Wednesday, December 11, 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.
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Today, it is my pleasure to table in the House the annual report of the Yukon Health and Social Services Council, 1995-96.
It is also my pleasure to table the annual report of the Yukon Child Care Board from 1995 to 1996.
Speaker: Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Notices of motion.
Are there any statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Land Claims Secretariat, negotiators removed
Mr. Ostashek: My question is for the Government Leader. On Friday, December 6, the government issued a news release about a Yukon government Cabinet and caucus meeting with Yukon First Nations. It lasted about two hours and was billed as an introductory meeting.
Can the Government Leader advise the House if the issue of his elimination of the three senior Yukon government negotiators, and subsequent delays that this will cause the settlement negotiations, was discussed?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. I hope it is not too claustrophobic on the front bench in the Opposition ranks.
The meeting that was held between the caucus and the CYFN leadership was, in many respects, an introductory meeting. It was, in many respects, a precedent-setting meeting. Certainly, during the course of the discussions, land claims implementation, devolution and other things were discussed at that time. There was a question as to what the Opposition - particularly that particular Member - was getting at in the Legislature, and what the reality of the situation was. I explained that reality. There did not appear to be any concerns. I explained that the allegations of delays were unfounded, that land claims remained our top priority, and that we would be going to the table, organizing meetings, setting agendas and responding to new issues that arose at the table in the manner that is expected of us.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Government Leader for his answer, but surely he does not expect Yukoners to believe that one can dismiss the three top negotiators of land claims, and, as far as I am aware, not yet advertise for replacements for them, without delaying the land claims process. It just does not make sense to me or to many Yukoners who have talked to me about it.
I ask the Government Leader this question: did the Council of Yukon First Nations advise the Government Leader that it agreed with his elimination of the top three government negotiators? Did it, in fact, support his actions?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, of course, the three top negotiators were not dismissed. Secondly, the positions of the three people who he mentioned were not eliminated. Thirdly, two of those people remain working in their posts and will be for the foreseeable future. There have been no delays, to my knowledge, that are a result of any actions taken on the part of the Government of Yukon. We do believe that land claims is the top priority. We do believe that we can meet our obligations. We do believe we have negotiating staff that can respond ably at the negotiating table. We realize that we have very short deadlines. We realize that we are going to have to increase activity in this area, thanks to those short deadlines and the workload ahead of us. I believe that the Land Claims Secretariat and the Government of Yukon are up to the task.
Mr. Ostashek: That was quite a speech to a supplementary question, but the Member did not answer the question. The question was whether or not the First Nations supported his actions.
We have the Government Leader saying and the deputy minister saying that these people are being removed and there are new people replacing them. Then the Government Leader comes back and say that no, they will get another position at the Land Claims Secretariat. Now, today, they are going to continue with the negotiators. It is no wonder the morale has gone to pot in the Land Claims Secretariat. The government does not know what it is doing. Can the Government Leader advise this House if the CYFN expressed concerns about the delays in reaching settlements caused by his government's actions and if the issue of compensation was discussed?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: They did go on at some length about the delays in negotiating the land claims agreements. They were concerned that the last four years in land claims had been quite unproductive and, apart from the flurry of activity in the last eight or 10 months, that a lot of time had been wasted, and they expressed serious concern about that. That is not new to the Yukon public because a lot of people expressed concern about that.
I think the problem that we face here is that the Member is willfully misinterpreting what is happening at the Land Claims Secretariat for his own political purposes. I have explained very clearly what has happened on a number of occasions in this House already. I have not varied the story one iota.
In answer to the question about whether or not the First Nation leadership supported any actions that we have taken as a government with respect to land claims personnel, I can answer the Member that they expressed no opinion whatsoever on that particular point.
I assured them that there would be no delays and there have been no delays and I do not expect there will be any delays whatsoever. I am certainly of the view that the land claims personnel are capable of performing the tasks ahead of them. All but one, the chief land claims negotiator, to my knowledge, are there doing their jobs.
Any changes in personnel in the future will involve replacements, but there will not be vacancies. There will be no delays. This government will live up to people's expectations and make land claims a top priority.
Question re: Health transfer, hospital funding
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services concerning the second phase of the health transfers.
The Government of Yukon funds 100 percent of the Whitehorse hospital and the Watson Lake hospital. In other areas of the Yukon, the cost-sharing is 70/30 between the YTG and the feds. Would the Minister please advise the House if the transfer position that is under negotiation has altered since the previous government was in power and if the previously announced date of this transfer of April 1, 1997 will be met?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can respond that the agreement has not been changed substantially. Since this transfer involves the First Nations of this territory to a substantial degree, we have begun a process to include them in discussions on the phase 2 transfer, to solicit some of their input, some of their ideas, and we are working with them currently to make sure that the target is met. That is still our aim.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the Minister advise the House whether or not Yukon First Nations are in support of the phase 2 transfer and if they will be creating one hospital board for rural Yukon or a series of them? What is the position of the government in this regard?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can tell the Member opposite that, in my discussions with the First Nations, it was apparent that there was considerable dismay that they had not been part of the process on the phase 2 transfer, but it is my understanding that many of the outstanding issues are being resolved. We do not envisage anything in terms of a rural board, per se. What we are looking at is some kind of community council or community advisory boards in terms of health. That is the model that we seem to be discussing right now.
Mr. Jenkins: With regard to the transfer, a new medical facility is required in the Dawson City area. Will this phase 2 transfer include funds for such a new facility?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I cannot specifically respond to question about Dawson, but
I can tell the Member opposite that part of the phase 2 agreement involves capital funds that will be outside of the formula financing, that we will have an initial amount transferred from the federal government for facilities replacement and an ongoing amount that we can accrue, and hopefully make renovations as we see fit or feel necessary in the future.
Question re: Northern Accord
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Economic Development on the Northern Accord, which is the agreement that sets up between the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon the transfer of oil and gas resource to the Government of Yukon.
During the last legislative session the previous administration tabled the Yukon Oil and Gas Act. The passing of that act is a necessary precondition under the Northern Accord for the transfer of the resource; however, nothing has been done since the act was tabled.
What is this government's intention with respect to that legislation and the transfer of the resource?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The only reason I assume responsibility for answering this question is because, at this point at least, it is a devolution matter for which I am responsible.
With respect to the oil and gas legislation, the Yukon government has already had discussions with the federal Minister respecting the federal government's plans about introducing legislation and proceeding with legislation in the federal Parliament.
For the time being, we have indicated that for the next month, or until early January, we would like to work to build a made-in-Yukon position on the oil and gas legislation.
At this point we are working with the Council of Yukon First Nations to ensure that all the bugs are ironed out.
We would hope to see the transfer to Yukon taking place some time in the new year. We are hoping that the federal Minister will proceed with whatever legislation or amended legislation is necessary at that time.
Mr. Cable: The Speech from the Throne speaks generally about devolution. Is it the government's intention that the oil and gas resource be transferred independently of the other resources that are now being talked about with the federal Minister?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: In some respects, the transfer has essentially started because, as the Member will know, the Yukon government has already been given substantial administrative resources to manage oil and gas responsibilities in the territory. What remains is the legislative framework, and that is what we will be discussing with the federal Minister. In essence, yes indeed, if it followed the same schedule as had already been established, this would come in advance of other resource management transfers.
Mr. Cable: The time lines in the agreement have been missed and, I gather - if I have understood the agreement correctly - there is money sitting in the royalty trust account. Has the Government Leader approached the Minister to ask whether or not those trust monies can be released ahead of time? There are several million dollars there that presumably can be put to better use than sitting in a bank somewhere.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I could ask the federal Minister to undertake to release the money in the trust account, but I do not know what the federal government would gain from such a move. What it would like to do is see a closure to the entire package before monies and benefits are released to the Yukon. Otherwise, it would take responsibility for, essentially, the tough decisions that have to be made and the Yukon would benefit entirely from all the royalties and revenues.
Even though I am speaking on behalf of the Yukon and want to promote Yukon interests as much as possible, I do not believe that would necessarily be fair to the other government.
Question re: Yukon Liquor Corporation, annual report
Ms. Duncan: We are rapidly approaching the festive season, or, as the government's own media release stated, "the time of year when people tend to imbibe a little more than usual." We, in the Yukon Liberal Party caucus, have tabled a number of motions about alcohol abuse and misuse.
My question is for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation. I know that the act states that the act shall be tabled in the ensuing session of the Legislative Assembly after year-end. Can he advise the House as to when that report might be tabled?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: At this time, I can tell you that that report has not come to me yet.
Ms. Duncan: The previous government had committed to a review of the Liquor Act and its regulations. This is a piece of legislation that is badly in need of an overhaul.
Can the Minister advise whether or not he intends to carry on with this review, and when it might take place?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We have had talks with the president of the Yukon Liquor Corporation and had direction from the people to do some type of review of this act. We would like to have a look at it internally before we do a bigger, public review of it. We do not have a time line for it.
Ms. Duncan: This is a very important subject to a variety of Yukoners.
Could the Minister commit to allowing ample opportunity for the public and communities to have input into any review that takes place?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I think that many of the issues that have been coming from the communities are in relation to alcohol problems and so on. This has become more and more apparent over the past few years. They would like to see some action taken by the government on this. We would bring these issues to a public review should there be a major review of the act.
Question re: Kwanlin Dun, social worker layoffs
Mr. Ostashek: My question is for the Government Leader. It has come to our attention that the people in Faro are not the only ones to be losing their jobs in this Christmas season. We understand that a number of social workers at Kwanlin Dun have received layoff notices. As Kwanlin Dun social workers are constituents of the Government Leader, and we understand that the possibility of layoff was raised with him during the election campaign and certain commitments were made to assist them, but we also understand now he is not returning their telephone calls, I wonder if the Government Leader could tell the House why that is.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, as you may be aware and as I know the Leader of the Opposition is, asking questions about a Member's constituency is not appropriate. Asking about ministerial responsibilities is. I know the Member is trying to take advantage of the situation and ask the question, anyway.
Certainly, the issue was raised during the election campaign about the future of the social workers at Kwanlin Dun. I have not received any phone calls, so I have not been in a position not to return them - or to return them, for that matter - on the subject since the election campaign. So, I am at a loss as to what the Member is referring to. If the Member is referring to social workers paid for by the First Nation to provide a service for the First Nation, and if there is a concern that perhaps the Government of Yukon could provide some moral suasion in dealing with the federal government or any other funding agency to provide for support, then certainly, as a constituency MLA, I would be happy to do so. However, that is highly speculative on my part because I do not know the issue the Member is raising at all.
Mr. Ostashek: There seems to be different information going to different people here. We understand there have been calls placed to the Government Leader that have not been returned. Whether they were made in his capacity as Government Leader or made in his capacity as MLA, I am not certain at this point.
This is a fairly serious situation and I would ask the Government Leader if he would undertake to discuss this matter with Chief Joe Jack and see if the territorial government can be of any assistance.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Since the election campaign, I think I have had four or five meetings with the Chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. This issue has not been raised in any of those meetings, but, certainly, if the Chief of the First Nation wishes to call me, he knows that I am always there. He knows that when he wants a meeting with me, as any other community leader who requests a meeting knows, he will get one.
Based on the assumption that the Member is sincere in his concern, I will check into the matter and follow through to see what might be done.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Government Leader for that, and, if necessary, would the Government Leader make representation to the Indian Affairs department and to the Minister to ensure that the elders and the First Nation members who these social workers were taking care of are going to be attended to until a longer term solution can be found?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: If there is anyone in my riding or anywhere else who is suffering unreasonably at either this or any other time and I can use my office to provide redress, then I will, without doubt.
Question re: Dental health program for children
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the Minister of Health. The Yukon children's dental program provides invaluable preventive health care services for Yukon children. I understand that this program may be jeopardy when phase 2 of the health transfer takes effect. What is the Minister planning to do with this particular program?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With regard to the dental health program for children, an initial review indicated that we undertake a look at how this program can be administered in a better fashion. To that end, we have contracted with an independent dental researcher to take a look at the entire program and suggest ways in which it can be more effectively delivered, so that the resources can be directed toward children who probably need that program.
Mrs. Edelman: I guess what I need to know is whether or not this is a "go" with the transfer. Is that going to be part of the phase 2 transfer or not?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: All medical services branch programs within the federal bailiwick will be transferred over. We do not anticipate that there will be major changes in the dental program except for perhaps a suggestion that what we might do is go to - and this has not even been decided yet - an insurer of first resort. In other words, if families already have some form of dental insurance, then that would be the way that the dental services would be addressed. There are many particular convolutions in this particular issue and that is why we have contracted with someone to take a look at the whole program and to deliver some suggestions.
Mrs. Edelman: I suppose that what I need to know in the long term is, will the Yukon government continue this program in the absence of federal financial support?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Part of the phase 2 transfer is the transfer of funds. Part of our goal is to secure sufficient funds that we can administer all programs. The idea that the federal government is completely pulling out and leaving us to our own devices is not really the case. We will be receiving money, capital money and capital replacement money. The funds that we anticipate will be there; however, what we are trying to do is to make sure that the program is delivered to the children who need it the most. We may look at different ways of administering it.
Question re: Deputy ministers, hiring of
Mr. Phillips: I would like to direct my question to the Government Leader. Yesterday, I asked a question about a number of candidates who were on the list when he hired the deputy commissioner for local hire as well as the hiring process that was used, neither of which the Government Leader could answer. The only thing the Government Leader could offer us was that the Deputy Minister of Economic Development hired in 1985 by the Leader of the Yukon Party, was hired out of Vancouver. It is interesting to note that the individual was not reappointed by the New Democratic Party government at that time even though he turned out to be a very respectable deputy minister. He was replaced by an individual with previous political activity in the NDP Saskatchewan government - in fact an individual whose photograph was seen on the front page of one of our local newspapers, embracing our Government Leader just after this last election.
I would again like to ask the Government Leader: what the job qualifications were, if any, for the deputy commissioner for local hire?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That is an interesting recounting of the history of the situation.
The individual who was hired by the Yukon Party without competition and without public sector experience was a very good deputy minister who chose not to continue in the public service. I had discussions with that individual at the time and I know that to be the case.
The person that was hired to replace him, a person well known to the Yukon Party and probably much maligned by those same folks, was one Shakir Alwarid, who was hired on the basis of a recommendation by a hiring committee, which involved Mr. Hougen, a local, prominent businessman who felt that particular individual was the most dynamic of the candidates and should be hired. It is an interesting recounting of the history.
With respect to the deputy commissioner for local hire, the deputy commissioner is a person who has been a long-time senior policy analyst for the Yukon government. He has been the director of policy for the Yukon Housing Corporation and has been involved in housing and employment issues for a long time. He is also an economist and he teaches economics at Yukon College. He has focused much of his attention on the issue of local hire for many years.
I would say that those are significant qualifications to allow that person to head up a policy working group that is going to be looking into the issues of local hire, particularly when so many people during the election campaigh expressed some concern and frustration that workers on construction projects were not being afforded an opportunity to work on projects funded by the Government of Yukon.
I think the deputy commissioner is well qualified and I think he will do a fine job.
Mr. Phillips: I remember the debate that took place in this House a couple of years ago about the hiring of the Deputy Minister of Government Services, as well as the hiring of an assistant deputy minister of Education, and the lack of qualifications that the individuals hired for the positions had. I remember the Opposition pounding day after day on the qualifications of those people.
However, in both cases there was a difference. Advertisements were posted, competitions were held and certification was given by the Public Service Commission during the time we were in government.
I would like to know if these same steps were taken during the hiring process of this particular individual.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As I indicated yesterday and the day before, all the appropriate steps under the Public Service Act were followed. With respect to the qualifications of the person the Member mentions, I would say that the person is well qualified to do the job. Obviously, the Member appears to disagree with that proposition.
The fact that the person is an economist, has done work in this area for a long time, has been teaching a course in economics at the college and has been a long-time policy analyst until very recently - and in fact the director of policy, including during the period the Yukon Party was in office - suggests that the person is well qualified to do policy work for this government.
Mr. Phillips: Perhaps the Minister can tell us then why there was no public competition for any of these jobs. Why were none of those jobs posted? Why did almost all of the jobs go to card-carrying NDP supporters? Why does the Minister not admit that these are just political appointments and have very little to do with the qualifications of the individuals? One just has to be a defeated or ex-candidate and one gets a job.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Quite frankly, I was unaware that the people to whom we offered jobs as deputy ministers or deputy commissioners were New Democrats. I did not think that they were on the membership list.
The allegation being made that the ex-deputy minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation is an NDP activist is something that is difficult to believe, frankly. The suggestion that two other of the deputy commissioners who, as I understand it, worked for another political party in the last campaign, are card-carrying New Democrats is equally beyond belief.
I have to disagree with the Member. I would say that the people who were hired are qualified. In all cases, they have been public servants for this government. They have been public servants at the senior levels of this government. I believe that they are well and truly able to lead policy working groups in key critical areas for this government, and I am proud to have them on board - all of them.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Clerk: Motion No. 12, standing in the name of Mr. Ostashek.
Motion No. 12
Speaker: It is moved by the Leader of the Official Opposition
THAT this House recognizes the importance of the family in Yukon society and the need for Yukon families to better spend their money on what they need than having government spend it for them on something they might not need; and
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Government of Yukon should introduce and implement a child tax credit that will be of particular benefit to low-income Yukon families.
Mr. Ostashek: It gives me pleasure to rise in this new, cooperative Legislature on an issue so important to all of our constituents, regardless of what political philosophy we have.
Somewhere in Canada, a child is crying for lack of food or warm clothing. Most Canadians, either individually or collectively, feel that we must respond to that child's plight.
I will quote some statistics that are very alarming statistics in Canada today on child poverty. I am sure that if we had statistics that isolated the Yukon, ours would not be any better. This is a very serious problem that all of Canada is facing. It will require the work of all of us as leaders in our respective territories and provinces in this country of ours to try to overcome it.
I believe that it is a real stigma on a country as prosperous as Canada to have such an alarming rate of children living in poverty. Not only do we have an alarming rate, but it is growing at an alarming rate.
It said that the number of Canadian children living in poverty has increased by some 46 percent since 1989 to 1.3 million children. Nearly a quarter of Canadian children live in families with incomes below the low-income cut-off line, and that an urban family of four, earning less than $22,000, is considered poor.
I also understand that the total number of children living in poverty in Canada is about 20 percent - an alarming statistic, to say the least. What is most alarming is that not all these children are children of people who are on our welfare rolls. In fact, the majority of the poor children - 54 percent - have a mother or father at home. Nonetheless, single-parent households are four times more likely to be poor than two-parent households.
Not all poor people are on welfare. Nearly 60 percent of the poor families had one parent working in the last year, and most of them had a full-time job. Because so many poor people are working-class people and do have jobs, we can reach them through our tax system.
I would like to go back a little and tell of my involvement in this and why I believe so strongly that we, in the Yukon, can play a leadership role.
Discussions on child poverty started at a western premiers conference in Yorkton, in October 1995. Concern was raised by various premiers and government leaders about children living in poverty, and we started to discuss how the western premiers could play a leadership role in helping Canada alleviate this very serious social problem.
Our health ministers and social services ministers held discussions over the winter. At the western premiers conference in Dawson City, a communiqué was issued asking for a national program. That was further relayed to the First Ministers. Since then, our health and social service ministers have discussed the whole issue of health and social service delivery in Canada, a social welfare policy, and are talking about a national program. I applaud all of those efforts, and believe that they are ones that must continue. However, I also believe that we, in the Yukon, can still play a modest leadership role that would help to set the stage to involve the federal government in a national program. Whatever we did in the Yukon could then be rolled into the national program. There would be no difficulty in doing that.
