Thursday, May 27, 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.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: I have for tabling a report of the Chief Electoral Officer on amendments to the elections legislation.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have a report on the proposed amendments to the Environment Act prepared by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I have some documents for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have a copy of the draft regulations, which have been provided to the critics opposite.
Mr. Harding: I have a document for tabling, and I would like to take this opportunity say something.
Workers' Day of Mourning
Mr. Harding: Tomorrow is a day of mourning for all workers who have been killed and injured on the job, and I think it is important for people to remember the sacrifices that people in the workforce make to the economy and in making this country work.
Many workers have faced injury and death on the job and tomorrow is the day when we remember them. There is a ceremony scheduled for 12 o'clock noon at the Elijah Smith Building, and I would urge as many members of the public and of the Legislature as possible to attend and remember those workers.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Petition No. 4 - received
Clerk: I have had the honour to view a petition, being Petition No. 4 of the Second Session of the Twenty-Eighth Legislative Assembly, as presented by the Hon. Member for Riverside on April 26, 1995. This petition meets the requirements as to form of the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Speaker: Petition No. 4, accordingly, is deemed to be read and received.
Speaker: Are there any Introduction of Bills?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 7: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I move that Bill No. 7, entitled An Act to Amend the Hospital Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Health and Social Services that Bill No. 7, entitled An Act to Amend the Hospital Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 7 agreed to
Bill No. 19: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that Bill No. 19, entitled Enduring Power of Attorney Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 19, entitled Enduring Power of Attorney Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 19 agreed to
Bill No. 80: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that Bill No. 80, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Utilities Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 80, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Utilities Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 80 agreed to
Bill No. 93: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that Bill No. 93, An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 93, An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 93 agreed to
Bill No. 103: Introduction and First Reading
Mrs. Firth: I move that a bill, entitled Yukon Property Rights Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Riverdale South that a bill, entitled Yukon Property Rights Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 103 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Centennial anniversaries program
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. We are becoming very concerned about the secrecy surrounding the centennial anniversaries program and the projects that have been rejected or approved by the government. It is becoming obvious to us that the government is trying to avoid the scrutiny of the Legislature following the announcement about which of these projects have received approval and how much funding there is going to be for each.
Yesterday the Minister said, in response to questions from the Member for Riverdale South, that some projects had been approved in principle. Can the Minister tell us what the projects that have been approved in principle are?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Letters have gone out, and there has been verbal communication with the communities that have been deemed eligible. I believe there are five such communities. I do not have a list here. The reason is that I want to make sure the communities are fully aware before we make the names public.
Mr. Harding: We are talking about taxpayers' money here. These are projects that a lot of people have put a lot of work into developing. This Minister and this government have told us that the work has been well underway and is in full progress. We do not buy that these communities have no notice of where this government is going in terms of accepting or rejecting them. Surely that Minister can stand on his feet today and tell us which projects have been accepted and which communities they are in. Can he do that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Once we are sure that the communities have received their letters, and we have had communication with them, we will certainly make it public. It is no big secret. I want to make sure that the communities know first. It is just plain courtesy to the communities.
Mr. Harding: This government has had loads of time with the proposals in hand to send the letters out. I would go so far as to say that I believe the people have their letters. The Minister said they have had correspondence back and forth between the departments and these communities, and that they have actually been modifying proposals. How can he stand up today and say this is the first the communities will have heard whether or not they have had their projects approved? Can he not tell us - at least for the communities they have had communication with in order to modify the proposals - which projects have been approved in principle?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I said, it is a courtesy to the communities. We have been working with at least 16 communities. I would like, at this time, to congratulate the communities that have been working very hard with the staff people at Economic Development. There are five that are now ready to go to stage 2. When we are sure that they have received the letters, we will certainly make it public. It is not a big secret; it is just a courtesy.
Question re: Centennial anniversaries program
Mr. Harding: What about the courtesy to this Legislature and the courtesy to the taxpayers and to the people of the Yukon who have a right to know where these expenditures are going? The Minister has told us that he will tell us about the projects when they are sure that the people in the communities are aware whether or not they are going to accept them. He then stands up to tell us that they are at stage 2 in some communities, in terms of planning the projects. Which communities - he said five communities earlier - are at stage 2?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Certainly it is taxpayers' money. I agree with that totally. We debated the amount in the budget; there is $9 million dollars in funding. I hope that all of the money will be expended on these very worthwhile projects, but I am not going to name them until I am sure that those communities are aware of them and that they have been discussed with the people who worked on the proposals.
Mr. Harding: This Minister is like a box of chocolates - one never knows what one will get.
He stands up today and said that he will not tell us which projects have been approved, because he does not know if the communities have received a letter yet, but yesterday in the Legislature - I am looking at Hansard - he said that there was correspondence with some of the communities about the projects and about modifying the proposals. Today he stands up and tells us that some proposals are at stage 2.
Which projects are at stage 2 and in which communities are they?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, we have been in correspondence with 16 communities. There has been a lot of correspondence and telephone calls. Our economic development officers have been working with these communities. I do not want to name them right now. In fact, I do not even know them all right now. Until I receive copies of the letters, I will not name them.
Mr. Harding: This is terrible. This Minister is dancing all around this. He is not telling the people of the Yukon which projects have been approved, and there is just one reason for that - they are trying to escape the public scrutiny their decisions need to be subjected to. We know these projects - for a request of $27 million - are political hot potatoes for this government, and they are not prepared to tell the people in this Legislature what they have done.
Some of the projects included downtown community centres, planetariums in Watson Lake, large-screen theatres, $2.8 million for a history centre in Haines Junction, a waterfront development proposal for Carcross in the $3 million range, and a 300-passenger sternwheeler for Dawson City for $6 million or $7 million. This government does not have that kind of money in this fund.
Let us pick one of these projects. What about the downtown community centre in Whitehorse? Is that one of the projects that has been approved in principle?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There have been some excellent proposals submitted. We are working with the communities. There was - and there is no question about it - $27 million worth of proposals. The department has worked on that in conjunction with the communities, and we have several of the projects back to where they will fit into the $9 million fund.
Again, I would like to congratulate the communities for all of the hard work they have done.
With respect to the Member's specific question about whether or not that was an eligible project, if I knew, I would not say.
Question re: Jack Hulland School council newsletter
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Education.
The Jack Hulland School council periodically puts out a newsletter called Council Clips. In the April newsletter there is a reference to a meeting between the Members for Porter Creek North and Porter Creek South with the two public system school councils a few weeks ago. I quote from the newsletter, "The preferences of Porter Creek parents for development of secondary school facilities in the Porter Creek community was reinforced. The MLAs stated support for high school facilities in Porter Creek, and stated that they would assist in our efforts to inform and involve the parents on this issue."
To the Minister's knowledge, do the Members for Porter Creek North and Porter Creek South represent the views of this government?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I really cannot speak for the personal views of other Ministers. The government is in a consultation mode about the issue of the high school and whether or not it is adequate in the near term. No final decision has been made on that score.
The next interesting development, I suspect, will be when we receive the report on the various facilities in Whitehorse. When that is released I am sure there will a lot of discussion surrounding that study.
I have certainly seen the document to which the Member refers. It appears that a bit of the Liberal-wannabe-politician kind of mode has crept into some of these publications. This is really too bad, because they really should not be as partisan as they sometimes appear.
Mr. Cable: I thought the Minister might be a little churlish, but is the Minister saying that the views of the Government Leader and one of his colleagues in the coalition are unknown to him? The council's newsletter is quoted as saying, "The MLAs" - that is the Government Leader and the MLA for Porter Creek South - "stated support for the high school facilities in Porter Creek." Is that more equivocal than what it really reads?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Surely, by now, having been in this place for two and a half years, the Member opposite knows something about Question Period and what is appropriate to ask a Minister, that being questions of policy, and that sort of thing. For him to ask me what someone else's individual view is, as an MLA, is totally inappropriate, and perhaps the Member should look into what Question Period is about and what types of questions are appropriate. I do not stand here, as Minister of a department, and answer questions on the views of MLAs on this or any other subject.
Mr. Cable: I take it we are to assume that the Minister of Education does not consult with the Government Leader and get his marching orders.
The council's letter goes on to say, "Unfortunately, the Minister's mind is not as open as those of our local MLAs. In his response to our letter, he dismisses our concerns as being those of 'an individual interest group' and expresses 'disappointment with our perception of the consultation process.'" Could the Minister indicate what those comments are all about? What is the individual interest group, and what is the problem with the consultation process that is being talked about?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: First, I would ask the Member to table the document from which he is reading. That is what the rules provide for. Secondly, I would say that the letters I have sent to people should be read in context, and the full letter should be examined, not some short quotes taken by his very partisan friends and placed in a newsletter.
Question re: Energy conference
Mr. Penikett: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development and Renewable Resources about the government-sponsored energy sector conference that is being hosted by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment this weekend. No doubt the Minister is aware that there has been criticism from a number of quarters, including the Yukon Conservation Society, the Utilities Consumers Group, First Nations and other groups interested in energy questions, on the unfocused agenda, the poorly planned conference, the late invitations, the inadequate research materials, the excessive number of speakers, the inadequate time for full and frank discussion about a range of issues, and so forth.
How has the government responded to the criticisms from these important local organizations?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: This is the first I have heard that there have been problems with the agenda. I was not aware of any concern expressed about the agenda at all.
Mr. Penikett: That is simply astonishing. I have here a letter from the Yukon Conservation Society and a statement from the Utilities Consumers Group. Let me ask about some of the important points. There is not time in Question Period to deal with all the criticisms, but let me deal with some of the major ones.
The Yukon Conservation Society has publicly complained about the lack of complete serious consultation on the major energy issues, such as new energy projects, energy hydro relicensing, oil and gas development, and the global national/territorial commitments to reduce CO2 emissions by the year 2000, none of which are adequately addressed in the conference agenda.
Is the Minister saying that this comment and criticism from the Yukon Conservation Society has not even reached his desk yet?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It has not. I would expect that these types of concerns should come out at the conference. I certainly hope that the Conservation Society makes its views known at the conference on Saturday.
Mr. Penikett: That may be too little too late, because as the Utilities Consumers Group, another critic, has pointed out, the really serious energy questions - the questions of pricing, of privatization, of conservation, of utility regulations and so forth - have been, if they ever were on the agenda, removed from the agenda, and there is neither the time, nor the occasion to have a full and frank discussion of these issues.
How is the Minister responding to that serious concern being expressed well in advance of the conference?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If these concerns exist, as the Member has pointed out, I would hope that they would be brought forward at the conference. If they cannot be dealt with there, perhaps they can be dealt with at another time. I would expect that that would be the place to air these concerns.
Question re: Old Ditch Road maintenance
Ms. Moorcroft: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. I have heard reports that the government will be giving Loki Gold over $1 million to work on the Old Ditch Road. What are the terms and conditions of the financial contribution being negotiated with Loki Gold?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have committed to bring to the House the deal that we made with Loki Gold. It will be brought up in the form of a motion to the House, and everyone will be able to respond to the application.
Ms. Moorcroft: This Minister did promise debate in the Legislature on the Old Ditch Road when we approved the $1.00 line item for it in his budget. I think that the government is being deceitful. We spent considerable time on this issue. Why is the government not living up to its commitment to seek the approval of the Legislature prior to a deal being made with Loki Gold?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know where the Member has been for the last four months; she certainly could not have been in the Legislature. I made a commitment standing on my feet in this Legislature - not once, but twice, possibly three times - that when an agreement was reached with Loki Gold, that agreement would be brought to this Legislature, even if we had to recall the Legislature.
Ms. Moorcroft: We have certainly seen broken promises more than once from this government. I would like to ask the Minister the question again. Since the government is negotiating with Loki Gold to provide them with over $1 million to work on a public road, what are the terms and conditions of the financial contribution being negotiated with Loki Gold? The government said that it would come here before the deal was made.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We will bring the Loki Gold project to this Legislature. If the Legislature has to be recalled, as the Government Leader has said in budget debate, and so have I, then we will recall the Legislature. Then the Members opposite will have a chance before the session to look the whole deal over, and we can debate it in this House.
Question re: Porcupine Caribou Management Board, funding
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister responsible for Renewable Resources. I heard some disturbing news yesterday that the Liberals and Mr. Irwin were cutting funding for the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, which is responsible for overseeing the protection of this resource that is tremendously important to the people of the northern Yukon region. I would like to ask the Minister this question: why does he believe the Liberals are cutting this funding to the Porcupine Caribou Management Board?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I did see a copy of a letter to the secretary of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board indicating that they would like to start discussions with the committee on the possibility of reallocating some resources. However, there is an agreement in place that has been signed by the Government of Canada, the Old Crow Band - the Tetlit Gwitchin - and the Dene in the Northwest Territories, which outlines the sharing of the money. I cannot see how the federal government can get out of funding it.
