Wednesday, February 21, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with silent prayers.
INTRODUCTION OF PAGES
Speaker: It gives me great pleasure to announce that the following students will be serving the House as legislative Pages for the spring sitting. They are Ilona Dougherty, Chris Fozard, Alexandra Gesheva, Leanne Kormos, Theresa Mundell, Jennifer Racz, Amylee Snider and Leigha Wald, all from Christ the King Secondary School in Whitehorse, and Adrienne Nassiopoulos and Rudy Walton from St. Elias community school in Haines Junction.
Today we have with us Leanne Kormos and Theresa Mundell. I would ask Members to welcome them to the House at this time.
Speaker: We will now proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any introduction of visitors?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I always like to acknowledge when there are former Members of the Legislature is the gallery. I see Norma Kassi, the former Member for Vuntut Gwitchin. Please join me in welcoming her today.
Ms. Commodore: I would also like to introduce two people who may be sitting in the House after the next election. Seeking the nomination for Whitehorse Centre is Todd Hardy and Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have several documents for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have two legislative returns for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have an annual report for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Petition No. 5
Ms. Moorcroft: I have for presentation a petition to the Legislative Assembly that the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre has offered services to women in the community for 20 years, that the women's centre is able to manage a mortgage for residents with the support of the Yukon Housing Corporation, that the Yukon Housing Corporation's proposed mortgage agreement for the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre was rejected by Cabinet, and the petition calls upon the Legislative Assembly to authorize the Yukon Housing Corporation to support a mortgage guarantee for the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. There are over 570 signatures on the petition.
Speaker: Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion for the production of papers?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Ms. Moorcroft: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes the valuable service to the community provided over the past 20 years by the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to honour the commitment made in this House by the Minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation by giving a mandate to the corporation to provide a mortgage guarantee so that the centre can obtain suitable housing on a stable basis, without limiting the ability of the women's centre to purchase and operate a building that meets the needs of the public it serves.
Mr. Sloan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT in the best interest of the Yukon people and to employee morale within the public service, it is the opinion of this House that the Government of the Yukon should immediately disclose the full details of the RCMP investigation launched in February 1995 into the public disclosure of a letter from the Yukon Energy Corporation official to a Minister; and
THAT this disclosure should specifically indicate the purpose and nature of this investigation: how and by whom it was authorized, what RCMP members were involved, and any actions that resulted.
Speaker: Are there any statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre
Ms. Moorcroft: I have a question for the Government Leader.
Last April, two Ministers told this House that they were working to help the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre to find suitable accommodation. The Minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation said on April 20 that he had instructed the corporation to reach an agreement with the women's centre based on a repayable loan. Will the Government Leader explain why his government reneged on that commitment?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not know whether the Member for Mount Lorne has characterized it exactly the way it happened, but the issue was the funding of non-governmental organizations. My understanding is that unless they were providing a service that we are willing to pay for, the funding would not be automatic. As Minister of housing, I proposed that. I think that there was an agreement reached with the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. It did go to Cabinet and was rejected there.
Ms. Moorcroft: It is interesting that the Government Leader has dodged from answering why his government reneged on that commitment.
The Minister who just spoke stood up in this House last April and said that he instructed the Housing Corporation to assist the women's centre in every way.
I would like to know why the Government Leader waited until the Legislature was not in session before pulling the plug on this deal?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not think that it was the fault of the Government Leader. The matter did not get to Cabinet, I believe, until the end of June, well after the sitting of the House.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask the Government Leader a question, and I would like him to respond. Will the Government Leader explain why his government reneged on a commitment to support the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre through a mortgage guarantee?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not believe that the Member has all the facts straight in her allegations. The Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre clearly provides a service to Yukon women, which is required. They do a good job. Cabinet rejected the proposal on the terms that it was put to Cabinet. There were options made available to the centre. They would not accept those options.
Several different options were put forward in an effort to help them in their need for a facility from which to provide their services.
Question re: Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre
Ms. Moorcroft: I have a question for the Government Leader.
Both the Minister responsible for the Women's Directorate and the Minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation stood in this Legislature and said that they were doing everything they could to help the women's centre purchase a house. They made a firm commitment that the Yukon Housing Corporation had been instructed to support the women's centre with a mortgage guarantee. The Yukon Housing Corporation staff worked very hard and very closely with the women's centre. They had an offer ready to go out on a house and had the mortgage lined up in which the centre would be paying back the mortgage, and the Yukon Housing Corporation would be providing the mortgage guarantee.
Is the Government Leader prepared to support such a deal?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Once again, the Member ought to get her facts correct, if she is going to make allegations. This is not just a simple mortgage guarantee. If it were, we probably would not have had any difficulty with it.
We were talking about a process that would involve the mortgage on the house, but the land would not have been included. In the opinion of Cabinet at the time, the values were not something it could support. If it had been a clear mortgage guarantee, there would not have been that much difficulty with it.
Ms. Moorcroft: I am not here to make allegations; I am here to ask questions and try to get answers from the Government Leader.
The Minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation said that, based on its loan program, there was an agreement whereby the women's centre would be paying back the loan. He said they would be assisted in every way, but it would not be an outright grant or the provision of accommodation for them. It would be an arrangement where they would have control over their space and building. That is what 580 Yukoners, who signed the petition I presented today, want to see happen. That is what the women's centre and the Yukon Housing Corporation worked on. Why does the Government Leader not support that? Why will he not do that now?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: As the Government Leader said, it was not a simple mortgage guarantee. It was quite a complicated and complex agreement worked out with the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre and the Yukon Housing Corporation. It came before Cabinet, and that particular agreement was not acceptable. Other options were offered, and the ball was in the court of the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. This issue involved a specific house because it was readily available and suitable.
It just was not an agreement that Cabinet could accept at the time.
Ms. Moorcroft: I have heard that line before from this particular Minister: the ball was in Cabinet's court and Cabinet said no. I would like to ask the Government Leader what the government is going to do to help provide a home for the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre now. We have heard enough platitudes. We would like an answer from the government. What is it going to do?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I would be more than pleased to answer the question, but first I should give a little history of how this came about.
For the previous seven years, under the New Democratic Party government, the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre was operating. They never once offered them funding to purchase a home or support a mortgage, or try to work out any arrangement. The centre moved several times during that seven years and the NDP government never once made an effort to help the centre move. The NDP government provided the centre with some funding - about $15,000 a year - which we have continued, by the way.
If they want to know what we are doing now, I believe we have worked with the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre and the federal government - and it was the federal government that cut out the funding, by the way. The federal Liberal government cut out the funding for the office space of the centre. What has happened is that we have helped in several fund-raising initiatives. We have recently helped them initiate a study where they raised -
Speaker: Order. Would the Minister please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I will. We provided them with a share of the proceeds of the women's awards night to go toward the downpayment for a proper facility in the future.
Question re: Taga Ku lawsuit
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader about the Taga Ku dispute. Over the last few days we have had a lot of sound and fury on the Taga Ku situation. There has been discussion about who is responsible and who did not tell who what, and on and on.
I am sure that the people of the Yukon have considerable apprehension about this case, both from the standpoint of financial exposure and the relationship of the government with the First Nation peoples.
Would the Government Leader tell us when he expects this matter to be resolved? That is, when will all of the costs be totalled and the issue put behind us? Could the Minister give us an approximate guess? Is it going to be this year? Next year? The turn of the century? When will it be?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I appreciate the public's concerns about the Taga Ku fiasco, as I refer to it. It may be appropriate for us to put a motion on the floor of this Legislature to debate that whole issue and let the chips fall where they may.
I would be reluctant to state a date for a final conclusion to this fiasco. This is a situation that need not have happened if a little more due diligence had been paid by the previous government. My crystal ball is not as good as the Liberal Member's on the other side of the House.
Mr. Cable: I do not actually have a crystal ball. That is why I was asking the question. I do not have control of the file either; the Justice Minister does, presumably.
We have really stirred him up today, did we not?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. Please allow the Member to ask his question.
Mr. Cable: I asked the Government Leader on a couple of occasions, about three years ago and more recently last March 14 in this House, whether or not he was prepared to put the matter to mediation or commercial arbitration. The idea on both occasions was summarily dismissed. In fact, the last time around, the Government Leader sort of fluffed himself up and said it will be mediated in the courts.
In view of the fact that this saga has gone on for over three years, at a probable legal cost of several hundred thousand dollars, and no end in sight, would the Government Leader report whether or not he has softened his views on mediation or some other form of alternate dispute resolution?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: One can always tell when a Member who has a legal background asks questions. My understanding of the legal fraternity is that they never ask a question unless they know the answer. The Member opposite quite clearly knows that I have sent many signals through the media that we would be prepared to negotiate a settlement on this issue to put it to bed.
Mr. Cable: It is quite obvious that negotiation is not working. What I was talking about was mediation or other forms of alternate dispute resolution.
The Minister of Justice, the Minister in charge of all justice in this territory, was quoted in the last exchange - that is last March 14 - on mediation generally. He said, "Mediation is much less expensive than using lawyers and going through the court system."
Could we get a commitment from that Minister, who is presumably responsible for the Taga Ku file, to attempt to persuade his boss on the value of formal, alternate dispute resolution; that is, mediation or commercial arbitration?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is amusing to see that the questions are directed to the Government Leader, who has been in charge of this file until day one, until the Member opposite does not get the answer he wants; then he directs the question to someone else.
As I said, this is an issue that we inherited upon taking over government. It was an issue that need not have happened. We would like to clear it from our books. We are working diligently to do that.
Question re: Taga Ku lawsuit
Mr. McDonald: I have a couple of questions on the same subject to the Government Leader or the Minister of Justice - whoever wishes to answer.
The Minister indicates that he inherited the Taga Ku project. I would submit that he created the Taga Ku fiasco, as he characterizes it. I do agree with him that it need not have happened.
There appears to be a half-hearted attempt by the Yukon Party government to appeal the Taga Ku decision to the Supreme Court. Has the government heard from the Supreme Court if it would entertain the case or when the case might be heard?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: No, we have not had any word from the Supreme Court at this time.
Mr. McDonald: Has the government made any representations to the Supreme Court to hear the case as soon as possible? Presumably they filed the case. Have they made any attempt to ensure that the case is being pursued?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have sought leave to appeal. We do not know if that will be granted. The decision the Supreme Court is making now is whether or not it will give us leave to appeal the case.
Mr. McDonald: When does the government expect to hear from the Supreme Court about when it will make a decision about hearing this case?
Can the Minister tell us what the expected costs will be for presenting this case before the Supreme Court?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I cannot say when we will hear from the Supreme Court. We know that they keep going through their files and catch up on some of the outstanding issues. When we sought leave to appeal, we thought we would have heard by now, but we have not.
I do not have any idea what the costs will be to appeal the case. The cost to seek leave to appeal was very nominal.
Question re: Taga Ku lawsuit
Mr. McDonald: I have a couple of follow-up questions regarding this. Clearly, there have been costs associated with the appeal to date, to carry the case, both to trial and to the appeal court. Can any Minister tell us what the total legal cost associated with the Taga Ku case is to date, including the amount awarded to pay for the Taga Ku lawyers after the government lost the appeal?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We are not prepared at this time to announce the total legal cost of the case. That is a common practice in lawsuits, and it is done that way - and was done by the previous government and other governments - to not give an advantage to the other side. I can assure the Member that when this case is cleared up, each and every dollar spent will be accounted for, and we will be tabling the costs in this House.
Mr. McDonald: The government has given us updates on the costs associated with this case in the past. What is it about telling us what the current legal cost total is that would prejudice the government's position at this point?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I guess the reasons I give now are the same reasons the previous government did not release legal costs of ongoing cases. It is primarily because it gives an advantage to the other party to know what they are and if they have an advantage to settling earlier or not.
I can assure the Member there is no attempt to hide the costs of the case, but they are not normally released in the middle of the case, because it could jeopardize one's ability to negotiate or settle the case.
Mr. McDonald: I am having trouble understanding this. What is it about the government indicating what its own costs are that would jeopardize the outcome of the legal case put forward before the Supreme Court? I do not understand why the government would not want to give any indication of what the total costs have been to date.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can look into this further for the Member. The last time we gave him the costs, it was at the end of the first case. I can check into it for the Member. If we feel it will not compromise our case in a negative way, I will provide the costs.
I want to assure Members that there is no attempt whatsoever to hide the total cost of this case, but it is a process that is followed in many legal cases, where each party does not divulge its legal costs to each other because it helps in negotiating a settlement. Pressure can be put on when one party knows the other party is running up excessive costs. It helps strategically. That is common knowledge in the legal fraternity. At least, that is my understanding.
Question re: Taga Ku lawsuit
Mrs. Firth: I just want to follow up with the same line of questioning so that I can help refresh the Minister's memory, because I have had some correspondence with him with respect to the costs of the Taga Ku.
I wrote a letter to the Minister asking him to provide me with a detailed breakdown of costs. This is the letter I received back: "Without question, the expenditures of resources in any endeavour on behalf of the Government of Yukon are matters which ought to be the subject of public scrutiny. However, the issue is one of timing." - before or after the election - "I am informed by counsel, having - "
Point of order
Speaker: Order. Minister of Justice on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Member is quoting from a letter and if one would read Hansard tomorrow it would sound like the last comment she made was included in the letter. I would ask the Member if she can include those types of comments afterwards rather than when she is quoting a letter.
Mrs. Firth: There is no point of order.
Speaker: Just a moment. I will stop my watch as I have to confer with the Clerks on that.
Speaker: As to whether there is a point of order - basically, the understanding should be that if a Member quotes from a letter, they should say "quote" and if they decide to throw something in there, they should say "unquote".
We will just take it from there.
Mrs. Firth: I quote, "However, the issue is one of timing." Before or after the election. "I am informed by counsel having conduct of the case that the disclosure of this information could be prejudicial to the continuing conduct of the litigation, which is, as you know, still before the court. This case is expected to be resolved soon. It is set down for trial this spring. Once completed, I will be pleased to provide you with the information that you require."
How is disclosing this information prejudicial to the continuing conduct of the litigation?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I guess the Member was not listening to the answers to the previous questions. I have already answered that question.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister did not answer the question.
On April 18, 1995, the Member for Faro asked the Minister responsible for Government Services a question about the Taga Ku lawsuit costs. The Minister had written the Member a letter telling him that he had gone to the Department of Justice, got the costs, which were in the amount of $175,000, and advised that there would be another $35,000 required to complete the appeal.
I would like to know why the Minister of Government Services can get the costs from the Department of Justice, give those costs to the Member for Faro, discuss them in the House, but yet the Minister of Justice is saying that we cannot know the amount of the costs. Why is that? Why is there an absurd inconsistency there?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: In answer to a question that I gave to another Member, I said that I will look into the matter and I will look into it. I have already explained why we withhold those costs. Basically, it is a strategy reason. However, I will look into it and if we feel that it will not, in a negative way, jeopardize any discussions that may be going on, or our case, we will consider disclosing that information.
There is no intent to hide the numbers. You already have some of the numbers and eventually we will give you all of the numbers. That information will be brought to this House.
Speaker: Order. Will the Minister please refer to the Member as the Member for Riverdale South.
Mrs. Firth: Did he call me a bad name?
Speaker: No, he just said "you".
Mrs. Firth: I want to follow up with the Minister with this. He must be able to recognize how absurd his explanation is. He signed the letter saying that the disclosure of the information would be prejudicial. It is his signature on the letter. Now he is standing up here saying that he does not know what he signed. Not only does he buzz around in restaurants having coffee, he is incompetent as well and signs letters that he does not understand what he is signing.
I want to raise a question about the last paragraph of the letter.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, on a point of personal privilege.
Speaker: The Minister of Justice on a point of personal privilege.
Point of personal privilege
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yesterday, the Member for Riverdale South called for my resignation. I have given Mrs. Firth's remarks considerable thought. I take very seriously my responsibilities as the Minister of Justice and a call for the resignation of the Minister of Justice should never be made or taken lightly.
I have asked my department for legal advice, and they tell me there are two things to consider: what is the nature of the impugned conduct and by what test or standard is it judged?
The test is simple. Does the conduct or reasonable construction of the facts tend to bring the administration of justice into disrepute? What are the facts, as this House understands them from Mrs. Firth?
Number one: a remnant of a conversation had me with a former Member of this House talking about a case presently before the courts.
Number two: the eavesdropper passed something on to Mr. Smith, who in turn passed something on to Mrs. Firth. Mrs. Firth called for my resignation in this House yesterday.
What are the facts from my standpoint?
Number one: a conversation did take place regarding the case in question, and I have not denied that.
Number two: that discussion was part of a larger conversation, essentially social in nature.
Number three: Dan Lang was never under subpoena, or a potential witness, nor was he contemplated to be a witness, to the best of my belief now and at that time.
Number four: Mr. Lang was called by Mr. Smith to confirm whether or not the case had been raised in casual conversation and he freely admitted, as I do, that it was, but only in the most inoffensive circumstances.
Number five: Mr. Lang has as much right to ask me about public aspects of the case as anyone else, including timing and steps being taken.
Number six: Mrs. Firth did not choose to ask me, prior to raising the issue in the House, for any details about the conversation. To my knowledge, neither did she ask Mr. Lang.
Can it be said that on a reasonable evaluation of the facts, the administration of justice has been brought under disrepute? I hardly think so. Rather, the proceedings of this House have been brought into disrepute by a frivolous charge.
Speaker: Order. I believe that this is not a point of privilege. According to the Standing Orders, the Member would have to give the Speaker two hours' notice, prior to the House sitting.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is a personal point of privilege. I do not believe that I have to give notice on a personal point of privilege.
Speaker: I will have to rule that this is not a point of privilege; instead, it is clearly a dispute between two Members. This does not constitute a prima facie case of privilege. We will return to Question Period.
Mrs. Firth: Before I was interrupted by the Minister's tantrum, I was asking a question. This is the question: the final paragraph of the letter that the Minister sent to me - though he does not understand its content - says, "The case is expected to be resolved soon. It is set down for trial this spring."
I distinctly heard the Government Leader say this afternoon that there were no set dates and they had not heard back from the court of appeal. How can the Minister say that the case is expected to be resolved soon and that the case is set down for trial this spring if no one has had any contact?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that the Member is mixing apples and oranges.
The fact remains that we have sought leave to appeal. It is the second part of the court case, not the part that is being appealed, that is scheduled to go ahead in April.
While I am on my feet, in reply to questions that were asked in this Legislature - allegations made in the House in the previous Question Period by the Member for Riverdale South -
Point of order
Mrs. Firth: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The Member for Riverdale South on a point of order.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister is talking about an entirely different subject. There is absolutely no relevance to the questions I have raised about the Taga Ku situation.
Speaker: This is clearly a dispute between two Members. I think that is the way it has to be straightened out.
Question re: Taga Ku lawsuit
Mr. McDonald: There are many opportunities to get everything on the record, but this is our Question Period and we claim our right to it.
The Minister has indicated that giving an account of the legal costs could jeopardize or prejudice a case now before the Supreme Court; yet we have the Minister of Government Services, on June 10, 1994, and March 28, 1995, giving us updates of the costs of the case. Further to that, the Minister of Government Services went on to project the costs associated with the appeal, which was to be heard later on. There appears to be a difference of opinion as to whether or not this strategic position that the Minister of Justice has announced is one that is shared by other Ministers. Can the Minister of Government Services explain to us why he would have provided this information before? If he does disagree with the Minister of Justice's position, will he please, as he has in the past, give us an update on the costs of the Taga Ku trial and appeals to date?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I believe the Minister of Justice has made the commitment to look into providing an update.
