Thursday, April 18, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with silent prayers.
Speaker: We will now proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have a document for tabling.
In recognition of Earth Day
Mr. Harding: I wonder if I might make a tribute. Next Monday is Earth Day, as all Members are aware. F.H. Collins students and others have organized a bike-and-walk-to-work day for the territory, to remind people about the importance of utilizing means of transportation other than vehicles. I would just like to remind Members of that and, if they have the opportunity to bike or walk to work on Monday, they should think about it and perhaps participate in the program.
I think the Member for Riverdale South should get started on Sunday night, in order to get into town from Firth Farms. I ask that Members support, if they are able, the F.H. Collins students.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion for the production of papers?
Are there any ministerial statements?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am pleased to inform the House that, through the recycling fund, the Department of Renewable Resources is sponsoring a new way for Yukon youth to become involved in recycling. The new Recycling Club will encourage youth to collect bottles and cans in exchange for points, which they can use to claim prizes. One of the related positive results will be cleaner roadsides and communities.
Youth, 18 and under, can be members of the club by registering at Yukon recycling depots. Members will be able to collect points, in addition to the refund, by taking beverage containers to a depot where they will be awarded recycling points. When they have enough points for the prize they want, they will be given a voucher for the prize of their choice, which can be redeemed at participating businesses.
The club will get youth involved in recycling and will raise the return rates for refundable containers. One local business has offered a computer as a grand prize in return for advertising its name in the recycling club literature.
Other Yukon businesses will be providing merchandise prizes for the club.
Raven Recycling in Whitehorse will help to count the points awarded to club members across the Yukon. Other community depots will help by giving out memberships and awarding points.
The recycling fund is supported by deposits paid by consumers on beverages purchased in the Yukon under the beverage container program. The Recycling Club and other promotions will also help to improve waste diversion by raising return rates for beverage containers to higher levels, and recycling materials will be kept out of our landfills.
Following a pilot project in April to test our administrative system, the club will start operations throughout the Yukon in mid-May, and will end on October 15 this year. After evaluating the club's success at increasing return rates, we will decide whether or not to run the club again in 1997.
I look forward to updating Members on this innovative and exciting new program when it wraps up this fall.
Mr. Harding: At the risk of shocking the Members opposite after my four-year plan critique yesterday, I just want to say that this is a solid initiative and certainly has the support of the Official Opposition. I congratulate the government on it. I know that the youth of the territory are quite concerned about the state of the environment and environmental issues, and are interested in participating in ways to help to improve the situation by doing what they can. This is just one small area.
I also think that it is important that we, as politicians, and the people of the Yukon support recycling not only for monetary rewards but for societal responsibility and benefit.
Mr. Cable: In the Yukon Conservation Strategy, there is a one-page message from the public working group. The thrust of it is the promotion of individual responsibility in dealing with the planet.
It sets out four actions. The first is as follows: "It is our obligation to respect the planet and understand its limitations." The second is: "It is our obligation to teach that respect and understanding to our young."
The recycling club fits into the second action. I am pleased to see the initiative, and I do support it.
Speaker: Before proceeding to the Question Period today, the Chair wishes to emphasize the need for Members to pay much more attention to the language being used in this House.
If Members are looking for direction, the best thing to do would be to read Standing Order No. 19. It provides direction on what is in order during debate and what is not.
Members should pay particular attention to paragraphs (h), (i) and (j). They state that a Member will be called to order if a Member: (h) imputes false or unavowed motives to another Member; (i) charges another Member with uttering a deliberate falsehood; or (j) uses abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder.
Members will recognize that these rules are consistently being broken by some Members on both sides of the House. This violates the dignity of the House and should be a matter of concern to us all.
The Chair recognizes that this is a particularly difficult time and that, when emotions run high, Members tend to use unparliamentary language more often than is usual. However, even though Members may have deep feelings and be very angry, it does not excuse the use of improper language. Members know that they must respect the rules and that they should demonstrate some discipline and control in choosing their words.
A particular problem has been that many Members have done their best to find ways to say that they feel that other Members are not telling the truth. It is out of order to say that another Member has uttered a deliberate falsehood no matter what words are used to say it. The obvious word that Members avoid is "lie", but it is equally wrong to use words and phrases like "untruth", "not telling the truth", "misrepresentation" and "twisting the facts".
Members have to realize that they may totally disagree with each other about the facts of a situation and about the interpretation put on those facts. However, it must be accepted that the other person believes what he or she is saying. As the rules state, Members may say that other Members do not have the facts right, but they are not to accuse others of deliberately misleading the House and they should not attack the motives of other Members.
Another problem is that there is too much use of abusive and insulting language. There is no need to come up with a list of the names Members should or should not be allowed to call each other. Members certainly must realize that they should not be indulging in any kind of name calling.
In conclusion, the Chair is asking that all Members assist in this matter by respecting the rules that this House has provided for itself.
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Aishihik caribou recovery program
Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker ruled the use of animal names out of order yesterday, but unfortunately my question cannot avoid it.
The government has given an update on the Aishihik caribou recovery program. We have heard criticisms from the Yukon Conservation Society, among others, about the failure to protect ungulate habitat and the incidental capture and kill of everything from wolverines to bison.
We have also heard concerns about the cost of the program. We know the government supported the Killermun Lake development project in the middle of the critical habitat area for the caribou herd, without knowing the impact on the ungulate population.
Can the Minister of Renewable Resources tell us what measures, if any, the government has taken to protect the habitat of the caribou herd in the wolf kill zone?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: First, there is no exploration activity in the Aishihik caribou recovery area at this time.
Second, the Member should know that the Yukon government does not have jurisdiction over mining but we did get the company, Archer Cathro, to voluntarily perform mitigative measures to actually protect both habitat and the herd in the Aishihik area.
Mr. McDonald: The fact that there is no exploration activity at the present time appears to be more of a lucky coincidence than anything else. It does not appear to be the result of overt government action to try and prevent damage to the habitat of the caribou herd in the wolf kill zone.
The wolf conservation and management plan specifically states that the key ungulate habitat areas should be given full protection from development. When the government adopted the wolf management plan, was it adopting the whole plan and nothing but the plan, or was it - as the Yukon Conservation Society pointed out - cherry-picking from the plan?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We adopted the plan. I believe we have initiated all of the recommendations in that plan.
After the wide-tracked machine went into Killermun Lake, I went with one of the environmental people from Renewable Resources to where the caribou herd was located and observed the machine. We could not find where the machine had travelled. A pilot took us into the area in a helicopter, and we were flying approximately 100 feet above the ground. The pilot had been in there the day before with the machine. This was a wide-track machine built especially for swampy ground. In most places, we could not even find where the machine had gone the day before.
Speaker: Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: What I am saying is that there was no devastation whatsover to the habitat in the area.
Mr. McDonald: I was kind of enjoying the trip report, however, I must point out that the concern that has been laid at the Minister's doorstep is that the government gave support to the development project before knowing what the impacts would be.
My supplementary question deals with amendments to the Wildlife Act, which were passed in 1992 and that would give the government the ability to protect critical wildlife habitat when development proposals are made.
Could the Minister tell us why the act has not been proclaimed and why regulations have not been passed pursuant to that act?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, but I have to carry on with my trip report for a moment.
The machine caused no impact on the habitat. Although we do not have jurisdiction, we were able to convince the mining company to voluntarily take many mitigative measures on behalf of the wildlife.
The mining company should be commended. Regarding the amendments to the Wildlife Act that involve habitat, the Department of Renewable Resources has hired a consultant to look at all of the legislation that deals with habitat.
The umbrella final agreement, for one thing -
Speaker: Could the Minister please conclude his answer. He could use these details in the Renewable Resources debate.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There are many other changes to other legislation that have to come about before we make changes to the Wildlife Act for habitat protection.
Question re: Aishihik caribou recovery program
Mr. McDonald: Everyone in the territory, including the strongest proponents of the caribou recovery program and the wolf kill program, know that it is controversial and feel uncomfortable with this mechanism of wildlife management - virtually everyone I know feels this way. Presumably the government would try its best to limit the extent of the program and take whatever actions are necessary to ensure that the program works as efficiently as possible and ends as quickly as possible.
The government indicated to us in April 1994 that it was passing regulations pursuant to the Wildlife Act amendments to protect critical habitat areas. Would it not be the natural and responsible thing to do to protect, pursuant to the Wildlife Act, the habitat of the caribou herd in this particular area given the nature of the program and given the controversy surrounding the program?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It goes back to my previous answer. The federal Quartz Mining Act, the Placer Act, the umbrella final agreement and the First Nations final agreement are four pieces of legislation that have to be dealt with before we - the Yukon government - can enact legislation that deals with habitat in specific areas.
We have hired, as I stated before, a consultant to look at the various pieces of legislation and rules that must be taken into consideration when the Yukon government tries to deal with habitat.
Mr. McDonald: I understand that governing can be a complex process, and that there are all kinds of rules and regulations. Not every single law that the Minister mentioned has been in effect for any considerable time.
In 1994, however, the government indicated - according to a very comprehensive legislative return - that it was developing regulations to protect critical habitat areas. We were given to believe that this area, of all areas, would be given the highest priority. Now we hear that the government has hired a consultant to try to walk through a maze of regulations that, seemingly, is overwhelming to the department. What specific action is the government going to take in the near future - why has it not taken action before - to try to protect the critical habitat area of the caribou herd, particularly in the wolf kill zone, and particularly because the caribou recovery program has been controversial?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, since 1994, there have been four First Nation final agreements and the Quartz Mining Act has been changed, which has to be taken into consideration. We do not have the ability to enact legislation on most areas of the Yukon, because we only own something in the order of two percent of the whole territory. We are responsible for the wildlife, but we are not responsible for the habitat.
Mr. McDonald: Perhaps in the Killermun Lake example, because Archer Cathro is a responsible corporate citizen, the situation turned out okay in the caribou recovery area. The problem was - as I have mentioned a couple of times already - that the government approved the permit to develop, prior to knowing what was going to go on.
The Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board has indicated, and advocated, that the Wildlife Act amendments in 1992 be proclaimed, so that people applying for development permits would have their proposals formally assessed for their effects on habitat.
In this particular case, given the sensitivity of this program, why can the government not act to ensure that there is a clear framework of regulations to protect the habitat so that all of the features of the wolf management plan can be respected and people can feel a little more comfortable with what the government is doing?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: First of all, the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board did not forward those recommendations. Once the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board realized that there were several other factors involved in habitat protection, the recommendations were not forwarded to the Minister. They have not come in.
Question re: Yukon Utilities Board, general rate application appeal
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation.
As he is probably aware, a couple of years ago, the utilities appealed the 1993-94 rate application decision that came down from the Yukon Utilities Board. I gather that the court of appeal just filed its decision last week. It was generally favourable to the utilities. Has the Minister's staff had an opportunity to review the decision and determine its implications?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, I have not had the opportunity to review the decision. I have been made aware of the fact that the utilities did get a favourable opinion from the court of appeal. However, I have not had a chance to review the decision yet.
Mr. Cable: It is my understanding that the amount at stake was something in excess of $1 million. Is the Government Leader aware of the fact that this is the amount in issue?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, I am not. I do have a briefing note about the issue that just arrived today. The matter is in the hands of the Yukon Utilities Board. I am advised that it is reviewing the court of appeal decision to determine what action it should be taking and what, if any, impact the decision may have on the current general rate application.
Mr. Cable: Could I get a commitment from the Minister to inform the House what effect, if any, this will have on the rates, in his estimation, and on the rate relief program, and if these are one-time costs or continuing costs?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have no difficulty in relaying that information to the House once the Utilities Board comes forward with it. The board's role, as the watchdog of the utilities, is to review it to see what impact it will have on the current general rate application. I will have to await its decision.
Question re: Government employee, post-employment activity
Mr. Sloan: Yesterday I raised a question of a former Queen's Printer employee working for a company that has received three sole-sourced contracts worth $15,500. Given this person's prominent position in the Queen's Printer until recently, can the Minister indicate when he became aware that the company represented had received this degree of government largesse?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am not sure when I heard to what degree that former employee received government work. I knew that he was in the private sector in the same industry and had received government work. I did not know it was sole sourced until the Member for Whitehorse West brought that issue up in the House.
Mr. Sloan: I am a little surprised at that, considering that the Minister of Justice informed us that he was aware of this about a week ago. I was aware of it over a week ago. Apparently the concern has been within the business community for considerably longer. I would have thought that someone would have contacted the Minister.
Is the Minister telling us that he was not aware, or that he had not been informed, of this apparent problem so that action could be taken in this regard?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: No, not the details. As the Minister of Justice and the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission said, it came to their attention and they are presently investigating it.
Mr. Sloan: As the Minister is no doubt aware, I have been raising a number of concerns over the past few weeks, not just in regard to this but to the whole question of contracts. I would have at least thought that the line of questioning would have raised a red flag with the Minister and that he might have pursued it with his officials.
Did the Minister not check with his department in regard to any problems that might be out there with respect to contracts? Is that what he is telling us?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: When the Member raised the issue of the architectural contract, I discussed that particular issue with the department. We did not talk about other contracts.
At any given time, there are a number of concerns that unsuccessful bidders have. They do not come to the Minister's attention every time. The complaint with respect to Mr. Sellars went to the Public Service Commission and Justice to be dealt with.
Question re: Government employee, post-employment activity
Mr. Sloan: Can the Minister give us an indication; he just indicated that it went to Public Service. Did that complaint originate with his department and then go to the Public Service Commission? How was that handled?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: As I said yesterday, I was made aware of the complaint by an individual in the industry who had a concern. I was not told of any of the number of contracts. I was just told that this individual was involved in other contracts with another company. I asked officials to check into it.
As I said yesterday, I asked them to check into it. I have not got a report back yet, but as soon as I do, I will let the Member know.
Mr. Sloan: I guess the question that is beginning to emerge here is, since the Minister of Justice knew - as he gave us some indication in the Blues over a week ago and proceeded with some action there - was the Minister of Government Services aware at that time that some problem might occur?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I did not inform the Minister of Government Services. I talked to my officials because I felt, when I heard the concern, it could relate to the new policy that we have in place and I asked him to verify that. I had hoped in a day or two to get an answer. It is hoped that we will get that in the next day or so and I will be able to report back to the Member.
Mr. Sloan: I would like to direct this back to the Minister of Government Services. Given the sensitivity of the whole question of contracts - and we are aware that for many small companies in the territory, government contracts are their bread and butter - does the Minister not make it a practice to at least have his department alert him of anomalies or apparent discrepancies with regard to awarding contracts?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: On many occasions I am made aware, but we issue thousands of contracts every year. We deal with a number of local firms and we handle complaints. With respect to this particular issue, the complaint went to the Minister of Justice and he has asked that it be looked into.
Question re: Sole-sourced contracts, limits
Mrs. Firth: I want to follow this question up with the Minister of Government Services because for two days I have been trying to find out from the Minister of Government Services how his department is monitoring the policy change on the threshold of sole-sourced contracts from $10,000 to $25,000. Today he tells us he did not know about this. The other day, he told us there were no abuses.
I find it quite interesting to try and pin the Minister down as to exactly what kind of monitoring system the department has. What does it do - just look through the contracts and choose which ones are sole sourced, which are invitational, which are public, and then, "Oops, maybe we should not have done that; that one might look a bit suspicious."
What is the monitoring system? The Minister says there are no abuses. That is questionable, particularly in light of the questions the Member for Whitehorse West has been asking, and the Minister is saying he did not know anything about it. What kind of system is in place?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: It is a shame that the Member for Riverdale South did not listen to the debate. Obviously, she does not want answers; she does not want information; what she wants to do is stand up and make allegations and get some publicity.
Mrs. Firth: That is becoming a pretty pat answer for the Minister when he cannot answer the question. He just stands up and says that I want publicity.
We would like an answer. Either there is a monitoring system or there is not. I would suggest that there is not, because the Minister has stood up and said the department has not found any abuses.
Today he stood up and said he did not know anything about this.
So, what kind of monitoring system is there? Is there one?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yesterday I explained that the Member was wrong when she said sole-source limits had gone from $10,000 to $25,000. That is not accurate. I explained it was only for value-driven contracts, and that price-driven contracts remained at a limit of $10,000.
She is not interested in knowing how the contracting system works. She is not interested in knowing how it is monitored. She is interested in standing up, making allegations, and sitting down.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister is not interested in answering one question. All he does is stand up and say that I am wrong. I am not wrong.
I want to know exactly how this thing is monitored, or I would not spend three days asking questions about it. What is the government doing? Is it monitoring the impact on small business? I know businesses that have had three employees and are down to practically none and in jeopardy of going out of business. I bet the Minister does not know that. His department does not know it.
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please ask a question.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell us what his department is doing to monitor this? What is the process? If there is one, what is it?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member is not interested in the process. The Member got up and quoted me as saying that there were no abuses - twice. Then she stood up and stated it more accurately when she stated that no abuses were found.
I explained last night that sole-sourced contracts were printed out and were gone through to see what approval methods were used - whether they were exempted or approved by Management Board. That was clearly dealt with.
Question re: Sole-sourced contracts, limits
Mrs. Firth: All right, we have one point with respect to the monitoring system. The Department of Government Services looks at the contracts that were sole sourced to see if they are over the limit and if it is a legal over-the-limit expenditure or if it has gone to Management Board - whatever. Does it do anything else? Does it examine the situation to see what impact it is having on the business community?
It has been brought to my attention that the $25,000 limit is too high for some businesses in this community, like graphic design or printing. Businesses are in danger of having to close down, because they are so dependent upon smaller contracts. Is the government's department monitoring that aspect and what can he tell us about that?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, that is monitored. If there are abuses, they are looked into.
The Member is standing there alleging that there have been abuses in the letting of sole-sourced contracts to such an extent that there are businesses that are not going to survive. If she is prepared to identify them, I am prepared to look into it, just as I was when the question of sole-sourced contracts to Trevor Sellars came up; it is being looked into.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister just told me his department was monitoring this. I would expect that the department would be aware of it and do something about it, but they are not, which raises the question about what type of monitoring system is in place.
What does the department do when it monitors the impact on business? Does it talk to businesses? Does it make something up on its own? Does the government make assumptions? How many businesses has the department talked to about this?
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The industry is talked to when tenders are let. Businesses are contacted with respect to evaluations, the awarding of contracts and they have the bid challenge system. Business owners can approach the department if they have complaints.
The Member stands up and asks what the Minister is going to do about this problem, but to my knowledge, no one has identified a problem. If the Member has specific instances, - for instance the Member talks about the fact that there are graphic designers; that is one of the industries that the Member mentioned - of people who are going out of business because of ...
Speaker: Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: ... abuse in my department, then the Member should identify those businesses so the government can do something about it.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister has said the department is monitoring this and no abuses have been found. In answer to a question earlier this afternoon from the Member for Whitehorse West he said he did not know about that matter.
Today, I am asking the Minister a question about businesses and whether or not they are able to cope under the new policy changes and he says he does not know anything about it, but if I hear anything about it I can tell him. This leads me to believe that either the monitoring system is not there or it is woefully inadequate -
Speaker: Would the Member please ask the question.
Mrs. Firth: Yes, I will Mr. Speaker.
I want to ask the Minister if he will provide to this House, in writing, information about what the monitoring system is, because right now I do not think there is one.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: The Member has made her speech and her allegations. As far as I know, there is nothing to the allegations the Member has made, but I will speak to my department about it.
It is obvious that the Member is not interested in the efficient running of government. Rather, she is simply attacking my department with no evidence or any specifics that we can address to try to solve a problem, if there is one.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the 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: We will now take a brief recess at this time.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with Bill No. 10, Department of Health and Social Services, general debate.
Bill No. 10 - First Appropriation Act, 1996-97 - continued
Department of Health and Social Services - continued
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There were some questions last night on the policy concerning politicians getting information from departments. I will later circulate this letter, dated December 17, 1993, from the Government Leader to the Leader of the Official Opposition. I will read a couple of paragraphs from it.
"I am writing to clarify this government's position with respect to concerns you and other Members of your caucus have expressed about access to information held by government and procedures for MLAs requesting such information.
