Monday, March 18, 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. -
Resignation of Willard Phelps from Cabinet
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I rise today to inform the House that the hon. Mr. Phelps came to me today at his first opportunity and advised me of his decision to step down as a Minister at this time. Mr. Phelps felt that this was in the best interest of government. It was a decision that I accepted with deep regret. Mr. Phelps has been a tremendous asset to Cabinet. He has done a very good and decent job of running his portfolios. He has brought administration costs under control and expanded programs. He is going to be sorely missed in Cabinet.
I do have to add to this that, over the controversy in the last few days, I have received numerous calls and letters. As well, we conducted an unscientific mini-poll, in which we contacted probably in the neighbourhood of 100 Yukoners. In all of the people who were consulted - and I add that they were of every political stripe: NDP and Liberals, as well as Yukon Party supporters - there was an overwhelming majority of people who felt that the Minister's apology should have been sufficient in this case. They did not feel that it was enough to cause him to resign his seat. Nevertheless, Mr. Phelps has decided that it is in the best interest of government that he does.
Mr. Phelps has made a tremendous contribution to this territory. I would just like to add to that that I, in the very near future, will be readjusting portfolios.
I want to urge the people of Carcross to put their troubles behind them and work together to unite the community, so that we can all move forward.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Schafer: It is my privilege to introduce Randall Kendi, who is the native teacher in our community of Old Crow. He is now in Whitehorse for more training. I am glad to see him here today.
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Speaker: Under tabling of returns and documents, I have for tabling the chief report of the Chief Electoral Officer on contributions to political parties during 1995.
Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have for tabling a report by sports and recreation, Towards 2000.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 17: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I move that Bill No. 17, entitled An Act to Amend the Dog Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: I has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Community and Transportation Services that Bill No. 17, entitled An Act to Amend the Dog Act be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 17 agreed to
Bill No. 24: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that Bill No. 24, entitled Miscellaneous Statute Law Amendment Act, 1996, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 24, entitled Miscellaneous Statute Law Amendment Act, 1996, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 24 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills for introduction?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by Ministers?
Sports and Recreation: Towards 2000
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I rise today to inform the Members of this House that we will release Towards 2000, a draft report on Yukon sport and recreation programs, services and funding. The Department of Community and Transportation Services has consulted extensively with Yukon communities, First Nations, sports government bodies and special recreation groups throughout the Yukon.
The draft report provides a summary of the consultation findings and more than 60 strategies or possible action. Sports governing bodies and special recreation groups are aware that there is no new funding available. Towards 2000 addresses the request for a more flexible set of funding criteria that will enable them to better meet the needs of their members in Yukon communities. Groups that display a willingness and ability to offset their expenditures through fundraising will be recognized.
The Towards 2000 draft report recognizes the differences among the Yukon's unincorporated communities and provides strategies to help balance the recreation funding to all communities in a more fair and equitable way. Strategies are proposed to address the unique and changing needs of the many emerging and growing Yukon communities.
The proposed strategies are designed to encourage more effective partnerships among Yukon communities, sport governing bodies, community organizations and Yukoners. The current sport and recreation delivery system does not always make it easy for Yukon aboriginal people, women, and people with disabilities to access available opportunities.
The draft report presents strategies for creating incentives for sport and recreation organizations, communities and First Nations to collaborate and share resources to increase access and equity for all.
The needs of youth have been identified as a priority throughout the Yukon. Towards 2000 highlights youth issues and provides concrete strategies for making positive changes.
The draft report also proposes restructuring the Yukon Recreation Advisory Council and establishing a sport and recreation committee distinct from the arts.
The draft report will be distributed widely to sport and recreation groups, First Nations and the communities for comment. Copies of the draft report are also available for public comment through the Government of Yukon information desk.
I very much look forward to comments on this draft report and strategies for action. I encourage everyone with an interest in this area to provide the department with comments.
Ms. Moorcroft: It is always a pleasure to rise after a statement by the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. In the present case, however, there is very little of substance to respond to in this particular ministerial statement. I am certainly happy to learn that the Minister's department has consulted extensively with Yukon communities and First Nations, as well as with sport and recreation groups throughout the territory.
We on this side of the House look forward to reading the product of that consultation in the Towards 2000 draft report. We will likely have more to say after we have had that opportunity.
There are a few cautionary notes I would like to sound. The Minister mentioned that there would be recognition of groups that display a willingness and an ability to raise some of their own funds. I hope such recognition is not used to favour larger, better organized groups at the expense of smaller, possibly even less popular, recreation groups that still perform a valuable function at the community level.
The other concern I have is the Minister's announcement of a restructured Yukon Recreation Advisory Council, distinct from the arts. I hope this does not mean the arts groups will be placed in a position of competing with larger sports organizations for legitimate funding, since the arts already receive such a small portion of recreation funding.
I also hope that this does not imply that the government does not consider arts activities to be a vital component of recreation in the Yukon.
We know the public will be reading this report and responding to the draft, and we look forward to dealing with it again later.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Point of order
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Last week in this House, the Leader of the Official Opposition violated the specific rules of this House with respect to conduct of Members in Question Period. The position of Leader of the Official Opposition is a very responsible one and carries with it the same salary as a Cabinet Minister. In his position as Leader of the Official Opposition, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini sets the standard for debate in Question Period. His conduct should be exemplary. When he breaks the rules, it encourages others to do the same and it reflects badly on all Members of the House. As legislators, we are representatives of all Yukoners and are looked upon by many people as role models.
Last week the Leader of the Official Opposition broke the laws we have made for ourselves, which govern the conduct of Members. This was your clear ruling, Mr. Speaker. In order to restore his position, as a parliamentarian, with respect for our rules and to properly fulfill the trust and responsibility that goes with the position of Leader of the Official Opposition, I would ask that the Member for McIntyre-Takhini take the opportunity today to stand in his place and withdraw the remarks he made last week and apologize to the House for his behaviour.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to make a comment on the point of order.
First of all, what I can see happening this afternoon is a fairly desperate attempt by the Member to try and divert attention from some momentous events that have been announced today by the Government Leader.
Mr. Speaker, you made a ruling last week with respect to parliamentary conduct and, at that time, you also indicated that there were a number of Members who, in your opinion, had transgressed those boundaries.
The Member for Porter Creek South is attempting at this time to draw attention away from the government and the government's own conduct.
At any time, if I break the rules as you determine that I break the rules, I will immediately withdraw the remarks, despite what I might think about the ruling, and despite what I might think about other Members' behaviour.
I have never had anything but respect for this institution. I always have and I always will.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: On that point of order.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: On the point of order. If the Member has respect, then have him stand up and withdraw his remarks.
Speaker: Order. Just a moment.
Speaker: As Chair, I do not believe that there is a point of order. Normally, a point of order would be that unparliamentary remarks had been made and should be withdrawn immediately. Perhaps the Chair is sort of responsible, in that he did not call attention to it immediately. We should let bygones be bygones and carry on.
Just a minute. I have to start my stop watch.
Question re: Resignation of Willard Phelps
Mr. McDonald: We certainly do not want to be going over time on Question Period, do we?
The Government Leader indicated today that a Member of his Cabinet has decided that it is the right thing to do to resign his portfolios at the very first opportunity. The Government Leader went on to say that he felt some regret for the Minister's departure and that an unscientific mini-poll that the government had conducted had expressed some support for Mr. Phelps.
I would like to ask the Government Leader whether or not he believes that the right thing for Mr. Phelps to do is resign his ministerial portfolios?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Before I answer the question, I would like to clarify for the record, in case it was not clear in my presentation to the House, that Mr. Phelps has resigned as a Cabinet Minister, but he will be retaining his seat as the MLA for Ross River-Southern Lakes.
The Cabinet Ministers in governments are asked to set standards in a community; there is no doubt about that. Mr. Phelps made the remarks and he realizes that he should not have done so. He apologized for them and, after thinking it over, felt that it was in the best interest of this government that he resign. I said, at the time, that I considered it to be a very serious matter, and I did. He made the decision before I had the chance to make a decision.
Mr. McDonald: I think it is fairly important to know whether or not the code of conduct, as exemplified by Mr. Phelps' own actions, is shared by the government. I would like the Government Leader to respond to that question and also to tell us whether or not he has made an arrangement or deal with Mr. Phelps to continue supporting the government, the budget and the continued survival of the government toward the next election.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I was not present at the press conference today. However, from my discussions with Mr. Phelps this morning, it is my understanding that that is the case - that he will support the government through the rest of this session and the rest of our mandate.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to know whether or not the Government Leader has made any specific commitments to people in Carcross, and particularly those people who are worried that they might face reprisals for having expressed concerns about threats to cut off support to their community. Has the Government Leader made any commitments that would give them a feeling of comfort?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The concern that I heard from the people of Carcross was that the Minister, in his capacity in Cabinet, was going to stop funding for anything that was going to be voted for Carcross. I believe the Minister took that into consideration when he tendered his resignation because he did not want that stigma left on the government.
Question re: Tombstone territorial park
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources regarding Tombstone park. The government has indicated that it is in support of a Tombstone park of roughly 38,000 hectares. The Dawson First Nation, petitioners and local environmental groups have been asking for a park that protects the broader ecoregion, wildlife habitat and rare vegetation of the area. Is the government prepared to reconsider its position on the size of the park, in light of these representations made by Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is interesting, because the original notation on Tombstone park - the notation dates back to 1974 - was for something like 255 square kilometers. The Dawson First Nation, when it selected that area as a park, actually selected an area of 155 square kilometers. What is planned for now is actually a little more than twice the size of what the First Nation selected and quite a bit larger than was originally notated. Although the boundaries have not been drawn as yet, the park has been roughed out as being approximately 38,000 hectares, as the Member opposite has said, and it is not our intention to make it any larger or smaller than approximately that size.
Mr. Harding: That is interesting. The Dawson First Nation that the Minister mentioned has raised the concern of trust at the negotiating table for land claims.
I would like to ask the Minister how this government is going to avoid putting another wedge - similar to the Taga Ku fiasco - between it and the settlement of land claims.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: If we are getting into the area of land claims, it would be appropriate if I answer the question posed by the Member opposite.
I have met with the Chief of the Dawson First Nation in regards to the Tombstone park and outstanding issues on land claims. There is a process in the Yukon for establishing territorial parks. The land claims table should not be used as a process for establishing territorial parks. I quite agree that whenever there is a demand from the public at large for a territorial park to be established that it go through the entire process, which is quite clearly defined and laid out in regulations. We are almost always open to those kinds of suggestions.
Mr. Harding: With all due respect, the Government Leader missed the point.
The issue surrounding trust at the land claims table is that the Dawson First Nation felt that it had a commitment for a larger park, and it felt - according to what I have been told - that that commitment was not honoured by the Yukon Party. The Minister has missed the point regarding the issue of trust at the land claims table.
I would like to ask the Minister of Renewable Resources the following question: given that this Yukon Party government has committed to an Endangered Spaces 2000 program, but has yet to further that agenda in the last three and a half years, and that its proposed park will not meet the criteria of that program, what will the government be doing to try to meet those goals that it set by the year 2000?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Member opposite has brought up a point about the ecoregions of the Yukon. We have said right from the outset that we want to do assessments of each ecoregion prior to establishing some sort of protection for that area.
We have either full or partial protection of approximately 11 of the 23 ecoregions. We feel quite confident that we will meet the year 2000 deadline for having representation from all those ecoregions.
Question re: Carcross waterfront proposal
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Economic Development on the Carcross-Tagish Development Corporation waterfront park development proposal. The Carcross-Tagish Development Corporation has been in lengthy negotiations with the government for funds under the centennial anniversaries program. This project gave rise to the various squabbles that led up to the resignation of the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes.
To get some facts on the table, could the Minister confirm that a phase 1 application - an agreement in principle - was approved for that project in the amount of $500,000?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is correct.
Mr. Cable: There were some issues identified by the government as having to be dealt with before the project could proceed to the next step. Eventually a consultant was hired to review the project to see if it could come in on budget. When the ex-Minister of Education was in Carcross venting his wrath, I gather one of the people who was the object of this wrath was the consultant.
Is the department satisfied with the consultant's review of the application?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure which consultant we are talking about. To meet the criteria for the program, there needed to be broad community support for the project, and there were some commercial aspects of the project that did not meet the criteria. Those are some of the things that have been discussed on an ongoing basis with the memorandum-of-understanding committee in Carcross.
Mr. Cable: I will confer with the Minister after Question Period to determine if the consultant report has been accepted, and I will advise him who the consultant was.
Some of the resistance to the project apparently came from people who felt government money should not be used to subsidize competitive businesses. It is my information that at least one of these objectors has received government largesse in the past.
Could the Minister confirm if that is the case? If he is not aware if objectors to the proposal have received government loans, mortgages or guarantees, could he provide this House with the answer by way of a legislative return?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I said before, any project throughout the territory has to have what is classified by the department as broad community support. That does not mean that 100 percent of the people in a community have to support the project, but it means that a majority of people should support it.
There have been numerous opponents to the project as it was detailed to the community. I do not know all of the people who have voiced opposition to the project. I certainly would not refer on the floor of this House to the ones whom I do know for sure have voiced opposition directly to me.
Question re: Endangered Spaces 2000
Mr. Harding: I would like to go back to the Minister of Renewable Resources with a question about the Endangered Spaces 2000 program and the Minister's last answer to me on that particular program.
The Yukon Party government is a signatory to the Endangered Spaces 2000 program. That means that the government has agreed to the terms of reference for the definition of the protection of ecoregions, but yet, the Minister told us today that the government is looking at some kind of a modified Endangered Spaces 2000 program - sort of a Yukon Party-type endangered spaces program.
Is the government prepared to meet the criteria set out and that it originally agreed to for the Endangered Spaces 2000 program or not?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I never said that at all, and I do not know where the Member got that information. It is absolutely not true.
The Yukon government has signed on to the Endangered Spaces 2000 program, which means that 12 percent of the Yukon Territory will have protection of some form by the year 2000. The government has no problem with that. We are already at approximately eight percent, and we will continue to work toward the goal of 12 percent by the year 2000.
Mr. Harding: The Minister does not understand what the program is all about.
The proposals that the Yukon government has put forward do not meet the criteria. For example, its proposed Tombstone park does not meet the criteria for the protection of one of the ecoregions. The Minister is not living up to the commitment that the government agreed to with its action.
The government likes to take people into the mines-versus-parks debate, but I want to ask if the government understands the long-term sustainable economic benefit of wilderness tourism, income and economic activity created by the formation of parks in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Tombstone park was never intended to cover a complete ecoregion. The Tombstone withdrawal area includes minor characteristics of an ecoregion. Some of the sites are protected through the Inuvialut final agreement. Kluane Park covers some of the ecoregions. The Tombstone portion only includes some of the special characteristics of the Mackenzie Mountain ecoregion.
Mr. Harding: It is quite clear what the 1,000 Yukoners who signed that petition are going to get for a response, with regard to their concerns about the Tombstone ecoregion. I think that there are a lot of things said by this government about its parks policy. A couple of my favourite quotes are the ones from the Minister who just spoke. He said in a radio interview that wildlife can be protected in a lot better way than setting aside a park. There was a quote by the Government Leader, who said in regard to parks discussions, "Who are we saving it for, anyway?"
I believe that this government has made a commitment to the Endangered Spaces 2000 program, and it has not lived up to its commitments. I would like to ask the Minister when he will produce a list for this Legislature of how the government is going to further that agenda that it signed an agreement about?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There are better and other ways of protecting wildlife than merely creating a park. I have said previously, and I will say it again for the Members opposite and for the record, we have agreed, as have the rest of the provinces and territories in Canada, to set aside 12 percent of the Yukon Territory for the protection of ecoregions by the year 2000. It is our intent to live up to that commitment.
Question re: Yukon Utilities Board, resignation of member
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Minister of Justice. The Yukon Utilities Board is sitting today without the services of Mr. Laking as a board member. The government had alleged that Mr. Laking was in a conflict of interest, but was unable to identify a conflict-of-interest policy that related to Mr. Laking's situation. Can I ask the Minister whether or not it is the government's intention that the Yukon Utilities Board will proceed through the hearing without Mr. Laking's expertise?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, it is. The chair of the Yukon Utilities Board felt that they could carry on with the expertise that is on the board.
Mr. McDonald: I would suspect that the chair, if that is his true feeling, is a minority of one in these circumstances.
The Yukon Liquor Corporation, which is now the employer of Mr. Laking, says that he cannot be on the Yukon Chamber of Commerce nor a member of the Yukon Assessment Review Board. How is his participation on these boards in conflict with his employment?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: When Mr. Laking applied for the position as manager of the liquor store, the department considered the different boards he sat on. It went to the Public Service Commission and asked its advice. The advice was that his membership on some of the boards would create the appearance of a conflict of interest. He was notified of that before the application was given to him. He was notified the day that he got the offer, as well, that he would have to resign from those positions. He agreed to that; however, he did not resign at that time. He stayed on the boards for seven days before he was again asked to resign from them in order to keep his position as manager of the liquor store.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to ask the Minister responsible for the Liquor Corporation this question: given that many boards for which the government is responsible have many public servants on them, and given that there are a number of public servants who are also members of various chambers of commerce, what is special about Mr. Laking's situation that makes it impossible for him to sit on a public board or to sit as a member of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We just went on the advice of the Public Service Commission and also on the advice of the Liquor Corporation, which felt there could be a perceived conflict of interest between his membership on those boards and the position he was holding as the manager of a liquor store, as well as handling the territorial government business in Dawson City.
Question re: Yukon Utilities Board, resignation of member
Mr. McDonald: There are many public servants who sit on a variety of boards - everything from the Driver Control Board, which is a quasi-judicial board, to assessment appeal boards, education advisory committees. There are also many public servants who sit as members of chambers of commerce throughout the territory. Mr. Laking seems to have been fingered for some reason as being ineligible to sit on any board and particularly on the most significant board that is conducting hearings right now, the Yukon Utilities Board, which will affect our energy rates.
Why has the government decided it is going to determine for Mr. Laking that he cannot sit on any board, bar none, and yet other public servants can sit on all kinds of boards?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: That is not true. There are three or four boards he is allowed to sit on where it is felt there would be no conflict of interest. If the Liquor Corporation had gone against the Public Service Commission's advice, you would have been the first one to climb all over us and holler that we were not listening to the Public Service Commission. Would someone please make up their mind?
Speaker: Would the Member please refer to the Member by his title.
Mr. McDonald: If the government had done something wrong, the Opposition would probably be the first to identify it. However, I am trying to find out if something is wrong, and what it is.
I will ask the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission the same policy question: why are some public servants allowed on public boards, but Mr. Laking is apparently not allowed on any board?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: As the Minister responsible for the Liquor Corporation said, I believe he was allowed to deal with a couple of other areas he was working on in the community. I can get back to the Member with the policy issue he is asking about and get the details from the Liquor Corporation and the Public Service Commission.
Mr. McDonald: Is it the general policy of the government that public servants are not allowed to sit on chambers of commerce? Is that a new policy? I am not aware of it.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There are some fairly clear guidelines. I will bring the policy back to the House and table it.
