Wednesday, March 13, 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.
Are there any introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Petition No. 7 - not received
Petition No. 8 - received
Clerk: Mr. Speaker and hon. Members of the Assembly: I have had the opportunity to review two petitions, being Petition No. 7 and Petition No. 8 of the Second Session of the Twenty-eighth Legislative Assembly as presented by the Hon. Member for Faro on March 12, 1996. The rules and practices of the Assembly require that petitions must be addressed to the Legislative Assembly and that they must ask the Assembly to take some particular action.
The model petition shown in Appendix 2 to the Standing Orders to the Legislative Assembly illustrates this point.
Petition No. 7 does not meet the requirements as to form, because, although it is addressed to the Assembly, its request for action is directed to the Government of Yukon and not to the Legislative Assembly.
Petition No. 8 meets the requirements as to form of the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Speaker: Accordingly, Petition No. 7 may not be received.
Petition No. 8 is deemed to be read and received.
Are there any bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 32: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that Bill No. 32, entitled An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 32, entitled An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 32 agreed to
Bill No. 45: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that Bill No. 45, entitled An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 45, entitled An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 45 agreed to
Bill No. 68: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I move that Bill No. 68, entitled An Act to Amend the College Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Education that Bill No. 68, entitled An Act to Amend the College Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 68 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any notices of motion?
Statements by Ministers?
Status of the implementation of the Ombudsman Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I rise today to provide the Members of the House with an update on the progress and projected implementation date for the establishment of the Yukon ombudsman office, the new access and privacy regime and conflict-of-interest legislation for Members and Ministers.
As Members know, the Ombudsman Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, were passed by this House on May 2 and May 3, 1995. Since that time, we have been working to secure office space for the ombudsman, prepare public information to ensure that Yukoners know their rights under these acts, and to finalize other necessary administrative details.
As of April 1, 1996, a public information campaign will begin to ensure that all Yukoners understand the ombudsman function and what the office can do to help them ensure that they are treated fairly by government. Telephone service will also be established to answer enquiries and provide information upon request.
I have discussed the ombudsman position with Opposition Leaders, and it has been agreed by all parties to appoint an experienced ombudsman from outside the Yukon for a one-year term to assist us in effectively and efficiently establishing the office of the ombudsman for the benefit of all Yukoners. During this year we will openly recruit and engage a Yukon individual to be appointed in April 1997.
I am pleased to report to this House that we have an agreement in principle with the Select Standing Committee on Legislative Offices, of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, to utilize the services of the ombudsman of Alberta. The Alberta ombudsman also holds the position of executive director of the International Ombudsman Institute. We believe that this arrangement will contribute significantly to the long-term credibility and effectiveness of this office.
In addition, I have communicated with both Opposition Leaders regarding the appointment of individuals to the Conflicts Commission and hope to have an announcement regarding those appointments next week.
It is my government's intention to proclaim these three pieces of important legislation this spring, once details with the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and the Opposition Leaders have been finalized.
The people of the Yukon can be confident that through these three pieces of legislation they will be well served by an open and fair government, confident that there is an independent body that will assist them if they believe they have not been treated fairly, confident that the government collects personal information only as necessary and as authorized by law, confident that they have access to personal information about themselves and non-personal information held by government, and confident that their elected officials are free of conflicts of interest in the administration of their office.
I believe that Yukoners will be well served by the experience and expertise of Alberta's ombudsman, Mr. Harley Johnson, and that the combination of these three pieces of legislation will establish a solid base for the Yukon people to have confidence in their government and in their Legislature.
Mr. McDonald: On behalf of the Official Opposition, I am happy to see progress being made on the implementation of these three pieces of legislation.
The Opposition, as Members know, is somewhat gratified that the government compromised sufficiently to allow Opposition Members to give support to the legislation. I would point out that the original, unproclaimed, Public Government Act, passed in 1992, contained the provisions identified in two of the bills about which the Government Leader has spoken, as well as containing other provisions that the Yukon Party government has yet to commit itself to. We will be raising those matters in the Legislature shortly.
It is an interesting aside that the NDP was criticized for not having proclaimed a more comprehensive bill, the Public Government Act, five months after its passage. Both the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act have still not been proclaimed, 10 months since their passage.
The bills, as I have mentioned, do not address the issue of conflict of interest for retiring public servants nor conflict of interest for sitting board members. I would like the Government Leader to respond to that in his remarks today, if he can, and let us know what his commitments are in that regard.
We have also indicated to the government, through officials, that it is our position that the interim ombudsperson under the Ombudsman Act should be kept in office for a year, and that there should be vigorous attempts at recruitment of a local person to fill that position. It is also necessary to point out that there are very clear procedures set out in the legislation itself for the recruitment process and they must be respected. I am trusting that the government will be consulting with all Members of the Legislative Assembly on that appointment.
I have just a final note, which probably needs to be said. While we appreciate that these bills improve the status quo, it would not be fair to draw the conclusion that the bills will result in a government that is open and fair. There is certainly more to openness and fairness than these pieces of legislation can provide. Openness and fairness are things the government itself will have to prove, but we are pleased that some action is being taken and we will be watching very carefully how the government intends to implement the specific provisions of the bills.
Mr. Cable: I would agree with the Leader of the Official Opposition, in that openness, of course, is more than a matter of legislative drafting. It is a matter of attitude.
I have to say that I am pleased that these bills are going to be proclaimed this spring. In my reading of the bills, the House has to make recommendations on the person appointed as the ombudsman. I gather that there is a wrinkle in the Alberta legislation that has to be cleared up first, and that this may hold up the appointment of Mr. Johnson. The House has approximately 20 days to run. If the wrinkle is not cleared up before that time, can we get a commitment from the Government Leader to bring the appointment before the House on a contingent basis so that the appointment will be sitting there to go as soon as the Alberta legislation has been cleaned up?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Members opposite for their comments. I will be very brief in my wrap-up.
I want to address, first of all, the statement made by the Leader of the Official Opposition about our condemning the NDP government for not proclaiming the Public Government Act in a period of five months, and now we have gone one year. I do not think that we would have criticized the NDP government at all, had it not proclaimed any parts of the act. However, it seemed to have cherry-picked and proclaimed the part that it wanted to proclaim, and left the rest of the Public Government Act sitting there. I think that there was some room for criticism of the actions by the previous administration.
As far as the openness and fairness of government, the Leader of the Official Opposition can speak from experience. I am sure that he knows all about that, in light of some of the issues that are still being resolved after seven and one-half years of NDP administration.
The ombudsman has to be approved by a two-thirds majority of this House. We are hoping that the small wrinkle that is stopping us from making that appointment immediately will be cleared in the next couple of weeks, which will leave plenty of time before this House adjourns.
We have an agreement in principle now. However, my understanding is that, before this agreement can be signed, the Ombudsman Act must be amended in Alberta, in order to allow the ombudsman to assume these functions. A motion must be authorized by the Select Standing Committee on Legislative Offices, under the Financial Administration Act. Both of these issues have been placed before the Select Standing Committee on Legislative Offices for the March 20, 1996 meeting, and it is believed that they will be dealt with forthwith.
On the issue of the conflict of interest for past deputy ministers and government employees, the Minister of the Public Service Commission will be making a statement on that in the next couple of days.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Minister of Education, public statements
Ms. Moorcroft: By now it is public knowledge that the Chief of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation and the Carcross Area Advisory Planning Committee have demanded a public apology and the immediate resignation of their MLA. I would like to ask the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, who is also a Minister of the Crown, whether or not he acknowledges the statements that these two groups say he made last Friday night in a public drinking establishment in Carcross?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I certainly acknowledge that statements were made. I regret that they were made, and I certainly extend my apologies to those people. It was not an appropriate place to do it. I blew up over a number of issues. It is regrettable that it happened.
Ms. Moorcroft: The press release quotes the Minister as saying that, "any project or money that is going to be spent in the Carcross area, I will vote against, and this will be my legacy to Carcross." Is the Minister planning to vote against his own government's budget, which calls for $5.8 million of expenditure in his own home town of Carcross?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Of course not. Those were words that I said in the heat of the moment, and were in a certain context that I cannot explain, but I regret saying them. It was that very day that the letter was written by the people whom I was supporting against - with some displeasure - the purchase of a van for the Carcross School and for Carcross in the near future.
Ms. Moorcroft: I do not think there is any rationale for making comments like that. Surely the Minister is not suggesting that, although the community club was not an appropriate place to make it, those comments would be appropriate anywhere. Why did the Minister use the huge authority of his office as a Cabinet Minister to threaten to withhold funding of community projects?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have said that the reason I said those words in a certain context was because I did blow up. I regret that. There are things happening in Carcross that concern many of the people who live there. There is a growing divisiveness among people who reside there. Things have been happening recently that, in my view, have exacerbated the problem. That very day, I had received information that I thought was a very, very poor move on the part of the planning committee and was exacerbating the situation. I guess I had held those concerns in for too long and spoke aggressively to the individual in question.
Question re: Minister of Education, public statements
Ms. Moorcroft: This is not the first time we have seen this Minister threaten community groups. Two months ago this Minister publicly suggested that school councils could wipe the floor with dog dirt if they wanted to, and school councils were insulted by that. The people of Carcross are insulted by the Minister's recent statements.
Why did the Minister refer to the advisory planning committee as a joke? Is that what he thinks of them?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: No, but again I was upset with the confrontational attitude that was being taken by that committee on various issues that were exacerbating a lot of fears and the very strong feelings that exist within the community. My remarks were in the context of being really concerned about the unwillingness of key players in the community to sit down and work out problems rather than have public meetings and make insidious attacks on individuals.
I am very disappointed there has not been better communication or an effort to conciliate between various opinions on the exact nature of the waterfront plan in the community. I am very concerned about the emotional level that is rising within the community. In that context, I overstated my concern, which - to put it rationally and calmly - is that the people of Carcross have to get together and talk about such things as the waterfront plan, that the allegations that people were against it and trying to stop it were not true, that reasonable amendments to the plan were asked for, and I feel a lot of key players in the community have exacerbated the situation.
By my actions, obviously I have as well.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister is acting contrite today, but I would suggest the Minister is the one who has been raising the fears of the people in Carcross by the things he has said. The people from Carcross I have spoken with, including Patrick James and Buck Fraser, who signed the press release, are outraged by the Minister's racist remarks, and are outraged by the way he demeaned the planning committee. He not only called it a joke, but he said this was the way the rest of the government felt about them.
Was the Minister speaking for himself or for the government?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I was speaking for myself. I was making the point that this kind of action lowers their credibility with government officials and Members. Again, it was not well put, and I regret that.
The fact is that a mistake has been made, and I regret that.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister publicly insulted the First Nation, the Carcross Area Advisory Planning Committee and government employees. As a lawyer, is the Minister not concerned that he has publicly defamed his own constituents?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am not going to get into a legal wrangle with the Member opposite. I am concerned this has happened and in the way it has happened. I continue to be concerned about what is happening in Carcross, and about how the actions of various players have exacerbated tensions, how people are being scapegoated unfairly. These are all things I feel very deeply are wrong and unfortunate.
That is not by way of an excuse. It is to put the whole scene into some kind of perspective. If the Member opposite is suggesting for a minute that I am a racist, or that that is my position, I can only say I would hope the 54 years would not be forgotten because of some unfortunate remarks taken, in some cases, out of context, at least not within the entire context, on a Friday night.
Question re: Minister of Education, public statements
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the same Minister on the same subject. I telephoned Chief James this morning and he claims that the Minister in part of his angry exchanges made some comments to the chief about the chief's veracity.
Could the Minister confirm whether or not this is accurate, and if so, does the apology that he just made through this House extend to the comments he made to the chief?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, I certainly extend an apology to the chief. Again, the context had to do with specific transactions that were extremely divisive and which caused a lot of concern to many people. I do not want to get into all of the details. I think the appropriate thing to do is sit down and talk to the appropriate people.
I am not pleased with the way in which things have occurred in Carcross. I am not pleased with the way there have been threats made and problems created among people. I am not pleased about the emotional situation in the community. I am very concerned that there be a healing process. I do not know how that is going to happen. Obviously, I am not the person who can bring that about, but in the context of it all, things were said in the heat of the moment that I regret.
Mr. Cable: There are a couple of matters that would be useful for the Government Leader to clear up about this incident.
There was a suggestion made in the press release and the comments made by the Minister, which he has just verified, that he might be acting as a gatekeeper for government largesse - that he may in fact have a veto over government goodies going to Carcross. Could the Government Leader indicate to the House whether or not there are regional Ministers who act as gatekeepers for government funding.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I think that is a ridiculous position for the Member opposite to take. We need only to look at the budgets that have been tabled in this Legislature over the last three and one-half years that we have been here to see that all communities are treated in as equitable a manner as possible.
Mr. Cable: That was not the question I asked. I asked whether or not there was a veto. The Minister, and obviously the Government Leader, is not going to clarify that.
The other statement that was made about the Carcross Area Advisory Planning Committee being a joke - and the fact this is the way that the rest of the government feels about it - could the Minister or the Government Leader clarify whether or not that is in fact the attitude that the Cabinet has toward that committee?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My colleague just stated to the Member opposite that he was stating his own opinion. This is certainly not the attitude that Cabinet takes to any advisory committee, be it in Carcross, or anywhere else.
Question re: Minister of Education, public statements
Ms. Commodore: I am following up on the same line of questioning. This is not the first time that we have heard of comments made by this Minister in different places around Whitehorse, but it is the first time we have had anything in the form of a press release.
We have spoken to some individuals from Carcross, and as was mentioned before, the chief was insulted by some of the things that the Member had said. I am not surprised with the action that they have taken.
I do have a comment that was not in the press release that was given to me by a committee member. She was told by the MLA for Ross River-Southern Lakes that she was only there to line her pockets. I would like to ask the Minister if he recalls saying this to a committee member because she certainly does. If he does, what did he mean by that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I do not recall that. I would be quite pleased to discuss that with the person who is making the allegations.
Ms. Commodore: According to the press release, he made statements about other First Nations that were degrading and demeaning in nature - statements which were racist in tone and that were made as if to reflect the position of the present government.
According to one of those statements that was not in the press release either, he had made comments about First Nations, stating that no First Nation is going to get ahead with self-government, and that if any did it would be only two - Ross River and Dawson - but the rest would go broke.
I would like to ask the Minister if that reflects the position of his government, or if it is just one of those thoughts that he kept buried inside for so long?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The discussion we were having, in the heat of the moment, was not in the context of being against self-government or against anything else. It was the concern about the way in which First Nations were getting advice, who was getting advice, and those kinds of things. I am very troubled and concerned about implementation of land claims being successful. It was in that context that the remarks were made. The exact way in which it is being told is out of context, as far as I am concerned.
Ms. Commodore: We could go on and on for the rest of the day asking the Minister about the things he said in this press release and other things that have been given to us. People are very angry with him.
However, I am very concerned about this last statement, where he has an opinion of First Nations and which ones are going to make it and which are not. I think that is very serious. I would be curious to know if those are the kinds of discussions they have in Cabinet, because the Minister does represent the Yukon Party government.
I would like to ask the Minister what he bases that opinion on. Why are Ross River and Dawson different from, for instance, Vuntut Gwitchin or Champagne-Aishihik. What makes the Minister think there are only two successful First Nations in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The context of the discussion was that I was concerned about the kinds of advice some of the First Nations were receiving and the manner in which they cooperated with other people in the communities, and so on. Anything I might have said was solely my viewpoint. It is not something I have ever discussed with anyone in Cabinet.
Question re: Minister of Education, public statements
Ms. Moorcroft: The people I have spoken with in Carcross are hurt, disgusted and angry about the Minister's remarks. But, aside from that, they are also afraid that their community will have funding cut off, as a result of what the Minister had to say. Will the Minister assure this House that funding to Carcross will not be cut off because of his temper tantrum last Friday night?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Of course. There has never been any intention on my part to do such a thing. The words were unfortunate, spoken in the heat of anger, and I regret very much that they were said.
We just discussed, ironically, yesterday, the matter of the school van for Carcross, as an example. I have no intention of leaving the impression that that is what I will do. The gist of the heated statement had to do with the confrontational way in which they were handling things, particularly the waterfront project.
If reasonable people sat down, and everybody in the community voted on the very small alterations at the public meeting, the waterfront project could have been tailored fairly quickly in such a way as to have the support of all those people who voted for it. Instead, there was a confrontational position taken, and this is exacerbating a fairly serious situation in the community. I was making an overstatement about that approach being absolutely ridiculous. I was not overstating my concern, but I put it in a very unfortunate way.
Ms. Moorcroft: In June 1993, the Minister was quoted as saying that "a small community is a delicate organism when discussing relations between people. It is even more delicate when it is an Indian and white community." I would argue that the Minister's statements were extremely confrontational, since he is threatening that funding for community projects will be cut off because he does not believe that the people in Carcross should get them.
The Minister's resignation has been called for by the First Nation and by the Carcross Area Advisory Planning Committee as a result of this fiasco. Is the Minister prepared to resign?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Let me first say that I certainly stand by the remarks that were made in this House and in Hansard about the delicate nature of the community.
Let me also say that it is a concern over the exacerbation of tensions that were fundamental to the unfortunate remarks being made to an individual. They were made to an individual. They have now been made public, which is that individual's right. I would also be the first to admit that the publication of what was said in the heat of the moment is not helpful.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Okay. It is the opposite of "helpful".
We have tried to arrange a meeting with the people who are the authors of the letter. They have not been able to meet this week. I and my colleagues are quite prepared to sit down to talk to them about the concerns in order to clear the air about that statement, of which it has never been my intention to fulfill. It was said in the heat of the moment.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister seems to be repenting for a long time, but the information that I have is that those remarks were made not to just one person, but to several people, and they were overheard by several other people. This is the Minister who stands in the House and says that the government should be following community initiatives, rather than telling communities what their initiatives should be.
We see the community initiative, which is to respond to the Minister's shameful behaviour by calling for his resignation. I would like to know how the Government Leader is going to respond to that.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member has publicly apologized for some statements that were made in the heat of the moment. If the Member opposite knows anything about small communities, she will know that these sorts of issues arise in small communities, much more so than in a community like Whitehorse.
There are different opinions. I tried very diligently to meet with this group prior to the release of the press release. Unfortunately, we have not been able to do so. I will continue to pursue a meeting with them in the near future.
Question re: Ombudsman, recruitment
Mrs. Firth: I just want to reassure the Minister that I am not going to ask him one question about this issue. I have a question for the Government Leader. It is about the ombudsman position, as I am not allowed to respond to ministerial statements in this House.
Not all parties agreed to this initiative, because not all parties were informed about it, even after I had written a letter making inquiries. I wrote to the Minister on January 9, asking about the ombudsman position, details about the job description and so on, and I received no reply.
As do a lot of Yukoners, I get very tired of this government bringing in so-called experts to take jobs Yukoners could be doing. I would like to ask the Government Leader if he even tried to recruit a local person to do this job?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not certain if the Member opposite is talking about parties in the singular text or about parties in this Legislature, because the Opposition parties in this Legislature were consulted. It was our opinion, in consultation with the leaders of the other two parties, that it was the appropriate route to take to get an office set up by someone with experience in such a position and then advertise for a local person to fill the position.
Mrs. Firth: The former president of the Workers' Compensation Board came from outside. The coroner came from outside. The hospital is being built by companies from outside. Schools are being built by companies from outside. Now we are hiring an ombudsman from Alberta. I would like to ask the Government Leader why he did not advertise locally for this position.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have just answered that question.
