Monday, April 7, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order, and we will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In remembrance of Kip Boyd
Mr. Phillips: I rise today to pay tribute to a long-time Yukoner and a fellow friend who passed away last week at the age of 65. Kip Boyd came to the Yukon with his family in 1948, where the Boyd family owned and operated a chicken ranch at MacRae. After long days and many hours of hard work, Kip and his family moved to Whitehorse, where Kip met and married Vimi Yeulet and were later to have four children: Christine, Sandra, Gary and Rick.
Kip Boyd had a deep, abiding love for the Yukon. His free time during the winter months was spent at the curling rink and many remember the curling team consisting of Kip, his father Bert, brother Clive and brother-in-law, Jim, who placed first in many of the competitions for many years.
Kip's curling successes followed him to the Briar on two separate occasions and, in 1975, they almost won. Kip was the first president of the Yukon-Northwest Territories Curling Association and was the driving force behind the construction of the Whitehorse Curling Club in 1953.
As during the winter, Kip also enjoyed Yukon summers and kept active climbing mountains, exploring paths unknown and scouting out every game trail known. In fact, many Yukoners who have travelled Tagish Lake have gone down the far end of the lake and camped in a spot that is commonly known as Kip's camp. That is where the family used to spend many of its enjoyable summer days.
In the mid-1970s, several changes occurred in Kip's life, including his marriage to Kathy Cowan of Vancouver and starting Kilrich Industries with his two sons. At age 60, Kip and Kathy retired to their cabin at Tagish River, where most of his time was spent reconstructing their home from a cabin to a house.
Kip was well-respected in the community. Through Kilrich Industries, Kip offered support and contributed to major charities and sports clubs throughout the Yukon. His contributions to the Yukon will be remembered, as well as his humour, his love of life and the commitment to his family and the Yukon. His positive attitude and selfless acts are noble traits for which many will remember him for a long time to come.
Mr. Speaker, Kip passed away last week peacefully at his beloved Tagish home. I would like to ask all members of this House to join me in expressing sympathy to his wife, Kathy, his daughter, Christine, his sons, Rick and Gary, and two grandchildren, Colin and Dennis, and brother Clive and Kip's many friends throughout the Yukon. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cable: Thanks, Mr. Speaker.
I've had the pleasure of meeting three generations of Boyds - Kip's father, Bert, and Kip himself, and Kip's children. There's a strong family trait of personability and directness that engendered friendship with everyone who met them, and I can quite honestly say - and this is from both business experience and from social contacts - that I don't know anyone who didn't like Kip. He provided a helping hand to many, and I think this was partly responsible for his success in business.
The Yukon will be less rich with Kip's passing.
My sympathy to Kathy and the family.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I also rise today to pay tribute to Kip Boyd. I guess I shouldn't try to reiterate other things that have already been said in a most elegant and pleasant fashion. I would just like to know that my personal experiences with Kip were certainly limited to just knowledge that I have garnered from other people, but he did touch my life in a very special way, and I think it's something that's worth explaining just a little bit about.
He was a type of a gentleman that would go by your handshake, and he passed this on to his sons that worked with him in establishing Kilrich Industries, and at a point in time when I was having difficulty building my home and working toward my home, Kip did come through. He asked, and drew his company and said, "Are you going to pay?", and I said, "Yes, I am", and he said, "That's good enough for me. Thank you very much."
Mr. Speaker, I think that it's just that one act alone, which he did for myself and which he did for countless other Yukoners, that is testimony to his life as a Yukoner.
He loved to curl. He loved to hunt and fish. He loved to enjoy the land, and I think those are all such typical traits of a Yukoner, and I know that he's going to be sadly missed across the Yukon by all of the people that were touched by Kip. They are going to be sadly missing him, especially his wife, Kathy, his daughter, Christine, and his two sons, Rick and Gary. He also had the pleasure of having two grandchildren, Colin and Dennis, and his brother Clive. To them, as one of the previous speakers said, I too wish to encourage all of us here to think of him and keep him and his family in mind and feel what a great Yukoner he actually was.
National Wildlife Week
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I would like to advise the House that this week, April 6th to the 12th, is recognized as National Wildlife Week.
This year's theme is "Wild things need a place to grow", an appropriate theme for the year when this government is launching a protected areas strategy, and picking up the habitat protection ball dropped by the previous government.
Mr. Speaker, to mark this week, the Yukon Department of Renewable Resources, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Yukon Fish and Game Association, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Yukon Conservation Society are sponsoring a week of displays at the Elijah Smith federal building on a variety of wildlife-oriented events, which were detailed in a full-page ad in last Friday's Yukon News.
Next weekend, Swan Haven, a great wildlife viewing opportunity on M'Clintock Bay, will open for the season. I ask members to join in this celebration of Yukon wildlife.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I would like to rise in recognition of National Wildlife Week, also.
I would like to especially recognize those volunteer organizations that dedicate their resources to reminding us that we share this planet and that we have an obligation to the plants and animals that share it with us.
I salute the Yukon Conservation Society, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Ducks Unlimited, Renewable Resources staff and others, who volunteer their time so willingly for the protection of Yukon wildlife on behalf of all Yukoners.
I look forward to the celebration of National Wildlife Week. And, as the World Wildlife Fund poster in my office reminds me daily, on behalf of Canada's endangered species, "Their eyes are upon us."
Speaker: Are there any introduction of visitors?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Fentie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It's my pleasure today to introduce Mr. Isaac Wood, who is with us in the gallery today. Isaac's a member of Watson Lake and also a town councillor. Thank you.
Speaker: Are there further introductions?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I have a document for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I have two documents for tabling: the draft Bonnet Plume heritage river management plan and newsletter on the draft plan.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Non-government organizations, funding for
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and inform the House of a new policy on funding for non-government organizations.
True to our commitment during the election campaign, this government has developed a multi-year funding policy for NGOs. This policy gives these organizations a degree of financial stability and over the course of upcoming months, government department officials will be discussing with them the process of developing their multi-year budgets.
Non-governmental organizations play an integral part in our societies through the numerous valuable services they provide. Often they act as the delivery agent for various government departments. The Yukon government wants to continue to support these citizen groups and the services and programs they contribute to the territory.
Our goal is to create a funding process for NGOs that is equitable, fair and open. This policy provides a measure of financial stability, allowing NGOs to engage in long-range planning and decision-making with some comfort that government funding will also be planned on a multi-year basis.
The guidelines of this new policy provide as much certainty as possible within the existing legislative decision-making framework. NGOs applying for government funding will be required to provide a three-year budget forecast and funding commitments will be made for that three-year period subject to budgetary allotments.
Criteria by which NGO funding will be determined include whether there is a demonstrated need in the community for the services provided by the NGO; the extent to which the NGO creates or encourages local employment; the frequency by which the NGO is requested to participate in government consultation exercises; the contribution the NGO made toward community wellness, education and social well-being; and, whether the NGO works to ensure environmental protection and effective natural resource planning.
While my government is committed to ensuring that NGOs have the ability to serve their communities and plan for the fiscal future of their organizations, it is also clear that the Yukon government cannot be expected to fund every NGO across the territory. The Yukon government will, therefore, not automatically assume funding areas vacated by the federal government.
Mr. Speaker, there are many non-governmental organizations across the territory that provide quality, valuable and necessary services to Yukon people. This government supports and appreciates the work that these organizations do, and I believe this policy reflects that appreciation by providing a fair, multi-year budgetary process for them.
With the implementation of the new NGO funding policy, social service based and other non-governmental organizations now have the financial stability to better serve their clientele and ultimately the Yukon.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, the Minister of Finance has made this announcement today. I guess the only thing I can say about it is that it is laudable that he announced in the campaign that he was going to provide long-term funding for NGOs, but when you read the ministerial statement, it is clear that there is no guarantee of long-term funding for NGOs. In fact, nothing has changed, and the Government Leader, and now the Minister of Finance, knew that he couldn't change anything when he made the campaign promise back in the election.
He certainly knows that our legislative decision-making framework was in place and he would have to change that to provide guaranteed long-term funding. All he is doing now is requiring the NGOs to fill out a three-year budget forecast and then that budget forecast will be debated within Cabinet in making decisions and when they put the budget together whether these people will receive money. And this is done annually, not every three years, so there is no way that any of these organizations - and they shouldn't be misled at all by the statement today - have guaranteed three-year funding if they meet the minister's criteria. It just isn't possible. The only way it would be possible would be if the minister came to this House and presented a budget with three full years of funding for an organization for the amount and gave them the cheque now and they went for three years down the road. That's the only way he can do it, because otherwise we have to debate their funding annually - Cabinet does as well as this Legislature, so the NGOs will not be able to take this announcement to the bank.
No one would loan the money. No one would give them any guarantees on the fact that they've filled out a three-year budget for the Government of the Yukon, because they're only getting approved one year at a time.
Mr. Speaker, this particular announcement is smoke and mirrors. If the minister had come here today and announced that he was looking at changing the Yukon Act, or taking some other legislative approach to change the funding arrangements, which he knew were in place before - and are still in place now and which doesn't allow that - that would be something that one could look at.
But, really, the announcement he's made today changes absolutely nothing at all, other than forcing the NGOs to provide a forecast for three years' funding in the future. It doesn't give them any guarantee of three-year money.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, there are many organizations that do provide quality, efficient services to Yukon people, and many of these non-government agencies, or NGOs, are the delivery agents for various government agencies. So why, one asks, do these agencies prefer to keep NGO status, instead of amalgamating their work into existing government departments?
Why do people volunteer their time and spend thousands of unpaid, or little-paid, hours developing administrative strategies and programs for their non-government agencies, instead of working for the government?
Maybe these individuals don't want to get caught in the unbelievable amounts of administrivia that it takes to implement a government service. Maybe these people don't want to spend their time doing mountains of paperwork instead of seeing clients. And maybe the reason government contracts these NGOs, or non-governmental agencies, to deliver these services directly to the community is because this approach can be better and more efficient.
So when I see that this multi-year funding is dependent upon the frequency by which the NGO is requested to participate in government consultation exercises, I get a little concerned, because people get involved in NGOs delivering services to the community because they really believe that the service they are delivering is good. The volunteers that sit on the various boards are members of the community in which the service is delivered, and their generous donation of time ensures that there is a great deal of input from the community in decision making.
These volunteers are also the doers in the community, and you had better believe that these are the people that not only sit on the board of this organization, but countless other groups in the town, as well.
How much more paperwork and meetings do these volunteers have to sit through in order to ensure that they receive their multi-year funding? Is this the price - taking even more family time away from volunteers in order to make the government look like they're consulting with the community?
That is unfair, particularly when the three-year funding that they are holding out there as the carrot is subject to budgetary allotments. So, we are talking about spending countless hours in doing government paperwork or sitting in staged government meetings for what? Maybe nothing. You can't do that to people.
After a while, the average volunteer is going to realize that they are spending more time doing government paperwork than delivering the service they volunteered for originally, and they are going to say, "Forget it." So then where are you? What will you have accomplished? Probably during the next election you can say that you consulted extensively with the communities, but you will have burned out an awful lot of volunteers in the process, and that's not right.
There should be a great deal of conversation that is going on between government and NGOs. For example, has there been a change in the organization or the community that would require some flexibility in the funding arrangements? Is there an upcoming or emerging health or social services issue that could be dealt with sooner rather than later? This ministerial statement does not speak to who will be coordinating the funding to NGOs and who is going to be getting the NGOs messages into the department.
Consultation is one thing, Mr. Speaker, but sitting down with one assigned person and talking it out before something gets to be a problem makes a lot more sense. Maybe that approach is just far too practical.
Mr. Speaker, multi-year funding for NGOs could be good, because it will allow groups to plan. But if that is dependent on budgetary allotments every year, where are you? Is there a commitment here or not? A more holistic approach to NGO funding might have been to ask NGOs how they communicate with government.
I truly hope that the government can see their way clear to assigning a liaison person to NGOs, because that is just common sense.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm somewhat surprised at the comments made by the Opposition. I know that they're supposed to find whatever is negative about whatever the government is doing and publicize it to the maximum extent possible. However, I think in the case of the Member for Riverdale North there is a profound misunderstanding of the budget process.
The Government of Yukon signs long-term contracts all the time, and, as a matter of fact, even, for example, the South Access Road, which is about to be reconstructed, was a multi-year funding agreement with the City of Whitehorse. No one realistically said at that point -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Subject to annual approval, precisely. But, nobody said at that time that the funding that was promised for year two was a hollow commitment, and at some point the Yukon government was going to pull the rug out from the City of Whitehorse and leave them stranded, did they? Because, of course, that's just ridiculous, it's silly.
Mr. Speaker, this commitment to NGOs is for multi-year funding, and it is a policy that makes good sense, a policy that allows NGOs to plan their longer-term futures than simply the year-to-year planning process that they've undertaken in the past. Commitments made by this government are commitments that are honoured, of course.
I must say the concern that this is going to require some paperwork or some sort of thought on somebody's part, due to the long-term planning, is a criticism I find puzzling coming from the Liberal member.
Certainly, somebody has to justify why taxpayers' money is going to be committed over a very long period of time. Presumably, the NGO itself will want to engage in long-term planning as well and, in exchange for the funding commitment, presumably they will plan ahead the couple or three years extra, so that they can not only justify to the government and to the taxpayers why they should receive the extra funding, but they will also be able to plan for their own organization and perhaps provide stability for their own organization.
Clearly, there is no desire to increase paperwork or increase red tape or the added burden of negotiating arrangements, but we have to balance that with a need to ensure that there is some thought put into any long-term commitments that we may make to non-government organizations.
This commitment is a significant advance over anything that the government has done in the past. This commitment is done out of respect for non-governmental organizations and the work that they do. They bring some order to the expenditures that are made by our Legislature to support their operations, and it has been well-received, maybe not by the members in the Opposition benches, but it has been very well-received by NGOs themselves, so we are going to be pursuing this course of action, and we will be continuing our discussions with NGOs so they can carry out their useful tasks.
Heritage river systems
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
On the occasion of National Wildlife Week, and in recognition of this year's theme, "Wild things need a place to grow", it gives me pleasure to advise the members that the wildlife habitat values in the Bonnet Plume and Tatshenshini river valleys will be given more consideration as a result of the Yukon government's increased involvement in the Canadian heritage rivers system.
Mr. Speaker, for the information of the members, the Canadian heritage rivers system gives national recognition to the important rivers of Canada. This program identifies and designates diverse rivers across the country that have particularly high natural and cultural values and are seen to be reflective of our national heritage.
The Yukon first became a participant in the system with the 1991 designation of the Thirty Mile section of the Yukon River. The recent decisions by the governments of Alberta and British Columbia to become participants in the program made it a truly national system to give rise to the drafting of a national charter. I have now been authorized to sign the charter on behalf of the Government of Yukon.
Further evidence of this government's commitment to this system is the public release for review and comment of a draft management plan prepared to support the designation of the Bonnet Plume River as a heritage river. The Bonnet Plume River is a tributary of the Peel and flows out of the Wernecke Mountains in central Yukon. It was nominated to this system as a result of the Na-Cho Ny'ak Dun final agreement. The draft management plan was prepared by the Government of Yukon in conjunction with the Government of Canada and the Mayo District Renewable Resource Council and in consultation with the Nacho Nyak Dun and Tetlit Gwich'in First Nations. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, representatives of the Yukon mining industry, including the Chamber of Mines, representatives of communities closest to the river, outfitters and the Yukon Conservation Society.
The management plan proposes an ecosystem approach to resource management of the river corridor that respects and protects the natural and cultural resource value. It allows for multiple uses conducted in ways which are sensitive to those values. It also lays out the workplan for the collection of information on the river's natural and cultural heritage.
Mr. Speaker, a third initiative in regard to heritage rivers is the government's decision to forward a heritage river nomination document for the portion of the Tatshenshini River which lies within the Yukon boundaries. The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and the Yukon and Canada have prepared the document as a result of their commitment in that First Nation's final agreement to pursue a heritage river designation for the Tatshenshini.
The nomination document is the first step in the process leading to designation. It summarizes much of what is known about the natural, wildlife, cultural, historic and recreational values of the river.
If the nomination is accepted by the National Heritage Rivers Board, the preparation for a management plan in consultation with stakeholders will be the next step towards formal recognition.
I anticipate the support of all members for the Yukon government's participation in the Canadian heritage rivers system. Thank you.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the minister for his statement.
It was recognized very early in the management planning process that there were many apparent conflicts of interest in the Bonnet Plume watershed. The nomination of the Bonnet Plume River precipitated concern among the development interests about the loss of potential access to resources. For environmental interests, the nomination demonstrated the need to protect the watershed. It was at this time that the Yukon Party government suggested that an advisory committee be created to make recommendations to the steering committee about the management regime that they wished to see described for the Bonnet Plume as a Canadian heritage river.
The advisory committee included representations from the Na-Cho Ny'ak Dun First Nation, the Tetlit Gwich'in, Westmin Resources, Keno City, outfitters and Friends of Yukon Rivers, the Town of Mayo, Klondike Placer Miners Association and CPAWS. Several meetings were held and input from each of these groups was incorporated into the draft management plan. Substantive changes were made to the original draft plan as a result of discussions that took place amongst members of the advisory committee. Such changes included greater recognition of the presence of mineralization and the implications for the heritage river status, acknowledgement of competing interests and the different stakeholder expectations.
Having said this, Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the work done by all members of the advisory committee in making this draft management plan a reflection of everyone's interests.
While I recognize there are significant differences of philosophy of thought among the different groups, I believe that it is possible that an agreement as to how our resources can be managed can be reached in such a way that all interest groups are accommodated - mining interests as well as environmental interests.
Mr. Speaker, the work, however, is not over, and I'm pleased the process involving public participation will be held. I believe that it's important that Yukoners have input into the management of the Yukon resources and look forward to being part of that process. There are a number of questions that remain to be answered, those being: is there a legislative time frame in which consensus has to be reached to satisfy the completion of the management plan? Within the Canadian heritage river systems nomination document, it states that within three years of acceptance of a nomination by the ministers, a management plan shall be lodged with the board, at which time the river shall be formally included as a Canadian heritage river. Maybe the minister can elaborate on that when he gets up.
In the event the management plan identifies boundaries, river management area or management principles that were significantly different from those described in the nomination document, will the nomination document be revised or an addendum filed with the board? Once the Bonnet Plume River has been officially designated as a Canadian heritage river, who will ultimately be responsible for the management of it? Will it be the territorial government, or will it be the federal government, or some other body?
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the comments from the member. Certainly the issue of having industry involvement in creating the plan was a big part of the discussions. They did have the mining industry and the Yukon Chamber of Mines that did have participation in the development of the management plan. They were very much consulted on this and had their input reflected in the plan.
Certainly with the Tatshenshini, there's a lot of work to do yet. It's just in the nomination stage. It goes back out to the public for comments, and then back to us. This type of information flow happens for a little while before the management plan does get up and going. I do believe that, in order to put together a comprehensive plan that does work for Yukoners, it will take a long time to do, but not so long that we couldn't get it done within the three-year period.
I do believe that the heritage rivers will take on a renewed national profile with the national release of the charter on Earth Day. The charter is not something that is binding on government. Certainly, national recognition of Yukon rivers will enhance the tourism industry in the Yukon.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, Aishihik Lake water
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My question is for the minister responsible for the Energy Corporation.
We have heard in the last two days of a potential for a 20-percent rate increase that is going to hit Yukoners very, very hard. Not only the 20-percent increase in power bills, Mr. Speaker, but every time they go to buy something from Yukon business - a commodity or service - they are going to be hit again, because the costs are going to be passed on to the ratepayers. So, it is going to have a dramatic impact on Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, one of the contributing factors to the need for a rate increase now has been this government's unilateral political decision to restrict the licensing range on Aishihik Lake. I would like to ask the Minister at this time if he - it is $4.7 million, as I understand - could advise this House if he will be recommending to his Cabinet colleagues to reconsider their decision not to allow YEC to use the licensing range that was issued to them by the Water Board.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I guess the first thing I would have to say with regard to the concern on Aishihik Lake and the agreement by the government to support the technical advisory group on Aishihik and the request not to draw down the bottom two feet, which was subsequently supported by board resolution - Yukon Energy Corporation board resolution; most of the members of that board appointed by the member opposite - we felt that it was a decision that had to be made.
Since we were elected, we have been busy honouring our election commitments. One of the commitments we made, on page 21 of A Better Way, was to work to mitigate the environmental impact on Aishihik Lake and err on the side of caution when it comes to the environment. We did that in this case.