My party believes that a low-income child tax credit is a very appropriate way to address the serious situation in the Yukon without incurring huge administrative costs, because the federal government collects income tax on our behalf and would administer the child tax credit with no additional charges, from my understanding. It would be a very simple, modest program that could work well and give our low-income Yukon families a boost up very quickly while we are waiting for all of the players in Canada to come together.
I was very encouraged by the ministerial statement given by the Minister of Health and Social Services in the House yesterday, particularly when he said, "I support the motion of a new children's benefit. I look forward to sharing details on this new benefit with this Legislature when decisions are made." I believe he was talking about a national program in that respect. I do hope that he feels as strongly as I do about this issue, and that we will have his support for this motion in this Legislature, in order to be able to lead the way in Canada to show that we are prepared to do something about the issue.
Prior to the election, we had done a lot of work on the child tax credit - work that is now lying in the Department of Finance and could be resurrected very, very quickly - and I would not insist or demand that the new government follow our program verbatim. They will want to put their own spin on it, but I am hoping that, in the spirit of cooperation in this Legislature, we can convince them that this is a very worthwhile investment in our future and that this is a worthwhile investment in low-income families that will keep them working, even though a lot of these families are working for very nominal wages. It would encourage them to stay in the workforce and discourage them from going on to the welfare rolls where, as Members opposite know - and I need not speak much about it in this House - there is a cut-off where sometimes financially it is better for low-income families to take welfare than to continue in the workforce. I do not think we want to encourage that and anything we can do to redistribute tax dollars to where they will work the best is something that this Legislature should consider.
The program that we proposed - I proposed it prior to the election and we campaigned on it in the election - I will put on the record today. As I say, I do not ask the Members opposite to accept it verbatim. They can make whatever adjustments they feel necessary, but I encourage them not to dismiss this out of hand. I also would hope that, when the Minister of Health and Social Services gets up to speak, he will not tell this Legislature that we should wait for national programs. I think we can provide leadership here to our national colleagues, to our provincial colleagues, in coming up with a program.
The program that we envisioned would have constituted a redistribution of about $517,000 of income tax revenues to those most in need: lower-income families.
That would have allowed for a $500 per child tax credit that would benefit approximately 25 percent of all Yukon families, and would be of particular benefit to low-income families.
The sum of $517,000 is a very modest investment if it is going to be directed to the people who need it the most. I will provide an analogy of this.
We had the Minister responsible for the Department of Community and Transportation Services stand in this Legislature yesterday and announce that this government was not going to close the Destruction Bay maintenance camp, even though the closure of that maintenance camp would have no impact on the maintenance of our highways, no impact on the safety of our highways and is costing the territorial government about $600,000 per year. No jobs would have been lost, nothing would have been changed, but the government would have saved $600,000 of taxpayers' money. That amount of money would have covered the cost of this program.
The very expensive commissions that the Government Leader has set up would more than pay for this program. I believe the resources are available, and we believe that they were available when we were in government to direct this modest sum of tax dollars to people who need it.
Currently, Yukoners' personal and territorial tax are calculated to direct this modest sum of tax dollars to people who need the money. Yukoners' personal and territorial tax is calculated at 50 percent of the basic federal income tax payable.
The previous government envisioned this program - as I stated earlier this was not a give-away program, people had to make money to take advantage of the program and the value of the tax credit could not exceed the amount of Yukon income tax payable. If an individual had no income tax payable, then the program would not apply to them. This program would have encouraged people to work and was not a program to encourage people not to work.
The tax credit would have virtually eliminated Yukon income tax for families, with children, that earn under $20,000.
I say to my colleagues in this Legislature, "Would it not be great and admirable if we as legislators across this country could get a program in place so that people in Canada who earn $20,000 or less would not to have to pay any territorial, provincial or federal tax?" I think it would be a step toward helping people to help themselves.
The program also would have eliminated 75 percent of Yukon income tax paid by families earning between $20,000 and $30,000. These are all low-income families. If a family's net income is $35,000 or less, they would receive the full tax credit of $500 for each child, up to the amount of income tax payable.
As I said, it is a very modest program. It is not a very expensive program for the government to undertake.
Let us look at some examples of what it would be for different families if the government should decide to go with the $500 tax credit that we propose. I do not believe that we have that in the motion; we are asking that it be brought forward. It is up to the government to decide. Perhaps it would be $1,000; I would support that.
I will give a few examples, and Members can judge the impact for themselves. Let us take a two-parent family with two children and both parents working, earning a net income of $35,000 combined. Under our present tax payable, their Yukon tax would be $1,258, minus $500 for each of the two children, or, $1,000. The two-parent family, with two children, earning $35,000, would only pay $258 in territorial taxes. It is a substantial savings. That $1,000 to parents in that tax bracket would buy a lot of food for the table, clothing and put some of the children in some recreational programs that cost money. I think it would be a big plus, and I think it is something that every Member of this Legislature could be very proud of.
Let me give Members another example. Let us take the example of the single parent with one child, having a net income of $30,000. That person's income tax payable would total $941, less the $500 tax credit for the one child. The single parent would end up paying only $441 in Yukon taxes.
I would like to give one final example of a two-parent family with three children and only one parent working, earning a net income of $35,000. Their income tax payable would be $1,342, but they would be entitled to a tax credit of $1,500. They would end up paying no Yukon income tax at all. A two-parent family in the Yukon with three children and only one parent working making $35,000 a year is really cutting it close to the line. The $1,342 amount would certainly help to provide for those children.
We estimated that 1,104 families, or 25 percent of all Yukoners, would benefit from a child tax credit. That is a substantial number of families in the Yukon.
All political parties speak of putting emphasis on the family, but this is one small way in which this Legislature and this government, very early in its mandate, and in the spirit of cooperation in this Legislature - it is a government that prides itself on consensus building and taking good ideas from everyone, no matter where they come from - can make a difference. I hope that politics will not impede progress on this very important item.
We believe that money is best used when it is directed to the unemployed and the working poor, therefore loosening the welfare trap. Some public assistance can make working at a fast-food restaurant far more attractive than being on welfare, and I stated that earlier on in my mandate. Perhaps this tax credit would keep some single mom at a low-paying job where she is contributing to society and not being a burden on the taxpayer. I think that is the goal and the ambition of all of us as legislators.
I am not going to go on forever on this topic because I would like other Members to speak on the issue. I would hope that we could come to a vote on this motion in this Legislature. I see the Government Leader smiling and I hope he is smiling in support of the motion.
Let me say in closing that we fully support the ministerial statement given by the Minister of Health and Social Services yesterday on a richer and more focused child tax credit of a national nature. We support that. We also believe that we have a responsibility of our own to help our citizens in our part of this world. The child tax credit that I am proposing will not be the be-all and end-all. It will not end the suffering of all low-income people in the Yukon, but I believe it is a step in the right direction, and I urge all Members in this Legislature to support this motion.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I am certainly pleased today to speak on this motion that the Leader of the Official Opposition has brought forward. Certainly in the last few days I have spoken of the need to address this problem of children in poverty, and I have also spoken to the recent efforts of provinces, territories and the federal government in this regard.
I will be making some suggestions on this, which I hope are not taken in a partisan way but in a more practical and administrative way. I will be bringing those forward.
Too often, we do not see poverty in the Yukon. We are a relatively prosperous society. In many ways, we associate poverty with our trips to Vancouver - people living under viaducts, people living in cardboard boxes, the panhandler on the street. Those are the kinds of things that stick in our mind as being poverty.
In my experience as an educator - and I can probably also speak for the Member for Laberge, as well - often in a school one begins to see the first evidence of child poverty. It can be the little kindergarten girl who cannot grasp the concept, cannot understand the formation of letters, because she did not have breakfast that day, or if she did have breakfast it was minimal because the family's budget will not stretch until Thursday, and the blood sugar is down and the concentration is off. Those children are often the first candidates that we see for problems such as learning disabilities. Inevitably, they show up later on as children who experience serious learning problems.
It can be the kid who misses the birthday party because the folks do not have enough money to buy a present so he can go to the birthday party. It can be the kid who, in grade 2, is absent every day there is a pizza day, or every day the class goes swimming, because $2 or $3 is too much for the family budget to bear.
It can be the boy who gets into trouble for aggression because he looks at and covets something one of his classmates has that is so desirable, yet so unattainable, as a $5 action figure. It can be the kid who pronounces hockey as dumb, or does not want to take part in this or does not want to take part in that, does not want to go to Scouts, because the money may not be there for the uniform, the money may not be there for the ice skates. In many ways, that is the kind of reality of poverty we see in this territory.
I agree with the Leader of the Official Opposition when he says it is not a case of people without means. We know many working families have their budgets stretched.
I would suggest that poverty for children is really a state of being. It is a permanent sense of insecurity. It is a sense that there is little hope for the future. I have seen these children in my years in education. They are kids who always have that sort of perception; they have the dream in their early years that the family is going to go to Disneyland; the family is going to go here and go there, if dad gets a job.
I have also seen over the years that those hopes are often crushed, and by the time the kid gets to grade 4 or grade 5, they have stopped dreaming. By the time that they reach grade 6 or grade 7, they have turned off; they have turned off learning and turned off hoping. Those are the children who end up with difficulties in terms of behaviour and academics in high school and junior high. Far too often, they end up in our juvenile justice system and, ultimately, in our adult justice system. We pay a cost. We pay a social deficit for the problem of poor children.
Oscar Wilde once remarked that the only group that thinks more about money than the rich are the poor, because for the poor, it dominates everything. The poor can think of little else. That is the misery of being poor.
Over the past few years, I have watched this kind of neo-conservative climate that somehow has crept in and sees the poor as architects of their own misfortune. We lay off workers. They go on welfare rolls and become, somehow, less socially acceptable. We have this kind of Dickensian sort of morality that we bring forward. We speak in clichés - sometimes, the idea of the hand up rather than the handout. It is a nice phrase, but sometimes it conveys to us a sense that somehow the poor are responsible for their own problems.
There has been a demonization of the poor in this country. I really believe that there has been. It is as if, somehow, single mothers in this country are the source of the national deficit. Nobody bothers mentioning the corporations that have a $40 billion tax write-off. Nobody mentions family trusts that allow the wealthiest families in this country to move billions offshore in tax deferrals. Somehow, it is the single mom. Everything would be taken care of if people could only get out and get off the welfare rolls.
The Leader of the Official Opposition has brought up some interesting statistics. I think statistics are worthwhile, but I also think there are some real contradictions. This country - Canada - ranks first in the United Nations list of human development. Out of 174 countries, we rank the first in terms of human development index.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The Minister responsible for the Women's Directorate has pointed out, "Unless you are a women, and then we rank eighth."
However, with regard to children, we rank first in the international index, but we rank tenth among the industrialized countries.
In 1989, the Parliament of Canada declared war on child poverty. Seven years later, we have managed - as the Leader of the Official Opposition pointed out - to raise the level of poverty from 14.5 to 19.5 percent. I am not a military strategist, but I would say we are losing.
We have programs in place in this country, such as the child tax benefit and working income supplement. Those programs are targeted at working poor families and are an attempt to top up wages. However, because those benefits have not been indexed, the actual value of them is diminishing rapidly. By the year 2000, the average poor family will secure exactly five dollars annually in real benefit from these programs because of the erosion by inflation.
I have taken a look at the initiative brought forward by the Opposition Leader, and I have to admit that I did not have a great deal to work on. I did go back to the party platform. I only found one line. He has me at a disadvantage with respect to some of the format. I did take a look at some of the press releases, even though I know how dangerous it is to rely on The Fifth Estate for some of our information. In taking a look at it, I did come up with a few concerns about this tax benefit that I would like to raise.
I have some concerns that the effectiveness of the initiative is tied into the essential limitation that in order to qualify for the tax benefit, one has to have a taxable income. That I see as a difficulty. As well, laudable as it is - and I do think it is a laudable attempt; it is remarkably advanced in sentiment - I do think that there are a couple of problems.
I did not see anything there that suggests that the tax credit would be graduated or targeted. In other words, there was no income level at which one qualified. Similarly, I did not see that the credit was graduated for all families, regardless of income level. It is not graduated, so it would seem to me that the value would not go directly toward poor children.
I would just make those sorts of suggestions, that I think it should be graduated a bit more. I would really be most concerned about looking at this kind of initiative on its own - looking at it in isolation - and to that end, I think we have to take a look at some other programs or other ideas that might assist children. A few of these were brought forward to the Department of Health and Social Services for consideration.
For one thing, we have to take a look at the idea that social assistance rates have not changed substantially since 1991 and, unless we have had zero inflation and a zero increase in the cost of living, that would suggest that we have a bit of a deficit there.
We also need to take a look at the correlation between work and child poverty and at some ways in which we can assist families to get off that poverty cycle by some method of supporting them in work. I think - I am hoping that our friends in the Liberal Party will consider this option - we need to lobby the federal Liberal government to fulfill the 1993 promise for 150,000 quality child care spaces that have not been filled. One of the things that does allow, for example, families to get into the workforce is the availability of child care. Right now, we are at a static point because of the lack of increased funding. We need to take a look at lobbying the federal government in that regard, and I would look to our friends in the Liberal Party to support us in that endeavour.
I also think that what we might look at doing is directing some components of our social assistance programs to measures that would directly improve children's lives; for example, such things perhaps as recreational allowances and improved clothing allowances for children who are attending day care in recognition that kids tend to go through more clothes when they are at day care and need a wider variety of clothes for going outside, et cetera.
We need to take a look at things of that nature.
We also need to take a look at some of the innovations that are already in their schools in terms of such things as child nutrition.
I think that some of the programs that have been developed by our schools are very laudable. They are the kinds of things we need to support in terms of child poverty. A great difficulty that we face in our schools is that many of our children come undernourished and, far too often, ill-clad.
These are some of the innovations that I think we could take a look at in concert with some of the suggestions that have been brought forward. For this reason, I am proposing an amendment to Motion No. 12.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I move
THAT Motion No. 12 be amended in the first paragraph by deleting everything following the word "society" and be amended in the second paragraph by deleting everything after the expression "Government of Yukon should" and by substituting the following: "work with provincial, territorial and federal governments to develop effective means of addressing child poverty and supporting families, and that, within this process, an integrated child benefit be considered."
I would like to speak for a few moments to this motion.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Health and Social Services
THAT Motion No. 12 be amended in the first paragraph by deleting everything following the word "society" and be amended in the second paragraph by deleting everything after the expression "Government of Yukon should" and by substituting the following: "work with provincial, territorial and federal governments to develop effective means of addressing child poverty and supporting families, and that, within this process, an integrated child benefit be considered."
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would like to take a few moments to speak to this amendment.
Let me begin by saying that I am certainly very cognizant of the Opposition Leader's injunction that we should not try to stall on this, and this is not a stalling tactic by any means. As a matter of fact, I can support the idea of providing additional money to low-income families so that children can live free of poverty.
However, I feel at this time that the motion introduced - Yukon child tax credit - might be premature given the work that is currently underway at the national level.
The other day I informed my colleagues in this House about my attendance at the federal, provincial, and territorial ministerial council, where the ministers of social services reaffirmed their commitment to reducing child poverty. The Opposition Leader did allude to the meetings that had prompted this, and I think that work is to be commended.
I believe that the national child benefit is one of the most important initiatives ever undertaken by these levels of government to assist low-income families and to ameliorate the consequences of poverty in Canada's children.
The problems are unemployment, under employment and poverty in this country, and they are growing, and they are growing particularly for families with children. If we see the current trends in the global economy and the labour market continue, I think this is going to be a problem that is with us for a long time, and I do not think it will be readily dealt with in the short term.
As has been spoken to, working families are particularly impacted. Families headed by young adults are the most hard hit. From 1980 to 1994, the family income of individuals under 25 fell by 34 percent. These tend to be families with very young children and they are particularly vulnerable.
In 1993, one out of every five children was living in a low-income family. It is estimated that low income affects as many as 60 percent of children living in single parent families.
Quite frankly, with child poverty there is a high cost in all terms, both human and financial. Children from poor families tend to do poorly in schools, they tend to experience more health problems and more difficulty in life generally.
As well, poverty tends to be intergenerational. We have all become wedded to the idea of the rags to riches story, while in reality it is too often rags to rags, because poverty tends to follow people.
Children from poor families often do not have the same educational or occupational opportunities that other children have.
It costs society in financial terms, as well as in the tremendous loss of human potential, increased cost for income support, health care, et cetera, the penal system, and lost tax revenue. It is not only confined to children; it stretches across generations.
We have to admit that, in Canada, some of our government programs have had a positive effect on the depths of poverty by ensuring that lost earning power is replaced by social assistance and other forms of financial support. That is why it is felt that a coordinated and cooperative approach with a new child benefit would greatly enhance the economic well-being of all Canadian families.
The proposed national benefit would focus on increasing the current tax benefit now paid by the federal government. In the Yukon, it is about $1,000 a year per child for low-income families. With an increase, some funds would be freed up from territorial and provincial social assistance programs, and these funds would be rolled into a new national child benefit, or to supplement existing provincial and territorial programs.
Next week, the deputy ministers of social services and finance of all jurisdictions will be meeting and reviewing the proposals that have come forward. In the case of the existing child tax benefit, the proposed national child benefit will likely be based on the income tax system, and the amount of benefit will be determined by the family's tax return.
There is some commonality in the proposals being brought forward; however, my suggestion would be that, until the final national child benefit proposal is developed and appraised, and the details known and analyzed, I would suggest we would be well-advised not to commit to any supplementary benefit for the territory at this time. I am not discounting the possibility of a territorial supplement that builds on the base of the national benefit. I am not discounting that at all.
This is one of the questions that is now being considered by officials. I would suggest that we might want to continue with this interprovincial, interterritorial national thrust and develop a national child benefit that would integrate and harmonize our income security programs. I would suggest that, once we know what this program is like, we could take a look then at what enhancements, if any, we may need at the territorial level.
The notion of a child tax credit in the territory is a good possibility, but I think it is only one form of supplement we could be looking at. I have suggested some others we may also be looking at.
I would suggest that while the idea proposed by the Opposition Leader has merit, it may be premature at this time and for that reason I have suggested the amendment as read.
Mr. Ostashek: Let me start out by stating for the record that I am very, very disappointed with the Minister of Health and Social Services. At no point when I spoke to the motion did I even suggest that we should not continue to work at a national level for a national child care program. Nowhere. I did not suggest it. What this Minister has done with his amendment is basically gut the motion. He is saying, "Let us do nothing on our own until we have an integrated national program."
I suggest to you that it is stands that have been taken by politicians such as him over the years that have got us into the situation that we are in today. I am very disappointed because the NDP is the party that is supposed to be the defender of the poor, yet when we offered an interim solution, something that they could respond to very quickly - and this could be in place for the first of January - because it came from the Opposition, they dismiss it out of hand. They said that it might be beneficial, but it should be incorporated and it may be a supplement to the national program.
I know the Member is new to this Legislature, but he is also a very intelligent man and he also knows how slow governments move. If he believes for one instant that the national forum is going to have something in place within even the next year, I think he is living in fantasy land. When you start talking about any issue or any program on the national level, there are so many diverse opinions, even on a serious problem such as child poverty, there are so many different twists and turns as to how to address the problem that it is hard to reach consensus across the country.
I support this government's efforts in working on a national program. I fully endorse it, but I was trying to encourage this government to do something in the interim. In a small jurisdiction like the Yukon we can act very quickly and we can set some examples for the rest of the country.
The Minister went on at some length about social assistance rates. I guess that is the philosophical difference between his government and my government. He also spoke of a hand up, instead of a handout. We were a government that believed in a hand up, and not a handout. They are a government that believes in handouts and keeping the people trapped in that welfare roll. They do not want to do anything to release them from that trap.
The Yukon has the highest social assistance rates in Canada today. We are not the lowest, not in the middle, not in second place - we have the highest rates in Canada today. They are substantially higher than any other jurisdiction in Canada.