Mrs. Firth: He did not answer the question. We have a huge resource of talented, skilled, competent Yukoners who could have done all of the jobs I have listed this afternoon. Why could the Minister and the government not have advertised locally and hired a Yukoner, who then could have sought expert advice if necessary. Why did he not go to Yukoners first?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just answered the question for the Member opposite, and I thought I took some time in answering the question. She just continues to stand up and ask the same question. She should read Hansard tomorrow. The answer is the same.
Question re: Workers' Compensation Board, workers' advocate
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board.
The president, the alternate vice chair, Heiko Franke and Brian Noakes, two outgoing labour representatives, have all raised concerns about this Minister's interference at the Workers' Compensation Board. These concerns were not invented by the Opposition.
We did some research this morning into our records and we substantiated that for three years we have been asking for the creation of a workers' advocate position and we have been advocating for improved board accountability to injured workers.
I would like to ask the Minister why, instead of ignoring the law of independence of the board, he does not make the necessary legislative changes to improve the board so that it can better serve injured workers.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I have invited the critic for the Workers' Compensation Board to assist in making the necessary changes to make the Workers' Compensation Act better and more responsive to injured workers.
There is and was a workers' advisor position. It is possible under the legislation; the annotated copy of the act refers workers to the workers' advisor to assist with appeals under the internal review committee. It also advertises that the workers' advisor would be available to help with injured workers at the appeal level.
That position now exists. It is the responsibility of the Workers' Compensation Board to deal with it. The issues of assessment, payment to injured workers and how those payments get to the injured workers is in the mandate of the board. The board has to look after injured workers. If that includes hiring a workers' advocate, that is what should be done.
Under the circumstances, I think a workers' advocate is a necessary position. The question is how it will be done. I do not think that the government should be hiring an advocate to work against the Workers' Compensation Board and represent injured workers.
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will conclude it by telling the Member that if he wants to look into his records and talk about interference, I would like the Leader of the Official Opposition to read the letter that-
Speaker: Order. The Member has answered the question.
Mr. Harding: I am not interested in the Minister's lame attempts at deflection. The issue is ministerial interference with the Workers' Compensation Board. He is the Minister. Today he is suggesting that I am supposed to bring forward these legislative amendments, when he said on the radio this morning that he is the one responsible for the board.
I agree with him. He is responsible for the legislation that controls the independence of the board. The workers' advisor is not effective. The workers need better access to the system. They need an unbridled workers' advocate. We have been asking for that for three years.
Only the Chamber of Commerce remains in opposition to this, yet this government has not brought it in in three years.
Can the Minister tell us when we will get that position?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It is not up to this government to bring that in. If that position is needed and necessary, which I believe it is, it should be brought in by the Workers' Compensation Board - perhaps suggested by the president, because he sees the handling of cases on a day-to-day basis, referred to the board comprised of two employer representatives and two worker representatives.
There is a committee looking at that and they are struggling to get that position into place. If it were as simple as the Member said, a workers' advocate would be in place right now.
Mr. Harding: This Minister has been given very limited portfolios by this Cabinet to try to keep him out of trouble, but everything he touches has been disastrous. We had the DocuTech, we had government employees trips paid for, we had the wage restraint legislation, and now we have this. What is next for this Minister - basketweaving and special operating agencies minister?
Speaker: Order. Please ask the question.
Mr. Harding: I want to know why this government, in three years, has not been able to produce a workers' advocate position, and why this Minister has maintained that he has to interfere in individual cases instead of doing the right thing with the legislation?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Let me first address the issue of interfering with individual cases. I would invite the Member and the Leader of the Official Opposition to read a letter written to me by the critic, dated January 8, clearly identifying an injured worker's case, quoting the adjudicator's decision and taking issue with it. To me, that is bordering on interference.
I do not think that Question Period-
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am sorry I did not hear the Leader of the Official Opposition. If he will speak up I will answer his question.
Question Period is not a free for all and it is not a licence to attack and insult other Members of this House. This has been done over and over again. Yesterday it was done-
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. Please allow the Member to conclude his answer. Please keep it short.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: The Hon. Minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We have specific rules for oral Question Period. A question must adhere to the proprieties of the House and it must not cast aspersions-
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member for Riverdale South tells me that I am not the Speaker of the House any longer, and that is true, but I know what the rules of the House are, and because you have entered into this debate to enforce the rules about the length of question, then, Mr. Speaker, perhaps you should enforce the rules about questions. That is, questions must not contain inferences, impute motives or cast aspersions upon persons within the House or out of it. Casting aspersions is attacking the reputation and the integrity of the Member. Mr. Speaker, that-
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is what the Member for Faro did-
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. I would like to make this the end of Question Period. I have heard the Member and I will have to confer with the Clerk about whether or not there is a point of order.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: On the point of order, I will think about it, and I will make a statement tomorrow before Question Period.
Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, on the point of order, I think when you review this, you will find that there is no point of order, only a dispute between a number of Members in this Legislature.
I will say that the Official Opposition has put forth numerous pieces of evidence to substantiate anything that we have said in this Legislature, including the report from Mr. Farrell yesterday or letters from Heiko Franke and Brian Noakes. We have done our homework. We have put forward serious questions about the Workers' Compensation Board, and we make no apologies about that. The Minister should be making apologies for his interference with that board.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
GOVERNMENT PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Chair: Motion No. 100, standing in the name of Mr. Millar.
Motion No. 100
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Klondike
THAT it is the opinion of this House that Yukoners enjoy a qualify of life that is second to none in Canada; and
THAT this House recognizes the following factors as contributing to a prosperous future for all Yukoners:
(a) unlike other jurisdictions in Canada, the Government of Yukon does not have to contend with an accumulated deficit;
(b) education, justice, health and social service programs are being maintained and improved while, in other jurisdictions in Canada, programs are being reduced or eliminated;
(c) 600 more private jobs have been created in one year since February 1995 due to the expansion of the Yukon economy (particularly in the mining and tourism sectors); and
(d) Government of Yukon employees do not have to contend with massive public sector layoffs as are occurring within the federal government and many provincial governments.
Mr. Millar: This motion is almost longer than the time that I intended to take to speak to it. One of the reasons is that I tried to make it as non-controversial as I possibly could. I am not sure if I succeeded but I will be looking forward with considerable interest to hearing what the Opposition Members have to say on it. Perhaps in my closing remarks I will have something further to say.
In my opinion, mining, tourism and government are the mainstays of the Yukon economy. I would like to talk for a couple of minutes about the mining and tourism sectors and the role government has played in these growing industries over the last few years.
Since this government came to power in late 1992, one of the main themes we talked about relating to the mining industry and one of the things we have been saying quite loudly, not just here in the territory but outside the territory as well, is that we are open for business. Many times the Opposition has come back and commented that that is all we are doing - going around the territory saying, "We are open for business."
We are open for business. I think that has gone a long way in attracting mining companies into the territory. One of the places where we have been saying that is at the Cordilleran Roundup, which happens once a year in Vancouver. I remember the very first Cordilleran Roundup that took place while we were in government. We went down there and threw a bit of a party. This has been done every year since, and it was done prior to that, as well. It is a social evening and has been very successful. The attendance there has been reflected in the number of dollars that has been spent in the territory over the last few years. I believe that it has been a very positive thing. In that, we are fundamentally different from the Opposition, who does not believe that it has done any good at all, that they are just words and make no difference. They do not believe that it has attracted any -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Millar: The Member for Whitehorse Centre is asking me if someone said that. I believe that they have insinuated that. Whether or not they have actually said it, it is the impression that I, the Member for Klondike, have gleaned from what they have said in this House. I believe that they think that money is the only answer. We have to throw money at the mining industry and at everything, and that will make all the problems go away. I do not believe that.
The previous government did start some good programs, such as the mining incentive program and the mineral development agreement. I am not saying that these are bad things. There is some good to be said about them. However, I believe that something that is even more important than these programs is when government plays a role in letting the mining industry know what is expected of them.
The mining industry has to have a very clear understanding of what governments want from them. I know this, because I am a placer miner. I have been mining for a good part of my adult life. I know what it was like when I first started mining, as far as having to go through the regulatory regime and obtaining water licences and so on are concerned. It has become very cumbersome. I do not want to leave the impression that the mining community does not care about the environment. I believe that it is very cognizant of the environment.
As for myself, I grew up in Dawson City. During my young years, a lot of my time was spent in the wilderness, and I loved the wilderness. I have three young children, and I want them to grow up to see nature as it should be seen.
At the same time, however, I believe, as does most of the mining industry, that the two camps can coexist. There are many examples of a mining company coming into an area and leaving the area in better shape than the way nature left it, as far as being habitat for animals, birds, fish and such.
I think that if the environmental movement and the mining industry work together, wonderful things can be accomplished.
I believe that mining companies are very aware of, and accept, the fact that there is an added cost to mining today. It has definitely changed. There are more rules and regulations, and I do not think that is a bad thing. The companies realize that if a mine is going to be profitable it has to be profitable and still be able to carry out the environmental reclamation that is necessary. I believe that that is a role government can play. I believe government has to help mining companies.
At this point, I should point out that the Yukon government does not really have control of the mining industry - it is all federal. I know that one of the things that is happening in the territory right now is that there is an awful lot of confusion about exactly what the government of the day wants from the mining industry.
Loki Gold and Anvil Range, for example, go through a huge environmental process, and yet the two processes do not seem to have a lot in common. The companies are asked different questions and are asked to gather information in different ways, and that sort of thing. I think that the process has to be streamlined. As it stands now, companies are having to go to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to find out what is going on with the water, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to find out what is going to be done with land, and so on. I think it is a very, very cumbersome process. Personally, I would like to see what I think most other people in the mining industry would like to see, and that is a single-window approach.
I think that the government - although it does not have the actual control over these things - has tried to do the best it can. It has hired a mining facilitator. I believe that has gone over very well with the industry. I believe that he works very closely with the industry. He helps to try to guide the industry in the correct directions and to lobby the federal government on behalf of the industry and us.
To me, if governments could look after that sort of thing and if they could - I do not want to say, "stay out of the way of the mining industry" because that is not what I really mean - try to make the process less cumbersome, rather than more cumbersome, then mining industries, environmental industries and all people would be happier. That is why I say that I do not think the answer is just to throw money at them through the other programs I mentioned earlier.
I do not think that there is any doubt that the government's course in saying that we are open for business, in hiring a mining facilitator and in trying to streamline the process is working. I believe that you do not have to look any farther than The Yukon Short-term Economic Outlook 1996. In the outlook, it says: "The Yukon saw its own staking rush in 1995, with over 2,200 claims being staked in the Finlayson and Wolverine Lake areas in the Southeast Yukon." I am going to apologize right now because I am sure that I am going to mispronounce this next word, and I will give it my best shot. "Both the Kudz Ze Kayah and the Wolverine deposits were explored extensively and the results have been encouraging. These exploration programs will continue and likely intensify in 1996 and development decisions could be forthcoming after the next field season. As well, other projects, including United Keno Hill, Mount Nansen and Carmacks Copper, could see development activity in 1996."
I think it signifies that there has been a large increase. Anvil Range is now up and running, which is good. I would like to point out that the Anvil Range Mining Corporation did that mostly on its own, with very little government money. I think that is to be commended and is another example of what I was talking about: if one tries to work with them, instead of against them or just throwing money toward them, the mining industry can make these things work on its own. A mine should be viable on its own.
I would like to talk about the Brewery Creek Loki Gold Corporation. There has been quite a lot of activity in Dawson City over the last couple of years, and there has been a lot of mostly positive talk. One of the managers for the Loki Gold Corporation was in Dawson last week, and he is planning to come back again between, I believe, April 1 and 4. One of the things the company has been doing is interviewing people. It is a prescreening for people in the Dawson City area. This was part of Loki's commitment, which it is definitely living up to. When it first started this operation, the company said it would be looking at local hire. It is doing its best to continue with that policy.
By the time all is said and done, the company expects to have interviewed over 150 applicants. At this stage, as I understand it, the company is looking to find out if the skilled people it needs are in Dawson City. Twelve to 15 position, out of the entire 150 workforce it anticipates it will need when in production, have been identified as not necessarily being highly skilled - in other words, these would be labour positions. At this time, it looks as if that number of people will definitely be hired locally.
The truck drivers and shovel operators need to be fairly highly skilled, as these are technical positions - these machines now all have computers in them. The company has made this commitment, even if it does not hire people locally for these positions at this time. It is critical for production to begin by September - production meaning actually pouring the first gold bar.
You can see that the timing is quite critical to the company, but it has made a commitment that once it gets into production it will be hiring and training individuals who do not yet have the skills that they need, but the company is certainly willing to do some training.
I think another really good indicator, as far as Loki Gold is concerned, is that just about every house in Dawson City is for sale. Loki put out the word that it is going to need nine to 10 dwellings, and I think everyone who has a house in Dawson has put it up for sale. Representatives of Loki have been in town with a real estate agent looking at property and I believe they also have an agent from Whitehorse working to put an inventory together for them. At this time, as we speak today, Loki is looking at that list and trying to make decisions about what it is going to do.
My understanding of what has been done so far is that it has rented office space above the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Dawson. I believe it has rented the Klondike Visitor's Association house and there are three apartments that are currently being worked on above the Dawson City General Store. It is my understanding that it has made commitments to rent the facilities. The company is hoping to make a decision about three to four houses within the next three weeks for the upper management people that it hopes to bring to Dawson.
Things are quite optimistic in Dawson and there is an awful lot of activity, and everybody is in a pretty good mood. Things are not looking too bad.
On the tourism side of things, it has been quite an interesting month. This month there was the Trek over the Top snowmobile race, which was a project that was started three years ago by a couple of people in Dawson City who saw a terrific opportunity. Last year, these people - Eric Zalitis and Pat Cayens - won an award from the Tourism Industry Association for the work they have done to promote tourism.
It is a very successful thing. I believe this year nearly 200 snowmobilers came into Dawson on two separate weekends. When one comes into town on a snowmobile, one does not have much room for a lot of things, but one thing they do have is a credit card and wallet, so that has been a very positive thing and has been very beneficial to the entire City of Dawson.
I have talked to several different people in the hotel and RV business and they are telling me that their bookings are up this year. Things are looking really good, and they are all very pleased with the work the Department of Tourism has done on marketing. I am sure the Minister of Tourism will speak more on that later.
An example of some of the things that the Tourism department has been doing that should be mentioned is the Internet page. There has been quite a lot of talk about that lately and the fact that it is one of the biggest hits on the Internet now. It won a major award and is receiving a lot of very positive publicity. The department is marketing much more aggressively in Europe, and this is starting to pan out now, judging by the media reports and the fact that a lot of different television and movie productions have come to the territory.
With the limited amount of dollars the department has at its disposal, it has done an excellent job. Things seem to be coming in on track now with the Yukon Anniversaries Commission. I understand that better communications are flowing back and forth between the Klondike Centennial Society and the Yukon Anniversaries Commission. The Klondike Centennial Society has its Ton of Gold project that looks like it is really starting to come together. There is a lot of enthusiasm for this program, in which they will be re-enacting the ship going from here to Skagway that started the actual gold rush. They are looking to accumulate a ton of gold and do a re-enactment there.
I will conclude my remarks at this juncture, and I look forward to hearing what the Opposition and other Members have to say about this motion.
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Member for Klondike for raising this matter this afternoon. I have always wanted to talk about the wonderful quality of life that Yukoners enjoy and I have always enjoyed talking politics about government records and the prospect that there could be hope and prosperity in the territory. It is an attractive discussion for us when these matters are raised in the Legislature, and today is certainly no exception.
I am wondering what the situation might have been if this motion had been moved by the New Democrats five, six or seven years ago; a motion stating that, unlike other jurisdictions in Canada, the Government of Yukon does not have to contend with an accumulated deficit. That was true for 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992. If we had said that in any of those years, I wonder how the Yukon Party would have responded.
If we had said in those years that education, justice, health and social services programs were being maintained and improved, while in other jurisdictions in Canada programs were being reduced or eliminated - a true statement - I wonder how the Yukon Party would have responded, or if we had said that the private sector had been creating more jobs, as, of course, they did in those days - there were actually a number of mines operating in those days and hundreds of private sector jobs were created. I remember, for example, in 1985, that the population of Whitehorse was about 14,000. It bounced up to 22,000 over the years that the NDP was in government. This was obviously a period of great economic expansion. I wonder how the Yukon Party would have responded.
If we had said that the Government of Yukon employees do not have to contend with massive public sector layoffs, as were occurring at the time with at least the federal government and the governments of Alberta and Manitoba, I wonder how the Yukon Party would have responded.
I think they might have been critical. I think they might have been saying in those days that it was a false economy, that it did not show very much vitality, that it was all government generated and that there was not enough decentralization, and that there were insufficient attempts to diversify the economy. That is probably what we would have heard.
I think we would have accepted that the Yukon Party would have pooh-poohed any thought that the Yukon government had anything to do with any of those things, other than public sector layoffs and the resistance to lay off people in the public sector.
I think having said that, it is probably worthy of us to talk about the same motion in the current context. Mr. Speaker, in your reading out of the motion, you indicated that perhaps the reference to the deficit should read "accumulated defect". I would argue that the government has had to deal with an accumulated defect in the last three years. I will suggest and argue that perhaps the motion can be better worded. We will be proposing what we might consider to be a friendly amendment. That amendment will make reference to the fact that there is an election coming and that that will give Yukon people hope and prosperity.
I will get to that in due course. First of all, I would like to briefly respond to the Member for Klondike's comments about the credit that he feels the Yukon Party should be taking for the growth, as he sees it, in the mining industry, and the criticisms that he levelled at the New Democrats for their own record of support for mining while they were in government. He wanted to clearly draw the distinction between the two. He was not simply indicating that we should all be lauding the fact that there are more jobs, but he wanted to make it clear that it is the Yukon Party's actions, specifically, that are causing the growth in the economy, that the Yukon Party is, in fact, doing better than the NDP had done, and consequently that is why we should be voting for this motion. This is clearly a vote-of-confidence motion - confidence in the government.
Of all of the comments made about the mining sector, we did not hear anything about mineral prices. We heard about the short-term economic outlook, which does refer to mineral prices. However, in the Member's speech, we did not hear anything about if mineral prices were, in fact, the most significant factor in seeing the mining economy grow in this territory.
The Member mentioned that the government essentially did two things different from the New Democrats: they threw a big party, in his words, and a mining facilitator was hired. At the big party, they indicated that the territory was open for business. The Member said that the message - presumably, between drinks - was that they wanted to provide a clear indication about what a mining promoter might face when they come to the Yukon. The Member said that he felt that the NDP did nothing, other than to throw money at the problem, and that what was left undone was the essential stuff, like throwing big parties.
The Member did acknowledge - I thank him for this - that the programs the NDP did put into place for the first time to support the mining industry, with dollars attached, were programs that the Yukon Party retained. So, if the NDP could be accused of throwing money at the problem, the Yukon Party, albeit quite quietly, is doing precisely the same thing, in precisely the same way.
I would argue with the Member that we are not throwing money at any problem, in the hope that there will be a solution. I would characterize the matter differently. I would say that we are providing, on behalf of the general public, financial incentives to encourage mine investors and miners themselves to undertake an economic activity that will generate some economic prosperity for this territory. In that way, people will go to work, purchases will be made, the economy will prosper and, presumably, some taxes will be paid to the government. In return, the government can provide services to people.