The ratepayers are not affected at all by this with regard to the 20-percent hikes that we are also concerned about. The monies for the Aishihik decision will be paid out of Yukon Development Corporation reserves, as we announced when we made the decision, when we announced it to the Yukon public.
With regard to the 20-percent energy rate hikes that have been talked about in the media, Mr. Speaker, and by the public, and have been mentioned by the Energy Corporation, we have asked that they consult with the intervenors prior to going for an application and, secondly, we are investigating the option of perhaps bringing YEC and board members into the Legislature to discuss the matter with all legislators and the public.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, every time this minister doesn't want to take responsibility for a decision, he blames the board. We heard the president go on public record saying that the decision not to draw down Aishihik would have to be a political decision. The president went public and said that.
Mr. Speaker, this will be the third increase in less than six months of this administration - an administration that made a commitment to Yukoners during an election campaign. The NDP promised Yukoners, if elected, they would ensure affordability of power and stabilized rates. Can I ask the minister if he ever intends to honour that commitment?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, absolutely, Mr. Speaker. We honoured it in December when one of our first acts was to extend the bill relief program. That was something that the Yukon Party refused to do.
Mr. Speaker, that had an impact on stabilizing the rates of Yukoners. Subsequent to that, we had a court decision from 1993 reflecting a 5.5 percent appeal rider. We had a 30-percent increase in world diesel prices and a rate rider that was approved by the Utilities Board prior to us ever coming into office.
Mr. Speaker, we're not blaming the board for anything. I'm just reporting to the Legislature that the board made a decision and passed it by resolution to support the Aishihik decision, and that's a fact. That's a matter of minutes that could be provided to the public from the board's deliberations.
So, Mr. Speaker, we've been honouring our commitments on stabilization. Unfortunately, we have lost the largest customer for the Yukon Energy Corporation and the rates that are in existence today were set at the last GRA, which assumed that the Anvil Range mine would be operating. So, we've been thrown a bit of a knuckle ball, but we intend to continue to work toward continuing on with rate relief, continuing to come up with long-term plans to deal with rate stabilization questions, and yes, we are honouring our commitments.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, I think it's a very peculiar way to honour commitments. I think the minister will find out pretty soon that the Yukon public will say the same thing.
He says his decision not to draw down Aishihik Lake didn't have any effect on the ratepayers - that's ridiculous. It impacted on the Energy Corporation's cashflow by $4.7 million and has contributed to the problem.
Mr. Speaker, my final supplementary to the minister is: in 1995, the minister and his colleagues, while in Opposition, were adamant that with the opening of the Faro mine, power rates should come down. In fact, they went on to say that the corporation was reaping windfall profits because the rates didn't come down. Those were the statements they made in public. So, I'd like to ask the minister, now that power rates are continuing to go up with the closure of the Faro mine, and go up quite dramatically, were the minister and the NDP government wrong in 1995, or are they wrong now?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, firstly, with regard to the number that has been bandied around with the decision not to use the bottom two feet of Aishihik Lake water, I would just say that the numbers on that aren't quite in yet, so I'm not too sure that the Leader of the Official Opposition is clear on his numbers as he iterates them to the public.
The decision we made has not affected ratepayers. The decisions come out of Yukon Development Corporation reserves, as we indicated when we announced it.
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the question about the rates going up when the Faro mine came back up, we were obviously concerned about rates. Some rates did come down - commercial rates at the time of the 1995 ruling by the Utilities Board - and we're concerned about rates going up right now as a result of a proposed interim rate application that's being put forward by the Yukon Energy Corporation. That's why we've asked the Energy Corporation to consult with the intervernors prior to making the application, and that's why we'll be taking steps to work the Energy Corporation, as we have been this morning, to see if we can get Anvil Range to pay the arrears as soon as possible, which will take considerable pressure off the utility.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, power rates
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, my question is to the same minister who is responsible for the Energy Corporation, and probably responsible for the 20-percent McRobb surcharge, because I think that's what we can relate this to.
Mr. Speaker, the minister says the $4.72 million figure isn't accurate. I just draw the minister's attention that that's the figure that was given to us by the president of the corporation at a briefing that the minister provided to us last week. It's not a figure that we picked out of the air.
Mr. Speaker, this government has only been in office for six months now, and power rates have gone up twice, even though their commitment to continue the rate stabilization - which every political party said they were going to do prior to the election - and now Yukoners are facing the third increase, a potential 20-percent increase.
Can the minister explain to me why he and his Cabinet colleagues accepted the recommendations of the MLA for Kluane not to use the licensing range at Aishihik, which is now going to cost ratepayers another $4.7 million and put the corporation into a financial crisis?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, in the election campaign the New Democratic Party committed to mitigating the environmental impact on Aishihik Lake. We took action to do that.
In the 1992 election campaign, the Yukon Party, and I'll read it out - I suppose I could table it - promised in the four-year plan, to "Stop the environmental devastation of Aishihik Lake." In four years, they did nothing.
Mr. Speaker, in the Gold Pan they softened their commitment to the public somewhat. They said, in the 1996 election campaign rhetoric that they put forward, that they'd work toward the stabilization of Aishihik Lake at a level that will not cause environmental damage.
Well, Mr. Speaker, that's precisely what we did with our decision. We accepted the recommendations of the technical advisor group. We funded the decision with Yukon Development Corporation reserves, as we said we would do.
Mr. Speaker, we're not responsible for a 20-percent increase. We acted very quickly in December to extend bill relief to soften the rates for residential consumers, and I wish the former Government Leader in 1993 would not have allowed the Yukon Energy Corporation to go ahead with their court action for recouping those costs for the rate rider.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, what the minister is standing on his feet and saying is utter nonsense. There's been hundreds of thousands of dollars done on environmental studies in the last few years on Aishihik. The licence is up for renewal in the year 2002. The government has a window of opportunity to mitigate the damage at Aishihik Lake without taking knee-jerk reactions like this Cabinet has done.
Six inches of water, Mr. Speaker, relates to about $2 million in diesel fuel - a substantial amount of money.
Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact that the MLA for Kluane was one of the founders of a lobby group - Friends of Aishihik - and has a home on the lake, does not the minister agree that this MLA could be seen in a perceived conflict of interest in situations relating to Aishihik Lake? So why has Cabinet accepted the recommendations to make ratepayers pay 20 percent more on their power bills?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, first of all, that's completely false. The Yukon Energy Corporation Board, appointed by the Yukon Party, has made a decision to proceed for an interim rate rider, but not before we've asked them to consult with intervenors about options that may be taken, such as looking at the diesel contingency fund.
Mr. Speaker, the member says that hundreds of thousands of dollars of work have been done on Aishihik Lake. I'd like to ask him why, then, when he campaigned to stop the environmental damage in 1992, did he raise not one finger in four years to deal with that problem? Mr. Speaker, what he's just told the Legislature and the public is he wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars but was not prepared to take one cognizant step of action to help with the problem.
Mr. Speaker, the fact that the Yukon is reliant on diesel right now is directly related to the action of the Yukon Party government, and for four years they took no action whatsoever to reduce diesel consumption and to give us power options.
So, Mr. Speaker, we're dealing with that. We've extended bill relief and will continue to work on our election commitments, as we have been.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, what utter nonsense. This government was working to alleviate the damage at Aishihik Lake, and we weren't doing it with knee-jerk reactions like this Cabinet.
Can the minister explain to this Legislature, Mr. Speaker, why he decided not to allow YEC to use a licensing range that was awarded to it on Aishihik Lake by the Water Board, going to protect the environment when, in fact, he's creating another environmental problem by replacing that water with diesel fuel and pumping harmful CO2 and other harmful emissions into the atmosphere in the Whitehorse area and the whole water shed, affecting thousands of Yukoners? How has he solved the problem?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I would concur with the member opposite that the emissions of CO2 from diesel usage are a concern to this government. What you're in is a situation of the lesser of two evils. We intend, as the Minister for Renewable Resources is responsible for it, to take steps to deal with that. We also intend to develop longer term energy policy through the Energy Commission to provide us with some energy options to help us get out of the equation of the trade-off between environmentally costly hydro use versus environmentally costly diesel use.
So, Mr. Speaker, we're in that push-pull, and we need some options to get out of that. Unfortunately, for four years, the Yukon Party did nothing about that, until death bed repentance during the election campaign caused them to come up with the interlocking power grid from Carmacks at a cost of $30 million, which they had no idea how to pay for.
So, Mr. Speaker, we made a commitment with regard to Aishihik Lake publicly to the electorate in the election campaign, and so did the Opposition parties, by the way. The only difference is we said we were going to do it, and we're doing it.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, rate application
Mr. Cable: Thanks, Mr. Speaker.
I have some questions for the same minister on the same issue.
Last week, the minister spoke about asking the Yukon Energy Corporation to talk to the intervenors before preparing its rate application. He reinforced that today, and of course he spoke on the radio on Friday with the same tune, which suggests to me that he's trying to take a little heat out of the issue and put the fires out until he gets his thoughts together.
Now, there is no application, of course, so there are no intervenors. So, could he tell us just specifically who he asked the Energy Corporation to talk to prior to making their application?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Well, I would say to the member opposite that the people who traditionally intervene on the applications that go before the Utilities Board could include organizations like the Utilities Consumer Group; they could be the Association of Yukon Communities, the City of Whitehorse, industrial customers, commercial customers, chambers of commerce - those types of organizations, the ones that traditionally intervene.
Mr. Cable: So, while Rome is burning, we're going to have the Energy Corporation fiddling around.
Now, we have a process where the Energy Corporation prepares an application and takes it before the public Utilities Board, and individuals and groups then comment to the board. That's the process set up in the act. Just what is this process supposed to come out and do for the Energy Corporation? Who is actually going to be involved in some detail? Has he told the Energy Corporation what they are supposed to do, and why this process is necessary?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, you know the member opposite says that Rome is burning. I haven't heard too many concrete suggestions from the member. All he says is that there should be a reserve fund to stabilize rate swings, but he hasn't told anybody where the government should come up with the millions of dollars for this rate stabilization fund.
Mr. Speaker, what we've asked the Energy Corporation to do is meet with the intervenors to discuss options to deal with the situation, to make them exactly and precisely aware of the financial situation of the Energy Corporation, because all Yukoners have a stake in this, and I understand they intend to be meeting with intervenors on Wednesday, and I understand they intend to be - when I say "they", I mean the Energy Corporation - giving a copy of the interim application to the intervenors some time today, so that they can have a couple of days to prepare, to ask questions about it, to ascertain precisely what the reasons behind it are, and to make suggestions about options.
Mr. Cable: Now, we have a government that yanked the president and appointed a new president, as far as I can make out, without consultation with the board. It issued a directive on the use of Aishihik water while the corporation is spending millions of dollars trying to work up to a water licence application. Now the minister appears to be running the day-to-day operations of the corporation from his desk on the second floor here, on rate applications.
Could the minister tell us whether he has confidence in the management of the Energy Corporation to run a rate application without his interference and, if so, whether he is going to withdraw that letter and let them get about their business?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member opposite should know that all we've done is make a request of the Energy Corporation - not a directive - to consult with the intervenors this Wednesday to talk to them about the situation facing the Yukon Energy Corporation and to talk to them about the situation we face as Yukoners with regard to losing the major customer, Anvil Range Mining Corporation.
So, I believe that's a prudent, responsible and less-costly option than the one proposed by the member. I know he's anxious, Mr. Speaker, for the process to unfold before the Utilities Board and for the government to take an appropriate response once that occurs. I concur with him that, as soon as the consultation with stakeholders is undertaken, there should then be a hearing before the Utilities Board and the government can then take a responsible course of action.
On the question of the Aishihik Lake decision, Mr. Speaker, I would like a clear position from the Liberals on that. The Liberal Leader, in the pre-election run-up, was out on the lake at Aishihik awareness weekend saying, "Save the lake. Save the lake." Now the member opposite is saying to me, "Drain the lake. Drain the lake." I'd like some clarity on their position from the Liberal caucus on the Energy Corporation and Aishihik Lake.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, financial position
Mr. Cable: I think the minister fully appreciates what Question Period is all about. You know, I can sort of elucidate. We ask the questions and then we get the answers. So we're supposed to get some answers. I think that's the way it works.
And speaking of answers, if he'd like to file that letter so we can all view whether he, in fact, is interfering with the management of the corporation, that would help us.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Speaker, the minister told me that I was being a bit of an alarmist, that there wasn't much of a problem, I gather, with the Energy Corporation's finances. Next day, the minister was expressing a little concern after the announcement of a likely rate increase.
Could the minister tell this House when he first became aware of the precarious financial problems, or the precarious financial position, of the Energy Corporation? Was it after or before he called me an alarmist for expressing some concern?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I thank the member for that question. First of all, the member referred to the insolvency of the corporation. I still continue to maintain that that was alarmist.
Mr. Speaker, we have taken action just as of this morning in discussions with Anvil Range to assist the Energy Corporation because there is $3.6 million in arrears from Anvil Range, which would go a long way toward taking some of the solvency pressure off the Energy Corporation.
I was always aware that losing the major customer and some $6 million to $8 million in revenue a year was going to put some pressure on rates. Obviously, that is why we acted so quickly in December to bring in a new bill relief program when the Yukon Party government had refused to do so. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when your rates are based on having Anvil Range in operation and you lose your major customer as of March 31st, it will eventually have some impact on rates.
Mr. Cable: That was a good spiel. It had nothing much to do with the question, but I have to give the minister credit. He is good with words.
Now the minister was on the radio talking about a $6 million shortfall in revenue on Friday. Could he provide this House with some detailed information? We have heard numbers bandied around backwards and forwards. We have the Anvil receivable. We have the Anvil loss in revenue. We have the money in the court case. We have the Aishihik Lake costing, and we have the rate relief program. Can we get something presented to the House so that we can come to grips with this issue? Is he prepared to issue a ministerial statement and give us something we can get our teeth into?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would be more than happy to see the member come to grips with some things. I will provide him with some information, and certainly, as I have said before, I am looking forward to bringing the president of the Energy Corporation and perhaps a board member before the House to answer questions for the legislators, and hopefully for the public, who will be communicated to through the media.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for participating in a kinder, gentler House, and now explaine to me that there is accountability for this side, but there is no accountability for that side.
Mr. Cable: Oh, I think the member knows what Question Period is all about but, good try.
Just back to the previous question: it appears that what is going on from the outside looking in that the minister is, in fact, running this corporation from his desk on the upper floor - not doing a particularly good job. Does he have the view, which I think everybody else has in this territory, that this is an arm's-length corporation and he should not be mucking around in the day-to-day operations of the corporation?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The member opposite, on the one hand, says that we cannot make a commitment to stabilize rates. Well, Mr. Speaker, we interfered to lower rates with bill relief. We do not make any apologies for doing that.
He is dead wrong about the fact that there is any running of the corporation from the Cabinet offices. With regard to the agreement in principle with Yukon Electrical, it was supported and approved by the board prior to Cabinet even discussing it. Secondly, with regard to the Aishihik Lake directive, it was supported by a board resolution.
I want to inform the member, if he doesn't know already, that most of the members, with the exception of the CYFN reps on that board, were appointed by the former Government Leader and were appointed by the Yukon Party government.
The Energy Corporation is still being run by the president and the board. Where we can, on the basis of good public policy decision making, we will provide some direction to the Energy Corporation and do what we can, as we committed to do and as we did with bill relief, to continuing to try to work toward stabilizing rates in the Yukon.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, energy alternatives
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, I think the minister's going to have a very hard sell to the Yukon public, if he thinks he can sell that they don't believe that he's politically interfering with YEC.
Mr. Speaker, this is a question to the minister responsible for the Energy Corporation, and it's quite obvious that the minister is floundering and doesn't have any answers or any solutions. They've flip-flopped on election promises and now we're going to have another 20-percent increase when he was going to stabilize rates. So, maybe I could offer some suggestions to the minister and hope he'll take them.
Last August, the Yukon Party government, through the YEC, issued a request for proposals to develop Yukon's energy alternatives, and I know that there's been quite a response to that; that they've got documentation of several proposals that came back in.
Will the minister follow up on Yukon Party government's lead and seriously consider those proposals, rather than just continue to raise Yukoners' power bills?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, first of all, I want to respond to the preamble.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon New Democrats took action to stabilize rates. We committed to working towards stabilizing rates in the election campaign, and one of the first things we did was extend the bill relief program.We had to deal with two rate riders that were the result of decisions before we ever came into office, and we have to deal with the unexpected loss of the major customer on the system.
So, Mr. Speaker, we will continue to work towards rate stabilization, and I think we will develop some good initiatives for the Yukon public in that regard.
With regard to energy options discussions from the Yukon Party, all I heard for four years was coal, coal, coal. They were philosophically in support of coal, whatever that means. Then, on the election campaign, when they had a bit of a deathbed repentance, they decided that they couldn't sell coal, so they decided to try and sell us a $30 million power grid.
Mr. Speaker, our election commitment is to work for energy options for Yukon people in consultation with them, and that's part of what the Energy Commission will be doing and that's also part of what YEC is doing.
Mr. Ostashek: He's standing up in the Legislature supporting a coal project.
Mr. Speaker, the long-term solution to Yukoners' energy future is to develop Yukoners' own energy resources and to expand the grid, which the member just said he was against, as well as other energy infrastructure. That's what the Yukon Party government set aside $10 million in dividends for: to develop infrastructure, not to take that money for a short-term fix because the minister's now in trouble and doesn't see his way out of it. I don't see a solution by spending that $10 million for cash infusion into Yukon Energy Corporation just for day-to-day operating expenses.
So, can we get the assurances from the minister that that $10 million won't be used to purchase diesel fuel? Could he give that assurance?
Hon. Mr. Harding: First of all, Mr. Speaker, there never was $10 million in reserves from Yukon Development Corporation. The member is incorrect about that assertion, and, I want to know if the member opposite had all of the answers, why for four years there was no action taken, because that really would have helped me out in terms of handling some of the tough decisions and tough issues that have been on our plates since we got elected, whether it comes to energy options or rate increases.
Thirdly, Mr. Speaker, we indicated to the Yukon public, when we announced our Aishihik decision, that that would be funded by Yukon Development Corporation reserves. Now, the member is arguing against, I assume, a 20-percent rate increase, but he's not telling us where the shortfall for the Energy Corporation will come from. Is he advocating that it comes from the taxpayers or that it comes out of higher rates, if it's not going to come out of Yukon Development Corporation?
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, that minister and his colleagues had all of the answers when they were in Opposition, that's what they told the Yukon public. Now, the Yukon public is finding out that they don't have any answers - none whatsoever. They're wandering around in the dark and pretty soon Yukoners will be wandering around in the dark, because they won't be able to pay their power bills.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon's energy future is literally going up in diesel smoke, and as the minister dithers and dallies around, I would like him to tell Yukoners right now what actions he's going to take to get out of this disastrous situation, other than making Yukoners pay for his lack of decisions through more increases in their power bills.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, we've chosen a thoughtful and deliberate approach to energy options through dealing with questions of rate stabilization.
The members opposite, in the Yukon Party, chose an approach of philosophical adoption of coal. When we were in Opposition, we didn't quite know what that meant, but they really developed very little in the way of concrete options for us.
What action we have taken, is, as I have said before, to approve the bill relief program in December to bring some rate stabilization to the forefront.
We've formed an Energy Commission to deal with the long-term policy questions to try and bring some thoughtful approach to energy questions in the territory.
We've just approved, in principle, an agreement reached by the board of the Yukon Energy Corporation that should reduce costs for Yukon ratepayers, and we feel that it will also provide us with money to invest in other assets to help us deal with some of the tough questions that are facing energy issues in this territory, whether it's generation capacity or transmission, or whether it's looking at other energy options.
We have a number of initiatives underway to take action to deal with the situation, and I've been through many of them today in this Legislature.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed and we will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the members to have a brief recess?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Chair: Twenty minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 1997-98 - continued
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Cable: When we signed off on Thursday, we were talking about long-term planning, and we were going through the NDP's platform document. We were going over the NDP promises made in the document at page 24 - the document called A Better Way. We had dealt with the commitment on tax increases, and we had talked about fees.
Just give me half a moment, Mr. Chair.
Then we dealt with the promise to develop a pay-as-you-go budget, and I think that's where the Government Leader signed off.
