Tuesday, February 20, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with silent prayers.
Speaker: We will now proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any introductions of visitors?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Speaker: I would like to draw the Members' attention to the new Pages for this session, who are sitting in the gallery. They are from Christ the King Secondary School. I would urge Members to be on their best behaviour today, because we want to ensure we have help next week.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have the annual report of the Yukon Liquor Corporation for 1994-95 and the annual report of the Yukon Lottery Commission for 1994-95.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there bills to be introduced?
Are there notices of motion for the production of papers?
Notices of motion?
Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Social assistance, consultation on
Ms. Commodore: On October 30, the Minister announced that he would consult with Yukon people on health issues, including community health, the children's dental program, continuing care and midwifery. On January 17, he announced that he would add social assistance rates to that process.
Can I ask him why he made that addition at that time?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Certainly. The issue of social assistance rates was under consideration by the department. The department was going out, belatedly, to conduct consultations that, incidentally, were originally scheduled to take place in the late fall or early winter, but were delayed several times due to weather and other events.
It just made sense to include the issue of social assistance since the community visits were delayed by weather.
Ms. Commodore: One of the functions of the Yukon Health and Social Services Council is to act as a central advisory group to Cabinet on social issues and thereby recommend ways to promote health and well-being among people. I would like to ask the Minister if he consulted with that council prior to adding social assistance rates to the consultation process.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We had a thorough consultation throughout the Yukon two years ago. We talked about health programs, social assistance rates and the alcohol and drug strategy. This time, we are taking out as many issues as is practicable to discuss with Yukoners all over the Yukon. We have had a special meeting with the Yukon Health and Social Services Council to discuss all of the issues under consultation at this time. That took place in the last two weeks.
Ms. Commodore: It is our understanding that the Yukon Health and Social Services Council recommended to the Minister that social assistance not be reduced. Can I ask him why he ignored that recommendation?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Firstly, I have not received the official recommendation yet from the council. I will be meeting with the chair and co-chair about the issue. Secondly, the Health and Social Services Council, unlike under the previous administration, has done a lot of work with us and with the Minister, advising on all kinds of issues that have been taken to Cabinet. We value their advice. We do not always follow it or agree with it, but we certainly value the advice of members on that council, and in many cases there is unanimity with regard to the position.
Question re: Social assistance, consultation on
Ms. Commodore: The answer appears that he did not know that they had recommended that they not reduce it, even though he said he met with them two weeks ago, so I do not really know what is taking place between him and the council.
My second question is for the Minister responsible for social services.
The Minister, in his war against poor people, has added social assistance rates to the agenda of the health consultation meetings because he thinks the rates are too high. It has been suggested that if the Yukon government reduced those rates, the Department of Indian Affairs would follow suit.
I would like to ask the Minister whether or not he or his officials have consulted with the First Nations prior to making that decision to add social assistance rates to the consultation process.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are happy to consult with First Nations about all of these issues. The issue of whether or not we should talk in public about issues of concern to the department, or seek the blessing of people before we even go out and consult on issues of concern to all Yukoners, is a real feeble type of position for the Member to take. I say it is feeble, but I am not surprised.
This was a Minister who was against taking any measures to prevent abuse and fraud in the social services assistance field. She is the person who supports outrageous abuse of the system and does not seem to have any concern about whether or not we will have sufficient money to provide a good, solid safety net for Yukoners.
Ms. Commodore: You can always tell when you are getting to the Minister, because he comes up with personal attacks. Excuse me if I am starting to bug him.
The Minister has indicated that Yukon social assistance rates are so high that they are attracting people from southern Canada. He said that over and over again. Can he tell us what information he has to confirm that statement? How many people is he aware of who are flying up here or coming up here in caravans to take advantage of our social assistance rates? What information does he have to confirm that statement?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: First of all, unlike the Member opposite, I make it a practice to not delve into social assistance files; however, I do get representations made to me on numerous occasions by clients in the system or people who come to me for other reasons. I know of several cases, one where a family has moved here at the recommendation of social welfare workers in B.C. I know of other instances of people being given that advice by social workers in B.C. That is a cause for some concern, but the real issue is whether or not the rates are so high as to prove to be a disincentive for people to take training and to go out and find work. That is an issue that is of grave concern to me because, unlike the previous administration, we have gone to great lengths to assist people to get into training and back into the workforce. We provide training and on-the-job opportunities. We have provided additional spaces and funding for child care spaces.
We have also changed the regulations so that people who do work, part time or otherwise, can retain the benefit of their employment.
These are all things the previous administration failed to do
Ms. Commodore: The Minister has just made a long speech, patting himself on the back. Most Yukoners will disagree with many of the things he just said. We have heard many complaints about his actions, and there have been actions taken against his actions. I do not know what his rhetoric was all about.
The Minister is asking for input into social assistance rates during the upcoming public meetings. He said it was so funding could be refocused on those truly in need. Can the Minister define those who are truly in need? What is his criteria for those truly in need?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That is why we are going through the consultative process - to talk to Yukoners with regard to issues such as that. In the fullness of time, we will receive the fruits of the consultation. There will be an options paper going forward to Cabinet. After all that is done, the position of this government will be revealed to the Member.
I am not here to prejudge what Yukoners will have to say about the issue. I am not here to suggest, as the people opposite are, that we should not even talk about it in public - they say, "Heavens, do not talk about these things in the public; do not consult; because we will not let you."
We believe in the wisdom of the people. We believe we are here as their servants, and we believe in consultation. Obviously the side opposite does not.
Question re: Inmates, work program
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Justice about work programs for jail inmates. The Minister gave a get-tough-with-inmates speech when addressing a Yukon Party convention last November.
The Minister was quoted, "Phillips says right now inmates involved in community work programs do so voluntarily. He says some inmates do not volunteer." Here is the quote: "Well, we are going to change that and we are going to change it with a rigorous confinement program for inmates in correctional centres so that if an offender does not want to go out and work, the offender will no longer be able to sit and watch television." A couple of days later the Minister was quoted, "I do not suspect that the inmates were very happy about it, but I am not really worried if they are happy or not." And, "He says that they will find themselves cleaning the facility instead. Phillips said that all inmates will no longer be able to rent videos."
I would like to know where this schwack-the-prisoners approach to rehabilitation came from? Was this approach the Minister's idea?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I welcome the question from the softer and gentler Liberal colleague across the floor.
As Minister of Justice, I have been examining all aspects of the Department of Justice. I was asking what kind of programs we were offering at the correctional institute and the way the programs are carried out. In the course of that analysis, I discovered that the inmates had the ability to say no to the rehabilitation programs and the work camps. There were no consequences for that. Frankly, I think that the primary purpose of putting someone in the institute is to try and rehabilitate them or get them out on work camps for training. The thought is that if they do not want to participate in that training - we are trying to encourage them to do so - we should not make it quite as pleasant as it was in the past.
A number of people in the general public tell me that they are in favour of that approach.
Mr. Cable: It seems as if it was the Minister, rather than the administration, that came up with this idea.
Could the Minister table some report, study or definitive work for this House that would demonstrate that we can rehabilitate through coercion, so that Members can feel a bit more comfortable with this approach; by this I mean the approach that hard time cuts down on recidivism.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I wonder if the Liberal Member is a partner in the video store that rents videos to people up there at the institute.
I do not know if there is such a study available. I will have a look. Quite frankly, I think that some of the luxuries that they had up there were quite liberal, and I think that the type of measures we are taking are not overly harsh, albeit a little stricter. They do not coerce the prisoners to take programs. I would like them all to take programs if we could get them to do that. I think that is the way to rehabilitate. We get some who absolutely refuse. If they absolutely refuse, I do not think that they should be gaining the privileges that others have who partake in the programs. I guess the Liberal Member opposite does not support that.
Mr. Cable: What I do not support is playing to the audience when dealing with something as serious as recidivism and rehabilitation.
One of the prisoners was quoted on the talk show that the Minister was on in January. The gentleman had this to say: "The justice system has to start working with internal controls of the individuals and not concentrating on so much of these external controls, because it is these external controls that each individual has been putting up with." He was really saying that the desire for rehabilitation has to come from within, not from coercion. Is this a proposition that the Minister of Justice agrees with?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: In the very near future, it is hoped within the next week or two, we will be releasing, I think, the fourth paper in a series of keeping communities safe, dealing with offender management. The paper will deal with the types of training programs, working with the inmates to try and rehabilitate them, along with stricter measures that are being implemented, but many of the programs will focus on working with the inmates to try and have the inmates themselves want to take control of their lives and try to make their lives better. That paper will be released, I think, in the next week or 10 days.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, public disclosure of letter
Mr. Sloan: Since the Minister of Justice and the Liberal Member began a discussion of film and video, perhaps I will just pursue that by recommending the film Nixon to the Members opposite. The reason this comes to mind is because the Nixon White House set up a small unit that went by the euphemism of plumbers, ostensibly to plug leaks, and I would like to continue on today with the question of plugging leaks.
Yesterday, the Government Leader insisted that advice from the Department of Justice led the deputy minister to call in the RCMP. Later, on page 2237, he said, "I just said that in this instance the RCMP felt that it was appropriate." I had a little trouble following the convoluted logic of the rationale for the investigation. If the government does have a policy on investigations, who is setting it? Is it the Deputy Minister of ECO, is it Justice officials, or is it the RCMP?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am sorry, but I did not hear the Member addressing me. I was so tied up in his rhetoric that I did not realize he had identified me as the Member he wanted to respond to his question.
I was trying to follow the rhetoric.
Yesterday, we said that it is only in rare instances that the RCMP are involved in investigations of this type. The circumstances will continue to be very rare. There are some circumstances under which the RCMP would be called in, and they were adhered to in this instance.
Mr. Sloan: I would like to go through that with the Government Leader. What kinds of circumstances would determine when the RCMP would be called in? For example, on page 2237, the Government Leader says that no one made the accusation that it was a criminal matter. On what basis would the Government Leader feel it was appropriate to call in the RCMP?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is correct. The RCMP was investigating how a confidential document came to be in the public domain. Did it get there by accident? Was there a breach of security somewhere? Was it intentional? It is my understanding that that was the focus of the RCMP investigation.
Mr. Sloan: Who would be involved in making the determination to initiate an investigation? Specifically in this case, who was involved in initiating the investigation, and who was involved in establishing the parameters of that investigation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Clearly the authority exists for deputy ministers to ask for an investigation. The Public Service Act establishes deputy heads as senior members of the public service with responsibilities to supervise and direct employees of his or her department or branch. Clearly that responsibility lies with the deputy minister.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, public disclosure of letter
Mr. Sloan: Perhaps I was not specific enough in my previous question to the Government Leader. What I would like to know, in this case, is who was involved in the planning of this investigation? Specifically, who was involved on the government side and who specifically was involved from the RCMP?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know who from the RCMP was involved. I was not involved in the investigation. This investigation was done at the discretion of a deputy minister who had the full right to have this investigation conducted. The RCMP does not investigate without first checking to see if there are any grounds to investigate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Oh, here we go. Now the Member for Riverdale South does not think that any public servant should have any rights.
What do we pay these people these big wages for?
Mr. Sloan: Presumably, if an investigation is launched it would have to be launched at a fairly senior level, not only from within the government, but also within the RCMP. We certainly are not going to be launching an investigation of this kind with a constable.
Presumably, someone would have been consulted within the RCMP. I am just wondering, at this point, if the Government Leader can clarify for us who from the RCMP was involved in launching this investigation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Quite clearly I cannot tell the Member who was involved, because these investigations are carried out in a confidential manner. They are not carried out to harass people in the workplace, they are conducted - as in this instance - because a document that ought not to have been in the public domain ended up there.
Maybe the document was stolen, maybe it was accidentally leaked, maybe there was a breach in security. I do not know who conducted the investigation on behalf of the RCMP.
Mr. Sloan: If memory serves me correctly, there were some published media reports that indicated the RCMP was involved at a fairly senior level. I am wondering if the Government Leader can confirm that one of the individuals involved in this was Inspector Ed Henderson?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, I cannot.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, public disclosure of letter
Mr. Sloan: I am afraid I am having some difficulty with that.
Can the Government Leader not confirm for us who was party to initiating this investigation, or will he not confirm?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Perhaps the Member for Whitehorse West does not listen to media reports or read newspapers. I find that hard to believe. A deputy minister took full responsibility for this action.
Mr. Sloan: I am sure we are all gratified by the deputy minister's willingness to fall on his sword. However, there is a question here and an issue of public perception. I am wondering if the Government Leader is not concerned to some degree with the public perception that there may be an element of political interference in this RCMP investigation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I really am amazed by this line of questioning. This is the second Member opposite that has alleged that the deputy minister is a liar. I challenge him to do that outside of the protection of this Legislature.
Mr. Sloan: I do not believe that I called anyone a liar; to do so would be unparliamentary. I merely suggested that the deputy minister be commended for his political courage.
I would ask the Government Leader to produce for us, by tomorrow's session, a list of who from the government and the RCMP was involved in initiating the investigation.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know if I can or not. I will check. It is my understanding that these investigations are conducted in a confidential manner. The Deputy Minister of the Executive Council Office took full responsibility for this investigation. I will see what information I can bring back.
I said quite clearly yesterday and again today - I will say it one more time now - that these are very rare occurrences. They are much more rare than they were under the previous administration. They are now asking all these questions. They even started RCMP investigations on a supposed leak.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, public disclosure of letter
Mr. McDonald: I have a whole string of questions. The Minister indicated today, once again, these investigations are done in a confidential manner, in answer to a question as to whether or not he can produce the names of the people who actually initiated the investigation. Is he saying that the investigations are so confidential that we cannot possibly find out who initiated the investigation within the government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I find that a very interesting question, especially from that particular Member. A nice thing about the new computer we have is that we can really pull up the previous Hansard files. I have just started to read it, but I have not gone through it all yet.
There was stonewalling done by the Leader of the Official Opposition in circumstances similar to this where he refused to answer any questions that related to personnel matters at all when he was being questioned by the now-Minister of Health and Social Services and the Member for Riverdale South. At that time, he was very indignant that the Opposition could even question the government on personnel matters.
Mr. McDonald: The issue that is presented before us here is not the issue of whether or not governments are going to experience personnel problems, not whether or not documents are going to be leaked from time to time, but when the government is going to be calling in the RCMP to investigate the leaked documents and whether or not these investigations are going to be seen as intimidating tactics to public groups who may be in possession of those documents.
The Minister has just indicated that everything is so confidential that we cannot even find out who is initiating the investigation. Yesterday, it appeared to be so confidential that we could not find out what the policy was for initiating the investigation. Now it appears we cannot even find out who was involved. How confidential is this business with respect to calling in the RCMP? Should we not find out anything? Is that what the government is essentially leading up to?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would caution the Leader of the Official Opposition when he starts speaking of harassment, based on his record when, as Minister of Education, some 80 employees all of a sudden disappeared from the Department of Education when they brought in a hit-man. Talk about harassment.
In my understanding of this, the police were not called in to do an investigation; the police were called in to see if there were grounds for an investigation.
