instances, I am not aware of any direct requests.
Mr. Penikett: There is a small problem when the Minister refers to a statement from his department on a political issue. However, the Minister indicates that he is divorced from it, or is not associating himself with the statement. I think that is what the university of his deputy minister, Ms. McTiernan, probably would have called a mind/body problem.
I am curious, because this is a fairly strong and clear statement from the Yukon Conservation Society, and the Minister is indicating that the trappers and the department - as if it and he are separate entities - have responded, but he has not identified himself with the response.
Maybe what I can do is ask the Minister three or four questions - they will not be long ones - and ask him to comment.
To use a question suggested by the Yukon Conservation Society, what criteria are being used to evaluate the success of alternate methods of killing the wolves? The Minister will recall that the wolf management plan talks about assessing other methods, although I do not think that snaring is necessarily what the planning team had in mind. I think it was actually talking about non-lethal methods and traditional methods, such as those used by native people.
I wonder if I could ask the Minister a two-part question. Does he think that snaring was intended as one of those traditional methods in the original plan? How does the department and he, as Minister of that department, assess the success or failure of these alternate methods of killing wolves?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe that snaring was specifically mentioned in the wolf conservation and management plan. The other method that was tried and that we are still determining the success of, was the vasectomy of an alpha wolf, which I found quite interesting.
To provide information to the Member opposite, the trappers in Yukon, by their own estimation, use snares 50 percent of the time for their purposes. There are, I believe, 372 traplines in the territory. Approximately half of those traplines use snares, along with humane traps, and some leghold traps are still used in the territory.
I believe that snaring is considered to be a humane method of trapping. In fact, some argue that snaring is more humane than shooting from aircraft, because there is probably less stress to the animal. Others argue against that and in this case, out of 19 animals snared, five were still alive when the snares were checked. The reason for five animals living was they did not tighten up on the snare.
Snares work on the premise of a locking device that will allow the wire or cable to tighten, but not loosen. If the animal pulls against the snare, it will choke the animal very, very quickly. There were five animals that did not pull on the snare; they were standing in the snare and had to be shot.
Mr. Penikett: It is interesting. I was one of those people who, when we were first talking about the wolf management plan, guessed that memories of the Vietnam war and helicopter gunships would tend to stimulate an extremely negative response to the aerial kill, which is also quite expensive. I suspected that the more traditional method of trapping wolves, which I thought also would be cheaper, would attract less adverse publicity. The interesting fact is that, in Alaska, it was negative television coverage of the snaring of wolves that brought down a flood of bad press for the state. They judged it bad enough to have an impact on the tourism industry and ended their program as a result.
I would be interested in knowing, therefore, since the government has decided it is going to continue this wolf kill, whether the experience this year of the mix of methods will have some impact on how the government is going to proceed in the next season. Again, mindful of what the government opposite has called the security question, I do not ask for details, but perhaps the Minister could comment on the mix of methods between the aerial kill, the snaring and the other methods he might be recommending for next season.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: What we want to do is a full evaluation of the methods used, taking into consideration the incidental kills - the five wolves that actually did not succumb to choking through the snare - and then determine what we may do for the following year.
It is a little too early to say whether or not we can consider the snaring successful. We do consider it successful in that we achieved the number of animals that we wanted to take out of there, but, given the other information - the incidental kills and the fact that five animals remained alive - we will have to consider that when we do our evaluation.
Mr. Penikett: One person has commented to me that even though section 934 of the plan says that the moose calf survival rate should be at least doubled in order to continue the program, they note that the calf survival rate has not doubled. I understand that the scientific design does allow for the doubling of only one of the target species in terms of meeting the objectives of the department.
I wonder if the department has done the same kind of review for moose calf populations as it did last fall for caribou.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that it has not.
