Monday, December 9, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I have for tabling the 1994-95 annual report of the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have for tabling the public accounts of the Government of Yukon for the year ended March 31, 1996.
Speaker: Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mrs. Edelman: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Government of Yukon should consult with all Yukon communities on decisions related to land development on the periphery of their respected boundaries.
Speaker: Are there any ministerial statements?
Community projects initiative
Hon. Mr. Harding: I rise to inform the House of the new short term contribution program being launched in January of the new year that will provide immediate assistance to Yukon communities. It will provide support for projects that are of a high priority for communities and it will also provide employment and training opportunities in a better way.
In A Better Way, our government committed to establishing a new community development fund in consultation with community leaders. Until the public consultations and CDF planning process is complete, an interim program is being launched to fill that gap.
The community projects initiatives is an interim response to meet community needs over the next few months. We want to use it as the mechanism to provide immediate support for community-driven projects that meet their needs and priorities.
We are confident that communities will identify many areas where this initiative can be applied. One key factor is that the program is flexible so that proposals will be measured by their merit, their value to the community and by the ability of the community to take ongoing responsibility for it.
Program funding is targeted at training and seasonal employment, building community infrastructure, and upgrading local facilities. The program is also responsive to the communities' cultural and recreational needs and will fund special winter events that have significant economic benefit to the community.
An amount of $500,000 will be made available this fiscal year, with additional funding for the completion of those projects planned for next year. Applications will be made to the Department of Economic Development. We plan to have information and application forms available almost immediately and we will accept applications until March 1, 1997.
Municipalities, First Nations and organizations are eligible for assistance, and applications will be assessed by their merit, economic and social benefits to the community, time frame, and by the community's ability to support and take ongoing responsibility for it.
This initiative will not support ongoing operating and maintenance costs. Commercial ventures are not eligible for this funding. Projects are eligible for up to $200,000 in assistance. Our staff will review the applications as they are received. Because the program is for the short term, we will encourage projects that can begin by the end of March 1997, and that can be well on their way to completion within six months. Projects that fall outside of this initiative would be possible candidates for the new community development fund program.
The department will coordinate and expedite reviews by other affected departments regarding budget, timing, scope and management to ensure a successful project. Funding decisions will be made by a panel of three Ministers and their deputies.
I encourage communities and groups to contact the Department of Economic Development with their ideas. We want to ensure beneficial work and training for Yukoners over the winter months through this community projects initiative. I invite all members of the Legislature to encourage good project ideas among their constituents.
Mr. Ostashek: Most people know that the community development fund is not a fund that is near and dear to the hearts of the Yukon Party. We believe that anything that is going to be done under the community development fund can be done through a line item in the budget and debated on the floor of this Legislature. We see the community development fund as a way of circumventing the public debate and scrutinization of projects that are funded under this fund, because only the terms of reference of the fund and the amount of money going into the fund will be debated on the floor of this Legislature.
After we eliminated the former community development fund, we did do projects. We did two in Old Crow - a skating rink and, in the last budget, a swimming pool, which has now been changed to a community centre. There was the flexibility and ability to do these things under a line item in the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
They need not have a special fund set up for this. We are very, very concerned about how the fund will be administered. The last fund was nothing but a slush fund for Ministers and political patronage - buy-outs. The Minister has said that this intermediate program will be targeted to - but he does not say that it will be limited to - training and seasonal employment, building community infrastructure and upgrading local facilities. The second point runs parallel to community block funding that municipalities get for community infrastructure, as well as for sports facilities and other local facilities.
The last community development fund that was in place under the previous NDP government saw monies go to, I believe, such projects as the Elsa curling rink, which never had a sheet of ice put into it; the Destruction Bay curling rink, which lasted, I think, for about one year and has not been in operation for several years now - hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars. It also saw money going into healing centres that never did have a program operate in them, such as Cultus Bay on Kluane Lake. So, I am very, very concerned about how this program is going to be administered.
The Minister has said that, for the interim program, three Ministers and deputy ministers will be making the decision about what will be funded and what will not. I asked the Minister in his rebuttal if he could tell me why no outside representation has been included in the assessment of these projects; why has someone from the Association of Yukon Communities, or some other community body, not been included? I would also ask the Minister if he could tell this House if the decision of the board can be overruled by the Minister of Economic Development or either of the other two Ministers who will be sitting on that board.
One of the weaknesses we saw in the last program was that the decisions made by a board that was set up to administer it could be overruled by the Minister, and we believe that this leaves a lot of room for abuse and does not leave enough room for public scrutiny.
I also would ask the Minister, in his summation, if he could tell me which two other Ministers will be sitting on this board.
Mrs. Edelman: I was most pleasantly surprised to see the ministerial statement on the community projects initiative. The Town of Faro have been very clear that they need help with recreational projects for this winter. Most Yukon communities will be rushing their applications in to the Department of Economic Development as soon as humanly possible, and this money will only help the Yukon.
My concern is the way in which funding priorities will be set. If three Ministers and three deputy ministers are the ones making the funding decisions, there is a possibility that people will perceive that decisions for funding will be made in a purely political fashion. It is my hope that this is not the case but, if there is that perception out there, perhaps it might behoove the government to appoint some less partisan decision makers to review and make recommendations on funding for the community projects initiative.
It is my hope that the funds from the community projects initiative will help strengthen Yukon communities, but what is going to happen if applications are filed for twice the amount of the current year's fund of $500,000? I know it is not the Minister's intention to have Yukon communities competing against each other and thus dividing Yukon's community fabric. Perhaps there are guidelines being developed as we speak to help the communities understand what the priorities are for the fund.
The Minister has done a good thing this Christmas.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I thank the Members for their comments - their constructive criticism.
I would say that this is not a huge allotment of money. It is significant, but is intended to deal with applications or projects on which there has already been a considerable amount of work done by many people in the community who have not had other ways of accessing money in the past.
I would like to say to the former Government Leader that all projects under this fund are debatable in this Legislature. The former Minister talked about a swimming pool in Old Crow. I would point out to him that we debated a swimming pool for Old Crow in this Legislature, and the Yukon Party then changed the project.
The Ministers are accountable to this Legislature. Both the Minister of Renewable Resources and the Minister of Education will sit on the subcommittee of Management Board, and I expect many projects to come up for debate on the floor of this Legislature. We realize that there have been a number of concerns developing in the communities over the last four years that have not had any funding grants. The Yukon Party government had its own version of CDF, which was the centennial anniversaries program project. Unfortunately, it was much over hyped, but under funded. We decided to try and respond in a positive way to some of the community-driven initiatives, not politician-driven initiatives, which have been out there in the Yukon for the last couple of years. It is not a huge amount of money and we will not be able to accomplish everything for everyone; however, when we work and move toward the creation of a new community development fund, we hope it will be able to encompass a lot of the requests from Yukon communities to undertake initiatives that could create good jobs and socio-economic benefits.
The former Government Leader reeled off a litany of projects. I can tell Members that when people in Pelly go and play on that ball field, they thank the CDF. When tourists walk through historic buildings that have been renovated, in many cases they thank the CDF. When people go to view wild sheep in Faro in the Mount Mye area, they thank the CDF as well for the viewing facilities and sheep enhancement work that has been done to improve the habitat of sheep in that area.
I would just say that I thank the Opposition Members for their comments. I hope that the fund lives up to its legitimate expectations.
Family group conferencing for "under twelves"
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I am speaking today in my capacity as the Minister of the Department of Health and Social Services.
I rise today to inform my colleagues in the House about the introduction of a new program that will benefit those children under the age of 12 who are at risk of becoming young offenders later in life.
The family group conferencing model was introduced this fall by the family and children's services branch and was designed to deal with the delinquent behaviour of children between the ages of six and 12 years old. It is one of the ways that the Department of Health and Social Services continues to bring about early interventions where there are children at risk.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, children under 12 years of age cannot be charged with criminal offences; however, as we are all well aware, that does not mean they do not commit offences. Because very young offenders cannot be charged does not mean that they do not need or deserve help.
The family group conferencing model provides the opportunity for the offending young person to recognize how the crime has affected others, apologize to those who have been harmed, work to repair the harm, possibly be forgiven for the crime and begin the process of restoring trust. Victims of very young offenders may also be involved in the process if they wish to do so, and, in fact, I think that is something that should be encouraged.
The program operates on some very simple principles, one of which is involvement - that the child is part of a family and that the family be involved in the process, that the community be involved and that victims be involved. This is not a process that happens in isolation.
The immediate focus will be on the offending behaviour, but family group conferencing will also address broader family issues such as discipline.
Realistically, we all know that crimes - some that are very serious - are committed by children under 12 years of age. Until now there was no formal way of dealing with these children or providing them with the kind of support and assistance that they need to prevent their actions from becoming part of a pattern. This program is another tool that we can use to help our young people.
The family group conferencing model is not limited only to the "serious" crimes of the young, but will also deal with behaviours that may lead to more serious offences, such as bullying and fighting.
It is a way to make families stronger and make sure that there is early intervention in a child's life to prevent further offending behaviour. The family group conferencing model is an addition to the portfolio of existing programs and services currently being delivered by the Department of Health and Social Services, to provide support to individuals and families who require help and support.
I anticipate coming back to this House to announce additional preventative programs that will continue to support families in the coming months.
Mr. Cable: Let me say first that the emphasis on crime prevention that comes out of this statement in dealing with offenders before they hit the courts is much preferred to dealing with offenders after they reach the courts and patterns may have set in. Early intervention and family and community involvement were themes throughout the community consultations that lead to the Talking About Crime report and the theme in the report itself. The statement is not terribly explanatory and it would be useful for the Minister to table the terms of reference of the program, in a formal sense, so that the public can see them.
In particular, it would be useful for the Minister to comment on how the family and the young offender will be brought into the program - whether it is anticipated there will be some legislative backdrop, whether it will be mandatory or whether it will be simply through optional participation.
It will be useful also for the Minister to tell us what type of evaluation he anticipates will be carried out - whether he anticipates collecting statistics on the re-offence rate and just what sort of statistical backdrop he does anticipate. It would also be useful for the Minister to let us know whether this program has a definitive term and whether it is due to expire. If it is due to expire, what sort of evaluation will be carried out at the end?
Mr. Jenkins: The Yukon Party supports this type of program in principle. We would like to know the cost of implementation and administration of this program, the terms of reference of this program, how the performance evaluation is going to be done and what the time lines are on this program.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I thank the Opposition Members for those comments. Certainly those are some things that I will be bringing forward and I can bring them forward to the Members. I think there are some important points here in terms of evaluative criteria that I think are worthwhile in me bringing to department's attention.
Speaker: Before proceeding to Question Period, I will provide the House with my ruling on the point of order raised by the Member for Riverside on December 5, 1996.
The Member for Riverside raised the question of whether the Members of the Liberal Party caucus or the Members of the Yukon Party caucus should be the Official Opposition in this House. I thank the Member for Riverside and the Member for Porter Creek North for the advice they provided to the Chair on that question.
The Chair has relied on the following rules, precedents and laws for this ruling:
(1) the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly,
(2) the precedents of the Yukon Legislative Assembly,
(3) the relevant Yukon Statutes, and
(4) the precedents of the House of Commons of Canada.
The reason for using the precedents of the House of Commons is that Standing Order 1 of the Yukon Legislative Assembly states: "In all cases not provided for in these Standing Orders or by sessional or other orders, the practices and procedures of the House of Commons of Canada, as in force at the time, shall be followed, so far as they may apply to this Assembly."
The first basic issue to be addressed is whether there is a requirement that an Official Opposition be recognized in this House. The Yukon Legislative Assembly has given recognition to either the Official Opposition or the Leader of the Official Opposition in several places in the Standing Orders and in the Legislative Assembly Act. The Chair, therefore, must assume that the Assembly intends that there should be an Official Opposition. This is backed by Speaker Parent of the House of Commons in a ruling he made on February 27, 1996. Speaker Parent said: "The position of Leader of the Official Opposition is firmly anchored in our parliamentary system of government through practice and the implementation of various statutes and rules of procedure. The importance of the Official Opposition and its leader has been commented on both in Canada and in other countries with Westminster-style parliaments for well over a century."
The second basic issue is who makes the decision as to who the Official Opposition will be. There seems to be no disagreement that this is the responsibility of the Speaker. Both the Member for Riverside and the Member for Porter Creek North indicated they felt the Speaker should make the decision. Also, again referring to his decision of February 27, 1996, Speaker Parent said: "The designation of the Official Opposition has never been decided on the floor of the House of Commons. As Speaker, I am entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the orderly conduct of business in the House. To do so, I must now determine, in light of the tie situation and the point of order raised, which party shall form the Official Opposition."
The Member for Riverside did qualify his remarks by saying that the House was not required to leave the matter up to the Speaker. He quite correctly said that the House could either deal with the matter directly or refer it to a committee such as the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. However, he also said that the Speaker had the option to follow the 1963 precedent of the House of Commons and to refer the matter, on his own initiative, to the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. This is a misinterpretation of the 1963 precedent as it is only the House itself that can make such a reference. Speaker Macnaughton, the Speaker of the House of Commons at that time, did suggest that a certain matter be referred to a committee but that reference did not occur until the House passed a motion to that effect.
The Member for Riverside asked that consideration be given to setting up a rotation of Official Opposition status between the Liberal Party caucus and the Yukon Party caucus. He went on to suggest that the Speaker should broker a rotational arrangement between the two caucuses.
The Chair would agree to respect an arrangement made between the two caucuses but it would be up to the two caucuses themselves to come to an agreement - it would not be appropriate for the Chair to take an active role in negotiations between the caucuses. During the time that the Member for Riverside and the Member for Porter Creek North were discussing the point of order on December 5, the Chair did not hear either Member indicate that they had reached or were working to reach an agreement on rotating Official Opposition status.
To repeat, if the two opposition caucuses make some kind of arrangement that does not violate any rules of the House, the Chair will respect that arrangement. However, no Member should expect that the Chair will take on the role of a negotiator.
The result is that the Chair must select one of the opposition caucuses as the Official Opposition.
The problem which arises is that there are few criteria for making such a decision.
The standard deciding factor, of course, is the number of seats; however, here both parties in opposition have the same number of seats.
Another factor sometimes relied on is party status - Members who were elected as nominees of a registered political party are more likely to receive Official Opposition status than a group of independents. In this case, both the Yukon Party caucus and the Liberal Party caucus are equal.
Assessments of party policies cannot be used to make this decision. Speaker Parent of the House of Commons was very clear on this point when asked to select the Reform Party over the Bloc Quebeçois as the Official Opposition in the House of Commons.
Popular vote has been suggested by some as being a logical factor for the Chair to consider. It has been rejected by most Speakers required to make rulings similar to this one. For example, Speaker Parent quoted Speaker Dysart of New Brunswick. On December 16, 1994, she said: "Basing a decision on factors outside Parliament opens the door or invites future decisions with no basis in parliamentary precedents or practice. With the one noted exception, the Official Opposition has been determined by the number of seats held by the party, not by the popular vote."
The exception was a decision of Speaker Amerongen in Alberta in 1983 when, immediately following a general election, he paid some heed to popular vote in making a decision about who would be the Official Opposition. Although popular vote has been rejected as a factor in every Speaker's decision after 1983, there are some who say it may have its place. For example, Professor Stewart Hyson, in the Autumn 1996 edition of the Canadian Parliamentary Review, wrote: "But popular vote is limited at best to the start of a legislature following a general election and then only as a supplemental factor. That is, if two or more parties are tied in standing, the Speaker may turn to the popular vote as the tie-breaker."
The Chair cannot take popular vote into account because the direction to the Chair is that, in the absence of Yukon rules or precedents, direction should be taken from House of Commons practices and precedents. If the House wishes to develop any guidelines for future Speakers to follow in similar situations it might give consideration to whether, as a last resort, popular vote could be considered as a deciding factor when a decision is required immediately following a general election.
There are a number of other factors which have been suggested for the Chair to consider, including the gender of the Members in each caucus, the mixture of rural and urban members and the presence or absence of leaders of registered political parties in the opposition caucuses. These kinds of factors cannot be relied upon by the Chair because their use would mean making political judgments about the qualities of various members and that would endanger the impartial position of the Chair.
In many other jurisdictions, including the House of Commons, incumbency has been a key factor in Speakers' decisions. The difficulty in applying it to the situation now before the Yukon Legislative Assembly is that these precedents are not totally comparable. They deal with situations in which a party with Official Opposition status falls into a tie with another party during the lifetime of a Parliament or Legislature.
In the Yukon Legislative Assembly today, there is one opposition party caucus which, prior to the election, formed the government. There is another opposition party caucus which, prior to the election, was a third party in the House. Neither are incumbents as the Official Opposition.
The Chair, then, has determined to make a decision in this matter which reflects the spirit and intent of the House of Commons' reliance on incumbency as a deciding factor. It is the Chair's judgment that that spirit and intent is best satisfied by selecting an opposition party caucus which formed the government prior to an election to be the Official Opposition over an opposition party caucus that was a third party in the House prior to the election. That means that the Yukon Party caucus will be the Official Opposition and that the Member for Porter Creek North will be the Leader of the Official Opposition.
This decision is made in respect to the proceedings in this Chamber. Decisions on matters such as caucus funding and space allocation are made in another forum.
The Chair wishes the House to recognize that, although the Yukon Party caucus is now recognized as the Official Opposition, it still must be kept in mind that there are two caucuses in opposition with three Members apiece. The Chair will ensure that both opposition caucuses and all Members in both opposition caucuses are treated appropriately in such matters as order of speaking. As an example, during Question Period, the Leader of the Official Opposition will continue to be given the first two questions each day but the leader of the third party will now be given the next two questions rather than just one.
The Chair urges the House to give consideration to certain Standing Orders which clearly do not reflect the current makeup of the House. In particular, Standing Order 14.2 must be reviewed and amended to ensure that both opposition caucuses receive equitable treatment on Private Members' Day.
That concludes my comments on the point of order.
This brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Land Claims Secretariat, negotiators removed
Mr. Ostashek: I would like to say that our caucus realizes the great difficulty Mr. Speaker had in making that decision. Before the next election, I hope this Legislature will address that part in particular so we do not have to go through this again.
My question is to the Government Leader in his capacity as the Minister responsible for land claims. On Thursday in this House, the Government Leader stated that only the chief land claim negotiator had been removed from his job and had not accepted another position. He also stated that two other senior negotiators remained in their positions. Yet he told a reporter earlier that, "In terms of two people, one is voluntarily leaving, the other has been reassigned."
Now that the Government Leader has had the weekend to reflect, could he tell the House which version of his two statements is the truth?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, I would like to congratulate the Leader of the Official Opposition on his new status on behalf of the government caucus. I am certain he will perform his task ably.
In answer to the Member's question, both statements are true, because the two individuals the Member is referring to remain in their positions. They are in their positions today and will be until such time as they leave, if and when they do. I understand one is requesting to leave and the other is being reassigned by the department. They will certainly be in their positions until that occurrence takes place.
Mr. Ostashek: I guess that is his story and he will stick to it.
Can the Government Leader advise the House if the two senior negotiators asked, or volunteered, to change their positions, or were they requested to do so?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I do not really entirely understand the Member's question. Is he asking me if the two individuals volunteered to change their positions? As I indicated, one person requested to leave, and the other was being reassigned. With respect to the reassignment, I am not certain how mutually acceptable that is to the department or to the individual. I was not involved in either decision. My primary goal is to ensure the Land Claims Secretariat is staffed with capable people and is able to perform the functions assigned to it to ensure that the land claims negotiations proceed at a greater pace than in the past, as we run up to the very significant deadlines in February.
Mr. Ostashek: I would like to ask the Government Leader whether or not it is true that the two senior negotiators were told by the Deputy Minister of the Executive Council Office that they were being removed from their positions because they were identified as being too close to the policies of the previous government? Is that not true? And, did the person volunteer to leave before or after that discussion?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I do not believe that is true. Both of the individuals involved are capable public servants. They will continue as public servants performing functions for this government to ensure that the broadest mandate is fulfilled.
They are certainly in their places now. Negotiating sessions are being scheduled as we speak. They are sitting at common tables acting fully on behalf of the Government of Yukon. There are some closures to land claims agreements that are now taking place - negotiations that are coming to an end. The two individuals are very ably performing their tasks and will be until changes are made.
I have every confidence in their abilities to continue speaking for and acting on behalf of the Government of Yukon.
Question re: Land Claims Secretariat, negotiators removed
Mr. Ostashek: The further we go with this the more confused the public gets. People are told that they are going to be removed, yet they are negotiating on behalf of the government.
Now that it has become patently clear that the Government Leader and his Cabinet had a hit list when they came into office - and three senior Government of Yukon negotiators were on that hit list - can the Government Leader explain to this House how he is going to go about replacing these three key positions? Are the positions going to be advertised and filled in the normal fashion through the Public Service Commission or are they going to be further political appointments?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I simply cannot accept the Member's basic proposition that people were told that they were going to be removed from their positions and that the government had a hit list.
In the case of the chief land claims negotiator, he was asked whether or not he would perform another task at a deputy minister level for this government.
To put a person's name on a hit list and offer that person a very significant job with this government is the act of a very incompetent hit man.
With respect to the other personnel that the Member has identified, as I have indicated, they are capably acting in the Land Claims Secretariat for the government as we speak and are actively engaged in negotiations for the government.
The government has no hit list. In fact, of the 17 deputy ministers who were in place, including many who were recruited by the Member himself, 15 of those deputy ministers were offered assignments; we were unable to offer assignments only to two. There was no hit list, of course. There was a very significant agenda, and a changing of the guard in various portfolios, which is not uncommon when new governments take office.
Mr. Ostashek: I do not think there is any doubt about the incompetence of the hit man - none whatsoever.
Can the Government Leader explain to the House how he is going to fill the positions through the Public Service Commission, and at the same time meet his commitments to speed up land claims? Most recruitment programs under the Public Service Commission take about three months. Land claims are to be settled by February 14.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No one has to tell me that the land claims have to be settled by February 14. No one has to tell me that we are about to enter into a negotiating environment where there are seven tables, all of which have to be undertaken at once. There will have to be simultaneous negotiations on many different fronts. No one has to tell me that this new government is under the gun when it comes to meeting very significant deadlines. However, he cannot lay the responsibility entirely on this government for perhaps not being able to meet those deadlines, after the previous government sat on the negotiating process for four years, and only with a flurry of activity near the end did they actually accomplish anything. That would be the logical reason for determining what we are faced with.
There is no hit list. The Member opposite has identified two people in the Land Claims Secretariat who continue to work, and will remain there until they are replaced. The same is true for any other person who wants to transfer out of land claims to any other section within government. They will be replaced by people - there will be no vacancies - because this is a priority of the government.
Mr. Ostashek: I see we are starting to get under the skin of the Government Leader. If he did not have anything to hide, I do not think we would be getting under his skin.
It is quite clear that media pressure has come to bear on the Government Leader and his incompetence in handling these dismissals because he is now starting to change his mind. I would not be surprised to see these people remain in their positions. However, that is certainly not what he said in the press last week.
Does the Government Leader intend to speed up the land claims process by politically appointing land claims negotiators who are going to be instructed to say yes to every demand of the First Nations? Is that how he is going to speed up the land claims process?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have to again say to the Member that when he makes statements that people were dismissed, he is not stating a fact. I will repeat that for the Member's information.
