Thursday February 29, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with silent prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have some documents for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have two reports for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by Ministers?
Yukon Conservation Strategy revision process
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I just tabled two very important documents. One is on behalf of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment and one is to announce the start of the conservation strategy revision process.
The Environment Act requires the government to revise the strategy every three years. Both documents will assist in this process. The first document is the Yukon Conservation Strategy Revisions Discussion Paper. The document reaffirms the Yukon government's commitment to the principles and goals of the conservation strategy, and identifies the main mechanisms and steps that the Yukon government will take toward achieving those goals over the next three years.
The strategy needs to be updated to reflect changes in government roles, resources and partnerships. Changes are required because new legal agreements have been adopted that implement, as well as complement, the strategy. These include land claim agreements, new federal legislation and programs, international agreements and protocols.
The revisions will also consider the findings of the Yukon State of the Environment Report and focus on this government's approach to implementation.
The second document is the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment's Implementation Report on the Conservation Strategy, as required under the Environment Act.
It is my expectation that the Yukon State of the Environment Report tabled yesterday and the two documents tabled today will form the basis for a full public review of the Yukon Conservation Strategy. The 60-day public review will begin next week. The department is in the process of circulating the revisions paper as widely as possible.
Opportunities will also be available for anyone and everyone to comment on the revisions to the strategy.
Mr. Harding: I am pleased to respond to another ministerial statement on the environment today. I thank the government for bringing it forward. However, I am pretty sure that the Minister gets to speak last today, so I hope he is prepared with briefing notes so that he can respond to my comments better today than he did yesterday. I had hoped that he would have taken the opportunity to speak to the CBC morning show today on the Yukon State of the Environment Report, especially since I was scheduled to follow him.
I welcome this public review of the Yukon Conservation Strategy created by the NDP government. It should help to give a badly needed profile to environmental issues. I look forward to the government undertaking its first very own initiative on the environment. Yesterday, I highlighted some areas of very little progress over the last three years. One of them is the forestry policy made in the Yukon for sustainable industry. Another is a one-window development assessment process as spelled out in the umbrella final agreement. Another is the Whitehorse mining initiative, which has stopped dead in its tracks. Another is the endangered spaces 2000 program; last year the Yukon got a D grade, and little advancement has taken place. Of course there is the issue of hazardous waste storage. And, of course, they have ignored the environmental consequences of Aishihik Lake water consumption.
We have also seen this government fail to proclaim sections of the Wildlife Act pertaining to habitat protection for over three years. We have seen unjustified shrinkage of the Tombstone Park. We have seen attempted amendments to weaken the Environment Act. Now, on the eve of an election, the government is finally starting to at least talk about some of these issues.
In the Minister's response, could he please indicate how he will be carrying out the agenda that they have committed to in such areas as the endangered spaces 2000 program and forestry policy over the last few months of their mandate.
Mr. Cable: I have to say that I am pleased that the Minister is moving on several fronts on the environment. The environment seems to be getting the attention of the government with a gusto. I guess we have to assume there is an election coming.
The one issue that does not seem to be getting focused attention is the Environment Act and the proposed amendments. A couple of years ago, there was considerable energy spent talking about proposed amendments. A paper was put out consisting of several pages, with some 25 proposed amendments, and some involved significant policy changes, such as the rights of third parties to enforce the act.
These amendments were put to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment and some recommendations came back a little over one year ago. I remember the date on the council's report was February 15, 1995. Then the issue disappeared into a cloud bank.
Mr. Speaker will recollect the rather squishy answers I received yesterday when I asked for timing on the amendments and timing on proclamation of the act. It would be useful, if the Minister intends to respond, to get a definitive statement from the government as to whether or not we could see the issue being dealt with before the next election.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The comments made by both the Members who just spoke could cause a debate that could go on all afternoon.
I would like to point out that it is stated right in the report done by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment that a recent review of Yukon government programs and policies shows that more than 95 percent of Yukon government commitments have been met or are being implemented. Further implementation is dependent upon the settlement and implementation of land claims and the transfer of federal programs such as forestry.
With regard to the comment made by the Member for Riverside respecting the amendments to the Environment Act, the information he provided to the House is absolutely correct. Some amendments are needed - some are housekeeping, some are fairly major.
We felt that there were requirements for regulations to be in place by October of this year. We could either concentrate on changing the act with those amendments, or we could complete the regulations. We strongly felt - and I fully support this initiative - that it would be better to get the regulations in place for such things as special waste, solid waste, ozone-depletion - which have been passed - in addition to the beverage container regulations and the additions of containers other than pop bottles, and so on. That is what we have been concentrating on, and we will continue to concentrate on that.
Yesterday in the House, I said we would not be bringing forward amendments to the Environment Act at this time. Instead, we will concentrate on enacting the regulations.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Dawson grader station relocation
Ms. Moorcroft: I have some questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services about some planning and spending matters.
Last spring, the Minister's department decided it would need $612,000 for maintenance camp facilities and equipment. In the supplementary budget, we find more than $2.5 million, due to relocating the Dawson grader station.
Can the Minister tell us when and how the urgency of moving this station came to his attention?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We debated that issue last night for two and one-half hours and for another hour the day before.
It became apparent when they thought there would be more school children in Dawson City with Loki moving in, and they wanted a new school. The City of Dawson requested that the garage be moved on a number of occasions. This looked like good property and the people of Dawson were very happy to have this as school property. We promised that we would move the garage; incidentally, the other government also promised that they would move the garages in Carmacks and Dawson out of the towns.
We decided that this would give us a chance to relocate that building. We found the money in Management Board and tendered the contracts in the fall.
Ms. Moorcroft: It appears that a big part of this huge bulge in the Minister's budget is because of a commitment by the Minister of Education. We also know that about $80,000 of that increase is due to change orders in the construction contract because the government had to have the lot cleared by the spring for construction of the Dawson school.
Could the Minister tell us how much of the cost overrun is due to the fact that the new Dawson highways yard was built during the winter months?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: The Member asked that question last night and I told the Member that I would bring that information back for her. I told the Member last night that I would table that information.
Ms. Moorcroft: I believe the Minister was first asked that question a couple of days ago, and he still has no answer.
Last year there were no plans to move the highways yard until the government decided to build a hurry-up school in Dawson. Now the urgency of building a new school for the Member for Klondike has disappeared so that a new school can be built for the Government Leader.
I want to know why this Minister and his independent colleague cannot get their act together and make plans that are sensible to the people in Dawson and to the taxpayers.
Hon. Mr. Brewster:
I think we have our act pretty well together. The people of Dawson wanted the garage moved; they asked for it while the NDP was in office and it was not moved. We moved it, and they were quite happy with that. They are happy to have the property cleaned up, as it will be in the spring. It will be ready if and when the school is built.
Speaker: I would like to remind the people in the gallery that they are not to participate in the debate in any way. Please restrain yourselves.
Question re: Dawson grader station relocation
Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps we need a sound shield or something up there.
It seems that what we are getting for $2.5 million is a parking lot that may have a school on it at some time in the future.
The other day, this Minister was bragging about his horse-trading skills and how he had got the Minister of Education to contribute $200,000 toward cleaning up the site of the old Dawson grader station. Can the Minister tell us if he thinks that it is appropriate to use Education money to clean up any mess left behind by his department?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: It is all taxpayers' money. If a school is built there, the site would have had to be cleaned up anyway. We have not spent any more money than would have been spent anyway to test the ground for a school and so on, whether it ends up being there or on the other side of town.
Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps $200,000 does not seem like much to a Cabinet Minister, but to real people it is an awful lot. Does the Minister have any idea how many grade 5 science textbooks could be bought for $200,000, or how many teacher aides could be hired to work with children with FAS/FAE?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I do not happen to be in the Department of Education.
Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps I should use an example that is a bit closer to home. In retrospect, if he had not been rushed into accommodating a school that now may or may not happen, would he not have preferred to spend that $200,000 on hiring a few full-time grader operators to make our roads safer?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I think our roads are some of the safest in Canada. We continually receive compliments from people on the shape of our roads.
Question re: Access to information
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader on access to information. The issue of getting information from this government has come up time and time again in this House, most recently last night, when there was a rather torturous exchange between one of the Ministers and one of the Members over information I would have thought would be readily available to Members.
I am not sure where this government is coming from on the release of information. One minute it is open, and the next minute it resembles the KGB for keeping information to itself.
Is this government still committed to the four-year plan, which says it has a special duty to promote the interests of the territory, to be open, accountable, responsible and representative of the Yukon public it serves? It goes on to say that it will, as a commitment, increase access to public information in government files by providing real freedom of information.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: He may know of the KGB from personal experience; I do not. Certainly we are committed. We are an open government and we have practised that, and we continue to practise it.
We brought forward a good Access to Information Act to allow public access to our files, and we do respond to requests for information.
Mr. Cable: We have had a new Access to Information Act passed in this House, but I would have to remind the Government Leader that it has yet to be proclaimed.
I wrote to the Government Leader on two occasions, requesting the release of variance reports. I got back some baffle-gab about why it has only been done once, and the government cannot do it, and anyway we will get it in the supplementary estimates.
Is there any cogent reason why the variance reports cannot be released, as they are prepared, to the Members on this side of the House? When the Minister answers the question, could he refresh his memory that he has been beating on the NDP for about three years about this surprise deficit he received when he took office, which might have been avoided if variance reports had been given out on a regular basis.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: First of all, variance reports are internal documents and Cabinet information. I have no difficulty in giving Members updates of the financial position of government, any time they request it, but not the actual documents that go to Cabinet.
If the Members opposite want a quarterly update, we have put a process in place that we believe we will be able to do. We spoke about it briefly in the debate on the supplementaries. I spoke about it when I was in general debate on the supplementaries with the Leader of the Official Opposition. I spoke about a process that we have put in place that will give us a monthly tabulation, which will at least give us an idea of what the financial position of the government is. We are working to perfect that system. I have no difficulty. If the Member opposite wants a quarterly update, I would be happy to give it to him, but not the actual variance reports that are Cabinet information.
Mr. Cable: I have had occasion to get some data from the Access to Information Commissioner on the number of applications that have been made over the last six years. It appears that there were 36 made between 1990-91 and 1992-93, during the time of the previous administration. There were 65 made in the 1993-94 and 1995-96 period. This is with the present, weak Access to Information Act.
Could the Minister indicate why almost double the number of people in the Yukon have had to resort to this act to get information from this government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, off the top of my head I could not. I could speculate a little, if the Members opposite would like me to. It is quite possible that those people were trying to get information for years out of government and could not get it, and finally went through the Access to Information Act to obtain it.
Question re: RCMP staffing
Mr. Sloan: My question is for the Minister of Justice. While canvassing in my riding of Whitehorse West, a number of residents expressed some concerns with the level of RCMP staffing, particularly in the deployment of staff. They felt that there was an over-representation of management staff and an under-representation of on-the-street police officers, and that there is a real need for an increased police presence in the neighbourhoods.
Can the Minister give us some indication if he will work with the RCMP to increase police presence on the streets and in the neighbourhoods?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I can give the Member that assurance. In fact, there will be some announcements in the very near future about things that will allow more police to be on the beat, so to speak, and in the administration offices. The RCMP are looking at the shift structures that they now have. By changing shift structures, there may be some room to have more policemen on a certain shift. That will allow that as well. That is a goal of the community policing initiative. That is something that we are hoping will happen in the very near future.
Mr. Sloan: Can the Minister inform us about which community groups were consulted in this initiative, how it is going to be administered, and what are some of the its broader outlines?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It is at the fairly early stages. I am told that if there can be some shift changes accommodated, it will allow more police to be on duty at certain times in almost every community of the territory.