Yes, there is a difference of opinion. There is an opinion that there is a strategic advantage to not revealing the amount being spent on a lawsuit. With respect to my giving that information, I felt the provision of the information was more important than any strategic advantage gained by withholding it. If I have that information, I will certainly provide it.
Mr. McDonald: So, there is no common government position on this matter. One Minister claims the public has a right to know, and the other Minister claims the public does not have the right to know in this particular instance.
Is there a government policy? I am asking the Government Leader this, because there is obviously a very clear difference of opinion between two Ministers. Is there a government policy with respect to whether or not information such as this - the costs associated with legal fees - should be laid out as the case proceeds?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not aware of any policy. If there is one, it would have been from the previous administration. I understand the same type of debate went on in the Legislature when the NDP government was in power: whether or not costs should be revealed.
I will check on it to see why there are differences and how we can rectify them.
Question re: Taga Ku lawsuit
Mr. McDonald: There is clearly some mediation required at the Cabinet table, first of all, with respect to which Minister will win: the one who believes in the public's right to know or the Minister who believes the public should be kept in the dark.
What is the Government Leader's position with respect to whether or not the information on the costs of the cases, as they are ongoing, should be made public?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that is why we have a legal department. It is to give us advice on these cases. If it will not jeopardize the court case or jeopardize the cost to the taxpayers, then it ought to be public information.
I told the Member opposite I would check into this. I will see why there are differences of opinion and see what I can do to rectify them. I cannot add anything more than that right now.
Mr. McDonald: Clearly, the Minister has his hands full under the circumstances, because presumably the Minister who claimed the public's right to know is a lawyer and the Minister who claimed that the public should be kept in the dark is not. Obviously, the Government Leader must be feeling distinctly uncomfortable at this particular moment.
I would, though, ask the Minister a related question, which is about the proposals to negotiate a settlement. The Minister has indicated today that he has put out feelers to Taga Ku proponents. Has he put out feelers to the Taga Ku proponents or has the government in any way put out feelers, and who is leading those discussions for the government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Again, in the interests of not jeopardizing the case, the only thing I will say is that there have been discussions. As to the details of discussions, I do not think it is appropriate to comment on them at this time. If we have anything more to report on it, I will be happy to report to this Legislature.
Mr. McDonald: Could the Minister indicate to us whether or not the government is going to attempt to minimize punitive damages by offering to work with the Taga Ku proponents to put together another economic venture that will get people working and repair the relationship between the government and First Nations? This proposal has been put on the table in public by persons including myself. Can the Minister indicate whether or not that is an option they will consider?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Again, I will just say that I am not prepared to comment on any of the issues or principles that may or may not be negotiated to this point. I just do not feel comfortable commenting on them at this point.
Question re: Electricity market reform, consultant
Mr. Cable: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development on another issue.
I understand his department has retained a consultant to look at electricity market reforms, among other things. Could the Minister tell us specifically what the terms of reference were, or are, for this consultant?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have not seen the terms of reference for the consultant to whom the Member is referring.
Mr. Cable: Is the Minister saying he is unaware of the fact that there is a consultant inquiring around town about what is going on in other jurisdictions and what people's opinions are on what is happening in other jurisdictions with respect to electricity market reform?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I am unaware of it.
Mr. Cable: Would the Minister look into the matter and table the terms of reference for this consultant? Would the Minister also advise whether or not the consultant's terms of reference would include a discussion of market reforms and the ownership of utilities?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I would be most willing to table that information. As I said, I am quite unaware of a consultant being hired for that particular purpose.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, public disclosure of letter
Mr. Sloan: I thank the Member from Riverside for raising that electrifying point, because I am going to continue on the subject of electricity.
For the last two days, I have been asking the Government Leader questions about his government's policy on the RCMP investigation of leaked documents. I would like to cut to the chase here.
We have heard some of the details from the deputy minister and some details through reports from the media, but not from the Government Leader.
I have a very straightforward question for the Government Leader. Will the Government Leader return a report to this House by this same time next week that spells out the origin, the legislative authority, the scope and the nature of the RCMP investigation that we have been discussing, including what personnel from both government and the RCMP were involved, and will the Government Leader make that commitment now?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: In a simple word, no. I will not make that commitment now, but I will take it under advisement and I will see what I can bring back to the House. This is a personnel matter that is being investigated by the RCMP.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We do not need the kibitzing from the other side of the House.
I want to say that I have had numerous calls from people within the public service who stand 100 percent behind the government's position. They too believe that confidential documents must be kept confidential and that the integrity of their jobs is at stake in this investigation.
Mr. Sloan: I would like to clarify a point. Yesterday, I asked a very simple question of the Government Leader. I asked if he could produce for us today a list of those individuals involved in initiating this investigation. Can the Government Leader provide us with that today?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will give him the news reports he has not had time to read. Who initiated it and who was involved in it is laid out quite clearly. I will send them over to him..
Mr. Sloan: I admire the fifth estate tremendously. I can read for myself the Yukon News of February 9, in which certain individuals, including the Deputy Minister and acting Deputy Minister of Justice, summoned the commanding officer of M Division to the government building.
I can read that in the press. I am asking the Government Leader if he can confirm this.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I confirm that the deputy minister, who instigated this, stated quite clearly, in the public domain, what actions he took. I have taken the question under advisement. If there is any other information I can bring back to this House, I will do that.
Question re: Workers' Compensation, lawsuit
Mr. Harding: I look forward to the Minister coming back with that information.
Yesterday we learned the Minister of Justice was having some public discussions with Dan Lang about an ongoing lawsuit with the government. Has that Minister discussed this case with either of the Cabinet Ministers who are subpoenaed witnesses for the government's opponent in the case?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Perhaps the Member could repeat his question. I did not understand it.
Mr. Harding: Has the Minister of Justice had discussions about this case with either of the Cabinet Ministers who have been subpoenaed as potential witnesses for the government's opponent in this case?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Any Cabinet discussions are confidential.
Mr. Harding: This Minister of Justice - who was having the big talk in the coffee shop with Yukon Party operatives the other day about this case - has intimate knowledge of the details and strategy of this case. He is not telling us if he discussed this with Cabinet Ministers, but we know he has discussed it in public. This conduct is inappropriate.
Will he now tell us if he has discussed this case with the potential witnesses for the government's opponent in the Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The previous Cabinet took the same position. It has always taken the same position. You do not discuss Cabinet business on the floor of the House. I am a little disappointed that the Opposition party is following the lead of the Member for Riverdale South down to the gutter by bringing into this House unsubstantiated accusations and dealing with rumours and innuendos in third-party type accusations after nine months. It is demeaning to the Members of the House. I think it is embarrassing for all of us that this type of activity is taking place. I think that these Members should get back to work. Let us talk about the real business of the House and deal with the real business affecting the people of the Yukon.
Mr. Harding: This is the Minister of Justice who was engaged in totally inappropriate conduct discussing in a public place with a Yukon Party operator the details of a case, which he has intimate knowledge of as the Minister of Justice. I asked the Minister of Justice if he has discussed this case, in which two of his Cabinet colleagues are potential witnesses - and one of them may even be subpoenaed - as government opponents in this case.
Is the Minister not just a little concerned that if he has had these discussions with government opponents in the case, he might just prejudice the case in view of his position as Minister of Justice?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: My understanding is that one Cabinet Minister was subpoenaed. I believe Mr. Phelps was subpoenaed some time ago. I believe that there is also something happening with another Cabinet Minister who may be subpoenaed. I do not know whether the subpoena has been officially received yet. I am not going to discuss what we talk about in Cabinet on the floor of the House. I do not think that this is appropriate. Cabinet discussions are held within Cabinet.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Sloan: I know that the time for introduction of visitors has passed, but I would like to bring to the attention of the House the presence of Ms. Debbie Gohl, from F.H. Collins, and her grade 10 class.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ELECTION OF DEPUTY CHAIR
Speaker: I have been informed by the House Leaders that the House is prepared to elect a Deputy Chair.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move
THAT Esau Schafer, Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, be appointed Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved
THAT Esau Schafer, Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, be appointed Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole.
Motion No. 97 agreed to
Speaker: I declare the motion carried and I welcome the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin to his new position.
Speaker: We will now proceed to government private Members' business.
GOVERNMENT PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Clerk: Motion No. 94, standing in the name of Mr. Schafer.
Motion No. 94
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd and its habitat must be protected in order to preserve the way of life and cultural well-being of the Gwitchin Nations in Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Schafer: I am pleased to rise in this House to present my first motion for debate. I present this motion on behalf of my people in Old Crow, the Gwitchin Nation and the Inuvialuit in Alaska and the Northwest Territories.
The Porcupine caribou herd is of importance to the cultural, social and economic well-being of my people.
Gwitchin means caribou people, and I am one of them. I have hunted, trapped and fished all my life. Hunting, to me, means caribou time - spring, fall and winter.
Young men continue to learn from their fathers and uncles how to hunt and to take care of their caribou. Young women continue to learn from their mother and aunts how to preserve the meat and take care of the hides. Elders continue to share their knowledge with their people on how to use the caribou for medicine and clothing.
My community relies on this herd as a major source of its food. We have lived off this source for many years. If there was no Porcupine caribou herd, there would be no Gwitchin people. That is how important this herd is to the Vuntut Gwitchin.
We live today as our ancestors did. Our lives are tied to the cycle of nature and a return of the caribou. Our communities in Alaska and in the Northwest Territories also rely on this herd.
The Porcupine caribou herd is a wonderful sight to see. Anyone who has seen a hundred thousand caribou or so moving across the plains and valleys in the northern Yukon can only marvel at this wonderful nature.
The Vuntut Gwitchin deeply respect the Porcupine caribou herd and the land. The Porcupine caribou herd has sustained our people for thousands of years. It is our duty to ensure that the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd and its habitat are protected for all time.
As the MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin I have a special duty to do whatever I can to protect the herd.
The Vuntut Gwitchin chief and council and the international Gwitchin steering committee have been working hard to protect the herd. The Government of Yukon has been very supportive of our effort and so have the Members of this House.
I thank all the hon. Members for their support in the past and ask for continuing support to protect the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to lend some support to the motion put forward by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin this afternoon. He should know that he follows a distinguished line of Members from that particular riding who have been raising the matter in the Legislature for many years. Clearly this may not be resolved to everyone's satisfaction for many more years, so it will require a continued clear statement from the Legislature from not only the Members in the House now but also Members who are elected in the future.
The longstanding position of this Legislature has been clear that the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd must be protected. Its habitat must be protected in order to preserve the way of life of the people of the Gwitchin nations in all jurisdictions - Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. What constitutes protection of the habitat has often been in dispute, and I will make the point a little more clearly in a few moments.
I would like to, first of all, state for the record that it has been the position of the New Democrats for many years, certainly for as long as I have been in this Legislature, that the integrity of the caribou herd and the protection of its habitat, both in the calving grounds and outside the calving grounds, is of the highest priority. While in government, we not only wrote to people in the U.S. Congress and to Canadian national leaders about the subject, but we also raised that same position in discussions we have had with Alaskans during the period when the Alaskan and Yukon legislators have had exchanges. We have taken the opportunity to raise the matter between leaders of Alaska and Yukon whenever the opportunity arose, and we have proposed motions and debated motions in the Legislature to the same effect.
This herd, well documented in many national environmental programs on television and elsewhere, is one of the largest wild caribou herds in North America. Thanks to the care given by the people who live among the animals, it still numbers in the 170,000 range.
It is important to note that biologists on both sides of the border have indicated that development, particularly in the calving grounds, would displace the caribou herd near Prudhoe Bay, and consequently this could have a significant impact on the future of this particular herd.
Also, it is equally important to note that the herd, and the integrity of the herd, could be affected by developments in the wintering grounds, right through from Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Consequently, it is important to do everything we can to ensure that the habitat, both in the calving grounds and elsewhere, is protected.
I understand that Gwitchin chiefs have met recently and are taking the position that there should be no development in the wintering grounds to ensure that the caribou population is protected.
We have had some reason to be somewhat concerned about the Yukon Party government's record with respect to the preservation of the Porcupine caribou herd. I would respectfully suggest to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that he has his work cut out for him to ensure that the position of the government is made very clear with respect to what the government is prepared to do to protect the habitat of the herd.
During Question Period, we have raised concerns that the government staff have travelled to Calgary to talk with oil exploration companies about the possibility of gas exploration at Eagle Plains. They had undertaken that task without informing the chief and council in Old Crow, and for that, the chief and council were quite upset.
It is important that the protection of the caribou herd be the result of a partnership between leaders of the Vuntut Gwitchin in all jurisdictions, as well as between the governments of Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and the Canadian and U.S. federal governments. It requires that everyone is kept informed of what is being proposed, and it requires absolute consistency of actions when it comes to taking measures to protect the habitat of the herd.
We expressed concern last summer that the Yukon government did not send representatives to the Senate hearings in Washington. We realize what a huge task it is to persuade senators in Washington to take a position such as one preventing the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We advocated that the Yukon government lend its support to the federal government and the delegation from Old Crow to ensure that the clearest voice from the north be heard about what the northern position is.
We have not heard a clear position, and we have checked the Hansard for the last three years. We have not heard what the Yukon Party government's position is with respect to development in the 10-02 lands. We have heard that the government is committed to caribou protection, inasmuch as it believes there should be no oil exploration that would compromise the integrity of the herd. We have not heard if they believe there should be no oil development in the 10-02 lands. Perhaps some Minister can clarify that for us.
I am of the position that there should be no oil development in the 10-02 lands and that there can be no mitigating circumstances that would allow development to take place there.
Certainly, any clear position from the opposite side would be appreciated. Having said that, I believe that a unanimous position by this Legislature supporting the motion, as generally worded as it is, will have significant impact on federal political leaders in Canada and give them the ammunition and the support they need to carry a clear position to the U.S. Senate on the subject of the development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. For that reason, the New Democrats will, of course, support the motion.
I would like to conclude by indicating that I feel nothing but respect for the leaders of the Gwitchin people, who have unfailingly and courageously taken a position, against significant vested interests, to one of the largest government bureaucratic structures in the world to ensure that their case is heard and respected.
To my knowledge, they have never been intimidated by the fact that they are dealing with an institution as important and as large as the U.S. Senate. They have unfailingly undertaken to challenge the vested interests, and of course we are talking about oil interests that are probably valued in the billions of dollars, in the name of protecting their culture, their livelihood, their lives, their people and their villages.
For that they are deserving of our total respect and continued support. I would respectfully indicate that we will support the motion and wish that this motion be transmitted to all persons who have an interest in this matter so that everyone can see the position of this Legislature.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am very pleased to rise and speak about this motion today and to support the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin.
It is particularly important to note, and I think that there is some significance to this, that on the first motion day, which happens to be the government Members' motion day, the new Member for Vuntut Gwitchin chose to raise an issue that is probably the most important issue that the Old Crow people are concerned with at this time.
I have had the rare and privileged opportunity as a Yukoner to go to Old Crow many times in my life. I have had the rare opportunity to go to the place that Stephen Frost says is "about this far from Heaven," and that is Crow Flats. I was able to spend some time up there 'ratting and watching the caribou move through in the spring. It really is a unique part of the world. I guess that one could describe it as the Serengeti of the North when one gets up there and sees all of the wildlife and the excitement that is happening during the spring of the year.
I was there in April one year. It is absolutely incredible and it is almost beyond words to see what is happening in that area. The thing that I found most important when I travelled around there is that the caribou were moving through, heading north to the calving grounds, and they were crossing the many lakes - where I got lost. Every time I came to a new lake, I did not know where I was. The Vuntut Gwitchin people knew where they were. I am glad that they kept me with them, because I am sure that I would still be there trying to find my way out. One lake looked like another to me, but they all had special names. They knew the trapper in each area and they had special stories relating to things that have happened around those lakes over the years.
When a person has a chance to go to that area and sit in a tent beside one of those lakes and talk about the importance of the caribou to the people of Old Crow and see firsthand the importance of those caribou, you really grow to appreciate that the Porcupine caribou herd really is the lifeblood of the Gwitchin people. Without the Porcupine caribou herd being able to maintain its integrity and being able to at least maintain the size that it is now, we would have enormous problems in Old Crow. In fact, I think the devastation of the Porcupine caribou herd would likely result in the devastation of the Gwitchin people, because that is what those people are all about: living off the land. The caribou, each spring and fall - and sometimes when they come around in the winter - are the life and soul of that community.
I had the opportunity of being there for several fall hunts and going up and down the river. It is a pretty exciting experience to see that many caribou crossing at one time and to see the excitement it generates among the hunters, as well as the elders - some of whom may not actually hunt but go for the traditional lifestyle of the hunt - and among the children who also go along. I have had the rare opportunity of going on many of these hunts and sitting on the banks of the river with Stephen Frost, the late Johnny Abel, the late Peter Lord and the late Abraham Peter, all of whom are good friends of mine, and all of whom are the greatest story tellers in the world and make the trip on the Porcupine River that much more worthwhile.
I have talked so much about Old Crow that my partner is bound and determined to go up there. So I am planning a trip again, I hope this September - as long as we do not call an election in September. Late August/early September is usually when the herd crosses down for the first time, and I would like to go up there and share with my partner the experience that I have had with the people of Old Crow.
This government has been supportive of the wishes of the Gwitchin people - the people of Old Crow - in protecting the herd. We have certainly worked with the group that travelled down to Washington. We worked with the MLA, Johnny Abel, whom I believe went on one of the trips for part of the tour. We are committed to working with the new MLA, Esau Schafer, in helping him get the message out.
We have a formidable opponent in the U.S. Senate. There seems to be a trend developing where some people want to open up the ANWR lands - the 10-02 lands - and develop them. I think we have to resist that in the strongest terms. The Leader of the Opposition asked where we stood on the calving grounds, and I have to tell the Member that I certainly support no development on the calving grounds themselves.
When one goes up to Old Crow and talks to the people, and then one goes out into the wilderness to experience the ways of the animals in the wild, one soon discovers that the caribou is probably one of the toughest animals in the world.
When one looks at all the things they have to go through every year to stay alive, from the crossing of the rivers in the spring - I had a rare opportunity to be in Old Crow around May 10 one year, and the river had just broken up. The caribou were crossing. For the most part, they were cows, laden with calves, and were going up to either the 10-02 lands or the north Yukon lands to have their calves. It was amazing. The river went out the day I was there, and I wondered why the caribou would not stop on the shore and wait until the ice had passed through.
The river was full of these huge chunks of ice, yet the caribou would jump into the river and swim from one floe to another. They would climb on top of one floe and jump to another. Some of them would go down and would not come up. They may have been crushed. Still, there was this drive to get back to the calving grounds in time for the calves to be born at the right time of the year and in the right place, in an area in which they are fairly well protected. It was quite a feeling to see that drive.
Their wintering grounds are on the Dempster Highway and in the Richardson Mountains. We turn on our radios every day and hear about the road being closed and how there is another blizzard in those areas. The caribou are not sitting around a warm fire; they are standing out there in the blizzard with their tails to the wind or huddling behind a hill. They are there. Every spring, they pop back over the hill and head north again. One realizes that they must go through a gamut of people who hunt them - First Nations and non-First Nations - and travel across rivers and mountains. Every conceivable act of nature occurs there, from snowstorms to blizzards and floods, yet they seem to survive, for the most part.