"I first of all want to assure you that there is no intention of denying to any Member of the Legislature information that is publicly available. The current access-to-information bill provides a policy guidance on this issue by establishing a general public right of access to information except in limited and specified cases, as defined under the act.
"The second matter you have raised relates the appropriate process or procedure for requesting information not generally available, or making other requests which could, for example, involve research or preparing briefs. In such cases, requests should be made through the relevant Minister or executive assistant."
I will circulate this.
Ms. Commodore: It would seem that even though the former leader of our party received that letter, it may not have reached the Ministers of different departments, because it appears from the letter that there is a policy in place.
I can only hope that things will improve. I am sure they will. We certainly have a job to do.
There are a number of individuals who want to ask questions, although they are not here yet, before I get into some of the other areas in general debate.
I would like to respond to the information I got from the Minister today about program evaluation. There was some good information in it but what I was trying to find out from the Minister yesterday was with regard to the draft copy of the evaluation process methodology. That was the kind of information I wanted. The Minister said that there is a draft copy. The letter I have here goes into a whole range of other matters about how evaluations are done and why. I understand that. I know that these things have to take place in order for non-government organizations to be accountable.
My concern was really about the funding cuts that are concerning those organizations.
We and the non-government organizations felt that that was not very fair because they did provide us with a valuable service. For those programs to be cut, in favour of some other priorities of this government, did not seem to be fair to the groups and to the people that they work with. That was sort of the thing in the back of my mind.
I do have a number of other issues that I would like to deal with, but my colleague from Whitehorse West does have a few questions, as do other of our Members.
Mr. Sloan: I would like to thank my colleague from Whitehorse Centre for giving me a little bit of time. I tried to get on last night, but I was unsuccessful.
I have basically three questions and they relate to both chronic medication and other aspects regarding chronic medication. These are questions that arose from people in Whitehorse West who have approached me with regard to raising them.
My first question is about new treatments. What I would like to know from the Minister is this: what is the process for a new treatment or a new form of medication being added to the chronic medication list? What kind of a review process is there? For example, a person may be out at, say, St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. That person receives a treatment for a specific disorder; they are on that medication and they return to the Yukon only to discover that, because of the newness of the medication, that it is not on the list. What kind of process would there be for adding that type of medication to the list?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think I partially answered that question last night. We have what I believe is called the Chronic Disease Audit Committee. It looks at the formulary. My understanding is that there has more or less been a moratorium on new drugs and treatments on our list, but I did indicate that I would have that review committee meet. It has not met for some time but I would like to see it meet and look at some of these matters.
As I said last night, there may very well be some new drugs or new treatments that could or should be on the list, but again we are certainly limited by our budget, so it would likely be a matter of removing something from the list in order to add something to it that has more priority.
Mr. Sloan: I thank the Minister for that.
My second question concerns a person in my riding who had some difficulty because a specific prescribed medication had more to do with the side effects of a type of treatment rather than the disease itself. In other words, a specific disease was involved but the course of treatment caused some side effects and the medication that was prescribed was to counteract the side effects. That person was told that the medication had to be specific to the disease.
Is that indeed the case? What kind of redress could a person get in that case?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We would probably need to know the specifics, but there have been cases where a drug is listed for a certain problem, but a person required a different drug. I do not know if this particular case would fit into that, but it may - where the drug a person required was not listed, but another one was and, supposedly, these things are the same, but I guess in some cases they are not. However, if we refuse to pay because it is not on our list, it can be appealed. We do have a medical advisor, a doctor in Vancouver. An appeal would go through the director of medical services, who would forward it to our medical advisor in Vancouver. If the Member wanted to give the specifics of it to the director of medical services, we would look into it.
Mr. Sloan: My third question also relates to medication. I do not know if it really falls under chronic medication, but as I understand it, medication for a hospitalized person receiving it as a course of treatment is covered. In the case where perhaps a family decides on home care for an elderly individual, or perhaps a child, or a person with a debilitating disease, what is the department's position with respect to medication?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I understand that the current policy is that they would not be covered under a home care situation.
Mr. Sloan: That is unfortunately what I was afraid of. I had hoped that the person would be wrong.
As I understand it, if a family opts for home care, there is a very substantial savings to the system. It also involves a considerable personal sacrifice in terms of time and energy. Many people choose to do it.
Can the Minister give us an idea of why medication for home care purposes would not be covered?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I understand that medication in the hospital is covered under our formula. In other words, the federal government pays for it under federal legislation - the Canada Health Care Act. Since home care is relatively new and is being more and more utilized, that particular act does not cover it. In fact, there is no program in place for medication under that act. It is apparently something that has been brought to our attention and has to be reviewed.
Mr. Sloan: I would suggest that it should be reviewed. What would a ball-park figure for a one-day stay in acute care in the hospital be?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is about $750.
Mr. Sloan: If we have a person with a debilitating disease being cared for at home for - let us say for sake of argument - a hundred days for $700, that is a substantial amount of money. Are we saving the system that amount of money? We must also consider the kinds of stress that the family is undergoing. I find it a little strange that we are going to nickel and dime people to death over medication.
I would hope that that this is something under active review.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, it is not under active review. More home care is now taking place and this is something that should be looked at. There are some problems, and I can understand the confusion about where it starts and where it ends.
I agree with what the Member is getting at. It is likely that there are savings because of home care, and the money saved could be redirected into enhancing the program somewhat by paying for some of this medication.
On the surface, I have a tendency to agree with the Member's observations and I will be asking the department to commence a review.
Mr. Sloan: I have knowledge about a family who endured a particularly difficult situation with a child, and chose, for a variety of reasons, to take on the task of caring for that child at home under very tragic circumstances. Based on a figure of $700 per day, I think these people probably would have saved the system some $40,000-plus.
When I learned that the medication required for this child was not covered, I was fairly alarmed. Given the tendency toward home care, I think this is something we should actively consider.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think we should get away from quoting the amount of $700 per day, or whatever the amount is, for bed space at the hospital, because I believe it is a bit misleading.
If a patient is admitted to the hospital, it does not automatically mean it is going to cost $700 per day more than it did the day before. I do not think that is the way it works. I think the way that it works is the whole cost is divided among available bed space; for instance, a fixed number of beds that cost approximately $750 to $850 each per day to provide.
I do not think we want to get into that particular side of it.
Apparently other jurisdictions are also grappling with this particular problem. Home care is relatively new, and we do not know of any other jurisdictions that provide the kind of service we are talking about, - that being medications supplied for home care.
As I indicated earlier, this is something we have to look at, and we will be looking at the whole question to see what the cost will be and see if there can be some move to rectify the matter.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask the Minister some questions related to the chronic disease program. I just today received a response from the Minister to a letter I sent to him regarding the chronic disease program on behalf of some of my constituents.
The Minister answered one question, saying that if a Yukon resident has 80-percent coverage through their private medical insurance, they can apply for coverage of the remaining 20 percent of the cost of drugs under the chronic disease program.
Can the Minister clarify if there is an eligibility test for that remaining 20 percent? Or once an application has been made, would the chronic disease program cover the other 20 percent of the medication cost?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
Government employees are covered for something like 80 percent of the cost. The remaining 20 percent of the cost would be covered by this, except that there is a $250 deductible.
Ms. Moorcroft: Fine. The private medical insurance covers 80 percent. The chronic disease program covers the other 20 percent, minus an annual $250 deduction. The 20-percent costs are covered regardless of income level. Is that correct? The Minister is nodding his head, so I will proceed to my next question.
Has the government recently implemented changes to the chronic disease program requiring all residents to submit their medical bills to their insurance carriers, rather than to the chronic disease program?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I think that was done over one year ago. There was some sort of evaluation done of people who were claiming. It was found that there were many people going through our system, rather than through their own insurance. Now they have to go to the insurance first.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to follow up on the second area about which I had been inquiring and that is making sure that clients can afford to pay for the medication that they need. Sometimes these are very hefty bills - in the nature of $400 or $500 every month for medication. It can be difficult for a family to come up with that money up front.
Many insurance schemes, including the one available to Yukon government employees, require that one pays the costs up front oneself and then get reimbursed by the insurance company. Is there some way to help people pay these bills up front, so that they do not have to wait six weeks for a cheque to come back from the insurance company?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think the second part of the letter covers that. A friend of mine, with whom I go downtown to the drug store fairly often merely signs for the medication, so I believe that most of the pharmacies do bill direct to the insurance companies. There may very well be some that do not, but I am not aware of them.
Ms. Moorcroft: Some insurance schemes do not allow the members of the plan to assign the benefits, so in fact they have to pay the costs up front and wait for a cheque to be mailed back. I believe that is the case with the insurance scheme for government employees. Does the Minister know if that is so?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The particular instance I referred to a few minutes ago is that of a government employee. Apparently, the government one can be assigned.
Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps the Minister could also bring me up to date on what the review of the chronic disease program is going to cover and what changes are being looked at.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I said yesterday that we would do a review of this. Within the department, we will have to create some criteria to use for the review.
Ms. Moorcroft: I heard that debate last night in the House and I have just finished reading through the Blues to review it to see what was said. Will the Minister then be providing us with the information on what those terms of reference will be for the review, and can he tell us when he expects to have that and provide it to the Opposition, since a number of us have written him letters on behalf of constituents about this program?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I cannot give any specific dates at this point, but certainly we can provide that information to the Opposition once we get the terms of reference put together.
Ms. Moorcroft: One final concern that I believe the Minister has also been made aware of is the use of generic drugs. Often there are allergies or other difficulties with generic drugs. I would just like the Minister to confirm that it is going to be a medical decision and not a financial decision that determines what drugs a client may have to use.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: On medical advice, the director of health services can change. For example, generally speaking the formulary covers generic drugs, but if there is - and I think I said this before to the other Member - a medical reason why - maybe allergies or something like that - the doctor here would say that they needed this other drug as opposed to the generic drug. That has been done in the past and it will continue to be done.
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister about the disclosure of information. On March 14, I think - over a month ago - I asked the Minister for some information. I am anxious to follow up on that information in general debate. We are now starting the second day of that debate and I still do not have that information. This morning I was told by my House Leader that that information is being collected for me. I hope that it will be as comprehensive as I requested it to be. Perhaps the Minister can comment about when I will receive that information.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If the Member is referring to the secondment position to the Ross River Dena Council, we will have that for the Member tomorrow morning.
Mr. Harding: It is 3:00 p.m. now, and we will be in the House until 10:30 p.m. Does the Minister expect that we will not have cleared Health and Social Services and that we will still be going through it tomorrow? The reason I raised it in supplementary estimates over a month ago was so that I could have the information for general debate. I would like to have that information for this evening's sitting in order that I can talk about it at that time, if I need to.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think the Member may have been hinting that I did not want to talk about it and would hold it until the budget had cleared. That is not the case. I am sure that we can provide the information to the Member after the supper break.
Mr. Harding: I thank the Minister for that. I am interested in evaluating the pilot project and performance indicators to see if the program could be extended to other First Nations in the territory who are obviously interested in what is going on there.
I have another question that I raised in supplementary debate. I did receive a couple of letters from the department - which I appreciate - on supplementary debate issues that I raised. One - which I received today, actually - is with regard to a follow up of the pilot project evaluation to allow my constituents an opportunity to express their joy or concerns about what is going on with the pilot project for health in Faro, with a salaried physician included at the nursing station.
Also, we have a second physician in Faro who is on a fee-for-service basis still. There are some issues surrounding how it is working that I know people are eager to discuss. By and large, the constituents I talked to seem to be quite pleased, but there are still some issues.
The government, both federal and territorial, made a firm commitment to a follow-up meeting. It appears that somewhere around May 13, it will come together.
I got a copy of a memo from a Mr. Dowdell from federal medical services, inquiring as to when the Yukon government would be willing to make good that commitment and if it was essentially still on. It appears now that there has been a favourable response from the government and it is indeed on.
I appreciate that and look forward to the opportunity for my constituents to raise any issues they have. I have talked to some people in town and the Anvil Range and workers' union are bargaining right now. Apparently, according to the general manager, they have put together a committee to look at health care and doctors in the community and some of their concerns regarding the delivery of service.
I do not want to sound negative. I still submit that people are quite happy. I would just like to ensure that it stays that way.
The new Minister should know that I never thought anything but that the pilot project was a good thing to undertake. The problem was that, despite my call for one, there was no undertaking by either the Yukon government or the federal government to communicate with citizens, so there were a lot of rumours that a major reduction in health care services in the community could be expected. I went to a meeting to observe - it was a public meeting - and ended up in front of about 100 people who did not have any answers about what was happening with the pilot project. They were extremely concerned, as the Minister could imagine. There is a certain basic level of service one comes to expect in the rural communities.
There was a second follow-up meeting that I arranged with the deputy minister and others. It was much appreciated. At that time there was a commitment for a follow-up meeting, once there was the opportunity to look at how the project was working in the context of the other physician in the community.
There is a general feeling in the community that two physicians are needed. A choice of physicians is something that is appreciated. Of course, there is also a fine nursing staff in Faro.
I would like the Minister to comment on that commitment and to tell me something about how the department views this pilot project. Is the department pleased with the way things are working? Are there any concerns at this point?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I understand it appears to be working quite well. There is apparently a survey underway by the staff of the department. It is a consumer survey to get a feeling from the people who use the service. In the fall of this year there will be an evaluation of the whole program to see if it does meet the needs, with the idea that if it does, there is a possibility of instituting similar programs in other communities in the territory.
Mr. Harding: Has the Minister been made aware of any concerns about the project so far?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: With users of the service, no. There has been a bit of a concern about the use of the health centre by the other doctor. I believe that that is either already sorted out or is in the process of being worked out. Our staff is working with the staff in Faro and with the two doctors.
Mr. Harding: I have also heard those concerns. I keep in close contact with both physicians and try to speak with them as much as possible. I am also available to meet with the nursing staff.
Essentially, as I see it, the pilot project was designed with one salaried physician in mind for the community, along with the nurses. It was not expected that there would be two positions in the community. At one point, one of the billing numbers was removed for the second physician in the community. It was quickly reinstated, but now we have a situation in the community where we have one doctor on salary and one on a fee-for-service basis.
This situation does tend to create a small problem sometimes. That is something that I would like to see discussed a little bit in the evaluation about how to proceed. As I say, I think we have a good thing going. I want to make sure it stays that way. I will leave that with the Minister unless he has some comments. He is indicating that he does not have any comments. I did not think he would want to get into a discussion about that.
The second point that I wanted to ask him about is the question I raised in the supplementary debate about counselling services in the community. I went through quite an extensive process with the local inter-agency group in Faro and with concerned citizens when the government removed the half-time counselling position in the community for families and people who needed counselling services for their children or for marital or relationship issues. The department maintained that the services were not well-utilized. The people I talked to in the community certainly felt that they were utilized. I got the impression from citizens that they were very happy to have the services. The removal of them was not well-received. Subsequently, we had numerous meetings and phone calls with the department. At one point, the inter-agency group flew in on the RCMP plane to meet with officials from the department who expressed some concern.
At that time, the tension surrounding the issue was somewhat heightened. There was a brand-new environment in the school. We had a lot of youth who were essentially parachuted in from all over Canada to Del Van Gorder School, to a new environment and a small centre that is somewhat isolated. There were quite a few problems in the school resulting from that.
The counsellor who was removed would have been very critical, according to the principal and other staff, to helping us deal with some of these things. I know parents in Faro who are still having problems with youth who are crying out for some counselling services. Since then, a home worker and a family support worker have been hired in Faro on an auxiliary on-call basis. I believe the family support worker does some counselling out of Social Services but the home worker does not. That was a good thing to do.
Secondly, there was a reluctance to reinstate the half-time counselling position. The justification, or the supposed rationale, from the department was that it was not utilized. That was a concern to us and meetings were held between the department and Town of Faro officials.
At that point, I found that the department got the impression, through its discussions with the Town of Faro, that the town was very supportive of an auxiliary on-call counselling position in Faro, as opposed to a half-time counsellor. I had many conversations with the Town of Faro - and one of the counsellors who was at that meeting actually flew in to meet with the department - and they said that they only talked about auxiliary on call because it was clear that the department, in their minds, was not going to agree to a half-time counselling position. So it was not even presented as an option. They would very much prefer to go back to what we had, as opposed to an auxiliary on-call counsellor.
I just received a letter from the department about counselling services. It says, "At the suggestion of the Town of Faro, we have created an auxiliary on-call position." That is not how it went, and I have talked to the mayor and councillors about it. They say they only discussed it because it was clear that the original position was not going to be an option. Now it has somehow been latched on to as the Town of Faro's position. I have letters from the Town of Faro that are quite contrary to the request for an auxiliary on-call position.
Since then, the Del Van Gorder school council looked into a combined cost-shared program with an emphasis on Del Van Gorder youth, as is done in other communities, with education to help the school deal with some of the serious problems they seem to be experiencing. The Minister of Education said he is examining it and I hope the Minister of Health and Social Services will tell me his department is, as well.
Since then we have had another change where a Social Services officer, head of the office in Faro, is no longer in the role that she was fulfilling and is now the auxiliary on-call counsellor. The department took out the half-time position, created a new position, put her in it and transferred her to the new position. My question for the Minister is this: is he going to review and accede to the requests of the many citizens who have written to the department and the inter-agency group, who represented a wide range of people in the community, or will he continue on in this vein for the foreseeable future?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The department was not aware of the situation that is outlined by the Member. We certainly will be interested in reviewing the concern that he has expressed. The other fact, that the counselling service is not fully utilized, has to be taken into consideration, but we are in discussion with the Department of Education to see if there can be some sort of a shared service.
Mr. Harding: I thank the Minister for that and I hope he takes this issue seriously. The department can contact Councillor Forbes or mayor. I think I have already sent the letter that I referred to in which it says that the Town of Faro took that position, and I am sure that they will take some umbrage that that was their first position. They will certainly say that they only talked about that as a result of the fact that the other option was presented as a non-starter. Anyway, that is my understanding of the position. I heard Councillor Forbes make that clear at the meeting with the department. I am a witness to that.
Regarding the statement by the Minister that the counselling service was not fully utilized, I know it would probably involve some work, but could the Minister provide me with a breakdown of cases that were handled, and number of people, since the position started?
I have also been told by the department that it has tried everything in Faro, that nothing worked and no one utilized the family services. I would like some information on the history of that, and some numbers, if possible, comparatively speaking. People I have talked to in the community say that is not true. I am kind of betwixt and between. I keep hearing from the department that it was not utilized, but then people in the school and the inter-agency group think it was a wonderful service and well-utilized.
It would be good to get some numbers and a comparative case history.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It might take some time. Apparently this is not computerized. I think what the Member is looking for is the number of cases handled by the service in Faro, and that sort of thing. We will get that information for the Member. I cannot give him an actual date, but it will be as soon as possible.
Mr. Harding: That is fine. I would like to be sure those numbers are checked thoroughly by department officials. I want to get a true picture. I do not want a bunch of statistics that are contrived to create the impression there was no business. I want an honest and solid comparison of what we had. That would be helpful for everyone in the community, so we could discuss this issue with some kind of shared agreement.
I would also like to be able to run those statistics by people in the community and get their comments.
The Minister is nodding his head, so I assume that will be done.
I am just reading comments from CHON-FM, October 16, 1995, about the issue. A couple of department officials and I exchanged some debate about what the caseload was. The department might want to review that. I must say that that is not the view of the people in the community I have talked to, which is quite a few. This was a fairly big issue in the community.
I will leave the Minister with that, and I expect to receive a response.
The last issue I want to talk about is one that I have raised with both the Minister and the deputy minister before, and I have had a response. It came up in a situation that was publicized in the news last year. A woman in Faro was told that she should not have her baby in Faro, even though that is what she wanted to do. She did end up coming to Whitehorse to have her baby.
Aside from that particular example, which I do not want to get into because it was what prompted the discussion with the department again, is the issue of the expenditure for expectant mothers who come in from the rural communities to have children. It is an issue I have raised, probably since 1993, when I was elected. As the department knows, it does create some hardship. Most of the people go into a hotel room or whatever, if they do not have extended family or friends to stay with in Whitehorse. Sometimes, they have to stay for two weeks, and one woman I know was waiting in a hotel room for almost a month last year, because they do not know what date they will have their baby.