As I said before, I think the challenge facing all of us is to keep the people working and not to encourage them to stay on welfare. That is the difficulty that I have. Many of the things stated by the Minister are very factual and true, and a lot of work needs to be done. However, this motion was not about social assistance. It had nothing to do with social assistance. It is to address the problem that the working poor have - those people who are too proud to go on social assistance. They struggle and struggle, perhaps not making as much as they would by being on the welfare rolls, but they want to work and contribute to society. This government, however, wants to delay doing anything for them. I am not saying that the government will not do anything, because the Minister's motion suggests that it will consider doing something down the road, but it is not prepared to do anything immediately.
We have many families in the Yukon that are working in the service industry, which is not made up of highly paid employees. Many of those people are working in the $20,000 to $30,000 salary range, which would qualify them for a substantial break on this.
Another point the Minister made was that this child tax credit would be unfair because it was not graduated. Well, it certainly is graduated: the less you make, the more you benefit from it. By the time you reach a combined income of somewhere in the mid-$40,000 range, it is eliminated completely. So, it certainly is graduated, and it certainly is targeted at the lower class people.
Nevertheless, I did not ask the Minister to accept the propositions that we put forward. I gave them to him as examples.
I asked - and our motion stated this quite clearly - for this House, without being partisan or political about it, to recognize the importance of the Yukon family and society, and to recognize that Yukon families would be better able to spend their money on what they need than having the government spend it. By deleting all of that, I have to suggest to the Minister that he does not agree with me and that he believes the government can spend the money better. That is what he is telling me when he eliminates the rest of that motion.
The second clause of the motion is that the Government of Yukon should introduce and implement a child tax credit that will be of particular benefit to low-income Yukon families. I stated quite clearly in my opening comments in the debate that I did not ask the Members to accept what we had proposed. I gave that by way of an example.
The motion is very clear. They can do whatever they want, as long as it is of particular benefit to low-income Yukon families. That is all we said; but no, the Minister has basically gutted the motion with his amendment, and is not prepared to help Yukon families in the near term. I think that is unfortunate.
There is no doubt that his amendment, if it comes to a vote, will pass. I will not support the amendment, because it takes away from the intent of the motion to do something immediately. I believe that is very unfortunate, because I know there are a lot of Yukon families - some of my constituents and constituents of every Member of this Legislature - that would immediately benefit from such a program. It would be a stop-gap measure until we have a national program. That is what I find so unfortunate about this.
I am not going to stand here and speak forever on this amendment. I have had my say on it, and I will not be supporting the amendment.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I would like to speak to the amendment, of course, and that is what I am doing now. I would like particularly to respond to comments made by the Leader of the Official Opposition today because I find them upsetting, and I would like to exercise the opportunity at this point to get a few comments off my chest so that I do not have to sit here all afternoon waiting for an opportunity.
In his most recent comments, the Opposition Leader indicated that he was proposing a measure in his main motion that he argued was not political and that it was meant only to help the poorer people in our community - all propositions which I support.
In his response to the Minister, he went on to elaborate as to his real intent in expressing concerns about the proposed amendment from the government Minister, and he indicated that he wanted to support working people. He wanted to support people who are too proud to go on social assistance. What that means to me is that the people who are on social assistance have no pride. People who are poverty-stricken, people who by force of sheer circumstance, who are dependent upon the collective whole of the community for the few bucks they get to provide groceries for the family, have no pride. If they did have pride, they would not be on social assistance. I fundamentally disagree with that Member's interpretation of what social assistance is all about.
He went on to say that the Yukon Party, and I will quote him, "The Yukon Party's program is targeted at lower class people." What does he mean by lower class people? People who have a low income? First of all, if they are low income and get any of that income from government, they have no pride. If they are low income and happen to be working, they are lower class. This afternoon was the first time ever in this Legislature I heard that Member say anything about children in our community crying. He said, "Somewhere out there in the world, there is a child crying." Did we hear this Member, this Minister of Finance, talk about children crying when he raised people's taxes a few years ago? There was no discussion about that. Did we hear him express any concerns about the fact that people had to pay more taxes every time they filled up at the gas pumps - that people were suffering, particularly lower income people? We did not hear any such thing. We heard that people would probably not even notice the hundreds of dollars of extra tax that they would have to pay.
A few years later, the Member stands up in the Legislature and says that lower class people need a break.
First of all, I want to make my position clear that low-income people are not lower class people, absolutely and fundamentally.
Secondly, I believe that the people - through the sheer force of circumstance - who are taking some assistance from this government to pay for groceries and accommodations for their families and children are not people who have no pride.
I would point out to the Member that many low-income earners who are working, both in Whitehorse and the communities, do get some form of assistance from this government. Some of these people live in social housing, which is a form of social assistance. Presumably, by the estimation of the Member who just spoke, these people do not have pride. I fundamentally disagree with that approach. Again, we hear from the Yukon Party the same proposition that welfare and social assistance costs are sinking the nation, both morally and financially.
In her book, Linda McQuaig actually exposed the reality and pointed out that, as a percentage of our gross domestic product in this country, money spent on social spending has not gone up since the time before government deficits. Social spending is not sinking this country.
Something quite different is happening. It is not poor people who are causing the debts and deficits; it is not the moral disintegration of our community, which the Conservatives suggest results from poor people receiving social assistance.
The other day I heard some business commentator claim that the Toronto Dominion Bank was falling well behind its compatriots in the banking community in this country, because it had not quite made the $1 billion profit margin this year and was ashamed of the fact, that investors should all have a good look at the management of that particular bank, because it had not achieved the $1 billion profit margin.
If we want to put money in the hands of working people in this country, we should be talking about allowing them some opportunity to pay a fair share, and encouraging the people who are making the big profits in this country to also pay their fair share. By doing that we will have people with money in their pockets who are able to support themselves.
One problem with the proposal the Yukon Party has put forward is that, as my colleague has pointed out, to qualify for this tax credit, one has to have a taxable income. It is, in fact, graduated. If one is in a high-income bracket, one does not receive any tax credit by this proposal, but if one is in the lowest income bracket, one gets a marginal benefit. As one makes more, one receives more. Does that suggest that the people who have the lowest income have less need to support their children, or that their children are actually in less need than people who are higher in income and receive more of a benefit? I would think not. I would even argue that they are desirous of more benefit.
I have looked at the Department of Finance's tables, which show how this benefit was calculated. I have seen that when one is in the $30,000 to $40,000 range of income, one is getting the maximum benefit from this tax credit. One receives much less the lower the income.
I would prefer a situation where lower income people actually get cash in hand. I would prefer a situation where we worked together with other provinces and the federal government to ensure that a national program was available where there is an increase in cash in hand to people who need it most. I would prefer that the Minister and this government work diligently to achieve that particular goal. I think that is a much more practical solution, and more real to these people - to get the cash in hand than the tax credit scheme - who need it the most.
To use the Member's own words, his stopgap measure proposal is something that, ultimately, if it is not as good as the national program that is coming forward, would have to be removed. So, we would initiate it and remove it, by their estimation. I do not think that is a practical proposition at all.
I think part of the problem I have - this is with the Member's main motion and the amendment that speaks to it - is that the motion begins with a typical, right-wing, thoughtless statement that somehow what government does is not legitimate and what can be done with money in private hands is. There is the suggestion that services the government provides, in terms of medical care, health services generally, social assistance and education - these are things that are essentially illegitimate activities and if only we could put money in the hands of people - like the banks - then we could have a real economy, run by real market forces. I realize that it does not have a lot to do with the basic substance of the motion, but I personally would not want to attach my name to that right-wing rhetoric, because I do not believe in it and never have. If anyone was honest in this Chamber, they would not be believing it either, because all we have heard from the Yukon Party Opposition, both during and since the campaign, is ways we can spend money - of all types and in all areas. If the candidates in Dawson were listened to, the government would be broke in a year.
I believe that the proposal put forward by my colleague does achieve the objective of helping low-income people. It does achieve it in a real way - not an indirect way, nor one that does not respect the needs of the people who are most in need, but in a real integrated fashion, where we are finally working with other governments to do the right thing for the most needy people in our communities.
I am most definitely supporting the amendment. I think it does the job that we need to see done. I am hoping that the politics that are obviously being played by people who have obviously just been visited by the ghost of Christmas and have undergone some transformation will see the light of day and see that there is a more practical arrangement that can be struck that can meet the needs of those most needy in our community in a more real way.
Mrs. Edelman: I am supportive of this motion. Mr. Sloan spoke earlier about how we do not really see poverty here in Whitehorse. At our church there is a soup kitchen that I have participated in since it started and there one can see it all year round.
You do not see too many kids in the winter, but you certainly see a lot of them in the summer, and there are more every year.
I suppose we can sit here in our fancy clothes in this incredible place and talk all we want to about poverty, about how this or that motion is going to solve poverty, but none of these motions can solve child poverty or any other type of poverty.
One thing that I have not heard here all day is the suggestion of going to talk to the people who are poor. Why do we not ask them what they think? How do they think they can get out? It is a cycle and it goes on generation after generation.
There will always be children who are exploited and there will always be children who are poor until we do something about it. This motion will not solve very much of that, and the amended motion will not solve a lot of it either, but I suppose I would be moderately supportive of it because it is a more general approach.
What I would say is that if we really are interested in doing something about poverty, why do we not ask the people who are poor, really poor. Ask them.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I am pleased to rise in the House this afternoon to support the amendment to the motion before us. I certainly believe and recognize that there are problems of poverty in the Yukon. It is not a matter of being "somewhere out there". There are many families in my riding and in all of our ridings in Whitehorse and in our rural communities where there is not enough food on the table, there is not enough money to pay the bills, and that has terrible personal effects and terrible social effects. I appreciate the previous speaker raising exactly that point - that we do not just sit here and debate motions but that we have to be active in our communities and encourage everyone to work on solutions to child poverty.
I am proud to be a member of a government that puts people's needs and interests on the public agenda. Children and their families must be supported. We have to ensure that governments play their part in addressing child poverty and in supporting families.
This motion initiated with the discussion of a tax credit. As the Minister of Health and Social Services pointed out, in order to benefit from a tax credit, a family has to have an income in the first place, and I think there has been a failure to address the real deficiencies in the existing tax structure. The Minister of Health and Social Services referred to family trusts where billions of untaxed dollars are sheltered as a result of Canadian tax law.
There has been a lot of press coverage recently about the banks, which have made huge profits at the same time as they are reporting high service charges. As Linda McQuaig points out, the percentage of social spending in Canada has not gone up. There are many other industrialized countries that have a better record on social spending than Canada.
I think this motion is coming before us at a time of year when people are encouraged to be generous. We do see evidence of people donating food baskets and toys to families who need them; however, we need to do more than that. We need to do more than make donations to charity just once a year. We need to make the kinds of changes that this amendment refers to by working with other governments to address child poverty and support families.
The Minister of Social Services pointed out the need to look at social assistance rates, which have not changed since 1991, to look at the correlation between work and child poverty, and to create more jobs to free families from the poverty cycle. We need to lobby the federal government to fulfill its 1993 election promise of 150,000 child care spaces. We need to consider directing components of social assistance into measures to directly improve children's lives, such as recreational allowances. We need to encourage innovations such as school nutrition programs.
I rise to support the amendment before us. I would encourage all Members in this Legislature to take a stand that recognizes the dignity and worth of every person in society, and to not look down on people because they are poor. Rather, we need to look at finding ways to help them be better off in our society.
Mr. Jenkins: Our party leader spoke eloquently on the original motion and on the amendment. I have just a few words of my own to add.
In the world, Canada is ranked by the United Nations as being the best place to live. The number of children living in poverty in Canada is growing, despite the federal government's war on poverty. So much for our military might.
The amendment does not deal immediately with what we have before us. We are confronted with a situation where we have to address the needs of lower income individuals, single families and families with lower incomes forthwith.
Yes, we also have to address all of the other areas and there is a need to look at our social benefit programs and to address those issues, also. The originally proposed child tax credit could provide immediate relief to lower income individuals. Go out and speak with the people, people such as those living in Yukon social housing that are paying 30 percent of their gross income toward their housing costs. This child tax credit would not affect what they pay, but it would put more dollars in their pockets at the end of the year.
This child tax credit would not affect the perversity factor; it is after the fact. The flow of funds from the federal government to the territorial government would still continue. As the motion that was originally advanced stated, the child tax credit could be available in the next year and provide a refund to a lot of those people in need.
I would suggest to the Minister of Health and Social Services that if an amendment was appropriate, the best way to achieve it would be to apply a cost of living allowance clause to this tax credit.
I cannot support the amendment; I can support the concept of it, but the amendment is not going to kick in for the year ahead.
Parts of it could, but it will be coming down at us in the next few years. We cannot really wait for the federal government's plan to come north. We need a made-in-Yukon solution to address our issues here, and we have the ability within this House to do that.
I would urge the Members opposite to take the child tax credit, rework it, and bring it forward as their idea. We will pat them on the back and move it through the House very quickly, because it is needed for a lot of the lower wage earners.
In conclusion, I would very much like to see this House work together in providing this kind of relief to the lower wage earners in our society who, through no fault of their own, are where they are today. They are part of us, and they contribute to our society. By providing areas where we can address their quality of life, we will all be much better off in the long run.
Ms. Duncan: Speaking to the amendment, I would like at the outset to say that this side of the Opposition benches had a friendly amendment to propose, in which my colleague, the Member for Riverdale South, would have recognized the value of home care givers, which is absolutely critical and is almost always unrecognized in our society.
The proposal I put forward in response to this issue during the election campaign was that the Yukon government should set aside $1 million - in terms of the Yukon government's budget, it is not a huge amount - which should be divided by the number of dependent children and that it be provided to parents in this way. That proposal does not have the stigma of income levels. The difficulty, of course, is universality, and other parliaments are discussing that issue. As we all recognize, some of the richest people in the world show incomes on their income tax returns of less than $30,000.
There are a number of difficulties with any number of proposals using the tax system. There are a number of difficulties, and there are a number of wonderful benefits to all these different proposals. We could talk for hours and hours about the methods of this tax credit, that tax credit, subsidies, and outright payments to families. We could talk for many days and weeks and years about poverty, but I do not want us to lose sight of a much larger picture, and that picture is Yukon children.
Not all Yukon children are living and growing in a warm, loving environment. We wish it were so. Some of the other Members have noted that the Yukon is not exempt from many statistics and I would caution us all to remember that in this debate.
I would like to refer Members to the very good work of the Conference Board of Canada in a document that is called the Work and Family Challenge - Issues and Options. I do not think we can forget about that. Expressing our support for children and families does not begin and end with the discussion of poverty, the tax system and money. If we truly value children, we as community leaders might look to ourselves and look to our workplace.
We, the government, are employers. Why are we not looking at our own front door. This is not a child-friendly environment in which we work. I do not think there is one Government of Yukon office that has a reception area with a toy in it to amuse to children while their parents are dealing with the government. A very, very, very small cost but a very, very important point for a harried mother who is waiting to pay her taxes.
Where would a father, working in this building, change his baby at lunchtime? Does anybody in this Legislature know?
The challenges for family in the workplace are about a change in attitude. They are fundamental and we must recognize them. Let us not lose sight of the whole picture when we discuss issues such as this.
The amendment proposed by the Minister of Health and Social Services is one option, most definitely. I would prefer to have been able to stand in this House today and challenge the government to produce a white paper in consultation with the affected people - and they are not simply the poor or the working poor. Give us some options. You have the resources. You have the whiz kids in the Finance department. Give us some options about what we could do with our tax credit. The Members to my right have raised a good point: let us lead the country with what we do.
I think that it is very, very important. Unfortunately, the way this House is set up, I do not know if I can issue that challenge except through Hansard, and I hope that the government will take that seriously.
That being said, I believe that the Minister of Health and Social Services has made an important first step with his proposed amendment. As I have said, it is an option. It is certainly an option worth considering. I look forward to further discussion as I consider whether or not to give my support to it.
Mr. Hardy: I do want to make a slight correction. If you go into Health and Social Services, you will find the most wonderful collection of apparatus - toys and whatnot. That applies directly to a lot of families that go there. If you talk about harried people, the answer is "yes". That is greatly appreciated. Things seem appreciated at times for young parents to pick up the toys, just relax and think about where they have come from and what situation they are in now.
The motion raised some serious concerns for me, because I feel that firstly, it did not go far enough. My understanding of it is that it would not apply to the most needy in our society. We can have a $500 tax credit here, a $1,000 tax credit there, and that is fine. However, if it only applies to a certain level, and if it only goes down so far, stops and then has no effect whatsoever, the most needy in our society would not benefit. If the ones who most need assistance do not benefit, does it really serve a purpose? Does it really assist those in need?
It is my understanding that this motion does not have a limit, so that the wealthiest in our society can actually benefit from that as well. That raises a concern, because I do not believe that we should be in the business of supplying more credits to the most wealthy in society. They already have enough. They already benefit from the structure of Canada and benefit enough from society. We should be looking at how we can redistribute the wealth to benefit the people who are in most need.
There are a lot of organizations out there. The Member for Riverdale ...
Some Hon. Member: South.
... South. Thank you. I knew I would get it eventually. I always need some help on that, I will tell you. I will get it sorted out. That Member spoke of working in the soup kitchens. That is a wonderful thing. In the past, I have also worked in soup kitchens at Maryhouse and various other organizations. Through the other organizations in town and the unions, we have worked very hard in trying to assist people who have naught in our society .
Whether it is through public education, lobbying or speaking on behalf of the poor and offering support, warmth, shelter or food, all these organizations contribute to this society. They consist of people in our society who feel and care deeply about the people who have naught.
I do not support the original motion; I do support the amendment as a step. I do not support the original motion, I want to emphasize, because I do not think it really reaches the people who most need it. I do not think it is very well thought out. I believe it was brought about in desperation in the dying days of a government and in the hope that it would buy them some time, but it was not well thought out.
I have seen these measures - these quick-fix solutions - in other parts of Canada and they have not made a change. We are facing growing welfare lines and growing numbers of food banks throughout Canada. Everyone likes to quote the United Nation's rating of Canada being number one. I do not believe that, because there are different ways to rate a country. The hon. Member mentioned earlier different ratings, one dealing with women where we are definitely behind. There are different ways of looking at a country and I believe that we have not been looked at very closely. The scales have not been adjusted to acknowledge poverty and who is really affected by it. We do fail in that category.
I cannot support the original motion because it does not go far enough. It does not include the people that I feel most need it. I believe that there are better and more effective ways to try to turn this growing tide of poverty around in Canada and in the Yukon. There are Yukon ways of doing this. A part of the Yukon way is going out to consult with the people who are working with the poor and consulting with the poor. We cannot come up with something out of the air. We must go out and work with the people and be on the front lines with them. We, in here, should be on the front lines with them. We should encourage the people around us to be on the front lines and bring out the good suggestions that will make a difference and a change.
I have to support the amendment and I have to say that I think we should move further and we have to move fast. For the last four years, there has not been very much movement at all and there has been an increase in poverty in the Yukon. One can judge it by the situation at St. Joseph's. One can see it in the food banks, Maryhouse, the Salvation Army, the churches that are working hard to feed the people and by the unions that are contributing and working very hard.
The only one that was not working was the previous government. This is not the way to solve that problem.
Mr. Cable: Child poverty has been, and is being, discussed actively in most jurisdictions. The general dimensions of the problem are slowing starting to be recognized: the lower health levels, the lower self-esteem, the lower achievement levels in school, youth crime, and general alienation.
I think that there is a gradual recognition that a marked reduction in social assistance levels in some jurisdictions has consigned a number of people to some social ozone layer, where there is no income and no social assistance. Social scientists are trying to find out what is happening to these people - where they are disappearing to in society.
