Tuesday, April 25, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with silent Prayers.
Speaker: At this time, we will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to welcome some of the younger constituents who are in the gallery today. We have one of the grade 5 classes from Golden Horn Elementary School and their teacher, Ms. Colleen O'Brien.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I would like to introduce the grade 5 class from Jack Hulland Elementary and their teacher, Vern Peters. They are also here today to watch the Legislature in action. I would like Members to join me in welcoming them.
Mr. Penikett: I would ask Members of the House to also make welcome poet, fiction writer and Governor General's award winner, Patrick Lane, who is here visiting us this week for the writers festival from his home in British Columbia.
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
Are there any Reports of Committees?
Petition No. 3
Ms. Moorcroft: I have for tabling a petition for the Yukon Legislative Assembly. There are 335 Yukoners who have asked the Assembly to approve funds to install streetlights in the MacRae area.
Speaker: Are there any Introduction of Bills?
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 Question Period.
Question re: Liquor stores, acceptance of credit cards
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation. The Minister has announced a plan to allow credit and debit cards to be operational in the liquor stores around the territory. In responding to concerns that this might lead to more drinking, he said this morning, "I do not see where it would, because the ones who have a real problem with alcohol, most of them do not have credit cards anyways."
I would like to ask the Minister why he thinks problem drinkers do not have credit cards.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Well, that is my own personal opinion.
Mr. Harding: That person over there is a Minister of the Crown and is responsible for decisions that affect a lot of people's lives. It is not good enough for him to stand up and say, "That is just a personal opinion", when we are talking about a policy issue. Again, I would like to ask the Minister this: why does he think that problem drinkers do not have credit cards, and what evidence is that opinion based on?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have read a number of articles, as well as studies conducted in Manitoba and Alberta. That seems to be the way things are.
Now that I am on my feet, I would also like to point out - I made this very, very plain to the press, in three different conversations - that the credit card facilities will be pretty well throughout the Yukon. Due to the fact that we were having a problem getting the equipment, the Liquor Corporation, except for the liquor store in Whitehorse, will not have the equipment for another eight to 10 weeks because we cannot get it fast enough.
We have decided to go with the two weigh scales - one in Whitehorse and one in Watson Lake - the liquor store in Whitehorse, the cash desk in the Yukon territorial government building, court services branch and the motor vehicle branch. We have decided to do these first.
Mr. Harding: The Minister has finally decided to enlighten us somewhat about this question. He still has not really told us much about the reasoning behind his statements this morning. He has just told us that he read some articles. I wonder if he could tell us, in forming the personal opinion that he used to set this public policy, what was contained in those articles that might establish the factuality of his claim that most people who have drinking problems do not have credit cards.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: They have made studies in those areas. They have more population than we do. Studies show that most of them do not own credit cards, and that installing credit card facilities does not increase liquor consumption.
Question re: First Nations, alcohol-abuse programs
Mr. Harding: The Minister made a comment this morning that spoke to another issue. That is the issue that he surmised that people who have drinking problems usually do not have credit cards. The answer he just gave did not answer that question. In response to questions about drinking by the Member for Mayo-Tatchun in Committee of the Whole yesterday, the Minister said, "We have to help these people, but First Nations have to help us do some of this. They cannot put it all on us. All parents have to start taking responsibility for their children, and know where they are. They are not doing it." Why does he not feel that First Nations have been cooperating in helping solve the problems with drinking?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We are going over my budget again. As I have said, I have quite a bit of experience with alcoholism. If one does not help oneself, no one else can, no matter who it is.
I will say more than I usually do, because the side opposite apparently has not got the message I tried to put across.
In all the years I have been here, I recall all the governments spending millions of dollars trying to help alcoholics. Yet, little churches have done more, with no money from government, to help people cope with alcoholism than any government ever has with all the money they have spent.
Mr. Harding: It is interesting. It appears that the Minister is really disturbed. He feels strongly. He has gone out to the First Nations and they will not cooperate with him.
As the Minister responsible for the Liquor Corporation, can he tell me more about what programming he has proposed to First Nations, which they have refused to cooperate with, in terms of helping to deal with the alcohol problem?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: At no time did I say they did not cooperate. I said they had to take on some of the responsibility themselves, the same as any individual or any group of people, or in any family. If there is a problem with the children, the family has to help. No matter how much money it puts up, the government cannot do it without help from the families.
Mr. Harding: The Minister said yesterday that First Nations have to help him to do some of this, and he said that they are not doing it. Why was he singling out First Nations? Has he reached out to First Nations to come up with some programming ideas that have not been accepted? What is the basis of his statements yesterday? I would sense that some people might find his statement of yesterday somewhat outrageous.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I will not debate my budget over again. I am not racist and I challenge anybody who says that I am.
Question re: Freegold Road, truck route through Carmacks
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the same Minister with his Community and Transportation Services' hat on. Yesterday, I asked the Minister questions relating to the routing of the mining trucks from the Klondike Highway to the Freegold Road and, in particular, the government's preferred route through the village. The Minister stated that he anticipated that there would only be one or two trucks a month travelling through the village that would be carrying dangerous goods. Could the Minister confirm that these dangerous goods are explosives, acids and chemicals that would be used in the heap leaching process for Carmacks Copper?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: There may be liquids that have leached into the leaching pits.
Mr. Cable: The Minister did not answer the whole question. Would some of those dangerous goods include explosives and acids?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I would have to check on explosives. Yes, there are acids, but I am not sure if the mine would require explosives in there or not. However, I would also point out at this time that the placer miners have been going through and across on that bridge ever since I have been in the country, and they pack dynamite and such things through, and they go across the same bridge and through the same streets.
Mr. Cable: Perhaps it is time to build an alternate route. The truck traffic estimates that the Minister gave out at the public meeting last Thursday night carried a projection of six trucks per day for Carmacks Copper and less than one a day for BYG. If Casino comes onstream, I understand that their truck traffic will take the same route. I understand that this truck traffic will exceed the truck traffic associated with the Faro mine in its heyday. Am I correct in my understanding?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I believe that the Member was at the meeting, and I said - this is hypothetical - that if the Casino mine comes in and goes that route, then the whole thing will have to be changed around. However, as I understand it, it is eight to 10 years away.
Question re: Liquor Act review
Mr. Harding: That is funny. I think I must have read a different throne speech regarding the Casino project.
I want to go back to the same Minister, on the question of some of the things that came up yesterday on the liquor debate. Yesterday, out of the blue, the Minister told us that he had approval from Cabinet for a wide open, full-blown review of the Liquor Act and the regulations. That certainly piqued our curiosity, as we had not heard of this before. Can the Minister tell the Opposition what sort of proposals will be put out to the public for this review?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We spent an hour on this last night, and I guess we are running out of questions, so we have to start over again.
I made it very plain that it will go to the public as soon as we are able to get some information to send out to the public. We have just started and, as I said last night, it will be the same as the Motor Vehicles Act review. We will send out pamphlets, ask questions and then go out publicly and talk to the people in each community. It is in its preliminary stages. When it is ready, we will certainly table it in the Legislature.
Mr. Harding: Yesterday and today, the Minister said that he had a full-blown approval and a mandate from Cabinet for this review. We all know this government is not big on direction or vision, but it must have gotten some parameters for this review to get approval from Cabinet.
What did Cabinet approve? Did it not discuss any principles of the review, or did it just let it go?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We are now under legislation and regulations from the 1970s. I thought we would get out of the old age and come up to the modern world. This is what I suggested. It is out there now, and it will come to Cabinet before anyone else has a say in it. The questions will then go out to the people.
Mr. Harding: I would like to get more information from the Minister about that. He is obviously not going to be forthcoming with it.
Yesterday, in relation to that, the Minister said there was an $8 million liquor profit withdrawal from the Liquor Corporation, which was put into the general revenues of the government. We asked the Minister some questions about this last night, but he could not give any detailed answers.
Could he tell us today how much of this liquor profit was used toward detoxification and alcohol abuse treatment?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: As I said last night - it is not $8 million; it is $7.5 million - all this money is for 1992-93 and 1993-94. It goes into general revenue, and a portion will come from there when the budget is determined.
Question re: Yukon Party president, comments about Opposition Member
Ms. Commodore: At the Yukon Party convention last weekend, Scott Howell, the outgoing party president, called one of the Opposition Members "a venomous witch". When asked to describe whom he was speaking of, he said that "witch" was not a gender-specific term. "I did not specify which Opposition Member I was talking about, but everyone knows who the most venomous witch in the Legislature is. She has been one of the most venomous people on the other side of the House."
According to Webster's Dictionary, a witch is one who is credited with malignant supernatural powers, a woman practising black witchcraft, often with the aid of a devil. "Venomous" is described as full of venom, spiteful, noxious and pernicious.
These are pretty offensive statements. Does the Government Leader approve of that remark made by the past president of his party?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, I do not.
Ms. Commodore: These comments were highly inappropriate and offensive to women and to anyone who believes that we are responsible for these words and actions.
I would like to ask the Government Leader if he will apologize on behalf of his party for these remarks?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that question would be more appropriate if put to the person who made them and to the past president of the party. I do not know why the Member is asking me to apologize on behalf of the president. Those were his personal comments. I suggest that the Member take it up with him.
Ms. Commodore: For shame.
Last week in the House the Government Leader insisted that the Speaker was non-partisan - he said that. Does the Government Leader believe that the attendance of the Speaker at the Yukon Party convention is a non-partisan act?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The allegations made by the Member opposite are not right. When the Speaker is in the House, he is non-partisan. He is still an MLA; he represents the riding of Watson Lake.
Question re: Sex offender, monitoring of
Ms. Commodore: My question is for the Minister responsible for Justice. The government announced a new program last October called Keeping Kids Safe, a victim-centered approach for managing child sexual offenders. According to CBC Radio, a man convicted of sexually assaulting a young boy is living in a halfway house in Whitehorse. Can the Minister tell us if his department is aware of this individual, and does it plan to monitor him when he is released from custody?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It is my understanding that the parole officer of the individual has recommended that this matter come before the Keeping Kids Safe Committee. I understand that will happen. There was a meeting last night where it was discussed.
Ms. Commodore: According to CBC Radio, this individual says that he is no longer a danger to anyone. Can the Minister tell us if experts in his department believe that to be the case?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I think the former Minister of Justice knows that this is a completely federal responsibility. This person is a federal parolee reporting to the federal parole board, and there is an agreement with the Salvation Army. My officials are not involved with these individuals. The RCMP are contacted when the individuals are in various communities, but the officials in the department are not necessarily contacted.
Ms. Commodore: I am well aware of everything the Minister has just said. However, his government announced a program last year called Keeping Kids Safe. The program was intended to monitor all of these individuals once they were released from custody. I would like to ask the Minister if he could tell us how many convicted sex offenders we now have in custody in our Yukon facilities, and does his department intend to monitor each and every one of them once they are released?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I cannot tell the Member how many there are in the facilities at the present time. I can tell the Member that I suspect there will be a program developed for them as they are released, if they are considered dangerous. I can tell the Member, as well, that I was just as shocked as she was, as were other Yukoners, at the fact that this individual is here. I am concerned about it. I have asked the department to review the whole situation, and I will be communicating with the federal Solicitor General about the matter very shortly.
Question re: MacRae street lighting
Ms. Moorcroft: Today I tabled a petition with over 300 Yukoners' signatures, asking the government to spend the money as needed to install streetlights at the MacRae intersection on the Alaska Highway. The last time I asked the Minister of Community and Transportation Services about this, he said that they would look at it in the spring. Since spring is here and since Yukoners from Whitehorse, Marsh Lake, Carcross, Teslin and Mount Lorne are asking the Minister to install streetlights, can I ask the Minister when streetlights will be installed at MacRae?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I think I have said three or four times that we would look at it and see if we could get it into the program.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would be very pleased to hear that we would not have to go through this a few more times. I do not know if the Minister remembers saying that when he was asking the previous government about road maintenance. As the Minister also said when he was in Opposition, "It gets a little downheartening after awhile".
The government spent a lot of money on the Alaska Highway corridor study, which found that lighting in the MacRae area would improve safety. That study was completed in 1990. Why will the Minister not now follow the recommendations of the Alaska Highway study and put streetlights up in MacRae?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I said that we will look at it. I might point out that, right now, we almost have 24 hours of daylight. I think I have a month or two to review it.
Ms. Moorcroft: I asked the Minister about this in the early fall so that the lights could be installed for the winter.
I would like to also ask him about the Cowley area on the Carcross Road where several kids catch the school bus. There is power and a pole for a streetlight there. The Minister promised that he would get to work on that in the spring. Can I ask the Minister when his department will put in a streetlight at the Cowley Road intersection?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: As soon as I can get out, drive around and look at some of these things, I will look into it. The department is well aware of the request and will see if they can get it into the program. I only have so much money. Everyone wants that money. Everyone wants me to change the direction of roads, which costs millions of dollars. I am going to balance my budget regardless.
Question re: Credit card use for government services
Mrs. Firth: I have some questions for the Government Leader with respect to the government's decision to allow members of the public to pay for government services and fees by credit card. I am interested in the logistics and the economics of this decision, particularly in light of the information that the Minister of Community and Transportation Services gave us today stating that this was going to not only apply to the sale of liquor, but also to the weigh scale, the cash desk, the motor vehicle branch and I believe he said, court services. I would like to ask the Government Leader why the government decided to do this? Was there a request from the public? Did the Chamber of Commerce ask? Was he lobbied by someone? Why did the government decide to proceed in this direction?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It seems that using plastic instead of dollars is the way of the future and something that has been around for a long time. I know myself, even prior to being in government, when I would come up the highway with a truck and had to buy permits and had to have cash in my pocket to buy them, it was very inconvenient. There have been numerous requests from the private sector to find solutions to those kinds of issues. Credit cards are now an acceptable way to pay for things. I believe it is time for government to get caught up with the rest of the world.