Mr. McDonald: First of all, I take it that the Minister is raising the issue that is currently before the court with respect to a matter to which both the Government Leader and the Minister of Health and Social Services have both been subpoenaed. He has raised that matter himself.
That is not the issue that I am addressing here at all. I am addressing the issue of the request for RCMP support. Yesterday, the Minister clearly said that his department requested the RCMP to come in to investigate a leaked document. He later appeared to say that the RCMP would have to essentially agree to whether or not they would continue to pursue the matter. Was it the department officials who called the RCMP or did the RCMP actually initiate the matter? This situation becomes more and more convoluted with almost every question asked.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This is the height of hypocrisy. Yesterday, the Leader of the Official Opposition was indignant that this government would be harassing the Public Service Commission by calling in the RCMP to investigate.
Mr. McDonald: I did not.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: He did so. The fact remains that a confidential document was leaked.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: You make it up as you go along.
That administration was the cause of the workplace harassment policy that was brought in, because, when they were in government, there was intimidation of the public service. It was only after barrage, after barrage, after barrage, of questions from the Member for Riverdale South, as well as from the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes and other Members, that they brought in a harassment policy to protect the workers. We do not have them running to the Human Rights Commission yet.
Question re: Workers' Compensation, lawsuit
Mrs. Firth: I know that we have reached a new low in the Yukon when we have governments accusing one another of being worse at harassing the employees - was it this government or the previous government?
I have a question for the Minister of Justice about this same kind of issue - harassment and poor treatment of government employees.
I have a constituent who was treated very poorly by the previous government and by this government. He has had his whole life changed because of this poor treatment. I have now heard that, under this government's dealing with my constituent, the Minister of Justice has been said to have issued instructions to potential witnesses regarding my constituent's matter.
I would like to ask the Minister of Justice what instructions he has issued and to which individuals they have been issued.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: That is a great allegation. I know that the Member for Riverdale South has not been in her riding for three and a half years. She has 1,200 constituents and I have no idea what the Member is talking about.
Mrs. Firth: Let me refresh the Minister's memory. On Saturday, January 27, at 3:00 in the afternoon at the Talisman Restaurant, the Minister of Justice, his companion and his old buddy Danny Lang were having lunch, and they were discussing my constituent's court case. People in the restaurant overheard the conversation. I do not have to go into my constituency to hear this; I hear what the Minister is doing.
People in the restaurant overheard the conversation. It was reported to my constituent and it was confirmed by Mr. Lang when my constituent phoned him. Half of the community now knows about the court case, and I would like the Minister to stand up and share the information with the rest of us, in particular with me as the MLA. What instructions was the Minister issuing about my constituent's lawsuit?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I was not issuing instructions to anybody. I do not think Mr. Lang is even involved in the case.
The Member may be surprised to learn, and I am sure she gets it herself, when you go around this town and there are things that are out in the public process, you hear about them all the time. I talk about political issues that are in the forefront almost everywhere I go. People confront me and raise political issues. I believe that that particular issue regarding the Workers' Compensation Board and the Government of the Yukon was before the courts the week before and the government had lost the case. That was probably the context of the conversation that was overheard.
I get those kinds of phone calls all of the time. People ask me what is going on in a certain case and I tell them; that is my job. People do ask me about those things.
Mrs. Firth: I think the thing is tilting. The Minister is treading on very thin ice here. I have a letter from the Minister. I sent him a letter making an inquiry about the lawsuit that my constituent has. In the letter, the Minister states to me that this person is represented by counsel.
He advised in this letter that when a person is represented by counsel that it is inappropriate for the government to deal with issues surrounding that lawsuit without going through the appropriate counsel or for the government to comment on or interfere with the progress of an action that is under the control of the Supreme Court.
Why is it that I cannot find out about something that is under the control of the Supreme Court, yet the Minister can comment on it and discuss it with an old pal of his - who, I might add, is a potential witness in the case - in a public restaurant where the conversation is being overheard by other Yukoners? Why are there two sets of rules here?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There goes this Member again, raising all kinds of allegations. I said nothing to that individual that is not absolute public knowledge out there. The general public knew. In fact it was in one of the local papers or both of the local papers that the Government of Yukon and the Workers' Compensation Board had just gone to court, and I believe the Government of Yukon had lost. The conversation revolved around that kind of issue, and it is public knowledge.
I do not discuss any specifics of the cases that are going on now - the cases that are going on as we speak - but if somebody asks me about a decision that was made in the case and what happened here and asks me to explain it, is there something wrong with my explaining what went on? I do not think so.
Question re: Workers' Compensation, lawsuit
Mrs. Firth: I want to address my new question to the Government Leader. The problem here is exactly as the Minister of Justice himself has enunciated. He does not even know that he has done something wrong.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: I know what I am talking about. Perhaps the Minister should talk to his little friend and get a confirmation of what he said that day, because he has not -
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please ask the question.
Mrs. Firth: Yes, I will. He has a very convenient memory.
This is my question to the Government Leader: since all Ministers, particularly the Minister of Justice, must display the highest ethical standards and his Minister of Justice has been discussing in a public place, with a potential witness, issues he should not have been discussing about my constituent, I would like to ask the Government Leader if he supports his Minister of Justice in doing that.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member who is asking the question is notorious for making unfounded allegations in this Legislature.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: She is notorious for making unfounded allegations. If she has a concern, I would request that she come and see me or write me a letter and I will deal with it.
Mrs. Firth: If I write a letter, I will not get an answer until the next session.
The public's expectations of the conduct of Ministers is very high. The Government Leader has an opportunity to try to meet those expectations by removing this Minister as the Minister of Justice and replacing him with someone else. Justice ministers in other parts of Canada have done the honourable thing and resigned for conduct less offensive than this Minister's.
I would like to ask the Government Leader if he will ask this Minister to step down and replace him with a new Minister who has some ethical standards?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is very easy for the Member to stand up and make allegations that may be founded or may be unfounded, but she certainly has not produced any evidence to me that the Minister acted in an inappropriate manner - not based on the allegations that she is putting forward on the floor of this Legislature.
Mrs. Firth: I do not know why these guys have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the edge of the cliff and shoved over. The Minister has an opportunity here to do the dignified thing, like other Ministers across Canada who would resign and leave in a dignified manner with no questions.
The action of the Minister discussing this case with a potential witness in a public place - which involved my constituent's lawsuit - was entirely inappropriate and unacceptable. I do not understand why the Government Leader cannot see that, unless he shares the same low ethical standards as the Minister of Justice.
Will he have this Minister resign, or will he allow this kind of unacceptable conduct within his government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Once again, it is very easy for that Member to stand up and be indignant and make all sorts of allegations. If these allegations had any substance to them, and if she was really concerned about the matter, she would have taken action before this, instead of waiting to do it on the floor of the Legislature where she can get some press based on unfounded allegations - at this point.
Bring forward some evidence this occurred and that the Minister breached his responsibilities of confidentiality, and I will certainly look into the issue.
Question re: Confidential correspondence
Mr. Cable: There have been some questions over the last couple of days on deep throat, and it has piqued my interest.
Yesterday the Government Leader went on at length about protecting confidential communications between Ministers and the public. I would like to go back a step. Does he classify a communication between a Minister and the arm's-length chair of an ostensibly independent Crown corporation on the issue of how that Crown corporation would be regulated by an independent board - the Yukon Utilities Board - as deserving of that protection?
I am not asking a question of whether or not stamping a letter with the word "confidential" triggers confidentiality. I am asking the Government Leader whether substantively he believes that letter deserved protection.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite asking the question is a lawyer. He supported the Access to Information Act when it went through this Legislature. The clause in this act clearly states that type of correspondence is protected. It cannot even be retrieved through the Access to Information Act. It clearly says ". . . would disclose the existence or content of opinions or recommendations communicated to, between, or from members of the Executive Council on matters relating to the formulation of government policy and the making of government decisions".
Mr. Cable: I was not asking that question. I was asking whether or not, substantively, the Minister thought that the letter deserved confidentiality in the first place - a letter to an arm's-length corporation, dealing with an issue of how it should be regulated. Should the letter have gone out in the first place?
Yesterday, the Minister quoted part of the Access to Information Act in justifying his position. He said that the Access to Information Act stated that it "would violate the confidentiality of information that was given by another person and is of a kind consistently treated as confidential by that person." Was there a pattern of confidential communication between the Ministers and the chair of the Yukon Energy Corporation Board that prompted the Minister to think that there might be protection under that portion of the act?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said yesterday - I will say it again today - the general public has to be able to write to Members of this Legislature - to Ministers - in a confidential manner and not expect to have those letters end up in the public domain.
In the last two days, we have heard the Opposition basically say that they think it should be more transparent and not protected. They say that these things should be in the public domain.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: They certainly did. This is the same Opposition that feels that land claims talks should be held in secret.
Mr. Cable: The Minister seems to keep equating the general public with the chair of this independent board. I guess perhaps I am not making the issue clear enough.
In the Government Leader's party's four-year plan in 1992, he talked about restoring freedom of speech and association. One of the bullets under that read, "to ensure that the abuse of authority and intimidation of government employees stops". What was he talking about? Was it the sort of actions that have gone on with respect to this deep throat and the RCMP investigation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I should quote Mr. Bouchard when he was called a racist. He said it was ridiculous. I say that it is ridiculous to think that this government is trying to muzzle someone.
This is the government that brought in a new Access to Information Act to allow the public access to government records. This is the government that brought in the Ombudsman Act to protect the public interest. For them to make allegations that this is a police state or a closed shop is ridiculous.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. I must apologize to the Members that they squeezed an extra one out of me today.
I believe some of the language today was on the verge of being unparliamentary and there was one piece of unparliamentary language spoken. I would appreciate it if Members would attempt to get that under control. I do not think the public appreciates it. Members of both sides of the House have been doing it. When Members write their questions out, I certainly would appreciate it if they would make little notes to themselves to cool it.
Notice of Government Private Members' Business
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of government private Members to be called on Wednesday, February 21, 1996. They are Motion No. 94 and Motion No. 93 standing in the name of the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, and Motion No. 92 and Motion No. 90 standing in the name of the Member for Klondike.
Speaker: We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Speaker: Government Bills.
Bill No 10: Second Reading - adjourned debate
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 10, adjourned debate.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am pleased to wrap up my reply to the budget speech today. First of all, I would like to take us back into time a bit when the Yukon Party was first elected. I think it was fair to say that, back in 1992, we were a little surprised by the results of the 1992 election, but so was the side opposite.
At that time, there were all kinds of accusations made about whether or not there was a surplus, but it was interesting to note that the previous NDP government did not bother to call us into session and present the public with a budget before they called an election, as they demanded we do before we called these by-elections. In September 1992, they did not want to do that. I think the reason they did not want to do that was because they knew that they already had a $64 million deficit running that year, and the fact that they had been running debts for two successive years would have been exposed.
There has been a lot of debate about the debt. The NDP have argued that the numbers were not accurate and that the Yukon Party fudged the books to make them look bad. The fact is, it was the Auditor General of Canada, the watchdog of the public purse - the totally independent office of the Auditor General of Canada - who examined the Yukon government's books and examined what was in those books and confirmed that, indeed, the books and the write-offs were accurate and that the Government of the Yukon, for that last mandate year of the New Democratic Party, had indeed accumulated a $64 million debt. They had used up the $50 million surplus and had gone $14 million in the hole.
I should remind the Members that this is the same Auditor General who criticized the Yukon Party a year or two ago on another issue. This criticism was accepted by the Yukon Party. I know the NDP used that time and time again to say that this is the Auditor General's report and he is the watchdog. They said the same things I have just said. It seems to me they are conveniently using the Auditor General's report as it suits them.
Quite frankly, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot read the Auditor General's report one year and say that it was fudged and then next year say the Auditor General's report is the gospel truth because it criticizes the government. That is not being very honest with the taxpayers.
Let us go back and look at where we were when we took over power from the New Democratic Party. As I said, the NDP government had run two successive deficits, and the second budget left us with an accumulated debt. We had a government that had really lost control of its spending. I think wherever you went people were talking about the excessive spending. It was obvious, in the last year of its mandate, that the previous government was attempting to spend its way back into power. Certainly, this government cannot be accused of that in this budget. I think this particular budget is a responsible budget. It is not directed at particular ridings, or anything else, which I believe is a dangerous game to get into.
Yesterday, the Member for Whitehorse West said he did not get very much for his riding. He will recall that there is a new French school being constructed in his riding and there is a new subdivision being expanded in his riding, and I think that he will learn more as he becomes more accustomed to what goes on in government as a Whitehorse MLA. As all of us have learned, for the most part, there are not a lot of things in our own little ridings that are more specific to the Government of Yukon, they are more specific to the City of Whitehorse. Many of the issues that you are called upon to deal with, for the most part, are civic issues. I think that the Member found that out when he campaigned from door to door.
When one looks at the overall budget, I suppose that I could also complain, because for almost every year out of the 10 years that I have been in this House, Riverdale North did not get its fair share. But, when I look at the benefits to the government employees, the business people in Riverdale North and the people involved in the tourism industry and to the people involved in other industries in the territory and the mining industry, I can see that Riverdale North residents do benefit overall from that budget. I think that the residents of Whitehorse West, although they do not get specific dollars pumped into their riding, will see enormous benefits from this budget, as they have from past budgets.
I think that it is a dangerous game to get into. If the Member opposite ever has a chance to serve in government, he will find this will indeed be the case - there will be many years where there will not be a lot of money going into his particular riding, because there may be a major development on the other end of the territory where we have to direct monies.
It is dangerous for Members to get into the habit of thinking that they did not get anything for their riding and get mad. I think that is a very dangerous way to deal with budgets.
When the Yukon Party took control of the government in 1992, we realized, like he said, that we had a government that was growing quite rapidly and had finally learned to spend the huge transfer payments received from Ottawa. We had to take some major steps. None of them were pleasant. I suppose in the next term of office of the government there will again be unpleasant decisions, because I think, quite frankly, the days of governments getting in and spending their way to prosperity are over. I think they now have to be more fiscally responsible and more efficient in the way that they deal with things.
That is what the taxpayer wants to see - at least, that is what the people I talked to in Riverdale North want to see. They want to see that the government does not go into debt, and I think the Taxpayer Protection Act that we brought in does exactly that - it protects the taxpayers from us going into debt in the future.
When we started to cut in the government we started right where it really hurts, in our own pockets, and, as MLAs and Ministers, we took a five-percent cut, which is significant. Managers saw a three-percent reduction, and there was a two-percent reduction for the rest of our employees. We did most of that without major layoffs in the civil service, as other governments had to do all across this country. Thousands and thousands of civil servants were laid off in every provincial and federal government across this country. In fact, I think we did it in the most painless way possible. As well, we looked at travel; we looked at more efficient ways to reduce spending; we looked at government departments and saving money. The Department of Community and Transportation Services has found a very inexpensive way now to chipseal the highways in a much more efficient way; we have talked about that, and it is saving us thousands of dollars in the long run.
We took all kinds of measures such as that to try and reduce the spending of government.