Some of these people are children, inevitably. The implications of child poverty are beginning to sink into our collective consciousness. The cost to society, financial and otherwise, is just beginning to be appreciated.
At the risk of offending one of my colleagues with a when-I-was-a-boy story, the psychological damage done to poor children takes years to repair, if in fact it is ever repaired. Many people go to their graves suffering the psychological damage that takes place when they are brought up in poor families. The resentments lead to societal stresses, and the problem, in my view, is a very serious one that needs a thoughtful and careful response.
I thank the Official Opposition for bringing the issue forward, and I hope it will start a debate in our community. I hope it will start a comprehensive study of the problem that will soon permit us to collectively come up with a global solution. That is my hope: that the debate has started. We can give credit to my colleagues in the House to my right for having started that debate.
To tackle the issue piecemeal, with a program directed at what possibly is a small segment of the child poverty group, does not do justice to the issue. I personally know little about the total dimensions of the problem and the effectiveness of the proposed solution.
I would like to have a more measured approach to solving the problem, and with that view, I will be supporting the amendment.
Mr. Phillips: Almost everyone who has spoken today about this motion has done so in a positive way. We are speaking about the need to help people who are not as fortunate as other people and even ourselves. I was a little disappointed in the approach the Government Leader took in his response to this particular motion. I am disappointed in that. I do not think that there is a Member in this House who does not care about people. To accuse one of not caring is sort of a low blow - a low shot. I think there were a lot of things that were done in the last four years - perhaps not enough for some - and a lot of programs were started in health and social services and the justice areas. I know for a fact that if people were to be completely, totally and absolutely honest with themselves - for instance, the Minister of the Department of Health and Social Services - they could talk about some of the very positive programs that helped people under a Yukon Party government, as we could have talked about some of the positive programs that helped people under the former NDP government.
It was a low blow and a low shot to start saying that people were visited by the ghost of Christmas when that particular Member knows how much I care about people and knows how some of us on this side care about people and have involved ourselves in our communities for years.
I almost thought, when we started this session, that we were going to get away from the personal attacks. I guess we are not. I guess there are some of us in here who carry some of that baggage, and there are some of us in here that will stoop to that level from time to time.
Some of the Members on the other side talked about this as a motion that only helps the people who are working and does not help those who are not, such as people on social assistance. That is true. However, there are an awful lot of programs in government that a government brings forth from time to time that only help specific groups. For example, if this government were to increase the amount of money for social assistance, it would only help the people on social assistance. It would not help poor, working single mothers.
This particular program is directed toward those people who are not on social assistance. It is a step up, a bridge or an opportunity to become more independent, to gain more self-esteem, to have more disposable income in a family so that it can do some of those special things that some only dream about doing.
In my riding, during the last election campaign, I spoke to a young woman who had two children. She was not on social assistance and she was living in a Yukon Housing home. This is the type of person who would have qualified for this program.
She was quite excited about the program because there was no other way that she could gain any other income without her rent being increased by Yukon Housing Corporation. This program would have been the only way that she could see an increase in income that would go right into her pocket.
I know the Government Leader commented about the first statement in the motion that we put forward, which stated that people spend money better than the governments spend money for them. I can bet you that that particular young woman felt that way. If someone had given her all of the money that the government was spending, she could spend the money better and be able to buy a little extra something for her children.
I guess this was not meant to be a be-all and end-all motion to solve all the problems of the poor who are working or not working. This was meant to be a motion that would deal specifically with an area of young families or people who had part-time jobs, or people who did not have a very well-paying job, with a lot of dependents, and needed an extra hand.
The Government Leader pointed out in his speech that it worked in reverse; if you made more, you got more. Well, as the Leader of the Official Opposition pointed out, if you read the motion, all the motion does is talk about a child tax credit. If that is the problem the side opposite has with the child tax credit, then change it around. Give more credit to those people who are making less and less to the people who are making more, if that is the concern.
The other problem I have is that the amendment is a general one. I generally support the context of it, because how could one not support the context of an amendment that would build a national process? I have been there. We have been trying to develop national processes for years and years. What we are talking about is something that will deal with the problems in the Yukon today.
We are a small jurisdiction. I am sure that when the Ministers from other jurisdictions travel to ministerial conferences and speak to their counterparts, we become the envy of those jurisdictions, because we can put together programs as quickly as we can. When we went to the justice ministers conference, we were talking about our crime and community justice initiatives. They were all excited about it and expressed how they wished they could do that. However, there are so many other interests in their larger jurisdictions, it takes forever to get anything done.
This is something we could do very quickly and could help our constituents. It is not something that is going to help everyone, but it was not meant to. We have hundreds and hundreds of programs to help meet the specific needs of people. This is not a program that I would say is extremely costly to government in many ways. It is not going to affect our formula, and it is going to put the money right into the hands of the people the Member for Whitehorse Centre talked about - the single mom. That is where the money is going to go. It was not meant as a negative, political or we-will-get-you motion, or whatever. It was meant as a motion that will do some good to some people who are in need. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with not being positive about that? What is wrong with not supporting that?
I hope we get a different tone in this House. I hope we really do what we say - that when we say we care, we really care. And when someone produces a motion, I hope we do not look for dozens of ways to tear it apart, but rather, we look at ways to make it better.
I think we should reflect on what we heard from people at the doors in the last election. I heard it three or four times - people wanted to get a little further ahead. There is also some room for improvement for people who are on welfare. There are more things we can do about that, too. I will support those initiatives. We did some of that. We allowed them to make some more money - helped them up.
Some of those people who were allowed to take more income home on welfare now have a job, now have more self-esteem, now can provide more of the special things for their family. These are the kinds of people who, if we help them and others like them again, will be very productive citizens in our community, and will want to be. They are no lower than we are, as someone on the other side might have said. They are just people who, for one reason or another, are not as fortunate as we, to be in the position we are in.
I would have thought, when this motion was produced on the Order Paper, that this would have been one of the very few motions with which a New Democratic Party government would have had problems. Even the leader of the government talked about our newfound caring of people, yet he changed the whole motion. He cut and slashed and burned the whole motion. We are going to do nothing this year or probably next year or maybe the year after for these people.
We wanted to put something in place that could give some immediate help to these people - working people, working poor - who need it. I do not think that was asking too much, and I would hope all Members on the side opposite will give the motion due consideration.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I rise to support the amendment of my colleague, the Minister of Health and Social Services. It is a positive, comprehensive approach to dealing with the problems of poor people in society, and I want to say to my Yukon Party Opposition colleagues and friends opposite that it is clear that the intent of the motion is good. It seems to be saying that they want to help poor people. I believe the vehicle they want to use is somewhat flawed, but the motivation of the Yukon Party Members opposite is entirely crass and very transparent.
In a month and one-half, or two short months, they have changed. They have changed from coal-fired electrical generation and railroads to Carmacks to now caring about, as they would have us believe, poor people.
The former Government Leader, and now Leader of the Official Opposition, stood up today and referred to poor people as lower class. He said that people on social assistance implied that they had no pride, and he implied that people who had to go to the territory, through no fault of their own, and had to accept social assistance had no pride.
That is not a personal attack. That is what the Leader of the Official Opposition implied. In the case of poor people, he did refer to them as being lower class.
We fundamentally disagree with the right-wing notions of the Members opposite.
At the recent gathering of the Yukon Party, the Leader said they had to present themselves to the public, or try to convince the public, that they had a social conscience and were not so hard-edged; hence the motion today. People know that, for the last four years, there was absolutely no emphasis put on issues like this by the Members opposite.
Again, I say that the intent of the motion is good. The vehicle is flawed, but the motivation of the Members is very transparent.
Yet as a government we have decided to take their motion into consideration. It has been put on the public agenda. It was put on the public agenda in the recent election campaign, and it is here again. As Members opposite try to promote a social conscience of the Yukon Party to the public - they have a lot of work to do there - they may have done something beneficial today in their capacity as Official Opposition.
I would also point out to Members opposite that this was part of our agenda. I know the new Minister of Health and Social Services is deeply concerned about the issues of poverty, about people on social assistance - the working poor of this territory. I know the Government Leader, who spoke very eloquently today, is also very concerned, and he summarized that in his support of this amendment proposed by our Minister. It was not all negative. He simply pointed out some of the problems with the motion proposed by the Yukon Party Members opposite and some of the implied messages contained within it.
The former Government Leader, now the Leader of the Official Opposition, tries, in his pursuit of showing the Yukon people that he has a social conscience, to be a tax cutter and to show he has a social conscience all within the space of a few hours of debate in one afternoon. It may be a good start, and I applaud him for that, but he has a lot of work to do. Yukoners remember that he was the architect of the largest tax increase in the Yukon's history, which also affected the poor of this territory. They will also remember that, for four years, any time we talked about social issues, the Government Leader was never there to listen.
The people also know that, as the Members stand up to ask for tax cuts, particularly the Member for Klondike, they also ask for a bridge at the same time, a rec centre, a nursing station, a school or a college. He has a lot to learn about the fiscal realities of government. I am sure, in his time in this Legislature, he will get that education.
At least, I certainly hope so.
I thank the Liberal Opposition. The Members are obviously caught in between the Yukon Party election promise and their commitment to do something in their platform for the poor people in society. I thank them for their comments. Although I cannot commit him to anything, I am sure that the Minister of Health and Social Services is going to be looking at options to help address the poor in society. That may come in the form of a white paper. I do not know. He has not even been in the position for two months yet. I think that over the next four years, you will be quite pleased with the productivity from that Member.
With our amendment, we look forward to the opportunity to do just that, part and parcel with other initiatives: deal with the poor of our society.
I thank the Official Opposition for bringing the motion forward and for putting it on the agenda. I know why they did it, but I still think that it has some public merit. I also say that I look forward to working with my colleague in Cabinet and government caucus, and with the Opposition and the concerned agencies and groups in the territory to make it a better place for the poor people.
I will support this amendment and look forward to its passage.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question on the amendment?
Amendment to Motion No. 12 agreed to
Speaker: Is there any further debate on the motion as amended?
Second amendment proposed
Mr. Phillips: I am disappointed that Members have changed the motion. I listened to their arguments and I will have no problem with that. However, I think that there is some urgency to dealing with this matter. As I expressed earlier, when speaking to the amendment, these things seem to take forever at the national table, and there is no guarantee that anything will ever happen in the next few months, weeks, years or whenever.
I would like to propose an amendment to the amended motion. I will read the amendment into the motion, and then I will explain why.
THAT Motion No. 12 be amended by adding the following paragraph after the second paragraph:
"That it is the opinion of this House that, in the event that the Government of Canada has not developed a National Child Benefit Proposal within the next 12 months, the Government of Yukon should proceed to implement a Child Tax Credit Program."
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Riverdale North
THAT Motion No. 12 be amended by adding the following paragraph after the second paragraph:
"That it is the opinion of this House in the event the Government of Canada has not developed a National Child Benefit Proposal within the next 12 months, the Government of Yukon should proceed to implement a Child Tax Credit Program."
Mr. Phillips: Although this motion would delay the implementation of a Yukon child tax credit this year, it would ensure that there would be a child tax credit next year if the federal government, for one reason or another, and the provinces failed to reach an agreement. As the Minister knows, that is within the realm of possibilities.
This amendment is intended as a friendly amendment. The main idea is that if we cannot reach a national agreement on the child tax credit, we in the Yukon have some responsibility to do something for our working poor ourselves.
I think this is an amendment that all Members could support and an amendment that has credibility. It is not an amendment that criticizes either the main motion or the amendment to the motion, as made by the government.
I think this is an amendment that we can all support, and I urge all Members to support this amendment.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, I would like to say that I appreciate the spirit in which many of these discussions have gone forward today. I think that I applaud the sentiments of some of the Members opposite. I think some of the suggestions that have been brought forward from the Liberal caucus are particularly worthwhile, and I will certainly be taking these forward to discuss with some of my colleagues.
The Member for Riverside has indicated the need to do a comprehensive study as have some of the other Members. The Member for Porter Creek South has made an interesting proposal. These are some ideas that we could consider. I hope that in discussing this - and I was perhaps somewhat misunderstood - that I did not appear to reject the concept of a tax credit out of hand and suggest that we were completely opposed to it. My concern is primarily that we take a look at the kinds of options that are being proposed and being brought forward and if this is an idea that could enhance programs for children, or if indeed it is a program that we can integrate with some other suggestions, which I have brought forward here today, by all means it is something that could be looked at in the future.
My concern right now and why I must speak to the amendment is that I feel that it is somewhat restrictive at this point. First of all, it presupposes that the federal government, the provinces and the territories may not, or in fact, cannot, reach an agreement on this national child benefit. Perhaps I am being somewhat naive, but I do think that there is a spirit of positive sentiment around this issue. I think, certainly from a point of cooperative federalism, it is an issue that I think we have received a fair degree of support on from the federal government, and certainly it is an issue that is being driven by the provinces and territories. I think there is a relatively positive sentiment.
When will we know? Perhaps we will know by mid-December and have a working model. As I indicated, the deputy ministers of social services and the deputy ministers of finance will be meeting very shortly to take a look at these models. The final model, and presumably some sense of the federal government's contribution, or lack of contribution if it comes to that, and thereby the viability of this whole project, should be known easily by mid-January.
In that case, if - and I must stress "if", and my hope is that it will go forward - this proposal goes forward, I hope we have a sense of what it will be, what it will mean, by early in the year. Then we can begin to look at enhancements; we can begin to look at some other ways in which we can do this. I would just be very loathe right now to build in any restrictions, and therefore I feel a little uncomfortable about making ad hoc sorts of decisions here on the floor. I can give the Members a commitment that we will certainly consider this, along with many other options, should the initiative on the national child benefit not go ahead, but I am very hopeful that, in the spirit of cooperative federalism we can work toward this very important issue.
As I said, I really have appreciated the tenor that we have had here. I had hoped to keep it non-partisan, because I really feel very uncomfortable with the idea of making such an important issue into a partisan debate. So I hope the Members will take this in the spirit in which it is offered, and I hope we can work together to resolve the issue.
Mrs. Edelman: This motion makes a great deal of sense and, like the Member, I sense that there is a general feeling in the House that we are all supportive of it. We are having a very vigorous agreement, and I do not see any real problem with fixing a time line to that commitment. I would say that, in some ways, it makes sense to have a time line. We do tend to reprioritize things and this would make sure that this particular issue comes back again. Certainly it merits further discussion and further examination by the House. I cannot see that there would be any problem with looking at it within 12 months, hopefully even sooner.
Mr. Ostashek: I would ask if the Minister could nod to indicate whether or not he was going to support the amendment.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Not the amendment to the amendment.
Mr. Ostashek: He is not supporting it?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No.
Mr. Ostashek: That is very unfortunate because, as my colleague said, we tried to keep this as non-partisan as possible. We have left the door wide open for the Minister to bring back whatever type of program he wanted - no stipulations on it. The Member says he is very confident that a national child care program will be in place by that time. If so, then the motion is relevant - no problem. If they do not, however, we believe that something should be done. We are not trying to steal the Minister's fire or the Minister's thunder. We are just trying to encourage him to come forward with something within 12 months. I do not think that is an unreasonable demand.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: I will speak a little more about that.
I think the Member opposite must have been in dreamland, or somewhere else, for four years if he says that we did not do anything on the social side of the ledger. I will get to that a little further on in my debate.
I am very disappointed that the Minister cannot support the time line on this motion. This is something I heard at the door a lot during the campaign. As my colleague, the Member for Riverdale North, has said, a lot of people in each and every one of our constituencies would have benefited from this - and would benefit from it. It is not the be-all and end-all. It is not meant to replace social assistance and to stop doing anything for those people. This was just another vehicle we felt the government could use.
I must have said something to get under the thin skin of the Government Leader, because he went off on quite a tangent here, which is unfortunate. This motion, or anything I said in debate, was not meant to slur anyone in society. If it was interpreted that way, it was wrong. I did not intend it that way.
The intent of this motion, and what I am so passionate about, is that I believe it is incumbent upon government to try to help people to help themselves. For those people who, unfortunately, cannot help themselves, then the government is there to help them. If we can encourage them to stay in the workforce, we should be using every vehicle at our disposal. We ought not to be playing partisan politics with it.
I know the Minister represents one of the ridings in the constituency of Whitehorse in which most of his constituents are probably more fortunate than a lot of people, but I am sure he has constituents in his constituency who would benefit from such a program.
I am disappointed that the Member said he would not support this amendment. All we have asked for is to keep the government focused, let it go back to the drawing board, and come back with a program. This does not tie its hands in any way I see. The child tax credit program leaves the door wide open to anything the Minister wants to do. There are no stipulations on it. It does not say it has to be A, B, C, D or E. We believe that, no matter what is done by government, it would be of great assistance to a lot of Yukon people.
I laid out a lot of numbers for the Minister on how many families would be affected. I think the Minister should take that into consideration.
The Minister interpreted me as saying that, but I never wanted him to stop working at the national level. I applaud his efforts to get a national child care program. It is something that we worked very hard to get. We will continue to support him in it. I did say that whatever we did here could be incorporated into a national program. I also made the statement that it would be nice if low-income families did not have to pay any territorial or federal income tax. That would be one way of helping. It is not the only way.
If the Minister can come up with a better way, I would support it. I do not have any difficulty with that. The Member for Faro was holding up A Better Way, and I have to say that a lot of Yukoners are already questioning what happened to that "better way". A lot of Yukoners are questioning that. I will have more to say on that, but I do not want to enter that issue into this debate, because this is a non-partisan debate.
I do want to make a couple of points in response to the Member for Faro, because he is still as chippy as a Minister as he was in Opposition. I think that the sooner he learns that he is in a position now where he has to make the decisions and not just be a critic, the better off he will be, and the better off all Yukoners will be. He said himself that there is a different agenda for government than there is for Opposition. I would urge him to move into that other agenda very quickly instead of having the attitude that he is still in Opposition rather than holding down ministerial portfolios.
The Member for Faro said that the Yukon Party, in four years, did nothing on the social side of the ledger. That Member is absolutely wrong on that. He knows it. We did a lot of things for the people who were in need. We helped single mothers on welfare to be able to earn money without it being deducted from their assistance payments. We did a lot of things. There were a lot of programs brought in. I would urge the Minister to sit down with his colleague, the Minister of Health and Social Services, and review the programs that have been put in place in the last four years, which built on programs that were put in by the NDP. There were a lot of programs put in. I am sure that there will be more put in by the new government; however, to make a partisan attack and say that this government did nothing for people on social assistance, did nothing for the working poor, or did nothing for the people who are unfortunate and need the help of government, is totally wrong.
The Minister also took the opportunity, while he was on his feet, to criticize the Opposition for bringing in the largest tax increases ever in the history of the Yukon. We did that. We did bring in the largest tax increases in the history of the Yukon, but we only did it because we had to cover the largest per capita deficit that had ever been created by a government in the history of Canada. It was even greater than that of the federal government. That is why we had to bring in the tax increases, and we were able to turn the economy of the territory around. Now we are in a position where we can give some of that money back, especially to people who need it. Yet, we seem to sense a great reluctance from the Members in government. That is unfortunate.
The Member opposite and his colleagues maintain that the tax increases were not necessary and were never needed. If he is still maintaining that position, I simply say to him, "Give them back to the people". If these things were not required, he should give them back. He can correct that. He is now on the government side. No, he is going to continue to criticize and continue to expend the extra revenues. He is not going to give them back to the people. He has every opportunity to do so. All the government has to do is lower its spending. If it wants to do that, it should. It can give the tax increases back tomorrow if it wants to.