Now the next promise, under item (c) on page 24 of the document A Better Way, is "with each annual budget, present a five-year financial plan so Yukon people know what direction the government's moving in."
I think we started to talk about that and the Government Leader's comments that he was unable to do that this year because of time constraints.
He had been previously asked whether he was prepared to table that document in the legislative session. If the Government Leader would refresh the House's collective memory on that, is he prepared to table the five-year financial plan in the legislative session, in that he was not able to do so during the budget session as required or as suggested in the platform document?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I don't know what the member is referring to in terms of his interpretation of this commitment. I indicated that with each annual budget we would present a five-year financial plan. So, when we present the next budget, we will present it in the context of a long-term plan. Now, I'm hoping that it'll a five-year plan. It may be a three-year plan, but it'll be a long-term plan. So, we'll do it in the context of the budget. We will not table it in this sitting. We'll prepare it for the next budget.
Mr. Cable: That'll be about a year and a half into the government's mandate, of course, and the Opposition is curious as to where the Government Leader, as the finance minister, is going. Is he prepared to give us some indication of what his long-term planning is, you know, prior to the budget session?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I would argue that we've given more than normally is the case already. We've already indicated that NGOs would be getting long-term funding. We've indicated that we do not intend to raise taxes for the length of our term, on both the revenue and expenditure side. Those are pretty fair signals. Those are pretty clear signals, and signals that haven't been made before, but they're being made now.
There is a commitment to maintain service levels. That is something that has a cost to it, of course, particularly on the operation side. We have a commitment not to go into debt or have an accumulated debt. We've made that a commitment.
So, there are some long-term signals that have already been made on the record for the four-year term. I'm looking, in terms of the financial plan, at something with more detail than that, and the proposal would be that we would submit this longer-term plan in the context of the tabling of the budget.
Now, in A Better Way we were going to do a number of things, and I'm proud to say that a lot of these things are being done in the first year. But we did not say that we could do them all in the first year, and some of these commitments are going to take longer than others, but we do intend to change the systems, as we indicated we would, and this is one that I think would make some sense from a long-term planning perspective, and I'm thinking that the public will see, too, what the direction of the government is at any given time through this kind of financial planning process.
Mr. Cable: We got into a bit of a communication problem, as I recollect, on Thursday afternoon.
The tabling of the five-year financial plan with each annual budget - of course, it's not a four-year commitment, it's an annual commitment, and therein lies the question.
Let me ask this of the Government Leader. Assumedly, there's going to be significant revenue flow from the devolution process once the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has devolved their programs.
Is there any document being prepared that would tell us what the revenues are that are anticipated and what the expenses are, so that we have some idea before the next budget comes up, which, of course, is another year away.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I indicated the answer to the question, I think, on Thursday or Wednesday, why we could not table a financial plan with this budget. So the next opportunity is the next budget, and that's what I'm trying to explain.
It is, I believe, a good idea. We will have it in place for the next budget.
With respect to devolution, the next major opportunity for the Government of Yukon is going to be, of course, devolution of the northern affairs programs. Either that, or the one remaining, the Attorney General function.
But, in any case, this opportunity will not be realized in this fiscal year and, consequently, I don't anticipate any devolution taking place - that is, actually happening - in the year that we're in right now.
Mr. Cable: Okay. I don't intend to get into a long-winded debate on that. I think the first opportunity is probably early in the next budget, but let me leave that.
The next item in A Better Way, page 24, is, "provide ways for public input in the budgeting process." The preamble to that is, "An NDP government, led by Piers McDonald will: (d) provide ways for public input in the budgeting process." What are the minister's thoughts on that at the present time? What does he intend to do?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Can the member repeat the question, please?
Mr. Cable: If I could refer the member to his platform document at page 24, the item that says, "An NDP government, led by Piers McDonald will: (d) provide ways for public input into the budgeting process," how is he going to involve the public?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the public consultation plan, for the next budget, has not been established, so I can't give, with precision, what the plan would entail; however, I can give him some time lines and some general thoughts. First of all, the budget cycle formally starts in September for a spring tabling of the main estimates - September in terms of Cabinet input; it will start immediately or very, very soon for departments to start working on their budgets. So, the period of consultation will take place at the end of this sitting at some point and September/October.
I would intend to certainly discuss our priorities or ask people what they think our priorities ought to be during that period. The organizations will include the additional umbrella organizations of the territory that generally have an interest in this matter, and there will also be some community discussions as well, through public meetings and that sort of mechanism. Certainly, meetings with chambers of commerce, federations of labour, et cetera, will be part of the process, I would assume.
Mr. Cable: Does the minister intend to provide some formal terms of reference for the budget consultation process?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There may be some. I don't know yet, Mr. Chair, whether or not we're going to put a lot of it to paper, but if we do, and anticipating the member's next question, he can see. I will give it to him.
Mr. Cable: Just so we can be clear on what the government intends to do with respect to long-term financial planning, in the budget speech at some juncture, and I was just trying to put my finger on it, I believe the minister talked about long-term capital plans. Is that one and the same as the long-term financial plan that he was talking about in the platform document, or is that part of the five-year financial plan?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'll try to find the reference the member makes. He says the reference to long-term capital plans is in the budget speech. It'd be helpful if I had the actual reference to help me out here, if the member can provide it.
Mr. Cable: It's at the top of page 6. The first paragraph reads, "It allows us to create jobs through capital works such as schools, roads and community facilities, while working with Yukon people to develop balanced, long-term capital plans for future years."
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The point of the statement is to indicate that the public will be involved in helping us by providing opinions about what they think should be the capital priorities for the government. Now, this can be done in formal ways through, say, a budget consultation exercise, community meetings, and that sort of thing, or it could be done very formally through the kinds of planning processes, for example, that are being sponsored by the Minister of Education when it comes to capital facilities. In that particular case, of course, the minister is going to be working with school councils to determine priority projects for coming years, starting next year, beyond what we've already decided. So, we would use any one of those ways to ensure that we do appropriate long-term planning.
Now, the plans, if they are well-known and well-crafted in advance, should maximize our opportunities for taking advantage of a particular project. For example, in Old Crow, if they know the school is coming, and it is coming, they can plan to ensure that there are opportunities available for local workers through training and other things to get work on that site.
So those are the kinds of things that can be done through long-term planning.
Mr. Cable: No, I guess I'm not making myself clear. What I was wondering was whether that reference to long-term capital plans was one and the same as the reference in the A Better Way document to a five-year financial plan, or are these two long-term plans that are going to go on simultaneously, or is one part of the other? Just what is the connection between long-term capital plans - that phrase, as used in the budget speech - and the five-year financial plan, as used in the platform document?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: In essence, they're one and the same, but the reference in the budget speech refers specifically to specific capital works. The long-term planning that I'm speaking of is the sending of general signals to the community as to what our spending priorities will be, to the extent that we have a detailed understanding of what the capital commitments would be in various departments. It might be telegraphed if we knew what they were and through planning that they may undertake, such as school development planning.
But the planning that I was speaking about in the A Better Way document refers to general financial planning for the future, so that people can see what our general objectives are over the period of our mandate.
Mr. Ostashek: The debate has raised a substantial number of questions I have. I won't try to hit on them all right now, but I really want to follow up on the Member for Riverside's questioning of the finance minister on financial planning, because I just want to draw to the member's attention that when he was in Opposition, this was something he brought up almost every budget: long-term planning.
I'm somewhat surprised that he can't elaborate a little more on what he intends to do. I don't expect him to have a plan in place, but I would've thought that he could've stood on his feet in this Legislature and given members opposite some indication of where he intends to go. I'm really more mystified, since he started speaking, than I was before he started, because if I look at the Blues from April the 3rd, he goes on to say in there - he was speaking to the Member for Riverside - "He has to appreciate the government has worked essentially on the O&M side on a year-to-year basis for as long as I can remember, except for the capital plan. The capital plan, for its part, anybody knows by year three or four is a complete fantasy."
So, on one hand he's saying that long-range planning is a complete fantasy; on the other hand, he's going to embark on it in greater detail.
My understanding of government is that they work on a three-year O&M plan and a five-year capital plan, not on a one-year O&M plan - that they work now on a three-year O&M plan.
And their capital plan is, in my understanding, how departments work. I don't know what the member is saying when he says he's going to come in with longer length planning, when on one hand he says that the five-year capital planning is now a fantasy in year three or four.
So, I'd like the member to try to elaborate a little bit and give us some understanding of how he believes his five-year capital planning - if he's going to do it for operation and maintenance and capital and financial planning - is going to be any less of a fantasy than what the five-year capital planning is now.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, first of all, I'd like to point out that what I'm proposing to do is general financial planning for the longer term. I'm not talking about specific planning on specific projects through to year three, four or five. That's the first point.
The second point to make is that, as the member knows, a capital planning cycle is much a fiction, as proposed by departments right now. So, they may go out there and they may have a five-year plan, but the reality is that there's no - given that they've generally asked for more money than we have - possible way that they could fulfil the commitments in the five-year plan, years three, four or five. They generally have a fairly good feeling for year one and two.
Now what we're talking about doing here is not to replace that process in the context of this long-term planning process for capital, but it would be a worthwhile project, in my view, to try to send some signals to departments through the long-term planning cycle, which would bring some discipline to their capital planning. If we send signals that we're going to spend so much money on the capital side, generally, over the term of the plan, then departments would know, essentially, what the limitations are. So, there may be some opportunities there for us to make the estimates less of a fiction on the capital side.
Now, the member also knows that, on the O&M side, the Management Board approves on a year-by-year basis, and I would like to be able to do some planning internally within government so that when we make longer-term commitments in key areas, we can do long-term planning and perhaps spend more wisely as a result. So that's the general objective. I haven't had a lot of time to work out the details of the financial planning process. We've spent a lot of time putting together the budget that's before the House for this particular fiscal year and I believe it's a well-constructed budget. I think we spent our time wisely.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm still no further ahead than I was when I got up on my feet a few minutes ago and asked the question, because the minister's talking in very, very general terms, and what he's basically telling me is that his general planning is not going to be any more concrete than what governments have done in the past with their throne speeches and their budget speeches when they give an indication to the public of the direction they were going to go in their mandate. That seems to be what he's telling me, so I don't see where there's a whole lot of difference. He may want to call it by a different name, but I think the minister is going to have great difficulty building any credibility into a five-year plan with the fluctuation in revenues and expenses of government on a year-to-year basis. Unless he's got a crystal ball that is very, very clear, and he believes he can stick to it, I don't see how he can accomplish what he's saying, and I would have thought that - the New Democratic Party campaigned on this, they put it in their platform - that he could have stood on his feet today and given us an idea of what he means by this, other than throne speeches and budget speeches, as to what the government's going to do over the next five years.
Capital planning is, to some extent, a wish list, but, also, it's a list that Cabinet is given, that Management Board is given on a regular basis, and they can make amendments to it as they go along. I think there's been a lot of political rhetoric here, and I don't see much substance in what the minister is trying to tell the House today: that he's going to embark on something that's going to be a lot tighter than what's happened in the past. I just don't see it.
I have another question for the minister. When he was in Opposition, when we started using the contingency figures in the budget, he was very critical of it. Why has he changed his mind?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, Mr. Chair, I want to point out one thing for the member. This platform is not a year one platform. We did not say that it was a year one platform. If anybody asked us - and people did ask us - we said it was our platform if we were re-elected to the government for the four-year term. We didn't call it a four-year plan, but it is essentially a plan of action over a four-year period. So, for the member to come in after five months - and all that this government has done, everything from devolution, we've been putting this budget together to restore collective bargaining, and everything else - and insist that we have to deliver everything is completely unreasonable, and I think any person watching this or listening to this debate will understand that to be the case, just on the face of it.
Any financial planning process has to - and this is true for a government, it would be true for a business, it's true for anybody - make some assumptions about what revenues and expenditures will be, and you have to use the best information you've got to do that.
We're going to try be as reliable as we can; the assumptions will be clear. If members disagree with the assumptions, disagree with the projections, they can say so. But at least we're putting the best information we have on the table and saying that under certain conditions, certain circumstances, we intend to go this way.
If the federal government cuts us back $50 million, of course, after the formula is completed, that's something we may not anticipate and may not account for. That would obviously put a chink in the plan. But, based on the information that we have, as reliable as it is, based on our history, our experience, we'll put that information together and try to ensure that there's at least some reasonable long-term projections, to the extent that we could possibly consider those.
With respect to the issue of the contingency, I was expressing concern before when the member first put the contingency in. The member was trying to make the Government of Yukon's finances look as bleak as he possibly could. I did not believe that that was - that and many other things - under the circumstances, a responsible thing to do, so I was critical.
I think now the contingency, in the context of the budgets from last year - the member will remember that I didn't criticize it last year, or the year before; I criticized it the first year - in the context of this budget, when it's clear you have a sense of what you may spend in the course of a year, I believe it's a reasonable tradition to continue, under the circumstances.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, first of all Mr. Speaker, I didn't insist that the minister have a five-year plan here now.
What I did say was that I was amazed that he couldn't give us any more detail on what he was planning to do when he raised this issue several years back, and I will remain skeptical that he can tighten it up over a five-year period any tighter than what the departments are doing now with their three-year O&M planning and their five-year capital planning.
So, I will remain a skeptic, in that respect - that it's just not going to be possible. And, in reality, I don't believe the minister is going to be doing anything new, because I believe his governments that he was part of in the past and our government laid out priorities in throne speeches and budget speeches to give the general public an idea of where they were going.
To get back to the contingency a little bit, I believe the contingency is a very valid way of budgeting. But I also would suggest to the minister that this budget's contingency is not very realistic as to what additional expenses this government may incur on the operation and maintenance side, alone, over the next 12 months when we have negotiations going on. I can understand the minister not wanting to put a figure in there and send a signal to the unions as to what he is prepared to give; I can understand that. But, we've heard the minister of energy say the contingency may be used to help Faro out, another major expenditure, if, in fact, the government decided to go ahead with it. We've heard - well, the minister is sitting there making faces now, but, in fact, he did say that, publicly.
He said publicly it could be used for that. He hadn't made a decision. I am just saying that the contingency, for all of the things that it's been identified for, seems to be fairly small. So, Mr. Chair, I do not have any trouble using the contingency; I am just wondering why the position of the minister is different from when he was in Opposition to when he's in government, because his contingency does the same thing to the surplus as ours did. There are certainly no changes in the way it's accounted for. That is the only question I have.
I have another question for the minister while I'm on my feet this time. I look at the transfer payments from Canada and there is a six-percent increase. How much of that is attributable to devolution?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I will get the information for the member on his final question.
First of all, on the subject of contingency, I have no intention of debating Yukon Party's budgets of many years ago; we spent a lot of time doing that. I have indicated the reason why I think that the contingency under these circumstances is not to make the government's budget look bad or to overstate the deficit. I believe that the contingency is realistic.
The ideas that people have put forward that may use the contingency are simply to demonstrate a class of decisions, not the decisions themselves. Some financial decisions for extra funding, if they are made early in the year, may have to be swallowed by departments and the contingency may not be used at all. I don't want to send a signal to anybody in the public service that they have an automatic right to contingency funds.
With respect to the financial planning - the member's first point - I would argue that NGO funding is a new concept. Now, the member's colleague today completely misunderstood the point of the NGO funding proposal. For the uninitiated, the understanding would have been that, based on the member's criticism, one could not make a commitment to anybody that is longer than one year. That is not true. They certainly can make a commitment that is longer than one year. What the contribution agreements and the agreements that are struck in any contracts bind the executive to do is to put the estimates before the Legislature - put them in the budget. If the Legislature turns those expenditures back, then one of two things, at least, happen. We consequently say that we cannot live up to that commitment because the Legislature changed the budget. The second thing that happens is that we go to a general election because the government gets defeated.
So, I would say that the commitments that are being made here for NGO funding are, in fact, very solid commitments. It does bind the executive - the Cabinet and executive - to present spending plans for the Legislature. If we had said to Diversified Transportation, for example, in year two that, "Sorry, we only put in half the budgeted amount in this particular year and the Legislature has not approved enough money for your contract and, therefore, we have to cut your contract back," you don't think we would have been sued? We would have been sued and we would have been sued successfully.
So, I would say that the NGO funding policy is a new way of doing things and it is a longer-term arrangement and it is something that is innovative. Certainly that is one thing that we have already done.
The member says he's going to be a skeptic until he has a more detailed financial plan, or presumably until that financial plan's validity is determined through experience. That's fair enough. I don't have any problems with that. I don't expect the member opposite to be any friend of ours or to take anything we say at face value. I know what his job is and I don't expect anything different, but in the face of information I would hope that he would drop some of his skepticism if the information that we provide proves, in fact, to be correct.
So I think we have done some new things in budgeting already.
The answer to the question with respect to the transfer payment is three-percent increase if devolution is factored out.
Mr. Ostashek: I just have one short question, and then I'm going to let some other members get in here.
I'm concerned about the examples that the member was using about Diversified Transportation and NGOs. Is the member telling me that, when he goes into a multi-year funding agreement with NGOs, he's going to leave the government open for lawsuits? Is that what he's trying to tell me?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We're making commitments, Mr. Chair. We're making commitments to people that we're going to provide a certain level of funding for a certain kind of service. That's what it's all about, and clearly that's what we're intending to do. There's no doubt about it. Now, if the majority of the members in the Legislature determine that that's not appropriate, they can say so, but the government will be making those commitments. That's what the NGO funding arrangement is all about.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, it's one thing to have a contract with the government. It's another thing for the government to say, "Well, we're going to give you this, subject to budget approval every year." There's a vast difference, and that's the point the Member for Riverdale North was trying to make with the leader of the government when he made that statement.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, Mr. Chair, the member's wrong. "Subject to budget approval" doesn't give the executive of the government licence not to put something in the budget if they've made a commitment to somebody. It binds the government to put the estimate before the House, but there's always the caveat that maybe the Legislature may not approve the funding level and would amend the budget. If that was the case, of course, then the consequences, I would argue, would be a little more serious for the government than they would be for the NGO. So, certainly that's what it's all about. That's what the commitment in the campaign was all about and that's what the statement was all about today. It is a big deal.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to take a few moments to talk further about something I mentioned in my response to the budget. It's applicable to general debate, if you'd allow me a few moments to do that. I'd like to go through a bit of background and make myself perfectly clear. Maybe when I've had 14 years of standing on my feet, it will be clear the first time, but I'd like to elaborate a bit more on something that I said. I'd like to ask for the Minister of Finance and members of this House's full attention, because I think what I'm putting forward is honestly a constructive, positive suggestion, and I'd like it to be looked at in that light.
First of all, when I was speaking, I talked about capitalizing assets, and I talked about a trend in the rest of North America, and I mentioned this newsletter I had received - the Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform had talked about capitalizing assets. This was done in the United States. Subsequently, it showed a saving in one year of $49.9 billion, as opposed to $119.3 billion deficit. It's an interesting discussion. I noticed that the City of Whitehorse capitalize their assets, and I would table this document. It's the 1995 annual report of the City of Whitehorse, statement three, their balance sheet: they capitalized their assets.
The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, in their public sector accounting recommendations, say that information about physical assets will help users understand that the difference between a government's liabilities and financial assets is represented in part by expenditures on physical assets with future service potential. It goes on to say financial statements should disclose information to describe a government's acquired physical assets on hand and available for use by the government at the end of the accounting period.
This is general standards of financial statement presentation for federal, provincial and territorial governments.
Now capitalization of assets is a big discussion. I think it's something that's way more complicated than me simply reading a couple of points into this House. That being said, the point I was trying to make, and that I would like the Minister of Finance and finance officials to give serious consideration to is, I would like to see information about our assets presented in these budget documents. For example, when we get to Community and Transportation Services, there's a line that says Horse Camp Hill, which is a C&TS radio site. It doesn't tell me how much that site's worth, how much we've spent on O&M over the years, or if we should even be replacing it.
Similarly, with Education, it would be helpful to have one page in here that lists the 26 schools, which ones are insured, what we bought them for, what it would cost to replace them - simple statements about the assets and buildings we have on hand. That's all I'm asking for - information, as a legislator, to help me make better decisions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request.
Now, that being said, as I understand it from my briefing by Government Services, they have a system, IBIS, which is going to track all of our buildings, and I would refer to the Minister of Finance's remarks about, "befuddled by whether or not certain expenditures on computing systems are absolutely essential."
