Wednesday, April 30, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Clerk: It is my duty, pursuant to the provisions of section 24 of the Legislative Assembly Act, to inform the Legislative Assembly of the absence of the Speaker.
Deputy Speaker takes the Chair
Deputy Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers. I would ask members to bow their heads in a moment of silent reflection.
Deputy Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
National Book Festival Week
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Today I rise to pay tribute to National Book Festival Week, which is currently underway. This annual celebration of Canadian literature is sponsored and funded in the Yukon by the Writers Union of Canada, l'association des Franco-Yukonnais, the Playwrights Union and the Department of Education.
May 1st and 2nd, the 18th annual young authors' conference will be held at F.H. Collins. This year, we have as visiting authors Jason Sherman, playwright; M.T. Kelly, novelist and poet; Gregory Scofield, a First Nation poet; and Larissa Lai, a novelist.
I would encourage all members to take advantage of the public readings and wish the young authors well in their conference.
Tribute to Manitoba flood volunteers
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to give tribute to the people of Manitoba. Flooding has devastated the province, but the people of Manitoba are fighting back. Provincial workers not directly responsible for flood control are using their work days to sandbag river banks. Volunteers from around the province are manning reception centres, feeding, housing and clothing flood victims.
EMO has been activated. The military is working 24 hours a day. Red Cross workers have been called in from all across Canada, and neighbouring provinces have been sending in equipment and supplies. There's no greater test of our humanity than disaster.
With this in mind, I am asking this government to respond to the Red Cross Canada-wide appeal to raise money to support relief efforts in Manitoba.
To date, there has been $285,000 raised by the Red Cross to help victims of the flood. Eleven thousand people have been registered at reception centres for flood victims in Manitoba. We need to act. Next time, we might need help, and today we already heard about flooding in Dawson City.
I pay tribute to the people of Manitoba and I appeal to this House and the people of Yukon to send help to Manitoba.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, I too rise to pay tribute to the people of Manitoba and to the Red Cross. I certainly think that, as the member opposite has eloquently stated, that it is up to each and every one of us here in the Yukon to come forth so that we might be able to participate in helping our brothers and sisters in Manitoba at this very critical time in their life.
I also would like to recognize that the organization of the Red Cross is simply an organization consisting of much of what you see represented in this room - of everyday, ordinary-type people. It's an organization that is very needed in the world and you never seem to notice that it is there until something affects you. So, I'd like to pay tribute to the Red Cross. I'd also like to encourage, as the member opposite has said, everybody to pull together and to come to heed of this most urgent need for our Canadian citizens and to remember that it also can happen to us. Thank you.
Mr. Ostashek: On behalf of our caucus, we, too, would like to extend our support to the people in Manitoba in their time of great distress. I believe it is very fitting that we do this. We know how generous Canadians were when the Old Crow school burned down in January of this year, and now is the chance for Yukoners to be able to contribute their share. With the generosity that they have shown in other instances, I'm sure they will be very supportive of this. We just wish the people of Manitoba the best of luck in times of real adversity, and we hope that things will come out for the best, and that we will be able to all pull together. This is what Canada is all about. I think it's time we all pull together in times of great need like this.
Deputy Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
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?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I rise today to inform the House of a concrete demonstration of our government's policy to support and encourage children at risk, as spelled out in the budget address of March 24th.
The ability to read is a fundamental skill that can affect many aspects of a person's growth and development, yet for many children it presents many difficult challenges that can be identified in the very early days of school or even before.
To help these young people meet these challenges, I am pleased to announce the implementation plans for the reading recovery program, which is an early intervention remedial program for students. This program will help Yukon youngsters get off to a good start in their school learning, and better prepare them to meet the challenges of the future.
As the 1997-98 budget demonstrates, Mr. Speaker, funding in the amount of $316,000 has been set aside for this important program. Reading recovery is a highly specialized program designed for six-year-old children who are at risk in learning to read. The classroom teacher is trained to work one-on-one with the children to determine the student's strengths and use specific recovery strategies to accelerate the child's reading growth.
Regular classroom instruction for the student is supplemented with personalized daily lessons of 30 minutes in length for a period of 12 to 20 weeks. When the child has successfully reached a level of reading comparable to her or his peers, the student leaves the program, providing an opportunity for another child to become an independent reader.
Exploratory work with reading recovery was done in 1995-96. During the current year, this work is being accelerated and expanded. There has been a series of pre-training sessions held for 20 teachers this school year, and a Yukon teacher is currently on sabbatical receiving teacher-leader training at the Canadian Institute for Reading Recovery, in Scarborough, Ontario.