I suppose that the Member appears to be concerned that any change of personnel may be the result of a government that wants to capitulate at the land claims table. I would point out to the Member that that is a nonsensical statement, because it was the New Democratic Party government that negotiated the umbrella final agreement. The NDP government negotiated the first four First Nation final agreements and self-government agreements. These were the self-government agreements and final agreements that the Members opposite endorsed. If anyone wants to know what our land claims policy is, they can look to the very good record of the NDP government in negotiating with First Nations from the years 1985 to 1992. Our position at the negotiating table is that we will act consistently with the umbrella final agreement. We will seek negotiated arrangements with First Nations that respect not only third-party interests and the general public's interest, but will also ensure that First Nations get a fair settlement. That is our position. That will be the position that negotiators will take to the table, and I am certain that it will get results.
Question re: Crown corporations, removal of presidents
Mr. Cable: Just before I ask my question of the Government Leader, I would like to thank the Speaker for his ruling. I know that he put considerable thought into that. I appreciate the comments on the speaking roster, the motion day rotation, and the suggestion on rule changes.
The question that I have for the Government Leader concerns the deputy ministers of the two Crown corporations.
Last Thursday, I asked the Government Leader questions relating to the deputy minister shuffles, and about the removal of the presidents of the two Crown corporations - the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Housing Corporation. I was left with the impression that in the Government Leader's view, he could shuffle the presidents around without consultation with the respective boards. It was his sole prerogative. The president of the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation is appointed by the Cabinet on the recommendation of that board.
Was there a recommendation that the previous president be terminated and the new president appointed?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: When the Member suggested that the personnel were removed, I did not want him to leave the impression that the personnel were removed from government because that seems to have been a theme from his colleague to his right. The personnel that he is referring to are, of course, transferred from one deputy minister assignment to another deputy minister assignment. He is quite right, of course, in saying that the appointments to all deputy minister assignments are made by Cabinet, not by Government Leaders.
In the case of the two corporations that he speaks of, the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Yukon Development Corporation, there was no recommendation from the two corporation boards on new personnel for those corporations. As I understand it, the Deputy Minister of the Executive Council Office did speak to the chair of the Yukon Housing Corporation Board, did not seek an opinion but rather informed the Yukon Housing Corporation Board chair as to the decision of Cabinet.
Question re: Crown corporations, removal of presidents
Mr. Cable: Let us talk about the Yukon Housing Corporation for a moment. It is my understanding in the Housing Corporation Act that it is the board that in fact appoints the president. It appears to be clear from the statute. Is the Minister saying that the board's participation in the appointment of that president was non-existent - that that was solely carried out by the Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That is correct. I am not a lawyer, but I will - if the Member wants me to - seek a legal opinion. I can certainly do that. In all the time that I have been in this Legislature, I understand that it has been the practice that the presidents of the corporations are assigned, not by resolution of a board - in the case of those two corporations - but by a decision of Cabinet. The only board that must decide the question, in the end, is the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Mr. Cable: Is the Minister making a commitment to seek and table a legal opinion? If he is, I would ask that the legal opinion cover the fact that the Government Leader apparently made the appointment to the Development Corporation Board without consultation and the fact that the Government Leader made the appointment to the Yukon Housing Corporation rather than to the Yukon Housing Corporation Board. Is he prepared to seek and table that legal opinion?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I will let the Member refer to the Rules of the Legislature with respect to tabling legal opinions, but I will seek a legal opinion on the subject because I am certainly aware of the long-standing traditions of the Legislature and government with respect to these appointments and I am well aware that I am acting, and the Cabinet is certainly acting, within the confines of that tradition.
Question re: Deputy commissioners, status and salary of
Ms. Duncan: Last week I asked the Government Leader questions regarding the pay packages for deputy commissioners. The severance policy for deputy ministers states that, at the time of initial hire, deputy heads, as a condition of employment, will be required to enter into a severance pay contract in accordance with the provisions of the policy. The severance package for deputy commissioners, then, must have been negotiated by the Government Leader. Is he prepared to provide this detailed information today?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, indeed, and I thank the Member for the question.
Just a correction: the negotiations do not occur between the Government Leader and the people involved but between the Public Service Commissioner and the people involved. There is only one person who is operating under the protection of the deputy head severance pay policy and that is the commissioner responsible for the energy commission, a long-standing deputy minister in this government. The other three deputy commissioners are term positions and consequently there is no severance pay out when the term position concludes and the project is complete.
In one particular case, a person who is a long-standing public servant will be returning to their job inside the public service. In another case, there is no severance provision whatsoever at any time. In the final case, there is a severance provision of three months' pay if the person is terminated prior to the project being completed. Those are the terms of the severance for all four deputy commissioners.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the Government Leader for that response.
Related to the work of the commissions, I would like to ask about the applicability of other legislation. With respect to the work of the commissions, the Government Leader indicated to me that the deputy commissioners were to be considered as deputy heads. Are the Cabinet commissioners to be treated as Ministers in some respects? If so, has the Government Leader ensured their compliance with the conflict-of-interest legislation governing Ministers, as opposed to Members?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That is a detail that we have covered. Under the legislation, the Conflict of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act, the conflict-of-interest provisions do apply to the commissioners. This was a matter that was checked with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, who confirmed this particular case.
The commissioners do not sit in Cabinet, but they are essentially team leaders and have a responsibility for building consensus in the public to ensure that the significant projects that these four commissions will be undertaking have not only a face within the public service, but also will be a person within this Legislature, who, it is hoped, will be speaking for them.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the Minister for his response.
With respect to the opinion of Mr. Hughes, is the Government Leader prepared to table that information? Has a written opinion been sought and is the Government Leader prepared to table it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I understand that the information is coming. I presume that it will be in writing. But I would invite the Member to give Mr. Hughes a call. He would be more than happy, I am certain, to let her know what his opinion is.
Question re: Deputy ministers, replacement of
Mr. Phillips: I have a question for the Government Leader, as well.
Recently, four deputy ministers were let go or transferred to new jobs by this government. All of those deputy ministers were let go without having had the opportunity to show their stuff, so to speak. They were let go within days of the new government taking power and without sound reasons.
Deputy ministers are hired, usually, by a search and interview process. They must be highly qualified people. The government recently hired five new deputy ministers: Mr. Riedl, Mr. Zanasi, Mr. Stubbs, Mr. Klassen and Mr. Walsh. What procedure was used to hire these new senior deputy ministers?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Member raised a lot of issues in his question. First of all, I would point out to the Member that many deputy ministers were transferred from one position to another when the new government took office. Only two decided not to accept the appointments they were offered. There were only two other deputy ministers who were not offered assignments at all, which I believe compares favourably to the situation as experienced by the previous government where, within a couple of months of assuming office, the previous government let four deputy ministers go after a very short opportunity for those deputy ministers - who were long-standing government servants - to show their stuff, so to speak, as the Member has identified.
With respect to the deputy ministers of departments, I would point out that deputies are hired and released at pleasure under the law. In the case of the two deputy ministers the Member mentioned, they were hired at pleasure.
With respect to the deputy commissioner issues the Member has raised, some interviews were held by the deputy commissioners with respect to hiring these policy working group team leaders. Those appointments were made on the recommendation of the Commissioner.
Mr. Phillips: I have no quarrel with the Government Leader's argument that deputy heads are transferred from one position to another without having to go through a recruitment process. My problem is that five new deputy ministers have been hired, who are not within the civil service. These individuals are coming into the civil service.
I do not recall seeing any advertisements anywhere in the territory for these highly skilled and highly qualified jobs. Perhaps we advertised outside. I know one of the individuals is from B.C. Why were there no advertisements before these individuals were hired?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: In each case the reasons are different. With respect to the hiring of deputy ministers, only two were hired. Three deputy commissioners were hired. They are different. They are deputy level, which means they can sit in Deputy Ministers Policy Review Committee, but it does not mean they are necessarily capable of managing departments - they can be and are, in some cases. Consequently, I state once again that there were two deputy ministers hired.
With respect to the individuals involved, they were hired at pleasure, meaning that the government took the view that these people were competent and capable people, and able to do the work at hand. When we get to Committee of the Whole, if the Member wants to have a lengthier explanation about why the individuals were hired, I would be more than happy to provide it.
Mr. Phillips: We will take the Member up on that.
We seem to have taken a quantum leap in the politicization of the public service. I can remember the former NDP leader, Tony Penikett, firing deputy ministers for associating with political parties. This Government Leader insists that deputy ministers who are hired have to carry NDP cards. I think that is a quantum leap from the previous policy regarding deputy ministers.
For other senior civil servant jobs in the Government of Yukon, is the Government Leader going to require that people be of the NDP stripe before they are considered for a job?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I do not think that a quantum leap has been taken at all. As a matter of fact, I would say that the actions of this incoming government are quite modest in comparison to those of our predecessor, which acted quite swiftly. In fact, they let go of a number of deputy ministers who were long-standing public servants, had been in the public service in the Yukon for a very long time and performed good service for the Yukon government, and so on. I do not know why the ex-Government Leader fired the four people within a couple of months. I do not know why that was the case. I do not think an explanation was ever offered.
The people who were hired are well-qualified people. No one should be actively engaged in any partisan activity at the deputy level. No one should be a member of any political party at the deputy minister level.
Fifteen of the 17 deputies that the Yukon Party had hired are being retained by this government. The Member conveniently ignores the fact that, besides the one deputy commissioner he cited as being fired, there were three others who are very well-qualified and not normally associated with the NDP at all. They were hired because they are well-qualified people and able to do the policy work that is required of them. Policy work in these four critical areas is important to this government.
Question re: PCPs in Carcross
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
It is my understanding that the Minister's Department of Health has embarked upon a very labour intensive search of old health records in the community of Carcross to look for any anomalies or irregularities. Have there been any results from the Minister's search of Carcross' health records?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can tell the Member for Riverdale South that, yes, we have done a search of some of the statistics with regard to some possible problems surrounding the Carcross tie plant.
From 1986 to 1994, there were 16 deaths in Carcross, four of which were listed as cancer being the principal cause. This is not an anomaly. It is consistent with the national average in Canada. Currently, the Bureau of Statistics is working on producing data from 1994 to the present.
Mrs. Edelman: It is my understanding that the government is awaiting the test results from EBA Engineering on the presence of ferons and dioxins. Have there been any preliminary results from EBA on the presence of dioxins and ferons in the Carcross area?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes. We do have some results back from the EBA Engineering drill site. There are also a couple of related issues.
With regard to such things as fish and water contamination, there are no significant amounts of PCPs in fish. This is possibly because the chemical is fairly quickly excreted by the fish, so there have been no significant increases in levels there. However, there will be some sampling of fish in Bennett and Nares lakes and at the Narrows. There have been some found, and it will have to be determined if it is a background level or if there are elevated concerns.
With regard to water, six water samples have been taken from DIAND and no PCPs were detected in four of the sites where residents draw water. The levels range from 0.7 micrograms per litre to 2.9 micrograms per litre. These were in the area adjacent to borehole 11. The current Canadian drinking water guideline for PCPs is 60 micrograms per litre, so this does not seem to indicate that there is an elevated level. However, we will be doing further studies in that area, particularly the area adjacent to the shore where there might be leaching.
Mrs. Edelman: I still did not hear anything about dioxins and ferons which, by the way, are by-products of PCP. They have been linked to birth defects. While the Minister was conducting his longitudinal study of the health records of Carcross residents, did he come across any trends in the number of birth defects present in the Carcross population in, say, the last 30 years?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, birth defects were not the focus of the study. The focus of the study was in trying to determine if there are any particular anomalies with respect to death rates. We were particularly looking for incidences of particular kinds of cancer that the residents of Carcross had indicated were of concern to them.
With respect to birth defects, I can see if vital statistics branch can find out if that kind of evidence is readily available, and get back to the Member.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ADDRESS IN REPLY TO THE SPEECH FROM THE THRONE - adjourned debate
Clerk: Motion for an Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, moved by Mr. McRobb, adjourned debate, Hon. Mr. Fairclough.
Motion No. 10 - adjourned debate
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: To continue my response to the Speech from the Throne, it is important to remember that physical improvements to things like roads and schools can be very expensive and place strict limitations on what government can do in other areas. A government cannot do everything at once, and that is why I think the Minister of Education's plan to try and reach an agreement on territorial priorities for school construction is a responsible approach.
I know that the physical condition of schools in my riding is not perfect and some, such as the J.V. Clark School in Mayo, has serious deficiencies. I will work to see concerns addressed, while supporting the efforts to establish a Yukon-wide set of priorities.
I would now like to turn my attention to my immediate priorities as Minister of Renewable Resources.
As noted in the throne speech, the Yukon has an environment second to none. My government has a trust responsibility under the land claims agreements and Environment Act to protect fish and wildlife and the habitat upon which they depend.
Thanks to the good work of past New Democratic governments, the Yukon Conservation Strategy is now in place to guide the protection of our environment, but we also need specific tools to do the job.
I have already mentioned two of the tools that are needed: the development assessment process and a made-in-Yukon forestry policy. People in the relevant sections of my department will assist with those initiatives in every way possible.
Public debate over the proposed Tombstone Park has helped to focus attention on my government's commitment to establish a system of protected spaces.
I will be working with the Government Leader to establish a park and park boundaries, which respect the interest of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in and all Yukon people with the protection of this area.
In doing so, we hope to develop approaches that will allow for the mediation of competing interests in future proposed protected areas.
Of course, protected areas alone will not ensure the health and survival of our ecosystem and wildlife. Careful management of both habitat and wildlife is necessary to meet our conservation obligations.
I intend to work closely with the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, renewable resource councils and First Nation governments, our partners in co-management, to develop measures to protect habitat and more conservative approaches to wildlife management.
As the Speech from the Throne indicated, proper stewardship is necessary to avoid future need for socially divisive crisis management measures, such as have been employed in the Aishihik-Kluane caribou recovery program.
Although the Yukon Environment Act still has limited applications because the Government of Canada remains the landlord for most of the the territory, I intend to proceed with regulations to give effect to the new sections of the act on territorial or Commissioner's land.
These will include contaminated sites regulations, which will allow our government to oversee a thorough cleanup of the Carcross contamination and ensure that the responsible parties are brought to account.
In closing, I would like to say that I am proud to be part of a government that has received such a strong mandate from the people of the Yukon. I believe we can do things in a better way.
I appreciate the trust that has been placed in me by the people of Mayo-Tatchun, and I will do everything in my power to live up to their expectations.
Mr. Fentie: I am honoured to be here today as the elected representative for the riding of Watson Lake. As this is my first opportunity to deliver a speech in the Legislature, I want to take the time now to thank the people of Watson Lake for their very generous support and the confidence they have shown in me.
I can assure my constituents that I will make every effort over the next four years to ensure their voice is heard in this House.
It is also a pleasure for me to reply to the throne speech. I can stand proud in this House in support of this government's very positive message to the people of the Yukon. I am looking forward to working with Piers McDonald and my other colleagues in a thoughtful and diligent manner on behalf of Yukon people.
I will endeavour to earn the respect, trust and confidence placed in me by the people of Watson Lake and southeast Yukon.
Honesty, compassion and humility in dealing with Yukoners are important goals this government vows to aspire to, along with open communication, public input in decision making, consensus building and respect for our partners. The vision expressed in the Speech from the Throne promises a step toward a bright future for all Yukoners as we head into the 21st century.
The goals of this government, as outlined in the throne speech, clearly reflect the concerns and issues near and dear to the hearts of Yukoners. Our first priority is the settlement of land claims, which will go a long way toward rebuilding trust with our First Nation partners.
I was greatly impressed with the meeting on Friday between our government and the Council of Yukon First Nations. With goodwill and positive attitudes, I am optimistic that working on a government-to-government basis can only bring positive results to all our people.
The need for strong, safe communities, respect for working people, partnerships in education and, most important, an open and accountable government that will listen to and act upon concerns of its citizens, are all goals we intend to work toward over the next four years.
As you have heard before, how government does things is just as important as what government does. Yukon people want to have a voice in decisions that affect them at the most basic levels: decisions that affect the kinds of jobs available in our communities, the quality of life we seek for ourselves and our children, peace in our homes, our communities, our schools, a strong health care system, local hire, affordable energy rates and management of our resources. A fair, open, honest and accountable government will address these concerns and provide a better way of governing.
Yukon people have a right not only to be consulted, but to be involved in decisions that affect them from the beginning of the process until the end. I am pleased that this government has accepted the responsibility to serve all people of the Yukon by keeping them informed of what their government is doing and what it is planning to do, and encouraging input into the process.
One forum that will be used to ensure the public is involved is the setting up of four commissions to deal with specific issues of a high priority and that must be dealt with in a timely manner. Along with my duties as MLA for Watson Lake, I am enthused to take on the duties as forest commissioner. The Yukon forest commission has been established to seek consensus in building a comprehensive, sustainable, made-in-Yukon forest policy. First Nation, federal and territorial governments, along with industry, conservation groups and affected communities, will be working together to try to develop this policy.
A made-in-Yukon forest policy will strive to develop a viable forest industry that will maximize economic benefits for all Yukoners, while at the same time protecting this valuable resource for the enjoyment of all citizens and future generations.
For too many years too much of the resource has been accessed for too little benefit to Watson Lake or Yukoners as a whole.
This lack of vision and planning has caused division between all parties, and it is time for us to roll up our sleeves and begin to build a consensus regarding what kind of forestry management policy we want - one that will benefit all stakeholders.
The forest commission will consist of a deputy commissioner, who has been seconded from the Department of Economic Development, and two other staff members, seconded from government, who are already working on forest policy issues. As well, from time to time, we will be drawing on the expertise of employees of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and from various other government departments.
I am looking forward to this particular challenge to develop a made-in-Yukon policy on forest issues. Together, with hard work and cooperation, we will reach consensus on this very important issue.
As a rookie in this House, I want to tell Members a bit about myself and about my community of Watson Lake. I came to Watson Lake as a boy in the early 1960s. I attended Watson Lake Secondary School. After school, I gained on-the-job experience in various areas such as tourism, mining, transportation, fuel distribution and the forest sectors of Watson Lake's economy. In the last 10 years, the closing of Cantung and Cassiar mines, the opening and closing of the Sa Dena Hes mine, the closing of various sawmills, and the moratorium on logging have greatly impacted the economic and social stability of my community.
As MLA for Watson Lake, it is my hope that the southeast Yukon can overcome all the challenges it has faced in the past and anticipate a prosperous, stable and sustainable economic base for future generations.
During my short term as MLA for Watson Lake, I have quickly become aware of the steep learning curve that I am on. There are so many issues affecting the quality of life in Watson Lake and the southeast Yukon. The first challenge we face as a community is building trust among all levels of government: First Nation, territorial and municipal. For too long we have lived under a them-and-us type of relationship. Watson Lake and the southeast Yukon is too small an area, with too few people, to be divided. Strength comes from working together to find solutions to common problems. It is my fervent wish that the three levels of government in my riding can meet regularly to plan a social and economic strategy for the benefit of all.
The problems we, as a community, face daily and will face in the years ahead demand that we find ways to listen to opposing points of view, respect cultural differences and learn to accommodate deeply held and differing values.
As a community, we should encourage creative and innovative solutions to complex problems to create social and economic growth.
The people in Watson Lake and surrounding areas provide a diversity of knowledge and expertise that we can tap into to better resolve issues together.
As a community, we must keep in mind that the decisions we make today will affect the quality of our life and the lives of future generations.
The one promise I made during the election was that I would listen to what concerns the people in my riding have, and that I would work very hard to bring those concerns to the attention of my caucus colleagues and this House.
The throne speech addressed many of these concerns, such as jobs and the economy. With the great potential we have in southeast Yukon, as a government we are committed to sustain an environment that encourages development and growth in the mining, forestry and tourism industries, as well as small business in a variety of endeavours. A sustainable use of our resources will ensure that our economy will grow and Yukon jobs will be there for future generations.
I look forward to working with my colleagues, the Minister of Economic Development and the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, in planning how best to upgrade the South Campbell Highway to improve access for all stakeholders.
Tourism is another very important economic resource for the southeast Yukon. As a gateway to Yukon, Watson Lake has the ability to develop various tourism projects that may help keep visitors in the area longer, such as First Nation cultural activities and the development of wilderness-theme tourism packages.
The community development fund is going to be restored, and that is very good news for my community. I know that when the CDF was in place four years ago our community was able to take advantage of the funds to build Wye Lake Park. This park has been widely used for many community activities and is much appreciated by the people of Watson Lake and the many tourists who pass through there.
The community projects initiative announced earlier today by the Minister of Economic Development will be a most welcome boost to rural communities to help in the upgrading of local facilities and to fund some cultural and recreational programs over the winter.
As pointed out in the throne speech, it is indeed a sad commentary that women and children in our community are often victims of violence and must have a safe refuge to go to.
As the MLA for Watson Lake, I will encourage my colleagues to support me in ensuring that long-term funding for the Help and Hope Society is provided so that long-term planning and program development can take place.
My community is blessed with numerous people willing to volunteer their services to help each other.
Many of our organizations are run strictly on the goodwill of volunteers, and this government recognizes and appreciates their valuable contributions.
Another important priority that we face is ensuring that the youth has our support. In many of our communities, young people are facing problems that my generation did not have to face until later in life. We are all aware of the particular pressures faced by our young people today - lack of employment opportunities, violence in schools and peer pressure surrounding drug and alcohol use. Even in our small corner of the world, these are very real concerns. As a community, we must get involved. It is our responsibility to guide and support our youth so that they can make good choices when it comes to the decisions that they face. Peer mediation and programs directed by young people themselves may help to develop solutions to some of the challenges that they face. I will work toward ensuring that our government supports programs that help our community to become strong and safe.
Another topic that is very close to my heart concerns the seniors in my community. The Sign Post Seniors organization deserves our support, and I will strive to make it a priority. Our seniors have the right to stay in their homes as long as they can, and we must make sure that they have access to the best possible care that we can provide. We do not want to lose the tremendous knowledge and experience that our elders can teach us and our children. As the MLA for Watson Lake, I want the seniors in my riding to know that they have a strong voice on their side in this Legislature.
In closing, I would like to wish everyone in this House success as they carry out their duties over the next four years.
Ms. Duncan: I am deeply honoured to have been entrusted by the people of Porter Creek South with the responsibility of representing them in the Yukon Legislative Assembly. I thank the voters for their faith in me, and I congratulate my fellow Members on their election and, in some cases, their re-election to this House.
There are a variety of motivating factors that prompt one to run for office. The Member for Kluane noted that he had advice from the previous Member. I cannot say that I received that same advice; however, I was prompted to run by a number of issues. The issues in Porter Creek are no different from the issues everywhere in the Yukon.
Prior to announcing my intention to run, a number of people stopped me on the street and expressed their concerns about education and our public education system.
I am product of that system, as is my husband. In following these remarks, I was left to question what has gone wrong in the hallowed halls of the Takhini Elementary, Jack Hulland and F.H. Collins Secondary schools.
As I began my research into the whole idea of education, I found that there are a number of topics under this area. School busing is a good example.
Busing of students, especially in the Whitehorse area, requires a thorough review by knowledgeable individuals and an opportunity for the public at large to comment on the review.
I am pleased to say that, in raising this issue during my door-to-door canvass, prior to the election, the prompted review is now underway.