The Members always said, when in Opposition, that the government was spending far too much money - the biggest budgets ever. We heard it time and time again.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite says that it was a fact. I say to the Member opposite: change it. Do not spend all the money. If the tax increases were not required, give it back. Perhaps we should bring forward a motion to the floor of the Legislature to encourage them to do that.
I am disappointed that those opposite are not going to support the amendment. I would have hoped that they would think about it a bit and perhaps change their minds. We only heard one person speak on it; perhaps the rest do not intend to speak - I do not know. I have had my say on it. It saddens me that this Legislature cannot work together.
I think we have been flexible on this side by giving the government some latitude in the original motion to bring in whatever kind of program it wanted, along the parameters of a child tax benefit to low-income earners. That is what we want and that was the intent of the motion, with no restrictions on it.
We did not say that the motion had to follow a, b and c. We did not say that we would not support anything but the original motion. The amendment that has been proposed by my colleague also gives the government great latitude to do whatever it wants. All we are asking is that the government does it within the next 12 months.
I ask the Members opposite to support this amendment so that we can all work in the interests of the people of our society that require the benefits that would be derived from such a program.
Mr. Livingston: I am pleased to be able to rise and speak to what I think is a very important issue that faces us. In my address to the throne speech last week, we talked about working with all Yukoners to try and create a sense of hope across this territory. The whole subject of poverty, and in particular child poverty, deserves our attention.
In that sense I am pleased that the Opposition presented this motion and has provided us with this opportunity to explore this matter further today.
I, too, like my colleague the Minister of Health and Social Services, cannot support the amendment, and I want to be very clear as to my reasons for that.
The Leader of the Official Opposition states that he has not tried to confine us, and that he has left things open for us to do what we will, but that we should do something about the problem. I think if that was what the amendment said, I certainly would not have a problem with some kind of a time line accompanying this, because I think we do want to deal with this in a timely manner.
When we talk about a child tax credit, it is quite prescriptive. It tells us precisely what type of support would be offered. I think that is the problem with this particular amendment and that is why the original amendment from the Minister of Health and Social Services was made. We want to have greater latitude in terms of designing a program.
As the Government Leader ably explained, a child tax credit is a regressive form of support, at least for those at the lowest income levels. It is regressive precisely because we have a progressive income tax. It is regressive because those at the lowest end of the income spectrum who do not pay a tax -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Livingston: Then it is not a child tax credit any more. Let us move on to some other type of a program.
There are family income support programs that have been provided in other jurisdictions.
We could address it through amendments to our minimum wage legislation. There are a number of ways through which we could be addressing it so that it works for people - not just the second lowest 20 percent of the income group, but would include all of the people at the lowest end of the income group.
We have a tendency to apply band-aids. That has been an approach not unique to the government of the previous four years, but has been practised in numerous programs - federal, territorial and provincial - over the last 50 years with respect to social policy. We see a problem and rush over to put a little band-aid on here and another one on there. We need to take the time - as important as this matter is to deal with in a short amount of time - to deal with this in a manner that will address the needs we want it to address.
I hear the Member for Riverdale North talking about how we can do a band-aid - he did not use the word "band-aid" - for this group, and bring in another program for those on social services, and bring in another program for this other group. I would submit that we can design it so it will meet all these needs. We do not need to have three or six different programs to administer.
The Member opposite will know full well that every time we add another program to administer there are additional costs for us, in terms of running that program. In our territory, particularly - as he pointed out, we are a small territory in terms of our population - we want to make the best use of our resources that we can.
The Yukon health status report of 1994, prepared a couple of years ago, compares the average income of a one-parent family to the average income of a two-parent family. The average income for a one-parent family was in the neighbourhood of $24,000 - one-third that of the average income for a two-parent family. That was in 1992 income.
It also goes on to state that, in the Yukon, we have a higher average income and higher rate of lower income. In other words, the gap between those who do well and those who do poorly, in terms of their income, is greater in the Yukon than the Canadian average.
This is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed. For that reason, I would say once again I am pleased that we have had an opportunity to begin discussing this important matter. I, like, I believe, all Members of this House, look for some timely responses. I only hope the efforts my Minister is involved in with his counterparts across Canada will make some important progress in a short amount of time.
Mr. Cable: The Member who just spoke made some valid points but I think, looking around at the doors of the Legislative Chamber here, I can see the spirit of collegiality oozing under the doors and slipping into these Chambers. What I would like to see is us working together on what I think is a real problem and I do not have any problem putting some sort of intellectual discipline on the Minister of Health and Social Services.
As I read the amendment to the amended motion, and perhaps the mover of the amendment could clarify this if he has not done so already, I gather his intent is not to preclude any other solution and his intent is not to preclude a progressive type of tax credit arrangement. So the armoury is there. The armoury will include a tax credit program.
We can probably safely assume that that would be one of the approaches to the problem. I would like to see a more reasoned and studied debate, but in view of the fact that we here have to get along together and we here would like the Minister to move expeditiously, I do not see any reason why we should nit-pick over this amendment, assuming those two points could be clarified.
Mr. Jenkins: The amendment is straightforward. Looking back over what has been said in the House in the last little while, the Minister of Health and Social Services indicated that he is going to wait to see what the federal government will put in place. Perhaps something will come down late this year or early next year, we do not know, but we should not raise our expectations on what the federal government is going to be doing in that area. Indications are that the federal government is looking at a program that will cost $1 billion-plus. The federal government, in these days of fiscal restraint, is in no position to buy into any program of that nature at that cost.
We have an opportunity to address a need right here in the Yukon. It is not the intent of this amendment to exclude any other arrangement for the social programs that have been discussed, that have been identified, and that are in place now in the Yukon. For us to look at re-engineering society at this point in time is quite an undertaking. We might look upon this as a band-aid solution, and I think it can be looked upon as a band-aid solution. It is a feasible, workable arrangement to address a need in the lower wage earner groups in our society.
During the past election campaign, I had an opportunity to speak with a number of people and discuss this exact program. Three individuals took it upon themselves to do a financial analysis of their position. They said, "Wow, this is one of the best things that could come my way. This does not affect what I pay to Yukon Housing, it puts more money into my pocket at the end of the pay period and will do something for myself and my children." We are talking about single-parent households.
How this whole program is structured is up to the Minister. However, at this point in time, it appears that he has been told to deny, deny, deny any kind of suggestions - concrete, positive suggestions in this area - by the Members of the side opposite. This amendment, the initial motion and the amendment to the motion are all put forward in the spirit of cooperation and for the purpose of addressing a need that has been clearly identified by all of us in Yukon.
Part of the problem is the seasonal nature of our available work, which brings down the gross wages the people in the service sector here can earn. However, many of the people choose that as a lifestyle, and that is something we should not be denying these individuals. They choose to live with seasonal employment. Statistics give the appearance of that individual being a very low-income earner, but it is a quality of life - one that a lot of these people enjoy. Let us not lose sight of that.
I would urge the Minister to give every consideration to bringing support for the amendment to Motion No. 12. It puts a time frame on a program that is much needed.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I rise to say that unfortunately I cannot support the amendment. The reason is, as the Member for Riverdale South said when she opened up this debate, that we should go out and talk to the poor people. Why do we not find out what they say? Why do we not find out what they want? This motion implies that the only vehicle to do that and to help is through a child tax credit program. It sets an ad hoc time line that I do not think is reasonable. What we have said in the proposal of our amendment, which passed with support from the Liberals, was that we would work to adopt a comprehensive strategy. Why make decisions on the floor of this Legislature without talking to the people affected in a comprehensive way? It might take more than a year because, unfortunately, there are a lot of poor people in the Yukon.
The Leader of the Official Opposition suggests setting up a commission. That is not a bad idea. I did not know he was a big fan of them, but we will certainly take his suggestion under advisement. The commissions are already working very hard and at this point I do not know if they could undertake two very substantive challenges. We all know they are working extremely hard due to the lack of work done in those areas over the last four years by the previous administration, particularly in the key areas that the commissioners are identified in.
This also implies that the child tax credit program is the only appropriate vehicle to address the problems in the Yukon. I do not think that is the case, and I am absolutely convinced people would say, if they were offered more taxes back, that they would want them. Is it not the challenge of government and the Opposition to find the most appropriate way? Is that not the challenge of the people to deal with these problems in society?
I agree with the Member for Riverdale South. We have to go out and talk to the people. We have to talk to the poor. That is why it is not a good idea for the politicians in this Legislature to be making these ad hoc decisions as we sit two sword links away. There are no poor people in the gallery.
I think it is important to note that the New Democrats have committed to work in a government-to-government response to develop effective means of addressing child poverty and supporting families.
The Members opposite are putting forward a motion with an artificial time line in the Legislature, but I want to say that they will be here for four years to hold us accountable. If the Minister does not do anything, I am sure that they will stand up in Question Period and the Leader of the Official Opposition will send bullets about the child tax credit to the Minister. I am sure that will happen in Question Period after Question Period. He should do that, because he is obviously very concerned about that. I will be anxious to see how many Question Periods he utilizes for that purpose. I do not think he will have to, because the Minister is committed, as he said in his amendment, to working with other governments to address a comprehensive strategy for this very serious problem in society.
We are not saying that nothing is going to be done. We are not saying that we are going to wait for the federal government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: They heckled across, "That is what he did say."
I ask the Members to read the amendment to the motion that we passed in this House. It says that we will work with provincial, territorial and federal governments to develop effective means of addressing child poverty and supporting families, and within this process an integrated child benefit will be considered. We passed that commitment. That is not to do nothing. That is not just waiting for the federal government.
The Members opposite have this desire to present themselves as having a social conscience. I can understand why they are positioning themselves in that way. I thank them for bringing forward the motion. I look forward to working with them in a spirit of cooperation to deal with some of the problems of child poverty in society and to support working families that, through no fault of their own, are on social assistance. I think there is a lot more that we can do together if we can look at it in a comprehensive way.
It would be a shame for a government to do nothing, like the Members opposite did for the last four years. We will not take that approach. We will work very diligently to meet the commitments we have made in our amendment to their motion today. I am sure that the Minister is excited about his aggressive agenda on behalf of that and of many others in Health and Social Services. He certainly has a very well-defined social conscience. He is certainly a person who will be prepared to stand accountable in this Legislature and field the volleys from the Members opposite if he is not doing a good job.
I would just say we are committed, in the amendment to our motion that was passed, to working out comprehensive solutions in reasonable time lines and that we will be held accountable in this Legislature to the people of the Yukon. I cannot support the amendment as proposed, which locks us in to artificial time lines without consideration of who should be consulted, and which locks us into a child tax credit program that may or may not be the best vehicle with which to address these comprehensive and difficult problems of society.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question on the amendment?
Speaker: Division has been called.
Mr. Clerk, will you please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Disagree.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Disagree.
Mr. McRobb: Disagree.
Mr. Fentie: Disagree.
Mr. Hardy: Disagree.
Mr. Livingston: Disagree.
Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mrs. Edelman: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are six yea, 10 nay.
Second amendment to Motion No. 12 negatived
Is there any further debate on the motion as amended?
Mr. Livingston: I rise to speak in favour of the amended motion, with one amendment. I have a few remarks I would like to make. I stated in my earlier comments on the amendment that I was encouraged by the fact that this motion has been brought forward by the Opposition benches, because I think it is an important matter we need to take time to address in this House, and this has given us that opportunity today.
Because child poverty and poverty for young people who have left their homes - 18-, 20- and 24-year olds - certainly is on the rise.
We see this happening with young people who have left high school. Young people today are facing an unemployment rate of 20 to 25 percent when they leave school. I think that most Members of this House would agree that is quite a different picture from when we left school some 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
I know when I left high school in 1972, the unemployment rate was two percent for people between the ages of 18 and 25, which was a heck of a deal. This meant that we were able to leave school, go out and find work and carry on with our lives. That is not an opportunity that everyone has today and that is the tragedy.
When we look at a program and the government's response to this circumstance, we are looking for a program that is not about charity. This is not an issue of charity; it is an issue of justice. It is also an issue about what our government and the leadership of this territory will do in terms of trying to create a climate that can address this particular problem.
I think the amended motion is a good one. It briefly talks about the problem and about this government's commitment to working with other governments and addressing this problem in a real and meaningful way.
This amended motion has my support.
Speaker: If the Member speaks now he will close debate. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Mr. Ostashek: It has been a very interesting afternoon for the first motion day for the Opposition in the new Legislature. While we have heard words of comfort from the other side about how they want to cooperate, there certainly does not appear to be any cooperative action. That is unfortunate.
It is unfortunate that the Members opposite, who pride themselves on consensus building, who pride themselves on listening to everyone, do not include the Opposition in this Legislature, because we believe we can provide some ideas that the government can take, run with, modify, revamp, put their own spin on, take the credit for, and do something to aid people in our society who need some help.
It is unfortunate that the government of the day saw fit to take a motion that, if acted upon, would have provided some immediate benefits to some people who really could use a hand up. I, myself, stated and my colleagues have stated, that there was great support for this at the doors. Many people - as the Member for Klondike said, and members in my own riding - were phoning the campaign office and saying, "I earn X number of dollars. I have X number of children. What will this do for me?" Given the information, they thought it was a great idea. It is unfortunate that the government of the day does not think it was a great idea.
It is unfortunate that they took a motion that they could have done something with and turned it into a motherhood motion - because that is what they have done with it. They have turned it into a motherhood motion. They refuse to act within time limits. They want to leave all of their options open. I do not believe that the motion we put forward stopped them from keeping all their options open. They still could have worked anything else in that they wanted to into that motion. There were no restrictions on it. They could have wrapped it into a total proposal that included more than a child tax credit. The Leader of the Liberal Party asked if that was our intent with this last motion - to limit what the government could do. That was never the intent of the amendment or of the main motion.
I am very, very disappointed, and it appears that no matter what is said, this House will be no different than other Houses. This government does not have a better way of doing things, and some of the same old rhetoric has been around forever. That is unfortunate.
Well, this debate has, I hope, at least prompted the Minister to think about some thing. I can assure the Minister that we will be asking questions if he does not come forward with something in a timely manner. I can also assure the Members opposite that the fact that they voted against trying to do something for some people who are in need of help this winter and next winter - before we get a national child care program in place - will cause us to remind them of it time and time again. I know there are many people who could have been helped by this program and who are going to be very disappointed by the attitude of this government.
This is a government that campaigned on "A better way" - a slogan, I understand, they stole from Alberta. I understand that is where the slogan came from. In fact, prior to the election, I saw a big, thick document that was put out by the Alberta government, entitled A Better Way. They could not even be creative in their election campaign title.
Nevertheless, this is a motion that would be very hard for my caucus not to support because it is a motherhood motion. How could we not support it? But it has no teeth in it whatsoever, and no clear direction: "Let us sit back and wait." That is what the Minister said. In effect, he was saying, "We do not want to compromise. We do not want to bring something forward that might let the federal government off the hook." Well, I do not think we are bringing anything forward that would let the federal government off the hook. This initiative was spearheaded by the western premiers. It did not say we were not going to do anything on our own, in our own jurisdictions. What we want is a national program because we feel it is important.
The Members opposite made a lot of comments about this being inequitable. We have all kinds of programs to help different people in society. Not one program is equitable to all people. This was to help some people who we believe need some extra cash left in their pockets. That is all this program was.
To not act and to wait for a national program might entail waiting for a long time. Perhaps the Minister will be fortunate; there is a federal election coming up because elections seem to prompt politicians to do things; nevertheless, I would not count on it. We saw in the last election and on Town Hall on television last night where the Prime Minister of Canada was held accountable for some of the promises he made in the last election - the GST being one of them. I would not necessarily count on election campaign rhetoric to produce a program.
I urge the Minister in this Legislature, whose responsibility it is not only to look after the people who are low-income earners, but also the people who are unfortunate and unable to get a job, to seriously consider what the intent was of the original motion put forward and which people it was intending to help.
He says it is inequitable and regressive, as the Member for Lake Laberge said; I disagree because the lower income people who are working and have the ability to earn a paycheque, even if it is a meagre paycheque, would have had some real assistance with this program. The less they earn, the more assistance they would have received from this program. If the program is carried through - and I urge the Minister to talk to the Finance Minister and get the figures from the Finance department - he would see that for people in the $40,000 income range there was no tax credit. It was eliminated. People earning over about $42,000 or $43,000 in family incomes would not qualify for it. It was a conscious decision that we made with the program that we proposed. It was a very modest program; $517,000 is all that it would have cost the government and I think it would have helped some people who really need the help.
can assure the House, as my colleagues beside me have done, that when we delivered the flyers on this program, it was overwhelmingly received by many, many constituents. There are many constituents who would have liked to have seen such a program going through immediately. It is unfortunate the government has taken this approach but, as I said, it is almost impossible for my caucus to vote against a motherhood motion; therefore, we will be supporting the motion.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question on the motion as amended?
Some Hon. Member: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, will you please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Agreed.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Agreed.
Mr. McRobb: Agreed.
Mr. Fentie: Agreed.
Mr. Hardy: Agreed.
Mr. Livingston: Agreed.
Mr. Ostashek: Agreed.
Mr. Phillips: Agreed.
Mr. Jenkins: Agreed.
Mr. Cable: Agreed.
Ms. Duncan: Agreed.
Mrs. Edelman: Agreed.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 16 yea, nil nay.
Motion No. 12 agreed to as amended
Clerk: Motion No. 13, standing in the name of Mr. Phillips.
Motion No. 13
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Riverdale North
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the universal licensing and registration associated with the Liberal federal government's Firearms Act (Bill C-68) will be costly and intrusive on property and civil rights, and will have little impact, if any, on reducing the criminal use of guns; and
THAT this House urges the New Democratic Party government to continue the work of the previous Yukon Party government in opposing Bill C-68 and join Ontario, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Manitoba in the Province of Alberta's constitutional challenge of the new gun control law and opt out of the administration of this law if the challenge fails.
Mr. Phillips: I am pleased to again present this motion to the House. I rise to speak to the motion respecting Bill C-68, I believe probably for the fourth or fifth time in this Legislature. I know that this is a motion that is important to literally thousands of Yukoners.
Yukoners have been united in their opposition to this bill since its conception. All three political parties in this House have vowed to speak out against many of the provisions in Bill C-68.
The new government was sworn in on October 19 and we did not hear anything at all until December 2. The silence has caused a lot of concern in all Yukon communities.
On December 2, the Minister of Justice announced that the government was going to participate in the court challenge launched by the Alberta government and supported by Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Ontario.
I commend the Minister on that announcement.
I was pleased with that part of the decision, but I was quite dismayed by the decision to opt out of the implementation of Bill C-68. I believe that this actually weakens the case of the Yukon, because in a sense it is admitting defeat before the case even starts.
I attended many meetings and had conference calls with other ministers of justice. I have spoken to many of them since that time, and they are very dismayed at the Yukon's weakened position.
The Yukon was really leading the way with its opposition to Bill C-68 and now we have a Minister of Justice who is softening the Yukon's position, and that is unfortunate.
I know the reasons the Minister is going to give us as to why she is backing down, but I urge the Minister to reconsider.
Opting out of Bill C-68 would send the strongest possible message to the federal government and the general public that the people of the Yukon are still strongly opposed to this poorly drafted legislation and will not participate in its implementation.
By opting out we could save some money that could be redirected to other crime prevention programs. We are already having a dispute with Ottawa about the cost of delivering those existing programs, because they do not pay their fair share.
In the last campaign, the NDP prided itself on its ability to consult with people. Yet, in this case, on an issue that is so important to so many First Nations and non-native Yukoners, they did not ask anybody. They just said, "We are going to help implement this bad bill."
One has to wonder why. Why on this issue that is so important did they not at least consult with some Yukoners?
Let me ask the Speaker this question: do the residents of your community want you to back down from opposing Bill C-68? I do not think so.
Let me ask the other Members who are in this Legislature and were elected on September 30: when you went door to door, did your constituents tell you to back down on Bill C-68? I do not think so.