Mr. Harding: They do not. In the news reports surrounding this issue the Minister said very adamantly that they are not prepared to take over areas where the federal government has cut back. I see the Government Leader nodding his head in approval. In some areas where the federal government has cut back, this government has been more than happy to take over responsibility. For geoscience projects, for mining and for tourism marketing initiatives where the federal government has pulled back, it has been more than happy to pool in Yukon dollars. I would like to ask the Minister why those projects would be a priority when the Liberals download, but an important resource like the Porcupine caribou herd would not be seen as such a priority?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We will not take over where the federal government has shirked its responsibility. I do not believe that the federal government can shirk its responsibility in this particular case. It may want to talk about this and try to reallocate some funds, or do whatever it deems is necessary, but my reading of it is that there is an agreement. It is entrenched in the land claims, so I do not see how the federal government can go back on its commitment.
Mr. Harding: The Minister has missed the point. There are program areas that have been downloaded by the federal government and the Yukon government has agreed to fund them. With some programs, like the Porcupine Caribou Management Board and with Innovators program, the global education, this government takes a contradictory position and says it is not going to take over those federal programs. If it is not going to fund this, if there is some downloading, what steps is it going to take to ensure that the federal government is not successful in absolving itself of this responsibility and that it lives up to its agreement? I believe the government in Ottawa should.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think I have clearly indicated that; - perhaps the Member should question the Member for Riverside.
The question is hypothetical at this point in time. My reading of the final agreement and the agreement that is in place with the Porcupine Caribou Management Board is that the federal government is committed to one-third of the cost. I do not see how the federal government can get out of that.
Question re: Yukon Liquor Corporation, Carmacks meeting re
Mr. Joe: I would like to ask the Minister of the Department of Community and Transportation Services about his meeting last week.
The chief asked the Minister how he felt about the government working together with the First Nation, and the Minister did not answer that very simple question. Can the Minister tell us how he feels about working together with the First Nations people?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I believe the Member must be talking to me in my position as the Minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation. This government has worked with First Nations and has done its best to do so.
We now have a vote that took place in Ross River yesterday -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. Does the Member wish to clarify the question.
Mr. Joe: Yes. I am talking about a meeting that took place last week in Carmacks.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I am sorry, I thought we were talking about another issue.
The government has done everything it can to cooperate with the First Nations and I have accepted their petition. The government will be considering the petition, as it does all petitions. I made the government's position very plain when I met with the First Nation, and although it is an emotional issue, I also have to look at the financial considerations before any decisions are made.
I also indicated to the First Nations that I would return to the community to meet with them before the government makes any announcements or takes any position.
Mr. Joe: Chief Fairclough asked the Minister, "Do you regard the First Nations as a part of the community?" The Minister got upset and said, "Do not ask me, ask them."
Can the Minister answer the question now. Does he believe that the First Nations are part of the community?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: That is not exactly what I said. I said that, in my conversations with him here, he wanted no part of a municipality. Out there, he wanted to know if he is part of it. I said that that is a problem between the First Nation and the municipality; it is not my problem. The people there have to solve that. This is another issue where the people in the area have to solve it, not I.
Mr. Joe: I want to remind the Minister that this government has made a commitment to work together with the First Nations. I have said over and over again that we need to work together.
Has this government forgotten about all the good things that it said it was going to do? Can the Minister tell the chief that the government is still committed to work with the First Nations for the benefit of all of us?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: It is a two-way street. If the community itself cannot get together, I do not think that I am the big boy who should go in and straighten them out.
I would like to point out something else. It has taken me almost one year to get a First Nations and a municipality to agree on one campground. We do not even have that agreement signed, but at least we are close.
Question re: Centennial anniversaries program
Mrs. Firth: I would like to follow up with the Minister of Economic Development with regard to the centennial anniversaries program.
I remember a big joint press conference back in August. The Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Economic Development made a big announcement about the centennial anniversaries funding, which was the biggest deal in the Yukon since the gold rush.
Yukon Update, the political propaganda that this government puts out, talked about the government announcing a $9.5 million centennial funding program. Ever since then, every meeting, conference, convention and speech this government has given - toot, toot, pat, pat - centennial anniversaries program.
The first minute we ask in the House for information with respect to which five communities have been chosen to receive the money, the door was shut in our face - no information, no more hoorah, hoorah.
The Minister is receiving all kinds of advice from the peons around him.
What is the reason why, all of a sudden, we cannot have any information with respect to this program? Why will he not tell the public which five communities have been chosen?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is just courtesy that we let the five communities know first. It is only common courtesy for us to do that. The communities have been working very hard with our people. There have been disagreements, there have been different proposals come forward, but they have worked very hard to advance these projects. It is only common courtesy that we let the communities that have completed stage 1 know that we are ready to go on to the next phase - planning and functional design.
Mrs. Firth: There are two things that are obvious here. The first is that the Minister does not know what he is talking about. The second is that it is obvious that the government is keeping secret which communities' projects have been approved. That is a pretty pathetic communications strategy - do not tell them anything, then they will not be able to criticize. It is pathetic.
Here we are in the House debating access-to-information legislation. The government Members get all upset when we accuse them of having a bad track record on giving us information; they get offended and hurt. The first time we ask a question, after we have been given a snippet of information from the Minister - that five communities have been chosen - for the names of the communities that have been chosen, the response is "no way".
Why not? What is the big secret? Surely, the communities know who they are, especially if they are at the second stage, as the Minister said today. Why can he not share that information with the rest of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think it is only fair that we let the communities know first, and that is exactly what we are going to do. There will be an announcement in the House and the media. We will certainly let the rest of the territory know which communities have been approved, but I think it is only common courtesy that we let the people, who have done all the work, know first about who has been approved.
We have received applications from 16 communities in the territory right now, and we expect to receive applications from two more communities. These people have done a tremendous amount of work putting these proposals together. I think it is only common courtesy on our part to let them know how they have made out.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister said today that five communities had been chosen, but he will not tell us which ones they are, because he wants to let them know first - but they are at the second stage of negotiations. What is it that he has to let these communities know? What does "five communities chosen" mean? Does that not mean anything?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: That is coming later.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The first stage of the whole program was to come up with ideas on projects that could be built or constructed in the territory. Five communities in the territory have been approved - they have come up with several proposals, which fully meet the criteria, and so on.
In the second stage, we go back to the community and say, "Okay, we like your proposals." Then, they are required to develop a comprehensive project proposal. That will address such things as the viability, the budget forecasts and the function and design planning. All of those things will be addressed in stage 2. Five communities are into that stage. We have sent out letters to them and, once we are sure they have received the letters, we will do a release naming the communities.
Question re: School dental program
Mr. Penikett: I have a question for the Minister of Health. There are rumours circulating to the effect that coverage for grades 7 and 8 kids will soon be cut from the Yukon children dental program. Can the Minister comment on the truth of the rumours and say what consultations, if any, have taken place between him and his federal counterparts regarding this program, which is now 70-percent funded by Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: This is the first time that I have heard the rumour. I will have to check into it, because it is news to me. The rumors would indicate that the Liberals are now after the kids.
Mr. Penikett: I guess that is what the Liberals mean by policies that bite.
I received a report this morning that some private dentists were recently told that their services would no longer be used in the delivery of the Yukon children dental program. Was the department involved in this decision, and does the Minister feel that a single dentist in government employ can effectively deliver the program to several hundred children?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Once again, I will have to look into the rumour, as has been characterized by the Member asking the question. I will be pleased to get back to him. This is the first that I have heard of it.
Mr. Penikett: Let me ask the Minister a question about something entirely within his control, something in his absolute power. Would the Minister be prepared to table the agreement between his government and the federal government outlining the precise services provided at the moment by the medical services branch on behalf of Yukon taxpayers?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will look into that, obtain the agreements and table whatever agreements there are.
Question re: Jack Hulland School council newsletter
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader about the Porter Creek High School. The Minister of Education and I sort of danced a jig on the first round. I quoted to him a part of the contents of the newsletter called Council Clips. I asked him if it was accurate that the MLAs - the Member for Porter Creek North, the Government Leader, and the Member for Porter Creek South - stated support of high school facilities in Porter Creek. Was that the representation made to the Jack Hulland School council and the Junior Secondary School council?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am rising because either the Member is asking a question of policy of a Minister about his portfolio, or he is deliberately, or perhaps negligently - I suspect it is negligently because I know that he is an honourable man - totally abusing the rules of this House. Question Period is here for the express purpose of asking Ministers about policy, not to ask MLAs about MLA business. He has done this before - he has been out of line. He is out of line now.
Mr. Cable: Now we have had comments from the second in command, or maybe he is the third in command. One would think that the Government Leader can speak to issues of government policy - Yukon Party policy. That is a good point. Is the Minister of Education saying that he is not prepared to indicate what his Government Leader has told him would be government policy?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: This is absolutely ridiculous. I have never heard of such a thing - a person standing up in Question Period, which exists for the purpose of asking the government about its policy, and asking about the individual views of MLAs. It is against the rules of this House; it is against the rules of the House of Commons; it is against the rules of British parliamentary tradition - it is absolutely outrageous. We are not going to answer questions about the views of individual MLAs. I am here to answer about government policy, the policy of the department, and policy that has passed through Cabinet, not about what some individual MLA's views are, or what some person out in the street thinks.
Mr. Cable: I thought that the Government Leader's view might have some casual influence on the Minister's thinking. Could the Minister go this far? Could he tell us if the views expressed by the Government Leader are, in fact, his views?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Could the Member answer this question for me? Does he like the new style of clothing that the new Liberal Leader wears these days?
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now lapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day, Government Bills.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 39: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 39, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Phelps.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Everybody on this side of the House is terrified I am going to forget my lines again.
I move that Bill No. 39, entitled An Act to Amend the Travel for Medical Treatment Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Health and Social Services that Bill No. 39, entitled An Act to Amend the Travel for Medical Treatment Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: This is a fairly short amendment. The intention is to delete section 8 of the current act and replace the rules regarding entitlement to travel for medical treatment in the regulations.
The section outlines the current level of benefits to be provided for various kinds of travel, and by placing this section into regulations will allow greater flexibility in responding to changes in the way that medical services are provided.
This morning, I delivered to the critic and the Leader of the Liberal Party, as well as the Member for Riverdale South, copies of the draft regulations, which, of course, will not be passed until this bill becomes law.
The changes to the levels of benefits are rather minimal. What the government intends to do is reduce mileage rates from 23 cents per kilometre to 18 cents per kilometre for the use of an automobile for medical travel. That reduction will reflect the real cost and would result in an estimated savings of something in the order of $19,000 to $20,000 per year - out of a program that is costing approximately $1.5 million. We believe that we will still cover the actual transportation cost of the trip for most residents.
We are going to extend the compassionate travel for parents of a critically or terminally ill child. It will be extended from children up to 16 years of age to children up to 19 years of age. The regulation also provides that all travel must be pre-approved, except for emergency travel. There are some other policy changes, which really are intended to bring the written policy in line with the way in which the current practice has been exercised, and has been exercised for some time. The major changes include making provisions through the department to cover the cost of change fees or upgrades in order to accommodate medical consultations when the resident is already out of the territory on business or personal travel, establishing a maximum limit of 90 days for special accommodation subsidies, which can be approved by the director. This is primarily where a person is outside the territory waiting for an organ transplant, or that sort of thing. The 90 days brings it in line with our coverage under insured benefits, clarifying wording in the regulations to ensure that travel is pre-approved and paid at the actual rate charged.
There are other minor changes in the draft regulations as tabled. They are quite minor. They are simply intended to ensure that the travel for medical treatment is tightened up and that the regulations reflect the way in which the department has been handling applications for travel for medical treatment.
This is one of the final pieces of the implementation of all the changes that we have made to the health programs. It is intended not so much to drastically reduce this particular program; it is intended to tighten it up somewhat.
I would encourage all Members of the House to support the change and to support this act in second reading.
Mr. Penikett: We were all staggering around like punch-drunk boxers during Question Period. I was not sure we were going to get to this bill.
Interestingly enough, for a bill that is so short, it is, in some ways, a confusing piece of legislation. Medical travel has always been controversial. Even in this session, we had questions raised about medical escorts and the problem raised about the poor, unfortunate person from Faro who had a heart attack while working in the Northwest Territories, but living here. He was transported to the hospital, and is now stuck with a $9,000 bill. These stories are all evidence that we have an imperfect system.