Mrs. Firth: The Government Leader said there were numerous requests from the private sector. I wonder if he could provide me with a list of the people in the private sector who requested the government take this initiative. I would like to ask the Government Leader if there will be costs involved by having people pay for fees and services with credit cards. I am talking about the purchase of equipment, banking charges and administration costs. Can the Government Leader tell us how much this is going to cost government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As far as providing a list, I do not have a written list of people who came to the government. I am talking about day-to-day conversations with people on the street and being in business in the territory for 20 years myself before working in government.
The Member for Faro is kibitzing in the background again. He is the expert on everything that happens in the Yukon, even though he is a relative newcomer here.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not have the figure for the cost involved. I can get it for the Member, but it will be a very nominal amount.
Mrs. Firth: I am trying to find out how much research went into the development of this policy. I would like to know if it is a new policy and if it is a government-wide policy. Is there some written policy? Can we have a copy of it? When did the government start working on it? When was the policy developed? Who developed it? Can the Minister provide a copy of the written policy for me with respect to this new initiative?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know if the Member opposite knows what is happening in the business world at all, and if government should not be operating in the same sort of manner. The Member opposite seems to think that we have to have a big policy that we have researched for years.
I can remember this discussion taking place when the Member was yet a member of the Progressive Conservative Party in the territory. The issue about the government accepting credit cards was raised time and time again, especially at places like weigh scales, where people who come here to buy permits are required to carry vast sums of cash in their pockets. We are doing this as a service to the general public, and I think it is a good service to provide to the public.
Question re: Credit card use for government services
Mrs. Firth: I want to follow up with a new question to the Government Leader about the same matter. The Government Leader can relax; I am just asking some questions about the process. I am not saying I disagree with it or think that it is a terrible idea. I just want to know how the policy developed. I think that is a legitimate request. How did this come about? Did someone ask the government to do it? Obviously, it is fairly high on the government's list of priorities because it is right up there with all of the other things - after their almost two and a half years in office.
The Government Leader has not answered any of the questions I have asked him yet. Is there a written policy with respect to this particular initiative? There have to be some guidelines in place and some direction given to the different departments, if it is going to be applied government wide. Is there a written policy, and can we have a copy of it?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There is a Cabinet minute on it, which means that it is now government policy. We are now going to accept credit cards for government services. As a result, we will be implementing it over the next eight to 10 weeks, as the equipment becomes available. As the Minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation said earlier today in Question Period, we hope to have it all implemented within the next 10 weeks.
Yes, it is government policy and direction was given to the departments after a Cabinet minute.
Mrs. Firth: What direction was given? Was it just that we were going to start using credit cards and that everyone could just go and do whatever they wanted to do? Someone has to be organizing this.
It is not a laughing matter. Did the Department of Finance do an analysis of banking charges? What will the banking charges be? What is the cost of the equipment that has to be purchased? Has there been any analysis done or anything written down as to what the guidelines are for all these different departments that will start taking credit cards?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know what guidelines are needed to take credit cards. It is another form of payment. There is the machine, and credit cards are taken. Banks require certain limits before authorizing credit cards. I will get the costs for the Member. The costs are very nominal in the scope of the whole program. What it does do is provide far better service to the people of the Yukon.
Mrs. Firth: Perhaps the Minister can answer one further question. What is the banking charge? Businesses pay three percent; what will it be for the government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It will be the standard charge that businesses are charged. The charge is not three percent; it depends on the volume of business done and the average size of the voucher. I will get the various ranges for the Member. When I was in business, the charges related to the average amount of a voucher and the volume of business done.
Question re: Freegold Road, truck route through Carmacks
Mr. Cable: I have some more questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services about Carmacks and the Freegold Road. The road that the Minister is proposing to go through the village will eventually go to the Carmacks copper mine. When does he expect Carmacks Copper to make a production decision?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We understand it will be this fall.
Mr. Cable: Does the Minister expect the bridge across the Nordenskiold River to be built during 1995, or will it be during the 1996 construction season?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We will not know until we know what their definite plans are.
Mr. Cable: Then what is the rush on the decision? The preliminary engineering work has been done. If Carmacks Copper starts production over the winter, we will know the truck volume. Why is the Minister pushing for an immediate decision?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I was unaware I was pushing for an immediate one. I talked to the people - I had their views and their petition to look at. I did not say I would be back in a week. I understand both sides of the picture - the emotional side and the financial side - and I hope to be able to come down the middle. However, at no time did I say I was rushing it.
Question re: Robinson Road
Ms. Moorcroft: I have some questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services about the Robinson Road in Mount Lorne. There are 26 lots in the Robinson subdivision, and several families living there have school children who have to walk to the Carcross Road to catch the bus, because it will not drive on the road in its present condition.
When will the Robinson Road be brought up to standard so that the school bus can pick these children up in the subdivision?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I just checked with the Minister of Education. I have never had a complaint, and he is unaware of it. I shall look into this immediately and see what the reasons are.
Ms. Moorcroft: Just a few minutes ago, the Minister said he only has so much money. The Minister has $61 million in the operation and maintenance budget for roads, and $75 million in the capital budget for roads. There is $1,650,000 budgeted for Other Roads, which is the line item that would cover improving and upgrading the Robinson Road.
Last year, that road was supposed to be upgraded, but the money went to cost overruns on other projects. Can the Minister tell me how much of this year's roads budget is earmarked for upgrading the Robinson Road?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: No, I cannot tell the Member off hand. I will get back with an answer.
Ms. Moorcroft: This is something that I have asked the Minister about. Perhaps it was before he assumed the Community and Transportation Services portfolio. I would like the Minister to tell me if he will agree to put streetlights up where several school kids catch the bus on that road, and to commit to following through with the upgrade this year, and not applying it to other projects.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I shall look at that. I will talk with the department about it, and see what the schedule is.
Question re: Animal care
Mr. Penikett: I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources. Last week we heard about animals on the Mayo Road that were in need of food and care, due to the unintentional neglect of the owner. The Minister told the House that the Animal Protection Act provides adequate protection for animals in this situation. Can the Minister indicate to the House what arrangements have been made to care for these animals at the present time?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I thank the Member for the question. The gentleman who owns the animals was hurt quite badly in an accident on a Friday afternoon - I forget the date, but I believe it was around April 14. The Department of Renewable Resources was informed on the Saturday morning, and had made arrangements for the feeding and care of the animals by Saturday afternoon. Currently, the horses have been taken to another farm on the Mayo Road, and are being cared for there. The other animals are still on the gentleman's farm, and are being cared for by our poundskeeper in the district.
Mr. Penikett: From what the Minister just said, this may not be accurate information, however, I was told this morning that the Department of Renewable Resources has not provided food for these animals in the last couple of days. As the Minister mentioned, a number of them have been removed and put in care.
Can the Minister tell the House under whose authority the animals were removed, and who is actually responsible for feeding them? Has the government assumed that responsibility, or has some third party assumed it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Department of Renewable Resources is paying for the feed for the animals and is also paying for staff time of about two hours a day for our poundskeeper, who is actually feeding the animals.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Minister for his answer, but he did not answer the part of the question about the authority for doing this. This would seem like a good example of why we need an Animal Protection Act. There does not seem to be perfectly clear authorization for the RCMP, the Humane Society, the Department of Justice nor the Department of Renewable Resources to act in situations like this to protect animals in need.
There is a larger question, a policy question I would like to directly pose to the Minister: references are continually made to the Criminal Code as to why we do not need an Animal Protection Act; however, would the Minister not agree that there is absolutely nothing in the Criminal Code that either the government or any other organization can use to prevent cruelty to animals? We agree that it can deal with the situation after they have been hurt, but there is nothing in the Criminal Code that can prevent situations of cruelty.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe that the Animal Protection Act is the authority we worked under to provide feed, care and veterinarian services for the animals.
If someone is going to be charged with neglect or inhumane activities with animals, it would be under the Criminal Code. I do have notes from our Department of Justice, saying that, between the Criminal Code and the Animal Protection Act, we do have sufficient or adequate authority. There is a big problem when someone does neglect animals. I understand that these animals were in quite bad condition; however, unless someone reports it, which is generally the case and we are told what has happened, we are unable to act. Until we find out about these situations, there is little we can do. That is what happened on the Mayo Road. Once we were informed, we acted very quickly. It is a matter of being informed, but there is always a question of whether or not it was deliberate neglect or mismanagement. That is something that has to be proven, I suppose, in a court of law.
Question re: Gravel quarries, hours of use
Ms. Moorcroft: I have a question for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. The government can set regulations for hours of quarry operation. I have received complaints about the kilometre 150 South Klondike Highway gravel pit, located near Kookatsoon Lake, being used in the early morning hours. This gravel quarry is not within city limits, so the municipal bylaw limiting quarry use between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. does not apply. Does the Minister support limiting the hours of use for gravel quarries outside municipal limits, so that nearby residents are not disturbed by a midnight shift operating in the quarries?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I believe that some laws are in place now. It would depend on the circumstances, such as a rush job for a flood in the area, and the gravel had to be moved, or something like that. I will look into the matter and get back to the Member with the exact hours that are in the regulations.
Ms. Moorcroft: It was not a flood, but it might have been a disaster. Contrary to existing Yukon government policy, trucks hauled gravel destined for the MacCrae frontage road construction from the Kookatsoon quarry. Constituents have complained to me that trucks started hauling around midnight on October 18 and continued to haul throughout the night.
The Kookatsoon gravel quarry normally services the area between Carcross Corner and Lewes Lake. Why did the MacCrae frontage road gravel get hauled out of the Kookatsoon quarry, rather than from a Whitehorse quarry, and why was this hauling taking place between the hours of midnight and 7:00 a.m.?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I cannot answer that question. I will get back to the Member with an answer.
Ms. Moorcroft: During meetings between the department and the Mount Lorne council to discuss the Kookatsoon gravel quarry, it was agreed that the Mount Lorne council would be notified if the quarry was to be used during the night. Can the Minister tell me, as well, if anyone from the Mount Lorne council was notified about this midnight work schedule?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I cannot answer that question, either. I will get back to the Member.
Question re: Workers' Compensation Board, complaints
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board. There has been an unprecedented amount of bad publicity about the situation at the Workers' Compensation Board. We have heard numerous concerns about the slow handling of claims, unfair claim denials, a lack of injured workers' representation appeals. I would like to ask the Minister this: is he concerned about this and what has he been doing to try to help resolve these concerns that have been expressed vocally through the media over the last couple of years?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I am aware of the concerns that the Member raises and I am meeting with the president of the Workers' Compensation Board and the alternate chair tomorrow morning to discuss various issues, including the concerns the Member has raised.
Mr. Harding: I think it is important that the Minister take a very proactive role in this. In the Workers' Compensation Act, section 99.1 allows the Minister to ask for an investigation by written order for the board to look into any matter under its jurisdiction, in the manner that he requests. Has he been considering asking for a formal investigation of some of the concerns that have been raised by so many injured workers?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Not as yet. I will see what satisfaction I get in my meeting with the president and alternate chair. Then I will assess if I will need to use that section of the Workers' Compensation Act, which is really all that is left for the Minister and the government, with respect to the Workers' Compensation Board. When we passed the new act a little over two years ago, we put the Workers' Compensation Board at arm's length from the government, so it is not quite as easy for a Minister to get involved with the Workers' Compensation Board as it is, for example, with a Crown corporation.
Mr. Harding: I understand the Minister's reason for keeping an arm's-length approach. Certainly, when there are that many concerns that are ringing loudly in the public, there are provisions in the act for the Minister to intervene in some manner. An investigation is one way. Certainly, the act does not take away the powers of the government to bring in legislative changes to improve accountability and also to increase worker representation in the hopes of making sure that the balance is fair to the workers who have been injured.
Is the Minister considering bringing in any legislative changes to improve that accountability, and also to increase the injured-worker representation on the board?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I thank the Member for that representation. I will look into legislative changes. I know there is considerable concern. The Injured Workers Alliance has been formed, and I have spoken with them about their concerns. Yes, I believe if we cannot get satisfaction from the Workers' Compensation Board, and if injured workers are not being dealt with as they should be, then perhaps legislative changes should be considered.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Ms. Moorcroft: I rise to wish the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, who sits beside me in the House, a very happy birthday today.
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 26, 1995, under the heading Opposition Private Members' Business.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 3: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 3, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Ostashek.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that Bill No. 3, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 3, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 3 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 3 has passed this House.
Bill No. 4: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 4, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Ostashek.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that Bill No. 4, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1995-96, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 1995-96, be now read a third time and do pass.
Some Hon. Member: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, would you kindly poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Agree.
Mr. Abel: Agree.
Mr. Millar: Agree.
Mr. Penikett: Disagree.
Ms. Commodore: Disagree.
Mr. Joe: Disagree.
Ms. Moorcroft: Disagree.
Mr. Harding: Disagree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Firth: Disagree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are nine yea, six nay.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 4 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 3 has passed this House.
Bill No. 77: Second Reading - adjourned debate
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 77, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Ostashek; adjourned debate, Mr. Penikett.
Mr. Penikett: I had just begun my speech yesterday at 5:30. I indicated that I thought that the piece of legislation that had been proposed by the Yukon Party was inferior to that passed by all sides of this House in 1992, and had elaborated on that point in some detail, although I will have a greater opportunity to explore these issues in Committee of the Whole.
I was asked by someone this morning about the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the government's commitment to it. I said that I really did not know what the deepest convictions of the Government Leader are on this subject. I could think of one example in particular, which has troubled a number of people, and that is the question of access to information about the Yukon Energy Corporation, which is a very important Crown corporation - perhaps the most valuable asset within the public domain in the Yukon, a corporation about which the government clearly was involved in secret negotiations to sell, after telling the House they were not going to sell it, and a corporation about which the government has indicated some ambivalence in respect to the application of the access to information legislation, in connection with its affairs, data, and activities.