Mr. Penikett: Let me ask the Minister if the department intends to do that kind of review and if it intends to use independent reviewers, as was the case with the caribou last fall. To express the question in the same way that my learned friend from Faro would: if not, why not?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that we would not be doing an evaluation on the moose until later. The program was geared to the caribou recovery. At this late date in the program, we would not try to switch it to include moose. However, we are keeping track of the numbers to see if there is a corresponding increase.
The other thing is that it is costly to try to do the adult/calf ratio for moose as well as caribou. It is not our intention to include that in the program.
Mr. Penikett: I would like to ask questions about two other areas.
I heard an employee of the federal government on CBC Radio in the morning a few days ago talking about the possible impact of this wolf kill program on the wolf population inside the park. The federal official was extremely circumspect in the way he expressed himself. However, by reading - or listening - between the lines, one could hear articulated a concern about the impact on game populations in Kluane Park by what the department would call management practices outside the park boundaries. I wonder if I could ask the Minister whether there have been any high level communications - Minister to Minister, or deputy to deputy - between the federal government, particularly Parks Canada, and Renewable Resources of the Yukon government about the impact of programs such as the territory is running on wildlife populations under another jurisdiction, such as national parks.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There was discussion at the director level - the director of wildlife on our side and the parks superintendent on the federal government side. There is a memorandum of understanding between the two that I would be quite happy to provide for the Member opposite for his perusal, but there has been no discussion at higher levels.
Mr. Penikett: I would like to see that memorandum of understanding. Let me put the question this way: can the Minister tell me if, as a result of the concerns expressed by the federal government about the potential impact on wolf populations in a preserve - in other words, in a national park - by a wolf kill program run by the territorial government, there is any change in the territorial government program being contemplated as a result of even a mild expression of federal concern?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There are a couple of points. There is a 10-mile buffer and there was one small pack of wolves that we deliberately did not kill, because they were travelling back and forth between the buffer zone and the Aishihik caribou area. We deliberately left those wolves, because we did not know where they originally came from - were they park wolves or what? We are quite cognizant of the whole idea.
There are collared wolves in the area. Indications are that collared wolves have not gone into the kill area, but I do not know if there are plans to collar additional wolves this summer. I do not know about that, but it is an interesting scenario and I would be quite willing to look into it.
Mr. Penikett: The final subject I would like to ask about is from a different point of view, namely that of the First Nations. When one travels in that area and has conversations with elders, one often hears the view expressed, whatever their feelings about the wolf kill program, that the biggest predator problem many elders see there is the activities of some big game outfitting operations. Can I ask the Minister if he has heard that concern, and, if he or the department have heard it, how have they responded to that kind of comment?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have heard the concern in the past. In fact, someone even mentioned it to me this year, which is kind of interesting, because the outfitter in the area does not take caribou or moose out of the area at all, and they will not until after the program is over and we have actually determined that there will be sufficient animals to sustain some sort of a hunt.
In a lot of cases, there are a lot of stories that are not true. I did see an article from a magazine in eastern Canada that actually said the only reason the government is conducting the wolf kill program is to provide more animals for the big game outfitters, which is the furthest thing from the truth.
There is no question that those kinds of stories abound. In the Yukon, most people are starting to understand more about the program, why we are doing it and so on, but I am sure those stories will continue.
Mr. Penikett: I would be curious to know which magazine that was, as I am interested in seeing that article.
At this moment, we have an interesting situation that is ambiguous, in terms of the role of First Nations in the Kluane area. We have the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, who has completed its land claims settlement and is in the process of setting up a renewable resources council, which has YTG and First Nation nominees. We had complaints about the YTG nominees in one area, and I must remember to ask the Minister about that, but I will come back to it later.
Right next door, the Kluane First Nation has not yet completed a claim, and the White River First Nation is some distance away from completing one. For that reason, there are two things that result from that. One is the different kinds of input from the different First Nations into decisions about wildlife management policies. As Chief Joe Johnson pointed out to me, if Kluane, for example, had a claim settled, one of the provisions of the wildlife chapter would grant some ability of the First Nation to help control what hunting has done in the area - not just by outsiders, but by other First Nations.