With respect to the other changes, I would prefer to make the announcement early next week about some of the changes that are going to be made there. I have spoken to the RCMP, and we have had discussions for some time about reducing the administrative level in Whitehorse and, rather than losing that money, putting it on to the street with more police officers in order to address the community policing initiative.
There may also be something happening in the very near future with respect to the community policing initiative that the Department of Justice and the RCMP are now working on. It is in the developmental stage, and I would rather not get into details because I do not know them all at the present time. They are, however, having discussions about new initiatives there as well.
Mr. Sloan: A couple of the fairly successful police initiatives included the mini detachment at Qwanlin Mall and the tripartite agreement with Kwanlin Dun First Nation, which I believe will soon be announced. Are these the kinds of initiatives that the government would be looking at undertaking - more or less developing these smaller, mini detachments? Are these part of the plan?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There is a plan right now, in the tripartite negotiations with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, to establish a mini detachment up in the Kwanlin Dun area. I believe that there will be three officers assigned to that detachment. I could be wrong about the number, but I believe that the number I was given was three.
We are also going to be expanding the role of the auxiliary police officers. They will be carrying out crime prevention initiatives, possibly going door to door in various neighbourhoods to talk about home security and such things. We are also looking at the COP - citizens on patrol - initiative that has been tried in Vernon and many other communities in Canada and the United States. It has worked very well. We are looking at initiating that some time in the spring. That is an initiative, however, that really depends a lot on citizen volunteers, because it is a volunteer program. Unless we get 40 to 50 volunteers, for example, in the City of Whitehorse, that one would not work. Those are some of the initiatives that we hope will establish the presence of more police or law enforcement on the streets.
Question re: Housing, low-income rental units
Ms. Commodore: I have a question for the Minister responsible for housing. The Government Leader announced in his budget speech that $8 million has been allocated for three housing programs under the Yukon Housing Corporation. I did not hear any mention of low-rental units for low-income families. Is that type of housing included under any one of those three programs?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not believe it is, but I will confirm that for the Member.
Ms. Commodore: I am very surprised that the Minister is not aware of whether or not that type of housing is included, because we were told today that there are 67 people on the waiting list for low-income rental housing. That figure is expected to drastically rise in the next little while.
Was there any discussion about accommodating the need of those individuals who are in need of low-income housing?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It is my understanding that the waiting list varies considerably from month to month. We should be concerned about 67 waiting for housing, but it is my understanding that most of these people are accommodated and they are waiting for Yukon Housing Corporation accommodation.
Programs such as home ownership and home repair, together with the joint venture programs, allow people to move up, and they make more affordable housing available to those people who are at a lower income level. So, essentially, every program we have helps improve the housing stock in the Yukon and repairs housing for individuals with low incomes
Ms. Commodore: We know that the accommodation does not meet the need. The Minister knows that and the Minister for Health and Social Services knows that there is sometimes a waiting list of up to 140 people.
Although the Minister was not a Member of the party at that time - in 1992, the Yukon Party promised, "To ensure an adequate supply of social housing to meet community needs." This was in the Yukon Party's promise for social change. Nothing has changed since 192. I would like to ask the Minister if he would confirm that his government, which he is representing right now, has any intention of keeping that promise? The need is still there and it is no better than it was in 1992.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is not true at all.
Question re: Lawsuits against government
Mrs. Firth: I, too, have a question with respect to information requests, since I have outstanding requests from the Minister of the Housing Corporation, of over eight months, and the Minister of Economic Development, of over three months. This brings me to my question to the Minister of Justice.
Last year, I wrote to the Minister asking for a report on civil litigation actions - the outstanding lawsuits the government had. In a record two-month period, I had a response and a report. In the fall of 1995, I wrote requesting an updating report on outstanding civil litigation actions - four months ago, and I still have no answer. I would like to ask the Minister why he is refusing to give me this information after four months.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can look into that for the Member. If the answer is available right away, I will get it to the Member right away.
Mrs. Firth: All of a sudden I am going to get the answer right away. I wrote for this four months ago and the Minister has not even acknowledged that he got my letter. I would like to ask him why, since the report listed over 20 lawsuits for a total of almost $17 million, he has not provided the report. What is in it that he does not want us to see?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I just told the Member that I would look into it and try to get a report to the Member as soon as possible. The Member says we have not even acknowledged her letter; I will check to make sure we have received her letter and, if we have, I will ask why we have not responded. We will get back to the Member as soon as we can get the information together.
Mrs. Firth: That is not an acceptable answer because this government hangs its hat on its great financial skills. There is $17 million worth of outstanding lawsuits, which this government has not even taken into consideration with its budget. The Minister should have been discussing this and thinking about it when the budget was drawn up. It has put a puny $7 million of reserves in its budget and has almost $20 million outstanding in lawsuits. That is not a good enough answer and I expect to have the information here on Monday, if I cannot have it tomorrow at my office.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I did not hear a question from the Member, I just heard a demand, but I will endeavour to get the information the Member wants. The Member also knows that, although there may be $17 million in outstanding lawsuits - some of them go back six or seven years, not just to this administration - many of those particular lawsuits are insured lawsuits and many of the others, in some cases, we consider rather frivolous. One that comes to mind is the lawsuit with respect to the Yukon slogan, "The Magic and the Mystery".
I will get the information for the Member and try and get it to her as soon as possible. If I can get the information, I will deliver it to the Member when we reconvene after next week.
Question re: Faro Real Estate Limited rent increases
Mr. Harding: People will remember that this is the government that also said that the Taga Ku lot was frivolous.
I want to ask the Minister for the Yukon Housing Corporation a question. Last week, I tabled a petition signed by over 200 of my constituents about their view that unauthorized rent increases by Faro Real Estate violated the mortgage agreement with the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Yukon government. I have raised these concerns about unauthorized rent increases with the Minister before. At that time, the Minister said that he needed evidence of dissatisfaction from tenants about the rent increases before taking any action. He now has that evidence. I would like to ask him what action he will be taking?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We have taken action on it. I will be responding to the petition on Monday, March 11, when we reconvene.
Mr. Harding: Can the Minister give us any of the details about the action that he is planning on taking prior to this? I have had a number of constituents call me with questions about this particular matter. It is of great concern to them; they would like to see a quick resolution. Will there be any court action, for example? What other methods of collection will be undertaken?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: There may be court action taken. Our experience in the past has indicated that that is about all that Faro Real Estate Limited responds to.
We have been in contact with them. It is the position of the Yukon Housing Corporation that they should meet the terms of the mortgage. It is what we will enforce.
Mr. Harding: I would like to ask the Minister if there has been conversation between the Minister and the Yukon Housing Corporation board, which has dealt with this specific issue of unauthorized rent increases in the past. The increases appear to be in clear violation of the mortgage agreement between the Yukon government and Faro Real Estate Limited.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, I have not recently spoken to the board about this issue. I spoke to the president this morning. There is a meeting of the board this Friday evening and Saturday. I will attend it, and I will bring it up to the board at that time. Perhaps I can report on that when I respond to the petition on Monday, March 11.
Question re: Lewes Dam bridge, highway safety
Ms. Moorcroft: Over the summer, I wrote several letters to the Minister responsible for highways about safety at the Alaska Highway bridge at the Lewes dam road, also known as Gunnar's sawmill road. My constituents believe that additional guardrails, a reduced highway speed and some hidden intersection signs are needed. I have made representations to the Minister to support this request.
Can the Minister tell me if his department is prepared to reduce the speed limit at this bridge?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: No, we are not. The speed limit from Whitehorse to Swift River is 100 kilometres per hour. That does not mean it is necessary to drive that fast. One drives with respect to the safety of the road and at the speed one feels comfortable. We are therefore not going to change the signs in the summer and the winter. One can go as fast as 100 kilometres per hour, but it does not mean that is what one should do in winter conditions.
Ms. Moorcroft: This is the Minister who just stood up here and said he believed the highways are very safe. Perhaps he has not driven that stretch of highway. It is winding, there is a steep hill and a hidden intersection at the bridge. This is not an issue where shuffling papers is an acceptable reason for not taking action.
Why will the Minister not give a commitment to reduce the speed limit there?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We cannot keep changing the speed limit every 15 or 20 miles along the highway, from one speed limit to another. As far as the road is concerned, I do not know if the Member for Mount Lorne has watched television lately, but the roads outside, with a lot more traffic and more equipment to handle them and shorter distances, have more problems than we do.
Ms. Moorcroft: If one drives from the Mayo Road turnoff to the Carcross Road turnoff, the speed limit changes several times. This is an issue of safety.
Can the department post hidden intersection signs on this stretch of road? When could that be done?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We can take a look at it, but -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Mr. Speaker, can I finish answering the question, or should I sit down?
Speaker: Go ahead and answer the question.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
on. Mr. Brewster: I wish someone would make up their mind.
The department was out there last summer, and the road is up to the Trans-Canada highway standard. Therefore, we feel it is safe.
Question re: Mobile-home survey
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Minister responsible for housing. Last year the Minister was protesting that he would be acting aggressively to pursue the needs of mobile-home residents in rental parks. There was a flurry of committee meetings. There were commitments made in the House. There were questions asked. There was a motion debated. As soon as an open house was held, at my suggestion, nothing happened. Nothing happened all summer. Nothing happened in the fall. Nothing has happened over the winter and nothing has happened to date, except commitments being made and promises of efficient bureaucratic action behind the scenes.
Can I ask the Minister what has happened that would give the mobile-home residents of Whitehorse, particularly, and particularly in my riding, some comfort that the suggestions they have made for the improvement of their situation will be addressed?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, the Leader of the Official Opposition can ask me that.
The open house was held. We got information about mobile homes from mobile-home owners. It was decided that the way to get information was to do a mobile-home survey. The Leader of the Official Opposition is well aware of that.
The Department of Community and Transportation Services was involved, as was the City of Whitehorse. A call for proposals was issued in September 1995. The Yukon Housing Corporation set a budget of $15,000 for the survey. Five local consultants bid on doing the survey. The problem was that their bids came in between $18,000 and $60,000. Obviously, the tender was not very well done. It was not clear what we wanted. The tender was cancelled.
The Housing Corporation went back into negotiations with the City of Whitehorse and Community and Transportation Services. Since then, the City of Whitehorse has agreed to contribute $10,000 toward the mobile home survey. Community and Transportation Services has also agreed to contribute $10,000 to the survey. A new tender package is being put together with a budget of $50,000 specified for the consultants. We are waiting for the city to approve the terms of reference and the tender specs. We hope that the tender will be issued in the next few weeks.
Mr. McDonald: In the meetings that the Minister held with the City of Whitehorse, his colleague and me prior to the open house, he indicated that the survey the Minister is referring to would be conducted no later than the end of September of last year. That was the understanding and the commitment, so we left it at that.
The fact that the survey is taking so long is a problem, but it is not a fatal problem when it comes to trying to address the needs of mobile-home residents.
The open house report indicated that virtually everyone who attended the open house said they wanted land available for sale for people who wanted to move their mobile homes out of rental parks. Has the government made a decision as to whether or not they are going to accede to that request?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, we have not. We checked into the number of lots available and there are 60 available mobile-home lots for sale ranging in price from $21,000 to $40,000, I am not certain about the exact prices. However, there are mobile-home lots available at this time, at a relatively low price. Those lots will have to suffice until we have the mobile-home survey completed and have had an opportunity to consider the results as to whether or not the government should invest in low-cost mobile-home lots, so that people can own the lot their mobile home is located on.