The act that we now use, as all Members know, covers payment for expenses, escorts, evacuations, exclusions and recovery expenses for some things.
Essentially, in section 8 we are repealing one section, and replacing the word "rules" with "regulations". The term "regulations" has become a more precise term than "rules". For the record, there are no regulations. What we have now is the draft, which the Minister gave us this morning. I am a fast reader, but I have not had a chance to read them or absorb them yet, so I cannot comment intelligently on them.
The Minister has indicated, in a summarized way, the changes that are contained here, including the cuts to the mileage rate and the extension of the compassionate travel. I was not sure if it was from 16 year olds to 18 year olds or 19 year olds, but that may be clarified later.
Some citizens may wonder why we changed it from rules to regulations - or why we would go to the trouble. I suppose it is partly to make sure that whatever we are doing has a proper statutory base. I know, from my time in the department, that that was not always the case in the Department of Health and Social Services. There were some programs in the department, when I was there, that had no statutory foundation whatsoever, other than the estimates.
That was a problem the Auditor General commented on. Someone has handed me something, but I cannot possibly read it while I am giving a speech - it is a problem I have.
There previously was a travel-for-medical-treatment policy, which is a document I have in my hand that is several pages long. Even though we tried, through a number of pieces of legislation, to make sure there was a clear relation between the statute and regulation - and there was a foundation of policy behind them - some policies, such as this, may have been viewed as freestanding instruments. When regulations are changed, it has to be done by an order-in-council, which will be published. Therefore, for people who would actually take the time to read something like this - which I assume would mainly be people in the professional community - the knowledge would be disseminated fairly quickly.
Section 10, on page 12 of the draft regulations, has come to the attention of someone in our office. This section limits the amount of compensation for travel to the actual cost of a scheduled airfare between two points. I take it that means that if someone were to be so unfortunate as to need to be medivaced by charter, the compensation would only be to a maximum of the fee Canadian Airlines charges for a regular ticket.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: It says, "for the purposes of paying scheduled airfare between the place the flight originates, the scheduled airfare should not exceed the cost ..." It may be that it is to prevent people from flying business class. The Member for Riverdale South may be right.
There probably will not be time in this session, but I am sure the Minister will respond to any inquiries we get about the regulations. There will be people who have questions about them. The legislation is really not controversial, in terms of its principle.
Mrs. Firth: When the Minister originally tabled the bill, and I looked at it and researched the present system, I was wondering whether or not we would be getting the new regulations. I am pleased to see them here, because that would have been my first question.
I have had a chance to go through the changes, and there are a couple of things I would like to discuss. I can do that in Committee of the Whole. I guess I would like to get some idea from the Minister if he is prepared to go through all of the draft regulations clause by clause in Committee. I see the Minister saying no. That is my concern, because I do have some specific questions about some of the draft regulations. I see the Minister nodding yes now, that we will go through the draft regulations. I just see him shaking his head a lot, so I will wait until he explains to us what his intention is.
In that case, I would like to make a representation that we do have an opportunity to go through all of the draft regulations. I do have some concerns I would like to bring forward with respect to some of the wording and some of the direction that has been taken. I will not go through them now, because I know I will have an opportunity to ask the Minister in Committee.
Perhaps I could alert the Minister to what my concerns are, in order that he could have some answers for me at the Committee stage. The daily compensation has been changed. It is now $30 a day - was it not $46 a day previously? I will look forward to the Minister clarifying that, as well as the mileage change.
There is a concern about the age of children: "Children below the age of 16 shall be escorted." I think there may be some argument that it should be below the age of 18. I know that if a 16 year old were being sent out for medical testing, and so on, I think a lot of parents would be hesitant to send their kids out to Vancouver on their own at that age.
The other question I have has to do with compassionate travel. There is no real definition of what "critically ill" means. It is up to the chief medical officer to approve the payment of this subsidy for compassionate travel. The definition of compassionate travel is "parents of a terminally or critically ill child".
After talking to people in the medical community, what happens at present is that the chief medical officer delegates the authority to the doctor of the patient, if it is an emergency situation, or the doctor on call at the hospital, if the family doctor is not available. Why is that not specified in the regulations? Perhaps we could have an answer to that.
There is reference on page 11 to cases where children under the age of 16 may require a professional escort, and yet the compassionate travel refers to children under the age of 18 years. I would like an explanation about why one is 16 and one is 18; why are not all the ages consistent?
That is about it for the specific identifications. I do not have concerns about the change from policy to regulations, or whatever. I think that regulations is fine. At least we will know what the regulations are.
I have a question for the Minister about who was consulted about the changes and why the department decided to do this. Was it at the request of the medical community? What prompted this particular initiative? Have the changes either limited anyone from getting medical travel, or made an opportunity for someone who could not get medical travel before to now get it, or to get escorts? I may have found that myself, but I would like to hear the Minister's explanation of it, in case I missed it. I know that there is a specific regulation that allows the director to authorize the payment of expenses for a lay escort in addition to a professional escort, where, in the director's opinion, the use of both is warranted. I imagine that would cover concerns that some of the other Members of the Legislature raised - the Member for Mayo-Tatchun at one time raised a question about a person requiring a lay escort.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I can ask any further questions I may have when we get into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: Before the Member responds I would like to remind everyone - it is a friendly reminder - that in Beauchesne, at page 659, it states that second reading is the most important stage through which the bill is required to pass, for its whole principle is then at issue and is affirmed or denied by a vote of the House. It is not regular on this occasion, however, to discuss, in detail, the clauses of the bill.
I am not criticizing Members, I just want to make everyone aware of that rule. I know that we follow the rules rather loosely here.
If the Member now speaks he will close debate.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The intention in proceeding with the amendment was, as the Health and Social Services critic for the Opposition mentioned, to put into a law a legal base for the regulations, rules and procedures.
There is really very little change. I was asked by the Member for Riverdale South whether or not the government consulted with the public about these changes. The answer is yes; this is one of the issues that underwent consultation when the government visited the communities to consult about the Social Assistance Act, about changes to the health care system and about the alcohol and drug strategy about a year and a half ago.
The decision was made not to make any major changes to the policy as it was being administered by the department, save and except for the one decrease, which is the mileage. The per diem has not changed. There is an increase to the compassionate travel and that is the other big change in the package. Otherwise, it is simply tightening up the regulations to ensure that the government is more careful about preauthorization and the emergency nature of the travel.
As to the question asked about the section in the regulations dealing with the payment of airfare, emergency evacuations will still be carried out as is currently done. In situations where people are required to go out of the territory on a non-emergency basis, but to go outside for treatment, they will be able to get the economy flight paid for.
I would simply say that, yes, the issues surrounding medical travel were raised during the community visits, and a lot was said about them. It is an area of interest to the Yukon Medical Association. The Joint Management Committee has had discussions about the issue. Once again, I commend this bill to all Members in the House.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 39 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. House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the Committee to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 50 - Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act - continued
Chair: We are dealing with Bill No. 50, Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, clause 7. Is there any debate on the proposed amendment?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will just be very brief. We have discussed these amendments in general debate. At meetings that I had with the Opposition, one of the requests that they put forward was that they would like to see some guidelines for what creates business and employment activities by Ministers enshrined in the act. We have done that. This section establishes prohibitions with respect to business and employment activities. It is designed to ensure that Ministers do not carry on business or employment activities that create, or are likely to create, a conflict with ministerial duties or that would unreasonably interfere with a Minister carrying out public duties.
Similar prohibitions are found in other conflict legislation in Canada, including the former Public Government Act Although the Public Government Act does not limit their application to activities that would create or would be likely to create conflict of interest, this limitation is found in provincial legislation in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. This limitation is in keeping with the fundamental purpose of the bill, which is to set rules in place to deal with conflict. In addition, it goes further than other provincial legislation in also stating that other business employment activities are not to interfere unreasonably with ministerial duties.
According to this amendment, the terms "business", "employment" and "office" would be defined as per the federal Income Tax Act, and that is only for want of a better definition. If we try to define it any more than that, we are going to seriously limit what is meant by carrying on a business without the conflicts commissioner's involvement.
If there are any doubts, the conflicts commissioner can deal with them in conjunction with the Minister. Other conflict-of-interest laws do not include definitions, but these definitions serve to protect greater certainty of the meaning of the terms. These definitions are also sufficiently broad so as to capture such activities as the holding of corporate directorships, circumstances where a Minister is buying or selling shares on a scale and with a frequency that it would constitute carrying on a business activity rather than simply making investments.
The definitions of the terms "business employment" and "office" are contained at the back of these notes.
Mr. Penikett: My colleague for Faro has an important question on the amendment, but I have one that I will not express as a criticism but as a serious question of philosophy. When we were debating the Public Government Act, there was general agreement in the House, which was proposed again here, about the idea of a six-month cooling-off period. Mrs. Firth has expressed the view, particularly strongly, that one should not be able to take information or knowledge obtained while in the service of the government and then work for someone else and perhaps even use it against the government.
In discussion with a certain eminent lawyer and engineer, who shall remain nameless, I understand that when there is litigation on this point, it is often difficult for the courts to work out if someone, in leaving the government's employ and going into another employ, is just taking the expertise they have by virtue of their own education, training and experience, or if they are taking some trade secrets or confidences that they acquired from the previous employer. I understand that that can be difficult for the courts to sort out.
However, there is a concept, particularly when I look at subclause (5) of the amendment. I will read the language here and then explain what troubles me. It says, "A person who was a Minister, but who is no longer either a Minister or a Member must not use to further their own private interests during the six months immediately after ceasing to be a Minister information that they acquired by virtue of their office as a Minister but which was not generally available to or accessible by the general public."
Forget the language of the clause - I am just really dealing with the concept, because it gets to the question we are dealing with in clause 8 about businesses. The concept is that the former Minister must not use, for their own private profit, information they obtained while a Minister that was not generally available to the public.
Those are not the exact words, but my restatement of it. I agree with that concept. I agree that there is something wrong with the idea that someone can hold office, acquire information - perhaps commercial confidences or knowledge about some things - and then profit from them. For all the practical problems, it is good that we have a prohibition against that, but if we think about it as an ethical question, surely it is as wrong for them to do that seven months later as it is for them to do it five months later.
The problem is that, if I am in office and I acquire some knowledge about Loki Gold or the Yukon Electrical Company - anything - and a year or two later use the information that I acquired as a Minister for my own personal profit, it is just as wrong then, perhaps not legally, but at least morally, than it would be if I did it three, four or five months after leaving the ministerial office.
I am not suggesting an amendment - and I confess that I have not thought about this much before - but in looking at the language that we had before us last night, I have actually been thinking about it quite a bit since. I remember a case during the time I was in the Legislature, where someone was working for a Crown corporation, left the employ of that Crown corporation, was instantly employed on a contract for that Crown corporation. Citizens complained and I think he came up in one of the public accounts hearings some years ago. I do not think there was the perception that there were standards then that made that improper. We debated before if a year would be appropriate, if six months is too long or if someone might be put into a position where they could not earn income for six months. Anyway, we settled on six months. That is a good thing, but the acquiring of valuable information in office and then using it for your own personal profit some time later may not be addressable by a cooling-off period.
I am not suggesting an amendment. I just want to flag this because it may be something that, if there is evidence of such a thing happening, should still be referred to the conflicts commission, or there should be someone to ask about it, because if we have someone who just bides their time for six months and then goes out and acts on the insider information, it seems to me that that is just as wrong, even though it may not be illegal.
Perhaps the lawyers in this House have a lot of experience with this; they may have known people who have been caught in this kind of position or taken advantage of knowledge they have acquired not just in government, but with a former employer, that was profitable. I am just thinking that the cooling-off period covers one kind of situation very well. One puts some distance between one's former employer and oneself, and if one subsequently gets a contract, one is going to have to compete with them, and people will make an evaluation of it. There may be other cases where I may have learned something when I was a Minister that I am not even aware of now that may be valuable some years down the road.
It seems to me that the ethical question about whether it would be proper to use it does not disappear in six months.
Chair: Is there further debate on the amendment?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is right; this is an ethical question. I guess if one wanted to carry it to the extreme, one could say that the Leader of the Official Opposition should not be allowed to write a book about his experiences in government, because he gained information that no one else could have gained because of his office.