It is important that, as a government, we appreciate the value of the herd to the people as well as the value of the herd to the land. We must do our utmost to protect those animals.
I want where I stand to be clear on the record. Unlike others, I do have personal experience with the people of Old Crow. I have travelled the Porcupine River from about a couple hundred miles upstream all the way down to Rampart House. I spent some time there and saw hundreds of caribou trails. I spent some time sitting on the bars waiting for the caribou to cross. I speak from a bit of experience and a bit of heart when I say that I understand what the caribou mean to the people of Old Crow.
One only has to have been there through a time when no caribou have been around for a while, and see someone come down the river to let everyone know that the caribou are crossing at Salmon Cache or at Caribou Bar down below, to experience the excitement as everybody begins to load gear into their boats and head upstream or downstream to take part in their traditional lifestyle.
I would like to pay a tribute to certain people. It is a little hazardous to do this, because I do not know all the people who were involved, but I want to pay tribute to the late Johnny Abel, who spoke so well of the Porcupine caribou herd and his people. I want to thank him for the work he did. I would be remiss if I did not give a special thanks to the former MLA, Norma Kassi, who is in the gallery today. Norma has fought this thing with her heart and soul, and certainly made her presence known, not only in this Legislature and the public, but also within the walls of the legislatures in Washington. There are a few people down there who, when one mentions the name of Norma Kassi, shake a little. Norma has been there and puts the case across very well of what caribou mean to the people of Old Crow. It is a credit to her, to Robert Bruce Jr., the chief of Old Crow, and the rest of the group - elders and others - who travelled to many cities to speak to people about the value of the Porcupine caribou herd.
It is a difficult one to fight, because one is fighting huge corporations that want to develop the 10-02 lands. The words "Old Crow", "Yukon", or even "Canada", to some people in the southern United States, do not mean much. We just heard recently from Pat Buchanan that he was going to put up the Great Wall of China across the Canadian border, which scares the living daylights out of me.
We do not mean a lot to them, but I think there are a lot of people in the United States who genuinely do care about these things. The people who are working hard to get the message out are doing a good job. We can always do more, and I know we will do more. The new Member for Old Crow has spoken to me about this issue many times before, and I know we will be hearing a lot more from that Member in the future. I am sure there will be other delegations who travel to distant places to get the message across, and that the new Member for Vuntut Gwitchin will be lining up front and centre to represent his people in pointing out to the rest of the world the importance of the Porcupine caribou herd.
Before I close, I want to reaffirm to all Members that I strongly support the motion put forward by the Member for Old Crow. I think that we have to be careful with any development that takes place in the territory. We must make sure that environmental protection is primary. We are dealing with an extremely fragile environment. We are dealing with a caribou herd that can deal with most of its own elements - we have watched that happen over hundreds and thousands of years - but it does have difficulty dealing with some of the obstacles that human beings put in front of it.
I would close by supporting this motion in the strongest terms, and urge the Government of the Yukon, my colleagues and all Yukoners to support this motion and the people in Old Crow in the protection of that very valuable herd.
Ms. Commodore: It gives me pleasure to speak on this motion. I would like to thank the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin for bringing it forward.
It seems that we always have someone in the House who is making an awful lot of noise and lobbying what they feel is a part of their lifestyle. There certainly has never been any opposition to the preservation of those areas.
Over the years, there have been many people who have lobbied for protection of the area. I would like to congratulate those many Gwitchin people from Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories for the ongoing battle they have waged to protect the herd. I watched an piece on Nedaa about some of the people from Old Crow who travelled across the United States to talk to people in different parts of the country to educate and inform them about how important it is not to spoil the area for which they sought protection. It was really emotional to watch them speak. I know that they were getting very tired.
Not too long ago, I again watched Edith Josie, Alice Frost and many other people who were once again lobbying for protection before a decision was made to seek a decision to protect it.
I have also had the opportunity to hear, from different people, the kind of things that they are trying to tell the rest of the country. As a matter of fact, we had a presentation from Doug Urquhart at one of our Tung Lock lunches, where we have someone come in every Friday noon hour to try to educate us on something. It was really interesting to find out from him the kind of work and lobbying that goes on in order to try to bring a point across, and to try to lobby for something that is going to be very helpful to those individuals.
I have also been to Old Crow a number of times. I cannot remember exactly how many times, but I have been there in different seasons and I have seen different things take place. I did have a couple of opportunities to go - I cannot remember if it was up the river or down the river - out on the river. The first time I went down there were not an awful lot of caribou around. The last time I went there was a few years ago with Roger Kaye, and I saw first hand the excitement of the caribou and how the community reacts to the herd when it is coming through. Everyone is actively hunting, skinning, drying and preparing the meat for the next few months.
I would like to add a little bit of history. I am sure that my colleague, the Leader of the Official Opposition, could also give you some of it. When we were in government in 1986, there was a motion that was endorsed calling on Ottawa to intervene in U.S. attempts to open ANWR to development. That happened in this House through a motion, the same as we are debating today.
As far back as 1987, a Canadian position calling for full wilderness protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was developed and endorsed by the Yukon and the Northwest Territories governments. The support goes back a long way; it goes back to the time that the former MLA was sitting in this House. I know that we were educated, lobbied and made to understand the importance of what the Member was trying to do. The same thing is happening with the present MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin. I hope that the Member finds, at the end of his term, that there is more of a commitment to what it is that he wants, because we have not seen the type of written commitment that has happened in the past.
In October 1991, the Cabinet reaffirmed its commitment to the preservation of this area. For the record, I would like to read from this ministerial statement dated November 15, 1990, by the Premier at that time, Tony Penikett. On that day, he wanted to inform the House about the government's concern about the future of ANWR and reaffirm the policy of continuing to protect this area. He states, "ANWR is one of the world's special places supporting more than 160 wildlife species such as Muskox, snowy owls, golden eagles and arctic foxes that make it their home here year-round. Millions of migratory birds, including swans and geese, use the plain as a staging area before their migrations south. Grizzlies, moose, wolves and wolverines roam through this region during the spring and summer.
"Most notably, ANWR includes the spring calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. As hon. Members know, the caribou migrate each year between Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. They are resource shared by northern peoples. We all have a stake in protecting the health of this herd and the habitat that supports it - whether in Alaska or Yukon."
He goes on to say, "But the effects of development may well stretch far beyond the borders of the refuge itself. The disruption of the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou will pose a threat to the herd that has sustained aboriginal peoples for thousands of years. It will pose a threat to these people and to their way of life.
"It is the policy of the Yukon government," of which we were a government at that time, "that oil and gas development should not be allowed in ANWR because of the threat it poses to the caribou calving grounds and to the well-being of the Gwich'in people."
This was part of a ministerial statement made in this House by the Government Leader at that time, Tony Penikett on November 15, 1990. Our support for this issue goes back a long way.
On December 4, 1991, there was another motion in this House, made by the former Member for Vuntut Gwitchin. It read, "THAT this House congratulates the Gwich'in Nation, the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, the Alaska Coalition, the Gwich'in Steering Committee, the Government of Canada, the Government of Yukon, the dozens of environmental organizations and thousands of individuals who successfully lobbied for the withdrawal of a United States Senate bill which would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development; and
"THAT this House supports the continued efforts to protect the North Slope of the Yukon and Alaska for the preservation of the land, air, water and wildlife for the survival of the people who depend on those resources."
She went on and on and on and spoke as we are speaking today about the importance of that, so there is a very long history.
As in the last little while, there was a concern again that people were considering opening it up for development. At that time, in the summer of last year, August 2, Piers McDonald issued a press release asking that the area be protected. There was a lot of noise happening at that time and he wanted the government to support the Gwitchin position. He was urging them to ensure representation at all of the meetings that were taking place. Shortly after that, in September, a letter was written to the Government Leader by the Member for Faro, Trevor Harding, urging the government again to become more active in assisting the Gwitchin preserve the caribou because we were not hearing much from that side of the House with regard to their commitment and how they were going to support the Gwitchin.
Then, on September 14, Tony Penikett again wrote a letter to the Right Hon. Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister of Canada, urging him to contact the American President and convey the support of Canada for a national monument declaration of that area. Then again, there was another letter to the Prime Minister from Piers McDonald, the Leader of the Official Opposition, thanking him for supporting the position of the Vuntut Gwitchin, and then again, a letter to President Bill Clinton thanking him for the veto on the budget bill.
So, over the years, there has been an awful lot of support from this side of the House. While we were on that side of the House, we had a deep commitment to support what the Gwitchin were asking for.
There are some concerns with regard to the area being opened up for development. I think that concern continues to threaten people with change. At one time, the Gwitchin were assured that there was protection there and that it would be there for a long time. Then they seem to have been given some information indicating that things might begin happening that would result in the area being opened up. Alaska has been lobbying to open up the area for development for a while.
I would like to offer my continued support, again, and other Members of my caucus will be speaking to the motion once again. The support has always been there. We understand the importance of the area to the Old Crow people. I would like to think that all the lobbying efforts over the years will be eventful and that they can continue to be able to use that area and the animals that come from it.
I know of its importance, although I have not spent any time hunting there. I have seen how people live up there, however, and I know how much they depend on that herd. One can only understand it if one is there at that time and sees how the community gathers together to do the necessary things to survive, so no one should think that the Porcupine caribou herd is not important to them.
I would once again like to thank the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin for bringing this motion to the floor. We will be supporting it.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I would also like to thank the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin for bringing this motion forward. It is extremely appropriate for this to be his first motion in these Chambers. This is one of the most pressing and important issues to his people - not only the people of his riding, but Gwitchin people in nearby communities as well, all of whom share in the harvest of this magnificent caribou herd.
It was also appropriate that we have as a visitor in the House today one of the former Members for the riding, Norma Kassi, who has done a lot of work since she initially introduced, on December 3, 1986, the motion referred to by the previous speaker. She has spoken in this House on various occasions and given rise to the concern her people have with regard to the possible oil development in ANWR, and she has travelled extensively to Washington and other places in the southern 48 in support of her people and to increase the knowledge of the importance of this herd to the culture of Gwitchin and Inuit people in the area.
I should also mention Johnny Abel, who, as chief of his people, worked very hard on the initial negotiations that led to an agreement for the preservation of this herd, and who, as MLA, spoke about this very serious issue in the House. Mr. Abel, as an advocate and politician, also travelled to the southern 48 and spoke to legislators in Washington, D.C., and played a very important role in the negotiations that ultimately led to the treaty protecting this herd.
I would like to go into a bit of the history, because it is important. I would like to first of all say that all parties in this House have fully supported the Vuntut Gwitchin people in the preservation of this herd. The commitment goes back to a time before the NDP was in power.
I recall that one of my duties as chief land claims negotiator for the territory, representing the Yukon at the negotiations between the Government of the Northwest Territories, the Inuit - who were at that time also negotiating the COPE claim -members from the communities of Arctic Red River, Fort McPherson, Aklavik, Old Crow, Dawson City and Mayo, and the federal govenrment. We had lengthy and numerous negotiations. At those negotiations, we were very fortunate to have knowledgeable elders take part. I can remember such people as Percy Henry, from Dawson City, and Stephen Frost and many others from Old Crow being present at the negotiations. All people in Old Crow had a very deep concern for these issues when I visited that community on numerous occasions and discussed this and other issues with them.
These negotiations were not always easy. They took place throughout the early 1980s and culminated in an agreement signed in Old Crow in 1985 by all of the parties on the Canadian side. I was very honoured to be invited and asked to sign as a witness on the document in Old Crow when the signing ceremony took place. Many of the players over the years were assembled in Old Crow for the celebration. These people included Bob DeLury and Nellie Cournoyea for the COPE and Inuit people. There were people from Aklavik and Fort McPherson. There were officials from the Government of Canada and YTG, and biologists.
It was an issue that was finally seen as being resolved at one stage in 1985. This led, of course, to the understanding and agreement between Alaska and the United States on the one hand and Canada on the other with regard to the protection of the herd. Much of the discussion that took place leading up to the original agreement had to do not only with protecting the land and habitat of the Porcupine caribou, but also with how the annual harvest would be shared.
One of the facts that has always stood out in my mind in talking about the significance of the Porcupine caribou herd with the Vuntut Gwitchin people of Old Crow - the people of the lakes - is that, unlike the other communities who rely quite heavily on this magnificent herd, it is the sole caribou herd to which the people of Old Crow have access. For example, the people in Aklavik, Inuvik, Arctic Red River and Fort McPherson also have access to the herd that ranges to the east of them, the bluenose herd. The Gwitchin and Inuit on the Alaska side have access to alternate herds, as well.
The health of this herd - its size and calving rate - is of extreme importance to Old Crow, because it is the only herd they can harvest.
The second point is that we can look at the health of the herd. When we talk about the health and size of the Porcupine caribou herd, we are particularly concerned about protecting its habitat and, more particularly, the calving grounds.
I have been to the calving grounds in the company of some experts - biologists and so on. What struck me when we visited was the compressed nature of the calving ground area. There are the mountains, with very little vegetation - one can see forever - pushed up against the sea, and there is a very limited area for this huge herd to calve in. That is important because, with a limited area, activity could prove to be very damaging to the size of the herd.
That is the first point.
The second point is that activity could also change the migratory pattern of the herd. This would also have a devastating impact on Old Crow, because Old Crow is situated between the calving grounds and the ultimate wintering range of the herd. Even without man-made activity and disturbance, the migratory pattern varies tremendously from year to year.
On numerous occasions, I have been in Old Crow when the herd should have been migrating nearby, and there was grave concern that it would not come near Old Crow that year, that it would change its whole migratory pattern for some reason, which was of grave concern to the elders and others in Old Crow.
This second problem is one that will always be of concern, but one can quite quickly understand that we have to take tremendous care, even outside the calving grounds, because of the risk of disturbing the migratory path of the Porcupine caribou in some permanent way.
I remember, not very long ago, the visit of our Prime Minister's nephew, Ambassador Chretien, who is the ambassador for Canada in Washington. He came to the Yukon and visited with our Cabinet. We discussed issues of mutual concern.
At the top of the list was the issue of how we could assist the Vuntut Gwitchin and the other players, the other people responsible for the protection of the herd, the management regime for the herd, how we could assist them to effectively lobby and intervene in Washington, because at that time we knew there was once again going to be the cyclical battle in Washington where one fights against unseemly development that would impact on the herd. You think you have won but it just comes back again in a year or two. At that time - I believe it was about a year and one-half ago that he visited; I could be out in my dates - the concern had to do with the issue of the balanced budget and the bargaining chip that I believe it was the Republican Party felt they had in pushing some of these environmental issues - or anti-environmental issues, I guess - and using some of them really to try to negotiate the outcome of the budget debate.
At that meeting between us and Ambassador Chretien and his officials, I was struck with what he had to say about the best and most effective kind of lobbying that we could support in Washington. He really strongly believed, and was very convincing in his remarks - at least to me - that the Vuntut Gwitchin were extremely successful in getting to the legislators in Washington and making their point. He himself was in awe of the impact that the elders and others from Old Crow, and the other dependent, harvesting communities, had on these individual, tough, old legislators in Congress and the Senate.
I felt that the best job would be done by them and that we should support them in going to Washington and speaking to important players in the southern 48 states. After meeting with us and spending a bit of time in Whitehorse, Ambassador Chretien travelled to Old Crow to speak to the people there for himself, and then he went to Alaska to talk to some of the players there, many of whom, of course, are pro-development. I thought that it was a very fruitful visit for the ambassador. I think it is the first time, certainly that I can recall in my time here, that we have had our ambassador to Washington come here to solicit our views in order to help us lobby and get our point across in Washington. I found him to be open to suggestions and keenly interested in some of our issues.
We discussed some other things, not as important as this, such as the salmon treaty on the Yukon River and other issues.
Following his visit, we had people from Old Crow and from the other Gwitchin communities go to Washington to lobby. They have certainly been largely successful in their efforts.
Unfortunately, one can never let one's guard down, because it is something that keeps coming back. We can expect, I am sure, new initiatives by the oil lobby and by the extremely pro-development people in Washington. They are not just of one party. American politics is quite different from ours. There is no party line on this issue. There are very, very pro-development Democrats as well as Republicans. I think it is going to be a continuing struggle.
I know and I am very comfortable feeling that this Legislature, whoever is governing and whoever makes up the membership in years to come, will be unanimous in its support of the herd, of the people of Old Crow, and of the principles that went into making up the agreement that lead to the Porcupine Caribou Management Board being put in place and funded.
I just want, once again, to thank the Member for Old Crow for bringing this issue forward again. It is something that is appropriate and should be done again and again, because of the nature of the issue.
I want to make it very clear that this is not a partisan issue. It is not just one party or another that support the people of Old Crow and the herd. The genesis of the protection that exists right now in the form of the management agreement and the treaty between the jurisdictions - Alaska and the United States on the one hand and the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Canada on the other - goes way back to about 1980-81, when all those negotiations got underway.
I feel very honoured and lucky to have been able to play a modest role in the development of some of the principles and to have been involved in some of the negotiations that led to the over-arching agreements for protection. Anyone who has spent time working with or negotiating with the elders, particularly, of Old Crow, Dawson, Mayo and other communities, not only has been honoured but is very lucky to have shared the experience. I certainly feel lucky for those reasons. I commit to always supporting the community of Old Crow, the other communities and, of course, the herd, which, after all, is really a resource not only for the people who use it and harvest it, but also a world resource that is a treasure to all who live on this planet.
Mr. Harding: I will be very brief. The comments that have been made by the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Member for Whitehorse Centre document the longstanding support of the NDP for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
I applaud the actions of the United States Democratic President, Bill Clinton, for vetoing the Republican budget drilling initiatives. I have sent correspondence to this government indicating the concerns that I have with the lack of initiative, not on the behalf of Gwitchin people, but on behalf of the Yukon Government Leader in terms of his active support in lobbying with the Republicans. The Yukon Party always wants to preach to us about development and mining in parks, and that sort of thing. It sends a mixed message. They support the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and I think it would have some weight with the Republicans in the U.S. Senate and Congress. I would like to see more of that, coupled with the good efforts of the Gwitchin people.
I had the fortunate opportunity to watch the David Suzuki program, The Nature of Things, in which it was quite interesting to watch Chief Robert Bruce, Alice Frost, Norma Kassi, a couple of elders and some young people from Old Crow doing such an incredible job of lobbying for the ANWR protection and the protection of the caribou. I watched this program with my sister who just arrived in the Yukon in August. I showed her this tape and she started to cry. She watched some of the passionate arguments of some of the speakers and it really carried quite an impact. I think they did a heck of a job. I think they did a fine job and I think that the political level has a lot to offer, ancillary to their efforts.
I will not take long. As I said, I support this motion. I am glad it came forward. I congratulate the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin for bringing it forward, and I will support it and continue our efforts to oppose the ongoing Republican lobby to open up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would also like to thank the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin for bringing this motion forward. The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes said in his remarks that it was something that needs to be continually brought forward, and I agree with that. It is something we have to pay attention to all the time.
There is no question that I fully support the motion. The Yukon government is committed to the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd because of its importance to the Old Crow people and other Yukoners. The Yukon is deservedly proud of this herd, which numbers approximately 165,000 animals. It is an important part of our natural heritage. Its seasonal migration and concentrated presence in the calving grounds in Alaska is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles of the world.