The Government Leader has said, according to media reports - and I will paraphrase him here - that the Energy Corporation may be different from the parent corporation, the Development Corporation, because of its relationship to the Yukon Electrical Company, which, if you look at your power bills, is not, as the Government Leader says, a Yukon company, but brags on its power bill about it being an ATCO company, which is a Calgary concern.
In any case, it is an extremely curious point; however, he added in his media comments that the Energy Corporation is subject to public disclosure under the Public Utilities Act and this may be dealt with when the Public Utilities Act is changed. We do not know exactly how the Public Utilities Act will change, but, given the activities of the government, we have deep fears about exactly what will be in store there. In any case, the Yukon Energy Corporation's relationship to the Yukon Electrical Company is certainly no excuse whatsoever to exempt this Crown corporation from the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act legislation.
Since the public comments have raised questions about the applications of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act to the Yukon Energy Corporation, this is one point about which we need to be absolutely clear, and we may need to be clear in Committee.
Secondly, there are the references to the Yukon Utilities Board. We do not know what changes may happen to the Yukon Utilities Board, but we have some fears about it having its powers stripped and the Members of the board being privately - but, ultimately, publicly - insulted by the government appointee to the Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Development Corporation. We fear it may be made into a tame or pliant regulator for the utilities. In any case, even if the Yukon Utilities Board were not changed, it does not regulate or monitor all the activities of the Yukon Energy Corporation to the extent that would satisfy reasonable access to information requests.
The Yukon Utilities Board may look into a lot of issues that may have bearings on rights and may even have, in the future, some inquiries into the capital plans of both the private and public utility, but there are many other issues about which there can be reasonable demands for information that cannot be satisfied by a hearing of the Yukon Utilities Board once every two or three years. Indeed, it is possible that the interval between the hearings by the Yukon Utilities Board may be made longer once Cabinet completes its review of the whole area of utilities regulations.
The occasional Yukon Utilities Board hearings represent only a brief window of accountability, in a fairly structured environment, and does not provide the opportunity that the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act should for routine inquiries from ordinary citizens to be made, at minimal expense, for reasonable information about the activity of the Crown corporation.
As the Utilities Consumers Group has done, I would also point out that Yukon Utilities Board hearings usually deal specifically with an application or an issue at hand, and requests for other information are commonly refused as inadmissible. Therefore, I think the Utilities Consumers Group, for example, is right in concluding that the YUB process is no substitute for good, public access-to-information legislation and for the application of this law to this Crown corporation.
I would say to the Government Leader that this is an issue that has to be addressed, not in the regulatory review, but I think it should be addressed primarily in the language of this legislation. It would be helpful to know exactly what changes are contemplated to the public utilities review process before we complete this legislation, but we may not be granted that favour or given that information. We may not have access to that information by the time we complete this debate.
The other point I want to make is in the area of privacy and the protection of privacy. As I said, a reasonable person might be a skeptic about this government's commitment to access to public information, but I think the question of access to privacy - for reasons among those I stated yesterday - ought to be one on which there is little partisan debate. There ought to be general agreement in this House on the desirability of that principle. It is an issue that is becoming increasingly important and increasingly difficult, with the advent of new computer and electronic technology.
Earlier today, the Government Leader was talking about credit card transactions. They are increasing, and the volume and character of those transactions grows by the day. As I heard on CBC national news just a few days ago, the privacy commissioner in British Columbia was raising - at a conference in Toronto, I gather - serious concerns about the ability, not only of government agencies, but of large private agencies now, to track, not only the movements, but also the spending patterns, the consumer behaviour, the food preferences, the clothing preferences, and perhaps even other matters that are entirely private matters, simply by gaining access, through electronic means, to the credit card records of citizens.
I remember hearing another program, not so long ago - I do not remember whether it was a radio program in Canada, but I think it was - where someone was demonstrating someone who had some wizardry, or knowledge of the way in which the government computers worked, and that he, this person claimed, could gain access to the income tax files of anybody in the country, simply by using the methods known to computer hackers. They could bypass the security systems and gain access to these records.
This becomes an extremely serious issue because, even though we want government to be transparent, we want the activities of government to be open, we want to be able to know what is being done with taxpayers' dollars, there is at the same time an equal and compelling claim by citizens for measures of privacy. There are all sorts of ways in which you can have deliberate or accidental intrusions into privacy. I mentioned yesterday, I think - and I admit that this was not in the Public Government Act, but I think this is a problem, and if I were going to improve the act now, I would raise questions about why we need the archivist to have control, or to review private information before it is released. The more I think about it, I do not think that is a good thing.
I want to conclude by just reading into the record some of the standards for the protection of privacy information that have developed, not only in this country, but in other countries, and which are now accepted as the model. I want to say that I want to read these standards into the record because I want to use them as the litmus test of whether this legislation meets those standards when we get into Committee.
The principles that I am referring to are 10 principles that have formed the basis of a CSA model code for the protection of personal information. As the author of this statement points out, each of the principles must be read in conjunction with the accompanying commentary. I am going to quote, or read into the record these 10 principles, because I think they are good ones.
"One is accountability. An organization is responsible for personal information under its control and shall designate a person who is accountable for the organization compliance with the following principles.
"Two is identifying purposes. The purposes for which the personal information is collected shall be identified by the organization at or before the time the information is collected.
"Three is consent. The knowledge and consent of the individuals are required before the collection, use or disclosure of personal information, except where inappropriate.
"Four is limiting collection. The collection of personal information shall be limited to that which is necessary for the purposes identified by the organization. Information shall be collected by fair and lawful means.
"Five is limiting use, disclosure and retention. Personal information shall not be used or disclosed for purposes other than those for which it was collected, except with the consent of the individual or as required by law. Personal information shall be retained only as long as necessary for the fulfillment of those purposes.
"Six is accuracy. Personal information shall be used as accurate, complete and up to date as is necessary for the purposes for which it is to be used.
"Seven is safeguards. Personal information shall be protected by security safeguards appropriate to the sensitivity of the information.
"Eight is openness. An organization shall make readily available to individuals specific information about its policies and practices relating to its handling of personal information.
"Nine is individual access. Upon request, an individual shall be informed of the existence, use and disclosure of personal information about the individual and shall be given access to that information. An individual shall be able to challenge the accuracy and the completeness of the information and have it amended as appropriate.
"Ten is challenging compliance. An individual shall be able to challenge compliance with the above principles with the person who is accountable within the organization."
Having read that, Members will instantly see that that sets a very high standard, and all of us here know of information collected by the government, and held in government data banks, that is no longer relevant and for which the government could not demonstrate any reasonable need to continue to hold that information.
I do not think this government is unique in that. I am sure that is the case with the federal government; it may be true of the municipal government.
We have to realize how far we have come down this road and how serious the problem is. Computer technology now allows us to hold an almost infinite amount of information.
Technology allows pretty ready access to this. This is not like medieval libraries with thousands and thousands of books, where it would take a skilled researcher to find information. This is information that can be accessed relatively easily by someone who has mastered the technology.
I remember when I was in my youth, there was a Canadian Prime Minister by the name of Lester B. Pearson, who was responsible for introducing something called the social insurance number into this country. One of the absolute commitments given by the government of day - by Lester B. Pearson - was that the social insurance number would never become a universal number. It would be used for one purpose, and one purpose only - people were not allowed to ask for it for any other things. It is a matter of routine now, when you fill out forms for all sorts of things, that you will be asked for your social insurance number, even though the government that created that number insisted at the time that it would never be used for that purpose.
Just this morning, in connection with another matter, I filled out a form for a non-government organization - a large insurance company. The information I was asked for was interesting. I cannot see any reason why the insurance company would need half of that information, apart from the fact that they probably already have it; however, they do not have any reasonable need. I think the kind of tests suggested by the Canadian Standards Association are good ones. In order to reduce government spending, rather than having to involve ourselves in the millions of dollars involved in the managing of this information, even in this administration, we could talk about only obtaining relevant information at the outset in many of these cases and many of these programs, which might reduce the volume of information, and the workload for the people who have to manage it, and, indeed, the cost to the taxpayers. I think there are some opportunities here - not just in terms of protection of the rights of the individuals, but perhaps also in terms of giving value for money to citizens.
I know that I have unlimited time, and this is an issue of almost unlimited interest to me; however, I do not want to completely wear out my welcome here. I will simply conclude that, in my view, as someone who has been interested in this question from my first term as a legislator, and who was the author of the first bill ever introduced in this House on this subject 13 years ago, I have some problems with the legislation that the government has proposed. I believe it is not as good as the legislation that was passed in 1992 - and I am not talking about the issue of its relationship with the other pieces of the Public Government Act - I am talking about the language of the legislation and the principles in it.
I recognize immediately that the fundamental principles of the two bills are identical. This is essentially recycled legislation. If the bill goes into Committee of the Whole, I will be asking questions and perhaps suggesting amendments in the areas where I think the proposed legislation is weak.
Mr. Cable: I will support the second reading of the bill in principle, but I, like the Leader of the Official Opposition, have a number of reservations. Having been lawyerized, I share his concern about the language. While it may make it easier and more predictable in court, it does not make it more useable by the citizen.
I am particularly interested in the comments of the Leader of the Official Opposition on the ramifications of the definition of law enforcement. Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to discuss the issue raised by him last night, and I hope to do so before we get into Committee, or during Committee debate.
I notice that the language is slightly different from the language in the B.C. bill. It would be useful for the Government Leader to address the concerns of the Leader of the Official Opposition on that language, so that we can come to terms with why there is a difference.
I have other concerns that may be useful to telegraph to the Minister. I notice that section 23, where it states that "A public body may refuse to disclose to an applicant information" followed by, "(b) that, within 90 days after the applicant's request is received, is to be published or released to the public." I have a lot of trouble with that. I notice that it is 60 days in the B.C. bill, if I am reading it correctly. I wonder why we need it at all. Information is power, and it sounds to me like an opportunity to stonewall, particularly if the Legislature is in session and there is something that the government does not particularly want to get out while it is in session.
I look forward to the Government Leader indicating why that section is necessary.
We have heard mention of the Phelps case regarding section 24(1), and it would be useful to determine whether it is the Government Leader's opinion that the Phelps case would have been successful in the language of his own bill.
It would be useful to hear if the parties can get together and simply stamp a document "confidential" and then avoid the application of the act.
In section 26(1), as I read the act, there appears to be the start of a long, drawn-out procedure. If I have read it correctly, there does not seem to be any starting time for the giving of the notice. There seems to be no compulsion on the archivist to, forthwith, give notice. The time that the clock starts to run is not set out. If I am wrong, I would like to be disabused of that notion, but I think I am reading the bill accurately.
There were a number of other points. One that particularly concerns me, which was dealt with by the Leader of the Official Opposition, is the appointment of the commissioner. I would like to find out how section 40 meshes with section 70, which is on proclamation, and how it will mesh with the appointment of the ombudsman. I would also like to know if, in the Government Leader's mind, he contemplates the possibility of an interim appointment to get us through the period of time before the appointment of the ombudsman.
In meetings, other Opposition Members and I have expressed our concern to the Government Leader about the delay in the proclamation of the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act and the Ombudsman Act. I would hate to see this bill hung up while we were debating the issue of the proclamation of those other acts.
Another point on which it would be useful to hear from the Government Leader is the rationale for section 55, where there is a restriction on the use of statements given. For the life of me, I do not see the reason for that - if it is necessary to encourage people to make statements and, if so, why? Perhaps when we get to that section, the Government Leader could spell out the rationale for it.
There were a number of other points brought up by the Leader of the Official Opposition that I am sure will arise during debate. I would like my comfort level raised several points before I will support the bill in third reading.
Mrs. Firth: I publicly raised some concerns with respect to this piece of legislation when the Government Leader originally tabled it. The same concerns were also raised by previous speakers, which were with respect to why another piece of legislation that had been introduced and debated in this Legislature, under the Public Government Act, could not be accepted by this government, considering the majority of its members supported it in 1992 when the legislation was debated.
What has happened is that the Government Leader, for some reason or another that he has yet to define or explain, has had a brand-new bill drafted. I remember when we debated the Public Government Act; some concern was expressed by Members opposite, and I think I expressed the concern as well, as an Independent Member, about the size of the act. There was some talk about it being cumbersome, because it covered so many areas: boards and committees, access to information and conflict of interest. There had been some debate and discussion about splitting the Public Government Act into smaller bills, and specific bills for each specific area that was represented in the bill.
I could have very easily supported - and I think other Members in the Legislature would have as well - the government, had they decided to just split that act and bring forth the access-to-information portion of the bill and the conflict-of-interest portion of the bill. I will be looking forward to hearing what the sponsoring Minister has to say with respect to why he felt it was worth the time and the cost to us, as Yukoners, to get a new bill drafted. I have not gleaned any good reason from his introductory comments.
I, too, noticed that the sponsoring Minister did not make any reference to the previous piece of legislation. I was curious as to why. I would have anticipated that if he was going to justify bringing in a new piece of legislation, he would have had a critique, or some observations to make about the legislation that had prompted him to proceed in this new direction. None of that information was forthcoming, so it leaves me puzzled, as a Member of the Opposition, as to why the Minister, first of all, did not make any reference to the previous legislation, did not cite its inadequacies or shortcomings and why he decided to proceed with a brand-new piece of legislation. I will be looking forward to answers to those specific concerns when we come to the clause-by-clause debate.
I listened with great interest to the comments and concerns raised by the Leader of the Official Opposition. He has obviously had some person with expertise in the area, and the skills and some familiarity with this kind of legislation, do an extensive amount of research. I think that a lot of the points that have been raised are valid points. I look forward to us having further debate on those points in Committee of the Whole.
Depending on the arguments presented by all parties represented in the House, I think I will feel more comfortable making a final decision about whether or not I will be supporting this piece of legislation after we have debated them.