I strongly believe that this $3 million expenditure by the government requires that some common sense be brought to bear. I will be watching the review very closely.
The issue of violence within our schools was also raised prior to and during the election campaign.
As I began my work as the MLA for Porter Creek South, I noticed in a recent issue of Canadian Guider that there is a kit produced by the YWCA of Canada - that organization is no longer active in the Yukon - called "Taking Action on Violence in the Lives of Young Women". There is also a "Week Without Violence" kit that contains a pledge card. I will be forwarding these materials to the Minister of Education with a very strong recommendation that the kits be purchased for the schools, school councils and the Women's Directorate library.
I also attended a safe neighbourhoods meeting that was held in my riding - the Minister also attended this meeting - and I am awaiting the transcripts from that meeting, as are many of the other attendees.
In the interim, I reviewed the task force to promote safe schools report and I will be following up on those recommendations with the Minister responsible.
I was pleased to note that the government indicated in its Speech from the Throne that it will work with the partners in education to ensure that the highest possibly quality of education is available in an atmosphere free from violence.
We, in the Liberal Party caucus, intend to monitor the government closely on this issue and will be eagerly awaiting the required review of the Education Act.
The throne speech indicated that the government accepts acting in a manner that merits public trust and confidence. Trust and confidence must be earned. My suggested method for the government - one method of earning this trust - is the method by which the government manages its financial affairs. Part of this financial management is reinstating collective bargaining, and I am very pleased that the government has tabled the required legislation that was also mentioned in the throne speech.
Another part of financial management is the contracting and purchase of services by the government and of course, local hire. I will be reviewing the work of the Minister responsible for Government Services and the Cabinet commissioner with the responsibility for local hire with a great deal of interest.
Financial management is also about providing economic opportunity and I believe it is most unfortunate that this government has paid such scant attention to the tourism industry in a major address to the Yukon public. I trust this is not a reflection of the value that the government places on tourism.
I also noted the absence of the Government Leader's previous commitment to not raise taxes. All the Yukon public will be watching the Government Leader to honour his campaign commitments and the trust and confidence of the Yukon public in this regard.
Part of my political training prior to seeking public office has been in the service as an appointment to a number of government boards, committees, agencies and in a variety of government levels. I enjoyed this service and I believe it is a very valuable part of political life, and it is something that should be open to all Yukoners. I am deeply committed to the principles that there should be all-party committee appointments and that they should be representative, and I am disappointed that the House Leader is not here to listen to me say that.
As I have said, I am deeply committed to these principles that the all-party committee appointments should be made and that they should be representative. I was pleased that the government shares this belief and that it intends to pursue implementation of this recommendation in its first term.
The cooperation that will be required of all-party committee appointments is just the beginning of what I hope will be a better Legislature than Yukoners have experienced in the past. Interestingly enough, I have a calendar on my desk that contains quotes from life's little instruction book. The day that I was working on my notes for this speech, the comment was to remember that "nothing is ever lost by courtesy". I believe courtesy is allowing everyone a chance to be heard. In my commitment door to door in Porter Creek South, I personally pledged to myself and the voters that my children would never be embarrassed that mommy was a politician.
The throne speech tells that all Yukon children, women and men look to the Members of this House for inspiration. I trust that all of us will not only serve as an inspiration by the manners we exhibit in this place but that we will also serve as an example to all who enter here.
Again, I pledge and my response to the government's address is to make certain that I afford this House the respect it so richly deserves. I look forward to working with all Members for the good of the Yukon in the next four years.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Before responding to the Speech from the Throne, I have a couple of comments I would like to make with respect to our new Members here. I am particularly pleased to be working with the new Members of our caucus. I think they will be a valuable adjunct to a team that is already well established. With respect to our friends in the Opposition, I am very pleased to have them join us. I have not heard the Member for Klondike speak yet, but I am sure that he will bring forward some interesting ideas from a rural perspective, and I welcome those. With respect to the Member for Riverdale South, I think some of the observations brought forward regarding the problem of alcohol, and the particular scourge of FAS/FAE in the Yukon, are comments that I have welcomed, and I am encouraged by her support for those kinds of initiatives.
The Member for Porter Creek South brought forward very valuable comments with respect to the role of women in politics. I was pleased to see that. We have a staunch feminist on this side - a woman who never fails to remind us of our need to include the considerations of women in all of our deliberations, and particularly with respect to my portfolio. I am becoming increasingly aware of issues surrounding the feminization of poverty and families living in poverty. I welcome the input of another feminine voice in this House, and I think the Member's contributions will be welcomed.
I would mention, however, that, when it comes to children and how they perceive one's role, I visited my son's class shortly after being elected. The first question asked was if I could declare war on somebody. I said no. Sometimes children perceive one's role in much different ways.
It is good to be standing on this side of the House for a change, and it is certainly good to be part of an Assembly that has what I consider to be a good spirit, a good tone so far, and I hope that we can continue that level of amicability in this House.
I am proud to be part of this government and I am proud that the people of Whitehorse West saw fit to instill their confidence in me, and I think in many ways their votes did tell a bit of a story, that they were interested in a better way of getting things done in the Yukon. I have promised to listen to my constituents and help them work toward resolving some of the solutions to their problems. That promise is essentially the reason I am here, and I want to assure this House that I take that role very seriously.
Whitehorse West is a very interesting riding. In many ways, it is a microcosm of the whole territory because we have in Whitehorse West not only urban and suburban neighbourhoods, but also rural residents along the Alaska Highway, Squatters Row and out as far as MacRae. So it is a fairly diverse riding in terms of how people live. We have new homeowners up in the Granger-Logan-Copper Ridge area and Arkell; we have a number of single parents living in mobile homes; we have a number of seniors living in the established neighbourhoods of Hillcrest and, certainly in Squatters Row, we have a very diverse population of artists and people living their own particular brand of the Yukon experience. We have First Nations people, we have people who came here during the Second World War and who have stayed, and we have many new immigrants. So it is a very diverse riding.
It is also one of the fastest growing ridings in the Yukon and if many of the plans for expansion of Copper Ridge go through over the next few years it will be a very fast-growing area indeed.
There are, along with these changes, a number of concerns that people have, and I find that in my role many people come to me with concerns that probably are more properly municipal in nature, but I believe I have a role to act as an advocate on their behalf, particularly with regard to some municipal changes.
I am committed to the process of working with people, consulting with them and working through community discussions to find ways to bring these changes together.
One of the priorities of this government is collaboration. I am pleased to say that I will be working with my colleague, the Minister of Justice, to consider some changes with regard to the Landlord and Tenant Act in order to enhance and protect the quality of life for people living in mobile-home parks. There needs to be some modifications to allow these people to have a decent standard of living in their mobile-home parks.
I will also be working with the Minister of Community and Transportation Services on the question of road maintenance along the Alaska Highway. A number of people living along the highway have had some concerns, particularly in view of the tragedy that occurred last year. I will be working to make sure that maintaining the highway in top shape is a priority.
There are some changes occurring in the area of Whitehorse West. Probably the most notable one that we will hear about over the next while is the White Pass tank farm and the area just above Hillcrest. There are a number of issues surrounding that. There are concerns about contamination and other issues that we have already heard in the House. We will be working with the community association to make sure that its concerns are represented and that, if the development does happen, it is done in a way that is sensitive to the concerns of the residents of Hillcrest in particular. There are other impacts resulting from a development of this size, such as effects on the school and on the question of the Hamilton Boulevard corridor.
I am sometimes called upon to be a voice for my constituents in other areas. I have worked with the office of the Member of Parliament, Audrey McLaughlin, to ensure such things as postal service. This is one problem that we have up there. As the new subdivisions are completed, Canada Post seems prepared to cease the installation of the mailbox kiosks. This leaves a whole group of people - particularly the residents of Arkell - without the adequate level of service that other people have.
There are a number of issues that will be happening over the next little while, such as the proposed changes to Hamilton Boulevard, and changes with respect to green spaces and the use of snowmobiles.
Primarily, my background has been in education, and it has always been one of my great pleasures in life to work with parents and children. If you are a teacher, I think you never truly leave the classroom - it always stays with you. When you attend an event you find yourself immediately going to the children and trying to get involved with them. On a few occasions I have caught myself doing that principal-type organizing that one sometimes does at public gatherings, but that is just force of habit.
I have the privilege of having the Elijah Smith Elementary School in my riding, and I have enjoyed working with the school council and staff of that school. I hope to continue to represent these individuals in an effective way, particularly when there are major changes coming about, such as the grade reorganization.
One of the advantages of being a teacher up here is the experience it has given me in rural Yukon. When I first came to the territory, I worked in Pelly Crossing. That was an experience that I have always valued. I spent 11 years in Watson Lake. I learned to work effectively with all aspects of Yukon society.
I also gained a great deal of appreciation for the efforts put forth by the First Nations to play a fuller part in Yukon society. It is my commitment to try and work with the First Nation governments in a true government-to-government fashion.
My riding, Whitehorse West, borders the lands of Kwanlin Dun, and it shares a number of issues in the areas of justice, education and municipal resources with the First Nation. I will be working with the Kwanlin Dun and also with my colleague, the Government Leader and Member for McIntyre-Takhini, in areas of mutual concern.
On the issue of commitment to the First Nations, this government made a commitment to work with the First Nations of this territory in a meaningful and respectful manner. One example of that was the meeting that was held between the government caucus and the First Nations leadership on Friday. Many of the participants who attended the meeting commented on the historic nature of that meeting. I think it was truly historic, and I hope it will form the basis of a good, positive working relationship with First Nations in the future.
I look forward to working with my colleague, the Commissioner for the Development Assessment Process, to develop this process and enter into fruitful negotiations with the aboriginal people of this territory for economic and social development.
I also look forward to working in the two areas that are my particular responsibility: health and social services, and government services.
We promised to bring Yukoners a better way. Good government essentially means listening, consulting and asking questions of the people who are closest to the issues at hand. Good government also means careful use of resources within YTG's systems.
As the Minister of Government Services, I will work with the department to ensure our programs are cost effective and meet people's needs. I think it is essential that government keep costs down. For the money we do spend, we should try to maximize the greatest local benefit.
We will be moving toward a Yukon-people-first policy when it comes to government contracts. We will consult with our local businesses, First Nation governments, community agencies and non-governmental organizations for the best way to achieve this goal.
We are committed to partnerships with the private sector and existing small businesses. In order to support the Yukon business community, we will strengthen our local purchase policies within government. One of the things I heard most frequently from small Yukon businesses was the difficulty in getting started and the difficulty in trying to establish themselves, particularly businesses in a creative or innovative area. These businesses seemed to have the most difficulty. We will do what we can to support these businesses and facilitate their development.
We intend to implement a government-wide energy management program for public buildings as one aspect of our plan to use resources well. We need to make sure our government buildings are energy efficient. In particular, one thing we will be faced with over the next little while are some rather startling increases in the price of propane, which will add significantly to the cost of operating government buildings. We already experienced an increase on December 2, and we are anticipating another one in January, which will significantly increase the cost of operating government buildings. That is something we have to be aware of.
In some areas in Government Services and the question of special operating agencies, we are going to be proceeding with the implementation of Queen's Printer as a special operating agency, to try and provide better, more businesslike service to consumers and government. For the provision of services, we have to know what people really need. I believe in the importance of listening to people on a wide range of local issues. For the past number of weeks, I have been meeting with community organizations. I appreciate the input I have received, and I look forward to working with these groups. It has been an interesting experience, receiving very diverse views on a whole variety of issues. In particular, some of the voices I am committed to listening to are the voices of women, who have identified their priorities around action on gender equity, which I think we could almost be committed to. I have met with representatives of the Yukon Council on the Status of Women, who spoke to me not only about questions surrounding equity, but about attendant issues affecting women, in particular - questions of poverty, violence, safe and secure housing for teens, and others. I am committed to working with Yukon women, to find some practical solutions for those issues.
Community involvement could be strengthened by the use of new information technologies to help us keep in touch. My department is planning to make government more accessible by helping rural communities use the technology in ways to meet these needs. I do not think we are kidding ourselves when we say that meeting people's needs is going to be difficult, in the present economic climate. We will be working with community groups to look for some creative ways to provide programs needed by people. Quite frankly, however, it will be a real challenge to provide the levels of service at a time of cutbacks and layoffs.
This is very, very obvious in the Department of Health and Social Services. We have seen a national trend - to some degree, we have been somewhat insulated from it - to cut money for services to these areas. Frankly, I am very concerned about the level of reduction in federal spending on vital programs to help people with some basic needs such as food, housing and health services. Studies show that cuts to social programs mean increased poverty and deprivation. Quite frankly, I find it somewhat offensive that in a year where five of Canada's major banks have posted profits in excess of $1 billion, we have 1.3 million children in this country living at a poverty level. That is up by 400,000 children from 1989, when the federal government of this country made a commitment to eliminate child poverty. We have increased the number of children living in poverty in this country to 19 percent. Quite frankly, that is not acceptable.
One of the things I did recently was travel to Toronto to meet with provincial and territorial jurisdictions, with the aim of trying to achieve an integrated child benefit package, the aim of which is to try and direct more resources toward children, who are the future of this country.
We talk about deficit in this country. The real deficit we are going to experience - the real deficit - is going to be a social deficit in the next few years unless we address some of the problems facing Canadian society. Quite frankly, the gaps between rich and poor, the employed and unemployed, are growing wider in this country, and in a country that ranks where it does in terms of United Nations standards for living quality, I think that is unacceptable.
I see a crucial part of my job as working with some of my colleagues across the country with similar portfolios, as well as working with national and regional coalitions, to change a political climate that sees only cutting as the bottom-line. We will actively resist federal cuts to health care programs. My government is committed to a single-tier universal health care system with equal access for all Canadians.
Working with the Department of Health and Social Services is a big responsibility but I believe that society is strongest when it helps those most in need. I know that Yukoners have given our government a clear mandate to protect the health services and social safety nets to make this a good place to live.
I am quite pleased to be responsible for programs that have a direct impact on the lives of Yukon people. Because these programs protect the daily life of hundreds of people, I think it is important that change happens carefully. I want to work with the people who receive these services and the people who deliver them to make sure that we hear their ideas for change. We also want to make sure that changes are carefully explained to the people involved, that communication is clear and programs are effective.
Over the next few years, a number of health and social services initiatives will take place. I have met with the Grand Chief of Yukon First Nations to discuss the future of health care programs. We are working cooperatively to see that the transfer of health services from federal to territorial and First Nation governments happens in a manner that benefits all Yukon peoples. We have formed a working group to work in phase 2 transfer and provide recommendations that reflect the concerns and interests of Yukon First Nations.
The health transfer will be an exciting time for all of us in the Yukon, and I believe we have an opportunity to build a health care system that effectively meets people's needs. We are committed to ensuring the Yukon public has a say in the redesign and delivery of health care services.
I am pleased to report the Whitehorse General Hospital will celebrate the official opening of phase 1 of the hospital on December 13. The patients will be transferred to the new facility in early January. My government is working in a partnership with the hospital board, and we are pleased to offer our assistance as the board works to resolve outstanding staffing and operational concerns.
The Yukon government will be following up on community concerns about dental programs for children. We have received a report back on that issue and we are moving in that direction. We will also be working in cooperation with other departments on initiatives to keep children safe - for example, the announcement made on family conferencing. We are also making numerous efforts to improve our services to address the needs of high-risk children, and our emphasis will be on early intervention.
As Minister of Social Services, I am the Yukon government representative on the National Council of Ministers on Social Policy Reform. As I indicated earlier, one of our goals will be to create a unified national children's benefit.
Our government is committed to a review of social assistance rates and eligibility to ensure greater equity and more effective service to those people who need the support. We believe in protecting the dignity of people who need extra help in society. We will work toward finding ways to provide training that will keep them as integrated, useful, and productive members of a community.
I have already directed the department to revisit the policy related to lone parents and look for ways to increase flexibility in this area.
My department will be faithful in its promise to ensure that safe places are available for women and children who are victims of abuse. We are committed to building or securing a shelter for homeless men - a transient shelter - and we are presently working with non-profit groups to find an interim solution against the cold of this winter. We are also looking at providing a long-term solution to this problem, which we hope to be able to announce in the spring.
We will need time to listen to concerns of Yukon men, women, First Nations, young people, seniors, and people living with health problems and physical challenges. We need time to absorb their stories and develop beneficial ways to help them access the help they need.
We also want local non-governmental agencies to provide essential services in the community. We want to give them time by working to develop formulas to provide stable, multi-year funding to foster their stability and strengthen their presence at the grassroots level. We have already begun meeting with non-governmental agencies to listen to their concerns. A recurring theme I have heard from many of them is the fact that so much of their energy is tied up not in delivering services but in working on trying to secure funding for future operations. We believe these groups need to be given a greater security of funding so they can do the job they are intended to do.
We have also given some directive to the Department of Finance to look at some formulas in this regard.
I am pleased to indicate that, as the first step toward this commitment, I can confirm that funding for Kaushee's Place will remain at its present level without funding reductions.
The departments of Health and Social Services and Finance will also be working with these community groups to help them develop business plans to ensure that the funding is effectively utilized for the benefit of all Yukoners.
This government believes in planning for the future. As a principal, I was privileged to talk to a lot of parents about their kids. I heard people worry about their children and talk about their hopes and dreams. Parents tend to think about the future and feel responsible to do all they can to provide good options for their children. This government is made up of women and men who feel responsible for the future of the Yukon. We want to make it a place where the natural environment is protected. We want to make it a place where industry and employment levels can make healthy contributions to our local economy. We want our children to have access to good education and be able to raise our grandchildren in strong, safe communities.
I am particularly grateful to the people of Whitehorse West for allowing me to represent them as we plan for the future. I urge my constituents, and indeed all Yukoners, to keep in touch with me and make every effort to be involved in the governing of their neighbourhood, their territory and their city.
Mr. Speaker, I want you to help me in the task of making our home a better place in which to live in the future. Thank you.
Hon. Mr. Harding: It is indeed a great pleasure to be speaking today in reply to the Speech from the Throne. A lot has happened since September 30 and the election campaign. It is the first major opportunity I have had to stand and speak a bit about it.
On October 30, the people of the Yukon elected our party to form the government and lead the territory to the next millennium. I want to thank the people of Faro for putting their confidence in me as their representative for the next four years. It is indeed a great honour. I will never forget the night of my re-election. I always used to worry about being a one-term wonder. I figured anyone could do anything for one term, but to get elected twice means something. I felt very honoured by the people and what was bestowed upon me. As I went door to door and spoke to them about the issues, it was a very gratifying experience. We do not do a lot of polling in the Yukon, so one does not always know how one is doing until one sees a sign on someone's lawn or hears people saying, "You do not have to spend any time here, Trevor, you have our support." I just want to say from the heart that I thank the people for that. I also want to say that I thank my opponent in Faro and the people who supported him, as well. I never got into one harsh argument with anyone during the campaign; I thought that was great.
I believe that the decisions that face our government will shape the direction of this territory for years to come in a critical way that has not been seen before. I know that is kind of a cliché that politicians love to say, but, in this case I really believe it is true.
We are now dealing with the final settlements - the deadlines - of land claims. We are dealing with time lines that are very pressing. We are dealing with issues of devolution of federal powers to this territory in important resource areas, such as mining and forestry. I believe that if we can come through this time together as one Yukon people, with a greater understanding of each other's values and cultures, we will have a tremendous opportunity to build the future of this territory, both socially and economically.
We can use the economy as a vehicle to achieve a greater social and economic framework for this territory, and I want to put a lot of effort, as do my colleagues, into seeing that happen. It will take a lot of work. We will have to measure our progress in small, little baby steps, but that is something we are prepared to do. We want to remain focused on a vision. We do not want to be a herky-jerky government that sort of reacts to all of the brush fires that come up. We want to pay heed to the concerns of Yukoners as they arise, but we cannot lose sight of that big picture.
That is what the Government Leader is up to now as he puts together a team to deal with the tremendous challenges of settling land claims. We have tremendous challenges but we also have tremendous opportunities. The proof in the pudding will be in the eating and when all is said and done, we will see a settlement of claims, and we will see a new society fostered on a basis of greater mutual trust and understanding.
This is an awesome responsibility and we take it very, very seriously and very, very humbly. We have an agenda that is ambitious and we have an agenda that is aggressive and, throughout all this, we want to make sure we conduct our government in a better way.
We are committed, as a fundamental principle, to involving people in decisions that affect them. We are committed to healing and to restoring some of those wounds that have opened up over the last four years - the broken and damaged relationships in the communities, the partnerships that have been broken down. We are going to work very hard to try and patch that up and put things together - get this ship back on the right course.
We are committed to responding to the people in an effective way that maximizes our resources and uses them for maximum benefit in terms of job creation. We want to support companies that are clear about the agenda this government has, which says "Yukon people first". It says "socio-economic agreements with the First Nations in the areas affected". It says "hire Yukoners". It says, "We are going to have the training, we are going to have the skills necessary to do the job and this government is going to work in partnership with the private sector to ensure that is happening." We are saying to companies, "Conduct yourselves in an environmentally responsible manner and you will have no problems with this government. We will support you. We will foster your industry. We will work with you. We want to get those jobs created in this territory."
We are committed to a government that is open and accountable, and responsible for the decisions it makes. We are committed to balancing economic development and environmental concerns, and we believe there should not be so much differentiation between the two. For the long-term sustainability, it is important that both concerns are identified first and foremost. We believe there are acceptable compromises. We believe there are ways through which we can see a future for the Yukon that has a lot of emphasis on economic diversity, uses our resource sector as a building block to see that happen, and we believe we can do it while protecting our environment.
This government sees not only intrinsic values in parks, wilderness protection and the environment, but we think there is also tremendous potential in this territory for long-term, sustainable benefit from good environmental policy. It does not always have to collide with the economy, as some people like to phrase the equation. Above all, we have to remain a compassionate government that understands the difficulties faced by working men and women in their daily lives in the territory.
This brings me to the subject of my riding, which is the note I opened on. The effect on working families was sudden and it was very shocking for many people on November 20, when the news hit that there would be approximately 300 workers laid off at the mine, a temporary mine shutdown. There were always rumours that things were not going that well, but I heard that for seven years when I was working for Curragh. It eventually hit, and we lost Curragh. However, in this case, I do not think that anybody could really claim that it was not somewhat of a surprise.
Two days before the election, I was at the board of directors barbecue at the guest house in Faro, and it was a very exciting, exuberant feeling. There was a $7 million profit announced for that quarter at low metal prices. It was full speed ahead with big things to come in the future. There was a good exploration program underway. They were spending millions. At that barbecue, I was having discussions with some of the directors of the board. I was talking about some of the rumours about how things were not going well. Some of the directors seemed really surprised that these rumours were out there. They immediately called over to the general manager and said, "We should be talking to the people about how optimistic we are about the future, and it looks good." I think they were very sincere.
I say again, it was a bit of a shock. On November 20, when the announcement came down, two constituents came into my office, and they said, "Trevor, what is happening? What is all this news?" I explained it to them, and they said, "Well, it is a good thing that we found out today, because we were just on our way over to Whitehorse Motors to purchase a new $40,000 pick-up truck." In that sense, there were a couple of lucky people; however, there are a lot of people who were not so lucky. There are a lot of people who invested in the Yukon, purchased goods and services, restarted lives, had children, and looked at Faro as a community to live in for a long time. I think that those people are now feeling a great amount of anxiety as we look toward the future and hope that the temporary, partial shutdown, as it was announced, plays out to be just that - a temporary, partial shutdown.