I have a little story I would like to tell about the Porcupine caribou herd. I have never had the opportunity to see the herd during its migration, nor when it was all in one place. I have never been in the right place at the right time. Several years ago, friends of mine were hunting along the Dempster Highway. It was about time for the migration of the herd. They had set up a tent camp a mile or so off the highway. By the time they had the camp all set up, it was getting on into the evening, so they sat around the fire and consumed a bottle of some sort of hard liquor.
They argued, laughed and had a great time that evening, and crawled into their sleeping bags. The whole Porcupine caribou herd came through that night while they were sleeping. They woke up in the morning, and the herd had gone completely around them.
I understand one can hear 165,000 animals coming for several miles and, after they have gone, one can still hear the clicking and the rumbling. However, these fellows were quite unaware of the whole herd going through until the next morning, when they got up and the tundra was all chewed up and the last of the herd had gone.
As I said, the Yukon government has consistently supported protection of this herd and this position has enjoyed the support of all parties in the Yukon Legislature, which is not necessarily all that common for this particular Legislature. There are some examples. In February 1995, the Yukon provided funding to assist Mr. Abel to go to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of Yukon interests. I believe that, at the same time, we provided some funding for some of the people of Old Crow to also attend. The Government Leader met just last summer with Canada's ambassador to the United States to discuss ANWR. The Government Leader has communicated Yukon's position to Alaska Governor Knowles, members of the U.S. Senate, as well as the Prime Minister and the United States ambassador.
As Minister of Renewable Resources, I met with the Alaskan Commissioner of Fish and Game last August to reaffirm our support for the protection of this herd on the sensitive 10-02 lands.
The Yukon government continues to financially support the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, to the tune of something like $50,000 per year, and the people of Old Crow in their efforts to protect the herd. In addition, we are active participants on the international Porcupine Caribou Management Board. Yukon provides the extensive and less sensitive winter range for the herd and the government recognizes its responsibility for protecting the herd within the Yukon's borders by working with the Porcupine Caribou Management Board on effective management of the herd in the Yukon and, through the Vuntut Gwitchin land claims agreements, protecting wildlife habitat and traditional use of the land and resources in the Old Crow area.
In consideration of these values, Yukon continues to actively conserve this herd as one of the most intensively and carefully managed wildlife resources in North America.
In order to successfully manage the Porcupine caribou herd, there are a great number of issues that must be dealt with. Sensitive habitat is naturally one of these issues. As most Members are aware, at different times of the year caribou need special places in order to stay healthy and in order to raise their young. As the season changes, the herd travels from one of these special places to the next, in accordance with needs for food and safety. The Porcupine caribou herd utilizes a number of different habitats each year. Some are more important than others. The Government of Yukon shares the responsibility for the identification and protection of these very special habitats.
The overall health of the herd is of great importance to the Vuntut Gwitchin, the Inuvialuit, the Inuk and the peoples of the Northwest Territories.
As you and I rely on the corner store to provide our food, the Vuntut Gwitchin and other northern Canadians rely on the Porcupine caribou herd. Every month of the year, someone is hunting Porcupine caribou for their family or for the community. I believe that Johnny Abel told me that his family consumed approximately 20 caribou a year. That gives you a bit of an idea of the number of animals required.
The herd is also a major tourist attraction at various times of the year, depending on its location. The Porcupine Caribou Management Board is involved in a number of activities designed to ensure the health and longevity of this herd. The board is currently working in conjunction with F.H. Collins on a personal computer package concerning the ecology of the herd. This program will allow students and other members of the public to alter scenarios involving the environmental aspects of the habitat, predation, harvest and development scenarios to monitor those effects on the herd. This program will be available for use this year.
The board is also responsible for all communications with First Nations, all levels of government and all users of the herd and its habitat to ensure coordinated management practices and the conservation of the herd. The Porcupine Caribou Management Board has identified a significant number of issues to be dealt with by the Government of the Yukon. These issues include the physical condition of the herd, natural mortality, harvest, population trends, range, use and disturbance, co-management responsibilities, culture and education, tourism- related business, and industry- and development- related issues.
The monitoring of the Porcupine caribou herd is an ongoing process. I cannot recall off the top of my head how often the actual physical counts are taken, but I believe that the latest one was taken in 1994. It was in the neighbourhood of 160,000 animals. Our biologists believe right now that the herd is healthy. The animals killed have shown no major diseases and are generally in reasonably good physical condition - they are fat at the proper times of year, and so on. The amount of hunting for both subsistence and sport is well under the number of caribou that our biologists believe can be taken from the herd. I think that the percentage they use is something like five per cent.
In other words, if there are 160,000 animals, one could harvest approximately 8,000 of those animals without harming the herd; it would be a sustainable level. We believe that the harvest is somewhat under 5,000, including the northern people and sport hunters. The herd is healthy and we do need to bring a motion like this forward on an annual basis to keep it in the forefront. People should be aware.
I thank the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin for bringing it forward. I will continue to support this type of motion.
Mr. Cable: I also thank the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin for tabling the motion. I have gone through the debate on the motion brought forward in December 1991. I could not hope to be more eloquent about the importance of preserving the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd and its habitat than Norma Kassi was in this House on that day.
As the Member for Old Crow, she introduced a motion that was adopted in this House congratulating all those who successfully lobbied for the withdrawal of a United States Senate bill, which would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development. The only person she failed to congratulate in her motion was herself and her extremely effective leadership of the lobby against oil development in the Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds.
In speaking to her motion - I would like to quote her words - she had, among other things, the following to say: "This is now a human rights issue. If this goes through, it will violate the covenant of the United Nations. The Gwitchin of northern Canada have an inherent right to have our culture protected; our culture is the caribou. Our entire life is centred around the migration of one of the largest migratory herds of caribou on the continent. We cannot drive anywhere to get food; instead, our food comes to us. Our ancestors decided to set up a permanent residence at Old Crow because, twice a year, the caribou migrate through our village.
"Not only do we celebrate their return because of the meat that they provide for us but it is the celebration of our culture, our heritage, our spirits and we give thanks and say our prayers because we know that, once again, we will be able to survive for another season.
"It is an indisputable fact that if drilling is allowed to proceed in the caribou calving grounds of the refuge, there will come a time in the near future when the caribou will not come back. We will wait in our village, day after day, without any sign of their return.
"We fear that our people will want to move away. We cannot allow this to happen."
The Liberal Party has long been in full support of protecting the caribou herd and its habitat in order to preserve the way of life and the cultural well-being of the Gwitchin nations. As a matter of fact, I have been told by one of the members of my party, who has more history in the party than I do, that in October of 1970 the Northern Liberal Policy Conference met in Inuvik and debated a motion almost identical to the one before us today. The late Elijah Smith, who was at that conference, played a crucial role in those discussions leading to the unanimous adoption of the motion by the Liberal conference to protect the Porcupine caribou herd and its habitat.
More recently, on the federal scene, Prime Minister Chretien met with U.S. Vice-President Al Gore to lobby against oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This type of lobbying effort must continue to ensure the Gwitchin's undeniable right to their culture and their food source. Therefore, it is no surprise that I will be pleased to support the motion brought forward today by the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin. I am sure that most, if not all, Members on this side of the House will join in supporting the motion as it now stands.
We heard from the Members opposite some of the initiatives that they have taken and are taking, but there is a question in my mind as to what extent the Government of Yukon is prepared to support this motion and its intentions with actions. I notice that the Government Leader is due to speak very shortly. It will be useful to hear from him what specific measures his government is prepared to take to ensure the preservation of the Porcupine caribou herd and its habitat.
Precisely how does this government intend to protect this vital resource, which is so essential to the way of life and cultural well-being of the Gwitchin nations? What sort of lobbying efforts does it intend to carry out with the Prime Minister? What sort of contact has it had with the possible Republican administration and the possible Republican President? What sort of lobbying efforts are being carried out with the present administration - President Clinton and Vice-President Gore - who are very favourably disposed to the Gwitchin position?
It appears that the Republican party in the U.S., which was very supportive of development in the calving grounds, may be getting set to shoot its collective feet off, and that President Clinton and Vice-President Gore are likely to be re-elected. As I mentioned, it would be very useful for the Government Leader to speak to the issue of how he intends to open up communications - if he has not already - on a personal basis, and how he intends to lobby the American government?
As I mentioned, I will have no problem supporting this motion.
Mr. Millar: I am looking at the speaking Order Paper and I think it is my turn. I would like to speak to this motion for a few moments, as well. I am going to take a slightly different angle than the other speakers.
Unlike some of the other speakers who have spoken, I do not have a first-hand experience with the Porcupine caribou herd. As a matter of fact, until I was elected, I had never been to Old Crow before in my life, even though I was born and raised in the Yukon. I guess that is one of those things in one's past that one can be ashamed of; however, I have been there since being elected. It is beautiful. I have heard a lot about the excitement that builds when the caribou herd comes.
I guess the different angle that I am talking about - I have heard now both the Liberal Leader and the Leader of the Official Opposition when they were lending their support to this motion, state basically to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that, although the government is supporting it - and the government has done a lot of wonderful things in the past to prove their support to the Porcupine caribou herd and the inhabitants of Old Crow - they are not really sure if we support it or not because - I do not want to put words in their mouths - I assume it is because they have people like me on this side of the House. I have made my living in the mining industry just about all of my working life. I guess they wonder how someone like me can actually care about the environment and those kinds of issues.
I would like to state that I very much support the people of Old Crow in this endeavour. One of the main reasons I support them is because I believe people should have as much control over their own lives as possible. I believe people should not be affected by outside influences. One of the things that has an effect on my riding is the trapping industry. People in Europe come over here, when they know absolutely nothing about what is going on in the Yukon, or our lifestyle, and tell us how to live and how we should do things.
I am very much opposed to that sort of thing. I see the same kind of thing going on here with the Porcupine caribou herd. There are outside influences: big business, big government, and whatever, trying to force their will on the people who exist off the Porcupine caribou herd. I do not like it.
I feel strongly about this. Even in the placer mining industry, of which I am a part, I feel we have been affected the same way. On one side of the coin, I guess we are talking about the environmental movement, and on the other side, we are talking about the industrial movement and big business.
It just goes to show there should be a line in the middle somewhere, although I hate to say that, because it makes me sound like a Liberal.
I feel people from outside - Toronto, or Ottawa - were trying to influence us, saying that placer mining cannot go on because it is raping and pillaging the land, and it is the last land we have left. It is almost an overreaction from the other side of the issue involving the Porcupine caribou herd.
I do not know why they want to destroy the Porcupine caribou herd. I cannot understand why anyone would want to do that. The people of Old Crow, and the other First Nations who rely on this herd to survive, have rights and should be at the forefront of this.
I do not have a lot to say on this. I will be supporting this motion because I think it is right and because I believe people who are directly involved should have a say in what goes on in their own area.
Mr. Joe: I would like to thank the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin for bringing forward such a very important motion. There is no doubt in my mind that the caribou herd is very important to the Vuntut Gwitchin.
When I go to Old Crow, all my old friends and the elders tell me lots of stories about how they rely on the caribou. Also, Charlie Abel and other long-time friends of mine who have gone now, have passed this on to the younger generation. Also, my friend Johnny Abel told me lots of stories while we stayed in the 202 Hotel. Many times, Johnny came to my room with something cooked, some traditional food. I really appreciated that.
That is how important it is to the people of Old Crow.
I do not know who would try to destroy our traditional food.
Big money talks. That is all it is. I am afraid things might get worse at some time in the future.
I would like to say to the Vuntut Gwitchin to make sure to work closely with the government. Make sure that no one sidetracks your agreement. It is important.
Sometimes the caribou travel. My elders used to tell me that they go to Old Crow. That is not the important part. If exploration occurs, Old Crow will have problems. That is the reason the Vuntut Gwitchin must work very closely with the government all of the time.
I will not take too long. I think the important points of the issue have been very well spoken to. Some of my elder friends used to ask me how the caribou can bring food to the table, and that is the most important thing. Food on the table for many more generations to come is very important.
Our lifestyle is very important. We try to hang on to it, and have done so for many years. It will be a sad thing for us if our way of life is destroyed. We have to do our part. We should talk about how we can best protect what we have.
Some of the gun control issues that are going to be discussed soon are also very important. I do not think that we will have time to go back to our grandfathers' way of living with bow and arrows when we are now in 1996.
I think that we should try to control the government that makes things hard for us. I think it is time for us to fight back and to do something for ourselves that our people expect us to do.
What scares me sometimes is that people such as the Vuntut Gwitchin talk about their lifestyles and then hear things coming from the government, such as the gun control legislation, that destroy these lifestyles. The people making these laws should travel to each community to truly learn about our lifestyle.
I do not think that a government could do this in any other country. For instance, try to go to China and destroy their lifestyle and see how long that would last. They would hang you.
I better stop before I get carried away.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I rise today in support of the motion put forward by one of our new Members to the Legislature, the MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin. I am very pleased to be able to speak to this motion once again in this mandate. It is a very important motion; it is important that it again receives the unanimous support of this House. In my opinion, this motion is so important that I feel that the Opposition ought not to try to play politics with it. There are some things that should rise above partisan politics, and this motion is one of them.
I heard the comments by the Leader of the Official Opposition, the Member for Faro and the Member for Riverside. My apologies to the Member for Riverside; I forgot the name of his riding for a minute.
I will outline in my debate today what the Government of the Yukon has been doing and what we will continue to do in support of protecting this vital resource. About 7,000 or 8,000 First Nations people depend on this resource. Their lifestyle is unique, probably not only in this country, but in the world. It is a way of life that deserves to be protected. It is an area where we can meld the two societies. We can protect the old way of life and the traditional lifestyles of the Gwitchin people, and we can do that by protecting the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd.
This government has consistently supported the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd because - as I said earlier - of its great importance, particularly to the Vuntut Gwitchin people of Old Crow, but also to the Gwitchin nation.
This position has enjoyed all parties' support in the Yukon Legislature on two separate occasions in the past and remains united today with concerns about oil and gas development activity in the calving grounds located in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I do not think there are any inconsistencies with our party being a pro-development party and at the same time wanting to protect the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd. There is no inconsistency in that at all.
Since taking office, our government has been utilizing every means at our disposal to express our concern to the Government of Alaska, the Government of the United States, and to the Government of Canada. On two previous occasions, I have personally raised the issue of the vital importance of the protection of this herd, both with the previous Governor of Alaska and the present Governor of Alaska.
We had a meeting here two and one-half years ago with Governor Hickel, who was the Governor of Alaska at the time. He stated quite clearly and unequivocally, not only to me but also to our media, that the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd had to be protected, and he went so far as to say at that meeting, and to the press at that time, that the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd not only had to be protected, but it had to be seen to be protected by the Gwitchin nation. It had to be protected to their satisfaction. He said that. He said that no development would take place unless that could be realized.
I think that is a fairly strong statement by a governor who, as my party is, was pro-development and fairly cognizant of the vast value of the oil reserves in the Arctic to the Alaskan people. Nevertheless, I believe Mr. Hickel is one of the greatest environmentalists who ever got involved in political life in the north. He appreciated the land, he respected the land, he respected the First Nations, and he also knew we had to have development to sustain life in the north - but not development at any cost.
About a year ago, I made the same argument with Governor Knowles in Juneau. Again, I got a commitment that the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd would be protected. We have also been coordinating our efforts with our Prime Minister and with Canada's ambassador to the United States. Another thing my government has done is send letters directly to all U.S. legislators, urging them to recognize Yukon's concerns.
Back in August 1995, the New Democratic caucus put out a press release, which called for decisive action to be taken by the government and questioned our commitment to preserving the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd. The press release said that, as a government affected by Alaskan proposals and supposed supporter of the Gwitchin position, the Government of Yukon should ensure representation at critical meetings, suggesting we should be in Washington, lobbying the Senate hearings.
At the time, I said publicly, and I will say it again for the record in this House, that the best lobbyists for the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd are the Gwitchin people themselves.
They have a tremendous impact when they go to Washington, meet with legislators and appear at Senate hearings. They have a tremendous impact when they walk down the hallways of government offices in Washington, an impact far greater than I, the Leader of the Official Opposition or the Leader of the Liberal Party could have. We would not even be recognized walking down those hallways. Gwitchin people are recognized and they are listened to.
Our ambassador to Washington, when he met with me here last summer, enforced that idea and supported the notion that the best lobbyists were the Gwitchin people. Furthermore, the Government of Canada does not appreciate territorial governments making representation to Senate hearings in Washington. It frowns on that. It has told us that time and time again. Not that it is the end of the world if they frown on it, but I just do not believe that we have the impact. I think the money is better spent sending the Gwitchin people there.
We do not need to send three more white men to Washington. We are not going to have any impact, but the Gwitchin people are. The Norma Kassis, the Johnny Abels, the Robert Bruces - those people will go with our support and we will continue to support them.
Members opposite will recall that we sent the MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, the late Johnny Abel, to Washington on one of those lobbying efforts. We will continue to do those things.
In February 1994, we helped to sponsor a delegation from Old Crow to go to Washington to speak directly with U.S. legislators and to lobby on behalf of Yukon interests. As I have said, our MLA, the late Johnny Abel, and Chief Robert Bruce, Jr. were part of that delegation.
That money is far better spent supporting those people in their lobbying efforts than sending three more white politicians to Washington, and we will continue to support them.
Our government has supported the lobbying efforts of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board and the Gwitchin people with financial assistance, and we will continue communication activities through international representation. Wherever possible, our government will continue to assist direct lobbying efforts by the Gwitchin people. Let their be no doubt about that.
We will continue to raise our opposition to the proposed development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge lands and urge the United States Government to recognize the importance of the Porcupine caribou herd to the people of Old Crow, Yukon and the Gwitchin nation. Our government recognizes its own responsibility in protecting that herd within our own borders.
We have lobbied our Prime Minister, prior to his going to Washington, to speak out on behalf of the Gwitchin people. We have lobbied the ambassador in Washington, when we met with him last summer. There has been further correspondence with him on the issue, and we will continue to take all of the actions that we can to make sure that the integrity of this herd is protected.
I am one Yukoner who has not yet seen the migration. I am going to make every effort to go to Old Crow and see the migration as soon as possible. I have talked to many people who have seen it, and I have talked to many people about the tremendous emotional feelings that they had when they were fortunate enough to see thousands and thousands of caribou moving across the landscape at one time.
It is important that we protect this part of our heritage. We can protect it and we can develop - not necessarily in the same areas - but we can and we must protect the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd and we will do everything in this government's power to continue working with the Porcupine Caribou Management Board for effective management of the herd.
There are clauses in the Vuntut Gwitchin land claims agreement protecting wildlife habitat and traditional use of the lands and the resources in the Old Crow area, and we will continue to work with Vuntut Gwitchin people in those areas.
I spoke earlier of the reliance of the Gwitchin people on this herd as a food source, a lifestyle and a connection with their past. For those Members who have had the opportunity to be in Old Crow, as I have on many occasions now, and for those who have had the opportunity to browse in the Co-op Store and see what turkey, chicken, or roast beef costs, the concerns of the Old Crow people can be appreciated when they feel that this herd or its habitat may be threatened.