Question re: Workers' Compensation Board, ministerial involvement
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board. I have been doing some research into the whole Workers' Compensation Board issue, and the information brought forward from key people involved has proved very interesting. Of particular interest was how the president was hired, the fact that the Public Service Commission was responsible for getting the reference checks and providing that information to the board, and the direction the board gave to the new president with respect to tidying up the activities at the Workers' Compensation Board, even if it met with some resistance.
In my inquiries, I also found out that the Minister evidently asked the appeal panel chair for detailed information about a specific case. The chair asked one of the board members to speak to the Minister and point out to the Minister that it was inappropriate to ask for this kind of detailed information. I would like to ask the Minister what he did next - did he stop asking for the information, or did he move on to some other objective?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member for Riverdale South seems determined to turn the issues at the Workers' Compensation Board into a political football. I hope that is not the case, because it is not going to benefit the injured workers, which is what the system is set up to do.
I have said over and over again that I have asked for information from the Workers' Compensation Board to determine what is going on there, and to make sure that policies and procedures are being followed. In order to ask those questions, I spoke to a number of injured workers, who came to me.
I explained to the president of the Workers' Compensation Board and the former alternate chair of the board that I do not want to play any role in the adjudication of cases and that I am not advocating that any decisions be made. What I want to know from the president is that proper procedures are being followed and workers are being treated fairly.
Mrs. Firth: I am sure that the Member, who is a lawyer, knows how serious it looks when he does not answer a question that has been put to him.
The board provided copies of press releases to the Executive Council Office because it had the distribution process in place for press releases, and as a courtesy, so that it would know what was going on. The board did not expect it to ask for changes to the press releases.
It then became the practice that press releases were being vetted through the political arm of government. I would like to ask the Minister who made this decision.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That simply is not true. I would invite the Member to talk to the chair of the board and ask about this issue. It was not - and still is not - my intention to restrict what information comes from the Workers' Compensation Board.
As a courtesy to the board, the communications advisor read the press releases, and asked questions and made comments with respect to accuracy and grammar. There was no intent whatsoever to politically interfere or influence any press releases. I think the Member is exaggerating in making that statement. The Member is accepting Mr. Farrell's allegation as she is a staunch supporter of him, but the Member is exaggerating.
Mrs. Firth: I know that I am on the right track, because the Minister attacked me on at least two or three instances.
Just so that the Minister knows, I did speak to the previous chair of the board, and he confirmed this. I am not exaggerating anything. I also spoke to another previous board member, as well.
There is a public inquiry taking place right now. I would like to ask the Minister how often he talks to the consultant who is conducting the public inquiry and if the Minister is going to make an official submission to the inquiry. Is he going to have some input in that way, and will we be privy to it?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, I do not plan to make a submission to the inquiry. I do not feel that I know enough about the internal operations to comment on them. I am in contact with the board of inquiry on occasion, but only relating to the progress of the inquiry and when it will be completed.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. When we return from our break, we will be dealing with Bill No. 9. We are in general debate on Tourism. We will now take a brief recess.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with Bill No. 9, Department of Tourism, general debate.
Bill No. 9 - Third Appropriation Act, 1995-96 - continued
Department of Tourism - continued
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I want to respond to some of the comments made by the critic the other day.
The critic said, "Tourism is one of the points where we agree to disagree." I have read with much interest the comments made by the critic. I have to tell the Member that I have some serious concerns with, and even some questions about, what the Member means by some of his comments. I would agree with the Member that the department is to be commended for the marketing strategies. Quite frankly, I think that the Department of Tourism is to be commended for all areas that it is working on, not just the marketing. It is not just in the marketing. It is a teamwork effort by all the staff to develop ideas on the heritage side and the arts side - all areas within the deparment. Everyone is working together to provide an overall package, which I think is really second to none in this country with respect to the attention that we seem to be getting, especially because we have a rather limited budget, compared to larger jurisdictions.
The Member said he has some questions about the visitor reception centre as well as the Beringia Centre and its location. I can only hope that the Member is not getting caught up in the political rhetoric of some of his colleagues who have been against the idea - not for the sake of whether or not it is really a good idea but maybe just because it was not their idea or maybe they were upset with what we were doing to the particular facility up there - but I can tell the Member that I believe there is the support of the industry with respect to the visitor centre being downtown, with respect to the business centre, and as well with respect to the Beringia Interpretive Centre.
I do not know if the Member received a copy of the letter I received today from the Tourism Industry Association. They held a meeting last week. I believe there were 25 or 30 members at that meeting and they decided that they wanted to reinforce their concerns about this particular issue. I know that Member has told the Tourism Industry Association that he is here to represent their views and, when I read his comments about what he wants to do with the Beringia Centre and the business centre, that is certainly not the views that have been expressed by the Tourism Industry Association, not only this year but last year as well. For the Member's information, because I am not sure if he has this information already, I have a press release that was issued by the Tourism Industry Association on April 26, 1995, a year ago, which is very similar to the letter I received this morning.
The letter was copied and sent to the Member. I will provide a copy of that letter to the Member just in case he has not received it as yet. I will table both of those documents: the letter I received as well as the press release of almost one year ago when the projects were first announced.
Possibly in the mains, the Member could elaborate on where we will have a little more time. He said on Thursday that he would like, for example, to see the kinds of funds that we are expending on such things as the Beringia Interpretive Centre perhaps directed in some other areas to a greater degree, such as the arts as a method of attracting people. I am not sure what the Member means because there is about $3 million going to the Beringia Interpretive Centre. Is the Member suggesting that they would take the whole $3 million and put it into arts marketing? It was not clear in the Member's statement the other day.
I would also extend, again to the Member, an invitation to take me up on the offer that I made some time ago, shortly after he became the critic, to sit down with our marketing branch and go through a full marketing briefing of whom we market to, why we market. I think he will find, when he goes through that kind of briefing, that there is a very focused marketing plan. It looks at where the existing markets are and where new markets can be found. It is really a target marketing initiative. In the past we used to run ads in big magazines or newspapers outside and these ads cost thousands of dollars. We had a very difficult time tracking exactly what response we were getting from them.
This is done differently now. We go out ahead of time and talk to various people who might be interested in coming to the north to find out about their interests. The ads and our product are designed around those interests.
Just last night I was watching Money Line on CTV around 5:30 p.m. One of the guests on the show last night was a fellow who was in charge of the Rocky Mountain Express, which is the railroad line from Banff to Vancouver that has been turned into a tourist train.
One of the questions asked of the fellow was how the product was marketed. He said that you first find out what the market wants and then you design your product around it, and that is what the Rocky Mountain Express has done.
This is also what the Yukon government has done with the Beringia Interpretive Centre.
Through the visitor exit surveys, we have asked tourists what they want to see and do in the territory. The Beringia Interpretive Centre is the kind of thing they want to see.
There is an article in a magazine that discusses the future of travel. The article says that leisure travel will boom. Vacations will become "edutainment" events, meaning that people want to be educated and entertained. Health oriented vacations will gain popularity and longer vacations will return.
There are several things, I think. Multi-media promotion will display brochures. In fact, we have moved into that in a big way with our Internet program.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Would the Members please allow the Minister to continue his remarks.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I think that the Department of Tourism is well aware of these kinds of initiatives and is moving in that direction.
The Member was also concerned about seeing our existing museums and historical resources given a higher profile. I think that is happening. In the last three years or so, a great deal of funds have been expended on various museum exhibits in the territory, from the Dawson travelling exhibit to the expansion of the Transportation Museum, to the various exhibits for the RCMP Centennial that were provided at the MacBride Museum and other museums, to the completion of the Keno Mining Museum.
I would really encourage the Member to take a tour around the territory this summer and visit all of our museums. The Member will see that not only have the exhibits in the museums been improved, with a great deal of help from the people in the museums - the government provided the funding and they, for the most part, provided the expertise - but the exhibits we have are first-class exhibits. I do not think the Beringia Centre will take away from that at all. I believe all the exhibits will be comparable to each other.
The Member suggests that the centre will take away from existing museums, but if the Member looks at areas where there are attractions, attractions gather around other attractions. Members can see a small example, in a business sense, in the City of Whitehorse's fast-food restaurants. There are more of them springing up all the time, usually around each other, and not necessarily in one community or another, thinking that each has a market area covered. It is a marketing technique that has been used successfully all over the place, including Disney World and the Epcott Centre in Florida - numerous attractions have moved into that area because it has become a focal point.
A similar example of that in the Yukon is Dawson City. There are numerous attractions in Dawson City, from Diamond Tooth Gertie's to the Palace Grand Theatre to Gold Rush Tours to River Tours to First Nations activities and to museums. What we have found in our visitor exit surveys is that people spend more time in Dawson City because there are more things to do. When they spend more time in Dawson City, they spend more money, and that is beneficial to all the people in the tourism business.
The Member expressed some concerns about the traffic patterns around the visitor reception centre downtown. I share those concerns with the Member, but they are the kinds of things that we have been working on with the City of Whitehorse. The City of Whitehorse was fully supportive - in letters and public statements by the mayor - of the visitor reception centre being downtown. The AYC passed a motion last year to build the visitor reception centre downtown. I think that the traffic concerns that the Member and I might share are certainly ones that others in the city share, and that will be part of the overall design of the traffic flow plan when it is finished.
There are also roughly 20 more parking stalls in the downtown location than were provided up the hill. There are also more 60-foot or 80-foot parking stalls, as well, and a lot more of the smaller ones.
One of the trends emerging in the industry, which I am sure the Member opposite can appreciate, is fifth wheels. They can detach their unit, park it in an RV park, and drive around downtown, so they can park in regular parking stalls. We hope that will be accommodated when it is open.
In his opening remarks, the Member spoke a bit about the Dempster Highway and getting tourists into that particular area. I can tell the Member there already are marketing initiatives going on there. I believe there are companies in Dawson that run tours up the Dempster Highway. There is a building in Dawson, put up by the Fort McPherson people, which is a full display intended to steer people up the Dempster Highway. The garage at the corner, which used to be owned by Yukoners but is now owned by the Fort McPherson First Nation, will be steering people up the highway. There are funds in the budget of Renewable Resources for Dempster Highway interpretive signage in the campground near Tombstone.
I can also tell the Member that I have had preliminary discussions with the leaders of the McPherson First Nation. We have talked about some partnering and cooperative marketing in the future of the Dempster Highway region, because Dawson and the Yukon also see benefits from that.
We have also been trying to talk to the Government of the N.W.T. about a partnering arrangement similar to the one we had last year with the B.C. government and Atlin. We have not had a lot of success with that, which is understandable, because the Government of the Northwest Territories is dealing with some fairly significant matters of its own right now, with a $160 million deficit. It does not have a lot of extra money to put into these projects at the present time, which is creating a bit of a problem.
I can assure the Member that I think there is great potential in the Dempster Highway. It is something that is plugged into our marketing. I know that when our agency was up here on a photo shoot about a year ago, the Dempster was the one area where they spent several weeks taking photographs. We use all kinds of photographs in our pop-up displays and other information that we put out to the general public.
The Member raised a concern about the Beringia Interpretive Centre drawing down the kind of visitor attendance that we have in other parts of the territory. I do not share that view. I am of the view that the more attractions we have, the more people we can keep here longer, and the more opportunity there is for those people to do more things.
I say that because I attended a meeting about a year ago with the the chief executive officers of Holland America and Princess Tours when the Alaska visitor convention was held in the Yukon. Both of those companies told us that they would have a second look at staying more nights in the Yukon if we had more things for people to do. They are always looking at new packages and ideas to sell these new packages, but they have to offer them something.
I spoke to some of the officials as little as one week ago. I was again reassured that when we get our marketing plans put together and go to see them, they will consider them. I can tell the Member that as a result of our cooperative marketing with these companies and others, all indications are that visitation to the Yukon this summer will be up significantly for these companies compared to last year. I am told that it is going to be quite significant. We partnered with them in some Gold Rush marketing and other packages. It is a little early in the year to go out on a limb and say that it is going to be an absolute boom year. It is an American election year and a Summer Olympics year, and Americans do not travel as much as they do in other years when that happens. However, if there is not a lot of cancellations, I have been told by many of the properties in the Yukon that things look as good as last year - if not better - and look way better than last year in some areas, specifically in the Gold Rush and Dawson end of the market. I am pleased to see that we are moving in those directions.
Again, I would encourage the critic to take the time to very quickly get a briefing from the department, and we will make it available as soon as possible so that he can be brought up to speed on where we are at and what we are doing. It is fairly comprehensive and, I think, pretty impressive, when one looks at all the things that are going on. From this he will see that in every single segment of Yukon tourism we have some initiative going on - from the wilderness outdoor sector to the rubber-tire sector to the package-tour sector to our European program. There are all kinds of initiatives going on in each one of the sectors and I at least am feeling some fairly strong support from the industry on these initiatives.
I would encourage the Member to not play politics with tourism. There are a lot of people in the territory who depend on tourism, and we should direct our energy toward working together.
If the Member has some ideas or suggestions, I would like to hear them. I am interested in suggestions about the arts, and ways to look at other markets. I would be more than happy to listen, but we should be working together in these initiatives rather than just trying to possibly score political points at the expense of the tourism business sector.
The industry spoke loud and clear in the press release issued a year ago and in the letter sent out recently stating that the industry does support these initiatives.
I would encourage the Member to sit down with the industry and discuss with them his concerns about these projects. If they still have concerns, I would be more than happy to listen to them.
Mr. Sloan: I am not sure whether the Minister really understood the tenor of my remarks on Thursday.
With regard to the letter from the Tourism Industry Association, certainly we are all in support of that association and its concerns for promoting tourism in the territory.
Specifically, when I look at the projects, particularly the Beringia project, I am a little puzzled about why this particular project became the centrepiece.
The Minister made the comments about the location and I was specifically thinking about the Historic Resources Centre and why that centre had been located in conjunction with the Beringia Interpretive Centre. I thought it would be more appropriately located at the college since that is essentially a research and educational facility.
With regard to Beringia, I would like to know on what basis the Beringia Interpretive Centre became the centrepiece and why that particular project took such precedence?
I had an opportunity to talk to some people in the First Nation Tourism Association who expressed their concern that the particular initiatives that they wished to take in the area of tourism did not seem to have the same kind of profile - specifically, when I look at the budget and see the line item for moving the cultural centre. I think of places where First Nations culture has been the focus of tourism, in particular, the 'Ksan Village near Hazelton. Why did the department not look at something like that? I am talking about something to showcase the native culture of the territory.
For example, and I am sure the Minister will confirm this - many of our visitors come from Europe, particularly Germany, where there is a strong interest in North American aboriginal culture. It would seem to me that this would have been a very logical fit to try and showcase our aboriginal culture.
We know that we have done a fairly good job promoting the Gold Rush period. We know that we have been fairly successful in regard to the Alaska Highway Anniversary, which profiles another aspect of our culture.
In light of the umbrella final agreement, I am surprised that the government did not develop something like a living cultural centre or a native cultural centre, which should have taken a higher profile. That would have been a more logical fit than Beringia.
When I think about Beringia and I think about the actual physical location of it - and I do not want to throw too much in the direction of my friend from the Klondike - it would seem to me, given the fact that many of the ice-age artifacts are located by placer miners in Dawson, that that might have been a good location for it.
Those are the specific concerns I have with Beringia. I am a little concerned, too, about the basis on which the attendance figures and the recoveries have been premised. I have gone through them, and unless the Minister has some information to which I am not privy, I have not really found anything to justify the kinds of estimates of visitors and cost recoveries and things of that nature being presented.
Those are some of the concerns that I have about these two facilities. As we get into the line-by-line debate, I will be asking specifically for some breakdown of various costs with regard to both the Beringia and the visitor reception centre.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: To respond to the Member's concern about Beringia, as opposed to the living cultural centre, I can tell the Member that one of the very first things we did, and one of the things that was in our four-year plan, was to develop a living cultural centre and work with the First Nations.
The approach that I took at the time was, rather than allocate some money to that project and just start building, to sit down with the First Nations to see what they want. We sat down with the First Nations and asked them what they want. We put some money in the budget to do a study. In fact, we allocated the contract to a First Nations contractor who spoke to First Nations throughout the territory about what they would like to see and how would they like to see it done.
The study was in its final stages when the leadership of the Council for Yukon Indians asked us to put it on hold. They did not want it to go any further. There were some concerns that they had with the results of the study. Since that time, we have continued to put money into the budget to try to encourage them to move on it. I have written a couple of letters to their leadership asking about the living cultural centre.
But nothing has come of it. I believe that in November or December they were going to have an elders meeting, at which was going to be discussed the living cultural centre concept. I have not heard from them since that meeting.
That aside, I can say that the Member is right. First Nations history and culture is extremely important to visitors to the Yukon and is one of the priorities to be seen during a visit.
There are some things happening in that regard. The community assistance program proposal for Pelly has just been approved, which will consist of an interpretation of First Nations history. I believe that Carmacks, Dawson, Whitehorse, Haines Junction and Mayo - to name a few - all have a First Nation component in their community assistance program proposals.
The concern I have, and which I have conveyed to the First Nations' leadership, is about how many cultural centres the marketplace can handle, and if it is desirable to have one central one or several smaller ones? The bands have chosen to go their own route, to highlight their own First Nation culture in their particular area. As I said earlier, I have not heard back from the Council for Yukon First Nations about whether or not it would like to have one main centre.
My initial thought was to have a huge cultural centre in Whitehorse, Dawson, or one of the other communities, that all of the First Nations would get involved in. There would be various dances from the 14 First Nations, storytellers, history, artwork and other things that would go on throughout both the summer and winter months, as a year-round attraction. I have expressed this to the First Nations, but they have not gotten back to me with what they want.
If we were to start building that and telling the First Nations we want them to participate and give them the money to participate, I think we would be beat up on pretty quickly for telling them what we wanted them to do. The idea was, and still is, to have the project driven by the First Nations.
Every year, we put money in that budget. It has never been utilized. It has been lapsing each year, and we have been putting it back in in the next year to encourage the First Nations to come forward with other proposals.
Mr. Sloan: I thank the Minister for his answer. Specifically, has the Yukon First Nations Tourism Association been brought into the loop on this? It expressed an interest to me to secure some funding to do a feasibility study. I wondered if it had been made aware of the funding for the living cultural centre.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The First Nations Tourism Association is a relatively new organization and is just getting its feet on the ground. We have been primarily dealing with the Council for First Nations and have not, to my knowledge, had representations on this issue from the First Nations Tourism Association.
When we put money in the budget to do the initial study, rather than just hiring someone ourselves to do it, we asked the Council for Yukon First Nations if it had a consultant it would consider, which it did, and we got the work done. It then decided it did not particularly like the direction of the report, and some chiefs were also concerned about it, so it stalled at that point.
The idea was it could go back to the chiefs and elders to get some direction on what to do. Since then, Pelly has gone ahead with its proposal. I do not know if it would want to be involved in the whole picture. Carmacks and Dawson are doing something. Haines Junction and Mayo are doing something on the river with displays.