It has been tough. A lot of people have talked to me. Just this weekend I was home in Faro, where I played a couple of games of hockey, talked to people in the dressing room and in the local watering hole and on the street. I attended a community meeting with some of the groups in town, and people were asking me a lot of questions about what the future holds.
Quite frankly, I wish I could have given them some better answers at this point. It is still too early to tell. The company is still in the process of restructuring. A board of directors meeting is to take place in Toronto tomorrow, as I understand it. I am sure that financing options and a new mine production plan will be discussed. In addition, there will probably be some discussion about the effect of the mine closure on the people of Faro. I think, too, an assessment will be done on the company's credibility in the financial markets - all of those questions. I intend to be as diligent as ever in trying to get that information. I will be letting the people in the communities of Faro, Ross River and in the rest of the Yukon know what I know about the situation. There is, however, room for optimism, as I stated before in this House.
This company has virtually no debt, as opposed to Curragh Resources, which had some $300 million of debt, which was staggering. Anvil Range has an exposed ore body, for the most part. There is some stripping to be done, but it is not the same situation they had when they took over in November 1994. It has invested over $100 million in capitalization and upgrading, so that there is a significant desire on their part, as a result of this investment, to make this project go - their one mine project. They also do not have the albatross of Westray coal mine around their neck, as Curragh did. That, with all of its - perhaps deserved - connotations, made it incredibly difficult for that company to survive.
For the people of my community, this is a very tough time. Some of them have been through it before and know the drill. They are not as nervous as they were before. They are going to take more of a wait-and-see approach. For others, it is very, very tough.
I believe that this community will survive. Many said it would not when the mine shut down in 1992. They thought the place was going to clean out. The government actively supported that notion. We never went below 100 kids in the school. I think the lowest number we had was 110, when stripping re-started in November 1994.
People have asked me if they should stay or leave. I have said that I do not want to tell anyone to leave Faro because I like the community. It is my home. However, I have also said that they have to make some personal choices about that. I know how tough it is on them, anxiety-wise, as they have bills to pay and do not know what their prospects are outside.
They have to consider that. Some have jobs elsewhere and are taking them; however, some people will never leave Faro, no matter what. I respect those who stay and I respect those who leave.
Young families are particularly vulnerable right now. We have concentrated our efforts on dealing with Faro as a community, first and foremost, and a mining camp second. It is a living, breathing Yukon community where citizens pay their taxes and contribute tremendously to the economy. Therefore, we have targeted the shutdown because of the sudden great impact on the community of Faro. We have specifically targeted it so that we can address the needs out there as best as we can in this interim period.
We have sent a senior team into the community to discuss with many community groups and citizens the priorities people have. We want to keep the tax-paying group there who have worked hard, so that there is a skilled workforce available for when the company rebounds - which I hope it will - and the people can be there ready to go back to work.
We have tried to concentrate on key areas, such as college courses designed to fit a 13-week period. We have tried to look at recreational events that provide some opportunity for skills upgrading in all different aspects of recreation, arts and culture. Many of these programs are ongoing in the Yukon but do not often come to Faro. We are trying to increase the availability of these programs to the community of Faro.
We are also trying to deal with the dark side of this situation. It will be a long, cold, dark winter. It is tough for people to be out of work. We want to ensure that the youth
and families of the community have access to good counselling services on the ground. We have set up a working group to discuss with all the different agencies in the community what factors might come up in addressing them and what difficulties they might have. We are trying to deal with this tough situation.
We are going to continue to respond in that manner. I had a meeting on Saturday morning with a number of community groups. We are putting more work into the planning and will have the unemployment insurance people in Faro over the next couple of days to organize a clearing house for claims, so that the turnaround is fairly quick. We will try to do what we can with the resources we have and with the municipal government to try to mitigate the effects of this shutdown as best as we can.
We are also assessing the effects on the people of Ross River who had some economic interest in the mine at Faro and some jobs in the community. We have begun some dialogue with that community.
There are also other people in the Yukon who have felt some impact, such as the Lomak truck drivers. They are obviously feeling some anxiety, although they are still hauling right now. I think it is important that we respond quickly and with compassion. I believe that must be the hallmark of this government.
I want to talk about some of the issues in the community of Faro that I will be trying to address through my position as a Cabinet Minister and as a colleague of the fine Members who have been elected to our government caucus and of whom I am extremely proud. We have a fine group here and one that I think really reflects the diversity of the Yukon. We have people from all around this territory who have very different backgrounds and, in some cases, very different views, which makes for some good dialogue, good discussion and good argument in caucus. I think this also serves us well in making solid, well-founded decisions for the future.
The community of Faro does have a long-term vision for a more diversified, long-term economy. This is very tough to do, but we do have some plans. We have been trying to diversify the economy with regard to wilderness tourism.
We have set up some meetings with the community of Ross River. Chief Sterriah and I have been working together and I must say that I commend him for his approach in trying to work out some of the long-standing grievances between Faro and Ross River. I get the impression that he has a deep feeling of commitment and that he is very interested in resolving these grievances. Conversely, I share his desire to see that happen.
It is also tough to be leaders in that respect. It is always easier just to stand back and complain about the other community, but what is really tough is to try to resolve some of these long-standing disputes. However, there are a number of people in Faro and Ross River who are keen to resolve these disputes and I look forward to continuing that work.
I also want to say that I am grateful to my colleague, the Minister of Health and Social Services, to ensure that we have long-term and stable physician care in the community of Faro. The Minister has been working with the two physicians in the community to ensure that the physician care is there.
We have also had a commitment from the federal medical services people that there will be no reduction in the amount of services that they are providing to the community during this temporary, partial shutdown of the mine.
The Opposition Members have heard from this Member time and time again about the need to invest some money, slowly, but surely, to upgrade the Campbell Highway. Members have also heard me say that when the ore trucks are on the road there has to be significant maintenance expenditure on that road, because it does take a pounding.
I am going to be working with my colleagues to try to ensure that we can get some investment on the Campbell highway. If one looks at the makeup of the commission, there are the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, the Member for Watson Lake and the Member for Faro. We all have a keen interest in the Campbell highway; it is near and dear to all of us. Therefore we are going to be trying to ensure that we put the resources in the right place in that respect.
I also have a number of constituents who are keen on developing affordable recreational lots at Little Salmon Lake because, as I have said before, Faro is a community first and foremost to them. They have their cottage out at the lake, just like people in Whitehorse do at Marsh Lake. Little Salmon Lake is our equivalent to Marsh Lake. They want to build out there and in some cases even live out there and commute back and forth to Faro or Carmacks. Those are a couple of the communities that they do their shopping in. I am going to be working with my colleague, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, who has to liaise with the federal government in this initiative and we have already started some efforts to that end.
Again, I want to say that we want to undertake efforts to support small business and economic diversification in the community. There are a couple of vehicles in existence right now. One was started by the previous government that there has been some application under. We are currently reviewing the long-term future of that program, but in the meantime that should be able to help the people of Faro and the rest of the Yukon, those who might be looking to try to develop their small business. Although given the lightening quick turnaround in the Faro mine's fortunes this time, it is going to be even increasingly tougher to get banks to come on side in any substantive way to invest in the community. That is something that we are going to have to come to grips with. I do not have an answer to that readily at hand today.
I have often stood up in this Legislature and talked about Mount Mye and the need to see some kind of a limited-draw hunt in that area for some of the fine stone sheep in that area. I am going to be talking to my Minister of Renewable Resources about some ways that we might be able to have a draw for the people of the Yukon to perhaps get in on, in some limited way, a sheep hunt in that fine area if the numbers can sustain it. So far the indications that I have heard is that the numbers can sustain it.
There are many other local constituency issues that I have been working on on an individual basis and for a number of Faroites, and I will continue to do that in my role in government. I will continue to take to the Cabinet table every Thursday and to our government caucus meetings a strong sense of recognition of who put me where I am and who supported me and who gave me the honour of being their representative and putting me in the position where I will be able to talk to colleagues about the priorities of the community of Faro.
This government has an ambitious and aggressive agenda, as I stated earlier. We intend to create a strong economic growth through supporting industry, small business and Yukon communities. In the area of mining, which is near and dear to me and near and dear to our community, obviously, because we make our living from it and it is our bread and butter, I want to say that we have taken a very aggressive approach right from the start. The best years in Yukon mining history were under an NDP government and we will be able to carry on that tradition. The highest years of exploration were under an NDP government in the Yukon and the greatest number of mine production figures were under an NDP government in the Yukon. We intend to work to help carry out that tradition.
We have been aggressively meeting with mining companies, talking to them, telling them that the Yukon is a good place to do business, telling them our vision of how we would love to see mining companies and corporate citizens conduct their business in the territory, and they have been very amenable. In many cases, they have been well on their way down that path for several years and we will continue to work with them on that.
We believe that mining is the cornerstone, the building block, to economic diversification in this territory. We are going to foster it, we are going to nurture it, we are going to work with the industry, and we are going to involve them in decisions that affect them. We are going to have arguments. There are going to be times when we disagree, but we are going to do it through a thoughtful, constructive and well-established method that has existing processes set up that provides for buy-in by the different stakeholders.
The bottom line for all this activity is that we want to see those good-paying jobs for Yukon people so that they can go out and invest in the economy, so that they can go out and purchase vehicles and stereos and houses, and can create that level of disposable income that allows the small business sector to thrive.
We also want to see socio-economic agreements with First Nations that allow the First Nations people to benefit, really for the first time, from mineral exploration and resource extraction in this territory, so that they can get on to greater self-sufficiency and economic initiatives that they want to undertake.
That is all part of the promise of the land claims agreement, as I see it. I see it as a great social vehicle and an economic tool that we can use to try and ensure that we all have a more common vision of the Yukon and a more common future. It is something that will bring a greater certainty into this territory, so that companies wanting to invest in this territory have a stronger idea of where they will be able to make that investment and know that they are not going to run into problems later.
The Ketza, Sa Dena Hes, Mt. Skukum and Faro mines all benefited from a Yukon New Democratic government from 1985 to 1992. We intend to continue that strong partnership with the private sector.
I think it is important that we also emphasize training in our mandate. We want to make sure that we develop systems so there is a capable workforce of Yukoners ready to serve the personnel requirements of the mining industry.
We think this is a key aspect of how we will do business in the Yukon.
We strongly believe that we can be the mining industry's promoter and partner, as well as its regulator and royalty collector. We have to continue to maintain an open dialogue. We have to know and understand its issues and try and bring it together with other land use interests in the Yukon, so there is constructive and open dialogue about serious, tough issues - issues that cannot always be resolved by politicians. That way, all interest groups can take different political routes and will not collide, unless the politicians make the decision. It is important that, for example, miners and conservationists are sitting in the same room. It is important that loggers and conservationists are sitting in the same room. That is the only way to foster greater consensus and understanding of each other's issues. We all have a vision for this territory. We must focus on finding the similarities, not the differences, in our positions. That will be the job of the Opposition. I am sure it will do that job well.
To reach our goal of economic diversification, our government recognizes the need to support Yukon small businesses and work actively with them. Many small businesses, especially in the communities, have difficulty accessing capital. One has to be living in a dream world if one thinks that people in the communities have the same relationship with the banks as people in some of the larger centres and Whitehorse have. It is very tough for them to raise capital. We will be looking for ways to work with them using, in some cases, existing vehicles, but also others, in an effort to try and foster the growth of these small businesses and the opportunity for job creation in the territory.
I know that the former Government Leader was a big fan of some of the things done by the Yukon NDP government. His business, at one time, was the recipient of a $25,000 grant. I know that he, too, has a soft spot for the difficulties rural businesses often have in raising and accessing capital. I look forward to his contribution to the debate.
Our government is currently working with businesses that made a request under the venture loan guarantee program started by the previous government. I have some concerns about that program, but I think it is a reasonable vehicle in the interim period to try and address some of the concerns that have been put before us as a government with regard to accessing capital and the sharing of risk with the private sector.
Our government realizes that our economy is underdeveloped and overwhelmingly resource-based. We will be attempting to spur on economic diversification by using the resource sector as our cornerstone, focal point and building block for economic diversification.
We have also undertaken the support of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce in the development of the Yukon business centre, because the previous government recentralized and had taken economic development officers out of the communities. We believe that the Yukon business centre will help to provide information to small businesses in the rural communities to assist in getting them through some of the difficult challenges they face. It will also obviously be available to the people of Whitehorse who want to use the service at its main base. We look forward to that initiative coming to fruition.
We also want to strongly support Yukon communities. A large part of our mandate came from communities, because they did not feel that they were part of the equation in this territory during the last four years. One of the reasons we brought forward the community development fund in our platform, entitled A Better Way, was because the rural communities told us that the fund was a vehicle that they could count on to deliver projects consistent with their priorities, though in some cases, with very small resources. The Members opposite can call it a slush fund as often as they want, but it is the fulfillment of an election campaign promise that we made to the people of the Yukon. We are going to fulfill it. We are going to honour our commitment. We would be criticized if we did not.
We want to do it in a strong, consultative manner. We want to ensure that the communities are involved in its development. There will be snags along the way. Some projects will be failures and some will be great successes, as with any program. The former Minister of Tourism is aware of that. He launched the centennial anniversaries program and I am still dealing with some of its failures; however, there were also some successes. I will not get into that further at this time.
In the interim, this government has announced a community projects initiative, which is a small, modest vehicle to try and address some of the burning priorities in the communities. Mostly it is targeted toward people who are well on their way toward the development of substantial proposals for community funding. Through the evaluation of the applications, I think this government will be able to do some good work in those communities.
I am also the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Development Corporation.
There are tremendous challenges in the energy field in this territory, and there has been precious little done in energy policy work over the last few years. This government has created Cabinet commissions in the areas of energy, forestry, local hire and the development assessment process, to put a real political equation and will into trying to see these policies in these areas come to life. During the last election Yukoners were crying out for action in these key areas. However, the political will was absent from the scene.
This government set up a forestry commission because it wanted to ensure a long-term, sustainable, made-in-Yukon forestry policy. What has this government heard from the Opposition? The Opposition has called it a million-dollar make-work project. That is so far from the truth it is not even funny, and in many cases it is not worth a response, but since it is my reply to the Speech from the Throne, I will say that I believe our approach to dealing with the forestry problem in the Yukon is a better way than the approach taken by the previous government.
The previous government tried to throw a million dollar subsidy at the logging industry for stumpage fees and to hire some outside consultant from the United States to come and fix it for us. The previous government threw its hands in the air and said it was done with it.
This government's commissions will not cost a million bucks, nor anywhere close to it. They are staffed - as is the case of the forestry commission - with people who have been seconded who were previously doing forestry work for the government.
This government will put together a working team that will concentrate on those tough issues and on the development assessment process, which is a real economic opportunity in the Yukon. What did the previous government do about the development assessment process? It sat on its hands. The previous government took something that this government believes could be a real economic stimulator in the Yukon and sat on it, allowing it to be totally handled by the bureaucracy. That is why this government put a political point person on it, to ensure that all the land users and all the people who have a stake in this are being consulted and do not have anything sprung on them at the last second.
The development assessment process could be a real opportunity or a real nightmare for Yukoners. This government wants to work hard and do its part with the other governments to make sure that at least the Yukon government can stand proud and say it has done its share. We want it to be a positive building block for this territory.
I will not go into the commissions except to say that I am very proud of the concept of actually putting private Members to work on very important projects to Yukoners. These Members are doing it for no extra pay, and will be doing a lot more work as a result of it. They are very intelligent and bright people. We ask the Opposition to work with us, to come along and participate in this, not to always oppose but to work with us and reach common understandings, participate in the meetings and the consultations and put forth their positions, not just their negativity.
I look forward to working with those commissioners and their people and staff. My Economic Development department has a key role to play to that end.
When it comes to the Yukon Energy Corporation, I look forward to dealing with the issues of rate relief, of risk sharing, of working with the energy commissioner who is doing the policy work in many of those areas, to see a future direction we can live with as Yukoners. I look forward to dealing with the issue of the management contract with the Yukon Electrical Company Limited. These are big challenges, but I think we are up to them.
With respect to the Public Service Commission, I want to say that I am very proud to table, as one of our very first initiatives, a reinstatement of the process of collective bargaining. During the campaign we promised, on page 24, the better way we would begin negotiations with the public service unions for new collective agreements to reflect current labour conditions, as well as to repeal Bill No. 94, which ended free negotiations, at the earliest opportunity.
Time and time again during the election campaign, we held firm to our commitment to the people to restore the process, to ensure that the right taken away by the Yukon Party would be reinstated to the Yukon Teachers Association and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. I remain steadfast to that commitment.
I received a press release today from the former Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, who obviously has too much time on his hands. He is dealing with "administrivia," making some argument that, somehow, we have bailed out on a campaign promise.
Time and time again we were asked direct questions about rollbacks and the restoration of collective bargaining. We said we would restore the process and leave the nuts and bolts to the bargaining table, which would be negotiated in good faith with our partners, as employees, and our partners, as educators, in this territory.
I look forward to that opportunity. Again, I ask the Member opposite - the former Minister - to participate, give us his views, and to share with us his vision of the future, and not just the negativity of those types of press releases built on less than a reasonable level of factual information - basic administrivia.
We have also undertaken some initiatives in the land claims agreement. Under the umbrella final agreement, we are mandated to ensure that we do employment equity planning. We have already had many meetings with the First Nation community to ensure that we live up to our obligations under the umbrella final agreement. This government remains steadfast to that commitment. Also, under chapter 22, through economic development, we will be working to ensure that our commitments to economic planning are undertaken so we can move forward together with First Nations and can have mutual benefits. The Government Leader has been telling me about some of the things that have been going on in Mayo, where the Na-Cho Ny'ak Dun and the Town of Mayo are having joint meetings on a regular basis to discuss their common future in the Yukon.
I also have the portfolio of the Workers' Compensation Board. I have been working very hard to deliver on our agenda in that area, which focused on a greater accountability of the board to the stakeholders, on the creation of the workers' advocate, and on the belief that there must be a buy-in to the chair and the vice chair by labour organizations, workers, the Chambers of Commerce and employers. During the election campaign, our party recognized that among the priority issues for Yukoners were jobs and the economy - a lot of emphasis was put on that - but we are certainly not going to forget our social commitments to Yukoners.
I will close by saying that I am incredibly proud and honoured to once again be put forward as the representative of the people of Faro, and I am very proud to have been given those ministerial portfolios I have been given. I look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with Faroites, Yukoners in other communities, First Nations, my colleagues and the Opposition, toward a positive future for this territory.
Mr. Phillips: It is always a pleasure to rise and speak after the Member for Faro speaks. I would suggest to all Members that, when they get Hansard tomorrow, they just open up a Trevor file and stick it in there, and every time he speaks they can bring it into the House and we will hear the same thing over and over and over and over again. Even though he is on the other side of the House, he has not quite swung into the government mode yet.
It is indeed a pleasure for me to be elected as a Member of this Assembly for the fourth time. I would like to personally thank the residents of Riverdale North who have shown their confidence in me over the past 12 years. I am greatly honoured by their confidence.
I would also like to thank the many people who offered me support in my campaign, especially members of my family, Dale and Jason, who were here and worked on my campaign; Pam Blackburn, my campaign manager; and Jo Lehmann who took care of my office. Without those people, it would not have been as successful as it was. Especially, I want to thank all of the workers who gave a great deal of their personal time, efforts, and in some cases money, to make our campaign a success.
I would like to congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, and all of the Members of this House who are here representing their ridings, with a special welcome to the new Members who are in the House here today.
I can recall my first days in the House and the special feelings and nervousness that I felt when I stepped into this Chamber because, although perhaps in the public's view we are not considered right up there with the most credible people in the world, it is a very important job. We have to take our job very seriously. It is a real honour to be chosen by one's constituents to be here and to serve them here, and I can tell Members that for the rest of their lives they will remember the first day they were here. It is something special that one has done in one's life, and no matter how long one's tenure is in here, one will remember that first day.
I listened intently to the throne speech for some new initiatives coming from the government. I did not hear an awful lot, but throne speeches have a tendency to be that way, where it is more fluff and more general indications of where the government is going than dealing with specifics. However, there were some things in the throne speech that were not in the election campaign but were announced shortly thereafter. One is the setting up of the commissions, as we have talked about here today.
It sounds to me that this is a bit of a carrot to keep some of the backbenchers happy. I can tell by the grins on their faces as they talk about some of those responsibilities that so far they are happy - in the first three weeks anyway - so it is working so far.
If these commissions are the route that the government is going to take, I hope that the Members take them very seriously and that they operate them in a way that does not cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars. I hope also that the commissions do not duplicate work that has already been done in many areas. There is no point in reinventing the wheel. I wish those Members well in the work that they may carry out in those commissions.
In the throne speech, this government talked about the need to diversify the Yukon's economy, especially in light of the Faro shutdown. Yet, there was really nothing in the speech that would suggest a vision for diversification. In fact, I was quite disappointed and somewhat surprised when, in a 30-minute speech about where this government is going, we heard nothing - maybe 30 short seconds - about our number two industry in the territory, which is tourism.
I was very disappointed about that and hope it was an oversight. Tourism has been one of our strongest and steadiest growth sectors in the last four years, and it was there in the last three or four years when the mining sector was down.
The tourism industry employs more people in the territory than any other sector, yet it got less than 30 seconds allotted to it during the throne speech.
People in the tourism industry have talked to me over the last few days about that throne speech and told me that they are very concerned about the lack of attention that this government is paying to tourism. These people are reminded of the previous NDP government who did not seem to keep tourism on the front burner, but rather on the back burner. Some of the Members of the NDP Opposition spent a good deal of their time mocking tourism initiatives. It was only when the Member for Whitehorse West was elected in a by-election that the NDP government showed any concern about tourism.
I thank the Minister for his initiatives, for showing up at the meetings and for being there and understanding what tourism is all about. I have talked with the Minister of Tourism and given him some of my thoughts. I plan to work with the new Minister in developing a good tourism product in the territory, but I will be critical if tourism falls into the same line of priorities as under the previous NDP government.
The Minister of Tourism should have an awfully strong voice in Cabinet, because several of the Members who are elected and in office now - his Government Leader and the Minister of Economic Development, who is also responsible for tourism businesses - spoke out many times about the initiatives we made with respect to tourism that proved to be very successful. The industry is very nervous about that. The Member for Faro is making light of it. He is laughing about it. Perhaps he should have sat down with the Member for Whitehorse West when he went to the TIA convention and the tourism industry representatives spoke to him and told him how concerned they were about the NDP's commitment to tourism. The party has never shown a commitment to tourism and now is the time to do that.
Last week, I listened to the Member for Kluane tell us how his area has been left out of tourism development. I think that Member is soon going to find out that simple solutions do not always solve all the problems. I would like to ask the Member for Kluane to look at the efforts that have been put into Kluane over the years under both the Yukon Party and the NDP regimes. Over $100 million has gone into road upgrading in that area. This was as a result of the complaints made most often by visitors who drove into the Kluane area about where improvement was needed. Over $100 million went into road upgrading. There were probably more improvements made to the roads in that area than in any other area in the Yukon Territory.