So, I'm not sure IBIS is the answer. I'm not sure how long it's going to take. I'm not sure that it would best meet the needs. If it takes a summer student from our research budget or a student training employment program student, I think that it would be reasonable to present for members here information about the assets held by the government. That's my positive, constructive suggestion. I have a couple of other to offer the minister, but I'd like his response on that.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I may have assumed that what the member was talking about was wanting, in terms of her suggestion to capitalize assets, an attempt to fundamentally change the balance sheet in some way.
If it's as simple as saying, "Can we have more information with respect to the assets that we own," we could certainly make that available, because I do know that Government Services does catalogue everything and counts absolutely everything. There is actually somebody who does that. So, that information can be made available. I don't know what format it can be delivered in - it can be delivered in every detail or it can be delivered in summary form, but certainly the member can have that information. And if the member wishes, I can ask Government Services to provide information of the kind and type she thinks is essential so that it can be made available for the budget estimate process.
With respect to insurance, we do have an insurance policy, and perhaps the Minister for Government Services, when we get there, can explain the insurance policy for government buildings. They do life-cycle costing, so I'm certain that he can explain that process better than I can. Rather than my fumbling through it, maybe the person responsible can do that.
Perhaps the member can explain if she talking about wanting to know the relative state of our assets to determine whether or not they are worthy of replacement. That is a laudable objective and I'm certain, to varying degrees, it happens even within the government. As a legislator, she may want that information for budget time and we'll try to get that. If she is talking about capitalization of assets for some other purpose, in terms of the financial balance sheet or anything else, maybe she could tell us and we'll consider those ideas.
Ms. Duncan: I'll take the last comment first. I think capitalization of assets that a body like the Public Accounts Committee could discuss in greater detail, because there's already been a vigorous discussion among some members about that. It's vigorous discussion among accountants.
With all due respect to the Department of Government Services, I asked for that information and didn't get it, and I think that it should be a purple page, if you will, in our budget documents.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: It's the colour of change.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The reason I am suggesting it is because I don't believe in going through these documents so that legislators are able to come at this discussion from an informed perspective, if we have to wait to ask in line-by-line debate or in technical briefings by the department. I'm suggesting that it should be included in the budget documents. For example, in Community and Transportation Services, that is not my critic area, it should be a list of these radio and television communication sites. What are they worth? And then, when we are discussing the budget and discussing the line-by-line item, we can look and see an increase in O&M costs over the period of years or what the capital cost was and when we bought it. Maybe it's time it was replaced. I'm not asking the department to account for every snowmobile in Renewable Resources, although that might be a good idea.
I do think it's important - and particularly in Education, because that is one of my critic areas - to list the schools and their physical nature, and there are all kinds of statistics, but there are some that are missing. That is my point.
I don't want to belabour that. Perhaps I could - if the minister wants to respond to that at this point - move on to a point I have about capital projects.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I think that ultimately there is going to have to be some arrangement struck as to what assets we count, what assets we don't. The Government of Yukon has billions of dollars worth of assets all in varying state of repair, et cetera. The problem with counting all the assets and evaluating them is that it is a never-ending process. You never know where to stop. So, there will have to be some thought into precisely what kind of information would be useful and necessary in a budget book itself.
I would suggest that, just on the face of it, given the number of assets that we do have, depending on the amount of detail that we wanted, we would have to make a decision as to whether or not we put it in the budget book or put it in a supplementary information text. There are ways of doing it, I suppose. Even the supplementary information text might be quite huge if we counted everything, but when we get to Government Services estimates, I would encourage the member to take the matter up with the minister. The minister will be prepared to answer some questions at that time with respect to what they do count and how they count. The member can identify the information that she thinks she would like to see incorporated into the budget process.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the Minister for that. With respect to capital projects and the contingency fund, the Minister indicated that if the members opposite wished to provide some advice, he would invite us to give that advice, so perhaps I could provide you with some capital advice at this point.
The Porter Creek Secondary School renovations - and if he wishes, he can blame the previous administration - the design of the Porter Creek School gym has three change rooms. I don't know who or what planner envisioned that there were three sexes, but last I checked, there were two. Can we somewhere find the funds for a fourth change room on the Porter Creek School gym? It's not currently in the plans; it's not currently in the budget.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I will take the matter up with the Minister of Education. I presume that there was a female and male change room and one for staff or something. I don't know much about the change rooms at the high school, but I will encourage the Minister of Education - when the member gets to the Education estimates - to raise the matter. It may be something that makes some sense and can be supported.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you. I appreciate the ministers involved giving that consideration, as it is not a staff change room, it was an error in the plans.
The minister also talked about the capital planning process in a discussion with my colleague. In that discussion and in your remarks, you referred to the process for the Education capital plan. Am I to understand from your remarks that we, as members of the Opposition, will be welcome to attend that public process that the minister has set up with school councils?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I haven't set it up, Mr. Chair. The Minister of Education is setting it up. I would ask that the Minister of Education respond to you. Perhaps, if this next meeting happens before we get to the Education estimates, the member could take it up with the minister, herself, right away.
Ms. Duncan: The minister had talked about involving the public in the capital planning process. That is why I brought it up at this point.
My last question has to do with NGOs. Perhaps it is in the minister's statement today or in the policy document tabled today. There has been a lot of talk about the funding side. I am concerned about the reporting side, as well. Is that contained in the policy document or is that going to be under discussion at some future point in time? Will somebody be assigned to, in turn, review the financial statements of NGOs?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Indeed they will, Mr. Chair. The NGOs are going to have to provide justification for the receipt of funds. In many cases, it is a contractual arrangement, with certain service expectations that are held by the sponsoring department. Those service expectations have to be met in order for the funding to continue, whether it is one year or three years, so there is a written arrangement that has to be struck between NGOs and the government. There is right now.
This says we're going to be talking about it in the slightly longer term. So, to address the Member for Riverdale South's concern with respect to paperwork, there will be some, but there has to be some because we have to make sure there is an accountability chain that follows through the department, through the minister and back to this Legislature as to how the money is spent and for what purpose.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just have a few questions of the Minister of Finance dealing with his budget address.
I take the minister's attention to page 1, "...we have been mindful that territorial revenues from the formula financing agreement have been severely constrained by the federal government."
That statement would lead one to conclude that there has been, in fact, a reduction in the monies flowing through the formula financing to this government. When one adds up the numbers, one concludes the opposite. In fact, the formula financing - if you want to kick in the perversity factor, we're going to see a considerable gain in revenues - adds up to $17 million more federal dollars flowing to this government than under the previous government.
Why are we putting out that information to the public, when, in fact, it's false information and the opposite is true?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, first of all, the $17 million figure that the member referred to does include devolution, and there's no additional - I presume it covers devolution - service being offered, there is no change in service being offered, there's no net change to the territory from the transfer, in terms of economic impact, it's simply a transfer from federal accounts to the Yukon accounts. Money is still spent in the territory for precisely the same purposes, so that does not create a net change at all. That's the point. That's why one factors out devolution.
Secondly, Mr. Chair, in terms of the statement in this budget, what we are essentially saying is that the level of financing that people have come to expect over the years can't be sustained, in part because, in this one factor, $19,600,000 was cut from the government's operations. That is something that the territory as a territory has to learn to live with over time, and that's the point of the statement.
Mr. Jenkins: I did learn how to add, Mr. Chair. Without devolution factored in, there's a three-percent increase in the funds that flow through to this government, and with devolution there's a six-percent increase in the funds that flow through to this government. So, the minister's statement is obviously wrong. Why would he want to take this tack? I can understand the minister making a statement to the effect that the major capital projects that have been undertaken through Shakwak and the Whitehorse Hospital are coming to a conclusion. They are finished, and there are no major projects of that magnitude on the horizon for the next few years, but the basic dollars that are being transferred through to this government have increased, whether you take into consideration devolution or whether you do not take devolution into consideration. Why is the minister waffling around this issue and not addressing it head on? Obviously, there's got to be a different way of counting on that side of the House than is normal accounting procedure.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't have a clue what the member is talking about. I don't think the member does either. I've made it very clear what the precise numbers are. I've read them out. I've had finance officials do the calculations. The three-percent figure that the member has, I just delivered to the member's colleague. I have provided all the information. The growth in the transfer payment is due to prior years' adjustments. There is no natural growth. The cut that I referred to was the cut that was experienced last year, which people had gotten used to, and that was the point that was being made there. Apart from that, I don't know what the member's talking about.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we're getting right to the point now, Mr. Chair. The minister has 'fessed up and he has admitted that there is, indeed, an increase in the amount of money that is flowing through from the federal government to this government. That's what I was wanting to get at and that's what the minister, after a long time, has confirmed.
Bear in mind there has been an increase in funding flowing through to the government. I could take the minister to the text: page 16, municipal block funding. That has been frozen for 10 years or so. Why has this area not been addressed? Operating costs for all municipal governments are rising. Why hasn't there been an increase in municipal block funding, at least indexed for inflation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, Mr. Chair, the sleuths didn't need to go any further than last Thursday's Hansard to get all the figures themselves. I'm glad that he thinks he's now come to some understanding about things. Whether he thinks that he's wrestled information from me or not is immaterial.
With respect to the municipal block funding, or with any other expenditure that we make - Yukon College, the Hospital Corporation, the NGOs, the Art Centre - although they're getting a little bit of an increase, most NGOs and organizations, governments, are getting the same as they did last year. One of the reasons for that was we were trying to maximize capital expenditures. That was also something I understood the members opposite wanted to see happen. Maybe not; maybe so. It goes back and forth.
The point is that the reason why we wanted to restrain operation spending - in fact, it shows a slight dip this year from the forecast of last year - is precisely because we wanted to have as big a capital budget as we could, within our means.
Mr. Jenkins: I take the Minister of Finance to the bottom of page 16. The statement is made, "We will continue to work with the community of Dawson City regarding capital projects that can be undertaken in future years, once community priorities have been determined."
Can the minister elaborate on what he means by "once community priorities have been determined"?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, this is an example of what we want to do with all communities. The next sentence indicates that we want to work with all communities to determine community priorities over coming years.
Dawson City is one example, just as we put in other examples for expenditures we make in the budget text. What we're going to do is work with the community government to talk about what kinds of commitments we can make in the longer term to meet their highest priority projects to the fullest extent that we can within our budget limits.
In Dawson's case, there are a number of projects that they have identified that they would like to see funding for. I can't make any commitments to them at this point. I can't make any commitments because the decisions have not been made, but I do know, for example, that they're interested in doing everything from building a rec centre to water/sewer works to other things. When we understand what the top priorities are, we'll make a decision at that point as to what funding or what support we can give.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, but it does appear that this "once community priorities have been determined" is being used as an excuse by this government for not funding very, very important priorities that need to be undertaken immediately, specifically in Dawson and I refer to the request to the government for extra funding under the Municipal Act for addressing the requirements placed on this community by the Yukon Water Board. That is a request for an amount approximating $400,000 that has been recently declined by the Department of Community and Transportation Services. The excuse given was community priorities haven't been determined.
The rec centre is another issue, yes, but there's a statutory requirement under the Inland Waters Act, under the Water Board, that they have to meet these guidelines and that financial burden that would be vested or dumped on that community is way in excess of their financial wherewithal. It would virtually increase their operation and maintenance on their water and sewer system by 50 percent if it was recovered in the year that it was expended, and there's no means to amortize it over a longer period. So, while it comes through abundantly clear here, Mr. Chairman, it is in rural Yukon, from what I can see, being used as quite an excuse. Perhaps the minister would care to comment further?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would first of all point the member to the community projects list that accompanied the main estimates documents. That community projects list will identify very substantial expenditures to be made in the Dawson City area, so there is no such thing as a lack of commitment by this government to the City of Dawson or to the region around it.
With respect to the notion of this being used as an excuse, I beg to differ very substantially with this member. I point out to the member, first of all, that the Mayor of Dawson has made it very clear that the priority is a community recreation centre. The member has stood on his feet today to make it very clear that the water/sewer system is the priority. This is a classic opportunity for us to observe the fact that community priorities are not unanimously held by the MLA and the mayor.
Now, we want to respond to community priorities if we can, if we have the financial ability to do so, if we, as the government on behalf of all taxpayers in this territory, have the financial ability to do so. We do want to be able to respond, but we have to have a clear sense of what the priorities are. I would invite the member, if the member wants, to promote the water/sewer project in this Legislature. The best time to do that would be to do it when we get to the Community and Transportation Services estimates and the Minister of Community and Transportation Services is able to respond.
In terms of the basic proposition here, in the budget speech, we do intend to work with communities around this territory to try to respond to the greatest need, not just the greatest need between projects in a given community, but the greatest need within the territory, and we'll have to make many of those judgments. We'll have to try to respond to as many needs as we can, but, as I've already indicated, we've already made some long-term decisions. People don't believe it, but we already made some long-term decisions about maintaining services, support for NGOs, no tax increases, which will limit the envelope under which we're going to be operating for the next four years.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I am quite well aware that there is no difference in the opinion as to a priority shared by the mayor of Dawson and me. One is a statutory requirement to address the sewage discharge and that has to be dealt with. There is no choice. There is no choice whatsoever. Now, if the City of Dawson has the wherewithal to address its needs in that area, the priority is indeed the recreational complex, because they have virtually exhausted all of their funding for the past number of years on maintenance and upgrades to the existing water and sewer system.
What I am suggesting, and what is a very, very valid point, is that the Minister of Finance is hiding behind this statement, "Community priorities have not been determined. We are not going to do anything until such a time as they have been done."
If I could take the minister further into page 18, in the last paragraph: "The government is also prepared to enter into partnerships with municipal and First Nations governments, the private sector and the individuals to expand the options available to mobile-home residents." Could I ask the Minister just to expand on what is envisioned as the type of partnerships they would be entering into?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, Mr. Chair, the point the member was making that this was an excuse not to put even more money into the City of Dawson is a point that I think is quite suspect, particularly given the fact that we are investing large amounts of money in Dawson City right now. But, I would point out to the member that if he can just, for one second, look beyond the city boundaries of Dawson and think about Mayo and some of the other communities - even some needs in Whitehorse, the much-maligned city seat of the government - there are some needs that exist elsewhere, too.
After listening to the member during the supplementary estimates, my breath was taken away by the sheer volume of suggested expenditures that the member thought we should invest in immediately. We did a calculation of $70 million. Somebody said, "Stop, stop, stop; we can't handle it." Now, I know the member has all kinds of ideas on how we can spend money. I would appreciate if he would understand that there are budget limitations and that we are not going to go into debt and we are not going to raise taxes. So, before he gets out the wish list again and engages in the same kind of bidding war that he practised during the election campaign, I would caution him that, if it is not realistic - not reasonable - it is going to fall on deaf ears and his credibility is going to be questioned.
Now, the question on mobile homes. This particular initiative will be announced, hopefully, during this sitting, within the next two months, and deal with a variety of issues facing mobile-home residents, particularly mobile-home residents in rental parks.
Now this initiative will do a number of things. It will address health and safety needs of people who live in mobile homes, particularly the old ones. It will address the need for mobile homeowners to, or the desire of many mobile homeowners, buy property on which they can move their trailer, so they can have a pure home-ownership situation. It will also deal with, in the longer term, the rights and responsibilities of both tenants and landlords.
So, a number of things are going to fall out from this new initiative, and I'm hoping that the residents of the mobile-home parks, particularly, wherever they exist in the territory, will see this as a positive improvement to their living circumstances.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. At the Minister of Finance's request, I did pull out and review, once again, the gross estimate of expenditures, by community, and looked at Dawson.
If the Minister of Finance would also take the time and review it, he will find that the majority of expenditures are on the Dempster Highway and the Top of World Highway, with the exception of $57,000 worth of capital in McDonald Lodge and $1.1 million for the Han cultural centre.
So, you start looking at where the money is being expended for all of Yukon, Mr. Chairman, not just Dawson City. The benefits will accrue to all of the Yukon by upgrading these highway systems, and the Dempster Highway, to a great extent, will enhance the opportunities for getting into the remote wilderness areas.
My question dealing with the mobile homes - I listened, but I didn't get an answer Mr. Chairman - is what the partnership opportunities are going to be, and, if I could, ask the Minister of Finance to spell out what these partnership opportunities are going to be for the First Nations and the various private sector and municipal governments.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, to enhance something that the member said, I would think that the centennial anniversaries project will enhance the quality of life for all Yukoners, too. Everyone who goes to Dawson City will take advantage of it, too. I know that I will have the member's support when it comes to a new community development fund, which will target even more expenditures into rural communities, beyond block funding, et cetera. So I think we will have a meeting of minds when it comes to targeting expenditures into rural Yukon. It may not be supported by the member's own colleague, who may find some of those expenditures to be immoral, in his terms, because they we give those communities hope, but I think investment in rural Yukon is wise and I would support the member's general approach there.
With respect to the partnerships referenced on page 18, for anybody who's really familiar with this issue, this makes specific reference to the opportunity for municipal governments, First Nations governments and others to get involved in land development. What is traditional here, as the member will know, is that the Yukon government does much of the land development in the territory. It doesn't need to be that way. The others, private sector people and other governments, can get involved in land development, too. What we would be prepared to consider, particularly if the land development is to be undertaken by government, meaning a municipal government or a First Nation government, is to provide the financial resources to front the costs of the development and then have that recovered back to the Yukon government, in total, through lot sales.
But the offer is on the table. The member may remember, as a mayor, that, years and years ago, I made a suggestion as Minister of Community and Transportation Services to have municipalities consider doing land development themselves and be the general contractor just the way the Yukon government acts as kind of a general contractor. The municipalities replied, "Well, we can't finance these major developments. The carrying cost for this money is very significant to us." So I indicated at the time that that's something we may be prepared to undertake through an agreement, government to government. We would undertake to front the cost, as long as the other government returned those expenditures back to the Yukon government through lot sales.
So, we are prepared to consider that option.
I think it's an innovation that might help get more land developed of the right kind in the right communities.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if I did hear the Minister of Finance correctly, he's prepared to look at partnership arrangements with municipal governments, with the private sector, with First Nations, for land developments for mobile-home parks.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, not for mobile-home parks - for lot sales, for the sale of land for people to purchase. That's the concept. Nobody in the business community, as far as I'm aware, has come to the government. No other government has come to the government asking for the government to construct mobile home parks - rental parks. What they have come to the government to do is to finance the development of lots which mobile-home owners, who live in parks, could move to. That was a very, very vocally raised request over a number of years, and we are prepared to respond to it. There was an open house sponsored by the Yukon Housing Corporation a year and a half ago, I guess - an open house which I, as the MLA for the area in McIntyre, at least, helped to support. Of the people who came to the open house, they all requested information about lot purchase. All the people who came who lived in mobile-home parks wanted to talk about lot purchases, because they wanted to own their own lot. At least in the City of Whitehorse, as an example, there is a restriction on older trailers being moved outside of mobile-home parks. This issue may be resolved, and an announcement will be coming out in the next couple of months on the full details of our strategy.
Mr. Jenkins: The next question I have of the Minister of Finance follows on the items he commented on in his budget address on page 21, and it deals with the Department of Education, the total expenditure of capital of $13.2 million, as to school construction and renovations. Virtually all of this is for the Whitehorse schools.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's fine, but when one looks at the status of the schools in other areas, one would conclude that the government has done their homework and would anticipate expenditures in the five-year capital forecast. Yet, when I turn to Education's multi-year capital project, I see the only mention made is a continuous reference to Whitehorse grade reorganization and Porter Creek Secondary School.
Why isn't the need for upgrading of other schools in the Yukon, specifically rural Yukon, not even envisioned or made allowance for in the multi-year capital project?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, in the budget estimates, if the member's taking the capital plan from the budget estimates book and is looking at the multi-year funding levels in the estimates book, that's not the government's plan for expenditures. There's identification of $500,000, for example, for planning the Old Crow school. It's not incorporated into the budget estimates book because the total cost of the school has not yet been established. Once it is established, it will be shown as a multi-year cost for a particular school. That's not the plan. The long-term plan is not the item on page 5-10 in the estimates book.
The second thing that I'd like to point out is that it is very difficult for a brand new government to identify, plan, make decisions, do the engineering work, the soils work, blueprints and construction, in six months. I know the member has high expectations of us, but even he - a reasonably minded man, presumably - would not be thinking that the Yukon government can build a school starting in the summer construction season in a place like Mayo, for example - a school that has received top awards for the school most in need through a number of studies. The reality is that we simply cannot deliver these projects in that period of time.