We also knew - and I do not think it was any secret, and is still not a secret - that the federal government is in big financial trouble and they were going to have to make some cutbacks. So we prepared for that and we told the public right at the beginning that we were going to prepare for that - that we were going to start trying to accumulate a bit of a surplus from the savings that we have achieved through all the departments and we hoped that, when the time came to absorb some of the hits we were going to get from the Liberal government in Ottawa, we would be able to absorb them. In fact, that is exactly what happened. We accumulated a $32 million surplus. We accepted the cutbacks because they were fair across the board when one talks about the transfer payment cutbacks. Provinces and territories all across the board got cut and, as I said yesterday, we did not get special treatment or treated more harshly because we had a surplus. We were more prepared to absorb the cuts than any other province or territory in this country and we still came out of it with a surplus in the end. I think that is fiscally responsible. It might be difficult for some on the other side to admit that, but I think we are in a far better position today for having done that. If we had spent to our maximum, as was done in the early years of the New Democratic government - in fact overspent as they did in the latter years - we would be in big trouble today with the $25 million to $30 million cuts along with a deficit that we would be running. We would be in big trouble.
All one has to do is hop onto an airplane one day and fly over to the Northwest Territories and sit down with our counterparts over there and talk to them. They realize they are in big trouble. They are in trouble because they did not prepare for these inevitable cuts and they did not manage their budget as responsibly as we did over the past four years.
We have to look at where the economy stood at that time. It was a huge blow to the Yukon economy when the Curragh mine shut down and all those people were laid off. I can remember going through some agonizing days in the Legislature when there were protesters here encouraging us to support the mine and keep it operating. There were some tough decisions to be made and I knew they were affecting people's lives. They are the kinds of tough decisions one has to make.
I remember that the side opposite, particularly the Member for Faro, was encouraging us to loan Clifford Frame $29 million. I have not heard a single Yukoner out there say that that would have been a good move. Clifford Frame would still be gone today and the mine would still be shut down. The $29 million would be reflected in this year's budget, and we would be in big trouble today if we had gone out on a limb, as the NDP wanted us to do at that time.
We made the right decision, but there were a lot of angry people. They were angry at us because they were losing their jobs and many families were facing insecurities. It was a tough time. I remember that it was a tough time for you as Minister of Economic Development, Mr. Speaker. We agonized over some of those decisions. In the long run, it was the right decision. The mine is again operating, and many of those people are back to work, thank goodness, with good jobs. The mine is operating and the Yukon government did not go into debt to do it - with other mining companies lining up at the door saying, "me, too", and creating a situation where we would have to support all of them in the future, something we could not possibly do.
I want to talk a bit about the rest of the economy. If one looks at the number of jobs right now, the short-range forecast that was produced by the forecasters in Economic Development shows a very positive outlook for 1996. I am very optimistic. I think that one of the things we can be proud of as a government is that there are a lot more people working today than there were in 1993. In January 1993, there were 12,700 workers employed in the Yukon; in January 1996, there were 13,500. In January 1993, there was a 12.4 percent unemployment rate; this year, it is down to 9.9 percent. Retail sales have increased almost every month over the previous year, as compared to the previous year. If one talks to businesses around town and in the Yukon, they will say that, in general, for the most part, businesses have been doing much better, and the economy has improved since 1993.
Tourism numbers are something I am very proud of, because I think that the Department of Tourism has done a tremendous job. Numbers have increased every single year since our government took power. They have not gone through the dips and valleys that we once experienced. They have increased at an average of about four percent every year until this year, in which the numbers actually exceeded the 1992 year, which made it the very best tourism year we have ever had in the territory.
I hear from many tourism operators that they are very pleased with what is happening in the tourism sector. We are forecasting that growth to continue.
In the last few years we have expanded our European marketing, despite objections from the NDP Opposition. That has been one of our most successful programs. While other programs are growing by four percent, that one is growing by 11 percent a year. I spend a lot of time talking to the industry. I suggest the critic take the time to do that also. I know he went to the TIA board meeting the other day, which I think is a good sign. It is the first time in a long time anyone from the New Democratic Party has taken enough of an interest to go to the TIA board meetings. It is a good sign, because they will be able to talk to the industry.
Everyone I have talked to is very pleased with out European program. In the last couple of years, I do not think I have heard anyone make negative comments about this program, other than the Opposition.
I know the Member for Faro is making some snide comments; he was the critic who did nothing in tourism, so I can understand it ...
Speaker: The hon. Member has three minutes to conclude his remarks.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: He is a bit miffed that he had a job change.
In the past few weeks, I have talked to a lot of people, and all indications are that 1996 will be a very good year. I was recently talking to people in Dawson City, where the tourism bookings are way up. I talked to people in Whitehorse, and the bookings are up considerably here. It is a little early yet to forecast a great year, because some people do cancel at the last minute, but our inquiries are way up from before.
Our new Internet program is drawing over 1,200 hits a day from individuals interested in calling up the Yukon. I understand the conversion rate of these individuals who call us up is the highest of any program we have. That particular high-tech program is working well for us.
I am running out of time so I will hurry up. I want to briefly talk about Justice, and I thank the Member for Whitehorse West, who is the critic, for his comments about the Justice initiatives. With the announcements we made, the strategy we have developed is one where we have obviously consulted with the people and listened to them. The test will now be on the implementation of these particular programs to make sure they work and are community driven. I can give that Member my commitment to work very hard to ensure that is done.
I hope we will be successful.
There are some very positive things coming out in regard to youth crime and family violence. I know the Women's Directorate has been working extremely hard on those particular programs. I am very excited about the cooperation we are now receiving from all of the departments with respect to them.
Some Members might be interested in that. There is a motion on the Order Paper and we will deal with it. I can tell the Members that there have been about four meetings since November and December with respect to the gun control legislation. A couple of the meetings were conference calls between me and other Ministers of Justice across the country and with our deputy ministers who have discussed a constitutional challenge. I will elaborate further on that when we debate the issue - I think we will be debating the issue tomorrow. I am optimistic that there are some opportunities there for a challenge and we are still going to pursue this thing to the very end.
With respect to the Public Service Commission, one of the projects that we are working on is the repatriation of the superannuation plan so that the government can provide such things as early retirement, which we cannot provide under the present plan. This is being worked on very diligently. We are working with the union and the employees on this and it is moving on to its next stage.
In closing, I think that this is a good budget for the Yukon. We are the only jurisdiction in the whole country that is still debt free and we are very proud of that. All of our economic signs show that the Yukon is improving.
Speaker: Order please. The Minister's time has run out.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to say that I look forward to this session and to the debate on the 1996-97 budget bills and the other money bills, including the Taxpayer Protection Act, which the government has introduced.
It is our responsibility to take a serious look at this budget and the government's spending record over the last three years. Ultimately, we will be deciding whether or not to support the budget, which will determine whether the Yukon Party government will be continuing in office.
As previous speakers have done, I would point out that this is a deficit budget. The government is spending more money then it is taking in. I find that curious, when the Yukon Party likes to lecture the NDP about deficit financing and overspending.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Moorcroft: As my colleague for Whitehorse Centre says, I guess it is okay as long as they are the ones who are doing the spending.
In 1995-96 the Yukon Party budget exceeded $500 million. In 1996-97, the operation and maintenance budget is up slightly from last year, at $346,821, and the 1996-97 capital budget is down slightly from last year, at $124,925.
We want to note that the budget is reckless. Not only are the O&M costs increasing again this year, but the accumulated surplus at the end of the fiscal year is projected to be $7,500,000. This government has taken the position that it should have one month's operating expenses in a savings account, but this same government is abandoning that practice. The surplus it projects to have at the end of the fiscal year will barely cover a week of government expenditures.
The most serious problem is that the budget does not include a settlement for Taga Ku. Last night we heard some pretty inflamed rhetoric from the previous speaker, who seems to subscribe to the maxim that the best defence is a good offence.
Over the past nine months while the Legislature was recessed, I have been talking to my constituents and I have been encouraged by the fact that Yukon citizens of all political stripes recognize that land claims is the most important issue facing us today. In order to get on with our lives, it is critical to resolve the 10 outstanding First Nations' land claims and to work with each other to govern the territory. Whether one cares most about jobs in forestry or mining or agriculture or land development, the general population understands that we must build new relationships with Yukon First Nations. The Taga Ku project signified a new relationship with First Nations. The Yukon Party government chose to eliminate an economic development project that was negotiated among the former government, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation and the Inuvialuit Development Corporation.
Two levels of courts have found that this Yukon Party government has reneged on that deal, and the court of public opinion - which I believe the Yukon Party should also listen to - is that the government has a responsibility for good faith negotiations. It is not just the loss of this court deal that is an issue for the government; it is the loss of good faith. It is completely irresponsible to fail to budget for a Taga Ku court settlement. It is even more irresponsible for the government to criticize First Nations leaders.
This fall, at the New Relationships in the Land Claims Conference, First Nations speakers pointed out that they are presently taking back jurisdictions, which means simply their right and power to interpret and apply the law.
The Yukon Party government likes to talk about land claims education and likes to talk about achieving a goal of settling the remaining 10 claims by February of 1997. I was very taken aback to note that the departmental land claims item in the Department of Community and Transportation Services budget, which was $97,000 last year, has been reduced to zero this year. I hope the government does not have the mistaken impression that implementation of land claims and land settlement is no longer an issue. We need to ensure that the land claims law is respected, as has not been done by this government on several occasions.
When I look more closely at the Department of Community and Transportation Services 1996-97 budget, I note that residential land development is in the budget for $5.3 million, with another $1 million to develop industrial, agricultural and recreational land.
On the revenue pages, the government shows the gain on sale of lots projected to be zero. In 1994-95, gain on sale of lots was $595,000. In 1995-96, they forecast $41,000. What is up? We believe there should be a land bank of lots available for sale. The government already has $22 million worth of land in its land bank. Lots in Copper Ridge are not selling, and they are planning to spend another $3 million to develop Copper Ridge.
We cannot forget that the bank charges for this land inventory held by the government are significant. We need a one- or two-year inventory, and we have a 10-year supply of urban residential lots that the government cannot get rid of. Where are the country residential lots people seem to want? Where is the development of lots for low income housing, for co-op housing and for mobile home owners who need land, particularly in Whitehorse?
In Mount Lorne, there is development of agricultural land for $60,000, and of residential rural land for $60,000. I would like to signal the Minister that I will expect him to be able to answer questions about this during this session, and not take weeks to answer, as was the case in previous budget years.
In developing agricultural land, I have heard from a lot of people about the need for a viable economic agricultural industry. The agricultural policy is now five years old. Is the government planning to review it?
Many people believe that intensive production would be a better way to support agriculture than to hand out large blocks of land. We need to look at the best use of the land.
I have also filed a motion that the Government of Yukon must respect the principles of good land use planning, which include full consultation with community residents and First Nations, before authorizing any change in land use.
I receive calls from people all other the territory about this government's irrational approach to land decisions. As an example, McClintock Place residents are angry and indignant about the government's actions in their neighbourhood. Based on a caveat they signed when they purchased their lots, they believed that only recreational residential use was permitted.
At a recent Law of the Land Conference, Commissioner's lands were referred to as a strange beast. Nonetheless, when those residents purchased their land, they had a caveat that indicated that only single-family recreational purpose land would occur in that neighbourhood, aside from two commercial lots.
A government department determined that the caveat was, "obsolete and deficient with respect to applicability and enforceability," and "served no useful purpose". The government, however, regardless of what the Department of Justice found, has a clear obligation to inform the property owners, who certainly believe that they are affected by this change. The government removed the caveat without notifying my constituents. The government also approved plans for tourist commercial development without the knowledge of neighbours on adjacent lots. They are now working on area development regulations, but the government seems unwilling to defer permit approvals until after residents have had a say.
I would like to know if this government thinks it is reasonable to proceed with controversial developments while property owners are simultaneously being surveyed about what kind of zoning they want to see in place.
This budget includes a $25,000 figure for a Marsh Lake rural area plan. I would like to know if the government thinks there is any value in working with the residents to develop a local area plan, and just what it intends to do there.
Golden Horn residents also recently attended a meeting with government officials to develop a plan for future requirements in their area. The first priority for Golden Horn was a community land use plan. They want a public process. They want to map and preserve existing trails, and they want the government to advise them of any developments presently occurring or being planned for the area. I would like to know if there is money in the budget for such planning. There has been money for planning for Golden Horn in previous budgets, but it has never been spent. People want to be involved in determining what kind of a neighbourhood they live in.
Marsh Lake residents also held a five-year capital plan meeting and wanted community consultation before the government goes ahead with projects. They are looking for better communication between themselves and government. They also want commercial lots designated away from residential areas. So I think that the Minister should take note that people are expecting him to indicate whether or not he is prepared to set aside development decisions until he has talked with the residents about land planning and zoning in their area.
Last December, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services also announced an agreement to transfer several roads to city jurisdiction. In the budget is $4 million for upgrading the South Access Road, which ultimately will be transferred to the City of Whitehorse.
Will the Yukon government actually conduct the upgrade of the South Access Road, which everyone admits is drastically needed?
What assurance do Yukon taxpayers have that the South Access upgrade will not experience the massive cost overruns that this government incurred in the upgrading of Two Mile Hill?
The tourism office building has almost been completed before the South Access Road has been built. I would like to know how the government is going to avoid traffic hazards on the Alaska Highway and downtown with the anticipated increase of large vehicle traffic to the downtown area.
The Education budget again this year is quite large. There are a number of very contentious problems and confusions caused by the Minister's lack of consultation on the Porter Creek school and the Dawson school and the grade reorganization.
Last year, the Minister said that grade reorganization would not proceed. That all changed on November 30, 1995 with a deceptive press release indicating that the Minister was considering a direction paper for a two-tiered system. The Minister admitted to the press on the same day that grade reorganization was a done deal, and seems to have learned nothing from the furor that resulted about the need to consult.
The Minister has done the same thing to the people of Dawson. Last year, the new school was an urgent priority. Suddenly, it was yanked away and put on the shelf. We need to question the attitude of this government toward consultation and toward planning as a whole.
There is nothing in the budget to indicate what the government plans to do about other schools that are needed around the territory; for example, in Mayo, Carmacks, Old Crow and Grey Mountain. Is there any planning being done?
The Member for Klondike says he does not know how one plans for school growth. The Member for Whitehorse West suggested last night that you could look at the maternity wards and the nursing stations to get the birth figures and project ahead five years. The budget suggests another way: the obvious place to look for school growth is where the government is developing residential lots. I would like to know if the government can make that kind of logical connection and can plan ahead.
There has certainly been a lot of growth along the Alaska Highway, with new lots being developed in Cowley Creek, Mary Lake and Marsh Lake.
The government needs to work with the Department of Community and Transportation Services to deal with the needed additions to schools. Students at Golden Horn and at Riverdale Junior Secondary are very concerned about the effect the grade reorganization will have on them. The Minister needs to be accountable for what those implementation schedules are and how feasible it is to make changes to several elementary schools in the short period between when school lets out in June and starts again in September. Students and parents and school councils also want to know about the programming resources that are going to be available to grade 7 students when they are staying behind in elementary school next year.
