Tuesday, March 19, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with silent prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Speaker: Under introduction of visitors, I would like to introduce one of my constituents, Bill Gurney, from Watson Lake.
Mr. Schafer: It is a great opportunity for me to introduce a special visitor in the gallery, Miss Edith Josie, along with her son William and daughter-in-law Vicky and their two children, Paul and Pammy.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I would like to ask everybody to welcome the director of highways, Mike Johnson, who has come down to see where he gets his money and how he gets it to spend on the highways.
Speaker: Are there any documents or returns for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I have for tabling the fleet vehicle agency charter and business plan and the property management agency charter and business plan.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have for tabling the status of the centennial anniversaries program.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by Ministers?
Road transfer to Whitehorse, South Access Reconstruction
Hon. Mr. Brewster: It gives me great pleasure to announce today that the Yukon government has signed an agreement with the City of Whitehorse transferring the jurisdiction of all roads within city limits to the city, with the exception of the Alaska and Klondike highways, effective April 1, 1996.
As part of this agreement, the Yukon government will also transfer three quarries located on the South Access Road and contribute $8.1 million to the city in order for it to begin reconstruction of the South Access Road from the Alaska Highway to Fourth Avenue. The city will manage the reconstruction project in its entirety.
Everyone knows how bad the south access is. Our government has found a way to get it fixed. I am very pleased that, as a result of this agreement, the two main approaches to our capital city will now provide modern, safe and attractive accesses for residents and visitors alike.
The transfer to the City of Whitehorse will include the Two Mile Hill, which until now has been classified as a territorial highway, the three kilometre Yukon government portion of the South Access Road, also classified as a territorial highway, Chadburn Lake Road, Fish Lake Road, Grey Mountain Road, Miles Canyon Road and Long Lake Road. Two additional roads to the Wolf Creek Juvenile Camp and the old Whitehorse ski hill - Haeckel Hill - which are no longer maintained by the Yukon government, will also be transferred. The Yukon government will only retain control over the Alaska Highway and the Klondike Highway, as part of the territory-wide highway system.
This is a fair deal to both the Yukon government and the City of Whitehorse. The city will take over maintenance of the nine roads at an estimated annual cost of approximately $300,000. It will also assume management of the three South Access Road quarries and benefit from any revenues resulting from quarry activities.
On its part, the Yukon government will transfer the funds estimated to reconstruct this portion of the South Access Road, which is about $4 million. It will contribute about $4.1 million to the city to cover the cost of reconstructing its portion of the South Access Road.
The city engineering department and Yukon's transportation and engineering branch jointly funded the functional design and planning study undertaken by UMA Engineering Ltd. on the south access, from the Alaska Highway to Second Avenue, in 1993. This report was used as the basis for the latest negotiations, cost estimates and reconstruction design.
The funds will be provided to the city, subject to the approval in the normal manner by the Legislature, as follows: in 1995-96, $150,000; in 1996-97, $4 million; in 1997-98, $3 million; and upon issue of the construction completion certificate, $950,000.
The Yukon government and the City of Whitehorse have negotiated a win-win situation and a fair deal, whereby all Yukoners will benefit.
Ms. Moorcroft: First of all, I would like to point out that the past practice has been that ministerial statements were embargoed until 1:30 p.m. I can recall the government becoming quite indignant in the past when it thought that Opposition Members had released a ministerial statement prior to 1:30 p.m. In this case, the government appears to be changing the rules with the press release it put out at 11:00 a.m. and now the ministerial statement in this Legislature.
In announcing the transfer of roads, the Minister stated that "everyone knows how bad the south access is," and that "our government has found a way to get it fixed." I would like to point out that the government could have fixed the South Access Road by voting funds to reconstruct that road in 1993, 1994 or 1995 - as we, in the Opposition, have consistently recommended. Nonetheless, we do wish the city well in managing this project, and certainly do look forward to seeing the road in its improved state. We also hope that it will not experience the huge cost overruns like the Two Mile Hill project, which grew from a $5 million estimate to a $13 million expenditure under this government.
I am sure that the government is also aware that it is turning over some difficult issues for the city to deal with. For example, there are three quarries on the South Access Road, which will now be managed by the city. The Member for Whitehorse West has had questions from his constituents who operate those quarries about whether or not they will lose their leases. I would like to know if the government has made any recommendations on that point.
I am puzzled that the ministerial statement and the press release refer to reconstruction from the Alaska Highway to Fourth Avenue. We would like to know whether or not the city portion of the road - between Fourth Avenue and Second Avenue - will be brought up to standard, or if traffic will cruise down the first three kilometers of the new South Access Road and then reach a rough section of road between Fourth and Second Avenues.
There is an obvious safety concern, as well, for the recreational vehicle traffic. Will there be huge, long caravans turning left across either Fourth or Second avenues, in particular, to reach the new Tourism office building on Second Avenue?
Will there be lights at either of those intersections, or will there be a line-up of tourist traffic competing with the regular city traffic? I am certainly interested in the Minister's response to some of these questions.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: After working as hard as the people in my department and the people in the city department worked, to hear it criticized and kicked around like that is to be expected. It seems that anything good that this side of the House does has to be torn apart by the Opposition somehow.
The reason that the press release was issued before was because the city council had a meeting last night and voted unanimously to accept this deal; therefore it was already out to the press. We thought about holding a press conference, but what was the point of holding one when it was already on television and in the other media.
As far as the lease holders, they will not lose their leases. Their leases will run until they have expired. From that time on they will make new leases with the city.
Second Avenue and Fourth Avenue have been under the city's jurisdiction for many years. It will the city's responsibility to do what it wants to them.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Yukon Utilities Board, resignation of member
Mr. McDonald: I was a little hesitant as I was waiting for a point of order.
To the Minister of Justice: it appears to many people I have spoken to over the last few days that there is a concerted attempt to stack the deck against the consumer interests in favour of the utilities' interests in the Public Utilities Board hearing process. Many people have expressed to me the feeling that the refusal to allow Mr. Laking to participate on the board as an experienced member makes it very hard for the board to sift fact from fiction or to even ask the hardest questions. Even the legitimacy of the only consumer watchdog is being challenged by the power companies at the hearings.
Does the government believe that the Utilities Consumers Group has a legitimate role to play in the utility hearings?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I do not know that. I believe the consumer group has spoken out all along about consumer issues, but I believe that very question is one that is being put before the board as we speak.
Mr. McDonald: That is not an answer to the government's position on the matter. It is a matter of policy. I would ask this question as a matter of policy: the utilities received profits in excess of that which was allowed in the last year - significant profits beyond the already high guaranteed profit margin they are permitted. As a matter of policy, does the Minister believe that these excess profits should be returned to the ratepayers?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: These are the very questions that are before the Yukon Utilities Board now. It is the watchdog of the consumer. The Yukon Utilities Board will make a ruling on that particular question. I do not want, as the Minister of Justice, to be seen in any way as influencing any decisions that board may make, based on representations that the various groups and individuals may make to us.
Mr. McDonald: Some people have expressed the concern to me that the government has, in fact, knee-capped the watchdog by not ensuring that there is sufficient experience on the board to do precisely the job that the Minister has identified it ought to be doing.
I would ask a question on a subject that is clearly within the realm of the government, which is with regard to the rate equalization program.
The Government Leader has indicated that the program is expected - I would ask the Government Leader this, if he wishes to answer - to continue until the next election. He has indicated that the power bills are not expected to go up before the next election, but he has not indicated what the government plans to do next spring. Can the Minister tell us what the government's plans are with respect to the program next year?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: For the Member opposite to say that we have not given any indication of our plans is simply not true. I have stood in this Legislature, time and time again, and said that we have to find a mechanism for getting out of rate relief. We cannot do it in one fell swoop.
The residential power bills in the Yukon pay 64 percent of the cost of service right now.
They have a better deal than a lot of jurisdictions in Canada. This government is the one that made sure they got that deal. We will continue to see that the resident ratepayers have a fair deal. What we will do - I have said it before and I will repeat it for the record, if the Member does not have his old Hansard around - is find a way to get out of rate relief over a period of years, and not suddenly
Question re: Yukon Utilities Board, resignation of member
Mr. McDonald: I understood clearly that the Minister was prepared to not only indicate that he wanted to get out of rate relief over a period of 10 years, but he was also very clear that he did not want power bills to go up before the next election. I am interested in knowing, even though I am not giving the Minister the vote of confidence in suggesting that he is going to be around after the next election, whether or not the Minister has made plans for next spring and next year, with respect to the rate-relief program and whether or not the government itself has made any decisions with respect to that matter - or are we going to be surprised?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The biggest surprise the Member may have is after the next election, when he is still sitting in the same seat he is in now. That may be the biggest surprise he has. It should not come as a surprise to him.
We also said in this Legislature that we needed this general rate application to be through before we could progress with plans as to how we were going to get out of rate relief.
Mr. McDonald: I will not trade jabs with the Government Leader with respect to elections and by-elections yet. I did that before the Whitehorse West by-election. I find that the Minister has been on the losing end at least once on that score.
I will ask the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission or the Liquor Corporation to answer a question about Mr. Laking's involvement with the Yukon Utilities Board.
The Minister led us to believe that the Public Service Commission was of the opinion that a conflict existed should Mr. Laking accept a job with the government, while at the same time remaining on the Yukon Utilities Board itself. Yet we find out that the Public Service Commission is undertaking an investigation right now about whether or not a conflict does exist. It has asked Mr. Laking and the Liquor Corporation to present information so that it can decide. What is happening with this matter?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Mr. Laking applied for the job at the Liquor Corporation. In the process of the job application, it was pointed out that there would be possible conflicts of interest. The Liquor Corporation asked the Public Service Commission for advice on the policy. The policy advice was given. The president of the Liquor Corporation ruled that there was a conflict based on the Public Service Commission's advice. The applicant has now appealed all of these. The appeals are before the Public Service Commissioner, who is not part of the original advice. That is the role of the Public Service Commissioner - to listen independently to the arguments of both sides and make a ruling. I understand that that process is underway almost as we speak.
Mr. McDonald: This makes no sense, unless there are some ulterior motives, because we were told that, as a condition of employment, Mr. Laking had to remove himself from the Yukon Utilities Board. This is not an appealable matter. He was not an employee, but as a condition of his employment he had to resign because there was a perception of conflict of interest. Now we hear that the Public Service Commission is conducting some sort of review of the situation. All the while, the Yukon Utilities Board hearings are underway and we are supposed to pretend that the government cares about the consumers' interests during the hearings while the most experienced member is cooling his heels in Dawson City behind a cash register.
I ask the Minister this: why did he say at one time that it was a condition of employment and that Mr. Laking had to remove himself because there was a perception of conflict, but now he is admitting that the Public Service Commission is conducting a review and may come to the conclusion, as virtually everybody else has, that there is no conflict of interest at all.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am disappointed that the Leader of the Official Opposition has no confidence at all in the existing members of the Yukon Utilities Board and feels that they cannot do the job at all without Mr. Laking. I am disappointed in that. I have a lot more faith in those members than has the Leader of the Official Opposition.
The process that is followed here is a process that is followed in almost every case when an individual applies for a job. In this particular case, Mr. Laking agreed to accept the job, resigned from the Yukon Utilities Board and other boards, and has since appealed that action. The appeal is now before the Public Service Commissioner for consideration.