Some First Nations are going off on their own. I have not heard from the Council for Yukon First Nations on its most recent deliberations, and I have heard nothing on this yet from the First Nations Tourism Association.
Mr. Sloan: When the Minister's very positive response reaches the association, it will be at his door.
With regard to the Historic Resources Centre, I understand it is to be located adjacent to the Beringia Centre. Can the Minister give us some indication why that particular location was chosen, and why it was not built in close proximity to Yukon College or the Archives, linking it with the educational and tutorial aspects?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It will not be a huge teaching centre. There will be some labs and a workshop, so we can give some instruction to some people on the preservation, protection and restoration of various pieces of Yukon history.
The reason we chose the site up the hill is primarily because of the economy of scale, where if one is built next to another, there will be some efficiencies gained by both buildings. Up there, one efficiency will be in having the staff handy for the interpretive centre in the winter months. It was just that it was logical to put it next to something that was a significant interpretive centre. That was the only reason.
If it were to be put at Yukon College, I do not believe it could go next to the Archives. It would probably be a separate building. This way it could tie in with some work that might be done in one area, then in the Beringia Centre it could be explained what happens in the beginning and what it ends up looking like in the end. Oth
er than that, it was not a complicated decision to put it there; it seemed a logical place for it to be.
Mr. Sloan: Were there discussions held with the heritage and education communities with regard to its location? Was the Yukon Historical and Museum Association, for example, consulted or did it have any input about the location of the Historic Resources Centre?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am not sure exactly, but I have not had any complaints from anybody about the location. I cannot tell the Member offhand if anyone mentioned to the association where the centre may or may not go. I have not had any concerns registered about that.
By putting it next to the Beringia Interpretive Centre, it possibly will allow us to open parts of it up for a tour of how artifacts are restored and how we create replicas of some of the things that will be recreated there. It opens up another type of attraction that can be used, at least in the workshop and lab area. Tours could be conducted on a regular basis. That is where tourists will be, and so it helps to keep them there a little longer.
Mr. Sloan: I have questions concerning the actual Beringia Centre. In going through the figures for the Beringia Centre, I am a little hard-pressed to find out if there is some kind of breakdown of, for example, exhibits, physical changes, the kinds of exhibits and those kinds of things.
Would the Minister have available some sort of an outline or schematic of the types, number and nature of the exhibits? Will there be changing exhibits? What kinds of things will be going on there? I am having a hard time getting a handle on what will go in there. I would like to have a better sense of it before I would feel comfortable committing to something like this. I would like to know the nature of the centre.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I can come back to the Member in the main estimates discussion with a breakdown of the costs. The actual exhibits have not been formalized or planned yet; plans are in the very beginning, early stages, but I can give the Member a breakdown of how much will go into exhibits, how much will go into changing and reconstructing the building, fixing some of the major heating and ventilation problems that exist in the building already. I can some back to the Member with that.
We have been asked by several groups and organizations for a briefing on the concept of Beringia. We gave the first one on Friday to the Tourism Industry Association and I would be more than happy, when we do the next one, to invite the critic to go and listen to the presentations of the palaeontologist, as well as Jeff Hunston, the director of heritage, with respect to Beringia and the types of exhibits one will see, the types of activities that might happen and the types of things that will go on in the Beringia Interpretive Centre. I would be more than happy to let the Member know the next time there is one of those briefings. There may be a public briefing. There have been some requests that we give a briefing at a major luncheon to give people an idea of what is going on. That may also be an opportunity for the Member to hear about the kinds of activities that are going to happen.
Mr. Sloan: I thank the Minister for his kind invitation. I will be sure to take him up on it.
With regard to the overall conceptual design of Beringia, have any professionals, or professional companies, companies that make this their expertise, been consulted or contracted? Has there been anything along those lines and, if so, could the Minister provide us with some detail?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There was an advertisement in the papers a couple of weeks ago for the conceptual designs - for somebody to put together that kind of proposal. That has just gone out; I can get the closing date for the Member. I do not have it handy here, but I can make sure I get it for the Member after the break. Certainly, we can provide any information in that regard that the Member wishes.
As to the planning part of the project, there are several people - and I mentioned many of them last year - who are part of the group that is working on exhibit design and advice to us. We will work with whoever that contractor is on the types of exhibits they build. Those people have a great deal more knowledge on this than I do. One who comes to mind is Dick Harington from the museum in Ottawa. Some people from Drumheller and some First Nations people are also going to be involved in it. I believe some local people are going to be involved as well, so there is a group of a dozen or so people who are going to be quasi-advisors who will work with the contractor in coming up with the concepts and ideas.
Mr. Joe: I have a couple of questions for the Minister with regard to the visitor reception centre. I think the Minister touched a bit on this issue. Every year, I travel to all of the communities in my riding. There is no place for tourists. Pelly Crossing is a place getting popular with tourists, but there is nowhere to go and spend some time with the community. Fort Selkirk is a very popular place for visitors. Every year there are more. Sometimes the campground gets too crowded with people travelling on the river. Big Jonathan House was repaired about four or five years ago. It is empty and nothing now.
I remember that at one time Fort Selkirk had enough artifacts for tourists to fill a museum. Now and then, something would disappear and now there is not much to show to the tourists.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Member is talking about Fort Selkirk. As he knows, we have a management contract with the Fort Selkirk First Nation, stating that it will manage Fort Selkirk for us. If there are artifacts disappearing, we certainly want to know about it. The heritage people would take that very seriously and we would try and deal with it.
We have a fairly good working relationship with the First Nation in Pelly for managing that project. There is money in the budget to continue the project this year.
With respect to Pelly itself, the new community assistance program proposal for the interpretive centre at Pelly will encourage people to stop and stay a bit longer in Pelly, and may provide, as the quote from the First Nation in the paper states, "half a dozen jobs to build it, and perhaps a couple of jobs once it is open."
I spoke just last week with Holland America - Westours - and I told them about the Pelly project. We hope that it will consider these kinds of attractions as a place to stop for lunch, or at least a place to stop for a visit and go into to buy some souvenirs, or whatever. That is the kind of infrastructure that we need to develop in the territory to make tourists spend more time here, because many of those tourists who are going to Dawson are on their way to Alaska. This is more of a short pit stop. They are driving through the territory, going into Dawson City, and then on up to Alaska.
Those kind of developments will be good for the area. I will convey the Member's concerns about missing artifacts to the department. I am sure it will be talking to the Selkirk First Nation. We will do whatever we can to make sure that this does not continue.
Mr. Joe: Quite a while ago, when I was in Ottawa, I visited the museums and facilities and I saw some artifacts that belonged to Fort Selkirk. I do not know how those artifacts left the territory in the first place. What can we do about this? We have to have some artifacts in the Yukon to show to the tourists. I have wondered about this issue for a long time.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Part of the problem is that in the past the artifacts were recovered in the Yukon and we did not have a historic resources centre or a place that was climate controlled to store them. What happened was that they were picked up by various individuals, taken out of the territory to Ottawa, restored and then put on display in a climate-controlled environment to protect them.
Our hope is that once we get our facility built we will be able to restore some of the artifacts ourselves. As we build exhibits in Pelly and in other communities, as we have in Whitehorse and Dawson, we can try to repatriate some of them.
Once museums take them, they really think that the artifacts become theirs, even though they are ours in the first place. It becomes a huge argument to get them back, but I can assure the Member that I will argue very long and hard to get the Yukon artifacts back into the Yukon. That is a real struggle and it always has been a real struggle.
The first thing they ask when we want to bring them back is if we have the proper displays to put them in. If we do not have a proper place to put them in, they are really reluctant to give them back.
We just repatriated, so to speak, the RCMP Gatling gun that was part of the MacBride exhibit display - it travelled around on a trailer, so perhaps the Member had an opportunity to see it - and was up here for the RCMP Centennial. We lobbied the RCMP to give us the exhibit back to put in the MacBride Museum for display in an appropriate way where it could be protected and preserved. Although we do not have it back as the Yukon's, it has been loaned to us forever, if we take care of it. We get it back and, once it is on display in the Yukon in one of our exhibits, it is as good as ours. I would hope that we can do that in future.
Mr. Sloan: When the Minister mentioned artifacts, I was wondering whether or not there have been any discussions with the Tourism department and the people who are trying to revitalize the working railroad? Has there been any work done with these people to see about assistance for that project?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I understand that the department has done a fair amount of research on their behalf, but it is my understanding that there is a stumbling block because they want to run the railroad from the White Pass depot to the canyon and back. The difficulty is that White Pass has the railroad for sale and they do not want to sell the railroad in sections. They want to sell the whole railroad as one.
The last I heard, a few months ago, was that they could not get a rail right-of-way to run the railroad, because of White Pass' feelings about selling it as a total package.
Mr. Sloan: There seems to be some confusion about White Pass' plans with regard to the tourist train travelling from Skagway and whether or not it will be in operation this year and, if so, how far it will go and whether or not it will go to Bennett. Does the Minister have any information on that particular project?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It is my understanding from my last conversation with White Pass officials that the railway would not be coming to Carcross this year. They were working on having it come to Carcross, but it is not happening at the present time. I hope that if there is a community assistance project in Carcross and some good development and infrastructure in place, it would attract them.
Most of the trips that are sold are shore excursions and Carcross is just a little bit farther to go than time allows. The train is not fast moving, and one would have to get the people off the bus, on the train, off the train, back on the bus and back to the cruise ship within six to eight hours. Getting to Carcross and even to Whitehorse makes it difficult to do within an eight-hour period. I believe there are still plans in place to get the train going to Carcross and sell a different package to people, but it is my understanding that it will not happen this year.
Mr. McDonald: I have a few questions about the Beringia Centre and the living cultural centre.
Did I hear the Minister say he did not know if the Yukon Historical and Museum Association was consulted on the location of the Historic Resources Centre?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I never heard the Yukon Historical and Museum Association express a concern about the location of the Historic Resources Centre, wherever it might be in Whitehorse. It is not an issue it has ever raised with me, that I am aware of.
Putting it up at the Beringia Centre was a choice of convenience with respect to connecting the two, possibly utilizing one to draw tourists into the Historic Resources Centre and do the training there, with an exhibit right next door to show people what can be done when artifacts are restored.
I would have to check if there were any discussions about whether or not this location was approved. What I have heard from the Historical and Museum Association is just, "Build an historic resources centre as quickly as possible," and I believe it gave the previous government the same message.
Mr. McDonald: When the Minister made the announcement for the Beringia Centre back in November 1994, I was under the impression the Minister had consulted with no one prior to making the announcement about the Beringia Centre, the visitor reception centre or the Historic Resources Centre, let alone about the location. I was a little taken aback that the Minister did not know if there was any consultation.
That is water under the bridge, in some respects.
With respect to the Beringia Centre, the Minister indicated the exhibits are not yet planned. I am not sure what he meant by that. Can he tell us what the specific budget will be, and what the cost recovery plan will be for the Beringia Centre?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can bring that back in the main estimates for the Member or provide it as a legislative return before we get into the main estimates, if the Member wishes. As I said earlier, the breakdown now consists of an amount for exhibits and an amount for construction. I do not have the figures handy here, but I can probably provide them for the Members later today or early this week.
Mr. McDonald: There is no immediate rush for the information, but I would like to see the information before we actually get into the main estimates discussion on Tourism.
I am particularly interested in the full costs of operations, of construction and of the exhibits. What assumptions are now made with respect to cost recovery from sales? What are the statistical assumptions with respect to the expected visitors to to the Beringia Centre? If the Minister can give us all of that information, I would appreciate it.
Could he also tell us if any analysis has been done on the Beringia Centre? Has there been a study done in the past year to define the project a little more clearly? What analysis has been done?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: That is what the contract in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago was all about. It is to define the project a little more clearly, and once we know what physical changes must be made to the structure, it will give us the kind of operation and maintenance projections that we may need down the road. However, it is a little early to do that now, simply because any numbers that I give the Member would be very preliminary. We just issued the tender. I just saw it in the newspaper about a week or two ago. I am not sure if it has even closed yet. If it has not closed, it will do so very shortly, or it may have just closed. I would have to get the time line to find out when we will get this report back for the Member.
Mr. McDonald: I will ask maybe just one question at a time. Can the Minister give the commitment to provide the information that I requested with respect to full operations, cost recovery and capital costs?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I can do that. I remind the Member, however, that the numbers are going to be projections, because all we can do is project right now. The numbers that I give the Member will not be hard and fast, because they will simply be projections.
Mr. McDonald: Presumably, the information the Minister gives us will be drawn from experience, and accurate information can only be given to us when the centre has been operating for some time, so I take that as a given.
However, a concern has been expressed to me by someone associated with the centennial anniversaries program and the project in Carmacks. Carmacks had had some difficulty getting approvals. He showed me the stack of studies that had to be done before getting approval. They identified every last expenditure and they had every operating assumption challenged or questioned before there was any agreement in principle to proceed with the project.
Can the Minister tell us why the approval for the Beringia Centre happened in a different way - first there was the general concept, then approval was given, and only now, just before the project is to go to tender for alterations is the analysis being done to justify the facility.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The preliminary analysis of the numbers was done some time ago, and I gave it to the Member last year. The Member did not like the figures but they were the projected figures. I cannot tell the Member why there may or may not have been a difference because I do not get involved in the detailed discussions with the community assistance program projects. That is done by the Department of Economic Development and the proponents. I can, however, tell the Member that our visitor exit survey, the Whitehorse survey, and other surveys we have conducted, talk about the need for attractions such as this. Our projections are that tourism is going to grow significantly over the next five to 10 years so there is an opportunity here.
I believe this project is one with a bit of a vision. It is the kind of thing our visitor exit survey tells us the tourists want to see. They want to see educational tourism. They want to understand a little more about an area when they travel to it. I hope that this will make us more of a destination, which is what we are trying to do.
It is certainly supported strongly by the industry and I just wish the Leader of the Official Opposition would realize that. I appreciate where he is coming from about the numbers, but the people are not here yet and it is difficult for me to project how many people will be here and whether or not they will all come. I would hope that this particular attraction will encourage Holland America, Princess, and others to spend another day. Just that decision alone will increase our numbers by many thousands over a given year, if they stay another day in Whitehorse. Just the fact that they are going to spend another day in Whitehorse will mean that they will not only visit Beringia but they will also visit the MacBride Museum, the SS Klondike and other things, because they have to fill their day. They have indicated to us that that is the kind of thing they do. One just has to go to Fairbanks and see what is happening up there.
Eldorado, the gold mine that was built in Fairbanks, is right next door to the dredge and the Alaska Highway pipeline display. The buses stop at all three of them, as they have all become an attraction. It is a whole day's trip, whereas three years ago, there were no buses going up that road to stop anywhere. It has now become a big attraction. It is hoped that the Beringia Centre will encourage people to stay a bit longer there and that there will be spinoffs to others in the industry. That is what the tourism industry believes will happen and what the marketing indicates will probably happen. That is why we are proceeding with the project.
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Minister for his answer. I have heard that answer on a number of occasions and I assure him that he does not have to repeat it. I am certain the Minister does not want me to repeat some of my comments on the question of the Beringia Centre, the visitor reception centre or anything else.
Right now, I am trying to get some basic information. I will just keep trying until I get it.
The Minister indicated that the Beringia Centre expected to receive 125,000 visitors in a given year. Is that still his expectation?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I have not changed the projections. I think the Member should realize that that is a projection for three years from now. However, I am not going to change the numbers. They were just projections. The tourism numbers that we have show that we are increasing every year. They show that there is the opportunity to increase every year even more than we are now. I am very optimistic about the numbers this year.
I am not planning to change any of the numbers I gave the Member earlier. They are just projections, but I believe that it is a reasonably good idea and has vision. The industry thinks it is a good idea, as well. We are planning to continue with this particular project.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister did not have to give a speech. If he insists on one every time, I guess it will just take up more time than we need to.
With regard to the 125,000 visitors that the Beringia Centre expects to receive, are all those visitors expected to be paying customers? I take it this is going to be a cost-recovery project, and everyone will be paying an average fee of $5. Is that still the basic operating assumption?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Everything that I said last year on April 13, 1995 - I believe that was the day - and the numbers I gave to the Member were projections. I have not changed any of those.
Mr. McDonald: The Beringia Centre will be recovering all of its operating costs. Last year, when this project was announced, the Minister indicated that the Beringia Centre would make a profit and, in fact, cover its capital costs within three years. Are those still fair operating assumptions?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I said this last year, but the Member opposite chooses to ignore the economic spinoff to the territory when visitors spend more time in the territory. When visitors spend extra days in the territory, they go to restaurants, stay at hotels and go to more attractions. It is hoped that there will be significant economic spinoffs if people spend more time in the territory.
I would like to tell the Member about a meeting we had with Holland America. Holland America indicated to us that attractions such as this, that had been built in Alaska - not similar attractions, but significant ones - had Holland America spending more time there. It and other tour companies are looking for more in the Yukon land package. They are looking for more things for people to do. If more attractions are created in the Yukon, people will stay a little longer. When people stay a little longer, the economic impact is enormous to us. We know that, and it was demonstrated quite clearly by our European marketing program that the Members opposite have been reluctant to support.
The European marketing program has paid enormous dividends to the businesspeople and created tourism jobs in this territory. There is hardly anyone in the tourism industry - from the RV side, the gift shop side or the wilderness adventure side - that is not telling me to attract more Europeans.
Because of the economic spinoffs, they become destination tourists and want to spend more time here and, consequently, more money. In fact, if one were to walk around the streets during Rendezvous and the Yukon Quest this year, quite a number of tourists could be seen walking around the streets. For the most part, these tourists were from Europe. That is good business for that time of year for the operators in the territory, and they were quite excited about that this year. They want us to attract more tourists and want us to develop more things in the territory to make people come here and make it more of a destination. That is what we are hoping to do with this project.
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Minister. He did not answer the question, so I will ask him again. The operating assumption was that the centre would recover its capital cost in three years, as well as its operations cost on an annual basis and would make a profit. Is that still a fair operating assumption?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: No, I do not think I said that. I said there would be a net loss the first year of $51,000, and possibly a net profit the second year. No, I do not think we will recover the capital costs. One takes into account the economic spinoff to the community.
The Member is playing with numbers. I wish he would say if he supports the project or not. It is becoming more obvious that he does not support it, or is he just trying to pick political holes in it?
I do not understand where he is coming from, and I do not think the industry understands where he is coming from either. The industry thinks this is a good project. In my view, the industry has a better understanding of the tourism industry in this territory than the Member does.
Perhaps the Member should sit down and talk with the industry about how it feels about these particular projects, instead of trying to make politics out of it. It is a shame to waste all this negative energy in this House.
The Member laughs. He can laugh about it, but the industry is not laughing about this. The industry is treating it very seriously. The Leader of the Official Opposition should take his job seriously and consider what is happening here.
This is an important project for the Yukon and will benefit the Yukon as a whole by making it a destination, which is the approach we have taken with this project. That is the approach the industry supports for this project. There is nothing the Member opposite can say to make me change my mind about this project.