I do not see anything wrong with that. I do not see that that should necessarily be characterized as throwing money at the problem. Thank goodness the people in the government who actually make the decisions do not feel so critical of those programs that they decided to cut them, because they have shown some benefit to the mining industry. Even though I freely acknowledge they are not a primary factor in determining if mines will come to the territory and invest, they are certainly a contributing factor, and in some cases even a significant determining factor for the smaller operators - perhaps less of a factor for the larger operators.
However, given that there is a substantial financial commitment from both the New Democrats and the Yukon Party toward the mining industry through those programs - and also through the resource transportation access program in the New Democrats' case - I would say that has helped the infrastructure and helped encourage the mining community to prosper to the extent it can.
I am thankful the political decision makers in the government also saw it our way.
In his widespread criticism of the New Democrats, the Member failed to mention that, while the New Democrats were in office, there were a number of mines operating. Just the other day, the Government Leader indicated he believed all the mines were closed while the New Democrats were in office. Many of them closed, and some opened during that time. There was one old mine operating while the New Democrats were in office, which closed after the Yukon Party came into office, and that was Curragh.
The point is that there were operating mines in this territory. Some of those operating mines received infrastructure support from the government. There was no attempt made to wrap some airy-fairy policy document around the support, such as the industrial support policy, which held a lot more promise than it delivered. There was support for mine access roads, training and electrical supply. These things were routinely done, despite the fact that it has now become a religion that this is the only thing the Yukon Party is prepared to do - the NDP actually did it while the Yukon Party talks about it.
I would point out to the Member, as well, that the highest year for exploration spending in this territory did not take place while the Yukon Party was in office, or even while the Progressive Conservative Party was in office. It took place while the NDP was in office.
Again, I am the first to admit that, despite the fact that we had programs, the fact that the NDP was in or out of office really had very little impact on how much exploration spending took place. What had an impact was mineral prices. That is what had the most impact. Clearly that had the most impact.
In all these years that we have been hearing about the growth in mineral exploration spending in this territory, we have seen just across the border in B.C. equivalent exploration spending going on there - this is in the jurisdiction where, supposedly, the government is unfriendly to the mining community.
The Minister for Tourism is shaking his head to the negative. I invite the Minister of Tourism to please check with his department to compare this government's exploration spending with that of northern B.C. He will find that the spending in northern B.C. was higher than it was in the Yukon. New exploration spending in northern B.C. - the Minister is saying no, but I challenge him to look it up rather than simply talk.
The real question is this: who takes responsibility for the high exploration spending? The Member for Klondike acknowledges that the federal government, not the Yukon government, regulates the mining industry. That is the case. He acknowledges that the Yukon government really has very limited influence on the real spending, both in production and in mineral exploration.
I agree with him, but what he does say is that the Yukon government should play a more important role to ensure that the regulatory processes that exist are less cumbersome. There we agree again. The biggest, freshest, most obvious opportunity that this territory has to make the regulatory environment for developers less cumbersome is the creation of a development assessment process under the umbrella final agreement that will ensure that there is a single, comprehensive, efficient, streamlined approach to evaluating industrial projects.
Has the Government of Yukon - I am asking a rhetorical question - shown any energy, resourcefulness or enthusiasm to take on this project in the creation of a development assessment process that will eliminate the existing processes that the mining industry currently has to pass through? Does anyone remember the government actually mentioning the work that it was going to do on the development assessment process in its throne speech? Does anybody remember this being said in a budget speech? Pick a budget where the Minister of Finance announced, among the survey of big projects that the government was going to undertake, whether or not it was going to tackle the most significant opportunity it had to streamline the regulatory environment? I did not hear anything about that, because it was not there.
The problem clearly is that the really hard work, creating a new regulatory environment, is simply abandoned in favour of the cosmetic stuff - the cosmetic stuff being the party, the trip around the world to visit mine investors, sending out a press release every once in a while saying, "We are open for business." This is a cosmetic device.
When the Member for Klondike says, "Government has been diligent in respecting the needs of not only the miners, but the environment," he does not mention the fact that the government's record when it came to actually delivering its commitments to protect the environment has been virtually non-existent.
They do admit that they voted for the Environment Act, and support the act presumably, but whether or not they actually tell the mining industry about the environmental regulatory regime in the Yukon is something we have never been able to establish.
In conclusion, I have just pointed out that, in the Member for Klondike's critique of the past and his support for the present government's initiatives, it is one thing to talk a good line and it is another thing to do one. As one of my colleagues has said, there is a new saying, and it is not, "Build it and they shall come." It is, "Talk about it and they will come."
The problem, of course, is that we have never received any clear indication as to what the government is prepared to do to support industry, what it is prepared to specifically do when it comes to forestry policy, and what it is prepared to do on a full range of issues. We have heard a good line spoken in the Legislature about land claims and how the government wants to settle all the band final agreements and pursue devolution. We have heard about these things, but the moment we leave these exalted Chambers and breathe in some fresh air immediately outside the front doors of this building, people are telling us that there is no action on any of these fronts. We do not make it up. They tell us that, when it comes to devolution - no action; when it comes to land claims - no action; when it comes to policy supporting industry - no action. It is only threadbare, generally stated policy statements that are supposed to be the stuff of which economies and prosperity are made.
We have to be a little more specific in our claims that what we have done as a Legislature and what the government claims it has done is actually giving people hope and making them feel that they are going to be prosperous in the future.
A lot of people feel that many things are happening in this territory which, unless changes are made, do not give them much hope about their future.
More is needed than balanced books, education, health and social service program spending, a few extra jobs and no public sector layoffs, to give people a sense of hope and prosperity.
In the last little while, we have seen a government where Ministers disagree with each other on the front benches and where Ministers are slamming public groups. A Minister today, we discovered, is criticizing his own community and calling the governing bodies in one of his communities a joke. He claims that his statements were made in the heat of the moment, and then goes on to say that he has been thinking about these things for quite a long time, but has left them bottled up.
We have a government that plays fast and loose with laws, and no Minister is ever prepared to resign. We have a government that, I would argue, has lost the moral authority to even govern.
We have a government that lacks a sense of direction when it comes to some of the major issues of the day, and I will just pick a couple to illustrate my point.
The management of the forestry resources has been a subject of great discussion in this Legislature for some time. When the Opposition leveled some criticisms at the government for not providing a forestry framework policy in advance of forestry devolution, the only response from the government, in its own defence, was to attack the NDP for not devolving forestry itself.
This is the same government that claims devolution is a top priority. Let me put it this way: when the NDP was in government, we never claimed that devolution was the top priority. We claimed that land claims was the top priority, and land claims agreements were delivered - band final agreements were delivered. Even though devolution was not a top priority, the fresh water fishery was devolved to the Yukon, Northern Canada Power Commission was devolved to the Yukon, the hospital was devolved to the Yukon, the Northern Accord was signed with the Northwest Territories, and highways and airports were devolved to the Yukon.
That was during a time when it was not even the highest priority for the government of the day. Yet, when we asked the government to speak to their highest priority, which is presumably forestry devolution, after three years of trying, they say it was incumbent upon the NDP to have done something about it.
I think the NDP did a lot that was good, but it could not do everything and I am the first to admit that. We have had a situation where the federal government has admittedly not handled forestry management practices well. This government, which has been embracing forestry devolution for a considerable amount of time, has belatedly accepted the notion that they should have a forestry policy prior to devolution. Yet, the government came to the public only a few months ago to talk about forestry policy from first principles and asking basic questions such as, "If we cut down a tree, do you think we should grow a tree?" People in Watson Lake were asked, in the midst of the forestry crisis last November, whether or not they believed in the notion of sustainable harvests. That did not go over very well and I think you would be the first to admit that, Mr. Speaker.
People had higher expectations of the government. People expected that the Yukon government, being the honest broker, being the government that had the most to gain from a healthy forest industry, would have been working harder to see to it that the forest management regime was devolved to the Yukon. For example, they did not expect, amidst the claims of support from the Government Leader, that the Government Leader would be undermining community consensus as achieved in Watson Lake. They did not expect that a government that claimed it wanted the devolution to occur would be so inept and lack such energy in developing the forest policy framework, that they would now only be in a position to talk about first principles in forest management policies.
Of course, devolution, generally speaking, was made all the more difficult because there was no life at the land claims negotiating table.
We are told repeatedly, week after week, by the Government Leader that the government is doing precisely what the previous government had done. It is negotiating with the 10 bands yet to have a final agreement. It is working diligently to implement the agreements that have already been negotiated. It is all just a matter of time before something happens, the dam breaks, and we have agreements galore. The moment I leave the Chamber, I hear chiefs from around the territory complaining that the government is not performing well at the negotiating table, that they do not have a mandate, that the government negotiators are not given an appropriate mandate, that they do not have enough resources, or something. Clearly, nothing is happening at the land claims table. We have a government and a Government Leader who does battle with the Grand Chief of the Council for Yukon First Nations. We have a Government Leader who gets into seemingly regular tugs of war with chiefs from a variety of communities. The relationship between the Government Leader and the Chief of the Kwanlin Dun is legend up in the McIntyre subdivision.
Nothing is happening on the land claims front. That is a fact. That is reality. Once we leave the star chamber, reality hits you square in the face. There are no land claims agreements. There is a lot of bad feeling. There is credible concern that the deadlines under the umbrella final agreement are looming up fast, that we are not going to be done by February 1997, that we are not going to meet our commitments, and that we are not going to meet expectations of all of those people who applauded the signing of the land claims agreement and felt that, for once, there was a real hope and future for many communities. That is the reality. No number of throne speeches and protests from the Government Leader or Ministers or anyone else is going to change that working, breathing reality.
The other areas I would like to focus on briefly - and there are so many items to choose from - just to demonstrate an example of what I mean by there being a lack of policy direction in government, are the energy policy and industrial support policy.
We were given to believe that the Government of Yukon was going to do something innovative, new and fresh when it came to dealing with the developers who were interested in investing in this territory. We were told that the government was going to ensure that the relations between developers and the government were going to be improved through a clear understanding of expectations - expectations of the government and expectations of the developer. We were told that when developers showed interest in this territory we would be providing infrastructure under certain clear guidelines so that the rules would be fair for everyone. We were told that the government was going to focus on energy infrastructure - transportation particularly - and we were given to believe that somehow the infrastructure support being provided was going to be clearly defined and freely available to the people who needed it most, in order that we could create jobs and promote prosperity.
Initially, we were told that the government was going to provide support and infrastructure that would encourage people to come to the territory because they could see that the infrastructure was there on the ground before they even arrived - "Build it and they shall come"; the Diefenbaker vision. That was abandoned, perhaps appropriately, by the industrial support policy of the Yukon Party government, which changed its mind and said it would provide support to those industrial developers and promoters who actually had a project to promote, and that that support was going to be clearly defined.
I cannot say that the government has even lived up to our expectations of the industrial support policy.
There are no clear guidelines that anybody can see about what level of support they can expect from the government in return for investment.
The Yukon Party, on its Internet home page, is still talking about wanting to build infrastructure and industry will come. The Yukon Party is saying one thing and the government is saying a different thing.
We were told that the industrial support policy was going to provide us with a clear understanding about energy pricing for industrial consumers, but we received no such indication. What we found out was that the industrial support policy, inasmuch as it has any impact at all on industrial developers, is only for those large companies that are prepared to invest greater than $5 million.
If you come from the Yukon and you are a small business operator, or you are working in an environment where you intend to spend less than $5 million, you cannot count on the industry support policy to back you up. However, if you are a moneybags from somewhere else the government is going to be turning out its pockets for you, in some manner that is still, as yet, undefined. Ministers do not even know the nature of the negotiations that are being undertaken between their departments and the mining developers or industrial promoters. They do not know until all of the negotiations are concluded.
There is nothing in the policy and there is nothing in the Ministers' minds to tell us that there are any criteria whatsoever that are guiding discussions and providing support. It is one big vessel of talk and no substance.
The economy is not the only area that would cause someone to feel they had a prosperous future. This motion talks about education, health and social service programs being maintained and improved, or so they claim. It talks about no massive public sector layoffs. However, it does not talk about other things that might limit a person's sense of prosperity and hope.
How did the people at Kaushee's Place feel about hope for the future when the Minister of Health and Social Services decided to shut down their operation, move them out of the building and contract out the service to group homes? I am sure they felt a great deal of hope about the future of this territory and of the people they serve.
How did the people living on social assistance feel when the Minister of Health and Social Services came forward and said they were making too much money, and that they were people who came from elsewhere; they had read the welfare gazette in Toronto, comparing welfare rates around the country and, because the Yukon government provided a few extra bucks monthly, decided to travel to the Yukon to take advantage of our welfare rates.
If I were a welfare parent living in this territory, trying to make do on what I know to be very limited funds in a high-cost environment, I would not appreciate the Minister of Health and Social Services gratuitously suggesting that I am responsible for my own misfortune.
With respect to encouraging people to take training, what the government has done is laudable. The SARS agreement to encourage people who can work, and who can be trained for work, to start working, is laudable and supportable. However, that message has been compromised and contradicted by a Minister who spends more political energy setting up a cop shop in the welfare department to make people feel guilty for being on social assistance than he does on virtually anything else.
When he feels that it is politically acceptable in this territory - because of the right-wing move in this country - to start whacking poor people, he decides he will take a few runs at them. He sees how popular the Klein government is. He sees how popular the Harris government is when it starts talking about people living off the good will of the community or living off the avails of society. He just decides that he is just going to take a gratuitous shot at people who are on social assistance in the Yukon. I am sure they feel very hopeful and are looking forward to a very prosperous future.
What about the people involved with the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre? I am sure that they all felt that there was a prosperous and hopeful future ahead of them. They were told by the Minister responsible for housing that all they needed to do was come into his warm arms and he would provide them with all the support they needed. If there was a mortgage required in order to be more self-sufficient and have a little more security and stability in providing services that we all agree are required, all they needed to do was to come to his office and get some support. He then carries the matter forward. He gets shot down by his Cabinet colleagues who say they do not like the idea at all. His response in this Legislature, just one week ago, was for the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre to come back and do it again.
I do not think that they feel particularly uplifted and that there is a bright and prosperous future, at least as far as they are concerned, in their part of the Yukon world.
I wonder how the parent volunteers who have been investing so much time in creating an effective education system felt when the Minister of Education told them, in a very crude fashion, that he was going to simply implement any thing he wanted. He did not care about what they felt. He did not respect their participation in the education system. I am sure that they felt that there is a prosperous future ahead of them.
Clearly, a prosperous future comes from more than simply balanced budgets and a promise not to lay off public servants in massive numbers.
There is much more than that to governing and to encouraging a sense of prosperity, stability and hope in our community. It comes from a variety of things. It comes from a government prepared to consult about all kinds of matters of public importance - everything from road construction priorities, to changes to the education community, and even to whether or not millions of dollars should be invested in new tourism facilities in Whitehorse. Rightfully so, people have an expectation that they will be involved in all elements of government endeavour, because they rightfully feel that the government is theirs.
What do we see? We see a government that likes to act unilaterally, and does so even to the point where people who support the actions the government takes from time to time are embarrassed and angered by the approach the government takes. Let us say, for example, that I was a supporter of grade reorganization in Whitehorse and believed strongly in the two-tiered system, that I believed that we need not shock students as they pass through junior high school, and that they should not be faced with a new environment three times in their school life, but only twice - once when they go into elementary school and once when they pass through secondary school.
If I strongly believed in that, would I feel comfortable that the Minister handled the initiative to proceed with grade reorganization well? Would I feel comfortable that he was able to explain the feelings I had for promoting grade reorganization? Would I feel comfortable that he caused a tremendous furour and uproar in the whole community because he told people, only one year ago, that they could let down their guard and did not have to worry about grade reorganization because the case was closed and there was nothing more to say and then, in November, he sprung it on the people, adding that not only was it not a closed deal, but that the government would not continue to try to bring closure on the question of whether there should be a two- or three-tiered system? The government was not going to try and build that consensus - the decision was made and the door was closed.
Not only did that take place - in reality - but other plans that were on the table that required funding, such as a Dawson school, had to be put on the back burner
because of a new political commitment that had been made in a very authoritarian and arbitrary fashion, without consultation.
For example, the people in Dawson who had been led to believe a school was going to be built - after all of the meetings that the Minister claims he had with people in Dawson about the need for a new school - felt disappointed because a new political commitment, which had been made without consultation with anybody, was for grade reorganization, which would involve significant expenditures in Whitehorse. The money had to be found somewhere, and it was found by cancelling the project in Dawson.
Would I feel comfortable if I were a supporter of grade reorganization and the situation was handled in this particular way? No, I would not, and neither do the people who did support grade reorganization feel that this whole situation was handled well.
When the education review was announced at the beginning of this government's term, were the partners in education respected? Did anybody hear that the government was going to significantly change the direction of the curriculum, that it would choose to ignore physical education and training, downplay lifeskills, and that language skills would be downplayed in favour of the three Rs? Was anybody who has dedicated their life to volunteering to support the public education system - either parents or various interest groups who provide support to the education system - consulted? Were First Nation people consulted? Did any of those people feel they could take ownership of that particular initiative? Nobody felt that they could take ownership because they were surprised. They were told what to do. They were told how it was going to be.
How can those people feel hope for the future and that the future should be prosperous if they are not participating in the things that affect them most? I am talking about significant matters: matters that they have traditionally had a role in and matters that they have participated in.
For us to come along now, in this Legislature, and pass a resolution that they should all feel hope for the future, when clearly they do not participate in significant matters of policy development within the government, would be a pure crap-shoot. Maybe it will be prosperous, maybe it will not be, but I as a citizen am not going to be involved.
What about some of the significant capital expenditures the government has undertaken? We did not hear about the Beringia Centre until the budget was tabled. We discovered that nobody else had heard about the Beringia Centre until the budget was tabled a year and a half ago.
The government intends to spend millions of dollars on a new facility. It intends to spend whatever it takes to market the living daylights out of this facility to justify its existence. This is amidst concerns by many people that their projects are not being supported - school projects, building projects around the territory - but even people in the tourism industry had no idea that the Beringia Centre was even on the table and up for consideration. It was a complete surprise, and as it turns out it was not a particularly well-thought-out proposition either, which is unfortunate. It is not bad enough that it was just an arbitrary decision; it was not even necessarily a well-considered arbitrary decision.
We have the Minister, for example, saying that the Beringia Centre is going to attract 125,000 visitors every year and telling us that, as a matter of course, every school child in this territory is going to go to it and that is going to put lots of people into that Beringia Centre. If every schoolchild in this territory, against their will or not, is told to go to that Beringia Centre and fork out five bucks every time they attend, that is only 6,000 people. We bus them all in there. If every person in this territory, as a condition of citizenship, has to go to the Beringia Centre, we would still be 95,000 visitors short.
The Minister is expecting us to believe that virtually everyone who drives into the Yukon and every Yukon citizen is going to go the Beringia Centre. In Watson Lake, however, when the people said that they expected 20 percent of the travelling public to pass through their planetarium, the government dumped all over the proposal by saying that it was completely and wildly unrealistic.
Consultation can help. Consultation would allow people to provide a reality check on initiatives such as this. The Minister of Tourism, in his attempts to wax poetic about the potential of the Beringia Centre, told us that not only will this centre pay for itself, but it will actually make back the capital costs in three years. It works out to something like $60 per ticket, with something like 125,000 people - I cannot remember exactly what it was, but it was some wildly unrealistic number.