Mr. McDonald: We are going through the same material that we went through two years ago when Kopper King residents were evicted. At that point we discovered that none of the older mobile homes were eligible to be moved on to any of the new lots that the Minister is mentioning, the lots in Logan and Arkell.
There are no lots currently available to relocate any older mobile home in the City of Whitehorse. It is not an option yet. Has the Minister discussed with the City of Whitehorse, or the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, that there is a need to develop lots and make them available to owners of older mobile homes in rental parks?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, that is a consideration, but as the Leader of the Official Opposition knows, most of those mobile homes - for example those in Kopper King - are not eligible to move anywhere no matter how much the lot costs, because the mobile home has to meet codes, including safety codes. There are a myriad of issues that have to be dealt with. We tried to cover all of the issues when the government tendered a contract for a mobile home study. It ended up that the consultants could not even figure out what we wanted or needed. We have had to go back and redraft the terms of reference and specifications. As soon as I receive that information from the city, I will provide it to the Leader of the Official Opposition and he can comment on whether or not that survey and the information that we receive will answer his questions.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Special Adjournment Motion
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move
THAT the House, at its rising, do stand adjourned until 1:30 p.m., Monday, March 11, 1996.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader
THAT the House, at its rising, do stand adjourned until 1:30 p.m., Monday, March 11, 1996.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We will take a 20-minute recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue on with Economic Development. We are in general debate.
Bill No. 9 - Third Appropriation Act, 1995-96 - continued
Economic Development - continued
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have some documents for tabling respecting the Yukon mining incentive program, business development fund and the status of economic development loans.
I have the centennial anniversaries events program amounts, but I do not have the anniversaries program update because there is another management meeting tomorrow, which will probably somewhat change things. Right after our break, I will be tabling an update of the anniversaries program.
Mr. Harding: Are we getting a list of the loans and grants?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is exactly what we have to table: the loans and grants.
Mr. Harding: Some of my colleagues perused some of that information. I would like to talk about a number of areas. I feel that we have had too many occasions where information has not been forthcoming in the past and we get beyond supplementaries, into the mains, and are still looking for the same information. Then we go past line items and do not get the opportunity to raise them with the new information in hand. So, in supplementary estimates, I want to talk about some of the issues about which I would like some information, so that I am sure that I have it for the mains.
The first issue I want to talk about - and I have taken the time to read and highlight the Economic Development Business Plan, 1995-98, and the two subtexts of that, the mineral resources action plan and the energy action plan - is that of strategic planning.
I subscribe to strategic planning. In the business world, it is fundamental to good organization, good process and strategic objectives. It is usually a measure of how successful a business will be.
However, I find all too often that can become the focus of a business or government, and there is a lot of time spent coming up with catchy new buzzwords to outline goals and objectives. The only problem is that the planning becomes the focus of the department, not those goals and objectives. I want to make sure that that is not the case in such an important department as Economic Development.
I would also like to talk a bit about the plan of the government, as it is outlined, in some specific areas. The first one I would like to talk about is the determination of the government, as we talk about energy use, in the energy action plan. There is a statement that says "New directions. What will change?" I paid particular attention to that statement in these business plans.
The third item in it says the government will increase its focus on the development of coal resources as a source of electricity generation to displace imported fossil fuels, as an export commodity and as a source of jobs for Yukoners.
What does that mean?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have to make a few comments on the Member's statements. Perhaps the Member is not aware, because neither he nor I were here before 1992, that the previous government never tabled the loan information documents. That was an initiative started by this government in 1994.
On the statement about being late in tabling information, I would like to reiterate the fact that the NDP never tabled loan information.
On the strategic plan, I have to agree with the Member opposite. In some cases, a department or a branch of a department - and some businesses, also - can get into the strategic planning exercise and actually let their business or activity go downhill because they are doing a lot of planning instead of actually carrying out the actions.
With regard to that particular statement - increased focus on the development of coal resources as a source of electricity generation - we support the development of Yukon's coal resource potential. We are monitoring development that might lead to coal mining or the construction of a coal-fired power generation plant in the Yukon.
Having said that, what we want to do is investigate all of the environmental concerns, and we want to investigate the long-term potential and the cost. If, as we believe, we can produce power at a cheaper rate with fossil fuels generated in the Yukon, rather than bringing fossil fuels into the Yukon from Alberta, it is something we need to look at carefully. That is what we intend to do.
Mrs. Firth: I do not want to prolong this argument with the Minister, but I do want to set the record straight.
The Minister has said that the previous government never tabled this information in the Legislature. The previous government used to personally send me the information prior to coming into the Legislature. I had one big wrangle with the Government Leader who was the Minister of Economic Development several years ago. I wrote a letter to the paper and I guess the Minister felt that I was serious about this and meant business.
So, annually, without a fight, I would be provided with a complete breakdown of all the loans and grants upon request. I received that information annually without asking for it to be tabled in the Legislature.
I have noticed that it has become more and more difficult to get information from this government. Whenever I ask for this information I am told that it will be when the session sits. Last time, we did not sit for nine months, so there was no reason the Minister could not have provided that information to me, regardless of whether or not he gives the information in the Legislature. This is not secret information; it is informative, helpful information for me as a Member of this Legislature.
I wanted to set the record straight as to how this information was being provided. I want the Minister to know that it has been getting tougher and tougher to get this information from his government.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That may well be. I do not know what the Leader of the Official Opposition or the previous government did, but when we go back through Hansard, there is no indication whatsoever that loan information was ever provided to anyone. The department was very reluctant, until we passed the legislation in this House, to provide this information to anyone other than on a confidential basis, perhaps to a Minister.
I am not saying that the Member opposite did not receive that information; she may well have.
Mrs. Firth: Do you want me to bring my file in?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It would be interesting, because I have been told by several members of that department that that information was not provided.
I do apologize. The Member opposite is correct. She wrote us a letter on November 30. Some of that information could have been tabled. Our intent in respect to the loans information is to table it on an annual basis at the sitting of the Legislature. What I will endeavour to do is to ensure that it is tabled at the start of the legislative session instead of waiting until we get into the budget. I do not see any problem with that; however, to provide it earlier than that would mean that it is not up to date. What we want to do is give the Members the best information available at the time.
Mr. Harding: It begs some questions about whether or not this is an open government. I thank the Member for Riverdale South for pointing that out. I guess I should be more on guard. I was starting to feel that the Minister was speaking with some credibility about the former practices, and lo and behold, I found that the previous government did not actually table them in the Legislature, it gave them to the Opposition prior to going into the Legislature, which is what we would like in the first place. Is he prepared to adopt that policy?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The indications in Hansard were that they were never tabled in the Legislature. I do not know if they were given out, but the department has told me that they were not. That information was never given out, other than to the Minister and to the departmental people. I could be wrong. I am not saying that the department is totally accurate on that issue. That is what department officials have told me, and they indicated the same thing to the previous Minister.
I cannot argue about whether it was given to one person or not. I suppose we can pass out the information to Members earlier. I would have to talk that over with the department. I would be very concerned that we make sure that we have absolutely accurate information. That does take some time. I would much prefer to table that information at the start of the Legislature, rather than a month or two weeks before, so that the department would at least have a deadline to have it up to date and accurate by the day the Legislature sits. I can discuss it with the department to see what arrangements can be made.
Mrs. Firth: Look at this. I will just ask the Minister what year he wants. There is about three or four inches of file there. We have a letter dated 1986 from Mr. Penikett - bless him for his letters - in which there is the whole Canada/Yukon tourism subsidy agreements, all of the reports and applicants, the year-end summaries, Renewable Resources special, ARDA. At first blush, I can see 1987. I know that it went back further. Here is 1986, 1987, 1988 - do I have to continue?
There is a letter of December 14, 1988, in which it says, "Attached as per your request are the detailed listings of all of the successful applicants for the programs listed in your October 4 letter." So, it only took two months - not even two months - for the previous government. I did not have to get this tabled in the Legislature. It was sent to me in my office. Somebody is not steering the Minister in the right direction and giving him the straight goods, because I have been getting the information.
I think - if I am not mistaken - that I was the first MLA to request the information. I had to fight to get it. I have been getting it since 1986. The Conservative government was out of office in 1985. In 1986, I started to get it. I got it every year that the previous government was in office.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would like to see some of that information, because I am not exactly sure what the Member opposite has. However, if there are delinquent loans - loans that have not been paid - in there, that was definitely an arrangement between the Member and the Leader of the Official Opposition. I have just been reassured that the department did not provide the information on delinquent loans until we started doing it two years ago.
Mrs. Firth: I will respond to that, because I was the Member who had to fight to get the delinquent loans made public. I see the colleague of the Minister nodding his head, because he was probably the minister of the day. That is correct, this government provided the delinquent loans information. I had never requested it from the previous government, because I do not think that we had a lot of loan programs at that time. It was predominantly grants, and there were very few loans or low-interest loans given out.
Difficulty getting information out of the government regarding the expenditure of taxpayers' money has been a kind of a pet peeve of mine. I think that if people are getting government money in the form of a grant or loan, that should be public information. I think that if they are not paying the money back, it should be public information. Those are initiatives that I have taken on and fought for with some success, because we are now getting the information.
The picky point seems to be that we have to wait for the House to be sitting, which does not make sense to me. I know it is all computerized so it can be pulled off at any time and made available. I do not know why we are wasting time doing this, because this government is not going to be here next time around, so I will have another government to fight with to get the information. I rest my case.
Mr. Harding: When we fell off the wagon and got on to the discussion about the economic development loans again, we were talking about coal. The government has stated that it believes in the philosophy of coal. At the time it said that, I wondered if some of the recent trips to Asia that the Government Leader had taken had more of an impact on him than I thought they did. At times I wondered if he was going to start chanting during Question Period. He then came in with the special operating agencies, describing them as a state of mind. So we have coal as a philosophy and special operating agencies as a state of mind, which is all very well and good but it is difficult for the Opposition to ascertain precisely what the government policy is with regard to those types of initiatives when they are described in such vague terms.
When the government says it supports the philosophy of coal and supports coal in general, what does that mean? Does it mean "at all costs" or only if it is environmentally and economically feasible?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Number one, it would have to be economically feasible. It would be just foolish to start some sort of a plant that did not make sense economically. As for being environmentally feasible, yes, we would insist on a plant that would meet the National Energy Board requirements. The thing about coal in the Yukon, which the Member opposite has to realize, is that if it is not burned here, it is going to be burned somewhere else, with, in some cases, little or no environmental regulations whatsoever.
That is fairly obvious. If one goes to Russia, not that they would be buying coal from us, and look at some of the plants there, they are pretty terrible. There is no scrubbing or anything. In several countries around the world that use only coal for power production, there is very little, if any, environmental protection involved.
If it is economically viable, yes, we would definitely support a coal-fired plant in the Yukon. Again, we would make sure it met all the national requirements for emissions.
Mr. Harding: I find the Minister's logic pretty backward in terms of justification. Due to the fact that they are ruining their environment in Russia or because in Chile they have lower environmental standards, that means that the Yukon has to try and move toward their standards? I do not see that logic. I think that we should stand by our own principles and decide on projects based on their own merits. If pressure has to be brought to bear on countries such as Russia, which is not burning coal in an environmentally appropriate way, that should be dealt with through the proper diplomatic and organizational channels, such as the UN's environmental program.
As the national Environment Minister, he is aware that issues such as greenhouse gases and other major environmental issues are brought to the world stage on an ongoing basis; for example, in Rio de Janeiro. I do not believe that, because Russia is doing something improperly, it justifies the Yukon taking a position that since it is burned there, we may as well burn it here.