Parks Canada has improved their interpretive centres, as exemplified by the recent new Sheep Mountain centre and the park trails. We have tried to gain limited access to Kluane to help slow down our visitors and keep them there. Tourism Yukon takes almost every one of their familiarization tours into the Kluane region to show off its beauty and encourage the visitors to come back. Stories are written in newspapers all over the world about this beautiful place.
Parks Canada has a main parks interpretive centre in Haines Junction, which is a tourism-oriented facility, and has recently announced a CAP proposal worth over $1 million. Much of the marketing money is directed to sending people to the Kluane region, but it is also important that the private sector work together providing products that will make people want to stay longer. As Members can see, some things are being done, but the answers are not all easy.
I want to thank the incoming government for continuing with the Beringia project that some Members on the side opposite were against. I think that if we are going to develop the Yukon as a destination, we are going to have to build quality attractions and quality projects that will encourage people to spend more time here and make this their destination. We need to do that with Beringia and with our First Nations' history, and we need to continue marketing with our gold rush history, since it is something that people know about all over the world. I think that there are great opportunities in the tourism field for us in the territory.
I think that we also have to look at the current airline access to the territory. We have to look at both airlines flying year-round into the territory to ensure that they will be here in the future. Air access is a major problem that impacts people travelling to the territory and buying our products.
I would like to comment on another area in the throne speech. On page 4 of the throne speech, it states, "My government values the efforts and expertise of its public employees who provide essential services to the public on a daily basis. We believe they deserve to work in a positive environment, free from harassment and intimidation." I have to wonder how the employees of the land claims department felt about those words in view of the recent fiasco that has been going on over there. I will bet they are wondering who is really calling the shots on that one.
One has to wonder where the Minister of the Public Service Commission is, if he is not protecting his employees from the obvious harassment that they have been getting. I wonder if the staff in the Executive Council Office believe that they were treated fairly when they were given such short notice to pack their bags and move to other offices. I think that this is only the beginning. I wonder how the rest of the Yukon public service must feel now that long-time bureaucrats have been fired or moved, and are replaced with defeated political candidates and old political hacks with no job interviews or competitions. It sounds to me that soon there will be an NDP membership drive in government, and if one does not sign up, they might be in trouble.
The last NDP regime was criticized for politicizing the bureaucracy. It appears that this political regime, only weeks into its mandate, is already off and running.
The throne speech talks about introducing legislation to deal with the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act. The Member for Faro, the Minister, just spoke about this a few minutes ago and criticized my press release. After reading the act, I am a little confused by it. Although I support the principle of the bill, it appears to be hastily drafted and could be somewhat embarrassing to the government.
At a high school debate during the election campaign, Mr. McDonald was asked a question: will he repeal or would he amend? Mr. McDonald answered by saying that he would amend. That was the answer he gave to the students. Then the NDP campaign literature came out, and the literature said that the NDP would repeal - they would not just change it, they would get rid of it. When I read the act, it appears they tried to do both. I cannot see how that could be possible. The title page of the act in Bill No. 21 says, "An Act to Amend the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act" - to amend, not to repeal. When the page is turned, the surprise title of the act on the second page of Bill No. 21 is "An Act to Repeal the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994". Was nobody watching this when it went through? Did anyone care?
Now, the Minister is admitting there is a mistake. It cannot be both ways. The title on one page says the legislation is going to be amended and the title on the second page says it is going to be repealed. Then, it begins with the first clause of the act saying, "The Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994 is repealed." Okay, so it is gone. It is repealed. Then, on the following page, page 2, clause 4(2), talks about provisions of the act still being in place. Well, I thought it had just been repealed in clause 1, so it is not there - and then in clause 4, it is back. All I am suggesting to the Minister is that it was done a little hastily. I am willing to work with the Minister. I think we all want to accomplish the same thing. We want to go back to the bargaining table. There are some clauses of the act that the Minister wants to keep in place. Let us come back and amend the act with an honest bill - one that is not confusing to the general public. The Members opposite are the ones who have said to us, "It is essential that we write our legislation so that the general public can understand it."
Well, page 1 says "amend," page 2 says "repeal," page 3 says "amend," page 4 says "repeal." Let us get our act together, so to speak. It seems to be a convoluted way to amend this existing act and I would hope that the Member will come in - and we will work with him very quickly - by coming in with a new bill. Perhaps somehow we can amend this bill, but the easiest way would be simply a new bill. It is only a couple of pages. The drafters are probably sitting in their offices now, wondering how they are going to deal with this, and maybe they can draft it all up so that by tomorrow morning they can have a proper bill in front of the Minister and he can take some time out of his very busy schedule to read it, and then bring it back in the House.
I am going to be closely watching the local hire initiatives. I know the government talked in their election campaign about local hire, and that is a credible initiative. I, too, would like to see as many jobs as possible go to Yukoners but I think we have to be careful. There may be ways around it and ways in which we can have more Yukoners work, but I have been approached by several business people who, for one reason or another, did not get a road contract, did not get a building contract, did not get a cabinet contract, and they have asked me about this. They are saying, "We now have working relationships with several other provinces and territories. We have a shop in Whitehorse. We have all our people hired out of the Yukon. If we close our doors to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, can I sell my cabinets to the NWT or will they slam the door and say, "We only buy NWT cabinets." Because if they do, I have to lay some people off. Can I not build any roads in British Columbia because I am a Yukon firm and I happen to get a contract in British Columbia?
We have to be careful in any legislation that we draft to make sure that we try to encourage more Yukoners to get the jobs but, at the same time, are not putting some other Yukoners out of work because there is the agreement among all the provinces and territories that workers and companies can flow freely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
I am really going to enjoy this part.
It is interesting to note that we used to sit on that side opposite and one of our biggest critics was the now Minister of Economic Development who is now in charge of the Yukon economy. I know that the Minister is doing his best and working hard to keep the economy moving along and I am not going to go as far as he did four years ago when the mine shut down and, for weeks after the mine shut down, he blamed us - it was our fault. I realize that there is a lot more to it than that and it is pretty shallow opposition when comments like that are made because you only have to shoot from the hip and you do not care where the bullet lands, you just have to make sure it strikes someone on the other side.
The Faro mine closure is a sad event, but I am not going to blame that Minister for the closure. However, if he does not get the Yukon up and running and bring down the unemployment rate over the next few months, I am going to blame that Minister and other Ministers on the front bench.
Only two months after this government comes into power the unemployment rate rises above the Canadian average. I remember that the Member for Faro used to do this to the previous government all of the time. For four months the unemployment rate has been below the Canadian average, but the Minister, who used to be in Opposition, used to tell us that when it was even below the Canadian average it was too damn high.
What has happened now? The Minister has been in his new job for a couple of months and the unemployment rate is starting to skyrocket - half a percent. There is not much difference now from a year ago, because Anvil is not even factored into that percentage. A year ago in November the unemployment rate was 9.3 percent; now it is 9.8 percent, half a percent higher. What is this Minister doing? It looks like he is doing nothing, he is not doing his job, because the unemployment rate is rising.
Now, we get the chance - the same chance the now Minister had for four years - to remind the Minister that he is now responsible, whether he likes it or not, for the unemployment rate.
We will look for meaningful job creation initiatives to come from this government, not just make-work projects for three, four or five weeks, but job creation that is meaningful.
I will enjoy going through Hansard. We have a great new program a fellow developed for us, where one can sit down at the computer and punch out "Trevor Harding, Faro" and "job creation", and a lot of stuff comes reeling out on things Mr. Harding said. I will have fun. Probably the most fun part of my job will be feeding to that Minister, when he makes statements in the House, when things are crumbling at his feet and he is scambling to fight the fires -which he said he would not do -some of his own medicine. It will be fun to watch. He is a real man; he can take it. He has dished it out, so I am sure he can take it.
The other day, I was very pleased to see the Minister of Justice implementing the many recommendations of the talking about crime and creating safer communities initiatives. The involvement of the Women's Directorate, Education, Health, Justice and Social Services are good moves. I am pleased to see those departments plan to continue that kind of work. Regardless of who did the consultations, the recommendations that came back were not political. They came from the people and, by implementing many of them, it crosses all political boundaries and will make the system better, we hope.
I will be closely watching to see if the Minister of Education will continue with programs such as the Awards of Excellence, which has been so successful in encouraging our youth to improve their academic standing. I know some Members on that side did not like that program. It will be interesting to see if that is one of the programs that will face the knife. In the light of the rising cost of university tuitions to all students, I will also be interested to know if this government plans to increase the student financial assistance. That side has talked of that in the past asking when we were going to do it, so I assume that side will do it. I will be interested to know if it will use the previous consultation done on that, or if the government is going to go out for another round of consultation and bring in changes to the Students Financial Assistance Act.
We have to do a lot more to improve the quality of the Yukon's education system. It has improved over the last few weeks and months. The marks in some of the high school math grades have come up recently, with a lot of dedication from our teachers and people involved in that. In the last few months of this year, I believe the Yukon has actually scored better in departmental exams than many of the students, on average, in B.C., which will bode well for us in the future.
I want to touch on another issue concerning schools, which I think is very important: the safety of schools. I know that the Member for Porter Creek South and Porter Creek North both talked about the issue of safety in schools. Even when the Government Leader was the Minister of Education, from time to time things happened. I was once the Minister of Education. The seriousness of the violence seems to be escalating. I think it is something that has to be dealt with in a very serious manner. It has to be a very high priority. I hope that the government will follow up on the meeting that was held in Porter Creek. I hope that it will very soon announce some initiatives to give comfort to parents and students, so that when they go to school they know it is a safe place and they do not have to be in fear of getting beaten up, having someone pulling a knife on them, or having some other thing happen that puts their safety in jeopardy.
This government has been left with a huge trust. Unlike other governments in the country, it has the luxury of a surplus. The territory has a growing economy in many ways, despite the recent and sad news from Faro. We are better off now than we were four years ago, because there are other mines and exploration, and the tourism industry and other sectors have started to pick up.
I am pledging to work with the government Members on any initiatives. I would hope that when we make constructive suggestions about economic development, tourism, education or justice, the Ministers will take them as construtive suggestions. I am willing to work with the Ministers. I am one who applauds good initiatives and condemns bad ones.
Unlike the previous Opposition, I will not just be here to be negative about everything. I plan to be positive on the positive initiatives that are undertaken. In this speech, I have made a few comments about some of the good initiatives that I think are ongoing. In my view, there is no better place in the world to live than our Yukon. I hope that this Assembly will work together toward making decisions that will benefit all Yukoners. I look forward to the future debates in the House.
Mr. Hardy: I am honoured to continue the long tradition of Whitehorse Centre being represented by a New Democratic Member. Margaret Commodore represented Whitehorse Centre for 14 years and did us honour. Joyce Hayden represented the area for a short period of time before the boundaries were changed, and Roger Kimmerly before her. There is a long tradition in this riding. People feel that the NDP have done a very good job and, in electing me, are asking for that representation to continue.
I wish to thank my family and friends who offered much advice and work to support my campaign. I would like to introduce my son who is sitting up there. He has sat through quite a few speeches already. I give him credit for listening to us, and I hope that he takes something away with him. There have been a lot of good comments made from both sides.
I would also like to thank Margaret Commodore for the 14 years in which she contributed very honest and dignified work on our behalf.
In 1985, in response to the Speech from the Throne, Margaret made a statement that Yukoners value equity, security, opportunity, and sharing, and that our health and social programs must be tailored to reflect these values. I believe these words hold true today. I believe our government's throne speech clearly shows that we are committed to continuing that work.
I represent a very diverse working class riding with a strong element of elderly people in it. It is not a wealthy riding by any means, but its quality is the people who live in it. Our wealth lies in the community of support and caring that is experienced in Whitehorse Centre.
I have lived in Whitehorse Centre for approximately 14 years and I have lived in the Yukon for over 30 years. It has been an honour to live downtown and work on behalf of the people through my other jobs.
Going door to door during the election, I realized the common goals and dreams shared by so many in the Yukon. The poor's dream of a better life and one not controlled by the desperate need for food or shelter, but one where the children are fed and each day is not a struggle for survival. This government offers hope for those who are in need.
As the throne speech says, this government will listen to people and respect their views no matter what their status in society. This process has already begun through our promise of consultation and consensus-building.
Miners and trappers do not lock their cabins because they believe it is a responsibility to help those who, through the hand of fate, cannot provide wholly for themselves. This is the Yukon way, and we have stated our commitment to this. We will not be closing doors.
The riding I live in down here, which a lot of people call Old Town Whitehorse, is a riding that has been under a lot of pressure lately. There has been business development that has encroached upon the residential part of it. A lot of people are very concerned that we are going to lose the last element of downtown, the old part of Whitehorse dating back to 1898 and whatnot. It is starting to erode. We are losing our historic buildings downtown and, if development continues without any kind of control or protection, that is a big concern for a lot of people down there.
A lot of the issues I face are municipal issues. A major concern I have heard from many people in Whitehorse concerns building heights. They have concerns about a community centre, revitalizing downtown and school zones, and what is going to happen to Christ the King School. All these are concerns for my people downtown, the people I represent, and I will be speaking on their behalf in municipal forums, and so on.
The negative impact that the closing of the Faro mine has on people's lives can be lessened by a caring and concerted response from both the territorial and federal governments. This is already happening and should continue to ensure that people will be able to get through another shutdown, hopefully a temporary shutdown. I have been up in Faro. I have worked up in Faro and I have seen shutdowns before. It is devastating for the people, and this government is committed to helping them through that period of disruption in their lives, and I was pleased to listen to my Minister over here speak about that, the representative from Faro. He spoke well and very sincerely and I believe the people in Faro have somebody who will stand up for their rights, as he has proven over the last four years, and will fight very hard to ensure that their lives are going to be better and that they will get through this.
I believe it is an indication of our government's intention to view people as people and not as commodities - to put value on them.
The settlement of land claims has long been a dream of all Yukon people. The government has already begun building real bridges with First Nations. Piers McDonald has stated very clearly that land claims is a top priority of this government. We shall demonstrate goodwill and respect in our dealings with the First Nations. We shall carry this over if they assume government status for themselves.
It is very important that we build that link as the transition happens. This was indicated in our recent meeting. On Friday, what many people consider to be a historic meeting took place, with the full government caucus, the Grand Chief, the chiefs, elders and advisors. Sitting at the table, I felt a sense of optimism regarding completion of negotiations. This is welcome news for many in my riding.
As a labour leader, I have a deep and abiding respect for collective bargaining and the rights of people to organize. It was not so long ago that slavery existed in North America. Sweatshops were common, and children and women often worked for over 14 hours per day under crippling conditions. If a person was injured, he or she was fired. If a person objected to six days of work per week, or of unsafe working conditions, he or she was fired and often replaced. An individual's health was often destroyed by the age of 25, and life offered very little pleasure. That is not so long ago in our history. For the women, it was this, plus more. Sexual harassment was commonplace, a woman's pay was less than a man's, and women did not ever advance to more senior positions.
The only hope for change was by organizing - being united and standing up for the rights of workers. At that time, perhaps the government did not recognize the rights of working people; therefore, the people had to take them. They had to stand up, unite, and demand those rights and be counted. In some places today, little has changed. We still see sweatshops throughout the world. We still see unsafe working conditions and harassment in Canada, the United States and throughout the world. Child labour has been on the increase throughout the world and yes, again, it is actually happening in Canada. People should realize that it is.
I recently had the pleasure to hear Chad Kilger, a 13-year old Canadian boy, talk about the situation throughout the world. I do not know if people are familiar with Chad Kilger. He is a tremendously brave boy. He spoke about the child labour situation and is travelling all over with the support of many unions and people. Interestingly enough, the federal government is not backing him. Actually, it is running from him. I will talk about that in a minute.
When he gave his speech, he was accompanied by a young girl from India. She was 11 years old and spoke candidly about the situation in India. She spoke about the situation of her father having a death threat against him. For 28 years, he has worked to free the children. Now, he is in hiding.
There have already been two attempts on his life because he fights for the children. They called for unions and governments at this Canadian Labour Congress meeting to fight against the atrocious conditions children are placed under. Meanwhile, next door, our Prime Minister is signing trade agreements with Indonesia, India and other countries, but will not meet with this boy or this girl. It is a disgrace. Even with unions fighting for people's rights, the adverse conditions continue. Only through joint action can we begin to end many of the violations to human dignity.
The actions of the previous government toward its employees and teachers broke a trust formed through negotiations - negotiations that set an example of fairness and respect. We believe it is the role of government to protect, not undermine, the fundamental democratic rights of collective bargaining. I am proud of our government's immediate move to repeal the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994.
Our government has indicated in the throne speech its belief in the fundamental principles of rights for workers to free collective bargaining. I believe the people on the other side also support that. The people on the other side - as you notice there is a missing section, so I can speak freely on that one, I believe.
By working together with labour organizations and with other organizations throughout the world - and there are many of them fighting very hard - we can bring about social justice for all.
Many elders in Whitehorse Centre are concerned about the security and safety of their children and grandchildren. There is a perception in our society that crime is on the increase and that nothing has been done about it for many years. People want safe streets and homes. Those most vulnerable in society must be protected. I am pleased to see my Justice Minister, Lois Moorcroft, take an active role with the RCMP and communities to fight crime. In a more direct way, the people of Whitehorse Centre have begun neighbourhood watches in some areas, and I thank my neighbours and the RCMP for the step. We will be encouraging others to do the same. I am part of that. The initiative came from some people down the street, and it is already having an effect upon the sense of security in our riding.
The elders expressed concern for the future of their pensions and health care. For many years I have been lobbying the federal government to stop the cuts, or the perceived cuts. Those cuts are there, and I do not see that as a movement toward improvement.
As the throne speech states, we are going to be actively participating in intergovernmental conferences and working groups, presenting clear Yukon positions on these and other important issues. I believe this government will stand up for the Yukon's position and will fight for the Yukon's position in the federal scene.
People in my riding are concerned about changes to unemployment insurance and the impact it will have, most of all affecting the seasonal and cyclical workforces that exist in the Yukon.
The Member opposite talked about the fact that the unemployment rate has gone up. It is a shame, after all the years he has lived here, that he does not realize that winter has come. In my industry, and in many others, such as tourism - the one he feels so passionate about - there is such a thing as layoffs. We would like those jobs to continue right through, but the Yukon suffers from seasonal employment. It would be wonderful to be able to keep a stable, high employment rate. However, for so many years we have suffered from that, as well as the cyclical situation.
A large segment of people in the Whitehorse West riding are construction workers and seasonal workers. They have felt the broken promises of the federal government for jobs, jobs, jobs. You all remember those promises. Where are they?
Instead, tremendous pressure has been applied to cut programs, like those I mentioned earlier: pensions, health care, unemployment insurance. These and many other social programs were brought about by the NDP. I know this government is committed to participating actively to improve them, not cut them.
My constituents have made it very clear to me that they value Canada's social programs. I am sure my colleagues and I share their concerns and will defend their interests on a national level.
The response throughout the Yukon to the plight of the Mary House and St. Joseph's facilities demonstrate the deep caring nature of the Yukon people. I pledge to work on behalf of the Mary House and to find a solution. I am very pleased to see that my Minister, David Sloan, is just as committed to this project, and it is moving ahead.
I also want to thank those people at the Mary House who have given so much for so many years and now find themselves in the situation where the pressure is becoming too great: the pressure of homelessness, of food banks, of transition homes.
This, along with our commitment to the women's centre and stable, predictable financial commitments to non-governmental organizations will ensure a future for community organizations that provide valuable essential social services and protection.
The young people in my riding have some very strong concerns and have expressed a desire to be involved with any planning, designing and implementation of programs for youth. Given the opportunity, their participation shall enhance the success of such programs. I am pleased that this government is committed to youth involvement and I look forward to working with them.
One of the first persons whom I met during the election told me about their love of the Yukon - the freedom and tranquillity that they experience when out hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.
Tombstone Park was a concern of theirs as it was mine, and it was probably the first issue I met on the doorstep when I was starting off on my election campaign. There was concern about the postage stamp size that was being proposed and the other sizes that had been proposed previously.
I also treasured what they said about the unspoiled environment that we are so fortunate to be blessed with up here, which is one reason why so many people come to the Yukon. There are very few places left in the world that have unspoiled environment and it is something that we have to hold sacred.
Many people in my riding are deeply concerned about the protection of the natural environment. We do not own nature; we are caretakers. That was made very clear to me. We must act accordingly and ensure that future generations have what we enjoy today.
There is an old Chinese saying, and it is interesting because it came to mind when I was listening to my friend while he was giving his response to the throne speech. He talked about trees. The old Chinese saying is that they plant a tree so that future generations can enjoy the shade that the tree will provide. I did take out one word of the saying. It was "oak" trees, because we do not have oak trees up here. We will plant others.
I am very committed to working with my Minister, Eric Fairclough, to ensure that the shade will be there for our future generations.
We have many opportunities for tourism in the Yukon. Even though we have much to celebrate, I have become a little concerned about the narrow focus on the gold rush over the last few years. We will run out of anniversaries soon and there are only so many anniversaries we have for the gold rush. It is hard to celebrate years 101, 102 and 103, because it does not grab.
The Minister responsible for Tourism, Dave Keenan, is bringing a fresh, dynamic view to the future of tourism and I believe that all businesses and workers in this industry are going to benefit, which is very good news for people in my riding.
There are many businesses downtown that rely on tourism and there has been a lot of good work done over the last few years with the anniversaries and this work must be continued, but it has to be broadened, and we have to look at how we can go further. As I said, we can only celebrate the anniversary on one topic for so long.
I pleased to see the announcement by the Minister responsible for Workers' Compensation, Trevor Harding, on the position of a workers' advocate. This is going to help the injured workers.
The Injured Workers Alliance and the unions have long been a voice for this position and deserve credit for work well done.
More changes are needed. I look forward to seeing consultation with the stakeholders and the public on those changes. Our Minister has already indicated that he has begun those consultations.
Restoring the community development fund is another positive step. I applaud the Minister of Economic Development for quickly moving on this initiative.
Four commissions have been created to address some of the most outstanding issues facing the Yukon over the next four years: forestry, energy, development assessment process and local hire. I consider it a bold, innovative move to address the concerns of the people of the Yukon. The commissions use us, and they apply directly to problems that have to be addressed fairly soon. Forestry has been a problem. Energy has been a problem. Local hire has traditionally always been a problem here.
Last fall, I went door to door with a petition about energy and costs. The response was that there was a great concern about stable rates, management and control of our utilities. There was concern about environmentally benign ways of generating electricity and opportunity in the future for the replacement of fossil fuel generation. Gary McRobb brings a wealth of knowledge to this commission. I think that he will do very well.
Forestry has been a political football that has been kicked back and forth by the previous territorial government and by the federal government. It is a hot potato, and nobody wants to catch it. Everyone talks about it, but no one wants to touch it. I believe that Dennis Fentie stepped forward and is willing to do the work and apply himself to this. I believe that he will come up with a real Yukon forest policy that respects all interests and all groups.
Doug Livingston spoke well. A lot of people, including the media, have called it the "watching-paint-dry development assessment process commission". Doug is an exciting person, and I am sure that he is going to bring some vitality to this commission. I believe that the work being done will have a beneficial outcome for decades. Listening to him on Thursday filled me with confidence that he will serve us well.