Mr. McDonald: I am not interested in changing the Minister's mind on this project at all. I do not think there is anything I could say or do that would cause the Minister to change his mind. I thank the Minister for that patronizing speech. However, it does not change my mind one bit.
The Minister has asked what position I take on the Beringia Centre. I have told him on numerous occasions what my position is with respect to the Beringia Centre.
In terms of the accusation that the Opposition politicians are playing politics with the Beringia Centre or with the tourism industry, we ask legitimate political questions of the Minister, questioning the basic assumptions he casually casts into the fray in the Legislature, as if these were matters of fact and absolute truth.
The Minister did, in fact, say that this project was going to recover its capital costs. This was not something we thought was believable, but the Minister, in his justification for this world class facility, indicated that this was a matter of fact and, if the Opposition would simply get their facts straight, they would understand how wonderful the project was, and how it was going to recover its capital costs. Now a year and one-half later, the Minister says that is not the case at all.
The Minister said this project was going to make a profit. He did not factor in the economic spinoffs any more than the people who are promoting capital assistance programs around the territory have been able to convince economic development analysts that the economic spinoffs will be sufficient to justify their facilities.
I am not wasting negative energy, I am asking legitimate questions about the economic and financial assumptions the government is promoting for a multi-million dollar project. These are perfectly legitimate questions. I did not lard my questions with a lot of rhetoric about whether or not I can pass a loyalty test for the tourism industry as defined by the Minister. I asked straightforward questions of fact to determine whether or not there is any justification for the facility and, if so, how much? When I have the same information the Minister has, then perhaps he could make a convincing argument, but all we have heard so far is a lot of rhetoric about how we should have faith in the tourism industry and the Minister's statistical projections in terms of numbers. That is what we have, and all that I am asking for are some facts.
The people who are promoting the capital assistance program and projects in the various communities have been asking the government for support for various projects. These people have been identifying operations costs and going through the hoops when it comes to conducting studies to justify their proposals. Every operating assumption they have ever had is analyzed ad nauseum by officials, including officials in the Department of Tourism.
Officials from Tourism, from the Minister's own department, have been in Watson Lake talking about the planetarium and, as I understand it from town council, are asking the Town of Watson Lake to produce great justification for its assumption that it is going to receive a certain number of visitors in any given year.
When I asked the Minister the most mundane kind of question about his department's operating assumptions for the Beringia Centre, all I am treated to is a booster speech that could be given in any tourism conference by any PR guy about how we should all love the tourism industry. There is a singular reluctance to provide the basic data - data that is absolutely essential for this government's support of any number of capital projects around this territory.
When the Minister announced the startup of the Beringia Centre, he talked to no one. His department spoke to no one. When that project was first announced, the City of Whitehorse indicated that it did not even know the government was going to do it. When he made the announcement prior to the throne speech, the Yukon Historical and Museum Association had not a clue what the government was doing. Yet the Minister tries to snow the new critic by pretending that he is not sure whether or not the Yukon Historical and Museum Association was consulted on the location. It was not even consulted on the basic concept, let alone the location, and he knows it.
I appreciate listening to the Minister's booster speeches about tourism as much as the next guy, because I think the Minister has got the basic speech down right. If he delivers that same speech to German tourism operators, or in Phoenix, or leading a parade in Tampa - wherever he goes - I am sure he is going to be an effective sales person for tourism. I appreciate listening to those speeches. As long as he continues doing it that way, I am certain he, by himself, by his own force of will, is going to encourage the tourism industry to expand. All the power to him, but that is not what we are doing here.
I am asking some basic questions about this facility, about a $3 million-plus commitment to a facility. I would like some answers. I can tell the Minister that I have been in a number of communities in this territory, where they bring up the question of not only their own centennial anniversary programs, but the Beringia Centre. They ask, "Why the double standard?" They put a whole load of studies on the table, and they say, "We still do not know whether or not we are going to get a commitment from the government on our centennial anniversaries project. Look at all of the studies." I just talked to somebody on Friday about a Carmacks project. He said, "Look what we had to do. Study after study after study, and we still did not know whether or not we are going to get $500,000 for the centennial anniversaries project." Yet the commitment to undertake the Beringia Centre, on the basis of a list of artifacts that we all know too well - those of us who have been in this Legislature, and I happen to know personally from my own contacts - are pretty limited.
I am asking the Minister to provide a simple justification for this facility. I want to know how much justification he has, what it is, so that I can decide for myself if there is sufficient rationale for the project. It has nothing to do with whether or not I support the tourism industry. Of course I support the tourism industry. However, if the Minister is insisting that his particular vision of whether or not he decides to spend $3 million on one project versus another as the acid test for my faith in the tourism industry, he has another think coming. That is nonsense.
While I am on my feet, I might as well continue. I did not want to get into this long diatribe, but the Minister has encouraged me to do it.
The Minister is now passing off this living cultural centre as something completely run by First Nations and something in which he has no involvement other than to provide a few bucks or some financial contribution at some point. Having spoken to the First Nations Tourism Association- it has its meeting this week - it had never even heard of the living cultural centre. The executive director had not heard of the living cultural centre. I had asked about the living cultural centre, and the council had not heard of it. We mentioned that money had continually lapsed every year. We did the intemperate thing and gave the Minister's line for what was happening with the living cultural centre - that the money was continually lapsing, and if only the council would get their act in gear and get things going, something would clearly happen. I do not know why I let myself slip to that extent. I was actually repeating the Minister of Tourism's words to the public.
That just goes to show that if one listens to something long enough, one will believe it. The point of the matter is that when this Minister really wants something to happen he pulls out all the stops. When he wants to stem the tide of Liberal regulation on gun control, he goes to Ottawa, visits other ministers, is always on the phone, he raises a ruckus, he sponsors public meetings - he moves. For the living cultural centre, according to him, he sent a couple of letters to the Council for Yukon First Nations but has not heard very much, and that is supposed to be sufficient for him to absolve himself of any responsibility to see anything happen.
That does not suggest to me that there is a lot of commitment there.
There are dozens of questions one could ask, based on just that testimony alone. How many meetings did the Minister actually have? What did he actually tell the First Nations? Have they said they are not interested at this time? Have they all said that they are not interested? Does he know what Kwanlin Dun has said with respect to this matter? Has Kwanlin Dun suggested that there might be something they want to sponsor in Whitehorse? What has he done to make sure that something could happen?
I have been in the Legislature for a couple of years now listening to comments that this living cultural centre is a priority. Based on no action at all, I am starting to question that assumption. Maybe it is not something that we should simply let slide.
There is lots of stuff to say about this matter.
I would like to ask the Minister a couple of questions - questions that I had intended to ask anyway, about the operating assumptions of the Beringia Centre.
Could the Minister tell us how many people Holland America tours pump through the Yukon in a given year, through its cruise ships and through its bus services? Can the Minister tell us how many people actually come in through those routes, and can he tell us, based on MacBride Museum's visitorship, how many of those tourists who come into the Yukon through Holland America, Westours or any other operating company, visit the MacBride Museum?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will answer the last question first. I will have to get back to the Member about the number of Holland America visitors. I have been told by representatives of Holland America that they expect the numbers to increase significantly from last year.
I do not think that - other than the odd one who might walk across the street - any of the Holland America visitors go through the MacBride Museum, and I do not believe they visit the museum as an organized tour.
That is the point I wanted to make earlier. If they decided there were enough attractions in Whitehorse to stay another day, places like the McBride Museum, the SS Klondike and other attractions in Whitehorse could be included in a day tour for visitors to the City of Whitehorse. That is the way it works in the tourism industry. Visitors may very well see these sites if they spend an extra day in the territory.
This is one of the spinoffs that I have talked about with respect to Westours. For the mains estimate I will bring back Holland America's figures from last year. They may even be able to give me some projections for this year, which I am told are up in the double and triple digit numbers from last year. I will bring those figures back to the Member.
The other question the Member asked was with respect to the First Nations Tourism Association. I have carried out most of my meetings with the Council for Yukon First Nations. In the past, most of these meetings were held with the present Commissioner of the territory, Ms. Gingell. I have had several conversations over the years with Ms. Gingell. There has been correspondence between the department and association. I can provide the Member with correspondence outlining the times that we have discussed the issues.
From time to time, I have been cautioned about driving a project from a Yukon government standpoint, and this is one. If one is going to talk about a First Nations cultural centre, it should be driven by the First Nations, and not the Yukon government saying it wants to build a cultural centre for the Yukon Fist Nations.
Not all First Nations are totally supportive of a central, cultural centre, and that is evidenced by the capital assistance programs. Many of them are putting in their own types of interpretive displays or components to the capital assistance program.
The Member opposite would be down my neck like crazy, and I would probably be criticized by the Council for Yukon First Nations if I said we would not fund individual projects, there will be only one, this is what it will look like and this is where it will be. They would have been pretty upset if I had gone that route and told them that, which is why we did not.
I have been somewhat frustrated that it has not come further than it has, but the First Nations have had a lot on their plate in the last year. This is one area in which they have not been able to devote as much time as I would have liked to see. However, I did not want to tell them to get on with it and do it.
When we did the study and gave them the money to hire a consultant, they came back to us after the report was done and asked us to hold off on any future plans until they had a chance to talk to the chiefs and elders and discuss among themselves what route they wanted to take. I put money in the budget every year to demonstrate to them that there is still a commitment.
Surely the Member is not suggesting that I start clearing a lot to put the facility on without first making sure that is what they want to do. We did not even know what concept they might be looking at - one joint centre, several small ones, a combined effort - or if they would chip in some funding for the project and there would be a cooperative approach to it. We have not even gotten that far.
We have only gone to where they have asked the First Nations what they thought about a First Nations cultural centre. They were not entirely happy with the report on the study and asked me to delay any further decision. That is where we are.
If I had taken the money out of the budget, I would also have been criticized by the Member. I left the money in the budget, and have encouraged them over the months and years to do it. Surely the Member is not suggesting that I should be driving this project. The advice I received from some, including leaders of First Nations, is that this is a fairly sensitive issue and should be driven by the First Nations, which is the approach I have taken.
Mr. Sloan: Can I ask what specific objections the First Nations brought forward with respect to this project? Were there questions about the location? What were the specific concerns that they had?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Initially, we put some funding in the budget to have a look at this initiative. Right after that, I went to the Council for Yukon First Nations, spoke to all of the chiefs, and told them that there was money in the budget for this initiative. I explained that it was really quite preliminary, but that I wanted their input and ideas about how to approach it. I told them I wanted it to be driven by the First Nations.
At the time, they put me in touch with what, I believe, was a tourism committee. We dealt with the committee for a while, but nothing really came of it until approximately a year later - it had been in the budget for three years, and this was the second year - when they informed us that they would like to do a study.
The First Nations conducted the study - I believe Mary Easterson did the study for them and they were given a report. After they received the report, they came back to us and stated that the First Nations themselves had some concerns about whether or not there should be one or more facilities and how the facility, or facilities, would be structured. They told us that they wanted to sort it out among themselves before going any further.
The last I heard about it was this past fall, in that some time in November, December or January there was to be a meeting of the chiefs and elders. The idea was going to be run by them again, and they would be asked what they wanted to do about it.
Since then, however, several First Nations have gone out on their own, and put forward a First Nation cultural component in their community assistance program proposal. I cannot tell the Member where it is at right now because I have not heard back from the Council for Yukon First Nations.
I can contact the Council for Yukon First Nations again to inquire what happened as a result of the meeting. I would have thought that the Council for Yukon First Nations would have communicated this issue to the First Nations Tourism Association. I apologize for not doing that, but I simply assumed that would happen because many of the people involved in the Council for Yukon First Nations are the same people involved in tourism planning and would have known that, at least, it had been discussed at the leadership level.
Perhaps I am at fault, and I apologize if I did not raise it with that specific organization. However, it is a brand-new organization. It has had a founding meeting, and another meeting is to take place next week. As I said, I apologize if I did not inform them, but I would have thought that, because it is a First Nations Tourism Association and that was an important component and has been in the budget for three years, they would have been dealing with their people - the same people from whom I am waiting to hear with regard to which way they want to go with it.
Mr. Sloan: I have just a couple of questions. I am once again returning to our favourite subject: Beringia. The Minister made an argument for the idea of clustering attractions in the specific areas; the idea of it was the fast-food analogy. Given that premise - that if we cluster attractions we will get acceptability of these attractions - what was the rationale of not locating the Beringia Centre in relative proximity to MacBride Museum or some of the attractions downtown? Had there been any consideration given to locating this centre some place in the downtown area? Was that ever part of the discussions?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It was part of the discussions. Some thought was given to it and I can tell the Member that some concerns have been expressed that if everything was pulled away from the Transportation Museum it may have some difficulty standing on its own, alone up there. The idea of clustering is primarily to cluster attractions in the Whitehorse area and Dawson area, Watson Lake area, or Haines Junction area - clustering attractions within a half-hour or 20 minutes of each other so that a person in a car or tour bus, or whatever, could travel around many exhibits in a given time.
I suppose another location for Beringia might have been the Whitehorse waterfront, but we are a long way away from final plans for what is going to happen there, when it might happen and, in fact, what the residents of the City of Whitehorse would want to see in the waterfront development. They may want to see something that conforms more with the history of the waterfront in the past rather than Beringia. We had a building; we also had an existing attraction close by. The idea is to put it in Whitehorse but combine it with an overall Whitehorse package. That is why that site was chosen.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions that have been touched on partly in the exchange between the Members and the Minister.
On the tourist attractions we have been talking about, there is generally a consensus on both sides of the House that we need to attract that certain element of tourist by having tourist attractions. Does the Minister have a long-term capital expenditure plan for tourist attractions?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Not other than the multi-year plan. There are various plans in various areas of the territory, such as the Kluane wilderness tourism plan. Dawson City just completed a tourism plan. I could make the existing ones available to the Member. They look more at the market and improving facilities, and do not go into the long range about suggesting a specific type of attraction in an area. That is something that comes up in ideas from time to time. For example, I know that part of the Whitehorse tourism plan is to eventually develop the waterfront, but for me to stand on my feet here today and tell the Member exactly what will be there would be difficult to do. That is something that will be done through further meetings and consultations as we go down the road. As people come up with ideas, those ideas will be vetted, and if people like them they will go ahead.
Mr. Cable: I was just wondering if the Minister and his department had integrated the various thrusts that are going on. I know that the centennial anniversaries program is essentially propelled by the communities. Their ideas come up from the bottom. However, I was wondering if the government - with its own funds and projected capital expenditures - had some plan to develop tourist attractions quite independently from what is going on in the communities.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There is nothing on the books right now that I can mention to the Member that is a significant plan for the future, other than information we receive from our visitor exit surveys. They tell us that the combination of attractions, museums and those kinds of things is the bulk of what people want to see and do. If we are to make ourselves anything other than a pass-through jurisdiction, we are going to have to develop something to let people know a little more about our history and culture through its overall history. We are developing those things as time goes by.
Canyon City is another attraction in the Whitehorse area. I know that the Dawson First Nation is looking at things in Dawson. There are other groups and organizations looking at various things in various communities. However, the government does not have a list of these kinds of capital projects and what is being proceeded with.
Mr. Cable: I think that it would be useful to approach the Association of Yukon Communities, for example, and the various tourist bodies with a view to setting up long-term planning for tourist attractions.
Let me ask the question again. Does the Minister think it is useful for the Minister and his department to approach the communities as a group, and the various tourist bodies as a group, with a view to establishing some long-term plan with respect to the production of tourist attractions?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We do that now. We just concluded meetings last year. I believe the Dawson tourism plan was developed. We are either going to Watson Lake or have just come from Watson Lake to update the Watson Lake tourism plan. We have sort of gone full circle. Now we are going back and looking at the plans that are presently there. We go around continually and come back with more ideas from the communities. However, it is a consultative process in which we go into the communities, sit down with the people and say, "Here is what the plan said three years ago. What have we accomplished? What more do we want to accomplish? How do we do it?" If capital projects come to the forefront, then it is up to the community to make us aware of them. That gets plugged into the capital budget process and is dealt with through that process.
Mr. Cable: That is a useful exercise, but what I was getting at was whether or not the Minister thinks it is useful to approach these bodies to get an integrated, Yukon-wide approach to tourist attractions.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It is an interesting suggestion, but at the present time, there is no overall Yukon-wide approach to developing attractions. It is done region by region. Each region looks at its strengths and weaknesses and uses its marketing information to determine what type of thing is lacking in the community and what type of thing we should be looking at expanding. That is how most regions now do their planning.
Mr. Cable: I have a few questions about the Beringia Centre. The completion date, I believe, is May 1997. Is it onstream for that particular date and will it be completed for the 1997 tourist season?
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
The plan is that the design and conceptual work will start now. Some of the exhibit work can start throughout the summer. Once the summer ends, the visitor centre up the hill will be closed. The one downtown will be opened in the fall for year-round operation. The crews will then be able to move into the one up the hill and start the construction changes that have to happen, as well as begin to install the exhibits over the winter next year. The plan is that in May 1997, as we kick off the tourism season, it will be open.
We are already putting the Beringia Centre into our marketing plan, as one has to plan a year or so in advance. The Beringia Centre will begin to go out to the marketplace and we will be telling organizations such as Holland America, Westours and others that, in fact, the Beringia Centre is there.
While I am on my feet, I would like to refer to a letter that was brought to me. It is from Dennis Brandon, the Vice-President of Marketing for Westmark Hotels, Alaska-Yukon. He talks briefly about the Beringia Centre. Although he does not give us a full-blown commitment, because he is not aware of the exact concept, he states that the idea is very interesting to Holland America and Westmark. It is companies like this that will make this thing a success if they decide to spend another day in Whitehorse. I will table the letter in the House. I have an extra copy for the critic, if he wishes.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions on the educational value of the centre. In the Minister's view, is there any role for Yukon College for the research and paleontological resource management support role I think this centre will be used for?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I think there is. In fact, we have already had some interest from First Nations. We do a lot of our archaeological digs, and those sorts of things, with the First Nations now. Old Crow has been involved in this for many years, and so have some other First Nations, such as Kwanlin Dun. The Historic Resources Centre and the Beringia Interpretive Centre will allow us to have a training centre for First Nations and others who want to get involved in this type of history.
Yes, I think there is a fairly widespread use for that, either tied in with the college or in a separate program that is run out of the Historic Resources Centre.
Mr. Cable: Has the Minister had any discussions with the college personnel - the president or whomever - with a view to using the Beringia Centre for teaching purposes?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I would have to get back to the Member on that. Perhaps I could bring a note back for the main estimates that would lay out the educational component of each facility. Again, my understanding is that the briefing given the other day to the Tourism Industry Association board by the paleontologist and Jeff Hunston, director of heritage, dealt with the exhibits, educational value and all that sort of thing. If we get another public presentation of this briefing, it would be useful for the Members to attend, if they could. That way they would get an idea of the type of things that are going on there.
If that does not happen sooner or later, perhaps we could arrange a briefing for the Opposition with respect to that presentation.