The six-month period is to try and diffuse current, new information that a Minister may have acquired that would give him instant wealth. Six months in the real world - out there in the financial markets - is a long, long time. I am not too concerned about that. I do not know how much longer a period one could effect or how one could police it, because even the cooling-off period - I am sure it is the same in other jurisdictions - is difficult to enforce after six months, due to the Charter of Rights. There has to be a cooling-off period. Six months seems like an appropriate time.
With most Ministers, the severance package is somewhere in the neighbourhood of four to six months, or something like that. They do have a certain amount of revenue after they leave office. They should be able to take a job that does not put them in a position where they are using information that they gathered in office.
I do not think one can cover every possible future event with conflict legislation. I believe it is to give comfort to the general public that Ministers - in this bill and in the conflict legislation we will be bringing in for deputy ministers - ought not to personally benefit from their time in office, especially politicians who are elected by the people. The Member opposite is quite right; we do have access to a lot of information. After six months, I think that information is fairly stale. There may be some instances - I heard the Member for Faro mention Loki Gold in the background. Six months is a long time in the lifetime of Loki Gold. Based on insider information, had someone invested money in Loki Gold six months ago, he would have taken a hell of a beating by now. So, I think six months is a very long time, when it comes to benefiting financially from information one receives as a Minister. I do understand the Member opposite's concerns, but I do not know how it can be addressed any differently in this bill.
Mr. Harding: I have some questions about principles that I believe in that are contained in the bill, and some confusion that I sense about how those principles are espoused in sections 8(1) and 9 - which is an exception to section 8. As I read it, it seems to me that what it says is that a Minister must not carry on a business, must not engage in business, engage in employment or practice a profession. Basically, it covers all of the bases.
However, it then describes the caveats that are necessary to activate the conflict. That is that conflicts with the Minister's duties create a reasonable apprehension that the Minister is in violation of sections 2 or 3, and interfere unreasonably with the performance of the Minister's duties. To me, when combined with section 9, it is almost a giveth-and-taketh-away situation. I have a couple of concerns about that.
First of all, I believe that to say, as it states in section 8(1)(g), "interfere unreasonably with the performance of the Minister's duties", it could be the subject of considerable debate. The proposal is that the commissioner decides that. In my mind, we, as elected people, and all of us, as Members who could potentially become Ministers, have an obligation to set some parameters about what we consider is reasonable and what is unreasonable.
I do not believe it should rest with the choice of the commissioner, who may have leanings one way or the other. I think we should have a clear sense about what is reasonable in terms of interference. We do not have that in this bill; it is left to the total discretion, and in a very loose fashion, of the commissioner. I have a concern about that.
The exception also says that first of all the material has to be disclosed to the commission, and it says that the commission is satisfied that the activity, if carried on in a specified manner, will not create a conflict between the Member's private interest in public duty. I have a concern with this particular clause and the perception of conflict, but I would like to ask the Government Leader if he feels that section 8(1) would override that particular clause. I am talking about the clause that states "...create a reasonable apprehension if the Minister is in violation."
I find this somewhat confusing because it is a mixing of principles. Some of the acts, which would be considered innocent by some people in terms of acting as an agent for a business or the trading of shares, may not seem to be unreasonable but, to my mind, it opens the door for the perception or an apprehension - to use the word in the bill - of conflict. As a legislator, I would like to have some guidelines for the commissioner to have that debate and not foist everything upon the particular will of the commissioner we choose.
Even though we do have provisions for the choice of the commissioner, I believe that the commissioner has to have some clear guidelines as to what is being espoused in the principles of the bill. I think that this bill, to a degree, states the principles through the exceptions clause and the vague wording as to what we feel is a reasonable involvement in business by a Minister takes away from the principle of the bill.
I would like to hear the Government Leader's comments on that issue.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that is addressed in section 2 of the bill where "conflict of interest" is defined. There is a very broad definition there. In other words, it is not only a conflict for the Member or Minister to know there is an opportunity to further his or her private interest, it is also a conflict if there is a reasonable appearance of opportunity, and I think that is what the Member is alluding to.
I believe that we cover it in the broad definition in section 2, along with further definitions in section 8 of what constitutes carrying out a business, or what could be a perceived conflict.
I do not think section 9 takes it away at all. I truly believe the strength in this conflict bill is the commissioner, whom we do not have now, and that is probably the reason why we have had some of the dog fights we have had in this Legislature. Had we had a commissioner to refer those to, we could have avoided that. I think the strength of the bill is in the commissioner, and section 9 gives the Minister, who may have some doubts as to whether what they intend to engage in is going to be a conflict or a perceived conflict, an opportunity to seek a ruling from the commissioner.
I think we all must accept that the commissioner is going to be a neutral, unbiased person. I do not think we can go into this bill and expect it to serve us well if we are going to go in with the attitude that the commissioner is going to play favourites.
I think we have done our utmost to cover the concerns that were raised by the Member for Faro by addressing it in broad terms and defining specifically what "conflict" is in section 2, as well as going further by laying it out in here with the code of conduct that is in effect now and will be in force after this bill as well.
I think that there is enough there. In addition to that, if some Government Leader - and this bill addresses it - wants to go further, they have the right and the opportunity to do it.
Mr. Harding: The Minister is making a valid point, in the sense that we now have a fair and impartial commissioner. I accept that point fully. I accept the concept of the commissioner as the arbitrator in these contentious issues. I just recently saw that happen in British Columbia, where an issue was referred to the conflict commissioner. Although it still became a very public issue, at least at the end of the day there was a decision handed down regarding the issue.
There is strength in what the Minister says, and there is strength in the commissioner section of the bill. However, the problem I have is that the commissioner is restricted by what we, as legislators, prescribe for the commissioner - the confines we prescribe within the bill. The bill that I am looking at clearly has good definitions in section 2. However, I am not clear that the principles are stated clearly enough.
The Minister referred to dog fights we have been engaged in here. At times we have had people say that it is okay to trade shares and that it is okay to act as an agent on behalf of a business in the disposition of an asset. I am a little concerned that the commissioner will be determining whether or not that is a reasonable interference, as it says in subsection 8(1)(g). In my mind, the bill has to state clearly that we, as legislators, do not want to open the door for some of the most innocent things to become issues of conflict, because it affects us all. In this particular bill, with section 8(1)(g) stating "unreasonably with the performance of the Minister's duties", I would say that, for example, in a couple of situations that have happened here, when we have full-time Ministers who are paid, and when they are acting as an agent on behalf of a business, there is reasonable interference in the performance of the Minister's duties, and there is certainly reasonable apprehension that the Minister is in violation.
If the government disagreed with us, it would be a fair view on principle, but I think we should have that discussion at this point. I would ask for the Government Leader's response.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I totally disagree with what the Member is saying. One cannot cover every possible action here. That is the reason for the conflict commissioner.
The definition of conflict used in this section - section 2 - in the paragraph before that states that the "definition of 'conflict' used in this section is the standard provision in Canadian legislation." It goes further than the definitions used in some legislation, such as in British Columbia and the Public Government Act. It includes real conflicts, as well as apparent and potential conflict within the definition.
I believe that we have gone far enough. When an issue arises, it can be referred to the conflict commissioner or, if a Member feels that they are not comfortable with what they are doing, they have the ability to go to the conflict commissioner to get his views on whether or not it would be viewed as a perceived conflict or is a real conflict. I believe that we have more than covered it in this bill.
Mr. Harding: I am somewhat disturbed that the Minister disagrees totally with my argument. We do have a commissioner to whom to refer things, but that person should be bound by what we decide as legislators.
The Minister makes an extremely valid point that we cannot cover everything. I agree with that. This bill is certainly an improvement on what was initially introduced by the government.
It is obvious that the government has decided that they are not going to approve any more amendments or look at this further, but I will go on record as saying that I do feel there are still some inadequacies in this bill, as compared to the Public Government Act, and that we have an opportunity to improve on it in the areas that I have mentioned.
I do not feel comfortable as someone who may at some time be a Minister and someone - even if I am never a Minister - who has been involved politics, to have a commissioner determine all the parameters of what is or is not a conflict. I think that is a political issue. It is an issue for elected people.
I do support the commissioner and I do support his independent arbitration of these issues, but I do believe that there have to be some parameters for that decision-making process. I guess I feel the same as other people do during labour and business negotiations when a lot of people advise taking a case to binding arbitration, and that the arbitrator will solve everything. I like to be somewhat in control of my own destiny as an elected person, and the only way one can do that is to put some parameters in the legislation and clearly espouse those principles.
This bill says that one is not supposed to carry on business. Then it says, under these reasons, that a person is not supposed to carry on business. Under the reasons, some of them are open to interpretation by the commissioner. It goes on to say that a person can perform the business if one discloses it and carries through with items 1, 2, 3 and 4, which are exceptions to that section. I think that is going to be confusing. I will state for the record that I think it is not going to solve the entire problem and I think there are going to be cases, because of the concerns that I have raised, in which we are not going to achieve the desired effect of this bill.
The Minister has made his point and I think I have made mine. I guess we will have to use that as a determination of where we will go with this bill.
Let me move on to another issue, unless the Minister has anything to add to that. He is shaking his head to indicate no. Essentially, he has taken his position, which is fine.
In subsection 8.(1)(c), does the Government Leader share any concern here, or does he feels that this is covered in the definitions of subsection (2)? Our concern is that we list in (a), (b), (c) and (d) a number of cognizant actions that are normally associated with the act of conducting business. Subsection (c) states, "engage in the management of a business carried on by a corporation ...". However, nowhere is there reference to one of the most common and innocent forms of engaging in business, and that is acting as an agent on behalf of a business. In business law, "agent" has very standardized, rigid connotations. An agent is someone who performs a duty, on behalf of a business, with some approval of that business.
In order for that section to be complete, I believe there has to be some reference to acting as an agent on behalf of a business. That can be one of the trickiest areas for a business. They are not actually managing it or carrying on the day-to-day business, but they may dispose of some assets, or do any number of things, as an agent for a business. I cannot think of any more examples off the top of my head.
Is the Minister prepared to look at inserting some language or an amendment that would include acting as an agent on behalf of a business?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is covered under section 8.(1)(b) of the act: "engage in employment or the practice of a profession ..." If one is acting as an agent, one would be in a profession, so it is covered under the act.
Mr. Harding: How does one equate the two - acting as an agent and practising a profession? The Minister is saying one cannot carry on a profession. Is he saying that being an agent, or to act as an agent in law, is the same as engaging in the practice of a profession?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It can cover either the employment or the practice of a profession. The definition of employment is from the federal Income Tax Act - that is where the Member is not paying attention. We say that this amendment, in terms of business employment and office, would be defined as per the federal Income Tax Act. That act states that employment means the position of an individual in the service of some other person, so that instance would be covered under that definition.
Mr. Harding: In that act, to the Minister's knowledge, is it irrelevant whether or not any direct remuneration is received?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is correct.
Chair: Is there further debate on the amendment?
Amendment agreed to
Clause 7 agreed to as amended
On Clause 8
Chair: There was also an amendment on this clause.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have one amendment to the new section 8.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move
THAT Bill No. 50, entitled Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, be amended in clause 8 at page 4 by deleting subsection (6) and renumbering subsection (7) and any references to it accordingly.
Chair: Is there any debate on the amendment on clause 8?
Amendment agreed to
Clause 8 agreed to as amended
On Clause 9
Clause 9 agreed to
On Clause 10
Mr. Penikett: Could we get a brief explanation for clause 10? I think I know what is going on, but we have significant changes in the language and I am having trouble following it all.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Clause 10 deals with how Members or Ministers are to remove conflict of interest. The removal of a conflict of interest does not prevent an investigation into the Minister's or the MLA's conduct. The various means of removing conflicts of interests are spelled out in this subsection, and these are: by removing the conflict; by resigning an office or membership; by disposing of property or a proprietary interests that creates the conflict; by disclosing the conflict and abstaining both from participating in the debates or other consideration of the matter or from voting; by making the disclosure required under the Legislative Assembly Act, or the rules of conduct for Ministers; or, by resigning as an MLA or a Minister.
Other conflict-of-interest acts, including the Public Government Act, provide only one procedure for dealing with a conflict; that is, to declare the conflict and withdraw from participating in discussions and voting on the matter. This act provides a fuller range of options. Removal of the conflict does not absolve the Minister or Member. It is simply a mitigating factor in the commissioner's investigation. This provision, which is not found in other conflict-of-interest acts, makes it clear that Members and Ministers cannot avoid investigation by taking action when a conflict is uncovered.
Deputy Chair: Is there any further general debate on clause 10?