I got the local hire commission. I have been assigned this commission, and I believe that it has been long overdue that the government dedicates itself in an ongoing fashion to never stop fighting to ensure that the people who live here can work here. Time and time again during the election, I heard concerns about lost opportunities for work. Local people were not getting hired. Contracts were going outside. Gates are closed in the faces of unemployed workers. Contractors and professionals were not able to bid. The hospital is an example. Two companies were not able to bid. Two local companies that employ locals were not able to bid.
Yet companies who often bring up their own workforce or do the majority of their work outside are being rewarded with a lot of the work in the Yukon. Unemployment statistics in the Yukon show a considerable number of people as being without work. Welfare lines have increased and, in my line of work, the Yukon is starting to resemble a fly-in work zone. I am from the construction industry. Our youth and skilled people are losing opportunities for employment. Many of them are actually going outside to try to find employment. They cannot even find it here. Some of them have actually gone out to Calgary or Edmonton, Alberta, and then have been hired to come back here and work. I guess one needs an Alberta licence to do that - previously, anyway.
In the 1960s, it was considered a disgrace when unemployment was between two and three percent. There was an outcry as it rose up to three and started going into three and one-half percent. In the 1970s, it was five and six percent. It was terrible: five and six percent of Canada not working. In the 1980s and 1990s, we rejoice if we get to eight percent. We think we are doing well. At times it has been up to 15 percent. Something has gone wrong. There has not been an emphasis on ensuring that there is employment and working with businesses, training agencies and with youth and elders to get direction.
Look at the programs that have worked and throw out the ones that have not. Throw out the governments that are not working.
During the election, Mr. Ostashek said that the best social program is a job. That is not an original quote; I heard it many years ago, but I do agree with the statement. I have no problem with that statement. Crime, poverty and abuse are all affected by lack of employment. They go up. The cost of our social programs increases and there is less ability to pay for them when unemployment is up. The mood of the village or town changes when work is available. People start to whistle again and start to talk to each other. The vibrancy comes back. There is a sense of direction and hope. They look at their children and know there is going to be employment.
When I left F.H. Collins, I had a job within a day. I worked on building the Dempster Highway. After I left that job, I was not in town more than a day before I worked in a sawmill. There were sawmills around Whitehorse back then.
After I left that job, I worked at cutting trees and clearing brush during the winter for forestry. There was a lot of work. This was 22 years ago, and I was paid about $4.42 an hour - I was completely unskilled. Today, the minimum wage is a little over $6 an hour. Everything has gone up in price; some things have not.
Then there were jobs and work, but it is a different story for people nowadays. They are lining up, looking for work. Something has gone wrong.
I believe those examples are enough to make any government commit to job creation and training, not just wave around a book and say jobs and that everyone will benefit, but actually put people in place to find out how to stimulate the economy, how to get work happening and how to create a sense that there will be work for people.
This government is very serious about Yukon hire. This commission is an indication of that seriousness. People may poke fun at the commissions, but each one shows an intent to do some real work.
There are a lot of concerns. Some believe government should not participate in job creation or local hire. They raise the spectre of court challenges. It is a good excuse not to do anything, calling it free market interference. Some say that we should not have government, but charge ahead into that free market. It was tried in other countries; I do not want to look at their record.
With respect to our interprovincial trade agreements, I wonder what raises the ire of some people in companies when they hear of a region that wants local hire if they wish to sell their products here. Why do some object to communities that want to benefit from work done in their own back yard?
I believe we, as a government, are responsible to maximize our spending for the good of our citizens. I look forward to finding solutions by consultation and investigation, and by tapping into the creative minds of the people of the Yukon.
Each person who works on these commissions is committed, and I am proud to be a part of this initiative.
The people of the Yukon are familiar with the NDP way. In the election, they knew about the good work done by the last New Democrats and are giving us a chance to continue that work. Sure, there was a four-year break, but the Yukon people obviously believed that we did good work before and that we are going to do it again. We are a government that will listen to all people. I am committed to working toward a good society, one that cares for and respects everyone.
I would like to close with words spoken by an ex-MLA, Danny Joe, whom many of you know. I heard these words at the meeting on Friday, and I thank him very much for sharing his wisdom. I hope we all take an example from him. He said, "We must have open minds, from the heart, when we speak." Mahsi' cho. Merci. Thank you.
Mr. Jenkins: It is indeed a privilege to rise in the House this afternoon and provide my reply to the throne speech. Initially, I offer my congratulations to all Members on their recent election victory. I personally am honoured to have been elected in the Klondike, and I thank all my constituents for the trust they have placed in me.
The Klondike riding is one of the larger ridings, area-wise, in the Yukon. Our people and their occupations are extremely diverse and encompass mining, farming, trapping, forestry and the visitor service industries that we are so well known for. This, including all of the infrastructure that one would expect to find in an ever-expanding population base of over 2,000 individuals. In the summer season, we have a trading population of over 4,000 people.
During the election period, I personally travelled some 2,500 kilometers, visiting my riding. The Klondike riding is economically viable, but it does require that the senior levels of government address their respective responsibilities. In so doing, they will ensure the viability of our region, which is so necessary to safeguard and enhance the quality of life for our people and allow us to make a positive contribution to Yukon.
In rural Yukon, there is a feeling that there are two Yukons, that are commonly referred to as TROY and Whitehorse - TROY means The Rest of the Yukon. I trust that "the better way" means addressing this difference.
Any analysis of this throne speech will conclude that every pressure group in the territory that has extracted promises from the NDP government have been assured of action. No time frame has been committed, but the mere mention in the government's Speech from the Throne of their pet projects should be sufficient to keep them at bay for quite a few months.
There are three areas of the throne speech that jump right out at me: settling land claims, fiscal responsibility, debt-free status and, of course, the Nuggets, Dawson City's hockey team challenge of the Stanley Cup.
Let us deal with land claims first. I went back to Hansard and reviewed what the NDP government said when it first came to power in 1985, and again in 1989. At that time, the government said it was important to state again that the government's overriding priority was the settlement of the Indian land claims. Very little has changed in what is being said, but then how can this government expect to conclude land claims and implement the claims when it starts off by removing, or causes the removal of, the top three land claim officials in the Government of Yukon? Will land claims be completed within the framework of the umbrella final agreement? All Yukoners want to see a fair, final settlement of land claims in the Yukon.
Let us move on to fiscal responsibility. When one looks at the supplementary estimates, the difference between money voted and money spent is almost $50 million. This translates into $7 million per month for the first seven months of the fiscal year. If this rate continues for another five months, the estimated accumulative surplus of $25 million will be replaced by a $10 million deficit. I realize that the monies now being voted are supposed to last until March 31, but in the face of the current expenditures, this appears to be a very unrealistic target.
It does not bode well for the next fiscal year unless strict spending limits are put in place and observed. There are many stupid examples of money to be spent and I am sure we will get into them when we get into the supplementaries.
Let us look at the Faro shutdown. The paper presented by the hon. Member for Faro deals only with the impact on YTG - the deficit grant formula. The real impact is the loss of personal spending. If we look at the 710 jobs that are being lost, at approximately $5,000 a month, it translates into $4 million a month. If we take away the deductions at $1.6 million a month, there is $2.4 million left. It is not an unreasonable assumption that Faro mine workers' earnings put approximately $2 million a month into Yukon businesses, or, $24 million per year. This is the real figure that must be recognized and addressed; it is the effect of the overall shutdown of the mine.
The only real opportunity that has been clearly demonstrated by the NDP is a good government job, but I do not think one could acquire one unless one is from somewhere else.
The Stanley Cup challenge is one more event organized by the residents of the Klondike, which serves to raise the profile of all Yukon. Once again, those of us in the Klondike are proud to lead the charge on behalf of Yukoners.
The two engines that drive the Yukon economy - the mining industry and the tourism industry - receive only small mention in the throne speech. If we look at the tripod on which the economy is built, it is very simple. It is broken down into energy, communication and transportation.
When I listened to the hon. Member for Faro talk about his responsibility for the Yukon Energy Corporation, I am sure he will serve them well. I am sure an alternate energy source could be well driven in the way of those windmills, but unfortunately it would probably cost more to feed the energy than we would receive in return.
For any situation that is paramount to the development of all Yukon, grids must be extended, alternate energy sources must be explored, and contracts must be renewed. We do not think very much about electricity; we just turn the switch on and expect it to be there. In looking at both energy and communications, the Member for Whitehorse West alluded to the vast profits the banks amassed in the last period - when one looks at the return on investments of the banking industry, it is only number two in Canada after the return on investments of the utility industry. The utility industry operates in an environment that is regulated by government, controlled by government, dictated by government, and it has the highest rate of return on its assets of any industry in Canada.
We also have some of the highest costs when one looks at the communications side of the tripod, and quite a difference in the delivery of telecommunication services within Whitehorse and in rural Yukon. That issue must be addressed.
Of course, the transportation issue is another area that concerns me greatly. I can recall just a few short years ago when it was proposed by the government of the day to pave the Klondike Highway to Dawson City, that little dusty town a little north of here, and it was going to cost some $40 million. "Oh, the Government of the Yukon could never afford that; it will never happen." It was such a tremendous expenditure, but with careful planning, with prudent management, guess what? It is not even an issue today. It is paved.
We do not need to hear all the rhetoric about the Campbell Highway; we just need a positive plan to proceed to identify the need for upgrading this highway artery, and start on it.
There is also the issue of a Yukon River crossing at Dawson City. One only has to look at the cost of energy at the pumps when purchasing fuel. Have a look at what the government pays for gasoline.
The lowest refueling point in the Yukon is located in Dawson City and along the North Alaska Highway. Every other area has a higher rate, and that is one of the consequences of having an arterial highway that links Yukon to Alaska, where virtually all our fuel comes from today.
Just over 60 percent of all petroleum products used in the Yukon is used north of Whitehorse, or it was until the mine in Faro shut down - the mine will eventually reopen.
Fuel is one of the highest costs in the Yukon, and anything that we can do as a legislature to alleviate that cost should be done.
These are the areas this government must concentrate on.
In my opinion, there are three overwhelming problems that must be addressed with vigour. Politically, it is the size of government and the obvious lack of any effort to curtail its expansion and cost. We in Yukon are living by the largesse of the federal government of Canada, and there is every reason to believe that in this current economic situation the funding level for Yukon from the federal government is going to go down, down and down. Prudent fiscal management means that we must manage one of our highest costs, and that is our labour force.
On the economic plateau, it is our over-dependence on federal funds, when there is no reason to believe that cutbacks will not be coming our way. We are playing Russian roulette, and the gun is loaded.
On the social issue, alcohol abuse must be the curse of the territory. Our jails are full of alcohol-related crimes. In one other area alone - namely, the fetal alcohol syndrome - the school system finds itself dealing with a problem that does not show any sign of abating.
If we are attempting to manage the affairs of Yukon without constant reference to these issues, we are not being honest with the citizens of the territory. In my opinion, they deserve much better.
Good work is not just spending money. I look forward to working with this House to provide good government for all citizens of the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It is a pleasure to be here. I would like to congratulate the Members of the Legislature on both sides for taking the opportunity to be here with us and to participate in the very important function of governing the Yukon.
I would also like to express a condensed thank you to the honoured elders, ladies and gentlemen, and youth of the Yukon. It is certainly a great pleasure to be able to stand here and speak on behalf of the people of Ross River and Southern Lakes. Included in the riding of Ross River-Southern Lakes are the communities of Ross River, Johnson's Crossing, Tagish, Carcross and Teslin. These communities are very diverse. They are comprised of First Nations people of the Kaska and Tlingit heritage, and a good sprinkling of non-native people who work and think with us. I would like to thank all of these people for their support and allowing me to be here today.
I would also like to offer a special thank you to my parents - my father, Hugh, whom a lot of you know as Blondie, and my mother, Pearl - and the Great Spirit for bringing me to this spot. I do believe that it is where we are destined to be.
I would also like to thank Sam Johnston and Dave Porter for blazing a trail for me - a socialist trail, I might add; they claim it is a Kaska socialist trail - for one and all of the peoples and to represent all of the peoples.
I would also like to thank my campaign manager, Mike Hodgson, and the person, a brother, who worked effortlessly and tirelessly for me, Ralph Kishtook Smarch.
I am also very, very proud to stand here and be able to look behind me at the distinguished colleagues I have and to think that I am working with them, because as I look here it brings great pride and strength and makes my blood boil, ladies and gentlemen, to know that I am working with such a fine team. I am very honoured to be here and to work with this team.
I am not going to repeat a lot of the statements that have been made already by my colleagues, because they are statements that I certainly endorse and ones that I will live up to and honour with my colleagues. However, I would like to reiterate just a few things that we talked about.
The first one I have ever seen, and one that comes to mind as I knocked on doors, is the people talking to me. The Better Way document characterizes it perfectly. It says that people recognize that how government does business is as important as the business that it does. To that end, I will strive to speak and act accordingly, with respect for folks on both sides of the House.
I will focus on issues that affect all constituents, because it is not only the people who elected me that I represent here, but I represent all people in my riding. My door is open and it will always be open for all of my people.
During the campaign the issues that arose in my riding, the issues that the Members opposite took so lightly and spoke so lightly about, are issues that were there. Maybe it is a vision that the people of my riding share with me and that I hope to share with you here.
Finishing land claims and self-government are the most important issues that come from my riding. Why? In part, because it empowers community and community decision-making authorities. It gives local access to health and safety programs - this was another big issue on the doorstep. People want to talk about job creation and training, stewardship of the land and affordable telephone service for all of the people.
Those were just some of the issues that spilled out of people as I talked to them, and they were very thankful to see me standing on their doorstep, because for so long they did not have that basic communication that went back and forth, which is expected and will be shown here by this group of socialists. There will be communication for all and a level playing field for all.
Another thing they said was, "Dave, you were born and raised in this country. You remember what it was like. Can we get back to that old-fashioned feeling? Can we get back to that?" I was born and raised on the doorstep down in Teslin, in the Yukon, so I understand what they are talking about. It was something that I was raised with - where there were no barriers. People were brought together for the common good of the community. It was really refreshing to be able to stand there and say, "Gee, I sure hope so", that I have spoken to already. I might become impassioned, but I will not become angry with you folks, because I have to learn to calm down and understand that there are two types of people in this world that I am focusing on.
The land claims areas in my area are three, and they are unique in their stages of development right now - from the negotiating process in Ross River and the Carcross-Tagish Tlingit claim, to implementing the terms and spirit of the Teslin Tlingit Council final agreement. That is the unique nature of what is there. So, not only are we negotiating under the inherent right to self-government under the terms of the umbrella final agreement, but we are looking to implement a better way of life that is actually described - if you folks read it in the same manner as I do - in the umbrella final agreement and the Teslin Tlingit Council First Nation agreement, which speak to the spirit of community. That is what they speak to. I will tell you what these agreements have in common, not only for First Nation, territorial and federal governments: they have a common desire to work together. That is what it speaks about. The certainty that is brought to us is brought to us through government paper. The uncertainty, which should be a certainty, is the ability that the lands that have not been selected are out there for stewardship, so that we must be able to work together - not for the common goal of what each individual's common goal is, but for the common goal of all people - stewardship of the land, et cetera.
Native people had always planned ahead. The rule of thumb was seven generations of planning - seven generations. Why did they plan this way? To pass on healthy lands, healthy people and preserve what you have now into the future so that it will always be there. None of us here have the right to say that we own things, but we have the right to say that we are here to use and preserve these things. That is what we are here for.
How are we going to do it? We must talk commonsense decision making, have good feelings with one another and implement not only the legal aspects, but the moral aspects, of what we should be representing. So often we focus only on interest groups that are specific to oneself and not anything else.
I must say that preliminary discussions with the Village of Teslin, the Teslin Tlingit Council and citizens who are outside the municipal boundaries who are desirous of water delivery, fire protection and periphery services of sorts, came together. Through the spirit of the agreements we are looking to implement district government concepts, which will bring a level playing field to everyone, so that we might be able to say, "Hi. How are you. Regardless of who you are or what you represent, you will have a right to those types of services."
Of course they must be bound by fiscal restraint. There must be service users or fees, but it is not up to me to say, nor is it for Members opposite or anyone. It is up to us to consult and then to put into actuality action plans so that we might go forth with them knowing that there is a people's mandate, not representative of just one segment of the people's mandate but representative of the people as a whole.
It is my government's responsibility to facilitate this process at the community level. That we will, because we are a group that is desirous of making a positive change for all people.
We have to sit down as a community and talk about the establishment of this process. The process has to prioritize and plan for the future of our children and the Yukon. I think that the greater challenge is to prove that we can work together for equality for all people of the Yukon, regardless of their race, gender or religion. We have to do that with respect. The only campaign promise that I gave out on the campaign trail was to work with people. It is one that I will continue to pledge to do. People felt that there were not enough specific components regarding tourism within the throne speech. It is very easy to hide behind a string of anniversaries and take credit for the windows opened by anniversaries; however, without having anything to pass on in terms of planning, the job is made much more difficult for the next administration.
I am certainly in that difficult spot, but I know that through the proper implementation of land claims and proper consultation with all of the groups that are affected, we will come forward with a product that will have standing, long-lasting viability that will eventually change the cornerstone of the Yukon's economy from mining to what it should be.
The unique nature of the Yukon and the people - of all races - is what it comes down to and what it is there for. That is what it is for. We do not just fall or come around a corner; there is a learning curve that we must go around and then we turn the corner with all of the people. We do not run to the end of the block and turn to the right when people are going to the left. I think that is what has been happening.
I am here to say that I am going to correct that in the future, and the Yukon is going to be a wonderfully warm place in which to live.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me this time to speak. Mahsi' cho.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Given that it is just about 5:30 p.m., I would ask Mr. Speaker if he sees it as being 5:30 p.m.
Speaker: It is now 5:30 p.m., and I will leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m. this evening.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will continue with Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It is an honour for me to once again be elected to the Legislature and sit as a Member in this House. I am certainly grateful to the voters of McIntyre-Takhini and the workers on the election campaign who had the courage to get out and support not only me but my colleagues in ensuring that there was a New Democrat government elected to office.
It is certainly a humbling experience to be invited to speak once again in the Legislature. This is my fifth re-election and every time it happens it is always a pleasure, always a daunting task. So it is very much a pleasure for me to be able to say a few words this evening in reply to the Speech from the Throne, and as I go on a little bit this evening I will try to practice the art of the shorter speech, to which I know all Members are looking forward.
As much as I miss my colleagues from previous legislatures, and certainly Margaret Commodore is one seat-mate for whom I have enormous respect, I am always heartened to see new Members join with us to change the chemistry of the Legislature and to offer new insights, new wisdom and new experience to our deliberations. When I say that I am gratified to see new Members in the Legislature, I am referring to Members on both sides of the House. Certainly, some general public cynicism about politics and politicians has not turned all good people away from seeking elected office. So I welcome everyone here today, as the oldest serving Member - no, not the oldest serving Member, but the longest serving Member - of this Legislature.
Every new government faces new challenges. Certainly, we have many on our plate. In this year of 1996, we have faced a daunting task in that we need to negotiate land claims agreements, conclude those negotiations and to implement the land claims agreements already reached.
We see a Faro mine which, once again, is temporarily closing and causing some tough and painful circumstances for the residents of Faro and people who may be out of work all around the territory as a result of that closure.
We also face a rate of public spending in the territory that simply cannot be maintained, even though we do have a relatively healthy financial position. Of course, some of the bigger tasks ahead of us, such as the devolution negotiations, et cetera, promise to be truly complex and difficult. Having said that, I still remain - after all my time in politics - quite optimistic. With land claims negotiations facing us, we see a new social and economic contract with citizens of this territory - between public government and First Nations citizens of this territory - that is unprecedented in the world.
We see the creation of another order of government with resources and self-confidence that will represent First Nations people in their communities with distinction.
When I talk about the land claim negotiations and land claim agreements, this is not something that this government regards as yet another project that must be continued and brought to completion.
Land claim negotiations and the negotiated agreements already reached are going to change the way this territory does business forever.
These negotiated agreements have obligations on the part of the Yukon government that must be met. It is our duty to meet these obligations, and it is a legal and moral obligation to meet the commitments that have already been negotiated.
I am referring to both the umbrella final agreement and all seven First Nation final agreements and self-government agreements, each of which has a series of obligations on the part of public government to complete.
We should not fear this challenge; we should embrace it. In the coming years, this will be an opportunity for us and future generations to work together in a way that this territory has never seen before.
We will come together, First Nations and non-First Nations alike, as equals and divine a future that will be good for all of our children. I am also optimistic because of the other challenges we face. Devolution of all federal programs and responsibilities to the Yukon affords us a tremendous opportunity. We actually have the opportunity to take full control of provincial-like powers and resources through the existing government mechanisms in the Yukon. This is an enormous opportunity for us to take control of our lives in a way that has not been seen ever before.
I am also encouraged and optimistic because we see a vital mining community. We see an environment with wilderness experiences that is the envy of most of the world's population. I would argue that we have a caring and compassionate society that is willing to wrestle with the tough issues, a society that believes in social justice and does something to promote it. And
I am most happy to be working with a government and caucus that is thoughtful, compassionate, hard working and diverse. The discussions that we have had and will have will produce good results and, ultimately, good public policy. I have never been more proud of the team that I am working with than I am today.
In the last election campaign, we promised that we were going to do things differently. We said that we were going to involve people in decisions that affect them and give voice to people who did not have a voice in public policy making. We said that we were going to undertake some real consultation with the citizenry of this territory. That has been pooh-poohed by my respective colleague across the floor. He said, on a number of occasions, that consultation is a very much overplayed concept and that consultation often means that one does not actually take action.
I fundamentally, totally and completely disagree with my colleague across the floor. That probably is the single most significant difference between us. I believe that it is important to consult with a few respected people in this territory, whether they be chambers of commerce presidents or chambers of mine staff. It is important to discuss public policy with the Conservation Society. There are other people who deserve a voice as well. We heard many of these people during the election campaign. I have always had enormous respect for not just the elite in the communities - I do have respect for them too - but for other citizens who live and breathe here, work here, raise a family here to have a say. I am proud to be a member of a party that fundamentally values and cherishes their opinion.
Is it true to say that good consultation does not produce results? Is that really true? Is it true that all of the consultation that went into, for example, projects like the Education Act, which I was personally involved in, does not achieve results? The Official Opposition is laughing.
I would say that consultation produces nothing but good results, nothing but lasting results. Literally thousands of people were involved in the development of one single piece of legislation, a very important piece of legislation in their lives. Those people came together and designed a constitution for public school education in this territory that they still talk about. It was not the creation of some wry star chamber in the NDP government. That was not what happened. It was a creation of the people of the territory. People in the territory came together in various fora to make decisions. When that particular product - the Education Act - hit this Legislature, that 300-clause bill passed in one afternoon.
Was one afternoon wasted time? Perhaps in the mind of the Leader of the Official Opposition it was; however, I disagree.
Was all the work that went into the economic strategy that people still talk about - I was in Watson Lake before the election and the town council was bemoaning the fact that there was no real opportunity to talk to other economic players in this territory about the general economic direction that this territory was taking. Most people on that town council - I am sure many of them are known to Members opposite - are people who still remember the opportunities they had when they were brought together to discuss mining with miners and conservationists, and the issue of tourism with other municipal leaders. They valued that opportunity. However, it was not an opportunity that the Yukon Party government wished to make available to the people of this territory. Consequently, the people of the territory spoke about the desire to be involved.