In advanced education, the Yukon College funding is pegged at $10 million. I am pleased to see that the government is making up $491,000 of the shortfall caused by federal budget cuts of $991,000, but we have serious concerns about future federal cuts.
The Liberals are lumping together social services, post-secondary education and health care under the Canada health and social transfer. We have seen that in our budget book for the first time this year. Over the next three years, the Canada health and social transfer will slash another $7 billion across the country from these programs.
The new UI changes mean that the federal government will no longer be purchasing seats in Yukon College training programs. College officials estimate that this could cost them up to $2 million a year in revenue. It is another example of the friendly Liberal way of making massive cuts and dumping the problem on lower levels of government. I would like an assurance that the Yukon government will be advocating on behalf of Yukon College and making an argument for a minimum level of funding, since Yukon College is our only post-secondary educational institution in the territory and students do not have an option here.
Nothing in the budget convinces me that the government is prepared to invest much beyond lip service. How is the government negotiating about the unemployment insurance and Canada health and social transfer cuts with the federal government? The government should come clean about its new policies that make it harder for adult students to enroll in long-term training programs. I have been very concerned to hear about the restrictions now for people on social assistance to only be allowed to attend a six-months-or-less training program. That guarantees that people on social assistance are not going to be able to get a decent paying job but are going to be staying in low-wage jobs.
Constituents in Mount Lorne have also been talking to me about the government's health consultations and some of the changes that it is looking at. Many people are concerned about the children's dental program and want to make sure that there is an effective model of delivery and guaranteed dental care available for our kids. We need a good public program. In the government's public consultations, I think that the departments have to examine the cost and efficiency to make sure that a program is going to be delivered that is effective.
The government is also looking at midwifery. Our party recommended that government should consider having a midwife act. Many constituents believe that women should have the choice of whether to use a midwife when they are having a child. This is a way of saving the government a lot of money in the health care system. For many women, a midwife provides all the medical care needed for childbirth. The government should work with local midwives, contact the Ontario College of Midwives and make sure that it is doing a good job in examining all of the possibilities of having a midwife service available in the Yukon.
I would like to talk about the taxpayer protection legislation that the government is putting forward with this budget. The government has stated that an accumulated deficit must not be created or increased and, if so, the future government would have to call an election. This government is so close to the wire in having only a $7 million surplus at the end of the year, without providing for a Taga Ku settlement. As a result, there could be two elections next year. It looks like the government is trying to build in a second chance for themselves to stay in government.
The taxpayer protection legislation sets out some accounting principles. This is the same government that was reprimanded by the Auditor General of Canada for writing off loans in a single year. There certainly is a need to disallow manipulative accounting through increased government reporting.
The legislation also provides for changes in tax laws. In order to increase taxes, under the taxpayer protection legislation, the government would have to hold a referendum. This government is imposing rules that it is not prepared to live under. This government did not go to the polls with a referendum on its obscene tax increases. This was the first government to increase personal income tax in several years. Rather than go to the polls with a referendum on its tax increases, it called by-elections.
Balanced budget legislation is needed to ensure that services we count on, like Kaushee's, are available now and in the future. We need to have that money available to invest in health promotion, training and education. The government's taxpayer protection legislation does not require the government to balance its budget; it does not require it to undertake long-term planning.
We have a lot of concerns about this taxpayer protection legislation and about some of the questionable expenditures in the budget. There is a heavy emphasis on computers and cars. For every $6.40 that is spent on Kaushee's Place to provide a shelter for women and children fleeing violent homes, there is $100 spent on computers.
The government spent over $2 million to create an empty lot in Dawson City by moving the highways yard. It spent extra money to do it during the winter so the lot would be ready for the spring construction of a new elementary school. Guess what? Now it is not building that new elementary school on the vacant lot.
It has $5 million in land development, which I talked about earlier. There is over $3 million for the Beringia Interpretive Centre, and there are election goodies in the budget.
Many people have previously spoken about the swimming pool in Old Crow. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services defended that decision and said that it was something he was quite proud to have gotten into the budget, and that it was planned months before the election was called.
That certainly is not borne out by the Minister of Tourism's claim that there was no swimming pool being built in Old Crow when he was asked about it during the by-election.
We have heard from members of the community that there are other priorities, that education, training and services for young people are more important for the people of Old Crow than a swimming pool.
We do have reasons to vote non-confidence in this government's budget. There has been a lack of consultation on grade reorganization. Cabinet seems to have no concern about whether or not it is reasonable to call in the RCMP to investigate advocacy groups because they have obtained a leaked government document.
The government has not negotiated a single land claims agreement. It has done no work on the development assessment process, which is going to have a major effect on both environmental groups and the development industry. There has been no progress on devolution.
We need a forestry policy in place in the Yukon. We do not see this government working on that. What we have is government departments competing to see which one will take the lead role. What we need is a schedule that indicates when this government will have a policy in place, so we can move forward and plan for the future.
This government has been irresponsible. It is a government of bad planning. I will be looking forward to following up in budget debate on both my constituency issues and the critic portfolios that I hold.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would like to start by providing my support for the budget. I would like to talk about the issues the Opposition has raised with our budget. I guess it would be better to term it the lack of actual issues the Opposition has raised with our budget.
I would like to start out by correcting some erroneous information that was provided by Members opposite.
The first thing that I would like to talk about is the Old Crow swimming pool the Member for Mount Lorne just finished talking about.
When I was the Minister of Community and Transportation Services from 1992 to some time in 1994, the Member from Old Crow, Johnny Abel, came to me with the chief and some other members of the council from Old Crow and asked if a swimming pool could be constructed in that community.
While Johnny and the chief were in my office, I made a telephone call to the Vancouver Pool and Patio and asked them for information about a pool that would be suitable for a community the size of Old Crow.
Shortly after that I changed portfolios and all of that information was passed on to the current Minister of Community and Transportation Services, as he indicated yesterday.
The other thing that I would like to mention is the fact that I think the Member for Mount Lorne, and certainly the Leader of the Official Opposition, stated that this was not a priority of the community of Old Crow and that they had never heard it mentioned by chief and council.
There is correspondence in the files from chief and council and, in fact, on the Old Crow capital budget of 1994 or 1995, or "wish list" as we sort of call it, it was number two on their list of things that they wanted to achieve. Someone is trying to mislead someone here and it certainly is not this government, because those are the actual facts about the Old Crow pool. The other thing that I would like to point out is that in the past, in about 1985, we built a swimming pool in Pelly Crossing - "we" being the Yukon government under the NDP administration - for somewhere around $500,000.
I have been in that pool numerous times, as has been the Member for Tatchun. I think it is one of the best things that ever happened in that community. I do not know how many lives it has saved, if it has, but I do know there are tens of children who have learned how to swim in the Pelly pool. I think that the Member for Tatchun would probably support those statements.
The other one is Beaver Creek, where we built a pool about six or seven years ago. That community had only 96 people at the time and yet the government opposite felt that a swimming pool was certainly one of the things that should be built in the community. Consequently, monies were provided to build it.
I do not know what the reasons are for not supporting a swimming pool in Old Crow. If it save lives, it seems to me it is a very worthwhile project.
In any community that I have been in the territory, the children use the swimming pool. The children use it faithfully in the summertime. I think that the Opposition should revise its thinking on not supporting a swimming pool for Old Crow.
There has been a lot of talk about deficit, surplus, debt, and so on. We have been berated for spending down our surplus. The Leader of the Official Opposition said yesterday, "In March 1992, there was a $51 million surplus. This is after seven years of surpluses, as recorded in the public accounts. Seven years in a row there were surpluses."
Then, in the same debate he said, "When the NDP was in office, there two budgets that projected a deficit: 1987 and 1992. There was nothing wrong with that."
They have berated us for leaving only a $7.5 million accumulated surplus during our mandate.
They left at the end of their mandate in 1992. They overspent their budget for that year by $64 million and left an accumulated debt for the Government of Yukon and the Yukon people of $13 million.
We will leave a surplus of $7.5 million.
Another issue I think we should touch on is forest policy. The Leader of the Official Opposition said yesterday that the Minister of Renewable Resources said the Department of Economic Development would be leading the way when it came to forest policy development and that the Yukon government would not have a forest policy by the spring of 1996, as promised by the Department of Renewable Resources. Instead, he said it would have a policy for the spring of 1998, and then the Leader of the Official Opposition asked what was happening.
I will tell him what is happening. There is no confusion, other than in the mind of the Leader of the Official Opposition.
Renewable Resources has the lead in developing the principles and objectives for what will become the Yukon's forest policy. It will be done this year. Economic Development, as stated in their business plan, will work with Renewable Resources, DIAND, and our other partners and stakeholders to see the completion of a comprehensive forest policy framework.
This means a complete forest management structure for the Yukon up to and including the necessary legislation and regulations. This comprehensive forest management system clearly cannot be developed in a few months, nor can it be simply taken over from DIAND, because they do not have a comprehensive forest management regime at this time.
Our forest management system, which Economic Development thinks will take until 1998 to complete, will be developed by Renewable Resources, Economic Development, Community and Transportation Services and other departments. It will be built upon the policy, principles and objectives that Renewable Resources is responsible for delivering this year.
There were comments made about the land inventory. When I was elected in 1992, the Government Leader asked me to take on the responsibility for Community and Transportation Services. Within days of taking office, we had people, real estate people, builders, citizens off the street, all kinds of people coming in and complaining bitterly about the lack of residential lots in the City of Whitehorse. My instructions to the department at that time was to get on with it, get some lots and try and maintain a two-year supply of lots. That is difficult - there is no question about that - because with the ups and downs in the Yukon economy, and with people moving in and out and so on, it is very difficult to second-guess what our needs will be two years or three years from now. However, the number of housing starts in the territory is approximately 150 per year. From that, I would assume, if one had a cross-section of lots that averaged somewhere around 150 per year, one should be relatively safe.
Interestingly enough, just an hour ago I received a list of the lots currently available for sale by the Yukon government land disposition section. In Whitehorse, there is a total of 64 mobile home lots and 47 Copper Ridge phase 1 and 77 Copper Ridge phase 2 lots, for a total of 188 lots available, as we speak. That is about what we should have on inventory. That number is about right, as long as we continue to construct more lots in the coming season for following years.
In Watson Lake, we have 17; in Teslin, we have 26; in Ross River, we have five; in Mayo, we have 11; in Haines Junction, we have 51; in Faro, we have six; in Destruction Bay, we have seven. In nearly all of the communities in the territory, we have some sort of an inventory of lots. That is exactly what we wanted to do, and it only makes sense. If the economy is moving ahead and people want to move to the territory, people have to be able to purchase or build a home. I am glad to see that we have some lots that are not selling all that well right now. It means that we have caught up to the demand for a period of time. That is good.
There were some comments made about the development assessment process. I would just like to point out how DAP works and who is the lead, and so on. The development assessment process is being put together by DIAND, under the federal government, the CYFN and the Yukon government. Our Land Claims Secretariat is responsible for the Yukon government's involvement in DAP. The legislation dealing with DAP will be federal government legislation; therefore, the federal government actually takes the lead in this particular process. I have a chart that indicates when things will actually be happening in DAP. In January 1996, information sessions were started, an information paper was circulated, and community information meetings were started in First Nations communities.
In the spring and fall of 1996, there will be consultation on aspects of the draft legislation. There will be discussions about the aspects of legislation not defined under the umbrella final agreement and based on draft legislation, if and when available. The fall and winter of 1997 will see the final consultation.
The federal government intends to introduce the legislation in February 1997. We have been pushing for this, but with all of the things taking place the CYFN has not been able to concentrate on the development assessment process until very recently. I believe it was in the month of December when they dedicated people to the process. We are now sitting down and discussing with them the start of the consultations and the process for putting the development assessment process into legislation.
I cannot recall which Member it was who discussed the exploration and development expenditures and made the comment that there were no figures for 1991, stating that they thought the expenditures may have been higher then. I have the figures for the expenditures from 1991 to 1995, both in exploration and development.
Prior to 1994, both exploration and development were lumped together into one figure. In 1991, it was a total of $16 million. In 1992, that dropped to $10 million. In 1993, the figure reached $20 million. In 1994, there was $25.6 million in exploration and $14 million in development. In 1995, it went to $40 million in exploration and $56 million in development expenditures. I should point out that a lot of that $56 million in development expenditures was because of the Faro mine reopening, which did account for a fair number of those dollars. In 1996, the forecast is approximately $45 million for exploration and $20 million for development expenditures. So, there has been a steady and large increase in both exploration and development expenditures from 1991.
Just to carry on about where we are today, I would like to just talk a little bit about the Yukon short-term economic outlook for 1996. This pamphlet of indicators, which was tabled in the House on Thursday, was put together by the economic development, mines and small business branch and most of the indicators are taken from Statistics Canada. The gross domestic product, which is the total value of goods and services produced in a province, or in this case the Yukon, for 1995, was $959 million, as compared to $913 million for 1994. The labour force went up from 14,858 to 15,100. Employment went up from 13,167 to 13,658. The employed went down somewhat, because we had a large increase in the labour force, and the actual unemployed went down from 1,683 to 1,433. The Yukon labour force and employment hit the highest levels ever measured by the labour force survey in August 1995.
Tourism is up from 254,700 to 266,000 - the highest number of tourists who have ever, ever come into the Yukon Territory. In 1996, we are expecting 272,000 tourists.
This is good news. This is really good news for the economy of the Yukon. There are jobs here. People are moving in. There is no question about it. When there is a low unemployment rate and jobs are available, people will move into the territory. That is happening to us. Our population has gone up. In 1995 it was 31,778 and there are forecasts for 1996 of 32,500. The population is going up. The number of jobs is increasing. This is good news - very good news for the territory.
I just wanted to speak a little bit about my department, but I am going to go back first to make one more comment on the whole deficit-surplus situation. We are leaving a $7.5 million surplus.
We intend and hope and think we will win the next election. We could have quite easily chosen, as the Members opposite did, to spend the bank account right down to nothing. We could leave a $13 million deficit or overall debt, as those people did. We could do that.
If we thought we were going to lose the election, I think we could do that. I know I would not support it, even if I thought we were going to lose the election, because I do not think that is the type of action to take. If you love the territory, as I do, you do not want to leave it in that kind of situation. Those people did. We also intend - and we are going to try hard - to win the next election.
There will be, with federal cuts, some hard decisions to make. We have already made some hard decisions and we will continue to make them, but in the meantime we are leaving, for our next mandate, a $7.5 million surplus to start out the four years.
In the Department of Renewable Resources, the public involvement in the management of renewable resources has taken a leap forward in the establishment of four local renewable resource councils. In 1995, members were appointed to the Alsek Council in the Haines Junction area, and to the Mayo district, Teslin and Vuntut Gwitchin Councils. Budgets were provided for their work.
In 1996, we will begin to see formal recommendations coming from these councils on a wide range of renewable resource management issues, including fish and wildlife regulations, forestry and trapping. The strength of these councils lies in the fact that they bring First Nations people and other Yukoners together in a single system of wildlife management.