This is not the case under the present rules for them, even though it is the case for Champagne-Aishihik, which may supply some of the hunters who go into the Kluane area. Given the sensitivities around the issue of wolf management, has the Minister given any thought to preimplementing something like a resource council in the Kluane area, given the kind of activities and the complexity of the issue there, as we did in the Na-Cho Ny'ak Dun or the Mayo traditional territory prior to the settlement of claims there?
The reason I ask the Minister if he has considered this is because it seems to me that the preimplementation process, while costing a bit of money, was extremely valuable in terms of developing the working relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people about harvesting issues and beginning to talk about what sustainable levels of harvest were, and so forth, all of which are issues that are related to the question of the wolf kill and to other questions, such as quotas for big game outfitters.
I do not want to get into this in great detail, but I would like to know if the Minister has given any thought to that possibility?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We do have a steering committee. After the break, I will bring back the names of the people who sit on the steering committee. I believe we have people from Burwash, as well as Haines Junction, sitting on the committee. The committee is called the Aishihik Kluane Caribou Recovery Program Committee.
It acts in a manner similar to a renewable resource council. I have given some thought to what the Member opposite has suggested, but I certainly cannot give him any kind of definitive response here; however, it is something that I have considered and about which I want to talk to the department. I am not going to make any promises one way or another at this time.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Minister for the offer to come back with the information, and I am not going to press him on the point. I would make one observation, which follows up a private conversation I had with the Minister a few days ago
Following a conversation I had a few months ago with someone operating in that area, who may or may not be an operator of a big game outfitting concession, I came away with a concern about the low level of understanding of not only the umbrella final agreement and the wildlife provisions, but also of the harvesting rights of First Nation people.
It is my view that even if a pre-implemented council operated at no greater level, initially, than that of a sounding board, or a forum for educating consumptive users, non-consumptive users, aboriginal people, non-aboriginal users, commercial users and people who are subsistence users, about what each is doing and about each other's values and activities, it would be useful, and I will say no more.
Mr. Cable: The Minister provided a list of policy initiatives in which the Department of Economic Development was involved. Would the Minister prepare a similar list of policy initiatives in which the Department of Renewable Resources is involved? If I could refresh his memory, the Department of Economic Development list was one page with about 15 or 20 initiatives on it, and it indicated the status of each initiative.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I can provide that. I expect we can get it from a work plan so I can have it for the Member in the next couple of days.
Mr. Cable: It would be quite useful if we could get it before the session is over.
This was touched on a little bit earlier. The preamble of the policy indicates that the policy will be evaluated after the end of the third year and not later than the fifth year of implementation. In the body of the policy, on evaluation of the policy, it says that this section of the Yukon agricultural policy and the program to implement it shall be evaluated after the end of the third year of operation and before the end of the fifth year of operation.
Is that the review which is mentioned in the preamble, or are the review and the evaluation different things? Does the preamble ask if the policy will be reviewed in the future?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I guess the question is whether or not the review and the evaluation are the same thing. Yes, it is. We are just starting the process of setting up the review.
Mr. Cable: The time frame that is talked about in the Yukon policy is after the end of the third year - which, of course, the clock has already started to run on - and before the fifth year of implementation. What is the Minister's timetable? When can we expect to see the Yukon policy for agriculture with a full-fledged review and a document that we can have a look at?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I could say between the third and fifth year, but I do not think that would satisfy the Member opposite.
What I am hoping is that, by the fall of this year, we should have some sort of draft document.
Mr. Cable: Has there, at this juncture, been any issue identification - any list of issues - that the Minister and his officials will be reviewing and that will be translated on to paper, so that we can have a look at it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: A lot of information has come back to us from the Yukon Agricultural Association. For example, I believe at one time it brought in something like 21 recommendations for changes to the policy. Then the president changed, so the recommendations also changed. We want to establish a process and framework for the evaluation - how we hope to put it together. This should be completed by the end of May.