The basic point is that if there is a lack of respect for consultation and people do not feel that they are in control of their lives, are part of the government or are a part of governing, how can they have a feeling that there is a prosperous future in store for them? It is not simply balanced budgets or by having no massive layoffs in the public sector that are going to create that impression, it is how the government operates; it is whether or not the government is an accountable government. We are told that the government is now going to be open, because it passed a piece of legislation, and from now on people should feel that the government is going to be fair, accountable and open - thanks to the three pieces of legislation.
That is patently false. Governments are not fair because they pass a law to ensure that Ministers do not do business on the side, that there is an ombudsman office on Main Street, or even that there are better access-to-information laws. They are fair because the Ministers and the politicians make it a priority to be fair, open and accountable.
There are many examples I could go through - everything from the gambling casino proposal to the hospital design changes and Division Mountain coal - one of my favourite subjects, and one about which there has been so much consultation - and the centennial anniversaries program, which I understand is causing some concern in Carcross these days as it did not receive a lot of public discussion.
The wage rollback did not receive a lot of discussion prior to its implementation, and public servants are feeling very good that they were not massively being laid off, according to this motion.
However, when it came time to negotiate with them about the terms and conditions of their employment, the government decided not to do it after all. It would not present the case that the government was in a financial crisis, and would not talk to the public servants any more. The government stopped talking and decided to simply cut the wages. It claimed it needed to cut those wages because it needed to balance the budget. Unfortunately for the government, it turned out it did not need to balance its budget on the backs of the workers after all.
That does bring us to the subject of taxation. The government is saying that it should consult with people before there are tax increases - to give people a say, finally, in one significant element in the way in which government operates. It wants to ensure that people feel a bit more control over their lives. It is going to start, since it has not started anywhere else, with a referendum for tax increases.
I did not hear the government say it was going to take this line when it instituted those tax increases. I did not hear it try to convince anyone, before the fact, that they would have to pay an extra 11 percent in personal income tax, that the corporate income tax rate should go up 50 percent, that the small business tax should rise 20 percent, that diesel taxes should go up 38 percent, that gasoline taxes should go up 47 percent or that aviation fuel tax should go up 57 percent. I did not hear any of that. I did not hear the government say that it would be nice to consult with people before the fact.
The government raised taxes by a phenomenal amount. Only now is the government indicating that it thinks that the public has a right to participate in that decision. It is hypocritical.
Speaker: Order. That is an unparliamentary word.
Mr. McDonald: I was waiting for that, Mr. Speaker; that is why I paused.
The point, once again, is that this government has acted in an arbitrary fashion. It has acted without a clear and coherent sense of direction. It has talked a line and not delivered. It has acted in a brutal way, in some respects, with a number of people in the public. It has picked on people who are powerless. I would argue that this is one of the most unpopular governments I have ever known anywhere.
Why would people feel hope and prosperity? The only thing that would give them a sense of hope is if in this list, or perhaps even in place of this list, there was one item that might give them a sense of hope and prosperity, and that is that the people of the Yukon would have the opportunity to evaluate the performance of the government within the next eight months. That would be truthful. In my view, that would be something that would give people a great sense of hope and a sense that prosperity is possible.
I intend, in a minute, to move what I think would be a friendly amendment. Instead of making reference to these other items, let me simply say that there is a chance for the public to really participate in their government and in the future of their territory, and that would be to vote in an election.
There is so much that one could say about so many different issues. I want other people to have a chance to speak, so I am not going to speak forever about this. I will simply conclude by saying this: if you want to encourage the public to feel hopeful and if you want to really instill a sense of prosperity, you must do certain basic things, such as ensuring that your books are in order. You must do some real things when it comes to encouraging economic activity. You must do some real things in ensuring that you are a humane government and are providing a decent, sound safety net and training opportunities, so people feel that they can do better and prosper, but you also must act in a humane way. You cannot be brutal with people. You must involve people in public decision making. I think that in a number of very significant respects the government has not passed the test.
I think the real test would come in an election campaign.
Mr. McDonald: I move
THAT Motion No. 100 be amended by deleting paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) and substituting the following:
"(a) people of the Yukon have the opportunity to evaluate the performance of the current government within the next eight months."
Speaker: It has been moved by the Leader of the Official Opposition
THAT Motion No. 100 be amended by deleting paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) and substituting the following:
"(a) people of the Yukon have the opportunity to evaluate the performance of the current government within the next eight months."
Mr. McDonald: I am looking forward to this friendly amendment passing without much trouble. Presumably, there may be a slight difference as to whether or not everyone feels this would cause the community to feel great hope, but I certainly think it is completely consistent with the general theme of the motion, which is to ensure that we list the most significant factors that contribute to a prosperous future for all Yukoners. I think of all the factors that one could list - and there are probably a number of them - a general election would be the most significant and the most appreciated by a vast majority of the public.
I would argue that this is an appropriate amendment to put forward on this motion.
Yes, I am prepared to consider any friendly amendments that would reduce eight months down to one or two months. It does not even have to be factors of eight; it could be one or two. I am prepared to discuss that, and as soon as possible would be highly desirable.
I am looking forward to the election campaign. I am looking forward to the government's next four-year plan. The last one was an amusing document and one we are going to be talking about in this session if the government does not decide to have an election sooner. I would hope that the government will see the wisdom of this amendment and will agree to its immediate passage.
I have more to say, but I am certain that my colleagues might have other suggestions for improving this motion. I may get a chance to speak again.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It seems as if the Leader of the Official Opposition is very anxious to get another mandate in Opposition. He wants an election called immediately.
On the amendment, I certainly believe that the amendment is redundant, because an election has to be called within the next eight months. It does nothing to the motion that is in front of us; therefore I could not support the amendment.
The party that brought it in is the one that was sure it was going to win two by-elections and force a general election very quickly, but that did not happen, because there are a lot of people out there who do not agree with the type of government they provided in the past.
I was very interested to hear the defence of the Leader of the Official Opposition. He said that we could not take credit for anything good that has happened in the Yukon. He made the statement that the highest expenditures in exploration occurred during the NDP mandate. He is right. However, what he did not say was that it was in spite of an NDP government that it happened.
The rationale behind that high expenditure in 1988 was the flow-through share opportunities; let us be honest. What really happened under that administration was that seven mines shut down in the Yukon. There were seven mines in operation when they came to power, and they all shut down, including the one that opened up under that administration. That is what happened under the NDP government. It paid lip service to the mining community.
No previous government in the Yukon - Conservative or NDP - took the approach that this government has taken in going out to promote investment in the Yukon. They were quite satisfied to sit there and live off the dole from Ottawa. They were quite satisfied to be able to depend on huge transfer payments and create government jobs and positions. I said it before and will say it again: that that is their idea of economic development in the territory; every Yukoner should have a government job. That is their narrow vision of economic activity in the Yukon.
The facts speak for themselves. The fact is that when the Speaker was Minister responsible for Economic Development, he took the position that the Yukon was open for business and took the time to go out to promote it, to openly invite companies to come to look at the opportunities available for investment, and to tell the companies about the workforce and the infrastructure in the Yukon, and how we are expanding that infrastructure. The Official Opposition is high on process but very few results come out the other end - high on process; no results.
We are not the only ones to say that we are doing a good job. Let us look at some of the comments made by mining companies in 1994 in The Claim Post: "It is clear that in the next year we will see remarkable growth in employment and expenditures and hard rock mining. YTG has taken the first steps toward doing this with the appointment of Jesse Duke as the new mining facilitator."
George Cross Newsletter, Western Canada Investments and Loki Gold: "The Yukon territorial government is particularly supportive of the mining industry."
I have spoken to hard rock and placer miners who have spoken personally with the Leader of the Official Opposition when he was a Cabinet Minister and were very disappointed with the little support he showed for the mining industry in Yukon.
Let us look at what the NDP did on the Implementation Review Committee - I believe it was - to set new water standards. The government had an official sitting there, making no comments and no decisions; it did absolutely nothing to help the placer miners get a system in place and levels of solubles in the water that they could live with and that would support our mining industry, the backbone of the Yukon.
The placer mining industry is the reason the Yukon is here, yet the NDP paid only lip service to the industry. That is what the NDP did. Yukoners have a right and a reason to be optimistic because this government has shown that Yukon is an attractive place for companies to invest in. And not only in the mining industry.
Look what we have done with tourism. We have put more money into marketing than any previous administration in the history of the Yukon, and the results speak for themselves. We will see what happens at the end of this tourist season because all of the indicators are very positive.
One thing we did see happen under an NDP administration was when the then-Leader was going around Canada to all the meetings on constitutional issues talking about what a great job it was doing in the Yukon and how well things were going in the Yukon. Let us look at what happened to the social welfare rolls in the Yukon. They went from $3 million in 1989 to almost $10 million in 1992. That is what happened when the Leader of the government of the time, under the NDP government, was saying that the economy is booming in the Yukon. The only thing that was booming was the explosion of our welfare rolls. That is what was booming.
We took over government in this territory when the last of a string of six or seven mines were shutting down under an NDP administration, and we were able to turn it around very quickly. We had a very bad year in 1993, but we turned it around very quickly. We were able to get investments back into the Yukon.
The Member for Riverdale-South is mentioning metal prices. Metal prices are still low. They are lower now than what they were when the Faro mine shut down. Zinc prices are lower than when the Faro mine shut down.
The Leader of the Official Opposition says we have done nothing on the development assessment process. He is 100 percent wrong. We have worked very diligently on the development assessment process and we believe it will be in place before February 1997. The development assessment process will be a one-window approach.
r. Speaker, we are getting a lot of kibitzing from the other side because they do not like to hear this. They do not like to hear what a dismal job they did of promoting development in the Yukon when they were in government. If it was not for the largesse of the federal government pouring money into the Yukon they would have been in serious trouble.
The Leader of the Official Opposition made some statements about British Columbia experiencing more exploration than the Yukon. I think he is the one who ought to check his facts. I hope that, by the time the Minister of Economic Development speaks, he will have more information on this issue. It seems to me, from what I understand, new exploration in British Columbia is still at an all-time low. There is a lot of exploration going on with mines that are in production in British Columbia. I am speaking of new, grassroots exploration.
This government is criticized because it promotes mining at the expense of the environment. That is absolutely a falsehood. This government believes in protecting the environment. It can be done and it is done through the regulatory process that we have. I would ask any of the Members opposite, who do not believe that mining and the environment are compatible, to visit the Luscar coal operation in Alberta.
Environmentalists do not like talking about that because it is an environmentalist's dream. That is an operation that started some 25 years ago right on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, almost at timberline. Over 25 years, they have removed almost 100 million tons of coal from those mountains. When they started the mine, there were 40 bighorn sheep on the property. Today, there are 500 sheep.
Last September, the mining facilitator and I had the opportunity to visit this mine and we watched the sheep walking among the equipment. The ground is reclaimed and they promote that mining is only a temporary industry - and it is, in the scope of things. When those mines are finished, that ground will be far more productive than before the mine started. When I hear comments, such as I heard this morning, that mining activity disturbs sheep - I believe the comment was made by the president of the Yukon Fish and Game Association - I would ask him to go down to that mine and see how the animals have adapted to having equipment working around them when they are not being harassed by people. There is no hunting allowed and vehicles stop for the sheep to cross the road. I not only saw sheep, I saw elk and mule deer. This was a marvelous sight for me to see. It proves that mining and the environment can be compatible if it is done in a proper manner. We do not need to have one at the expense of the other.
We can have mines, and they will not affect the sheep and caribou populations. If the mines go into operation, the animals will be better off for it.
I heard the Leader of the Official Opposition talk about lack of progress on land claims, and he is right; it has been a slow process. What we have done, and why we have been able to attract mining companies to come to the Yukon and look at the investment potential, is to encourage mining companies to work out socio-economic agreements with First Nations. There was not one of those agreements in place under the previous administration - not one. The Ross River people were terribly upset about what was happening in Faro. They had no opportunities for jobs. They had no opportunities for contracts.
None of those things happened under the NDP administration, and now I believe that we have three or four socio-economic agreements with different First Nations in this territory. We have shown that First Nations are not opposed to development; they are just opposed to development that is done at their expense. Not one of those agreements was made under an NDP government.
The Leader of the Official Opposition talked about the adversarial situation between me and some First Nations leaders. I ask him to reflect back to Lake Laberge, the summer of 1992, when the leader of the NDP government took a tremendous dressing down from the First Nations leaders in this territory. The NDP like to forget about those things. They like to dismiss all of that and say that they had great relations.
I take exception to the Leader of the Official Opposition taking credit for the Northern Accord, because it was signed by me and Mr. Siddon, not by the NDP. If the truth be known, the NDP were opposed to signing the Northern Accord, and I have no difficulty saying that outside the House.
The Leader of the Official Opposition beat us up about not having a policy on forestry. They talked about cutting a tree down and not having a policy to grow another tree. I just ask him to reflect back to their actions when they were involved in the forestry industry in Watson Lake, after making millions and millions and millions of dollars being spent, and not planting a tree.
It was their experiment in the private sector, and they failed miserably at it. They took the money out of the pockets of the electrical ratepayers of the territory to fund their experiment in the sawmill business in Watson Lake.
Yukoners have good reason to be optimistic about the future of the Yukon under a Yukon Party government. There are people who speak to me almost every day. They are concerned. They do not want to see an NDP government back in power in the territory. It would be their worst nightmare. They know what happened under an NDP government.
Speaker: Order. The Member has three minutes to conclude his remarks.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. They know about the intimidation that went on in the workforce - the same intimidation of which the NDP are now trying to accuse us. They knew about closed government. They knew about dictatorial government. The NDP certainly had all these nice processes in place, but it did not do anything about them.
I heard the Leader of the Official Opposition talking about an energy policy. I would like to ask him what happened to the energy policy that his government spent so much time and money on and then threw on a shelf because his government did not like what it said. It is still sitting there. That was his government's energy policy.
There are reams of comments and press releases made by investors in the Yukon about how this government supports the private sector. We have seen 600 new jobs created in the last year in the Yukon. They are all in the private sector. There will be another 600 jobs created by this time next year under a Yukon Party government. Our tourism industry is thriving, as is our mining industry. The Members on the Opposition benches resent that. I cannot support the amendment to the motion.
Mr. Harding: I am so very pleased to rise after that diatribe by the Government Leader. This motion, brought forward by the Member for Klondike, is tantamount to placing a big "kick me" sign on his back.
What we have here is a desperate government that has failed fundamentally in so many areas of good governance, and to come out with a motion like this, after the kind of weeks we have had in this legislative session, is one big "kick me" sign.
On the amendment, in terms of rebutting some of the Government Leader's comments, I want to say that, under the New Democratic Party, the mining industry in this territory flourished. It is clear from evidence we have provided in this Legislature that we had a very good relationship with many members of the mining community. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that we did not provide the drinks for everyone, which, I guess, is the critical element in a good and solid mining policy for the Yukon Party.
We did not get involved in that, nor will we, because we believe there are fundamental areas that can benefit and support the Yukon mining industry.
Over the last few days, it has amazed me to hear the government - after coming back from Japan - say that the competitive advantage that the Yukon has in mining is the land claims agreements. This is what the Japanese and other overseas Asian markets are saying holds us apart and separates us as a jurisdiction that can attract investment.
The only problem with that is that the Yukon Party government has failed to finalize any land claim agreements. It was the New Democrats who settled the umbrella final agreement and the four existing band final agreements.
If the government's logic holds true, it is the New Democrats who are responsible for the competitive advantage provided to the mining industry in the Yukon. Therefore, we thank the Yukon Party for thanking us for attracting all the investment to the Yukon that has increased the exploration here.
Exploration never happened in spite of the NDP. I believe exploration happened, in a large part, because of the NDP. Our relationship with companies like Loki, the Ketza River mine and Anvil Range is solid. We do not take the narrow-visioned approach that it is mining and nothing else, like the Yukon Party takes. We take the position that we support mining. I come from a community whose bread and butter is mining. We live and breathe mining, and support it. However, I must say that my constituents and I also support protection of the environment and will continue in that respect.
That may even mean more parks in the Yukon. Can you believe it?
One should not forget, when we raise the point about more parks, that the Yukon Party, of course, is committed - at least in writing, but not in action - to the Endangered Spaces 2000 program.
The Government Leader made much of the government's support of mining. The Member for Klondike made reference to the big parties that the government threw to support the mining industry, and that drinks for miners and buttons saying "We are open for business" are the way to go, and that that is how you design a good forestry policy.
I beg to differ on that. The Government Leader actually paid some major kudos to you, Mr. Speaker, for your efforts in supporting the miners, going to the Cordilleran Roundup, organizing the drinks and that kind of thing. I would say that you have a very large bone to pick with the Government Leader. After standing there and complimenting you, as he did today, you have got to ask him the question of why he did not keep you in Cabinet and why he asked you to leave. You did such a good job that he fired you. I think that is wrong. I think you should have a discussion with him about that.
Let us talk about the Yukon Party and its commitment to economic development. The shining example to me of its commitment to economic development and to its partnership with the private sector in the Yukon has to be the Taga Ku project. Due to the Yukon Party's shining, exemplary role as partner with the private sector and as people supporting the private sector, the Yukon lost the Northwestel head office, many private sector jobs, a new facility for the community and hundreds of construction jobs. The Yukon Party destroyed a relationship with First Nations. It took a First Nation that had a commitment to, and trust in, the government and destroyed that. To top it all off, we are going to lose big time when we lose the next court case that the Yukon Party has been stalling to try to avoid seeing the damages determined before the next election.
I believe that its approach to economic development in the Yukon and to the formula financing agreement in some areas is perverse.
The government has made much of its efforts for the Placer Implementation Review Committee by stating that it is the shining reason that anything was advanced in that area.
When I talk to the government about forestry, which is a federal responsibility, the government tends to say that if anything goes wrong, it is because of the federal government. The Yukon government does not take any responsibility for the negatives. However, in the area of the Placer Implementation Review Committee, not only does the government take credit for the positives, it has also said that it was the reason they are responsible.
In the area of mining, also a federal responsibility, in general - unlike in forestry, when something goes wrong and the government blames the federal government - the Yukon government says it is responsible for any benefits or positive results in the area of mining. These are two conflicting roles and two conflicting positions and just cannot be accepted.
I want to say something about the comments I heard that were made on the radio by the mining facilitator the other day. I understand that as a person the mining facilitator has some respect in the industry. However, I must say that I was somewhat taken aback by the blatant political shots that he took at the British Columbia government over the Huckleberry project. I was offended that someone in the civil service would make those comments. That is something that should be left to the political people. My understanding of the information, as he stated it, was that the British Columbia government had been sending out negative signals and that its problems with land claims were one of the reasons that British Columbia was not going to be a good place for investment.
Well, it is the British Columbia NDP government that is trying to forward the land claims process to get those claims settled. It is the Gordon Campbells and the Jack Weisgerbers there who are opposing the whole process to settle land claims, just as it was the Tories in the Yukon when the NDP here tried to settle land claims initially and the Tories formed their own little organizations to oppose the settlement. Now, we have the ironic position of the Yukon Party trying to say that it is responsible for the competitive advantages that the settlement of land claims provides when it has had nothing but a destructive impact on the settlements.
The same thing is now happening in British Columbia - it is just that the NDP government here had enough political courage to face up to people who opposed the process and to work hard to convince people that land claims settlementwas good - economically, socially and morally - for all Yukoners. We did it here, starting in 1985, and now the British Columbia NDP government is doing it there. The Liberals there are taking the right-wing position against that. I think that is going to carry forward here, and we are already seeing a retrenchment by the Conservatives here, back into their old positions, when they formed their little clubs against land claims and Tony Penikett and the NDP.