Question re: Government Leader, Japan and Taiwan trip
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader about his trip to Japan and Taiwan.
The Government Leader recently made a trip to Japan and Taiwan to attend Canadian mining investment seminars, and he gave a glowing report on his activities when he returned. In his press release of February 2, he said, "We learned a lot." Then he went on to say, "We need to understand what our prospective investors are looking for." Just so that the taxpayers can determine if they got their money's worth, can the Government Leader prepare a report for this House on his activities, specifically setting out what the "a lot" was that he learned and what the prospective investors are looking for?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not have any difficulty with giving the report to the Legislature. I thought I did that several times since I have been back, but it seems as if the Member for Riverside needs to have written documents in front of him.
Mr. Cable: I will take that as a firm commitment.
In the press release of February 2, he was quoted as saying that, among other things, the Japanese wanted a clear, regulatory regime. Did he tell the Japanese that the Environment Act had been up in the air now for several years and had not been dealt with?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Our Environment Act does not come into play at the present time. There is a federal Environmental Act and a review that investors in the Yukon have to go through. The people we were talking to were made aware of that.
Mr. Cable: I will assume that he also told them about the Environment Act at some juncture in the future having to come into play when and if at all this government ever makes up its mind on the act.
In a news clip from March 5, in relation to a trip that some Japanese investors were about to make - in fact, I understand they did make - the Government Leader was quoted as saying, "The Yukon is more desirable because it handles First Nation issues better than the B.C. government." That is the provincial NDP government he is referring to. Could the Government Leader tell us in what respect his government is handling First Nation issues better than the B.C. government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know where this Member has been for the last three years. Quite clearly, the mining community has been able to move ahead in the Yukon even though land claims have not been signed because our government encouraged the mining companies to make socio-economic agreements with First Nations before they started their projects.
There is a situation in British Columbia where 110 or 120 percent of the land mass is being claimed. British Columbia is at the stage that the Yukon was 25 years ago with its land claims process.
Question re: French first language school
Mr. Sloan: I am surprised that the Member for Riverside was not accused of being anti-Japanese.
I have a question for the Minister of Government Services, now in his new capacity as the Minister of Education, as well, so it is a very fortuitous mix. This involves the French first language school. In a recent newspaper article, the former Minister admitted that the original estimate of $4.75 million for the French first language school was arrived at through an inadequate planning process. Can the Minister explain how the planning arrangements for the school were so deficient that this capital estimate has now increased by $1.5 million over three years.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, I cannot explain that allegation. I do not know whether or not it is true. I will take it under advisement, check on it, and get back to the Member.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Nordling:
The Member for Whitehorse Centre is saying something about it getting worse and worse. If the Member has a question, I would be pleased to answer it.
I do not know whether or not the Member for Whitehorse West wanted me to address his anti-Japanese comment that was directed at Mr. Cable. I suspect it was extraneous to the question.
Mr. Sloan: For the Minister's information, the current capital estimate on the school is now at $6,254,000. There appears to have been some serious planning problems with the French school from its initiation, considering that the former Minister of Education, now the Minister of Justice, based the $4.75 million on current grades projections, and so on, for the school. However, the attendance figures have not increased that dramatically for the French first language school, yet the project's budget has increased by 26 percent. There seems to be a difference between the attendance figures and the actual increase. Can the Minister provide an explanation about why that would have occurred?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am sure there is one, but I just do not have it with me today. I will take that under advisement and get back to the Member.
Mr. Sloan: I am not trying to be difficult. I understand that the Minister is new in his capacity as Minister of Education; however, I think as Minister of Government Services, he should have some familiarity with these kinds of projects.
The fact is that the original design of the school has been changed considerably. There have been some compromising of the original design involving the elimination of classrooms and the industrial arts area and a reduction in landscaping. Yet, we still have a projected cost overrun. Can that be accounted for by the Minister?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, it cannot be accounted for by the Minister of Education at the moment. I will look into it. Perhaps the Member has answered his own question, if there had been design changes from the original estimate. With respect to Government Services, the Department of Education is the client and Government Services serves them. It is not responsible for the design changes or increases or decreases in costs. That is the responsibility of the client department, which in this case is Education.
Question re: French first language school
Mr. Sloan: The fact is that the former Minister of Education alleged that the problems with this school were based on a faulty planning process for capital projects. I believe he said it led to some wild estimates. However, the same planning system has been in place for other multi-year capital projects, such as the hospital and, dare we say, the Beringia Centre and the Historic Resources Centre.
If the planning process is so deficient, can the Minister explain why it has not been modified in the last three years?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Again, I will take the question under advisement and get back to the Member. I do not know who was involved in the planning process, except that there was a building committee and that the French-speaking people were involved, as was the Department of Education and Department of Government Services. I will check on the allegations made as to a faulty planning process and get back to the Member.
Mr. Sloan: The former Minister stated, "Actually the figure for the school was $6 million right from the start." That is a quote. Yet, in 1994-95, the capital estimate was $4.75 million. If it was $6 million from the start, why was the capital figure of $4.75 million in the 1994-95 capital budget?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Let me speculate for the Member. Perhaps it was a multi-year project with some money spent in one year and other money spent in another year. I will check and bring that back. My understanding is that the former Minister of Education did explain it. The Member for Whitehorse West quoted him. I do not know what material he has. I will find out about the cost of the school and the planning process, and get back to the Member.
Mr. Sloan: For the Minister's interest, it is contained on page 52 of the 1994-95 capital estimates. It is with the multi-year capital projects total estimated costs for all years.
I have a final question on the project. Last April, the former Minister of Education stated in this House that the general contractor for the Thomson Centre was Bert Pratch Construction, I believe, of St. Paul, Alberta, and that the job was, "a mess, a real mess". This same company was then hired to construct the French language school. Does the Minister of Government Services believe that if a contractor is deemed to be so inept, it would compromise a person's ability to get another government contract?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That depends on the situation and what is done with the complaints in general. I am sure that if the job was done that badly, there would be a careful analysis of the bid. Obviously, the job done by Bert Pratch at the Thomson Centre was not sufficiently bad to warrant excluding the company from further government contracts. It is a situation that occurs often in the Yukon. There are complaints with a contractor's work in one area, and the contractor does very good work in another area.
Question re: Workers' Compensation Board, investigation into
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board.
We requested information about the terms of reference in the contract for the public inquiry into the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. I was provided with a copy of the contract for $60,000, with a $450 daily rate, an order-in-council establishing the board inquiry and some regulations attached to it. When we asked the Minister about specific terms of reference in the Legislature, he gave us his placer miner speech about digging the shaft and hitting paydirt.
I would like to ask the Minister a direct question. Are there any other terms of reference for this consulting contract for the public inquiry, or is this information that he provided me all there is?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The order-in-council terms cover the job that is going to be done by the public inquiry. As I said, it is a very broad mandate, and it is up to the public inquiry to determine what areas it should focus on.
Mrs. Firth: That leads me to another interesting question - not only what areas to look at but who to talk to. I know an open invitation has been extended to people to come, but an interesting observation has also been made that certain people have not been approached. The previous chair and previous alternate chair were not called by the consultant to make a presentation or to be interviewed or be seen as witnesses. I would have thought those individuals would have been very key elements in that whole inquiry. The previous chair ended up calling the consultant at the end of February, talked to him, requested the terms of reference and has not heard from him since. So, I would like to ask the Minister how people are being chosen to appear as witnesses or to make presentations. If there is nothing specific in the terms of reference, how are those decisions being made?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The inquiry is not being conducted by the Minister. I do not decide how it will be conducted. My understanding is that the board of inquiry has spent a lot of time listening to injured workers. Far, far more than anyone expected came forward. My understanding is that he is now going to talk to the present employees of the Workers' Compensation Board. I expect he will talk to former employees. My impression or understanding is that it is well known that this is going on and certainly if the previous chair has something to say, he is welcome to make a submission, as is the Member for Riverdale South. If she has concerns about the operations of the Workers' Compensation Board or the conduct of the inquiry, she is certainly welcome to discuss that with the inquiry, make a written submission and make it public.
Mrs. Firth: That is all well and good, but the Minister is very concerned about this inquiry process being perceived to be fair. The workers have had lots of input. I have already raised a concern about the public interview with respect to the workers' input. I really cannot understand why the consultant would not approach the previous chair and alternate chair, to do an interview.
As the Minister is always saying, there are two sides to every story. I am trying to find out what both sides of the story are with respect to this issue.
The Minister said he talks occasionally to the consultant who is doing the inquiry, but only about progress and when it will be completed. This contract for $60,000 expires April 4. Can the Minister tell us when the inquiry is going to be completed? Is it going to be completed before we are out of the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not know whether or not it will be completed before we are out of the Legislature. I am concerned that it is seen to be fair and seen to be complete. The board of inquiry has written to me saying that there is no possible way that it can be completed by the end of March. I have accepted that. The board of inquiry is going to contact me in mid-April to discuss a realistic date by which he thinks the inquiry can be completed. At this point, even he cannot provide an estimate because he has so many other people to talk to with whom he has not yet been in contact but who he expects will make submissions to the inquiry.
Question re: Yukon Party fund-raising letter
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Government Leader.
Businesses around the territory received a fund-raiser letter from the Yukon Party last October requesting funds to support the useful cause of the Yukon Party's organization. Can I ask the Government Leader if he knew of and approved of the solicitation letter, and can he also tell us where the mailing list came from for this letter?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, I cannot tell him off the top of my head if I knew about it or where the solicitation list came from.
Mr. McDonald: The mailing list obviously covered a lot of the territory. We received feedback from four or five communities, and from a number of organizations that claim they have never before had any contact with the Yukon Party but received a copy of the letter asking them directly, in the very first line, for a tax deductible financial contribution to the party. These people told us that they felt that there was an implied threat that if they did not give money to the Yukon Party there would be some repercussions.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not there are repercussions if they decide not to provide money to the Yukon Party?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The session is only half-way through and the Opposition has run out of questions.
The questions should be directed to the president of the party, not to me.
Mr. McDonald: I am afraid that this is a very serious question. There are many people in this territory who have never made contact - and wish never to make contact - with the Yukon Party in their entire lives, and yet they still received a solicitation letter for money to support the Yukon Party coffers. Clearly, the Yukon Party has done very well by the banks and other institutions, but it did not stop there; it has hit up virtually everyone in the territory.
I would ask the Minister this: will he look into this matter and ensure that there is a disclaimer from either himself, as leader of the party, or the president of the party, that should people not provide money to the Yukon Party there will be no repercussions, and that the fact that they do not give money to the Yukon Party will not be made known to Yukon Party Ministers.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have not heard such ridiculous allegations in all my life.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of Opposition Private Members' Business
Mr. Cable: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the item standing in my name to be called on Wednesday, March 20. It is, Motion No. 60.
Ms. Moorcroft: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the item standing in the name of the Official Opposition to be called on Wednesday, March 20. It is Motion No. 51, standing in the name of the Member for McIntyre-Takhini.
Speaker: 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 Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will take a brief recess at this time.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue at this time with Bill No. 9. We are in general debate.