Public involvement in two major wildlife recovery projects will continue through the efforts of the Southern Lakes Caribou Recovery Steering Committee and the Aishihik-Kluane Caribou Recovery Steering Committee. The contributions of these local working groups, which also include Yukoners of both cultures, are beginning to show dramatic examples of success. For instance, the Ibex herd, which is part of the southern lakes caribou group, tripled in size between 1992 and 1995. Renewable Resources staff call this an urban caribou herd, because its range is so close to the City of Whitehorse. As the Ibex herd continues to grow, Whitehorse residents will discover caribou viewing opportunities that have not existed in this area for over 50 years.
The staff are now working cooperatively with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to develop a management plan for the fishing branch ecological reserve established through the Vuntut Gwitchin final agreement. The unique fish and wildlife resources of this special area will be managed and protected for the benefit of all our children. The management plan will be completed in 1997. One of the strengths of this project is that it is proceeding ahead of any damage to ecological processes in this sensitive area. Too often in the past we have seen expensive and difficult attempts to fix these things after the damage has already been done.
In 1996, the fisheries staff will be completing their work with the Government of British Columbia to promote new trans-boundary fishing regulations for Teslin, Atlin, Tagish and Bennett Lakes. Basically, these regulations will allow people who hold a Yukon or British Columbia fishing licence to fish the trans-boundary waters between Yukon and British Columbia without the fear of going across the border and getting pinched by a conservation officer on the other side of the border. That is sort of a warm, fuzzy thing for the Member for Riverside.
The development of the made-in-Yukon forestry management regime will be entering its third phase in 1996. I think I talked about that a little while ago in my response to the budget speech, so I will not go over it again.
The environmental protection and assessment branch has established a good record of working with Yukon businesses and stakeholders to develop commonsense regulations under the Environment Act in response to issues of concern to both industry and the public. The branch will continue this work through 1996-97.
The funding for the wildlife viewing program will be moved from capital to operation and maintenance in 1996-97. This transfer confirms the conservation value and economic benefits of the program. Wildlife viewing events at the Swan Haven site have become increasingly popular and attendance has doubled each year for the past three years. I think there was something in the neighbourhood of 5,000 visitors this year.
In the parks and outdoor recreation branch, we will continue to improve interpretive exhibits and hiking trail signs at selected sites in the Whitehorse and Haines Junction area. This work will be carried out in cooperation with local First Nations and recreational groups to the benefit of residents and visitors alike.
The sale of advertising space in the Yukon fishing and hunting regulation booklet will continue through 1996-97. The project saves taxpayers money, creates local employment and provides new marketing opportunities for local business. The note here is that it is not a big deal, but it is a good deal. This particular year, since we have started selling advertising space in the fishing and hunting regulation booklet, we have made enough money to actually pay for the publication of the booklet; it is something like $7,000. The businesses really like it because it targets the kind of people they want to reach.
Under the Department of Economic Development, the department business plan has been circulated. This is a plan for the department, not the whole government. It makes a commitment to work with partners in the public and private sectors. The plan will be reviewed, revised and updated annually, and will continue with a three-year focus.
The energy plan that one of the Members was holding up yesterday was released on November 16. It is a three-year strategic plan for government activity in the energy sector and gives direction to the departments and Crown corporations with energy-related responsibilities. The plan reflects our interest in building toward energy self-sufficiency in the Yukon and ensuring that the future energy requirements of both industry and communities are met. The energy plan will be reviewed and updated on an annual basis.
The department released its mineral resource action plan. It is a three-year implementation plan, which is a component of the overall department business plan. It was released on December 15. The action plan provides a clear description of how the government's existing policies will be implemented and will be updated on an annual basis.
Under mining exploration and development, the investment has risen dramatically since 1992. There is a potential for several more mining operations in the next two to three years. The year 1996 is Mount Nansen, Loki Gold, Minto; 1997 is the year for Kudz Ze Kayah - which will interest you, Mr. Speaker - Dublin Gulch, and possibly Carmacks Copper.
The Yukon government strongly supports the development of the Yukon's coal resource potential and is monitoring its development, which might lead to coal mining or to the construction of a coal-fired power generation plant in the Yukon. Considerable interest has already been expressed in the Division Mountain coal deposit by American, Canadian and overseas companies.
Our geoscience office has made significant new discoveries regarding Yukon geology, which have led to major exploration investment; for example, the Olympic dam type potential in the Wernecke Mountains. The projects funded under the mineral development agreement include the Minex CD ROM. I do not know if Members have had an opportunity to see that, but we have all of the information compiled on the various properties in the Yukon on CD ROM. It was a joint project headed by the Chamber of Mines, with assistance from the federal government and our geoscience office. The amount of information on this disc is fascinating and somewhat overwhelming. I have gone very quickly over it, but it was really popular down at the Cordilleran Roundup. The Chamber of Mines had it set up there, and I went to look at it once, but I could not get near the table to watch. People from all over were interested in it. I think that the Chamber of Mines is selling the discs for something like $85. I believe that you need a 586 computer with CD ROM capabilities. It is certainly a tool for potential mining companies and prospectors in the Yukon.
We continue to market the Yukon at the Cordilleran Roundup. I believe this year there were Yukon Hosts - people who have a little badge. I think you have been one at one time, Mr. Speaker. People from the Yukon act as hosts at Yukon night at the Roundup. I believe they passed out something like 180 Yukon Host badges. I could not believe the number of people from the Yukon who were at the event. On Yukon night there were estimates of over 2,000 people attending the evening events. There were workshops going on in several rooms. I went to a few of them and found them interesting. A lot of the topics, not being a geologist, I did not understand. There is certainly interest in the Yukon. The two largest areas of interest at the Roundup were the Yukon and Newfoundland.
Speaker: Order please. The Member has three minutes to conclude his remarks.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would just like to touch briefly on the centennial events program and the centennial anniversaries program. I expect that the Opposition will be saying, "When are we going to see something built?" That would probably be a fair question. Thirteen communities have identified projects and have gone through the phase 1 approval process. One project has received phase 2 approval, which means that the community should be ready to start building at any time.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
I believe that project is in Carmacks. The communities are Carmacks, Beaver Creek and Carcross and they are all very much at the same phase. I believe the one that has actually received phase 2 approval - and I could be wrong about that - is Carmacks.
The project in Carmacks is a boardwalk and interpretive signs along the river.
During debate of the actual budgets, I will be providing information on each project.
The centennial events program provides financial assistance to communities to encourage both community and Yukon-wide events to commemorate the anniversaries. Fourteen projects have been reviewed under this program; 10 have been approved and four have been deferred.
I will just talk a little about oil and gas. A lot of people do not realize that the Yukon does have an oil and gas industry. The Yukon government is actively completing the development of its oil and gas regime in anticipation of a spring 1996 transfer date, when the federal legislation will go into effect and the oil and gas regime will be totally ours.
I notice that the Speaker is looking at me in a strange way, which probably means that my time is up. I do once more want to say that I fully support this budget and we will be around to spend it.
Mr. Cable: If one is to determine whether one should have confidence in an individual's ability to perform, one usually checks to see whether the actions of that individual are congruent with that individual's talk, and I think the same applies to determining whether one should have confidence in a government. One has to see whether the actions are congruent with the government's talk.
I would like to spend the greater part of the time allotted to me looking at this government's talk, and I would like to go over some quotes from various speeches from the throne that I have reviewed.
I would like to start out by speaking first to financial matters; then I will deal with the land claims and then some quotes on self-sufficiency.
Under financial matters, one starts off by finding the Government Leader, at page 1 of the 1993-94 budget address, saying, "Due to our controlled spending, improved government management and the streamlining of government operations over the past four and a half months, we are presenting here today a balanced budget. In view of the $58 million deficit for the fiscal year 1992-93, this is a remarkable achievement.
"I want it noted for the record that we have not yet met our objectives in relation to our financing.
"The government should have a monthly operating reserve of $35 million in order to meet our cash requirements, and for any emergencies."
If one turns to page 3, under the title "Yukon at Financial Crossroads", the Government Leader goes on to say, "Every other government in Canada has taken the downward path, little realizing that the gentle slope soon leads to a steep decline. This path leads to debt, dependency and deficit financing. Once down this path, it is extremely difficult to turn around."
Then we have some more entries. The woman who works for the Liberal caucus has these things marked, "more slippery slope."
At page 6, the Government Leader goes on to say, "When we took office, the Yukon was perched on the very edge of the slippery slope of deficit financing, but we caught the situation just in time." A little later, he says, "The Government of Yukon, through this budget", which is the 1993-94 budget, "intends to keep to the high ground and take the less-travelled path leading to a balanced budget and economic self-sufficiency. We know this path will not be easy; there is always a price to pay but, as I have already pointed out, the road to deficit financing, as federal and provincial governments have learned, is a much rockier one to travel."
On page 15, it states, "I know Yukoners do not want to see us sink in the quagmire of debt that is plaguing virtually all other jurisdictions in Canada." That, if I remember correctly, was around Christmas, 1992; I believe that was when the budget was brought in.
In the 1994-95 budget address, we have the Government Leader patting himself on the back again on page 1. He was talking about the expenditure control: "Mr. Speaker, we are very proud of this achievement. We have clearly reversed the trend in government toward ever-increasing operations and maintenance expenditures. In a previous budget address, I noted that the path leading to balanced budgets and economic self-sufficiency would not be an easy one to follow, and that there will be a price to pay. We believe, however, that the course we have chosen is the right one, because the other, more travelled path leads to debt, dependency and deficit financing which, in the final analysis, would have cost Yukoners far more in terms of both employment and government service than the road we have chosen." It goes on and on, and I do not intend to take every excerpt. I will not get into the phone book, for the benefit of the Member for Faro. It is painful.
Here is what the Government Leader has to say on page 5: "Mr. Speaker, in some of the meetings we have recently completed in our community tour, several Yukoners, in view of our financial situation being better than most provinces, questioned why it was so necessary for the Yukon to control its operation and maintenance expenditures. In a few instances, it was suggested that we wanted to reduce government expenditures because of some perverse, philosophical reason rather than out of necessity. I would like to explain the reasons for our actions. Three fundamental facts face any government in the Yukon. First, we have a very small population - only some 32,000 people. Second, we encompass a very large land mass - an area almost the size of France. Third, for the most part, our government must carry on the full range of responsibilities of a province." On and on it goes.
On page 21 -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: The Minister of Health and Social Services said something, but I did not hear it. Could he repeat it?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Good speech so far.
Mr. Cable: Thank you. I see the Minister is back in action. That is good to see. He has been rather quiet for the last couple of days.
The Government Leader says at page 21, "Mr. Speaker, I predict the territory is about to enter a period of prosperity" - this is back on April 21, 1994 - "provided that we in government are able to keep our financial house in order and prepare ourselves for the economic opportunities that lie ahead. During this same period of time the transfer payments from Canada to Yukon can be expected to be constrained as the Government of Canada is forced to deal with the country's excessive national debt." Red flags on the file.
Then, in the budget address of 1995-966, we have the Government Leader saying at page 239, "We take particular pride in presenting our third balanced budget to this House." Here is the good part: "We intend to carry on this tradition of responsible fiscal management." I am assuming he means balanced budgets. He goes on to say, "Of the 16 government departments or agencies, nine of them have had no increase or a reduction in their operation and maintenance expenditures from the previous year, and four of them have only a one-percent increase. Overall, there has been virtually no increase in operation and maintenance expenditures." The litany goes on and on with the same sort of material that I am sure is in our present budget speech.
That is what the Government Leader had to say about what he was doing and what he intended to do in the future, in the financial area.
Let us look at what this government and this Government Leader have to say about land claims.
In the budget speech of 1993-94, at page 16, he said, "The Executive Council Office will continue to place a strong emphasis on resources for land claims, with $1.3 million budgeted this year. This reflects the high priority the government accords the settlement of the outstanding claims of Yukon's aboriginal people." At page 20, he stated, "that the Government of Yukon has stated in its four-year plan that the settlement of Yukon Indian land claims was a top priority of this government and with the passage of this legislation this government has honoured this commitment.
"We look forward to seeing the Yukon Indian land claims settlement legislation receive speedy passage in the House of Commons, so that the Yukon First Nations and non-native Yukoners can work together as equal participants in managing Yukon's future." This was March 25, 1993, by the way. It was not December.
"We are anxious to get on with the process of implementation. We know that Yukon First Nations, after 20 years of waiting, are anxious to take control of their own lives, their own lands and their own future." We all agree on that, I am sure. The only question being this: why has it not happened?
What did he have to say in 1994-95? Let us turn to page 16 and find out. Under the heading, land claims, he stated,
"The settlement and implementation of Yukon Indian land claims is one of the major commitments in our four-year plan" - we had heard that before; that was the previous year - "and a top priority of this government. Members will recall that historic day, March 17, 1993, when this House passed two bills giving effect to the land claims umbrella final agreement and the self-government agreement."
He goes on, over to page 17, and states, "The Yukon government will work to build regular contact with AYC municipalities and other groups as negotiations continue in communities."
Then if we go to the 1995-96 budget speech, and that part relating to land claims, which is found at page 21, the Government Leader says, "The news that the Yukon Indian land claim settlement legislation can now be implemented is something we have all been waiting for." This is from December 15, 1994.
He goes on to say, a few paragraphs later, "It is only through the ownership and control of Yukon land and resources that Yukon First Nations and the Yukon government will be able to achieve self-sufficiency and a better life for all Yukoners."
What has he got to say in the present budget on land claims?
If you look at page 31, it states, "The settlement of Yukon First Nation land claims in the transfer of our land and resources to Yukon control are the keys to achieving self-determination for all Yukoners. We will continue to build upon and strengthen our implementation work with those First Nations who have completed agreements."
What does he have to say on self-sufficiency - this chain that he has been rattling over the last several years, and this document that was produced - I believe it was called, Toward Self-sufficiency in the 21st Century - invoked a fair amount of cat calls from those Members of the Opposition who are less restrained than I am?
Let us look at the budget address from 1993-94, on page 22. This is what the government has to say about self-sufficiency. It is under the heading "Toward self-sufficiency and a better quality of life.", "When you start off on a journey, you normally look at a road map to see where you want to go and what road you have to take to get there. The 1993-94 capital and operation and maintenance budget that I have tabled here today will set us on the right road. It will lay the groundwork to enable the Yukon to progress into the 21st century. The steps that we are taking will set our future course. This budget represents the beginning of our journey toward self-sufficiency."
What does he have to say in the 1994-95 address? On page 2, he says, "Utilizing our previous budget, I showed Yukoners where our total revenues came from. Yukoners were somewhat surprised to learn that the Yukon government only raised 13 cents in taxation revenues for every dollar it receives, and that the bulk of our money - about 80 cents of every dollar - comes from the federal government by way of the formula financing grant, through established programs financing or other federal transfers. This information is important because it gives Yukoners a better understanding of how cutbacks at the federal level could impact on Yukon government revenues." That, again, is April 21, 1994.