With respect to the capital planning process for school construction, as I mentioned previously, the attempt is being made - given the high expectations of schools to be built all over the place, and there are some very real needs out there - to try to build some consensus among the school representatives from around the territory - duly elected people, as we are - and the ministry of Education to establish priorities. So, that is the next step for all the next building plans, but certainly we couldn't put anything in for this budget, even if we wanted to for this summer, because it simply would not be spent.
Now, if the member is expressing some concerns about the size of the capital budget itself, the projects that were underway are projects that should be completed. As I mentioned before, it doesn't matter what one thinks of grade reorganization, of it's wisdom or whatever. The point is that the decision was made. We have to live up to that decision. We have to make the decision work and, apart from the concerns about not enough washrooms at Porter Creek Secondary School, we are trying to make the decision work. This means that there has to be capital expenditures in the Whitehorse schools.
If the member's concerned that $13.2 million is not enough, that there should be even more, then I'd just go back to the discussion we just had. We tried to find as much money for the capital budget as we could, maintaining services, et cetera, without cutting back on municipal block funding, or anything else, and this is as much as we could put together.
But, in any case, we simply don't have projects to spend it on until the preliminary engineering work is done.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, thank you, Mr. Chair, but once again the Minister of Finance has skirted all around the question.
The question was of the capital monies on education being expended on the Whitehorse schools. That's a given. I'm not taking exception to that fact. There was a survey done of all of the schools in the Yukon, and if you want to look at the rural schools, the worst one in the rural school survey was Old Crow, the second one was Mayo, the third one was Carmacks. Previous governments, when they tabled a budget, tabled a five-year capital forecast. I was probably misled by this multi-year capital projects as being a new terminology as to what you are calling it these days, but if that is the case, I apologize. There has to be a game plan in place as to what is planned down the road.
Could the minister table his five-year capital forecast as to the timetable for capital works in these other schools that are sadly requiring upgrading or replacement?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As I indicated already a couple of times, the priorities for new school construction are not going to be determined by consultants; they are going to be determined in consultation with the citizens of the territory. Those citizens especially include the elected representatives of the schools from around the territory.
Now, as the member quite rightly noted, the Old Crow school was given a high priority billing as something that needs to be replaced. Under normal circumstances, I would say at this point, if the school had not burned down, it probably had a very good chance of being top of the priority list, because the consultants would be recommending that the school be replaced because of its state of repair, and that this will be understood and recognized by others. But it's our view that the public should be involved in this process, and that's what we're going to do.
Now, the member mistakenly suggested that the five-year capital forecast has been tabled by previous governments. It's never been tabled by a previous government - not the NDP, not the PC, not the Yukon Party, never. So, I don't know what he's referring to there.
With respect to the capital works in terms of setting the school priorities, I've already outlined in general terms what the process will be and who will be involved. The Minister of Education can provide the member with more details about how she's intending to establish priorities for the future - apart from Old Crow, which has already been decided - and then the member can get a better picture of what the Government of Yukon's direction will be.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It sounds like the priorities of the Old Crow school replacement have been predetermined and we didn't have to go through this charade of review process to get to where what was needed up there was a new school and what, indeed, is needed in Mayo is a new school. What is needed in Carmacks is probably a heck of a lot of upgrading or, perhaps, a replacement.
The Government Leader and Minister of Finance has made numerous statements that this budget creates jobs. Could the minister advise us where these jobs are being created, how many jobs are being created and what the duration of these jobs, so created, be? Did the Minister of Finance complete an economic analysis of this budget respecting job creation and, if the minister did, could he table a copy of this economic evaluation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, Mr. Chair, the member is of the view that the government's desire to work with elected school council members in determining capital priorities for school construction is a charade because we have made the decision already for the Old Crow school. I don't accept that notion, Mr. Chair.
The Old Crow school burned to the ground, for the member's information. There was no school left after the fire. Consequently, we took a leap of faith and anticipated what we would understand to be the generous spirit of other school councils who had schools to give Old Crow one. And, because Old Crow had no school - they had a pile of rubble - we felt that objective people would consider that school, as a pile of rubble - in a state of rather severe disrepair, moreso than any other school in the territory - that people would understand, at face value, that because there was no ceiling, no walls, doors or windows, that this was a chance for the territory to give this community a school - some ceilings and some doors and some other things.
I can't accept the member's comment that somehow the whole planning system is suspect, thanks to the decision to build a school in Old Crow.
I do have information on jobs. We were going to pass the information out at the time of Economic Development, but I can pass it out sooner than that.
The jobs estimate was produced by the Department of Economic Development. Presumably, in the way that they've always produced these estimates.
I, personally, would not say that the estimates are absolutely cut with superb precision, but they are an informed person's best guess. So I can provide that information at an earlier time if the members wish.
I would point out that the vast majority of the $450 million that is being proposed here will be spent in the Yukon. I would suggest that, on the O&M side, no layoffs - I'm pretty certain that people will be working as a result of these expenditures.
On the capital side, there's $88 million that will be invested in the territory's infrastructure and facilities. I think, although that's not as big as it was last year, it's certainly nothing to sniff at. There's a very substantial investment in the Yukon and in our future through those expenditures.
But I will provide the information that we were going to provide later on to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I thank the Minister of Finance for providing that information when it does appear.
Let's just back up a little bit to the schools and the five-year capital forecasting.
I would ask the minister to table the five-year capital forecast. It would be nice to know where the minister envisions his government is heading with respect to the priorities on school replacement. No one is taking exception to the need to replace the school in Old Crow. It's a necessity; it's a top priority. Let's get on with the job, but there are other situations around the Yukon that this government must have some plans for. What are they, where are they, and would the minister please table those capital forecasts?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The short answer, Mr. Chair, is that if the department has forecasts and if those forecasts are going to endanger the consultation process that we have, because people will then think that we've already got our minds made up, then the answer is no, we will not, because that would undercut - undermine - the many good people who are going to be, in good faith, discussing with this government its capital plans for school construction.
We are going to make it very clear to people that we want to try to build consensus, if we can, on the priorities for new construction. That is our objective. If people think that we have a secret agenda, then we completely undermine the process and it would not be fair to the people involved.
So, if that's what the member is trying to encourage us to do, the answer's no.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, but I'm at a loss to see why we want to have this - let's call it this "hidden agenda". The Municipal Act requires all municipal governments to prepare a five-year capital forecast of where they're heading, or where they envision they are heading. This gives the general population some understanding of what the government places its priorities on and what they hope to accomplish in that next five years. It can be amended annually, and it is amended annually, by virtually all the municipal governments. Why can't this government table its five-year capital forecast? Would the minister give his assurances that it'll be included in the next budget that he presents to this House?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have just gone through the process of explaining to the member how we are going to determine the priority for school construction. I just finished, twice now, explaining this process. How many times does the member need to hear it? I will go through it again. The priority for school construction will not be determined by a consultant; it will be determined, with good advice from a consultant or consultants or whatever technical people are around and from the technical people in the Departments of Education and Government Services, hopefully, through a consensus-building process with elected school council members from around the territory. We want to try to build that consensus. That is not a new concept for anybody who knows the capital budgeting process with respect to school construction.
At least, in the City of Whitehorse, such a plan was developed back in 1987-88. It is not a brand-new concept, but it is something that would be desirable - we think would be very desirable - so that everyone knows what the priorities are. They know they have input into the establishment of the priorities and when they come from their school with full information about their needs and join in the general discussion, they will realize that there are needs out there that are perhaps even greater than their own.
I think it is desirable for this process to proceed. There is time for this process to be undertaken, because we simply cannot put any expenditures in this budget in any case for school construction, because the schools are not designed yet.
So, we have the time. We have willing participants who want to participate in this process. Why not let it happen?
If we were to subvert the process - take actions to consciously subvert the process - then we would be doing a tremendous disservice to the people who are going to put their minds and hearts into this decision making - citizens - and I'm not prepared to do that.
So, the member can ask me again - I'm going to say no again, if that's what he's encouraging us to do. It seems like that's what he's encouraging us to do.
Chair: Order please. Is it the members' wish to take a short recess? 10 minutes?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is there any further general debate?
Mrs. Edelman: Thank you. This is a general question for the Minister of Finance.
Now, we were speaking earlier about the City of Dawson. We talked about local decision making in capital priorities. Now, the City of Whitehorse, Dawson, Faro, Haines Junction and organizations like the Marsh Lake Community Club and even Help and Hope in Watson Lake make up their own long-term capital plans, and they also make plans for O&M funding over longer periods of time. They do that because they need to do it to look for long-term funding, whether it's from the territorial government or from other places.
What I'm wondering about is what sort of respect is there going to be for those types of capital planning and O&M funding from those organizations, or are you talking about implementing a brand new, YTG-based decision-making process for priorities? Are you talking about you making the priorities for these organizations, or are you talking about you respecting the decision-making processes that are already in place?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, there is no proposal on the table that suggests that the Yukon government will supplant the decision-making process of municipal governments. Where the municipal government, however, wants even greater attention from the Yukon government in terms of financing, or on a project or other, the planning for those projects presumably would be done jointly through the longer term if they want Yukon government funding. If they want to undertake projects on their own with no financial support from the Yukon government, then of course it's not the Yukon government's business to insert themselves into that equation. But, if they do want public funding voted by this Legislature, then they are going to have to talk to us, and we would like to talk with them together in terms of hashing out long-term priorities.
Mrs. Edelman: But there already are existing programs; ways that they make decisions on the municipal level as well as in organizations and in First Nations. Those systems already exist.
What I think I hear the minister say - and I could be incorrect - is that what you will be doing is looking at those initial plans that the organizations already have, and then starting discussions from that point. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I think I understand what the member is saying. In some cases, while there may be long-term plans in the community, the priority projects are not as clear as they could be when it comes to requesting further Yukon government financial support. We want to clarify those priorities before we make commitments.
In some communities without municipal governments, we would like to work with them through the community development process so that there is some determination of priorities. If there's no process in place, we would like to encourage them to set up a process, so that the priorities can be established in the community and, if they want government funding, established in discussion with us.
So, that's what I'm talking about. It's not new, but it is a worthwhile way to ensure that the planning is done jointly, both with the community that is going to be most affected by decisions - financial decisions - and the Government of Yukon, who is expected to expend money to support community projects.
Mrs. Edelman: Just to be absolutely clear that there will be respect for the processes that already exist, and those will be the priorities of the territorial government that will be funding those - so, for example, if there's A, B and C, and some organization or some municipality has said that B is the priority, there will be respect from the territorial government for that priority, as opposed to the government coming in and making C the priority, or D the priority, or A the priority, because it fits the larger plan of the territorial government, as opposed to the local decision-making body.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Certainly, if the community has a priority list, and they have project A at the top of the list, it's not up to the Yukon government - it shouldn't be the place of the Yukon government - to change that priority. However, no one can reasonably expect the Yukon government to automatically fund that priority.
If the Village of Mayo, for example, says, never mind the school - just for the sake of argument - we want a $15 million rec centre, we may say we can't do it. We know it's your top priority, but we're not going to respect that automatically, because there are schools, there are other things, that have to be built.
So that's one thing that we have to bear in mind. We can't automatically fund a community's top priority, because we may not have the resources, there may be other needs in the territory that have to be met, and we'll have to take that into account.
Mrs. Edelman: So, the territorial government may not finance the most important priority project in that community, but they might finance something that would be a priority that the government sees. I'm still not clear.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The government, for the sake of argument, might want to fund schools. There's been a lot of talk about schools here. Community A comes along and says, "Our top priority is a multi-million dollar rec complex and if you really respect our decision making, you'll fund this." We may, as a government, propose to the Legislature that, as much as that's the priority of the community government, we're not going to fund it; we're going to fund schools instead because that's a priority for the territorial government and for a lot of people in the school system.
So, it may be that a community comes along - they all have a top priority - but we can't fund it all because it doesn't fit in the budget. So, even if we wanted to fund all the top priorities in every community, we still couldn't do it. What usually takes place is that the Yukon government will provide funding for maybe one or two extraordinary projects in the entire territory. Not everybody is top priority, but maybe one or two, in total, because that's all the government can support.
The government has some responsibilities through this budget that are not the purview of the municipal government, for example. If the municipal government says, "Listen, we think that the water and sewer system is a top priority and we want you to fund that," and they say, "Well look, you know the school system is not our responsibility; the school system is the responsibility of the school council and the Department of Education." We still have to consider that as a priority. So, we may say to a community, overall, that even though the municipality says that they want to fund one thing, we may still go and just fund the school because that's determined to be the highest priority project in the territory in education.
That may happen, but in terms of establishing municipal priorities - priorities that are traditionally the responsibility of municipalities - right now, for the most part, they have block funding, and there's $10 million in this budget to support that. They can set their own priorities and do their own thing. If they want extraordinary funding, we have to weigh each project on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not we can fund it in the first place, whether or not it competes with the road construction budget for which we are exclusively responsible, or the education budget for which we are responsible. We have to weigh those thing in the balance.
Mrs. Edelman: So what you're saying is that the municipalities set priorities in their budget, and they are responsible for doing those projects under block funding, which has been frozen for 10 years in a row, and that if there are any other priorities in the community, then those municipal priorities are down the tube, or down the sewer.
I understand that you have responsibilities in other than municipal areas, but if you're going to have block funding for municipalities, and you expect them to take on all the responsibilities that they gain through devolution - there are quite a few things - Two Mile Hill - then surely there should be greater funding for that.
If you're going to set the priorities, that's fine, but then why have block funding if you're not?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, somehow we're not connecting at all. Maybe the member could make the point with respect to devolution more clearly. Has the territorial government recently transferred responsibilities to the municipality that were previously the territorial government's responsibilities, and they did this without funding? Off the top of my head, I'm trying to wrestle with this one and trying to pick some examples or something so that I can try to respond to them, but I can't. Maybe the member could explain the devolution angle to me again.
With respect to meeting financial commitments, certainly municipalities have responsibilities for a certain class of expenditure in the budget. The member can take issue with the fact that we haven't put more money into municipal block funding, or into a new hospital in Dawson, or into a school over here, or this or that. I'm prepared to have that discussion because I think we've tried to balance our expenditures. We've tried to maintain services. We've tried to put maximum resources into the capital budget, which is what I thought some people here wanted. I'm not certain.
The capital block funding comes through in the operations budget. We've not cut that. We've not cut funding to NGOs either - NGOs also have not received an increase for a while. The Yukon government had its budget cut, but, as far as I'm aware, it hasn't transferred that budget cut, even from our predecessors, to those organizations. I think that there has been, generally speaking over the years, I would say, still a very respectable commitment to other organizations in this territory.
Even if the block funding had increased, though, presumably there would still be projects that a municipality may want to put in their capital plan that would require the territorial government's financial participation. Because a municipal government puts it in their capital plan, that should not give the municipality a licence to simply take money out of the Yukon government's bank account. It shouldn't just be an automatic thing. Presumably, there ought to be a budget process. There ought to be priorities weighing the balance. At some point, if somebody says if we took all the projects, even the City of Dawson alone, then there wouldn't be anything left for anybody else - all the projects that have been mentioned by the MLA for Dawson.
We've got to make, as much as we can, reasoned judgments about one project being funded versus another and, certainly, it is the case that we do have responsibilities, which are territorial in nature, rural in their delivery, but have no connection with a municipal government. And yes, we do take those seriously, and we have to make everybody aware that those things have to be funded too, and education is a classic example where a municipal government may never have expressed an interest in education capital, but we might still make a decision to put a school in the community even if the municipal government had never passed judgment on the subject, because we do have an obligation in law now, thanks to the Education Act, to provide those services to everybody in the territory. So, it is a balancing act.
Block funding, in its initial incarnation and the way it is established now, provides substantial support to municipalities and respects, very much, municipal decision making. The changes to the Municipal Act that are being contemplated now and have been under development for the better part of a year or year and one-half or something, will make municipal decision making even less tied to the Yukon government and Yukon ministers, if approved by the House.
I think that while we want to respect municipal decision making, we, as a Legislature, cannot allow any citizen or a handful of citizens to automatically draw down the government's bank account without any decision through this Legislature. It can't be an automatic draw. The government can't automatically commit - whatever your top priorities are, we are going to fund them - we can't do that. It is impossible.
Mrs. Edelman: The devolution of development of land is one example where even the largest community in the Yukon does not have the financial ability to develop urban lots. They can certainly develop country residential, and they have done that in the past. That is an example of devolution of authority and responsibility.
What I am saying to the minister is that there have been many processes that have been developed by municipal governments. I am very familiar with them. They are developed like a check and balance to make sure that the priorities of that community are known to the municipal government. The municipal government is also very much aware of the other priorities that are out there in the various communities, and those decision-making processes are very, very involved and very much in touch with the people that live in those communities, probably more than the people in this Legislature are in touch with those communities because a lot of what we do has political ramifications.
All I was hoping the minister could say is that there would be ultimate respect of those decision-making processes at the local government level and in the organizations that deliver some of the services to the Yukon government and to the communities of the Yukon, without any government interference whatsoever; that there would be some respect if a community said that they really did need a new sewage system, wherever they were, that that would be considered to be the first priority when the government was looking at funding that community.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, there is respect for municipal decision making. There is respect for municipal governments who pass judgment on municipal priorities.
I represented rural communities for a long time, and I'm hoping the member's not saying that a municipal government, if it passes judgment on education needs of the municipal government, should be more respected than the local school council, who are also elected under Yukon law. Because I would argue, for example, in Mayo, if people thought that they were also electing the school council, there'd be different people on the municipal council.
If the education responsibilities for the community were also going to be lumped in with municipal responsibilities under the Municipal Act, I think that you'd have a very different election. People elect municipal councils to do certain, very important, things in the community. They also elect school councils to do very important things in the community.
So we want to listen to both, and I'm certain that the relationship can be a respectable one, between government and school councils and other organizations.
On the subject of devolution, the member cited the area of lot development. As I've indicated, clearly municipalities, including the City of Whitehorse, would find it an onerous expense to tie up large amounts of cash in land development. And so they, historically, have not been prepared to that. Right now, there's probably $20 million worth of lot development in Whitehorse alone. That's obviously something the City of Whitehorse wouldn't want to do.
What I've indicated already this afternoon, and I've indicated before, is that the Yukon government would front the cost of these developments, so they would actually pay for the development, as long as the costs are returned to the Yukon - the actual development costs are returned to the Yukon through lot sales.
If you look at our land budget, a lot of the cost of development - engineering, not core planning but the subdivision layout, engineering, blueprint development, everything, along with the construction - is all cost recoverable.
The arrangement can be struck where the municipality or First Nation government would receive funding, draw up a contribution agreement, from the Yukon government - we'd front it - and they would agree that when they finished the development, in accordance with the agreement, they would sell the lots and pay the Yukon government back for the development through lot sales.
When the last lot is sold the government is paid out, just the way it's funded through the lands branch, but we would also offer it to municipal governments. So, this responsibility does not come without money. This responsibility comes with money, and if the municipality doesn't want it, or the government doesn't want it, they don't have to do it. Nobody's forcing anything on anybody; we're just saying we're open to other options, trying to be creative. We're allowing other governments to get into the same business. If they think they can do it better and more efficiently, let's open it up. So, if the member can think of another devolution experience that comes without money then I'll try to answer that one.
Mrs. Edelman: And I suppose the minister doesn't have to teach me about land development.
What I just heard the minister say about Mayo and the school councils making priority decisions versus the municipal level there, which is actually a combination of the First Nation and the local community - is the minister now saying that the school councils should be making the funding priorities for the communities, because they weren't elected to do that; municipal councils were.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the school councils, under law, are responsible for education for a particular school. Under law, they are expected to work with the school administration and the department on setting education priorities, including capital priorities, for their school. That's what the law says. They are elected to speak to priorities, both on the operation side and the capital side, for the education system. They are not elected to pass judgment or to establish priorities with respect to municipal waterworks or recreation centres or anything else, but for schools, yes indeed they are. They are the local governing authority of record and they have to work in conjunction with the primary funding authority, which is the Yukon government, in terms of establishing priorities. And, yes, we do have to work with them.
Mrs. Edelman: Then I'm very pleased that we at last have the answer that there will be respect for the decision-making priorities of the local government and that that will be a decision-making process that this government's going to look at and that's how they are going to prioritize those projects in the community.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't want any misunderstanding. The Yukon government has responsibilities to work with municipal governments related to municipal infrastructure and municipal works. It has the responsibility to deal with school councils in terms of the education priorities in a particular community. It has the responsibility to maintain highways and other systems. It's got a responsibility to provide health care and services in communities, and, when a community health board is established, to work with the local organizations in terms of establishing priorities. If any particular organization says that they've got a particular priority, then the Yukon government will listen to it, provide maximum respect, and if that priority is a priority within the context of our territory then we will respond.