When I say that the integrity of the herd has to be protected, I mean that the Gwitchin people have to be satisfied that the integrity and the habitat of the herd are being protected. They must be satisfied that their way of life can be protected in the event of any oil development. Before we would be prepared to consider any other position on the development of the ANWR, we have to be certain that the Gwitchin people are satisfied that the integrity of that herd is being protected.
Accepting the realities of the modern world should not mean that the Gwitchin people must sacrifice a way of the old world, especially if that sacrifice involves the destruction of our environment and threatens the existence of the Porcupine caribou herd.
As I said earlier, I believe that there are approximately 7,000 aboriginal people who depend on this herd.
We heard the Minister of Renewable Resources speak about the health of the herd and the margin of harvest being well below the level of sustainability. I think that we must hold this up as an example of how we can survive in this world without devastating all of the old ways, the ways of the Gwitchin people or the habitat of this herd, which is critical to the Gwitchin culture and lifestyle. I think that we should be proud to take that stand in defence of this herd and those people.
I want to now go over some of the things that our government has done, is doing and will continue to do to protect the habitat and integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd. We have supported the Porcupine Caribou Management Board and the Gwitchin people in their bid to get an audience at the hearings in Washington, and we supported them with travelling costs. I understand that the federal government did not attend the hearings as a matter of sovereignty. I understand that the representations were made by the ambassador to members of the Senate and House of Representatives. As I said earlier, we feel that it is far more appropriate for us to support the Gwitchin people in their lobbying efforts. I cannot describe the dramatic and visual effect of people such as Norma Kassi, who has taken on the protection of the integrity of this herd as a mission in her life. What can have a bigger impact on legislators than seeing this lady on television with her beaded caribou garments? I know that I cannot, and I am certain that the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Leader of the Liberals in the House could not have that dramatic an impact.
That is an impact that registers with those people. It is a visual impact. It is on television. It goes out to millions of people around the world. The message is heard loud and clear. We must continue to support those people, and we will.
We will do our best in our efforts to keep the barrage of letters going to legislators, both in Alaska and in the United States. We will continue to keep the ambassador briefed, we will continue to keep the prime minister briefed, and we will continue to lobby them so that they can make our case for the protection of this herd.
We have provided briefings and information for Ambassador Mary Simon, Canadian Ambassador for circumpolar affairs. We have given her all the information and made her fully aware. We work with the Northwest Territories to coordinate efforts.
Let me put on the record, right now, for those political opponents of ours who took political shots at us in this debate for not going to Washington to represent and support the Gwitchin people. The Northwest Territories takes a very similar position to that of the Yukon government, by providing assistance to the board and the Gwitchin but not attending hearings as a government. We are on the same wavelength with the Northwest Territories government. They feel it is inappropriate, we feel it is inappropriate, and the Government of Canada feels it is inappropriate, but we will work with the Old Crow people and with the Porcupine Caribou Management Board to do everything within our power to protect the integrity and habitat of that herd.
Ms. Moorcroft: I, too, would like to rise to support the motion before the House. It is the first motion that the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin has had called for debate, and I am happy to stand and agree that the integrity of the Porcupine caribou herd and its habitat must be protected in order to preserve the way of life and the cultural wellbeing of the Gwitchin nations in Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. As previous speakers have noted, congratulations are due to the Gwitchin people for their ongoing battle to protect the Porcupine caribou herd and its habitat. The Porcupine herd is one of the largest wild caribou herds in North America, numbered at approximately 170,000 animals.
In the past, the previous government supported a position calling on Ottawa to intervene in American attempts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to development. We believe the best lobbyists are the Gwitchin people; however, we would like to know exactly where this government stands.
The Government Leader has been very careful to stand up and say that they have written letters to legislators in the past and will continue to do so in the future. It is not playing politics to ask this government to be clear about whether or not they support oil exploration and development in the 10-02 lands.
The Government Leader just stood and spoke about the fact that the Gwitchin people have to be satisfied that their way of life can be protected before oil and gas can be developed. It sounds like he could be in favour of oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is not playing politics to ask the Government Leader and the government Cabinet Ministers to be clear. Are they in favour of the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge habitat for caribou, or are they not? What is the Government Leader's position on oil exploration and development in the 10-02 lands?
We have not heard that made clear today, and it is something for which we believe the Government Leader should give a complete response.
I would like to say that I support the motion and congratulate the Member for bringing it forward. We have made the position of the Opposition clear in the debate this afternoon, and hope the government's position can be clear, too.
Speaker: If the hon. Member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Mr. Schafer: I feel quite relieved with the motion I put forward in the Legislature. I am very happy to hear Members on both sides supporting it.
I am sure, if my community hears the support of both sides of the House clearly, they would be very happy. Once again, I would like to thank all of you in your support for my motion.
Motion No. 94 agreed to
Motion No. 93
Clerk: Motion No. 93, standing in the name of Mr. Schafer.
Speaker: It is moved by the Hon. Member for Vuntut Gwitchin
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to continue the work of Yukon First Nations, the Northwest Territories and with those provinces opposed to the federal government's gun control legislation in order to block its implementation until such time as changes are made to this unjust law to recognize the needs and lifestyles of responsible firearms owners; and
THAT this House urges the Governments of Yukon and Canada to redirect the funds required to implement the firearms registration system to crime prevention initiatives.
Mr. Schafer: I was surprised at how quickly my motion passed and I did not have a speech prepared, but I usually like to try to go without a written speech, and practice that.
On the gun control issue, I do not think it is necessary to have gun control for my community because it is a traditional use. That is all they use it for. They use it for hunting, trapping and survival. It is used for the protection of the caribou herd.
They must go through the process of education to educate the whole community to act on gun control. I do not see that in my community, because every family in my community has a rifle for different seasons.
Every season, there is a different rifle used by the family. As the elders grow older the rifle is handed down to the next generation. This is a family tradition. If you want to buy a new rifle today you have to have the right permit, be the right age and understand the regulations. I cannot see this for my community.
I have more to say on this topic, but I will close for now.
Mr. Harding: I want to assure the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that without prepared text I certainly understood what he said and I understand the purpose of the motion, and we will be prepared to support that motion. I enjoy it when Members speak off the cuff, from their heads, and what they are thinking comes out clearly; in this case, it certainly did.
We have talked and talked about Bill No. C-68. We have raised the good points, and we have raised the numerous bad points in the bill. We want to make sure that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Official Opposition has stated that it supports anything that reduces incidences of violent crimes against society and we support initiatives that increase sentences for smuggling or for the carrying out of a violent crime with a firearm by individual citizens. These are all good parts of the bill, but we have some other concerns about this particular legislation.
We tried to attend the consultative hearings when the federal Minister of Justice was in Whitehorse. The local Liberal Party organized the hearings here. However, they essentially made it almost impossible for anyone without a Liberal Party card to get in to speak to the Minister of Justice about their views. A couple of my caucus members tried very hard to attend the meeting. I know that the Independent Member for Riverdale South tried to get into those meetings, but the local Liberals blocked us off. The Member for Whitehorse Centre was very angry. I remember talking to her the next day about the arrogance that was portrayed and the lack of respect for the different views of Yukon people by the local Liberals who thought they were mighty important to have the ability to organize this event.
That smack of arrogance has not been forgotten by the Yukon people. I heard about it a lot on the doorsteps of Whitehorse West. And it will not be forgotten if I have anything to do about it.
I went to the Senate hearings when the Senate committee was here. It was a farcical show - a bunch of PC senators and our local, Vancouver Liberal senator, who did their little political speeches - unelected senators. I think half of them were trying to revive the fortunes of the PC Party in Canada and raise its profile. They gave little talks about their views on the bill. It was not a productive exercise, as we all know. In the end, the PC senators lined up to support the bill, along with their Liberal colleagues in the Senate, as we knew would happen, because Jean Charest had told us that in advance. That was a disappointment, because we had thought that there might be some amendments to the bill that would make it more plausible to support concerning issues such as registration.
That did not happen. I gave a speech at that hearing. It was quite a large hearing. There were a lot of hopes built up. There were a few hundred people there. There was a considerable amount of anger expressed and concern raised about the bill. A lot of it was extremely well thought out. It was not just some gut anger. The arguments were well thought out about why the bill should be modified or even eliminated. Some people had stronger views than others, obviously. It was quite productive, in the sense that the people had a chance to speak, but in terms of what the Senate eventually did with it, it was a total waste of time.
I also presented an extensive written brief to the senators, prepared by our caucus, on our position, much to the chagrin of one of the directors of the Liberal Party, who referred to me as a mangy coyote and to the Independent MLA for Riverdale South as a dried-up old cow. I did take a position, as did our caucus, on this gun control bill, and was quite offended by the lack of understanding of that position and the assertions that were incorrectly made by the local Liberal Party about our position, so I intend to educate the Liberals further today about our position. We are quite prepared to put things on the record. If they, any Members of the Executive Council Office or others would like a copy of our brief, I would be quite prepared to give it to them.
Also, just so that I do not spare the rod on the Yukon Party government, formerly PC, which lined up in the Senate to support this bill, I would like to bring up my one concern with this government about this issue. They knew it was unpopular here in the Yukon and have done a fine job of being out there front and centre. I attended a gun control rally - our anti-Bill C-68 rally, I should say - when Paul Martin was up and all the local Liberals and the local law firms were having dinner at a fundraiser with Paul Martin, but of course the real people - the average Joes and Marys - were out in the parking lot trying to make some points to the local Liberals and the federal colleague who had come in, the brethren of the Liberal Party. We were quite disappointed that more people, the director of the Liberal Party and others, did not come out to hear what we had to say, but nonetheless we were not surprised.
I attended that rally with some other politicians and other people who were concerned - people from the Yukon Trappers Association, local people involved with the First Nations, the Minister of Justice, the Independent Member for Riverdale South and a number of other people from the Responsible Firearms Owners Coalition. I spoke at that hearing, as well, which is probably why the Liberal Party did not hear my clear position on this issue - they were inside with the sponsors of Bill C-68.
The one concern I would have with this government's handling of this issue is that it has had many opportunities to strengthen the argument coming out of the Yukon regarding the opposition to Bill C-68 as written. I asked the Minister of Justice if I could attend some of the hearings, in which he has had front billing, to show that there is a non-partisan approach to this issue in the Yukon Legislature. I was turned down, and I believe it was because the Minister of Justice was basking in the limelight because he knew this was an incredibly wonderful political issue that he had been handed by the Liberals. His foot was reaching all the way to Ottawa and he was just kicking them left and right. I wanted not to do that, of course, but to have an opportunity to clearly and concisely lay out our position on the issue so that it would be a clear message to the people in Ottawa that all of the people in the Legislature had some concerns.
I expect the Liberal Member to engage in a harsh rebuttal of my comments, knowing that he will be speaking after I am through, but regardless of what is said in the Liberal Member's rebuttal, I think the case I have made is the whole truth and nothing but the truth and was fully borne out in the by-election in Whitehorse West - and in Old Crow, I might add.
One of the key points in our position is that we support realistic measures that reduce incidences of violent crime. We believe that the existing firearms legislation should be rigorously enforced. This is a key factor. It is tough to impose more regulations and laws on people when you have a situation in which they continually overlap. People are again and again seeing regulations that are not always acted upon. That would be a key element in improving the people's perception of the gun control legislation previously brought in, because people see more and more regulations coming down but are not always sure if they are being enforced adequately.
We also feel that the previous gun control legislation brought in by the PC government, under former Prime Minister Campbell when she was Justice Minister of Canada, was very extensive and wide-ranging. It brought in some good things, such as the requirement that courses be taken to educate people about gun control. I do have some problems with that; but as a fundamental principle, I did not think that it was a bad idea. That was also accompanied by the requirement for safe storage provisions and for trigger locks, which I had a hard time with personally at the time. However, I do think that it cuts down on people's ability to impulsively pick up a weapon to commit a violent crime. They are now prevented from doing so by the safe storage and trigger lock provisions, because you simply cannot, in an angry response, get at a weapon unless you have the key to get in. In hindsight, that was probably not a bad provision.
I do not think that we have made the correlation between those changes and how effective they were before bringing in Bill C-68. That is probably one of the things that sticks in my craw. I want to see legislation evaluated for its effectiveness - what worked, what did not work. I asked the Justice Minister for some rationale behind this new bill to see if he could give me any information or comfort that the previous legislation brought in by the Conservatives was not effective. That rationale was never provided. Was it effective? If the regulations were not effective, one wants to be sure that amendments can be made to reduce the regulations that responsible gun owners face.
The fact that very little evaluation was done of previous gun control legislation is a problem that I have with Bill C-68. I believe that it was more of a promise that was in the red book, and they felt it was a priority for them to bring it in.
The overriding concern that we have with this legislation is the benefits of universal registration. We wonder if resources could not be better used. We wonder if the registering of a firearm is going to actually reduce violent crime in society. How will it help to answer that fundamental question?
I have talked to some peace officers who say to me that they do not agree with some of their chiefs who have sponsored and supported this bill - I believe most of them come from down south - because they say that when they go into a domestic or violent situation, they are already prepared for the unexpected. The ability to punch up the fact that there is a weapon in the house, if by chance they are all registered - only in a perfect world, as our Liberal Member likes to say - and they probably will not be, would tell them if there is a weapon in the house. People I have talked to in the police force say that they go in expecting the unexpected. This provision will not help them that much.
Also, the police in the rural communities know that the paperwork that this provision will entail will prove to be excruciatingly painful. It will keep them in the office longer, so that they are unable to be out doing the kind of community policing that we would like them to do. That is why we are concerned. I would like to see the police out there working with the community, rather than sitting at desks pushing around a bunch of papers that may or may or not have the effect of reducing violent crime in our society. These are some of my concerns about the implementation of registration.
Over Christmas, I had the good fortune of having supper with a gentleman who is the chief fundraiser for the Liberal Party in Ontario. He was still smarting about the Ontario Lyn McLeod boom-to-bust fiasco during the last provincial election.
I see my Liberal colleague pumping up his good friend, Lyn McLeod, and chortling something -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: At least the NDP were consistent; we went from bust to bust. We did not have any change. Throughout the campaign, we were dead last and we remained there.
This person, who is the chief executive officer of a major corporation, and I got into some interesting debates about the Ontario election and gun control. He did not buy my argument about universal registration, because one has to register a car and other things, such as marriages.
I argued that the use of a firearm for many people was like a tool. My argument was if the ultimate purpose is to reduce violent crimes in society but you cannot establish that it is actually going to do that, why would you put people through that particular exercise of registration? He indicated to me that he kind of thought that argument was B.S., but we had a good debate about it.
When talking to people in Toronto over the Christmas holiday, I specifically raised the issue of Bill C-68 to find out how urban dwellers would view the bill; most of them were in favour of Bill C-68.
That is probably the most frustrating thing to me, because one of the things that scares me a little bit about some of the comments about Bill C-68 being brought in is that it was not democratic and that it was rammed down our throats. In actual fact, I do believe that the polls did show strong support for this initiative. I know that this support is affected by a lack of education about existing gun control provisions, but, fundamentally, they did have support for it.
Rather than saying it was undemocratic for the government to bring in this legislation when it had broad support, we should be concentrating on educating the general public residing in the urban and rural centres who supported the legislation and tell them about what to do prior to this legislation coming in in order to own a firearm.
I think that is an important point and educating people is something that I try to concentrate on. Once I told people about the firearm acquisition certificates and that we were required to store firearms safely and install trigger locks - they had no knowledge that we had to do this - they took a second look and they realized that there were some regulations that did protect the public. They also realized that, by and large, the largest portion of people who were committing some of these crimes were people who probably would not register their firearm anyway.
I think that is something for consideration.
Bill C-68 in no way addresses underlying causes or concerns about violent crime. It does not take a look at poverty. There is no cohesive strategy for substance abuse, mental or emotional illness or family breakdown. It somehow goes under the principle that if you do not have guns, this type of act will not take place. I do not think that that is entirely sound logic.
One of our other major concerns is that budgets for essential services are already stretched very thin. We have talked about police cutbacks, trying to fund crime-prevention initiatives, and of course emergency shelters and safe homes for women and children. These are all initiatives that will probably have less funding as a result of the gun registration system. Are we putting our resources in the proper places?
As the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin says, and in his budget response, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun said, both of them really have a problem because they believe it conflicts with the First Nations values and lifestyles. I can understand that.
In trying to talk with people in my riding who have gone through some of the hoops and barrels of the legislative changes on this particular issue, I can tell how it would be very difficult for elderly people, be they of First Nations or of other descent, who would have to get to know all the regulations, study, pass courses and then go through the bureaucratic process of registration to obtain their firearms acquisition certificate.
What did the Member for Mayo-Tatchun say? My colleague said that he has been trying to get a rifle for two years now and still has not got it. It does tend to go on and on. That certainly is a key point about this legislation that I found bothered me quite a bit. I do not think that enough work was done.
If there was one area in which I think the government could be accused of ramming this down the people's throat is with First Nations people, because I do not think they received adequate opportunity to explain themselves fully, nor do I believe their concerns with the legislation were listened to properly.
As I await the return volley from the Liberal, I will sit down, but I will say to the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin that he is probably going to go two-for-two today on motions. We will support this motion. We are not going to engage in a lot more speeches. We have talked and talked about this. Now we would like to see some action. The action calls for some work in the courts and that is the action we are going to take and support.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am pleased to speak in support of the motion put forward by the new Member for Vuntut Gwitchin. I would like to assure that Member, and of course all Members of the House, that I do not need much encouragement to support a motion such as this. It is one that is near and dear to my heart and it is one that I have worked on for some time.
As many of those present know, I am a gun owner myself, but my passion to deal with this particular bill and its shortcomings goes a lot further than the fact that I own firearms. This bill is seriously flawed and not very well thought out by the Liberal government. The unfortunate thing is that the decision to go with a new crime bill was made in the heat of the moment at, I believe, a Liberal leadership review or leadership meeting where the now-Prime Minister of Canada stood up and said, "We are going to fight crime and we are going to get guns off the streets". It was sort of prompted by that, and Allan Rock was given his marching orders to get out there and disarm Canadians, so that is basically what is happening with this bill. That is one of the unfortunate side effects of the bill.
As the Member for Faro said, and he laid it out very well, this particular bill is going to cost Canadian taxpayers a lot of money to deal with the problem. The unfortunate thing is that, when the smoke clears and all the money is spent and all the systems are up and running, some not running, some flawed and some making mistakes, I think we will find that there will still be the Mark Lepines walking into universities and shooting people. There will still be the crazies of the world who will do these kinds of things with firearms. We hope there will not be a Liberal government in Ottawa, but maybe there will be somebody there who will look at the real causes of this kind of crime and the real reasons that people do this, and whoever it is will not take it out on law-abiding citizens, as this particular bill does.
As many of the Members here know, we were active in this right from the beginning. The Government Leader said we would be dealing with this bill in a very serious manner and that we would be opposing it. In fact, we have done that.
From the beginning, we spoke out against the bill. I remember the first trip I made to Ottawa to speak to the House of Commons committee. We had the support of other provinces there. Although we were not all banded together at that time, many of the provinces spoke against the bill.
I should apologize to the Member for Faro because he did not get to go on that trip. I know he likes to go along on those kinds of trips, and he likes to go east so he can speak to his relatives in the Liberal Party and try to convince them they are heading down the road in the wrong direction.