What results have we got? He spoke in the 1994-95 budget speech on page 1 by saying, "We have reversed the trend toward ever-increasing operations and maintenance expenditures."
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: Let us look at the numbers, as the Member for Faro has suggested. I will take him up on that. Let us look at the page xvi in the budget address in 1996-97.
During the last year of the previous regime, 1992-93, the operation and maintenance was $314,000,752. It climbed in 1994-95 to $346 million. This year, it is again $346 million. Something we have to remember is that last year, when the operation and maintenance was $343 million, the total budget was $488 million. Operation and maintenance expenditures this year are projected to be $346 million out of a total of $471 million.
We are back on the slippery slope again.
Can we say that if there is a reversal - putting a very charitable interpretation on the facts - it would be due to good management, or simply because of pressure from the senior government feeling its own problems?
Let us look at self-sufficiency. I read that quote from the 1994-95 budget, where 80 cents of every dollar came from the federal government. I was playing around with some of the actuals and some of the projected expenses. In the 1994-95 actuals, which is found at page iv of the budget address, the established program financing is $12.1 million, with a transfer payment of $286.7 million, and federal recoveries of $82.9 million, for a total of $381.7 million.
The total income for that year - the actual for 1994-95 - is $477.2 million. The percentage coming from Ottawa was almost exactly 80 percent.
If we look at the projected numbers for this upcoming fiscal year of 1996-97, we see the Canada health and social transfer at $17.6 million, a transfer payment of $267.3 million, federal recoveries of $66.3 million, for a grand total of $351.2 million. The total income - if this budget turns out to be anywhere near accurate - will be $449.5 million. The percentage coming from Ottawa is 78.1 percent.
So, over those two years we have niggled down the percentage coming from Ottawa to 78.1 percent. This is a road to self-sufficiency and I am sure, as one would appreciate, most of that, if not all of that, is due to the financial pressure coming out of Ottawa, not due to the management of this government.
Let us look at the talk on financial management in the financial matters. We have in the 1993-94 budget speech talk about a monthly operating reserve of plus or minus $35 million and the need for that for operating capital, or working capital. At the end of this upcoming fiscal year, 1996-97, we will be down to $7 million. Where do the government's planning and the government's intentions lie with respect to that marked reduction in the working capital?
Then we have had the statement, year after year, the evils of deficits. It was sort of a mixture of cholera and the bubonic plague and the ebola virus, all rolled into one: deficits are bad. Yet here we have a deficit budget. After several years of preparation and talk about hard times a-coming, we have this carefully husbanded and accumulated reserve almost cleaned out in one fell swoop. Does that give one confidence?
On the land claims, we have had this glowing picture, year after year, of the value of settlement of land claims. Everybody agrees with that. We have had the federal government increasing the negotiating establishment by the addition of another negotiator. What has the local government done? It has reduced the budget in that particular area.
We are on a timetable that appears more and more elusive. If, in fact, the land claims are, as I think everyone on this side and perhaps everyone on the other side agrees, of major importance - the major importance - to both the social and economic development of this territory, do we have the confidence that this government has the horsepower or the desire to carry through on the conclusion of the negotiations and the implementation of the claims and the claim agreements?
Let us just recapitulate what we have done in the last three or four years. This government has talked about controlling O&M expenditures, and sort of has. The results, however, are a long way from what we expected from the rhetoric. We have the financial reserves being drained to $7 million - a contradiction of their own goals. We have this talk about being weaned from the Ottawa handouts, yet still approximately 80 percent of every dollar comes from Ottawa. The air was full of the evils of deficit over the last three years, yet five percent of the revenue sourcing for this year's expenditures is drawn from the surplus.
On land claims, there is an acknowledgment of their crucial importance to the territory, yet the land claims budget has been reduced.
If confidence is to be given, surely it cannot be given on the basis of confidence in the ability of the government to deliver on its promises or on the congruency of its rhetoric with its actions.
Do the government's actions stir us on to confidence? The Member for Faro says, "Absolutely", but I would have to take issue with him; I will have to send this Hansard to Faro.
We have the public sector restraint legislation, where the reasons articulated were surely not the real reasons for the initiative. I think everyone knows that. If the Government Leader and his followers were of the opinion that the public service payroll was too rich, surely that is what we should have been discussing in this House.
There is Kaushee's Place and grade reorganization, where we have the government bouncing off walls on both of these initiatives. Surely, the people of the Yukon are entitled to a steadier hand at the tiller.
Where are we going in the future? What is our direction? We have had three years of self-sufficiency talk and at least two years of talk about critical federal debt problems and where we are going? There is no real hint in this budget address or in the budget document as to what will happen after April 1, 1997. There is nothing in the budget speech to give us any direction, confidence or comfort. Do the people of the Yukon have the confidence that this government can take us into the future?
It is interesting to note that the people spoke at the by-elections and the total percentage of the Yukon Party's vote dropped significantly, so it is fair to assume that a large majority of Yukoners do not have confidence in this government's ability to manage the last half of the 1990s, and I have heard nothing so far that would allow me to disagree with the voters.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: The Member for wherever he is from - Riverdale North -
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Would the Members please allow the Member to continue his speech.
Mr. Cable: Oh, we are being cute are we. If the Member opposite feels that a drop from maybe 40 percent down to 24 percent - in Whitehorse West - is a vote of confidence then I think he is setting himself up for a fall, but I would not want to argue with the Minister of Justice.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: In a two-way fight, I would have to say that the government did fairly well. The Member who was brought in is quite a good Member, but one has to remember that that is not a statement of the government's prowess. It is much more of a comment on the ability of the Member.
I have to finalize by saying that I have heard nothing that would instill confidence in me to vote for this budget, and I am quite sure that in the future weeks there will be nothing added to my confidence inventory that would permit me to in fact support the budget.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yukoners and members of the media - wherever you are - the verdict on this budget is in. Thirteen Members have spoken and the verdict is that nothing is fundamentally wrong with the budget, but the politicians cannot get along and do not like one another.
The fact is that the budget is a good one. It contains no tax increases, no freezes and no layoffs. The economy is not spiraling downward. The biggest complaint from the Opposition is that this budget gives the government employees the tools to do their jobs - the jobs that we, as legislators, expect them to do and that members of the public expect from them.
This government has well over 3,000 employees, with a payroll in excess of $140 million a year. The Members for Faro and Whitehorse West echoed their leader in denouncing spending on furniture, computers and vehicles. I fundamentally disagree with their position.
The Leader of the Official Opposition was also sarcastic about Tourism employees getting new office space. Do those Members also begrudge the money that we will spend on improving the working conditions for our employees? Many of our employees work in less than ideal conditions. We allocated about $80,000 to identify problems in this building alone. We have received the results of two reports: one from Mr. Van Hiep and one from Mr. Van Netton. Although nothing poisonous, dangerous or cancer-causing was found, the ventilation system needs improvement. I expect that it will cost several hundred thousand dollars or perhaps even half a million. Would the Leader of the Official Opposition deny the people of this building improved ventilation?
I attended a meeting and saw for myself the ventilation problems that Health and Social Services employees were experiencing in the Swiftwater building. My department is working with the landlord to try and solve these problems.
There is a question about the suitability of space at 10 Burns Road for Renewable Resources employees. My department has been talking to the landlord about standards that are required before a renewal of that lease would be considered. Would the Leader of the Official Opposition deny these employees suitable working conditions?
The Member for Whitehorse West, at the end of his maiden speech, said that people are our greatest resource. I agree, and they must be treated that way. We have over 3,000 employees who depend on us, and government spending is responsible for thousands of other jobs that are created in the Yukon.
The weekly wage of the public sector is the highest in the Yukon and Yukon wages are probably the highest in Canada.
Living conditions in the Yukon are not that harsh, especially in Whitehorse. Prices in Whitehorse are no higher than in many places in the South. I have shopped at the Safeway in Vancouver and paid more there for food than in Whitehorse. The Canadian Tire prices are the same here as they are in Prince George, although higher than some stores in Vancouver. The national chains such as Tim Horton's sell their Timbits for the same price here as outside of the territory. I believe that even the local Subway outlet meets nationally advertised prices.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member for Faro is saying that the prices are higher. Perhaps on a regular basis they are, but I know that the nationally advertised prices and coupons are accepted there, so we do get our break here in Whitehorse.
We have services in Whitehorse that would be the envy of any other community in Canada with a population of 22,000.
We have wonderful school facilities, skiing and curling. We have a swimming pool, downhill skiing and snowmobiling.
We are only a two-hour flight from Vancouver, non-stop.
My constituents recognize the benefits of living in the Yukon. They are not complainers and whiners. I think that is the role that the Members of the Official Opposition have taken for themselves. My constituents and government employees have a collective agreement that is very generous in every way. It included a 19-percent raise, plus merit and experience increases - all this while other governments, especially the federal government that supplies us with most of our money, were freezing wages, and businesses all over the country were downsizing or right-sizing, cutting back.
The expenditure trend of the previous NDP government could not continue. We have seen the results of what happens when action is not taken. The Northwest Territories are going to find themselves between $150 million and $200 million in debt. When the Yukon Teachers Association agreement and the Public Service Alliance of Canada agreements expired, this government extended them, in tact, for three years with all the rights and benefits that had been negotiated. Merit increases are still available to our employees. Experience increments are still available to teachers who have not reached their maximum. Even the Yukon bonus remains, which was a holdover from when we considered ourselves to be living in an isolated post and deserving of a flight out each year.
The Member for Faro reacted when I characterized him as a whiner and complainer. I would invite him to go back and look over the speech he made just yesterday. The budget was ugly because it did not give enough to Faro. That is nonsense. It is ridiculous. Successive Yukon governments, including the previous NDP government, fought for the very existence of Faro. There had been accommodations with respect to power rates, roads, permits and rent controls, all to make Faro a viable operation.
It makes a lot more sense to me to help people help themselves rather than simply give handouts. The Member for Mayo-Tatchun addressed this issue. He criticized the federal government's gun control legislation. That is not the legislation or the position of this government. What he wanted for his people was not handouts, but the right to hunt, fish, and buy a new rifle without so much red tape that it would take years, and to be able to sell furs. He was not asking for handouts.
My philosophy is that we should all be working for the common good and the good of our community, not working against one another. I know that the Liberal philosophy is the "I, me, my" philosophy that they look after the individual first and the rest will take care of itself. The NDP philosophy is, of course, that the government should control the production and distribution of goods and services in the country. That is the fundamental difference.
I hope that Yukoners are aware of that, because we often stand up in this House and sound as if we want the same things. It just is not so. What this government has been doing is not perfect, but it is a heck of a lot better than the other options.
I do not think that our agenda can be accused of being that of big business. I object to the big business agenda as much as I object to the big union agenda. I do not like to see banks each making $1 billion a year, or General Motors making almost $2 billion profit in a year while people are being laid off.
That is not the way this government is running the corporation, which is the Yukon government. We are not hoarding money for a select few. We are spending the money we receive, which we raise in revenue and receive from the federal government.
We have a lot of money to spend. When the Members opposite, and even Members on this side, talk about the financial crisis and financial hard times, I do not think they realize what hard times really are.
I have told my department - Government Services - that I do not want to hear the excuse that they cannot do something that is right and proper and makes sense, to serve the public, to operate more efficiently, because we do not have any money. I have told them to come to me; there is money; it is a matter of priorities, and if the project is worthwhile, I will argue for it and the money will be available.
My constituency is diverse. It takes in the oldest and newest areas of Porter Creek. My constituency is made up of hard-working Yukoners who do not ask for much. They want their MLA to look after many small issues. They are not greedy or demanding; they just want honesty and accountability. They want to be represented by someone who cares and takes their interests to heart.
They want a government that is competent and will make decisions so they can get on with their lives and spend time with their families. I think they and other Yukoners are willing to take far more financial responsibility for the problems of this country as a whole than any of the Members opposite. They are willing to pay the price and contribute to the health of the country.
It is sad to hear the debate in this House, because it confirms the fears of Yukoners that there is more self-interest and partisan politics going on than there is worrying and working together for Yukoners.
The partisan politics have been terrible. The accusations that the people of Old Crow could be bought for the price of a school bus for their children or that the new Member for Old Crow was elected because he promised a swimming pool to the people of Old Crow is wrong. Who do the Members who make these statements think the people of Old Crow are? What an insult.
The thing that we do not do is give any credit whatsoever. The people of Old Crow, according to the Opposition, voted for Esau Schafer or the Yukon Party because they were promised a swimming pool.
I did not hear one Member stand up, until the Member for Riverside, who spoke before me, to say that maybe the reason that Esau Schafer won the election in Old Crow is because he was a good person, would be a good Member and the people of Old Crow wanted him to speak for them and represent them. None of the Members of the Opposition had the class to say that or accept that. It is no wonder that we are held in such disrepute.
Most of the talk has been about what this government "has given me for my riding - I did not get enough - I took pains to go through and calculate the dollars that were allocated to each riding."
We deserve the disdain. I think that the people in Porter Creek would be insulted if they thought it was partisan politics that provided them with a second public high school in their riding. They are not getting it for crass political reasons; they are getting it because they deserve it and because that is what is right and that is what should be done.
On May 11 of last year, there was a meeting at the Jack Hulland School. There were dozens of - perhaps almost 100 - people there and the parents stood one after the other and gave their position about the benefits of grade reorganization to a two-tiered system and the benefits of a second public high school in the community of Porter Creek.
I was there, the Government Leader was there, as were a number of would-be politicians, including the Leader of the Liberal Party.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member for Mount Lorne had something to say. I did not hear her but I do not believe she was at that meeting.
The parents made a good case. They talked about competitiveness in sports, and academics, and the value of having their children stay in their community. That is why they will be getting a second high school in Porter Creek, not because the Member for Porter Creek South and the Government Leader played crass partisan politics and got all this money for their riding as opposed to other ridings in the territory.
If we as politicians want the respect of Yukoners, we are going to have to clean up our act and perform in a far more satisfactory manner with a lot less personal animosity and fewer personal attacks. This budget spends - injects - $472 million into the Yukon economy, which is a tremendous amount. When the day is done, there will still be an accumulated surplus, and I am proud to be standing here speaking to a budget that, although it has an annual deficit, leaves the Yukon in the enviable position of being the only jurisdiction in Canada without an accumulated debt.
Ms. Commodore: I rarely get the opportunity to be almost last in a line of speakers with regard to the budget. This, as Members know, will be my last speech with regard to any budget, and I take great pride in standing here and speaking. I have done it for many years and have enjoyed being a part of this Legislature. It has been a long learning experience, both good and bad.
I will not deal very much with individual items in the budget, as my colleagues have said almost everything that I would like to have said. There is no point in repeating some of those items. However, there are some issues about which I would like to speak.
It always amazes me when individuals in government stand up and talk about what a nasty place this is and the kinds of things we have to put up with. I remember sitting on the other side of the House, and hearing exactly the same kind of rhetoric that is going on right now. After all these years, the Member for Porter Creek South wants things to change. I have heard that from other Members on that side of the House. Things change when one is in government. One would like to be blessed by everyone. One would like to be given a pat on the back. It is obvious that some of these Ministers have given themselves one today.