Clause 10 agreed to
On Clause 11
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have an amendment to this section.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move
THAT Bill No. 50, entitled Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, be amended at page 6 as follows:
1. In paragraph (a) of the subclause 11(1) by deleting the expression "advise Members and Ministers" and substituting for the expression "advise Members, Ministers and former Ministers"; and
2. In paragraph (b) of subclause 11(1) by deleting the word "Minister" and substituting for it the expression "Minister or former Minister".
Chair: Clause 1 in the amendment should state "substituting for it" where it states "substituting for". That is deemed to be a typo.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just want to point out one other error. We are calling it a typo, and I hope the Members opposite agree. It is an error in the title and the text of clause 11, the commission. The title should be "Conflict of interest commission", rather than "Conflicts commission", and the text should be corrected as well. We ask the permission of the House to deal with this as a typo.
Deputy Chair: I will just read it, then. "There shall be a conflict of interest commission to be appointed by and be accountable to the Legislative Assembly and the commission shall..." That will be treated as a typo. As far as we know, it only occurs in that one spot. We will get back to the amendment then.
Amendment agreed to
Clause 11 agreed to as amended
On Clause 12
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move
THAT Bill No. 50, entitled Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act be amended at clause 12 at page 6 by adding the following subclause immediately after subclause (3):
"(4) In order to take effect, a resolution of the Legislative Assembly for the appointment or removal of a Member of the commission must be supported in a recorded vote by at least two-thirds of the Members of the Legislative Assembly present for the vote."
Mr. Penikett: Again, the Government Leader will recall the debate about the number of members on the commission, and I wonder if the Government Leader can tell us if the government has had any reason to reflect on that decision in the month since we first discussed it.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have talked about this quite extensively and a three member commission is similar to the Northwest Territories legislation, which establishes a commission of five to nine members to investigate allegations of conflict of interest.
A three member commission allows for an independent, local person to be appointed, as well as the ability to use the conflict commissioners from other jurisdictions who have already gained experience in such matters.
This would give the Yukon immediate access to specialized expertise and experience in other jurisdictions through the outside commissioners. The cost associated with implementation and research would be reduced as outside commissioners would be able to apply their expertise and their experience here.
The experience of the Northwest Territories has indicated that this model can provide a low-cost alternative, which is practical for a small jurisdiction.
Mr. Penikett: In my view, having watched a lot of administrative bodies and quasi-judicial bodies over the last few years, I actually think in the end the court model is just as good. I am a democrat, and I like to have a variety of opinions, but in quasi-judicial matters my view is that one good judge is better than three half-baked ones, or five half-baked ones, or five marginally qualified ones.
I know we have had huge problems with the independence or the disinterested nature of the medical council over the years, but - notwithstanding the fact that this is a small community - we have had pretty good success with the independence of the judiciary, notwithstanding some occasional attempts to violate it.
In my own mind, thinking over the people who are likely to be appointed, I do believe that this is an area where we probably would be able to find qualified local people for the most part. I also believe, given the size of the jurisdiction and the frequency of conflict issues coming up with this legislation in place - and this is a question of economy for me - that we could have managed with one commissioner as long as that person was someone who was widely acceptable to the community, as well as to both sides of the Legislature. That is just my opinion and I will leave it at that.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I appreciate the Member's opinion. I believe that this has been proven in the Northwest Territories to be cost effective. It can get expertise in a hurry. With this legislation coming forward, some of our staff talked with a supreme court judge in the territory who was not interested at all in serving on this sort of a commission.
Mrs. Firth: I thought the ombudsman was going to serve in some role as a conflict commissioner.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: The Minister is saying that the ombudsman will be one of the members of the conflict commission. I would not have had any problem with it being one individual, either. I do not know why we need three members. That is my opinion.
Amendment agreed to
Clause 12 agreed to as amended
On Clause 13
Clause 13 agreed to
On Clause 14
Clause 14 agreed to
On Clause 15
Mr. Penikett: This is where, once again, I think we get into bureaucratic excess. I must say to the Government Leader that I think it is silly. I think if one qualified person is chosen for this job, we would not have to get into setting up panels and so forth, which gets us into some of the kinds of unnecessary expenses which end up irritating citizens about bodies like this.
I am not going to vote against the clause, but I think we are setting up far too elaborate a structure, and that it will probably be quite unnecessary, given the number of complaints or inquiries that will actually go to the commissioner.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will give the Member opposite an explanation of our rationale for it.
This section allows for investigations to be carried out by one or more members of the conflict-of-interest commission. This means that the entire commission does not have to be engaged in each investigation, allowing for more flexibility and lower costs. As with investigations of the full conflict commission, an investigation by a panel of the commission would still have the powers of the public inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act. In other words, it has the same powers in an investigation as a full conflict commission; that is, the ability and right to call witnesses and to compel them to give evidence and to produce other documents.
Mr. Penikett: Better one Ted Hughes than a whole panel of people we never heard of.
Mrs. Firth: Perhaps the Minister could tell us how the commission members will be paid. Will they be paid a per diem? The ombudsman will obviously have a partial salary for the half-time position. How will we pay the rest of the commissioners?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That will be laid out in section 20, where it says, "Remuneration of commission". It says, "Members of the commission shall be paid the remuneration that is prescribed by the Commissioner in Executive Council. They shall also be reimbursed for travel and living expenses that they incur in connection with the performance of their duties away from their ordinary place of residence; except as otherwise prescribed by the Commissioner in Executive Council after consultation with the Members' Services Board, the payment of those expenses must conform to the payment of similar expenses to members of the public service of the Yukon."
Mrs. Firth: That does not really tell us how they will be paid. My concern is if they will be paid as board or committee members, or will they be paid as public servants?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The reason for the general explanation is because in other jurisdictions, if they are the conflict commissioner, they are not allowed to have any other employment. If we go to a part-time or on-call situation, remuneration would be fixed accordingly. I do not know if the remuneration would be the same as what a board member receives on sitting days, or something along those lines. The Member is completely right, the wording is vague. The reason for that is because I certainly do not see these positions as salary positions.
Mrs. Firth: Before we get away from the principle of them not having other jobs, it goes back to the concern about why we need three instead of one. I had no difficulty with the principle of the ombudsman also being the conflict commissioner.
I do not know why we have to have three members, because then we have to get into the game of what the members are going to be paid if they are board members. Will they get called in to review matters on a case-by-case basis? There are going to be situations with people who live in the communities having other jobs, and maybe the conflict commissioner will have difficulty investigating someone about a conflict.
I guess I cannot understand why the government wants this panel of three members. How does the Minister see this working? I would like to understand how it is going to work.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding of the way it would work is similar to what is in place in the Northwest Territories. We have three appointed members, but they will not be called in all cases. The ombudsman will be one of the commissioners who will handle the bulk of the work.
An investigation can be held by any one of the three members. It does not necessarily have to be all three members who carry out an investigation. There is also the scenario where one commissioner can call a panel of people together to conduct an investigation and reduce costs.
It is a matter of having three names available to call upon, but it does not mean that three people are going to be paid all of the time.
Clause 15 agreed to
On Clause 16
Mr. Cable: This kind of flows through various of these sections. Does the Minister contemplate that there could be minority reports, and would the minority reports, or decisions, be given to the Legislative Assembly?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not foresee minority reports. I think the reason there are three members on the commission is, in the case of a really serious case, there would probably be three commissioners. Most of the time, however, I think it will be investigated by one commissioner.
Mr. Cable: I am not asking if the Minister wants minority reports, but does he see where the commissioners would have the authority to provide the Legislative Assembly with majority and minority reports if, in fact, there is some dissent in the commission?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: They provide the Assembly with reports. We do not speak to minority reports in it, though. I guess that would be their decision.
Deputy Chair: Is there any further discussion on clause 16?
Clause 16 agreed to
On Clause 17
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have an amendment to this section. I move
THAT Bill No. 50, entitled Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, be amended in clause 17 at page 8 by adding the following subclause, immediately after subclause 3, and by renumbering other subclauses, and any references to them, accordingly:
"(4) The Legislative Assembly must consider the commission's report and make any resolution referred to in subsection (3) or (5) within 30 days of receiving the report, if the Assembly is sitting the day the report is received, or within 30 days of the next sitting, if the Assembly is not sitting the day the report is received.
"(5) The report may be delivered to the Legislative Assembly by delivering it to the office of the Speaker of the Assembly."
Amendment agreed to
Clause 17 agreed to as amended
On Clause 18
Clause 18 agreed to
On Clause 19
Clause 19 agreed to
On Clause 20
Mr. Penikett: Mrs. Firth asked a question earlier. I assume that they are not going to be paid minimum wage; however, has the government given any thought to what the level of remuneration will be, particularly for these people we do not know who are going to be flown in from the Northwest Territories, and so forth? What are we probably going to pay them?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The issue we have to deal with here - and I understand the Member's concerns - is that conflict-of-interest commissioners do not receive pay from any other source, because they are not allowed to make money anywhere else. I do not know what level they are paid at. We will be exploring that, but I can assure the Member that it will not be minimum wage, and it will not be something overly extravagant. We will pay whatever the going rate is. The reason that we are vague about it is because we are using part-time people; it is not a full-time job. This makes it very difficult to set out in the legislation what we are paying. It would not be in the legislation anyway; it would be in the regulations that go with it, or in some other place, because the pay will change from time to time.
Mr. Penikett: I may sound like a broken record, but it seems to me that this is just an echo of the previous problem. If we had one person who is part-time and a part-time ombudsperson, and they were paid enough to live on, it would be reasonable for us to say they should not be engaging in any other business or activities, or government contracts and so forth; in other words, keep themselves Simon-pure and clean and away from any other associations.
However, if we have a bunch of these dudes, people who are all part-time, all paid, but also have to go to great lengths to avoid having any business dealings or associations with anybody they might have a conflict with or might be involved in the government, it seems to me that we not only have a less decisive and perhaps less judicious body, but we potentially have something that is less efficient and more expensive. We may not have the quality of the judgment, nor the value for money.
I think that this structure is a mistake. If we have a bunch of people working part-time, who are extremely limited in what else they can do, my guess is that sooner or later these people will ask to be paid pretty well, because of the natural restrictions on their other activities.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We are only paying one person. The others are on call if they are needed. Even with the conflicts commission, being the ombudsman, and the access-to-information commissioner, I still do not see this as a full-time job, or even a full half-time job. I just do not see that much of a workload for this person. We left this so we could keep the costs under control. We need the protection for the satisfaction of our constituents and for the satisfaction of the Members of the Legislature, but we also have to be cognizant that we are only a community of 30,000 people, so we have to use a process that will be cost effective. If this does not work, perhaps we will have to come back with future amendments, but I believe this will give us the ability to set a rate for the commission that will be cost effective for the government but will still give the protection that is required.
Mr. Penikett: We are far too far along in this law to change the structure that the Member has suggested, but let me make this very strong representation. One should try a shake-down period of this legislation with only one conflicts commissioner, because I would bet that 95 percent - probably maybe even 100 percent - of the issues that are going to be dealt with are going to be new Ministers coming to the conflicts commissioner and saying, "This is what I have done with my Midas muffler plant and my fleet of taxis, and this is what my wife is going to do with her beauty parlor or her law practice. Is it okay?"
The conflicts commissioner is probably going to say, "Yes, I think that is okay", or "I would recommend you do this, as well." That is going to be the extent of the work. All this other Christmas tree of other branches and part-time commissioners, I think, may prove to be unnecessary. Even though it exists in law, I do not think there is an obligation to appoint them all.
Mrs. Firth: I certainly agree. I will take it one step further. If it is not necessary to do it, we should not be making it law. I really have some difficulty with the concept of three commissioners. I think it creates a lot of work for the government. I do not know why it needs to have three. There are 17 members here who are going to be covered by this conflict commissioner. I do not know why the government needs the option of having three people to call in.
Perhaps the Minister could tell us how it works in the Northwest Territories. Why do they need three commissioners and how much do they pay them?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Leader of the Official Opposition made a valid point. We do not need to name three, but if we have three, we can call a commissioner in from outside the territory who has the expertise if we have a very serious case. That is what having the three commissioners will allow us to do. We could appoint one, but we have the ability to appoint three under this act. If we had a serious case, we could call in some expertise, by bringing in a commissioner from outside who is familiar with it, and it would probably end up costing less money because of the expertise that they have developed in their job in British Columbia, Alberta, the Northwest Territories or somewhere else.