In fact, when I went door to door in my riding, and when many Yukon Party candidates went door to door, people were still concerned about it. They still said, "We want you to keep fighting it." In fact, many congratulated us on how we had led the way in fighting this bad legislation.
Common sense has to prevail in this case. I would suggest to the Speaker that for the thousands and thousands of dollars that might be spent to point out to a judge that Bill C-68 is a badly written and flawed bill, and that parts of the bill - namely, the registration and universal licensing - are beyond the constitutional jurisdiction of the federal government, and then to agree to implement it, is hypocritical to say the least.
The Provinces of Alberta and Manitoba, and their fellow NDP Province of Saskatchewan are opting out. Why? Why has the Yukon weakened its stand on this issue? Why are we the ones opting out? Is it an overall government stand, or is it this Minister's stand to opt out?
If we lose because of a weak position in our stand, and if the First Nations, who have vowed to fight this thing to the very end and are talking about bringing in their own laws, happen to win their case, what happens in the Yukon then? What does it do if other non-native Yukoners are completely forced to comply with Bill C-68 and their neighbors, who live right next door to them, do not have to comply or are exempt. How will that work? How will it work if it is applied, as Allan Rock likes to do it, to a universal motor vehicle registry system? How could it work if I had to register and you did not? It will not work. It will create great divisions within our communities.
A universal registration and licensing system within the Yukon at all, with two different rules for two different people, based on race, has no credibility whatsoever. Yukoners live side by side. Yukoners share values and the opportunities that are available. How can we manage a system that would have two levels of management? Perhaps we should be a bit smarter with this and opt out of the management of the system. Perhaps we should let the federal government handle it, because it caused it.
A lot of serious problems are going to arise from this bad bill. The Yukon government should not be taking the heat. It should let Allan Rock and the Liberals who take the heat for this legislation.
This registration and licensing system is going to be costly, unwieldy, and it is entirely inappropriate for the Yukon. That is what people have been telling us from day one.
What we should be saying to the federal government is that if they insist on forcing this on us, then they pay and they administer it. Perhaps the federal Liberal government would learn in very short order that this is not a good law, will not reduce crime, and they will see first-hand how it affects the lives of ordinary Yukon people.
I know the Minister of Justice is going to give us a list of reasons why we should administer this law that we know will not work but I think those reasons are rather weak.
As the former Justice Minister, I was given those same reasons and I chose to opt out.
The Minister of Justice is going to tell us here that this is going to affect devolution and if we give up responsibilities and firearm control it will undermine our position. I do not believe that for a minute. We have said "no" dozens of times to the federal government at the devolution table when the federal government wanted to give us something that is not good for Yukoners, and I hope we will say no again. We can say no to this.
One of the other concerns that has come about is a concern that was raised with me when I was the Justice Minister was that it might stall the devolution of the Crown process. That is a pretty feeble argument, too. The devolution of the Crown process was going on with the previous NDP government for three or four years and with our government for four years. I have had numerous meetings and dozens of phone calls with Allan Rock and dozens of letters have gone back and forth on Crown devolution, and we are crawling along at a snail's pace. In fact, in the last six or seven years we have gone backwards, but I think this issue is much more important than worrying about compromising the devolution of the Crown to Yukoners. It is much more important to take a strong stand with respect to C-68.
The Minister might say that there are employees, and in fact there are - there are two employees, to be exact - who would be affected by us opting out. I, as the Minister of Justice, would have found other work for those employees, and we know we can do that. We do it all the time in government. It would not have been a problem. The department indicated it would not be a problem. It can be done.
The Minister may talk about the federal government using the RCMP to deliver the bill, and that will affect us. That is going to happen, anyway. The federal government is going to have to use the RCMP, and if we take it over, we are going to have to use the RCMP to deliver the program. I believe this is a rather weak argument, as well. The federal Liberals will just have to hire a few people to implement the bill, as they will in all other provinces, including the NDP in Saskatchewan. These other jurisdictions will have to hire someone to implement the bill - no different from what the Yukon would have had to do. Why did we back out? Why did we weaken our argument? The Minister might tell us that if the RCMP is the delivery agent, the unpopular nature of this bill could cause some friction between the RCMP and the community, and I agree with that. That is precisely why we should insist that the federal Liberals deliver the bill, with their own people. Perhaps they could be identified as "federal Liberal firearms officers" who could wear a badge right over their hearts so that we would know that the federal Liberals gave it to us.
Why should the Minister of Justice of the Yukon take responsibility for the problems that are going to arise because of that bill? Down the road, hundreds of Yukoners are going to be at the door of the Minister of Justice. When the costs to the individual firearm owner are going to go up, when new regulations of search and seizure come in that can be written with an order-in-council, the Yukon's Minister of Justice will be so wrapped up in implementing this bill that that Minister will be blamed for Bill C-68. The general public will forget who brought this bill to us. This is a federal Liberal bill, and we should insist that the federal Liberal government implement it.
The Minister might also try and tell us that, by delivering this bill ourselves, we might have a little bit of discretion. This may be the only sound argument that the Minister might have for our delivering the program.
I can assure you that I would much rather not deliver the bill than have the very little discretion that the federal government will give. The federal government will get this government to deliver this bill, and then it will bring in more regulations, more intrusion into individual and private affairs, more search and seizure provisions, all with order-in-councils, and the territorial government will be delivering the bill on the federal government's behalf with its firearm officers, RCMP, and the justice system, which is already taxed to its limit.
We on this side of the House have always supported the provisions of Bill C-68 that deal with the criminal elements and the smuggling by increased sentences.
We have argued to no avail that the plea-bargaining part of the firearms offence should be thrown out.
The Government of the Yukon has led the way in the fight against Bill C-68. Today, we have abandoned our colleagues in the south, who were impressed with the position we had taken.
I know that today, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Northwest Territories, who came back in, are not very happy with our position of opting out. We should take a stand.
There probably is not an issue out there that will affect more Yukoners. There are 75 or 80 percent of us who have firearms. Yet, we backed down. I am disappointed that we backed down. This is a government that prides itself on consultation, yet it never asked a soul when it backed away from this bill.
Did it hold a public meeting? Did it ask the people of the Yukon whether or not they wanted to back away from Bill C-68 and just let it happen? They did not do that. I think they took an easy way out and hurt our chances of success with Bill C-68. It is unfortunate that the Minister of Justice has chosen this route.
I guess by accepting the responsibility of implementing Bill C-68, she might make my job a little easier. I am not going to have to holler at Allan Rock when I think there is a problem with it; I can holler at the Minister of Justice in the Yukon, who is going to be just a few short feet away from me. She is going to have to defend Allan Rock, who does not answer his letters and does not do what he says he is going to do. I think this Minister of Justice has taken on a lot more than she realizes by opting out of this provision.
I think, as Yukoners, we should stand united. I think, as Yukoners, we should work toward changing this bill so that it does fight crime.
This bill will do nothing to reduce violent crime. In fact, it will take much needed resources away from programs to fight violent crime.
I said all along that if Allan Rock was really serious about fighting crime in the Yukon, instead of imposing this bill on us, Allan Rock would give us the $500,000 or $1 million that it is going to cost to implement this bill in the Yukon Territory and we would put it into programs like alcohol and drug abuse, spousal assault and crimes of violence. We would maybe even put some of it into the fetal alcohol syndrome/fetal alcohol effects programs. I think that it would go a lot further to fight crime.
Yukoners have spoken out loud and clear. I do not know how much clearer they can get. I thought that all three parties were strongly united on opposing this legislation right to the very end. Certainly, five other provinces are working to do that.
What we are asking for in this motion is to have the Minister consider opting out if the court case is lost.
I would ask the Minister to reconsider the decision she made last week and give serious consideration to a matter that many Yukoners feel is near and dear to their heart.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The mover of this motion has graciously allowed me approximately four minutes to respond to this motion. The Member spent his time outlining and responding to what he thought I may say and I would now like to use the limited time available to me to put my own points on the record.
I would like to begin by moving that Motion No. 13 be amended.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move
THAT Motion No. 13 be amended by:
(1) in the first paragraph, deleting all words after the expression "civil rights" and substituting for them the following:
"and the rights of the First Nations people pursuant to their self-government agreements, and is not an effective measure for reducing the criminal use of firearms;"
(2) deleting the second paragraph and substituting for it the following:
"THAT this House commends the Yukon government's position to participate in the Province of Alberta's constitutional challenge of the new gun control law, along with the governments of Ontario, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Manitoba."
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice
THAT Motion No. 13 be amended by:
(1) in the first paragraph, deleting all the words after the expression "civil rights" and substituting for them the following:
"and the rights of First Nations people pursuant to their self-government agreements, and is not an effective measure for reducing the criminal use of firearms;"
(2) deleting the second paragraph and substituting for it the following:
"THAT this House commends the Yukon government's position to participate in the Province of Alberta's constitutional challenge of the new gun control law, along with the governments of Ontario, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Manitoba."
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As the amendment before us indicates, the Yukon government has not backed down. The Yukon government is proceeding with the challenge of Bill C-68. The Yukon government is also proceeding with the intent of only administering Bill C-68 if the court challenge fails.
I have accepted the responsibility, as the Minister of Justice, to respect the law. That is a fundamental responsibility, as the former Minister very well knows. He carried this, as well, as Minister.
The Yukon Party has not come forward with a single rational reason for giving up the existing regime for administering federal legislation. What we have in place is an agreement where the federal government pays for the administration of the existing firearms legislation. If the court challenge does not succeed and the firearms act is eventually proclaimed into law, the Yukon government will do whatever is best for Yukoners, regardless of our personal feelings about that act.
Opting out of the firearms administration would have no effect on the application of the law to Yukoners. Yukoners would still have to comply with the law. It would simply be administered by a federal agency, rather than the Yukon government.
I spoke with representatives of the Council of Yukon First Nations today about their interests and about their self-government agreements, which provide the right for First Nations to enact laws on settlement land about the control or prohibition of the possession or use of firearms, other weapons and explosives. The Council of Yukon First Nations is willing, as the Yukon government is, to work together to ensure that the rural and cultural perspectives are not missed. We are willing to work cooperatively with the federal government as well. I think government has a responsibility to administer legislation, and the former Justice Minister should recognize that.
If we did opt out, the federal government would assign the firearms program to the RCMP. We believe that it is better to have police officers doing police work than doing firearms administration. Just this week, we heard an announcement that the RCMP are making community policing a priority. As a government, we are working with the police service on a joint-mission statement to respond to community values.
Debate on Motion No. 13 and the proposed amendment to it accordingly adjourned
Speaker: Order. The time now being 5:30 p.m., I will leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that we resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are on Bill No. 21. Is there any further general debate?
Bill No. 21 - An Act to Amend the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994 - continued
Hon. Mr. Harding: This afternoon, the Opposition was raising some concerns about Bill No. 21, which I have brought before the House. After hearing the concerns that were identified by the Opposition, I had thought that I could clear them up by changing the title page to remove any discrepancy between the words "amend" and "repeal", and change it to "An Act to Repeal" on the title page. It was basically an administrative oversight. It has no bearing on the effect or impact of the bill. However, I thought I would end any discrepancy and make it consistent with the actual body of the act.
Today, I have provided the Liberal Member of the Legislature for Riverside and the critic for the Official Opposition with letters that were drafted by the Department of Justice and signed by me. I brought Howard Kushner, the top legal beagle from Justice, with me. I have had some discussions with him. Certainly, my advice is that the repeal of the act does not render the provisions of the former government's wage restraint bill to come to life, so to speak.
Sections 2, 3 and 4 are there simply to describe the effect and impact of their repeal. I would hope that, in and of itself, is an explanation that the Opposition Members can live with, and I invite their questions.
Mr. Phillips: I have a simple question: why did we stray from our normal procedure when we put these acts together of putting what used to be the last clause of this bill as clause 1? Why was the format changed? Was there any reason for doing it in that particular way? Was it to highlight that the bill was repealed?
In the Education Act or any other act we have repealed, it was always the second last clause or the last clause of the bill. As you introduce the new bill, you introduce new laws and repeal the old law at the end.
Hon. Mr. Harding: When legislation speaks to new provisions, it puts the repeal part of the act at the end of the bill, and some that do not actually add new provisions have the repeal section at the beginning of the bill. That is why the wording was inserted at the beginning of the bill.
Mr. Phillips: I do not know if that is a good enough answer. I have been in this House for 11 years and I do not remember seeing it done that way before. I wonder if this will be a standard practice now: when we repeal a bill, the repealed section will be in the front of the bill instead of the back?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It depends on the nature of the bill. If the bill is adding a whole bunch of new sections as did, for example, the Education Act, when it replaced an act in its entirety, I believe that the repealed sections were put in the back. In this case, the most critical part of the bill was the repeal act. It was put at the front. There is not a whole bunch of legislation replacing anything. As a matter of fact, there is nothing replacing anything; that is why it is at the front.
Mr. Cable: The Minister mentioned that he had answered some questions that were posed. I would like to file the letter that I gave him this morning with the three questions, as well as the response that was provided to me later today with the three answers. I assume there is no problem with that.
I would like to read into the record the questions and the answers.
The first question was: does Bill No. 21 repeal the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994 so as to automatically restore to government employees the compensation as defined in the act and/or the Yukon bonus that was lost by virtue of the enactment of the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994? The answer given by the Minister was as follows: "The passage of Bill No. 21 does not automatically restore to the government employees the compensation as defined in the act and/or the Yukon bonus that was lost by virtue of the enactment of the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994.
The second question was: does Bill No. 21 in any way restrict or prevent employees, through the collective bargaining process, from bargaining for lost compensation or Yukon bonus? The answer given to me by the Minister was as follows: "Bill No. 21 does not restrict or prevent employees, through the collective bargaining process, from bargaining for lost compensation or Yukon bonus."
The last question in my letter to the Minister was: are the answers to the above based on legal advice provided to the Minister by the Department of Justice? His answer to me was: "The answers are based upon legal advice provided to the Minister by the Department of Justice." That answers all questions - to my satisfaction, I might add.
I feel a little bit as if I am breaking union rules, but I wonder if I could go over the first line in the second paragraph. I think that what is intended is that, "at common law, the effect of the repeal of a statute is to obliterate it as completely from the records of Parliament as if it had never been passed." I think there are a couple of words missing in there. If we could just clarify that for the record, then I will sit down.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Would the Member repeat the question? Sorry about that, but I gave him the last copy of my letter.
Mr. Cable: In the second paragraph starting at "common law", I would read that as meaning "the effect of the repeal of the statute." Is that what is meant or have I missed the context?
Hon. Mr. Harding: According to my legal advice, yes.
Ms. Duncan: I, too, was very pleased with the response in answer to questions that I had from our previous discussion. I have one outstanding matter that I would like to have clarified for the record by the Minister, if I could. During the election campaign, I had a number of public sector employees raise with me the wage restraint legislation, and a particular side effect of the legislation is that it goes on and on and it affects their pensions when they go to collect them. Their pensions will be reduced as a result of this wage restraint legislation that was passed by the previous government. Would the Minister clarify for me that, with the current legislation that is before us, that, through the collective bargaining process, as I understand it, these individuals would have an opportunity to correct that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I thank the Member for the question. Yes, free collective bargaining means just that. The bargaining agents for the YTA and the Public Service Alliance of Canada are free to propose remedies to the impact of the wage restraint legislation from 1994, and that will be bargained at the table. I am well aware of the concerns. Many of the concerns have been relayed to me and were debated at great length when the bill came forward at the beginning, together with its long-standing impact. I expect the bargaining agents, although I am not going to prejudge, will come forward with proposals in the key areas where they want to see some remedy, and those will be bargained at the table.
Ms. Duncan: Just to be absolutely certain, does this correction, if we can call it that, have to be done at the bargaining table? It is not accomplished through this legislation?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Precisely. We made it very clear consistently that we were not going to prejudge the process or make moves to reinstate or make whole from the legislation throughout the campaign and in our election literature simply because we knew, first of all, the cost and where the money was and the different parts about it.
Mr. Ostashek: I think the Minister opposite ought to have got the message in the debate yesterday that our major concern with the bill was that it is not a bill that a person on the street can read and grasp and really understand what is in it. That has been our biggest contention. Whether the bill will work, certainly it will work. But what we are trying to find out is why we used such a complicated process to put this bill together. If it was, in fact, put together in this manner to satisfy an election promise, then I would just ask the Minister to stand up and say so. That would save a lot of debate in this House, and we would know what the rationale is behind it. I will just draw to the Minister's attention that I think he should have been able to grasp, from what the Members on this side of the House said the other day, that there is a simple way of doing this.
We were really not concerned with the title of the bill, as long as it was consistent. Whether or not it titled An Act to Amend the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994, or whether it was titled An Act to Repeal the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994, I have no difficulty with either title.
In fact, while they are different meanings they do end up with the same results. Where I have difficulty is that clause 1 of the bill states that the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994 is repealed. This seems to me to be a clause in the bill to satisfy an election promise.
It goes on and basically starts amending certain clauses in the bill. It amends the end of the restraint period for the different classes of employees and the expiry of the collective agreements. Basically, these are amendments to the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994, and could have been dealt with by way of an amendment.
It then goes on to clause 4, and in particular clause 4(2). If one looks at the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994, the same clause is in that act as contained in clause 4(2), with almost identical wording, which is clause 12 of the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994.
I would have preferred that the Minister simply repealed the clauses that would allow him to go back to collective bargaining at an earlier date so that those clauses could be renumbered and remain in the bill. Why do we have to repeal the whole bill and re-insert the clauses?
That is the contention that we have with this bill. It is not in simple language; it is not clear. We are going about it in a convoluted process. We are going to accomplish the same thing, but it could have been done in far simpler language.
Somebody who is not familiar with working or reading legislation on a regular basis could have picked up the bill, read it and said, "Oh, well, yeah, okay, they have amended that clause; we can go back to collective bargaining now, and w
e can, by virtue of that clause, which was in the 1994 bill, and which basically stated - with the exception of a few words that are almost identical to what clause 4(2) says - the clauses could effectively be altered by collective bargaining, those clauses which deal with, basically, the Yukon bonus.
I ask the Member if there was any consideration given to that when the bill was drafted.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The Member is right. This bill was brought forward to meet an election promise.
I told the Member that I sought legal advice. I sought legal advice when we were in the Legislative Review Committee. I could have left the bill at section 1. It would have accomplished the very same thing. If sections 2, 3 and 4 were put in there, it would have repealed the bill. The total and precise reason for putting them in there is to bring clarity to the public on the street who were reading the bill. The Member obviously does not want to believe that. I gave him the Yukon Interpretation Act and the clause in it, and I brought a lawyer here tonight. I do not know what more I have to do.
I just want to tell him that, had I left it at number one, for example, with regard to a couple of provisions, it would have been very unclear. It would not have spelled out the expiry date or the ending of the period, because we are going retroactively to the date that this bill comes to force. Had I not had that in there and just had section 1, it would have been more unclear as to when the retroactive dates would be established.
With regard to the consistent wording from the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994 that the Member pointed out, I would say that that is very clearly and cognizantly done. This bill was drafted with sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 just for the clarity of the public. I think it is fairly clear. The act is repealed.
Mr. Ostashek: It is as clear as mud.
The Member says that he could have quite simply left it at clause 1. I disagree with him on that, because had he left it at clause 1, the government would have left itself open to repaying $10 million. That is what would have happened.
The Minister has made amendments to the bill, even though he has repealed the bill, then he amends it, and then he puts back clauses that were in the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994. They are reinserted almost word for word. I just do not accept that rationale for drafting the bill. I say that there were various commitments made by Members opposite. Some were to amend. Some were to repeal.