Was public consultation surrounding the conservation strategy, the Environment Act, the Health Act, the Human Rights Act, and the Heritage Resources Act a waste of time that produced no results?
I would argue that in that short list of legislation that I just read out, there were more results in that list than the Yukon Party achieved in its entire legislative agenda. Those are just some items I can think about off the top of my head. There is also the College Act, training strategies and other things that I am personally familiar with.
The argument has been made that somehow consultation makes things a little less efficient than what they should be, but somehow, if we were to be truly efficient - a good autocratic government making decisions on everyone's behalf - a very paternalistic view of democracy would somehow be better. I cannot say how much I disagree with the Leader of the Official Opposition on that point.
The government has made it very clear that land claims negotiations and implementation are its top priority. And there is a lot to it. There is a lot to the implementation of land claims agreements, and there is no doubt that this government will have to turn a corner if it is going to meet not only the letter but the spirit of those agreements. These are agreements that the Yukon Party government agreed to and signed. They should have no difficulty with the terms of those agreements or with our contention that these agreements should be respected.
During the election campaign, as so many Members have noted, there have been concerns about the economic health of many rural communities. One of the things that the rural communities wanted to see happen was for there to be some infrastructure support so that they, too, could share in the wealth and economic growth of this territory. And they brought up the issue of the community development fund as one vehicle which might support a number of projects in the various communities. We made the community development fund an issue in the election campaign - not because the community development fund as a program was somehow inviolate and could not be improved but because we recognized that rural communities in this territory were feeling bruised that they had been ignored by the government. We knew that. We knew they needed more support, so we raised the issue of the community development fund, not only in Whitehorse but in the communities.
What were the results of that debate? I look at all my colleagues sitting beside me, around me and behind me in this Legislature - colleagues who are proud to stand up for rural infrastructure, and who are proud of the accomplishments of the community development fund. Before Members of the Opposition benches too freely attack the various projects that were identified when the community development fund was operating, they should understand that each and every one of those projects was the creation of people in the communities themselves. Not one project was designed, or divined, by an NDP Cabinet or our Cabinet Ministers. They were all selected, developed and promoted by community people themselves. During the election campaign we were aware that the communities needed that kind of infrastructure, and we said so - and the people spoke, and they spoke clearly.
We also said, during the election campaign, that we needed to do some hard work in four sectors: in energy policy, forestry policy, and local hire was a big issue during the campaign. We also said - not just during the campaign, but for years previous to that - how work on the development assessment process should be undertaken right away. On the development assessment process, I remember indicating to the ex-Government Leader that, when they had a throne speech, a budget speech - year after year, they made absolutely no reference to this very significant commitment under the land claims agreement. The Leader of the Opposition stands in his place and asks, "Well, listen. What are you talking about?" The Yukon Party essentially undertook development assessment process work, and it was all done prior to the election. I cannot think of anything more frightening to either the development community or the conservation community than to think that that development assessment process was all done - out of the public eye, in the back rooms by the policy developers of the Yukon Party government or perhaps by the federal government, I do not know which.
The ex-Government Leader seems to think that they had all the work done. I know the Member will recognize and remember who some of the participants in that particular geoscience forum were. Over and over again they said, "Thank you for not just implementing development assessment. Thank you for not doing that because that would have been tragic for industry in this territory."
The conservation community, for its part, wanted to have a say in the design of this process. The Yukon Party Opposition Leader shakes his head as if somehow the development assessment process was a small project already done, that there was nothing left to do and that talking to the public would have been a waste of time. They thought all they needed to do was pass some legislation.
That is not the way this government is going to do business. That is not the way the public want to see government do business. I fundamentally reject the approach taken by the Yukon Party and the now existing Yukon Party Official Opposition. I am surprised that it has taken this position, but as they are, I will take the opportunity to express our view.
Then there is work to be done on a comprehensive energy policy. There must be a more consumer-oriented approach to energy pricing and to development of energy supply options. This is something that the people want and this is something that the people will get.
It is a big issue for many people in the territory when they cannot get work on construction projects in the territory that are funded by the taxpayer. It is a big issue for people. I can tell the Member that in virtually every riding in the territory it was an issue.
The Yukon Party government was working on forestry policy for two years. Various people from various departments were working - sometimes in isolation and sometimes together - on forestry policy. What happened by the time the election came around? The Yukon Party government had given up the ghost, decided that we could no longer play the role of honest broker and hired a mediator, if people would have him. On top of that, it was willing to rush to Watson Lake and, if people needed some operating subsidies, they were prepared to provide them. I believe it was offering about $1 million of operating subsidies. Then, when the new government came along and said it wanted to do something differently and focus policy work in a more condensed, disciplined way through the creation of a commission, the only response we got from the Opposition bench is that it is frightened of this new approach. The Opposition complained about the costs. It has completely forgotten about the public purpose of these initiatives. The Opposition now claims, wrongly, that this is a waste of taxpayers' money.
Look at forestry. The Yukon Party had three people - actually, 2.7 positions - working full-time on forestry policy for the last two years. It was then going to hire another person in Economic Development to do what? - work on forestry policy. That is almost four positions, working in various departments, on forestry policy. Yet, when we talk about bringing together three people in a commission to work on forestry policy, the Opposition complains about the cost.
We care about getting a comprehensive forestry policy that works for our citizens. We will put the political energy into doing this policy work in new and innovative ways. We will talk to citizens and build consensus to devise these policies, so that we actually come to conclusions and do good work on behalf of the public. We will do this. We will not be deflected by people who could not do it right, who expended lots of money and energy in some cases, and who could not do it right. We will listen to the public, because the public will have a lot to say that is invaluable in all of these policy areas.
I have a lot to say to the Members opposite about a number of things that they indicated were issues for them when they provided a response to the throne speech. I realize that I only have a few minutes, and I want to focus on a few issues now that affect my own riding of McIntyre-Takhini. However, in Committee on the supplementaries, I will respond to the other issues raised by the Members opposite as I do not want them to feel neglected.
As I canvassed the riding over the course of the past few years, it became apparent that there were two big issues for the residents of McIntyre-Takhini. They are issues that in some cases did not receive sufficient attention from my predecessors in government, but for which most of the public cared deeply. Obviously, for the Kwanlin Dun people, their land claim was the top priority. Obviously, they wanted a fair settlement of their claim so that they too could participate in the economic fortunes of this territory, and so that they too could become self-sufficient and so they too could come together with other governments as equals and full of self-confidence. As I canvassed the McIntyre village, people continually indicated to me that they wanted to find work, to have First Nations leadership, to have the resources and to provide for the people. They wanted a land claims settlement that would take them from a feeling of being a second-class citizen, which is what they certainly feel today, to being a full participant in the territory's future.
They are proud people, and the land claims agreement offers opportunities that are their due. So, land claims and the settlement of the Kwanlin Dun claim would be a priority for this government.
As I wandered through the mobile-home park - and I have a number in my riding - over and over again people expressed concerns that their rights as renters were not being respected, the costs of living were high, the concerns they have on everything from road maintenance to the ability to get a small plot of land onto which they could move their mobile home and consequently lower their own living costs and live with some economic security - all these issues were repeated over and over and over again. They resented community leaders who talked about mobile-home parks being some sort of scourge, some sort of living style that had to be contained.
Most of the people who live in the mobile-home parks live there by choice and by necessity, and they wanted relief.
To my opponents' credit in the election campaign, about midway through the campaign, they cottoned-on to the fact that this was a major issue. Up until that time, I suppose they had just decided that whatever I was saying in the Legislature on behalf of the residents of the mobile-home parks was simply a voice in the wilderness that was out of touch with his constituents. Midway through the campaign, reality came crashing down on those who had neglected this issue. To their credit, they put out a little flyer to indicate how much they cared about mobile home residents in this territory, and to their credit, even today, even this week, the Yukon Party acknowledged that the plight of mobile-home park residents is something that should be addressed by this Legislature.
When the three mobile-home park residents from the Kopper King were evicted a few years back, they had no place to go and spent night after night agonizing about their future. At that point I knew that this was an issue that had to be addressed, and it is an issue that will be addressed.
I would also like to say a few words about the Whitehorse waterfront. I am not speaking about this from a tourism perspective or potential development perspective, which will eventually get good media coverage in this Legislature and lots of it.
For as long as I have been here, people have been talking about the waterfront and about how nice it will be to have a properly developed central core in the City of Whitehorse.
I am not speaking about it from that perspective at the present time, I am speaking about it from the perspective of the people who are now living on the waterfront. These are voices that are not often heard from in the Legislature and voices that are seldom considered in public policy, either here and I dare say in the City of Whitehorse. Even though these people are few in number and are not powerful people and do not sit on the executives of various organizations that can provide leverage, they are people whose rights must be respected. They are the classic "little guy". Sure they are squatters - well, the First Nation residents are not actually squatters; until land claims are settled they are not squatters - but there are some squatters down there and people who have been there for quite a while.
I remind Members - those who remember the squatter policies from the 1980s - that there were a lot of squatters in this territory. There were Members of this Legislature who were squatters, too. Those individuals' circumstances were appropriately dealt with at the time. This is one postscript of that squatter policy that is going to have to be dealt with by this Legislature. I will ensure that the rights of the people who live in that area - albeit small in number - are respected by the people who make decisions about their futures.
I will wrap up by saying, once again, that I am grateful to the people of McIntyre-Takhini for giving me yet another opportunity to speak on their behalf in the Legislature. I know that they are aware that some of us have to speak for the greater good of the entire territory and give full consideration to everyone in the territory, no matter where they live. This government will respond to the needs of people in the ridings it represents, as well as give due consideration and respect to the residents in the ridings that are held by the Members of the Opposition. We will act in a fair and even-handed manner. We will speak with the citizenry to build consensus and, where at all possible, we will take action where needed. We will be decisive when we have to be, but we will always, at all times, act with compassion. It is hoped that, with the wisdom that everyone in this Chamber can bring to bear, we will act wisely in establishing priorities and making decisions.
I would like to thank all my supporters and my family for giving me their full support - almost full support - during the course of the election campaign. As we march into the next four years, following your advice, Mr. Speaker, during the reading of prayers every afternoon, we will act fairly and wisely in all our deliberations.
Mr. McRobb: It is a tradition in this House that the first speaker to reply to the Speech from the Throne also gives the final reply.
During the past two days, we have heard most of the people of this House speak in favour of the Speech from the Throne, which outlined our government's priorities in its first year. Not surprisingly, some Members of the Opposition have been somewhat less enthusiastic and some have been downright critical. Some have attacked the speech for containing nothing new, but only our campaign promises. To our government and the people of the Yukon, that is good news. It is a clear signal that our government is simply carrying out what it was elected to do. There are no surprises, such as a railroad to Carmacks, public service wage rollbacks or a transmission line from the Mayo dam.
The commitments in the throne speech are the same commitments we were elected on. I believe that our government has taken the first important step toward proving to the people of the territory that we are a government to believe in and count on to deliver what is expected of us.
Equally important, we have not ambushed the public with a hidden agenda. We, as government, believe it is more important to listen to the people than dictate to the people. To us, consultation is not the "c-word", but an important means of hearing what the people have to say before we make decisions affecting their lives and the future of the territory.
I want to emphasize the importance of the four Cabinet commissions. They will be delivering much needed policy to consumers, workers, businesses, industry and others. Virtually every Yukoner will benefit from the work of these commissions. Despite what we have heard from the side opposite, these commissions will not cost the taxpayers an extra dime. They will operate within existing budgets.
The Opposition claims that the NDP was elected by accident, even though we have a majority government. The Opposition talked about how 60 percent of the territory's voters did not vote for the NDP. However, it could also be said that 70 percent of the voters did not vote for the Yukon Party, and 76 percent of the voters did not vote for the Liberals, and that 94 percent of the voters did not vote for independents. Clearly, more people voted for the NDP than any other party. That explains why Yukoners elected 11 of us to this Legislature.
In conclusion, we believe it is important to govern on behalf of all the people in all of the ridings. Our Government Leader, as you just heard, says this means demonstrating fairness and responding to concerns equally. I am confident that our government will listen and respond to all Yukoners without prejudice. I look forward to the coming year, and I wish all Members in this House all the best of luck.
Motion No. 10 agreed to
Motion to engross Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move
THAT the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne be engrossed and presented to the Commissioner in her capacity as the Lieutenant Governor.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne be engrossed and presented to the Commissioner in her capacity as the Lieutenant Governor.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 2: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 2, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I move that Bill No. 2, entitled Fourth Appropriation Act, 1995-96, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government Leader that Bill No. 2, entitled Fourth Appropriation Act, 1995-96, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The bill before us is an appropriation bill for the 1995-96 fiscal year. It ended on March 31, 1996. This bill will see a closure to that fiscal year in so far as spending authority is concerned. Although, in total, government departments underspent the sums appropriated for them in that year, several departments did overspend their appropriation, or votes, as we call them.
The Financial Administration Act places the legislative control of expenditures at the vote or department level and each department, of course, has two votes: one for operation and maintenance and one for capital. If either of these votes is overspent by any one department, the Financial Administration Act has been breached, then the practice therefore is to seek an after-the-fact supplementary, which we are doing right now.
Because the Legislature control is at the department level, this approval must be sought even if the underexpenditure in other departments far exceeds in total the overexpenditure in the department which overspent. This, then, is the purpose of this bill.
No department overspent its capital appropriation in 1995-96, but two departments - Finance and the Public Service Commission - did exceed their O&M appropriations. The total overexpenditure for those two departments is $5,876,000. The Public Service Commission accounts for $203,000 of that sum, and this is entirely due to an increase in the requirement for employee leave accruals and would have been much larger if it were not for the department being able to find offsetting monies in other programs.
This account, as Members know, is notoriously volatile and difficult to predict. The size of the account is a function of the length of service, retirements, and the amount of vacation and sick time employees take during the year. Variations from any of the assumptions used in budgeting for the item can be significant and unpredictable, and occasionally the mark is missed, as it was this past year.
The remaining overexpenditure of $5,673,000 in the Department of Finance is attributable to the Taga Ku settlement reached by the previous government. While the settlement was not finalized until the current fiscal year, it is booked as a liability of the government at the end of the 1995-96 fiscal year.
Other programs within the department were underspent during the year and this had the effect of reducing the overexpenditure somewhat from what it would otherwise have been.
Overall, the final result for the year, as shown in the supplementary and public accounts previously distributed to Members, is better than that shown in Supplementary No. 1 for 1995-96, which was debated in the House earlier this year.
Of course, this is not all a true gain since a considerable portion of the excess consists of lapsing capital dollars, which are simply being revoted in the first 1996-97 supplementary that has just been tabled. Of course that same supplementary carries forward the large annual deficit from the main estimates tabled in February of this year - a deficit that cannot long be sustained if we are to avoid debt.
Therefore, despite the apparent improved financial position as at the end of last year, we must be cautious and restrained in our programming, as we intend to be.
Mr. Ostashek: I am not going to be long on the final supplementaries for 1995-96, which were part of my government when we were in power. It happens every year that one or two departments overspend. I do not know if there has been a year when there has not been some overspending, and the departments have to come back after the fact to have it approved by the Legislature. The Minister gave a fairly good outline of what transpired and why the overexpenditures existed. We do not have any difficulty with that. We should not have, because it was our overexpenditures. I will have a couple of questions for the Minister when we get into Committee debate on the bill.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 2 agreed to
Bill No. 3: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 3, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I move that Bill No. 3, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1996-97, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 3, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1996-97, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I indicated in my opening remarks for the previous bill that we are essentially seeking a supplementary appropriation at this time for the fiscal year 1996-97. The opening accumulated surplus or savings account with which this fiscal year began was $59.8 million. The combination of the main estimates from 1996-97, which were tabled last February, revotes that lapsed, 1995-96 spending and some other items included in the supplementary estimates that I am now speaking to, result in an annual deficit of $34.5 million. This $34.5 million will be financed out of the year's opening accumulated surplus of $59.8 million, and will therefore leave an accumulated surplus of approximately $25.3 million by the end of this fiscal year; that is, March 31, 1997.
Even though we are presenting a budget with a large annual deficit, we are not facing anything approaching a financial crisis; nor, on the other hand, are we rolling in money. With wise management, we can serve our citizens well and still maintain an adequate reserve for a rainy day. We should not, however, leave the impression that we are not facing some challenges. It will come as no surprise to anyone that the annual deficit, which will be incurred in the current fiscal year, cannot even be remotely repeated. Spending will have to be lower in some areas next year simply in order to avoid debt.
There are several large recoverable projects, notably the new Whitehorse General Hospital and the current phase of the Shakwak project, that are drawing to a close. Unless they are replaced by similar sized projects, government spending will be decreasing further over the next several years.
However, we believe that increased private sector investment spending and a favourable outcome of the current Anvil Range closure will help take up the slack and replace reduced government expenditures.
On the whole, we believe the years ahead will be ones of economic opportunity for Yukoners, but they will not be years without challenges.
I would like to say a few words about the supplementary estimates that have been tabled. I will keep my remarks general in nature; however, I will be more detailed in my remarks during Committee debate.
This supplementary requests additional funds for the 1996-97 fiscal year and, in total, $28,946,000 more appropriation authority is being sought. There is $8.1 million in operation and maintenance, $20.8 million in capital and $100,000 for loan interest.
Many of the expenditures are accompanied by recoveries for an increase in our formula financing base, so there is limited impact on the annual deficit for these items, despite the appearance of large overruns.
In the case of revotes of 1996-97 projects, the additional net expenditure in the current fiscal year is offset by an increase in our March 31, 1996 accumulated surplus.
Many of the items in this supplementary are covered by a special warrant approved by the previous government and upon which we were consulted.
The special warrant contains some $9.2 million in net revotes, but the sum contained in the supplementary is over $1 million less, because the departments have subsequently decided that they do not require all of the revoted funds.
These estimates also contain $3.1 million for the airports program, which we assume from the federal government in mid-year. Expenditures are accompanied by a more or less equivalent increase to our formula financing grant.
Additional capital expenditures, which are 100-percent recoverable, are also reflected in the supplementary for new work on the Shakwak project that the department was able to bring forward from next year's program. Both the airports and Shakwak monies that I have just mentioned were included in the special warrant.
The supplementary also includes over $1.7 million in wholly recoverable hospital project funds. These funds were deferred in 1995-96.
A number of other departments require funds for a variety of purposes, including the employee leave accrual from the Public Service Commission, and additional operation and maintenance and capital costs in the Department of Education associated with grade reorganization, increased student enrollment and other factors.
Also included are additional costs for the transition in both the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Office. The government's revenues have increased largely as a result of new income tax estimates received from the federal government for the current and past several years. To some extent, these amounts simply offset the transfer payment from Canada as a result of the fail-safe arrangements in our formula financing.
In overall terms, and if net revotes are excluded, the impact of this supplementary on the annual deficit is to worsen our position by some $2 million. During Committee debate on this bill, I and the other Ministers will be prepared to provide the Members with full details regarding these expenditures and other changes, so I will not go on about them any further at this time, except to commend them to the House.
Mr. Ostashek: This supplementary budget that is being shepherded through this House by the new Minister of Finance is a joint effort. The bulk of the funding is from our administration, but there is a substantial amount of funding that is from the new administration coming in - more than we had expected. We will be going through this budget in great detail. We want to get an idea from this government about where it is going. They certainly were not told us in the throne speech, so I am going to have to ask a lot of pointed questions when we get into Committee debate, as well as to examine in great detail and listen to the rationale behind where this government is going. In that way we can, at least, have some idea before the main budget comes down in the spring. We would like to have some idea about where this government is headed.
The Government Leader went on at great length in his reply to the throne speech. I will be bringing a lot of those points forward during budget debate. There are a lot of things that I have a totally different interpretation of than the Government Leader. During Committee debate, we are going to very closely examine the commissions, and we are going to get the actual cost of the commissions, so that the taxpayers of the Yukon know what this make-work project is costing them. That is exactly what it is: a make-work project to keep the backbenchers happy. It is unfortunate that almost every government in Canada, if not every other government, is looking at ways to reduce the operation and maintenance of their government, yet we have this government come in and its first action is to increase the deputy ministers in the government by 25 percent. Then the government tries to tell the taxpayers that it is not going to cost any more money - not one more dime. We heard the Member for Kluane say it: not one more dime; it is going to come out of existing budgets. That, in my opinion, is a ridiculous, irresponsible statement, because everything that the Government of Yukon does comes out of existing budgets. It is the priorities for spending.
We have to examine, in great detail, this government's priorities in spending.
The Member's reply to the throne speech was a speech that has been made in this Legislature many times in the last 15 years. I never heard one new word. "Land claims is a priority." It has been the priority of every government since the early 1980s. It is a very challenging task, but it has been the priority of every government. If the Government Leader thinks that he has come up with some new idea that he is going to settle land claims - well, every government has done that in the past. Every government has had some success in moving toward the finish line. It is hoped that this government will be the government that will complete the remaining seven outstanding agreements to the satisfaction of all Yukoners.
The Government Leader spoke about the great idea of a mobile-home park and how they addressed it in the campaign. For the amount of rhetoric that I heard from those Members when they were in Opposition over here regarding the mobile-home park and what we were going to do for the mobile-home owners - they did not have the political courage to address it in their campaign literature. They say now that they are going to support it - good, I am glad to hear it. Yet, they did not have the political courage to address it in their campaign. Now they say they have a better way. I think there are a lot of Yukoners who wonder if this government is going to deliver government in a better way.
The Member spoke also of the waterfront residents and how they were going to be listened to. The biggest challenge I see facing the Opposition is going to be to get consistent answers from the Members of the other side of the House. I clearly heard the Member for Whitehorse West - he was quoted in the newspapers - saying that there was little he could do for one person who was being evicted. The process had to go through. The Member for Whitehorse West said that he could not interfere in the administration of the hospital and that it was up to the hospital board. Did any of you hear that rhetoric when they were in Opposition? We were supposed to have everything done. Those are two statements I have heard him make that fly in the face of what the Government Leader is telling us today.
There are many conflicting stories and positions put forward by this government in its very short time in office. I think it is important that, in this session of the Legislature, we get to the bottom of those issues.
I do not want to stray too far from the supplementaries, as there are some things in here that we will be addressing, so I believe I have the ability to speak about them during second reading debate.
The Member opposite is taking great credit for putting the process in place on DAP and I am going to have a lot of questions when we get into general debate on the Executive Council Office. The process was already in place for the finalization of DAP. Over 30 consultation meetings had been held with different stakeholder groups. This Government Leader is not starting a new process. What he has done is diminish the importance of DAP by turning it over to a backbencher and taking it out of his own office. That is what he has done with DAP. There was an interdepartmental committee - I see the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes shaking his head, but the fact remains that there was an interdepartmental committee together that was working very vigorously on DAP. There had been a lot of consultations. They were ready to go to the second round of consultations when this new government was sworn into office, so he need not try to pull one over the eyes of the public by saying that all of a sudden bright lights went on in his mind and he is going to put this great big public process in place for DAP and he is going to solve all the problems. I told him in Question Period here the other day that his biggest challenge is not going to be to get all the stakeholders together; it is going to be to get the First Nations to accept it and to get the federal government to accept it, because that is where the obstacle has been, moreso than the First Nations.