The department only gives a subsidy of $35 per day for that time, after the fourth day. I know that options have been explored, such as some kind of receiving home or increasing the subsidy. A subsidy of $35 per day does not go very far, especially for a month of hotel rooms, which could run to probably $2,500 in the summertime, and meals on top of that. So, a couple of options have been identified.
The department's response indicates that it is pretty much satisfied with the policy. It would like to do more, but the priorities for expenditures are not here. Is that still the case, or is this issue still alive and being looked at? Let me ask a tighter question than that: is the issue of doing something about this still alive or is it a dead issue?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think we will have to bring some information back for the Member, because there were some recommendations made by the medical officer of health, but we do not have them here. After the break, we will see what we can bring in for him.
Mr. Sloan: I have a couple of brief questions. It was my understanding that, well over one year ago, there was supposed to have been some equipment in place that would allow visiting eye surgeons to do fairly sophisticated ophthalmologic surgery. Can the Minister tell us if that equipment is in place yet or if it will be in the new hospital?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If the Member is asking about cataract surgery, it has been conducted in the hospital for several months.
Mr. Sloan: The equipment is here then, and the visiting eye surgeon is performing those operations?
Does the Minister have a sense of what kind of cost savings have resulted? I know that it was fairly costly to send out a number of people for surgery.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. Interestingly enough, the program is actually more expensive at this point in time. More people are taking advantage of the situation now that it is closer, rather than in Vancouver or Edmonton. Perhaps they were not getting it done at all before.
The Member for Riverdale South said that she thinks it is good, and I do, too. I agree that there probably are more people who are able to take advantage of surgery than when people were being shipped outside. It is, without question, more expensive for us to do that.
Another point is that there were a lot of seniors who took advantage of the surgery. We cannot do a cost-benefit analysis right now, because if we did, it would look bad. The cost is apparently higher.
Mr. Sloan: With regard to this, there must have been a marked decrease in waiting time. With the new equipment, I assume that the length of time spent in the hospital has decreased. Would this mostly be done as day surgery?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not absolutely certain, but I believe it is day surgery. If it is not day surgery I will bring back some other information, but I believe that is what it is.
Mrs. Firth: I want to ask the Minister quite a few questions about his department and the Yukon Hospital Corporation, but I am going to start with a couple of general questions first.
I have some concern about the whole Department of Health and Social Services and its operations, because of the changes and transitions that are happening.
First, we lost the Minister; that was after one of the assistant deputy ministers left. We have a new Minister. The secondment of the acting deputy minister expires in June and that will have to be dealt with. I gather that the assistant deputy position has been filled by a new person from Nova Scotia. We have not received an announcement yet, but I know this has happened.
The Yukon Hospital Board has six vacancies coming up at the end of April, including the chair, who will require a reappointment, or whatever. There are a lot of outstanding issues that have to be dealt with fairly quickly, including the budget for the Yukon Hospital Corporation that I believe has to be dealt with by May 1.
Just so the Minister does not make statements about my making allegations or being hysterical, I think I have substantiated my reasons for concern.
I would like to begin by asking the Minister my first question. I understand the secondment of the acting deputy minister expires in June. What is going to happen?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is kind of difficult to answer the question when the fellow is sitting beside me. It has not been finalized but my preference is that there be an extension of one year to the term.
Mrs. Firth: That would be the preference of a lot of people because, with the change, the concern of course is continuity. We are talking about a lot of major decisions that are going to have to be made in this department: policy decisions, budgetary decisions, completion of the hospital and turning it over to the Hospital Corporation. I can appreciate the discomfort, but it would be reassuring to me as a Member of the House and to a lot of Yukoners if we could get an answer to this question.
I would like him to answer if he would. The Minister is pointing to the acting deputy minister to ask him to give us an answer, and I am sure we would all like that. It is not my intention to put the individual on the spot. Could the Minister perhaps tell us when we might have an answer to this question?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We were joking about this a little bit because the person we are speaking of is sitting right next to me, but we have discussed it.
I have not necessarily discussed it with the Minister of Finance at this point in time, but this will probably have to be finalized before the end of this month. We will have to make some sort of an offer to the gentleman by then, but I do not want to go much further than that because I do not really want to talk about the offer we are going to make to him either, with him sitting here.
Mrs. Firth: I do not want to make anybody uncomfortable or press the issue. I understand that, and I respect the individual's wishes. If he does not want to stay in that position, we should respect his wishes that way as well and not put pressure on him, but we should know about it and get on with our lives because, if the individual does want to go back to Finance where he was seconded from, then so be it, and we should get down to the business of recruiting a new deputy minister - and the sooner the better.
That is my position on the issue. I would like to know as quickly as possible. I think everyone in the health field wants to know. That would be one outstanding issue dealt with, so that we can carry on with the business of running Health and Social Services and delivering health and social services to the communities.
I will leave that with the Minister and perhaps he could give us a commitment - well, if we are only going to be in the House one more week, that might be considered to be putting a bit of pressure on people to make a decision within that time.
Does this secondment expire at the beginning of June or at the end of June?
How much time do we have?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not absolutely certain, but I believe it is until the end of June.
Being a new Minister, I was not aware it was happening this quickly. We have discussed it. I think we can probably come to a resolution before May 1, which gives us another couple of weeks. I think we can come to some sort of agreement. Alternatively, if for whatever reason an extension is not granted, at least we can get into a recruitment mode.
Mrs. Firth: I understand it is up to the individual as to whether or not they want to stay, and if they do not, it is up to the government to start the recruitment process. I think that should be fairly well understood.
I hope the Minister gives me a response when the decision is made, so I do not have to go chasing it around or wait to hear about it in the media. It would be nice to know in advance.
The next question I come to is that of the assistant deputy minister position that has just been filled. I understand this is an individual from Nova Scotia with some hospital corporation experience. The first question I would like to ask is: was there no success recruiting a local person for this position? Why did we hire someone from Nova Scotia?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The process was apparently nation-wide. There were more than two applicants - approximately 10 - of whom two were certified and interviewed, and two were interviewed from outside the territory. The person who was chosen was apparently very highly qualified, hence the reason for hiring that person.
Mrs. Firth: Of the 10 applicants, how many were local and how many local people were interviewed and certified?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There were apparently 138 applications. We could be a little bit wrong about this, but we believe that there were 10 local people; two of them were certified and interviewed.
Mrs. Firth: That gives me a great deal of distress. Even though the person from outside the territory may have had more experience or something, why would the government choose someone from Nova Scotia instead of two local people who are certified? We could have had Yukoners filling this job. I do not understand that.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is a pretty difficult question for me to respond to. My understanding is that there were two local people who were certified, which means that they met the qualifications for an interview. In fact, they did not have the same qualifications as the other person when one compares the applicants to the job description. In other words, the local people apparently did not meet the qualifications as well as the person from outside the territory who was eventually hired.
Mrs. Firth: Without getting into all the actual qualifications of the individuals who have applied, I am a very strong proponent of hiring local people, and the Minister knows that. If two applicants were certified and had the potential for taking the job, was there absolutely no way to accommodate these people so we could hire Yukoners? Was there nothing we could do to assist them in an underfill program, or give them the job on the condition that they get more training or education over a period of time? It just seems as if we always take the easy route: we take the person from outside the Yukon and do nothing to help Yukoners get these jobs.
These are very high-paying, lucrative jobs in the Yukon, and I would like to see a government do everything it could to assist Yukon people in getting these jobs. If it means encouraging them to get more education and taking the job in an underfill capacity or on a temporary basis, I would like to see that happen. Was anything like that even discussed with respect to this position?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that they wanted someone with a lot of medical administrative experience. It is a very senior position, so there was no consideration for an underfill position. There may well have been the possibility of an underfill had there not been a qualified applicant, but they did want someone with medical administrative background. The person hired, apparently, met all of the qualifications very well.
Mrs. Firth: That is my concern, because that is the easy way out. The easy way out is to look at the applicants, to take the one who is best qualified and hire that person. The point I am making is that if it comes down to someone with better qualifications who is not a Yukoner, compared to a person who is a Yukoner, then I think the department should look at where the shortfall is in the qualifications and see if there is something the individual can do to get even the minimum qualifications that are required.
That is a representation I want to make. I want to put that on the record, because I am very concerned about all these high-paid jobs and high-cost contracts that Yukoners are losing to people who do not live here. I think we should be making every effort we can to see that Yukoners are getting the jobs and the contracts.
I want to follow up on the issue of board vacancies. There are six vacancies coming due at the end of April. Just so the Minister knows, the chair's position expires at the end of April and the Minister has the option to reappoint the chair for the term. There are four other vacancies and one extra Member that is to be appointed. There are a considerable number of vacancies on the board, and I think the corporation finds it difficult to operate efficiently and effectively if it does not have full membership on the board.
What is the Minister doing about recruiting people for the board and when does he anticipate making a decision and filling all of the positions? It has to be done before the end of April.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The appointment of the chair and three other positions are being considered by Cabinet at this time. The individuals will be notified within the next few days. Essentially there will still be two positions to fill, and names are now being submitted for Cabinet's consideration.
Mrs. Firth: How are those names being submitted? How is the Minister going through the recruitment process?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The names come from many sources. The board itself has submitted some names. There are people who write and request that they sit on certain boards and committees, and various other groups submit the names of people they would like to have sit on a certain board.
Mrs. Firth: Is the Minister actively corresponding with any groups or organizations regarding bringing names forward? I am sure the board spontaneously presented some names. Has the department solicited input from the chambers, First Nations, or any groups like that? I know there is some specific representation on the board for certain groups. What else has the Minister done to get recommendations of people to sit on the board?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The way it is set up, there are only two groups with representation. There is a provision for a doctor to be on the board and representation from First Nations.
The registered nurses made representation to me last Saturday that they would like to have guaranteed representation. There is a nurse presently on the board, but I would prefer not to see guaranteed representation, if possible. What one wants is a board that can work, and I really hate to see it being limited to certain groups or members. A doctor and a First Nation prepresentative are the only two right now who are guaranteed representation.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister will get an argument from me, since I used to be a nurse. I think nurses should also have guaranteed representation. If the doctors do, I think the nurses should as well. I do not see that being a big problem for the government. I see it working out quite well. As it stands, there is no guarantee that a nurse will be a member of the board, and I believe that is the concern. It may sound okay right now, because there is a nurse on the board, but I think they should have guaranteed representation.
Has the Minister made a final decision about that, or is he open to giving the nurses guaranteed representation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is a piece of legislation, and that would have to be changed. What I said to the registered nurses is that I would certainly like to see one of them be on the board. Again, I would not like to be held to guaranteeing representation. What you look for is someone who will make a good board member, regardless of their profession. I believe the legislation also calls for a staff position, so that could be filled by a nurse.
I told the Registered Nurses Association that, as long as I was Minister, I would try to ensure that a nurse was on the board. Their argument was very similar to the one the Member is putting forward - why is there guaranteed representation for a doctor, when there are more nurses than there are doctors? They had a lot of arguments and were quite vocal. Currently, there is a nurse on the board.
Mrs. Firth: Like the rest of the nurses, that does not give me any comfort. I will tell the Minister what the problem is. It is fine for the Minister to tell people that he would like to see a nurse on the board. That sounds great. Who would disagree with that? Everyone would like to see that. I think the nurses are looking for more of a commitment and, obviously, the Minister is saying that he is not prepared to do that because he has some reservations about putting it into legislation, that the legislation has to be amended, and that, as long as he is the Minister, he will try to have a nurse on the board. We all know the permanency of that situation.
If I, in any way, felt that the Minister would be prepared to accept an amendment, I would bring forward an amendment to the bill tomorrow, amending it to require that a nurse be appointed to the board. I am sure that I could probably talk to the Opposition Members, and might even be able to get them to agree to - and maybe even to pass - such an initiative. It could be dealt with very quickly.
If we are going to do any legislation this session, I want the Minister to tell us whether or not he would consider doing that as an amendment. If he wants, I will do the work, bring it in, and we can deal with it.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No. The certified nursing assistants, for instance, may very easily want representation. The union may want representation. The Whitehorse Correctional Centre may want representation. So, my preference would be that we would not guarantee any one group representation. I do not mind receiving representations from various groups. Listening to arguments why a certain group should sit on the board would be very interesting and the best way I can put it is to state that I am open to it, but I really do not like the idea of seeing the board tied down. It may end up by not being a good, effective board because each person on it ends up having that group's interest solely in mind, rather than acting as a full board.
So, as I said before, I am open to suggestions on it, but at this point in time I would not be willing to entertain a change in the legislation without a lot more information than we have now.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister's comments could raise a whole bunch of arguments. I will tell him that. I am going to get my position on the record because the Minister has made it quite clear that he is not prepared to do anything about it, so I will wait for five months and then I will lobby the new government to do it, or I will bring in an amendment for the new government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Am I running again? God, I hope so.
First of all, on the comment the Minister made about the groups being represented, lots of boards in the government have group representation on them and they function beautifully.
On the comment about the groups' interests being represented solely on the board, if I were a registered nurse, I would get really mad about that comment from the Minister because, from what I know of registered nurses, their representation on that board is going to be in the best interests of the patients and the clients they serve, not their own interests. Absolutely first and foremost, they would be there to represent good-quality patient care within the hospital. The comment that the Minister made might get the hackles up on the backs of a few registered nurses in the territory. I am sure that the doctors' representative would also say that they were there to represent good-quality patient care and so on. I do not see an adequate argument to deny registered nurses' representation on the board. However, if the Minister has made up his mind that this is not going to happen, then it is not going to happen.
We could go through an exercise in the House in which I bring forward an amendment and talk to the Opposition, we vote on it, and then it gets thrown out because the Speaker breaks the tie. I am not going to bother everyone with that process, because I know how the government feels about it. I will just wait until we have a different government in five months, and maybe it will be more amenable to the suggestion.
I want to move on to another issue that is an issue of time concern - the budget negotiations for the Yukon Hospital Corporation. When does the budget agreement with the Yukon Hospital Corporation have to be signed? In May?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am having a meeting with the corporation on May 1. We are going to be going over the budget. My understanding is that there is no specified time when it must be signed; however, it is hoped that we should have the signed agreement not too long after May 1.
Mrs. Firth: For the Minister's information, I just want to tell him that I have had a briefing with the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board and the acting chief executive officer at the hospital. It has been indicated to me that they have been in negotiations, and the budget is to be finalized by May 1. I do not think that they would tell me something that was incorrect. When is the government anticipating signing the agreement for the budget with the Hospital Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The idea of the meeting on May 1 is to discuss the budget, but I am not saying it will be signed on that day. I hope it will, but it should be signed either then or very soon after May 1.
Mrs. Firth: I understand that there is one outstanding issue to be discussed. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is my understanding that there are several outstanding issues that need to be discussed.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell us what those issues are?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Some of the issues are staffing, the operational plan for the new hospital, depreciation and cashflow. There are quite a few issues. Apparently, the corporation is coming up with a three-year plan that needs to be reviewed. These are just some of the issues the deputy minister could think of off the top of his head.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister should not have made a crack about my not attending budget briefings. I think I have more information about the health budget, particularly with respect to the corporation, the hospital and some of its activities, than the Minister does, because I did receive a briefing from the corporation.
I understand that the corporation is working on a five-year operational plan. I also understand that the corporation is presently in a deficit position, which is an outstanding issue about who is going to pick up the deficit.
It is my information that the corporation thought the deficit was in the neighbourhood of $750,000 - but that is not an exact figure; I do not want anyone to take that figure and make a headline out of it, because as the corporation explained it to me, it had surpluses and the government had the ability to take the surpluses back if it wanted to. The first year the government allowed it to keep the surplus and the second year they took the surplus back, which was in the neighbourhood of some $400,000.
The corporation is concerned that this might have helped create the deficit, but there was a bit of a surplus to add to its total deficit, so it thought it was in the neighbourhood of $750,000. For the record, could the Minister tell us what the exact figure is?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Hospital Corporation has not finalized its financial statement for the year, so there is no exact figure available right now.
Mrs. Firth: What is the department's expectations? If the corporation can give me a ball-park figure, what is the department's ball-park figure? It must be having negotiations about who is going to pay the deficit, so what does the department think it is?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Our number is quite similar to yours.
Mrs. Firth: Then I think it is fair comment to say that the Hospital Corporation has a deficit in the neighbourhood of $750,000, which brings me to my next question. Is the government going to pick up the tab for the deficit, as the Government Leader indicated to me in the Finance debate when I asked what would happen if the corporation showed a deficit? He indicated to me that it would be the responsibility of general revenue to pick up the deficit.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The corporation has the ability to run a deficit, but what it does not have is the ability to have a debt. The ultimate responsibility is, I suppose, the Government of Yukon's. There are some questions on depreciation of the new hospital and so on. Those are some of things that have to be discussed.
Mrs. Firth: It is allowed to have a deficit but it is not allowed to have a debt. What is the Minister talking about? You cannot have the corporation operating in a deficit position.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: You can. The corporation can run a deficit without being in debt because of its cashflow, considering depreciation, for example.
Mrs. Firth: Would the Minister explain that to me?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Its books are not like government. It has what I refer to as a cash-funded depreciation account. It has, I believe, nearly $2 million in cash that is in reserve accounts for eventual replacement of certain assets.
Even though it has run a deficit on its O&M, it does not have an outstanding debt. In fact, its cashflow is quite healthy.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister talks about $2 million. Is this real money or a paper exercise? I see the Minister nodding his head, saying yes. Is it capital money? What kind of real money is it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My official just gave me the actual number. It is $1.7 million. It is actual money.
It is depreciation money. If the Hospital Corporation buys a car and it depreciates over five years - say it is a $30,000 car and the straight-line depreciation is $6,000 a year over five years - it takes the $6,000 depreciation money out of its O&M money each year. It puts the money into an account and, at the end of five years, it has $30,000 to buy a new car. That is essentially what it is.
Mrs. Firth: Does the Minister think that is good financial practice? Does he feel comfortable because it has that reserve for the eventual replacement of assets? I do not think it is good bookkeeping habits. That way, there is no money to replace one's assets. In a hospital, I can see that being very critical.
Surely, the government is not going to use the fact that the Hospital Corporation has $1.7 million in a depreciation account, which is for the eventual replacement of its assets, to justify why it is not going to pay this $750,000 deficit.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We are not saying that at all, but when we move into the new hospital, for instance, it will have all new x-ray equipment, so at that time the Hospital Corporation could start depreciating that new x-ray equipment.
I have no idea what the amortization rate is for x-ray equipment - perhaps it is 20 years, I do not know - but the money that it currently has for x-ray equipment is not needed, because it is starting out with all new x-ray equipment.
I am not saying that it has to spend all of the $1.7 million that is in the depreciation fund. I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that we have to discuss this whole depreciation account, such as what should remain in there and what should be started as a new account - for instance, the new x-ray machinery. What I did say is that the Hospital Corporation does not have to incur a debt because they have cash in their depreciation fund. In fact, this past year it ran a deficit. We are not exactly sure of how much, but it did not go into debt.
Mrs. Firth: My preference would be to get the deficit cleared up. When I asked the Minister of Finance questions in Finance debate about what would happen if one of the corporations was running at a deficit, he said that the government would be monitoring that kind of thing and would not want to see it accumulate; that it would be nipping it in the bud, so to speak.
I want to ask the Minister if that is what he is going to do. What is the government going to do about this deficit?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We are meeting with them on May 1, and that will be one of the things we discuss.
Mrs. Firth: We know that the government has a position that general revenue is responsible for picking it up in the event it has to be paid off. That was the position the Minister of Finance stated to us in the debate on Finance. Does the Minister of Health and Social Services see that as a clear position?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: What I see as a clear position is that the corporation will not go into debt. There may be annual deficits, or there may be a deficit one year and a surplus the next. What is not allowed is for the Hospital Corporation to carry a debt, and we would not permit that to happen.