Mr. Cable: I think the appointment section is couched in mandatory terms - I do not want us to mislead ourselves. The commission shall consist of three members, so there will be some obligation to appoint a body to fill all three spaces, I would think.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: If the positions are not being used, then there would be a nominal retainer - that would be it and the amount would be very small.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell us how this works in the Northwest Territories?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I think I have already basically explained how it works in the Northwest Territories, by stating that the government can call commissioners in as required. My assistant has just informed me that the Northwest Territories annual budget for these positions is under $40,000.
Clause 20 agreed to
On Clause 21
Clause 21 agreed to
On Clause 22
Mr. Penikett: It used to be that we only had special warrants during election time, but we would have to consult the Clerk about that. Unless I am incorrect, once a writ has been dropped, I think that a House committee could sit as a purely practical matter, though it probably would not want to, during an election period. There is a problem with this clause.
I know that special warrants are increasingly abused everywhere in the country, but my expectation is that, normally, it would not be used except when there was a slightly delayed session, or, more commonly, because it is in the middle of an election and an issue has come up.
I do not think one can solve the problem by referring the special warrant to the Members' Services Board, because - I think I am correct - I do not think that the Members' Services Board could meet during an election. I think there is a problem with this clause and I am sorry that I did not point it out before.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Perhaps we were being overly cautious here. The rationale behind it was that we want to be very confident that nothing could be done without consulting with the Members' Services Board. We may have been overly cautious, and perhaps the Member opposite is right - maybe the clause is not warranted. I will listen to some of our legal people or the Leader of the Official Opposition and his comments about it.
Mr. Penikett: There are really two propositions contained in this clause. The first is that "The budget of the commission shall be prepared in consultation with the Members' Services Board ..." I think that is fine, and I agree with that proposition.
However, the second proposition is one that, ideally, probably ought to be delinked. It states, "... an appropriation for the work of the commission not be recommended nor any special warrant for the work of the commission be made unless the Members' Services Board has first been consulted."
If I may make a suggestion, I actually think the clause is probably stronger if - I am not a lawyer or a legal drafter - a period were to be put after the word "Board", after the first reference to the Members' Services Board, and delete the rest. The problem with the special warrants, which should normally only be used at election time, is problematic for the reasons I just gave.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not have any difficulty with that. We will stand clause 22 aside, and we will bring back an amendment to it.
Chair: I would like to point out at that in clause 22, there should be an apostrophe after the word "Members" in two places.
Clause 22 stood over
On Clause 23
Clause 23 agreed to
On Clause 24
Mrs. Firth: When will these regulations be made?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding is that the only real regulation we have to make is the setting of the remuneration of the commissioner, which is to be established by an order-in-council, and that will be done shortly.
Clause 24 agreed to
On Clause 25
Mr. Penikett: I could not possibly vote for this clause.
Clause 25 agreed to
On Clause 26
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move
THAT Bill No. 50, entitled Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, be amended in clause 26 at page 10 by substituting the following clause for the said clause 26:
"26. This act comes into force on a date to be fixed by the Commissioner in Executive Council."
Amendment agreed to
Clause 26 agreed to as amended
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that you report progress on Bill No. 50.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 64 - An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act - continued
Chair: We will proceed to Bill No. 64, entitled An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This act was held up for some time because we were talking about including sanctions with respect to maintenance enforcement in this act. Since then, we have decided to take a different approach to the maintenance enforcement sanctions.
There is one minor amendment coming into the act, and I have spoken to the House Leader about it. The intention of the amendment is to clarify that the proposed administrative sanctions apply to motor vehicle fines in default incurred prior to this legislation being passed. The way it was written before, in my understanding, it would only apply from the day that it is enacted. This now means that once we pass this amendment, any fines that are outstanding as of the date of the act being passed can be collected this way.
There were also some questions from Members opposite about how much consultation went into the act. A cross-jurisdictional survey was done in 1994 to review what other jurisdictions were doing in the area. Most other jurisdictions are collecting outstanding fines in this way. Preliminary consultations about the proposed legislation occurred in July 1994 with the City of Whitehorse.
The Hon. Mickey Fisher, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, wrote to Mr. Weigand at that time to advise the City of Whitehorse of the government's initiative to provide for administrative sanctions for default on motor vehicle related fines. The Department of Justice and the Department of Community and Transportation Services are arranging a meeting with officials in the City of Whitehorse and the Association of Yukon Communities regarding aspects of the draft regulations that deal with municipal parking tickets.
We believe this initiative will be accepted by the general public, because it is dealing with people who are refusing to pay their fines.
There was a question about how our outstanding fines for offences other than motor vehicle related offences are going to be dealt with. In the Criminal Code and other federal offences, they are collected by issuing warrants of committal in default of payment. There are constitutional questions that do limit our ability to use the administrative sanctions program to collect fines in default of these offences.
The Members asked how much is being lost in revenue each year and how much was recovered in unpaid fines in this initiative. On the motor vehicles side for 1992 to 1994, $272,111 was outstanding and, in bylaw, it is $153,497 for a total of $425,605.
Ms. Moorcroft: The main concern that the Official Opposition had that we put on the record in second reading was that the Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, which provides for administrative penalties to offenders who have failed to pay fines relating to motor vehicles, is that it should also apply to people who are in arrears in their maintenance and custody orders.
The Minister has just today tabled An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act, and I would like to thank him for getting that tabled today so that we could look at it before dealing with An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act. In An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act, on page 3, there is a section that amends the Motor Vehicles Act.
The section that I am referring to deals with loss of licence because of default of maintenance orders, and it provides that a new clause 64(2)(i) be established, which ensures that, after receiving, from the director of maintenance and custody enforcement, a request to suspend or cancel, or refuse to issue or renew an operator's licence, a certificate of registration or a permit, the registrar must comply with the request.
The question I have for the Minister is whether the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, which are contained in An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act, could not be dealt with when we are amending the Motor Vehicles Act itself, which is the bill before us, since the Motor Vehicles Act bill before us also amends clause 64(2).
Hon. Mr. Phillips: More than anything, it is a procedural question. It does not affect it either way. It can be in either act; it will accomplish the same thing. I do not think that it is a problem either way. The only reason that it is in An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act is to clearly show the relationship between the An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act and the Motor Vehicles Act. It accomplishes the same thing either way.
Ms. Moorcroft: Is this how it would normally be done? Does the An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act make reference to the Motor Vehicles Act, or is that new?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The provisions we are amending in the An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act are new ones that have a relationship with the Motor Vehicles Act. That is why we want to show in the An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act that we are directing the registrar of motor vehicles and changing that act by way of the changes made in this act.
Either way, the advice I have been given by Justice is that the bottom line is that there is no problem with this; this is the way to do it, and this is the way we can enforce the An Act to Amend the Maintenance and Custody Orders Enforcement Act through the Motor Vehicles Act.
Mrs. Firth: Have all the procedural details to this amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act been worked out - all the parameters of infractions, which fines will apply, and so on?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can the read procedural details into the record, which might help.
The ticket is issued. The ticket is not paid to the court on the due date. The unpaid ticket goes to court for the final disposition. The final disposition is entered into the court services branch computer. Court services sends an automated letter, advising of the unpaid fine and final disposition of motor vehicles sanctions. Court services sends outstanding fine information to the motor vehicles branch computer, and the automatic flag is raised.
When the defaulter approaches motor vehicles to renew an operator's licence, the certificate of registration or a permit, they are advised that no licence, et cetera, will be issued due to the outstanding fines.
Payments are to be made at court services only, which prevents bookkeeping errors and administrative duplication. When fines in default are cleared, court services provides official documentation of this and the defaulter returns to the motor vehicles branch with the official documentation showing that all fines are paid. Motor vehicles will then issue the appropriate licence, registration or permit.
Mrs. Firth: I gather this is not done by computer but by a certificate. If someone goes to get a licence, is told they cannot have it because they have unpaid fines, and pay their fines, are they given a receipt? How is it cleared from the computer that the fine has been paid?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It is my understanding that it is initially flagged by the department through the computer and when an individual goes to get his or her licence, they are told that it is flagged for an outstanding fine and the person is advised to go to court services to pay the fine. When the fine is paid the person will be provided with a receipt - written clearance - which they can then bring back to the motor vehicles branch and they will remove the flag from the computer
Mrs. Firth: Are there regulations attached to this? Have they been done yet?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The regulations are being worked on. The government will be consulting with the City of Whitehorse with respect to the regulations dealing with parking tickets and other areas that fall within the city's jurisdiction.
It is proposed that the regulations will include contravention of the Dangerous Goods Transportation Act, specific contraventions contained within the Highways Act, contraventions of municipal bylaws if the provision relates to parking or the operation of a motor vehicle. There will be a refusal to issue or renew an operator's licence, certificate of registration or a permit for any default of payment of fines or contraventions of the Motor Vehicles Act or specific contraventions of the Highways Act until the fines have been paid in full.
Suspension or cancellation of an operator's licence will occur only when there is at least $100 worth of fines in default for contraventions of the Motor Vehicles Act. There is a requirement that the person in default must pay the whole amount of the fine before the suspension or the cancellation of the licence is lifted. Any additional fines or contraventions of the Highways Act or municipal bylaws must be paid at this time as well, before the suspension or cancellation of the licence is lifted.
There is also a requirement that there must be $100 in fines in default for municipal bylaws before the registrar may refuse to issue or renew an operator's licence, certificate of registration or permit. The entire amount must be paid before the operator's licence, certificate of registration or permit is issued.
I understand that it will be about September or October before these initiatives are in place, at which time we will start implementing the flagging of the various individuals' licences.
Mrs. Firth: The unpaid fines will be restricted to ones dealing with motor vehicles. There will not be other municipal fines which, if unpaid, this would cover? I think it is important that we get that clear, so that it applies to parking tickets, speeding tickets, and everything that is related to a motor vehicle.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, the Member is correct. It is just motor vehicle infractions.
Mrs. Firth: If a Yukoner is driving in one of the provinces and receives tickets, then returns home and does not bother to pay them, is the department able to know about that?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We have reciprocal agreements with all provinces in the country.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell us how that works? Do they automatically notify us, or do we have to check for that information?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We do not seek it out; they notify us.
Mrs. Firth: I have one last question. What happens if people are driving without a licence? Is the government looking at beefing up the penalties at all for that offence? That is eventually what will happen if people cannot get their licence - they may just drive without one.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: My understanding is that the motor vehicles branch is currently looking at that sort of thing with respect to penalties and other such concerns in its broad public consultation on the Motor Vehicles Act.
Mrs. Firth: I reviewed the Motor Vehicles Act, but I might have missed it. It is fairly critical, because if someone has a lot of outstanding fines and they find that they cannot get their licence renewed, they may just drive anyway. We have to have fairly severe penalties in place to deal with that issue.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I accept the Member's representation. I can tell the Member, as well, that the fact that flagging is taking place in other jurisdictions has greatly increased the payment of parking and speeding tickets by people in default. It has been a remarkable way to collect outstanding fines.
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Ms. Moorcroft: I have a question on clause 2. It reads, "The registrar may suspend, or cancel, or refuse to issue or renew an operator's licence, a certificate of registration, or a permit." It does not say "shall suspend, or cancel", which would be a mandatory prohibition. Because it says "may", the question arises as to what the rules are. People want to know what the rules are; they want them to be clear and applied consistently. Has the Minister an explanatory note for this clause? Can he explain it to me?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I do not know why it says "may" rather than "shall". I did not pick up on that, but I can probably get back to the Member. I do not really have a clear answer why it would say "may" instead of "shall".
Ms. Moorcroft: I will ask the Minister if he could stand aside this clause, because I would like to know what rules are in place regarding when the registrar will suspend and when they will not. I think that needs clarification. If we could just stand that aside, he could come back to me with that information.
Mrs. Firth: That goes back to the question about the regulations. The new part of this clause, as I see it, is that the registrar can now refuse to issue or renew an operator's licence. Before, it said the registrar may suspend or cancel the registration or the permits of operators, but added the operator's licence in the new part. I guess what has to happen is we have to have the new set of regulations, so that we can identify the new reasons, other than in the current acts, for losing your license or registration.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I do not have the regulations here. The new reasons are unpaid court fines. Those are the only people we are going after here - people who are refusing to pay their fines. We have used other methods to try to collect the money, and this is one way of doing so that has been found to be very effective.
Mrs. Firth: I appreciate that it will be for unpaid fines, but it will have to specify which fines. It goes back to the earlier question I asked the Minister about it applying only to motor vehicle violations. That will still have to be included in the regulations. What reasons were there in regulation by which the registrar could suspend or cancel a person's registration or permit? Those are already existing regulations.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The reason would be unpaid fines. Perhaps I am misunderstanding what the Member is saying. The whole purpose of this is to collect these unpaid fines. I am having some difficulty in seeing where the Member is coming from.