He went on at great length about an energy policy. Why does he not tell Yukoners what he did with the energy policy they developed when they were in government last time. It is sitting on the shelf somewhere. Thousands and thousands. The past president of the Development Corporation over here is aware of that. God almighty. There is nothing wrong with consultation. They go on to say that this government did not do any consultation. Well, we did do a lot of consultation, but that government, I believe, is process oriented and not result oriented. That is their biggest hang-up, and Yukoners are going to get very tired of that in a hurry.
When we get into Committee debate, as I told the Member opposite, I am going to have a lot of questions for him in his capacity as Minister of Finance, in his capacity as Government Leader and in his capacity as the Minister responsible for land claims. I also wrote a couple of letters to the Minister seeking information that I am going to need before I am prepared to clear these supplementaries in this Legislature. So maybe in his wrap-up he can tell us if we are going to get that information so that we can do a thorough analysis of the new initiatives that his government has taken.
I look forward to the debate. I hope that the Members opposite will be upfront with their answers and will quit giving different answers on different days.
Instead of twisting and turning in the wind, let us be consistent in what we are saying. Let Yukoners know what they are doing. If the government's priority is on process, it should tell Yukoners that. Do not tell them it is going to cost them nothing; be upfront about it.
I will wrap up now and I can assure everyone that we are going to have a lot of questions when we get into general debate.
Mr. Cable: We have not been in the House for seven months, so this is our first opportunity to deal with the numbers. The supplemental budget was prepared a few weeks ago, and there have been some changes. As we go along we will be looking for some updates on the deficit and the draw down of the surplus and we will want some more detail and some more crystal ball projections from the Government Leader as to whether or not the deficit that was projected by the previous administration, as updated by the present government, is going to hold.
There are large changes in the capital expenditure account, and we are going to want more detail on that. The topic that is very much in the public's eye is the financing of the commissions, and I am sure we will have questions as will the Official Opposition. We want to be satisfied that what appears to be some kind of financial miracle has in fact taken place and that there will be very little additional cost to the taxpayer for these four new commissions.
There have been changes in the Land Claims Secretariat. I would want to see organizational structures. I would like to see where the Government Leader is going, how he set up the tables and what he anticipates for staffing levels. Perhaps we can explore his anticipated time lines.
The Government Leader has quite correctly said that there is no immediate alarm on the finances and that would appear to be the case judging from the surplus that is still there. The current spending levels will, of course, exhaust that surplus at some juncture, and he make reference to that. We would like to hear from him when he sees that that financial Armageddon is going to take place and where he thinks this $30 million - if that is the deficit - is going to come from. What kind of pruning is going to be necessary and who is going to be the subject of the pruning shears when the day arrives that we have to balance the budget.
My colleague from Porter Creek South will have a number of questions on the Education department relating to the capital expenditures.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I will be more than happy to answer all the questions that the Members have when we get into Committee debate. Of course, I would suggest to Members that, having been in government for just about a month and a half, not all government positions will be fully fleshed out, but certainly to the extent that they have been, I will provide whatever information I can, as will my colleagues in their various portfolios. I have no difficulty doing that. That is what we are here to do.
With respect to the Member for Riverside's questions about our thinking on spending levels, I think that it is appropriate to point out that annual deficits, such as the one we are incurring this year, are not repeatable. I think that is an obvious observation. Clearly, there will have to be some reduction in overall spending. Whether that comes out of operations or capital is a decision yet to be made.
The territory does face some special challenges, because we are aware that the Anvil Range temporary, partial closure may have a modest impact in the coming year, and a significant impact in future years. We are also aware, of course, that the hospital project construction will be over. I think that there will consequently be less spending in that particular arena. If the Shakwak project is not renewed, then we will obviously expect some significant decline in road construction expenditures. Those are things that we can possibly anticipate in the coming years. Clearly, we do have very significant challenges. The public is used to very, very heavy public spending. That may not be possible in the coming years. We will have to assess the situation in the coming months to determine what can be done, and what the government can spend to at least minimize the impact of the decline in public spending.
With respect to the questions that the Leader of the Official Opposition asked, I would be more than happy to provide responses. I would point out to him that in his attempted response to my throne speech reply, the NDP did, while in Opposition, make reference to the needs of mobile-home owners, not only in A Better Way - page 16 - but also in special pamphlets that were delivered to every mobile-home resident in Whitehorse.
I believe he put it in the context of how we had no courage to do this or to speak out. Certainly we did have the courage to speak out on behalf of mobile-home residents in the territory, before and during the election.
With respect to the claim that everything comes out of existing budgets, and consequently there is no such thing as finding the money from within to pay for such things as the commissions - that, of course, is patently false. It is quite common for governments to indicate that things are going to come out of existing budgets. This supplementary is not an example of government spending out of existing budgets; it is an example of spending out of one's savings account, for the most part. There are some exceptions to that rule. Obviously, anything that is recoverable is not spending out of the savings account. Anything that is taxed from departments is not coming out of the savings account. Certainly, the commissions fall within that category. The Member is not making sense when he says that there is no such thing as identifying funds from within existing budgets.
There will be government expenditures in forestry policy, local hire policy development, the DAP policy development and the energy policy development. The government will be spending funds to see to it that there is work done in these areas. If we simply went to the Yukon Party's government plan and decided that we are only going to extract resources from the public that the Yukon Party had dedicated to the development of local hire policy, we would extract nothing. The Yukon Party was doing nothing in that particular area.
Clearly, we have to increase our activity in that area and identify resources for that specific project. However, the funding for those projects for the commissions are extracted from the base budgets of every single department in this government.
With respect to the allegation that these are make-work projects, I disagree profoundly. I would argue - and I have mentioned this before in the throne speech response - that the work that is being done in forestry policy development is absolutely essential to the future of the forest industry in this territory. As well, I would argue that resources expended to develop forestry policy and to help and encourage the federal government to do its duty in this regard is money wisely spent. I would argue that, if one calculated in the amount of funds that the Yukon Party was spending on forestry policy development and the money it planned to spend on it, this forestry commission will cost less than the forestry policy work that the Yukon Party was doing. The difference will be that it is more focused; it is a team approach, where more discipline will be brought to bear, and the innovation is that there will be a Member of this Legislature who will do political work to ensure that where a consensus can be built consensus will be built.
So, we do believe that what we are doing is a wise course of action. I admit that it is new, but I would ask Members not to fear something simply because it is new. I would ask them not to fear something simply because, for the first time, we are getting private Members of the Legislature to do real, constructive, political work on the public's behalf. Do not fear it. It is not something to be feared. It is something we should embrace. It is an innovation to have a member of the government caucus actually doing something that may well make a difference to the future of this territory.
The Member opposite talked about the development assessment process. Once again, he said that there were some 30 consultations with whoever on development assessment. I would point out to the Member - and I am not saying this as a rhetorical point simply to beat on the Member - that the public that I have spoken to and that many of us have spoken to, both in the conservation community and in the mining industry, who are two of the most effective constituencies that will be facing the new development assessment process, said clearly that if there is legislation - and they were assuming that legislation was housed in the federal government - for the government to please ask them to put it away and start again. They do not trust a process that begins with a final product.
The Member is shaking his head. I appeal to him to go to the community and get a letter from the Chamber of Mines - his favourite constituency. He is saying I am wrong. I challenge him. Get a letter from the Chamber of Mines advocating that we should call out the federal minister, take the development assessment process legislation out of the federal justice and put it on the street. If he can get a letter, then he is right, and the commission's work will be just about complete. If he can get a letter from the chamber saying that it would like to do that, I will be extremely surprised.
A number of other issues were raised by the Leader of the Official Opposition. He talked about energy policy development. When we get into Committee, if there are members of the commissions who wish to speak to the issues, there is nothing in our rules that says they cannot do so. If the Leader of the Official Opposition wants to tell the commissioners that the work they are doing in particular areas is simply make-work, I invite him and others to express that opinion and allow the Members to speak for themselves.
When it comes to the energy policy, I was around when the energy policy discussion papers were issued in 1992 and I would argue that they were good discussion papers, even though they were completely ignored and neglected by the Yukon Party.
They were discussion papers; they were not what constitutes comprehensive energy policy. For the Member to say that we had a policy, but that we just left it sitting on the shelf is not true.
I do have a lot of information that I can provide to Members. Most of this information is about the budget and information that may be familiar to the Yukon Party, but I recognize and acknowledge that the Liberals in this Legislature will not have been privy to this information so I will give as full answers that we can about the expenditures that are being proposed.
I would point out that the expenditures here, in large part, are expenditures that are the sole responsibility of the Yukon Party government. In saying that, it does not mean that I necessarily disagree with the expenditures. I am promoting these expenditures as the Minister of Finance promoting this bill.
The Yukon Party government was responsible for approximately 99.996 percent of the expenditures proposed for this current budget year.
The Member for Klondike indicated that he felt that this rate of spending could not be sustained. The Member may want to talk to his colleagues about that.
With respect to the analysis that this amount represents $7 million - I cannot remember the Member's exact calculations - per month and, at this rate of spending, the government will be out of money by the end of the fiscal year and there will be an accumulated deficit.
This budget represents what we project to be the required expenditures for this entire fiscal year. I do not anticipate the need for any further supplementaries, and I am hoping that there will not be.
I believe that the projections from the Department of Finance - we did not need some outsider coming and tell us what the finances are - and the expenditures will be required, albeit with some lapses - I am certain there will be some lapses. I do believe that the accumulated surplus will be in the $25 million plus range - "plus" meaning whatever additional lapses will add to it.
It is calculated that approximately $1.5 million could be directly attributable to the NDP making decisions at the transition time and approximately one-quarter of that is for the community projects initiative. A quarter of that amount is for the severance for deputy ministers.
A quarter of that is for our transition team: office space, computers, land claims staff, et cetera. A quarter is the result of what I would refer to as being new expenditures calculated for the new government, but for expenditures that were made by the previous government. In that category, I would place severance pay for Yukon Party staff, public inquiries - which, irony of ironies, I am actually defending in this Legislature - the top-up of the caucus budgets and office space for Opposition offices.
I do believe that the expenditures can be well-explained. I will certainly do my best to be as attentive to the questions and answers to ensure that the information is provided to the Members opposite as quickly as possible.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 3 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. At this time, we will take a very brief recess.
Recess Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with Bill No. 2. Is there any general debate?
Bill No. 2 - Fourth Appropriation Act, 1995-96Hon. Mr. McDonald: As I mentioned in my remarks in second reading, the purpose of the bill is to vote additional monies for several departments that have overspent their appropriations in the 1995-96 fiscal year. That was the year that ended last March, for those of you who are new to this process.The Financial Administration Act is a means by which the Legislature maintains control. The act prohibit overexpenditure of sums provided or voted and there is no exception. In this particular situation we have two overexpenditures and consequently a breach of the act.
The act prohibits overexpenditures. In the Yukon each department has two votes: one for operation and maintenance monies and one for capital monies. Therefore if only one or several departments have overspent their voted sums and their overexpenditures are, in total, far exceeded by underexpenditures in other departments, the act will still have been breached because the act focuses on individual departmental expenditures and not the government's total expenditures.
It is the custom in our Legislature to regularize such breaches by debating and passing an after-the-fact supplementary. I would point out that this has been a long-standing concern of the Legislature and its successive governments. It is not considered wise to knowingly break the Financial Administration Act but there have not so far been any recommendations for improvements that would see the situation improve dramatically, and I would invite all Members to provide ideas if they can think of a better way of handling these circumstances.
The two departments, Finance and the Public Service Commission, have incurred O&M expenditures in excess of the sums that were voted. The total of the two overexpenditures are far exceeded by the underexpenditures in both operations and capital in the remaining dozen departments. Nevertheless, the Financial Administration Act indicates that there still has been an overexpenditure and that is the reason why we have to vote these amounts now.
The $203,000 for the Public Service Commission is dedicated to the leave accrual account. This account records the accumulated liability that we owe our employees for unused vacation pay, termination benefits, a portion of sick leave and so on. It is extremely difficult to estimate more than a year in advance the ultimate year-end balance in this account.
It is a function of employee turnover, the vacation or sick leave that may not be taken, the average age of our employees, and so on. In other words, there is quite a potential for error in this calculation. That is what has happened here. The bulk of the increase in the liability turned out to be due to an unexpected increase in the number of long-term employees who qualify for enhanced severance benefits. The overexpenditure was actually more than $600,000 for the year, but the department was able to absorb the majority of it by underspending its other programs, with the result that only the $203,000 sum shown in this bill is required as supplementary funding.
The Department of Finance's O&M expenditures were exceeded by $5,673,000. This was entirely due to the need for funds resulting from the Taga Ku settlement reached by the previous government with the proponents of the project. The settlement sum was $8 million, plus interest on several of the settlement components, which brought the total to $8,395,000. A portion of this sum, a loan by Yukon Development Corporation to the Taga Ku group, had been previously expensed in 1993-94 as an allowance for bad debts. This allowance had totalled $2,336,000. Therefore, only the difference between the $8,395,000 sum and the loan of $2,336,000 had to be booked as additional expense resulting from the settlement. This difference amounts to $6,059,000.
The department is only over its vote by $5.7 million that we see in the supplementary because it was underspent in a number of its other programs and was consequently able to recover a portion of its settlement costs.
In regard to overall financial position, as reflected in the document, which I have already mentioned in my second reading remarks, the final result for the year was better than predicted in the last supplementary presented to the House, which is not quite as rosy as it looks.
The gain, as Members will know, is only temporary and some capital projects scheduled for the past year were unable to be completed. Of course this increases last year's annual surplus, but goes to increase this year's already large budgeted annual deficit since the projects are simply revoted for completion in the current year.
It is quite clear that the annual deficit contained in the main estimates for this year cannot be repeated very often.
Having said this, it is apparent that the challenges we face are manageable and not as daunting as those faced by governments elsewhere.
I can answer other Members' questions with regard to the specifics about the Taga Ku settlement. I have some information on the leave accrual account and if Members have other questions beyond that, I may have to take notice.
Mr. Ostashek: Since it is the previous government's supplementary estimates, I do not have any questions about the figures contained in the estimates.
I would like to take this opportunity to engage the Minister of Finance in a short debate about how we are going to resolve this issue, because I tried to get the Member opposite to cooperate when he was Leader of the Official Opposition.
There is great reluctance by departments to overspend because it is against the law to overspend. If we were to set all of the political rhetoric aside and try to deal with this matter in a rational and responsible manner, it is impossible for departments to hit their budget targets on the nose.
As a result, and because of that quirk in the Financial Administration Act, which makes it illegal for a department to overspend, departments tend to build in cushions all over the place.
The Member opposite was in government before and I am sure it happened during his government's administration. I know it happened during our government's administration. It is human nature. I am not criticizing the departments for doing it, because it is a quirk in the Financial Administration Act that makes it illegal for the department to overspend its budget. It does not matter that the government as a whole had a $60 million surplus.
It does not make any difference. The two departments that overspent technically broke the law.
I would like to ask the Member opposite, now that he is the Minister of Finance for the government, if he is prepared to enter into discussions on how we can resolve this. I really believe that we have some very professional people working for the government who want to do a good job. As long as we are going to have the stigma of a deputy minister breaking the law when his budget is overspent, the departments are going to tend to build cushions or small reserves. They may have positions that they have no intention of filling. The Member opposite, being a former Minister, is fully aware of that. Where they put the money is legitimate. They can explain why they have to staff those positions when they sit down with the Minister by saying, "we may have to do this over here in this program", or, "we may need a little reserve over there." They tend to go through the year until they see what they have at the end of the year, and that is why we sometimes have an increase in year-end spending.
It has really been curtailed in the last four years. I think the Minister will agree with me that there has not been the huge volume of year-end spending that took place in the past under the Conservative and NDP governments. I am not playing politics with this. The fact remains that at the end of the year, departments had spent their budgets. That may have been fine when there was a lot of money. It certainly is not fine now.
I think the Member opposite is finding that out, now that he is sitting over there and has to make decisions. His rhetoric has changed dramatically. All of a sudden, we do not have all kinds of money, which is what he was saying while in Opposition. He claimed that we had all kinds of money and that the Yukon Party had all kinds of money; it was all a matter of priorities. He is right. It is a matter of priorities. Now he is finding out that there are great demands on that money, and it is really tough to make those decisions. Having been there, I know what he is going to go through.
Regarding this supplementary estimate - we will talk about financial planning and other issues on the other supplementary - I would like ask the Minister if he is prepared to look at some sort of amendment to the Financial Administration Act.
It would give the department some flexibility in their target. We reward managers who pad their budgets and come in with $5 million, $6 million or even $10 million surpluses in their budgets, yet we penalize managers who try very hard to meet their budgets but, due to extenuating circumstances, had to go over. It is not fair to the professional people we hire.
My position as Government Leader was that I would give them the tools with which to manage, and with that management came accountability. If the department consistently overspent its budget, then the Government Leader and Minister of Finance would deal with it. There are ways of dealing with it. We really have to put more trust in our professional people. I would just ask the Minister to give us a few of his thoughts on that one clause that causes all this stigma for some deputy ministers more than others. Even though there is no penalty, they feel that stigma. There was a case in the past, under the Penikett government, where one deputy minister was severely punished for overspending his budget. That was then and this is now. I would ask for the Minister's thoughts on it.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I openly acknowledge that this is a problem worth resolving. I agree with the assessment that the Member has made. The strictures in the Financial Administration Act to not overspend cause budgeting anomalies which, in essence, remove decision making from the Legislature and give it to others. Essentially what happens is that, in designing cushions to ensure that a department does not overspend, the departments identify money that they can hold in reserve in case something happens.
That is money that is not available to the elected representatives in the Legislature. That is not money that can be used to meet priorities elsewhere. Consequently, it creates a situation where some legitimate priorities may not be addressed because of this particular anomaly.
Obviously, we want to design a system that provides the necessary incentives to departmental managers to budget accurately and to manage wisely and efficiently. There is not a politician in this country, I would suspect, who would advocate that anything other than that departments should manage as efficiently as possible so that all available resources could be applied to greatest public priorities. I would offer to all Members that if an all-party agreement could be reached to amend the Financial Administration Act - and I will put some time into it myself - then I will be more than happy to bring forward amendments to the law. I know the Public Accounts Committee wrestled with it for a short time and it may be worthwhile asking them, perhaps, to consider it one time further to see whether or not closure can be brought to the question of how the Financial Administration Act might be amended.
I would reassure the Member that I have not come to the realization that we have tight money in the last two months. I was a member of the government for seven years - long ago albeit - that had substantially less spending money available to it, yet certainly there were very high expectations even then. So meeting budget targets, balancing budgets, and having savings accounts, have been the stuff of many budget discussions in this Legislature for a very, very long period of time.
However, the Member is quite right. The ex-Member for Porter Creek South was quite right when he said that it is not that we do not have money to spend - we do - it is about priorities. It should not be the answer in this Legislature to a question about spending that says essentially that we do not have money because we are broke. The legitimate answer would be, for a particular project, that it may be a worthwhile project but we have other priorities and that is where we want to spend the money.
That is the equation that, I think, is the most honest. It has always been the equation when one is assessing whether or not there is money available for one thing or another.
I will undertake with the Member and the critic for the Liberals, if he wishes to express himself on this point, that if we can agree to sit down and work through some of the problems and present a solution to our colleagues, I would be more than happy to consider amendments to this particular piece of legislation.
Mr. Cable: Just as a matter of clarification on the Taga Ku settlement, does the money allocated book the whole settlement or is there some contingent or future element that is not addressed?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I understand that this brings closure to the settlement. The money being booked in this year obligates the Yukon government no further. This will be the final appropriation for the Taga Ku settlement. I can give the Member a breakdown, if he likes, right now.
The settlement amounted to $8,395,000, including accrued interest on several of its components.
n essence, there were four parts to the settlement. First, there was $2 million for the debts incurred by the project proponents, including a $1.5 million loan by the Inuvialuit Development Corporation to Champagne-Aishihik. The second element was $2 million to assist in resolving the claims to Taga Ku's creditors. If the claims can be settled for less, the project proponents receive the first $400,000 of savings, and all amounts thereafter are split equally between the proponents and the Yukon government. Third, originally a sum of $2 million to establish an aboriginal business fund was to be set aside for use by the proponents of projects in the Yukon and paid equally over five years without interest. This was consequently modified by having a $199,000 paid to Champagne-Aishihik to settle an energy program loan and $1,860,000 paid in five installments to the aboriginal business fund. The final component is $2,396,000 as forgiveness of the principal and interest on the loan the Yukon Development Corporation made a number of years ago to the Taga Ku group.
Mr. Cable: Has the Minister checked the mathematics on the second and third elements of the $8 million settlement to see if it has been substantially reduced? Did I hear the Minister correctly?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As I understand it, the second element, the $2 million is set aside to resolve the claims of the creditors, but if the claims of the creditors are reduced, meaning that there are fewer claims than $2 million, then the project proponents receive the first $400,000 in savings, and in that particular case all amounts thereafter are split between the proponents in the Yukon government. In the case of the $2 million for the aboriginal business fund, almost $200,000, or $199,000, was to be paid to Champagne-Aishihik so that it could pay out an energy program loan. The balance is paid to the aboriginal business fund over five installments.
Mr. Cable: Rather than waste the House time, I wonder if the Minister could give me either the letter or a return showing how the $8 million was converted into the $5.6 million?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, I can.
Mr. Ostashek: The Member is going to bring a return back for the Leader of the Official Opposition but perhaps I can just clarify it a little for him. Part of the money had already been booked. The balance of the money, even though it is not all paid out yet, has all been booked. There will be no further bookings against budgets that this government brings forward. It was all booked against the 1995-96 budget.
I thank the Member for his agreement to try to look at being able to do something with the Financial Administration Act. I guess I will have to start out by saying that it may not be impossible to get something done from Opposition that one could not get done from the government side of the House, but I still do thank the Member for his cooperation and his commitment to at least take a look at it. I would hope that the Leader of the Official Opposition will go on the record and say what his views are, because without all-party consensus it will be difficult to do.
I will have a few more questions when we get into the line items in this small supplementary - not a lot of questions, but I do have a couple. I just want to say at this time, as we are debating back and forth here in general debate, that, while the Government Leader is right, it is a matter of priorities where one spends one's money.
We are going to be watching very closely to see if the Minister of Finance will take that position when he has tremendous demands on him. We will see if his public response is: "It is a matter of priorities, and that is not our priority at this point." It will be interesting to see if that statement is made.
I do note that in the last two and a half months, the Minister of Finance has really been trying to downplay the expectations of the Yukon public. Almost every statement he makes is, "We have to be careful what we spend" and "We have to be prudent and fiscal conservatives." It is sort of enlightening to see social democrats being fiscal conservatives. It will be a pleasant change to Yukoners if, in fact, that is what transpires during the mandate of this government. It would be a pleasant surprise. I can assure the Member opposite that if, in fact, he does take that position, he will have my full support.
I do not have any further questions in general debate at this time. As it is now the time, I move that we report progress.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 2.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: 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. McRobb: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 2, Fourth Appropriation Act, 1995-96, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:28 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled December 9, 1996:
Yukon Housing Corporation Annual Report for the year ended March 31, 1995 (Fairclough)
Public Accounts of the Government of Yukon for the year ended March 31, 1996 (McDonald)