Bill No. 9 - Third Appropriation Act, 1995-96 - continued
Yukon Housing Corporation - continued
Mr. Harding: I have a couple of questions for the Minister regarding Chateau Jomini. The mayor and council were kind enough to fax me some correspondence dated March 15, 1996, that they sent to the Minister. It speaks to the issue that we discussed last night. Since I only received this letter this morning, I was not aware that it had been sent to the Minister. The letter very clearly requests the same types of action from this government that I was asking last night in general debate. The request concerns the whole issue regarding a restrictive covenant of the Chateau Jomini complex and that it be taken on head first by the Yukon government. I will repeat again to the Minister that I believe that the original intent of that clause was not to have it exist in perpetuity, and that the housing needs in Faro are not sufficient - or at least a convincing case could be made that the housing supply in Faro is not sufficient - to meet the needs of Faro as it stands right now - particularly in light of the fact that we have employees in Faro who are not just Anvil Range employees; we have employees of contract companies, local businesspeople, people working on various Yukon types of occupations, people working on highways, and these types of things.
I would say to the Minister that I and the municipal government in Faro have thrown the ball into the government's court on this issue. As I spoke about this last night, time is somewhat of the essence. We have investors lined up for an opportunity to take on this particular project and would like to get started in this construction season. If we can move on Chateau Jomini, it would be a real centrepiece for the community. Right now, it is just this big, green elephant, which has been gutted, in the middle of town. We would like to see some development there.
We would also like to see some residential space created, if possible, to alleviate some concerns. I would also like to see the government move on the creation of other residential space in the community of Faro, such as the development of building lots and this type of initiative. I do believe that this housing shortage question - given that we are trying to entice companies such as Westmin and Cominco to look at Faro as a base community so we can increase the traffic and diversify the economy - must be tackled at some point with respect to the non-competition clause or covenant.
Clearly, the argument could be made that it is null and void at this point.
I ask the Minister to respond to that. I hope he has seen the letter. If not, I will send him over a copy.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I would like a copy of the letter. I do not know if it is the same letter that I have received or if it is an newer letter. I do not believe I have seen it if it is dated March 15. I have a previous letter asking for an extension of time to June 30.
As I said last night, I will ask for a legal opinion about the non-competition clause in the mortgage, with a view to looking specifically at the issues that have been raised by the Member for Faro. It would be nice if the Town of Faro could get a commitment from Faro Real Estate in that regard. It would save a lot of time and energy, and allow the Chateau Jomini complex to be developed by the Town of Faro.
As I have said, I will get the legal opinion as soon as possible and, while I am doing that, I will hope that the Town of Faro will have been making some progress on it. I know that the Town of Faro feels that time is of the essence and would like to start something this construction season.
Mr. Harding: According to the letter from the Minister, which is signed by the mayor and councillors - I will send it over to him - it is clear that they have had discussions with an officer of Faro Real Estate Ltd. and have essentially gotten nowhere. The restrictive covenant has been held up as the reason for it.
I would indicate to the Minister that I have been told by the principal owner of Faro Real Estate Ltd. that they will take legal action if there is a move made on Chateau Jomini for various reasons that I will not repeat here. I am sure that the Minister can speculate what the reasons were that were identified by the owner.
We went down the legal opinion route before, and I believe that there has been an erring on the side of caution. I really do not understand what we would have to lose if we tested it. Perhaps the Minister, in looking at it, could come up with an estimate of how much we stand to lose if we test it as a Yukon community against Faro Real Estate Ltd. on the basis of the of other housing options to alleviate the shortage and increase opportunities for development in the community. God hates a coward. In this case, given the housing shortages and problems that we have in Faro, we are going to have to tackle this issue. I would like to see the Minister say, well, we may win or lose, but we are going to try to deal with this because we do not believe that the clause was to last in perpetuity. We believe it was for Faro Real Estate to initially fill its houses. Second, we believe that, at the present time, we can make a legitimate case that the housing supply in Faro is not sufficient to meet the needs of the Town of Faro and, therefore, this clause does not apply.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Although I have not seen the letter yet, I accept what the Member has said - that the ball is probably back in our court. I accept that, and I am not even surprised. Perhaps, I was hoping beyond hope, or jumping on the optimism bandwagon with the Town of Faro, when it was mentioned to me that a deal might be able to be worked out with Faro Real Estate without court action. As I have said before, the way Faro Real Estate does business seems to be through court orders and not through negotiated settlements or agreements. I will ask about not only the question of the legality of it, but the exposure that the government will have if we ignore that non-competition clause and Faro Real Estate takes action against us.
Mr. Harding: I appreciate that, as would I appreciate it if the Minister would report back to me and the Town of Faro as soon as possible. I understand that it is going to take a little bit of time to put this together, but we are going to have to tackle this issue as a Yukon community, as a community in Faro, and there is a housing crunch.
We are going to need some help, perhaps beyond the creation of lots by the Government of Yukon in partnership with the private sector, to develop some relief to the problems that we are starting to see, which are pretty much a replay of 1992. This time, however, they are made worse by a housing crunch, as a result of the loss of the trailers that were in Faro then and have since been moved to Ross River. The problem is somewhat compounded as a result of that.
I thank the Minister for his commitment, and I look forward to hearing back from him in the very near future about how we can proceed.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will copy my response to the Town of Faro to the Member for Faro.
I have some information that was requested last night about the home owner's self-help course, the mandate of the Yukon Housing Corporation's executive committee, the conflict-of-interest bylaw and a report about the restructuring of the Yukon Housing Corporation. I also have information about the Yukon Housing Corporation personnel, including the number of employees, position control, and an organization chart. I have copies for the Mrs. Firth, Mr. Cable and Ms. Commodore.
There were also questions raised by the Member for Whitehorse Centre about the housing advisory boards' meeting. The annual general meeting will be held on April 18 and the pet policy paper is on the agenda. After that meeting, I will be in a position to report to the Member about the Whitehorse Housing Authority pet policy.
One of the other questions that the Member for Whitehorse Centre asked about was the number of evictions. I have information from February 1995 to February 1996 indicating that there were 14 tenants evicted for the following reasons: one went to jail; two were for non-payment of rent; one for housing an unauthorized tenant; four for noise and disturbances; two for having pets; two for late payment of rents and two for refusal to declare their income.
The Member also asked about the temporary accommodation. We talked about whether or not we housed people who were on the waiting list in motels. My information is that there were 12 clients on the waiting list residing in temporary accommodation. I think I said 11 last night. Five of these clients have been placed with the Whitehorse Housing Authority; six are staying with family and one is staying with a friend.
The Member for Riverdale South asked about the Canadian Home Builders' Association and its allegation or concern about conflict of interest with employees of the Housing Corporation. I have a memo from the Public Service Commissioner that essentially says that the ball is in the Canadian Home Builders' Association's court to make specific allegations with respect to conflict of interest so that the Public Service Commission can investigate them.
Apparently, the Public Service Commissioner talked to Barry Drury, the now-president of the Home Builders' Association, who seemed to be simply concerned that there be a conflict-of-interest policy in place for Yukon Housing Corporation employees. He has been told that there is a conflict-of-interest policy under its bylaws and there is also a Yukon government conflict-of-interest policy.
If he wants to follow that up, it is up to him. If he does not like what they are or wants them changed, or has a specific individual or concern that he wants looked into, then the Public Service Commissioner will do that for him and the association.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister provide us with a copy of the memo he just referred to?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not want to do that. It is a memo to me from the Public Service Commissioner. I am prepared to summarize it and give it to the Member. It discusses in some detail the Home Builders' Association discussions with the Public Service Commissioner. I do not know if they would want it to be made public. I could summarize it and would even be prepared to discuss it with the Home Builder's Association. If it is prepared to have its discussions with the Public Service Commissioner made public, I will give it to the Member.
Mrs. Firth: I can ask the Home Builder's Association the same thing if the Member thinks there is confidential information in it that the association may not want to reveal, or I could just look at it in the break, so as not to have it tabled or be made public. We will see.
I am just starting to go through the information that the Minister has given to me. I do not know why there are five yellow pages of index on the front. Perhaps that is a mistake; I just tore them off. Perhaps the Minister can tell me why I had five copies of the same index. I guess it was just a glitch - perhaps it is that DocuTech just cranking stuff out, whether one wants it or not.
I spoke to the Public Service Commission this morning and got the new organization chart for the entire government. I see that the Minister has attached a new sheet. The old one had 47 employees on it, and this one has 50. I am just looking to see if the question about how many employees the Housing Corporation has has been answered yet. It seems that there are 38 full-time employees and 10 part-time employees, for a total of 48 employees. There are three vacant positions - people on acting assignments and so on.
The position control states 50 and the notes state 48. Why is there a difference of two positions?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will try to explain the notation at the bottom of the sheet where the Member read about the 38 full-time positions and 10 part-time positions. Two positions were deleted that I think must still appear on the organization chart, the position control sheet.
Mrs. Firth: This secondment to Government Services has been for a very long time. Is there going to be a change to the status of that position? Could the Minister tell us what is going to happen with that position?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Not really. This involves Mr. Rumscheidt, and I do not know whether or not I should discuss this, because it is a personnel matter. I can tell the Member that this secondment was done by the previous government and it was a five-year secondment. I am not certain when that five years expires, but I think it may be some time within the next year. I do not know what the fate of Mr. Rumscheidt will be after the expiration of the secondment and whether or not he will go back to the Yukon Housing Corporation, or if he will be employed by Government Services where he has been employed for so many years.
Mrs. Firth: Who did the secondment? If it was not the government, the president must have authorized the secondment. Perhaps the Minister could ask the president about the secondment so we can get a final answer to this.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I may have to come back with some further detail, but it is my understanding that Maurice Byblow was the Minister of both Yukon Housing Corporation and Government Services at the time of the secondment. It all began with Mr. Rumscheidt being seconded to the Minister's office as his executive assistant. We would have to go back and trace the detail of how this secondment came about.
Mrs. Firth: This presents an interesting theory and something that I find very frustrating - I am sure the Minister does, too. Every time I ask a question about the operations of the Yukon Housing Corporation, the answer or the responsibility gets bounced to someone else. I am told that either the board, the Minister or the previous government authorized this; it is always someone other than the president.
The president is responsible for operations, management, personnel allotments and everything at the Yukon Housing Corporation. I want to know what is going on with the secondment. Why can I not get any information from the president who is the person responsible for allocating staff? If the previous Minister asked for this secondment, the president and the board had to approve the secondment. Let us get this information on the table and find out what is going on.
In five minutes he could tell us what is going on.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will go back, for my own curiosity as well as for the Member for Riverdale South, and trace it, but it is pretty simple, as far as I know. Mr. Rumscheidt was given a five-year secondment to Government Services from the Housing Corporation.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell us when the secondment is over?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Again, we do not have the date here but I believe it is within the next year. He has been with Government Services for close to four years.
Mrs. Firth: What happens to the position?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: As I just said, I do not know. I have not looked into it. As I said, I do not know if he will go back to the Housing Corporation, if he will stay with Government Services or take another job within government. I can say that there is no position open and waiting for him at the Housing Corporation at the present time.
Mrs. Firth: Perhaps the president could tell the Minister what his plans are for that position, and the Minister could then tell us.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will provide a written response, because I would like to know the detail too. I have been told by the president that there is simply an agreement in place that Mr. Rumscheidt would be seconded from the Yukon Housing Corporation for a period of five years. At the end of that five years, there would be an obligation to reinstate him in a position at the same salary level or category that he was at, or he would be employed somewhere else in government. As the Minister of Government Services and the Yukon Housing Corporation, I do not think there has been any discussion between Government Services and the Housing Corporation about a position for him when the five-year secondment expires. Again, I will talk to my Department of Government Services officials about it. I think that at the end of five years we have an obligation to provide a position for him at the Housing Corporation if there is not another one within government.