I am certainly a strong proponent of access to information. As the Minister who sponsored the 1983 Access to Information Act, it was kind of an outline bill, I would call it, I guess. It was very basic, but considered to be progressive for its time. I think the Yukon was one of the few jurisdictions of the day that actually had access-to-information legislation. I continue to support the principles and the idea and concept that the public should have the right to government information.
I guess I prefer the approach that all information should be available, except certain kinds, in certain instances. That is really what the original 1983 Access to Information Act defined. I find this one a bit more cumbersome. The more definitions and clauses there are, the more it is open to interpretation by one person and then another person - I suppose they are usually lawyers, but I do not want to be accused of taking a shot at lawyers here, or I will have to go through another pothole story, or something. I do think that it is understood that there are different interpretations. The more options that are given, of course, the more reasons the government can find for not releasing information.
I think that, as MLAs and government Members, we should be looking for all the reasons why we should be providing the information, not why we should not.
I have expressed publicly the principle that it does not seem to matter what kind of access-to-information legislation a government has in place, if it is the government's will to withhold information, it will find some way to do so. I do have to say that this government has been one of the worst with respect to getting information from it. We are accused, in many instances, of asking the same question three or four times. The reason why we do that is because we are trying to get the information out of this government. It does not seem to come forward except when we are in the Legislature. We have the opportunity to question the government now.
I see the Minister of Tourism prompting the Government Leader and giving him comments. Perhaps I could just give an example. I just phoned the office of the Minister of Tourism, requesting this information. I believe that we were told that we were going to be provided with information with respect to the visitor exit survey. The Minister promised that he would bring it to the House, yet we have not seen it. It was given to the TIA participants at the TIA meetings. I had to phone the Minister's office today to ask for that information. I was told that it would be forthcoming as soon as possible. The Minister is telling me he will give me a full briefing. This is another thing; I should not have to ask for the briefing.
If the government really wanted this information out, it would be coming here with it, in anticipation of us asking for it. I can remember doing that as a Minister. I could anticipate what information was going to be asked for and I would provide it.
The Minister of Tourism and the Government Leader are laughing. The Minister of Tourism is making a sign like a nose growing, inferring that I am lying. I do not think that the Minister should be doing that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: The Minister is saying that I am forgetful. I am not forgetful at all.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: The Minister is saying that I forget I was there. I do not know where the Minister is indicating I was. I remember being a Minister and I remember trying to give information to people.
The Minister is getting silly now. If he wants the debate to go on all week, for the next two or three weeks, I can certainly accommodate him.
I could put my track record up against this Minister any day, and it would show that I was definitely sincere in my efforts to provide information. This government has not been able to demonstrate that. If one speaks to the public, the general consensus would be that this is one of the most closed governments that we have ever had. We just cannot get information from it. I am sure if people in the media were asked, that we would find the same concern. There is a great deal of difficulty in getting information from this government. I know why it does not want us to have the information in many instances, because it just does not want us to know what it is doing. In many instances, it does not know what it is doing, so they cannot give us the information anyway.
It is very important that we debate each clause in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act thoroughly. I look forward to seeing whether or not the sponsoring Minister can justify each and every clause in the act. The act is fairly lengthy; there are 53 pages in two official languages. I imagine that the debate could be quite lengthy and time-consuming.
I am going to reserve my support for the legislation until we have been through Committee of the Whole. After the Committee debates, I will make a decision about whether or not I will support this legislation. However,
I do want it on the record that I have always supported the public's right and the public's ability to access government information.
Speaker: If the Member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I want to thank the Members opposite for their comments and the concerns they raised with regard to the bill. I have a few preliminary comments for the Member for Riverdale South. I do not agree with her that this government does not provide information. The biggest problem we have run into in this Legislature is that Members opposite do not like the answers they are getting, and they think if they keep asking the questions, the answers will change.
I believe that we have done an exceptional job of providing information for the Members opposite. We need only look at the pile of legislative returns and how high they would stack if they were measured.
The Leader of the Official Opposition made some valid comments last night. I will try to address some of those, because my people gave me answers to some of the concerns raised. In Committee, we will give a full explanation for every clause in the bill.
I want to say that the Leader of the Official Opposition was absolutely right when he spoke of social insurance numbers. I can remember the same debate. If I can kibitz in passing, this was another Liberal promise that was not kept - but I do not think any government could have kept that promise, and it was a foolish one to make at the time. We could live in this country without a name, but we could not live without a social insurance number. It is asked for by every organization, no matter where one goes. If one does not have a social insurance number, one does not amount to anything.
I want to go over some of the concerns between the Public Government Act and this act, and explain why we drafted a new bill and believe that this bill has improved on the Public Government Act. The Members are quite correct; our party voted for that bill, because it was better than what was in place at the time.
We have had the luxury of having an additional two years to bring the bill up to date, so that it is consistent with other jurisdictions in Canada, and that is what we have done. Even though we have redrafted the bill, pretty well everything that was in the Public Government Act has been incorporated into this bill. In addition to that, we have updated it. It is not that we thought that access to information under the Public Government Act was not good. It was good at the time. However, other information has come forward since then, and we believe that we have improved upon that act. I hope that by the time we get through Committee, the Members opposite will also feel that this act will serve Yukoners well.
Some of the improvements in the proposed act - and this is in relation to the act that is in place - were incorporated under access to information in the Public Government Act. I would just like to go through them for the record.
Exemptions to the general right of access to information are more specific and more limited in this act. I believe there has been some concern raised about the legalistic language. When you start getting more specific, although I am not a lawyer, I understand that you have to get into more legalistic language. We can debate that in Committee.
The public has a specific right to access to information about themselves, as well as the right to request the correction of inaccurate information. The government is obligated to protect the privacy of personal information held by the government. The government is limited in how it collects, uses, and discloses that information.
I am sure that the Members opposite struggled when they were putting the act together over ways to protect the privacy of the person. We did too. We raised a lot of concerns with the drafters as we were putting this bill together, until we were satisfied that we were doing our utmost at this time to protect the privacy of individuals, while still allowing access to government records.
The burden of proof is clearly on the government to show why information, other than information related to third parties, cannot be released. Government decisions about access to information can be reviewed by an independent body; for example, the ombudsman. Under the current act, as I stated in my opening remarks, going to court was the only way.
The proposed act will apply to all departments, boards, commissions, foundations, and agencies established as agents of the Yukon government. That means that this act will apply to the Yukon Energy Corporation. There were statements made by me in the press that the Energy Corporation put tremendous pressure on me, and appealed to my Cabinet colleagues, that it should be exempted from this act, and they had some very valid reasons.
The Leader of the Official Opposition was the Leader of the government that set up the Yukon Energy Corporation. It is my understanding that it was set up to be at arm's length from government. We get into many debates in this House on that issue. On the one hand, the Members opposite want it to be at arm's length from government; on the other hand, they expect the Minister to be fully accountable for it.
It was set up under the Business Corporations Act to be separate from government. As a result of that, there is some dilemma about whether or not it should be included in the access-to-information legislation. I do not know what other information will be available to the general public under access-to-information legislation that is not available now under the public utilities legislation. Third-party contracts will be exempt from access-to-information legislation if they contain privileged information. That was a major concern of the corporation.
Having said that, I want to make it quite clear, for the record, that the Yukon Energy Corporation is included under this act. We did not feel we were prepared to go through a long debate in the Legislature on an emotional issue, such as the Yukon Energy Corporation, to see it exempt from this act. So, we are going ahead with the Yukon Energy Corporation being included in this act.
My understanding is that this act does not allow access to information of Yukon College or of the hospital board. I just want to repeat, once again, that the Yukon Energy Corporation is included under the act.
The act is in keeping with modern access-to-information and protection-of-privacy legislation elsewhere in Canada, and it is modeled on British Columbia's act.
The Leader of the Official Opposition said that we strayed from that act somewhat. We will get into that debate in Committee and we will look at the areas about which he has concerns.
The government has had the benefit of the new acts in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Alberta in drafting this bill.
The Public Government Act, part three, was based on Ontario's legislation of 1987. Ontario's act was the first comprehensive access-to-information and protection-of-privacy acts in Canada. However, as noted, other jurisdictions have followed Ontario's lead and made improvements in the area of the law. The Yukon government has had the benefit of these developments from the models provided by new legislation in the three areas I have mentioned in drafting this act. For example, most recent acts have not included a general public interest override to the discretionary exemptions to the right of access in favour of outlining specific overrides in relation to each exemption.
I suppose that is where the Leader of the Official Opposition says that this has more legalistic language in it. There may be some weakness in it by its having more legalistic language - I do not know. That is the rationale for it. An example is specifying where exemptions do not apply, or where the government cannot refuse to disclose information. This feature is reflected in our new proposed act. In keeping with other acts, the Yukon's proposed bill requires the disclosure of information where there are reasonable grounds to believe the information would reveal a serious environmental health or safety hazard.
There was consultation on this act. Consultations on the proposed areas for improvement to access-to-information legislation were held in October and November 1994. A consultation document was prepared, which outlined the main areas of the proposed legislation and input was asked for. The document was made available through the public inquiry centre. A general advertisement was placed, inviting public comment. Groups, such as the Utilities Consumers Group, the Second Opinion Society, the Law Society of the Yukon, the Yukon and Whitehorse chambers of commerce and all Yukon media, who had expressed an interest in the legislation, were contacted by the ECO and provided with a copy of the consultation document.
Department officials were interviewed by the media on the proposed improvements. Five responses to the consultation were received by the ECO from the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, in consultation with the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Utilities Consumer Group, the Block Parents Association and two responses from individuals. In general, the responses were supportive of the public's right to access information and the right to challenge the information being held about themselves, exceptions to the public's right of access being specific and limited, an independent appeal process and the protection of personal privacy.
One response was critical of the consultation document and the time frame for responses. The responses stressed the need to have the legislation apply to Crown corporations and to ensure that detailed reasons are given for the exemptions, denying of applications and denying of appeals. The provisions of the legislation address these recommendations.
I would like to make a few comments in reply to some of the concerns raised by the Leader of the Official Opposition in his debate last night and this afternoon, and some that followed by the Liberal Leader, whose concerns fall in the same general areas. I will not have all the answers today; I hope this will answer part of their concerns and that we will be able to get into full explanations as we get into Committee debate.
A concern has been raised about section 12, which allows the archivist to extend, for a reasonable period, the time for responding to requests for access to information. This concern was raised last night. It is important to note that the archivist can use this section only in certain circumstances, which are spelled out in the legislation. As the Leader of the Official Opposition said today, and quite rightly so, the Public Government Act also recognizes that there may be cases where more time is needed and allowed for the archivist to extend the period to respond to a request where there was not enough detail to locate the record.
It includes other reasons why the time frame for responding to a request might be extended, and we feel these are legitimate. For example, it could be used if a third party wants the commissioner to review the government's decision to release information that concerns a third party. This respects third-party rights under the act.
This bill also has an important addition that is not found in the Public Government Act, in that it allows a person making a request to ask the information and privacy commissioner to review any decision to delay a response beyond the normal 30 days. This requirement provides a balance between the provisions allowing for an extension beyond the 30 days of a particular and specific concern - which seems to be a concern of Members opposite - and the public's ability to obtain a response to an access request within a reasonable length of time.
Concerns have also been raised that the archivist will be examining and reviewing personal information to determine if access should be provided. This is not the case. The bill before the House quite specifically states that decisions about whether or not access to any information will be provided will be made by the department that has the control and custody of the record. In other words, it will be the relevant department with the detailed knowledge of the record, and the circumstances surrounding the information in the record, which examines the information being requested and makes the decision.
The proposed bill gives the archivist a role as a facilitator of access requests, just as the current law and the Public Government Act did. This has been done for the convenience of the public. Members of the public do not have to figure out which department to go to for the information they want; they can go through one person.
They can go to one place - Yukon Archives - and the staff there will ensure that their request gets to the appropriate department or departments.
With respect to section 60, we did not see the need to include a specific reference providing for the disclosure of final plans or proposals to change a program or staff a new one. They would be accessible under the act, unless there is specific information contained in the plans and proposals that are exempted under the act.
The time limit on the release of policy advice is, as has been noted, 15 years. This is, therefore, consistent with the time limit on Cabinet confidentiality. As policy advice is often provided to Cabinet in the form of submissions, using the same time limit, makes sense. I would also note that in other jurisdictions it is 15 years or more in this case.
The exemption dealing with legal advice respects both solicitor/client privilege and rules of evidence and procedures in the courts.
With respect to concerns about the definition of law enforcement that ware raised both by the Leader of the Official Opposition and, I believe, by the Member for Riverside, I will take the comments of the Leader of the Official Opposition under advisement. However, the indication that we have received so far is that the provisions under this act would not negate the requirement of law enforcement or other agencies from obtaining information through a search warrant or other legal requirements of the act under which they are operating.
I will take that under advisement to see if we cannot research it further, so that we can provide some comfort to the Members opposite.
With respect to section 24, which deals with business interests of a third party, I take the point made by the Leader of the Official Opposition about three separate tests with respect to third-party business information. We will bring forward an amendment at Committee stage of the bill to deal with that issue. If the Member opposite would be good enough to provide me with a copy of the 10 tests that he had, I would certainly appreciate having them. I will give them to the department, so that we can apply those tests to our bill. Perhaps we can save some time in Committee debate if I can have some explanations ready for the Members when the debate arises.
There was concern that the clause "where practicable", in section 26, could lead to the release of personal information about a third party, without his or her knowledge. Again, we are trying to strike a balance between the public's right to information and a third party's right to privacy. Without the expression "where practicable", we would not have the ability to release information where a third party cannot be located. For example, there might be instances where a company no longer exists; therefore, it cannot be notified of a request for information to which it is a third party.