The budget that was introduced last week brought a lot of controversy from a lot of different people. They will be talking about it for a long time to come. I would like to briefly read the views of an ordinary person on the subject of the budget. He says, "The really good news on last Thursday's territorial budget is that the only government to raise personal taxes in the Yukon in the last 15 years has decided to protect us from itself. Seriously, I think the Taxpayer Protection Act is a grandstand play being made by a government that would like to adjust its image. The Yukon Party and its affiliate camp followers would like us to forget that they were wrong about the degree of the actual financial crisis when they took office."
They thought they were completely broke and immediately instituted the sort of tax hikes their leader had once called obscene in order to deal with the problem. The tax hikes, as MLA Bea Firth has often noted, put them into a very favourable fiscal position for the next year. Before we even look at that, however, we should stop and remember that, when final spending for the last of the year of the NDP mandate trickled in, after all the committed but unspent funds were deleted from the expenses, the territory turned out to have a very healthy surplus, which was considerably higher than the one that has been predicted for this year. The difference in the estimates was around $13 million, if memory serves.
The next year is one that will long be remembered by all government employees. It comes to mind every time they get their paycheques. Still thinking that it was broke, the Yukon Party single-mindedly, and with very little in the way of serious consultation, rolled back wages and froze negotiating rights for three years." This is one individual's comments on the budget.
The other one on which I want to comment is the Liberal independent, who wants to run in Mount Lorne. He, of course, chastised the government for spending most of its surplus and not including in the budget what the government will have to pay to Taga Ku. That, in itself, will be something for which the people on the other side will be hiding their faces for a number of years.
I would like to make a couple of comments in regard to things that were said. I listened to the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services, who has been fighting a battle to lower rates for poor people and do everything he can to make that come true. He also goes on to talk about the many things he says are improving in his department.
I saw him reaching over and trying to pat himself on the back, and I think he almost made it. One of the things I have been hearing often in the last little while is the mess he made of the open and secure facility. His officials decided they should change the way young offenders are incarcerated. In his move to save money, they closed 501 Taylor and opened foster model homes, or whatever they are called.
There have been a lot of problems with regard to that. We hear about it all the time from people who have to deal with these young offenders in the courts. The problem we are hearing, and about which his department has been chastised in the courts, is that the model homes are not adequate for open custody sentencing, because they do not serve the need. They do not offer the same kind of services and resources that were available at 501 Taylor.
The Minister, of course, is saving money, but what is happening now? In the move to rehabilitate these youths, instead of sentencing them to open custody, they are being forced to sentence them to secure custody because the big improvement that the Minister was talking about in these model homes is not working. There are days that some of these young offenders do not have supervision because the people who are supposed to be looking after them have to go to work and they are left on their own.
I think there was something in the paper a while ago where one young 14-year-old person was outside having a cigarette, took off and stole a car, or something like that.
I think the Minister has to look very carefully at the situation where he has completely eliminated a good program for kids in open custody because what he has in place now is not working. When he stands up again and talks about his department, he should take that into consideration. I hope some of his officials are listening, because I am sure that they are well aware of the situation. Certainly, all of the individuals who work with those young people know that open custody is not working.
At one point in time, there were over 20 children in the secure facility, and it was overcrowded. It was built at one time to hold 12 children. I think the allowable number of children has been raised to 20, and I do not know how.
There was a move over the last little while to cut cultural programs because one of the officials who did not believe in open custody also did not believe in cultural programs and proceeded right away to get rid of a lot of those programs.
There is a move now, mentioned in some of their plans, to look at wilderness camps, when, in the past, they went out of their way to completely ignore wilderness camps that were set up by a lot of First Nations people who would have offered them some kind of cultural activities, to learn a little bit more about who they are and what they can do.
The Minister also talked about all the great things that he has done - and what we did not do - in part of his riding in Ross River, and about how the Ross River Dena will never forgive or forget what we did to them. We have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people from that area. That is not the message that we are getting. We are getting a totally different message. At some point in this session, I will talk about that.
The last speaker talked about our lack of response to our new MLAs in the House. I actually did send a personal message over to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin welcoming him to the Legislature. I do that again in person. I think that he has a very hard job ahead of him. I think that he will be speaking on behalf of those individuals who he represents. I would also like to welcome my MLA - the Member for Whitehorse West. I think that we certainly did a good job in that riding. It gave us a lot of confidence that there is a great deal of support for people like the Member for Whitehorse West and for our party.
I listened to the speech by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin and was disappointed in some of the things that he talked about concerning the controversy surrounding the school bus and swimming pool. I was in Old Crow for two weeks. I went there to find a candidate. The first thing I did when I got there was phone the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin. I made a courtesy call to let him know that I was there, because I know the people in Old Crow are probably the most polite people in the whole of the Yukon, and I have the deepest respect for them. I did that when I was at the nomination meeting.
We started hearing things about a swimming pool, and while I was there for two weeks it was really interesting because a lot of people we spoke to were not aware of the swimming pool.
It sounds like it is really easy to get something from his office. Somebody goes in there and says, "I want something." He picks up the phone and says, "I will find out how much it costs." If it is that easy to get something, that is fine, but the controversy in regard to the swimming pool, of course, happened because no one had heard about it. The people on the street had not heard about it and I think the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin was even asked about it and said that he did not know whether or not it was necessary, because in the summertime they have a sort of pool made in the river, or something. I cannot remember his exact words.
No one ever said that the kids in Old Crow should not have a swimming pool. No one on this side of the House said that. If the pool is built and if there is O&M money attached to it, then no one can complain about something like that. It was just that it was talked about right after the nomination meeting. I was still out here. We heard that the Minister responsible for tourism had promised them a pool. Maybe Tourism had, but no one else had heard about it until then. That is what the controversy is about.
In regard to the school bus, the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin - I do not really like to pick on him because somebody might have encouraged him to say some of those things - spoke about the school bus and why they should be entitled to one. We all agree. There is no doubt in my mind. I was up there and it was cold. As a matter of fact, I got stuck there because it was so cold, and I saw how the children were transported back and forth to school - some on skidoos, and sometimes the RCMP would drive them. No one on this side of the House said that the kids in Old Crow should not have a bus, and I want to make that very clear. What the controversy was about was that there was an announcement by the Minister of Education saying that the school bus was going to be delivered there 10 days before the election, so what are people supposed to think.
It sounds like it all played into the hands of the election. The government knew exactly when they were going to call the election. We found out about it long before it was announced and that is why I had reservations about going to Old Crow the day after; it just happened to be announced at an opportune time.
No one on this side of the House or anywhere else in the Yukon is against a school bus for the kids in Old Crow. I want to make that very clear. I am glad they have a school bus. I do not know who got the job driving it, but I saw the ad in the band hall.
I want to say that there have been an awful lot of accusations from that side of the House that people who ask questions in regard to that are not in favour of something, when in fact we are. We are in favour of a swimming pool, if they have the operation and maintenance to run it, as the people in Old Crow were requesting. Of course, the school bus has been needed for a long, long time, but it just took a heck of a long time to get there. School started in September and the bus got there in February, or at the end of December, or something like that. It was scheduled just prior to an election.
I want to make it clear to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that we are glad his riding has a school bus. We are glad that the swimming pool has been offered to the people in his riding. You cannot take that away from those kids.
The Government Leader always surprises me when he talks about land claims. I was the critic for land claims for a year or so, and every time that we come into this House, there is an awful lot of controversy about land claims and about how little has happened since the Yukon Party came into power.
The Member for Riverside read quotes from every single budget introduced since the Yukon Party government came to power. Every single time, the budget makes statements about wanting to accomplish various things and settle land claims.
I want to say that I take offence to comments the Government Leader made the night of the election. What he said at that time was that his win in Old Crow was a message that First Nations people were very happy with him and what he was doing, and that what it clearly points out is that the leadership of some of the First Nations are out of touch with the people in the community. That was very obvious, as I talked with people in Old Crow. I do not know who he was talking to. All I know is what I have seen and what I have heard. It was also reported that "John Ostashek allegedly told a news reporter, following his visits to Old Crow, that after three days of talks and listening to people in the community, they have real concerns about the leader at the band level."
Anyone in the Government Leader's position is way off base when he starts making comments like that. He wonders why he has alienated the First Nations people of the Yukon. Every time I turn around, I see something that is very offensive. I have been in this House for three years and I have heard the kind of things that he has said. I have been insulted by a lot of the things that he has said. After the quote he made, the Chief of Na-Cho Ny'ak Dun defended the leadership because he believed that the Government Leader was talking out of turn, that he was insulting all First Nations people. That is not unusual for him.
In another news release the same thing occurred. The First Nations leaders are disgusted by what the Government Leader has said. They speak about how the government has not made any effort to settle any more land claims.
While I was in Old Crow, I kept hearing about the lack of response from this government in regard to the implementation of land claims.
I have seen it over and over again. I have also seen the kind of actions that have taken place, because we have heard from all kinds of First Nations people who are disgusted with the manner in which the Government Leader is proceeding with land claims.
I hope that maybe he is serious about doing something this time, because when we sit down and talk to people, they tell us about the individual situations that have occurred as a result of their efforts to settle land claims when the Government Leader appeared to not be in favour of certain selections because people have lobbied him.
He talks about making the negotiations more transparent. I do not know what he really means by that, because in Question Period the other day he kept changing his answer. By the time he was finished being questioned and answering, he had completely reversed what he was trying to say. It was very difficult for anybody listening to try to understand what he was trying to tell us. I think that we still do not know. I think that more questions concerning land claims are going to be asked of the Member.
It was really interesting sitting here yesterday and listening to the Member for Tourism talk about Taga Ku. There was a comment made a little while ago by the last speaker - the Member for Porter Creek South.
He spoke about us all working together for the common good. When he said that, the question that came to my mind was this: when the government made the decision to axe Taga Ku, was that for the common good? I think that a whole bunch of those individuals sat down and talked about election promises made to friends - such as, if we win, we are going to axe Taga Ku. There are a lot of people who are going to tell us that that is exactly what happened. If we are talking about the common good, what common good forced them to cancel Taga Ku? It first of all stopped any kind of working relationship that that government had with the First Nations people of the Yukon. The government should be ashamed of itself, and I hope it still is and will be forever.
Yesterday in the House, it was interesting when the Minister of Tourism was talking about Taga Ku. We know his record and his beliefs, and how he feels about judges. I was going through some old Hansards today and noted, from questions he had asked in the House, that he did not have any deep feelings for judges at all, and I still do not think he has any.
He was talking about being surprised, but not because of the decisions that had been made by the courts. He said, "... and I respect those decisions but I also reserve the right as the Government of Yukon to appeal any decision in any court case if we feel there are grounds to appeal, and that is why we are appealing." Then he proceeded to argue his case in this House.
He sat there and pointed fingers, saying what went wrong, and disagreeing with everything that ever happened in the courts. It was a real pleasure to watch this individual. He was scratching and clawing and grasping, and he was trying to get back a little bit of dignity, if he ever had any before they axed Taga Ku. The Member for Riverdale South talked about them hanging from the cliff with one finger at a time going until they were ready to fall, and I think that almost happened to the Minister responsible for Tourism yesterday.
I feel sorry for them. They have made some pretty bad decisions in the last three and one-half years, and I think they are going to have to pay for that in some way. The Minister responsible for Laberge is confident that they are going to win the next election, and more power to him for thinking like that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
That is exactly what he said. We all make those statements. I was almost confident we were going to win in Old Crow, but we did not, and it was not for lack of trying. People in Old Crow happened to like the Member, and that is why he is here. It was not because they liked the Yukon Party government; I know that for a fact.
The thing that happened regarding Taga Ku will affect the Yukon First Nations for a long, long time, because they have lost faith in that government. They have lost faith because they had something that could have been beneficial, not only to them, but to the people of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. In the end, the government cancelled it and it was really sad watching the Minister yesterday trying to defend his actions.
The Minister stated that his reasons for appealing it was that he disagreed with some of the things that were being said, but about four days prior to that there was something in the paper that referred to the government negotiating a deal with the Inuvialuit Development Corporation regarding Taga Ku. The deputy minister said that all the two sides have done is have preliminary talks that just started in December. They were having discussions about how the case might be resolved. I do not know if you call that negotiations, but the two sides were talking.
I wish the government would be straight with us and tell us what really is happening. We have a Minister here arguing his case in this Legislature. We have a news report that says the two sides are talking. The Minister responsible for tourism may not believe in the courts of law, but I really believe that the courts of public opinion have spoken and have made their decision. That decision, I do not believe, is for the Yukon Party. We will know for sure after the next election.
There are a couple of other things that I would like to talk about. The Minister for social services, in his war against poor people, is trying to do an awful lot of things. He has done many things in the past, such as bringing in a welfare fraud squad to try to find people who are cheating on social assistance. While there may be the odd person who cheats on social assistance, we have spoken with a lot of individuals who have come to us because they have been humiliated by the actions that the Minister has taken. They come to our office daily. I think every single one of us has a constituent who has been humiliated by the actions of that Minister and what he has done with his fraud squad.
Now he makes all these comments. I would like to see him live on $400 a month for a single person. I would like to see him try that for two days and see how far he gets.
I went to the consultation when I was in Whitehorse. I attended two of the sessions, one on social assistance and one on continuing care. There were only about eight of us in one of the sessions, and most of us were New Democrats, because we care about poor people. We wanted to make sure that our voices were heard. In that session, Laurie MacFeeters, who, of course, has a history with our party, wrote a letter to the Whitehorse Star. I will not read it, but I would like to copy it and have some of the things she said about social assistance entered into the record. I will circulate the letter in the House and have it attached to the information that is coming in with the consultations. She speaks volumes about things that they have not taken into consideration with regard to social assistance.
I fear that the Minister, in his war against poor people, is getting out of hand. I do not think that he is going to change. I think he will keep at it until he has done everything that he can to reduce that budget.
I have to look at a lot of things that have happened in the past. Something that always comes to mind is what he did with Kaushee's Place. Out of the blue, he decided he was going to close Kaushee's Place, open a group home across the river and send battered women there. I would have thought that something like that would have taken a lot of planning and consideration. However, in the morning, in a moment of anger, he made that decision.
More impressive than anything else I have ever seen, the group of people opposing what he was doing organized and, by noon, had a demonstration, of which I and some of my colleagues were a part. We proceeded to come to the foyer of this government building to tell him what an idiotic thing he had done. In the end, he did the right thing. He said he would not do it, but would still not give us enough money.
I have to condemn the Minister for his action. It was such a goofy, idiotic thing.
I would like to believe the program, Keeping Kids Safe, is improving. I believe in what it is trying to do. I believe they have a monstrous job ahead of them trying to protect children from sex offenders.
Speaker: Order please. I am a little slow on the draw today, because I am not feeling that well. The Member used an unparliamentary word, "idiotic", and I would like her to withdraw it, please.
Ms. Commodore: Certainly, Mr. Speaker. Being the nice person I am, I will withdraw that word, but I can think it.