Mr. Cable: Just to confirm it, the Minister has indicated that he received a list of issues from the present management of the Yukon Agricultural Association - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe we have received a current list from the current executive. We received a list of suggested changes to the agricultural policy from previous executives in the summer of 1993. I do not believe we have received a current, full list since then, but there have been some suggestions for changes.
Mr. Cable: Who is carrying out the review? I assume it is public servants, but are there any people other than public servants, such as members of the Yukon Agricultural Association, involved with the review?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It will be the policy and planning people within our department and they will work with the Agricultural Association and the APAC group.
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. Cable: I have some questions on the Environment Act. The Minister has been asked a number of questions in Question Period about where the amendments to that act sit. As I understand what he has told the House over the last few weeks, the amendment submissions for the Environment Act were made to the Council on the Economy and the Environment. They held some consultations with some groups and then it became apparent that there were a number of issues that were not, I believe, to use the Minister's verbiage, of a housekeeping nature Then the amendments went back to the drawing board.
Is the Minister now in a position to indicate what the issues are that are not of a housekeeping nature?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not prepared to make any further comments now. The department will be analyzing the report by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment and will be making recommendations to Cabinet. We should receive those in Cabinet in the next couple of weeks.
Mr. Cable: When Cabinet receives the recommendations, what are its intentions? Will these issues, which I gather are not of a housekeeping nature, be put out for public discussion? If so, will they be in the nature of a discussion paper or a white paper? What does the Minister intend to do with these, what I assume to be, major issues after the Cabinet has reviewed them?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is exactly why Cabinet is reviewing them. There will be a direction from Cabinet on exactly what to do with the recommendations.
Mr. Cable: Is the Minister saying that Cabinet will be reviewing the process for public consultation, or will it be making a decision on the recommendations coming from the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Essentially, Cabinet will be reviewing the report and the recommendations and making a decision about where we go from there.
Mr. Cable: I am still not clear about it. Is the Minister saying that we are talking about process - where we go from here - on how the proposed amendments are going to be dealt with, or is the Cabinet going to be making a decision on the recommendations from the Council on the Economy and the Environment - that is, a substantive decision on the proposed amendments?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There would be a substantive position on the report and then a direction on where to go from there.
Mr. Cable: What will be the Minister's recommendation to his colleagues? Will he want the proposed amendments that have come out of the consultation process to be put out to the general public for discussion, or will his recommendation be that Cabinet make a decision and then present the bill for discussion in the House?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have not yet seen the report that will be going to Cabinet. It is really not appropriate for me to comment on it until I have actually reviewed it. It should go to Cabinet before I make any specific comments about it.
Mr. Cable: The act governing the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment contemplates that reports made by the council be made public. We had this hassle on the gambling issue a year ago. Is the Minister prepared to make the report public?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The report actually went to the Government Leader. The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment reports to the Government Leader. That decision would be the Government Leader's to make, rather than mine.
Mr. Cable: I thought the decision was made in that act that the reports from the council are to be made public. Perhaps I have misappreciated the act.
Is the Minister saying that he anticipates that there will be some discretion exercised in withholding the report?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would have to have to look at the act. I am not sure exactly what it states.
Again, the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment makes its reports to the Government Leader. I am not really in a position to say that I would release the recommendations or the report. I am not in a position to say that.
Mr. Cable: I wonder if the Minister would commit to reviewing that issue and determining whether or not, in his view, the act requires that the report be made public, and if so, would he make the report public?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I can look at the act, but I cannot make the report public. In fact, I do not even have the report.
Mr. Cable: That is good Question Period material for the Government Leader, I guess.
The Minister has been asked questions about what will be on the agenda of the meeting of the ministers of energy and the environment to be held in Haines Junction. He has indicated that the issue of harmonization will be the main issue. As I interpret it, that is the harmonization of the various environmental laws and regulations. Is my appreciation of that issue correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There are a couple of points. First of all, it is not energy and environment ministers at this particular meeting, just ministers of the environment. Harmonization is the main item on the agenda. It is not necessarily that the legislation will come into line. It is more practices, policies and that sort of thing. When the practices and policies of various jurisdictions are harmonized, it may be that the legislation will fall into place and also be similar across the country, but that will not be at the start.