What is the Yukon's baseline for what is environmentally feasible? What are we looking for?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There are national standards in Canada. We would ensure that those national standards are met or exceeded. It is kind of interesting that the Opposition, for whatever reason, is trying to make it look like coal is a very nasty fuel to burn for power generation. In fact, there is no question about it that the carbon dioxide emissions from coal are more than diesel fuel. Both are fossil fuels, as is natural gas. They all have emissions.
In fact, the other greenhouse gas emissions - I have some notes on them - such as sulphur dioxide emissions from a state-of-the-art coal plant, are comparable to the sulphur dioxide emissions from diesel electric power generations, allowing for transportation costs and cradle-to-grave emissions. In other words, the sulphur dioxide would be about the same if we transported it up from Alberta.
The oxides of nitrogen emanations from coal-fired generation are expected to be about one-sixth that of diesel. The volatile organic compounds are one-one hundredth what they are from diesel. The CO is 0.9, compared to 3.8 for diesel.
The CO2 is where one runs into trouble. It looks like coal is somewhere between 900 and 1,000 tons per gigawatt hour. With diesel, it is about 700 tons per gigawatthour. That is the only one. The CH4 is less than half of what diesel produces.
The emissions from coal are not all that bad, compared to diesel, with the exception of carbon dioxide.
Mr. Harding: The Minister conveniently leaves out the fact that power consumption in the Yukon is not based on diesel. I would also ask the Minister to give me the information about where those numbers he has just quoted come from.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: They are based on the report, Full Fuel Cycle Emissions: Analysis for Existing and Future Electric Power Generation Options in Alberta, Canada.
Mr. Harding: Who did that report?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know who did the report. I could probably get a copy of it for the Member.
Mr. Harding: I would appreciate that. I would like a copy because I would like to have some people take a look at those numbers. It is far from the truth that the Opposition is trying to paint coal as evil. That is not the case at all. The Opposition is trying to beat back some of the rhetoric about coal that the government has been spouting.
I have actually had people in my riding talk about waiting to get a job with the big new coal property going up behind Braeburn. They have heard all the talk in the throne speech last year and the budget speech about the philosophy of coal. All we are saying is to wait a minute. When has the government - beyond this rhetoric - proven an environmental and economic case for coal?
We have an entire new direction and increased focus change listed in the Economic Development energy action plan tabled by the department. We are trying to figure out what this focus is. When will the case be made that it is environmentally and economically proven to be a viable option for Yukoners? There has already been a study, which was inconclusive and quite negative, as I saw it.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is one of the things that we have to do and we are in the process right now of gathering information. We have to look at all of the issues that the Member opposite has raised.
During the cold weather months, we are very close to being short of power in the Yukon with the mines operating. In the next few years there is going to have to be some additional power made available. Right now, it is diesel fuel. While we speak, the diesel generators are in operation at the Whitehorse Rapids.
We have to find out if the project is economically viable and environmentally sound, then we would certainly entertain a proposal for a coal-fired generation unit.
Mr. Harding: Our position is clear; we are not opposed to coal as long as it can be used economically and environmentally.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We agree.
Mr. Harding: The Minister says the government agrees, but I find the rhetoric surrounding the initiative objectionable. It is all part of the big-dam and big-project mentality of this government - pipelines from Watson Lake and railroads to Carmacks and the whole dream-scheme infrastructure document that this government calls its vision. I prefer vision that shows incremental, attainable steps. I am certainly a great fan of industry. It is the bread and butter of my constituents. I am not opposed to big projects, but I find it somewhat disconcerting when average individuals are subjected to this kind of rhetoric and their hopes are built up.
I am trying to ask the tough questions about what is the reality and the substance behind the talk. I can remember the budget speech in 1993. At that time, it was Casino. I can almost directly quote the words: We have Casino; this may mean jobs for Yukoners. That is exactly what was stated in the budget, but that project faded. I have not heard about that project from this government in any of the last two or three speeches. It was not in the throne speech or the last two budget speeches. If it was mentioned, there was not much emphasis placed upon it.
That project has fallen away and the government is talking about coal. I want to know why the government is taking such a rhetorical approach - or a philosophical approach, even - to an issue that is strictly economically and environmentally driven, as I see it.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There has to be additional power provided for Yukon within a very short time. The Member went on about Casino. Casino is certainly not a dead project. All that BYG, in the Carmacks area, is waiting for is its water license. There are other mines coming on. There is no question about that. In fact, I think I provided to all the Members an update on where the various mining properties are.
The amount of development work that has gone on so far in 1995 is over $40 million. We are projecting that exploration will be up to $35 million or $40 million for this coming year. Things are happening. There is absolutely no question about it.
The City of Whitehorse is getting bigger. Faro is steadily increasing in population. Power is going to be one of the requirements. Whether or not we do that by adding more diesel, or look seriously at a small hydro project of 20 megawatt or so, or if we look at coal, we are looking at all of those energy sources. The department, at this moment, is looking at different methods of how we can produce power economically.
Mr. Harding: The problem I have is that it does not say, "increased focus on other energy options". It says, "increased focus on coal." There is a bias in it and I do not know if it is because it has already been determined that options, other than diesel, are not available, such as hydro or wind, or if there just seems to be a coal mentality, because we have a Government Leader who comes from Alberta and swears that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
We have talked to people in Alberta who do not feel that way. We want to feel confident that the government is doing its homework when it comes to determining precisely what options Yukoners will be asked to take a look at.
Let me ask a specific question. How far along is this coal project, the one that has been highly touted, the Division Mountain Cash Resources project? What is the conceived plan? Is it coal mining with a coal-fired generator in the urban area, or is the coal-fired generator supposed to be located in the area of the coal itself? What about the power grids? How are we going to be hooked up? Where are we going to be hooked to? How far along are we?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is nowhere near the stage of which the Member was talking. People have expressed an interest. Some large corporations have expressed an interest in looking at the coal. Our Department of Economic Development, working with the Yukon Energy Corporation, is looking at a lot of different options.
If the Member looks at the very next point, it reads, "increase focus and encourage investment in energy generation and transmission facilities that will ensure a sufficient future supply of energy for industry and communities". We are not saying the only thing we can do is coal. We are not saying that. What we are saying is that there is a source out there. They are still in the drilling stage to determine how much of a supply there is, but right now it appears that there is something like 35 million or 40 million tons of reserve confirmed, and they feel there may be as high as 100 million tons. That is what they are doing right now - determining what kind of an ore body there is. In the meantime, while the company that owns the property is doing further exploration on it, the Yukon government is going to look at different options with respect to the generation of power with coal, as well as hydro.
This is pointed out specifically in the energy plan and in this action plan mainly because all the potential hydro sites in the Yukon have been inventoried. We know where hydro dams can be put, but we do not know if we can put in a coal plant as of yet. That is why there is some increased focus on it in the action plan.
Mr. Harding: I guess that I have made my point about my objection to the throne-speech type rhetoric about coal and the philosophy about coal, when in fact none of the basic questions have been answered so far. I think that the government is wise to pursue the investigation of energy options. I also think that it would be wise to pursue conservation of energy as a priority. I do object, however, to it being thrown out there like some kind of carrot in front of the public, and to having people ask me in the coffee shop about the coal project and where they can get the address of the office so that they can send a resume to get a job at this coal project. I have had that happen. It bothers me. I would hope that all governments are not guilty of that, because I think that it does have an impact when those words are spoken.
There are a number of questions surrounding this for which I have not received answers. Have there been any studies done yet on the quality of coal? Is it high quality anthracite coal? What about the content of other metals and minerals in the coal? What has been done there and how extensive have the studies been?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have some information. It is the Yukon coal inventory 1994, entitled Current Knowledge Regarding Yukon Coal Occurrences, and it lists over 100 occurrences in seven coal areas.
The Division Mountain area is the one we are presently looking at. Coal at Division Mountain is a highly volatile bituminous B thermal coal of 6,400 - I do not know this terminology - calories per kilogram. In Vancouver, it has a thermal content of 5.205 calories per kilogram, if it could be washed. If washed, it could be upgraded to a higher number than that.
I have some more information that I think would be more helpful than that, but I do not have it here. My understanding is that the coal at Division Mountain is very suitable for a power generation plant.
Mr. Sloan: I wonder if the Minister has some other facts there with regard to such matters as are of particular interest to me, such as sulphur content. Do we have any idea of the sulphur content of that coal?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, we do have that information. The sulphur content, as an aside, is very low in the Division Mountain coal. I do not think we have that information here, but I can provide it for Members. I have looked at those numbers previously, and they are quite good. There is a full analysis of the coal.
Mr. Harding: It is quite technical information, but the government has laid claim that the numbers are very good, in its opinion. Could the Minister provide for us some comparative information on coal quality, using various analyses with coal used in other electrical coal-fired generating stations in Canada, so we could get more of an independent view of what grade is being spoken about here?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have not actually seen that information, but apparently we do have it. I will be providing it.
Mr. Harding: The other major issues that surround this are numerous. I could spend days on this particular issue, and I really do not know a heck of a lot about coal. It is pretty irresponsible to just say that I believe in the philosophy of coal, because there is no doubt we would like to have more power-generating capacity in the Yukon. As is the case with all increased electrical generating capacity, it comes with a risk and it comes with a cost, particularly if the taxpayer is expected to share in the risk.
It is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-do-not problem. One can build all kinds of electrical grids and generating stations, but if the mines do not come onstream, as the Vancouver promoters have talked about, we ratepayers are sitting here stuck with the bill for the infrastructure that is not being utilized. That comes with a heavy pricetag from the pocketbooks of ratepayers, as well as politically.
It is a tough dichotomy to know what level is going to be appropriate. I would really like to get more information. We are still in such basic stages in the Yukon, and I find it really disturbing that we are talking about this issue to the extent that we are when simple, basic questions about a project that has been so highly touted can still not be answered.
Perhaps the Minister could tell me what knowledge he has about this or provide me with a list of existing studies that have been done on the Division Mountain area. I am aware of one study. During the technical briefing, I was made aware that the department has done some internal work. It is my understanding that the government recently has had some analysis work done on the feasibility study. Could the Minister provide me with some information about the level of study that has been done?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There have been various internal activities and some contract work carried out. I certainly will ask the department to compile all of that information and provide it to the Member opposite.
Mr. Harding: The Minister said that the Yukon Party government's requirement is to ensure that national standards are met or exceeded. What national standards would the Minister have to exceed in order for a project to meet his government's standard?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: What I am saying is that there would be no less than the national standards. For instance, we were talking about sulphur. It is my understanding that the sulphur content in this particular coal is less than that contained in coal from other locations. In that respect, we would be exceeding the national standard.
The plant would be built to meet national standards. I am not sure what the actual numbers are for emissions, but whatever the numbers are, we would either meet or exceed those numbers.
Mr. Harding: Are there any cost estimates associated with the Division Mountain coal project? I asked a similar question earlier and the Minister said that was well beyond what had been done so far. Is there any plan, even in the infantile stages, about how this would be set up? Is there anything established with respect to gridlines?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I said earlier, the department is gathering a lot of information on those types of options. There are so many different options. There could be a mine-mouth operation, where the plant would be sitting up at Division Mountain and pumping into the grid. It could be that coal is moved from there to another location. There is the impact of the export market on what is the best way to move coal - by truck, by rail, or by pipeline. All of these things are being looked at, some by our department and some by the company that is currently involved in the project.