Mr. Cable: I gather the Minister's staff has worked up a program called "sleepless in Beringia, school sleepover programs", which I thought showed a certain amount of imagination.
For the main estimates, could the Minister bring back what use he sees the Beringia Centre having in furthering teaching in the public schools about the history component students are exposed to?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will include that information in the note.
Mr. Cable: I have one other question. Some time ago, in 1976, the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated Beringia as a theme of national significance. I am not sure what flows from that for our Beringia Centre. In the Minister's view, what is the significance of that designation by that board?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I understand from the Department of Heritage that there is a lot of interest in the paleontological community about this particular exhibit. I believe there are already two or three seminars or conferences to be held in the Yukon. I think one will be held in the spring of 1997 and another one later in the year. Others from all over the world are interested. These people all know each other and are interested in this field and in having an excuse to come to the Yukon. If we put a centre together like this, which I think will be a very good display, it could attract these groups of people to the territory and put the Yukon on the map with respect to this part of Canadian history.
Mr. Cable: Perhaps for the main estimates the Minister could give us an answer about what he sees as the possible liaison with the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in relation to the establishment of the Beringia Centre.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will bring that information back.
Mr. Sloan: I would like to leave our friend the woolly mammoth for a moment and move on to the world of the living.
In January of 1994, the Minister announced a winter marketing initiative directed toward Juneau and Fairbanks. At that time the Minister said the focus would be largely centered on Frostbite, the Yukon Quest and Rendezvous. It is the latter that I am concerned about. I understand that Rendezvous has had some difficulty in securing funds from the Department of Tourism, and I do not think they have had a great deal of luck with Lotteries Yukon or the Yukon Recreational Advisory Council. From my understanding, the Rendezvous committee sees developing some kind of promotional literature or promotional brochure as a major need.
Can the Minister give us some sense if the department is working with the Rendezvous Society to promote this event as part of the winter marketing initiative, specifically with the idea of giving some assistance in its literature, or whatever? The department certainly has the expertise. I am wondering if it has been approached by the Rendezvous Society in this regard.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am not sure if it has been approached directly by the Rendezvous Society. I know that the society did make a presentation to the centennial events program this year and received some money. I think it was a couple thousand dollars from that program. It was not a lot. It was a small amount of money for a project they were doing.
We have had a lot more interest in winter tourism in the territory in the last couple of years. I have asked the department to work with the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Society, Yukon Quest and Frostbite Society, and all of the major winter festivals that are happening, in order to plug them into our home page on the Internet. A lot of people pull that kind of information up on their computers.
In fact, there was an elderly couple here from England who were walking the streets of Whitehorse. I met them at Rendezvous. They had come here entirely on the basis of the information they obtained on the Internet. They planned their whole holiday, based on the Internet information. We did not have a real Rendezvous page on there. I think it was just mentioned in our visitor guide in the list of activities in the back.
We are working with Yukon Quest and other groups to try to help them with a page for the Internet. That would help with their marketing. That is the type of marketing that is happening. You can print 10,000 brochures, but that does not go very far in the real world any more. If you do a page on the Internet it can go to millions of people and can be pulled up at their leisure. It seems to be a much more effective way to reach them.
Mr. Sloan: One of the things that the Minister made reference to was the centennial events program. It did receive some funding, but it was not a great deal. Part of the difficulty with the centennial anniversaries is that it seems to be largely geared toward the Gold Rush. That may be somewhat limiting on a group like the Rendezvous Society. Has there been any thought given to opening up the guidelines a bit to allow a winter initiative such as Rendezvous to gain some funding?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I do not want to get into the centennial anniversaries program and the centennial events program because they are really the purview of the Minister responsible, Mr. Fisher. I would not want to steal any of Mr. Fisher's thunder on this. I am behind him 100 percent on the program, and I want to assure him of that. I do not want to take all the credit because there are a lot of good things happening there, but
I will comment briefly on it.
The centennial events program is for events concerning the centennial, so I do not see any modification of that program. Other than that, as I said earlier, we are looking at helping them develop something for Internet. We are developing a winter marketing page for our tourism page, and certainly they can be plugged in. Any winter activity in the Yukon can be plugged into that page. We can do that. As for funds for the Sourdough Rendezvous, we have not, and I do not believe government in the past has, actually contributed to Rendezvous with a cheque. I am not aware of that having happened in the past.
The only thing I would say about Sourdough Rendezvous is that I think many of its events are, or could be, considered activities that could have taken place in the Gold Rush days, so I could see that that program opens up a huge avenue for them to theme their events over the next two or three years - from the flour-packing, which is a natural, even to winter gold panning championships in the middle of the street in 20 below weather. It does not happen very often, but I bet a few guys tried it. They got there early and chipped through the ice to get some of that gold in the old days.
I can see that there is an opportunity there for the Rendezvous Society - whether or not it wants to take that opportunity, I do not know, but I have passed it on to them. We will certainly work with the society to help to promote the event. We will put it in all of our literature on events. In fact, in some of the literature I have seen recently - the European literature and some of the other winter literature we produce - I know the Yukon Quest is included, and I think there is mention of Sourdough Rendezvous in some of it. It is not a full-blown brochure, but there are certainly mentions.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on Tourism? Are we prepared to go line by line at this time?
We will take a brief recess at this time and go line by line when we return.
Department of Tourism - continued
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is made up of three items: $192,000 for foreign exchange - as we talked about before - as being the allowance for foreign exchange; $50,000 for shared marketing activities with Atlin, which was an initiative begun last year to include Atlin in our marketing, and which is recoverable under the recoveries; and $20,000 for the CTV project in Whitehorse, which is also recoverable under recoveries from the City of Whitehorse.
Marketing in the amount of $262,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Tourism in the amount of $262,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On General Administration Support
On Office Accommodation, Furniture, Equipment and Systems
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is a project transfer from a new line item, visitor reception centre, for $900,000. There was also a project transfer from a new line item under heritage, the Historic Resources Centre, for $50,000; program transfer under new line item, Yukon Beringia Centre of $50,000; transfer to Visitor Reception Centre from exhibit planning of $10,000, and a revote of $27,000 for approved equipment, giving a total of $983,000.
Office Accommodation, Furniture, Equipment and Systems in the amount of an underexpenditure of $983,000 agreed to
On Visitor Reception Centre/Tourism Business Centre
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is a revote for the tourism business centre of $296,000. There is an approved advance for the 1996-97 funding for the visitor reception centre of $1.5 million. There is a project transfer for a new line item that I talked about before in the amount of $900,000 and the land costs for the visitor reception centre of $975,000 for a total of $3.67 million. The land costs would be offset in the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
Visitor Reception Centre/Tourism Business Centre in the amount of $3,671,000 agreed to
On Historic Resources
On Yukon Historic Resources Centre
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is an item I mentioned earlier to commence the planning for the facility under heritage for the Historic Resources Centre.
Yukon Historic Resources Centre in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre
Hon. Mr. Phillips: These are items that I have mentioned earlier. There is commencement of planning for the facility and the program transfer that is a new line item under heritage for the Beringia Interpretive Centre in the amount of $50,000 and the project transfer of the Yukon Beringia Centre from signs and interpretation of $100,000.
Mr. Sloan: Are there plans to utilize Yukon students as part of the interpretive staff during summers?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The staff will probably be similar to our visitor reception centre staff, so they will be Yukoners. I would more than welcome Yukon students. It might be something Yukon students could start at, and eventually, after going through university, come back and work full time as archaeologists or palaeontologists in the future in the territory.
Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in the amount of $150,000 agreed to
On Historic Sites
On Canyon City Tramway
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is a revote for logs at the Canyon City tramway of $18,000 and a transfer to the visitor reception centre planning, a reduction of $20,000, for a $2,000 difference.
Canyon City Tramway in the amount of an underexpenditure of $2,000 agreed to
On Interpretation and Signage
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is the reduced scope of the science program project transfer to the Yukon Beringia Centre of $100,000.
Interpretation and Signage in the amount of an underexpenditure of $100,000 agreed to
On Industry Services
On Industry and Regional Services
On Industry Research and Strategic Planning
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There are three things here: the revote approved for product inventory data base, in the amount of $10,000; the visitor exit survey additional analysis by Bureau of Statistics, in the amount of $10,000; and the reduction of $10,000 to the visitor reception centre exhibit planning.
Industry Research and Strategic Planning in the amount of $10,000 agreed to
On Special Projects
On Regional Plan Implementation
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This includes project transfer for additional analysis by the Bureau of Statistics for the visitor exit survey. This is the amount of $10,000 from the line before that is shown in this line.
Regional Plan Implementation in the amount of an underexpenditure of $10,000 agreed to
On Visitor Reception Centres
On Low Frequency Radio Transmitters
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It sounds like we have to get our low frequency transmitter fixed. You are intermittent on my speaker, Mr. Chair. I do not know if it is the way that you are speaking or maybe you are trying to play tricks on me.
This is the reduced scope of the project for the visitor reception centre exhibit planning. It is reduced by $10,000.
Low Frequency Radio Transmitters in the amount of an underexpenditure of $10,000 agreed to
On Television, Audio-Visual and Other Equipment
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is to commence planning for the visitor reception centre exhibits in the new centre.
Mr. Sloan: Will that be going to tender soon?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It will be going to tender very soon, I am told.
Mr. Sloan: What kind of audio-visual program is being envisaged - slides, video or a combination multi-screen/multi-image? Can the Minister give us a sense of the concept?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The concept is a very user-friendly interactive computer program. There may be some television shorts on various areas to go with it. It is a combination. The idea of the centre will be to direct people to other parts of the territory. People will be able to get a glimpse of what is happening in other parts of the territory, pull up various operators in certain parts of the territory, and in the future, one hopes, be able to make reservations or at least get prices of accommodation in, say, Mayo or Carcross or wherever, or at least find out who the operators are and be given a number and a printout. They could actually call up this information on their own if they are going to the Carcross area or the Mayo area or wherever. It is going to be a fun type of interactive-user display.
We realize that many of the people who come to the territory are age 50-plus, and maybe not as computer literate as other people, but that age gap is dropping every year. The programs being established will be ones that will initially be user-friendly to all, but will have the flexibility to be adapted to more modern technology as we move into the next era. That is where everybody is heading, and everybody except me will be able to operate it.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I would need some real lessons to be able to do it, but I understand that it is going to be quite interactive and interesting, and will be of help. The plan is to keep people for a few minutes to plan the rest of their holiday in the Yukon and pique their interest that way.
Mr. Sloan: I understand that there will not be an actual show, in the traditional sense, where there are images, but that this will be a computer terminal with touch screens and some kind of printout format as well.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There will be that and there will also be a show. We have money in the main budget to produce a new lure piece for all of the Yukon - a high quality lure piece. It will be a 12-, 15- or 20-minute special, along with the slide show, to encourage people to travel to all other areas of the Yukon. It will be a film show that we are producing.
After the place up the hill closes, we will move the Gold Rush slide show downtown, and there will be alternating shows at different hours in the facility. As well, the stage is a little bit of an expanded stage, so there is possibly an opportunity in the winter months to utilize the building for lectures, or that kind of thing.
One of the things that we found very successful - and it happened by chance in that the elder hostel came by and some of the Renewable Resources biologists spoke. The one who comes to mind is Dave Mossop, who did a lecture on Yukon birds. He got rave reviews from the people with the elder hostel for his sense of humour and knowledge of the Yukon and Yukon birds.
There may be an opportunity to include that kind of lectures, interspersed with the films, throughout the summer. That has not been finalized yet. With the stage being a little bit bigger, it is something we might be able to do.
Television, Audio-Visual and Other Equipment in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Facility Development
On Living Cultural Centre
Mr. Sloan: I am encouraged by my colleagues to ask where the reduction of $10,000 came from.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Nothing has been spent this year. I did not want it to take it all out of the budget because we were expecting something from the elders in January or February. We might be able to do something, but it is getting kind of late. It may all lapse.
Mr. Sloan: I expect that the Minister will be mentioning the existence of this fund when he speaks with the Yukon First Nations Tourism Association.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I will be mentioning that the fund is there, if they are not already aware of it after today's debate.
Living Cultural Centre in the amount of an underexpenditure of $40,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Tourism in the amount of $2,786,000 agreed to
Department of Tourism agreed to
Chair: We will now move on to the Women's Directorate on page 13-1.
Chair: Is there any general debate on the Women's Directorate?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Directorate's supplementary budget consists of three items. Operation and maintenance expenditures are increased by $10,000 to cover the cost of administering a contract to produce a communications tool developed by a federal-provincial-territorial working group, which is co-chaired by the Yukon government's Women's Directorate. These expenses were offset by a federal grant of $12,000.
Operation and maintenance recoveries were increased by $12,000. This funding was provided by the federal government to help Canada's family violence initiatives fund; $10,000 was provided to cover the cost of administering the contract for the communications tool; an additional $2,000 was provided by this fund to cover the cost of sending one of the staff of the Women's Directorate to Ottawa to attend a federal-provincial-territorial workshop in communications and evaluation of the marketing.
I will be pleased to answer any questions.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister referred to the supplementary of $10,000 for operation and maintenance for the development of a communications tool as a result of federal-provincial-territorial initiatives.
Could the Minister be specific on what this communications tool was?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It is a bibliography of initiatives from across the country with respect to the empowerment of women and children. The Yukon led this particular project. That is what the fund was for.
Ms. Moorcroft: When is the bibliography expected to be complete?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am told I can table it when we get to the Women's Directorate main estimates.
Ms. Moorcroft: I have a few questions for the Minister relating to the safe teen assault prevention program training session that will be taking place in Whitehorse in the next couple of weeks. The Women's Directorate is taking the registration for it. I spoke with the Women's Directorate this morning, and I understand there are about 20 women and 10 men signed up for the course. It is discouraging that so much effort has to go into having people take courses to work with teens on sexual assault prevention.
What is being done to encourage teachers - particularly high school teachers - to take the safe teen training session? Have all teachers been notified? Are teachers able to take this training on paid leave?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I understand that Porter Creek Junior High and F.H. Collins were working with them in the school. There are about 32 registrants, consisting of 20 women and 12 men. We would encourage all teachers, if they wish, to participate in the program. I think it is extremely important, and I think we are getting a fair amount of support from the two schools that we are dealing with. I hope that something good will come of it. I think Dawson is another school where initiatives are being undertaken.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask the Minister if the department has notified all teachers about the availability of this training session on March 27 and whether or not teachers are able to take the training on paid leave.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I would have to check with the Department of Education, because it is co-sponsoring the seminar. It is my understanding that all teachers have been made aware of the seminar, but I will get back to the Member about whether or not the training session can be taken on paid leave.
Ms. Moorcroft: I understand there is an inter-governmental working committee with a task force on safe schools as a follow-up to the Yukon equity project. We certainly recommend that these programs be part of core teacher training. I would like to ask the Minister, since the safe teen program has been taught in the majority of Vancouver high schools and also has been introduced into the Norwegian school system, whether or not the Minister would support having the safe teen program offered in the Yukon school system?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I would. I think that would be something that could be raised with the various departments - for instance the creating-safer-communities initiative, and specifically the education portion of that initiative. We will raise that issue if it has not already been discussed at the table.
Ms. Moorcroft: This is one of the issues that we discuss every year when we go through the Women's Directorate budget and the Education budget. I would like to make representation to the Minister that while short one-day programs in the school are helpful, it is time we recognize that violence prevention and sexual assault workshops for teachers and those who work with teens should occur, as a general rule, in the school system. I would like to the ask the Minister to recommend it in his work with Department of Education and to see the Women's Directorate help push that agenda forward sooner rather than later.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It is my understanding that this is one of the recommendations that is going to be made. I do not want to take away from the fact that in the last six to eight months there has been a lot of work done by the Women's Directorate, the Department of Education and other departments to work toward this goal. There are an awful lot of programs led by teachers, in many cases, who are absolutely dedicated to trying to solve these problems, and they are leading the way with the innovative programs that they are designing. We are committed to this and it has been put forward as a recommendation. I hope it will be implemented fairly soon.
Ms. Moorcroft: In his last sentence, the Minister touched on the last thing that I wanted to ask him about, which was an implementation date. The safe teen program is one of many. There are school-based, anti-violence programs available from the London Family Court Clinic. There are bibliographies of resources that I am aware of and that the Women's Directorate has had on hand for years. I would hope that the recommendations will be made and that something can be implemented in the school system in the coming school year.
Can the Minister support that?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The recommendations are going to be made to the taskforce promoting safe schools. I understand that they are going to be made before the end of this month. I cannot give the Member a full commitment that it will happen, but it will be recommended, and it is hoped that it will happen by the next school year. There will certainly be some new programs in the school - I am sure of that. As I said, we are making the recommendation to them to implement it.
Ms. Moorcroft: I know that this is something that many parents and many of my constituents have talked about and support. I am aware that many teachers support it. I think that we need to build on that, and we need to have a broad base of support that shows the program happening soon in all of the schools in the Yukon.
Chair: Is there any further general debate on the Women's Directorate? Are we prepared to go line by line at this time? We will go line by line.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Policy and Program Development
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The operation and maintenance expenditure is the net result of the following: an increase of $12,000, minus $10,000 to cover the costs of administering a contract to produce the communications tool developed by the federal/provincial/territorial working group, which is co-chaired by the Yukon government Women's Directorate; an increase of $2,000 for travel expenses to send a communications officer to a conference; and a reduction in expenditures of $2,000 transferred to Health and Social Services for the Women's Directorate contribution to the youth investment fund. The net result is an increase in expenditures of $10,000.
Policy and Program Development in the amount of $10,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Women's Directorate in the amount of $10,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Policy and Program Development
On Convenience Photocopiers
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The capital expenditure increased by $8,000 to cover the cost of a photocopier to replace the Directorate's liquid toner copier.
Convenience Photocopiers in the amount of $8,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Women's Directorate in the amount of $8,000 agreed to
Women's Directorate agreed to
Yukon Housing Corporation
Chair: Is there any general debate on the Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am prepared to start with general debate, and perhaps we will even finish it by 5:30 p.m., but I should tell the Opposition Members that my officials were standing by all afternoon and just now left, thinking that the Women's Directorate would provoke debate until at least 5:30 p.m. They will be back at 7:30 p.m., but I am prepared to start answering any questions that Members may have.
Ms. Commodore: I would like to know if the Minister has anything more to say in his opening comments with respect to the budget for the corporation. He must have some explanation.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, not really. I can explain the line-by-line items. It is quite simple. As we all know, these numbers were put together last October. I am prepared to explain, generally speaking, what they are.
The reduction of $250,000 in O&M expenditures is due to a reduction of interest on long-term debt expenses. Interest rates are lower, so we expect the expenses to be about $250,000 less than budgeted for.
The explanations for the reductions in home repair and home ownership are quite simple.