Mrs. Firth: Did the Yukon Housing Corporation Board approve the secondment?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am not sure. The president does not recall for certain if it was approved by the board. We will check on it. It may not have been. If it is the case that the board always approved that sort of move, then I would be able to say that in all probability the board did approve it. In this case, however, I cannot say that, and the president does not recall if it went through the board.
Mrs. Firth: Did it go through the executive committee? Did the committee keep recorded minutes of it? The committee said that it keeps minutes, and that all of the minutes go to the board.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My information is that the staffing is within the authority of the president and that the board probably would have been told about it. However, it would not have approved it formally. It would have been dealt with between the president of the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Public Service Commission.
Mrs. Firth: So, the executive committee did not discuss it either. There were no minutes made of this arrangement. It was just a private discussion between the president of the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Public Service Commission. That is what the Minister said. Am I repeating it correctly?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, that is characterizing it more narrowly than the facts may support.
Again, I am not saying that it was a private discussion between the president and the Public Service Commission. It may have been discussed at the executive committee, but not formally approved by the committee. It would have had formal approval by the president through the Public Service Commission.
I will bring back a written response about this whole secondment issue to the Member, because I am interested in it as well. If she has any other aspects of it that she would like me to look into, let me know, and I will include them in my request.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to know very specifically how the arrangement was made. I want to know if there was a record of it.
I believe, in the information that we were given this afternoon regarding the executive committee's responsibilities, it says that the executive committee is the forum in which all senior staff members report on issues affecting the corporation. It is a decision-making forum. Everyone supplies agenda items; staff members can introduce agenda items. The issues include program delivery, finance, personnel and staffing. It also goes on to say that they have meetings every Monday morning. They last three hours.
Minutes of the executive meetings are sent to the corporation's board of directors. Then all the information is shared with the other members. All members of the executive committee regularly attend board of directors meetings to make presentations and provide information for the board's consideration.
I would expect that a decision of that magnitude, which required the secondment of a person out of the department - and particularly for a five-year period of time - would have been a major decision that this committee should have been involved in.
I would like the Minister to find out if there is a minute. I would like to see the minute. I would like to know if it went to the board of the corporation and if the board was made aware of it, and I would like to see a minute of that. I would like to know, on the basis for the secondment, what the progression was supposed to be to the Minister's office, to Community and Transportation Services and then what is to happen?
I would like to ask the Minister also if he could check with his president if there was some kind of contract signed that seems to be holding the government to this five-year period of time? Can we not intercept this secondment and bring the individual back into the Housing Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, my understanding is that there is a contract. If the Member is going to ask me to provide that, I would have to check to see if there is any issue of confidentiality. If there is, I will analyze it carefully before I tell the Member that I will not release it to her.
Mrs. Firth: I think that it is a very unusual practice to have a full-time employee who would no longer be a full-time employee, but rather would become a seconded contract employee, while all the time maintaining full-time employee status. I would be interested in seeing the terms of the contract in order to try to get some idea of what happened to the person's position after he left. Was someone hired on a full-time basis to fill that position?
I have no dispute with the individual involved. He is a hard-working individual who does his job, and so on. I do, however, find the whole arrangement extremely unique. Is this the one and only such case? Maybe not. Maybe there are all kinds of these situations within government. I would like to get a full and detailed explanation about this issue, as well as the contract. Maybe the Minister has something more to add to that.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I have just a couple of things to add. Maybe I was not clear when I said that there was a contract - meaning contract to be an agreement and legally binding. Mr. Rumscheidt is not now a contract employee. I think he is still a full-time government employee. I think that the agreement I am talking about, and which I will check on, is an agreement that states that he will be returned to the Yukon Housing Corporation at a certain level if he is not employed elsewhere in government at a similar level. I will look at it and provide the Member with whatever information I can.
I do not think that it is happening all over government. When I took over Government Services and saw that this individual was seconded from the Yukon Housing Corporation, I asked about the position and when he would be returning to the Yukon Housing Corporation. At that time, I was told that it was quite a unique situation and not often done. A five-year secondment is unusual. We were happy to have him at Government Services, at least until the secondment expired; after that it would be dealt with by the Yukon Housing Corporation and Government Services.
Mrs. Firth: I will be very interested in getting that information and finding out what the full explanation is, as well as recorded documentation to justify the secondment.
The only other outstanding question I have about the position control, organization, reclassification and restructuring issues I will leave for now and resume when we get into the main budget debate.
I noticed that the vice-president is still under the job title of director of operations. Yet, in the phone book and on the organization chart that was given to me by the Minister today, that person has been given the title of vice-president of operations. Is this person the vice-president of operations or the director of operations? What is the status of that job and when is it going to be one or the other and not both?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The working titles have changed, but the job description and classification have not been submitted yet, so it has not been officially changed on the chart. It will be as soon as the job positions are reclassified.
Mrs. Firth: Will there be an upgrading of the management pay level with this reclassification?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is up to the Public Service Commission. The Housing Corporation does not anticipate any change, because there is no change in the duties of that individual.
Mrs. Firth: Will they not be requesting that it be upgraded? The Minister is nodding his head, saying, "Yes."
I want to move on to a couple of follow-up questions.
There is an issue of conflict here. I have the conflict bylaws. I want to follow up on this and do some research on that issue before I get into any more debate on it. I will probably follow up in the main budget with further debate about the conflict of interest.
The Minister indicated yesterday that the Public Service Commission was checking on business licences with the city and so on. He has agreed to provide a report to me. He was going to look at the correspondence and provide information to me with respect to exactly what is happening there.
I have another question regarding this issue. During this conflict process and some other discussions, a legal firm wrote to the former president of the Home Builders' Association, presenting the corporation's point of view respecting some conversations that had taken place. It was a letter from an outside law firm.
I guess there is a potential for a lawsuit, but I did not see any record of it in the list of lawsuits that I received. What is the jurisdiction or the ability of the Yukon Housing Corporation with respect to potential lawsuits, obtaining its own lawyers and seeking its own legal opinions? Does the Yukon Housing Corporation use the services of the Department of Justice or does it just go on its own?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: First, the Yukon Housing Corporation is on its own with respect to retaining legal services. It does not go through the Department of Justice.
In this case, the reason an outside law firm was retained was because the letter was written to the individual, not as the president of the Canadian Home Builders' Association, but as the president of his company. His company is registered at the same law firm that is used by the Yukon Housing Corporation, so there was a conflict declared by the local firm and the Yukon Housing Corporation retained outside counsel on that issue.
Mrs. Firth: I guess we will have to get down to the basics of the issue at some stage of the game during debate, because I have some concern about how representation was made to the individual. I think the concerns that the individual brought to the attention of the Yukon Housing Corporation were brought forward by this person as the president of the Home Builders' Association. Yet, the action by the Yukon Housing Corporation was taken on the basis of him being an individual or the president of his company. That is an issue that needs to be sorted out. I will definitely be following up with the Minister about this particular incident. If the Minister has some comments to make about it, I would be interested in hearing them.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, except to add that I will bring back background information and be prepared to discuss it further when we debate the general budget if the Member wants to follow it up. My impression was that the remarks alleged, or the concern, was that it was coming from that individual personally, not as a representative of the Canadian Home Builders' Association. I do not know whether the law firm would have declared a conflict if it was writing a letter to that individual as president of the Canadian Home Builders' Association or not. Again, the firm may have been cautious and said that even though it was writing to the Home Builders' Association, this individual is someone whom the firm represents and his company is registered with the firm, and therefore would not act against him even in his capacity as president of the Home Builders' Association.
I will check on that and have more background if the Member wants to follow up.
Mrs. Firth: I do, but I do not have to explain this to the Minister. He is a lawyer and knows how this works. The law firm would have been acting on the direction of the Housing Corporation. It would have been given information and direction from the Housing Corporation, which was soliciting its services, and it would have acted based on the information that was provided. So if it was told that this was done by the individual, that would be the basis upon which it would act.
I do not think it was up to the law firm to make a determination about how it was going to approach the case. It would have been the Yukon Housing Corporation giving the firm the information and direction about how to approach the case.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I see the Member's point. What we have done is to go one step beyond the issue of the local law firm. The local law firm may have declared a conflict regardless of what the instructions were from the Housing Corporation - whether to act against this person as an individual or a member of the Home Builders' Association. My guess is that in any event it would have decided to get outside counsel.
I am not sure how the Housing Corporation instructed outside counsel, but if outside counsel took action against that person as an individual, I think the Member is probably right - the Housing Corporation would have said, "It is this individual who we are after, not the president of the association."
Mrs. Firth: I will look forward to future debate on that. If the Minister is going to be giving briefing notes on the issue, he could expedite the debate by providing that information to us as Opposition Members. I see him nodding, indicating that he will do that.
I want to ask the Minister some questions about this asset list. I know that the Yukon Housing Corporation has a very sophisticated computer system now. I heard the Minister stand up a couple of times yesterday and talk about this asset list. The Member for Whitehorse Centre was asking about this list, and whether or not she would be able to find locations of Yukon Housing Corporation housing within her constituency and so on. The Minister said, "Yes." When I saw this inventory list, I sent it out to my researcher and asked her to decipher it for me, because it is fairly complex and complicated. It really does not give us the information in the way that we asked for it. I want to go back to February 1992, when we asked the Yukon Housing Corporation for its property information.
At the time they provided us with a computer printout about property information within the communities, the number of units and the legal description. Every community was listed and it was stated whether if it was staff housing, or non-profit housing, a land bank, and so on. It gave us a legal description of the property or asset. I could look at the legal descriptions and determine what the address was, how many of them were in my constituency and how many were in the communities outside of Whitehorse.
Those legal descriptions are not included in the information that the Minister has provided us with. There are very few cases - I will not say that there are absolutely none - where the corporation has described the legal description of the land, and I think it is mostly in the communities. With some units it does - it will refer to a unit number 8546, lots 9 and 10. Giving us a unit description does not really tell us where or what that unit is. It gives us a lot of financial detail about money owing and monies coming and going.
Can we get a more comprehensive list of the property information so that we know what property we are actually dealing with?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not know if it will be more comprehensive than this, but I will check to see if it can be done in a form that includes addresses. I do not know if the Member is looking for legal addresses or locations. I see, as the Member has pointed out, that the list does not appear to me to be consistent. I think her researcher has more time than I have had to look through it. I see some addresses. For example, Closeleigh Manor, 30 suites; 410 Lowe Street, one unit; 13 Ketza Road, and so on.
I do not know if the Member wants that type of information or if we should be trying to get legal descriptions of the property.
Mrs. Firth: In the budget briefing, the president indicated to us that we would not receive the actual addresses, and we were aware of that. We had never been able to do so before. All we had been able to do was to get the legal description. If the address is in the computer printout, that is fine, but the legal description is adequate enough for us to determine where the units are or to figure out where the actual houses and apartments are.
I wonder if the Minister can discuss that with the president and let us know if we are able to get the information in a more understandable and comprehensive way. It would certainly be appreciated if we were able to understand where the Yukon Housing Corporation's units are and other property is.