The difficulty comes when the Education Council, who is mandated under law, says that the priority in a community is the school. The municipal council says the priority in the community is a sewer system or an expansion of the sewer system. We've got a responsibility to respond to both. Depending on our available resources, we may respond to both, we may respond to just one, or, if the needs are much more severe in another community - the school burns down - we may have to respond to that one.
So, this is something - we do have respect for community decision-making bodies and organizations and governments and First Nation governments and others. There is nothing there that allows us to abrogate our responsibility to make funding decisions to meet the greatest need in the territory and not just priority "A" in each community.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I would like to explore with the Minister of Finance a little bit further to try and flush out this capital forecasting and five-year capital plans.
Under previous governments - indeed, governments that the minister has been a part of previously - five-year capital forecasts were readily available. It was one of the first things after a budget that I know I personally asked for. It was readily provided. I don't know what the minister's hangup is now. It is a big, big secret that these five-year capital forecasts are deeply hidden and he refers specifically to the education field. What about all the other areas where capital forecasting is done? Why can't these be made available? Does the Minister have some explanation as to why capital forecasting for the other departments cannot be made available?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, I will check with the member. I think he is wrong. I know he is wrong about the capital plans being made public. I know he is wrong about that. I don't think it has ever been done. I know it has never been done. If the member is able to retrieve a capital plan, say, last year, I would sure like to know about it. If he could produce it, that would be evidence, but the capital plan has not been made public.
Part of the problem is that the capital plan is not approved by Management Board or Cabinet. The capital plan is proposed by departments - wish lists - but Management Board doesn't approve anything other than year one.
On the wish lists, I know C&TS, for example, would put into their capital plan, year three, you know, $150 million worth of projects - enough to blow your socks right off. And, of course, you can't support that.
Presumably the reason why governments have not made them public is because they haven't approved the other years of the plan, and they don't want to raise expectations that these things can be fulfilled, because it's a wish list and it's not real - it's not realistic, it's fantasy.
I mean, a lot of the projects are, presumably, very well desired, but in a five-year capital in Education, you might have, you know, five, six schools, seven, eight schools, whatever. All it shows is that, in the minds of the department, and some department officials, they like to do this or they like to do that. But, the -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It is true.
So that's the reason why they've not been made available. If the member wants to get a five-year capital plan that has been approved by Management Board, then they'll have to wait.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chairman, I never asked for a five-year capital forecast approved by the Management Board; I asked for the five-year capital forecast for various departments as it is established and amended from year to year.
I just have a few other questions, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to take the minister to page 17 and where the paragraph there says, "The department will continue to ensure an adequate supply of urban serviced housing lots and has allocated funds in this budget to plan future development of country residential lots." I do have to applaud the government-of-the-day for this approach. I think it's very worthwhile.
I'd like to point out that, when in Opposition, they beat up mercilessly on the government of the day for their role. Now, what they are expending in this area today is very, very little different from what was expended in last year's budget. Don't get me wrong; it's a very worthwhile undertaking and I commend them for continuing.
Can I take the minister to page 24 and the fourth paragraph down on that page? The statement made there is a very interesting statement, Mr. Chair. "Each commission has the potential to have a profound effect on the Yukon's future economic development." May I suggest that future will be one heck of a cost for all of these commissions?
And perhaps I could ask the minister to comment to that point. I just have a couple of other questions after that.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I'll deal with the lots issue first. We have hundreds of lots on inventory in Whitehorse - a class of lot that's not selling. We don't have time to develop new lots of a different sort this summer. We are concerned that there are a lot of people who have been working on this kind of land development to date and, if we were to stop the land development altogether, all in one go, of this sort of lot, because we don't have the other lots available, planned and ready to go, this would create great hardship for people.
This expenditure will likely increase the land inventory by close to $5 million, unless we get lucky and get some more lots sold. That doesn't appear to be the case. So, we'll have a record high lot inventory of a particular class of lot that's not selling. So, it was a difficult decision to make. We opted to not try to turn the corner too quickly. We opted to allow the development to continue - allow people to continue working on those projects - the cost being an increased inventory.
In the meantime, we want to try to turn our sights on lot development of different types of lots that will sell - will have a greater chance of selling - and that is where the focus is.
In terms of the commissions, we can deal with the commissions in Executive Council Office. I've got all kinds of things to say. I'm sure you do, too. I've heard it all before. I think they are a good idea.
Mr. Jenkins: If I could take the minister to page 29, "Another example of our support for small business is to develop a Regulatory Code of Conduct that will simplify regulatory processes, reduce red tape and assist people to understand what is required of them."
It would appear to me, Mr. Chairman, what we're envisioning here is another bureaucratic layer. Well, what is the minister proposing here? All of the regulatory bodies are in place; they have specific areas that they're responsible for. What is the minister suggesting - that we have a handbook that says where the offices are, or where their washrooms are? Just what is the minister leading to here, other than additional costs for government?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the proposal here, incidentally, is well-supported by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. It essentially establishes a procedure which government must go through in order to pass regulation laws and it ensures that essentially an impact statement be determined on a regulation's effect on business, and it forces the government to proceed with that process before they pass the regulation.
Secondly, new regulations must involve people affected by those regulations so that a government can't simply say we're going to spring this on you and we're going to do it behind closed doors. This is going to be an opportunity for people who are affected by this, for example, business people themselves - not all regulations will only affect business, but other people, too, presumably - and will allow them to participate in the regulation-making process. It also ensures that people who are going to have regulations changed will be given sufficient notice of that fact.
Now, we're going to be developing this regulatory code of conduct over the course of the year. I think it's a worthwhile initiative. I don't see it as adding red tape; I see it as cutting red tape. I think it's a good project.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to take the minister to page 35 in his budget address. The statement says, "Part of our commitment to protect areas is a major extension of the boundaries of the Tombstone Territorial Park."
Can the minister advise us to whether he will be using the YTG process for establishing a park, or whether the boundaries will be set at the land claims table?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The next sentence says, "The land claims and self-government agreements with the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation, which we hope to complete this year, will include establishing a process for setting those boundaries." The process will be a public process.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, but will the process be the YTG process used for establishing a territorial park?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The process will be a public process, and it will ensure that people have a chance to pass comment and pass judgment. I don't know precisely what the negotiators are determining in terms of time lines, but I believe they have to initiate it, as far as I'm aware, within a year and a half, or start the process within a year and a half of the signing of the negotiated agreement.
I may not be the best person to answer this question because I don't know what the parks process is that he's referring to, so I'm having difficulty answering the question. But it will be a public process.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, but how can the minister make an announcement that he's going to start a park and he doesn't know the process? There's a process for establishing territorial parks. I'm not asking time lines. I'm not asking anything else, but will the minister agree to using that process if he's going to use any process?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This budget text makes reference to lots of projects that my colleagues are undertaking. I am not sponsoring all of them personally.
There are a number of projects in here that are going to be led by my colleagues. Many projects are being announced now, as general concepts, to be pursued later during the course of the year.
Those projects, like the protected area strategy, even determining the priorities for school construction - all of these things are announced intentions, because we haven't had time to work out the details. This is spending proposals for the coming year.
It means that we announce we're going to do something then during the year we actually do it. It doesn't mean that we have all the details worked out when the budget is tabled. It means that we intend to do something in a particular way, in a particular area, in general terms. We don't have all the details worked out. Those will come during the course of the budget itself. That's what a number of these commitments refer to.
So, with respect to the process for determining the boundaries of Tombstone Territorial Park, the process presumably would be similar to a process that is used for establishing parks. There may be some additional commitments to the First Nation to ensure their involvement in the planning process.
Those will be added; that will be worked out. This is something for the future. It will happen in the coming year. I can guarantee the member that it will be done in public and affected interests will all have a chance to make contributions to the discussion.
Chair: Order please. The time now being 5:30 p.m., Committee of the Whole will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I have just a few questions remaining for the Minister of Finance. I would take the minister to page 37 in the budget address: "Some people would like to slash electrical rates, even at the risk of seriously jeopardizing the health of the publicly owned electrical utility. But it would be irresponsible to do that, and Yukon people would not tolerate such recklessness." In light of what has transpired in the last little while, is the minister still comfortable with that statement, or is that just an oxymoron?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, I am, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just have a question regarding the provisions for contingent liability for a lot of the subsidiary companies for which the Government of Yukon has guaranteed the underwriting or the borrowings. I refer specifically to Yukon Housing with approximately $30 million worth of outstanding mortgages, Yukon Development Corporation, Yukon Energy Corporation, and there's the potential for a downside of liability with respect to the Workers' Compensation Board.
Can the minister point out where any provisions are made for the potential to fund liabilities arising from the default of any of these various corporations?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Can the member tell me the point of the question. Perhaps I can answer it better if I understood what information he was trying to achieve, or if he was trying to make a point, if he could make the point.
There has never been any special line item in the budget to accommodate unforeseen liabilities other than that which is dedicated to insurance. The Yukon Energy Corporation, for example, has debt associated with the purchase of the NCPC. I don't expect that there will be any need for the Yukon taxpayer to pay for Yukon Energy Corporation's debt.
With respect to the Housing Corporation's liabilities, they are shared with CMHC. I don't see anything on the horizon that would cause us concern that there would be any significant liability there either.
The Workers' Compensation Board, as the member may know, is overfunded - from an actuarial perspective - so I don't see any liability there either.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, thank you very much, but in the past there have been occasions where Yukon Development Corporation carried, on its balance sheet, a liability arising out of an ill-founded investment that was subsequently written off and, yes, it wasn't paid for by the taxpayers directly but it was paid for by the ratepayers of the Yukon. Just how would the minister envisage handling such a situation again? There is the potential for this kind of a situation to arise, especially under the government of the day.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This is a very hypothetical discussion, Mr. Chair. First of all, we don't budget Yukon Energy Corporation/Yukon Development Corporation's funds. Only when we have to expend money or when the Yukon taxpayer has to expend money do we actually vote monies for Yukon Energy or Yukon Development Corporation. I don't see the need to set up any fund to accommodate unknown and unforeseen liabilities, as the member sees it. I don't see any cause for concern that these organizations are going to default. They haven't before and there's no reason why they should now.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I guess we have to zero in and be very, very specific with the Minister of Finance. What I am referring to is the $12 million that was carried on the books of Yukon Development Corporation as a loan for the ill-fated investment in Watson Lake that was subsequently written off. Now, how would that issue be addressed under the government of the day, should it arise again? It's probably not going to be a sawmill this time. It will probably be something else very similar, though.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the whole line of questioning, of course, Mr. Chair, is ridiculous. The member is basically saying: if the Government of Yukon invests in something that doesn't work out, what are you going to do? That reminds me of a classroom that I visited some years ago where the children were asking me what it was like to be a politician. Every single question was, "Well, what happens when you get angry with each other and you have an argument?" And then somebody else would ask, "If you started getting angry with each other and had an argument, what would happen?"
And the point of the matter is that we don't foresee any concerns here. There's no need for a special contingency fund to be established so that we can account for mistaken decisions, so to speak. We certainly didn't insist on the member's own party setting up a contingency fund just in case they made some mistakes - like Taga Ku, for example. There's no point in setting up funds for occurrences that you have no idea would exist. Then we get into this artificial debate as to whether or not the fund is big enough. It doesn't make any sense.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I've got some more questions for the minister, but before I get into them I wonder if I could ask the minister if he would be able to provide us - before we get into the finance department debate; I don't think we'll get it by the time we're done with this debate - the figures for the year-end spending for the last quarter of this year compared to the last quarter of last year. Could the minister provide those to us before we get through the finance department debate.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, I can, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you. Before getting to my line of questioning here, I just want to go back to comments made by the minister in discussions with the Member for Riverdale South on land development, not only the amount of money that's in the budget for land development, which is almost identical to what the Yukon Party was doing and which the members opposite criticized us for severely, but the minister said they want to develop different types of lots. Could the minister maybe just elaborate a little bit, or I can wait till we get to Department of Community and Transportation Services debate if he wants me to do that, or he could just elaborate what he had in mind when he said that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the land that is perceived to be in greater need, in Whitehorse at least, are two classes of land: country residential lots and lots for mobile homes. Those are the lots that we're focusing on. I realize that perhaps the better minister to speak to would be the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. I realize that there are probably needs for industrial and commercial and other lots, not only in Whitehorse, but in other communities, but the ones that I was referring to in the context of this discussion were those two classes.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you. We will explore that with the minister when we get there. I just want to make one other comment because I was a little concerned. The minister was talking, probably in hypothetical terms, about the municipalities not having money to develop land, but maybe the government would front the money and the municipalities could develop the land, and when they sold the land then YTG would get their money back. I just want to caution the member that that approach was tried in Pineridge and we found that the city bumped the price of the lots up quite dramatically and made a profit when I believe the policy of YTG is to develop the lots at cost and sell them at cost. So, I would caution the minister that if he does embark on that sort of a program that there are some safeguards built in there for the taxpayers of the Yukon.
I want to go back now and just explore revenues to the territory with the minister, because this minister has been pleading poverty since he came to government. I want to see if there's any validity to his claims at all. I would just like to explore with him the financial summaries on income on page S-2 of the operations and maintenance book. I have a few preliminary questions, just to clarify my mind. I may be wrong on this, and that's why I want it clarified.
If we go back to the transfer payments from Canada in 1995-96, of some $296,202,000, I believe - and the minister can correct me if I'm wrong - that included the Canada health and social transfer in 1995-96. Am I correct or am I not correct?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the reason the figure has gone down is the one-time buy-out and the incentive factor. The Canada health and social transfer itself was initiated, of course, last year for the first time. That is the reason why we say zero in 1995-96.
Mr. Ostashek: It was included in the transfer payment in 1995-96, was it not? It was just one figure that included health. I know it wasn't the same figure and it wasn't the same formula, but it was all included in one payment, was it not?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The CHST, of course, was not in the grant itself, but it was a combination of two things in the past: the established program financing line in the old budgets and the Canada assistance plan line in old budgets. They have been combined to form CAP.
Mr. Ostashek: Okay, I thank the minister for that.
But when we look at 1996-97, when we absorbed, I believe, a $20-million one-time cut to the transfer payment, and there were some increases in there as well - there had to be - but now we go to the transfer payment from Canada at $285 million - so it's up substantially. The three percent you said was included in devolution.
But I see a line underneath, and I need clarification on other transfers from Canada. The phase 2 of the health transfer at $4.8 million - has that been separated? I was assuming from what the minister told me earlier that both the airports and phase 2 of the health transfer were included in the transfer payment from Canada to make up the $285 million. Am I reading something wrong there?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The $4.8 million is a one-time transfer from Canada associated with the health transfer phase 2 for capital works or for whatever we choose to put it to. That won't appear, of course, next year - only this year.
Mr. Ostashek: Okay, it's a one-time-only cost then, is what the minister is telling me on the phase 2 of the health transfer.
We look at this budget, though, and I know that we have to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges, but, as I said earlier in my debate, the last actual figures we have are audited figures of 1995-96, and if we look at the operation and maintenance costs to government from the actual costs of 1995-96 to the projected costs for 1997-98, there is a substantial increase of some $20 million. Whether that's all going to be spent or not remains to be seen. The minister is comparing the 1996-97 forecast for purposes of comparison for estimates and forecasts, which is the correct way to do it, but we won't know the final figures until everything is audited.
Can the minister at this time tell me if there is anything unusual that has transpired since he took over government that would lead him to believe that the lapsed funds would be substantially less than in previous years?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That's a difficult question to answer. Certainly, on the face of it, I have not detected anything out of the ordinary. Of course, I haven't been here for the full year; I haven't been in government for four or five years, but it feels like a normal year.
We did send a letter to departments to encourage them not to overspend at year-end. I guess all I can say is that I expect, based on what I know now, there is no reason to believe that we won't come in with lapses that are anything out of the ordinary.
With capital budgets, of course, the next year capital will be down a bit, so consequently, lapses will be down, but that's all recoverable, or most of them are recoverable.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm just trying to establish where the minister is coming from in his figures here, and the way I read it at this point.
First of all, I believe the minister said something Thursday, when we were in budget debate, that he would have some raw lapsed figures for us in a couple of weeks. Am I correct in that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, we hope to have some estimates.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, maybe we should save this debate for later, but we'll be out of the general debate of the budget at that time, so I'd just like to take this opportunity to explore it.
So, if there is nothing unusual that happens, or hasn't happened that the minister isn't aware of, and I know that's possible, we should be looking at, probably, in the neighbourhood of $25 million to $30 million in lapsed funds, some of which will be revoted - I think last year there was $11 million or $12 million revoted - but, that still should leave the minister with a fairly substantial surplus, probably a little better than what he's conservatively estimated in here. Does the minister agree?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, as I indicated at the beginning of the budget debate, I'm hoping that, in terms of funds that lapse that we can recover and use again - I don't mean revotes - we're hoping that the $10 million that we're projecting here for our annual deficit will be recovered, so that we can start off the next budget cycle with $25 million, and hence, back to the notion of sustainability in terms of budget expenditures.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, thank you, Mr. Chair. I don't think the minister's going to have to worry too much about that. I would suggest to him that he'll probably beat that by about $10 million if everything goes according to the way it has in the past.
I do want to go back, though, and explore something else with the minister. I got into it a little bit in supplementary debate in December, but this is the proper time to get into it.
The minister is on record saying, while in the Opposition, that tax increases weren't required. He didn't feel that the Yukon Party should raise taxes, that we didn't require those revenues and we could have got along without them. Yet the minister is quite prepared to spend those tax increases now and I think we have pretty well laid out for the minister that we didn't increase the operations and maintenance costs to government tremendously when we were government. We basically held the line for four years on where they were and there was very little change even though there were devolution programs.
I don't expect the minister to return the tax increases, but I do want to ask the minister another question along that line, and we may get into quite a debate on this but I think it's a very useful debate to be having at this time, and that's on what I call what will be windfall profits for the territorial government by tax cuts in other jurisdictions.
I had finance officials calculate it for me last year at about $1.5 million, roughly. Has the minister asked his finance officials to calculate what it'll be in this next fiscal year? Because we have been watching budgets come down across Canada. We watched a two-percent cut in sales tax in Saskatchewan. We watched sales tax cuts in the maritime provinces by amalgamation of the taxes. We've just seen the Quebec government come out with major, major income tax cuts for their citizens. Ontario is still following through with tax cuts. Has the minister had his finance officials calculate what the figure will be in the next fiscal year? I suspect it will be somewhat higher.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, in answer to that question, the finance officials are waiting for all the budgets to be tabled, and then we will have a clearer view of what has been happening. One thing to remember is that some of the expenditure levels, as well, are going down. So, taxes are being cut but also expenditures are being cut so the effect is modified by that action.
But shortly, I'm certain we will be able to get a clearer reading of what the effect will be, once every provincial government has done its thing.
I'd just like to return briefly to lapses, and I say this hesitantly because I know that there are some famous statements in the Legislature about budgets being tight, and tighter than a drum, and no lapsed funding, and all that sort of thing. Then we're faced, of course, with some lapses, so I say this hesitantly but I am informed that Health and Social Services believes that they are going to not lapse the kinds of monies that they lapsed before, because of the expenditure levels in this current year.
One might want to explore that with the minister at the appropriate time. Certainly, in a couple of weeks, we'll get a better reading of that. I just put that on the record, for the record.
Mr. Ostashek: I just want to get back to these, as I call them, windfall profits to the government by tax cuts in other jurisdictions. We recognize that we will be getting extra money because of that and that was one of the areas that we were going to use to fund the tax credit that we were going to put in for the people of the Yukon - some $500,000 or $600,000 without impacting on the revenues of the territory at all. Even though I agree with the minister that expenditure bases are going down across the territory, I think taxes are going down faster. It is going to have an impact. It is going to push the Yukon up closer to the national average if it continues as it is. As a result, it is going to mean a tremendous amount more money for the territorial government.
Would the minister consider returning that money to the taxpayers of the Yukon? I believe a person should go to the taxpayers when he needs the money, but when we are getting money that we didn't expect, I believe that this is now the time and the opportunity to return some of that money to the taxpayers.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I can't make any commitments on my feet with questions like this. First of all, we want to find out what is actually happening. We want to see what the impact on the formula will be and we'll be able to make a better determination later. I would like the Department of Finance to do some analysis on tax burden again. I realize that takes time, but still, I think it's a useful process. We get a sense of how we, as Canadians, stand up to others in the country.