I understand the concern raised about the release of third-party information. At the same time, however, we need to consider those cases where notification may not be possible, and that is what this phrase is designed to deal with. I can tell the Members opposite that we have very great concerns about third-party information and the possibility of third-party information being released when it is not appropriate; however, we also felt that we needed to have some ability within the act to release information if we could not contact a third party - such as in my previous example, where a company is no longer in existence - and we felt that the "where practicable" clause would allow us to deal with that situation.
As has been noted, the proposed act states that the ombudsman will be the information and privacy commissioner. This has been done because we do not believe that in a jurisdiction the size of the Yukon, we need separate officials to carry out the tasks assigned under this act, the Ombudsman Act and the conflict-of-interest legislation as well. That is the rationale behind that.
I do have some sympathy for the views of the Leader of the Official Opposition, when he says that the rules are not quite the same. However, I think we have to remember that we are a jurisdiction of 30,000 people, and we have to act accordingly. We have to try to do the best we can, and we may not always have the perfect answer. While these roles are distinct, the functions are similar in that both officials are officers of the Legislature who are assigned tasks related to the way government interacts with the people it serves. It is also worth noting that assigning the commissioner's role to the ombudsman has precedents in Canada. In both New Brunswick and Manitoba, the ombudsman performs this function, and it is provided for in law.
The Leader of the Official Opposition made a comparison between the powers of the information and privacy commissioner under this bill and the British Columbia legislation. It is quite true that the commissioner under this bill does not have the power to order the release of information. In determining the role of the commissioner, we were cognizant of a number of factors. First of all, one of the common complaints under the current law is that there is no appeal of the government's decision about access to information, short of the courts. We have provided an independent appeal mechanism.
In combining the role of the information and privacy commissioner with the ombudsman, which is cost effective, we want to ensure the roles are consistent. Having an official who can make orders in one capacity and recommendations in another capacity, did not strike us as being consistent. We, therefore, followed the model provided by the Public Government Act, and acts in smaller jurisdictions in Canada, of which we are one. We gave the commissioner the ability to make recommendations about access requests.
In doing so, we recognize that, in a small community like the Yukon, it would be very difficult for the government to continue to withhold information if the commissioner said the government should release it. We are held accountable by the Members in this Legislature, as well as by the public at large.
At the same time, this bill meets the requirements of good access to information in the order it requires the release of information to be made. This responsibility lies with the supreme court, as it does under the current law and under the Public Government Act.
With respect to the coming into force section, there have been concerns raised about the provision that allows the access and privacy provisions to be proclaimed at different times. This was done to allow for the possibility that more time might be needed to prepare for the implementation of the privacy regime, which is new to the Yukon. We do not necessarily think this will be the case, but we are allowing for that possibility.
I am not entirely sure what specific concerns the Leader of the Official Opposition has with this, but I can assure him that the privacy of personal information would be protected by virtue of section 25 when responding to access requests.
I would also note that the concept of different proclamation dates can be found in the Public Government Act.
I have a few more things to say in closing. There have been concerns about the proclamation of this act and when it will come into effect. We would like all three acts to be proclaimed and in operation at the same time. I do not think it is necessary to jump conflict legislation and this ahead of the ombudsman, and I believe we can have them all done before this time next year, which is plenty of time for them to be implemented in a proper manner.
The Leader of the Official Opposition raised some concerns yesterday. I do not want to get into a long, drawn-out debate, but I would like to make a couple of comments on the fact that I have now taken a position that we need regulations and we need time. That was his excuse for not proclaiming these acts before the election. I would say that the Leader of the Official Opposition would have had a very valid argument had he not run them over to the Commissioner to try and have them proclaimed after he lost the election.
As this bill moves into Committee, I am prepared to answer in great detail the concerns of the Members opposite. I believe that we need good access to information. I believe that the bill accomplishes that, and I hope that, by the time we get through Committee debate, we will be able to provide a level of comfort to the Opposition so that they will be able to support this bill.
Motion for second reading of
Bill No. 77 agreed to
Bill No. 28: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 28, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Phillips.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that Bill No. 28, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 28, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This act reflects the government's commitment to introduce amendments to the Employment Standards Act that are fair and reasonable for both parties involved in the employment relationship.
The current act has been in effect since 1985. It is an important piece of legislation that sets out the minimum standards for the terms and conditions of employment of thousands of private sector and municipal government employees in the Yukon Territory. In many workplaces, there are no collective agreements or written contracts of employment. Employers base the terms and conditions of employment on the standards set out in the act.
Throughout the past several years of its operation, employers, employees and government workers who administer the act have become aware of a number of shortcomings. In 1989, there were a small number of minor changes, which were made into law to simplify the wage claim process and to clarify some sections of the act. Public consultation started in 1991 and also pointed out the need for amendments to the Employment Standards Act.
It is now time to update the act in a way which takes into consideration the basic rights and concerns of employers and employees affected by its provisions.
In the spring of 1994, the Minister of Justice, Willard Phelps, tabled Bill No. 30. This bill was made available for public comment over the summer. The bill that I am tabling today takes into consideration the submissions that were received during the summer and comments that have been provided during the past few years.
The most important amendments to the act are those provisions that give priority to employees' wages. Such high-profile insolvencies, such as the Curragh receivership, brought home the need to improve employees' chances of obtaining unpaid wages. Under the current act, employee wages have a lower priority than that of secured creditors, such as banks or individuals, or other institutions that lend money to employers. It is not uncommon for the proceeds of the sale of an employer's assets to go to the bank, leaving the employees still owed all their wages.
These amendments will not affect the priority of wages in a bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is governed by the federal Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, which takes precedent over any provincial or territorial legislation. The changes will have an affect in situations where an employer simply walks away from a business, leaving creditors to sort out the priority of the claims through legal action.
The wage-priority amendments have three main components. They state that wages are deemed to be held in trust by an employer, regardless of whether or not they are kept separate from the rest of the employer's assets. They create a super priority for wages in an amount up to $7,500. This gives wages priority over all other creditors, except creditors who lend money to employers to buy goods or equipment.
They provide for the registering of certificates for wages in the land titles office as soon as the certificates are issued, rather than having to wait until the certificates are filed in the court.
Provisions for paid time off in lieu of overtime have also been included in Bill No. 28, to give both employers and employees more flexibility. Overtime hours worked during an employee's busy season can be paid out to employees as paid time off during less busy times of the year. This should make it easier for employers to meet payroll commitments and permit employees to have paid time off.
The amendments also contain provisions for parental leave. These provisions will assist employees to balance the demands of work and family by giving them unpaid leave to stay home and care for newborn or adopted children. Their jobs will be protected while they take the leave, and employers will benefit by being able to retain the services of experienced employees. In recognition of the fact that such leave can cause disruption in the workplace, the parental leave will be only 12 weeks per family. This leave period can be taken by one parent or split between both.
The act's maternity leave provisions have also been amended. Additional time off will be granted to women who experience health problems related to pregnancy or whose pregnancies terminate before they can request maternity leave. The amendments also set out the conditions under which an employee may return early from maternity or parental leave.
Employees will also be entitled to increases of notice of termination, sick leave and bereavement leave. The act will now set out specific provisions, prohibiting employers from making deductions, other than statutory deductions, from employees' wages without written authorization from the employee.
In addition to continuing some amendments that benefit employees, other amendments change the way employers and employees exercise their legal rights and obligations. Extension to the time required to pay wages will make it easier for employers to pay employees within the time allowed by law. The time limit for filing wage claims will be reduced from one year to six months. This means that employees will be required to assume the responsibility of acting quickly on their complaints.
The amendments, as a package, recognize that employers in the Yukon are, by and large, honest citizens who treat their employees fairly; however, protective measures are still necessary. During the 1993-94 fiscal year, statistics provided by the labour services branch and the Department of Justice show that 218 wage claims were opened and more than $115,000 in wages was collected on behalf of employees. Thirty certificates for wages issued against employees were also filed in Yukon's supreme court in that year.
In recognition of the continuing need to deal with employers who are reluctant to pay employees, administrative improvements have been included in the act.
The improvements are designed to discourage frivolous appeals by employers and to encourage a faster resolution of wage complaints. They will permit the Employment Standards Board to assess interest on unpaid wages and to impose financial penalties on employers who have demonstrated a blatant disregard for the law.
After the amendments were tabled in the spring of 1994, my predecessor invited public comment on the provisions. The comments show that the amendments were not generally seen as controversial. It was particularly encouraging to see that the changes to the priority of wages were well received.
In summary, I feel that Bill No. 28 contains improvements that balance the needs of employees with the ability of employers to meet those needs. The amendments will give both groups added flexibility in the workplace, while at the same time protecting the basic rights of both parties involved in the employment relationship.
Ms. Commodore: We are now dealing with the third employment standards act before this House. We could go over and over the history of what has happened as a result of the bill we are dealing with today. I could stand here and speak for another four hours on the problems I see in it.
In regard to this bill, as with the former Justice Minister's bill, it contains some progressive changes, but it is still a very watered-down version of the bill that was presented in the House in 1992. We are left with a weaker bill, which the Minister has tabled. As has been the case with many of the government's initiatives during this session, I find I must criticize not only what the government has failed to do for its people, but also how it has gone about the process of making changes.
Unlike this government, the NDP believes that, in a democracy, the government has a duty to provide for meaningful consultation with its people before significant reforms in any area of the law are made. Those who are affected by major changes, directly or indirectly, should be part of making those changes.
The Minister has just indicated some of the history of this bill, so I will do some of my own. Our consultation efforts on the reform of employment standards are well known. Before we introduced our Bill No. 13 on May 12, 1992, we sought and received extensive input from individual workers and employers, as well as from over 70 organizations representing employees, aboriginal people, municipal governments, and women's groups. We also realize that people need information, not only about the issues and problems, but also about what the policy options and potential solutions are. Therefore, on November 19, 1991, we published a booklet called "Reviewing the Ground Rules for the Yukon Workforce", which explained the provision of the old act, identified areas of concern to employers and employees, and presented 73 options - not recommendations, but options - for change.
We distributed 4,500 copies of the booklet to over 70 organizations, public libraries, outreach offices, First Nations offices and other public meeting places throughout the Yukon. At that time, labour officials personally visited and delivered option papers to employees and employers at worksites in Whitehorse, along the Yukon highways and to all other Yukon communities, except Old Crow and Ross River, where special arrangements were made to deliver it to the employees and employers in those communities.
All of the input we received was analyzed and considered before we released draft amendments to the act in February of 1992. In April, we sent the draft amendments to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment for clause-by-clause analysis and recommendations. In the end, we adopted all of the recommendations of this broadly based group except one, and the Member is familiar with which one that was. In the end, this act was dealt with in this House. It was supported by all Members of this House, and it was a good bill.
On December 8, 1993, the former Minister told this House that he would be tabling amendments to the new act in the spring, but after first reading, it would not be debated even in principle for at least four to five weeks. This would have left people with very little time to express their views and to analyze the bill, but he had not even honoured his commitment.
On May 24, 1994, the bill received first reading. It received second reading in less than two weeks. At that time, the Minister of the day had not requested any input from the Federation of Labour or the Building and Construction Trades Council, nor had he consulted with the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, as of June 2, even though the bill at that time - Bill No. 30 - rejected at least six of the councils' recommendations, including provisions to extend the application of the act to all YTG employees and to provide employees with a legitimate right to refuse overtime in certain situations.
As I said, we rejected only one of the council's recommendations after extensive consultation, and at that time we were loudly criticized by the Members opposite. In turn, they rejected six of those recommendations in Bill No. 30. What they were saying while they were in the Opposition is not what they are saying now that they are in government.
We are really concerned about what is not in the bill. The Minister is very familiar with our concerns. We have lost the right to repeal section 50; we have lost the opportunity to repeal one of the most punitive and unfair provisions of the current act - section 50. This provision allows an employer to deduct one week's wages from an employee who has quit without notice. As we have said many times, we believe in the principle of a day's pay for a day's work. There has been evidence presented that this punitive measure has really acted as a deterrent to prevent employees from quitting without notice. People almost always quit their jobs because of either a crisis or family emergency, or because of workplace abuse, prejudice or harassment that they can no longer tolerate.
I might add that, in many cases, abuse and harassment are difficult for employees to prove. We believe that if an employer hires wisely and treats employees fairly, those employees will be fair in return.
The government could have strengthened the section about the right to refuse overtime. In this act, there is a limited time to refuse overtime in certain situations. It is limited because, in an emergency, an employer would not be required to give notice of overtime. We wanted a qualified right to refuse overtime with notice. This is particularly important for single parents who may not be able to arrange child care at the last minute in order to work compulsory overtime, but they could be fired if they refuse to work. Support for families and a recognition that family responsibilities are an important and legitimate issue for working parents is lacking. The Minister does not seem to accept that fact.
There is some concern about what they have done to the bereavement and potlatch leave. It has been watered down. There are other concerns that we have recognized in the Minister's bill.
In all the discussions we have had in this House, our caucus has always wondered where this government is coming from with regard to workers in the territory. We often wonder whether or not it recognizes the rights of the people whom they represent in this House.
I can tell the Minister and the House that there are many individuals out there who are not pleased with what this government has done to these two bills - Bill No. 30 and Bill No. 28 - and that they have watered down a good bill that was passed in this House and recognized as a progressive bill. Bill No. 13, which was introduced and passed in this House by the former government, was accompanied by a lot of hard work and dedication, not only by people in government, but also by workers at the same time, and I am very sad to stand here and talk about what is lacking in this bill.
I think that the biggest losers are the non-unionized workers, the part-time workers and the casual employees. This act does not recognize the changing face of labour and I wonder where it is coming from, because it is still living in the Dark Ages. These are workers without a strong, organized collective voice a union can provide. These are workers without pensions, job security and often without basic benefits. I wonder how the Minister can stand in this House and present a bill that is lacking in many areas. I do not wonder that they have had much trouble in trying to present the bill in the House, because we know, and so do hundreds of people out in communities, that this government has not favoured workers' rights. It probably never will. It has a lot that it has to answer to and certainly it is not answering to these issues in this act.