The regulations will be straightforward. They will be basically for any and all motor vehicles, and only motor vehicles infractions. If people have any outstanding motor vehicles infractions that they are refusing to pay for, the motor vehicle registrar may suspend their licence. This gives us the right to do that. It is one option that we have to do it. If we have no other way of collecting the fine, we will suspend their licence to try and collect it.
Ms. Moorcroft: The point I am making is that "may" is not definitive. There is a big difference between "the registrar may suspend" and "the registrar shall suspend". If we say that "the registrar may suspend", it creates the possibility that they may not. Does that mean if one is a nice person, if one is a friend of the registrar or an MLA or something else, the ability is there to make a judgment call instead of being given clear direction as to what the consequences are for not paying fines?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can check with the legal people at the break, but my understanding is that there is the possibility that the individual will go to jail and does not want to lose his licence. In that case, it would be "may suspend", as opposed to "shall suspend". We are not giving the individual any choice in the matter in that case.
I will get legal advice as to why the term has to be "may" as opposed to "shall".
Clause 2 stood over
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed to
On Clause 4
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I have an amendment for clause 4.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move
THAT Bill No. 64, entitled An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act be amended in clause 4 on page 2 by adding the following subsection to the proposed section 64.1:
"(5) This section applies to a default of payment of a fine irrespective whether the contravention for which the fine was imposed occurred or occurs after this section comes into force."
Hon. Mr. Phillips: That is the amendment I spoke of earlier that allows us to collect any outstanding fines once this comes into force.
Chair: Is there any debate on the proposed amendment?
Mr. Joe: I do not know if I understood the Minister correctly. Many people in my riding talk to me about the change to the Motor Vehicles Act. They are very worried. Many people I know rely on their vehicle to get to work. If they do not pay the fine, they think they will lose their vehicle. People cannot afford to lose their vehicle. There is no public transportation in the communities, and many people are worried. This is a concern I have.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can understand the Member's concern, but I do not have a lot of sympathy for those who refuse to pay their fines. If someone commits a motor vehicle offence and is fined, and needs their vehicle for work, then their priority should be to pay the fine. If they pay the fine, this will not affect them at all. If they refuse to pay the fine, then this will affect them.
For the most part, people are law-abiding citizens. From time to time, some of us get a parking ticket or get caught speeding. If we decide to pay the fine shortly after receiving it, the act will not affect us at all. This is just to catch people who, for one reason or another, refuse to pay their fines, and the burden and expense of that comes to us. This is a way to collect fines that are imposed.
Mr. Joe: I am speaking for my constituents in Mayo, Pelly and Carmacks who get their licence or their vehicle taken away. Some time, they have to get home to pay their fines. Sometimes a person has to go back to work to make some money in order to pay their fines. I think we are thinking here more about people in Whitehorse, who do not have that kind of problem, like I have. My riding is scattered.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I want to assure the Member that there will still be time allowed for individuals to pay. I think it varies. There is a time-to-pay court that comes up every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. If people wish to extend the time they need to pay, they can ask to do it through the court. They are also given a substantial amount of time when the fine or ticket is first received. It usually spells out on the ticket that if it is paid within so many hours, it only costs so much. If it is paid after that, it costs a little more. If it goes to court, it costs a little more still. So, there is a period of time everyone has before which no one is going to take one's licence away. It is only when that time runs out, and the individual has not made an attempt to pay their fine, that this will kick in. We are still allowing the original amount of time that has always been allowed on the tickets for people to pay for their traffic violations. After that, we are going to take further action to try to recover the fine.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call the House to order.
We are on clause 4.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Before we get into the question on the amendment, one of the other Members pointed out that there is a typo in the amendment. Subsection 4(5)reads, "... for which the fine was imposed occurred or..." It should read, "for which the fine was imposed occurred before or occurs after this section comes into force." I would like to clarify that for the record.
Chair: Is there unanimous consent that the typo be corrected?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: My understanding of the difference of "may" and "shall" is a housekeeping amendment. The existing power is not changed; it is "may" in the current act, and it is used consistently throughout the current act. It is a permissive power, and changing it to "shall" would create an onerous obligation on the motor vehicles branch and on the motor vehicle owners, because there are numerous types of charges under the Motor Vehicles Act.
Chair: Is there further debate on the proposed amendment?
Amendment agreed to
Clause 4 agreed to as amended
On Clause 5
Ms. Moorcroft: Does the Minister have a date in mind when this act shall come into force?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I hope the act will come into force sometime in September.
Clause 5 agreed to
On Clause 2 - previously stood over
Clause 2 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that you report Bill No. 64 out of Committee, as amended.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 55 - An Act to Amend the Apprentice Training Act
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The purpose of this amendment is pretty straightforward. The act currently provides that a civil servant be a member and a chairperson of the board. This is to remove that requirement and to ensure that the chairperson will be one of the members of the board who comes from either the designated employers or employees.
Chair: Is there further debate on Bill No. 55?
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I move that Bill No. 55, entitled An Act to Amend the Apprentice Training Act, be moved out of Committee without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: We will move back to Bill No. 50.
Bill No. 50 - Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act - continued
On Clause 22 - continued
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have reached an agreement with the Leader of the Official Opposition that an amendment was not needed for section 22 because there is little likelihood of a special warrant being needed during the election period. By keeping this section as it is now, we can ensure that, in any other cases where a special warrant is used, the Members' Services Board will be consulted beforehand. Therefore, it is not necessary to amend that clause, and I believe that we have the concurrence of the Leader of the Official Opposition on that.
Mr. Penikett: That is correct. I still think that it is a goofy clause; I just do not think that it needs to be amended.
Clause 22 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: At this point, I would also request unanimous consent in the case of another typo, such as the one in section 11, on the title of the commission. To ensure that we are not overlooking any other cases where the full title of the commission appears elsewhere in the bill, I would ask that we be allowed to make a similar correction if it appears elsewhere - that is only for the "s" on the word "conflict". There has been quite a bit of redrafting of this bill, and sometimes these things occur between the French and English versions.
Mr. Penikett: I just want to know who in Cabinet is checking the French version. Is it left to Mr. Nordling now? That is fine.
Chair: Is there unanimous consent?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been given.
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 50, entitled Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, out of Committee with amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: We will now move on to Bill No. 28, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act.
Bill No. 28 - An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act
Hon. Mr. Phillips: First, I would like to go through some of the concerns that were raised by Members on the other side.
Ms. Commodore asked why we did not consult widely on the 1994 amendments. Information for the amendments was sent out to 70 individuals and organizations, including the Yukon Federation of Labour and the Yukon Building and Trades Council, and lengthy consultation was not deemed necessary, as many of the amendments were identical to those of the 1992 act.
In response to the concerns regarding the consultation process, the period for consultation was extended to just under three months, and 11 organizations commented on the amendments.
The Member was concerned about the retention of section 50. That section was retained in the 1992 recommendation that the Council on the Economy and the Environment act as a balance to the increases of notice of termination that employers must give to employees. Employees' allegations of harassment and abuse would be examined to determine if they fall under the existing exemption from the requirement to give notice of termination, because the employer failed to abide by the terms of the employment contract.
The director of employment standards may also choose to pay the employee the one week's wages where it would be equitable in the circumstances to deprive the employee of his or her wages. That is subsection 50(3)(c).
If an investigation finds out that either or both of these circumstances applied in the employee's case, the employee would be paid the week's wages.
Ms. Moorcroft and Ms. Commodore suggested that we should have recognized the importance of offering support for working parents by including and strengthening the right to refuse overtime in the act.
The limited right to refuse overtime found in the 1992 act has been removed for a number of reasons. The 1992 provisions were strongly opposed due to concerns about emergency provisions. If the government of the day wished to include a stronger right to refuse overtime in 1992, it should have perhaps included them at that time. Given the public outcry over the 1992 provisions, the strengthened version would probably meet with even more opposition. The right to refuse overtime is not generally recognized in Canada as a basic employee right. It is only found in two other jurisdictions: Ontario and Saskatchewan.
In Saskatchewan, employees cannot refuse overtime in emergency situations. Employees have not been urging the government to include it in the act, nor have they been asking about being required to work overtime.
The Members asked about when they must be paid at the overtime rate, about the days of rest provisions and about the maximum hours per day that they can be required to work. We feel that most employers are generally sympathetic to the needs of employees and value them and would be unlikely to demand that parents work overtime if they do not have child care.
There is a concern about the watered-down potlatch provision. Provision of Bill No. 28 permits the person who must spend a lot of time organizing the potlatch to have a week off. The reference to the plan of the affected employees has been deleted due to comments that pointed out that potlatch traditions vary from one group to another. The provisions reflect the concern from employers in small communities that a significant portion of the workforce might be involved in the potlatch preparation. The Council for Yukon Indians supports the First Nation bereavement provisions.
Ms. Moorcroft asked about the size of the Employment Standards Board. The size of the board remains set at five members, due to concerns that enlarging the size of the board could increase the costs at a time when we were concerned about controlling costs. There have been few problems with the existing size of the board.
Also, there was a concern about the bereavement provisions applying only in the week in which the funeral occurs. This aspect of the bereavement leave provision remains unchanged from the 1992 act. Bereavement leave has always been granted during the week in which the funeral takes place.
Ms. Moorcroft said that we failed to recognize long-term employees by including increases in vacation pay in the amendments. Increases to vacation periods and vacation pay is excluded from the recent amendments to the Employment Standards Act. The standards for vacation pay that are currently set out in the act do not prevent employers from paying employees amounts in excess of those required by the legislation.
Ms. Moorcroft was also concerned about the act applying to Yukon government employees. Most government employees are covered by collective agreements or management contracts. Those provisions generally exceed the minimum standards set out in the Employment Standards Act. The act is designed to provide protection for employees in the workplace who would not otherwise be covered by a contract for employment or collective agreement that meets the legislation's minimum standards.
The decision not to bind the government to this legislation at this time was made to allow the government adequate time to review in detail the implications of bringing all government employees under the jurisdiction of the act. I must point out, as well, that the current collective agreement with the union was negotiated, keeping in mind what the rules are under the Employment Standards Act.
Mr. Cable asked why the amendments were necessary. The amendments are intended to accomplish a number of objectives. Amendments such as the provision for paid time off in lieu of notice provides greater flexibility in the employment relationship, and it increases the notice of termination and parental leave provisions under the act's provisions, to place them more in line with those in other jurisdictions.
Provisions such as the priority of wages amendment and changes to the powers of the Employment Standards Board are included to improve the possibility of recovery of wages from employers.
Finally, there are housekeeping amendments, which will make it easier to work with the act. The amendments have been proposed because of problems that have been noted in the operation of the existing act, because it has been lacking in some areas.
Mr. Harding mentioned that the changes to the definition of "wages" may have a negative impact on an employee's ability to claim payments, such as pay in lieu of notice and severance pay. The definition of wages is the same as can be found in the 1992 act.
The legal advice we received is that this definition would require employers to pay employees any amounts of money that are required by the act or form part of the terms and conditions of employment. The exceptions to this requirement are also noted in the definition.
That concludes my opening remarks, and I look forward to comments by other Members.
Ms. Commodore: It is interesting to listen to the Minister explain to us his reasons for doing things in this act. One of the reasons he gave for not repealing section 50 of the existing act was because it was recommended by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment.
There were a number of other recommendations that this bill has removed. I do not understand the rationale behind his explanation.
We believe, as we have said in the past, that no person should be refused payment for time worked. If there is a dispute about it the Minister knows that there is a long process for an employee to go through to pursue wages they did not receive.
I would like to say that there are many individuals in the workforce who do not know the law in the Employment Standards Act. I have talked to a number of individuals who have complained to me about unfair practices that they have encountered during their employment and months later found out that there was something they may have been able to do about them.
I do not know whether or not this government intends to make information available to the employers to pass on to the employees once they have started work.
I know many people who have been refused a week's pay because they did not give notice to resign. They would not know what to do. All they would know is that they were not paid, that it was not fair and accept it. If they feel that they have a grievance under that section, it would be very difficult for a lot of those people to go through the process of trying to get that week's pay.
We will bring a motion to the House in regard to that section.
I mentioned to the Minister that we had some problems with his act, and we had some problems with the former act presented by the former Minister of Justice. We will propose an amendment at the appropriate time.