Their program delivery has been slower than anticipated. The home ownership program was not implemented until late in the summer, which is the slow season, so we estimated that we would only do half of the budget. We may do even less than that. The monies are recoverable for these two programs so there is no real net impact. The recoveries for home ownership will be down $2 million and we are estimating that the expenses will be down $2 million or more. We budgeted for two staff housing units thinking that they would be requested by our clients and other government departments. They have not been requested so we have reduced that line. We do not expect to do anything before the end of the year, so that $260,000 will lapse.
Otherwise, there is not much explanation with respect to the supplementary numbers.
Ms. Commodore: I just want to give the Minister notice that I will be asking further questions in general debate about why this is happening, but my colleague from Faro would like to start the questioning.
Mr. Harding: I thank the critic for the opportunity to ask a few questions.
I am interested in three specific issues with regard to this supplementary general debate.
I have had a number of constituents express an interest in setting some standards for rental housing. This is due to their belief that substandard housing interiors and exteriors exist, particularly in Faro, and some people have expressed a problem with getting work done to upgrade their units. I have had enquiries made of me about the possibility of the setting of some standards in the Yukon. Tenants sometimes get quite frustrated when they are paying a good dollar for work to be done but, because of a backlog and a limited number of people working for a rental company, they perhaps cannot get that work done in a timely fashion. This certainly is no reflection on the good work of the people who are doing the job.
The fact of the sheer mass of work is a bit of a problem in Faro. We have a good crew of people working, but quite a backlog due to shutdowns, damage done to units, freeze-ups and just putting out fires, essentially. I would like to ask the Minister about the Chateau Jomini situation. I would like to see the town get Chateau Jomini in an attempt to move it for the creation of a business enterprise or for residential units in the community, as we do have a housing shortage.
I understand that the government has taken the position that the non-competition covenant in the agreement with Faro Real Estate exists in perpetuity. I do not believe that it does exist in perpetuity. I believe that the housing needs in Faro have gone beyond sufficient housing to meet the needs of the community of Faro and, therefore, the clause should be null and void. It was originally set up to allow Faro Real Estate to fill their existing units, but I do not believe that it was in perpetuity.
This is hindering investment in the community of Faro for Chateau Jomini. I know that there are people who want to buy it, but, until this is cleared up, they will not move on the dollars that they want to invest. I would like to see the town get that clearance to go ahead and move on it. I would like to see the Government of Yukon prepared to say that the non-competition covenant does not exist in perpetuity and challenge Faro Real Estate on it. Faro Real Estate has told me that it would proceed with action against the Government of Yukon if the move to sell the Chateau Jomini for essentially any kind of residential competition was contemplated.
I also believe that if my constituents have had rents raised by Faro Real Estate in a manner that violates the mortgage, the Government of Yukon should be taking action to see that the rents are brought back down to the agreed amount and that the apartments, studios and 10730 Yukon Ltd. units are brought back down to a respectable rental rate. As well, action should be taken by the government to have these unauthorized rental increases, due to the violation of the mortgage agreement - if it exists, and the Minister has indicated that it does - reimbursed to my constituents.
The Minister announced in his petitioned response last week that, by March 15, there would be an answer from Faro Real Estate on this matter. The only comments I saw in the media from Faro Real Estate were, basically, "See you in court." Could the Minister give me an update today on the status of that situation?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: With respect to the first issue of the standards for rental housing in the Yukon, I understand the Member's concern, especially with respect to Faro, that it would be a considerable amendment to the Yukon Housing Corporation's mandate to get into dealing with rental housing standards throughout the Yukon. That is the mandate of, for example, the City of Whitehorse and regulatory agencies.
I will take that as notice and ask the Yukon Housing Corporation, through the president and its board of directors, if there is any interest in looking at that area. I will let the Member know.
There are a few things that the Yukon Housing Corporation will do. I know it will come back and tell me it is hoping to improve standards with the mobile-home review, and by bringing mobile homes - many of which are rental units - up to standard. It is also working with the City of Whitehorse to legalize a lot of the suites that are now being rented and which do not meet standards, such as if there is a health and safety concern. Perhaps Yukon Housing Corporation can become involved in programs that help people bring illegal suites up to standard so they can be legalized and would be safer.
I will canvass that more completely and get back to the Member.
With respect to Chateau Jomini, the Member can say he heard it here first. I have received a letter from the Mayor of Faro, asking for an extension of the time we allowed for the Town of Faro to come up with an agreement to purchase Chateau Jomini for $1.00. I had written, as the Minister, to say that if we had not heard from the Town of Faro by March 31, we would look at other interested parties. The mayor wrote back to say he was dealing with it right now. I believe a bylaw has received one or two readings with respect to it, and the Town of Faro is dealing with Faro Real Estate on the mortgage clause.
I have not written back yet. If the mayor is listening, I have not written back, but it has been agreed that we will extend the offer to the town to purchase it for $1.00 until June 30. It is hoped that the town will come up with an agreement with Faro Real Estate to remove - or not enforce - the non-competition clause against the town.
With respect to the Yukon Housing Corporation's actions against Faro Real EstateLtd., apparently the letter that was to be sent to them March 1, giving them two weeks, was not delivered on time and the Housing Corporation is giving them until this Friday to respond. I cannot comment on the article in the newspaper with respect to whether or not they will see us in court. I do not know that yet.
The Member again mentioned 10730 Yukon Ltd., and I think that is going to be the sticking point. When the Housing Corporation reached a settlement over outstanding mortgage payments and interest, one of the things that we asked is that 10730 Yukon not raise its rents any higher than those on the Faro Real Estate units. I think the position now - and I am speculating - is that Faro Real Estate does not want 10730 Yukon Ltd. involved at all. They will end up negotiating with us over the Faro Real Estate units. I do not know what control we will have over 10730 Yukon Ltd. That may be a problem for the people of Faro.
Mr. Harding: I agreed with the design of the resolution from the board that said 10730 Yukon Ltd. units should be raised no more than the Faro Real Estate units, which was 10 percent. I was prepared to accept the 10 percent on behalf of the people I talked to in the community, if there was some fairness. Of course, Faro Real Estate takes the position that 10730 Yukon Ltd. is not related. Given the history, I think that is a pretty tough case to make, and I stand by that position. If Faro Real Estate is not prepared to move on 10730 Yukon Ltd., I would say it is back to square one as far as rent increases go - it will be the consumer price index and that will be it.
I just had a call from a person half an hour ago who told me he and his family are living in a two-bedroom apartment in Faro for $675 per month. I know the rent was raised substantially from November 1994 for those apartments to $675 per month. That might not seem like a lot to people renting a two-bedroom apartment in Whitehorse, but Faro is not Whitehorse and, as stated in the petition to the Minister, there was quite a bit of indirect and direct private and public sector support given to Faro Real Estate. I am interested to see the Minister pursue this matter.
I hope that an arrangement can be made that is fair to everyone without the necessity of going to court. There are a lot of people in Faro following this matter closely, and there are a lot of people who heard the Minister's response on CBC.
At one point, there was a letter from the Yukon Housing Corporation to Faro Real Estate, outlining the corporation's vision of what the rent structure should be in Faro. Faro Real Estate said that this is argument for, essentially, the authorization from Yukon Housing Corporation to increase the rents to the level it did. That contradicts the Yukon Housing Corporation resolution. I have only ever seen this letter once - I was not given a copy of it. I was wondering if the Minister could explain that for me and perhaps provide me with a copy of that letter, which is the basis of Faro Real Estate's argument.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will begin with the first concern, which is the rental of the two-bedroom apartment. I do not know if it is a Faro Real Estate unit or a 10730 Yukon Ltd. unit. The Member is saying a 10730 Yukon Ltd. unit.
We will see if we can tie 10730 Yukon Ltd. into the final rental agreement. I think the position was that the Yukon Housing Corporation would accept, with Anvil Range's concurrence, 10 percent across the board. Faro Real Estate has taken the position that it does not want 10730 Yukon Ltd. tied in.
The reason that 10730 Yukon Ltd. is involved in this is that when Yukon Housing Corporation filed a foreclosure action, it also filed a fraudulent preference action, saying that Faro Real Estate had illegally transferred Faro Real Estate units to the numbered company, 10730 Yukon Ltd.
We had hoped to settle both cases with the interim settlement agreement. That brings us to the letter the Member referred to.
That settlement talks about a 10-percent increase across the board, including the numbered company units. Now it is an argument of interpretation. The Yukon Housing Corporation says that there is no way that we would have allowed 10-percent increase on Faro Real Estate Ltd., unless 10730 Yukon Ltd. was included. Faro Real Estate says, "You authorized a 10-percent increase if Anvil Range agreed with respect to the Faro Real Estate units, and the 10730 Yukon units is a separate issue." They are taking half of our offer and not the other half. We are saying, "No, 10730 Yukon being included was a condition precedent to our agreement."
The Yukon Housing Corporation is taking the position that, with respect to Faro Real Estate units, it is back to square one, and we are not prepared to allow a 10-percent increase, that it will be consumer price indexed, and that it wants any overcharges reimbursed. That is our position at the present time.
Mr. Harding: I am clear on that. I am hoping that the Minister can provide me with a copy of that agreement. He is shaking his head saying, "yes," so I take that as a "yes." I appreciate that, because I have discussed this with Faro Real Estate. I am trying to be fair and understand where it is coming from, as well, so I would like to have the information.
I want to go back to Chateau Jomini for a minute. I knew that the mayor was actively working on something. I do not know how far along he is in reaching an agreement on the non-competition with Faro Real Estate. I will have to speak with him. I would like some assurance from the Minister that, barring an inability on their part to reach a conclusion to this matter - I understand that there are investors who are looking to move on this matter this month so that they can get spring construction underway.
I would like to ask the Minister if the government would be prepared to do this. It is my understanding that, according to Faro Real Estate, the Government of Yukon would be the one subject to any legal action if it violated the non-competition clause, not the person who bought the unit - the unit being Chateau Jomini - and then developed it. Essentially, it is the Government of Yukon that is on the hook but the investors are still scared because they think somehow, ancillary to that argument, they would be targeted.
If an agreement cannot be reached, will the Minister challenge the validity of the non-competition clause given that I do not believe the intent was to have it exist in perpetuity and that the housing needs in Faro are clearly not sufficient, as the agreement reads, "to meet the needs of the Town of Faro". Could he comment on that?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I will comment but what I will not do is put the Yukon government on the hook right now. I will give an undertaking to the Member that, barring an inability of the town of Faro to reach an agreement on that, which the town seemed optimistic about, I will seek a legal opinion with respect to the non-competition clause in the mortgage, with a view to challenging it. Depending upon the legal opinion, which I will share with the Member, I will be prepared to take it to Cabinet for discussion. However, I am optimistic that it will be settled between Faro Real Estate Ltd. and the Town of Faro.
That would be my preferred route. That would certainly be a change of policy on Faro Real Estate's behalf and it would certainly be a sign of goodwill toward the community, because we are facing a serious housing crisis. Anvil Range is having a difficult enough time finding staff housing. We also have that problem complicated by the fact that we have contractor employees from Lomak, which is the ore trucking company, MacMillan Mining Contractors, Kal Tire, plus the local business community trying to find units for their employees to live in. Anything that we can do to develop the Chateau Jomini would certainly be appreciated. If we can get over this hurdle and some of the bad feelings from the past, then I say it would be wonderful and it would be good business for Faro Real Estate and the community.
I will correspond with the mayor on that issue. I hope they can reach a conclusion. If not, I will be asking for the government to work very strongly on this.
Mrs. Firth: I have lots of questions I want to raise with the Minister. I sent the Minister a letter today requesting a follow-up on the budget briefing that we had with the Yukon Housing Corporation. I guess I did this to make sure that I am going to get all of the information I requested. There was a commitment made during the budget briefing. We spent an hour and a half with the president of the Yukon Housing Corporation requesting information.
We were told at that time that the information quite often gets held up on the Minister's desk because he needs time to read it and review it before he brings it into the House. I would like to ask the Minister this: does he have the information that the Housing Corporation has provided for him that he could bring back for me after the break so that I can proceed? I have asked specifically for the re-organizational charts of the department. I want to get into a lot of detail about the Housing Corporation. Debate could take three weeks, depending on how quickly I get some of the information from the Minister.
I wonder if he could tell me if he is prepared to provide me with some of this information after the break so that we can get into a fairly detailed debate on the Housing Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not have the information on the organizational chart and on several other questions. I do not know what commitment the staff made to the Member about when she would get that. I will ask them and bring back what I can.
What I will have after the break is information on the Housing Corporation assets, which the Member asked for. I will have information on the Housing Corporation's loan programs and contracts and the information on the Yukon Housing Corporation credit cards.
I will deliver them to the Member right at 7:30 p.m.
Chair: The time now being 5:30 p.m., we will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We are in general debate on the Yukon Housing Corporation. Is there any further general debate?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I have information for the Members opposite with respect to loan programs and contracts. I have the original for the Member for Riverdale South and copies for the Leader of the Liberal Party and for the Member for Whitehorse Centre. I will ask the Page to deliver them.
I also have for the Members opposite copies of credit card statements for cards used by the Housing Corporation from April 1995 to January 1996, and I will ask the Page to deliver those.
I also have a listing of the Yukon Housing Corporation assets the Member for Riverdale South requested, with copies for the Leader of the Liberal Party and the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
Ms. Commodore: One of the things that I asked, but did not see the Minister table, or send to this side of the House, was with regard to the low-rent housing that is available in Whitehorse. I was wanting to know exactly where those places were and how many units there are.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is included in the listing of the Yukon Housing Corporation assets that is attached to the letter.
Ms. Commodore: I will have a chance to look at those and I will probably have further questions after I review them.
I am still concerned, as are a lot of people, about the lack of sufficient low-rent housing for those in need. The Minister has indicated that although there is a waiting list of approximately 67 people at last count - it is probably higher now - those people who are on the waiting list have a place to stay.
Our concern - at least in our caucus - is in regard to the need for those houses. Just because they are not living on the streets or in cardboard boxes does not mean the need is not there, because it certainly is there.
I do know that in the past, in at least a couple of places in my riding, individuals were being housed in hotel rooms because there was a lack of sufficient housing for them. I do not know if that is still the case. It would be interesting to know where these individuals are while they are on the waiting list for low-cost housing units. We used to have a large number of those individuals who were on the waiting list housed in the Chilkoot Hotel and the Fort Yukon Hotel. I also know there are individuals in rental units in apartment buildings and that some of those people are being subsidized because their salary is not sufficient to carry them through from month to month. They are either being subsidized by the Department of Health and Social Services, or the money could possibly be going to the apartment owners.
I would like the Minister to let me know if that is still the case, or if he has to get that information from whomever the Minister of Health and Social Services is going to be, because I do know that there used to be a lot of people on the waiting list who were living in those units - sometimes very small hotel rooms. If that is still the case, would he please let me know?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The information that I have from the Whitehorse Housing Authority is that, as of March 12, there were 66 people on the waiting list. Eleven of them were in temporary accommodation. Of the sixty-six, 29 of them were on social assistance.
If the Member wants more detailed information, I will attempt to get it from the Whitehorse Housing Authority. I do not have the details as to what that temporary accommodation consists of, but I am assuming that, as she said, it is motels.
Ms. Commodore: That is exactly what I was going to ask the Minister. If he could provide me with that information, I would certainly appreciate it.
There have been a number of issues in the last while with regard to some restrictions that the Whitehorse Housing Authority has on the rental units, such as no pets and other things. Over the last three years, we have had people come to us with different complaints. At one time, there appeared to be a lot of people who were being evicted and the question they had was, "Where can I go after this?" or "What other accommodation am I going to be able to get?" In many cases, they felt that the evictions were not justified. I just wondered if the Minister was hearing any more of those complaints. Are only we hearing from the people and not the Minister?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I have not heard any serious concerns about evictions. I will get some statistics on the number of evictions for the Member.
With respect to the Whitehorse Housing Authority policies, I believe we had considerable discussion last spring on those issues - not only the pet policy, but parking and other issues. I think I provided the Members with virtually all of the Whitehorse Housing Authority policies. If there are any the Member is missing, I will get them for her.
Ms. Commodore: What I was trying to find out is whether or not any of the policies have changed, because some of the policies did not seem to be sensible or reasonable. A lot of the people who were living in the units felt that some of the policies did not make a lot of sense.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Apparently, those policies are being looked at right now, and are being sent to the housing advisory groups for comment. As a result, there may be changes to the policies.
Ms. Commodore: When will we know if some of the policies may be changed?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: As far as I am aware, there will be a meeting of the two housing advisory boards in April. There are general discussions going on right now with respect to policies. I do not know when they will recommend changes.
Ms. Commodore: Will it be in the next year or in the next six months? I would not mind knowing. Surely to goodness, they should be able to tell you whether or not they might know if they are going to change any policies within the next six months.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I can find out more precisely what is going on. I will let the Member know when they are meeting in April and I will report back to the House. I think we will probably be here until near the end of April. I will report back to the Member in the House about the decision they have made and the timing of any changes.
Ms. Commodore: When we ask questions in the House, we ask them mostly because we have heard different concerns about the Housing Corporation and the need for housing. I have already asked the Minister in Question Period about a comment he made on April 24 last year about the board instructing the staff to develop a program for home completion as opposed to home repair because he recognized that there are a lot of homes that needed to be completed and there was not a program in place to help those people do that.
In Question Period, the Minister indicated that he did not know whether or not that had been done. Then he thought that the corporation might be able to put that program into existence under the home ownership program and piggyback home completion on it; and maybe they might be able to do it within this year's budget.
That question was asked by the Member for Mount Lorne because a lot of her constituents had asked her about the possibility that the government would put something such as that in place. I brought the question up at the briefing, and I would like to say to the Minister that I appreciated the briefing that we had. I put the question to the Housing Corporation at that time and I got an answer back, but in order to be able to pass that information on to constituents, not only mine but especially the Member for Mount Lorne's, I would like the Minister to tell us exactly what is happening in that area.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Embarassingly enough, after the Member asked me the question in Question Period, I immediately called the Housing Corporation. I was told that there had not been any progress on that program at all, but that it would revive it and put it on the housing board's agenda to be dealt with to see if we could piggyback it on to the home ownership program. When it was first discussed last year, it was targeted for housing in the Member for Mount Lorne's area. It was for people who had started homes, but the homes were not complete, and the people did not qualify for the home repair program and already owned their homes. That was the targeted audience. I suppose the excuse that I heard was that we did not have a policy and planning position in the Housing Corporation for a long time. I was not on to the staff and checking, so that it went by the wayside until now. The Housing Corporation has got the message, from the Member and me, that it should be looked at immediately.
Ms. Commodore: If the board instructs the staff of the Yukon Housing Corporation to do something such as it did - it instructed them to develop a program for home completion - and it was not done, whose fault is it? If the board has asked them to do something, and it does not get done, whose fault is it? Or did they actually do that? Are there minutes somewhere from the board's meeting to indicate that there was a plan to look at a home completion program? Did it instruct the president to instruct the staff to develop a program? If that happened, and the program was not developed, why was it not developed? It is now almost a year later.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not know what is in the board minutes, or how much the subject was discussed, or what instructions were given by the board. I will check that. I will check to see whose fault it is. I think that it is a shared responsibility. I should have followed it up. I am not sure what the board did, and I know that I mentioned it to the staff at the Housing Corporation. One of the reasons that it was not developed is that the staff was busy because the policy and planning position has been vacant for quite a while.