Mr. Cable: I understand the words; I am not quite sure I understand the concept. Can the Minister indicate what sort of practices and policies he is talking about?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: An example would be an inspection service, such as water quality monitoring.
Mr. Cable: I will take that one to bed with me tonight and think about it - and read Hansard.
Let me go over the Haines Junction meeting in some more detail. As reported in the newspaper, the Berlin conference that took place last week did not come up with very satisfactory results. One of the issues that was talked about on one of the CBC's newsmagazines last week was the ability of voluntary measures to reduce greenhouse gases. I know that the Minister indicated last year, when he was questioned on the meeting last fall, that his government subscribed to voluntary measures, as opposed to regulatory measures, in eliminating and reducing greenhouse gases. Is that still this government's position?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, it is.
Mr. Cable: What is the position of a majority of the provincial governments? Is it the same as the Government of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment works on a consensus basis. It does not actually come to a vote. However, generally the way it is done across Canada is that everyone supports voluntary environmental measures, with the exception of the federal government and British Columbia. It is kind of interesting that the federal Minister of Energy supports voluntary measures, but the federal Minister of the Environment does not. It is a consensus group and the consensus at the end of the meeting was that we would support voluntary measures.
Mr. Cable: The Minister was asked what was going to be on the agenda at Haines Junction. I think as we left it in the last episode of Question Period, he was not quite certain if greenhouse gases or hazardous air pollutants were going to be on the agenda. Has he, as yet, struck the agenda, and are these two items going to be on it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. Air issues, in general, and hazardous air pollutants will both be on the agenda.
Mr. Cable: Moving on to hazardous air pollutants, in Lake Laberge the information we have obtained so far through the media is that the suspected source of toxaphenes is, at least in part, airborne contamination, but it was not clear to me from reading the news reports whether the issue of waterborne contamination of the fish livers is still up in the air - whether there is a suspected waterborne source of toxaphenes. Has the Minister's department reached a conclusion about whether there are waterborne sources of toxaphenes?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, I do not believe we have come to any kind of conclusion at all.
I have a briefing note on it, and maybe that will help clarify it for the Member. Renewable Resources has implemented a management program for Lake Laberge that is designed to reduce the concentration of contaminants in lake trout. The program calls for stopping the commercial harvest of lake trout to allow the stocks to rebuild. Contaminant concentrations are predicted to decline with an increase in the abundance of lake trout.
Mr. Cable: Does that mean that more fish are going to be gobbling up the pollution and digesting it?
I asked the Minister on that general issue whether or not he had any information about what the medical health officer had done and if the medical health officer had issued any orders with respect to Lake Laberge fish? Has he had a chance to consider that question - assuming that he is listening.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I will read this note out loud, because it does hit on the topic the Member is raising, to some extent. It says, "Concerns about Lake Laberge fish rose in September of 1990 when tests indicated high levels of toxaphene and other chemical residues in burbot livers and lake trout flesh. In the fall of 1990, Renewable Resources, in cooperation with Environment Canada, conducted additional sampling on Lake Laberge, Tagish Lake, Yukon River near Carmacks and Dawson City, and on some control lakes to confirm earlier results and the extent of contamination. Because of elevated levels of toxaphene in burbot livers and lake trout flesh from Lake Laberge, National Health and Welfare issued a public health advisory in May 1991, recommending that burbot livers not be eaten and that consumption of lake trout flesh be limited. Only low levels of contaminants were found in whitefish, burbot flesh and all other species of fish tested."