Mrs. Firth: I do not know how the government will not allow that to happen. Perhaps the Minister could tell us how the government is not going to allow the corporation to have a debt.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The corporation is not in debt. It definitely has cash.
Mrs. Firth: Is there some policy or law, or something in legislation that says the corporation cannot have a debt, and how many years the coporation can run a deficit? Are there any real and enforceable rules governing that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Section 3.5 of the Hospital Act says that the corporation cannot run a debt.
Mrs. Firth: I do not think it should be running a deficit either. I think it is dangerous for that to happen. I trust the government will do something about it other than through some bookkeeping exercise.
I want to know from the Minister if he will get back to me about the decision that is made on this issue. There are now about three things the Minister has to get back to me on. The first is the deputy minister position. The second is the board vacancies and who will be appointed to the board. I would also like the Minister to get back to me about the budget question, how the negotiations go on May 1, and when an agreement will be signed.
I am sure that one of the issues to be discussed at the meeting on May 1 is with respect to the money that the government transfers to the Hospital Corporation for the purchase of its services - or maybe it is called a contribution agreement. I imagine it would be a purchase-of-services agreement of some kind.
I understand that the transfers occur bi-weekly or monthly, or something. I do not understand why the whole amount of money, approximately $15.5 million, is not transferred to the Hospital Corporation, as is done with the Yukon College fund.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We will have to check that, but both the deputy minister and I believe that it is transferred very soon after April 1.
Mrs. Firth: Both the acting CEO and the chair of the Hospital Corporation told me that that is not correct. The Hospital Corporation does not get the entire $15.5 million block transfer. The money is given to it either every two weeks or monthly - they could not remember - to cover the costs. That may have been the way it was done when the federal government was in charge, but I am sure that they were very specific when they told me that the Hospital Corporation did not get the whole $15.5 million.
Perhaps the Minister could come back after the break and clarify that. I think it would be in the best interest of the corporation to have the whole allotment of money transferred to it, as it is done for the college. It would then know what its operating position is, and could put it in the bank and collect the interest on it. That is what they told me they were unable to do, so I would like to ask the Minister if he could clarify that.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I will bring that information back for the Member after the break.
Mrs. Firth: I have one more question about the whole budgetary process, and then I will let the official critic continue with her questioning. I appreciate the Member allowing me this time to ask these questions - I have gone a bit over the time that I told her I would take.
With respect to negotiating the budget and the associated transition costs, I understand there is going to be a considerable amount of money spent on transition costs. These are costs for the time that the hospital is spending in the modification of wards and hiring planners until such time as the hospital construction is complete, and until the responsibility for the hospital is turned over to the Yukon Hospital Corporation. Who is going to pay for those transition costs? Will it be the government or the Yukon Hospital Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Obviously this is one of the issues that we have to discuss, but generally speaking, anything that is considered operation and maintenance costs the government would expect the Yukon Hospital Corporation to pay for. More than likely, the government would not expect the Yukon Hospital Corporation to pay for those costs that are considered capital costs.
I would expect each item to be negotiated to the nth degree. Naturally, if the corporation can save a little bit of money on operation and maintenance expenses by getting someone else to pay for them, it can use that money for something else. I think it is going to be an interesting negotiation, but in the long run the government will pay for it. It is just a matter of what gets charged where.
Mrs. Firth: I know that it is going to be extremely controversial. There will probably be a bit of nit-picking and so on. I think that it will be a kind of negative energy exercise. If the Minister feels that the government is going to end up paying for it anyway, I do not know why it cannot have some reasonable discussions with them and start paying for it. I am not saying that they should not have to justify what they are asking for - do not get me wrong. I think they should have to very specifically justify it. However, I think that it should not become an adversarial kind of situation. I do not think that would be positive for the whole transition process. As I have stated in the three or four issues that I raised previously, there are a lot of changes, transitional stages and turmoil that we have to face in the whole transfer of the hospital - completion of the construction, the transfer, all of the operations of the corporation and so on.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that the negotiations have not been adversarial at all. The officials have had these negotiations before. They seem to work out very well. The corporation naturally puts its best side forward. There is no question about that. That is certainly expected. However, my understanding is that neither position is adversarial.
Mrs. Firth: Does the Minister know when he anticipates having these negotiations about the transition cost completed?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is part of the whole budgetary process. I meet with Mr. Flament on May 1, and we hope to have it finalized at that time.
Mrs. Firth: I want to put on the record before the break that when I did call the Hospital Corporation for a briefing, the individuals were most cooperative. The chief executive officer is presently away on holidays. The acting chief executive officer was extremely helpful in providing a tour of the new hospital construction for us and sitting down and spending a considerable amount of time - at least an hour - to answer questions about personnel and policy matters. The chair of the Yukon Hospital Corporation Board more than overextended himself to accommodate us with the briefing for my researcher and myself. I wanted to make sure I had that on record and to thank them for their cooperation.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We encouraged them to assist as much as possible so that it would make it easier and probably make this level of debate that much better, but we certainly thank the Member and will pass her comments on to the appropriate people.
Ms. Commodore: After a remark like that, I hope he will encourage individuals in his department to be as cooperative as well, despite the policy laid out in the letter that came from the Government Leader to the former leader of this party. I look forward to that kind of cooperation from his department as well.
As I went over the Blues this morning, I made a correction and I am not sure whether or not the Minister picked up on it. I had mentioned the list of all of the casework we had done for the hundreds and hundreds of people who had come to us, but I noticed that last night's Blues said that people call our office "from all the different departments". I do not know whether or not the Minister picked up on that, but what it should have said was "concerning" all of the departments. I just wanted to clear that up so that the Minister, if he read it, would not have thought we were getting direct calls from the departments to us. I just wanted to straighten that out.
I have a couple of follow-up questions from the supplementary estimates that I asked of the former Minister. There was a problem with the Champagne-Aishihik child welfare project that the government took over from the band. Has there been a resolution to it? The former Minister was going to let me know what was happening with the program. Has the problem been resolved?
There was some concern by the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation back then - I got the information from the former Minister last month - that there might be court action for the money owing. There was some fear that things might get a bit ugly.
Can the Minister tell me what is happening with that now?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It was scheduled for, I believe, about two and a half weeks ago. There was a lack of communication somewhere because the Champagne-Aishihik representatives did not show. We rescheduled for the following week - last week, I believe - and one of the members showed up but, again, there was some miscommunication between them. We rescheduled a meeting for May 7, I believe. We hope that all the people involved will get together to discuss the whole issue.
Ms. Commodore: Are we looking at the possibility of turning that responsibility back to that First Nation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is one of the options. However, we first have to resolve the other issues. I believe that that will be one of the things we will discuss at our meeting.
Ms. Commodore: The former Minister said something about the department developing a special arrangement that it hoped to move into with the Selkirk First Nation under the strategic initiatives program. He said at that time that he hoped that the program would be finalized and that he would be announcing it in the House fairly shortly. I do not know much more than that about the program.
I would like the Minister to tell me a bit more about it.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe there was a ministerial statement. We will pick it up at the break and bring it back for the Member.
Ms. Commodore: I do not remember responding to that ministerial statement.
Chair: The time being 4:30 p.m., we will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with Bill No. 10, Health and Social Services. We will continue with general debate.
Ms. Commodore: I do not know whether or not the Minister has found the ministerial statement; if he has, I would not mind seeing it.
In addition to the ministerial statement the Minister mentioned, the questions that I was asking were in relation to the arrangement that the department has with Mike Rawlings, who works in Ross River. I asked whether or not that type of arrangement would be profitable for other First Nations and, if so, how would other First Nations be able to arrange such a partnership. At the time, the former Minister mentioned the Selkirk First Nation initiative or partnership.
In addition to that, the Minister mentioned that the government is going to see whether or not it is possible to work with another First Nation, if not Carcross, to be determined by a partnership arrangement between the federal government and this government.
The Minister went on to say that, beyond that, the government has been working with First Nations and groups to see about assisting them in having positions created, with the government contributing a portion of the seed money and then trying to attract additional seed money from Health Canada or the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
I do not know whether or not the Minister has been briefed on that kind of notion. If he has, could he please tell me?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. I have the ministerial statement that was delivered on March 20 and I can understand the Member's concern. It does not specifically say it is Selkirk but it is under this program that we would be providing that particular program to Selkirk. The program is being discussed right now with Pelly. The other one we are talking to is Carcross. I will send this statement over to the Member.
Ms. Commodore: I have another question - not related to that - of curiosity, I suppose. Linda Dixon was working as the executive assistant to the former Minister. I wonder if she is still on staff or if she is working for this Minister.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Linda's position is split between Education and Health and Social Services. She is the executive assistant for those departments. For Health and Social Services, she works with me and for Education, she works with Mr. Nordling.
Ms. Commodore: Do the two Ministers she works for have 1.5 executive assistants, or how does that work?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, 1.5 executive assistants.
Ms. Commodore: How is that justified?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure how the staffing component works, but Ms. Dixon is familiar with the Departments of Health and Social Services and Education. If my normal executive assistant were to take that on - having a new Minister and a new executive assistant - it would be very tough, so the decision was made to split Linda's time between the two departments.
Ms. Commodore: I know the Minister has always had one executive assistant, and I know the Minister now has a pretty heavy load, taking on this responsibility in addition to his others. I am trying to understand how we can justify this extra position, when the position was for another Minister. The Minister probably needs that kind of assistance because of the expertise, but how many Ministers in the past have had 1.5 executive assistants to work with them?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure. I do not know how the staffing works. That is not my area. However, I do know there is no question about the fact that I need the assistance of someone who is very familiar with the department. I expect it is the same for the Minister of Education.
Ms. Commodore: Did that new arrangement need the approval of Management Board?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe that I have seen it come through Management Board, but if it has, I will certainly bring that information back to the Member.
Ms. Commodore: It was not a really big issue. I was just curious about the arrangements and how the positions that were allowed in the Ministers' offices can be justified.
I have a lot of questions that I would like to ask about juvenile justice. The Minister - and the deputy minister, I believe - know that I do have an interest in the kinds of things that happen and the kinds of programs that are ongoing.
A long time ago, the department, under the former Minister, went through the process of closing down 501 Taylor and opened up model foster homes. The last I heard, we had three of those homes in Whitehorse. I am not sure how many homes we have in rural communities. One of the things that I have been really concerned about - and so have a lot of other people - is what is happening now that there is not a specific facility for these individuals. In the past, the department said it was closing 501 Taylor down to save money, because it did not have the young offenders to care for in there. I think there was even a nasty comment made about people sitting around doing nothing on different shifts, which was an insult to the individuals who work there, because that did not appear to be the case.
What we are hearing now is that the rise in crime and convictions of young offenders, of course, has risen and that is indicated in the information I got from the department even this year. I also have the youth services annual program update for 1994-95. It talks about a drastic increase in young people in custody at that time. Then, in the latest information I got, I found that it is on the rise again. The number of young offenders in custody is on the rise.
One of the things that was told to me is that there was a lot of concern in the courts and comments made by the judges, who felt that a certain young offender should have been sentenced to open custody if they felt that there was something appropriate in place for them, but they were having to send them to secure custody because foster homes did not meet their needs or the requirements. A facility such as 501 Taylor, or another similar facility, would have been more appropriate.
I have been told that at certain points in time there have sometimes been more than 20 children in the young offenders facility. The former Minister has provided me with figures taken at different times of the year. I am just wondering if the Minister has been briefed on this situation? One of the stories that was told to me was that the department was chastised for not having an adequate facility for open-custody children. It was told to me by someone who was in the court at that time. This person was very disturbed because they were now having to send these children to secure custody.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It certainly has not come to my or the deputy minister's attention. I am not saying that it did not happen, but it has not come to our attention that there is a complaint.
Ms. Commodore: There is an increase in young people being sentenced to open and secure custody, and a drastic increase from 1994-95 to 1995-96. There is information that tells the department that there is a problem. The fact that young people are going into secure custody rather than open custody is a problem, because they do not have the freedom to do a lot of the other things that they could do. Also, the model homes are not adequate to meet the real needs for open custody. It is like a foster home where one might send a young person who has a bit of a problem and has to be sentenced to open custody, but are being sentenced more severely to secure custody.
I know that the Minister is new, but perhaps he can have someone in his department look at the situation to see if the problem is not real, because I am told that it is. I am told that by a lot of people who deal with the young people. I am concerned about it, as are parents.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Going back a couple of questions, on the question of whether or not there was approval for the new arrangement with Ms. Dixon, the message I have is that there was no Management Board approval for the new arrangement. There is no need for Management Board approval for this type of change as long as new funds in the vote are not required.
This message came from the Department of Finance.
Going back to the young offenders, we are aware that the number is increasing, but I have not heard of the concerns about open custody that the Member is expressing.
We will check back with the appropriate people in the department and see if those concerns have been expressed at that level.
Ms. Commodore: It appears that one of the problems being faced right now is that these model homes are not staffed on a 24-hour basis. Some of the foster parents have full-time jobs and are away from their homes, and some of these young offenders are requiring babysitting or child care, whatever one wants to call it, while the people who are in charge of these homes are working. I have heard that criticism more than once, and that could be why we appear to have a problem.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If the Member wishes, we could arrange a briefing with the director of family services, and I would be interested in sitting in on it, too, because I have not been made aware that there is a problem. That would be the best way - to get the person responsible to brief us on it.
Ms. Commodore: I do not mind having the briefing. As a matter of fact, I was offered one last year when I brought the problem up, but it appears that the problem is becoming more severe. Last year, there was a bit of difficulty arranging a briefing, and it was probably my fault as well as the fault of the department, because I was asking them to provide me with programs that were available at least within the juvenile justice branch. They wrote me a letter saying they could not give me that information, so I told them that I had seen a list of the programs when I was at an Aids Alliance function in Rotary Park so why could I not get a copy. This is what it was, and it was public knowledge.
There was a bit of a misunderstanding. It was difficult to have any dealings with the department because it was not very cooperative at that time. It was not a very good arrangement. So,
I never did get the briefing.
I ask these questions in the House because I am in contact with people, almost on a daily basis who have some interest in what happens to these kids and want to know some answers. If someone is telling me there is a big problem with the foster model homes and that some of the young offenders are suffering as a result of inadequate facilities and are therefore being sent to secure custody, then there is a problem. Why send kids to secure custody when a judge would rather send them to open custody, but cannot, because the service is inadequate?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The offer for a briefing is still open. I am also quite interested in this. The concerns that have been expressed have not come to either the deputy minister or to me. The director of family services is out of town right now and will not be back until Monday. At the very least, I will have the department put together a briefing package to outline concerns that department personnel have heard. However, those concerns have not come to our level yet.
Ms. Commodore: I will accept the Minister's offer for a briefing, as I did last year, but did not get it. This is not the first time I have brought this problem up in the House. I have talked about it more than once during budget debates. It is a concern of mine and will be until I believe something is changing.
When this change was made, it was done with a lot of publicity. It was going to be the best thing for the kids. I was told someone came into the department with all these bright ideas about how they would change the system so things would work better. However, they did not.
I hope that the people who are responsible for these children will recognize that, because certainly the judges are recognizing it as something that is not working.
In addition to the briefing, what I would like from the Minister - I do not need this for tomorrow or before we adjourn from the House - are some answers to the questions I have been asking, and information about the problems related to me by at least a half dozen individuals. I could sit down with people whom I know, who work in the system, and will give me the information and tell me about discussions in the courts about lawyers and judges recognizing that we do have a problem. I think it is a problem we have to deal with.
If we are looking at model foster homes where children who are supposed to be in care cannot stay in the home all day because the foster parents are working, it is an even bigger problem.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think the idea of a briefing for the Member is good, because we can probably get into more specifics and respond to them. I will make sure a briefing is arranged between the Member's office and the department very shortly.
Ms. Commodore: When the residence at 501 Taylor Street was closed, the department compiled a list of programs it was going to use, and, I am told, are using. The previous Minister talked about how the achievement centre helps youth at risk, but he did not have a definition about what a youth at risk was. He stated that there was no solid definition of a youth at risk, that it was a teenager by his definition. So any teenager, according to the former Minister, was a kid at risk - I am sorry, it was not the former Minister who made these statements. It is quoted in here as Schiffkorn.
Mr. Schiffkorn stated that because all teens are at risk by virtue of the fact that they are looking for autonomy and individuality, the influence from peers becomes much more apparent. "Any teenager" is a pretty wide definition for a kid at risk.
What the department did was compile a whole list of programs that are included in this list.
It talks about all of their programs and describes them. It also has a calendar for - this one runs to December of last year - September to December. Offered are such things as basics in cooking and nutrition, personal development, CPR overview, vandalism prevention and community awareness. There is an activity night. Other programs include making choices; teen AA; reconnect YNE; self-concept; guys talk about; girls talk about; and A&D awareness. So, there is a whole list of programs provided to the kids at risk. What they also have, and what I always talk about during budget debate, is the programs they have that are appropriate to First Nations kids who are in care or who may come to the centre. Those kids require certain kinds of programs to help them deal with a lot of things that they have suffered.
What we have here in regard to that is run by Rollie Williams. I know him and respect him. I know he is a fine, decent fellow. What they have here is a program called First Nations identity. They teach things like traditional, historical definitions and meanings of the concepts, "trust, respectability, responsibility and leadership". He then teaches them how to make dreamcatchers, medicine bags, drums and stuff like that.
There is another program called reconnecting youth and elders. I see a lot of stuff in the calendar with respect to the first one - the First Nations identity - but I do not see a lot about reconnecting youth and elders in the calendar.
My question really is this: how often are we using local First Nations people or elders to provide these kinds of programs? I know that when we were in government, it was a priority with us to include cultural kinds of activities. We were always hiring First Nations people on contracts to do certain kinds of things in both facilities - open and secure.
As I have said before, we had heard that the government was keen to get rid of a lot of those programs, because they thought they were "a bunch of crap" - excuse my wording, but those were the words that were repeated to me by someone who had heard someone in management say that.
I am still worried about that. I am still wondering if that is still the position of the people who work there. I would just like to know if the attitudes toward introducing more First Nations cultural activities and using more First Nations people to teach these young kids have changed at all.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I certainly do not have the specifics of the individual programs, but none of the programs that the Member is referring to have been cut back or cancelled. We have not heard the comment that the Member made. I am not saying such a comment was not made, but the programs are still available. We have not cut them off.
Ms. Commodore: The name of the individual who allegedly made the remark was given to me. I sometimes wonder about what is really happening. That person actually works in this branch.
I am not asking whether or not a lot of these programs have been cut. There are a lot of them and they are good programs. I am asking whether or not we are providing the kind of programs that would be more effective for working with the young people. We do have one person providing two programs, but apparently that is not even that often, according to this. Perhaps this one is old; I have not had one that has been updated.
In the month of September there were three courses. That was four or five hours out of one whole week. Others were listed in this document, as well.
Again, my question is not whether or not all these other programs were being cancelled or improved, but if we are using more local First Nations people to deal with them in a healthy, healing way.
Although these programs sound good, are probably effective and do teach these young kids how to do certain things, First Nations people are talking about the healing process through their own beliefs and their own cultures. There are different ways of doing that.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think I will have to get back to the Member because I am not sure if there have been new programs put in place, requests for new programs or if some of the existing ones, because of lack of attendance, for instance, have perhaps changed.
I do not know that, but I will get some information back for the Member about whether or not our department is initiating some new programs, if there have been any requests for new programs, if in fact we are changing some of the existing programs or if we are using First Nations to deliver some of the programs.
Ms. Commodore: During the changes of each season, as the Minister probably knows, there is a cultural activity at the adult jail. There are people who go into the adult facilities to work with the individuals there. At the change of every season, they have a big feast. All of their relatives, friends and people like myself, who are interested, go in to help them celebrate.
It is a very positive thing that I see happening and, at least on those days, there is all kinds of cooperation from the people who work in that facility. I do not know whether or not those kinds of activities happen in our young offender secure facility, but the Minister has indicated that he will let me know what is happening in that area. It is not as if I have not mentioned this before, because every time we are in the House and debate this budget, I bring this same thing up. I always felt there was a lot more cooperation in the adult jail than there was in the young offender system, in juvenile justice. I might be wrong, but that is not the impression I was getting.