Mr. Harding: What makes the Minister feel confident that, in terms of the export of coal, we could be competitive with all of the competition in that business right now by the major mines, such as Tumbler Ridge, in export markets?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Companies that are involved in the export of coal right now have been looking at Division Mountain - companies such as Luscar Coal out of Alberta - and they feel that there is a very good possibility for exporting coal for a couple of reasons. First, it is very close to tidewater and, second, tidewater here is closer to Pacific Rim countries than Vancouver. I believe it is something like a day and one-half closer from Skagway or Haines by ship.
Mr. Sloan: I am interested in the idea of the movement of coal. The Minister made reference to three methods. He can correct me if I am wrong, but it would seem to me that the road transport of coal would be cost prohibitive. As well, the rail option would appear to beg a major upgrade of the present rail system - a very serious upgrade on what is essentially a narrow gauge, 1900-vintage system. As well, he made reference to pipelines. I assume that what he is talking about is the idea of coal in a slurry form. That, in my opinion, would also be a prohibitively expensive option, considering the number of pumping stations and the amount of pipeline that we would have to be put in. Can he give us any idea about the comparative costs of those options?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is the type of work we want to do. We want to look at the various options. There have been companies such as Luscar Coal, I mentioned before, that are looking at those types of things also to determine if it could be viable.
Mr. Harding: It is all very interesting. I guess the concepts are certainly worthwhile for discussion. I have already stated my objection to the rhetoric surrounding it.
Let me move to a specific area - the Division Mountain coal project. On November 3, 1994, this government wrote a letter to Cash Resources illustrating its desire to work very closely with Mr. Archer and Mr. Carne regarding work for the project. What is the status of that initiative at this point?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Archer Cathro is currently trying to entice investment so they can do more work to prove up on the actual resource that is there. As I said earlier, they feel that there is approximately 100 million tons. They have proven that there is somewhere between 35 million and 40 million. I believe that there is another drilling program scheduled for this year. However, I also believe that Archer Cathro, which is a junior company, will need some assistance from a larger company. I believe that they are looking for - or they were looking for, not too long ago - a partner or bigger company to come in with them. We are still working with them on information exchange and will continue to do so.
Mr. Sloan: Returning again to the subject of the transportation of coal, and with particular reference to the idea of tidewater, have any discussions been opened up with the State of Alaska on upgrading the Skagway port facilities to handle coal shipping?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There have been preliminary discussions with the State of Alaska. Some of the people we have hired as consultants or contractors have looked at facilities in Skagway, as have some of the companies that have looked at Division Mountain. They have been in Skagway and have spoken to Alaskan officials about the use of that port.
Mr. Sloan: Do we have any sense of what would be required to upgrade the Skagway facility and, if so, who would bear the cost? Would it be a cost to the company doing the exporting or would it be a jointly shared cost?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would not have any idea of what is required, or even if there is a need for upgrading. I do not know that.
Mr. Sloan: I would suggest that such an upgrade might also be fairly expensive. We know the experience of British Columbia, when it began the Chetwynd-Tumbler Ridge project, at considerable cost. That was premised on major sales to Korea. There were downturns and the Province of British Columbia had to get into a fire sale - no pun intended - of its coal resources to keep those markets. Do we have any assurances that we would be protected from that kind of an industrial downturn in the Pacific Rim?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, the Yukon government would not be selling, mining or shipping the coal. If one of the major companies is interested in doing that, it certainly will be looking at all of the things that the Member mentioned. Mining and shipping coal would not be our responsibility.
Mr. Harding: I think what my colleague was alluding to was the other implicit costs. In its letter of November 3, 1994, to Cash Resources, a considerable time ago, the government indicated that Cash Resources had sought support, in its letter to the Government Leader, with the construction of a coal-fired power plant. There were commitments made by the Yukon Party government to Archer Cathro or Cash Resources. Those commitments were that it was prepared to assist with infrastructure development.
That could involve some substantial monies from the public purse, and certainly the viability of the project would impact on whether or not that was a wise decision, particularly in light of some of the complications regarding demand from the Pacific Rim that were just outlined by my colleague.
The government also committed to work with the infrastructure and permitting for the plant on a fast-track basis. It also said that it would work with negotiating sales contracts and negotiating transportation needs, including port facilities in Skagway, and possibly provide an extension of the White Pass rail system to Braeburn. These are big ticket items.
Is the Minister telling us that there has been no discussion whatsoever with any of these companies on these particular commitments since this letter of November 3, 1994?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There has been no decision on Archer Cathro's part, or their partners', to the effect that there is a project. We have never been approached with any specifics. They have talked with White Pass about the railroad; they - being several different companies - have talked to the Alaska state officials about the port at Skagway. Those things are being looked at, but no company has actually come asking for specific help under the industrial support policy or anything else.
Mr. Harding: Does the Minister not see the problem here? This correspondence regarding the Division Mountain coal and the talk of coal projects goes back two or three years with this government. We are still hearing the government, in budgets speeches and business plans, talk about increased focus, accepting the principle and supporting coal, et cetera.
We start asking detailed questions, and nothing has moved. It is still in the conceptual stages. The Minister has told us today that we will need increased energy requirements within the next year or two, but he cannot answer any of the basic questions about the feasibility, both economically and environmentally.
How are we going to provide these increased energy commitments if no questions have been answered as of this date in 1996 on the coal question?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is work going on that we hope will answer some of those questions. I do not think I said that we will need more power a year from now. I said, in the short term, we will need additional power.
Up to now, we have been adding more diesel capacity, which is always an option. It is not difficult to add diesel plants.
Cash Resources and Archer Cathro are continuing with their work in the coal fields. A lot of people were employed there this past summer. They continue to talk to larger companies about the project and the larger companies are showing quite a lot of interest.
We are in a very preliminary stage. The exploration work is certainly not finished. I am not aware of any large feasibility studies to see what is actually viable.
We are at the preliminary stage, but the potential is there. As I said before, Cash Resources is continuing with the work and larger companies are showing interest. Our department is gathering information and speaking with the various interested groups, so there will be a basis of information for whoever decides - when they do - to proceed.
Mr. Harding: I have no complaints about that. If I was the Minister of Economic Development, I would be asking the department to continue talks with companies about coal as an energy option to determine if it was economically or environmentally feasible? I would not be leading Yukoners to believe that it is just around the corner, because it is pretty obvious to me that it is miles and miles away.
Although I do welcome exploration expenditures and the efforts of Archer Cathro and Cash Resources, because they are spending bucks here in the territory and creating economic activity and that is how these projects get started. Without exploration, you cannot ever develop mines or other projects.
There have been proponents of the construction of some coal-fired electrical generation and perhaps coal projects, but recent comments in the local media talked about feasibility only on the basis that they could obtain guaranteed demand contracts with the Yukon government. If the Yukon government is committed to coal in principle, are they committed to those types of arrangements in principle?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think the Member would have to speak to the Minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation. There is diesel being used and if the diesel can be replaced with power from a coal plant, then I do not see any problem with the government giving them any sort of guarantee. There may be a bit of a risk if we can displace 15 megawatts of diesel power, but they want to sell us 20 megawatts. What do you do in that situation? That is a question that may very well have to be asked and answered at some point in the future.
Mr. Harding: This government, then, is not opposed to investigating the potential of an arrangement whereby they are giving a company a guaranteed demand of coal purchase. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is correct.
Mr. Harding: Is the Minister aware that that was the arrangement followed by the Nova Scotia government with regard to the Westray coal project - that a guaranteed demand was approved by the Nova Scotia government but that it has proved to be a very bad arrangement for that government?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think the bad arrangement there was dealing with Clifford Frame, but the Government of Nova Scotia, as I am sure the Member is well aware, was also investing a lot of money in the actual mine.
Mr. Harding: I can remember the Conservatives opposite, who are now in government, just lauding Clifford Frame, saying what a great fellow he was. I remember the speeches in 1985 by the Leader of the Official Opposition, now the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, just complimenting this great mining entrepreneur for coming in and starting this mine up. But hindsight is 20/20. The Minister of Tourism says I was still saying that two years ago; I challenge him to find one Hansard quote of that. He will need more than a computer to find it - he will need a printer because he will have to make it up.
I would like to point out that it is an interesting policy for this government. Have there been any discussions with the department, the Minister or his officials and any companies concerning this issue?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There have been discussions with people who are interested in building the plant. We have talked about what is the smallest plant that can be established and still be economically viable. We have received different versions from different people - as low as 20 megawatts to as high as 50 megawatts. There have been those types of discussions, but there have not been any actual negotiations on an actual guarantee of supply.
Mr. Harding: The Minister told me earlier that the government is not opposed to that in principle. That is interesting.
I will turn the floor over to my colleague, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun, who has a couple of questions for the Minister.
Mr. Joe: The Minister has gathered a lot of information and done lots of studies on coal. I want to know if the Minister has consulted with First Nations about their interests - both the Champagne-Aishihik First Nations and the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nations.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that Cash Resources has had ongoing discussions with Champagne-Aishihik and Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nations. I am not sure about the band that the Member opposite belongs to. I do know that they have had some discussions with at least two of the other bands, and have employed people from both of those bands during the summer on exploration work at Division Mountain.
Mr. Joe: The reason I asked is because right in the centre of the coal area is where all the land selection is occurring and is within our traditional boundary - like the Minister said, Haines Junction, Little Salmon-Carmacks and Lake Laberge. One reason I ask is that I think the Minister should at least consult with the First Nations about whether or not it will take place.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We do not have any say about the actual property. The staked property is the property of Cash Resources. It is not this government's. We have suggested to them - and they have, in fact, followed the suggestion - that they deal with the First Nations. I believe the Kluane First Nation has land selections right near the property, and there is some sort of an agreement between Cash Resources and the Haines Junction First Nation. I am not sure about the specifics of the agreement, but it is their responsibility to deal with land selections in the area. I understand that they have done that.
Mr. Joe: I cannot understand it. Right now, the First Nations land claim negotiations are going on. I cannot see how mining can come about, and we do not have a say. How are we going to work with these people in the future when we have no say now? Are they just going to keep moving in and helping themselves? What is going on?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Division Mountain has been staked for many years. The mining companies know what land selections are in the area and they are dealing with the particular bands. As I have said before, I believe there is some sort of agreement on some land selections of the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation.
Perhaps the Member can tell me about something that has happened of which I am not aware, but I am sure there has been no staking, or alienation, on land selected by one of the First Nations. If there has, I would be interested in seeing it, but I have not heard of it.
My understanding was that the whole Division Mountain project was staked, and exploration work has been going on there for years.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions about wood as an alternative to coal. I had occasion to visit the Weyerhaeuser plant in Drayton Valley this summer. They had had some problems with the townspeople. Ash was coming out of the beehive burner and spreading across the town. They contracted with some organization that is building approximately a 10-megawatt wood-burning thermo-electric plant to generate electricity using that wood waste. I suppose it is only a notional cost, but it will produce electricity at an economic rate.
We have all this wood waste generated by the forest fires last year. Has an inventory been taken of the wood available for such an operation? How far are we down the road in the examination of the use of wood for a thermo-electric plant? I know it is in a variety of the Minister's energy documents. It may be the subject matter of one of these information papers that was discussed in the documents the Minister gave me the other day.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe that there have been many actual studies. There have been some studies on, for example, the bug-kill area in the Haines Junction area. There have been some studies on the type of wood and so on. I do not think there have actually been any studies yet on the amount of wood needed as a steady supply for thermal power generation. It is one of the things that the department will be looking at. I am quite familiar with Drayton Valley; it is very close to where I grew up. There are some very large milling operations in that area. They probably will be bringing in scrap, and so on, from some distances to feed the 10-megawatt operation. I am not sure. It might be something we should look at.