I know that a lot of MLAs like to know that in their constituencies. It is valid information for them, so they are better able to serve their constituents.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will discuss that with the president and see if we can provide that, certainly before we get into general debate on the Yukon Housing Corporation and the main budget. If, at that time, there are questions about locations and numbers, there will be time to look at it and discuss it.
Mrs. Firth: I think that would be appreciated. I think we are trying to establish just exactly how many houses, apartments, buildings, or rental units are either owned or operated by the Yukon Housing Corporation. I would find it interesting to know how many houses in the constituency I represent are Yukon Housing Corporation houses. I think it would be very interesting to know what the total inventory is. I know it is growing because every time I have gone around the constituency, I see that there are more Yukon Housing Corporation houses. Again, it would be like asking how many employees are in the Yukon Housing Corporation. How many single dwelling units are owned by the Yukon Housing Corporation, how many rental spaces, how many apartments, and so on. I think that would be valuable information to all Members of the Legislative Assembly.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Most of that information is there. The total numbers, where they are and the number of units indicates a lot of financial detail, as the Member said. What is not there is the location of the units within the City of Whitehorse. I will try and get that information from the corporation.
Mrs. Firth: I look forward to getting that information.
The Housing Corporation used to provide some financing - I believe it was a loan program - for upgrading or reconstruction work on rental suites. I know that the program has been discontinued, as I remember discussing it in the Legislature. Can the Minister bring us up to date on the status of that program? Are there people still paying back those loans or have they all been paid? How many businesses applied for loans and are paying them back to the government?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: There is money in the 1996-97 budget for rental suites. I have some of that information here. The plan is to undertake the program in conjunction with the City of Whitehorse in the following year. I have some statistical information back to 1992-93. I will read it into the record and then the Member can read Hansard and follow up in the mains.
In 1992-93, there were 19 approvals. The average loan was $20,105. In 1993-94, there were 10 approvals. The average loan was $20,000. In 1994-95, there were six approvals. The average loan was $18,333. In 1995-96, the estimated number of approvals to the end of this year is four, with the average loan being $19,800.
To date, in 1995-96, $59,447 was committed to current year's clients. In addition $8,726 of prior year's commitments were carried forward to this fiscal year.
Mrs. Firth: Obviously, the program is ongoing, although there does not seem to be as great a demand as there was initiatlly. I will follow this up with the Minister when we get to line-by-line debate. There are a lot of programs, mortgages, home repairs and rental upgrades that the Yukon Housing Corporation is involved in, and I think that there is a tremendous amount of time and money being spent on all of these programs. I want to get these organized in a fashion so that I can ask some reasonable questions when we come to line-by-line debate on the Yukon Housing Corporation.
I want to ask the Minister a question about the home repair program. When we receive a letter from the Minister saying, "The following table indicates the level of activity by the corporation's lending program for the home repair," it quotes a client number of 110 for last year. Is this figure in addition to the previous numbers over the last couple of years?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, those are new loans or loans being considered for approval in the current year.
Mrs. Firth: That is what I thought. I have the one that I was given for December 15, 1994, so this will be November 30, 1995. There is an additional 110. Perhaps the Minister could bring back the information for us that tells us how many people there are all together. How big is the home repair program? What is the total number of clients and the total number of commitments and disbursements in that program?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We can follow up on this. If the Member wants more information, she can request it now, and I will get it before debate on the main estimates. However, I have some statistical information from 1992-93. I will read it into the record, and then the Member can follow up with me. In 1992-93, the total number of applications was 323 with 126 approved. In 1993-94, the total number of applications was 344 with 143 approved. In 1994-95, the total number of applications was 255 with 99 approved. In 1995-96 - these are estimates - the total number of applications is 193, and it is estimated that the total approved will be 102. That gives a grand total of 470 applications approved to the end of March 31, 1996.
Mrs. Firth: How much does that represent in financial commitment? It has got to be quite a few million dollars.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not have the cumulative total right in front of me. However, I will send it to the Member or give it to her in the House.
Mrs. Firth: I would appreciate that information. In addition, I would like the annual information on four areas provided by the Yukon Housing Corporation. I have not received it every year. I think that I missed getting it one year. I would like information about the home repair program - the total number of clients and total commitments and disbursements - the home ownership program, the owner-build program, and the rental-suite program. For the others, could he give the total number of clients so that we know how big the program is actually getting, and how large the financial commitment and administration is for those programs. I would appreciate it if we could get that information.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I will get that information.
Mrs. Firth: Thank you.
I want to ask the Minister some questions about a rather interesting issue concerning a couple of houses in Dawson City. Ages ago, someone brought to my attention the fact that the Housing Corporation was building two houses in Dawson City for the Energy Corporation, so I started checking around. I have talked to members of the board of the Energy Corporation and I have talked to the Yukon Electrical Company Ltd. The way I understand the story is that the two houses are for Yukon Electrical Company Ltd. employees. The houses are owned by the Yukon Energy Corporation. The Energy Corporation, with the approval of the Energy Corporation Board, approached the Housing Corporation. I believe a consultant is designing the new houses and they are going to be energy-efficient, new-technology type buildings. The Housing Corporation is going to tender them, get a general contractor, inspect them and attempt to recover all of its own costs. What will end up happening will be that the Energy Corporation will own the houses and the employees of the Yukon Electrical Company will live in them. That is the gist of what is going on.
Can the Minister tell me why the Housing Corporation has to be involved? That is my question. The president gave us some details in the briefing session we had with him, and he indicated to us that they were going to have their inspectors inspect the project.
Can the Minister stand up and give us precise details about exactly what is happening here, so that we are not missing any of the salient points about this transaction?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I can add a bit to what the Member has said. My understanding is that the Yukon Energy Corporation came to the Yukon Housing Corporation for two reasons: first of all, because the Yukon Housing Corporation has the expertise with respect to this type of project, which the Yukon Energy Corporation does not have; the second thing is that the Yukon Energy Corporation is going to own the houses. With that being the case, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation was willing to provide $70,000 for new technology research and demonstrations. My understanding is that CMHC would not have done that if it was for the private sector. The Member could not have obtained that money - or half of that - for her own home. It is a government initiative.
As to the $70,000 for new technology and demonstration, I have some information, but I do not know the details. Apparently, new science would be applied in different fields, such as heating and ventilation. CMHC is proposing to apply some new technology that would simplify the heating and ventilation, reduce complexity and improve efficiency. I do not have any details of exactly what that new technology is.
The other area is photo-voltaic lighting. Again, I do not know exactly what that is or what it will do, other than it will increase energy efficiency.
The foundation design is the third area. Because Dawson is one of the most notorious Yukon communities for permafrost conditions, CMHC is proposing to demonstrate a new structural design that basically uses stressed-skin panels that will make the building rigid enough to withstand ground movement. Apparently, that is not new technology, but it has not been demonstrated on new housing construction in the north. If it works, based on my experience of Dawson, it will be a great boon, because most of the town is notorious for the permafrost conditions.
The other information that I can give the Member is that - I had better not use the term "architect" - the design consultant is Sinclair and Associates, from Whitehorse. The Yukon Housing Corporation will manage the project, but it will be publicly tendering the construction of the houses.
The total cost of the units - I hope I am not giving away information to potential bidders - is expected to be about $150,000 per unit.
Mrs. Firth: Is that before or after the $70,000? Is the $70,000 part of that, or is it on top of the $150,000? My guess would be that it is on top of the $150,000.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I stand to be corrected, but I think the Member is right. It is in addition to the $150,000 unit price.
Mrs. Firth: That would be $150,000 per unit plus $35,000 for each unit. That makes each one $185,000.
I have some concerns about the whole concept of what is going on. I do not want to be unprogressive. I do not want to not try new things, but sometimes I have to raise a bit of concern about the amount of money that we are spending and find out whether or not this has been tried in any other areas. Are we breaking new ground? Can we not, because we do not have a lot of money here, learn from other people's mistakes? Has anyone else tried this before? There are a lot of questions that come to mind.
I do not want to think that just because this money is available we are jumping on the bandwagon simply in order to use up the money.
I suppose it raises the question of how much information was provided to people who are making the decisions in the first place about going this route. I know that the Yukon Energy Corporation Board agreed to having the Yukon Housing Corporation do it. Was all of the information we have received this afternoon given to it? Was it aware that this is an experimental project?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not know, and I am not going to even attempt to defend the Yukon Energy Corporation on this project or the new technology it wants to put in its houses. Perhaps that should be taken up with the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation.
I say that because I know of other ideas the Yukon Energy Corporation has presented, through Government Services, that I have questions about myself. I am not prepared to defend the Yukon Energy Corporation, nor to try to explain what the board received.
My understanding of the two technologies - the heating and ventilation and the lighting - is that they have been tested and tried and do work. The foundation, with rigid, skin-tight panels, has also been tried and tested, but it has not actually been demonstrated in the north.
I will not speculate about how successful it will be. The Yukon Housing Corporation will tender it. The Yukon Energy Corporation is the client, and it will suffer the consequences in the end.
It is not that I am skeptical, but these type of things remind me of the first installation of the Dawson water and sewer system. We were told - in the mid-1970s - that it was a fool-proof system and that nothing could possibly go wrong. Now, 20 years later, we are still trying to get it fixed.
I do not think that will happen with these two houses, but I am not about to stick my neck out and say that adding the new technology will be a great saving to the Yukon Energy Corporation or will be successful, although that is possible and we may have a design that will be of tremendous benefit to towns such as Dawson in the future.
Mrs. Firth: I cannot fault the Minister for not wanting to stick out his neck and defend this project. I have a lot of questions and I will direct the questions about the specific initiative to the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation. The amount of $370,000 for the two houses is a major expenditure. I guess money from our power bills is going toward paying for this experimental project. I do not know why they even need the houses in the first place. Those are questions I will have to direct to the Yukon Energy Corporation.
I want to follow up on the exact, specific role that the Yukon Housing Corporation will have. The Minister said the corporation is going to manage the public tender of the houses. Who will be responsible for inspections and who will be the project manager? The Yukon Housing Corporation will be the department that will have to take responsibility in the event something goes amok - we have played this before - they will say, " The design was flawless; it was your project manager. Why did they allow that to happen?" In the end, I want to know who is going to be accountable if the project does not succeed, so we are not bouncing this ball back and forth.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: There is no guarantee and again, I would not want to say who will be responsible, because these are the types of things that, as the Member said, end up being fought over for years and years.
The Yukon Housing Corporation will manage the project. It will be responsible for tendering the project according to guidelines and it will conduct the inspections to ensure the buildings meet the tender specifications and are built and completed according to the design and specifications. That will be the extent of the Yukon Housing Corporation's involvement. There will also be the regular inspections for building, wiring and plumbing.
It is my expectation that the Yukon Housing Corporation's responsibility will end when the houses are complete and when those houses have met the tender specifications.
Mrs. Firth: As soon as the project is tendered, the Yukon Housing Corporation will be gone, except for some inspections - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: After it is tendered and awarded, the Yukon Housing Corporation will make sure that the successful bidder completes the project according to the specifications. The corporation will be on the job to watch it being built to ensure that it meets the specifications. Once it is complete and the final payment has been made for the construction, the Yukon Housing Corporation's responsibility will end.
Mrs. Firth: The Yukon Housing Corporation will, in fact, be the project manager to oversee the project. I see the Minister nodding his head indicating "Yes."
Who is going to approve the design concept?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Yukon Energy Corporation.