But another point to make is that, ultimately, there is going to have to be some sense of reality, not from the member, but from some of the member's colleagues and some of the people as you move down the bench there, about expectations of government spending. In raw terms, we are spending a lot less and people have already criticized us for spending a lot less on roads and this and that. At some point, apart from criticizing expenditures for the commissions, somebody is going to have to stand up and say, "I would like you to spend more on this and I would like you to spend less on that." That makes it clearer. It is an equation I can understand and we can debate that. But, to simply make a blanket commitment now - I can't do that, in any case, even if I was sympathetic to the general proposition. I wouldn't do that, but, certainly, I will take the time to go through the process of understanding what impact the other jurisdictions are going to have on the formula and we'll get a reading on whether or not we have a net benefit and whether or not it is significant.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, the minister and his colleagues are the government. They're the ones that set the spending priorities, regardless of what the Opposition says. They're the ones that set the spending priorities. And I've been very, very clear as to my thoughts, that I believe that this government is putting too much money into operation and maintenance and not enough into capital. I have said that. I haven't asked for certain projects to be built in certain locations. I'm just saying that the whole theory and the whole budget planning process of increasing the O&M of government I think is going to come back to haunt this administration some day very, very soon, because this is the only jurisdiction in Canada that believes they can increase the cost of the operation and maintenance of government. And we're not servicing that many more people than we were before. So, I believe that's where I differ from the minister on the priorities, and I've been very clear on that from day one.
And it's not that I'm standing up here asking for a lot of commitments for different projects. But when we look in the back of the budget address book with the major territorial and provincial tax rates, and we go across, we can see that Yukon is, if not the lowest, one of the very lowest in Canada. And we all agree that the tax burden in the Yukon is plenty heavy enough now. And so, that's why I'm asking the minister to at least consider giving those windfall revenues back to the taxpayers of the Yukon and not continuing to add to the tax burden.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, in the very first instance, we've got to determine whether or not there is a windfall. And the member will know it's not the tax rates that determine what the formula is, it's the changes in the rates and changes in expenditure patterns that we have to analyze. So, that will take some time.
Second of all, if there is a windfall, as the member suggests, we'll have to make a decision as to whether or not we meet public expectations in such things as, for example, capital spending, which people say they want us to do more of, or whether we make another expenditure - a tax expenditure.
But, with the greatest respect to the member - and I realize he's more consistent on this point than the colleagues in his own party and certainly others on that bench - there have been some very, very hefty spending demands here. And nobody has criticized us for maintaining services; nobody's criticized us for trying to show respect to NGOs or municipalities, or making expenditures in these areas. But many people want us to spend lots more and lots, lots more. So, I'm having a little trouble trying to get a good read, even inside this Legislature, as to what people's preferences are, because I see some heavy, heavy requests for spending being suggested to us. Nobody wants us, presumably, to cut services. I haven't heard of any particular service that people have said is no longer necessary. So, with the greatest respect, I have to say that there are still very hefty demands that are not yet met, I admit. But we've tried to do a balancing act here within the budgets available to us.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Chair. The minister, when he was on his feet earlier answering one of the other Opposition members on devolution, said words to the effect that basically nothing has changed; this money's transferred with all costs remaining the same and the money's going back out again, so there's no net benefit from the devolution.
Does the minister not believe that - I know you can't expect him to do it in the first year - there will be some streamlining of services by merging them with government departments as we move forward in this process? Does he not believe that there will be some savings in administration somewhere along the road?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I'm trusting that, for example, on the A airports transfer - the transfer that the member opposite's government negotiated - the deal was a good one for the Yukon, but also that the expenditures that they requested of the federal government were actually needed for that purpose. That's the operating principle that I'm working with at this point.
I'd be loathe to say that we're going to make a profit, so to speak, from devolution. I'm hoping that, over time, certain efficiencies can be struck. There's always been a need for basic services in those areas where the devolution has occurred. I'm certain that those expectations may be met through some efficiencies. I don't know that, but I'm working under the assumption that the money that is required to provide these services has been well-justified by the Yukon government and will be spent for that purpose as much as we can.
Mr. Ostashek: One of the principal arguments for devolution has been that government closer to the people can do a more cost-effective job of delivering the service. We already had people in the department responsible for airports.
I'm not saying that there's a huge profit built into the devolution, but there are some one-time costs that negotiators were able to negotiate. There's the O&M for the number of employees who came over. Certainly the minister must believe that somewhere down the road as he's reorganizing his departments and merging in phase 2 of the hospital and the airports, there should be some economies of scale that are going to bring some benefits to the territory. Does the minister not agree?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, there may well be some validity in that in theory, perhaps even in practice, but when I go to the federal government now, and I'm talking about the northern affairs program transfer, I am absolutely of the view that this should be reasonably funded in order to provide the basic services to this territory, and I will accept nothing less. If we can get better service for the same cost, that is something that we should obviously pursue in everything we do. If we can seek efficiencies in what we do, then I will be a strong supporter of that kind of initiative, but I am going into the negotiations with the federal government now with the view that the program should be adequately funded, and we will do our best to improve service if the opportunities arise in the future. I have my doubts that the negotiations are going to be easy, and I want to make it very clear to the federal government or whomever is witnessing this discussion that I don't intend to take the federal government to the cleaners, and I don't expect them to take us to the cleaners either. We want a reasonable service for the transferred funds that we will get from the devolution.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I thank the minister for that. Those are negotiations. Those are fair and honest negotiations, and I don't have any difficulty with that, but the reality of it is - and we'll speak more of devolution in the Executive Council Office - and I said this several years back, that the longer we wait to devolve, the less we're going to get from the federal government, because they are continually downsizing, and they're going to continue to cut what they're going to give to us and expect us to provide the service with less money. That's been a reality of trying to negotiate with the federal government.
I just want to go back and explore another area here. Last Wednesday, we had a debate in this Legislature about downloading from the federal government, and a very legitimate debate. There certainly has been a lot of downloading from the federal government, and I don't mind beating up on the Liberals any more than the members opposite do, but the reality of it is, I believe, that we get ourselves into a lot of these situations of our own volition.
I just want to draw to the member's attention now another agreement that I believe he has just entered into, and that is the business development centre that is being run by the Chamber of Commerce, which I believe the minister's government has now contributed some funding to. This is a three-year pilot project with the federal government. If, at the end of three years, the federal government decides to walk away from it, is the minister not concerned that, by entering into a funding agreement for it now, helping the federal government off the hook, because they killed the economic development programs that they had here - the economic development agreement programs - and they had to hold out some tokenism to businesses in the Yukon, so they came up with this brainwave for this business development centre? It may be good, and it may not be good. That remains to be seen.
I believe if we participate with the federal government in that, the government is leaving themselves open down the road when the federal government pulls back out like they have done in almost every other program that they've delivered in the north, and that we're going to have a repeat of what we debated so vigorously in this House last Wednesday of another interest group coming beating on the government's door, asking them to pick up the funding. Is the minister not concerned about that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, yes, I am, because I couldn't agree more with the member in expressing concerns about this method of funding important services. I think that the actions taken to raise expectations in the community have caused many people in the territory lots of anxiety, and there are countless examples of this.
The difficulty for us, and for any government, is when you decide to turn resources down. I'm not certain that people would understand that particular proposal.
For example, the member will remember the Canada infrastructure agreement. Within a year of that program getting started, I heard municipal leaders in this territory saying, "Well, this is what we're going to spend in year five and year 10." Suddenly, there was this new pot, new funding source, that people thought would be endless, and, of course, it was cancelled. And, then, it was reinstated temporarily in this election year at a much reduced level. So, clearly, you do raise expectations on a whole series of fronts.
I mentioned in the debate the other day that we've already been offered $150,000 to provide services for immigrants to the Yukon who require ESL training.
On one level I say I'm pleased that there's some attention given to this particular need. We don't have a big need in this particular area, but we have some need. This is a $150,000 commitment, but it's clearly a short-term commitment and the program won't last probably more than three years, if that.
As I mentioned in the debate, the expected will happen. I can predict that we will receive the funds, we will probably take those funds and funnel them through some organized local organization in town which will provide English second language training to immigrants. Somebody will be hired, a desk will be set up, the phones will be connected. There will be an advisory group that'll buy in to the services. Then at some point, the federal government is going to come along and say, "Now the priority is something else and we've just got a need to deal with child care, or something else, and the funding will be hacked."
I know who they are going to come to. So, it is a conundrum, and I admit that freely. This is a difficult situation to be in. We don't want to turn down resources if there is a particular need. At the same time, we know it is going to raise expectations, and when their funding is cut - and it often is - people are going to be hurt by that. I agree with him that this is a problem and I regret very much that this kind of funding method is being used.
For our part, we are going to try to give as much long-term commitment as we can. If we believe that there is a need, we will continue it and we will try to be as respectful to organizations that we fund as we possibly can.
I must say that, even though the situation hasn't been formalized by the government before, overall, over the last 10 or 15 years, the Yukon government has been pretty consistent about providing a certain level of service to NGOs and a certain level of funding and a certain level of respect. There have been a few bumps in the road, of course, but nevertheless, there has been generally a pretty good respective funding source, but this problem that the member identifies is, in fact, a real problem. I wish we could do something about it. I certainly have every intention of raising this matter at finance ministers' meetings. I am certain I won't be the first and I won't be the last.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the member for that. I have a couple more questions in general debate. Perhaps my colleagues have some more here.
There's always been a substantial amount of money - and always a disputed amount of money - that has been outstanding on native health billings. Is there a receivable in this budget from the federal government for native health billings? Is there a figure in the budget?
I can talk to the Minister of Health about the native health billings when we get there, but I just want to know if there's a receivable in the budget for native health billings and if the minister knows how much it is.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It is a fairly sizable amount, Mr. Chair. We are not counting on receiving the money in these estimates, of course.
If the federal government were to pay us, I believe it is - I thought it was about $18 million, but I am told that it might be $15 million or $16 million - substantial and we are still, obviously, in dispute over those sums.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you. Yes, I knew it was a substantial figure, and it appears as if it's growing.
I want to ask the minister this, then. If - and this is "if" - we cannot negotiate a fair settlement with the federal government on the native health billings, is this government prepared to consider a legal challenge to the federal government on it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, that's quite possible, Mr. Chair. As the federal government cuts back on its services, particularly and including services to aboriginal people in the health area and social area, it's sometimes worth their while to come to the Yukon government for the service. That has exacerbated the situation. We may have to take a more drastic action if we can't achieve a reasonable position from the federal government.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you. Well, I believe that, at some point, the government has to draw a line in the sand and stand up for what they believe is right. I'm not saying that's an action that we should take without giving it a lot of thought, but I think it's an option that the government should keep open at all times.
I just have another question, and I'm asking it because the minister highlighted it in his budget speech in relation to the CDF. I'm not certain if the minister was aware at the time he put that clause in his budget - and I'm speaking of the Kluane First Nation that received from the territorial government $300,000 in the 1989-90 budget for a community centre. As I say, I'm not certain whether the minister remembered that when he was putting his budget speech together, but I do want to ask the minister this: does he feel it's appropriate for any community to get that sort of funding every five or six years for a community centre regardless of what they put the use of the previous centre to? Does the minister feel that that's appropriate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, my understanding of the situation in Burwash is that the centre that was funded by the CDF in the past is a meeting hall/administration area/community space and the project that's now half constructed, that would potentially be the recipient of funds, is a classic rec centre. So I don't believe that the purposes for the two buildings are identical. I believe that they are, in fact, different and the resources have been requested by the First Nation for that community in order to improve the quality of life in the community. So, the First Nation has made a commitment. I can't speak to the issue in much more detail than that because I don't have the details of the situation. The Minister of Economic Development might, but in any case, if the community were to come and ask for exactly the same thing every few years, then one would probably be pretty skeptical about whether or not they should receive funding for exactly the same thing.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, thank you, Mr. Chair. There's no doubt they're two different facilities, but the fact remains it was in the estimates in the '89 budget as a community centre. That was what the money was given for. Now it's being used for office space, and the community is asking for, I don't know how much funding, but they're asking for more funding for another community centre now. Now, if they were going to do that in every community in the Yukon, this government's going to be in trouble in a hurry, because I just find it hard to believe that the government would consider funding two community centres in a community the size of Burwash Landing. Even if the other one isn't being used for a community centre now, the fact was it was funded once for a community centre. If the village is finding another use for it, then they should be responsible for a new facility for themselves and not the taxpayers of the Yukon.
I don't have any further questions in general debate, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cable: I just have a touch-up question and then something on devolution I'd like to ask.
I asked the minister last week if he'd go through the numbers on the transfer payments and the various monies we get from Ottawa and give us a script on whether there was any significant change from last year, excluding some things that he had talked about, and I was wondering if he'd had a chance to complete that.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I answered that question this afternoon, Mr. Chair. I indicated that there is a three-percent change after devolution in the transfer payments that was due from prior year adjustments. But there's been no natural growth in the formula transfer. It's the prior year adjustments that has caused the change.
Mr. Cable: Okay, I'll accept the global answer. I was hoping for a script there on the various elements. There are four elements: the Canada health and social transfer, the transfer payment and the recoveries and, of course, the phase 2 hospital, I think it was called.
On the devolution, in preparation for the upcoming Executive Council debate, could the Government Leader indicate whether this document that was supposed to be signed at the end of March has, in fact, been negotiated and signed? I believe it was an agreement in principle, was it not?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The agreement that was to be signed April 1st was not reached by the negotiators. The announcement will be made tomorrow about what the negotiators did achieve, and by way of preview, I guess the basic agreement is that we will do some due diligence on the federal budget estimates between now and June 1st, after which we will make the decision as to whether or not there are sufficient funds in the federal envelope to consider any further discussions at all.
We went to some length to try to get an agreement with the federal government on the essential elements that would guide the discussions over the next year, and the principle that we were pursuing was that there ought a net benefit to the Yukon from the transfer - that we shouldn't have to buy the transfer, so to speak.
The federal government's position, very firmly, was, "What's in the envelope is what you get." So, things got very, very sticky at that point, and not wanting to let the process die because it's so important to everyone, we've agreed to essentially rummage through federal books and accounts over the next two months to see whether or not the envelope that they are proposing to transfer is of sufficient size to pay for the services that we need to provide, and that's what we'll essentially be doing, in general terms, between now and June 1st.
Mr. Cable: Is the Government Leader indicating that the time for the agreement in principle has been extended to June 1st? Is that basically what he's saying or have the negotiations broken right down?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, they haven't broken down, Mr. Chair. There is still a willingness and a creativity to try to make things work. They have been as difficult negotiations as I've ever seen between governments, but I think that there is so much at stake that nobody really wants to see it die. There is, consequently, a real willingness - I believe, an honest willingness - on the part of all parties to do a review of the federal financial envelope, after which we'll be able to determine whether or not there are sufficient funds to continue. The negotiators have reached that agreement to extend the April 1st signing to June 1st to give us some time to do the review of the federal books, and if that's acceptable to my colleagues and acceptable to the other parties, then we will sign off the extension shortly.
Mr. Cable: The two-month extension extended the date - the notional date or the tentative date - that was set up for devolution?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, it hasn't.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Not seeing any, I notice we're approaching 8:30 p.m. Is it the members' wishes to take a break?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will now go to the estimates book. Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Yukon Legislative Assembly
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The operation and maintenance budget proposed for the Yukon Legislative Assembly for 1997-98 totals $3,187,000, which is a 10.7 percent decrease, or $381,000 in the 1996-97 forecast of $3,568,000.
The capital budget proposed for the Yukon Legislative Assembly for 1997-98 totals $15,000, which is a $185,000 decrease from the 1996-97 forecast.
The major change in the operation and maintenance budget is a decrease of $388,000 in the elections program, which represents the cost of the territorial and school council general elections, which took place during the fall of 1996.
Explanations on a program-by-program basis are as follows. In the legislative services area, there is a decrease of $12,000 from the 1996-97 forecast of $1,678,000 to the 1997-98 estimate of $1,666,000. This is due to the following: MLA pay and fringe benefits have been increased by $20,000 as a result of indexing by 1.9 percent of MLA indemnities on expense allowances on April 1st, 1997; MLA travel has increased by $22,000, which is largely due to projected increases in accommodation costs - one-half of this comes from the decision of the Members' Services Board to increase the monthly allowable for rented accommodation from $594 to $741.
Caucus support services have been reduced by $61,000, which is due to severance payments being made following the general election and to the reduction from four caucuses in the last House to three in this one. The amount being appropriated for the Yukon branch of the CPA is an increase of $7,000 over the 1996-97 forecast.
The $455,000 shown in the estimates for the Legislative Assembly Office program is a $6,000 increase over the 1996-97 forecast. The main change in the budget is that $7,000 has been added to cover charge-back fees from Queen's Printer. The 1997-98 budget for the elections program is $125,000, which is $388,000 less than the 1996-97 forecast. This represents the cost of the territorial and school council general elections that were included in the 1996-97 budget.
The 1997-98 budget for the retirement allowances and death benefits program is $493,000, which is a $13,000 increase over the 1996-97 forecast. Ten thousand dollars of this increase is to be spent on consulting services. The remainder is to cover an increase in current year contributions to the MLA pension plan.
In Hansard, there is no change from last year's forecast to this year's estimates. The conflicts commission program has been moved from vote 23, which is the appropriation for the ombudsman's office to this vote this year. There is no change in the funding for this program from last year's forecast to this year's estimates.
I will be happy to answer whatever questions I can.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm going to have a couple of questions, not very many, in here.
My first question for the minister is: can you tell me when the next actuarial has to be done on the MLA pension plan?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The next actuarial evaluation has to be done by March 1999.
Mr. Ostashek: Has money been allocated in this budget - I may have missed it this evening - for the review of the Elections Act? Would that be in the Legislative Assembly budget, or where would it be?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The review of the Elections Act would be done through the elections office and it would be done out of the existing appropriation, except that we need it done this year. Whatever is going to be done, will be done through the existing appropriation.
Mr. Ostashek: So, then you're saying that anything that's done on the Elections Act will be out of the $138,000? I believe that's all that's allocated to the elections office this year. Are there no elections of any kind coming up in the 1997-98 fiscal year - no school elections or anything?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Not to my knowledge, Mr. Chair, unless there's another by-election. I'm hoping there is not, but I expect that we can do the work that needs to be done on the Elections Act through existing personnel.
Mr. Ostashek: I know that the elections office has contacted the three political parties and asked them for input into the changes they would like to see in the updated Elections Act. Could the minister tell me - I know this is probably unfair to the minister, because the Members' Services Board does a lot of this, but does he have any idea what the next step in the process is going to be? Is the Members' Services Board going to meet, or is the elections office going to put out a white paper? What is going to happen?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The intention is that the Chief Electoral Officer will take what he hears from the political parties, and will provide a report this fall with recommendations, or with some sort of response to what he's been told and what his own thoughts are about elections, and what the House does at that point is up to the House. I, personally, don't have any preconceived position on the subject at all.
Mr. Cable: Just on that topic of the Elections Act, I believe the current review is dealing with the mechanics of the carrying out of elections and what not. Is the Government Leader - and this follows along from some questions that were asked earlier - is the Government Leader prepared to widen the investigation on how governments are elected in this jurisdiction, to include things such as the transferable ballot or preferential voting? Is he prepared to put that out for public discussion?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, it's not part of this party's platform, but we wouldn't try to prevent another party from promoting the concept if they wished. Of course, anyone can do what they like.
But, if the member is asking me whether or not I will do the research, or whether the government will do the research and present options along that line, probably not. But, I would be more than happy to hear from the member himself.
I guess the Liberal Party has been promoting some changes to how elections are run, and I would be happy to hear what they have to say, and consider any options they may promote themselves.