The Government Leader also mentioned social welfare rolls in his speech, and spoke about the explosion under the NDP. I suggest he check the record. I submit to this House that the highest level of welfare ever paid out was under the Yukon Party administration. That is in the budget, and I will stand by it.
The New Democrats were proud, I believe back in 1989, to increase rates. That is one of the reasons why there was a jump in the overall expenditure. We made a cognizant political decision to raise rates because we felt it was appropriate for the poor of the Yukon community. We give no apologies for that.
The Yukon Party government took over from the NDP and inherited the best financial situation in the country - a fantastic record on taxes, where there were no increases, and a fantastic record on balanced budgets - and they should have been happy. They were lucky to have been left that kind of legacy by the NDP. It was at a time when the Government Leader was still out running his business.
At a time when no other jurisdiction in the country was balancing its budgets, the NDP was balancing its budgets. That is something that could not be said by anyone else. It is a fantastic record. I am very proud of the government of that day. It did a heck of a job, and I was so surprised that the Yukon Party went through all the contortions that they did after it won the government in 1992 to try to embarrass the NDP and to try to make the situation look as bleak as it possibly could by writing off all kinds of things, which have since been called into question by the Auditor General, and by failing to debate a lot of those write-offs and by spending, spending, spending in the last five months of that fiscal year, and failing to make the tough decisions that had to be made.
We are proud of our record on taxes, because we did not raise them. The Yukon Party did. We are proud of our financial record, because we balanced our budgets. It was only when the Yukon Party took over, with six months left in the 1992 fiscal year, that things started to look a little bleaker. How convenient.
Let us not forget to mention mine closures, in connection with the amendment. It was in 1993 when Curragh shut down. That was a year when the Yukon Party was in power, and I think it is fair to say that Curragh had the plug pulled on it by the Yukon Party. Clear and simple, the Yukon Party flat-lined Curragh. That was it. It was over.
The Government Leader failed to talk about the good things that were done in the area of mining by the NDP - for instance, Ketza River and Sa Dena Hes, to name a couple of operations. We were very proud of those mines; unfortunately, metal prices hurt those companies. The specific gravity of the gold at Ketza River were overestimated, causing its closure. The closure of Sa Dena Hes was a classic case of Curragh's debt load and associated problems because of the Westray disaster, along with the Faro mine. These closures were disappointing, but nonetheless, the closures were not a result of any kind of poor investment climate created by the NDP, as the Yukon Party would have people believe.
The Government Leader talked about the development assessment process. This is a tough policy area, but when one wants to streamline environmental regulation and red tape, and come up with one-window approach, one has to make tough decisions and bring people together. This government has just started to undertake work in that area. It is supposed to be implemented by February of 1997. This government ignored the process for three years, and I think it has done the mining industry some damage by its failure to move ahead and make this policy a priority.
I want to talk about what happened when the Curragh mine shut down under the Yukon Party in Faro. We saw a government go hog-wild with spending. Budgets have increased in this territory to the point where the last supplementary puts last year's budget at $508 million. That is over a half billion dollars. That is the reason that the economy did not collapse under the Yukon Party - the only reason.
The territory is now more dependent upon government spending from Ottawa and less self-sufficient than ever before under the Conservative Yukon Party. That is a fact. Government spending has increased and taken off like a rocket from the time we left office. That money went into the economy, which kept the economy from falling flat on its face, but it is an economy largely based on government. That is what it is all about with this government. It is a strange breed of conservative. It spends a lot of money but still thinks it is conservative. This government has made the territory more dependent upon Ottawa, but it still thinks it is independent.
When this government talks about the Yukon for Yukoners and its agenda for devolution, I would have to say that it has missed the boat. What has this government devolved in three years? This is the pinnacle of their platform - Yukon for Yukoners, taking over the resources - but what has it taken over?
It failed on every count. Gong - they have lost. They have not been able to devolve anything to the Yukon. The NDP, when devolution was not even our number one priority - the settlement of the land claims was - devolved freshwater fisheries, the power corporation, phase 1 of the hospital transfer, roads and airports. The Northern Accord was worked out. We did the tough stuff, although the Government Leader signed it after we left office. The Yukon Party signed it, just like it signed the third reading of the land claims legislation. Big deal. That is not the tough stuff, but only the ceremony - the punch, cocktails and cookies.
The Government Leader got into a discussion about exploration - grass roots versus new exploration. He said it did not matter what was going on in exploration in B.C., because what was happening was that existing mines were exploring. That was not grass roots and therefore not as important. I would say that it shows some faith in the Government of B.C. that existing mines are exploring other ore bodies that they are going to mine in the future.
Let me just say that I believe that, given the information that I have looked at, what is happening with regard to mining in B.C. is very impressive. It has also been helped there, as it has here, by increases in some metal prices, particularly lead and copper. We are certainly quite pleased with the new mining policy in B.C. We are very pleased that, again, the B.C. New Democrats are trying to bring in the competitive advantage that we brought in here as New Democrats; that is, the finalization of land claims agreements. They are facing the same opposition from right-wing Liberals and Conservatives that we faced here. Nonetheless, they will probably persevere.
The comment that struck me the most was, "The Opposition has said that they are supporting mining over the environment, and they do not do that." I think it is patently obvious to everyone in the Yukon that this government's talk about mining - not support, just talk - vastly outweighs any commitment that it has to the environment. I will prove that.
That view has been shared in correspondence I have seen from the Yukon Fish and Game Association, the Yukon Conservation Society, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Friends of Yukon Rivers and the World Wildlife Fund. Any person who is really watching the scene in the Yukon can tell that this government is talking and talking about mining. What they are doing on the tough stuff is minimal, but-
Speaker: Order. The Member has three minutes to conclude his speech.
Mr. Harding: They are really doing nothing for the environment. I have listed in this Legislature the litany of environmental infractions and lack of action by this government - its decision on Tombstone, its lack of initiative to forward the agenda of Endangered Spaces 2000, failing to do anything about Aishihik Lake water levels, its attempted gutting of the Environment Act. The list goes on and on.
Let us look at what is happening in the Yukon right now in terms of the pipe-dream mentality of this government. The other day in discussion of Economic Development, we talked about Division Mountain coal. I do not know how many times it showed up in press releases from this government and in its budgets, but when we asked them tough questions about whether or not it is economically or environmentally feasible, they have not got near base. It is all pipe dreams and false hopes for the people of the Yukon.
When they get to a point when they can legitimately talk about what level of jobs are going to be created, then let us really start talking about it and putting it in throne speeches. Let us not raise false hopes for Yukoners. Let us do the work now, but let us not boast about it until we have the numbers crunched so that we know if we are actually going to have projects that are economically and environmentally feasible.
When I hear the Government Leader talk about development and I hear him say that it is good for the caribou to have mining around them, and that it is good to have pipelines around them, it makes me wonder what the real position is on ANWR. It is clear to me that that was what all that rubbish about protecting the integrity of the caribou was all about. They do not want to protect the caribou. They want ANWR development, no doubt about it. If they wanted to protect the caribou, they would say that. They would not come with weasel words such as, "integrity of the caribou". We are prepared to say that we are going to protect the caribou, not the integrity of the caribou, but protect the caribou because we think that is important. Our position is clear.
In the area of forestry, we advocated a made-in-the-Yukon forestry policy. Under the economic development agreement, when we were in power, we developed silviculture arrangements to provide for reforestation. We did, I think, a very good job in that area. It is unfortunate now that what we have is a government that has no ability.
I think we did more than a good job; we did an excellent job in the area of silviculture. Right now, this government has done nothing to replace the economic development agreement commitments to silviculture. What we have is a government again committed to damaging the environment and not forwarding the agenda of the environment.
Talk, talk, talk all you want about the mining industry, but one must make the tough decisions and this government has not done that.
I will be supporting the amendment as it has been introduced.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am pleased to rise today to speak to the amendment to the motion. I am extremely pleased to speak right after the Member for Faro.
There are three things I am very thankful for today. One is that I live in the Yukon; another is that we have a 20-minute limit on debates; and the third is that the Member for Faro is not a Yukon historian.
If the Member for Faro was writing history, and if there were such a charge under the Criminal Code, he would be charged with distortion. Today, he has distorted almost every single fact.
It is rather embarrassing to listen to the Member, who has said these things so many times that he is now starting to believe the distortions. That is rather unfortunate. He seems to have adopted his leader's overriding philosophy that the end justifies the means.
It is interesting how the New Democratic Party talks about the economy. In 1992-93, just after the election, we came into the House and the economy was in dire straits. The financial books of the Yukon were in dire straits, according to the Auditor General, whom the Member for Faro only wants to believe at his convenience. The Auditor General clearly pointed out that we were in fairly severe financial difficulties.
At that time, along with other Members of his party, the Member for Faro spoke strongly about the Yukon government being the naysayer. He talked about the negative things that were happening and how bad things were, and how we should be more positive and work to improve the economy.
That has happened. Over the past three years, we have worked to improve the economy of the territory. I would be the first to say that the improvement is not completely as a result of the work we have done. There are some things businesses have done, and some initiatives in the private sector that have led to improvements in the economy.
I think the initiatives that have been undertaken by this government with respect to mining and tourism have made a difference. That is what this motion says; that these things have made a difference, and we can be thankful for the things we have in the territory.
I read the (a), (b), (c) and (d) that the Leader of the Official Opposition wants to remove with this amendment. I looked at the motion in the first place, and thought that it was not a negative motion. This will be one of those days when we could come in here and be able to talk about the positive things that are happening in our economy. We should be able to be positive about the ongoing initiatives. It could be a day when we do not necessarily have to give one or the other all of the credit for what they are doing. It could talk about the truths and the things that are really happening. I know that is difficult for the Member for Faro to talk about. We have heard his speech today, which completely, absolutely and totally distorted the truth.
The first one is that the Government of the Yukon - unlike other jurisdictions in Canada - does not have to contend with an accumulated deficit. There is nothing wrong with that. That is a truth. There is no other jurisdiction that I am aware of in this country at the present time that is in the same position we are in - namely, in having no debt. Some are now showing a surplus this year and are paying off their debt; but there is none with no debt. I ask the Members of the Opposition why they could not support that statement. Is it not true? It is true.
The second one is that education, justice and health and social services programs are being maintained and approved, while in other jurisdictions they are being cut, reduced and eliminated. They are. We know that. We hear every day about the programs that are being reduced. If one looks at our budget under the departments of Health and Social Services and Justice, one will see that those programs have been increased, enhanced and maintained. There has been some reallocation of some resources, and some efficiencies have been achieved by focusing money from one program that may not have been working well and putting it into another program, but the money has not been lost in delivering this service.
The Opposition raised the question of this government pulling the programming from the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. That is the Member for Faro again completely distorting the truth. There was never any money pulled from the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. The amount of funding that they receive today is the same that they received under the New Democratic Party government; in fact, they are enhanced with the efforts that we are making to help the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. We are working very closely with them on many projects.
He talked about this government discussing Division Coal and creating false hopes. Again, the Member for Faro wants to ignore the facts. He wants to recreate history as he sees it himself. The facts are that 600 more private jobs have been created in one year since February 1995, and that is due to the expansion of the economy, and in particular the mining and tourism sectors. It is not growth as it was under the previous administration of government, it is growth of the private sector. It is jobs in the private sector. That is true as well, so what does the Opposition have trouble with there?
In fact, when I listen to the Leader of the Official Opposition and when I listen to the Member for Faro, they did not really attack the motion. They attacked the other policies and principles we have heard about hundreds of times in this House and with which they disagree. They did not really say anything about the motion, other than to bring in an amendment to the motion, which is a rather silly amendment and does not make much sense because there is going to be an election in eight months anyway.
When I see amendments like this coming forward from the Leader of the Official Opposition, I start to hear alarm bells. I start to get concerned about the overall health of the Leader of the Official Opposition, and I am wondering if some of that bad air that was pumped into the Liberal side a while ago, creating problems, is perhaps now drifting into the office of the Leader of the Opposition.
Not a lot of thought has gone into this amendment, and it does not really make a lot of sense. Again, I point out that the Leader of the Opposition did not even comment, in a broader way, on the four parts of the motion, other than to say that this is a vote of confidence against the government and we cannot support confidence in the government. Well, this motion does not say that. It says that the quality of life in the Yukon is second to none in Canada.
Do the Members opposite disagree with that? Do they not like living here? Do they not think it is second to none? I do. I would vote for a motion like this any day of the week, because I think Yukon life is second to none. We are really fortunate that we do not have a debt. We are really fortunate that we have not had to cut all kinds of programs and lay off a whole bunch of government workers. We are extremely fortunate that we have seen growth in our private sector.
The Leader of the Opposition cannot have it both ways. In 1993 and early 1994 the NDP Opposition was blaming us for the economy - the poor economy and the economy that was not rebounding.
The indicators for 1996 is that the economy is going to improve. Guess what? It is this government's fault that the economy declined, but it is not this government's fault the economy improved. You cannot have it both ways; you have to make a decision; either it is our fault that the economy was poor in 1992 and 1993, and consequently, it is now this government's fault it has improved. You cannot twist it around and have it both ways. That is just playing politics with the issue and you have to give credit where credit is due.
As I said earlier, I do not think we can take the full credit for all of this. A lot of good businesswomen and men have come to this territory in the past two or three years and have seen opportunities and have built on those opportunities. They are helping to build a stronger economy and they have received support from this government to do so.
I found it interesting that the Leader of the Official Opposition said that increased mining exploration had nothing to do with the efforts that this government has made at the Cordilleran Roundup and the meetings that we have had with various mining companies. Really, what was responsible for growth in the mining sector was mineral prices. Well, I could partly agree with that. Metal prices make a big difference as to whether or not mines will be in operation, but you cannot make a holus bolus statement like that.
The Member and I both know that the increase in mining is not all as a result of what we have done; it is partly as a result of metal prices and as a result of this government seeking investment in the territory. Maybe the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Members on the side opposite should go to the Cordilleran Roundup - I think the Leader of the Liberal Party did - I know the Members of the NDP feel that this is a cocktail party that they do not want to be seen attending; they would rather have lunch with inmates in restaurants. That is their idea of getting together for lunch. Another idea of theirs is to take a trip to Sweden, which did not pay any benefits to anybody at all other than the 25 people who went, and spend $40,000 to $60,000. The NDP would rather do those types of things.
The fact of the matter is that if they did have any communication with the mining investors in this country, and if the NDP did take the time to read mining periodicals and mining journals that are written in this country, they would see that it is not the Yukon government, but the mining companies themselves who are saying that this is a good climate to invest in, and companies feel they are welcome to the Yukon.
I think that that is the truth. I know it is not what they want to hear on the other side, but it is the truth. The increased mining is partly because of metal prices, but it is also because of hard work by the Yukon government to attract investment. I do not apologize for that for a moment.
I get concerned when I hear the comments made from the Members of the side opposite, which is now trying to schmooze with the mining industry because they feel an election is coming up. They might have to work with some of these people down the road, so all of a sudden they are getting nervous. They are starting to think that they had better not scare those people off, because they might need their support. They might need to be involved with them.
There are a lot of people in the Yukon right now who have jobs related to mining. They are worried that if they sound anti-mining, they will lose the miners' votes. If they scare the mining community out of the territory with their rhetoric, they will scare high-paying, quality Yukon jobs out of the territory, as well. They had better think about that. They are obviously thinking about it, because, as we have seen in the last six months, there has been a total flip-flop from how they were talking before to where they are now. The Member for Faro now is talking about how he is a miner in a mining community and how it is the heart and soul of his community and how he loves mining companies - but he is also an environmentalist.
We have not violated any environmental laws. We are going to go through the processes with the mines that are coming into the territory. It is exactly the same process that the New Democrats, the Liberals or an Independent government would have to go through. They are the rules; everyone has to meet the same standards and abide by the same rules. To pretend it is any other way would be to not tell the truth.
The Member for Faro talked about the NDP settling the four final land claims agreements. I was here before the settlement, and I was here after the settlement, and I am going to get a copy of that agreement. I am going to check the signatures on the agreement, but I have a feeling that Mr. Penikett's signature is not on the bottom of it; that it is Mr. Ostashek's signature on the bottom of those agreements.
Mr. Ostashek's signature is on the bottom of those agreements because the Yukon Party government sat down with the First Nations shortly after it came into power and made an absolute commitment to settle the land claims agreements. Within months of that election, the agreements were finalized. The signing ceremony took place on the grounds of the Council for Yukon Indians in Riverdale on a May or June afternoon, I believe.
I do not deny that the New Democrats were there, but they were standing in the crowd. As to taking the credit for finalizing the whole thing - they did a great deal of work. On those agreements, they probably did the bulk of the work, but it was not all complete. There was still some work to do.
I think both governments - the NDP government and the Yukon Party government - worked hard to finalize the agreements for the first four First Nations. To say that we had nothing to do with it, and have done nothing since, is a game - a total and absolute distortion of the facts.
Speaker: Distortion is an unparliamentary word. The Member should try to refrain from using it.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will try to refrain from using the word "distortion".
Speaker: Order. The Member had better refrain from using it.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am trying to think of another word for distortion.
Speaker: Also, the Member has three minutes to conclude his remarks.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Member for Faro also made the comment that we pulled the plug on Curragh, and that we are the reason Curragh went down. Well, I am really pleased that we pulled the plug on Clifford Frame, because we would have been another $30 million in the hole.
As the Member for Faro said, given the money, Clifford would have been living down in his California townhouse, soaking up the sun at the expense of the Curragh workers and at the expense of Yukon taxpayers. We made the right decision with Curragh, and I think most people in the Yukon, except the New Democratic Party, agree with that.
Mines should be able to exist on their own, for the most part. It is the role of government to provide infrastructure. It is not the role of government to operate the mine, as Clifford Frame wanted us to do, and as Trevor Harding, the Member for Faro, wanted us to do.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The Member for Mount Lorne, on a point of order.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Members seem to be making rather free with the use of other Members' names, and I would like to draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker, that that is not allowed in our Standing Orders.
Speaker: I agree. The Member caught that before I did. The Minister must refer to the other Members by their riding.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Like the Member for Faro, I was twisting the facts around a little bit by my mentioning that.
I have a lot more to say on the main motion, and I will be dealing with it when we get to it.
The Member for Faro also talked about forestry. I know you are concerned about the forestry industry, Mr. Speaker. He also talked about his previous government's endeavours into silviculture. I want to remind the Member that silviculture is not just planting one little box of trees, as the NDP did when they were in power, in the Watson Lake area. I would love to take every Member of that caucus with me one day, as I have travelled in that area and gone to some of the timber concessions, to show them the silviculture that did not take place. There are hundreds of thousands of trees that were cut down and went to waste. I would love to take the party of the environment, so to speak, which did not give a hoot in those days about -
Speaker: The time is up.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will add more to this when I get into the main debate on the motion, but I will not support the amendments as put forward by the Member.
Chair: Are you prepared for the question on the amendment?
Some Hon. Members: Agree.
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
Speaker: Division has been called on the question on the amendment.
The question before the House is
THAT Motion No. 100 be amended by deleting paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d), and substituting the following:
"(a) people of the Yukon have the opportunity to evaluate the performance of the current government within the next eight months."
Mr. Clerk, would you kindly poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Disagree.
Mr. Millar: Disagree.
Mr. Schafer: Disagree.
Mr. McDonald: Agree.
Ms. Moorcroft: Agree.
Ms. Commodore: Agree.