Mrs. Firth: I will have to follow up with the Yukon Energy Corporation to see if it will be the board or if it will be done internally.
When does the Yukon Housing Corporation plan to tender the project? At what stage is the design concept and everything else?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not have the exact dates. My understanding is that Sinclair & Associates is working on it right now.
Mrs. Firth: The design is being done, and it may get tendered for this building season-
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: The Minister is saying that it will for certain. I will wait and follow up on that.
The Yukon Housing Corporation has indicated that it will recover all of its costs. Can the Minister tell what the costs are anticipated to be? How does the corporation intend to recover them?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It will be a fixed fee paid by the Yukon Energy Corporation to the Yukon Housing Corporation. It is being negotiated right now. It will be based on the time that the inspectors will spend, the travel and the travel expenses. I do not have the total yet. I will not have a problem providing the information when I have it.
Mrs. Firth: The arrangement has already been agreed to between the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation, and the Yukon Energy Corporation will give full reimbursement to the Yukon Housing Corporation for all costs associated with the project - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is correct.
The Yukon Energy Corporation will have to agree that the costs are reasonable. I do not foresee any problems at all. When the Yukon Housing Corporation has done its estimate, it will be looked at by the Yukon Energy Corporation and agreed upon. The fixed fee will be paid by the Yukon Energy Corporation to the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mrs. Firth: That will be in addition to the $370,000 for the two houses - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: My understanding is that it will be included in the basic house construction costs of about $150,000 a unit.
Mrs. Firth: The Home Builders' Association has registered some concern about this. Can the Minister tell us if he has discussed it with the association?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No. The concern has been registered second or third hand. I heard it from one of my Cabinet colleagues, who asked about it. I have not heard or dealt specifically with the Home Builders' Association.
My understanding is that one of the association's concerns is that - I may be way out in left field about this - the building inspector in Dawson had something to do with the design. My information is that that is not true at all. The building inspector in Dawson is not involved at all, other than whatever he has to do to do his own job.
The other concern was that the Yukon Housing Corporation was actually going to build the houses. Again, that is not true; it is simply going to tender and manage the projects.
I do not know what other specific concerns the Home Builders' Association has, because I have not dealt directly with it.
Mrs. Firth: From what I understand, the houses are going to be built where the existing ones are located. There are some kind of modular units there that are being sold at public auction and the buyers have to haul them away. Is the Housing Corporation being involved in that process at all?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We are not involved in that process and you, Mr. Chair, may be able to help us out here by nodding your head. My understanding is that these units are double-wides, located toward the north end of town in the notorious permafrost area. The Member may know that one is on Fifth Avenue just past the Catholic Church, but I do not know where the other one is located.
Again, it is the Energy Corporation that is doing it. The Housing Corporation has nothing to do with it. It is just my impression that they are going to sell those units, move them off and build these two new units on those lots.
Mrs. Firth: I will follow up then with the Energy Corporation Minister to get all the other outstanding details. I am ready to go on to another issue. If other Members want to jump in here - I have taken up more than my fair share for the moment, and will come back after other Members have had a chance to ask the Minister some questions.
Mr. Cable: Concerning the letter from the Public Service Commission to the corporation, spelling out the details of the conflict of the employees, does it deal with the issue of conflict in a general sense or does it deal specifically with certain employees?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It deals with the request by the Home Builders' Association. Again, I do not have a letter. What I do have is a memo, addressed to me from the Public Service Commissioner. I do not believe it mentions any Yukon Housing Corporation employee by name. The Public Service Commissioner is telling me that she has dealt with the Home Builders' Association and essentially the ball is in their court. She has explained to them that there is a conflict of interest bylaw at the Housing Corporation, that there is also Yukon government conflict-of-interest legislation, that any investigation would be pursuant to section 8 of the Public Service Act, and if they want her to follow up and do an investigation under that section, then she wanted to hear back from Mr. Drury with details.
Mr. Cable: My understanding is that the Home Builders' Association does not particularly want to deal with specific people. What it wants is some articulation in detail of the rights of employees of the Housing Corporation with respect to their after-hours involvement in what, on a perception basis, appears to be a conflict of interest in the business of the corporation, which is to build houses, or to promote the building of houses.
This is the reason that I asked for the manner in which the housing corporations in other jurisdictions deal with this topic, and specifically the housing corporations, not just the general conflict-of-interest rules for public servants.
There are a number of factors going on. There is the contest of the freedom of the employee to do what he or she wants in his or her own time versus the perceptions of employees working against the interest of their employer, or competing with people whom the employer deals with on a day-to-day basis. It would be very useful if we could find out if that ruling from the Public Service Commission deals with conflict on a broad, conceptual basis or if it deals more specifically with the construction of houses by employees of the Housing Corporation.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It is not a ruling of the Public Service Commission. It is an update for me of the discussions that the Public Service Commission has had with the Canadian Home Builders' Association. There is a bylaw in place. The Yukon Housing Corporation has Bylaw No. 7, which deals with conflict of interest. I think it is up to the Home Builders' Association, if they have problems with that bylaw, to make representations to me or to the Housing Corporation Board as to what changes should be made to that conflict-of-interest bylaw so that there is not any conflict and again that the interests are balanced so that employees can do what they want in their own time and the conflict with their job is resolved.
My understanding is that this conflict-of-interest bylaw dates back to 1978 and, since then, it received one amendment in 1989. I will read the amendment. The Member has it before him in the package.
The September 15, 1989 amendment reads, "an employee or a board member shall be deemed to be in a position of conflict of interest when they are also concurrently employed by an individual company or firm to work on any project, contract or property associated directly or indirectly with the Yukon Housing Corporation."
I think there must have been similar concern expressed in 1989. If a further amendment is needed, I am certain that - speaking for the Yukon Housing Corporation Board - they would entertain and discuss an amendment.
Mr. Cable: I think the debate when we come to the main budget will be useful for setting policy matters, and I also think it will be helpful to the Yukon Housing Corporation.
As I read these conflict-of-interest bylaws and the amendment, I think the bylaw's primary focus is on relationships between the employee with multi-hats and the employer - the Yukon Housing Corporation. That is not the issue here. The issue is whether or not employees, in their off hours, should be doing the same business as their employer, and whether or not they should be doing the same business as people dealing with the employer on a day-to-day basis. That is the conflict that I want to talk about in the budget debate, not the issue of contracts between the Yukon Housing Corporation and its employees.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will be prepared to discuss that issue when we debate the main budget.
I know that it will be difficult. I understand where the Member is coming from and what the issue is. I know that not only with the Yukon Housing Corporation, but also in other corporations and departments of government, it is the same.
What happens is that there are employees hired in their area of expertise. It is what they do best and what they like doing. If they do anything after hours, they are going to use their expertise and skills. I know that it would not be an absolute conflict if an employee of the Yukon Housing Corporation went to work in the evenings flipping hamburgers at McDonald's. The issue we are discussing is employees using the expertise that got them hired for a position at the Yukon Housing Corporation on their own time - after hours and on weekends.
It is a tough question, and I do not think we are going to resolve it right now or even in debate in the main budget, but I am certainly prepared to discuss the issue in further detail with the Member for Riverside.
Mr. Cable: I think it is important to recognize, when we are balancing the two values - the rights of the employees to do as they wish in their off hours and the perception that competition with the employer leaves with people in the street - that it would be useful to get a fairly exhaustive recapitulation of what is done in other jurisdictions. I know that it is, in fact, dealt with by at least one Crown corporation. It is hoped that we will get all that information before us so that we can adequately deal with it.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will try to get that information with respect to how other jurisdictions deal with it and provide it for the Member. This is an issue into which some fear to tread, but I have experienced the same sort of issue without an easy resolution. An example is people who are already employed by the government contracting with the government in an unrelated field or contracting with someone else using their government day salary to benefit them in bidding for another job in the evening. They can undercut someone who needs to bid and receive a full-time income.
The question that has been raised, and I do not have an answer, is whether government employees should be competing in any other sector when they can use the fact that they have a fixed, steady income from the government to do other work cheaper than they would be able to do if the contracting were their only income.
We certainly have a can of worms here. I hope that other jurisdictions can provide information that will allow us to deal with it.
Mr. Cable: If I can analogize, when the Minister was practising law, if one of his employees were to moonlight at night, notarizing documents or doing land transactions, there would be a little uneasiness in the Minister's office. I think that is generally common practice with officers in corporations, as opposed to people who are not, if they are on contracts that have specific clauses precluding them from that activity because the perceptions are so powerful that they could be acting against the interests of their employer. When we come to this debate, I hope the Minister will have this information from other jurisdictions and possibly could advise the House about what the common law is on the topic.
I know that topic is dealt with in the law - how far employees can, as a matter of right, go in competition with their employer.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to follow up on this issue because maybe I am not looking at in such a complicated way as are the Minister and the previous questioner. The issue about what has caused the public's concern regarding conflict of interest, particularly with government employees, seems fairly simple to me. I think the issue is this: do these people have access to information in their job that gives them an advantage over people in the business community? When there is a close association, I think it compounds the problem.
Regarding the question the Minister raised about regulating income and work, I do not think regulations can be made that state how much a person should be able to work. If government employees are going to be paid a yearly salary, and are going to have another business on the side, and are going to bid on projects, as long as they are not perceived to have an unfair advantage in the area that they are bidding, I do not know how it can be said that because a person has one job, that they cannot have three or four jobs. I do not think you can regulate how much money people are prepared to go out and make. I think that is a personal initiative.
I think the issue and the question is this: are there some unfair advantages here? Are there people who have access to information that other people do not, who are in direct competition with individuals not having access to that information, but whose livelihood is dependent upon having that information and fair advantage, which is further compounded by the fact that the individual may be a government employee.
Just to give the Minister some examples, if an employee of the Yukon Housing Corporation, who is a general contractor, would have information about the kinds of housing that clients need and would have information about housing areas for development that might be becoming available, would have access to information about different programs available through the Yukon Housing Corporation if people wanted to take advantage of the programs to get houses built. They would have information about what is the ideal cost of a starter house or a house that young or new couples or elderly people could afford.
The problem is that the private sector does not have access to all of that detailed information. It does not just apply to the Yukon Housing Corporation, it could apply to all kinds of different government departments. If people in a particular area - and if these people are also contractors - are perceived to have that kind of information at their fingertips, there is going to be a perception that they will have an unfair advantage. That is where we have to focus our attention. I know that the present regulations say that government employees are not supposed to take advantage of information that they get through their job to bid on another job or in a another business. However, I think we have to tighten up regulations concerning government employees running their own businesses, and make it appear to be - or make it be - more fair to other businesses.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I think what the Member is describing is strictly prohibited by the government conflict-of-interest policy, which "prohibits public servants benefiting or appearing to benefit from the use of information acquired during the course of their official duties when such information is not generally available to the public." So that is covered, and I think what the Public Service Commissioner is saying to the Canadian Home Builders' Association is, "If you will name me an individual who has benefited or appeared to benefit from using information acquired during the course of their employment with the Housing Corporation and using information that is not generally available to the public, then I will go and investigate that individual for you." My understanding is that the Home Builders' Association was not specifically after any individual at the Housing Corporation. What it wanted was the conflict-of-interest bylaw or policy tightened up so that this sort of thing would not even appear to be happening.