The Minister talked about the right to refuse overtime. We have always understood that if there was mutual agreement between the employer and the employee, an employee could work overtime. We are still concerned about that section as it is very unfair to those individuals. The Minister mentioned something about it being unlikely that an employer would force a person to work overtime if they had responsibilities, but he does not know if that is the case. It is for that reason that we wanted to include the section that would require mutual agreement. It does not stop a person from working overtime, through mutual consent, if they are asked. I cannot see a big problem with it. It protects the individuals that need protection. If he feels that all employers are fair, it should not matter if we strengthen that section of the act.
We were never given any indication that they did not approve of it, and we proceeded with it. The Minister said that he received support from First Nations. I would like to know how. I know that many things this government has done in the last little while in the way of consultation with First Nations people has been that the government has said, "This is what we are going to do, and if you do not like it, tough beans." That is their manner of consultation with First Nations people. First Nations people are picking up on that all of the time, and are very concerned. I would like him to answer those two questions. I would like to know what his comments are in regard to the introduction of these amendments. I will be introducing two amendments.
The first one is with regard to section 50 and the other one is with regard to the right to refuse overtime, and I will be discussing that at the appropriate time. Could the Minister respond to my concerns?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Member raised a couple of points. Her first point was about section 50. Again, I will repeat that the government feels that section 50 is a balance between the increase in notice of termination that employers must give to employees, and, as well, it gives some protection to the employer. In many cases, this applies to the small employer. If an employee leaves without giving any notice or reason in the middle of a busy season or a busy part of the operation of the business, then it can be very costly to the business. I do not think that one week's notice is an awful lot of notice to give an employer. That was the main reason for that section.
With respect to overtime and the right to refuse overtime, I do not know that there have been too many complaints registered with the Employment Standards Board from individuals who have been asked to work overtime. I think if an individual is a valued employee, most employers take that into consideration when they ask people to work overtime. I do not think that employers are real bogeymen. I think that employers are reasonable people and, for the most part, treat their employees fairly. There are provisions in the act for those employers who do not treat their employees fairly, and I think that part of the act will be addressed in that section.
When she talks about support from the First Nations, I could just read from a letter that we received on June 7, 1994, from the Council for Yukon Indians, and signed by Mr. Albert James. He said, "Although we do not have any general comments regarding the proposed amendments to the territorial act, we specifically recognize and support the amendment to section 58(2) regarding special provisions for First Nations under bereavement leave, i.e. increasing bereavement leave from three days to one week, in consideration of traditional obligations. Please feel free to call me if you have any further information and clarification." So, we did receive a letter from the Council for Yukon Indians. I do not have a problem with tabling this letter. I will have to get copies of it. It is attached to a file here.
At the beginning of the letter, it simply says, "Bill No. 30, An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act. Further to your letter of May 24, 1994, requesting our comments, and our telephone conversation with Mr. Bill Wilcox in labour services on this date, I am writing to advise you that the Council of Yukon Indians and the First Nations presently follow the federal labour code." It went on to say what I just repeated a few moments ago. That is the whole context of the letter, but I can table the letter if the Members wish. I will get copies of it, and I can either table it later today or on Monday.
Ms. Commodore: During the consultation process that we had as a government, I had the opportunity to meet personally with a lot of people in regard to this act, and specifically would like to mention some of the discussions I had with the employers. I know that there was an awful lot of opposition to what we were doing, and the Minister, of course, was right in the thick of it, so I know how he feels about this act. There is no question in any worker's mind that the Minister did not like the act then, and he does not like it now. There is no fooling the workers. I will give him credit for making some improvements, but he is still providing a very watered-down version of this act. I am not going to be patting him on the back at all in regard to this one.
Discussions that I had at that time with employers, who were not following the Member for Riverdale North in his opposition to it, were contacting me and were telling me that they felt what we were doing was very fair. They were fair employers themselves. The Minister has indicated that most employers are fair people, but there are individuals who are not. I think that the Minister should recognize that; certainly some business people do and even named some people who had caused problems over the years.
I think the Department of Justice is aware of some of those employers who have tried to break the law in many cases, so we know that not all employers are fair, but we would like to know that employees are treated fairly. We cannot always guarantee that an individual, who quits without notice, did not have a good reason for doing it. If an employee is being harassed by someone in that business, or even in this government, or anywhere else, a week's notice of termination is a heck of a long time. I think that the Minister has to recognize that. I am really concerned about the lack of protection for those individuals and also for the people who may be forced to work overtime, despite family responsibilities, because as I just mentioned, not every employer is fair.
That could be the end of that person's job if they refuse to work.
I will be introducing amendments to support our position on that, and I think the amendments are fair to the workers, who deserve some kind of protection. I will be moving those amendments at the appropriate time.
I have a lot of other concerns, and I am sure other Members on this side of the House have comments to make about other sections. I would just like to let the Minister know that I will be proposing amendments to certain sections of this act.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I have one other comment on section 50, and I do not know if it will allay the Member's fears. Section 50 would not apply to an individual who is employed for less than six months, so it would not affect summer employment or seasonal employment that is for less than six months.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister responded to one of the concerns I had raised about the act applying to the public service. The Minister said that, because the Employment Standards Act sets minimum standards, and the public service workers are covered by collective agreements or management contracts, which are considerably higher than minimum standards, it is not appropriate to have this act apply to public servants.
I have to make the obvious point that the Minister knew I was making in the first place, which is that casual employees are not covered by a collective agreement, a management contract, the Employment Standards Act or by the Public Service Act.
I know the Minister is not open to improving this bill, even though he supported the NDP bill, which contained a higher standard of protection, but I just want it to be clear for the record that I do not believe that the Minister is entirely accurate when he says that collective agreements and management contracts have higher standards. The fact is that casual employees have no protection.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I recognize that. It is an area that I would like to look into a little more to see if there is some way by which we can give them some kind of protection in the future.
Mr. Cable: Regarding the overtime issue that has been raised by the Official Opposition critic, I note that in the collective agreement, or at least the agreement that ran to March 31, 1993, there is an article 16, which appears to address some concerns and which has been negotiated by the government with its employees. In my view, it appears to be a workable solution to the overtime issue.
Section 16.01(a) states: "Subject to the operational requirements of the service, the employer shall make every reasonable effort:
"(1) to allocate overtime work on an equitable basis among readily available, qualified employees; and
"(2) to give employees who are required to work overtime reasonable advanced notice of this requirement;
"but notwithstanding (1) and (2) above, when there is an emergency, an employee may be required to work overtime on shorter notice than provided in 16.01(a)(2) above."
Subparagraph (b) reads "(b) an employee may refuse to work overtime for just cause and may be required to state the refusal and the cause in writing."
What does the Minister think about that? He does not have to answer that question today; he may want to have a look at the collective agreement. It would be useful for me to hear whether or not the Minister is prepared to compromise on this issue.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can have a look at it, but my concern is that the private sector would be very concerned if the government was gleaning sections out of collective agreements that are negotiated with many other conditions, and different reasons for different clauses. Simply plugging in a clause and forcing all businesses that are not unionized to abide by something like that probably would not work.
I think the Member is looking for some kind of a compromise where the business is not put at a disadvantage where they do not have people to work and, at the same time, we do not put the single mother or single father at a disadvantage, who have to get home to take care of their children.
I do not think that we have had a lot of complaints about that, and as far as I am aware it is not a real problem at the present time.
I think, for the most part, employers in this territory value their employees and will choose employees to work overtime, at the same time being aware of the employee's concerns and whether or not they have family or other responsibilities. I am not sure if there have been a lot of complaints received by employment standards about that kind of activity.
Mr. Cable: I think we are making the assumption that the collective agreements, both with the public service and in private industry and large businesses where they have collective agreements, are, in all cases, of a higher standard than we should find in the Employment Standards Act. That is probably not a correct assumption.
This article 16 on overtime seems to be a reasonable compromise. I do not view it as a maximum standard, as opposed to what the Minister is talking about in terms of a minimum standard. If he could have a look at that, I would appreciate his considered comments on it. We are not going to get very far on this bill this afternoon, so that will give him an opportunity to have a look at it.
Another issue on section 50 is a concern that has been raised in some instances, and which is quite legitimate, where people walk off the job because of conditions that would constitute a breach of the employment contract, such as harassment or physical violence.
One of the problems with giving the employer the whole stick, is that there is an opportunity for sandbagging and delaying the issue. If the Minister could ponder over the weekend whether there is some means of compromise here, too, where the director would have to deal with the issue on very short notice and take some sort of prima facie case from the employee as to whether there is grounds for an argument. If there is ground for an argument, under some sort of statutory declaration, the money should be returned to the employee. I think that might partly address the concern that the employer is totally in the driver's seat. I do not agree with that proposition all of the time; often the employee is in the driver's seat.
Where is the potential for abuse, if the money can be held back and pocketed for several months while the appeal procedure, or whatever, is dragged on?
If the Minister would think about those two suggestions over the weekend, perhaps he can get back to me on Monday.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: First of all, I am told there are not that many cases at all where this happens. Secondly, if the employer fails to abide by the terms of the employment contract, that is grounds for quitting and the wages cannot be withheld. There is a method by which the wages can be repaid. I will look at the suggestions made by the Member and come back with a more detailed answer on Monday.
Mr. Cable: Just so I am absolutely clear with the Minister on section 50, though, part of the apprehension about the application of section 50 lies in the perceived and perhaps, in some circumstances, real misuse of the withholding power. There are ways of getting around that, if we get a little creative, requiring the director to pay money back to the employee on very short notice if a prima facie case can be established under a declaration. Most employees would not swear a false declaration.
If the director were instructed, through the statute, to take a declaration that determines if an employee quit for a reason, and, given the reason, the money could be returned, then they could squabble about it through the various procedures.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will make note of the Member's representation and see what we can come back with on Monday.
Ms. Commodore: Right now, I would like to give copies of the proposed amendments to the Minister, so that he can review them and reflect on their ramifications. I think that they are good amendments and that no one will be hurt by them. I believe, in fact, that some people will benefit from them.
I will give them to him so that he can look at them over the weekend and let us know what he thinks.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I appreciate getting those from the Member.
Mr. Harding: I would like to make a representation to the Minister, which he has heard before. In listening to the debate today, I am not as much in favour of a compromise on section 50 as the Member for Riverside is. I am not convinced that having a process in which the employee has to deal with the Employment Standards Board is going to be particularly successful. As the Minister said in his remarks, "We do not get many of these cases reported." I do not believe that means there are not a significant number of occurrences of withholding taking place by some employers. I know it used to take place at the mine in Faro when I worked there, but people did not really know the law and did not really know their rights, and they just thought that that was the end of it.
Going through an appeal for someone in a rural community, when the director of employment standards is in Whitehorse, is another problem. There are many practical problems associated with that reality.
The issue is a principle; it is a principle of a day's pay for a day's work, and the right of the employee to leave the job if they feel that the job is somehow not appropriate for them. Most of the time, there is a pretty darn good reason when someone just up and quits a job. A lot of times - I have had personal experience with this - there is tremendous tension at the workplace with the employer, for one reason or another, and the employee, after a number of instances, determines that that is the end of the line for them.
While an employer can be left in the lurch, I agree that that has to be a consideration of the employer a lot of times in their conduct with employees. In most cases, if the employee s treated properly, they would not up and quit on the spot. In any case, I do not believe that the employer should have the right to withhold a week's wages for a week of work that has already been undertaken by that employee. Some sort of an arbitration procedure through the director of employment standards is a compromise, and I would submit that it would be better than what is currently being proposed, but I would simply say that, in my mind, it is not as acceptable as section 50, which is a clearly espoused statement of principle that I think is important.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I thank the Member for his comments. I have heard him comment on that before and I respect his view.
Mr. Chair, in view of the time, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 28.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 28, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, and directed me to report progress on it.
Further, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 64, entitled An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, and Bill No. 50, entitled Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, and directed me to report them with amendment.
Further, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 55, entitled An Act to Amend the Apprentice Training Act, and directed me to report it without amendment.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday next.
The House adjourned at 5.28 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 27, 1995:
Report of the chief electoral officer of the Yukon on amendments to elections legislation (dated April 1995) (Speaker Devries)
Environment Act S.Y. 1991, c5: report of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment on the proposed amendments (dated February 15, 1995) (Ostashek)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled April 27, 1995:
Full-time equivalent quarterly report as at March 29, 1995, and definition of "full-time equivalent" and "person year" (Phillips)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1756
Full-time equivalent and person year: explanation (Phillips)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1755
The following Document was filed April 27, 1995:
Travel for medical treatment regulations (Phelps)