I have to talk about the Keeping Kids Safe program. I believe it is a good program. When they first announced it, I wondered how they would continue to monitor sex offenders once they were released from custody. While I was wondering that, we ended up with a sex offender in our halfway house in Hillcrest who was allowed out on Hallowe'en night, when hundreds of kids were out trick-or-treating. Then he disappeared, and I do not think he has been heard of since. I do not know how they are looking for him.
I wonder about how well those individuals are being monitored, and I wonder about the safety of the children. Although the program is working to the best of its ability, I believe there have to be more answers to satisfy me and the mothers of children who would like to believe their children are safe in the playground.
I know of another case where a sex offender is in a group home - a young person - who has to be monitored 24 hours a day. Once he is an adult, I do not know if that same kind of monitoring will occur. He appears to be a very dangerous person.
I would like more answers on that.
I am almost finished, Mr. Speaker. I just want to say that I have looked over this budget. I have heard what people have to say. I have heard it glorified on that side of the House. I believe that the budget has a lot of room for improvement, but I have no confidence in this government. I lost confidence in this government a long time ago. I lost confidence in them due to many of the actions that they have taken. I, like my colleagues, will not be voting for this budget, even though there may be some good things in it. The confidence is gone.
One of the reasons for that is because in the almost three and one-half years they have been in government, there has been no progress on land claims. Although they like to believe they have a good relationship with the First Nations, it is not improving, and I do not know if anything will change before the next election.
I have lost confidence in the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services because of the many actions he has taken against battered women and poor people. I think that he has done a lot of things to make matters worse.
I take offence to this government bashing poor people in favour of a high-priced Beringia Interpretive Centre. What is needed more? You cannot convince me that $3 million, or whatever the amount that is going into the Beringia Interpretive Centre, is money well spent. I think it is a dream that the Minister responsible for Tourism has, and I can see him walking around there, if it ever gets built - and I hope that it does not - with his chest sticking out and his big smile saying what a great centre it is, and pointing to all of the different papier mache animals - is that what my Leader said?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
There is no money in this budget for what it is going to cost taxpayers for the Taga Ku project, and it will cost the taxpayers money.
I think it is very irresponsible. I think the downgrading of services for young offenders in custody has been completely ignored. I think that the Minister, with the advice of certain people in his department, has really made a mistake in changing what they have done with the young offenders.
Speaker: Order please. The Member has three minutes to conclude her statement.
Ms. Commodore: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, I was winding down. I think that I have said almost everything that I wanted to say.
Because this is my last budget speech and I will not be making another one in this House, I would like to say to my constituents in Whitehorse North Centre, now Whitehorse Centre, what a pleasure it has been to be their representative for the last 13 and one-half years, and perhaps by the next election it will be a full 14 years.
I have tried as best as I could to keep in contact with them. It has been a real pleasure getting to know the different individuals and knocking on their doors, and I certainly think they have come to recognize me over the years.
I wish whomever - and I know it will be someone from my party - is the next representative for that riding will serve the riding well. It is a very different kind of neighbourhood. It is the oldest riding in Whitehorse, with a widely diverse group of people. I have certainly been lucky to have the opportunity of being their MLA.
Mrs. Firth: I will not give any grief for the rest of the afternoon. I will keep my powder dry and keep things civilized. I see the Clerk clapping at the desk. He is happy about this, too.
The good thing about being last on the roster to reply to the budget speech is that it gives me an opportunity to go through the whole budget, to go through all the statistical pages and review all the information that has been presented. I have made what I think are fairly interesting observations about the budget. I have been through it from cover to cover now.
I want to start with the revenue that this government is predicting it will get this year. Of course, I have already said that there is no doubt that this is a deficit budget, so we will always keep that in mind as we go through the budget.
I have a great deal of concern about the revenue picture because the government maintained it would keep itself in a healthy financial position and had made plans for this reduction in transfer payments, or monies, coming from the federal government.
I raised an issue in this House two or three years ago, when the government was bringing its first budget in, about their tax increases. On one hand, because the government raised our personal income tax, it derived a tremendous amount of revenue from that activity. When it also increased the corporate income tax rate, I predicted to the government and cautioned it that its revenues would go down. I believe the Government Leader's argument of the day was that we did not need this corporate tax money coming in, that it was just a few lawyers benefiting and the federal government was penalizing us because of the perversity factor, and that what money we lost, the federal government would give back to us.
I find it interesting in the budget because, in the 1994-95 budget, the actual amount of money that Yukoners were getting in revenue from corporate income tax was over $15 million. If you look at that figure for today, the 1996-97 estimate, the figure has been cut in half to $7.5 million.
That indicates to me that there are a lot of businesses that are not functioning in a healthy way and are not paying corporate income taxes, or that particular initiative has had a tremendous impact on the budget. That is what the people who were asking me to raise the issue were trying to caution the government about. It appears from this budget that that has come about. The revenue this government gets has been cut in half due to this initiative. I am positive that the federal government has not compensated us, as Yukoners, for having done that. It is a double hit, because it is revenue that we, as Yukoners, could have been raising on our own in a private sector way, as opposed to being dependent on Ottawa. This government chose to not take that into consideration. Now, the revenue coming in because of their corporate tax increase has been decreased by $7.5 million, at first blush, in the book.
I will be interested in discussing this with the Government Leader and the Minister of Finance to hear the explanation for this.
The point is that the revenue from which we probably would have benefited as Yukoners from the tax increase has, as I understand it, gone to the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories, despite being in a fiscal mess due to its huge deficit, had the foresight not to increase its corporate taxes above ours. The investment income has therefore gone to the Northwest Territories and it has benefited from the move that was made by this government. It certainly did not buy any of the federal government's intimidating arguments about how they had to get their taxes in line with everyone else. In holding their ground and taking a firm stand, they have been the beneficiaries of a revenue source that we have lost.
I would like to make some general observations about the budget. When the government is planning its budgets and making decisions, trying to prioritize where the money is going to go, I found it quite interesting after the Minister of Health's announcement that they were going to shut down Kaushee's Place. We had a huge controversy over that and then he ended up changing his mind about it. In looking at the budget book, and in particular the justice statistics within the Department of Justice, on the page for Yukon Services and Family Violence Prevention Unit, I see that the status of wife assaults and sexual assaults has increased. Wife assaults increased by 16 percent and sexual assaults increased by 33 percent. That makes me wonder how these two bookends here in the government who have this decision to make with respect to where money is going to be spent and how it is going to be spent can be so far apart. Here is the Minister of Health on the one hand saying that he is going to close down the support services for these women, and the Minister of Justice is demonstrating these alarming statistics in his budget supplementary information.
This is probably this government's last budget - I suppose technically they could have one more budget for the fall, but I do not know whether or not that will happen - but I find one of the causes of all of their problems is that they seem to be going in different directions. One is flexing muscle here and one is flexing muscle there and they are not getting together to do the best service for Yukoners that they could be doing.
I have also picked up an interesting observation in the Department of Community and Transportation Services revenue. I notice that there is a 21-percent increase in revenues for commercial vehicle licences, a 17-percent increase for miscellaneous motor vehicle revenues, and a 52-percent increase for weigh station fees. I do not know if that is because the fees have increased - it must be, because the user increase would not be enough to create that much of an increase in revenue - so I will be interested in finding out whether there are licence fee increases or fee increases in the budget. Some people refer to them as indirect tax increases, or whatever, but I think we have to be open and honest about the fee structures and whether they are increasing or not.
One of my pet peeves over the years is the chronic disease program. I can see that the Minister of Health has done some work in this area to get the overall costs of the chronic disease program down, and I think that is good. I have had some communication with him about it to get a true picture of the costs, and that is reflected in the statistical information provided.
Another area in the Justice department has been a pet peeve of mine. It is something that I have raised regularly for quite a few years: the amount of money spent on outside legal counsel. I know the dollar costs for legal services and lawyers outside of the Yukon and just outside of government have been pretty darned close to a million dollars some years. I do not know if there was any great, concerted effort on the part of government to reduce this, or if they just ran out of money. It has gone down from $750,000 a year to $200,000 a year. It was about time that happened, and it is good.
I want to remind everyone to keep in mind that the government does have the largest law firm in the Yukon Territory up in the Justice offices. I find it kind of offensive that we pay all those lawyers' salaries and still have to go outside - particularly outside the Yukon - to get counsel from other lawyers. I can appreciate the concerns about conflict and so on, so I can live with the $200,000.
I am quite interested in the budget item that has been included for the ombudsman. I am still waiting for some outstanding correspondence from the Government Leader about the ombudsman's office. I notice from the budget that we are going to have an ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, and some kind of conflicts commission. I have not heard from the government what the plan is. Are we going to have two people hired? Is it going to be part-time, as they originally talked about? Is it going to be one person doing both jobs? I would be very interested in having the Government Leader answer my letter so that I can be better informed when it comes time to debate this particular item.
I also have an outstanding request about who is completing job descriptions and the government's hiring process. I will be looking forward to getting some answers with respect to those questions.
I want to move on to another area - a question that I asked the Government Leader the first day that we sat with respect to witnesses appearing before the House. The Government Leader said that if I could make a case for it he may allow it to happen, but that it was not something that was a tradition.
I want to make a strong case for this becoming a tradition. I have a great deal of concern about the Yukon Housing Corporation, the Yukon Liquor Corporation, the Workers' Compensation Board, the Yukon Development Corporation, the Yukon Energy Corporation, the Yukon Human Rights Commission - but in particular, the corporations that have some huge budgets. I see very little accountability and very little scrutiny of their day to day budgets. I can recall the Government Leader saying that I can obtain the information through the Minister. I have sat in the House with the Minister, with his President sitting beside him, and asked questions of the Minister.
The Crown corporation president had the information there but did not want to give it to the Minister. They gave me some story about how it probably was not accurate. The Minister did not insist that the information be given. I think we have to hold these corporations accountable. There are millions of dollars being spent. Usually, the Crown corporations are at the end of the budget and we are getting to the end of our session. The tradition in the past has been that, when we get near the end, we tend to zip through the rest. I think that there is less accountability there. Perhaps we should start the budget at the back - I do not know. Something has to be done to improve the accountability of the Crown corporations.
I have a letter that I wrote to the Minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation after the last session. That has to be at least nine months ago. In that letter, I asked for a lot of answers to questions that were not answered in the Legislature. I said that I wanted to raise some questions on some Yukon Housing Corporation issues. I asked for a list of vacation time taken. I asked whether or not written approval was given for holidays. I asked if employees had cashed in vacation time. I asked questions about the Canadian Airlines frequent flyer points - if points were accumulated and if they were used by the corporation. I wanted to know what the corporation's and/or government's policy was with regard to frequent flyer points. Are staff using the accumulated points?
I asked questions about the Yukon Housing Corporation employee credit cards and the policy about their use. I asked if I could be provided with credit card statements and thanked the Minister for his attention to the matter. This was on May 3, 1995.
On May 12, 1995, I received a letter from the Minister saying, "A response to your inquiry will take time to research and prepare." I can appreciate that. "Accordingly, you should anticipate a detailed response to your letter in approximately three weeks". That was a long time ago and I have written more letters. In December, the Minister's office wrote back to me and said that I would get a response as soon as possible. The Minister stated, "I anticipate that the information you have requested will be provided shortly."
I still have not received the information. Now, if the Minister cannot get the information from the Yukon Housing Corporation or from one of the other corporations - I do not want to be giving special treatment here - and provide the information to us as Members of the Legislature and to the public, how are we to get this information? I think the corporations should be accountable in the Legislature and to the public, especially when the Auditor General tells the corporation to stop using credit cards and then the president of the corporation states a couple of days later that the corporation is going to use the cards as much as they want and even increase their use.
I do not think that we should settle for that, as the people who are ultimately responsible for the passage of this budget. I think I am presenting a very strong case to the Minister of Finance - the Government Leader - to have these people appear as witnesses. As I asked in the correspondence, could we, as Members of the Legislature, be provided with copies of their financial statements ahead of time so that we could scrutinize them in order to ask questions about priorities, policy matters, spending habits, and so on.
I know an hour is not enough time for Members of the Legislature to question the witnesses. We have always run out of time when it comes to questioning the witnesses.
I am not making this request based on any partisan political motives. I think it is in the best interest of all the Members of the Legislature to know what is going on in the corporations as well as the rest of government.
The Human Rights Commission has tabled its annual report - or sent it to us. There are some interesting observations in here. The Human Rights Commission is declaring a deficit of $5,700.
I noticed that their surplus statement indicates that they have almost $60,000 in surplus as a balance at the end of the year. I have noticed some dramatic changes in their budget. Case investigation has increased from $3,000 in 1994 to $35,000 in 1995. I think we should have an opportunity to question the Human Rights Commission. They have never objected to coming in and answering questions about their financial accounting.
I do not know how much more I can say to the Government Leader. I think that all the incidents that have occurred with the Workers' Compensation Board give Members more than ample justification to have the Workers' Compensation Board appear here.
I know that all Members - the Liberal Member, NDP Opposition Members and I - are going to have many questions for the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation. I think it would be wonderful to have an opportunity to question the managers of these corporations.
I believe it is also only fair to ask for - and receive - copies of contracts that have been initiated through all of these corporations. I write and ask for the information and then I wait and wait for it to come. The corporation presidents should be requested to come to the House with all that information or make it available to Members prior to their appearing, so that we can analyze their budget in detail to find out where the money is being spent.
I would like the Minister of Finance to take that representation. Perhaps he can get back to me on that issue.
The next area that I wanted to discuss concerns the Minister of Tourism. The Minister of Tourism asked the Leader of the Official Opposition to go for a walk with him to look at the tourism employees' office space. I have no axe to grind about the conditions that the employees work in. They are crowded, but they still do a good job and work very hard. The concern that I have is that the Minister of Tourism has yet to explain to us how giving tourism government employees new offices is going to bring one more tourist to the Yukon or one more tourist dollar to the Yukon.
Another little interesting observation that I made - to follow up on some of the concerns raised by the previous speaker - is that $65,000 for art work and $150,000 for landscaping were spent for the new visitor reception centre/mainly tourism government offices.
These are large amounts of money that we are talking about. Again, it should look nice, but where is the justification for doing this? Where is the Minister able to justify that this million-dollar-plus expenditure will have any financial return to the Yukon? We have seen nothing from that Minister. If the Minister would like to take some walks, I would like to invite him to come with me downtown to some of the businesses I visit on a regular basis and look at their office space. There is a heck of a lot of people in the private sector who are not in offices as good as those had by the employees in the Department of Tourism now.
I am sorry; I am not a cold, heartless person. I think that people should have comfortable working environments, but when it comes to having the money to do that kind of thing and justify the return to Yukoners on a $4 million to $5 million expenditure by the time we are finished, I would like to see some evidence of what the return will be.
Speaker: Order. The time being 5:30 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
Debate on second reading of Bill No. 10 accordingly adjourned
The House adjourned at 5:30 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled February 20, 1996:
Yukon Liquor Corporation Annual Report for the year ended March 31, 1995 (Brewster)
Yukon Lottery Commission Annual Report and audited financial statements for the 1994-95 fiscal year (Brewster)