I look forward to going through this bill, clause by clause. We have many concerns in regard to it. We hate what the government has left out. I think that that is very irresponsible and shows a total lack of commitment to people in the Yukon. This government does not appear to understand that single women are facing problems. It does not appear to understand that everyone who works for a day should be paid for a day. Everyone who works for an hour, should get paid for an hour. I am very disappointed in this Minister. I think that he believes that he is a very progressive fellow, but certainly he is not. I would just like to say that I do not like what he has done to this bill. It is watered down. It does not recognize a number of things. As I said in the beginning, there are some progressive changes, but it has made a very big point that it listens to employers, and of course, they are important, but the government is listening to the employers at the expense of the employees in certain cases. I feel very badly about that. We will see what will happen. We may possibly be looking at amendments to this act. That is a big possibility, but as we go through it, we will decide, as a caucus, what we are going to do.
Ms. Moorcroft: All of us have workers who live in our ridings. The employment standards debate has been controversial in the past, as I am sure it will be in the future. One of the reasons for that controversy is the fact that the latest round of amendments before us does not adequately meet what we believe the needs of Yukon workers are.
Prior to my election, I was a member of the Employment Standards Board. Several amendments in the previous legislation were made because of the work of the board in dealing with and administering the Employment Standards Act. The bill before us now, unlike the bill that was passed by the previous Legislature, does not increase the number of members on the Employment Standards Board to improve its ability to deal with conflicts and provide a speedier hearing for the benefit of both employers and employees.
I am pleased to see the bill includes an administrative penalty where the board reviews a certificate of wages and finds wages owing to employees. That is a provision that the previous government believed in and put in its legislation, and I see that this government has left that provision in the bill, and I applaud them for that.
However, it is a different matter when we look at section 50 of the act.
As the previous speaker indicated, we believe a day's work deserves a day's pay. I reviewed former decisions of the Employment Standards Board where section 50 was brought before it - where an employer had withheld wages from an employee who quit without notice. The board found that the employee was asked to work under unreasonable and harsh conditions. Because of the intolerable treatment of the employee, the board found that a week's wages had to be paid to her. However, the employee had to take the case to the board.
The Minister should know that, at the time, the board found - considering the remedial nature of the employment standards legislation and the attempt by the Legislature to balance the interests and rights of employees and employers - the act to be deficient in failing to expressly provide for the right of an employee to quit for just cause.
We would like to see section 50 repealed. The government could also have strengthened the section that provides a limited right to refuse overtime. This is particularly important for single parents who might not be able to arrange child care at the last moment, in order to work compulsory overtime. The bereavement and potlatch leave that was added to the Employment Standards Act by the previous government has now been weakened by the present government. The new amendment says that if the funeral occurs within a week, the employee will receive a week's leave without pay. Who knows what happens if a funeral or potlatch is not taking place within a week of the death. Do the employees have a right to any time off?
The government could have recognized long-term employees with an increase in vacation pay, from four percent to six percent, for those employees who have worked for an employer for five years or more. According to calculations that were done by the labour services branch three years ago, this would have resulted in an increase of no more than one percent of personnel costs, or less than 0.2 percent in total operational costs for most businesses. I do not believe that is an onerous cost to the employer. Given the high turnover rates in the Yukon workforce, the cost may be even less.
The government did not bring in an amendment so that the Employment Standards Act will apply to Yukon government employees. As I have pointed out before, casual employees fall between the cracks of the legislation. Casual employees of the Yukon government are specifically excluded from the Public Service Act, and they are also excluded from the Employment Standards Act. I think the matter needs to be addressed in the amendments.
The biggest losers here are non-unionized workers, part-time workers and casual employees. The Minister referred to shortcomings over the years, but states that the government wants to be fair and reasonable. This act, however, does not recognize the changing face of labour. These are workers without a strong, collective voice that a union can provide. These are workers without pensions, without job security, and often without basic benefits.
I think that if the government wanted to rewrite this employment standards legislation, it should have consulted with the workers who are going to be affected.
Mr. Cable: The employment standards acts, both past and present, over the last few years have created a lot acrimony, both in and out of this House. I suppose that is inevitable when one is trying to balance the interests of employees and employers, and where there is a heavy, philosophical overlay on where to draw lines.
I think there has been general agreement on the need to update the present act, in that it is deficient in many areas. However, in my view, no real explanation has been provided about why the bill is being revisited.
There is nothing definitive about why the amendments are necessary. The Minister spoke briefly this afternoon. Many issues have been raised by the Official Opposition, primarily in the media, and I look forward to hearing the particular complaints about the amending bill brought forward by the Minister of Justice. Until those issues are dealt with and I determine if the problems raised are either curable by amendment or not curable, I will withhold my support for the bill.
There is a ready amendment fix on some of the issues that have been raised. If the Minister is prepared to listen to my representations, I would be much more amenable to supporting the bill when we come to third reading.
Mr. Harding: I have a few brief comments. Our position has been well summarized after many hours of debate in the Legislature, some of it by the Member for Whitehorse Centre in the previous government and much of it after the election and the subsequent rise to power of the Yukon Party.
The Yukon Party supported the Employment Standards Act that was not proclaimed. It did not initially do that. A lot of work was done by the previous administration to meet the public's concerns, and the Yukon Party was eventually put in a position in which it had no choice but to support the bill, because there had been some consensus achieved.
The bill includes some provisions that will improve the stead of working people. We do not deny that. Most came from the original bill that the NDP put forward after consultation with the public. There is need for improvement of the stead of the working people in the Yukon with relation to employment standards, and we believe that this bill does not go far enough. It took a long time for it to come about under the previous administration. A lot of things were being undertaken. Many legislative initiatives, covering a whole gamut of issues, from human rights to economic strategies, were undertaken - training strategies, conservation and legislation of all different types - and this was one cog in the commitment we had to social justice, which includes the non-unionized workers.
Those are the people who have the quietest voice in the labour movement. Very often they work in low-paying service industry jobs. They are certainly not as well organized as the employer groups that are well funded, sometimes by this government, which gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to the chambers of commerce. They are very aggressive in lobbying to stop any change that would benefit the stead of working people and might have an impact on their bottom line.
I guess that is how the game is played in this country. It has been played for a long time and it will continue to go on that way. What has to happen in the case of working people who do not have a very solid voice is that we must have a government that is prepared to make some arguments on their behalf. The government must reach out to the broader public, who probably feel that there should be some justice done and more balance struck between employers and employees.
The original amendments were pared back by the NDP to meet the concerns raised by the Opposition and the public. Of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment's recommendations, I believe 51 or 52 of 53 were put in place by the previous administration. Astonishingly enough, for a new Member of this Legislature, the Yukon Party still raises concerns and criticizes the NDP for not accepting one out of over 50 recommendations, when it so wantonly goes through the recommendations of boards with very little commitment to the actual findings. We have seen that with other boards, such as the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, and in this particular proposal put forth by the Minister, once again the previous Council on the Economy and the Environment looked at the legislation and have had their recommendations turned back innumerably.
Certainly, section 50 is one bone of contention. The Government Leader once stood up and said that the reason that he does not like it is because when he had his outfitting territory and someone quit on him after he flew a guide into the bush he felt he should be able to collect a week's pay from that person because he paid for his flight in. There are provisions for exemptions in the Employment Standards Act for certain types of behaviour by certain types of employers, so accommodations can be made for their particular type of business.
To extend that and not keep the clause 50 provisions, which do not propose to accept the principle of a day's work for a day's pay, is going too far to the extreme right.
I am not sure if I want to get into specifics, as they have been laid out by my colleagues. I am interested in the Liberal position on this. In the past, I heard that the Liberals had agreed with repealing the NDP legislation. They seem to have one foot firmly on the zig and one firmly on the zag. It will be interesting to see what the Liberal position is, given the Liberal Member's vote on the budget. It is clear the Liberal supports the agenda of the Yukon Party. By the end of the day, I fully expect to see a vote in favour of the amendments by the Yukon Party and the Liberal coalition that is forming.
There are some changes I believe will benefit working people. Unfortunately, the bill is very watered down. I do not think the government had to do everything it felt it did. Potlatch leave is a point that comes to mind, and one that received broad support from First Nations people. It recognized their culture. Some of the provisions for single parents recognize the changing face of the family and of the workforce, and of the values some people have to change in their lifestyle in order meet working conditions. I believe there should be provisions to help them meet that challenge. The bill the NDP put forward went some way toward doing that, and we are now treading backward.
I am interested to see if the government is amenable to putting forth some amendments to reinstate some of the provisions that were of a more progressive nature. I applaud the government for bringing forth some of the initiatives we put forward, and I criticize it for watering down ones I believe were more important and were reached through as great a consensus as one can get on a contentious issue such as this. As history has determined, employer groups always reject them.
From the view of my constituents, this new legislation changes the definition of wages. I am interested to see if any situation arises similar to that of many of my constituents with Curragh. That will impact negatively on the workers' ability in the future to reclaim pay in lieu of notice or severance pay, which were upheld in the definition of wages by the Yukon Supreme Court and the Employment Standards Board in the old definition.
I would submit that the government, I believe, has a duty to try to represent the unorganized, non-unionized, often very quiet voices of workers who, I believe, look to the government to give them a bit of a helping hand in terms of bettering their stead in the workforce. I suppose that we will find out what the government is going to do when we get into Committee.
Mrs. Firth: I just have a brief historical perspective about the voting on the amendments to the Employment Standards Act. Originally, when the previous government brought forward the legislation, proposing amendments to the Employment Standards Act, I did not support them. When the Yukon Party wanted to repeal the amendments, I said I would; they did not do it. They have now brought another bill forward for us to debate, in which they have made compromises. They have taken some rather different positions than I would have expected.
In light of their track record for voting for this bill, I guess that I will have to indicate to the government that I will reserve my vote and judgment about whether or not I will be supporting this bill based on whether or not it has gone too far from the original proposition that was brought forward by the previous government.
Just so the government knows where I will be coming from, that is where I will be coming from.
I could stand up and say that I am going to consult with numerous people, that hundreds of people had told me this, and I have talked to all of the other Members' constituents and I know better than they do about what all of their constituents want, but that is not my style; that is the other side's style of responding to issues.
I have done a fair amount of consultation on these proposed amendments, and I am going to do some more. A number of concerns have been brought to my attention, which I will be raising during Committee debate when we go into the bill clause by clause. I am also going to be speaking to another Member of the Opposition, the Liberal representative, to see what proposals he may have for amendments.
Just for the information of the government, I look forward to debating this legislation clause by clause and at third reading the government will know if I will be supporting it, based on its justification and based on whether or not there are any amendments to the legislation.
Speaker: If the Minister now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I thank the Members for the comments they have made. Some of them have laid out areas of specific concern; others have not, but have said they do have some concerns. To expedite the bill, I would appreciate hearing some of the recommendations of the Members as soon as possible, so that when we get to Committee debate, I can have the department research it and possibly give the Members answers to some of the questions they might have. I would appreciate knowing ahead of time about what areas the Members have concerns.
I can tell the Members that the bill was out last spring for consultation, and we received a few comments on it. Most of the comments have been addressed in the changes. What I think we have before us today are amendments to the Employment Standards Act that will improve the workplace for the working people and, at the same time, give consideration to the employer. I think it would be a shame if we could not at least go this far to improve our act at this time. I think there are some very, very positive things in this act for the workers, and I think, on the whole, that this act is a balanced one with respect to the rights of the employers, as well.
With that, I would encourage Members to come to me with their concerns and suggestions, and I will have a look at them. If we feel we can live with the changes, we will give them serious consideration. For the most part, the proposals before us are the non-controversial proposals that were put before the public for hundreds of hours of consultation and discussion, and I do not want to go back to changing all of that over again. I look forward to comments the Members will be putting forward.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 28 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with Bill No. 99, entitled Ombudsman Act.
Bill No. 99 - Ombudsman Act
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will be very brief. When we went through second reading, there were a lot of questions asked about various sections of the bill. As we go through the sections of the bill, I will be prepared to provide an explanation. I have about four or five amendments to propose as we go through the bill.
Other than that, I have nothing more to add in general debate.
Mr. Penikett: Rather than being ambushed by amendments as we get to the clauses, I think it would be helpful to have them in advance; otherwise, we are just going to waste time in Committee reading and digesting them as they come forward.
I would like to revisit some of the major questions that we raised in second reading.
Just so that we can canvass the positions of all sides, if there are going to be amendments in some of the areas in which we have concerns, we may as well know them now, and that will save a lot of time.
One of the concerns I expressed was about the application of the Ombudsman Act only to the bureaucracy and not to the political arm. I think that everybody conceded that people can be offended by political appointees as much as they can by members of the public service. I understood from the debate that the ambit of the ombudsman office is going to be in respect of the public service.
However, the role of ombudsman - as many of us agreed - touched on the responsibilities of Members of the Legislature and may duplicate or, if you like, intrude into an area where legislators have done much of this work in modern times, namely in the area of constituency case work. It has been observed in provinces like Nova Scotia that the ombudsman has done his case work at a much higher cost per file than the legislators did, and in one or two cases they may have abolished the office of ombudsman because it was found to be less efficient than interventions by the legislators on behalf of constituents.
I do not want to be making announcements for the side opposite. As I understood things, some of the concerns about cost, efficacy, jurisdiction, and so forth, were shared by Members opposite. One response to those concerns has been the suggestion that there be a time limitation on this legislation and that, unless the Legislature formally took steps to re-establish it, it would die. I wonder if, not by way of moving an amendment now, but by way of general debate, the sponsor of the bill might address that point, because it obviously touches on the concern about legislative roles, giving us an opportunity to evaluate the efficiency and the effectiveness of the office for a period of time, and so forth.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Perhaps I could just run through the amendments that we are going to be proposing for the bill and that may give the Member opposite some of the comfort he is seeking.