In a sense, the ball is in the Canadian Home Builders' Association court - to come up with something better than a bylaw that is in place, but without naming an individual and causing an investigation to get that person, for example.
I will get information from other jurisdictions. Perhaps there is a better conflict-of-interest bylaw that could be put in place for the Yukon Housing Corporation. When I get that information from the other jurisdictions, I will provide the information to the Member for Riverdale South and the Member for Riverside. I will also share this information with the Canadian Home Builders' Association and this may be of some assistance to it. I do not think the problem will ever go away, but maybe it can be dealt with better than the current conflict-of-interest bylaw.
Mrs. Firth: I have been doing some of my own research in that area, but I look forward to seeing what the Minister does provide.
The Minister said that the policy now says that they prohibit the use of knowledge that someone may have at work. I know that, and I think the general public knows that that is not allowed, but it is very difficult to definitively say that is not happening. I am not saying that it is happening intentionally. It could be happening unintentionally. The fact that there are people who are working in the Housing Corporation as employees, who are bombarded with this kind of information and data all day long, and who run a contracting industry, gives rise to the perception that they have this information that other people do not have. The question of whether or not it has become a real conflict - I agree with the Minister - is if one can cite an example of them having taken advantage of the information. It would have to be, for example, the contractor going to a site, building a house for someone who had gone to the Housing Corporation to participate in one of the programs. Then people would be hooting and howling and saying that there is an absolute conflict.
Right now, the perception is there. It is human nature. The Minister, I am sure, has had people raising this issue with him and has had some concerns expressed to him about it. It is the appearance or the perception. How can someone constantly have this information and not have it influence them in some way or another?
Perhaps the solution is not to have general contractors, people who run their own general contracting business, working in the Housing Corporation.
That may be the eventual policy - that somebody who is directly involved in a business, which is their everyday work, cannot be employed with the government. We are still waiting to hear what the Public Service Commission Minister is going to say about conflict. We, as Opposition Members on this side, have been after the government for the last three years to address the issue of conflict-of-interest for employees, but it still has not been addressed.
I just want to get my position clearly on the record that I think there are ways of dealing with it and we seem to be making it more complicated than it really is. In that way, the government procrastinates and a decision never gets made and it continues to go on. We keep dealing with these separate conflict issues all over the place.
I will be interested in hearing what the Minister has to say. I am sure the debate could go on for some time about the conflict-of-interest issue.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am glad the Member brought up the issue of the Public Service Commission Minister making an announcement with respect to conflict. I think I was wrong to a certain extent last night when I said an announcement would be made with respect to conflict. I spoke to that Minister and he said that the announcement would not be with respect to conflict during employment, but about his post-employment conflict. The issue of conflict as an employee is not about to be solved and we probably will be discussing it for a while longer. I do understand the Member's concern that it is hard to disregard the information one gains in one's position.
It is hard to get it out of one's mind. From my experience, the only ones we can accept doing that are judges. They can hear a confession and then disregard it. They can acquit someone, for example, despite what they have heard.
The Member says "and priests". I know others, for example, witnesses, will be told to disregard a remark and everyone says, "Oh, sure". I understand what the Member is saying and the public's perception. As I say, when I get information on how other jurisdictions have dealt with it and the Member does her research, I would encourage the Member for Riverside to send his researcher out to look at the common law. Perhaps we can spend some time trying to solve, settle or clarify the issue.
With respect to the Public Service Commissioner, I do not think she is prepared to do anything with the existing policy on her own, unless, I suppose, she is ordered by her Minister to investigate it. With respect to the following up on behalf of the Home Builders' Association, generally speaking, I do not think any more will be done in that regard.
Mrs. Firth: I am prepared to move on to another issue, unless someone else wants to follow up with the conflict issue. I do not see anyone else jumping up to ask questions, so I will move on to the corporate credit card policy.
I asked for the old policy as well as the new. I have been provided with the corporate credit card policy. It is not dated or given any policy number. Could the Minister tell me if this is the only policy? Was there another policy prior to the Auditor General's comments about credit card usage? Has a new policy been developed? If a new policy has been developed, could I have a copy of the old one?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: That is the only policy that is in place.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell us how long this policy has been in effect?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am told that it has been in place since October 1995, and that prior to that time it was governed by the travel regulations.
Mrs. Firth: I will review the travel regulations just for my own personal interest.
I gather that what the Minister is probably getting at is that, instead of having a credit card to use, employees ask for travel advances like other government employees - and I see the Minister nodding his head yes. When did the Housing Corporation start using credit cards?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Over two years ago. I do not know the exact date they started, but it has been more than two years.
Mrs. Firth: Okay, so it was started under this government. Did all 11 individuals get the credit cards at that time?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, they did not all get them at the same time. My understanding is that the employees who were travelling and would have been entitled to travel advances were given credit cards. If there are employees who do not travel, then they would return the credit card and would not have one to use.
Mrs. Firth: There are 11 individuals who have the cards. Did two or three of them get them first or did they get all 11 credit cards at one time and disperse them? That is what I am trying to establish.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We do not have that with us right now. However, we will get the dates of issue for the 11 people who have the credit cards.
Mrs. Firth: I will wait to get that information.
Can the Minister tell us how this decision was originally made? Did the executive committee make the decision? Did the board approve it? If so, can I have the minutes covering when the decision was made and the minutes from the board meeting approving it?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: We will check the records. We will get the date that it was approved, where it was approved and a copy of the minutes covering it.
Mrs. Firth: In the budget briefing, when we raised the issue of the credit card statements, the president told us that it was a fair amount of work and that he had to get copies of the credit card statements from the banks. Can the Minister tell me why the corporation does not keep those statements in house? Would the Yukon Housing Corporation not have all of the credit card statements from the last two years on file in the finance department of the Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I cannot give the Member the details about that. The explanation I received is that charge slips were at the corporation, but they were filed in different places depending on where the charges were made and what project it was allocated to.
The charge slips were spread out throughout the Yukon Housing Corporation. It was simpler to call the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce VISA and ask for copies than to find the different places they were filed at the Yukon Housing Corporation.
I do not know what they are doing now, but after listening to this debate perhaps they will take photocopies of all the charge slips and keep them in a file in preparation for next year's budget. It did take much longer than I expected to gather the information.
Mrs. Firth: I do not feel comfortable with that explanation. The corporation has provided a detailed printout of all of its assets and has accounted for every last penny and financial detail with respect to millions of dollars worth of programs.
There are 11 people at the corporation with credit cards and there are financial officers who are responsible for handling them. In some instances, the employees have been required to pay personal charges before the Auditor General's report and the policy was changed. It was made very clear that employees were not to charge personal items on the credit cards.
Someone must have been responsible for keeping track of it, even if the statements were in other files. For some reason, I do not buy the argument that it would have been impossible to pull out the statements. Trips are taken on a regular basis and records are to be kept. I do not understand why they were not accessible. It does pose the question about how the corporation is keeping track of these expenditures. Is it now keeping them in one file, so that we will not have to go through this exercise again?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do hope that they are being kept in one file so that we do not have to go through this exercise again. Like the Member, I am surprised at the length of time it took to pull them together. I can go back to the Yukon Housing Corporation and ask for an explanation of the system for managing the credit cards and provide that. In fact, I think I will do that, in any event. If the Member would like a copy of that, I will provide it to her. She is nodding her head, "Yes." I will do that.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Committee to take a break?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: The Committee will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are on Bill No. 9, general debate. Are we prepared to go line by line?
Mrs. Firth: First, I want to pick up on the credit card policy, specifically dealing with what kind of system the Yukon Housing Corporation uses. The comment was made that the corporation was not able to pull this information from its own records and that it had to get the statements from the bank. I see the Minister mouthing, "The time."
The corporation is saying it would have taken too much time, or something to that effect. I checked with Finance. It has been indicated to me that other government departments file by vendor, that the Yukon Housing Corporation should also be using that method. If it is not, why not, and what method is it using? If one files by vendor, it is fairly easy to have ready access to all the information we have requested in absolutely no time at all.
Could the Minister tell us how the Yukon Housing Corporation does it? Does it file by vendor? If not, why not, when everyone else does?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Before the break I made a commitment to do that. If I did not, I will now make the commitment to bring back exactly how the Yukon Housing Corporation handles the credit card statements - the policy and how the accounting is done.
As I said, taking a long time to gather the required information is an excuse, but not a real good excuse, and I think we should have been far more efficient in providing that information to the Member. I could offer other explanations, but none of them would really excuse the time it took to provide the information.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister can ask his president if the corporation files major expenditures and purchases by vendor.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will have to clarify that information and get back to the Member. It is my understanding that filing is done by cheque requisition number and perhaps cross-referenced by vendor. I do not think I can provide a clear explanation to the Member at this time, but I will get a clear answer from the Yukon Housing Corporation for my own information and for the Member's information.
Mrs. Firth: I can appreciate the Minister wanting to have the president write something up, but it is not as if I am asking for some complicated accounting procedure. What happens? Surely the Minister can walk us through the steps here. Someone takes a trip; the bill comes in to the department; the person has to okay it themselves; someone in the department must have signing authority to authorize the expenditure; who is it and do they sign it; it would go to Finance with a cheque requisition that I think is some kind of multi-copy form where one tears off a copy to keep in the department; and it would be filed by the vendor. I do not understand what the complicated process is for which the Minister has to go back to get some written documentation. Perhaps the president could just indicate to him what the steps are, and I could ask further questions about it this afternoon.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The president cannot walk me through the steps right now and therefore I cannot walk the Member through them. We will have to get a detailed explanation of it. I would not be actually speculating, but I would not be exactly sure that I was putting accurate information on the record. I would rather get the detail and debate it again in the mains or correspond with the Member. I do not want to attempt to interpret what the president is saying, stand here and repeat it and then be in the position of correcting it tomorrow in the House.
Mrs. Firth: Perhaps the Minister could give us his explanation again to the direct question about filing by vendor. Does the corporation file by vendor or not?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Again, as I said, I am not absolutely positive about it. My understanding is that they are filed by cheque requisitions but they may be cross-referenced by vendor. I cannot be any clearer than that until I have received more information from the Housing Corporation.
Again, there is no excuse for the time it took. I am sure that the information was available at the Yukon Housing Corporation and that it could have been given to the Member a lot sooner than it was. It simply was not done.
Mrs. Firth: I cannot disagree with that statement at all. Can the Minister tell us if he is going to see that a more efficient system is put in place? Is that going to be a suggestion by him to the Yukon Housing Corporation? Is it something that is going to go before the board? How is the Minister going to feel confident that the Yukon Housing Corporation is going to deal with this issue and make it easier to access that kind of information?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Minister does not know how efficient the system of filing and keeping track of the credit cards is. It may be very efficient. I am concerned about the efficiency with which the Yukon Housing Corporation gets the information to the Minister. I will assume some responsibility for the lateness of obtaining this information because my instructions to the Yukon Housing Corporation may not have been perfectly clear. However, when I asked for the information again - I believe it was some time in November - in response to the Member for Riverdale South's follow up, there was obviously a lack of efficiency in gathering information. I have told the Housing Corporation that I expect a quicker response.
With respect to the efficiency of tracking the credit card purchases and whether or not they are filed by vendor, we will get that information.
Mrs. Firth: I am curious. When the Auditor General did the audit and made his observations with respect to credit card use, what documentation did he use?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I cannot say specifically what it was. I understand that he used all the documentation that the Yukon Housing Corporation had.