Ms. Commodore: Has the position been vacant for a year?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It was vacant for almost a year. It was the position that Phil Wheelton left early last year; it was just recently filled.
Ms. Commodore: Okay, so Richard Lloyd has the program now.
I also asked the Minister about the waiting list for low-rent housing units. At the same time, I stated the election promise from the Yukon Party plan, entitled "The Next Four Years - Time for Change". I do not know if the Minister saw the four-year plan prior to winning the election in his riding, but he has been a member of that party for a long time and should know what his party has promised the electorate.
I am still concerned about what has not been done about low-rent units. One of the things the government did do was to promise to provide affordable housing and to ensure that there is an adequate supply of social housing to meet community needs. There are many housing programs that could apply to that. However, we still have a waiting list for those individuals. I wondering if the Minister has had discussions with his Government Leader about those election promises - at least when he became the Minister - because he has to have some kind of a commitment if he is going to be representing that party in this House, and if he is going to be a Minister responsible for a department and fulfill the promises made by a party he represents in this House.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The program attributed to the Yukon Party by the Member for Whitehorse Centre is quite similar to the objectives of the Yukon Housing Corporation that are listed on page 14-1 of the supplementary estimate book.
There are a total of 522 social housing units administered by the Yukon Housing Corporation. Of the five hundred and twenty-two, 366 are in Whitehorse.
I have not been lobbied by any of the rural housing associations, the Whitehorse Housing Authority or the Yukon Housing Corporation Board about the need for a great increase in social housing units at the present time.
Ms. Commodore: Did the Minister say that we have 522 rental housing units? How does that compare with the statements that are made by his government right now with regard to how prosperous we are in the Yukon? Here we have 522 low-rent housing units available and still there are more people every month asking for more?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I think that there will always be a need for social housing. Part of the reason that the Yukon Housing Corporation exists is because there are a number of people in social housing units who are employed. Some are on social assistance and some are on UIC. It is a government assistance or subsidy program that is intended to help people in need.
I have not heard any major complaints or lobbying from the local boards that administer these with respect to the need for more.
Ms. Commodore: It is safe to say then that this government, under this Minister's direction, is not going to be promoting the building of new, additional low-rent units? Is that something that this government is not prepared to do, because they think that everything they have in place is adequate? Is that what he is saying?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, not exactly. This Minister is saying that if local housing boards go to the Yukon Housing Corporation Board with complaints that there are not enough social housing units in the community in which they administer the program, and if the Whitehorse Housing Authority, which administers the 336 units in Whitehorse with the waiting list of 66 people at the present time, says that they need more units, and the board comes to me as the Minister responsible, I will certainly consider remedying that problem. As I have said, I have not heard that there is a serious problem or shortage of social housing units in the Yukon at the moment.
Ms. Commodore: I intend to get the transcripts of this debate about why there are not enough low-rent units available and pass them out to everybody who comes to us wanting to know why they are not able to get a low-rent housing unit if they are in need. We will let them know that it is not up to the Minister any more but that it is up to the housing authorities to let him know when low-rent housing is needed. It seems that the Minister will not even consider doing anything more unless the housing authorities come to him. That is what I will have to tell the individuals who are on a waiting list, who are in desperate need and have to wait, sometimes for months, before a unit is available. Is that the answer for those who come to see me about inadequate housing?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, that is not quite the answer. They are certainly welcome to see me, as the Minister. I will speak to them with respect to their need, but I recommend that they speak to the Whitehorse Housing Authority and the Yukon Housing Corporation Board as well. That is where their applications are put on to the waiting list. They are certainly welcome to come to my office, and I will listen to their needs.
Ms. Commodore: According to the Minister, then, the Yukon Housing Corporation Board and the Whitehorse Housing Authority have indicated to the Minister that there is no need for further housing - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No. To put it more precisely, they have not indicated to me that there is a need.
Ms. Commodore: Sixty-six people on a waiting list sort of contradicts what the Minister is saying - so we cannot look or even think about additional housing units? The excuse used to be that the federal government stopped funding the programs and there was no money to acquire more units - that was the excuse. Now this Minister is saying that the government is not going to be doing anything about it because the housing board has not indicated that there is a need, and unless it does, nothing is going to happen.
Every year we hear a different reason that housing is not available or will not be available, so it is difficult to tell people the real answer. We can just assume, then, that there is no interest by the government to supply that need.
There was a cooperative housing program, which was taken advantage of by a number of individuals. I am not sure whether or not that is an ongoing program, or if it is going to be reintroduced. Can the Minister tell me what is happening with that?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My understanding is that that was a federal program and it is now gone. We never did participate in that program.
Ms. Commodore: I could have sworn that the government was taking a lot of pats on the back for that. My understanding was that the government was somehow involved in that program. Did the local government have any discussions regarding that, prior to introducing the program in the Yukon, or was it simply not aware of it happening?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am not sure about what the Member wants. If the Member could be more specific, I will bring back information on the federal cooperative housing program and our participation, whatever it was. I am told by the president of the Yukon Housing Corporation that we may have participated, to a small extent, with respect to rent subsidies. The program no longer exists. It is a federal program. Perhaps the Leader of the Liberal Party could tell us what the plans are.
Ms. Commodore: It is all well and good to blame the Member for Riverside and his party for this, and we could do the same thing here. However, we are talking about a very serious need in the Yukon. A year ago, we were told that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation had stopped funding this government with respect to low-rent units. Now, the federal government, which administered this program for cooperative housing, is no longer making the program available. What are we looking at to accommodate the need in the Yukon? I know that the Minister has indicated there are all sorts of programs in existence.
According to this supplementary, the money is going back because proper arrangements were not made in time, so that the money that had been available has not been spent. If we do have an over-abundance of money in this program, is something going to be done more efficiently this coming fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We do not have an over-abundance of money in these programs. It is recoverable money; what is not spent is not recovered.
Mrs. Firth: I want to begin the budget examination this evening by asking the Minister if he could tell me exactly how many employees there are in the Yukon Housing Corporation - an exact, specific number of employees.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The information I have is that there are 40.9 full-time equivalents at the Housing Corporation.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell me how many people that represents? I will tell the Minister why I am asking. In the listing in the telephone directory, there are over 30 individuals listed. On the position control chart that I have from last year -
I have been after the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission to get an updated one; I hope that we get that some time soon, as it has been one and a half months since I wrote requesting it - a
s of February 6, 1995, there were 47 individuals listed with classifications and salaries. I want to know how many people are working in the Housing Corporation. How many live, working people are working there?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will get back to the Member on that. One of the explanations for the number of bodies compared to full-time equivalents is because a number of the employees are part-time employees in the communities.
Mrs. Firth: I am not going to let the Minister off that easily because he has his president here. One of them must know how many people work for the Housing Corporation. There must be a specific number of employees working there. "Full-time equivalent" sounds great, but how many people are actually working at the Housing Corporation, including the part-time community people?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We do not have that number here tonight. The Member has asked for it precisely and we will get that number from the Housing Corporation for the Member. I cannot see that it would be that difficult. It is hoped that we can have it by tomorrow.
Mrs. Firth: The president is here with the Minister. The president is like the chief executive officer of a company or business. I cannot imagine the CEO of a business with a responsibility of the millions of dollars that this corporation has not even knowing how many physical employees he has. Does the Minister think I am unreasonable asking that? Should the president not know how many people he has working for him?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We said that we would get that precise number. I do not want to give an estimate. There are a number of casual employees in the communities. The Member is not being unreasonable asking for it, but it is also not unreasonable to give us a day to bring back the information.
Mrs. Firth: I think it is very reasonable to expect the president of the corporation to know how many employees he has and the Minister responsible for the corporation to know how many people are working in it. Perhaps it has something to do with the size of government and the size of the corporations if the president and Minister do not even know how many employees there are when questioned.
I would ask the Minister to provide this information for us. The corporation has been going through some reorganizational exercises and has been reorganizing these employees - they do not know how many they have, but they have been reorganizing them anyway - and reclassifying them. I would like to ask the Minister if, in this reorganization and reclassification, any employees had their classification levels and salary levels increased? How many employees have had that happen as a result of the reorganization and reclassification?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My understanding is that the job descriptions have not been submitted to the Public Service Commission. I also understand that the Member for Riverdale South asked for that information at the technical briefing and it was promised to her by officials before we got to the debate on the Yukon Housing Corporation in the main budget. I expect that she should have some fairly detailed information on the reorganization. She asked about budgetary impacts and restructuring reports. My understanding is that the Yukon Housing Corporation is preparing that information right now.
Mrs. Firth: I will give the Minister one example, and I am not picking this example for any specific reason other than it is the most obvious from the information that I have. I want to say again that I am having trouble getting information from the Public Service Commission and I am waiting for information from the Yukon Housing Corporation.
My position control chart from last February lists one of the employees, the director of operations, at a classification level of MG8. In the September 1995 directory that person is now listed as vice-president of operations. Obviously there has been a classification change.
I want to know from the Minister if this person has been getting salary increases as a result of this classification change. Obviously there has been no job description, or the job description is coming. What is the change from being a director of operations to being vice-president of operations? Has that involved an increase in salary through a reclassification?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am told that it is simply a change in title and that it has not resulted in a change in salary.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister explain the change in title? Why did the title have to be changed from director of operations to vice-president of operations? What is the difference?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am told that it was to distinguish the person in that position from three others who reported to that position. Again, when the Member receives a copy of the restructuring - I think the Member did receive a copy of the restructuring report - the Member will see that together with the reorganization she will see the structure, and we can discuss this in more detail when we debate the main estimates.
Mrs. Firth: I do not recall seeing the restructuring report. I may have that here, but I do not think I do. However, I will check my information. I have not seen any information with respect to any changes in job titles or classifications, because I could find no explanation for this.
The Minister stood up and said that there are three other directors - or a couple of other directors - and they report to this director, so they decided to call this director a vice-president instead of a director. That director is an MG8; this director is an MG8; this director is an MG8; one is an MG6; and one is an MG5. Do all of these directors then report to this director of operations now? If the Minister wants me to make it clearer, I am talking about the director of finance and administration, director of construction and maintenance, director of policy and planning, and the director of corporate relations.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am not certain. Again, we will provide the Member with that information. I know that the other comment made about directors is that there is also the board of directors. We had so many people with the title of director - on the board of directors, director of this, or director of that - that they decided to change the title to distinguish them.
Mrs. Firth: Maybe we have too many directors at the Yukon Housing Corporation.
I find it to be quite interesting, if all of these people are reporting to the vice-president now, that the vice-president is going to continue to be at the same salary level as all of the directors - or just about all of the directors - if they are going to, in some way, take on some new responsibilities.
Can the Minister give me any other justification for giving this person the title of vice-president as opposed to director than the slim justification that has been given so far? I know that "vice-president" sounds a lot nicer than "director", but I notice that vice-presidents in other corporations - for example, the Yukon Development Corporation - are at an MG9 level. I would anticipate that that might be the next step. I want to ask the Minister if we can get some justification that has some substance to it, other than what he has given us so far.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I cannot give the Member any more than I have given at the moment, but I will ask for that explanation from the board and the staff and provide it to the Member.
Mrs. Firth: It is interesting that the Minister said, "from the board and the staff". The board did not initiate the reorganization. That was something that was done internally, and I think the president and the executive committee, which seem to run things in the Yukon Housing Corporation, initiated the reorganization. Then, I think the board was made aware of the process later and asked for input - is that not correct?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, that is not correct. My understanding is that the reorganization was discussed. It was reviewed by the board and approved by the board.
Mrs. Firth: At what stage?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Apparently, over a number of meetings. I do not think it is as the Member is implying - that it was simply given to the board to rubber stamp.
Mrs. Firth: The president of the Housing Corporation sent memos to his staff alerting them of the restructuring that was taking place within the corporation and assigning many different position changes to the employees on a temporary basis. He mentioned that the changes did not affect the new organizational structure that was implemented in April of 1995, and that the restructuring report was progressing well. The memos stated that normally there would be staff meetings to discuss the issues but this was happening because staff were away and he was going to be absent; if people had any questions about it, they could discuss them with him.
I want to try to see how things flow. Does the president of the corporation make decisions independently of the board, and then go to the board to get them approved, or does he go to the board for everything that is going to happen in the corporation and have the board approve what is happening? How does that work?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I have not seen any of those memos. I am sure there are administrative responsibilities that the president has the authority to deal with and others that he takes to the board for approval.
I have attended portions of a number of board meetings, and I can assure the Member that the board does not simply rubber stamp the material provided by the president and the staff. It is discussed, and the board has considerable input into the decisions that are made about the operations of the corporation.
Mrs. Firth: I did not say that the board rubber stamped things, but I am trying to get an idea about how this works. Every time I ask a question about an administrative matter, if it is a little bit sensitive I am told that the board made the decision. It seems to me that the board is making all of the decisions and, in fact, running the corporation. At the same time, I am pretty sure that that is not happening because the board would have to be coming to work every day and having board meetings to run the Yukon Housing Corporation. I guess a fair question to ask is: who sets the agendas for the board meetings? Is it the president?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, it is the chair of the board who sets the agenda.
Mrs. Firth: Does the chair of the board do it independently of the president, or does she sit down with the president to set the agenda?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: She discusses the agenda with the president before it is finalized.
Mrs. Firth: I am going to wait to get some of the structural and reorganizational information, and I hope that this week I have a new position control chart from the Public Service Commission so that I can compare the 40-odd positions from last year's organizational chart with this year's chart.
I would like to ask the Minister some questions about the credit card situation. In the budget briefing we received, the president of the Yukon Housing Corporation told us that 11 people in the Yukon Housing Corporation have credit cards. Can the Minister tell me who the 11 people are?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, I cannot offhand. I have given the Member copies of every statement from every credit card since last April. If we went through that, we would see the names of every individual with credit cards at the top of the statements.
Mrs. Firth: I have only had a moment to go through it, because the Member just provided us with this information at 7:30. I count 11 people at the most who have credit cards. The chair of the Housing Corporation Board also has a credit card. Is that correct? All of the employees and the chair of the board have credit cards?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I think that is correct. I have not had a chance to spend any time looking through these statements - I have just received them myself. Needless to say, I hope the Member does not ask me any questions with respect to the statements at this time, or we will be working through the statements together.
Mrs. Firth: I am certainly going to have some questions.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: Okay, one of the other Members has just read through the information and confirmed that there are 11 names on the statements, so I will have to wait until I have had at least overnight to review the information. I will come back tomorrow with some further questions.
I have asked the president of the Yukon Housing Corporation to provide a complete breakdown of the allotment of personnel costs identifying salary costs. For the Minister's benefit, I sent a letter to him as a follow-up to the briefing, listing some 21 issues and questions that I raised during the briefing and commitments from the Minister for information to be brought back to the Legislature. I am sure the Minister will have that letter tomorrow and he can review it with the president so we can get the information as quickly as possible so we can carry on with further debate.
I have some questions about overtime - that is more information that is to come back to us - with regard to bonus points, credit cards, leave and so on. It says in the Management Board Directive No. 13-84 that no employee may obtain travel bonus points or other premiums from tickets used to travel on government business.
Are the credit cards that his department uses the kind that accumulate points? Do the expenditures made on these cards accumulate air points for travel?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No.
Mrs. Firth: The department would only accumulate bonus points for travelling outside the territory. I see the Minister shaking his head, indicating "no".
Is there any accumulation of bonus points within the Housing Corporation for travel?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, as far as I know, there is no accumulation from the fares or the tickets. If the Member has something specific she knows about, I could investigate that. I have asked the president that if an employee stays at a hotel that gives points, or rents a car that gives points, they perhaps could automatically be credited. I do not yet know the answer to that.
Mrs. Firth: I know that in the government travel office if there are points to be accumulated they go into a pool, and if there are free tickets to be purchased, they can get the tickets and use them for other government travel. Is that kind of a system in the Housing Corporation? Although the individuals do not personally take advantage of the points, they can go into the pool and if there is Housing Corporation travel, there is the availability of a ticket for the employee to go out to a conference or something.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, we do not use that system any more in the government. I do not know what happened to negotiations with Canadian Airlines. That used to be the case.
Now, government travel does not accumulate points, but Canadian Airlines does give us a break. I do not know if it is free medical evacuations to make up for the points not accumulated by the government, or something else. The Yukon Housing Corporation books through Government Services, so their flights accumulate credit for the government for medivac flights, as well. It is only the Workers' Compensation Board that accumulates travel points into a pool for the credit of future travel by members of the board.
Mrs. Firth: That is an interesting point. I will follow up on this point with the Minister in his capacity as Minister of Government Services.
I have a question about travel and conferences. We were told by the president of the Housing Corporation that the Minister authorized every travel request. Can the Minister tell us how he does that?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: There is no formal authorization by the Minister for every bit of travel by the Yukon Housing Corporation. As the Minister, I do not deal with in-territory travel. I am given notice of any travel outside of the territory by the president of the Yukon Housing Corporation. I do not have the letter with me that I sent to the president delegating limited travel authority. I could get a copy of it. I recall specifically that I sign for travel that is not booked at an excursion rate or that will take the corporation over its travel budget.
Mrs. Firth: I am familiar with the letter that the Minister sent to the Department of Government Services with respect to delegating the responsibility for authorizing travel. I do not know if that is the same letter that he sent to the Yukon Housing Corporation. He is nodding his head saying, "yes, it is." In that letter, he delegated very specific responsibilities to the Deputy Minister of Government Services to authorize travel.
When I asked the president of the Yukon Housing Corporation if he had authority to do that, he said that the Minister approved all travel requests that came out of the Yukon Housing Corporation. Now the Minister is saying that he does not approve travel in the Yukon, and that there may be some delegation to the president of the Yukon Housing Corporation to authorize travel outside of the territory. What is the clear answer here? Who authorizes travel?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My understanding is that the Member has somewhat misinterpreted what the president tried to explain at the technical briefing. As far as I am concerned, as Minister, I sign authorizations for the Housing Corporation for out-of-territory travel. There is other travel in the Housing Corporation that I am told about in advance. If I disapprove, I suppose the travel would not be taken. I am notified of every trip that any member of the Housing Corporation takes outside the Yukon Territory.
Mrs. Firth: I am positive I made a note when the president said that. In light of the discussion we had last year about the Department of Government Services and the Minister's direction to Government Services about who could be delegated the responsibility of authorizing travel, I was surprised when he said that the Minister authorized all the travel. I will check my notes at the break and come back perhaps with more questions about that.
I want to move on to a bit of a different area. Perhaps the Members want to take a break first, or should I carry on until 8:30 p.m?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
The Minister wants me to give him a hint, but I do not think I will. I want to get some information during a break so I would not mind if we could take a break now for me to get my information together.
Chair: We will take a brief recess at this time.