The first amendment would be to section 2 of the act. It is in response to the concerns that the Opposition have about the appointment by two-thirds majority of the Legislature. That will be one of the amendments that will be proposed.
The next one would be to section 9(1). Section 9(1) is in regard to the budget of the ombudsman going through the Members' Services Board for approval, rather than to the Speaker.
The third amendment will be subsection 13(2), which states that when a person complains, they must give a full name and telephone number. The Leader of the Official Opposition was asking about us saying that it would be required in writing - it can be done verbally. That amendment will be there.
The other one is to section 32. It reads, "without lawful justification or excuse, intentionally obstructs, hinders or resist the Ombudsman or another person in the exercise of his or her power...", or making a false statement, or a person who contravenes - that is under the fines section and warrants a fine of up to $5,000.
The last amendment that we will be proposing is the coming into force, and the sunset clause of five years, when it has to be brought back to the Legislature.
Those are the amendments. It may be useful to the Members if I reply to some of the comments that they made on second reading. That may help to expedite debate.
In response to questions raised by Mr. Penikett and Mr. Cable about the appointment of the ombudsman, we have already dealt with that.
Regarding the term of office, the Member for Riverdale South had concerns about the term "may not" that is used here. We believe that it is the grammatically correct term. "Shall not" could be used instead, but it would not change the meaning of the clause. If an alternative were to be used, "must not" is probably a better alternative.
On number 3, "the resignation, removal or suspension", there was some concern that, with only one sitting in the Legislature, there may be long periods where there is no ombudsman. We do not think that will be the case. It should be noted that this clause is put in place to deal with emergencies that will only arise very rarely, and further, this wording is taken from the most onerous of other provincial examples.
There was a question about staff from the Member for Riverdale South, asking about operating costs. Preliminary analysis has been based on a half-time ombudsman, a full-time investigator, a full-time administrative assistant and an office located in a non-government building. Based on the experience of the Human Rights Commission, this would cost about $200,000 a year. However, as the Leader of the Official Opposition has noted, once this is set up, it is very hard to predict what the budget will be in the end. That is why we have the sunset clause as well.
We dealt with the financing of the operations already. It was Mr. Penikett's concern that it would place the Speaker in a difficult position, so we have dealt with that through the Members' Services Board. The suggestion that verbal complaints to the ombudsman should be accepted to accommodate persons who are illiterate has merit, so we have amended that. The only other provincial act that makes allowance for verbal complaints is Quebec's Public Protector Act.
A concern was raised that the ombudsman can refuse complaints related to administrative acts that took place more than one year in the past. I want to note that the ombudsman has the discretion to decide whether or not he will refuse to investigate such complaints. This allows the ombudsman to limit his workload if there is an unreasonable number of complaints being serviced. Investigating old complaints can be extremely difficult, time consuming and very expensive, and evidence or the people involved may no longer be available. A one-year time limit is consistent with all other jurisdictions.
With respect to the power to obtain information, Mr. Penikett asked why documents had to be returned within 48 hours, after which the ombudsman may simply request them again. The purpose of that section is to make the documents available to the ombudsman for a long enough period so he may make copies of them, but for a short enough time so as not to cause operational problems for the agencies involved. It is not anticipated that the ombudsman will have to request the same document twice, except in very unusual circumstances.
The Member for Riverside indicated he would be asking further questions about the scope of subsection 16(2). This subsection gives the ombudsman a generous range of investigatory powers, and they offer the ombudsman the full ability to successfully complete investigations.
The Member for Riverdale South asked how people would be held accountable for these offences. They would be offences under the Summary Convictions Act and, therefore, would be punishable by a $500 fine or six months in jail.
All Members have expressed concern regarding the date of the actual proclamation and why it was necessary to have it so far in the future. This date was chosen after discussions with provincial ombudsmans' offices, and they strongly advised that great care be taken in implementing the office. As a result, we are going to be amending that section anyway, because we had selected a date of October 1. Now, we would like to have the ability to have more time. I have made the commitment that we will have these acts in operation by this time next year. Also, the lack of ombudsman experience in the Yukon could make implementation a fairly slow process.
With regard to the powers and duties of the ombudsman and matters of administration, the Leader of the Official Opposition expressed doubt about the willingness of First Nations and municipalities to make use of the Yukon government ombudsman. The option will be there if they do want to use it and are willing to pay a cost-recovery fee. It would be very likely to be more cost effective than the establishment of their own ombudsman.
It is intended that the Yukon office would develop a reputation for fairness, impartiality and legitimacy, and will be respected by all Yukoners. If so, the other levels of government might be inclined to make use of the office. If not, that would be their own decision to make.
The Leader of the Official Opposition asked if certain types of matters would be within the jurisdiction of the ombudsman. Complaints related to both public service job competitions and land applications and processes would be within the jurisdiction of the ombudsman; however, it is important to be clear that the ombudsman's role is limited to ensuring that existing procedures are applied fairly and correctly. The ombudsman will not render a decision, for example, as to whether or not a job applicant deserved to win a job competition, but only on whether the rules governing the job competition were properly observed and applied. It is also important that these issues be clear in the minds of the general public.
There are some options for administrative structures, and we will be talking about them as we go through some of the options we have. A key issue to be resolved is what the most efficient structure for the ombudsman office is, one which will also preserve its independence. We have looked at all the possibilities, and we can discuss them as we go through Committee.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Government Leader for that description. It would be useful for us to see the language of the amendments as earlier as possible in the Committee debate so that we can actually look at them. We may have questions about particular drafting. I know that it is extremely dangerous to raise questions about drafting, but since the Government Leader has a drafter with him, I know that they will be ready with responses.
I appreciate the flexibility and sensitivity to the concerns of the Legislature that have been demonstrated on a number of points. As someone who is neither a strong supporter nor a strong opponent of the ombudsman function at the Canadian, provincial and territorial levels, but as someone who counts himself simply as a skeptic, I am not against anything the ombudsman will do and I am not against the function. I just have legitimate concerns, all of which I have raised, about the cost and efficacy, especially in a small jurisdiction. I am, therefore I think, pleased to indicate general support for the sunset clause idea. I think that is useful. It means that some affirmative action has to be taken by a future Legislature to reconstitute this body. It does provide an appropriate occasion, if we do not have one before, to ask serious questions about the cost per case and the cost per file, or about the efficiency of the office, and whether the resources that are provided to the ombudsman might not be better given to assist MLAs in their work. Those are all the general questions for us to ask and we will be able to be asked at the time. We have no experience at the moment that would guide us.
There is, however, a policy question that occurs to me, even though I have not seen the draft of the sunset clause. That question arises from the marrying of the function of information commissioner and ombudsperson.
If we have a five-year sunset clause, and if - for example - the current Clerk of the Legislature is appointed as the ombudsperson and the privacy commissioner, and the act we have before us on access to information says the privacy commissioner shall be the ombudsperson and, five years hence, the Legislature decides to decapitate the ombudsman - figuratively, not literally; the Clerks are looking nervous and they need not - and end the ombudsman function, does the language of the law - I do not know how the sunset clause is drafted - allow for the continuation of the office of access commissioner? This is obviously the proponents' problem, not mine, but I raise it because some might fear we are creating a two-headed monster here, and the question is whether or not the entity can survive if one of the heads is cut off.
That is my question. I am not stating it as a way of opposing the clause, but simply as a question. I will say again that I have no problem with combining the administrations. I would want the administrations of these offices to be combined. I believe, as in the early days, there is no point in hiring two secretaries and having two sets of offices and duplicating an entire administrative structure for two part-time offices. However, it is quite possible, notwithstanding the limits put on the inquiries into land and personnel matters, that such a backlog of complaints exists in those areas that, in the initial stages of the ombudsman function, there may be a raft of those kinds of complaints land on the ombudsman's desk.
Notwithstanding the Government Leader's caution that the ombudsman cannot redress a personnel grievance in regard to whether or not they were the more qualified applicant, but only deal with question of process, and likewise for land - not give them the land that they wanted, but only vet or examine whether the process had been fair - there are so many such grievances out there that it is quite possible that people, having exhausted their patience with MLAs on either side of the House and having failed to get satisfaction, may dump them all on the ombudsman.
It could be that we get a lot of work initially, and then after a few months there is some reality therapy about the ombudsman's role, and it settles down to a dull roar. I cannot see any reason that we would have to have a large staff. As I said before, my personal view, even on setting up the Human Rights Commission, would have been for a much simpler structure. Interestingly enough, I was persuaded by the government lawyers at the time that you did not have natural justice and you did not have due process in a structure that perhaps only had one human rights commissioner and a very simple investigative and appeal process.
It is a problem in a small jurisdiction, because one needs a minimum number of staff to carry out certain roles. In my view, it would be no problem at all, unless there are some conflicts between the roles that I have not imagined, to talk about combining the administrations.
I do want to be sure that we understand perfectly what happens to the other role if the ombudsman function dies five years from now. I only raise the question - I have not seen the draft - because I would like to be sure that we do not have any silliness as a result of it.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I can understand the Member's concern. I do not think the amendment will cause that to happen; it is quite straightforward.
I am prepared to circulate the amendments for the Opposition so that they can have a look at the wording of them overnight. Perhaps they do have some concerns with the wording and maybe it is not quite what they would like to see. We can expedite some of the debate by circulating it ahead of time. I will keep the originals that I am going to table, but I will make some copies that can be circulated to the Members.
In reply to other comments made by the Leader of the Official Opposition on the workload of the ombudsman, I do not share his concern. I support the office, but I am a reluctant supporter, and I do share some of the concerns of the Leader of the Official Opposition. I feel that we have too small a jurisdiction; nevertheless, it was a commitment made by our party and I believe we have to follow through. What we are trying to do is construct it in the most reasonable fashion possible. That is also why, as an afterthought, after the act had gone through second reading, I went back to my Cabinet and asked for the sunset clause. That way, some future legislature will be able to take a good, hard, long look at how well the office is operating.
My biggest fear about the Ombudsman Act is that, in the early stage of the process, people are going to see this as the be-all and end-all to their problems. I think that what we need to do is have a good communications strategy in order to explain what the office of the ombudsman is and what its role is. I have people already approach me and say, "When are you going to get that ombudsman in place? I have a problem with a contract." They do not realize that that is not going to be the role of the ombudsman.
In my opinion, and by this legislation, the role of the ombudsman will only come into effect after all other avenues have been exhausted. I believe that people are looking at the office of the ombudsman as being a quick fix, and they may be disappointed with that. I think it is incumbent upon us as government that - if the bill passes the Legislature, and prior to proclamation and it taking effect - we have a good communication strategy in place to inform Yukoners about what the role of the ombudsman will be. That is one of my biggest fears about it.
Regarding the other issue of joining the three functions and then seeing the ombudsman function die, I do not think this amendment kills that. I think we could end up just changing the role of the person who is there - he would no longer have the duties of ombudsman, but he could still be the privacy and conflict commissioner.
Mr. Penikett: We may be having a furious agreement on this point. Although in a different way, I think the Government Leader was saying the same thing as I was about the expectation of the ombudsman's office in the early days. I do believe that the ombudsman will receive a flood of long-suppressed complaints about land and personnel matters. Those people who have been disappointed with us - by "us", I mean the legislators - will soon become disappointed with the ombudsman, also because the ombudsman will not be able to get them the job someone else got or the land that someone else got, or even give them any satisfaction at all, unless there was something grievously wrong with the process. That was, I think, the problem - I cannot remember which province - in Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, which recently abolished their ombudsman because it was inefficient, too expensive and was not doing any good, and I do not know if that raises questions about the incumbent or about the office itself.
I know that in Ontario, Alberta and Nova Soctia there was real frustration at seeing the bread and butter of the MLAs' casework, often health and welfare cases, UIC and workers' compensation cases, and so forth, going to a highly funded ombudsman who, in many cases, was being paid by the government to deal with the problems of another government agency, which MLAs adequately dealt with before. In Ontario, it was found that the ombudsman was spending a small fortune dealing with files, because the manner of operating in that province was like a law office. The ombudsman was a lawyer; the ombudsman's office was staffed with lawyers and legal researchers, and so forth, who could, in most cases, do no more than an MLA with some office space and equipment, but they brought more expensive skills to bear on the problem of UIC claims, welfare applications or appeals that were denied.
That is why we, in establishing the office and wanting to monitor its effectiveness in the first few years, will want to have some simple measure like a cost per file, a cost per case, or something that can be reported to the House. I am not suggesting that we imbed it in legislation, but it raises the issue of how the work of the ombusperson is audited. There are some non-governmental organizations and some administrative tribunals elsewhere that are not subject to the same audit rules as are functions in this government. I do not remember whether or not we debated this in second reading, but it is a question that I would like to ask in general debate.
Is it the hope or the intention of the government that the ombudsman office in the territory will be subject to external audit by the Auditor General, and subject to an internal audit by the Audit Bureau, or will it be, as some agencies are in some jurisdictions, able to appoint its own auditor from the private sector. Can I ask that question?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe we were assuming that it would follow the normal audit procedures of the internal audit committee, as well as those of the Auditor General, but we will check on it for the Member. I understand his concerns.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Government Leader for that. The only purpose in asking that question is to satisfy ourselves that when we come to do the five-year review under the sunset clause we are able to ask what the cost per case was and ask for other performance indicators. I am reminded by the Clerk, who is nervous about being appointed to this job, that Newfoundland repealed the parliamentary commission ombudsman act in 1990, so I guess it was not that recent, after all.
I assume other Members have some general comments. That is all I have at this stage.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister answered most of the questions I gave to him during second reading. I have a couple of questions about details. With respect to staff, did I hear the Minister correctly when he said he saw the ombudsman as a half-time person, that there was a full-time investigator and a full-time secretary, and that the Minister felt the cost of that would be $200,000 a year?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe the Member is correct. We feel it would be a half-time ombudsman. I am not sure how it will be structured, but we do not feel that position would be more than half time. There would be a full-time investigator and a full-time administrative assistant in an office located in a non-government building to give it some distance from government, so it is not perceived to be a whitewash job by government. We believe the cost, based upon on the experience of the Human Rights Commission, to be in the neighbourhood of $200,000 a year.