Nevertheless, all three political parties agreed to go back to collective bargaining. We agree with that principle. We are just questioning the manner in which the Minister has the wording of the clauses in this bill, and why he did not take a simpler approach to it so that the public could understand it a lot better. We would have been able to understand it a lot better, and I am sure that the public would have understood it a lot better.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Ostashek: I am going to have a substantial number of questions as we go through this bill clause by clause. In my opinion, this bill is not clear. It does not send a clear message. I know that the Minister has given the Leader of the Liberal Party a letter of comfort. This seems to have satisfied him, but I am not satisfied. I will have to get him to put answers on the public record as we go through this.
Chair: We will now go clause by clause.
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Mr. Ostashek: I understand what clause 2 says. It is identical to what we were going to do. I would just ask the Member if he would clarify for me why the government chose to end all the collective agreements now when, in the end result, I believe that the teachers would have paid a bigger price in restraint than the public sector union. I am sure that he has discussed this with the unions and they have agreed to it, but I just wondered why.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The timing makes it closer for all three categories - the YTA and PSAC - closer to 24 months. The proposition of the Members opposite was to restore it to PSAC on March 31, 1997. Our proposal is to make it a perfect 24 months, if this bill is passed on December 31, for both the YTA and PSAC.
Chair: Is there any further debate on subclause 2?
Is there any debate on subclause 3?
Mr. Ostashek: Again, I wonder what the rationale is for ending the - that is the Cabinet and caucus. Clause 3, I believe, refers to political staff, Cabinet and caucus. Why is it being ended at March 31, 1996? Why is it going to be retroactive to then?
Hon. Mr. Harding: What this does is to bring the restraint period, with this legislation, down to 24 months, which brings the total period of restraint for this group - the former Government Leader will remember that it started quite a bit earlier in 1993-94 with legislation - to 36 months. Any moves here will be changed by order-in-council. It is not going to be affected by the impact of collective bargaining, unless a decision is made through order-in-council.
Mr. Ostashek: Is it not normal practice that political staff - the caucus and Cabinet staff - receive similar to what is negotiated at the bargaining table?
Hon. Mr. Harding: That is a choice of whatever government is in power. I think that has pretty much been the case. However, the former Government Leader will remember that a bill was initiated with respect to staff before the wage restraint. So, it was a decision of his Cabinet to deal with category 3 employees in that way. I do not know what the future will be, but I do not anticipate that there will be any real break from tradition with this government.
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed to
On Clause 4
Chair: Is there any debate on clause 4(1)?
Mr. Ostashek: That is not a question of clarity. Clause 4(1) states, "Words and expressions in this act have the same meaning as they have in the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994."
Again, I point out that, after clause 1, there is no more Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994. Can the Minister give me some clarity on that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The act is not gone forever. It has not vanished. The act is still there; it is still a piece of legislation that has been repealed. All section 4(1) does is save this piece of legislation from repeating the same definitions contained in the previous act.
Mr. Ostashek: I guess that has been the dilemma we have had with this act all along. I thought I heard the Minister tell the Leader of the Liberal Party that, by repealing it, it meant that it was never on the books. I thought that was what I heard him say. That was the explanation that was in the letter that he gave to the Liberal Party - that, in fact, if we repealed the bill, it would be as if it was never on the books.
Hon. Mr. Harding: That is the common-law definition. What we are dealing with is section 23 of the Yukon Interpretation Act. If it was a common-law definition, it would have the effect of obliterating it, but in legislation, under section 23 of the Yukon Interpretation Act, it does not have that effect.
Mr. Ostashek: Again, for the record, I point out how difficult it is for the general public to understand a simple bill such as this one. I would hope that any bill brought forward by this government in the future is a lot clearer than that. One would almost have to be a lawyer to understand it.
Chair: Is there any debate on clause 4(2)?
Mr. Ostashek: Subclause 2, as I stated earlier, is an almost identical clause except for a couple of words, as clause 12 was in the 1994 act. My question to the Minister is that this gives the government the right to negotiate, in a collective bargaining format, changes to clauses 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11.
I understand that. My question is: If, in fact, there are changes to that, does that mean that the government has to come back to the House for amendments to the legislation?
Hon. Mr. Harding: No, because it says that they shall be continued or altered by whatever process is in effect for the continuation. So, if there are changes in the collective bargaining and the collective agreement or through OIC for the category 3 employees, then that would explain or answer this clause, which just gives explanation as to the impact of the repeal bill.
Clause 4 agreed to
Mr. Phillips: I thought the Minister was going to change the title of the bill.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I am, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you. He was slow getting to his feet, I guess.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I would like to propose an amendment, that Bill No. 21, on the title page entitled An Act to Amend the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994, be amended by replacing that title with the following title:
"An Act to Repeal the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994".
Chair: It has been moved by Mr. Harding
THAT Bill No. 21, on the title page entitled An Act to Amend the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994, be amended by replacing that title with the following title:
"An Act to Repeal the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994".
Title agreed to as amended
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 21, entitled An Act to Repeal the Public Sector Restraint Act, 1994, out of Committee with amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: We will now proceed with Bill No. 2.
Bill No. 2 - Fourth Appropriation Act, 1995-96
Mr. Ostashek: I do not have any further questions in general debate. I will have a couple of questions as we go into line-by-line debate, and I hope that the Minister can answer them for me.
Chair: Is there any general debate? If not, we will turn to the estimates book.
Department of Finance
On Operation and Maintenance
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Member for Riverside had indicated an interest in getting something in writing respecting the Taga Ku settlement. I do have a legislative return that will, I think, satisfy the Member. There is certainly nothing new in the legislative return that I have not stated verbally. If it helps to put it down in a column of numbers, this will certainly help.
Mr. Ostashek: I have a couple of questions for the Minister of Finance.
In the settlement agreement, $2 million has been set aside to satisfy the claims of the Taga Ku creditors.
It is my understanding that these monies were held in a fund in Justice and the cheques were issued to the claimants, the creditors or to Taga Ku, once the claims had been verified. The Taga Corporation was going to verify the claims and then Justice would pay them out.
As the Member opposite knows, this is very critical because one of the main components of the settlement was that no creditors would lose money and that all creditors were to be paid out in full - not for inflated bills; the developers have every right to dispute the claims if they do not believe the claims are accurate.
There is quite a bit riding on this. In a case where the claims can be settled for less, then the project proponents would receive the first $400,000 of savings.
I appreciate that the Minister of Finance was not privy to the negotiations; I will try to bring him up to date.
The fact was that the proponents thought $2 million would satisfy the claims, but they also said that they thought some of the claims were overinflated. We set $2 million aside to make sure that no creditor would be left short with his project.
I did get messages during the campaign that the developers were trying to beat down some of the creditors on the amount of money that they were going to pay them. There were different stories going around. Some may have been accurate; some may not have been accurate. However, the government did keep control of the money so that we could satisfy the creditors.
Could the Minister of Finance tell me how many creditors have been paid out on this claim and how many are yet to be paid out, and what is the balance of the $2 million that has been set aside?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That is a good question and one I cannot answer at the present time; however, I will certainly try to get the information from officials. Certainly, my understanding, too, is that this fund was there to resolve the outstanding claims. That is what the priority was - not to satisfy the needs or desires of anyone else for a further settlement. The Member says that he heard complaints during the campaign that people were not getting paid out. I have heard no complaints at all, since or during the election, from any creditor about not getting paid. I am certain I would have heard, had they been experiencing trouble. I will try to get the precise information the Member wants.
Mr. Ostashek: A couple of creditors did approach me during the campaign. When I spoke to Justice at that time, the department got in touch with the developers. The last word I had was that they were supposed to be starting to pay some of them out in October. So, I would really appreciate it if the Government Leader could bring back some information for me before this session is over, if at all possible.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That will be done.
Department of Finance in the amount of $5,673,000 agreed to
Public Service Commission
Public Service Commission in the amount of $203,000 agreed to
On Schedule A
Schedule A agreed to
On Schedule B
Schedule B agreed to
On Clause 1
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I realize this does not absolutely relate to clause 2, but it does relate to the question that had been asked earlier on. The Deputy Minister of Finance indicated that the total amount paid out so far from the $2 million is $1,665,162 and there are five claims remaining to be paid.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member for that. I will get the figure out of Hansard tomorrow.
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 2 out of Committee without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 3 - Second Appropriation Act, 1996-97
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I believe that, during my remarks at second reading, I covered a lot of bases. I will try to be a little more precise now in explaining some of the expenditures in various areas for Members who are not familiar with the spending patterns of the last year.
The purpose of the bill is to appropriate additional funds for the 1996-97 fiscal year. The supplementary shows that $28,946,000 is being requested. This increase in spending is partially offset by an increase in recoveries of $10,592,000, an increase in our formula financing grant for the airports transfer of $3,368,000 and an increase of approximately $8 million in our opening accumulated surplus as a result of lapsing 1995-96 capital money being revoted in this supplementary.
There have also been increases in our revenues, which cover some of the additional expenditures, with the result that the projected deficit for the year increases by some $2 million, excluding revotes, which are merely carried forward from the previous year.
The Legislative Assembly requires both additional O&M and capital funding. The O&M monies are largely for our caucus funding, while the capital request covers renovations to the Opposition area and computers for both the Opposition caucuses and government private Members.
The Executive Council Office requires an additional $1.3 million for O&M and $500,000 for capital. These expenditures are accompanied by approximately $400,000 in new recoveries. These increases are due to a number of items, including the cost of transition and the new commissions that we have announced. Commission costs, of course, we found from within the departments of the government on a pro-rated basis.
The Department of Community and Transportation Services is asking for $1.7 million in O&M, largely as a result of the assumption of responsibility for the Whitehorse and Watson Lake airports. The same department also requires an additional $10.9 million in capital for revotes on the airports devolution, and an increase of almost $4 million in recoverable Shakwak spending.
The Department of Education has an O&M supplementary of $2.7 million, which is largely as a result of increased student population, grade reorganization and several items in the advanced education program, including the transitional job fund. The department's capital request of $3.3 million is due to revotes, site development changes for several schools and money for the Porter Creek Secondary School gymnasium expansion.
The Department of Government Services requires a small O&M top-up. The $1.5 million in capital it needs is principally for the revote of the heating and ventilation system upgrades and some information resources infrastructure.
The Department of Health and Social Services' request for O&M is as a result of numerous ups and downs in all their programs, while the capital request of $2.1 million relates chiefly to the 1995-96 hospital expenditures, which were previously deferred and are now expected to be spent this year. This item, of course, is entirely recoverable.
The Public Service Commission is giving up a small portion of its capital vote, but does require an extra $1.6 million for O&M purposes, more specifically for the employee leave accrual account, which appears to be underbudgeted at this time.
I previously mentioned in this House how volatile this estimate can be, given the numerous unpredictable variables on which this calculation depends.
The items just mentioned constitute the bulk of changes shown in the supplementary. A number of other departments are requesting some various smaller sums and, in some cases, they are giving up money. I will leave any explanations of these to the various departmental Ministers.
There have been a number of changes in revenue items since the main estimates were tabled. The biggest change is to recoveries, which is mentioned earlier as amounting to approximately $10.6 million. This results from recoverable projects being revoted, increased spending and, hence, recoveries being requested for the Shakwak project and the Whitehorse General Hospital.
There is also an increase of $1.5 million as a result of claims against the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs for children in care.
The Canada health and social transfer has increased as a result of new estimates and calculations out of the federal government.
Our own territorial revenue has increased by a substantial $4.7 million. Several factors play a role in this. The single biggest one is for personal and corporate income tax. Recent federal government estimates of our tax yields for the current and past several years have been upgraded substantially.
Finally, our formula financing transfer payment from Canada has increased by over $500,000. This figure is the result of a complex series of calculations that include, among other things, the base adjustment for the airport's transfer, the changes in our revenue and recovery yields, changes in our population, Canadian national average tax rates, Canadian gross domestic product, greater exchange in Canadian provincial local expenditures, and so on. The net result of the changes to these and other factors is the increase shown.
I think that this covers the highlights. I would be happy to discuss this in more detail in general debate, and, ultimately, in departmental line-by-line debate.
I do have more information for Members pertaining to some questions asked, but I will let them ask a few more questions, and then I will have at it myself.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Minister for that outline. I have a number of questions in general debate on the supplementary estimates. I hope I will be able to get a better understanding of what has transpired in the few months since the period six report at the end of September came out.
There are some changes that are causing me some concern. I hope that the Minister can explain them to me this evening. One of the things that I noticed very quickly in this supplementary estimate is that the transfer payment from Canada has dropped dramatically from what was projected as of September 30. As of September 30, we were projecting the transfer from Canada to be $272,452,000. In the supplementary estimates in front of us tonight, we have the federal transfer payment from Ottawa at $267,878,000. That is quite a substantial drop.
Does the Minister have an explanation for that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Not immediately. I think we are talking about millions of dollars. The explanation that I have only covers the amount that has been identified as an increase here in this supplementary.
Perhaps I can give a more precise explanation in a few minutes with respect to the difference between projections earlier on and projections now, but I do not have the specifics to answer the question that the Member has asked at this time.
Mr. Ostashek: I would certainly appreciate it if the Member could get that information for me at the break and report back to us about it.
This does concern me, unless I am reading something wrong, but I do not believe that I am, because I have a copy of the period 6 variance report that was projecting $272,452,000, and we have a supplementary in front of us with a revised vote to $267,878,000, which is a substantial difference in revenues. I would really like to know why.
I see that there may be an explanation for it, because the total income that period 12 was projecting was $467,202,000, but the supplementary is still somewhat lower than that - not a lot, half a million dollars or so - by projecting $466,732,000.
If the Minister could get that information for us at the break I would appreciate it so we can continue on with this discussion.
When we were still in office, as the Member knows, there was a census done last spring, and we were expecting around the end of September or sometime in early October to be getting changes in population data. We were expecting an increase in revenue that was not accounted for, as far as I know, in the period 6 variance. I am wondering if those have been included in the supplementary estimates that are before us this evening, or if we have heard from the federal government on that issue.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I will correct myself at the break if I am wrong, but I am certain is that the federal government does not move that quickly. The census may take place one year, but the results in the form of the financing in the actuals for the receipt of any benefit we might receive through the financing agreement would not show up until years later. How many years, I am not certain. I can check, but I have never seen a situation in all my time here where federal financing officials react that quickly.
In terms of our calculations, I do not know whether we have made calculations based on that information or whether or not that information has even been tabulated and transmitted clearly to us. I would be more than happy to try to get more precise information for the Member, but I believe that that would probably be the gist of what I would probably say.
Mr. Ostashek: I did not intend to mislead the Minister, or anything of that sort, but I know that the money will not show up in the budget because finance updates are based on the last statistics available. Our Finance department has always been ahead of the federal government in calculating it and has been a lot closer in what the federal government has been. In my discussions with Finance officials prior to the election, we were expecting new population data sometime around October 1. I am just wondering if the new population data and estimates are included in this supplementary budget or not.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I do not believe so, but certainly that is another detail that I can check at the break.
Mr. Cable: I have a couple of questions. In the heat of the debate the other night, I did not respond to an invitation to review the Financial Administration Act with the Government Leader and Leader of the Official Opposition, and that was brought to my attention by one of my colleagues. I would like to respond favourably to that invitation. I would very much like to sit down with the two gentlemen and look at how the Financial Administration Act can be reviewed and amended.
The other question I have is a general question on the provision of financial information to the Members on this side and to the general public. We started that process while the previous administration was in office and it seemed to be getting better and working. Could the Government Leader express to us what sort of information he is prepared to release on an ongoing basis?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The answer to that question is that I am prepared to release information about the status of the government's budgets and spending patterns or revenue patterns on a quarterly basis. The question is how much detail the Members want. I know that when the previous Government Leader released information that I thought was what we were asking for, the Member himself indicated that he did not believe that information had been transmitted to us. I did, and I consequently did not make any mention of that to the media because I thought the Government Leader had fulfilled his obligation to us.
Obviously, the Member for Riverside and I have different visions of the level of detail that was being requested, but I am prepared to talk it. I do not think there is anything to hide. I do not want to put people through gyrations that are unreasonable but, at the same time, I believe Members have a right to know basically where the government's budgets are going. I have no problem giving more information. If the Member wants to define the level, he can, or we can give him options as to the level of detail that might work for him and satisfy his interests in this matter.
On his first point, we can sit down and talk about the Financial Administration Act. I know that the Department of Finance is interested in presenting some options themselves. I know the Public Accounts Committee have had some discussions around this item. If we can pull some of those discussions up for the critics and the Minister and make some recommendations to our colleagues, we might actually finally see a change in this legislation.
I was not aware that we were in the heat of debate. The other night, I did not think it was very hot. Anyway, I think we can come to an accommodation here. I do not think there is any problem with that.
Mr. Cable: Yes, perhaps there was a misunderstanding between me and the previous Government Leader on what I had expected in the way of information. It would be useful for the Government Leader to present options. He is more aware of what sort of information can be extracted and how easily and what the problems are with whatever detail is requested.
As to the sort of information I would have wanted to have received previously, for example, in Community and Transportation Services, where there were some very substantial changes, I would have wanted some detail on those changes in terms of what sort of capital projects were involved.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I would certainly feel a lot more comfortable if, when this information is released, there is also an accompanying briefing to explain the information being presented. Sometimes people who do not understand the way the departments have produced information - at no one's fault - can go off on a tangent and perhaps misconstrue the information. However, I would like to put on the record that I would make an offer that if Members wanted to receive the information, and receive it in the context of a briefing, then I would feel that, at least, we have done everything we could to release the information as accurately and thoroughly as we can. It will be up to the Members whether or not they choose to take the briefing, but at least it will be on the record that we have offered it.
Mr. Cable: This would be accompanied by a written script, I assume?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, it could be speaking notes. It could also, of course, be the actual document that would identify the numbers.
Chair: At this time we will take a short break.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there any further general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have a handout that I can start by passing to Members. It might help to explain some of the changes in the revenue calculations for the period 6 report until now. I have asked the Deputy Minister of Finance to join me. I am not familiar with this period in any detail. Somebody who was there would be more useful than just me by myself attempting to answer questions this evening.
The sheet that I just handed out shows how the grant calculation is constructed. The first column of figures is the assumptions that were contained in the budget for February 1996. The second column is the forecast estimates for the end of September 1996. The final column is the column that was used in the construction of the supplementary budget.
Essentially, the reason for the reduction in the grant is due to the fact that the growth in income tax and other revenues were offset by the formula grant calculation. Because there were volume increases in revenues, they were simply deducted from the grant. That, and a few other minor variations, has caused the grant to decline. If the Members have specific questions about that, I can try to respond.
In terms of the population, the census and the annual update, the annual update done by the federal government is incorporated into the calculation, but the census figures will not be known until spring.
Mr. Ostashek: Does the Minister have any indication as to what impact the census may make on the formula for future years? Does he have any indication of that yet at this time? Sometimes we know this before the figures come out, before they are finalized.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We do not know precisely, but because the Bureau of Statistics was involved there is a sense that we will probably gain, but there is no way of knowing precisely how much at this time.
Mr. Ostashek: I have one or two more very general questions for the Finance Minister.
When he was on the Opposition side of the House, there was a lot of debate on the amount of money that was being carried in the leave accrual fund. I believe there were even suggestions from the Member that it ought to be frozen and that we ought not to be carrying the full leave accrual because it would never be utilized, and I think that that was a very valid assessment.
I know the Auditor General would comment on it in his report if we were not carrying the full leave accrual fund. As the Minister is putting his budget together, is it his intention to cap the leave accrual fund?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Certainly the Member knows my feelings on the point, generally. I have indicated on numerous occasions to the Member while he was Finance Minister that the leave accrual fund did not need to be so large. I understand that by the end of this year it will be $29 million. Of course, in this supplementary budget we incorporate a request for even more money than was previously voted in the mains. We are basically maintaining the tradition until we can make a decision as a Cabinet on what to do.