Mr. Joe: Agree.
Mr. Sloan: Agree.
Mr. Harding: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Firth: Agree.
Chair: The results are eight yea, eight nay.
Speaker's casting vote
Speaker: Our Standing Order 4(2) states that in the case of an equality of votes the Speaker shall give a casting vote. In general, the principle applied to amendments is that decisions should not be taken except by a majority and that, where there is no majority, the main motion should be left in its existing form. I therefore vote against the amendment and declare the amendment defeated.
Amendment to Motion No. 100 negatived
Speaker: Is there any further debate on the main motion?
Mr. Sloan: This whole process is fraught with drama. I realize I am a relative newcomer to the Legislature, but I am having a bit of difficulty with the Member for Klondike's motion. As I read it, it looks as if he is seeking a confidence motion in his own government. Perhaps I am not understanding the whole idea of this, but I would say that the government had an excellent opportunity, if it was seeking a vote of confidence, and that would have been to call a general election, rather than the by-elections as it did. However, it was a warm up.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Mr. Sloan: You must have been speaking with different people in my riding.
I would like to speak to the motion put forth by the Member for Klondike, because when I read through the motion I was struck by its quality. It has that Arcadian, libertarian sort of sense to it. It had a Disneyesque quality that evoked images of birds singing and there were little clouds and rainbows. It was something like the Member for Klondike meets the Care Bears. When I read this, I saw this shining city in the hill, the new Jerusalem.
Point of order
Speaker: Point of order.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am not sure whether "Disneyesque" is an inflammatory comment or not.
Speaker: I do believe that the Member should not be referring to anyone as Care Bears.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Let us try to keep away from the slang.
Mr. Sloan: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I have inadvertently offended some form of wildlife with which the Minister of Renewable Resources probably is not yet familiar.
I certainly do not take exception with the Minister of Tourism when he talks about quality of life in the Yukon. None of us questions the quality of life. I think most of us are here because we value the quality of life.
As I read the Member for Klondike's motion, he appears to be giving the government credit for this Arcadian paradise, this demi-world, and I really cannot go along with that. In particular, as I read through the motion, I was startled, to say the least, at the part of his motion in which he talks about the public service and it being so overjoyed with the fact that the people in it have their jobs.
I had the distinction of being part of the teacher negotiation team during the most recent curtailment of collective bargaining. I can tell you that at that point that we on the teachers' side were prepared to work with the government and were prepared to realize that the government did have some financial concerns that they wanted to keep in mind, but we found, to be quite blunt, very little cooperation from this government. For the Member for Klondike to suddenly come out and say you should be glad you have your jobs is surprising. This is the same government that, on the same day that it announced its two-percent curtailment, also announced its $20 million of found money. I am a little puzzled by all of this.
The Member for Klondike - perhaps it is a function from living in the land of gold - does appear to have a golden vision about how things are in the Yukon. The Member points to the idea of 600 jobs. Albeit, there may be 600 more jobs, but I would point out that in the most recent statistical review, we are still running at 9.9 percent unemployment. We are up 1.1 percent from the same time last year. We have had an 8.2 percent increase in unemployment claims. There are a few oversights made by the Member for Klondike. Of course, Mark Twain said, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics. Perhaps I will choose the latter.
In looking at some of this and talking about the great and wonderful things that the government has done here, I am reminded of the fact that this government, while it makes great hullabaloo about not having an accumulated deficit, has had the four largest budgets in Yukon history. We now have a forecast to spend half a billion dollars in this fiscal year, and the projected $25 million deficit will practically drain our savings account. Notwithstanding that, we also happen to have the largest tax increases in Yukon history with a personal income tax rate of 11 percent, a corporate income tax hike rate of 50 percent, a small business tax increase of 20 percent, a diesel tax increase of 30 percent, a gasoline tax hike of 47 percent and an aviation fuel increase of 57 percent.
This is the same government, I believe, in which the Government Leader mentioned the obscenity of tax increases. I guess that obscenity is in the eye of the beholder.
I appreciated the somewhat libertarian view that the Member for Klondike had. The view of government is that it should get out of everyone's way and let everyone take a run at whatever they want to do in terms of development. The Minister of Tourism has tried to portray us as being opposed to mining. I do not believe that the New Democratic Party has ever been opposed to mining at any point during my time up here.
Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you will recall that some of the mining initiatives down in the area of Watson Lake were undertaken with the New Democratic government. As a matter of fact, when the Member mentioned that there were no economic incentives for First Nations concerning mining, he is also conveniently forgetting some of the initiatives in that area with the Kaska First Nation.
Metal prices are certainly a factor in the generation of new mines. I think that perhaps the Members opposite are possibly taking credit for things that go on more in London and New York than here. We have heard talk about new copper mines in recent days, and about other mines in this area. We have also noticed that some mines - I believe most recently it was Cominco - are very quick to premise their remarks on mining prices. They did not say, "Well, thanks to this government, we are going to build. To heck with what the mining prices say." They were very careful to premise their remarks on mining prices.
As far as some of the other comments that have been made regarding this government's great progress with the First Nations, I have had the opportunity in the last couple of months - particularly in January and early February - to meet with people throughout Whitehorse West. One of the very serious recurring themes I have found is the idea that many people have been disturbed by what they see as an immobilization of development in this territory. It is largely based on the perceived inability of this government to work cooperatively with First Nations.
People refer to such things as the gridlock on land claims and, like it or not, they refer to the entire question of Taga Ku, which is seen as having adversely affected the completion of land claims and, ultimately, the social and economic development of this territory.
Try as the Yukon Party might to say that they were the ones who signed this, the fact is that the general public and, from what I gather, the First Nation community - those segments of our society - do not see this government as being particularly productive in the settlement of First Nation land claims.
I made reference to this motion by the Member for Klondike - this golden jewel of a motion, this paragon of virtue - and the section having to do with the Government of Yukon employees not having to contend with massive public sector lay-offs. I do not believe we were ever really in danger of those massive public sector lay-offs - we had $20 million kicking around.
Quite frankly, I believe - as do many of my colleagues in the education profession and many of our public sector workers - that the whole fear aspect was simply that: the idea was to create the image that we were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and that the only way to avert it was by sacrificing the public sector. In reality, that was not the case. In reality, an illusion had been created to justify an action we believe had been the decision of that government and had been taken much earlier. When we end up with this idea now of putting out this notion that civil servants and teachers in the territory were on the verge of these massive layoffs, I do not think it is a very credible argument.
I am surprised that the Member for Klondike would actually bring this forward, since he apparently does not have a clear understanding of the situation.
The fact is that people in the civil service, and particularly in the education community, which I happen to know somewhat better, do feel betrayed. As I went around in the area of Whitehorse West, that was clearly a perception. The two-percent cut was seen as a stalking horse, a false economy. People felt that, coupled with the $20 million windfall, there was a clear understanding that this was simply a bargaining tool. Moreover, I think there have been a few other things here that really impact on the civil service even more. We have cases of private investigators being hired to spy on public servants in Renewable Resources. We recently had reminders from various departments about information that they pass on to the Opposition. We know this has happened. We have also had the most recent issue of the RCMP investigation. All of these do not engender a positive working relationship with the civil service and the education community.
Notwithstanding this, the one thing that we have to recognize is that, in our educational and civil service sector, we have people who have continued to deliver a high quality, professional service. We have not gotten into situations where people were taking retaliatory actions or slowdown actions, working to rule or many of those possible situations that the civil service and the education community in the territory probably would have been justified in taking, especially with respect to the kind of betrayal that they felt.
At this point, I would like to propose an amendment to the motion. I will take a moment to read it.
Mr. Sloan: I move
THAT Motion No. 100 be amended by deleting paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) and substituting the following: "(a) people of Yukon continue to enjoy professional public service and educational services despite the demoralizing effects of wage rollbacks imposed by the Yukon government."
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Member for Whitehorse West
THAT Motion No. 100 be amended by deleting paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) and substituting the following: "(a) people of Yukon continue to enjoy professional public service and educational services despite the demoralizing effects of wage rollbacks imposed by the Yukon government."
Mr. Sloan: I think the amendment is self-explanatory, but I will give Members a bit of a history on it. I think we should acknowledge the fact that we have continued to enjoy a level of public service that has been second to none. As the Hon. Minister of Tourism says, we live in a very unique place and have much to be thankful for. One of the things we have to be thankful for is a public service that is professional and has continued on without the kinds of acrimony that we could have had, and perhaps might have had, in other jurisdictions, had another government violated the collective agreement in the same way this government did.
What we have had is a group of people who have continued to soldier on and who have continued to carry on a level of professional service. We have not had a massive outbreak of people quibbling over points that they could grieve. We have not had a plethora of grievances launched in a manner designed to injure the government or in a vexatious manner. What we have had is a group of people who have continued to go on, despite the fact that they felt betrayed in the entire collective bargaining process, and that they felt that they had entered into collective bargaining in a -
Speaker: Order. The Member has three minutes to conclude his statement.
Mr. Sloan: I will be brief. We have a group of people who continue to execute their duties, be they in any government department or be they in the educational community, despite the fact that they felt clearly betrayed. If the Members opposite doubt that for a minute, or if there is any doubt in their minds - and I am not sure which of these mythical civil servants come running to them filled with praise that we hear so often - they would be well advised to take a look at some of the results of Whitehorse West, and they would be very well advised to talk, as I did, with many of those people in Whitehorse West who felt offended. They did not feel offended by the two percent. That was not the issue. The issue was how it was done. The public service and the educational community were willing to assist. They were willing to take creative steps and, in the end, it was levied on them without any choice.
That is why they feel betrayed, yet throughout this they have continued to deliver a level of service that I think makes this one of the finest communities in the world in which to live. I would like to commend those people, and that is why I have proposed this friendly amendment.
Mr. Cable: Speaking to the amendment, of course, the first part of the motion is easily supportable. On a subjective and personal basis, this is a great place to live and many of us do enjoy the quality of life that is second to none in Canada. There are, of course, people who need help and assistance, as there are anywhere. I certainly think, on a personal basis, that this is a great place to live.
The question is this: is the remaining part of this motion supportable? The suggestion from the remaining part of the motion - (a), (b), (c) and (d), or better, the innuendo - is that the government, this Yukon Party government, is responsible for this nirvana here, and several factors are cited. I must say, in reading through the second part of the motion, that at best it is sort of a silly non sequitur.
We have seen the federal government provide transfers exceeding $10,000 per person. We understand, I am sure, the great spinoffs of the still large federal bureaucracy here in Whitehorse with its programs and payrolls.
We have heard the claim by this government that 80 cents of every dollar of revenue is raised elsewhere, so the claim for performing these economic miracles therefore has to be made with a little tongue in cheek. I think we all know - and I think the Government Leader just a little earlier in the debate acknowledged it - there is a lot of largesse flowing from the government in Ottawa.
The claim for maintenance of education and justice in the Health and Social Service programs is made in light of the fact that there are still very large discretionary capital dollars floating around. I think the argument - if in fact one is trying to attach the maintenance of those programs to the Yukon Party's efforts - is a little facile, to say the least.
In the last element, (d), we have a perhaps not-so-subtle link between the restraint legislation and the massive lay-offs. The numbers that are on record in this House for the savings I think have varied between $10 million and $13 million, if I am not mistaken.
If I recollect what the Government Leader has said - let us use some round numbers - that is $3 million or $4 million per year. That is less than one percent of the budget, or maybe two percent of the payroll costs, if you like fiddling with numbers. We are saying that two percent of the payroll costs are avoiding massive layoffs. I think we have to say, "give me a break" on that one.
As I was sitting here - I do not intend to speak for very long - I was looking around the House at the overhead - our salaries - the 17 Members, the salary of the Clerk, the Assistant Clerk, the Sergeant-At-Arms and the people behind the wall recording all of these gems and nuggets. It must be around $2,000 per hour, exclusive of the lights and the ventilation system that seems to be working so well. I have to say that in supporting this amendment that this motion, as originally proposed, is perhaps the best argument for continuing discussions among the leaders about rule changes for Wednesday afternoons.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I was kind of surprised that the original, inocuous motion would be a matter of such intense partisan debate and rhetoric. I was firmly convinced that the life that Yukoners lead and the situation in which we find ourselves are indeed extremely good. As my grandmother used to say, "We should actually count our blessings."
When I listen to the debates and learn just how divided the House is on such issues that are so benign and simple, on the face of it, I was a bit taken aback; I should not have been. I know that there is an anti-politician, anti-establishment and anti-government mood across Canada. I know that Canadians, by and large - not just in the Yukon - do not count their blessings; hence, we have a country about to split up because of perceived slights between jurisdictions and peoples. We have angry protests, violence and all of these things occurring.
I sometimes wonder if it is simply the end in which one finds oneself when one lives in a truly lucky region of Canada and a truly lucky part of the world. People get bored, spoiled and so complacent, I guess, that they have little better to do than to be harshly critical of things.
The interesting thing about the approach being taken by the Opposition on the original motion and in its amendment to it, is that the position is one of attacking the government for taking some fairly drastic steps to stem the bleeding in the budget. They are then quick to reply that there was a $20-million surplus, shortly after the infamous two-percent cut came into being, showing that we really did not know what they were doing and that these kinds of measures need not be taken, and therefore the steps taken by the government were simply part of a right-wing plot against all of the beliefs that the Members of the Official Opposition hold so dear.
Perhaps the problem is that we have turned the argument on its head, or at least the Opposition has. Perhaps we should start from the proposition that government spending was totally out of control when the new government took office and was sworn in on November 2. This was the message conveyed by senior officials in the government. This is a fact.
The first things in the first few months that the government did, as it was trying to get a handle on where things stood, was to take all kinds of austerity measures. For instance, travel had to be approved by Management Board. We clamped down on every area that we could think of to try to stem the bleeding. In that period of time, we brought in experts and a firm that does audits for the Government of Canada and Crown corporations.
In a quick and dirty review, these experts estimated the government would be in debt at least $57 million by the fiscal year-end. At that time, the Members opposite were boldly and defiantly saying that this government was a terrible money manager because there was a $20-million surplus the following year.
If one goes back and reads the debates in the House about the auditor's report - Canada Audit, I think it was called - there was complete outrage that this government was accepting the position that spending was out of control and the deficit would be $57 million.
Despite the severe curtailment of discretionary spending, clamping down on travel and the like, and taking other steps to try to mitigate circumstances, the end result was that the Auditor General of Canada said that the actual deficit for the year was $64 million - $7 million more than the quick-and-dirty audit had shown. The Leader of the Official Opposition absolutely denied this and was outraged about it. That was his position.
Those are facts. The fact is that one outfit said $57 million in the hole. Some severe curtailment action was taken by the new government while it tried to find out what was happening to the books. There was total denial of the problem by the Official Opposition, and then the Auditor General said there was trouble.
At the same time, the Yukon was plunging into a recession and the impact was grossly overstated by the gloom-and-doom people on the other side who wanted a $29 million bail-out for Curragh and other things.
Getting back to the proposition being stood on its head, and that this government took measures, which, as it turns out, probably were not necessary because - the Members keep coming back to the $29-million surplus as the crowning reason for their commitment to that view.
Turn it around: let us say that the government had stayed the same and the election had supported the previous government, so they remained in office.
First, they were totally in denial that the spending was out of control. The previous government adamantly refused to accept that, and this is recorded in Hansard. What would have happened? The previous government wanted to spend the $29 million and give it to Curragh - Clifford Frame's company.
What would have happened? First of all, they would not have taken any of the measures the present government undertook. There would have been a $64-million deficit in four months, with government spending careening out of control.
We have an Opposition that has attacked every cost-saving measure that this government has put into effect. The Opposition has attacked us for revamping health programs and for making the social assistance program more effective and economical. They have attacked us for the two-percent cutback. They attacked us for any number of spending drawbacks we did, and for which we took the heat.
What happened under the NDP government? Is that not the issue? My humble view is that it did not know it was totally out of control and totally denied it - as was said in the House and which speeches are readily available - and it would not have known, apparently, until the Auditor General's report came in - usually in the summer. It was unwilling to make any of the cuts and wanted to bail out Curragh, and so on. Where would the Yukon have been? I submit this argument: that we would have been in a position then, two or three years ago, very similar to the one that the Northwest Territories is in right now.
It would have been no time before we would have been up to an accumulated deficit of close to $100 million. I think that is an argument that has credibility, simply because of the denial of the previous Minister of Finance and Leader of the Official Opposition, and the previous Government Leader, that there was a crisis.
Our best advice from within was that there was, and it was borne out. In fact, the end result was worse than our quick-and-dirty audit laid out.
Let us think about that. Let us turn it on its head and say this: we would have been in a lot deeper morass had the government not -
Speaker: Order. The time being 5:30 p.m., the House will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Debate on Motion No. 100 and the second proposed amendment accordingly adjourned
Speaker: I will call the House back to order.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Bill No. 9 - Third Appropriation Act, 1995-96 - continued
Department of Government Services - continued
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Sloan: I have a few questions for the Minister of Government Services. In the area of integrated facilities management, are the teams that have been formed assigned to specific areas? For example, is one team assigned to Education and another team assigned to Renewable Resources? How does the structure work?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is correct. They are divided up by client, and the clients are the departments.
Mr. Sloan: I guess my concern with respect to that would be having a team that would be familiar with certain facilities on a regular basis and would know the idiosyncrasies.
Along the same lines, there is currently a unit devoted to planning, providing architectural assistance, painting, and so on, within Government Services. Is that unit designed to continue?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes.
Mr. Sloan: I was wondering what kind of assistance will be provided to help the private sector in meeting government specifications. My reference to that is that recently a course was offered for people interested in painting contracts with the government. From what I understand - I had a constituent who was quite keen to be involved in that - that was the first course of its kind offered in quite a few years, and the actual demand outstripped the number of seats. Are those kinds of courses going to be offered again?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes. In fact, there was a lot more uptake than we expected. We are doing another one on air quality, and apparently there is more interest than we expected. Demand is quite high.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on Government Services?
Are we prepared to go line-by-line?
Mrs. Firth: The Minister was going to bring some information back to us. I would like to know if he has brought it for us.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Almost. I received a letter from my deputy to the Member for Riverdale South with copies to Mr. McDonald and Mr. Cable. I have not read it, but it deals with Xerox Business Services, the contract, along with the chronology, the dollar figures and the total commitments. It also has print volumes, in house and private sector. Attached is the management services agreement with Xerox Business Services and, I believe, the amending agreement.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member for Riverdale South says, "It will be okay." I would like to read it first. I know that I have been accused of being fussy and asking for detailed information, and things like that, and I would like to read it first. Then I will provide it to the Member. The Member should have it right after the break or, if we are finished sooner than that, I will read it, sign it and get a copy to the Member right away.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on Government Services? Are we prepared to go to line-by-line debate?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member for Riverdale South says, "What if I have questions about that?" She can ask them in Question Period, or she can write to me, or we can discuss it in general debate on the mains. I do not know how long that will be, but it will give her time to communicate with me, and if there is more that I can provide, I will do it, and we can deal with those issues again while debating the Government Services mains.
In a sense, it is now a timed event. If we do not use the time now, we will likely have the time available in general debate to deal with any specific questions that any of the Members may have with respect to the information that I can bring forward.