I will not encourage the Minister to do anything but I would like to have him at least look at the kind of things that are happening.
I do not know. I was at a residential school conference - I think it was the week before last - and there were a lot of things discussed at that time. Last year I was at another one on Vancouver Island. There were a lot of discussions by individuals who have been affected by what happened to their parents or grandparents while they were in residential schools. I think that most individuals who know nothing about residential schools would be appalled by some of the hideous crimes imposed upon these young individuals - as young as six years old - until they were young enough to defend themselves. As a result of that, many lives were changed.
I have spoken to a number of individuals in the Yukon who have gone through the system and believe very strongly that this has to be a very important part of dealing with some of the problems we now have. One has to take a more serious look at the effects of that. It has been talked about a lot. People have been very surprised by the extent of it; however, no one seems to want to look at the situation to find out whether or not there is some way we can include it in the programs that are available.
Since the Minister is a new Minister to this department, I would like him to speak to somebody who might be working in that area. The Council of Yukon First Nations has a couple of people who work in that area. I have talked to some of the victims from the Lower Post school who are Yukoners. It is very heart-breaking to hear what they have suffered, which is a result of what has happened to them. The realization has taken an awfully long time.
I would like the Minister, not only in juvenile justice, to start talking and thinking about it by talking to some people who are working in that area. I know that Betsy Jackson is a person who could be contacted at the Council of Yukon First Nations. I talk to people almost every day in that area, because this is a very important issue to me.
I would like to talk to the Minister about creating safer communities in regard to youth crime. It was introduced either by the former Minister or the Minister of Justice, I do not know which, but youth crime and juvenile justice come under this Minister's portfolio. In the document I have here, the government talks about how it is going to create safer communities, but as I see it, what is really lacking are a lot of new ideas.
The promises were made in 1992 by the Yukon Party. It was going to introduce harsher sentences and try and change the Young Offenders Act to make the names of these people public. It was a very harsh kind of promise to the general public. We are looking at individuals who have very specific, deep problems that cause them to do some of the things that they do.
I made notes as I was going through this, looking at the programs that are mentioned here. What I saw were a lot of programs that were already implemented and had been provided by different resources. There were some things already in existence in Health and Social Services, Justice and Education. There were things that were being provided by the RCMP. As I went through them, I wondered what was new about them and how the government intended to create safer communities when, in fact, most of these programs were already in existence.
There are the announcements of new programs, such as creating a task force to promote safe schools.
It was supposed to be implemented in January of this year, with the task force completing its report by March of this year - last month. I do not know if that was done, and I do not know whether or not the Minister is aware of the document. I would like to ask him. Perhaps his official can let him know the response to that.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We have two people on the committee. I am not sure whether or not a document has been produced, or exactly where we are at on it. It is not our initiative, although we do have people involved in it. I believe it is Education's initiative.
Ms. Commodore: According to this, it is a responsibility of the Department of Education. However, it is a youth initiative, and that is why I would like the Minister to provide me with some information.
The other one is under Health and Social Services. It is titled, "Provide a meaningful and early response to criminal behaviour committed by children under 12 years of age." The projected implementation date was February of this year. The focus of it was to develop suitable crime prevention and child welfare interventions, such as diversion committees, which are already in existence for children in need of guidance and who have committed offences that normally would be prosecutable except for their age, as authorized under the Children's Act. The anticipated outcome was to reduce under-12 crime and reduce crimes by 12 and 13 year olds, which would otherwise fall under the jurisdiction of the Young Offenders Act.
I would like to ask the Minister if he can tell me the progress on that, because it was supposed to be implemented in February.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, we will try to check that out during the supper break. Does it say in there that it was to be implemented in February? I was not aware that it was due in February.
Ms. Commodore: The Minister does not have to provide this information by the end of the day. I just want to have an update on all of the announcements that were made at the time that this was publicized and the Minister of Justice was talking about all the great things that were going to happen. I made note of all the programs that were announced at that time.
The other program was in regard to the attendance centre and we hear a lot about it. It appears to me, although I do not know and that is why I am asking this question, that the attendance centre and the youth achievement centre are one and the same. Can the Minister straighten that out for me?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, they are the same.
Ms. Commodore: The attendance centre is part of a program that is offered under this list of things. It is in addition to everything that is happening there. I was told that this is where one or two young offenders in open custody end up going, because the people who look after them are working. As far as I am concerned, we should not be looking for this for individuals in open custody.
Chair: The time being 5:30 p.m., we will now recess until 6:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We are dealing with Bill No. 10, Department of Health and Social Services, general debate.
Ms. Commodore: When we left, we were talking about the creating safer communities program regarding youth crime and I was asking the Minister of Justice if he could provide me with information. We were talking about the new programs - or a repeat announcement of some new programs - and I would like to ask the Minister once again about the attendance centre versus the youth achievement centre. Is that the new name, or is the attendance centre a new program? We have the youth achievement centre, with all the programs listed under it, and now we have the attendance centre for offenders who are under supervision by court order. I do not know what that means. Can the Minister tell me?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The attendance centre is a program at the youth achievement centre. It is a drop-in type of centre.
Ms. Commodore: They are under supervision by a court order, it says. Does that mean that they are on probation or the court has ordered them to take part in the programs?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not exactly sure, but I believe the court has ordered the offenders to take part in certain programs - to partake of some of the activities there would be part of the court order.
Ms. Commodore: The date of implementation was January this year, and I do know that it was already in existence, because I have been told that young offenders from open custody, as I mentioned before, are going to the facility to be baby-sat while the people are working.
When the Minister provides me with the written information, I wonder if he could be more specific about what this facility does. I see him nodding his head, "yes", and I do appreciate it.
The other item comes under Justice, but it still involves young offenders. I remember the Minister announcing all of the great things he was going to be doing in order to develop administrative sanctions that provide a streamlined process with immediate consequences to youth for committing crimes. The focus of the announcement was to establish sanctions outside of the system. For those who are involved in serious offences, such as vandalism, sanctions would include the loss of a driver's licence, strengthening the alternative measures program for youth, linking it to the development alternative measures program for adults. It also allowed for the establishment of a process to allow for the reduction of sanctions based on genuine remorse.
I do not know how that is going to work. Although it says a lot and it sounds good, I remember when we first heard about this, some of the people I know who deal with many young offenders thought that taking a young offender's driver's licence away was a little bit goofy, because not many have driver's licences.
They are going to have to go out and get a whole bunch of them before the fall of 1996 so that they can have them taken away to be taught a lesson.
I would like the Minister to provide me with a little bit more than what is planned to be done. As I mentioned, it is not supposed to be implemented until the fall of 1996.
I know that it is under the Department of Justice. However, juvenile justice still comes under the Department of Health and Social Services, and its probation officers go to court with the young offenders. The people working with these people in the Department of Health and Social Services are going to have to deal with it.
If they were adults, I could see it coming under Justice. I do not know. We are talking about youth crime.
I would appreciate it if the Minister could provide me with a little bit more information about how that is going to be done and what the department plans to do to reduce youth vandalism and to improve awareness of personal responsibility and the consequences of crime.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I will refer it to my colleague, the Minister of Justice. His budget is up next. Probably he can explain the program in general debate and what is meant by administrative sanctions, and so on.
Ms. Commodore: I will be asking the Minister of Justice about some of these questions. My reason for thinking that the Minister would know something about it is because we are talking about children.
The next one also comes under Justice, and it says "to strengthen the right of victims to sue parents for damages caused by the wrongdoing of their children". The Minister will not have the information on that, but I think it sounds good. In reality, however, I do not know how it is going to work, because many of the parents who have children who are getting into trouble and are before the courts are not going to be able to pay any kind of money, if they are sued. When this first came out, a lot of people were talking about it and wondering how effective it would be. Although it sounds good, whether or not it will work - who knows? The implementation date, of course, is not until the fall. It seems that a lot of these things are going to start prior to the election, whenever that is called.
The other one is to implement the youth investment fund. I was under the impression that that was already done and that we already had a youth investment fund, but I guess not. That was under all of the departments. Was there not a recent announcement regarding this?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is some reference to the youth investment fund in the ministerial statement that I delivered. I believe that portion of it was announced somewhat earlier. My understanding is that it is in the development process right now.
Ms. Commodore: Could the Minister make a commitment just to give me an update on all these things that come under his jurisdiction? I think that a lot of the programs that are under Justice, of course, will have some kind of an effect on that department. I am interested in finding out because this has been implemented for quite a while. May I find out how all of these programs are working?
I understand they do have very committed individuals who are working in that centre and that some of the programs appear to be run quite well, but I do have a concern about lack of First Nations involvement, other than what Rollie Williams is doing, which I understand is a fairly good program.
I had asked the Minister in Question Period about the Northern Network of Services, in regard to charges that were laid quite a number of months ago. I did not receive a response yet, although I expected that I would. There were 28 charges against seven individuals. My concern at that time was about the children who do come under the care of the government.
They are sent to these homes to receive treatment. I am told that some of them came out of those homes with convictions they did not have prior to going in. That is a concern of mine as well as of other people. I do not understand. I will probably have a few more questions with respect to the Northern Network of Services, but I would like the Minister to respond to these charges. Could he provide me with an update on that and let me know what has happened to these seven individuals? They had a total of 28 charges against them.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Apparently we fund the Northern Network of Services on a contractual basis. We have asked for the information for the Member but, as of this afternoon, we have not received it. The department will check on it tomorrow to see why we have not received it, and it will be provided to the Member as soon as it is received.
Ms. Commodore: I have further questions in regard to the Northern Network of Services. I was just looking for some information I was provided with, but I cannot find it right now.
This was in regard to the funding this service receives. Right now, apparently Woods Christian Homes in Calgary signed a contract to provide this kind of treatment to youth from the Yukon who needed that type of treatment. In turn, Woods was contracting the Northern Network of Services to provide the treatment to these individuals, so these young kids would not be sent outside. They were always being sent outside, and I understand the purpose was to provide something here in the Yukon so that would not happen.
I have heard different things from different people who have contact with the Northern Network of Services. Information I received from the department was that the contract with Woods Homes, which contracts the Northern Network of Services, has run out, and it would be renegotiated.
Can the Minister tell me if the department will continue to contract out these services to Woods Homes?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, the Northern Network of Services has now become a society in the Yukon and, rather than go through Woods Homes in Calgary and back up through to the Northern Network of Services, we are contracting directly with NNS.
Ms. Commodore: Can the Minister tell me if that decision has already been made? Have they already reached an agreement with NNS? Do they have a board? How organized are they? Up until a while ago at least, many complaints were coming out of that place. I have not heard any for a long time, so that just tells me that maybe things have improved, but I am still worried about these children who go in there.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know the exact structure, but they are incorporated as a society, so they would have a board of directors and so on. I am making the assumption that they are a fully legitimate society.
Ms. Commodore: I was just looking for the information the Minister had sent me with regard to questions I had asked. I do not have it in front of me right now and I do not know where I put it, but I have some questions in regard to the amount of money we spend on these young people who require that kind of treatment. In addition to Woods Homes, who had a contract up until now with the Northern Network of Services, we are still sending a lot of our kids to other places - I believe to both Alberta and British Columbia - and some at a high cost. What kind of situation are we dealing with in this regard? Is the Northern Network of Services full and we are having to use other spaces? And is the whole contract that Woods is getting going to be adequate?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that if there are some with very high risk of very specific problems, it is generally felt that they should go to the Woods Home - I believe that there is one in British Columbia, as well. They still do go outside. Generally speaking, there is an attempt to set it up through the Northern Network of Services so that their home would be here.
Essentially, there is a bit of a cost saving, I suppose. I do not think that is the main purpose. If we can provide the service here, we would sooner do it here, but apparently there are some cases that still have to go to one of the homes outside.
Ms. Commodore: According to the information I have here, there are people working at the Northern Network of Services on a shift basis. I was told that there was discussion about changes so people living there all the time would be looking after it. If it will be taking over the services that were being provided by Woods Home, will that work?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know. I do not think it is the intent to totally displace Woods Home. That may be the long-range plan. It would depend on how well this works out. If we can expand the service somewhat to take care of people who now go to Woods Home, to my way of thinking it would be better. At this time, we cannot.
Ms. Commodore: So the intention is not to turn the whole thing over to the Northern Network of Services, but continue to work with Woods Homes and still send some of the children out there? I understand that the department was negotiating something with Northern Network of Services.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, the department utilizes the Northern Network of Services as much as possible, but sometimes there is special treatment required that cannot be provided in the territory, but can be provided at the Woods Homes in Calgary. Sometimes the court dictates where the individuals will go.
As I said before, the ideal situation would be to provide these types of services in the territory, but as long as those special types of services are needed, the department will continue to use the Woods Homes. I believe there is also a treatment centre in British Columbia that the department uses.
Ms. Commodore: I think there is actually more than one treatment centre. I am trying to find a letter that was given to me, because I would have further questions about that letter.
The Minister is going to bring back information about the charges that were laid. While he is doing that, I would like to find out if it is still the practice to have charges laid against these individuals. If that is a problem, how can it be dealt with, because it appears that kids are leaving these treatment centres with longer criminal records than they had when they were admitted. It is not like these facilities are open or secure custody; it is a place for treatment.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I understand that Northern Network of Services has a zero-tolerance policy. In other words, any infraction will be dealt with.
The next question asked if these are professional people. Yes, they are. The director, the executive director, and so on, are professional people. That is the reason that there have been charges. I do not know the details of the charges, but charges have been laid because the Northern Network of Services' policy is zero tolerance.
Ms. Commodore: So, we can expect the people who have been sent there because of their behaviour - people with very difficult problems to deal with - will come out of there with additional charges. We have heard of at least one person with no criminal record as a young offender who came out with a conviction or at least a charge. I do not know if he was convicted.
We are dealing with seriously disturbed children. Are we disturbing them even more by doing this? I understand that the job of the individuals working there is very difficult, because who enjoys having a round taken out of them. However, we are dealing with children who have already had enough violence in their lives. Do we want to cause more harm by making them angrier than they were when they entered the home?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. Again, I am not up on all of the details, but my understanding is that some of the children in the group are very disturbed. Part of the program is zero tolerance, which is part of the therapy. It may very well be that if someone gets attacked, or something, charges will be laid. I have said that we will bring back more details on the charges that were mentioned earlier. Apparently that is part of the treatment program.
Ms. Commodore: I am certainly not an expert in this area, and I do become alarmed when I start hearing things like this. Is it normal practice in the other places children are sent? Some of them are sent out to Woods Homes and treatment centres in other parts of the country, and some are sent to Poundmakers for alcohol and drug treatment. Is it the normal practice to lay charges any time they get violent? With these very disturbed kids, that could happen quite a bit.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know what the policies of the various homes are. Again, I am going to bring back further details for the Member.
Ms. Commodore: I will come back in line-by-line debate to ask further questions, because I do have a list of questions that I want to ask the Minister.
There was a rumour a while ago that this treatment centre was going to be phased out, but it does not appear to be happening. I do not know where the rumour came from, or whether or not it was true.
I would like to ask the Minister about the Keeping Kids Safe program, which is put together by Justice, Health and Social Services, Mental Health Services, Health Canada and the Council for Yukon First Nations.
There was a large group of people who were responsible for putting together this program called Keeping Kids Safe. One of the things that came out of that, according to some government officials who spoke to the media when this was announced, was that they were not going to introduce any kind of sex-offender treatment here in the Yukon for adults because they were not convinced that they work. I would like to know if that is still the case.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There was no intent to establish a program for adult sex offenders and the policy has not changed. My understanding is that the program, Keeping Kids Safe, is to keep children out of those situations.
Ms. Commodore: I actually went through this report a number of times - this copy is not mine because mine had writing all over it; I had to borrow another copy on the way in - and I think that toward the end of it, it describes how the program is going to work in different ways. One of the things that it did say is it was not going to cost much extra money. Existing resources were to be used.
I understood that we were going to be monitoring unknown sex offenders who have been released from custody and that there would be at least a committee, or whatever, that would somehow or other monitor the individuals. I think that the concept was a good one. It sounded good, but there was some suspicion by a lot of people who work in the system that it would not work.
Certainly, in the case of the sex offender who took off from the halfway house, he was not being monitored very well, because they let him out on Hallowe'en when hundreds of Yukon children were out and about and he has not been seen since, at least in the Yukon. In the case of that person, it was not working. I understand that there are now three sex offenders in the same facility and I do not know how closely they are being monitored.
There is a deep problem in the Yukon right now. Different people come to me because they do know I have some concerns with regard to this. One cannot expect people to be perfect in this kind of a job. It is just not possible.
If I hear something about a sex offender being released from custody and being moved into a neighbourhood or going back to his home and the neighbourhood is not warned, the people in the neighbourhood do become concerned. That has happened. I cannot understand how they are being monitored on a daily basis. In addition to family members being involved in the committee, who else is monitoring those individuals?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe that there is an initiative in Justice. There is some sort of a protocol being worked out with the RCMP regarding what type of information can be released, to whom and so on. I am not sure about it, but I can ask my colleague, the Minister of Justice, to address that in his debate. I am quite sure that there is something being negotiated or developed at this point.
Ms. Commodore: This program was put together with Health and Social Services. It is called Keeping Kids Safe. It would seem that the Minister's department would be somehow involved in the program and how it is working. We do have a very serious situation, not only in Whitehorse, but in all the communities. A lot of our young girls are being abused at parties. I know that very young teens end up at house parties on Friday and Saturday nights that are not safe. I hear a lot of stories about parents having to go and get their children to keep them from harm, as there is a lot of alcohol and drug abuse going on. There are young teenagers being raped at those parties.
I know a mother who, almost every single weekend, along with another parent, is rescuing children from some of these homes. There are a couple in my riding and others around town.
The offences taking place are very serious, and it always seems to be mothers who are very concerned about the safety of their children. One hears about gang rapes, and things like that, in some of those homes. Individuals have been caught in the process of abusing a young girl. The sad thing is that it goes unreported.
It is a very serious thing. If we talk about keeping kids safe, somehow or other there must be involvement from Health and Social Services and Justice. I know that the RCMP will become involved in some cases. They will accompany a parent to a place where there are a number of children taking part in house parties, and they will cooperate with parents to rescue their young daughters from those places.
I mention it here, and it sounds unbelievable, but I know it to be a fact. I know that parents around town are very concerned about these things taking place. In the past, I know the RCMP was reluctant to become involved because these things were happening within a private residence. In one instance, one of the houses in question was being lived in by a convicted sex offender who had been released from jail. On a weekly basis, there were as many as two or three dozen kids partying at that house. That has apparently slowed down within the past couple of weeks.
It is a situation we should all be aware of. One person I know helps parents rescue their children from those places on a weekly basis. Officials should know about this, as should the RCMP. Some of them do and are already very cooperative in trying to help.
We can say all we want about keeping kids safe and monitoring convicted sex offenders, but there are individuals who have never been convicted and who are doing a lot of damage to young kids.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I just abhor the type of situation the Member is telling us about and I certainly do not have any quick solutions. Education is part of the solution. These people should be reported. The very harshest thing we can do under the law should be done to them. I have no sympathy for them in cases like the Member is describing - where the sex offender owns the house, invites young teenagers to party there, and then who knows what goes on. I have absolutely no tolerance for that type of thing whatsoever. We should do whatever we can to stop that and bring those types of people to justice. A lot of what we are talking about is in the Justice area. There is no question about that. A lot of our social workers are aware of some of this and they get called in to situations on a fairly regular basis. I do not know the details of how they deal with things, but I believe there is cooperation between the various agencies to try and stop that sort of thing.
Ms. Commodore: There was a letter in the Whitehorse Star that I glanced through; it was written by a person who did not sign her name but she came very close to talking about the reality of what actually takes place. I know when I was the Minister almost every month I was more surprised at the extent of the abuse in some of the homes and at the people who were the abusers. It has become even worse since that time. I have a friend who, almost every weekend, rescues a child, with the cooperation of the parent, from one of these places. We know where these homes are - there are more than one - and she, in her own way, with the cooperation of some of the parents, is trying to convince these young people to talk about their problems and even to talk to the RCMP. In some cases, it takes a long time for one individual to do that, but more education is coming out now about what is right and what is wrong.