I think the Yukon was well represented with a broad cross-section of Yukon support. Part of my presentation was the all-party motion that came out of this Legislature. I believe that went a long way to pointing out that we were all united on this. Mind you, I would have to comment a little bit on how strong the all-party support was for this initiative. Some parties in this Legislature were very quietly saying "Me too", but were trying to sit on the fence while they were saying it, not wanting to ruffle feathers on the other side. I hate to mention any party names, but the big, red L comes to mind.
I remember the speech made by the Member of the Liberal Party in this Legislature at the time. He slid off one side and slid off the other. In the end, he said if there was anything really bad with this bill, he was against it, too, but he did not really take a strong stand on it, as everyone else had. As the Member for Faro pointed out, we had the invitation-only meeting in Whitehorse, where most of us were locked out, and some of us were thrown out. Some were pushed out but, if one had a Liberal Party card, one was let in and allowed to speak.
On this particular bill, that did not even help. The people had their say, and were told that they were being heard but when the committee members left the room, they seemed not to even remember what territory they were in. Probably nothing of what was said in that room ended up being reflected in the bill, which was a disappointment to a lot of Yukoners - and certainly a disappointment to me.
I have to tell Members - and I have told this story before - that it adds to my disappointment. I had hoped that we would all be in this together. I know that the Member for Faro, although his party has supported gun control legislation in the past, has leaned away from New Democrats across the country in opposing this bill and in taking a stand that is a bit different from his party. It is nice to see this. He is representing his constituents, and that is fair, but he is deviating a bit from that. At least he is honest. He is making strong statements, which come from what he believes. He is doing a good job of it.
I wish I could say the same for the Liberal Party. My disappointment is that, when we were in the eleventh hour - or perhaps just a bit after 12:00 - I went to Ottawa to talk to the Senate during the dying days. I had heard nothing about gun control, aside from the one speech from the Liberal Member in the House. I had heard nothing from any other Liberals about this particular bill.
I flew down to Ottawa on one of the typically long flights from Whitehorse - I left Whitehorse early in the morning and got into Ottawa at 11:00 p.m. I got into my room at about midnight. I was just getting ready to go to bed when an envelope was tucked under my door. I picked it up and opened it and found a letter from Ken Taylor, the Leader of the Liberal Party in the Yukon. He said, "Doug, I know it is late, but I am with you, too. I am here, buddy." I am serious. I got this letter at 12:30 a.m., the night before I was supposed to make a presentation to the Senate. He said, "I am here, too. The Liberals support everything you have been saying. Would you please tell this to the Senate." I thought that was good. I thought it was a nice touch, and I decided to add this to my presentation. I was a bit miffed that it came so late, but that was fine.
The next morning, I got up at 6:00 a.m. I was getting out of the shower and was surprised to hear the phone ring. It was only about 6:30 a.m. or so. It was one hour before I was to appear before the Senate. I said, "Hello" and a voice said, "Hello, Doug, Ken here." It was, I suppose, from his home as, with the time change, he would not be at his office at the school yet. He called me and asked if I got his letter. I said, "yes", and he said, "Well, it is you and me. I am with you. I am supportive of you and the Liberals are on board on this thing and I want you to tell the senators that." I said, "Well, Ken, it is nice of you to jump on the train as it rolls into the station for the last time and say you were there all along, but it does not work that way." I was a little upset that the conviction had not been there all along, as it has been with the Member for Faro. He said that he would have been arguing strongly for Yukoners right from the beginning, but that did not happen.
I told him that, and the last comment that he made to me before we hung up the phone was, "Boy, did you get out of the wrong side of the bed this morning." I think that is pretty crass in the world of politics - like I said, not the eleventh hour, but at 12:30, and I have to walk into the Senate hearings at 8:00 a.m. - to phone me and say, "You have not heard from me up until now, but I am with you, buddy."
I have to mention that because it did happen, as silly as it sounds. I am not making this up. It is the real honest to goodness truth and I have the letter somewhere to prove it - maybe I gave it to the senator so that they know the Liberals were with me too, I am not sure.
After the House of Commons hearings, it was decided among several of the provinces - five of us to start with - that we had a lot in common, and we felt that it may be better to approach this from more of a common front. Eventually, we ended up with the Province of Ontario - they had a change in government and a change in heart - deciding to come on board. When we appeared before the Senate, something happened that was pretty profound and graphic and it had an impact on the senators, but unfortunately it did not change a lot of their votes, but it did have an impact.
What happened was this: Stephen Kakfwi from the Northwest Territories had an idea. He decided to take a map of Canada and colour in all of the provinces that had problems with Bill C-68. When you looked at the map, it represented almost three-quarters of this country. He held that map up in the Senate hearings. What was significant at the time of the hearings was that we were embroiled in a huge debate in this country about unity. One of the prime issues about unity in this country is recognizing the diversity of Canada, recognizing that we are different and that we are not all like Bay Street in Toronto or like downtown Vancouver.
This country is made up of honouring our differences; it makes us unique in the world. We have a bill in front of us - Bill C-68 - that totally ignored all of those differences, right across this country. It totally ignored them. It did not have any provisions other than a clause to look at making some changes in regulations with respect to First Nations, but it has no real impact at all. In fact, nobody knows today how the heck anybody is going to implement something like that. It is a bill that does not recognize the difficulty in northern Canada of implementing the registration system as they describe it.
I have to tell Members across the floor that I have had several discussions in the last little while with other Justice Ministers - and so have my officials - about Bill C-68. We were expecting regulations at the end of January. We still do not have any regulations. The word is that the regulations may not be coming for a few months because there are major problems with them.
When you look at making regulations that conform to what the bill says, the cost of implementing these regulations is going to be outrageous. Just as people said, it is, in some cases, impractical and impossible to put into place.
The bureaucrats are scrambling like crazy to try and develop these regulations. We are all patiently waiting. The bill went into effect on January 1. The last I heard, it may be a few more months before we see any regulations whatsoever. That is the problem we are having now. In fact, when you talk about the hidden costs of this bill, our RCMP detachments - particularly in rural communities - are already being inundated by questions from constituents and residents who are asking: "What do we do? Can we register? Do we have to register? When do we have to register?" This is using up a lot of the RCMP's time, and that was not accounted for in the bill. Nobody thought it would cost any money or time. It has created a real problem for us.
One of our biggest concerns, of course, with Bill C-68 was the registration system. The registration system is an ill-conceived idea - primarily sold to southern Canadians - that if one's firearm is registered it becomes inoperative and no longer a danger to anybody. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and unfortunately the criminals in this country are not worried about registration. They were not worried before it started, they were not worried about handgun registration - 86 per cent of the crimes with handguns evidently were committed with unregistered handguns. So they are not worried about that, and they are not going to be worried about registration for long guns and longarms. The only people who are going to be worried about it, the only people who are going to pay for it, the only people who are going to have problems with it and the only people who are eventually going to be charged for not complying are the law-abiding gun owners of the country.
As I said, this system is going to cost millions of dollars to put in place.
This is something that we in the Yukon have a great deal of difficulty with, and no one has even had any kind of discussion that would remotely describe to us how they are going to implement this particular piece of legislation in the Yukon. It is going to be a problem, especially in our remote communities, especially in a small community like Pelly where the RCMP already have a full plate of things on their agenda. The Member for Pelly knows that the first time someone gets a registration form in the mail that individual is going to go to the RCMP and say, "Help me. Can I get some help in filling this out." The RCMP may have to go back to the individual's house to look at the gun to try and find the serial number. Some guns do not have serial numbers. It is going to be a dog's breakfast and it is going to eat up a lot of time of the members of the force who should be out dealing with actual crimes, dealing with family violence, dealing with alcohol and drug abuse, dealing with theft and vandalism. We cannot add hours to the day for the work that the police can do. The police are going to have to take hours out of their day now to implement this program, and guess what? There is going to be no money from the federal government to pay for any of this. In fact, it is going to cost the federal government more money to put the program in, which, as the Member for Faro said, will probably reduce the money they would be transferring to us later to deal with family violence and other issues.
It just does not make any sense. The sad part about this bill is that I did not hear anyone - and the Member for Faro mentioned this - at that meeting; I did not hear anyone at the Senate hearings; I did not hear anyone at the House of Commons meetings make outrageous statements. They all made statements that made sense; they spoke of bringing in a bill that would actually deal with the criminal element in firearms use. This bill was not the bill. Yet, the Liberals just ignored it all. They just ignored it all.
The Liberal Member for Riverside says "and the Tories". I am disappointed in those Tories as well.
I am disappointed in that as well, but we all know what happens in the Senate. The Senate has not stopped a lot of things in the last few years. The bill was brought into the House of Commons. There were some minor, minute amendments to the bill that did not address any of the concerns that were expressed by half of the provinces of this country. It was rammed through the House of Commons and then taken to the Senate, and its Members were told to get the job done. It was then rammed through the Senate.
The Liberal government in Ottawa threatened the Senate that if it tried to amend the whole bill it would send it right back to them again. The Liberals said they would send it back to the Senate again. They said if the Senate tried to change this thing, it would come back intact and they would have to sit there until it was passed in just the way the government wanted it. This is the way they operated.
The Yukon First Nations opposed this legislation fairly strongly. They are very upset about this particular bill. I am not sure if they have made a decision yet on a constitutional challenge, but I do know they were having meetings on that recently. I have not heard word on that issue. I know that the head of the Yukon First Nations, Harry Allen, has told its members not to comply. In fact he has spoken out against the legislation. That is going to create enormous problems for our justice system in the territory; it will create enormous problems for the police in the small communities in this territory, if that comes to be.
No one thought of that. One of the areas of concern we are looking at with our constitutional challenge is with respect to the umbrella final agreement, and that the federal government did not honour the intent of consultation with respect to that agreement when it came to Bill C-68. Every legal opinion we have received on that is unanimous. I think the First Nations have a relatively strong challenge to the bill on those grounds.
Allan Rock claims that the consultation process is one where they will send a letter to each First Nation telling them that is what they were going to get. They had a travelling committee set up but it got lost somewhere in the Northwest Territories. They visited two or three communities. I think they were beaten up so badly over there that they decided they would go no further. They were supposed to come to the Yukon, but I do not know if they ever ventured here. They were not even sure how to get here, transportation-wise. They were having trouble getting around the Northwest Territories and getting to the Yukon. They never did get here.
There is a lot of cynicism among First Nations about the consultative process that took place with respect to Bill C-68. I think that is an area that we will hear more about in the future.
There was no respecting the point that firearms are important to the economy of the north, the trapping and outfitting industries and others. I think they are also an important source of recreation in the territory. There are many shooting clubs here and there are many responsible firearm owners who carry out many responsible activities. Again, this is the sad part about this bill. First Nations are advocating opposition to the bill and I have also heard from many people in gun clubs and others who are responsible firearm owners stating that they are not going to comply with the legislation. I hope that they do for the sake of our justice system; imagine the burden if they chose not to comply with the law. The government will be spending time and money chasing after law-abiding citizens - some of them may even be Liberals.
I think that we have to look at what this bill is going to do.
The use of firearms is not really a problem in northern Canada. In fact, about 70 percent of our population, as Members know, have firearms in their homes. Yet, as I have said before in my statements to the two Houses in Ottawa, we have a lot more of other types of crimes than firearms offences. In 1994, there were two armed robberies out of 6,089 criminal offences in the Yukon. Only one assault involved a firearm in 1994.
We have problems, such as alcohol and drug abuse, family violence, vandalism and theft, and I argued strongly to the Liberal government that if we had the $500,000, or whatever it will cost to implement this system in the Yukon, would it not be far better spent trying to reduce the incidence of family violence, vandalism or these other kinds of crimes? Again, that fell on deaf ears and we did not hear anything about it.
We are going to continue to oppose this bill. I can bring the Members up to date on what has happened so far: I have had a couple of conference calls with ministers of justice from across the country.
Our deputies have met a couple of times and discussed constitutional challenges to C-68. I can tell the Members opposite that a final decision has not been made on the areas and the depth of the constitutional challenges yet, but there still is an eagerness from all of the provinces that were involved initially - the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. All of those provinces have indicated a will to look further into it and there is a team working on it now in several areas.
As I mentioned, land claims is one area we are concerned about - the aboriginal treaty rights violations. There is a concern about property rights that some of the provinces feel is a concern and we will be involved with that as well. There is also a challenge to the bill on the grounds that it exceeds the criminal law jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada and encroaches on provincial matters, and this is being looked at.
So, there are several areas that the four provinces and two territories are examining. The process now is at the stage where the various lawyers are looking at it. Each group has forwarded its legal opinions to a central group, and Alberta is working on that.
We will be having future meetings. Our deputies will be discussing this at future dates.
We have a bit of a problem. One of the areas we wanted to deal with in the bill concerned all these proposed regulations and how they were going to come into effect. In fact, the problem is that, at the present time, we do not have any regulations to look at. We have no idea how they are going to implement this bill with respect to the regulations. That part of it will have to wait a little longer, until we have a better idea of how they are going to implement the law they have laid out. We feel they have major problems. The word that we have from the various provinces is that there are some major problems in drafting the regulations and making them so that the bill can actually be implemented.
There is a committee consisting of various representatives across the country. I believe that there is a Yukoner - an outfitter - from Watson Lake on that committee. It is looking at ways of implementing the bill. I have not had any reports from that particular committee on how that process is going. All I have heard is that the process is very slow.
It will be a few years before the bill actually takes full effect and people will have to register. I think responsible gun owners are going to do what they can in that period of time and will use every opportunity they have to send a message to the Liberal government in Ottawa.
The Liberal government had better re-think this bill and consider making some changes. I am not optimistic that changes will be made, because I have never seen someone back themselves into a corner so much that they could not move at all. In this particular case, Allan Rock said that this is it - take it or leave it.
Just about everyone I talked to said that people were terribly frustrated that they were not being heard. They went through all of these exercises in the Senate committee hearings and other hearings, and sending letters and participating in other processes. What people have told me is that there was never an intent, even from the beginning, to change this legislation. They felt it was going to come in the way it was and that they could forget about there being any changes. In fact, Allan Rock even said that if people wanted changes, they could forget it. I think that is a bad approach. I do not think that the recommendations that were made by the four provinces and the two territories, and by the various responsible gun owners and other people in the country that raised this issue, were bad recommendations.
In fact we supported - our territory, as well as the other five jurisdictions - the criminal provisions of that bill. Where we had problems was with the registration system, property rights and the other things that I have laid out earlier.
In closing, I would strongly support this motion. I want to reassure Yukoners that the Yukon government is going to continue to stand up for Yukoners' concerns on Bill C-68 and we are going to work with the other provinces and territories to try to implement some constructive changes that make the bill liveable, so that we have a bill in place in this country that will actually deal with the criminal element of firearms and not one that spends far more time and money dealing with the law-abiding citizens of the country, who are not the problem with respect to firearms use in this country.
Speaker: The time being 5:30 p.m. the House will now recess until 7:30 p.m.
Debate on Motion No. 93 accordingly adjourned
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed to government bills.
Bill No. 10: Second Reading - adjourned debate
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 10, adjourned debate.
I guess I should refresh people's memory about where I left off. I was talking about the offices for the Tourism employees and the expenditures that are going to be made. The Minister of Tourism was justifying those expenditures. I will look forward to hearing his arguments justifying the statement that the offices will increase tourism and tourism dollars coming into the Yukon.
I want to touch on the business community a bit. I always find it interesting when I hear this government stand up and talk about how they support the business community. A lot of people in the business community, including myself, find it extremely interesting that there are constant discussions about how sales are way up and how all the statistics show that retail sales are increasing and businesses are doing so well. I know that when I went around to quite a few businesses last week and talked to them, they told me that someone should be doing a reality check, because a lot of them are finding themselves overstocked. They are not finding that consumers are spending and have never seen businesses having such huge sales in an effort to reduce inventory.
The people who spoke to me said that perhaps the Yukon Party members should talk to people other than Yukon Party members, and that is something we have raised with this government before.
The business community is struggling. I see the Government Leader shaking his head, but I think a lot of business people are struggling. I hear a lot of business people saying that. Just the Chamber of Commerce, for example, has a bombardment of issues to deal with all the time because of government regulation and government rules and government laws that are constantly changing, and the chamber is required to keep up with them. That puts a lot of pressure on the business community.
Look at what has happened to the business community under this government's leadership. The first thing that happened was they got a personal tax increase for all their employees, so any small, modest wage increases that were given to employees were eaten up by the huge tax increases imposed by this government. They have also increased the minimum wages. More consultation has been required with respect to workers' compensation and with respect to environmental standards and the environmental legislation.
The waste oil issue has become quite a problem for a lot of business people and individuals who go to get their oil changed and are told to take their waste oil home because there is no way to dispose of it and nobody wants to take responsibility for it. All of these things are making life more difficult for the small business people in the Yukon.
The electrical rates issue is one that gives me a great deal of concern. I understand that in the hearings coming up, there is some question about getting away from giving the businesses the electrical rate subsidy that all Yukoners enjoy right now. If that does happen, the business community is going to have to bear the brunt of about a 10- to 12-percent increase, and an increase in electrical rates is going to be requested at the rate hearings. I think this is going to cause a tremendous burden on the business community as well as other Yukoners. The Government Leader is again shaking his head. I look forward to him telling us exactly what is going to happen with respect to the electrical rates and the costs of the electrical rates going up.
The subsidy, of course, goes until January 1997, and then it ends. I guess the next government will have to decide what it is going to do about that. I do not see us getting any relief with electrical rates. I see them continuing to increase and have quite a tremendous impact on Yukoners and on the business community.
I often ask myself why this government, which claims to be a conservative government, has not examined the issue of privatization. I have raised this issue several times in the Legislature. I think the last time I raised it was with respect to the Queen's Printer, when the huge DocuTech machine was being purchased. It is going to be interesting to find out what is happening with that, too, because I understand it is not getting used very much. Maybe one day we will see an ad in the paper saying, "for sale, hardly been used DocuTech, going cheap," or something like that.
One of the individuals who was responsible for assisting this government in purchasing it is no longer with the government.
From what I understand the DocuTech is not exactly being overused; it does not even get warmed up every day, other than being plugged in.
Why the government has not pursued some options of privatization is beyond me. I fail to see why government has to run and control everything in the Yukon Territory. I certainly have confidence in the Yukon businesses that offer printing services. I am sure that they could accommodate the government's demands for printing.
The Minister responsible for Government Services made a big announcement about the special operating agencies, while we have watched the Queen's Printer go down in a puff of smoke. We will have to wait to see what happens.
In this budget the Minister is announcing that he is going to create special operating agenies with the vehicle fleet and with property management. Those are two other areas that I think could be privatized. I do not know why Government Services has to manage all of the government properties. There are individuals in the property management business who have the expertise and skills to manage that kind of task, and I do not know why the government is not trying to create a healthier and more viable private sector, rather than do everything itself.
I would really like to receive some comments from the government with respect to why the government has not privatized anything - not one thing - since they have been in government. It certainly would have helped to reduce the overall costs of government.
It would have reduced the number of employees the government has. It would have reduced the number of pensions and benefits we have to pay. It would have reduced the amount of office space. It would have reduced the amount of office furniture and computers.
There could have been a tremendous financial impact on the government if it had taken some creative initiatives and looked at privatizing some of the areas of government. A lot of other governments have done this very successfully without laying off masses of people, and so on. I have to find fault with this government for not even exploring the idea of privatizing some areas.
If it wants to look at doing some of that in the next six months, I would be more than happy to offer some suggestions to them.