Until we get an inventory of what we have for forests in the Yukon, it may not be worthwhile doing the other work.
Mr. Cable: We seem to be moving much more quickly on the other alternative - coal. It would seem to me that at least a paper study could be done very rapidly. I think we can assume that, with the very large forest fires we have experienced, there is an unlimited supply of firekill, and even moreso when one adds in the bug-killed wood.
The advantage of wood, of course, is that it does not have any carbon dioxide penalty attached to it. It is my understanding that the environmentalists treat the use of fossil fuels, where one unlocks the fossil fuels and generate carbon dioxide, differently from wood, which simply replaces the carbon dioxide that the bacteria would break down and release into the atmosphere in a normal course of events.
Is the Minister of that same view - that there is no carbon dioxide penalty attached to the burning of wood?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure. I know there are some emissions from wood. I am not sure what the CO2 content is but I believe there is a CO2 content. I do not believe it is anywhere near as high as it is with fossil fuels. I am not sure what the emissions are out of wood but there definitely are some emissions.
Under the energy plan - not the small action plan but the actual government energy plan - under "actions to promote the development of Yukon's energy resources to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels", it says, "In 1996, we will assess the potential of undeveloped energy sources, including microhydro, wind, waste wood, municipal solid waste, battery hybrid systems and other small plant technology." So, it is one of the things the department will be looking at this year, to see if there is a possibility of putting in some sort of a wood plant.
Mr. Cable: I guess I was not making the point clearly. I think the environmentalists view wood as benign, because it causes essentially the same amount of carbon dioxide as a fossil fuel. It is either going to burn or fall over and rot and release the carbon dioxide that way, so the environmentalists view it as essentially a zero sum. They do not attach to it the penalties that would be incurred by releasing the carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that come out of the ground. It has, therefore, particularly in view of the carbon dioxide protocol this country has signed, an advantage over coal.
I am wondering whether or not the Minister should crank up at least a bit of a paperchase on wood to see if in fact it has any potential, if the cost of cutting the wood and creating jobs - probably a lot more jobs than would come out of the coal seams - for both First Nations and other people, would at least put it in the ballpark for consideration, get to the threshold of either accepting it or discarding it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Taking a look at those types of things would be part of the action that we will take in the summer of 1996. It may very well be that it would be a good project for that general area where there is a lot of scrap wood on a smaller basis. The other thing, too, is that I think that the reason they class it as benign is because there is new stuff growing. The other thing is that a young forest is taking the carbon dioxide out of the air. However, as a forest matures, it is actually putting carbon dioxide into the air, and then as it falls over and rots, it is releasing more. I think that the amount of emissions has a lot to do with the age of the forest.
Mr. Cable: That may be. I do not know what the total theory is, but it is my understanding that environmentalists certainly do not attach the same degree of discomfort to the burning of wood as they do to the burning of coal. I do not think that it should be viewed as a sort of corner-store operation. The operation in the Drayton Valley was 10 megawatts, which, in our system, would be a fairly significant addition.
There is this vast supply of wood. I would guess that there are many millions of tons of wood in the burned area of the large forest fire up near Pelly and many millions of tons of bug-infested wood near Haines Junction. I would encourage the Minister to at least do a bit of a paperchase, because we seem to have the coal vaulting several miles ahead of the other alternatives. We appear to be walking into making an unconsidered decision without reviewing all of the alternatives.
Another alternative is the wind. I understand that the turbine up on Haeckel Hill is turning out some fairly good results. Subject to the solving of the turbine icing problem, it could in fact generate electricity economically. Is that the Minister's understanding?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I like that little windmill on Haeckel Hill. Unfortunately, I do not know if the Member has noticed, the windmill sat idle for most of the winter. To me that is really unfortunate because we get most of our winds when the need for electricity is there. In other words, when the water levels are low in the dam here and in Aishihik, that is usually when we get the winds on Haeckel Hill, so it should work.
The unfortunate thing is that they cannot deal with the foil icing, which is icing that is similar to what happens on the wings of an airplane. I suspect they are going to have to put a different kind of prop on it. There was a heating system installed, but the wires twisted off. They have tried two or three different ways and so far they have not been successful at all. The bad thing about that particular wind turbine is that any time you want to work on it you have to take it down. It is situated on the top of a tower and it has to be removed. There are other wind turbines that are better set up so you do not have to perform any work way up in the air.
I would like to see this running. So far it has not proved to be economically viable at all, but if we could win the fight with the ice, the people who have operated it feel that it could be economically viable.
Mr. Cable: I think the Minister has been approached by someone from the college with a view to assisting in an application for funds from an Alaska research business to help solve the icing problem. I know the Swedes and the Finns are working on this quite extensively. If, in fact, the icing problem is resolved, I gather the turbine would produce an economical form of electricity. I do not know if the Minister shares that position or not.
Is the Minister's department prepared to assist with this research that may have some saleable value?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: On the Alaska study, we have not been asked for financial assistance. They did ask for our support by way of a letter from me saying that yes, we thought that it is a good idea, so that they could access some funding from the federal government, I believe. I think it is a good project.
Again, in the government energy action plan, one of the actions is to continue the Yukon Energy Corporation's wind-energy program in communities with a potentially economic wind resource. We want to look at some other areas.
The Member for Old Crow might be interested in this because Old Crow is one of the communities where it is felt, in preliminary studies, wind generation could be a viable option. I think that it would be wonderful if we could come up with some system for Old Crow that is not dependent on the very high cost of diesel fuel in that area.
The technology for wind generation is nearly there, but there are still some bugs that must be eliminated from the system. I hope that between the studies that the Swedes are doing, as the Member mentioned, and the one being done by Yukon College, they may perhaps come up with some ideas that would resolve our problem on Haeckel Hill.
Mr. Cable: I guess where I am coming from - and I think the issue has been canvassed previously this afternoon - it appears the studies are not in sync. We have the coal decision, which almost appears imminent, and very little work done on the alternatives. I
s it the Minister's intention to exhaust the research on the alternatives before making a decision on the coal project?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is an ongoing process. Right now, we are burning diesel fuel. We do have hydro. I expect that, in 20 years, we will be able to use energy from the sun economically. We hope we are not going to keep on burning diesel fuel until that technology is ready. We are looking at the various options that are available. I do not think that one has any preference over the other.
There has been a lot of interest in the coal project outside of government. Those people are expressing that interest now. We would certainly like to see something happen there if it means cheaper and more available power.
Mr. Cable: Wood-burning technology is well-known. We do not have to reinvent that, but I am rather surprised that it has not been run to ground a bit more thoroughly.
Is the Minister prepared to indicate when he expects a decision on coal will be made and whether or not these other technologies, as I asked before, will be run to ground - at least on paper?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: In the action plan, I believe it states that, in the summer of 1996, we will be exploring these other options. I cannot give the Member a definitive date. I do not know when or if a decision will be made with respect to Division Mountain. We are going to continue to gather information on the many options we have available to us.
Mr. Cable: The fossil fuel argument, and the comparison of coal with diesel fuel, is a strawman argument. The real alternatives are fossil fuel versus non-fossil fuel. If we hang our hats on that strawman argument, we may run down the wrong road, particularly in view of the fact that the technology - at least for wood - is well known and can be priced out without a lot of extra work. I am sure the cost of gathering the wood can at least be ballparked, so we could know fairly rapidly if wood is acceptable.
It may very well be that, within a year or so, the turbine icing problem will be resolved with respect to the wind generation. I do not think we are looking at a 20-year time frame - certainly not for wood, and almost certainly not for the wind turbine.
Why do we not have more emphasis on these other alternatives, which are more carbon dioxide benign than coal?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The main reason is that coal has never been a government initiative. Coal is being developed by other people. We are going to gather information on wood, solar energy, wind, and various other things. I do not think the technology for the wood option is all that difficult, as in coal. There are literally hundreds of plants in North America running on coal. The technology is not a difficult thing to come up with.
I think the reason coal has gone ahead is because there is a large body of coal toward Braeburn, and people are interested in developing it and producing power from it. They - being various companies - have asked us if we would be interested in purchasing power from them if they were to put up a coal-fired plant. We said we would.
That is why it might appear there is a lot more emphasis, but in fact most of that influence is coming from outside government.
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Minister regarding the Water Board appointments. In the past, for many, many years, appointments of Yukon government representatives to the Water Board have been filed through the Legislature by motion debate. Can the Minister tell us why in the last three years no such actions have been taking place?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am certainly not responsible for the Water Board, and I am not sure if I understand the Member's question. If I do understand the question, I do not know the answer, anyway. He should direct that question to the Member responsible for the Water Board.
Mr. McDonald: Who would that be? The Water Board is a federal board, but it has Yukon government representatives on it. It deals with development and the environment, which presumably, one way or another, would involve this Minister in some way. The only minister who is technically responsible is in a different parliament and I cannot ask him directly.
The historic practice in this Legislature is that, whenever there is a YTG nomination to the federal Water Board, that nomination is filed through the Legislature as a motion. There have been attempts, and there have always been attempts up until three years ago, to ensure that everyone would agree on who the nominees from the Yukon government were. In the last few years, that has not been taking place. I have just got the current board membership and I am not even familiar with the nominations that have been filed by the Yukon government. I would like to know why they have not been carrying on with the past practice of proposing the nomination to the federal government through a motion in the Legislature.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I will have to take the question under advisement, because I am certainly not aware of how that process works.
Mr. McDonald: Perhaps I will come back to the Minister on this point, because I think that it is important.
In selecting board members to represent Yukon government interests, what are the selection criteria for proposing people to the Water Board?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, I am not sure what the terms of reference are for those members. I will have to take the question under advisement, because I am not familiar with that particular board in the detail asked for by the Member.
Mr. McDonald: For example, Mr. Bruce Sova is on the board. To jog the Minister's memory, what is the selection criteria for determining that particular nomination to the board should proceed? This is a fairly major board. It is probably the most significant board in the territory. The Minister ought to remember something about how Yukon government representatives are nominated. Can he answer that question, or does he want to take that as notice, too?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No. I would like to take that question as notice as well.
Mr. McDonald: Perhaps the Minister could also take as notice the selection of the chairperson. I know that the chairperson is well known to Members on the opposite side of the floor. He certainly appears to be a friend of the government. I would like to know how that nomination was handled, and perhaps we can discuss it later.
Could the Minister undertake to come back and answer all of those questions, or at least direct me to the Minister who is prepared to answer?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I can certainly do that.
Mr. Harding: Could the Minister tell me about his new changes to the business development fund and the economic development agreement that are being phased out, in particular the economic development agreement, mostly because the federal government has decided to phase it out, and has moved to the new venture loan guarantee program? Could the Minister explain the rationale for this, how it is going to work and what discussions are underway? Are there going to be any formal relationships with banks? Could the Minister provide us with some further details?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The venture loan guarantee program has not been completed. We have spoken to the banks. We have looked at other programs across Canada, for instance, in Nova Scotia. I believe Manatoba has one. Right now, the department is putting together how the program would look and what the options would be. This has not gone any further than the department at this point in time.
Mr. Harding: Why are these options going to be any better than the existing practices of the business development fund?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The big difference is the fact that the banks will be administering the program. Another difference will be that, as the loans are paid off, we would not find ourselves in the second or third position. For example, if there is a $150,000 bank loan, and they need another $50,000 as a loan guarantee, as the payments are being made, they would be going against the full $200,000, rather than $150,000 being paid off and then the other $50,000 being paid off. In other words, as the payments are being made, the total loan would be going down, including the guarantee.