I think this is something that we all have to worry about and people who are trying to help on their own should have some help from somewhere else. Some officials or Members of the RCMP sometimes help or sometimes do not.
In the budget, there was money for sex offender treatment for young people. Could the Minister give me some further details about that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure, but we do have some extra money in the budget to add a child abuse treatment service worker who would work in the smaller communities outside of Whitehorse. I am not sure whether or not that is what the Member is referring to.
Ms. Commodore: I was told that the government was looking for someone to provide this service on a group home-type plan. I cannot remember if someone from the department mentioned it to me or if I heard it from someone else. If the Minister does not know the answer now, if he would let me know about it by Monday, I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Certainly, or we may come across the answer as we proceed through line-by-line debate if it has been added to the budget.
Ms. Commodore: I have one other question about this subject, and then the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has one or two questions that he would like to ask the Minister.
There are a lot of issues dealt with in the Keeping Kids Safe program. In cooperation with the Minister of Justice, maybe I could get an update on how this is working and what it is doing. I know that one almost has to be a miracle worker to put a lot of these things into practice. They are called possible monitoring strategies and concern different parts of the program, such as conditions for treatment, preventing access to children, and restricting an offender's contact with children when the offender resides with children.
Those are things that I hear about all the time. If someone is being released, and a resident in the neighbourhood does not know that the individual has been released and is now in the neighbourhood, the person is going to get upset. If there are small children in the area, the person will be even more upset.
Every once in a while, someone will phone me to let me know that something like that has occurred. If we are not in session, I cannot ask the Minister about it or provide an answer. I do make some phone calls around town to find out if the information is in fact correct. Almost all of the time it is.
One example is when a sex offender is released from custody and is now in the neighbourhood, and no one knows about it. It is my understanding that the program we are discussing would deal with that situation. If possible, I would not mind having the information some time soon, but it does not have to be before we get out of the House.
Mr. Joe: I have a question about child abuse and the abuse of young girls. This is an ongoing problem, but nothing has been done about it. I think that the Minister should really try to find a solution to it. A police officer cannot do his job in situations such as this. If a party is going on and the door is locked, the police cannot enter.
I have been asked this question all the time and when I ask the police, they say they cannot do anything about it. They cannot force a door. Something has to change. We cannot live with these kinds of problems.
When I do a job for the people of Yukon, I think there is something that has to change. We have been talking about it. We should work together. We do agree to work together.
In the community I come from, we do work together, but there is always something else in the way, like nurses, the RCMP, the probation officer. We hope they will try to get together to work together, but their job is handled from up here. They cannot really get into any problems like this. I hope the Minister has understood what I have said.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think that the Member for Mayo-Tatchun has a very good point. I have spent most of my life in a small community. I certainly understand what the Member is talking about.
There is no question about it; there can be a party going on and one might suspect that something is happening that should not be happening but, unless there is a complaint or excessive noise or something like that, the RCMP cannot get in; the social workers cannot get in. I do not know what the solution is. I think that the main thing is to start teaching children when they are very, very young about whom to stay away from and the kind of things to watch out for. This is a responsibility of the people at home, the parents. I think the whole idea behind the initiative that Justice has taken on is to try to address some of these problems.
I am certainly not, by any stretch of the imagination, any sort of an expert in this at all. It makes me ill when I hear of specific cases of abuse going on, as the Member for Whitehorse Centre points out, where a known sex offender has a house and encourages teen parties. I would not want one of my daughters to be there or for me to find one of my daughters at that house when they were young teens. I would not tolerate that kind of a person. If there was any kind of abuse going on, I would not tolerate it for one moment.
I do not know how to answer the question from the Member for Mayo-Tatchun. As I said, I am certainly not an expert in that area. I think that is the idea of trying to get all the agencies - the RCMP, the social workers, the nurses and the community leaders - together to try to address the problems that one sees.
Mr. Joe: I am from a small community. My riding is quite scattered compared to the City of Whitehorse. This kind of problem does go on.
What I see happening in the community are workshops where people can express their concern. This is the best thing I have seen going on in the communities.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure if there was a question. Could the Member please repeat the question?
Mr. Joe: My question is this: can your department work with workshops in the communities where people can discuss and find solutions to these problems?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure if there has been one in Pelly, but there are workshops where social workers, health workers, RCMP and various community leaders, and so on, get together to discuss these types of things. I am not sure if there has been any of those discussions in Pelly, or if it is intended, but we can find out for the Member.
Mr. Joe: I do not think the Minister understood my question. Can the Minister send someone from his department to a community to conduct some workshops where people can express their concerns? I assure the Minister people would love to do that. Everyone wants to find a solution to the problem we are talking about.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I understand what the Member is getting at. I believe that Member is saying that we should be going to a community, having workships, and asking the community people what the solutions to particular problems are.
I think there is a lot of merit in the idea, and I will certainly take that under advisement. The diversion committees, for example, do some work like that. I thank the Member for the suggestion.
Ms. Commodore: I have a couple of questions regarding welfare fraud. The Minister's department put out a press release today, announcing that two people have been convicted of fraud. Their names, offences and fines are given. Why did the government do this? Is this something that the government said it was going to do, to get tough on fraud? I know that it is going to start taking driver's licences away from young offenders if they commit crimes. Is this something that the government is going to be doing from now on - if someone is convicted, a joyous press release will be issued?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: To be fair, I agonized over whether or not that should go out as a press release. Is that the one where two people were involved, but one person was living in British Columbia, and they defrauded the government out of something like $35,000? I did agonize over releasing that. The system is there as a safety net, and I believe in the system. I think it was in my speech in general debate that we do not intend to lower welfare rates, but I do not tolerate abuse of the system. If the information that went out to the newspapers can be seen as a deterrent for other people who are abusing the system - or intending to - then I think we have done absolutely the right thing.
Ms. Commodore: I certainly would have agonized over something like this, too. If the Minister is going to get his department to put out a press release every time someone is convicted, I wonder if he is going to be a very busy man.
I do not condone fraud. If someone is ripping the system off, in a very bad way, I would not appreciate it. However, as I mentioned in the past, there have been individuals - some very honest, decent people - who were on social assistance and trying to get by from month to month, and who felt intimidated by the department's actions and what it was trying to do. It seems that what is happening right now is that every person who is on social assistance is being put in the same light as some of the people who do rip off the system.
I still disapprove of the actions and I probably always will. I am glad to hear that the Minister agonized over this, because that tells me that he does have a bit of a social conscience.
I would like to ask the Minister about the new person they are talking about hiring - somebody who is going from one career to another. It is not every day that someone gets the opportunity to continue to work after going into retirement, and I think it is a lucky person who can do that. The Minister had indicated that they were contacting the RCMP to see if they could second a person to do that. What I do not understand about the situation is this: we know that one of the problems we have had, and probably still have, is that we do not have enough police officers out working on the streets. Some of the communities were short of police officers and I did not understand the rationale behind trying to second somebody. It did not make a whole lot of sense to me. When the request was made, was the fact that we did not have enough police officers on the street or in the communities taken into consideration?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The person we were looking for would not be the constable or the corporal on the street. It would be an investigative person, needing certain skills with respect to investigation. My understanding is that if we had been successful in seconding someone, it would not have been one of the RCMP who actually spends most of their time on patrol. It would have been an investigative-type person who would have spent most of his time not on patrol or in uniform.
Ms. Commodore: I know we are talking about something that could have happened, but did not. It still puzzles me why it was even done, because we were talking about too many RCMP officers in the office and not enough out on the streets. There was some discussion about rearranging the duties of some of them.
I know that the Department of Justice seconded, even during the time that I was Minister, one gentleman from the RCMP, who did a good job, but we still had the situation where we were short of officers on the street. That was a bit of a puzzle.
The other thing that concerns me is whether or not this government is looking to the RCMP to fill government positions. For example, is the government saying it has employment contracts available so that people can leave one job and go to another one. Is this fair to other individuals in the Yukon who will not be retiring with a fairly decent pension and who may be looking for a position like this?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The person the department required for the position needed to have some very specialized investigative skills and to be able to work with the Crown attorney's office. An ex-policeman with senior rank, which this person was, is probably a good choice.
I should let the Member know that the job was an appointment without competition, but for a two-week period any current government employee can grieve the appointment to that position to the Public Service Commission if an employee feels that he or she is qualified and someone else has been appointed. That avenue is available to employees.
It is our understanding that there is no one with the required skills for this position within the public service at this time.
Mr. McDonald: Is it not the case that the people who might also want to have a crack at this position would not be people in the public service and, consequently, not be in a position to appeal anything? One has to be a member of the public service to actually appeal a competition. What comfort does the government offer those people who might feel that they have the required investigative skills and might also want to apply for the job?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I guess I jumped the gun a bit. Apparently the Public Service Commission has not determined whether or not it will allow this appointment without competition. I think I jumped the gun by saying that public service personnel have the opportunity to appeal.
It is in front of the Public Service Commission right now. The Public Service Commission will determine whether or not we can do it.
This is highly specialized employment in a very small, specific area. The feeling of the department was that there is a person who has the skills and qualifications necessary for this type of job. It wanted to hire that particular person; however, it does have to go through the Public Service Commission. The Public Service Commission will determine if it can go to appointment without competition.
Mr. McDonald: I can understand the department's interest in this matter. I think that it would probably be most appropriate, given that we have discussed this before, to raise the matter during the Public Service Commission estimates in order to get a sense of the policy considerations here and whether or not there will be support given to the Department of Health and Social Services' request.
I would like to ask the Minister a question about previous experience and why the government chose this particular route. As I understood it, in the past the department had contracted the services for fraud investigation. Does the government have any report or summary indication of what happened and why it has chosen to hire a term employee, rather than contract the services?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Apparently there were requests for tender on a contract basis. There were some expressions of interest. However, the people who were willing to contract did not have the skills we felt were required for the particular job. Consequently, we did not enter into a contract with any of them. There were probably three or four who expressed an interest, but the department felt they did not have the skills necessary to take on the job.
Mr. McDonald: Was it the department's considered opinion that the pilot project it ran - or the initial attempt to provide for fraud inspection - was handled in a way it had to change, or that the people involved did not have sufficient experience or qualifications to do the job initially?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: In the initial contract we had, the department officials felt that the person carrying out the contract did not have the skills necessary to work with the RCMP and the Crown attorney. That is one of the reasons. The other reason is that, when it went out for tender, there were others that came in and the price was very, very high. I did not mention that in the previous question, but that was also one of the reasons - at least one of them was not accepted and that was because the price was out of reach.
Mr. McDonald: I do not recall hearing at the time the initial pilot project was undertaken, and we were getting reports about how the project was going, that the department felt that the contractor did not have the required skills to perform the function adequately. So, that is news.
Did the department tender it out again with the hopes that it could try to contract the service again? Did it hope that it would have qualified personnel apply for the position on a contractual basis?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, that is correct.
Mr. McDonald: In the contract, were the qualifications required clearly specified? Did none of the people who bid on the contract meet the minimum qualifications outlined in the tender specifications?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure of the details. I do not know if it was a combination of price and lack of skills, or if it was all lack of skills or all a question of price. I am not sure what the combination was, but it was felt that none of the bids were totally acceptable for one reason or another.
Mr. McDonald: One consideration that jumped to mind while my colleague was questioning the Minister - because I do recall that this service had gone out to contract, and there had been some interest in it - is that there may have been contractors interested in the contract who are in fact qualified and who might be interested in applying for the job even though they may have bid high for the contract. If the Minister is saying that all of the people who had expressed an interest in the contract before are not qualified, then perhaps the department has a stronger case for wanting to sole source this job to a particular individual in the RCMP.
Could the Minister comment on that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I cannot really say. It was more of a combination. I do not think it was necessarily somebody who had all the qualifications but was just too costly. I do not know if that was the case. I think it was more of a combination of the skills required and the price that made the determination.
Mr. McDonald: I can appreciate that the Minister may not know all the details but, nevertheless, I would appreciate the information. If the concern is that the contractors have bid too high but were qualified, then obviously the contractor hopefuls may want to bid on the job. Ultimately, that means there ought to be at least an opportunity for them to do so, even if it is the case that the department has its eye on what turns out to be the best qualified.
First of all, can the Minister provide me with that information? He does not have to give me any names, just whether or not the contractors, in the department's estimation, are qualified or would be basically qualified by the Public Service Commission to even apply for the job?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I can tell you that one was from Vancouver, and I think the current arrangement is better because at least it is local. We will bring back as much information as we can.
Mr. McDonald: My last question was about a report. Was there a report prepared on the first pilot project for fraud investigation? If so, could the Minister provide us with that report?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe the report was tabled, but I can certainly get another copy for the Member.
Mr. McDonald: Perhaps the Minister could check that for us. If there was a report tabled, then I would appreciate receiving it.
During the period of reviewing social assistance fraud, one of the things that the Opposition suggested was that perhaps the social service workers were not able to detect fraud because they were overworked. Has there been any objective analysis done during this period to determine whether or not that is the case?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: When we get into the line items, we will see the positions called verifiers. These people will work with the social workers. The position name pretty well describes what they will be doing. They will be verifying if people are qualified and deserving of social assistance. That will be seen in the budget. There are two positions, I believe.
There is a total of $75,000. There will be $30,000 for a summer verification worker to review and update all files, which is a regulated requirement; and $45,000 for an auxiliary verification position.
Generally speaking, the social workers' number-one job is not investigative.
It may very well be investigative in the sense that they determine whether or not someone is eligible for social assistance. I think the fraud investigator would be doing an entirely different type of work from that of a social worker.
Mr. McDonald: Has the department published guidelines for fraud investigation? The Minister will remember that concerns have been expressed that perhaps people would be pitted against one another and there would be unseemly things being done, in order to ferret out every last incidence of fraud. Are there clear guidelines for the investigator and, if so, how are they developed?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The director of social services has created - I am not sure if they have been completed - some terms of reference for the investigator, which outline the responsibility of the investigator and how he will go about conducting his job.
Mr. McDonald: Will they be made known to us?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. They will be available to the Members opposite.
Mr. McDonald: The question I was initially asking was about the caseloads for social workers. During this period - or at any other time - have caseloads for social workers been assessed? Is the workload within reasonable limits or comparable with other jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The caseloads have gone down significantly. We have not reduced the number of workers. I do not know how we compare on a caseload-to-worker basis with the provinces.
For instance, in Whitehorse the 1996-97 estimate is 810 cases. In the 1994-95 actual it was 910; in the 1995-96 forecast it was 875. Similarly, for the region, it has gone from 150 to 137 to 130. The number of cases per worker has decreased somewhat. Again, I do not know how that compares with the provinces.
Mr. McDonald: I just have a couple of last questions to ask. The next-to-last question is with respect to the fraud investigation pilot project. The Minister is going to check on the report. What can the Minister report about the amount of money recovered? What was actually saved as a result? What essentially was the cost effectiveness of the project? Are there hard figures on it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know the numbers off the top of my head, but I believe they are in that report, which we will be providing to the Members opposite on Monday. We may be able to get it at the break, but I doubt it.
For Members' information, since October 1991, the department has reviewed 219 files for overpayment. The amount of money involved is approximately $369,205. Of this amount, $297,432 involved overpayments that were referred to the RCMP for investigation of potential fraud. This represents 66 files. Of those 66 files, 36 are still open. They represent a total value of $130,864.
Of the 30 files closed by the RCMP, there were eight convictions. This represents the total number of cases they took forward to the Crown. In all other cases, they verified the overpayment, but felt the guilty mind required for a conviction could not be proven. These 36 cases go back as far as 1993.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister indicated at the beginning of this part of the discussion that he had issued a press release that actually named two individuals who the department felt were prominent offenders. Is there going to be a regular publication of press releases about people convicted of this particular type of crime?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have not really thought that far ahead but, as I said before, I just do not believe that this type of fraud should be tolerated. We are talking about people who need social assistance. It is no place for some entrepreneur to take advantage of a system.
I really did think about this when I saw it, and I did not know whether we should or not, but look at this release describing someone who defrauded the government out of $35,000 in social assistance. For that person to be investigated, go to court and be found guilty of that kind of fraud is major and involves something that is really important to a great number of our society. Right across Canada, every province is cutting rates to social assistance and that type of thing.
Our own social assistance in the Yukon was increasing at quite an alarming rate. I would hate to see that social safety net being destroyed in Canada because of people like this. The more I think about it the more I agree that we should publish these people's names. I certainly do not make any excuses for these two here.
Mr. McDonald: As my colleague indicated, there is no excuse for fraud and there is no excuse for committing a crime. I think that goes without saying.
I do not know if the Minister has actually made the case, unless he can do it now, that fraud in the Yukon is rising significantly and, consequently, deserving of special actions. There are many crimes that we abhor. We do not like people breaking into the home of the Minister of Justice. We do not like people driving while drunk and causing an accident. We do not like people to murder each other.
However, the Department of Justice does not go through a public relations campaign to identify them or to in any way accentuate the fact of the conviction. I understand what the Minister is saying.
There ought to be some careful thought and consideration given to this. No one is saying that fraud or crime is being condoned because they feel that an individual should be careful about issuing press releases identifying a particular criminal for a particular crime. At the same time, I am not saying that I have really easy answers for the Minister. However, I would hope that the government is not going to make a special practice of this without some very careful thought about why it feels that defrauding the government of $2,000 in social assistance is a worse crime than breaking into the Justice Minister's home.
I think that the point is an obvious one. I would ask the Minister to think carefully about it next time.
Chair: Order please. We will take a brief recess at this time.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are in general debate on Bill No. 10, Health and Social Services.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Member for Faro had asked me a question quite some time ago, and has asked it twice since then. I have a written response that I would like to pass over to him.
Ms. Commodore: I just want to get back to the press release for a little while. I just have a couple of questions in regard to it.
The Minister had indicated that he had to think about this for a long time and he went through the whole story as to why he chose to put it out in the form of a press release. He talked about how he did not agree with someone ripping off the system for $35,000, and I do not either. That appeared to be the reason why he did it.
In the next paragraph, he also talked about another person who was convicted and ordered to pay restitution of $750. There is a great big difference between $35,000 and $750. I guess my question really is this: will he be issuing press releases every time someone is charged? I do not understand it. It was something that was done by the courts. The courts found this individual guilty. I still do not understand why the department is choosing to put it out in the form of a press release.
Is this something we will be looking at every time someone is convicted? Is that the consequence that they have to suffer as the result of the wrongdoing? There are other administrative sanctions in place right now to deal with unpaid fines and things like that. There was some warning that that was going to happen, but there was no warning that this would.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The names of all people who are convicted of crimes are public knowledge. It is in the court. I believe it is hanging on the court wall. It is normally published in the newspaper but not, I guess, to the extent that we made this one known. I discussed this with department officials. The main reason that we did this was as a deterrent.
Interestingly enough, I was in British Columbia for a conference. British Columbia does this on a very large scale. Again, the reason is that the government feels it is a deterrent to people who have the intent to defraud the system.
Ms. Commodore: I think the department has better ways of spending its time than doing this. As the Minister indicated, it is public knowledge and will probably be included with other convictions that are publicized. If we are talking about deterrence, I fail to see how that is a really good reason for issuing them. I would sooner see something published about deadbeat dads, rather than something like this. It would probably be a lot more relevant to make known what some of our mothers are facing when they do not receive maintenance payments. I just think there are better ways for the government to spend its time.
I think that the word is probably out there. A lot of other people have been intimidated long enough. If the Minister is doing it because it is being done in British Columbia, I ask again: if someone in British Columbia jumped in the Yukon River, would this Minister do so, too?
I just wanted that on record. If the department wants a way to spend its time, let us look at deadbeat dads, because I think that is a lot more important. This is important, too, but the other is more important.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I agree with the Member opposite about deadbeat dads. I do not see it as a form of intimidation. People who are on social assistance because they need it, and who deal with their social workers, need not be afraid of anything.
What they should be afraid of is the country runing out of money and not being able to collect social assistance, which is something I can understand them being concerned about. People do not have to worry about getting their names published in the paper just because they are social assistance recipients.