I want to touch on this piece of protect-the-taxpayer legislation. This legislation does not really do what the Government Leader said it would, and that is that it would require that governments have balanced budgets. To me and a lot of my constituents and people in the business community I have talked to, that represents one basic principle - you do not spend more than you take in. However, that is not what this bill will do.
This bill says that one can spend more than one takes in, as long as one has a savings account big enough to cover it.
I do not agree with depleting the resources of the savings account.
When the Government Leader stood up and said that it was a good idea to have money on hand to cover the expenses of the government for at least one month's spending, I agreed with it. I did not tell the Government Leader to spend it and that he was damned if he did and damned if he did not.
I understand the political objectives of the government, which is to spend the money so it is not left for anyone else. However, do not bring in a piece of legislation and call it balanced budget legislation when it does not really mean do not spend any more than is taken in, and try and pass it off as balanced budget legislation. It is just not so.
Gary Filmon, the Premier of Manitoba, was the speaker at the last Yukon Party convention. He talked quite a bit about the balanced budget legislation in Manitoba and the penalties of Ministers losing part of their pay - whatever it was - and how it was the most creative bit of legislation in North America - I think that is what he said. Then the Government Leader stood up on the heels of that visitor's speech and tabled this taxpayer protection legislation, trying to pass it off as the most creative and visionary legislation in North America - I believe that is what he said.
If politicians and governments would just do what they say they are doing, instead of saying, "Oh, by the way, this really does not mean what you might think it means. If we have a surplus, it does not really have to balance. We can have a deficit, but we have to have money to pay it off with an accumulated surplus."
I asked my constituents about that, and they do not relate to accumulated surpluses and accumulated deficits. All they want to know is, if the government is costing so many million dollars a year, it should be taking in that amount of money to pay for those costs. To the constituents, that would be balanced budget legislation.
As to the idea of a referendum, I like the idea of referenda in some instances, but one of the criticisms of referenda is that one goes through the exercise, knowing what the outcome is going to be. I do not know who is ever going to vote for more tax increases. This government was effective when it raised Yukoners' taxes in its first term of office. It was effective in getting some people to buy into the argument that taxes had to be raised and that it had to dig its hands deep into Yukoners' pockets to get all the extra money. Some people actually agreed that that had to be done and actually bought the government's argument. But when it comes time to choose on a ballot and a referendum, I think we would be hard-pressed to find anybody who would be supportive of tax increases, particularly before the government took any initiatives to make cuts in government spending.
I am going to wait and see how the debate goes on this legislation. If some amendments are proposed or changes made that make it really what it is supposed to be, then I may be able to support it. Otherwise, I do not think I can support it in its present state.
I have had some concerns about the position that it puts the next government in with respect to calling the election, but I am open for debate on that particular issue. I look forward to that debate.
I guess the thing that bothers me the most about the budget is the whole idea that this government is in a healthy financial position with the surplus because of the money it took away from Yukoners with the tax increases. I think that is probably the predominant reason, because it has not cut back on spending. It has not cut back in any remarkable way that I can see on employees. It has not privatized anything, so it has not downsized anything. The Government Leader was talking about downsizing and restructuring, repositioning and all these creative things, but none of that seems to have happened. In fact, there are many areas in government that have grown and that now cost us more money.
I get very annoyed when the government sees the writing on the wall. It has this $30 million surplus sitting there but instead of leaving that as a cushion and giving some comfort to Yukoners when the next election comes - there is not going to be this huge economic transition as well as a political transition to deal with - it spends the money.
Speaker: Order please. The Member has three minutes in which to conclude her speech.
Mrs. Firth: When this government came into office, it created a huge economic turmoil with its "We are broke; we are broke" routine. When it is on its way out of office, it is spending down the surplus. It will amount to nothing by the time all the bills roll in. It will probably be a minus balance. I think the government is doing a disservice to Yukoners with its budget. I think it is again going to create some economic turmoil and uncertainty. I look forward to going through all the details and items with the Ministers and particularly having the opportunity to question the presidents of the Crown corporations, the Workers' Compensation Board and the Human Rights Commission and so on, when they appear as witnesses before the Committee of the Whole for some two, maybe two and one-half hours.
Speaker: The Hon. Government Leader will now close debate.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This has been a most interesting budget debate. The Member for Riverdale South says that she will be listening. I hope so. I hope that the other Opposition Members will also be listening.
My colleague from Ross River-Southern Lakes renamed the Leader of the Official Opposition in his budget address as Senator Straddle. I do not think that he could have used a more appropriate term. I can go back to page after page after page of Hansard and see that the Members opposite have condemned this government for what they called huge surpluses.
There was an article when the Auditor General's report came out last October or November, when it was in the public domain, and it states that the government has a $31 million surplus. It is interesting to read the comments made by the Leader of the Official Opposition: "It indicates that the government ended up with a $31 million surplus at the end of the 1994-95 fiscal year. The surplus will likely be closer to $50 million or $60 million dollars at the end of the fiscal year March 31, 1996." That is certainly a different tune from the one he is singing in the Legislature in his reply to the budget address. It is a totally different tune. He is condemning us here for having a surplus, and now he is condemning us for spending the surplus. I believe that the name Senator Straddle was very appropriate.
When we were elected, four years ago, we took over a government that was $13 million in debt. Even if we do not add anything to the $7.5 million surplus that we have projected, it will mean that we will have increased the financial position of this government by $21 million.
Every time the Members opposite reply to the budget debate in Committee of the Whole or during debate, they always put so much emphasis on lapsed funding, but you know what? I have not heard one damned word about lapsed funding in this budget debate - not one.
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please try to refrain from using the word "damn."
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.
Again, I want to point out that when we came into government during the fall of 1992, we were approximately in the same financial position as the Government of the Northwest Territories. Plus or minus a few million dollars, we were in the same financial position.
Today, due to the actions of this government, Yukoners are on sound financial footing. Our neighbours to the east are not that fortunate because they did not take any actions when they knew as well as we did that cuts were coming from Ottawa.
I have an article here where they are admitting to a $130 million deficit. When I was in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago at a finance ministers meeting I had an opportunity to speak with the Northwest Territories' Deputy Minister. He told me that it is more likely that they will be facing a deficit of $160 million.
That is a sorry state of affairs. The Yukon could quite easily have been in the same position. We were on that track when this government took office.
I want to talk a little bit about comments Members made in their budget debate, and I want to talk about how I see the future unfolding and how this government is not worried about being forced into an election with the Taxpayer Protection Act.
I received a note from my Finance officials today that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is very impressed with our Taxpayer Protection Act and has asked for a copy of all the debate in this Legislature. Their full committee has not yet critiqued it, but the person speaking with our Finance officials said that, at first blush, they were very impressed with it.
I want to talk about comments made by Members opposite during the budget debate. I want to address some of the issues they raised. I also want to speak a little bit about the Taga Ku. I believe it needs to be spoken to. I want to point out why I believe the Taga Ku was such a bad deal for Yukoners. It was not a good deal for Yukoners.
First of all, I have to say that I am somewhat surprised by the budget debate. There was very little talk about the budget and budget numbers. They started out with a preamble, then spent their 40 minutes talking about everything but the budget.
It was also interesting that, at lunch today, I happened to be talking to a lady on the street. She commented that she thought we had a fairly good budget. I said that the Opposition certainly did not think so. She said that we must be doing something right.
I will start out by speaking a bit about our forecasted accumulated deficit of $7.5 million, our budget and the comments made by Members opposite.
When I listen to the comments by the Leader of the Official Opposition, who was the Minister of Finance and architect of the budget that landed us with a $64 million deficit, I can understand why they ended up in that situation. Clearly, they do not understand finances. We have forecast $7.5 million accumulated surplus. He writes that off as nothing - we are pushing the wire and right on the edge. He is assuming, because I guess that is the way they behaved when they were in government, that we are going to spend all of our budget, then the contingency in the budget of $2 million, and then blow the $7.5 million. That is exactly why we brought in the Taxpayer Protection Act.
If the Taxpayer Protection Act had been in place in 1992, when we came to government, we - and Yukoners - would not have been faced with a $64 million deficit.
I believe that our record speaks for itself. We were criticized severely by the Members opposite for that record. In the three previous budgets that I have tabled, we have always exceeded the surplus that we forecasted. As long as I am Minister of Finance, we will continue to do that, because we have a different style of budgeting than the Members opposite. We use very conservative revenue figures.
If we are going to get any surprises, they will be on the plus side, not on the negative.
Yukoners elected us. I am not worried about balancing the next budget. I am not going to have to slash and burn to do it.
For three years, we said that we had to build a surplus so that there could be a gradual transition in the period in which we would be faced with cuts from Ottawa. We said they were coming and the Opposition pooh-poohed us. They said we did not know what we were talking about. We were criticized for having a surplus by the Leader of the Official Opposition because that was going to impact on our formula financing and that we had made it a target for the federal government. The Northwest Territories made darned sure that they did not have a target. They went $160 million in debt and still got hit as much as we did.
It is quite clear to me that the Leader of the Official Opposition and the other Members opposite that have criticized this do not realize that, as the year goes on, when one can see that one is going to run into problems, one makes adjustments. I guess that is why they could not balance their budget; they did not know how to make adjustments.
They used to come in with small mains and huge supplementaries to balance their budget - small mains and huge supplementaries. Now the Leader of the Official Opposition thinks that we should be comparing mains to mains, not mains to actuals. How ludicrous. What a way to get into trouble. I believe one should always be comparing to the newest figures one has, not some hypothetical figure that was projected 16 months earlier.
We built a small surplus. I would have liked to have seen it bigger. I would like to see one month's reserve, but we will get it back.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member for Faro says it has gone, but we will rebuild it, and will do so without disrupting the economy of the Yukon and without massive layoffs, as has occurred in other jurisdictions. We have accomplished that. We took over a government with the Faro mine shutting down and the economy going into the tank, but we survived it - even in the face of a $64 million deficit. We kept Yukoners working. We could not be laying workers off; we had to keep the people employed, and we will continue to do so.
We will slowly, slowly continue to try to provide government in a more efficient manner and in a more cost-effective manner.
The Leader of the Official Opposition says that our expenses are going up and that he has the graphs to prove it, but what the graphs prove is that we have controlled the operation and maintenance expenditures of government and have even taken on the provision of additional services. We staffed the Teslin jail, we staffed the extended care facility and we put more beds in Macaulay Lodge. We did all of those things and we have still maintained the operation and maintenance costs to government at about the same level as it was in 1992, and we are providing additional social services than the grand masters who think that they are the only ones who have a heart can do. We provide more services to the people of the Yukon today than the NDP did when they were in power.
We do it in a far more efficient and cost-effective manner.
Let us look at social assistance rolls - another chart that was in this great document of ours that the Leader of the Official Opposition talked about. Did you notice that he would only go back to 1991-92? If you look at the chart, you can see that social assistance payments in Yukon were fairly flat through 1986 to 1989. For some reason, as you can see from the chart, the payments went straight up. This was a time when the previous leader of the NDP government was going around bragging about how great the economy of the Yukon was. Why were the direct payments to social assistance increasing? Because the previous government had no control over how they were spending money. They had no checks and balances.
This government went through the Faro mine shutdown and we brought social assistance payments down. We are now giving assistance to the people who require it. We do not allow people to rip off the system any longer, as the previous government was allowing them to do.
We have heard Members talk about the tax increases that we introduced. Did I say it would be obscene to raise taxes? Yes, I did, but when I made that statement I did not know that the government was facing a $64 million deficit, because the NDP government in power at the time did not have the political courage to put a budget before the public before going to the polls. Had I known that I was facing a $64 million deficit, I would have called that obscene.
If you take the tax increases and the revenues that we received, the savings that we had with the wage freeze, totalled it, and calculated it against the surplus that we were showing and the same expenditure base that we had, you would not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the territory would be in debt without those tax increases and the wage freeze.
All of a sudden they are saying, "More cuts; do not spend the surplus." For three years they have said, "Spend the surplus; you do not need any cuts."
Let us talk a little bit now about Taga Ku and why it was a bad deal for Yukoners. The critic for land claims says she is going to send it to Champagne-Aishihik. I hope she does. I think they should also understand who were the architects of the failure of the Taga Ku project.
It is beyond my comprehension that the Leader of the Official Opposition, who was the Minister responsible at the time, could make the biggest decision he probably made in his political career - to drop the hotel from the project - and not document it, not tell officials about it and not tell the Yukon public about it. I cannot comprehend anyone making such a major financial decision, whether or not it was their own or taxpayers' money. They do not like to hear this. I cannot comprehend that. Yukoners cannot comprehend how the biggest construction project in the history of the Yukon was slashed in half and not documented. I cannot comprehend it.
If one buys a house, the real estate agent notes whether or not the stove and fridge go with it. They note all of those small issues.
We did not lose Taga Ku; they lost it. The biggest financial decision that was ever made by that Minister had not one bit of documentation attached to it. In fact, there is a memo floating around that I will table in this session where he wrote to his officials and said that nobody was to talk about this; no nonsense; no B.S.; no P.R. Nobody in the public was to know about this. I will document that memo; I will table it.
Let me tell you why the Taga Ku was a bad deal for Yukoners. Regardless of the fact that the Minister would drop the hotel without telling anybody, the agreement with the proponents of Taga Ku was for leased space that was going to cost the government $33.50 a square foot, triple net, on a 20-year lease. A comparable lease today-
Speaker: Order. Would the Members please allow the Minister to speak.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: They were going to pay $33.50 a square foot of taxpayers' money for a 20-year lease when a comparable lease today would be $21 a square foot. That is why it was a bad deal for Yukoners. Besides that, had Northwestel moved into the other building with that kind of lease rate - $33.50 a square foot - we would all be paying for it in our telephone bills. It was a bad deal for Yukoners; it was not a good deal for Yukoners.
The Opposition Members pretty well all spoke about our Taxpayer Protection Act, which seems to at least have received, at first blush, the endorsement of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The Opposition is very critical of it, and I can understand why. If by some accident, they should get elected - heaven forbid - they would not know what to do. They could not live with it at all. The Members opposite are the Members who started in government in 1985 with a $50 million surplus, and seven and one-half years later had turned it into a $13 million debt.
I can understand why they would be afraid of the Taxpayer Protection Act. I am not afraid of the Taxpayer Protection Act. It is a good piece of legislation that will protect Yukoners from having government spend far more money than it takes in.
Another comment that was made by the Leader of the Official Opposition was that our operation and maintenance was increasing; it was not going down. We hear the Member for Faro chirping. The 1995-96 main estimates contained $11.3 million in capital assistance plan recoveries, whereas in 1996-97, there are none. The money is now part of the health transfer formula grant and is no longer shown as a recovery. That is why it increases the operation and maintenance by $11.3 million, even though there is no net impact on the total figure. It is just an accounting procedure.
Our departments were able to maintain the operation and maintenance cost of government, but they did so by absorbing inflation and merit pay increases.
I want to speak about the Taxpayer Protection Act. We will speak more about it when we get into debate on it, but there were a couple of comments made that need to be corrected. One was made by the Member for Riverdale South this evening, and I am sure it was made earlier, because I have a note on it somewhere. The comment was that this was not balanced budget legislation and that we are not bringing in balanced budgets when we have an annual deficit.
There is only one way to address this so Yukoners can understand it. We are not borrowing money for the operations of government. Forget about accumulated surplus. Let us forget about annual surpluses. Let us just say it as it is. We do not need to borrow money for the operation and maintenance. That was not the case at the end of 1992-93, when we had bank charges of some $500,000, because we were running on our line of credit to pay our bills.
Our budgets are far too small. Our revenue sources are much too narrow to even entertain the thought of paying interest on debt. If we are to pay interest on debt, it can only come from one place: program spending. That means we would be taking money from programs Yukoners want, need and are entitled to. As long as we can balance the budgets of the Yukon - there might be a deficit one year and a surplus the next - and as long as one does not break the bank or put the territory into debt, it is legitimate.
I have a little different philosophy from the Members opposite. I would like to save the money first, then spend it - not spend it and hope that the revenues go up and up to cover it.
That is what got governments into trouble. There is nothing wrong with building up a bit of a surplus and then spending it on useful things that Yukoners need.
I believe that is prudent fiscal management.
Due to the actions that this government took when it first took office three and one-half years ago, Yukoners today are better off than they would have been had we not had the political courage to take the actions that we did.
I thought that our new Member for Whitehorse West made some interesting comments in his reply to the budget. I am sure he always likes to tell his stories; most people who believe that they are intellectuals like to do that. I am sure that the hon. Member opposite will know the story of Judge Roy Bean and the law west of the Pecos. Judge Roy Bean's comments were always, "Well, let's give him a fair trial and then we'll hang him." I think we should call the Member for Whitehorse West the good Judge Sloan, because what did he say in his budget speech? He said, "I am going to study this budget for the next few days, then I am going to vote against it."
That is what he said. Look at Hansard. "I am going to study this budget for the next few days, then I am going to vote against it."
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: All of my Ministers have spoken on their departments and the good things they are doing for Yukoners. We have shown where we have increased the amount of money we are spending on education. We have increased the amount of money we are spending on health and social services, on women's centres - all those programs that are so near and dear to Yukoners.
We could have slashed and burned in this budget and kept that nice big surplus, but what would have been the debate then by the other side of the House? "My God, there they are with a surplus. They never want to spend it. They just want to keep piling it up, piling it up and piling it up. What good is that?" That is what we would have heard. That is what we heard for three years: "You do not need tax increases, you do not need cuts, you do not need to freeze the civil servants' wages. You do not need any of that. There is lots of money around." Is that not what we heard in this House for three years?
Now Senator Straddle says we should have cut. Well, if we should have cut, I want to listen during the budget debate from those Members opposite where we should have cut. I want to hear that. They would have liked to have seen us cut, but for purely partisan political reasons. That is the only reason they would have liked to have seen us make cuts.
We said that we had a financial plan. We have implemented that plan and Yukoners are better off today because they voted in a government that had the political courage to make the tough decisions that are necessary to put the territory on a sound financial footing.
The Members opposite ask, "Well, what happens if you get more cuts from Ottawa?" Yes, there are going to be more cuts coming from Ottawa, but we have been given assurances by the federal Minister of Finance that the next cuts will be in the 1998-99 year. This government negotiated a new formula financing agreement that lowered the perversity factor from $1.56 to $1.20. I think that is a step in the right direction and we are going to continue the fight to get rid of the perversity factor completely.
The Yukon of the future, as I said in my budget speech, has to shift from a Yukon that is dependent on government spending to a Yukon that is dependent on private sector spending.
I do not believe that we can go much longer with people so dependent upon government spending. No matter where we cut in our budget, whether it is in the operation and maintenance side or the capital side, it means that we are cutting jobs for Yukoners, jobs that Yukoners need. As our economy picks up and diversifies, the government can start slowly pulling back without disrupting the economy and without disrupting people's lives. We can then adjust and fine tune government while we keep spending under control. I believe that the Yukon will be a much better place for it.
That is the philosophical difference between this government and the Official Opposition. The Official Opposition's philosophy on economic development is that every Yukoner should have a government job. We do not believe that. We believe that we have to depend on the private sector and create private sector jobs in the territory. That is the approach that this government has been using for three years.
When Yukoners go to the polls some time within the next eight months, they are going to have to ask themselves whether or not they are better off today because of the actions that this government has taken - not only in financial management.