If there was a default on the loan for whatever reason, and they paid off, let us say, $130,000, that would not mean that we - the Yukon government - would be left with $50,000. We would be stuck with whatever the residual was. It would be a portion of the remaining payment.
I believe that those are the two main points with regard to a loan guarantee versus direct loans.
Mr. Harding: What is the bank's reaction to that proposal? Obviously, it is a matter for negotiation if they are jeopardizing their position. Certainly, they are going to look at any marginal loan and bump it up to make sure that whatever the security is, it is enough to meet their idea of what it should be. Is that not the case?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We have talked to all of the financial institutions. We are still in discussion with them, but so far the reaction to that particular initiative has been relatively positive.
Mr. Harding: When can we expect to see this particular plan enacted?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The department will be providing a list of options to Cabinet. It is hoped that Cabinet will decide on an option, or some options. The program could be in effect very shortly after the new year - after April 1. I am not going to promise that, because I cannot second-guess what the Cabinet reaction will be to the various options.
Mr. Harding: I am anxiously waiting to see what is going to come of this. Banks are pretty quick on the uptake - that is why they make billion-dollar profits - and they are going to be viewing this particular proposal with some significant interest, I am sure. Surely the temptation would be there for any banker to say, "Sure, we will give you the bucks. Just march on over to YTG and get yourself one of these here loan guarantees." They are certainly covered. If the YTG is insisting that the payments be made on a continuous drawdown on the total principal of the loan - the parts that are guaranteed and not guaranteed - that is going to be an interesting negotiation.
Can the Minister provide me with a list of the options that have been proposed?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Not yet. The options have to be developed and provided to Cabinet. Once Cabinet has reviewed them and made a decision on one, it will be made available.
Mr. Harding: We have a long way to go on one issue.
Let us talk about oil and gas - oil and gas devolution, money in the budget for oil and gas discussions . . .
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call the Committee of the Whole to order. Is there any further general debate on Economic Development?
Mrs. Firth: Before the break, the Minister was discussing the new venture loan guarantee program with one of the other Members. I have a press release that the Minister's department issued on December 15, 1995, that talks about this while announcing that it is developing the venture loan guarantee program with the participation of the financial community. It says that the program is expected to be in place by April 1, 1996. Is it still on schedule?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I did indicate before the break that it is our hope. I do not want to make a promise here in case we run into some snags. That is, however, our goal; I do hope that it can be met.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell me whose participation in the financial community the department has sought? If so, who did the government meet with and what was the nature of those meetings?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There have been several meetings with all of the chartered banks, the Federal Business Development Bank and, I believe, Dana Naye Ventures.
Mrs. Firth: Is it the government's intention to only meet with the financial community or is it going to be discussing this with both the Yukon and Whitehorse chambers of commerce? If it is, when? Will it be including the Chamber of Mines?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We have discussed this with both chambers of commerce in Whitehorse and the community chambers of commerce. I am not sure if we have discussed this with the Yukon Chamber of Mines. We have also discussed this with First Nations and some community groups.
Mrs. Firth: I was listening to the Minister's earlier comments about the program and about how little information really existed on it. It made me curious as to what exactly he was discussing with these groups, particularly considering the lack of specific information he was able to provide to us here in the Legislature this afternoon.
Could he tell us exactly what he is discussing? Is he talking about options? Is he soliciting input? What exactly are they having discussions about?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Some of the things that have been discussed are who could actually access the program, what the interest rates may be, and the type of projects that may be considered. Those are the types of things we have been discussing with the various institutions.
Mrs. Firth: Has the Minister asked those institutions or organizations to provide any written submissions, or has he had someone collecting data at these meetings to gain some idea of what the people are presenting? Are there any general principles that have come forward that everyone seems to agree with?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We have discussed the type of program that we would all like to see, on a general basis, with various organizations and institutions. We will be putting the information we receive together in the form of an options draft paper, which would be returned to them for verification of the contents. When it comes back, we will then be prepared to go to Cabinet with the basic structure of the program.
Mrs. Firth: Can I ask the Minister if he will provide to us, as Members of the Legislature, a copy of the conclusions and options paper that they develop after talking with these organizations - the one he mentioned that he was going to send to them for further review and input? If it is not ready in the month of April, while we are sitting in the Legislature, could he give us the commitment that he would provide us with a copy of that as soon as it is available?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not see a big problem providing Members with basically what goes out to the organizations and institutions. I am prepared to provide that to the Members.
Mr. Harding: I would like to ask the Minister about oil and gas devolution. In a technical briefing the other day, it was indicated to us that oil and gas devolution is a priority for the government. There is some discussion now about when the federal government will be handling its part of the equation. One of the concerns I had was that there has been absolutely no discussion yet with First Nations. What does the Minister envision doing about that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The First Nations have been approached on numerous occasions. Both the Yukon and federal governments have put funding away for them to actually engage in the consultation process. We have made all kinds of efforts to consult with the First Nations, but with limited, if any, success. In the meantime, we are continuing to push ahead with the oil and gas legislation, the reason being that the federal government was going to introduce its legislation a year ago November, which would make it our responsibility whether we were ready or not.
The federal government, for whatever reason, has not introduced that legislation, but we keep hearing that it will be finalized. It was supposed to have been done last fall, and now we are hearing that it will be this spring. We have to carry on with our legislative calendar.
Mr. Harding: What is the basis of the legislation the Yukon is proposing - policies, regulations and that type of thing - concerning the governance of the industry?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Both of those things.
Mr. Harding: What consultative initiatives has the government carried out on it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think that if you remember last summer, we provided a discussion paper. I think that all Members were provided with it. About 300 copies of it - or some amount like that - went to the General Assembly of First Nations. Following that, we sent a copy to each First Nation to ensure that they all had copies. In July, the government met with the Council for First Nations to discuss process and funding issues. We did provide a period of time for the First Nations to review that draft legislation, and so on, prior to providing it to the public. The Yukon government requested a budget outlining First Nation funding requirements, but has yet to receive it.
Essentially, I think the First Nations have a basic problem with the devolution of oil and gas. I think that is what the hold-up is.
Mr. Harding: In the Minister's mind, is he clear that he has made all the attempts he can, and that as a matter of a policy decision, regardless of the apparent lack of consultation with First Nations, the government is going to push ahead? Is that the policy decision of the government?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Essentially, that is correct. We keep trying and we will continue to try. We have money available for the First Nations to take part in the consultations, as does the federal government. The other thing is that we want to push ahead with the legislation because if the federal government does pass its legislation we have to be prepared to take over the oil and gas industry.
Mr. Harding: The technical briefing illustrated that there were some considerations in the oil and gas section of the economic development department for travel to Old Crow. I would assume that would be to discuss oil and gas issues with the chief, council and other people in Old Crow. Does the Minister have any knowledge about what has gone on there by way of discussions about oil and gas issues in the territory with the people in Old Crow?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, I do not know. I would have to take that question under advisement and bring back that information for the Member.
Mr. Harding: I would like to move on to forestry issues now.
What is the plan for this government with forestry policy work? We have seen a continuous number of commitments for development of a made-in-the-Yukon forestry policy. I have attended Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment meetings, Yukon Forest Coalition meetings and industry meetings and followed this great trail of concern about the industry. I have tried to propose a few things.
What is the government's time line for the development of a forestry policy? When are we going to see a comprehensive consultation? As of now, the only consultation that could even be considered remotely substantive was a weekend wonder, organized by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think the Member is aware of the questionnaires that went out following that meeting in Watson Lake. Those have come back. I was quite disappointed in the numbers that actually came back. I believe we only got a total of 31 responses. There is a lot of information in the responses, and that will be the basis for the community consultation that will be taking place in the next two or three months.
Renewable Resources, through consultation, will be putting together a paper that will outline the goals and objectives of the forest policy. The Department of Economic Development will then be doing the comprehensive work, where they look at inventories, tenure, allocation, sustainable development, economic opportunities and those types of things.
Mr. Harding: We have already gone over the goals and objectives. At the last legislative session, in April 1995, a framework for forestry policy in the Yukon was tabled by the government. It indicated all of the goals and objectives of the Yukon forestry policy. That has been done. My concern is that we are still talking first principles here. We just talked about oil and gas. The Minister told us that the feds would dump it on us if we did not have our own legislation in place, consisting of our policies and regulations, and that would mean big trouble. Yet in forestry the government seems to like to say that it is a federal responsibility and that we could take over the resource and manage it for whatever time it takes with federal policies until we have our own. To me, that is a contradictory position, and we have to move ahead.
Is any scientific work being done by the feds or the territory in terms of inventory, so that we can get to some of the tougher issues about sustainability and tenure, for example, that need to be addressed?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We understand that the federal government is hiring quite a few staff members to do an inventory.
While the devolution process was being undertaken a couple of years ago, one of the commitments by the federal government at that time was that, as part of the devolution, the Yukon government would be given a sum of money to actually put together its legislation. At that time, the forest industry in Yukon was of a size that it would not have mattered if it had taken a few years to actually develop some regulations and policy. That changed to a one-year period when the price of fibre went so high. The federal government, as the Member opposite is fully aware, does not have either what one could call a short-term policy - although they may have one now - or a long-term policy. The federal government is also putting together, or has spoken about putting together, a long-term policy. We want to tie in with it if it is going to be putting a policy together, so that we have one policy rather than two. It is becoming very, very difficult to try to coordinate that with the federal government, but that is certainly our goal.
We have no revenues whatsoever for forestry. We have no staff members, other than a person dedicated in Economic Development and a person dedicated in Renewable Resources, but these people are from other areas in the departments.
The federal government does have the expertise. I believe it has somewhere around 200 employees, some of whom are professional foresters. We would like to be able to use their expertise in the development of any policy. We would first like to know if and when devolution will take place. Mr. Irwin has indicated that it will come as soon as April 1, but officials in the department have never given us that same indication. So we do not know if it will be devolved to us within one year, a month, or within three years.
In the meantime, officials from the federal government are creating a long-term policy. We think the best method would be to combine with them so we get one policy, rather than two.
Mr. Harding: I feel as if I am missing something. In November, the Minister gave a speech in Watson Lake, which I listened to. He said that Mr. Irwin wanted to devolve forestry by April 1 of this year. He has just indicated now that he does not have a clue what Mr. Irwin wants to do. I am concerned about that. If it has never come from the officials, can the Minister tell me who in the Yukon government is talking to Mr. Irwin about when this devolution date will be, or is it just hanging out there?
For the oil and gas industry, we talk about the need to have our legislation made up of our policies, and to have regulations in place in case it is devolved. In this industry, we do not seem to have the same sense of urgency.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We had been advised by Mr. Irwin that devolution would take place probably as soon as April 1. We were advised of that one or two weeks before the Watson Lake conference. That is why we were quite excited about getting going on our policy development.
The person to whom Mr. Irwin has been providing this information is the Government Leader, naturally. When our officials deal with federal officials, they do not get the same indication. I think the instance that surprised us quite a bit fairly recently was the fact that they are hiring more people with the idea of putting together a long-term policy. I do not know any more than you about exactly when it will be devolved to us.
Mr. Harding: Can the Minister ask the Government Leader to find out what the federal government's timetable for devolution is, and whether or not it will be developing its own policy? Can he also make a definitive statement about whether the Yukon is going to try to piggyback on the policy that the federal government is developing - even though we do not know when that will be - or if we are going to develop our own?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I indicated, the latest advice from the federal minister to the Government Leader is that it would be devolved to us. It could be as soon as April 1. If there has been anything since that phone call, I would be quite happy to provide it to the Members.