Chair: I will call Committee of Whole to order. We are in general debate on Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mrs. Firth: I think I understand the issue about travel, but to follow up, could the Minister tell us how many times a year employees would go on trips to conferences outside? Does the credit card list represent all of the conferences that have been attended and the travel that has been taken?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, it is my understanding that any trips taken by employees are reflected on the credit cards. Hotel charges would be reflected, but not necessarily air travel, because flights are booked through Government Services.
Mrs. Firth: It looks to me as if the expenditures reflect the travel of senior staff. What about the inspectors - I think one inspector is on the list? When inspectors visit Yukon communities, do they also have credit cards, or how do they pay for their travel?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My understanding is that there are two who have credit cards.
Mrs. Firth: I will follow that up with the Minister tomorrow, after I have had time to go through it all. One would be an inspector and one may be a capital projects supervisor. I think that I have seen his name on the credit card list.
I want to ask the Minister some questions. I have some follow-up questions on travel. I can do that tomorrow.
Can the Minister tell us exactly what the executive committee is, what it does and what its relationship is to the board? I am not aware of it being a concept that we see in other departments or other corporations. Could the Minister give us an explanation about it?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It is simply a group of senior managers who meet once a week to discuss the affairs of the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mrs. Firth: What does the Minister mean by "discuss the affairs of the Yukon Housing Corporation"?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will ask the president to provide a more detailed explanation of the meetings. My understanding is that they discuss what is happening with the Housing Corporation, the decisions that are to be made - I can speculate for the Member, but maybe I should not do that. I should get the president to explain it. I do not know if they discuss concerns of the Minister or matters that will be taken to the board or to the Minister. I do not know that detail.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell us who makes up the executive committee?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The president chairs the committee, which also includes the vice-president of operations, the directors of program delivery, program administration, technical services, policy and planning, corporate relations, and finance and administration.
Mrs. Firth: The president indicated to us in the budget briefing that this group of individuals participated a lot in the decision making. I would like to get a very specific mandate, or criteria, about what exactly this committee does. The concern I have about it is that, to me, it gives the impression that it is some kind of an elite group of people within the Yukon Housing Corporation who are involved in the management, decision making and discussions - whatever that means. It could be anything, from staff problems to the daily operations. For that reason, I would like to get a very specific and clear explanation about what exactly this committee does and how it interacts with the board, and how the committee interacts with the other employees in the Yukon Housing Corporation.
If I could have that information tomorrow, it would help the debate along.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will get what I can for the Member and will also address the aspects over which she has expressed concern.
Mrs. Firth: I want to move on to another subject. I know the Liberal Member has some questions to ask so I will let Mr. Cable ask his questions first.
Mr. Cable: I have three areas where I would like some information for the mains. Two of them are general policy issues and the other is an informational issue.
I would like to find out whether the corporation has reviewed how the public housing function is handled in other jurisdictions. It is my information that some of the jurisdictions have taken their housing functions back within government departments.
I would like to find out how many use arm's-length Crown corporations, as we do here in the Yukon, how many use Crown corporations run by government departments directly, and how many use simply government departments.
It would be useful also, if the information is available, to find out why, if in fact this is the case, there has been a movement away from arm's-length corporations, a movement toward handling the function within government itself. That is the first issue.
The second one is the joint audit report, which was provided to me last summer, I believe. I will refer to the title, so Members know the document about which I am speaking. It is entitled "CMHC/YHC Joint Operational Audit: Non-profit Rent Supplement Housing Programs, March 30 to April 10, 1992". I do not know what the significance of the date is.
In any event, in the covering letter from the auditor, it ends by saying that the "PMC co-chairpersons had been asked to have responsible managers in YHC and CMHC develop an action plan to respond to the recommendations." It would be useful to find out whether or not there is an action plan or action plans, and what the responses have been to the recommendations.
The last issue is one raised with me by some of the home builders, and it is with regard to some of the conflict policies of the corporation in relation to some of the work done by employees of the corporation outside of business hours. If the corporation has it or can obtain it, I would like information on what takes place in other jurisdictions with respect to the rights of employees to build houses, for example, to compete with the corporation itself and the services it renders and to compete with the private sector housing market.
If, in fact, there is a recapitulation of what takes place in other jurisdictions, or copies of the conflict policies, I would like to have those brought forward so that we can discuss whether or not our own conflict policies in the Yukon with respect to the Yukon Housing Corporation are suitable.
Those are the areas I would like to explore in the main estimates.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: With respect to the first issue -the decision to maintain the public housing function as a Crown corporation or bring it into departments - I will ask for that information to be brought back for the Member.
I know when the Yukon Party government took over, it looked carefully and in quite a lot of detail into housing. In the Yukon, there were many meetings of different groups in the territory and the end result of that was two housing advisory boards - an industry advisory board and one comprised mainly of tenants and the social housing side of the issue.
There was not a large movement to do away with the Housing Corporation or to bring it back under the government as a department. My understanding was that the mandate has essentially remained the same, that that is what people of the Yukon wanted. It was serving us fairly well, but the advisory boards were set up to give us input from a broader section of Yukoners. It will be interesting to see what has been done in other jurisdictions and if other Crown corporations have been brought back into government. I will follow up on that for the Member.
With respect to the joint audit report, I will refer the Member's remarks tonight to the Housing Corporation and ask that it follow up and bring back what information it can.
The third issue was conflict policies of the corporation. My understanding is that the conflict policies of the corporation are essentially the same as the Public Service Commission of the Yukon government. There have been complaints about conflict with regard to employees of the Housing Corporation. My understanding is that the Public Service Commission is dealing with those allegations, seeking further information and trying to sort out whether or not there is a conflict. I have not personally been deeply involved in that issue, although I have received some correspondence from the Canadian Home Builders' Association on the subject.
I do not know what is done in other juridictions, but I will follow up on it and have the Yukon Housing Corporation find out about the conflict policies of housing corporations in other jurisdictions.
Mrs. Firth: On the issue of looking at what other governments are doing about Crown corporations for the delivery of social housing, I believe, if I am not mistaken, that there have been some other jurisidictions that have changed social housing by taking it out of the corporation and putting into the Department of Health and Social Services so that it could become part of that delivery system. I think that is definitely something the Minister should consider.
I have some concerns about the rapid growth of the territory's Crown corporations and how they are becoming powerful little empires. I think all of the corporations need to be examined with respect to the direction they are taking.
I would support an initiative to look at devolving responsibilities from the Crown corporations to departments. I do not think that is what this government is doing, in light of its decision to put land inventories into the Yukon Housing Corporation from the Department of Community and Transportation Services. To me, this indicates that the government is looking at making the Yukon Housing Corporation larger, with more responsiblity, and I have a lot of concern about that.
With respect to the conflict-of-interest issue, I have also received correspondence and heard concerns about conflict of interest.
At first blush, when one looks at it and finds out that there are employees in the Yukon Housing Corporation who also are licensed with the City of Whitehorse as contractors and building houses, one would immediately draw a suspicious conclusion. I am not saying that this is good or bad, and I am not accusing anyone or making any allegations, but when people on the street hear that there are employees working at the Yukon Housing Corporation who have business licences as contractors to build houses, the immediate perception is not a healthy one.
This is an outstanding issue with this government. We have been asking it to bring in conflict-of-interest legislation for employees. I think that I heard the Government Leader say last week that there was going to be an announcement made by the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission about conflict of interest. I do not know if that is going to happen this week. I do not know if the Yukon Housing Corporation is going to come under the jurisdiction of the conflict-of-interest guidelines.
I would have some questions for the Minister about what conflict-of-interest guidelines the Yukon Housing Corporation is currently operating under. Perhaps the Minister could tell us if the Yukon Housing Corporation has its own guidelines. What does the Yukon Housing Corporation use as a code of conduct or conflict-of-interest guidelines?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My understanding is that this is being looked at by the Public Service Commission. I expect that there will be an announcement this week. I think it will be by ministerial statement by the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.
The issue that the Member has raised about an employee holding a city licence is being looked into. I have not yet seen any results of that. I know that, as the Member said, it has been a concern for some time. The Canadian Home Builders' Association has pushed it to the forefront, and it is being dealt with right now.
Mrs. Firth: The question is: what guidelines are they operating under now? Are there any within the Yukon Housing Corporation? I know that in the correspondence the issue is raised and is immediately bounced to the Public Service Commission for a response. I want to know if there is a set of guidelines or principles. Maybe the executive committee of the Yukon Housing Corporation could set up a some guidelines or rules to follow about conflict of interest. Is it a condition of employment for people applying for jobs in the Yukon Housing Corporation or for people who have been working there for some time?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My understanding is that there is a conflict-of-interest bylaw. I can provide that for the Member.
Mrs. Firth: If I could, I would like to see that tomorrow.
The Minister made a comment about checking to see if an employee in the corporation was licensed with the city as a contractor. I am sure that is the case because I have the list of contractors, and one of the employees of the Yukon Housing Corporation does appear on that list and has built houses. That in itself is not an accusation that an actual conflict has taken place, other than it reinforces that perception that I mentioned to the Minister and is what causes people concern. However, it does not take away from the fact that there may be a conflict, either. One can push it a step further. Courses on home building and contracting are available for the employees to take advantage of, as can members of the Canadian Home Builders' Association. That can cause some concern in the business community, when it comes to matters of fairness and perceived conflicts.
The Minister is not responding. I suppose I have not asked him a specific question, so he is not going to say anything.
Can the Minister tell us who is checking into whether or not employees have business licences with the city?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My understanding is that it is the Public Service Commissioner and that the Public Service Commissioner is also corresponding with the Canadian Home Builders' Association in the Yukon with respect to that.
Mrs. Firth: Is the Minister keeping himself up to speed on that issue? Is he getting copies of all the correspondence and reviewing it as it comes in?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, I do not have copies of all the correspondence. I am aware in general about what is happening but not the details about the contact between the Public Service Commissioner and the association.
Mrs. Firth: The chair of the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors has indicated in correspondence to the Home Builders' Association that the board wanted more information with respect to this, and the chair of the board names the Minister as having had numerous telephone conversations - "Despite requests from the Public Service Commission and from Mr. Nordling, the Minister responsible for the corporation, February 15, 1996, followed by numerous telephone conversations with the president, you have not provided information supporting the allegations". What exactly is being looked for from the Canadian Home Builders Association?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My understanding is that they were looking for specific allegations to deal with regarding which employees were in conflict. I spoke quite a while ago with a member of the Canadian Home Builders' Association - a past president I believe - who spoke to me about the general concern that some employees of the Housing Corporation may be in a position of conflict because of their employment. I never talked very specifically with him about it. He followed up with more specific concerns, and they were referred to the Public Service Commissioner for a determination.
Mrs. Firth: The investigation now seems to be about whether or not there are specific examples of conflict. Surely, the Minister has to concede that it is not unfair to say that the perception, when one hears that there are people working in the Yukon Housing Corporation who are building houses, whether or not they are licensed contractors or whatever, is going to cause people to want to look further at the issue. I do not think that we are hurting anyone's feelings by this.
We hear people on the street say that there are people working in the Yukon Housing Corporation who are building houses. People feel that is not healthy and is not right. Does the Minister think that these people are being unfair in their immediate perception that there could be a conflict here?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, I would not think that they are being unfair at all. It is the reason why this is being looked at further, just as the Member suggested should be done.
Mrs. Firth: The Public Service Commission is reviewing this and examining the issue. When does the Minister expect a response?
From the communication I have had and the correspondence I have seen, I was of the opinion that the Public Service Commission had said there was no conflict. The chair of the board wrote a letter saying that there was no conflict unless it could be proven otherwise and that is where it stood. What exactly is the Public Service Commission investigating and when does the Minister expect to hear back from them?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am not sure when I will hear back. My understanding is that there has not been any conclusion reached. I will check with the Public Service Commission and report back to the House tomorrow.
Mrs. Firth: I would appreciate that, because according to the Yukon Housing Corporation Board of Directors, the board is demanding written retractions and apologies from the organization and individuals. They want written ones forwarded to the employees and so on. It does not sound as though they are continuing to investigate it; it sounds more like a decision has been made and the board has been passing on the responsibility to this organization to do something about it.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am aware of that letter. There was concern that there were specific allegations, without substantiation, that could be harmful to employees of the corporation. It was my understanding that the objective was to narrow it down and deal with specific issues and allegations rather than try to fight the accusation that there are Yukon Housing employees building houses in conflict with their jobs. The attempt was to focus the investigation on to the conflict so that action, if any was required, could be taken.
Mrs. Firth: I guess we will have to wait to see what happens. The letter from the chair of the board is very strong. The last paragraph says, "Accordingly, the board demands a full and unequivocal written retraction and apology." That is extremely strong wording. It does not at all sound like the case is still open and that anything further will be pursued. My interpretation is that the Home Builders' Association and this individual screwed up, it has been proven that they had, and it is being demanded that they to apologize and retract what has been said. Does the chair really expect them to do this?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am not sure what the chair expects. It is my understanding that this was in response to very serious allegations and harsh words by the Canadian Home Builders' Association, which implicated a considerable number of employees, some of whom were not deserving of being included in the net being cast by the Home Builders' Association while trying to deal with the perception of conflict.
Mrs. Firth: Will the Minister be following this up, through the president, with the board? I would like to know so that I could pass it on to the Home Builders' Association. I would like to know what they are expected to do about this demand that has been made by the chair of the Housing Corporation Board?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not have the letter, so I do not know how unclear the demand is, but I will check with the chair and the president about the response demanded.
I will also look again at the correspondence from the Home Builders' Association that resulted in that letter being written by the chair, because I do not recall the specifics of the allegations made by the Home Builders' Association and who they were against.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister can review it, but I read out to him the paragraph where the chair of the board is making a demand for a full and unequivocal written retraction and apology from the association and the individual whom the Minister spoke to personally. The word "demand" is quite clear.
I want to be able to tell them that I raised the issue in the Legislature, and that this is what the Minister told me they are supposed to do. I am looking for that kind of answer from the Minister. What am I supposed to pass on to the Home Builders' Association as a suggestion as to how it is to deal with this issue?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I will have something to say about that tomorrow. I am sure that we will still be in debate on the Housing Corporation tomorrow.
Mrs. Firth: I think we will be, as well.
I want to ask the Minister some questions about this program, called "Be your own contractor." I want to ask the Minister who traditionally participates in that program and who puts the program on? I know the Housing Corporation puts it on, but who do they get to teach people how to be their own contractor?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is the self-help program, which we have discussed before. Al Lyon is the individual who runs the course in the communities. In Whitehorse, it is run through Yukon College, and I understand that Mr. Lyon also teaches some segments of the course here. I do not know whether or not the Member wants some statistics. If so, perhaps she can make that request.
I know that this has been discussed before. The Home Builders' Association expressed an interest in running the course, and there was another concern about it doing contractors out of business. I think that there was information that many of the people who took the course realized that they were out of their league trying to build their own house and, in fact, hired their own general contractors to do it for them. I think the Yukon Housing Corporation has some of that information, so if the Member would like more, I will try to bring it back.
Mrs. Firth: I would like the information, particularly about the Minister saying that a lot of people found that they were in over their heads and hired a contractor. I would like to see some basis for that remark because it is contrary to what I have been hearing.
I know that it is supposed to be a self-help program, so one would anticipate that people who could not afford the extra costs associated with hiring a contractor, and so on, may be able to benefit from this to build a more modest house. I have some concerns about the simplicity of that theory because I do not know if it was people like that who were taking advantage of the program.
Can the Minister address the concern I just raised about who is actually taking advantage of the program?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The president was just telling me that there have been some surveys done with respect to the people taking the course. I will provide the results to the Member. My understanding is that the Canadian Home Builders' Association suggested that the course be provided in the first place. There was some thought that this would stimulate the industry by enabling people to build their own homes using contractors, and creating work. As simplistic as that may sound, it was accepted. I know that there are results that I can bring back with respect to the people taking the course.
Mrs. Firth: I look forward to seeing it, because I have a concern about the program, particularly if it is being used to promote other builders. I do not think that the Yukon Housing Corporation should be promoting new business in competition with existing business. I do not think that is its role. I do not have any problem with new businesses starting and the contractors here having to put up with competition. However, I do not think that it is the government's role to create that competition.
When I look at the program - I think that I raised this the last time, as well - I think that it is really irrelevant who suggested the course, but the principle I am concerned about is that I do not think it should be a service of government to be creating businesses in competition with other businesses. I think that the private sector should be doing that.
I have a great deal of concern about that. As well, I am concerned about the fact that people, as the Minister said, may be getting in over their heads if the Housing Corporation is, in a way, pushing a debtload on people that they are incapable of dealing with. I do not think that is providing a service to people either. I would like to hear the Minister's comments about those two concerns.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not understand the Member's concern that giving that course causes new businesses to be in competition with existing businesses. It is certainly not a subsidy program or a grant program to give people money to start a business. The idea is that existing businesses will have work if people decide to build their own house. My understanding is that the course gives a lot of very valuable information, not only with respect to building the house but also as to financing. Again, my understanding is that it certainly does not encourage or force a debt load on people - in fact, just the opposite. Once people see the cost of constructing a home and the debt load, often they shy away from the debt load.
Mrs. Firth: I will try and explain that more clearly for the Minister.
If people are becoming their own general contractors because they are taking this course on being their own contractor, they are not requiring the services of the existing general contractor businesses. That, in effect, would be taking income away from other businesses. Perhaps the terms "going into competition" with them is not correct, but it is going to have some effect on the existing contractors.
I had a house built. I did not want to be the general contractor; I wanted to hire one. If I had been the contractor, I could have saved a considerable amount of money. I do not think it is the government's job to go around interfering in that way.
There is another concern about the money aspect. If people see how much it is going to cost, they will shy away from it. I am not sure that that is always the case. I would like to know who has been taking advantage of the course, see some of the statistics on it and look at some of the projects that have gone ahead. Perhaps if we get that information, we can better evaluate it.
You have to appreciate, Mr. Chair, that we have had very little information about these programs, because we do not have an opportunity to conduct any in-depth questioning about any of the corporations.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will see what is available with respect to the program and follow up on that. It would be interesting to find out how many people we have turned into general contractors, and how many people have taken advantage of the course, built their own home and then gone on to build homes for other people.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member is saying that is not the point she was trying to make. I will let her quickly try once more for me before I report progress.
Mrs. Firth: That may be one eventuality and something that happens, but I would assume that may be rare, if it happens at all. What is probably happening is that more people are doing their own general contracting as opposed to having general contractors carry out this job. There are two concerns, and I would be interested to see what information the Minister can provide about both of these concerns.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I think I understand the Member's concern, which is that it is simply taking the business away from existing general contractors. I will get some further information. There are two sides to this issue, including the creation of jobs for others in the industry other than general contractors. I am sure I will have statistics that we can discuss tomorrow and again during general debate on the mains.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 9.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee 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 now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:29 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled March 18, 1996:
Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of the Yukon on Contributions to Political Parties during 1995 (Speaker Devries)
Sport and Recreation: Towards 2000 (Draft summary of findings and strategies for action dated March 14, 1996) (Brewster)