Chair: We will deal with line-by-line items at this time.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Information Services
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I can explain this again in some detail. This is a reduction because of vacancies in personnel. The position of manager of records was vacant. The incumbent is on disability leave. A senior systems consultant position was vacant. There was one vacancy for a systems programmer position, a 50-percent vacancy of another systems programmer, data base administrator, and a 75-percent projected vacancy for a micro-graphics technician, account manager, network specialist, technical resource clerk and a planner. There were some increases due to contracts that filled partial vacancies. The net result is $286,000 in lapsed funds and, as I said, the information services branch is reorganizing and we will not fill the positions until we know exactly where we are going with that branch.
Information Services in the amount of an underexpenditure of $286,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
Hon. Mr. Nordling: With respect to personnel, there is a decrease and an increase in costs that result in the required $46,000. The $30,000 was an increase in costs for Hansard due to the length of the legislative session last year.
Supply Services in the amount of $46,000 agreed to
On Property Management
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We have an increase from part time to full time in three operation assistant positions for $54,000; there is a building maintenance worker in Dawson City, $44,000; a custodial worker transfered from Workers' Compensation to Government Services, $32,000; there is an increase resulting from new service agreements with Health Canada and the corporations.
Mrs. Firth: Are these all new person years in the transfer of part-time jobs to full-time jobs? Is this department growing because it is now going to be a special operating agency?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, it is not growing because it is an special operating agency. It is growing partly because we have signed new service agreements with Health Canada. This is part of the federal government initiative and one that we participate in with respect to reducing overlap and duplication.
The building maintenance worker position in Dawson was added, and the custodial worker, transferred from Workers' Compensation to Government Services, was maintaining or providing custodial services at that building. Most of this money is offset by payments from the corporations and from Health Canada.
Property Management in the amount of $162,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Government Services in the amount of an underexpenditure of $78,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Corporate Services
On Office Facilities and Equipment
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My note says that there is an increase of $25,000, consisting of the following revotes: programming of asset control computer equipment purchased in 1994-95 that could not be completed prior to year-end resulting in a revote of $10,000; and the replacement of two liquid toner copiers, estimated at $15,000.
Office Facilities and Equipment in the amount of 25,000 agreed to
On Information Services
On Information Resources Infrastructure
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am just looking for it. I am not sure how we realized that there would be an $8,000 reduction on a $3.4 million line item. My information is that there was a partial vacancy of a project manager.
Information Resources Infrastructure in the amount of an underexpenditure of $8,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
On Transportation, Motor Vehicles
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is for two revotes. The amount of $40,000 is due to the non-delivery of two vans prior to the 1994-95 year-end. The amount of $37,000 is due to a delay in the installation of a new fuel tank for the fleet vehicle agency.
Transportation, Motor Vehicles in the amount of $77,000 agreed to
On Property Management
On Capital Maintenance and Upgrade
Hon. Mr. Nordling: This is the big request that I spoke about before. Despite the fact that we are asking for it to be approved in the supplementary, we will not need $700,000 of it until next year because we have not tendered for the upgrade of the ventilation system in this building.
Capital Maintenance and Upgrade in the amount of $804,000 agreed to
On Energy Conservation Retrofits
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The full $22,000 is also a revote for energy efficient lighting in the main administration building.
Mr. Cable: Does the department have a plan for retrofitting the various buildings, or is it done on an ad hoc basis?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I thought I heard the Member for Riverdale South say that it is ad hoc. Well, it is not. If the Member is interested, I can provide more information on that for him because we do have it. I do not have it with me tonight. The Member is nodding his head yes, so I will provide it for the Member for Riverside. I also saw the Member for Whitehorse West getting up. If he would like that information, I will provide it to him, too, as well as the Member for Riverdale South.
Mr. Sloan: On the same topic, I was wondering if any figures are back from any other conservation projects with respect to lighting. I am thinking particularly of some of the energy conservation projects that have been done in schools. Has there been any feedback with respect to savings or any other information that the Minister can provide to us?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: To answer the Member's question, it is not Government Services that is championing that program, it is Economic Development. We work with them on that and I do have information on it that I will provide to the Member.
Mr. Cable: In that information, could I get some advice as to whether or not there is a payback on these types of retrofits, such as insulation and lights? Is there some rationale for doing them in some sort of sequence? Is this the sort of document that we are going to be looking at for the mains?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will provide the information that I can get from Government Services and Economic Development, but as the Member knows, sometimes it is quite difficult to decide those things.
I know Whitehorse Elementary School had a retrofit and new windows. What happened was the building became so efficient and airtight that we had to purchase and install a new air-exchange system. It is very hard to determine payback in some instances, but I will get what information I can for the Member.
Energy Conservation Retrofits in the amount of $22,000 agreed to
On Common Facilities
Hon. Mr. Nordling: What we were asking for is $160,000, part of which is allotted for an addition to the Supply Services building in the amount of $130,000; and in renovations to the Watson Lake administration building of $30,000. I will tell the Members that this was proposed when the supplementary estimates were prepared. An amount of $52,000 has been spent to date on the Supply Service addition. There are no plans to do further work at this time.
Common Facilities in the amount of $160,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Government Services in the amount of $1,080,000 agreed to
Department of Government Services agreed to
Department of Health and Social Services
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am pleased to introduce the first supplementary for 1995-96 for the Department of Health and Social Services. In this supplementary, I am requesting an overall reduction in operation and maintenance expenditures of $230,000 and an increase in capital expenditures of $5,293,000. Recoveries associated with the operation and maintenance budget will increase by $1,367,000, and for the capital budget our recoveries will increase by $3,758,000.
With respect to the operation and maintenance budget, we are seeking increases related to family and children's services of $596,000 and health services of $264,000. These increases are offset by reductions in social services of $714,000 and in regional services of $376,000.
The recoveries on the operation and maintenance side are being increased in the areas of policy, planning and administration in the amount of $367,000; health services is $1 million.
The increases in the department are related to the following items: increase in child care subsidies and operating grants, driven in part by social assistance back-to-work changes, $311,000; an increase in special needs placement contracts for youth sex offenders, $340,000; an increase to the Thomson Centre, due to the opening of seven additional beds, $194,000.
The major decreases in the department are related primarily to social assistance. This includes a $900,000 decrease that is split between Whitehorse, at $500,000, and $400,000 for regional services.
On the capital side, the item relates to the hospital construction project, where we are requesting an increase of $3,758,000. This is an increase projected for the current year, and represents a timing adjustment only. The overall hospital construction project remains on budget and on schedule.
All the capital requests are revotes, which I will speak to in the line-by-line debate.
Ms. Commodore: I do have a couple of questions that I would like to ask the Minister about the supplementary budget. I will give him notice that there will be information that I will require for the main estimates about some contracts that were listed in the booklet that was given to us.
I had understood that there had been a change in the social assistance regulations last fall in October. There was a section in the regulations to do with transients who were coming to the Yukon to apply for social services. I do not know whether or not the information that I received was correct, but with regard to the section of the act that defines what a transient is and what that person will be allowed to apply for, I was told that it had been revoked and had been established in the form of a policy. I do not know how something like that could have been done without some kind of consultation. If the Minister knows about it, could he explain it to me?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: A change to the regulations for transients was made to satisfy the requirements of Canada Assistance Plan funding.
Ms. Commodore: Can I have more information on it? I would like to know what section of the act was revoked and what was amended in the policy. I only have so much information in front of me, and it was something that was brought to my attention only yesterday.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is in the regulations, not the act. It was in the regulations and then made into policy. I will get that information for the Member. She is quite correct that we did it in the fall. It was done to satisfy the requirements under the Canada Assistance Plan funding.
Ms. Commodore: The sections of the regulations of the act were revoked, changed and put in the form of a policy - is that what the Minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, that is correct.
Ms. Commodore: I am not quite sure I understand that. We depend a great deal on the information we receive from the department because we do have a lot of social assistance recipients coming to us wanting information. We are having a very hard time getting any kind of information because, as the Minister knows, everything has to go through his office whether it is an emergency or not. We had asked for a copy of their policy manual but we were told we could not have it because they are updating it. Now, if they are taking things out of the regulations of the Social Assistance Act and just putting them into the form of a policy, how is anybody going to know what they have to deal with? What can we tell our constituents, and some of his constituents as well, when they come in to see us?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are updating the policy manual, getting it ready for publication, but it is certainly available for people to come and look at prior to it being published. The regulation regarding transients was not satisfactory for the 50 percent Canada Assistance Plan payments, so that was why it was changed back to what it was before. That was placed in the policy. I cannot recall the exact wording change, but it was done to satisfy the requirements of the Canada Assistance Plan.
Ms. Commodore: I am very disappointed in the department because, as I said, we have people coming on a daily basis to see myself and other Members of the Opposition regarding something to do with social assistance - education, housing or whatever, or even somebody whose application has been refused. If they are revoking regulations and putting them in the form of policy - this happened in October and it is now March - how are we going to be able to give the right kind of information to our constituents if we do not know that the government has done these things? If they have done it, why was no one told? I remember when the Minister made a change in regulations to the Social Assistance Act regarding all sorts of other things. He made a great big announcement about it and wanted everybody to know what he was doing and how he thought he was going to save money or improve different programs. We have heard nothing about this. I only heard about it yesterday and it causes us some problems. We write a letter almost daily to the department, trying to get information. They are changing things without letting us know. The government can make regulations without letting us know, but if it is important to the people we represent then surely to goodness someone should have told us about it, and I am wondering why they did not do so.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will check on this specific issue. However, when the section was revoked, it was public and was required to be, and was published in the Gazette. That was done. With regard to the policy, it went back to what it was under the previous administration to satisfy the Canada Assistance Plan. I will certainly send the transient policy to the Member.
Ms. Commodore: I would certainly appreciate anything that I can get. However, I am still wondering why it was kept a secret. The Minister has said that it was not a secret, because it was in the Gazette. However, it is a little bit different than issuing, for example, a press release, as the Minister did with other changes that he made to the regulations. That was a big change that was going to affect a lot of people whom we represent - himself included. So does this. It is the same situation with this section of the regulations that he revoked and changed into policy. If he did it because there was some legal reason for which he had to, I would have liked to have known and would certainly not have had to wonder why we are getting so many complaints.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will check into it. My deputy and I are not sure whether it was made in the form of an announcement or not. We will find out and get back to the Member.
Ms. Commodore: Can I have that before we do the main estimates? The Minister said that he would provide it to me.
I wonder if the Minister can tell us if he still has his little squad out there checking on social assistance recipients. If he has, how active are they? I know that at one time we all knew what was happening, because we had a lot of unhappy people who were very honest people trying to get by from day to day on very low income from Health and Social Services and were being intimidated by the Minister's squad. The person who headed that fraud squad has moved on and is probably still doing something else in the government. I am not quite sure what his expertise is being used for in government departments. Can the Minister let me know if anything is in place right now?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Internal verifications, and that sort of thing, have been utilized. However, with regard to actual fraud investigations for the department, we have been working with the RCMP to arrange for an officer to commence duties with the department, upon the officer's retirement from RCMP. We had hoped that this would be in place before now, but it is anticipated that it will now be in place shortly after the new fiscal year.
The Member asked me what this individual would be doing. He or she would be in charge of the investigation of abuse and fraud in the social assistance area.
Ms. Commodore: Is the Minister going to be making this announcement to the general public once this person is hired? Is the person going to be working at a full-time job to try to find fraud within the social assistance program?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Certainly, those will be the main responsibilities in the foreseeable future, unless there is other work required in the department. The situation is, fundamentally, that we want to have someone in that position with a lot of experience and a RCMP background. We feel it is very important that a person have the kind of training that a long-time RCMP investigator has, because of the reputation of the RCMP to do things in a fair manner. Therefore, we canvassed various ways of hiring such a person and, in consultation with the local detachment, have come up with someone who will be retiring shortly, who has the background, and who, I am sure, will be an asset to the department.
Ms. Commodore: What kind of program is this Minister setting up? I wonder about the extent of fraud the Minister is talking about. We are hiring someone full time, without a job competition, to come in and try to put a stop to fraud in his department. Are there statistics showing that this type of person is absolutely necessary? Are we going to be spending money paying a person to come in and keep an eye on the department to ensure that no one is ripping off the department? How much is this going to cost us?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The most modest estimates of fraud in the social assistance field is four to five percent. The total social assistance expenditures are in the neighbourhood of $7 million to $8 million; four to five percent of that amount is $300,000 to $400,000. This amount does not include simple abuse - things that do not necessarily meet the Criminal Code level of intent - but abuse that is preventable. The Member asks whether or not this is a cost-effective measure; we think it is. Certainly, we are following the example of virtually every province across Canada, because they have all been into this in a big way. The previous government in Ontario hired many people in this area. British Columbia has recently hired investigators, and they are issuing statements saying that the fraud exceeded the rule-of-thumb levels of four to five percent.
The statistics that were available when we initiated the pilot project certainly indicated to us that it would be worthwhile to have an investigator position and that is what we are doing.
Ms. Commodore: Here we have a department that is hiring people to work for it to try to find people who are skimming the department of social assistance and other things. I have a concern with the manner in which they hire people. There are a lot of people who are not retiring from the RCMP. There are a lot of people in the Yukon who are looking for jobs. This position is not going to go out for competition. The Minister's department has found someone from within the police department. I find that very unfair. Why did he do it?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The position is an extremely delicate one. It is an important one. It is the strong feeling of the department and of myself that we wanted someone who was experienced and who had the kind of training that the RCMP have in the area of fraud and that there would be, with that training, reasonable expectation that the individual would operate in a fair manner, that the individual would not be harassing clients, and that sort of thing. In my view, and in the view of the department, that type of expertise would come from someone with an extensive background in fraud investigation at the senior level of police officers. That is why we went this route.
Ms. Commodore: I just cannot believe that the department is still following this kind of tactic. I am absolutely disgusted that it is still doing this. The Minister said that it is being done in other jurisdictions and we are following their lead. If they jumped in the Yukon River, would he follow them and do the same thing?
I can foresee in the future the same thing that was happening before where so many innocent people were being intimidated by these heavy-handed tactics. The Minister may not think it is serious, but it is a serious issue for those people who depend on his department. We have a lot of poor people, and the Minister has proceeded to wage war against those poor people. What he does not understand, because I am sure he has never been poor in his life, is that poor people are poor; they do not have any money. The majority of those people are trying to make ends meet from month to month and not every single person who is on social assistance or taking advantage of some other program in the department is a crook.
I find this action very heavy-handed. I am so disappointed in the Minister and in the decision that was made by his department. I know that we are going to be hearing from those people again. We are going to be hearing the same kinds of concerns, where innocent people are being intimidated by the investigators who have come to their doors, telephoned them, visited them and actually even accused them sometimes of ripping off the government when, in fact, they have not.
As if they were not in a bad enough state already, the Minister is imposing something else on them. I am more disappointed in him than I was already as a result of all of the other things he has done.
I would like to ask the Minister if he intends to add to his fraud squad again this summer, as he did last year?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will answer the last part first. The summer verification student program will be conducted again this year. It is on the bulletin board. With respect to the issue of fraud and abuse of the system, I make no apology for taking steps that every other jurisdiction is taking.
I think that the Member surely is aware of the severe cutbacks and threatened cutbacks that we have seen from Mr. Martin in Ottawa. I am sure that she is aware that this is a safety net that we see as being absolutely fundamental to our society. It is essential that the basic safety net be in place.
It is our position that people who abuse the system should be caught and appropriately treated for doing so. I think most Yukoners agree with this, and most Canadians agree with this. We have successfully charged and prosecuted a number of social assistance recipients. A press release was issued about a number of them, indicating the penalties that they received from the court process. It is important to prevent abuse. If no steps were taken, the lack of deterrence would lead to a much higher rate of abuse.
In the course of the last two and one-half years, we have found areas of abuse of the system that were within the law, but just barely. We have closed those kinds of loopholes. Examples are putting a limit on the utility charges per month that will be paid for by the department, as some people were, in effect, selling their utilities to others and using the money for themselves. There were other abuses involving wood contracts.
A lot of things were being done, and we became aware of them not only because of our pilot program but also as the burden of the caseload of workers was reduced somewhat by the computer management program, LISA, which was finally up and running. It is antiquated now, but it did give more time to the people within the branch to follow up and make sure that there was no abuse. As a result of what we found, the regulations were changed - as I have already mentioned and given some examples - and we feel that to maintain a healthy program, a safety net, it is important to take steps to minimize abuse.
Ms. Commodore: I would like to say first of all that I do not support fraud and I do not support people ripping off the department. There is a program in place to accommodate them but what I do object to is the heavy-handedness of the department and the people who work in it, who feel they have to go to extremes to intimidate the people who are probably at the lowest level of their life as it is.
For the Minister to stand here and say the department is hiring a former RCMP officer when he retires because he has all kinds of skills in investigation - so here we go intimidating those people again. I would like to ask the Minister this: who is this person?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Once the agreement is formalized and the person is brought on staff, which I hope will be as early as the end of the month or early April, I will certainly provide that information.
Mrs. Firth: I am sure the previous questioner and I have some philosophical differences with respect to this whole issue, but I do not want to get into discussion and debate about that. I do have some concerns about this whole setup with this person being hired to do this job.
From listening to the debate, it looks to me like this person has been hand selected with no competition for the position. It has been very convenient that the person happens to be retiring at a time when the Minister is out looking for a person to fill this position. Could the Minister tell us why the position was not advertised publicly in the employment opportunity notices? The specific requirements could have been listed and the preference of RCMP experience or fraud investigation experience could have been advertised - it does not always have to be a former police person that fits the bill - to go through the hiring process in a fair way.
I am sure the Minister can appreciate that it does not appear to be a fair employment opportunity for all Yukoners. Perhaps the Minister could explain why they chose to hire a person this way.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I understand the Member's concern and we shared that same concern. We had concerns about the potential of a person without the appropriate experience being heavy handed and setting back the whole program of deterrence. There were complaints that caused us concern under the pilot program.
I wanted, and sincerely demanded, that we have the type of expertise that we will have if the government ends up with this person in the position.
The position was put out for tender and we received some bids. There were some low bids and there was a very low bid from a person who did not have the requisite RCMP experience.
We got one or two bids from ex-RCMP members, but the bids were extremely high. That is the reason we went this route. We had hoped, in initial discussions with the RCMP, to work out a secondment arrangement. However, that was not possible, and this opportunity became available. That is what happened.
Mrs. Firth: I can appreciate the Minister's dilemma about trying to find the right person. However, I still think that one can find all kinds of excuses why people who apply are not suitable. The Minister made some kind of arrangement through the RCMP for this person, who just happens to be retiring. There are lots of retired RCMP officers, and perhaps there are other officers who would consider leaving in order to pursue this kind of position. To me, it does look as if there has been a bit of hand selection carried on, and everything was very conveniently arranged. Now there has been an agreement reached. I think that the Minister has opened himself up unnecessarily to accusations of hand selecting the individual.
Perhaps he could tell us who produced the tenders, who reviewed them, who actually made arrangements for this person. Did the Minister get involved in interviewing at all or in making or accepting recommendations? Who was actually involved in the interviewing and assessment process?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There are two issues here. First of all, there was the tender that went out, and that was done in the normal way the department does tenders. The department was under strict instruction from me that I was not prepared to have someone without that type of experience - that would not be acceptable. When the tenders came in, there was one person who was quite low and another person who was more than double that. One person was a person with the background, but the cost - there is a base cost, plus transportation, and so on - was far too expensive. The low bidder did not have the kind of background we were looking for. I had hoped to get a person up and running long before now. It has been dragging on and on.
We then wrote to the RCMP and explored the possibility of a secondment, partly because the RCMP is experiencing some cutbacks in personnel. When we were unable to get a secondment, we were advised of an individual who is retiring. We ultimately interviewed that person and hope to have everything concluded by the end of March or early April.