Mr. Cable: After that health advisory, a group of people, comprising of the Yukon Conservation Society, the Downstream Coalition and the Ta'an Kwach'an, filed an access-to-information request under the federal act and made application to have the situation reviewed. I asked the Minister if he was aware of the status of that application. Has he had a chance to determine that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Member opposite is right. The Ta'an Kwach'an, the Downstream Coalition and the Yukon Conservation Society requested an investigation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The violations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act were not discovered.
Mr. Cable: Is the Minister saying that there was a decision rendered on the investigation? Am I reading him correctly?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, that is what it appears to be from the note that I have here.
Mr. Cable: On an allied topic, last year a volunteer group raised barrels from Schwatka Lake. Some of the barrels had some residue in them, if I remember the media report correctly. Have the Minister's officials determined what was in those barrels, or has anybody determined it - federal or territorial officials?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We do not have any information about that here. I will check with the department, and if we have any information, I will pass it on to the Member opposite.
Mr. Cable: If I am correct in reading the news reports on the toxaphene contamination, the issue of waterborne contamination is still up in the air. Does the Minister or his officials have any idea as to the possible sources of the water-borne toxaphene contamination?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have a paper on contaminants in the Yukon. It focuses specifically on toxaphene - what toxaphene is and its effects on fish in the Yukon, and so on. This is prepared by the Yukon contaminants committee, and funded through the arctic environmental strategy. I will get a copy of this paper and pass it over to the Member, rather than trying to dig out specific information. I will pass it to all the Members opposite. That would be easier for us.
I would just like to respond to a couple of questions from before the break on the Aishihik and Kluane Caribou Recovery Steering Committee membership. I would provide this, except that there is some information with regard to social insurance numbers, so I cannot. I just took it from one of our books. However, I will read the names into the record: Gerald Dickson, from Burwash; Charlie Eikland, from Destruction Bay; Tom Grantham, from Destruction Bay; Liz Hofer, from Silver Creek; Jim Silas, from Haines Junction; Daryl Drift, from Haines Junction; Harry Smith, from Haines Junction; Chuck Hume, from Haines Junction; Brad Wilson, from Haines Junction; and Micky Beatty, from Champagne. I understand that the department is currently reviewing these names because of a possible conflict with some of them who are on the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. That is the current list.
I have some copies of the memorandum of understanding on the caribou recovery program in Aishihik that we were discussing before the break. I will send three copies across the floor.
Mr. Cable: I have a grab bag of other questions.
I believe the Minister's predecessor was questioned about the little booklets issued by the department on sportfishing regulations. As I recollect the questioning, some questions were directed to the Minister about why this was being done by the government, because they carry advertisements in them. What is the government's present view about this? Should documents with advertisements in them be done in house or they should be contracted out to private business?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That initiative has been adopted since I have become Minister of Renewable Resources. I would like to blame my colleague, but I cannot.
The whole booklet was contracted out; it was not done in house.
Mr. Cable: What the Minister is saying is that the ads were solicited by the contractor and it was printed by the contractor - is that the case?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, that is correct.
Mr. Cable: On another issue, the Yukon Agricultural Association has approached the government for funding for its strategic plan. I gather that the application has been bandied about between the two departments. Where does that application stand at the moment?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The project was approved in principle and the total cost was $14,700. Of this amount, $5,000 will come from the green plan program, administered by the agriculture branch, which has been approved. The $9,700 will come from the Renewable Resource subagreement of the economic development agreement, pending final approval. This was fairly recently updated on April 3. I am not sure where it is at since that date. I believe it has to go to a committee in Economic Development.
Mr. Cable: Could the Minister indicate when he expects that the matter will be dealt with? I know the application has been outstanding for quite some time.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure when these meetings are called. However, I would expect that there would be something, one way or the other, within a couple of weeks.
Mr. Cable: On another issue, one of the aspects of the Yukon agricultural policy and one of the services talked about in the document is research. I gather from previous questions put either to the Minister or his predecessor that agricultural research has been put on the back burner, and other matters have been pursued. Is my appreciation of what was previously said accurate?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure what the Member is specifically asking about. There was quite a large amount of research done by individuals on growing different things different ways and so on, under the grant programs of the economic development agreements, which were in place a few years ago. Research and background information is continually being provided by the branch.