I also added the qualifier that it is very difficult to predict if an office of this size will be adequate to meet the demand. We will have a lot of trial and error as we move into the operation and implementation of the office of the ombudsman. I agree with the Leader of the Official Opposition that there will be a huge flood of complaints to go through. The majority will be thrown out, because they will not be at the stage to be handled by that office.
It will be a trial-and-error effort, but those are the best figures I can give the Member at this time.
Mrs. Firth: I want to talk a bit about the whole concept of the ombudsman. Listening to the two previous Members, it almost sounds as if we are not speaking in favour of this proposal. I appreciate the reservations that both the Members have. For their information, I will just give them my perception of why I think people want this and the way I see it working.
I agree that there may be a large number of issues presented to the ombudsman's office immediately. That may or may not be the case. The way I look at it is that the concerns that people have had when they come to me to deal with issues on their behalf is the concern of the partisan association. I think that what Yukoners are looking for is someone to go to bat for them, someone who does not represent a political party, because they do not want to offend the party that is presently the government. They do not want to offend the Official Opposition party, which may be the government next time.
Since I have become an Independent Member, which is going on three or four years now, I have noticed that my caseload has really expanded, for a couple of reasons. One is that I am an Independent and people consider me to be independent and not associated with any of the parties. Secondly, I seem to have a reputation for raising hell, and so they say if you want your issue to become public, or you want something done about it, go see Bea Firth.
I see the partisanship issue as the one that is of the greatest concern to Yukoners and the reason why there is the demand for the ombudsman office. People want someone who is perceived to be a neutral party to go to with a concern or issue.
It should be someone who is not focused on any political biases or political objectives, who is focused on actually being there to represent the citizens and doing something to help them. I think that if you watch the national ombudsman - the CBC ombudsman or the ombudsman in B.C. - they are usually fairly high-profile individuals who have the ability to get media coverage - public coverage - to put pressure on governments or businesses, or whatever, to help resolve issues.
I think that is what people are looking for. I am not as skeptical about the office of the ombudsman in that sense, because I think that I understand and recognize what it is that people want. I have constituents who come to me with issues. They say, "I want you to be aware of this, but I do not want you to mention anything about it right now. I do not want you to raise it in the Legislature because it will get into a political battle. I do not want the media to know about it, because then my name will be in the public. Could you help me out?" I usually cannot help them out without doing one or two of the things that they have asked me not to do.
Sometimes one can. In many instances, one can write a couple of letters, arrange a meeting with the Minister, arrange a meeting with some officials in the department, or whatever. I think these people anticipate that an ombudsman would be able to help them out with that, probably because they will have more ready access to files. If I as an MLA phone a department to request information about something, first of all there is a hesitation because it is a politician phoning, and there is a hesitation because it is an Opposition politician phoning. I make a little joke now when I call public servants - government employees. I say, "It is Bea Firth calling. I am the MLA from hell, and the last person you want to phone and ask you a question." I think there is an immediate defense mechanism that comes up. The employees feel that they have to report through the political level - through their Ministers - before they answer any questions or volunteer any information.
It would hold up the process of the individual's issue being dealt with. I would not see that happening if the ombudsman was doing the phoning, because that office is seen to be a service that is provided to help people. The information that is being requested should be provided, and the ombudsman should have the ability to access information readily.
I do not anticipate my workload going down. It may, I suppose, as people may not come to see me, as an MLA, if there is an ombudsman. I have no problem with that, as long as they get assistance with their concerns and issues. It does not matter who does it, as long as people are helped. I look at it in a positive sense that way.
I think there are some expectations in the public with respect to the creation of this position and this office. I do not think there are any more, however, than there were when the Human Rights Commission was created. I know that there were many people who felt that we had to have a Human Rights Commission here and that it would be inundated with complaints and work. I think there has been some fluctuation, but it has never been anything that could not be dealt with within the original mandate at the setup of the Human Rights Commission. Although it could be a realistic concern, I do not see it being a big problem.
I do not know if the half-time position will be enough, when I think of us, as MLAs, having constituents and members of the public coming to us, and there are 16 or 17 of us for them to come to. I can only speak for myself as an Opposition Member because I know that, having been a Cabinet Minister and an Opposition Member, a lot more people come to see me as an Opposition Member for assistance than when I was a Cabinet Minister.
If the ombudsman is, all of a sudden, required to look after all of the concerns of people who would have come to us as MLAs, then I could anticipate that there may be a bit of a flood of work in the beginning, and it may require more than half-time work on the part of the ombudsman to sort things out, identify issues and to let everyone have a period of adjustment to feel comfortable and for the public to adjust to how the service is going to be provided.
The last thing I would want is for us to say, "Okay, you have this, but it is only half-time", and then have people find that an issue cannot be dealt with because it is only a half-time position. I think it might be wise to start with a full-time position and then, if the Minister and the Leader of the Official Opposition are anticipating this big inundation of clients and requests, the ombudsman may have to be there on a full-time basis to sort that out and then it may taper off later, as people's expectations become more realistic. I think it is all theory and fairly hypothetical, and I do not think we will really know the answer until it happens.
My position is that we should do everything we can to present this in a positive way. I do not feel threatened as an MLA that I will not have any work to do if we create this position and this office. I think I will still have constituents and other Yukoners' casework to do and I will still be fulfilling requests that are made of me. I just wanted to present a different perspective for the Minister who is sponsoring the bill. I look forward to going through the debate line by line. I have certainly been supportive of this initiative. It is something that has been in the discussion stage for between four to seven years. I cannot even remember.
I recall, when I was with the Conservative Party, it was an initiative that one of the Members had brought forward in the form of a motion and we debated it in the House for a while. There were promises made and delays and so now it has finally come forward. I will ask some more specific questions as we get into the clause-by-clause debate. I may have some more comments in general debate, but I will give some of the other Members an opportunity to make some general comments.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member for her comments. I would like to reply, because a concern that I have - I want to make it clear that I am not against the legislation; I am the sponsoring Minister - is that we have to be very clear to the public about what the ombudsman office is. In my opinion, the ombudsman does not come into play until every other avenue has been exhausted. People who have spoken to me have a different perception of what the ombudsman is. They expect that if they were refused a contract, the ombudsman will jump right in and take the case. That is not the case. They have to go through all the appeal procedures; the ombudsman is the court of last resort.
The ombudsman is only there to see that a person was dealt with fairly by the government and to see that due process was followed. The ombudsman is not judge and jury. I do not want to set this office up without a good communications procedure, so people understand what the ombudsman office is.
The Member opposite is right that the ombudsman should not replace the MLAs. The MLAs can look into a citizen's concern immediately. The ombudsman will not do that. The ombudsman will only come in when all other avenues have been exhausted. I believe that, in the provinces, the ombudsman offices spend a great deal of time and effort just directing people to the proper departments and giving them information about how to deal with their concerns before coming to the ombudsman for assistance.
Even in the large jurisdictions, where there are millions of people, there are very few high profile cases that come to the ombudsman. A lot of the work is pretty mundane. It involves directing people to the proper departments to get the answers they need. It is incumbent upon us as legislators and MLAs that we do not start handing over our responsibility to the ombudsman office to deal with constituent concerns.
It is important for us to educate the public about what the ombudsman office will do. I would be very reluctant to follow through on the Member's suggestion by starting out with a full-time ombudsman and then trying to cut back. That would be a total disaster and it would be totally impossible to do. The Member opposite knows very well that it is very hard to make cuts to any bureaucratic office, and the ombudsman is just another bureaucratic office, even though it is independent of government. I would sooner start out slowly, and if the workload is too big, we will have to seriously look at increasing the time for the ombudsman. I would prefer to go that route, rather than to try to cut it back at a later date.
In reply to the question that was asked by the Leader of the Official Opposition about audits, the act is silent on who audits the office, which means that we would expect it to be audited in the normal fashion by the internal audit committee, as well as by the Auditor General.
In addition to that, the Member Services' Board will be reviewing the projected budget of the office before it gets to the Minister of Finance. I expect that we are pretty well covered. I do not think that it has to be defined in the act. The Member opposite may feel differently.
Mr. Penikett: I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that silence is not always golden. I recently heard - I do not know if it is true; if it is, it is a big mistake on my part - that by taking care to make sure that, for example, the Human Rights Commission was not in the public service, we now have a situation where the employees of the Human Rights Commission have no pensions and no benefits. That was not intended. We intended to have it independent, but we did not intend to deny the employees things that they should have been entitled to as any other employee in the public sector. If someone is in the later stages of their working life and does not have those pensions or benefits, they could be at some risk personally. I want to take some care in asking questions about this score.
It is important when talking about this. We need to clearly establish what is meant by departments of the Government of Yukon.
There are two kinds of problems here. Members may recall that I went to court against the then Conservative government to try and get access to an opinion poll they had developed at the expense of the government in an astonishing decision, I thought. I mean it was legally correct, but politically astonishing. The judge decided that the Executive Council Office was not a department of government, but was in effect, Cabinet government in the Yukon, so and it could be treated as a Cabinet confidence and therefore was exempt. It was a different bill.
Here, we have to be clear when we are talking about departments of the Government of Yukon in respect to the ombudsman, whether we really intend it to also mean the Legislative Assembly, the elections office and so forth. Because of the history of this jurisdiction and the Commissioner government where we had the quite exotic arrangement where the Clerk of the Cabinet was also the Clerk of the Assembly at one point, we have had people around who do not always understand that the Legislature is not a department of government like the others. I remember a case not that long ago where we actually had a lawyer advising the executive branch and the legislative branch, even in a case where they were on different sides of the issue, which I think is wrong.
I want to make it quite clear that I think we need to be clear in this law about the application of the ombudsman's power in terms of the Legislative Assembly. I do not think it would be at all useful to have the ombudsman, for example, questioning our procedures, the procedures of the elections office or dealing with matters here. Again, I am not a lawyer, but that is another area, like the potential arrangements for the potential staff, which I want to be clear about. I am not asking to debate it now, but I would just serve notice that those are questions I think we need to set out.
Mr. Cable: I am curious about why it is going to take us a year to get this office into operation. I was just thinking, for those of you who like military history, that the invasion of Normandy was planned in approximately the same amount of time. There are no regulations to be promulgated. There is a person to be hired - the ombudsman - who assumedly will go about hiring the staff himself or herself. There is an office to rent, and assumedly some file folders to buy. What does the Government Leader see that has to be done over the course of the year that requires us putting off bringing this concept into being. Acknowledging that all parties are in support of the concept, and acknowledging that this government is now two and one-half years into its mandate, and had promised to bring the ombudsman, why do we have to wait another year? What is it that has to be done?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is not only the ombudsman. We are talking about the ombudsman, responsibility for the access to information, as well as the conflict of interest. We have been told, especially with this act, as well as with the access to information, that we should be very careful how we go about it. We have to educate the public. We have to have a communication strategy in place.
In this act, the ombudsman will be appointed by the Legislature. I do not expect that we can do that in this session of the Legislature; it will happen in the next session. We are asking for a year, but I am not saying that it will take an entire year. We would like to have that time. I have made the commitment many times that I would have all three of these acts in place by next spring.
I would like to do it right. I am not one who likes to go back to correct things that we have just done. I want to take a little time and make sure that we have everything in place.
We made a commitment for this act in the election campaign. I believe that, as long as we have it in place and operational before we call another election, we have fulfilled our obligation to the people.
Mr. Cable: The problem I see with that approach is that I do not think the ombudsman can be hired until the act is proclaimed. Is that the Government Leader's thinking? That is the way I read the act.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe the Member is correct about that. I am not saying we will not proclaim it for a year; I am saying the office will be operational within a year. The act could be proclaimed before then.
Mr. Cable: Assumedly, the government administrative arm can round up some office space, desks, pencils and whatnot, but the ombudsman will hire the staff. As soon as the ombudsman is hired, there will not be a flood of complaints to be processed. There has to be a startup time.
The person is going to be wanting to run the office. They are not going to want to be asking the government how to go about it and how to set up the filing system. There is going to be a bit of a delay, and that is going to be primarily due to the fact that the ombudsman is going to have to get his or her act together, not because the government has to do a lot of things.
What is it specifically that the Government Leader sees has to be done between now and the time that the person takes the first complaint? I am not addressing the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act or the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, because that can be phased in. Presumably, they do not all have to be handled at the same time.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not expect that we will have time this sitting to appoint an ombudsman, because I do not expect we will be here that long. We have to start searching for applicants; we do not have the legislation through, and we have a lot of other legislation to do here yet. I do not think we can operate that quickly and do it right. I believe it will be the next sitting before an ombudsman is appointed. I would expect that appointing an ombudsman will be one of the first things we would do during the next sitting and let him get on with the job of setting up the office. I expect it will take the better part of a year before the office is operational. That does not mean we are going to wait a year to proclaim the act. If one looks at it realistically, it will be nine, 10 or 11 months before this office is operational.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress. At this time, we have the Administrator coming in to proclaim bills.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole considered Bill No. 99, entitled Ombudsman Act, 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.
Speaker: We are now prepared to receive the Administrator to grant assent to certain bills that have passed this House.
Administrator enters the Chamber announced by the Sergeant-at-Arms
ASSENT TO BILLS
Administrator: Please be seated.
Speaker: The Assembly has, at its present session, passed certain bills to which, in the name and on behalf of the Assembly, I respectfully request your assent.
Clerk: Third Appropriation Act, 1994-95; First Appropriation Act, 1995-96.
Administrator: I hereby assent to the bills as enumerated by the Clerk.
Administrator leaves the Chamber
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:25 p.m.