Mrs. Firth: I think it would be interesting to know this. Perhaps I should just phone the Auditor General and ask him what documentation he used; that might be the quickest way to get an answer.
I had an opportunity to go through the credit card statements. I have even had an opportunity to call some of the hotels and get statements on credit card usage. I am continuing to check it out and make my observations about the general use of credit cards for payment for services.
I will have more questions later, but I have a general question to pose right now. When an employee goes on a trip, uses a credit card and the statement comes back to the department, is it a full, itemized statement, listing all the room service, room charges, long-distance calls and so on? Is it like the statement that one gets when one leaves a hotel and signs the bill?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, my understanding is there is a complete record of the charges.
Mrs. Firth: When that record is received, whose responsibility is it to go through and identify if there are personal charges or if the whole bill consists of charges that should be paid for by the government? What happens when the bill arrives at the department?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It is the responsibility of the employee to identify any personal charges that may appear on the credit card due to being part of, for example, a hotel bill.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell us what the Yukon Housing Corporation considers to be personal charges?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Anything that is not permitted according to the travel regulations.
Mrs. Firth: I do not think that there is anything in the regulations about guest parking, but I do not want to get picky. I think I can make that judgment for myself.
What happens? After the personal charges have been identified, does the employee write a cheque for those charges and send it to Finance with the requisition?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Any personal charges are deducted first from any allowance the employee might be entitled to, such as a meal allowance. If there is no money owed to the employee, then the employee writes a cheque.
Mrs. Firth: When the calculation is made for the meal allowance, and so on, what the Minister is saying then is if there is a printout and the employee has gone to a restaurant to eat and has had room service, they calculate what the daily allotment is according to the travel regulations and the employee may be getting more money on top of what is on the credit card charge.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I believe that is correct. If I have interpreted accurately what the Member has said, which I think was straightforward, yes, that would be the case. If the Member underspent the meal allowance on the credit card, they would be entitled to the difference.
Mrs. Firth: I am drawing a conclusion based on the information I have that probably things such as in-room movies would not be legitimate travel expenses. That would be considered personal expense. Would they deduct that kind of thing from their travel expense, or would they be required to pay that?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member is correct. That would be a personal expense to be deducted and that would be deducted first from an amount owing from meal expense and if there were more personal charges than money coming - for example, for meal expense not used - then the employee would be required to write a cheque for the difference.
Mrs. Firth: That is not the way I would have interpreted it. I would have interpreted that the movie would not be considered part of the allowable expense. The Minister is saying it is not. Even if they had money left, they were getting money. In other words, they are paying for the in-room movie themselves. That is good. Then we are both in agreement with that.
When employees travel and stay in hotels on a regular basis, there are all kinds of privileges one can get by being Canadian Plus Club members, and things like that. If any charges are associated with that kind of membership, does the Housing Corporation credit card pay for those charges? If there is an annual fee, would the corporation credit card pay for it?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: There is an annual fee that the corporation pays for the credit card itself, but that annual fee does not result in any benefits that accrue to the corporation or to the individual. It is a standard card with no extra benefits that one can receive with some other credit cards.
Mrs. Firth: I understand points are not accumulated on these credit cards. It is not like the Royal Trust card, where points can be accumulated for free airplane tickets, and so on.
When the employees used credit cards for personal expenditures, were there times when the cards might be used for personal hotel expenses? Because the employees were not on a government rate, but were on a weekend rate or other rate, would the employees accumulate points by use of the government credit card?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, not that I or the president are aware of.
Mrs. Firth: I will follow up on that at a later date.
I have been examining the purposes of travel. The credit card statements that I have received represent about a year's expenditures, from April 1995 to January 1996. Does this represent all of the travel that these individuals are taking?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, it is my understanding that it would represent all of the travel that these 11 individuals took, less plane fare, which is booked through Government Services.
Mrs. Firth: I understand that. The president and vice-president took a trip from May 14 to 20, obviously for some kind of conference. Could the Minister tell us what that trip was for? Is it common practice for the president and the vice-president to go on trips at the same time? The reason that I ask is because I seldom see a Minister and a deputy minister take a trip at the same time. Is that a common practice at the corporation? If so, I would like to know the justification for both the president and vice-president taking a trip at the same time.
It is not uncommon for the president and vice-president of operations to travel together to a conference. Often there are different issues being discussed where it is advantageous to have both people at the conference.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: With respect to the May 1995 trip, I am not exactly certain what that trip was for. I believe it was a trip to Ottawa and if the Member will give me a moment I will find out what the conference was about.
Over that period, there was a planning and monitoring meeting on May 12 in Vancouver. On May 15 and 16, there was a deputy ministers' meeting in Ottawa, and overlapping it was an operations subcommittee meeting.
Mrs. Firth: I have made a note of that.
With regard to the record of payment that has been made about personal expenses, does the department have that on file? Do it have on file the numbers of times that people have had to pay personal expenses? If I make a personal phone call, I write a cheque and it goes to Finance. I know that it has a record of it somewhere. Does the Yukon Housing Corporation keep those kinds of files on reimbursements?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, those that are deducted. For example, money owing for meal allowances appear on the expense claim. Where cheques are written, there are receipts.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister indicate to me if that is a rare, moderate or frequent practice?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I cannot tell the Member for sure. My understanding is that most of the time the personal expenses are not so high that a cheque needs to be written. Most of the time they are deducted from allowances owing. Sometimes, though, cheques are written; I am not sure of the frequency. The president does not know with respect to other employees, but with respect to his own travel he says he has written cheques two or three times, but the normal situation is that personal expenses do not exceed meal allowances payable.
Mrs. Firth: Who has the final signing authority for the credit card expenses within the Housing Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Each employee has signing authority over the credit card. Their supervisor signs their expense claim and, in the case of the president, the chair signs the expense claim.
Mrs. Firth: Is that the chair of the board? I see the Minister is nodding "yes", in agreement. Then the expense claims move to the Finance department within the Housing Corporation, and then they would be dispatched to Finance, where the bills would be paid. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Almost, but the corporation writes its own cheques. It does not have to go through the Department of Finance.
Mrs. Firth: That is a bit different, then, because there may be something different with respect to the cheque requisition process if the corporation is doing this itself. I know Finance pays the bills of all the regular government departments here; they do not pay their own. So the cheque requisition, which is this multi-copy form, would go to the Department of Finance, and the Department of Finance would pay the bill for them. It is different with the corporation; the corporation pays its own bills.
The Minister and the president of the Yukon Housing Corporation have made a commitment to get back to me with some breakdowns regarding personnel costs. I am going to need those breakdowns in order to carry on with my questioning. I wonder if the Minister could give me some indication of when I can expect to receive the breakdown of those costs and all the other outstanding questions I had with respect to dollars identified for travel, merit increases, bonuses, and so on?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I cannot tell the Member exactly when she will have that information, but I will certainly be on the Yukon Housing Corporation to provide that as early as it possibly can. I have also received the Member's letter, with the 21 requests, and I have the Yukon Housing Corporation working on them.
Mrs. Firth: The information deals mostly with last year's expenditures, as well as the new identification.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Because the Member does not have the information, I do not mind discussing that in next year's debate on the budget. If we do not use the time here now, I think other Members will indulge us with a little extra time when we come to the main estimates.
Mrs. Firth: It remains to be seen at what stage of the game we are at when we get to the main estimates.
I also had some outstanding questions about the overtime. I believe the concern I raised at the budget briefing was that I had been given some information about overtime and there was some discrepancy between the information I was given this time and the information I was given last time - it was a $40,000 versus a $60,000 expenditure. Is the Minister prepared to provide me with that information?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not have it with me right now, but the Yukon Housing Corporation is checking on that. I believe I looked at that $40,000 versus $60,000 expenditure, and the Yukon Housing Corporation is checking on that. I do not have a note back, but when I get it, I will provide it.
Mrs. Firth: Has the Minister received my letter with the 21 questions in it yet?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, I suppose that, like myself, the Member cannot listen to two things at once. Just moments ago, I said that I had received the letter and that the department was working on the 21 requests.
Mrs. Firth: I can hardly wait to get an answer to that.
I think that I have just about finished with the general debate. I may have some more questions when we get into the line-by-line reading. Other Members have more questions, so we will not get into the line-by-line reading today.
Ms. Moorcroft: Last night, the Minister said that he would report back in April with the timing of any changes to Whitehorse Housing Authority policies. In March 1995, I asked a number of very specific questions on behalf of people who came to our offices with some very serious questions about policies covering tenant absence, tenant arrears, the parking policy and the eviction policy. This was a year ago. Will the Minister be able to respond to some of those specific concerns in the main budget debate? An example is that we had a considerable discussion about tenants requiring permission from their landlord for an absence exceeding 30 days. The Minister made a commitment to come back with some information. He has not come back with anything for a year. I would like to get a commitment from him that he will have some responses for us before we get into the main debate about the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member might have to be more specific in what she requested. I recall the discussions last year over those issues were considerable. My recollection is that we provided copies of Yukon Housing Authority policies and that I made a commitment to bring the debate in the House to the attention of the Housing Authority. I have done that. I never realized that I made a commitment to bring something back specifically to the Member.
The other issue that she asked about was the Housing Advisory Board meeting and reporting this April. I said earlier to the Member for Whitehorse Centre that the Housing Advisory Board annual general meeting is April 18 and the pet policy paper is on the agenda. I will report back after the April 18 meeting about the pet policy.
Ms. Moorcroft: I do not want to take a lot of time to go back over the same ground that we went over in March 1995. I would like to ask the Minister to review the Hansard record, but one particular example, from April 20, on page 1968, is that I had asked the Minister about the issue of tenants having to receive prior written approval from their landlord before they could be absent for longer than 30 days. The Minister said that he would not provide us with a legal opinion to address the allegations that this violated the Human Rights Act, but that he would provide a response to the questions, discussing the issue and the legalities. Perhaps that response went directly to the critic, who is the Member for Whitehorse Centre. We would like a commitment from the Minister now that the corporation will review the debate from one year ago and come back with answers on many serious questions that we had raised at that time.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I will do that. My impression was that those matters had been dealt with. I will look at the debate and see what was done with respect to those things and follow up with the Member.
Ms. Moorcroft: I think the Minister indicated last night that there may be changes to the policies. Since these concerns were first raised one year ago, I would hope that the changes would not be just beginning at this point. I was also quite disappointed to learn that the Minister and the Yukon Housing Corporation did not follow through on the commitment the Minister made to develop a home completion program.
The Minister said, last night, that he would work on that now. Is there any target date on how long that issue will remain by the wayside, as the Minister described it last night?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I do not want to be overly optimistic and commit to something that we may be discussing again next year, but it is my understanding that if all goes well we should be at least testing the program, if not completing it, sometime this summer, so it will be for this construction year.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 9.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Mr. Chair, 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: 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 from 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 Honourable. 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 5:26 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled March 19, 1996:
Fleet Vehicle Agency: Charter (dated February 26, 1996) (Nordling)
Fleet Vehicle Agency: 1996-97 Business Plan (dated February 14, 1996) (Nordling)
Property Management Agency: Charter (dated February 26, 1996) (Nordling)
Property Management Agency: 1996-97 Business Plan (dated February 26, 1996) (Nordling)
Centennial Anniversaries Program: status and project details by community (dated March 1996) (Fisher)