Mr. Harding: Can I get a detailed return from the Minister on the questions that I have just asked? Can there be another phone call made? The date that the federal minister is talking about is a month away, but yet, by the same token, the territorial Minister is saying now that he is hearing that the federal government is going to be developing its own long-term policy.
I guess that the obvious question is this: why the heck would they be doing that if they are going to devolve it on April 1? I think that it is incumbent upon the Minister or the Government Leader to get some answers from the federal government. We have to get this story set straight. There are a lot of people here who would like to know precisely what is happening.
Yes, the industry has cooled down as a result of the fiasco surrounding the permits last year and the reduction in prices, but I still believe that the level of activity could - and should - have been a lot higher this past season than it was. I know that from talking to people in the industry.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is absolutely right. If the permits had been finalized, people would have been able to get into the bush. We would not have the same activity we had a year ago, but there would be a lot more. Watson Lake hurt badly this winter because of it.
I will certainly approach the Government Leader with the request to see if we can get a definitive answer from Mr. Ernewein. I will get back to the Member.
Mr. Harding: In the matter of policy, is devolution still a priority of this government? One would think if they were told April 1 that the industry was to be evolved, and they have had one phone call from the Minister, but are not sure now if it will be because they are hearing the feds will develop their own policy, one would wonder if that devolution was still a priority with this Yukon territorial government.
Is it? If so, why the laid-back approach?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe the laid-back approach comment is accurate. Yes, to answer the first question, the devolution is certainly a priority. What happened to the people involved in forestry in Watson Lake was awful. It was also awful for other areas of the Yukon. It was terrible that Watson Lake has probably put in the worst winter ever, because there has been virtually no forestry work at all.
Even without a full policy, we could easily have done a better job allocating the commercial timber permits than the federal government did. If we can get the indication that there will be a specified date for devolution and if we have to hire people on our own to go ahead with a forestry policy, we will do so.
Again, I think that once a devolution timeline is agreed to, the money would start flowing from the federal government, or there would at least be a recovery there.
Chair: If there is no further general debate on the Department of Economic Development, w
e will proceed with line-by-line debate.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Contract service requirements were higher than budgeted for, by the amount of $21,000, and miscellaneous personnel costs were $3,000.
Administration in the amount of $24,000 agreed to
On Energy and Mines
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Contract service requirements were higher than budgeted for by the amount of $24,000, and miscellaneous personnel costs were underexpended by $8,000, totalling $16,000.
Energy and Mines in the amount of $16,000 agreed to
On Economic Policy, Planning and Research
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The new energy action plan coordinator position was offset by the vacancy in the manager of economic research and analysis position, in the amount of $47,000. Contract service requirements were higher than budgeted. The forest industry opportunity study of the Yukon forest industry profile and data base cost $16,000, for a total of $63,000.
Economic Policy, Planning and Research in the amount of $63,000 agreed to
On Economic Programs
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is $70,000 allocated for vacancies and acting assignments. The community development fund, the business development fund and economic development agreement wrap-up required less of an expenditure for promotional activities, such as advertising, brochures and pamphlets, for $33,000. The total is $103,000.
Economic Programs in the amount of an underexpenditure of $103,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for Economic Development in the amount of nil agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Departmental Equipment, Furniture and Office Space
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The largest expenditure was the replacement of the liquid toner photocopier for $13,000.
Mr. Harding: Only one photocopier was worth $13,000?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, that is my information.
Departmental Equipment, Furniture and Office Space in the amount of $13,000 agreed to
On Energy and Mines
On Parks Mineral Assessments
Hon. Mr. Fisher: This is a new program to conduct comprehensive assessments of the potential for mineral resource development prior to the withdrawal of areas in Eagle Plains for territorial parks. Renewable Resources also provided $100,000.
Mr. Harding: When assessments are done on minerals, are they all-inclusive or are we looking for typical mining ore bodies? Is there any assessment done of other potential resource development, such as oil and gas?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Normally it would be for minerals but, in this particular area, a more comprehensive geological assessment was done, and our oil and gas people were involved.
Parks Mineral Assessments in the amount of $72,000 agreed to
On Yukon Mining Incentives Program (YMIP)
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The administration budget was reduced by $10,000 and a contribution to KPMA of $15,000 was not expended, for a total of $25,000.
Yukon Mining Incentives Program (YMIP) in the amount of an underexpenditure of $25,000 agreed to
On Mineral Development Agreement
Hon. Mr. Fisher: This decrease was in administration.
Mineral Development Agreement in the amount of an underexpenditure of $4,000 agreed to
On Yukon Industrial Support Policy (Loki Gold)
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Old Ditch Road upgrade will not be completed as scheduled in 1995-96 so the $600,000 will be carried over into the 1996-97 mains.
Mrs. Firth: This whole Yukon industrial support policy really should be called Loki Gold because there were never any other applications and nobody else participated in the program. I hear the Government Leader saying, "There may be." Perhaps the Minister could stand up and tell us how his Yukon industrial support policy is being received. Have they been inundated with applications? Are they reviewing several hundred at the present time?
Could he give us a bit of a status report on the whole program?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Until the project is actually in the permitting stage, there will not have been any actual applications. There has to be a production decision, and so on.
There have been a lot of companies that have inquired about it. I received a letter from BYG, from Carmacks, just yesterday morning or the day before, in the form of an application. They are going to be coming in and dealing with the department on the details of it. Theirs will likely be the second application.
Mrs. Firth: I think the last time we discussed this, there were no official application forms. Are there now, or is it still just a matter of making a phone call to say, "I would like to apply?" How does it work?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is not an actual application form. Normally, it is done by letter, but then we have to review all of the types of material that they gathered for the assessment review process. We have all of that material, as well as their financial information, before making a decision.
Mrs. Firth: When the Minister speaks of "we", who does he mean?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Generally, it is the Department of Economic Development. In Loki's case, there was the Department of Economic Development and Community and Transportation Services involved. In most cases where there is a road, it would involve the two departments. If it were electricity, then I would expect Yukon Energy Corporation would be involved. It is Economic Development and whatever other departments are required.
Mrs. Firth: Who makes the final decision? Is it the Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is correct.
Mrs. Firth: I am still curious about this decision-making process. I guess that nothing has changed since Loki Gold's application, and they are just going to carry on doing it exactly the same way. I think that the last time we sat, we established that it was a fairly loose and informal kind of process. I have some concerns about that; however, we will probably discuss that more in the main budget.
Have there been any applications for electrical industrial support?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, there has not.
Mrs. Firth: Let us get down to some specifics about Loki Gold.
The Minister has indicated that the project will not be completed. There is $1.24 million that had been voted to date, but only $640,000 was going to be spent on it.
I have some correspondence from the Minister. I had requested an update of the cost of the Loki Gold road. He reported the following: "Loki has submitted an invoice for $921,000 for work completed to date. This would include installation of a bridge over the north Klondike River, brushing and grubbing along the road route, gravel quarry development and road bed preparation in some areas. The claim is currently under review, and we expect to pay close to the full amount in this fiscal year."
Those two figures are different. Could the Minister explain the difference to us?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There has been a request for payment of approximately that amount.
We are between budgets here, but what happened was that after reviewing that request, the actual amount did come in at $918,000. I believe $903,000 of that amount was for Loki Gold and the other approximately $15,000 was for Department of Community and Transportation Services inspection services.
I have an explanation for the Member about what is happening, and we will see it again in the main estimates.
In September of 1995, the mining facilitator placed numerous calls to Loki in an attempt to get an actual estimate. The facilitator then talked with Department of Community and Transportation Services, which had began supervising the project, and received their project estimate. The project was about 25-percent complete and Community and Transportation Services felt that $600,000 for 1995-96 would be sufficient. We identified $640,000 in Supplementary No. 1 to provide some extra funds.
It appears that Loki Gold is exceeding their budget and spending more than the actual progress. We received the actual claim from Loki in December 1995, which was initially for $921,000. The Department of Economic Development and the Department of Community and Transportation Services jointly reviewed the claim and the department authorized a payment in the amount of $903,000.
When this was put together, we felt that would be sufficient. Since that time, an actual amount of $903,000 has come in.
Mrs. Firth: If I calculate it correctly, and add the $920,000 that the Minister included in his letter to me, and the extra $600,000 that he is anticipating will be spent, the road will come in at about $1.5 million. I see the deputy minister shaking his head.
When the Minister talks about Loki exceeding its budget, can he give us an idea if the road is going to cost more than the original estimate of approximately $1.2 million, I think it was.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. The total project is $2,481,000. That will be all that the Yukon government will be spending on the project. What happened here was that the company did work we had not anticipated it would complete. It did, in fact, complete the work and put in a request for payment. It put in a request for $903,000. We had anticipated that the amount would be $600,000. That will come from next year's budget.
Mrs. Firth: I know that the total cost of the project is $2.4 million. I am talking about our contribution as taxpayers, which was $1.2 million.
Is the Minister saying that if the road ends up costing more money, Loki has to pick up the tab?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is correct.
Mrs. Firth: That brings me to the question about why it is costing more money. Can the Minister tell us why the road is going to cost more money than the company had anticipated?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure that the road is going to cost more money. The company has expended its money faster than we anticipated and it did more work than we anticipated, but I am not sure what the total amount will be. I do know what our commitment to Loki is, and that is what we will stand by.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to get some idea about whether the project is coming in within cost or not. Part of the reason for the industrial support policy getting Loki to manage the whole thing and build the road was that it was supposed to cost us less, and should cost less in the long run. Is the project coming within budget or is it over budget?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My information is that it is coming in within budget. I can ask the Department of Community and Transportation Services, because it is overseeing the project and has done inspections and so on. I can have the department do up a briefing note that I could make available to everyone on the progress of the project and what the department's feelings are about cost overruns or underruns, or whatever it may be.
Mrs. Firth: I would appreciate getting that, and then we can make some comparisons with respect to whether or not this was a worthwhile exercise. I am sure the government can make it look that way if it wants to. We can read between the lines and see if the government should have built the road itself.
No, I am not going to say anything until I see the figures. I would like to get some idea of exactly what the cost of the road is going to be, and then I can make some comparative analysis. I would appreciate getting that information from the Minister.
I will leave this for one week. I wanted to follow up with some more questions about options. It was about a piece of correspondence that I received from the Minister regarding questions we had raised in the House about the Loki Gold road. We talked about power, the bridge and the diesel plant. That might refresh the Minister's memory so that we can have some discussions about it when we meet again.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move that you report progress on Bill No. 9.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Millar: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, entitled the Third Appropriation Act, 1995-96, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
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., Monday, March 11, 1996.
The House adjourned at 5:27 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled February 29, 1996:
Yukon Public Service Staff Relations Board 25th Annual Report, 1994-95 (Ostashek)
Yukon Teachers' Staff Relations Board 21st Annual Report, 1994-95 (Ostashek)
Making Progress: Yukon government implementation of the Yukon conservation strategy, 1990-1995 - report of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment (dated December 1995) (Fisher)
Staying on Track: revisions to the Yukon conservation strategy (dated February 1996) (Fisher)
Economic Development programs: approved amounts 1995-96 for the following: Yukon mining incentives program, business development fund, centennial events program, mineral development agreement, economic development agreement. Also: business development fund loan guarantees to February 29, 1996; status of economic development loans to October 31, 1995; delinquent loans as of October 31, 1995; loans written off for fiscal year 1994-95 (Fisher)
The following Legislative Return was tabled February 29, 1996:
Curragh Resources: allowance for bad debts and write-offs; details pertaining to certain recoveries (Ostashek)
Written Question No. 9, dated February 9, 1995, by Mr. McDonald