I do not believe there are monies left for the individual type of research to which the Member is possibly referring.
Mr. Cable: I was referring to direct government research in the agricultural area and government-sponsored research of the type carried out with the alpine seeds project on the Drury farm. Does the government anticipate getting into research relating to varieties of forage or berries, or whatever, in the way of agricultural products? Just what sort of research is the government prepared to get into at this time to assist the agricultural community in developing new varieties that are suitable for the north?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Well, there is no funding left, that I am aware of, for those types of projects. I doubt very much if we will be funding individuals to experiment with different forages or crops that will grow up here. There is a lot of information available from the old experimental farm in Haines Junction that people can take advantage of, as there is information that is easily obtainable from Beaver Lodge, Olds, Alberta and Alaska. There is a lot of that type of information available and the government has it at the agricultural branch for people who request it.
Mr. Cable: I think most, if not all, of the provinces have their own research programs and their own research farms. Is there anything on the drawing board in the way of long-term projects to revive the agricultural-research farm concept that was started by the federal government many years ago, and was just referred to by the Minister?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is none by the Yukon government, and I do not believe the federal government has an interest in resurrecting that particular farm or starting another one, but I am not certain of that.
Mr. Cable: Lot 563, which we have been talking about for the last couple of days, has a reserve on it for the use of the abattoir. Does the government have any plans for that portion of the farm, or the lands, on which the abattoir is situated that will not relate to the abattoir portion? Is there any possibility, or any glimmer of hope, that at some juncture this government will get into agricultural science and use this farm for demonstration plots and that sort of thing?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is quite a bit premature. We have heard comments that we are going to lose somewhere between $20 million and $40 million out of our budget next year. I would not mind seeing something like that; however, I just do not see that the money will be available to do it until some time in the future.
Mr. Cable: On an allied subject, I gather that there is a local society being incorporated to form part of the membership of the circumpolar agricultural group. I am not sure what the names of these two organizations are. There is an umbrella group being set up that will coordinate agricultural issues across the circumpolar portion of the planet. Where do we sit on that? What is this group supposed to do?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not really know. I received a letter this morning from the federal government. Obviously, the Member opposite is more chummy with the federal government than I am, because I just got mine before lunch. I have not really had a chance to read it. Maybe the Member opposite should fill me in on what it says and save me reading it tomorrow.
Mr. Cable: I have a better idea. If he talks to his agricultural director he might get some information. It may be that I have not got the correct designation of the group, but there is a group that has been stick handled around by his agricultural director that deals with circumpolar agricultural issues. Am I ringing some bells now with the Minister?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. This group is being put together and, interestingly enough, the federal government is putting quite a bit of money into it, from what I understand.
Again, the letter did come only this morning, so I have not had a chance to review it or see who is sitting on it. I know several countries are involved and they want Canada heavily involved; there is no question about that.
Mr. Cable: The society that I believe the agriculture director was involved in and, in some way, the agricultural association - this issue has been floating around quite a bit before this morning's mail. I will leave that for Question Period later on. I am sure the Minister will have some answers on that topic later.
I have many more questions here, but it would appear that the magic hour has arrived. I move that the Chair report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 3, Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:26 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled April 11, 1995:
Social assistance regulations: criteria determining severity of a disability: maintaining eligibility for assistance; criteria for emergency assistance (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1644
Whitehorse General Hospital: advertisements for solicitation of contractors for the prequalification tender (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1704
Whitehorse General Hospital prequalification of contractors: responses to several questions relating to (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1704 to 1706
Whitehorse General Hospital: prequalification of contractors for new hospital approved by Management Board on February 2, 1995 (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1707 to 1708
FAS/FAE survey: proposal to the Canada drug strategy re: high risk alcohol behaviour in the Yukon (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1732