Again, I am not making any apologies. The one $35,000 fraud case would not have been published in the Yukon at all because the matter was heard in British Columbia. The other case - the Member is correct - would have been published in a newspaper. I do not make any apologies for it. As I said, I had some questions when it was suggested and I did think about it quite seriously. I finally decided that this was the proper route to take.
Ms. Commodore: I guess I did not say very well what I meant to say. When I was talking about intimidation, I was talking about those individuals who were being questioned during the investigation. The number of calls from those individuals to all of our offices increased drastically. They were being belittled, questioned and all sorts of things. There was no reason for it. Innocent people were being questioned as well as those who were ripping off the department. It was not very fair to them. I still do not think it was.
The Member for Riverdale South also has some questions on this subject. I will let her ask them; then I have some more questions about other things.
Mrs. Firth: I have a couple of quick questions about the whole business of the press release about people who have committed fraud while on social assistance.
First of all, I think that it is fair to say that it is a form of public embarrassment to the individuals and the government does it to act as a deterrent. The government also does it to try to make itself look good by showing that its policies are working and it is being effective. Let us get that on the record first.
The Minister seems somewhat confused about how this concept of the press release came about.
Does the Minister have a policy in place in the department with respect to publishing the names of people who fraudulently claim social assistance?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe that there is an actual policy in the department. I am not aware of one. However, this information is public information. As I said before, anyone can go down to the court-house and read the names - or actually, just one of these names - they are posted in the court-house and are normally published in the Yukon newspapers, so it definitely is public knowledge.
Mrs. Firth: That is not my question. The Minister says there is no policy in the department to address this particular issue, so my next question is this: are all the people's names going to be published who are found to be defrauding the social assistance system? In doing this, the Minister has set the precedent. If he has published these people's names, then the policy either is that he publishes everybody's names or there has to be something written in policy to say whose names get published and whose do not.
I just want to see that everyone is treated consistently and that there is some policy in place to give direction to the department so that there is a consistent activity. Is everyone's name going to be published then?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not think there is, as I have said before, a written policy in place. The government does not have a written policy with respect to putting out information bulletins on people who defraud the social assistance system. I have not thought through it far enough to determine whether or not we would do it each time upon conviction. My first inclination is to say, "Yes, we will continue to publish the names."
Mrs. Firth: I would advise the Minister not to make up policy on the floor of the Legislature. I do not think that is a very good idea, because I think this is something that should be discussed in Cabinet. Whether or not it is going to publish the names and issue press releases regarding people who have been convicted of social assistance fraud should be a policy of the government.
I know that the government has a communications policy and it certainly does not address this particular aspect; I do not think it even has anything to address. The point is, is it right for the government to use taxpayers' funds to issue these kinds of publications?
I am fairly familiar with that policy and, although I do not have it here in front of me, I am quite sure that there is nothing there that would legitimize this particular initiative. I think this is something the Minister should have done before these names were published.
As I said before, there has been a precedent set now and the Minister is almost bound to publish all the names. I am not saying whether or not I think this right or wrong. I recognize it is all public information anyway. If someone commits this kind of activity and is found guilty, I do not have any problem with people knowing who they are. I do not want the Minister to twist my words or misinterpret what I am getting at.
My concern is that there should be a policy in place so all the issues are dealt with in a consistent manner. The policy should have been in place before the Minister published the names in a press release.
The Minister had better have some discussions with his colleagues to see if this is the direction they want to take as a government. I would like the Minister to report back when he does that.
Ms. Commodore: When we were debating the supplementary estimates, I asked the former Minister about a position held by Mike Rawlings in Ross River. He was seconded, but I was not sure if it was to work as an alcohol addictions counsellor or social worker. I tried to get some information about how that tied in with what he is doing now.
The former Minister indicated that he had become very involved in a holistic approach to a wide variety of things, from assisting in setting up a pilot project for the alcohol and drug strategy for Ross River and Watson Lake, to a new project to strengthen the alcohol and drug program in Ross River with financial assistance from two of the mining companies. He also works for the Ross River Dena Corporation and has been doing a lot of organizing and helping with economic and training issues.
We have heard about some of the things he has been involved with in the economic development field. I was curious about how that fit in with the secondment and where his job was going.
We just received information from the present Minister to my colleague from Faro indicating the amount of his expenses. For mileage, meals and accommodations for 1993-94, it was $11,360; for 1994-95, for truck rental, accommodation and gas, it was $41,525; and for the last year, for the truck rental only, it was $11,250.
That seems to be a pretty large expense. I do not know if it fits in with the original purpose of his secondment. It appears there are some individuals up there working with him who say he is doing a good job.
There are also questions from other First Nation groups, who would like to share in the pot of gold. I would like to know more about this so I can tell them about the wonderful program they have in Ross River, and let them know that they might be able to look at the pilot project, or whatever it is called, to find out how they can take advantage of the program.
I understand they will be paying the salary this year, but apparently the expenses will be taken over by the Ross River Dena. I asked the former Minister the very same question about how other First Nations can take advantage of this program. I would like to ask this Minister if he has any idea about whether or not there is talk about including other First Nations in this kind of a deal?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: This was, as the Member correctly noted, a pilot project. This year, if the Member notes from the letter I gave her, the funding is for salary dollars only. In 1995-96, the expenses were capped at $15,000. The government's involvement is decreasing with the idea that at the end of this year we can bring Mr. Rawlings out of Ross River. Apparently he is now training someone else to fill his position.
The department is going to conduct an assessment, or an evaluation, of the project. Right now, indications are that the program has been very successful. I do not know if this is one of the reasons or not, but I was told that the number of arrests in 1994 in Ross River was 400.
The next year - this past year - it was down to something like 162. Whether this is as a result of some of the work that this person has been doing, I cannot say. There has been something like 60 jobs created by this person.
I suspect that when an evaluation or assessment is done, it will show that it has been a very worthwhile project. If that is the case, we will have to start looking at a similar situation in other communities in the Yukon.
It seems to me that it does fit into the whole idea of Health and Social Services. In my estimation, if people are working and the arrests in a community are going down, something is going well. I would like to hope it is due to this person's position in Ross River.
Ms. Commodore: I know that Jesus was a bit of a miracle worker. It seems that he has a twin in Ross River.
The expenses for the three-year period were almost $64,000. That is an awful lot of money. The Minister mentioned that he is going to be pulling for this. It appears to be successful; the crime rate is going down and 60 people are working and it was all as a result of this one person. I say that this is good for Ross River if things are improving there.
The Minister just mentioned that this person would be pulled out of there. What will he be doing after that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: This year, 1996-97, is supposed to be the end of the pilot project. If he comes out and we do consider the pilot project finished, he will come back to the department. I am not sure exactly where he will work, but his job is here in the department. He would come back to Whitehorse.
Ms. Commodore: Can the Minister tell me if someone is being trained in Ross River to take over his responsibilities and, if so, who it is?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think I did mention before that he is training someone at Ross River now. I do not have the name of the person, but apparently it is a person from Ross River.
Ms. Commodore: Could the Minister tell me who is going to be doing the evaluation of this program? Mike Rawlings started off originally as an alcohol and drug counsellor several years ago. With Mike being pulled out and possibly coming back into the department, is Ross River going to lose that alcohol and drug counsellor position?
If one starts off in a job as a counsellor and it develops into something like this without there having been any planning before he went there to do it, it is hard to understand how we are looking at another community that might benefit from the same kind of program.
I am not here to criticize anyone. I am here to learn a little bit more about how this program is working, how it came about and how the government got involved in spending so much money in expenses. It is a far cry from other positions of the same kind where individuals are crying for expense money to do all sorts of things, yet Health and Social Services has taken it upon itself to pay truck rental, accommodation, meals and so on. It just does not seem to fit in with Health and Social Services. Why was it not transferred to another department, such as Economic Development?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe that when the person went to Ross River as an alcohol and drug counsellor it was a permanent posting. I do not even know for how long it was. It was prior to us coming to government, if I remember correctly.
I think the work he has done does, in fact, fit into Health and Social Services. As the Member was speaking, I was wondering which other department it might fall under - possibly Economic Development but, for a period of time, he was working with both Ross River and Watson Lake on some sort of a healing process. I do not think that an economic development officer would, in fact, fit that particular role. A lot of his work has been in the healing area, so maybe it is because of the individual - maybe he has some economic skills, in addition to his social services background. Again, the assessment is certainly not complete. It will be done within the department - I think there was a question about that. Information is being compiled now and I believe that probably by this fall or winter they will have the assessment complete. That will help to determine if it is something that should be expanded to other communities - in short, if it worked or did not work.
Ms. Commodore: Can the Minister tell me what these 60 jobs are that were created by this person?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There are some socio-economic agreements between the Ross River Dena Council and Cominco, which resulted in some jobs. There is an agreement between Wheaton River Minerals - I believe that is the name - and Anvil Range. I am not sure if those agreements account for all 60 jobs, but they do account for some of them.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister has indicated that he feels that the pilot project in Ross River is pretty successful. There are, of course, many communities that want to get in on the action. I am certain that most First Nations would like a holistic approach and full-time support of this nature in order to promote alcohol and drug awareness, economic development, holistic healing and those types of things. I know the Minister would not want to leave the impression that he or his colleagues are masking favouritism for one community by calling something a pilot project and refusing to provide it to other communities. In order for him to demonstrate that he is not showing favouritism - because it is obviously a good thing for Ross River, and all the power to the residents there - if the final report does verify the Minister's good feelings toward this project, how can the Minister reassure the other communities, which could make great use of such resources and valued personnel, that they, too, can expect some sort of attention in this area?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe that the pilot project has been successful. I think that everyone has understood this from the way I have been speaking about it. If it is proven that it has been a success, we will certainly make that project available to other communities. There are certainly budget constraints. We have been able to fund this particular project over the years on a sort of downward-sliding scale so it is merely salary dollars this year, and we are not involved in expenses.
If it is successful and there are other communities interested then, yes, we would do similar things. I do not want to go too far by pluralizing that because I am not sure, within the budget, if we could do two communities for another two or three years or if we could only do one. I am not sure, but if it is successful, then I think that is the way we should be going. I would certainly support continuing it.
We are working on a program. The short answer to the Member's question is yes. Certainly we would be looking at other communities taking advantage of it.
Mr. McDonald: Presumably the department is getting ready to do this because obviously at least the Minister has drawn some conclusions that this is a worthwhile project to continue in some form. How is the department now working to decide which community or communities will be eligible next year? I am presuming that if this project wraps up next year there will have to be planning now for the project to go into another community, and presumably before the end of this year decisions of that sort will be made. How is that happening?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Currently our department, the Department of Education and the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission are starting preliminary work in this area to identify communities in which this may very well work. Again, the work is very preliminary because it is just the start of the fiscal year and this particular project does run until April 1, 1997. We want to get something in place in the event that it is continued.
Mr. McDonald: I assumed that to be so, based on the responses that the Minister gave. This pilot project has been going on for about five years. Clearly the department has thought about this at great length and has probably already drawn some conclusions about what sort of things it wants to do. I am interested in finding out a little more about it, as a result.
Is the government thinking of providing this kind of service - a salaried personnel, plus benefits - to other communities now? Will it be that kind of service, or will there be some sort of scaled-down version of it? What is the current thinking on that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It would be somewhat similar to this particular project. I like the idea of starting out with full government funding - wages and expenses - and slowly working to where the community - the First Nation, in this case - takes it over completely. I like that idea, but I am not saying that this is the way it will go.
As I mentioned, this is quite preliminary. This department, the Department of Education and the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission are currently talking. We hope that some options or ideas will be forthcoming on how it can be continued.
Mr. McDonald: When can we expect some conclusions on the program structure and the selection process for the next community, so we can inform other communities that there is an opportunity to have this service provided to them?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We do not have any of that kind of detail ready yet. If the Member is interested, he could check back through me or the department in a couple of months to see exactly where it sits. We can likely then give him an update on how far the discussions have gone and what our thinking is.
Mr. McDonald: I am looking for a timetable. I used to represent a rural riding and I know that if there was an opportunity for an all-expenses-paid staff person to work for the Na Cho Ny'ak Dun, assuming it was the right person, I am certain that they would have snapped that position up in a heartbeat. Clearly this is something that is going to be of great interest to everyone. Obviously the selection process about what communities will be eligible for the services could become big politics. I want to know what and when.
The department is going to have to make some decisions shortly, in order to be able to have someone provide this service at the beginning of the next fiscal year. In the budget planning process, decisions are going to have to be made about whether or not there is money for the position or positions and how are they going to organize themselves? Will existing staff be utilized, because it may not be the same person, it might be someone else. I would suspect that all of those decisions will have to be made very shortly, given my understanding about how departments plan and organize themselves, if the services are to be delivered by April 1, 1997.
Does the department have a target date for the basic program structure and selection process, so that the government can inform the communities about whether or not they can compete for this service - or whether or not the service will even exist?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I said before, this initiative comes jointly from the Department of Education, Department of Health and Social Services and the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission. The Department of Education is taking the lead.
I can get some information back to the Member, but I do believe it is quite preliminary at this time. I think it would be better if we waited a couple of months until it develops further. I think it is in the conceptual stages right now.
Mr. McDonald: I understand that the conclusions have not been drawn, and I am not asking the Minister to provide great clarity about the program structure. I am asking the Minister when the government thinks it will come to some conclusions so it can start involving the public, and make the public aware of the program so the program can be implemented on April 1, 1997.
I understand that the Minister is only one part of a three-part team that is making the decision, but when does the government expect to have the program structure in place? Will it be August 1. Would it be safe to say September 1 or October 1?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I said before, it is not at that level of detail at all. The main initiative is through the Department of Education, so I cannot give the Member a date. He can pick a date if he wishes, but I cannot say that we will have something in place at that time.
I would urge the Member to check back with us sometime in, say, June. We should have a lot more detail about where the program is at at that point.
Mr. McDonald: I just want to register some frustration. Why am I frustrated? It is because I did not know that this was an Education-led project. We thought that it was a Health and Social Services project since Health and Social Services was paying the full bill.
When we get to this particular department and we ask questions about this project, the Minister says that we should come back some other time. I have some suspicions that there is a lot less clarity to this plan than the Minister is leading us to believe. The Minister will know the whole debate about which First Nation received economic development officers some years ago. Some bands did and some did not. That was big politics.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
I thought I was being quite reasonable through this discussion.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order. Mr. McDonald has the floor.
Mr. McDonald: We have lived with a government that has, for four or five years, told us that there is a pilot project, which it could not define, going on in Ross River. We were telling all the other communities that they could not take advantage of it because it was a pilot project. Now we are getting close to the end and there is no clear definition of what the assessment of this project will be. We are told that there might be some kind of assessment internal to the department. The Minister is saying that there may or may not be a continuation of this pilot project. There is no way that we can reassure every other community in this territory, despite our best efforts, that there has not been favouritism going on.
We do not want to believe that, because we believe that Ross River deserves the service, but other communities do, too. If the Minister wants to get short with me about this, he will know that if he is unable to answer some very simple questions, there will be big politics going on here. These are obviously reasonable questions. They are questions that anybody in this Legislature would ask. Given that, in the past, I have been subjected to some considerable criticism for selecting communities to receive band economic development officers or a particular service that other communities were not entitled to, I am particularly sensitive to the need for fair play and fairness.
I did not ask the Minister for program details. I did not ask him how they were going to select communities, or even whether or not the program was going to continue. All I asked him was when they were going to make a decision. That is all I asked.
If the Minister is saying he does not know when they are going to make a decision, then there will be no precision to any of this discussion at all and we will draw our own conclusions.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I said several times that this is very, very preliminary. We feel that the project in Ross River has been successful. Education is now involved. Canada Employment and Immigration Commission is very interested. We are wanting to put together another project of this type. If we are right and if it has been successful, we will. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini is trying to make me say that we will know by August 1. He said August or September - he wants to know a date - but we do not have a date. I said that this is still in the conceptual stages, and I have said that three or four times.
The Member is sort of intimating that there is some political influence here, but I can assure him that I have no thought whatsoever as to where it should go. I will be open to suggestions if there is one project. I will be open to suggestions if there are two projects. Whatever may come out of this, I will certainly be open to suggestions regarding which communities would be best suited to receive it.
If I could tell the Member that we will have a decision about when the program guidelines, terms of reference or criteria are ready, I would tell him. I have told him everything that the deputy minister and I know at this time. I cannot say that we will have it ready. I did make the offer to the Member to get back to us in a couple of months - maybe by the middle of June, or something like that. We will have a lot more detail to supply and will be happy to do so.
This is a good-news story. At least, I am sure that it is a good-news story. We want to be able to extend the service to other communities if it is, as I expect, a good-news story. Why would we try to hide it? I do not understand where the Member opposite is coming from.
Once more, please have anyone who is interested get back to us, say, by the middle of June. Whatever information we have will be made available then. Some sort of a selection criteria will be discussed and we will be working with the First Nations in various communities to try to determine which communities we feel this could work in. We will share that information with anyone who is interested.
Mr. McDonald: First of all, I hope there will be selection criteria. I am hoping that it will not be a political bidding war. I am hoping that the department has given considerable thought to setting up a program based on defendable guidelines. I am hoping that it has a reasonable and respectable evaluation upon which it is basing a permanent program.
I will put a notation in my calendar to check with the department in the middle of June, if the Minister puts the onus on me to provide the information, even though he has the department and all the staff. However, I will do that - I do not expect anything. I expect if the great promise made by the Minister suggests that everything that is being done is completely professional, then I am sure we will all be pleasantly surprised.
Ms. Commodore: I would like to go back for one minute to the Woods Homes in Calgary.
I did find the information that I was looking for. It was almost in front of me. In the information that was provided to me about the contract for $790,000 for Woods Homes, it appears that the contract ran out at the end of last month, and it is now negotiating with the Northern Network of Services about the Northern Network of Services taking over the program. It is in sort of a transition period.
What is happening? Do we still have individuals out at Woods Homes? What is the understanding of both of these places about the funding, a new contract and that sort of thing?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As the Member has noted, the old contract was with Woods Homes. I am not sure if they ran the NNS facility in the Yukon, or if they in turn contracted with NNS. This year, NNS is an independent society. This year, the contract is with the Northern Network of Services. However, there may still be a need to place people, because of the care and so on that they need, in these other homes. I believe that right now - and it might even be in the information that the Member has - we have four or five people in homes outside of the territory.
Ms. Commodore: In addition to people who are at Woods Homes in Calgary and children who are in the Northern Network of Services, we also have young people who are getting treatment at Poundmakers. Four were placed there during 1995-96. We also have someone at Hall Homes, Bosco Homes, Maples Treatment Centre and Varnel Centre, B.C. We are utilizing a lot of other facilities.
If we are already paying someone almost $800,000 to do that and are still using other facilities, I would like to know why.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that it depends upon the type of treatment needed. If someone is violent they may go to one of these homes. I believe Poundmakers is an alcohol and drug treatment centre. I am not sure about the type of service each one provides.
It depends upon the severity of the problem. If they need to go to a more specialized place, they would go to one of the ones the Member named.
As I said before, the idea would be to get as much of that provided locally as we can. Right now, Northern Network of Services cannot offer all the services we require. For a period of time - and I am not sure how long that period would be - we will continue to require the services of some of the other homes.
Ms. Commodore: We have been sending a lot of our children out to different treatment centres for a long time - decades. I would like to ask the Minister if he can tell me what kind of follow-up there is on these individuals, and whether or not those individuals end up in our adult jails. That would be interesting to note.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know if there have been any studies. That is a really interesting question and I would be quite interested in seeing exactly what does happen to these people. We will check with the department. I am not aware, nor is my official aware, of any follow-up studies that have been conducted, but I expect that there have been studies done over the past number of years. We will check and see if we can get the information for the Member.
Ms. Commodore: I hope we will be somewhat organized when we get into the line-by-line items so that I can follow up on some of the information that I have right now. I am just looking at the other stuff that I have here.