In my own view, first, as I have expressed many times, that fund does not have to be so large. I am looking to pick a fight with the Auditor General, but I do not see why that much cash has to be tied in that form, particularly when it is a purely artificial construct. I am certainly willing to take whatever advice the Members opposite have with respect to this fund, but my own view is that it should be capped. I will speak with my colleagues about that and see what they say.
Mr. Ostashek: Comments have been made by some of the Finance Minister's colleagues about the finances of government concerning the Faro mine going down and how they will have to be careful about spending. For the record, does not the Finance Minister agree with me that, with the closure of the Faro mine, because of the perverse nature of our formula financing grant, the Government of Yukon will, in fact, receive more money, not less money?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: A lot depends on where the Faroites go. If Faroites remain in the territory, it may well be the case that revenues will climb slightly, bearing in mind, of course, that there may be additional expenditures to accommodate a town out of work. As the population declines, of course, that has a fairly significant impact on the formula, and consequently we may well lose, as a general proposition.
Mr. Ostashek: I understand that, but does not the Minister agree that with respect to the population decline, there is a lapse in time before it kicks in? I know that if I go back and pull Hansard, I could probably read the same words back to the Minister now that he was directing at me during the last mine closure. That is, we were not going to get less money; we were going to get more money and, in the short term, I believe we will get more money.
If the population were to decline, and that is picked up in the Finance figures and Statistics Canada figures, then adjustments would be made to the formula as we move along. If I remember correctly, our revenues did in fact go up during the last Faro mine closure. I also understand that during the last closure we were faced with a perversity factor that was running in excess of $1.50 - $1.57, I believe. So, it had a very dramatic impact. Now, the perversity factor is substantially lower, and it will not have quite as dramatic an impact. Nevertheless, I believe the grant would, in the short term, go up. Does the Minister not agree?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There are a number of factors that will affect the calculation. Because the formula has changed, there is a bigger incentive factor. Consequently, our circumstances will be different this time as compared to the last shutdown.
First of all, I want to make it very clear that the official position of the government is that this is a temporary, partial closure. This is not a permanent shutdown. I do not want to be in a position where people are suggesting that I am reading a statement at a burial service. However, having said that, should the mine go down, because the perversity factor has improved, the change will not be as significant as it was the last time. With the potential population decline, we will, in fact, lose.
As the Member quite rightly points out, the population decline will be noticed gradually over time. It is not something that will show up in the formula immediately.
Of course, there is the expenditure side of the equation to consider, as well. Presumably, if people stay, there will be some expenditures involved in dealing with the population out of work. That has not been calculated, and there is no point of doing those calculations at this point.
The impact of the closure will not be as significant as it was last time.
Mr. Ostashek: I guess what I am trying to get on the record is that there will not be a dramatic decline in our revenues. If, in fact, the mine should shut down in the near future, it will be equal or even a bit better than if the mine had kept going.
I agree with the Minister. I do not want to be sounding the death knell for the Faro mine. All of us hope that the Faro mine is only temporarily shut down and will not continue to be closed past the forecast time. It would be in all of our best interests. Let us hope that that is what happens.
Could the Minister give me an update as to what the perversity factor is right now? I know it is at about $1.20, but I am not certain.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The tax effort factor, which is just two or three lines above the circled item in the centre, is the perversity factor.
The Member will remember the statement that the Member for Faro produced to this Legislature on the first day. In that statement, the calculations of our potential revenue loss were placed, to the extent that we might know them. Incorporated in that statement was a potential loss of $133,000 in the current year, which would rise to $3.9 million in 1997-98. If it remained closed, with all the appropriate assumptions being made, by 1998-99, the revenue to the government would decline $11.1 million.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member for that answer.
When the Member was on the Opposition side and we were on the government side, and we brought tax increases in to balance the budget, he was very adamant that the tax increases were not required. Now that the Member has had a chance to look at the finances of the government, could he tell the House if his opinion is still the same?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It is my opinion that they were not required in 1992-93.
However, we have not had an opportunity to construct a budget, so I do not have an opinion at this time as to what the tax structure should be, other than the tax rates should not be increased. That is the official position of the government. I will hold no other opinion until such time as we have a chance to construct a budget.
Mr. Ostashek: Perhaps I will have more questions when we come to the budget, but I would like to spend a little bit of time during this debate to try to get some idea from the new Minister of Finance and Government Leader as to what we can expect. I am taking this opportunity during general debate on the supplementaries to ask those questions.
We have had many debates in this Legislature about the level at which Yukoners are taxed. There has been some debate that Yukoners ought not to be taxed at the national average. Is the Government Leader still of that opinion?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I am not certain if I understand what the Member is referring to. The calculations that I have referred to in the past have distinquished between the national weighted average tax rate versus the tax burden on Yukoners. It has been my contention that the tax burden is high enough, and consequently Yukoners should not face increased taxes. That is my position at this time. We made a commitment during the election that no tax rates will increase - personal income tax, corporate income tax, et cetera.
In terms of the weighted national average tax rate, I am not certain where we stand on that particular point right now, or with any precision, but I have always been of the view that we pay enough taxes.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member for that answer, but the Member is certainly aware that that was an argument that was made by the NDP government, when they were in power, to Finance officials. It was an argument that was made by my government and myself to Finance officials, but they do buy it, and that is why the Yukon is saddled with the perversity factor, because they say we are not taxing at the national average.
Am I not correct on that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Member is essentially correct when he says that we have made an argument based on tax burden, and I have always believed for better than a decade now that that is a reasonable and respectable argument to make. For us now to pay taxes at the national average tax rate in a form to meet the needs or desires of federal Finance officials, we would have to increase the taxes here, overall, 47 percent. That, of course, is out of the question. Our position in the past has been to resist the representations made by federal Finance, acknowledging, of course, that they are basically in control, but to resist because to do otherwise would impose a hardship on our own citizenry that we do not believe is reasonable. I remember having some very noteworthy arguments with the previous Progressive Conservative government, which initiated this particular measure, and I indicated to them that their proposals for us to increase our tax rates by some outrageous amount were completely unreasonable, unrealistic and insensitive.
That was seven or eight years ago, and my position has not changed on that point at all. It would be wrong to give in to federal Finance pressure. It would be wrong to raise taxes here. The tax burden is sufficient to meet demands. I am not suggesting that there be tax breaks, necessarily; I am suggesting that there should be no tax increase. That is a position I have not varied for the last seven or eight years.
Mr. Cable: I have just a follow-up question. The Government Leader's party's platform committed to freeze territorial taxes and committed to no sales tax or medicare premiums. Was that a commitment for the duration of the present mandate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, it was.
Mr. Cable: I am just trying to remember whether the Government Leader had said that publicly. I cannot remember whether he has or not, but it is now on the record.
Has the Anvil Range closure in any way affected his thinking on that commitment?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, it has not. We have made a commitment that I regard as being a significant one and, having been involved in the construction of at least seven budgets, I know how difficult it is to put together a budget and to retain a savings account. I do know the impact of what we were committing to. In this particular case, I would suspect that the loss of some $10 million or $11 million to the Yukon government will be a significant hit on the Yukon government, but, likewise, the loss of the Faro mine to the territorial economy - if nothing else happens - will cause hardship in our community. It would not be appropriate, in my view - when people are facing hardships, businesses are struggling to stay alive - for us to think about ourselves and try to make up the $11 million we are losing in revenue. We have to think about the impact of the decisions that we make on the territorial economy, the business economy and on individual incomes in this territory. The fact that there will be a decline in revenue if the worst happens will only portend a much greater impact on the general economy. We will not be thinking simply about the government situation in isolation of its overall impact on what happens in every community in the territory.
Mr. Cable: I think this has been canvassed before, but I would like to ask the question again because I want to lead up to something. The government, in its platform in the election, also committed to a pay-as-you-go budget by maintaining surplus. "Maintaining a savings account" were the words that were used, which I assume meant a surplus. Is that the present commitment? Is that still the commitment of the government?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, we have only been in office about a month and a half and we have not changed our thinking that significantly on these fundamental questions. Certainly that too would be a basic operating principle. I see no reason why we should not be maintaining a surplus; pay as you go meaning that there is always a surplus. It does not necessarily mean that we will not spend parts of the saving account. We did not object to an annual deficit in the past, and when the previous Government Leader announced an annual deficit for this year, we did not object in principle to an annual deficit, but we do believe there ought to be a savings account. We do believe it ought to be sufficiently large that we have a certain comfort factor.
As a general proposition, it is certainly the case that we will operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, and we will have a savings account.
Mr. Cable: I think those two statements - the freezing of taxes and the maintenance of our bank account in the black - would indicate that the only way we are going to balance the budget next year is in program cuts. I think we got into this the other day and the Government Leader quite rightfully said that it is premature for him to be crystal-balling it in any detail, after having been sworn into office only two months ago. However, how does the Government Leader propose to go about deciding where the apparently very significant cuts are going to be made?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Certainly it is the case, as a general proposition, that we cannot sustain the same level of net spending that we have. I acknowledge that freely. However, there are many options available to a government to ensure that the net spending is less and maintain a bank account.
In the coming year, it can be anything from cutting the rate of growth in O&M or in capital - or in both. How that is achieved and what targets are identified is something that the government has yet to decide. Certainly it is the case that we cannot have $30 million annual deficits every year for the next four years. That is obvious, and is going to mean that we are going to have to scale back the growth in spending in order to achieve that goal, but we have not made a decision yet as to where and how we will do that.
We are still in the process of taking care of last year's spending. We will get into that in a minute. We still have to approve the growth in last year's spending - decisions made even before the election took place.
Mr. Cable: On a related matter, the Government Leader and I shared many reservations about the Taxpayer Protection Act, and the fact that if one needed a taxpayer protection act, then one probably needed a replacement of the politicians in office more than that piece of legislation.
What is the Government Leader's position on the Taxpayer Protection Act? Is he going to leave it on the books throughout his mandate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It is not a priority for this government to change it at this time. The Member and I share concerns about the effectiveness or the point of the act itself. It did not include some things that I would like to have seen happen, such as long-term financial forecasting. That is too bad. I would hope that if we can we would undertake to revise it or introduce a new bill at some point. I would be more than happy to work with the Member. We both seem to be on a common wavelength on this point and many others. I would be very happy to work with the Member on constructing a bill that would be better. However, certainly within the first year, I do not see any reason why we would want to change it. I do not think that it would have much of an impact anyway on the way things normally operate. However, within the mandate, I would like to bring in a proper finance bill.
Mr. Cable: There were a couple of other elements in the NDP platform, and I am referring to page 24 of the platform. The NDP government led by Piers McDonald will - and this is item (c) - with each annual budget present a five-year financial plan so that Yukon people will know what direction the government is moving in, and in item (d) it says it will provide ways for public input in the budget process.
The election was just two months ago. Is it the Government Leader's present intention to do those things?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes. We have not given the matter any clear thought since the election. Obviously there have been so many other things going on, including having to go through the process of defending my predecessor's expenditures, which I am going to have some joy doing when we get into it.
The initiative to announce a five-year spending plan, or a projection over the long term about where the expenditures and revenues are coming from, is something that I would like to encourage, and I would like others who do business for the government, mainly the non-governmental organizations and corporations, to do the same.
With respect to public consultation, yes, we will consult with the public. I cannot guarantee that this will happen in the very first budget because of the time crush, but certainly within the next couple of years we would like to design a formal consultation process that will allow people to have a say in budget decisions.
Ms. Duncan: I would just like to follow up on that last point with the Minister of Finance. The formula finance funding arrangement was signed in 1985. What changed was that the territorial government did not go to Ottawa, cap in hand, every year for its money. The way I understand it right now, Yukon College has to do that, and it limits its planning.
If I am to understand the previous comments of the Minister of Finance correctly, he anticipates a change in that respect, so that there can be longer term planning.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, indeed. Changes have already been made over the last 10 years with the municipalities in terms of giving them more of a sense of security and where they are going. I would like to encourage people to think longer than just one year.
Obviously, the farther down the track we get, the less precise you can generally be. However, in terms of the funding that we would provide to non-government agencies, colleges and municipalities, I would like to be able to provide more predictability for them over the longer term. That requires the Government of Yukon Management Board to think longer term itself, in the first instance, because they know that when they make a commitment for some long-term funding, they will have to live by that commitment to the fullest extent possible.
We have not given it detailed consideration, but we have certainly expressed ourselves clearly in principle on this point.
Mr. Ostashek: I will have some questions along that same line shortly, but I want to go back to the line of questioning I was on where the Yukon falls into the tax format across the 10 provinces and two territories of Canada. We are now situated, I believe, in the lower one-third - or at least in the lower one-half but I believe in the lower one-third - in relation to what the federal government calls the national tax average. Is it the belief of the Finance Minister that that is where the Yukon ought to remain?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have not given that any clear consideration at all. In fact, I do not think I have ever considered the matter as being one where we have to compare ourselves with the Joneses or the people next door with respect to the actual tax rates that we charge. I have given consideration with respect to the issue of tax burden and how we compare ourselves with the rest of the country, and in that particular instance I believe we are paying sufficiently high taxes.
Perhaps if the Member wants to clarify his point, maybe I could respond to it head on. If he is trying to encourage me to say that we should somehow raise taxes, the thing that stands in our way is a very clear campaign commitment. We are not going to raise tax rates.
If he wants me to commit to it, perhaps we would try to march lockstep with Mike Harris and Ralph Klein. My duty is to the people of this territory. We will do what we think is appropriate here.
There is one point. I am reminded that taxes are coming down in the provinces. We are getting closer to the national average in any case. However, my duty is to the people in this territory, and that is where my focus will be.
Mr. Ostashek: I hope that I am not misleading the Minister of Finance by him thinking that I am trying to encourage him to raise taxes. It is quite the contrary. It is not my desire at all to have him increase taxes in the Yukon. I am just trying to find out if the position of the Minister has changed, now that he is in government, from when he was in Opposition. I had a lot of questions from that Minister when he was on the Opposition benches as to where the Yukon fell in the tax regime in Canada. I am not exactly sure, but I think that your Deputy Minister of Finance would have that information.
Could the Minister just check with him to see where we are on the scale of one to 12?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It is the bottom third.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member for that and that is exactly my point: the Member made the statement that he does not want to march lockstep with Mike Harris and Ralph Klein, and I really do not expect him to. Whatever Ralph Klein, Mike Harris, Glen Clark and other premiers do across this country with their taxes has a significant impact upon the Yukon. The Yukon could stand to see windfall profits from other jurisdictions cutting taxes. As the Member stated earlier, with cuts in taxes in other jurisdictions, the Yukon will be pushed closer to the national tax average. What I am getting at with the Finance Minister and the new government coming in is: would he be prepared to give those windfall taxes back to Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It is similar to a question that I think the Member was leading up to near the beginning of the debate this evening, when I was getting the impression that he was going to ask whether or not we would give back the tax increases that he had already levied. I already answered that question.
We have committed ourselves not to raise taxes. We are going to be constructing budgets shortly, and we are going to decide what our needs are. We are going to determine what the circumstances are in which we are operating. For instance, I am well aware of the high expectations in Dawson City, for example, where there is, in the minds of some people, a sense that there is an enormous grievance and that perhaps one-half of our capital budget ought to be dedicated to that one community alone.
We have to weigh off the circumstances. We have just faced a fairly significant cut this last year in the transfer payments from the federal government. We have to weigh that off, along with the Anvil Range shutdown - many things - before we start deciding any question with respect to what we are going to do with tax rates.
I am fascinated by this Member's perspective at this time, which seems to be a newly found, or self-styled, effort to recast himself as the taxpayers' protector, particularly so after having done the most amazing thing with the tax rate while he was the Minister of Finance.
I have already indicated that there is nothing that federal Finance is going to do that I can conceive of at this time. No matter what they do with the tax effort or what argument they may try to put before us to try to cut our formula grant, there is nothing they can do that will force us to raise taxes. Now that the Member is in the Opposition benches, I am certain that he is going to be pursuing a line that is quite different from the time when he was in government, where there was a feeling that perhaps tax rates should be lowered and expenditures should be increased. Certainly, in the short time that we have been in this Legislature - and we are calculating it, by the way, for pay purposes - there have been very significant requests for increased funding and more expenditures.
If the Member and his party want to have any credibility whatsoever, they cannot be preaching fiscal responsibility on the one hand, tax reduction on the other and, on top of that, increased expenditures.
That level of credibility may not be a prime objective of the Yukon Party. They were not particularly credible on these questions when they were in office, and I think it may get substantially worse now that they are in Opposition.
I have been facing Conservative parties in this Legislature for a very long time and we have faced the quite amazing propositions that are put forward from them from time to time.
It is my view that the budget development process ought to take into account where we expect our revenues to be, what our expenditures ought to be, in the same tradition as in the past. There are going to be limitations to what we can do. We know that there are significant expectations, particularly from some Members in this Legislature. We are going to try to encourage those expectations to be moderate and realistic.
Members across the floor seem to believe that only the Conservatives in this Legislature care about this question about balancing the books and facing difficult decisions. I would point out to the Members, as I have pointed out to them in the past, and I will do it before all of the new Members, that w
hen the NDP has been in government in the past they have provided budgets that have always had a bank account at the end of those years, all verified by the Auditor General. We were spending gross and net funding that is significantly less than the Yukon Party did when it was in government. We still managed to deal with expectations and we still managed to meet many people's expectations in this territory.
We knew we could not do it all. We knew it then and we know it now. I would point out to the Member that being fiscally responsible is not the purview of conservative parties. Governments across this country of all stripes can be fiscally responsible. The other night, the Member congratulated me for being a new fiscal conservative. I am not a fiscal conservative. I am a fiscally responsible person and my party is a fiscally responsible group of people. We do believe in ensuring that we operate on a pay-as-you-go basis. We have operated that way for many years.
I know that the Members opposite - at least two of them - had a very difficult time coming to the conclusion that this is something that happens to every government. They thought that they took on this weight and had to balance the books. They popularized it all around the territory. Every time they felt a bit of pain or suffering, they shared that hurt with anyone who would listen. I believe that we do not have to go through that kind of yo-yo, roller-coaster ride in terms of budgeting. We do not have to put the public through that.
We should be thinking of long-term financing. We should not whine about our financial circumstances. We are in respectable financial circumstances and we have been for a very long time, for years - for decades, I would say. I think the era began in 1984-85 when the budget significantly increased for this territory.
There should be no reason why we should not be happy about that. Perhaps we can give some credit to Erik Nielsen here if we have to.
The point of the matter is that this government, right through the 1980s and the 1990s, was and is in good financial shape. We did not need to go through the gyrations that that Member inflicted on us. That is my position and it is still my position; I have not changed it one iota.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 3.
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 considered Bill No. 21. During consideration of the bill, the title was amended. The title of Bill No. 21 now reads, "An Act to Repeal the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994".
The Committee directed me to report Bill No. 21, with amendment.
Further, Committee of the Whole considered Bill No. 2, entitled Fourth Appropriation Act, 1995-96, and directed me to report it without amendment.
Further, the Committee considered Bill No. 3, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1996-97, 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 motion carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the 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 9:32 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled December 11, 1996:
Yukon Health and Social Services Council Annual Report 1995-96 (Sloan)
Yukon Child Care Board Annual Report 1995-96 (Sloan)
The following Legislative Return was tabled December 11, 1996:
Taga Ku settlement details (McDonald)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 81-82
The following document was filed December 11, 1996:
Letters (dated December 11, 1996) from and to Jack Cable, Member for Riverside, and Trevor Harding, Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, regarding the effect of Bill No. 21, entitled An Act to Repeal the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, 1994 (Cable)