Are the social programs that Yukoners so dearly depend on, need and are entitled to stronger today than they were in 1992?
Is our education system stronger today than it was in 1992? These are the questions that Yukoners will be asked to answer.
I am sure Yukoners will have no trouble seeing that Yukon today is a much better place than a lot of areas in Canada. I believe that this government, and the policies of this government, have a lot to do with the wellbeing of Yukoners today, compared to other jurisdictions in Canada.
Governments must balance their books and make cuts in a gentle manner, as we have done over the years. We have dropped a couple hundred employees from the government payroll without any disruption to anyone.
Without any disruption to anyone, we have maintained the operation and maintenance spending. These people have been taken up in the private sector. We have created 600 new jobs in the private sector in the last year. If we can create another 600 new jobs in the private sector this year, it will go a long way toward putting Yukoners on a footing where they are less dependent on government and slowly shifting over to a private sector economy, which will be a lot healthier for all Yukoners.
Speaker: Order please. The Member has three minutes to conclude his speech.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I look forward to the budget debate. I look forward to the wisdom from the Opposition benches. Let us see if they believe that we should maintain this $30 million surplus - which I would have loved to maintain, but in order to do that we would have had to have made some dramatic cuts.
This is something that we said we were planning for so that we would not have to make dramatic cuts. That is what we planned for so that we could have an easy transition to a lower expenditure base. We will continue to provide that comfort to Yukoners. We are going to continue to provide that strong social safety net that Yukoners are entitled to and we will do that by running a fiscally responsible and strong Yukon government.
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: During the budget debate, the Chair noticed that there have been quite a few occasions when Members have referred to other Members by nicknames or in improper ways. I would ask that in the future, Members ensure that they use the correct parliamentary form, which is to refer to other Members by either their ridings or positions. I will be calling Members on it from this point on. I would appreciate the Members' cooperation.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, will you poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Agree.
Mr. Millar: Agree.
Mr. Schafer: Agree.
Mr. McDonald: Disagree.
Ms. Moorcroft: Disagree.
Ms. Commodore: Disagree.
Mr. Joe: Disagree.
Mr. Sloan: Disagree.
Mr. Harding: Disagree.
Mr. Cable: Disagree.
Mrs. Firth: Disagree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are eight yea, eight nay.
Speaker's casting vote
Speaker: Our Standing Order 4(2) states that in the case of an equality of votes, the Speaker shall give a casting vote. In general, the principle applied to motions and bills is that the Chair should always vote for further discussion. Voting for a bill at second reading provides the House with another opportunity to decide the question. I therefore vote for the motion and declare the motion for second reading of this bill carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 10 agreed to
Speaker: We will now proceed to government motions.
Clerk: Motion No. 47, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Ostashek.
Motion No. 47
Speaker: It is moved by the Hon. Government Leader
THAT the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly be amended by:
(1) replacing Standing Order 11(1) and Standing Order 11(2) with the following:
11(1) The Speaker shall offer prayers at the start of every sitting day;
11(2) The ordinary Daily Routine in the Assembly shall be as follows:
Introduction of Visitors
Tabling Returns and Documents
Presenting Reports of Committees
Introduction of Bills
Notices of Motion
Oral Question Period (not exceeding 30 minutes);
(2) replacing Standing Order 20 with the following new Standing Order:
20(1) Unless otherwise provided for in these Standing Orders, when the Speaker is in the Chair, no Member, except a Member moving a motion and the Member speaking in reply immediately thereafter, shall speak for more than 20 minutes;
20(2) During debate on the motion for second reading of a main appropriation bill, the time limit for speakers following the Member moving the motion and the member speaking in reply immediately thereafter shall be 40 minutes;
(3) adding the following new Standing Order:
44.1(1) When, in Committee of the Whole, a count is called for under Standing Order 44 at any stage of an appropriation or taxation bill, the Government House Leader or designate or the Official Opposition House Leader or designate may approach the Chair to request that the count be deferred;
(2) Upon receiving a request that the count be deferred until the Chair shall inform the Committee that the count has been deferred;
(3) While an appropriation or taxation bill is being considered by the Committee, a count which has been deferred shall be taken immediately when the Assembly next resolves into Committee;
(4) When Committee of the Whole has completed consideration of an appropriation or taxation bill and a count or counts remain to be taken, the Assembly shall, when it proceeds to Orders of the Day on the next sitting day following, be resolved, without motion, into Committee and all counts remaining to be taken shall be taken.
(5) When a count is deferred pursuant to this Standing Order the Committee of the Whole shall continue with the business before it.
THAT the Memorandum of Understanding signed on February 12, 1996 by the Hon. John Ostashek, Government Leader, Piers McDonald, Leader of the Official Opposition, and Jack Cable, Leader of the Liberal Party in the House, be appended to the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will not be too lengthy in speaking to this motion. Suffice it to say that, through negotiations with the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party, we are trying to expedite the business of this House in a manner that we believe Yukoners want us to. We met on several occasions to try to come up with a set of rules that would be acceptable to all parties in this Legislature.
Again, I want to commend those leaders for working with me in the best interests of all of us in this Legislature, and in the best interests of Yukoners.
This Legislature is where the laws of the Yukon are debated and passed. This Legislature has a certain dignity that needs to be upheld. I believe that we in this Legislature, sometimes in the heat of debate, because of the small size of our Legislature and the small number of Members, occasionally deteriorate to a very personal level.
At those times - and I am just as guilty as other Members in this House - we do not do justice to ourselves or this Legislature. There is room for lots of debate, and under the new rules I do not believe that we would in any manner be limiting debate. I believe that this is a positive step forward.
I am sure that there will be some growing pains with these new rules, but if we work together, we will work them out.
I could say that one of the growing pains I have seen in our negotiations and deliberations is that we addressed the matter of allowing Members to speak 40 minutes to the main estimates, which is only appropriate, in my opinion. This is the time that MLAs have to address their constituency issues and to get a lot of things on the record that they should be getting onto the record. After looking over the motion several times and conferring with my colleagues, we noted that we had not given the same time allocation to the throne speech, which is another important time for debate for all Members in this Legislature.
After talking to the Leader of the Official Opposition - I did not get the chance to speak to the Leader of the Liberal Party on it, and I apologize for that - we will be proposing an amendment to the motion to change the debate on the throne speech to 40 minutes rather than 20 minutes.
I believe that in all other instances of debate, 20 minutes for a Legislature of this size is sufficient. When we go into Committee, Members can go on and on if they feel strongly about an issue.
I am looking forward to working with the Opposition under these new rules. I have nothing more to add at this time.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move
THAT Motion No. 47 be amended by adding the following:
"(2.1) adding the following new Standing Order:
"26(1.2) During debate on the motion for an Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne and on any amendments proposed, the time limit for speakers following the Member moving the motion and the Member speaking in reply immediately thereafter shall be 40 minutes."
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader
THAT Motion No. 47 be amended by adding the following:
"(2.1) adding the following new Standing Order:
26(1.2) During the debate on the motion for an Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne and on any amendments proposed, the time limit for speakers following the Member moving the motion and the Member speaking in reply immediately thereafter shall be 40 minutes."
Amendment to Motion No. 47 agreed to
Speaker: Is there any debate on the motion as amended?
Mr. McDonald: I have a few comments to make on the motion, as I was a participant in the discussions with the Government Leader and the sole Liberal Member in the Legislature on the subject of House rules.
The Government Leader is correct. This arrangement was the result of some long discussions about how the rules of the Legislature might be improved to increase its effectiveness and the efficiency.
Not everybody came out with everything that they thought was desirable from their perspective, but I think that the people who were participants - and admittedly not everyone was essentially represented in those discussions, but the vast majority of the Members in the Legislature were - in the discussions went in with the view that the Legislature as a whole and as an institution should be considered the top priority.
I am pleased to conclude, at least in some respects, that the basic principles I have promoted and that my caucus has promoted in the past, both in government and in Opposition - that being there should not be legislative action through exhaustion and there should not be actions taken by ambushing one side or another - are principles that I think are borne out in the memorandum of understanding as well as the House rules, as amended.
I would like to make it clear from our perspective, as the Official Opposition at this time, that nothing in this agreement will prevent the Opposition from asking tough questions. From time to time I am certain that all Members in the House will express passionate feelings about one subject or another because they either share those feelings themselves or they have constituents who feel strongly about something, and it is the duty of the Member to speak eloquently and passionately about subjects that are important to their constituents.
While the rules are amended to some extent in terms of time allocations and how we conduct our business, I hope that passion and eloquence still remain part of the way we conduct our business.
The Government Leader did indicate that we are taking some chances. I was pleased that, in the discussions at least, there was an attitude carried into the discussions by all parties that we were prepared to do things differently, that we were not going to sit entirely on custom and past practice to decide how we were going to conduct our business and were able to modernize and create some rules that perhaps made some sense for our time.
Some of these rules, I can honestly say, will be difficult for us to deal with, obviously. The fact that we are changing the Question Period to 30 minutes is going to be a challenge for the Opposition to an extent the government might have some trouble getting used to it. Perhaps they will not have to take quite so many stomach suppressants prior to Question Period as they do currently. I want to mention that some of the most interesting moments in Question Period this past week have been in the last 10 minutes of the Question Period. I would not have given up the last 10 minutes of today's Question Period for anything.
We will have to be more focused in the questions that we put on the table, but we also expect clear answers and a government that is prepared to give information as freely as possible.
In the design of the memorandum of understanding, there is a commitment to two sittings a year, which is what the public expects and is demanding, and to 60 days, which I think is more than achievable given that it is approximately the average time we have spent in the Legislature in any given year of the past 10 years.
There are some innovations that we may have to put a lot of goodwill into to see that they work and provide for a more informed House. I make reference to the technical briefings that are being offered by government to Opposition Members to talk about details of the expenditures prior to the debate in Committee estimates.
This is an innovation that, if it works, can be quite useful. Members over the last many years have continually expressed some concern that the main estimates themselves do not provide enough information for Members to do an adequate job. The main estimates tabled this year are approximately as good as they were in past years in terms of providing information, but Members would like better and more immediate access to certain kinds of information that perhaps the technicians in the departments can provide. If it is a useful practice to question officials about matters of fact, and thereby leave more time available in Committee to debate matters of policy, then it may prove to be a good innovation.
As I have indicated to the Government Leader, Ministers should be cautioned not to expect that the availability of these technical briefings - of an hour or hour and a half - does not mean that the Ministers will not be responsible for answering questions of fact. There will still be that expectation.
The memorandum of understanding, to use the antiquated term of a gentleman's agreement, is absolutely dependent on the good intentions of all Members to see to it that it is respected. It includes a commitment to provide notice of bills to be introduced in a particular session in a timely way so that, in the interest of not legislating by ambush, all Members have the opportunity to thoroughly read the legislative proposal, speak to their constituents and get back to engage in some informed debate.
It also suggests that the spring sitting will be largely used for main estimates. Clearly, that is consistent to some extent with past practice.
This is the one element of the agreement that is going to be the most easily misinterpreted, given that there is significant room for interpretation. For the entire memorandum of understanding to work, it would require good communication between particularly the House Leaders regarding the conduct of House business. If there is a commitment to continue discussions and work cooperatively, realizing that we have embraced the principles of no legislation by exhaustion or by ambition, it applies equally to all Members and is an obligation of all of us. It will require continued discussion and good will.
For those of us who have been in the Legislature for a very long time, it is a change. Change is difficult for some of us to accommodate. I could very easily operate under the old rules as opposed to the new rules, but I am willing as one Member - even one who has been around for a while - to try new things if people feel that is a wise or reasonable innovation.
I and my caucus do support the memorandum of understanding and the rule changes as proposed. We will obviously keep watching and hope that good communications between both sides of the House and all Members will keep things running not only smoothly and efficiently, but also to ensure that the public's right to government accountability and the opportunity to raise issues is still maintained.
Mr. Cable: I think it is all agreed that these rule changes will make for greater efficiency and that is one of the main driving forces behind the rule change. Whether or not the tenor of the House changes, of course, will depend on ourselves as individuals and that remains to be seen. No amount of verbiage can change that. It will have to come from a desire to change.
With respect to the three main items in the motion, and in particular with respect to the Question Period time change, the Clerk was good enough to give me a memorandum last October on the time limits in other jurisdictions, and I would like to read its contents into the record. Alberta has a 50-minute Question Period; British Columbia, 15 minutes; Manitoba, 40 minutes, New Brunswick, 30 minutes; Newfoundland, 30 minutes; Northwest Territories, no limit; Nova Scotia, one hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays, one and one-half hours on Wednesdays; Ontario, one hour; Prince Edward Island, 40 minutes; Quebec, 45 minutes; Saskatchewan, 25 minutes; and the federal House of Commons, 45 minutes. So where we are heading is not unusual in relation to the smaller jurisdictions.
With respect to the time limits on speeches, I would agree with what has been previously said, that this will force us to focus. While this may act to my detriment and that of the Member for Riverdale South, in that we have only one voice each, I would like to try it on for size and see whether we can get our thoughts organized for a 20-minute speech. That might be a credit to all of us, if in fact we can do that. It will help us bring matters to a vote and avoid repetition.
With respect to the comments made on the doing away with voting by ambush, that is a very desirable practice. To lie in the weeds hoping a Minister might get caught is not, in my view, quite cricket. Ministers do have a number of hats and they must do the territory's business as well as sit in the House.
I enjoyed the negotiations with the Government Leader and the Leader of the Official Opposition. It gave us a chance to try out this consensus building in just a little wee way - just one small step for humanity.
The agreement is not perfect, but we have to recognize that it is not written in stone or on a tablet; it is simply a rule, a change made in the House. If it does not work, we are free to amend it.
Mrs. Firth: I guess I am the odd person out here, because I was not privilege to these cheery, chummy, warm, fuzzy negotiations. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I probably will find I cannot support this motion.
I listened with a great deal of interest to the talk about greater efficiency. I am not sure what the Members mean by "greater efficiency". Is that expediting the House business faster, or are they talking about the quality of House business, the quality of information that comes forward, the openness of government, their willingness to answer questions and cooperate, their willingness to provide information? That is what greater efficiency means to me, and I do not see this change of rules creating that.
My feeling about the situation is that the government is largely responsible for setting the tone of the House by their approach to answering questions and providing information. If a government publicly claims to be an open government, it should be an open government and provide information in the House.
We saw this afternoon that we have a Cabinet that is of several opinions on the whole principle of providing information and what the whole principle of keeping people informed is. If there are disagreements within Cabinet about it, then the government is not presenting a unified voice and not presenting the information that is being requested.
There is not going to be very much efficiency with respect to the way the House operates. I find asking a Minister questions in the budget debate very distressing. We have to wait for the Minister to get the answer from the officials and then give us the answers. For Opposition Members, I think that is a very time-consuming process. I think it causes a great deal of frustration both for the government Members and for Opposition Members.
I have a great deal of concern about the assertion that this is a positive step for government, because it is only a positive step for government or for governments-in-waiting. I do not see it as a positive step for the Opposition, largely because it has reduced the time for Question Period. I think we probably - with the statistics that the Liberal Member has just indicated - have one of the shorter Question Periods in the country. I do not think size of legislature has anything to do with it. I think, many times we, as Members, have not had enough time in Question Period to deal with all the issues that we want to raise on behalf of our constituents.
As an Independent Member, I think that it is more favourable to the Members to have more time in Question Period as opposed to less.
I have a lot of concern about the limitation of time and other Members have expressed reservations about limiting the time to 35 days and 25 days. In discussions that I have had with people who deal with legislative processes and give advice about them, they find how that is going to work difficult to comprehend. I guess we will just have to wait and see if it does or not.
I completely agree with having two sessions. I have always been an advocate of two sessions, and it was this government that changed that tradition to one session.
The other thing I do not have any great dispute with is the 20-minute speech. There are always other legislative techniques that people can employ if they want to speak longer on particular motions.
I will not be supporting this, and I know that I am not surprising anybody in the House. I will live by the new rules. As a Member in this House, I have always been very adaptable to whatever rule changes come along.
I think the most interesting thing about these rule changes is going to be seen after the next election with the few remaining Members that may be here on this side of the House as Opposition Members. I can hardly wait to hear what they are going to have to say about the rule changes. I think they will have a different attitude about the rules once they are in Opposition.
Speaker: If the Member now speaks he will close debate. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will be very brief on this.
Speaker: This is on the motion as amended.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, Mr. Speaker.
I believe that after listening to the comments of the Leader of the Official Opposition, the Leader of the Liberal Party and the Independent Member for Riverdale South, there are a few things that I would like to put on the record that may give some comfort to some of the Members.
The Leader of the Official Opposition stated quite clearly and unequivocally that because we were given technical briefings, that did not stop Members from asking questions of fact of the Ministers. I wholeheartedly agree with that.
I believe the technical briefings are a venue that will be of great assistance to the Members opposite. They can sit down face to face with people from the department and get the technical and factual information that they need to expand on the budget book.
I believe that quite possibly it will also answer the concerns of the Member for Riverdale South when she says that she has to wait for so long for the information to come back when she requests information from the Ministers.
The fact remains that it takes the department some time to get that information together.
As for technical briefings, it should come forward a lot quicker.
We talked about bills. We have an agreement between the three leaders that the government will table the bills that it wishes to debate as early as possible in the session, and we certainly do not intend to ambush the Opposition by tabling the bill one or two days before adjournment, insisting they have to go through. I have gone even further than that and said that I would try to table as many bills as possible in the spring sitting that we intend to debate in the fall, so that Members have some time to go over them.
We will work very diligently. I ask the Opposition to bear with me, as this is the first session in the new procedure. Some of the bills that we intend to bring forward this fall are not quite ready yet, but we will be tabling them during this session. Just because they are on the Order Paper does not mean that we want to debate them this session.
We have a gentleman's agreement that the main estimates will be the main item of business in the spring session. The Leader of the Official Opposition made a request regarding the Historic Resources Act. That still has to go to Cabinet. Once it has been approved by Cabinet, it will be tabled in the Legislature. We are not trying to hide from debate on it because of the new procedures.
The Member for Riverdale said she had concerns about limiting the days and how that would work. We may think this is unique to the Yukon, but, in fact, this same scenario took place in Manitoba last year. The Opposition and the government agreed on the number of sitting days and knew which day they would be getting out of the Legislature. I am not saying that the changes we have made are perfect or will be easy. We do believe that they are workable. It is up to us, as Members of this Legislature, to make them work.
I would like to give my assurance to this Legislature that I will do my best to see that we live within the confines of the new rules and try to work within them.
Speaker: I will now call question on the motion.
Motion No. 47 agreed to as amended
Clerk: Motion No. 89, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Fisher.
Motion No. 89
Speaker: It is moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that Piers McDonald, Leader of the Official Opposition, be appointed to the Members' Services Board.
Motion No. 89 agreed to
Speaker: May I have your further pleasure?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:10 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled February 21, 1996:
Memorandum of understanding, dated February 12, 1995, and signed by the Government Leader, Leader of the Official Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party in the House regarding commitments to expedite House business (Ostashek)
Department of Education Annual Report, 1994-95 (Phelps)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled February 21, 1996:
Electric heating costs: baseboard heater replacement (Fisher)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1361
Loki Gold: responses to questions raised May 2, 1995, during debate of the Second Appropriation Act, 1995-96 (Loki Gold contribution) (Fisher)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2181, 2196, 2200 to 2202, and 2204