The Minister has already indicated that he would be meeting with officials from the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation in regard to the program. When he does that I wonder if he will just let me know the outcome of those discussions, because I am concerned about it. I thought it was a good project as we are looking at First Nations that are looking at implementation of their own programs. If we find that there were some problems with the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, I would like to know what those problems are and whether or not other First Nations will be able to benefit by the information that comes out of that.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe I am meeting with them on May 7. I hope that we can resolve the issue at that meeting, or shortly thereafter. We will keep the Member apprised of the situation as it develops.
Ms. Commodore: I promised an individual that I would raise this issue here. I do not know whether or not the Minister is familiar with it, but apparently there will be a petition tabled in this House in regard to this treatment.
The treatment is something that I have never heard before, but I will tell him what it is. It is called chelation therapy. If the Minister has the information, he will know that it is not spelled like it sounds. This individual phoned me one day, because she was lobbying on behalf of individuals who require this treatment. She phoned to tell me she had talked to one of the Ministers - I believe her MLA - who indicated that a petition would be tabled in the House.
When this person was talking to me, I mentioned that I would bring this up during budget debate to find out if the Minister was aware of it, if he had any discussions with other people, or if he was familiar with the treatment, because I am not.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I had never heard of the treatment until I was briefed on it by the department officials. Basically it is for arterial sclerosis and a hardening of the arteries. Essentially, they remove the person's blood, do something to it and then put it back in. In Canada right now, it is not recognized by the health insurance branch nor by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The Member for Riverdale South said that they recognize it as a legitimate treatment for lead poisoning and heavy metal poisoning, but it is not considered for treating hardening of the arteries.
The University of Alberta in Calgary, I understand, is actually doing a study, tied in with the University of Saskatchewan, to try to determine if there is benefit to this type of treatment.
Until that study is complete, it does not appear to me that any of the provinces in Canada are jumping in to recognize it as a treatment for hardening of the arteries.
Ms. Commodore: The Minister has indicated that he does know more about this treatment than I did, so I have learned a bit tonight. As I mentioned, the petition will be tabled in the House and we will know a bit more about it. The Member for Riverdale South seems to know a lot about it; that is good, too.
I would like to ask the Minister about tobacco. Years ago, there was a study that was done and it discovered that second-hand smoke could be more dangerous than the actual smoke. I have not heard a lot about any educational programs to teach young people about the dangers of cigarettes. I do know that, over the last few years, a lot of people have quit smoking, but I have not heard about anything that is happening right now that younger children can take advantage of.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Apparently our health promotion branch and the college have a program. They produce brochures, have fairs and do things in the schools, and that kind of thing.
It is rather interesting - I have two daughters; one is 22 and the other is 23 years old. Neither of them have ever smoked, and both their mom and dad smoke.
The Member for Riverdale South says that that is why they do not - because their mother and father do.
I think that one of the main deterrents to my kids smoking was that when they were very young, right after Sesame Street, I think, or another program of that kind, on television, these real nifty ads about smoking would come on. They were not these terrible things, where black lungs or such were shown. Instead, they were showing teenage kids - the ones who were smoking were outcasts, and the ones who were not were part of a nifty group. Anyway, for whatever reason, neither one of the kids have smoked.
I have asked them - they are adults now - if they ever tried it. The younger daughter said that she had tried it, and hated it. The other daughter has never even tried it. I do not know what it was, and it may have been a combination of things. However, it seemed to me that those advertisements did more to convince those kids not to smoke than anything their mom or I did.
Ms. Commodore: It is still a big problem. As the Minister knows, we see a lot of younger people smoking. I remember when we introduced the no-smoking policy in this building; I was the Minister responsible for it at the time. Many people threatened not to vote for us again, and maybe they did not. I do not know. However, we saw the number of people going outside to smoke decrease. I felt that people were enlightened about the dangers of smoking and quit.
I have three daughters; two of them smoke, and one does not. However, the one who does not is the one who made me quit when she was nine years old. I said that if she ever started, I would start again too. She never did.
I would like to know a little bit more about the programs that are available, because I never see or hear anything about them. I know that there are advertisements. I have seen something on Nedaa that I think that program put together. I do know that there was some kind of video being promoted or made. I heard someone talk about trying to find young kids to be a part of this video. I do not know anything more than that, and I do worry about all the young kids whom I see smoking.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We do not have the details with us right now but we will come back with them. Forget about people our age. I have tried to quit smoking. But if we can get to the younger people and convince them to not start, that is the way we will eventually get rid of the very nasty habit that it is. I do not know how involved we are. We are part of a program. I have not seen too much of it, but we will get the information for the Member.
Ms. Commodore: I am just going through some things one at a time and I have them listed here.
We are switching from smoking to recommendations that were made as a result of a death in Stewart. There were recommendations that came out of that inquest or inquiry. They made certain recommendations about defibrillators being moved from the Mayo nursing station to be replaced with an automatic external defibrillator for use in both the ambulance and nursing station. A number of other recommendations were made. I would just like to know if they have followed through. I do not know if it was the responsibility of this government or the federal government, but if there was a problem, I would like to know that it had been addressed.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I remember the case, because I knew the gentleman quite well, but I do not know the status. This took place at least two years ago. We will see what information we can get on the follow-up to the recommendations.
Ms. Commodore: This news release was dated May 31, 1995, so it is not quite a year ago. Other recommendations were made. For instance, they mentioned that they did not have the defibrillators in the ambulances right now. There was a recommendation that nurses spend more time in a busy, southern emergency hospital. It was also recommended that the Association of Yukon Communities revisit the idea of a 9-1-1 number.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: As I said before, I will have to come back with the information. I believe the gentleman died probably a year before that. It was probably in May that they came out with the recommendation. I will have to come back with the information. I do not know where it is.
Chair: Order. We will take a brief recess at this time.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We are on general debate in the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Sloan: I was interested in the discussion earlier about the chelation therapy. It sounds a little frightening to me, but I was just wondering what the position is of the Department of Health and Social Services on so-called alternative treatments. Has there been any thought to other kinds of services or other kinds of alternative medical therapies being covered by the department?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We go along with the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Canada health insurance. Whatever diseases and so on that they recommend or pay for, in the case of the insurance, are the ones we accept. As for the chelation therapy, my understanding is that no province in Canada accepts that under its medicare system, but the University of Calgary, along with the University of Saskatchewan, are doing experimental work in a $100,000 study to see if there are benefits from it.
Mr. Sloan: In some jurisdictions I know that chiropractic services, acupuncture and other therapies of that kind are covered, to some degree. I am not sure about acupuncture, but I am fairly certain that chiropractic services are covered in some areas. What is the situation in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Acupuncture and chiropractic services are not covered under the Canada Health Act, so we do not cover them.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Cable: On the subject of chelation therapy, I gather that there are two reasons being advanced for the use of the chelating agent. One is arterial sclerosis, about which, I gather, the Minister wants more information. There is also the use of the agent to pick up heavy metals in the blood, which may be of some use in this jurisdiction with our lead-zinc mine.
Is the Minister prepared to recommend its use for that purpose in this jurisdiction, whether or not it is paid for under the medical plan?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes. Chelation therapy for the removal of lead and other heavy metals is an approved procedure insured under the Canada Health Act.
Mr. Cable: It is only the treatment of arterial sclerosis that is up in the air. Are the Minister's officials aware of any negative effects that would not permit its use at the present time?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know about the down side, but it has not been proven to be an effective treatment, either by the Canadian Medical Council or the Yukon Medical Council. Consequently, we do not recognize it as treatment that would be paid for under our plan.
Mr. Cable: Quite so, but I think the promoters of this therapy in the Yukon are not looking for payment; I think they are looking for permission.
Has the government adopted a position about whether or not there is any problem with its usage?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It really is not our call. The Yukon Medical Council has created a position statement on chelation therapy. The Member for Riverdale South has a copy of the position statement, so rather than read it into the record I will ask the Member to read that copy.
Ms. Commodore: When I asked the Minister questions about sex offender treatment for young people, I was under the impression that there would be a treatment centre opened and operated by a local person. The Minister did not seem to have much knowledge about this program starting.
From reading my notes, I see that there was supposed to be a press release announcing this new treatment some time next week. I have talked to more than one person who has told me about this new treatment centre for young people. Could the Minister let me know what he does or does not know about the centre, because it appears that many other people know enough about it that a press release is being issued.
I think it was April 22, or something like that.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If the Member is talking about the child abuse treatment centres, as I said before, we are expanding those into the regions. There is an item in our budget for that.
I am not sure about the other program. I will get the department to provide some information on it if it is as the Member suggested.
Ms. Commodore: I called the department after the technical briefing and asked it to provide me with information on it. I did not get anything. Perhaps it is something that is being implemented by Justice, but I cannot believe that, because Justice indicates that sex offender treatment does not work.
I would like the Minister to let me know one way or the other - possibly before we get into line by line - whether or not there will be a new program put in place. If so, who will be responsible for it? Will the Minister do that? He is nodding to indicate that yes, he will do it.
The Minister mentioned something about the child abuse program. There was a press release on April 12 that referred to a brochure that was entitled "You Can Help Stop Child Abuse." It tells us a bit more about how the government is going to do it. I have not seen the brochure and have no more knowledge than what is in this press release. I would like the Minister to tell me a bit more about it.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There is a brochure. In fact, I have one on my desk. It is aimed at community groups, boy scouts, girl guides and those type of groups. There is quite a lot of information in it, and it basically talks about how to recognize if a child is being abused. This would help a teacher or a group leader of some sort to better see the child's emotional situation or to be able to tell by the way the child deals with other people and also by looking for marks and bruises on the child. I think those brochures are at the front desk of this building.
Ms. Commodore: How are these individuals the coaches, recreation staff and all of these people going to get this information to help them try to stop child abuse?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Information packages are being mailed out to community groups. I do not know how many there are, but they are being mailed out through societies and the recreation branch, and they are available upstairs at the front desk and at various government agencies throughout the territory. I would expect the libraries would also have them.
Ms. Commodore: What it is then is just a package of information that anyone can get, look at, read and know what to look for? Is that what it is?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure about the mail-out package, but I expect it would have at least that release plus the brochure in it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Member asks who will get it or if people have to pick it up. It will be mailed directly to sports groups around the territory. The list of names of groups and organizations came from the recreation branch. Other people will be able to pick up the package at the government building or from government agents, or make a request through the department.
Ms. Commodore: I had mentioned a very serious problem we have in our city right now - and I suspect in other communities as well - with regard to the sexual abuse of very young teenagers at parties and in their homes. Somehow or other, that situation has to be dealt with. I do not know how. All I know is that I am hearing all kinds of stories. I mentioned it to the Minister. This happened at parties at the home of a convicted sex offender, and it is happening at the parties of a whole slew of young kids.
Somehow or other, someone other than my friend and a few parents have to take some kind of responsibility and look at the problem. We are very concerned and are trying to do something about the abuse of small children. This is another form of abuse of young teenagers who are probably innocently out seeking something to do.
As everyone knows, there is not a heck of a lot for young kids that age to do in Whitehorse, except go to the show. This has always been a problem. The situation is so bad that I would like to know that my representation is being taken seriously and that, somehow or other, we can deal with it. I know there are other people in town who worry about their children and who, half the time, never know where to find them.
The stories I have been hearing almost make one cry. Some time in the future, I would not mind having a private conversation with the Minister just to talk with him about it a bit more in depth. The Minister is nodding his head, so I will perhaps contact him in a month or so.
I would like to follow up on a comment that was made in the budget speech back in December 1994. What was included in that speech - and I would like to find out what is happening with regard to it - is that the Yukon government said that it will help pregnant mothers who drink to consider alternative lifestyles. That comment was made in the government's budget address last week. The Government Leader, in making the comment, said that it was part of the alcohol and drug strategy. At the same time, he said that a variety of broad-based fetal alcohol prevention activities are planned. I would like the Minister to tell me what has happened since the budget speech back in December 1994.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: During the summer of 1995, a program was established to provide intensive support to women at risk of having FAS/FAE children. The purpose of the program was to help the women give birth to healthy babies. One family support worker was hired by the department to work exclusively on this program.
To give Members a bit of an update, to date three women have been referred to the program and the family support worker is actively working with two of the women and their families. The program is advised by the representatives of eight community agencies, who meet periodically to review the program.
The eight agencies deliver services most needed by high-risk mothers. Some of those agencies are: Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, Kwanlin Dun health centre and the Teen Parent Centre.
The program will be assessed at the end of 1998, three years after commencement.
Ms. Commodore: The Minister caught me off guard by actually answering one of my questions in depth. I was able to understand part of it. However, he said that since 1995, which was just last year, three women had been referred to the program. When a person is referred to the program, what kinds of things do they do? What kind of follow-up is there? How is it determined that this person has to be referred to the program?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think there are several different possibilities for referring them. A First Nations band office, a doctor or family members may refer them. There are quite a few means of referral. Being a novice in this department and not knowing a lot about the program, I would have thought that there would be more people involved in it, but there have apparently only been three. According to the briefing that I had, two are continuing in the program.
Ms. Commodore: As it was in the 1994 budget address, there must have been money allocated for that. Can the Minister tell me if any money put into that program is ongoing? I do not even know if it is included in this year's budget.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The family support worker is included in the budget. Unless someone deliberately reduces it or takes it out, it will remain in the budget.
Ms. Commodore: I have copies of the minutes of the Yukon Health and Social Services Council meeting. They are provided to everyone, and are sent to us through the mail. I always go over them and read them. Something caught my eye, entitled "Community Health on the Streets." It talks about Lori Tulloch providing an overview of her position as community health outreach nurse, working primarily with street people, who otherwise might not have access to health services. "The role of the outreach nurse, which has developed based on client needs, presently includes the operation of a walk-in public health clinic, advocacy and education. Referrals are received from Whitehorse General Hospital for clients who need follow-up care after leaving the hospital."
There is a report on the outreach nurse, who works primarily with street people, and then it talks about the same person doing follow-up care with people leaving the hospital. Can the Minister tell me more about this? I had not heard about an outreach nurse working with street people who might otherwise not have access to health services. It sounds like a very interesting thing. The Minister is shaking his head, indicating that he does not know anything about it.
Can the Minister let me know if he can try to find out the information? This is someone who has reported to the Minister's Yukon Health and Social Services Council.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is a federal program. We can get some detailed information for the Member, but we understand that she works out of the Whitehorse Health Centre, an office above Shoppers Drug Mart. I will try to get more information on that program.
Ms. Commodore: I would appreciate that, because it sounds very interesting. I would like to know exactly how she works with street people, how she comes in contact with them and what other things she does. I had not heard of it before.
Speaking about Yukon Health and Social Services, the Minister may or may not know that I had asked questions in the House before about social assistance rates and why the former Minister ignored the recommendation from that committee. This Minister has indicated the department has not made a decision to lower the rates.
It was included in the consultation hearings the government introduced. I think they have finished their round of meetings. I went to the meeting in town, and there were not a lot of people there. They were mostly New Democrats the night I was there.
Could the Minister update me on the hearings? Many things were included, like community health programs, the children's dental program - which we are interested in - midwifery, social assistance and continued care regulations. Will a report be coming out of that with recommendations? When will we hear about it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Apparently the consultations are finished and the department will be compiling the information and producing a report from it that will be available to the general public in June.
On social assistance rates, I do not know what the recommendations are coming out of the community consultations, but the Member may be interested in knowing that the Health and Social Services Council has recommended that there be no decrease in rates.
Ms. Commodore: I would like to ask the Minister if he can tell me whether or not he has been lobbied by anyone in regard to midwifery in the Yukon. I do know that the Premier of B.C. announced yesterday or the day before that B.C. would be covering midwifery under its health care plan. I do know that there was some interest here but I do not know how great that interest was or whether or not the Minister had been lobbied, so I would like to know that.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We have not actually been lobbied about it, but it was part of the consultation process that is going on and there will be recommendations coming back about it. Other groups, for instance the Registered Nurses Association, spoke about it at its meeting on Saturday.
On the radio just a week or so ago, there were discussions in regard to care of people in the hospitals. What we are hearing now is that only people who are suffering from a disease or a condition that is very extreme will be given hospital care, and that they are sending patients home much earlier now than they used to.
As a matter of fact, some very minor surgery is being done where a patient is admitted in the morning and goes home in the afternoon.
I know that in other parts of Canada there was some concern that newborn babies and their mothers were not staying in the hospital long enough to ensure that both the baby and the mother are ready to go home. Could the Minister tell me if this is the case in the Yukon? I know that mothers can leave almost any time that they want to, but there should be some assurances that both are healthy enough to go home. Could the Minister let me know what is happening?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The government does not prescribe the length of stay. That is decided among the hospital, the doctor and the patient.
For mothers and newborn babies there is not a standard period of stay in the hospital; it depends on each case. If the new mother does not feel she should go home in two days, she does not.
It seems that the trend across Canada is that patients do go home earlier and there is getting to be more and more home care or home treatment. As the Member has pointed out, there are some relatively minor operations where people are admitted on an out-patient basis.
Ms. Commodore: I wanted to bring this up when we were talking about the community consultations. It is in regard to the children's dental program. I believe that there have been some changes. I am not sure. The Minister can let me know if that is the case. There was some concern last summer that it was going to be scrapped and fewer people were going to be able to take advantage of it and it was also part of the agenda for the community consultation process.
I was just wondering if the Minister might be able to let me know what is happening and what the committee has been hearing. I think that the deputy minister might have been to some of those hearings. I know that everyone we have spoken to has some concerns that the program might be eliminated or it might be decreased so that fewer people can take advantage of it.
One of the good things about the dental program is that it is a program that prevents tooth decay in the long run because, in the Yukon, these individuals have had their teeth well looked after for a lot of years until the program is no longer available to them. Most parents are telling us that they would not like to see any changes to the dental program. Certainly, it is a moneysaver to a lot of people but, in addition to that, we probably have healthier teeth here than in many other jurisdictions.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We have not compiled the information from the consultations into a report yet. Generally speaking, the consultations seemed to favour the preventive part; the restorative was sort of mixed. There were questions about who should pay, and so on. The Health and Social Services Council also has mixed feelings about it. I think that we are going to have to wait until we have compiled the recommendations from the consultations and get input from the Health and Social Services Council before a decision can be made on what exactly to do with the program.
Ms. Commodore: I am almost getting to the bottom of my material. I do have a few more items that I would like to ask the Minister about.
I understand that the respite program is going to be implemented at the Thomson Centre or, if it has not already started, it will soon be. Can the Minister tell me a little more about that and what it is going to do?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Four beds in the Thomson Centre will be set aside for child respite care, as well as some care in the home.
Ms. Commodore: Has the Minister had discussions with the Evergreen Respite Home Task Force with respect to that? How much input did the group have into the final decision to put this program in place at the Thomson Centre?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It was before my time as Minister, but they did work with the Evergreen group, who were actually on the working group. Apparently the decision was made some time ago. There were press releases about three months ago, but it was through consultation that included the group to which the Member referred.
Ms. Commodore: Was the group in favour of the final plan that was put together? Did it give its approval to the plan? Did it have problems with it? Can the Minister tell me what happened?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding was that they had some favoured options and some favourite positions, but I can put on the record that essentially the options will include host homes, similar to foster homes, the Thomson Centre, and some financial assistance to parents to purchase private care. A workplan is in place for host home implementation activities and tasks have been assigned to various family and children's Services staff. A contractor has been hired to carry out host home assessments and home studies. Some possible host home care givers have been identified. Advertisements to recruit host homes will be underway very soon.
The Thomson Centre implementation activities workplan is in place. The Thomson Centre administrator is currently in the process of meeting with families whose children require care, in order to assess their needs and preference for care. A suitable location for their children in the centre will be identified. I guess that is where we are at.
Ms. Commodore: I just have one more question before the Minister reports progress. I just want to know what a host home is. How does that work?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It would be similar to a foster home. People would apply to supply this type of care, and they would be assessed by the department for their capabilities, and so on, and eventually certified as a home.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 10.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Millar: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 10, First Appropriation Act, 1996-97, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday next.
The House adjourned at 10:27 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled April 18, 1996:
Venture Partnership: the Yukon venture loan guarantee program (Fisher)