If the Member is asking if the person was hand picked, if I interviewed him or know him, the answer is no. I have heard of him and know his name, but I do not know him.
Mrs. Firth: Has this agreement already been signed and the tender awarded?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There has been a verbal agreement. It has not been signed. As soon as it has, we will release his name. Once he comes to work for us or as he comes to work for us, it will be appropriate to do that. To the best of my knowledge, it has not been completed yet. I hope it will be completed and the person on staff soon - by the end of the fiscal year or the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to ask the Minister if the arrangement that he is striking is an employment contract, a permanent position within the public service or simply a contractual arrangement.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is a permanent position.
Mr. McDonald: There are essentially two processes here: there was the process of letting out a tender, which was unsuccessful, and the government felt that it had tested the waters adequately for a permanent position by proposing a tender call. Was that what the tender call was for?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It was a contract for services. We are getting into semantics here. It was to be a contract for services.
Mr. McDonald: Why would the department feel that it had sufficiently tested the waters for the appropriate personnel to fill this position if it had only gone through the process of trying to seek a services contract? People who might have wanted a permanent position may never have bid on the contract because they wanted a permanent position.
Permanent positions are highly coveted because there is some security associated with them. I would like to ask that question. The second question would be whether or not this arrangement was approved by the Public Service Commission?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It will be approved by the Public Service Commission once it goes through the process. There is an appeal process involved.
There were actually two tenders: there was the original one on the pilot project and some people bid on that. There were some problems and issues regarding whether or not the individual was handling the clients appropriately. There was a fair amount of debate in this House about the relationship between that pilot project person and the department, because there was concern about whether or not there was the appropriate balance of ensuring that the rights of the people being investigated were observed.
After that pilot project was over and we received the analysis on it, I recall we had a long debate in the House about those issues. We wanted to go with an employment contract and that is a contract for services. That was advertised and tendered, but we were unsuccessful. Then we went through this process. The one thing that I was adamant about was that we have someone senior from the RCMP with this kind of experience. To me, it was essential that we have someone in this position who understood the rights of the accused in these kinds of situations - not someone who might not.
Chair: We will take a brief recess at this time.
Chair: I will call Committee of the Whole to order.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have just been advised by my officials that it is a two-year term position. It requires a formal approval for appointment without competition by the Public Service Commission, but it has agreed in principle so we are waiting for that.
Mr. McDonald: I would like the Minister to see if he can explain what the procedure is with the Public Service Commission for providing approvals of this nature. The Minister indicated earlier that the Public Service Commission is going to approve or will approve this matter at some point, and then the deal can be finalized. When the Minister speaks with such certainty about his expectations of Public Service Commission approval, is it simply a pro forma step to be gone through or is there a judgment call on the Public Service Commission's part about whether or not there are other skilled people available in this territory who might fit the bill and consequently would require a public competition?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am advised that the department makes application to the Public Service Commission for approval. The Public Service Commission determines if it is appropriate and the person has all of the various skills that are being looked for. If, in the Public Service Commission's view, it is a situation that meets the test, it gets posted, and at some point the Public Service Commission makes a decision. However, the indications from lower down are that the decision would probably occur, because it seems to meet the criteria.
Mr. McDonald: I think that the Minister has made a very convincing case that a person who fills this position ought to possess superior investigative skills.
What was the reason for also insisting that the person be a senior, retired member of the RCMP?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Not a retired person, but senior - "senior" not meaning "old", but rather someone with a fairly lengthy service record.
The other skills involved were things such as being able to do, at a fairly high level, the investigation leading into the court cases themselves. One of the concerns we have had and that has been expressed many times has been that, in the past, and even currently, these cases do not seem to get through the hoops and into the court system and prosecuted in a timely fashion. Therefore, we want the investigation to be done in coordination with the Crown prosecutor's office, so there will not be this kind of lengthy delay on cases where charges are laid and they are supposed to move through the system to the courts and be concluded, one way or another.
Mr. McDonald: Why would it not be the case, given that the Minister insisted that there ought to be superior investigative skills, that the job competition would go out for a public call and have the person whom the department or the Minister has in mind for this position simply apply for it? If that person meets the qualifications and is the best person available, then that person would win the competition. Why would that not be the appropriate approach?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: In discussions with the RCMP about secondment possibilities, the name of this person came up, because he was retiring and he fit all of the qualifications the department was looking for. I guess it was their view that there was not anyone else around that they were aware of. It was a judgment call and it has gone to the Public Service Commission as a recommendation. If the Public Service Commission refuses or believes there are other people qualified for the position and there should be a delay, that is fine.
In fairness to the department, every month or so I have been asking, "By the way, what is happening with finding someone to fill this position?" It has been a long time and we have had this false-start situation, but there is no absolute reason why they would do that. It is a judgment-call issue. Here was a person who fit the bill who, rather than being seconded, was retiring and was available for the position. That is how it happened.
Mr. McDonald: I can see that it is a convenient arrangement for the department to be able to identify a person, know that they can fill the bill and consequently recruit that person directly into the department. However, there is a process that the rest of the public service has to respect in order to ensure that there is a perception of fairness to all citizens who may have similar skills and may wish to seek employment with the government.
I know that other departments in the past have made very convincing arguments that it would be nice if they could simply bypass all that due process and hire a person they know can do the job. Unfortunately for the department, but perhaps fortunately for the system, in those cases there is some measure of due process involved to ensure that everyone has a fair chance.
The Minister made mention at the beginning of the discussion that this has been going on for a long time and has given the impression that the frustration level in recruiting the position is severe and that that is the reason they want some fast action. When did the discussions start? How long has this been going on and when did the discussions with the RCMP begin?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I could bring this back in a more precise fashion. It was roughly six months ago when the first discussions took place exploring the possibility of a secondment. With respect to the Member's assertion about due process, I agree. I suppose the defence from the department's end is we are going through the due process. These are the regulations and we are moving ahead under whatever the stipulations are for approval for this appointment. If it is not granted, the department will have to start from square one, but it is not bypassing the process. The action the department is taking is one taken in good conscience. There is no intention to bypass anyone's rights, or anything like that.
Mr. McDonald: Obviously, if the Public Service Commission does what it does to every other department in other cases, and denies the opportunity for the department to follow this particular route, there are further delays.
Did the idea of a public competition come up at some early stage in the discussions with the RCMP? If the department realized it might face significant hurdles in trying to simply appoint someone right off the street into the department, it could have, perhaps months ago, gone through the public competition process and achieved the same objectives without having created the perception that they are showing favouritism to someone they know.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am advised that the department initiated discussions about six months ago. It was talking about a secondment about a month and a half ago. That fell through because the RCMP said it could not afford a secondment arrangement because of budgetary constraints and staffing issues. At that time, it was made evident to them that this person was retiring anyway and had the qualifications. That is why they chose this route.
Mr. McDonald: Who in the RCMP did the department talk to about the arrangement?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: A person at the level of staff sergeant. We do not have the name here, but we can provide it.
Mr. Cable: At any juncture, was a job description drawn up or a blank contract that could be filed here, with terms of reference in it?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There is a job description with the qualification requirement. We can provide it tomorrow.
Mr. Cable: Is the person being hired as a permanent, full-time equivalent or under contract? Is it a full-time position?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is a full-time term position for two years.
Mr. Cable: The Minister's department launched a number of investigations a couple of years ago and filed two legislative returns updating the number of files that had gone to prosecution. I do not have the returns in front of me but I believe the rest of the information was the number of successful prosecutions - I am trying to recover this from memory - and the list of files where it was found that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant prosecution. Could we get an update of that last legislative return so that we can see whether or not those initial files will back up this assumption of four- to five- percent fraud?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We can provide the information that we have. The Member will understand that one of the problems we are trying to deal with is the gap in the investigation between something we have taken to the RCMP as a probable fraud and the information being laid in the hands of the Crown attorney. That has been the frustrating gap. That is why we are trying to get a person at the level to carry the investigation pretty well to the Crown prosecutor for a decision on the information laid.
I will get an update of the stuff we gave in the past.
Mr. Cable: I believe that the files were handed to the RCMP in 1993 and 1994. I assume that they have been dealt with by this time. These are just summary conviction offenses. They do not go on for that long.
Is the Minister aware if all of the initial batch of files have been processed?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We will get back with that information; however, that is the problem. They were not getting processed. They were a low priority at the RCMP end. That is why we are trying to have an officer with the qualifications for the fairness aspect and to take the investigation to the point of getting the thing resolved in one way or another - if there is a charge laid or not.
Mr. Cable: Is it anticipated that this person will be a prosecutor or will carry the prosecution into court? Some of the police actually do that, I think.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: They will take it to the point where it is prosecuted and the information laid. Normally, the decision on the information is made by the Crown prosecutor. What has happened is that files would go to the RCMP and the investigation would not be completed; it would go to the bottom of someone's pile.
Mr. Cable: So has there been an arrangement made where the Crown's office will be dealing directly with this person?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That is the intention.
Chair: Is there any further debate on the Department of Health and Social Services?
Mr. Sloan: I have a question about the investigative skills of this individual.
"Superior investigative skills" is a broad term. Specifically, given some of the things that the Minister has said, are we looking at someone who has worked in the fraud squad? Is this a person who has familiarity with information technology? What kinds of specific investigative skills were looked at?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I cannot speak about the individual, because I do not know his particular background, but it would be someone with a background in fraud and commercial crime.
I know from my experience as a criminal lawyer that fraud investigation is pretty complicated. Fraud is a complex crime, and a fairly specialized area of investigation. That is the point that I would like to make. To bring an investigation to a point at which a lawyer can take it to court, a lot of skills are involved.
While I am on my feet, I have an answer to the question asked by the Member for Riverdale South: neither.
Ms. Commodore: I would like to ask the Minister a bit about the Health and Social Services Council. Have the terms of reference changed at all since he has been the Minister, or since this government has been in power? I was going to ask the Minister for an updated version if there was one, but the terms of reference go back to 1990, and the committee was struck as a result of what came out of Yukon 2000 which, of course, has been abandoned by this government.
I was a bit disturbed a couple of weeks ago. The Minister was away, and I am not sure if he was aware that there was an ongoing investigation with regard to some information that was thought to have come from one of the board members. I know most of the people on that council, and I know that it is a good group of people. According to the terms of reference, there are many things required of them. I know that when we were in office, these people were used extensively. We used their expertise, we listened to them, and dealt with their recommendations.
I was a little bit disturbed by the manner in which the department had started an investigation to try to find out where a leak came from. Because of some questions I asked in the House and some comments I had made, it was felt that someone had given me information. Apparently, a confidential letter had gone out to all of the committee members, letting them know that information was being leaked by someone to the Opposition, and they were trying to find out who that person was. There was even some concern that, because of the investigation of the confidential letter that the Minister received from his friend and lawyer, Barry Ernewein, that charges could be laid. I thought that was something was pretty heavy-handed coming out of this department. I do not know what became of that, but I did want to say how that appeared to people who were aware of it. I was asked if anyone had come to my office to give me information. I was also asked if anyone had telephoned me to give me that information. I was taken aback because I thought it was very unusual. I would like to ask the Minister if he was aware of this happening, because I know that he was away during the week this was taking place.
If he is not aware of it, who was the person in his department who started the so-called investigation?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: What transpired is as follows: the Health and Social Services Council deals with some very confidential material, and it does this on a confidential basis on the understanding that confidential information will remain confidential. When there was a breach of that confidentiality, the committee itself - the chair and co-chair - wrote a letter asking what had happened. From the questions in the House, it appeared that someone had violated its code of conduct. That was what the letter was about; I am not aware of anyone in the department being involved. If there was, it is news to me, because that is not what happened at all.
I am advised that the council was concerned, because it was its integrity that was called into question, in the council's view, by what was recorded in Hansard. It was the council itself that looked after this problem. My understanding is that there was a letter from the chair - and perhaps the co-chair as well - stating what had happened and that it was in violation of the council's agreement to keep certain things confidential. That is all I know about it.
Ms. Commodore: What I do not understand is that we get minutes to the meetings all the time. They are not confidential. We ask for them, we receive them, they are automatically sent to us. We appreciate that, because it is to our benefit that we know what is happening.
It is very helpful to us because, as I said, the people who sit on the council are put there according to the terms of reference that were set down in May 1990. It lists the terms of reference and the membership and what the chairperson of the council should do in terms of appointments, meetings and so on.
There is nothing that I have seen anywhere that indicated to me that anything that came out of there was confidential. I was very surprised to find out the extent of the inquiries and the investigation that went on after that. I was also surprised at how upset some of the people were.
I have friends on the council and I said to this friend of mine, "Maybe they will think that because you are my friend that you gave me this information." He looked at me oddly and said, "Maybe they will." In fact, he knows that I did not get the information from him.
Once again, I am finding the paranoia behind it a little difficult to understand. Could the Minister tell me what is confidential and what is not? According to what I have seen when I was the Minister, I do not remember anything like this ever happening. Information that was given out was given to people in discussion about certain things that happened and I have never seen anything like this.
I wonder if this is a precedent that is being set by this government in regard to boards and committees? Sitting on boards and committees, depending on which ones they are, is sometimes not a very easy thing to do.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I can explain that quite easily. When I became the Minister, I went to the council and said I would be interested in having their input from time to time on some policy options that would be the meat of matters going to Cabinet. If I were going to be bringing in a Cabinet document on something like changes to the regulations for social assistance or many of the other things we have done, I would be interested in the committee, if it wished to, forming a subcommittee - or a full committee if it wanted to - but it would have to be on a strictly confidential basis. I would appreciate their input. It would not be a Cabinet document. It would be the gist of what they think of the options of what was going to Cabinet, but it would have to be strictly confidential or else I could not do it. The committee members were be asked if they would be interested in performing the task of sitting down and talking to our policy people - and me if I am available - about some matters that would be going to Cabinet. They were keenly interested in doing that.
When most of the heavy duty reform went through - the changes in chronic disease regulations, the social assistance regulations, the work we were doing on the alcohol and drug strategy, and those kinds of things - we discussed the options that we were considering. The matters I was involved with were subcommittees of council, and they got back to us with their recommendations.
All this was to be confidential, and they have respected that. They gave us advice on many of the reform issues that had been carried out over the past three years.
This time, during the instance that the Member is concerned about, there was a special meeting to discuss some of these sensitive issues. Again, looking at the same kind of sensitive input, which they found important to have, it was all done on the basis of a gentleman's understanding of confidentiality. When it appeared that someone had breached that confidentiality, the board was quite concerned and the board was quite worried that I would not use it for that function any more. The council took the step of writing the letter that the Member is speaking about. I understand that this matter is now resolved.
No Minister is going to bring that type of policy before a board on a confidential basis if confidentiality is going to be breached, but it is very important to have its input. I cannot use the council for items that are going before Cabinet and risk having confidential information leaked. The council understands this. That is all that happened.
The board was dismayed because it felt that it compromised it and would lead to me not using it for that function, which it had not been used for before. That is what it was about.
That is why neither I nor the department sent the letter, or anything like that.
Ms. Commodore: What led it to believe that it could not be used for anything like that again?
I was very surprised when I was approached by somebody whom I trust and who trusts me about the dilemma that was happening within that board. I wanted to know about what is confidential and what is not. As far as I knew, the minutes to those meetings were available. I have no knowledge of confidential meetings. I have no knowledge of anything like that. The Minister knows - and we all know over here - that the information that a lot of us get is based on rumours. If we hear something that we think is quite important, and we want answers, we will ask questions in the House.
However, why was there such an uproar in this one specific council? I understand that the Minister has to be able to trust the people who are on his councils. I can understand that, because I would have felt the same way if I had a council that was representing me. There was an awful lot of fear in that council about what was happening. The Minister had just indicated that the councillors were afraid that they may not be used any more for that purpose. What scared them? Who scared them? Why did they feel that way?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Very simply, the council realized that it was an honour to be treated, regardless of members' persuasion - political or anything else - in a manner that was respectful of its decision and respectful of its ability to keep confidential things confidential. It does not report that aspect of what it does in the minutes, because it is confidential input to matters going to Cabinet. If it is not confidential, I would not be able to use it for that purpose; it is that simple.
From my end, I did not raise the alarm. The council was concerned that this had happened because it came out in Hansard, and said that it would try to make sure that it did not happen again. The council wrote the letter, and whatever has happened has happened. That was the council's concern. The council cannot perform that function as a council if people are breaching confidentiality. That was the concern. The council was in a position in which it had given a lot of valuable advice. I hope that the new Education Council will be able to perform the same type of thing for Ministers in the future.
Again, they will have the same kind of rules. If one was going to a group of people about a Cabinet document, and it was going to be leaked, one's colleagues would not allow it. It is a breach of the whole system.
The council's concern was that it wanted to keep providing advice on these important issues. It was concerned that having a breach in confidentiality would simply mean that it would not be able to perform the function that it had been doing only since I became the Minister.
Ms. Commodore: When this council sits down to meet, is it told beforehand that the meetings are going to be private and that everything that is discussed during the meeting is going to be confidential? I was asking those very questions of the person who came to see me to try and find out where I had received the information. I got the feeling that was not the case.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: No. The confidentiality required surrounding the providing of advice on options going before Cabinet is very clear. Most times this is a task performed not by the full council, but by a subcommittee. The sensitivity of the options is made very clear by the chair and co-chair and by the department official who discusses some of the options we are looking at.
Ms. Commodore: I think the Minister will have to take a look at his terms of reference again. It seems that a lot of things have changed and further duties have been given to this group. My intention, of course, was not to upset, confuse or scare any of the members when I asked the question. My question was in regard to a recommendation that supposedly was made to the Minister. It was a simple question, and at the end of the week the actions surrounding it were a surprise to me, and probably a surprise to a lot of the people who were on that committee.
The fact is that the Minister does have a committee. I was going by the terms of reference for the council and basing any questions on that. I did not know that they looked at Cabinet documents and advised the Minister what to include in them, nor that they were that confidential. Can the Minister try to explain to me how that happens? Do his other councils do the same?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: They do not look at the actual Cabinet documents. The options being proposed to go to Cabinet are discussed with policy. We listen to their advice and then prepare and finalize the option paper that might be put forward.
In the case of the issue that arose as a result of the matter appearing in Hansard, I had not even been provided with the advice when these questions were raised in Hansard, so the council was very concerned that it happened. I cannot say anything more than that. I can tell you that I really feel that it is an excellent use of a board, made up of people from all walks of life, party affiliation, and so on, if members will treat matters confidentially, to advise what their thoughts are about some of the options presented, such as changing regulations, social security, et cetera. Whether or not I accept any of the council's recommendations or not, it is valuable input. If they do not want to be given that type of duty, that is up to them.
Only a few people are willing to sit as a subcommittee and provide that advice - that is fine, too. Others do not feel comfortable with it and that is fine, as long as it is understood that this is something that is different from the normal type of open meetings.
I am hoping, and in fact I am quite comfortable that the people who have been chosen to be on the Education Council will perform a similar function. If some of them do not want to, that is fine. They can have a subcommittee that does it.
It does not happen every day, but I think it is valuable to have that type of non-partisan cross-section of people who are keenly interested, have a background in the field and who are not in the department. The council itself tries to ensure that when it says that things will be confidential, that they will be kept confidential. That is what it did.
Mr. Chair, in view of the time, I move that we 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 Committe of the Whole?
Mr. Millar: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, Third Appropriation Act, 1995-96, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
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 stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:29 p.m.