Mr. Cable: Is the Government Leader personally satisfied with our first-past-the-post system, where 40 percent, I suppose, of the votes - I'll use the federal situation, of course, so we don't get too personal here - where 40 percent of the vote yielded, I believe, about 179 seats out of - what was it? - 293. Does he feel that that's a satisfactory way to have the people represented?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I haven't given it a lot of thought, but somebody pointed out to me the preferential ballot often leads to a government elected that is everybody's second choice and very few people's first choice. I don't know whether that would be something I would be proud to stand in the Legislature and brag about. But I haven't got a closed mind on the subject either, and I'd be happy - even though I've been successfully returned to the House four times and elected five, I'd be happy to consider new ways of doing things. I certainly would like to see - maybe the federal government should try this concept on for size, and then once they've pioneered it, then maybe we'll all consider it, if they show some leadership on this question. But I haven't thought of it specifically in any detail because I've been working on other priorities. I freely admit that. I do realize, though, that there are some problems with the election laws that must be addressed, and I do realize that some members have some suggestions for other improvements. I just want to be as accommodating as we can, have the discussion at some point before the next election, and make some decisions before the next election. I think that's a reasonable approach.
Mr. Cable: Well, I'm told the Australians have had this transferable ballot since about 1917, which is, of course, about 80 years, and assumedly it's worked or they would have changed it. So, I wonder if the Government Leader would do me the favour of having a look at the material I've got, and perhaps some day in Question Period I could spring this esoteric question on him.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm sure there's some Australian, in some little parliament, in some remote region of Australia who would say that the system of first-past-the-post has been tried in Canada, and they've had it for a hundred years and they haven't changed it, so it must be working. But if the member wants to provide the information, I can't guarantee that I can spend a lot of time with it immediately, but certainly before the summer I'd be happy to read it.
Ms. Duncan: It's not a question about Australian politics.
I asked a question of the Clerk and received some information about televising the debates that we have in this House. There's a question that goes back to September 1994 from the communications branch in the government and in the memo there's a question, "Would there be an interest in providing Question Period to the communities on a pilot basis, with a survey to follow later to determine if they are interested in continuing to receive it?"
There was some substantial work done on this whole issue of providing televised Question Period to the communities. It last went before Members' Services Board in 1994. The board, at that time, noted that, "Current coverage of the legislative proceedings is almost totally centred on Question Period" and expressed itself to be in agreement with the thought that "Television coverage of the legislative proceedings, other than Question Period, should be gently encouraged."
There are two questions, I believe, and just by way of background, this survey had attached to it a cost of providing this service of televised Question Period to communities. There was a cost attached of about $1,000 a week per legislative session. Roughly, that would translate into between $20,000 and $30,000. Now, I'm not going to stand here and propose something without also finding the money for it somewhere in the budget. I note that the Legislative Assembly is pared down and we have had every cost accounted for, but I notice in Executive Council Office there's a 20-percent increase in funding for ECO public communication services.
My questions to the minister are: is he or the Members' Services Board prepared to entertain or revisit the question of televising Question Period? And if there's a cost attached, are we prepared to examine the budget for ways to find it? And I'm speaking in particular of televising Question Period and providing it to the communities. If that is the case, are we prepared to find the money and are we prepared to examine the issue of televising these proceedings, noting that we can all tune in our television sets and see the Northwest Territories proceedings?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I would, first of all, suggest that we have a broadcasting committee here with an executive. I'm not the executive, but I'd be happy to entertain a recommendation from that committee as one member of the House if that committee wanted to consider the matter. I think that we should encourage people in rural communities to see what goes on in the Legislature. As a general proposition, I have no quarrel with that concept.
It's a little bit awkward for me, speaking for the government, when I'm speaking to this vote. This is the one exception to the rule. I am but a member when it comes to the Legislative Assembly vote and I'm a member of various committees, but I'm a MLA. I'm not a Government Leader with respect to this matter, nor am I a minister. The point I would like to make is that if members decide they want to do something, there are committees that can advocate for the change. Then they will present their positions to the Management Board, and usually the Management Board accepts what the committees recommend.
If the member is asking me as an individual member, I'm in favour of the televising of Question Period into rural communities - I personally am.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the member to state for the record then: is he also personally in favour, should there be a cost attached to televising the Question Period for rural communities?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I am almost certain there will be a cost attached to it. Am I prepared, then, to entertain the member's proposal to cut the Executive Council Office budget? No. If the member wants to make other suggestions, that is fine. If there are other funds in this vote that can be secured, that's a possibility. First of all, the first step would be to have some expression of the House will, through a House committee, to make the recommendation.
On Legislative Services
Chair: We will now go to page 1-6. Is there any general debate on Legislative Services? Clear?
We will now go line by line.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Legislative Assembly
Legislative Assembly in the amount of $1,158,000 agreed to
On Caucus Support Services
Caucus Support Services in the amount of $453,000 agreed to
On Legislative Committees
Legislative Committees in the amount of $19,000 agreed to
On Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
Mr. Ostashek: I don't recall if it was explained in the notes why it went up. Could the minister enlighten me?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The expenditures are listed as follows: $17,000 for travel, $6,000 for entertainment, $13,000 for memberships. This compares with $15,000 for travel in the forecast, $3,000 for entertainment and $11,000 for memberships. And it compares in the 1996-97 estimates: $15,000 for travel, $6,000 for entertainment and $11,000 for memberships. So, essentially, there is a slight increase in travel of $2,000 and a slight increase in memberships of $2,000.
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in the amount of $36,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the stats? Clear?
Legislative Services in the amount of $1,666,000 agreed to
Chair: We will now go to page 1-8, O&M Expenditures.
On Legislative Assembly Ofice
On Clerk's Office
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, just one question. When the minister was answering the question earlier, he commented on a $7,000 charge-back fee from the Queen's Printer. It was an increase in this budget, but will it be reflected in the Queen's Printer's budget as a decrease?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It will be shown, and as the member looks through this, he'll notice that there is a charge-back for all Queen's Printer activities because they have moved to a special operating agency, whereas before they were a virtual SOA. Now they are an actual SOA, so that will be reflected throughout a number of departments.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So, it's the same thing that happened, I guess, with the carpool SOA. There's no increase in either one of the budgets. It's an increase in one and a decrease in the other.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That's precisely what will happen - the same as fleet vehicle property management.
Clerk's Office in the amount of $455,000 agreed to
Legislative Assembly Office in the amount of $455,000 agreed to
On Chief Electoral Office
Chief Electoral Office in the amount of $106,000 agreed to
On Elections: Education Act
Elections: Education Act in the amount of $19,000 agreed to
On Elections Administration
Elections Administration in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Elections in the amount of $125,000 agreed to
On Retirement Allowances and Death Benefits
On Retirement Allowances
Retirement Allowances in the amount of $493,000 agreed to
On Death Benefits
Death Benefits in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Retirement Allowances and Death Benefits in the amount of $493,000 agreed to
On Transcription Services
Transcription Services in the amount of $432,000 agreed to
On Electronic Services
Electronic Services in the amount of $3,000 agreed to
Hansard in the amount of $435,000 agreed to
On Conflicts Commissioner
On Conflicts Commission
Conflicts Commission in the amount of $13,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for Yukon Legislative Assembly in the amount of $3,187,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $15,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for Legislative Assembly Office in the amount of $15,000 agreed to
Legislative Assembly Office agreed to
Chair: We will turn to the Executive Council Office. Is there any general debate?
Executive Council Office
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I've got a few opening remarks.
This budget proposes an increase in spending for the Executive Council Office of $544,000 for the 1997-98 fiscal year. This is a five-percent increase over last year.
When the money is made available for various cost-recoverable programs or removed from consideration, the overall increase proposed for ECO is $200,000, or a three-percent increase from 1996-97.
The proposed increase in spending is dedicated to key priorities for this government. The completion and implementation of land claim and self-government agreements, the transfer of federal programs to the Yukon, the work of the Cabinet commissions related to energy, Yukon forests, local hire and the development assessment process, and public participation in government decision making.
Now, I'll focus on these priorities in my introductory remarks.
This budget demonstrates this government's clear commitment to the speedy conclusion of all outstanding land claim and self-government negotiations. The proposed increase in spending of $932,000, in the land claim secretariat will provide for the establishment of a third negotiating table to conclude agreements as quickly as possible.
It will also support the effective implementation of agreements in the building of a strong, respectful government-to-government relations with First Nations. Much of this $932,000 of course, is recoverable.
Under devolution, this government wants Yukon people to have a greater say over the future of natural resources. We want to manage these resources for the benefit of the residents of the territory, now and in the future, and to promote their sustainable development.
We are actively pursuing this goal through discussions with the federal government and First Nations on the devolution of natural resource responsibilities to this government. Leading these discussions to a successful conclusion will be the key task of the new inter-governmental relations branch in the Executive Council Office.
The amount of $513,000 is proposed for this branch to support devolution and the strengthening of our relations with First Nations governments and other governments in Canada and abroad. This branch will also be instrumental in ensuring Yukon's voice is effectively heard on national and circumpolar issues affecting people here and in the territory.
In the Cabinet commissions, the Yukon people want to move forward on areas they see as key priorities: energy policy, the development assessment process, forest policy and Yukon hire. There is $500,000 allocated to the Cabinet commissions in this budget to make these priorities a reality with policies that reflect Yukon interests and concerns and programming and legislation to support them.
Funding that, in the past, was spent across the government has been centralized to allow the focused, direct attention on these key areas that is necessary to accomplish this important work. Under public participation, this government is about working with people on issues that matter to people. It places a high value on involving people in decision making in an active and meaningful way. This principle will guide what we do. To assist departments in involving Yukon people in government decision making, we've established the public communications services branch. This branch will ensure the policies and practices of this government will reflect our solid commitment to public involvement in shaping the future of the territory. The establishment of this new branch has been accomplished largely through the reallocation of existing resources within the Executive Council Office.
These comments outline the principal changes in the ECO budget for the coming year and they reflect, as I mentioned, the key priorities of the government - priorities the Yukon people have told us are important to the well-being of the territory and its people. I look forward to questions.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I asked the minister the other day for some information that I had requested before, so that we could clear this department. When can we expect to get that information from the minister?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As I understand it, Mr. Chair - and I just checked with officials - there are two pieces of information that I will be providing that have been requested. One was travel by ministers, both inside and outside of the territory. That information is just about ready to go. The other is costs and organization charts for commissions. That information is just about ready to go and it'll be in members' hands by noon tomorrow.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you. It is going to be very difficult to debate the commissions and provide any intelligent debate on it until we have a chance to see that information, so I will refrain from getting into the commissions tonight. Hopefully, we can have that for debate tomorrow afternoon.
I do have some questions of a general nature surrounding land claims. The minister said that they are going to be providing a third table. How many people are we short in the land claims secretariat to make up a full complement of staff there? Can the minister elaborate on the number of tables and, while he is on his feet, how many people are going to be involved?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, I can get us more precise information tomorrow, but certainly, there will be another principal negotiator hired. There will be a lands negotiator and an analyst hired to support that table, as well. As I understand it, there was a competition recently for two principal negotiators. One had been acting and, I believe, did not apply. That leaves two positions to be filled, and there's one already filled. So, that brings the total to three.
Mr. Ostashek: Does the minister expect to fill these positions from within the territory, or is he again going to go outside the territory to fill them?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member is suggesting that I'm going to be doing these things. I am not going to be personally doing these things at all and, despite what members think, I did not direct the department to do anything with respect to hiring anyone, other than to make a decision with respect to a deputy minister. So I expect that the personnel will be hired from the Yukon. I understand that, unlike the recruitment for the chief land claims negotiator position, there are people who did certify from the territory who have applied on the jobs and, consequently, I would expect that there will be local hire for those positions
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think we've said all we need to say on the minister's involvement in the hiring of land claims staff over the last several months. If he thinks that's going to be an easy sell for him in public - that he wasn't involved - well, I think he better rethink that.
I guess I just want to say to the member opposite that I would hope that these are going to be Yukoners. I'm very concerned with the chief negotiator that the government opposite has hired. When he was interviewed by the press, from the comments that I saw, I would have almost have thought he was a negotiator for the First Nations people and not protecting the interests of the territorial government. So I hope that the minister or the minister's deputy minister has had -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Adversarial, nothing. I'm talking about who's looking after the interests of the Yukon people. That's who I'm talking about.
Chair: Order please.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, the territorial government is responsible for looking after the interests of the Yukon people at the land claims table. First Nations are quite capable of looking after their own interests.
I am concerned with the comments that were made by this person in public, and I would hope that these people are Yukoners.
I also have some concerns. The minister made many statements in public about fast-tracking land claims. In fact, that has not been the case so far. In fact, if anything, negotiations have been set back dramatically. There was a window of opportunity, I believe, from last September until probably the end of March or the middle of April of this year, to finalize some other agreements. We now have a federal election in the works and we all know what those elections do to land claim negotiations, devolution negotiations and other dealings with the federal government. Along with that, we have a minister of DIAND who is not seeking re-election and I don't think I need to expand too much to members opposite on what happens when we get a new minister of DIAND whose priorities may be totally different from the previous minister's were.
So I believe we've missed a window of opportunity in the last six months by not getting any more claims finalized, and I would just like to ask the minister to elaborate on that. While he is on his feet, maybe he could give us some insight as to what he sees as a timetable and what target dates he has set for the completion of land claims in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, first of all, back to the recruitment of the chief land claims negotiator, I want to point out to members - and I know I won't convince them because I think that they think that they got a ripe political issue that they can play with, but I'll speak to the public - the people who applied for the chief land claims negotiator - good people all, I'm sure - were screened by the Public Service Commission in the standard way. The Public Service Commission certified only people, as it happens, from outside of the territory - a number of them. No local person was certified as meeting the basic qualifications from inside the territory so, consequently, the only choices available were to select someone from outside the territory. Now, I did not get to know the chief land claims negotiator until he was recruited, but I have absolutely full confidence in this fellow, that he is capable of doing the job, doing it fairly and doing it in a manner that will ensure successful results for all negotiators to the process.
One of the principles of the so-called "getting to yes," conclusions in negotiations, is that everyone has their basic interests met - no losers.
Now, the Yukon government's position at the land claims table, in general terms, is, and I think ought to be, that we want to make sure that land claims meets the basic objective, meaning that First Nations people will have a claim that they can use to protect their culture and ensure economic prosperity well into the future. It will ensure that the interests of all the people of the Yukon are enhanced by the claim itself, and it also has narrow interest with respect to the government's delivery of services. That has to be respected, too. So, that's the balancing act. I think that that's a position that is reflected in the chief land claims negotiator.
I would point out to the member that this person has extensive experience working for Indian Affairs in the past, working for the B.C. government in land claims areas in very difficult situations. I believe that he is more than capable, more than qualified and more than competent to face the challenges that we have here in the territory.
With respect to the window of opportunity, as the member has identified it, certainly, if it's possible to settle land claims prior to the federal election, it would be done. Unfortunately, we're not the only negotiators to the process. There are many things that we must take into account.
The Dawson Tr'ondek Hwech'in negotiations are very close to finalization. White River negotiations are very close as well. There are a number of other First Nations that have started negotiations and virtually everyone has indicated a willingness to come to the table. The only exception right now, that's hopefully temporary, is Kwanlin Dun. But, with some luck, the internal situation there will be resolved and we'll get back to the table and do some constructive things.
So, actually, the activity has increased rather dramatically in the last little while, thanks to a number of factors, but we are very much interested in seeing negotiated agreements struck. We're still putting the finishing touches on the Carmacks/Little Salmon agreement, the Selkirk agreement. There are still some outstanding matters with Tr'ondek Hwech'in, which are being resolved. I think people are working very hard, and I think that when we're staffed up, we'll be more than ready to handle a crush of activity, which I anticipate will begin this summer.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you. The minister didn't fully answer my question, but maybe he can on his feet. I asked him what he had as target dates for land claims completion. I know targets move, but it appears that they do work, too, sometimes to get people focused as to when the settlements will be finalized. It might be useful if the minister could elaborate on that when he's on his feet next time.
I just want to go back to the hiring of the principal negotiator and devolution officer. The minister has to readily admit that it must be more than just a coincidence that Opposition members knew back on the 1st of December, the two people that were eventually hired in February or March - whenever they were hired - and they freely admitted that they'd been in discussions with the government prior to the job offer even being put out. So, I believe there is more than just coincidence involved in the fact that we named these people very early in the Government Leader's mandate, and, in fact, they were the people who were hired five months later. So, I believe there is more than just coincidence there. The fact they were screened by the public service, I have no doubt about that whatsoever, and they probably do have the credentials to do the job. I just think that when we have a party that campaigned on local hire and then went outside for key hirings before they even had their seats warm in government, it certainly makes some people wonder about their commitment to local hire.
When the minister is on his feet, he also said the Dawson First Nation is very close to final agreement, and I am aware that they are close - and White River. I didn't realize they were that close. He also said that there were others at the table. Could he inform this House as to who is at the table now and who is yet to come to the table?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Okay, well, first of all, the question of target dates for completion, perhaps the most accurate answer is: as soon as possible. If I had my druthers, they would be finished within a year. However, I know that there are some complicated negotiations and a lot depends on whether or not all parties are all ready and all prepared to come to the table, so, perhaps two years. But we certainly will be there, and we certainly will facilitate as much as we can in the negotiating process.
I realize that the members are of the view that the decision was made to select the chief land claims negotiator and the devolution position before the recruitment took place. All I can say is that that did not happen. The members can say anything they want and they can develop all the conspiracy theories that they want. I know, in my mind, in my heart, it did not happen. I know that the Public Service Commission not only screened those individuals as being able to do the job, they also indicated that all others who applied for the job from within the territory did not have the basic qualifications. That's what I know.
I am happy to work with any qualified, capable, confident person hired to do this job and I have full confidence in the people who were hired. Obviously, we are going to have to agree to disagree. If I were in Opposition - I shouldn't say that - but I know that the member opposite simply cannot accept my explanation, because he knows that there are more people out there who are prepared to believe in the conspiracy theory than there are people who are prepared to believe me on this point. There is nothing I can do about that.
In terms of the First Nations at the table, I can probably run down a list here and be more precise tomorrow; we are getting close to the final moments of the evening.
The Kluane Tribal Council is at the table and they are fairly close. They are in the next rank in terms of achieving an agreement. The Kaska, both the Liard and the Ross River Dena, are both engaging in exploratory discussions, and they've already tabled maps in Liard's case. They are at the table. Carcross is preparing for opening sessions and readying itself for the negotiations.
The Kwanlin Dun member knows as much as I know, probably, about the readiness of Kwanlin Dun for negotiations. And, as I say, the other three are being finalized and there should be some agreement signed very shortly, hopefully before the federal election.
Mr. Ostashek: When we were on general debate on the budget, there was a question to the minister about the minister in his budget speech saying that there would be a process put in place to look at the boundaries of Tombstone Park. From my recollection of the debate, the minister appeared not to know that there was a process in place in territorial government for establishing territorial parks. That's fairly well laid out, from my understanding. I was briefed on it a couple of times.
I think the question that was asked of him - and I forget who it was who asked him - but I would like to ask the same question now: is that the process that the minister sees as being used to look at the boundaries of Tombstone Park after the land claims are completed? I just want to go on the public record here that I am in favour of that process, and it was a process that I put forward and was prepared to talk about with the Dawson First Nations. It was a public process, where everybody would have some input into it and, at the end of the day, if the Yukon general public wanted to see a larger Tombstone Park, then I was all in favour of it.
I just had some great difficulties with expanding the boundaries at the land claims table. So, if the minister could - I know it's almost quitting time - just elaborate on that before he moves progress.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, I did know that there was a process. I didn't know precisely what it was, and I didn't know exactly what was being negotiated at the land claims table and whether or not there were any special provisions for this particular park that would be negotiated through that process, as there has been for other First Nations when it came to, for example, negotiating the McArthur Game Sanctuary with the Selkirk First Nation and that sort of thing - whether or not there was anything special. I didn't know that and I'm getting that checked.
With respect to the Tombstone Territorial Park, it will be established as a natural environment park pursuant to the Parks Act. So, the basic process, as I understand it, will be the same as would normally be undertaken for establishing a park.
As it was explained to me, there hasn't been a lot of experience recently for the Yukon government in establishing parks. So, everybody is a little rusty on this point right now, but the process itself would be one that is familiar to those people who know the park development process. But, if there's anything special, I'll try to get that information and if it doesn't harm the negotiating process, I'll try to give the members information if there is anything significantly different from the parks development process. I don't think there is. Certainly, I haven't mandated it.
In any case, I would move that you report progress on this bill.
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: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 1997-98, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:29 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 7, 1997:
Funding for non-government organizations (dated April 1997) (McDonald)
Bonnet Plume Heritage River Management Plan (draft dated December 1996) (Fairclough)
Bonnet Plume Heritage River Management Plan newsletter (Fairclough)