The teacher-leader will begin intensive training of eight teachers - six urban and two rural - from the pre-training group this school year. A second teacher-leader will be trained during the next school year and, upon her return, will focus her efforts on training in rural schools.
This government believes our children deserve the best possible start to their school learning. Through reading recovery and other early intervention strategies, we are putting that belief into practice and helping to ensure that our young people have every opportunity to succeed.
Mr. Phillips: We, on this side, support this initiative for young students, but we do have some concerns. The minister talked about students receiving help until they reach the level of their peers. Perhaps the minister could explain what level that is, or the minister's interpretation of it.
It is interesting that the government today is prepared to announce a program offering $316,000 to help these students to bring them up to a certain level, but when it comes to excellence or awards of excellence in education, they feel that those students who want to reach higher heights should get nothing. I think that it is unfortunate that the party opposite feels this way, because we feel that if students work hard they should receive rewards in the long run.
This is a positive program, and it deals with probably a smaller number of students, but I think it would be an extremely positive program; it would help those students to reach their higher level of education.
Ms. Duncan: Reading is as fundamental and as important to us as good nutrition. Just as parents try to provide the right food for growing bodies, instilling a love of reading and words at a very, very early age could be considered the right nutrition - good food for growing brains.
Unfortunately, it is also a fact that the resources to provide a love of reading are more easily at hand for some families than others. The reading recovery program essentially puts in place a program at a very early age for children to ensure they attain the necessary reading skills. Reading recovery is a good program, and our caucus supports its implementation in all Yukon schools.
However, on behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus, I do have a couple of questions and what I believe to be a constructive suggestion for the government. My suggestion: this government is supportive of partnerships in education; the partnership begins at home between the parent and child. This is especially evident in reading. You cannot pick up a parenting book or magazine that doesn't encourage you to read to your child. In fact, you cannot leave Whitehorse General Hospital without a book given, I believe, by the Department of Education, for you to read to your child.
Unfortunately, communication between the government and the parent about reading to your child ends as you leave Whitehorse General Hospital and it could continue prior to the child reaching school age; for example, in cooperation with the Department of Health, the public health nurse does a brief assessment when a child is taken in for their shots. Parents are asked such questions as, "Can this child walk backwards yet?" and "Is the child receiving good nutrition?" Why not add the question, "Do you read to your child?" just as a point of encouragement?
The point is that there are other not necessarily costly suggestions that the government could undertake in support of this program as well.
My questions: where is the role and discussion with Yukon Learn with respect to this program, with the overall idea of support from the very beginning for the reading partnership between parent and child? Literacy is not a skill that every parent has. Are we addressing the root of the problem in consultation with other agencies? And, with regard to reading recovery, the minister identified that funding had been set aside for this particular program. The source of the money has not been identified. Are the funds available from cost savings from other departments or is it simply a reallocation within the Department of Education's budget?
When the minister responds to these questions, I'd also note that the time frame and the actual measurements of success for the reading recovery program were not included in the ministerial statement. The reading recovery program is an excellent program and I look forward to further discussion of it.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I thank the critics for their comments.
Children are being helped to learn to read, because once a student is able to read, they are able to learn. That's why this is such an important program. The Yukon Party critic's remarks about our government's position are completely inaccurate. We do believe in helping all students to do their best. As well, I would remind all members that schools and school councils are, to my knowledge, very active in communicating with parents both on the issue of helping students to read and on other important issues that affect the learning in the schools that all students receive.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, power rates
Mr. Ostashek: My question is for the minister responsible for the Energy Corp.
The minister is aware that he told the House about three weeks ago that there was to be an agreement with Alberta Power on the management of our utility by April 30th. I look at the clock, and the minister has got about 10 hours left until this day runs out, and I'd like to know if he's ready to inform the House if he has an agreement or if he's hopeful of getting one.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, it's still April 30th, and we haven't all turned into pumpkins, yet. It's quarter to two, and I understand that the board is meeting with the president at two o'clock, and that negotiations are still underway. So, I can't give a definitive response to the member opposite. The parties - the Energy Corporation and the board - are still pursuing an agreement, as I understand it.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I thank the minister for that. The minister has to be aware that this is an issue of great importance to not only the Opposition but many, many Yukoners. This is going to mean a change in the direction and how our utility is to be operated. Many Yukoners are waiting for the minister's announcement.
The minister, three weeks ago, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was very confident that we would reach an agreement by April 30th. Can the minister tell this House what the obstacles are in reaching an agreement?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I've always expressed to the member some concern that there were a number of hurdles to cross, both for the April 30th AIP operating agreement as well as any aspect with regard to franchising for June the 30th. So, I've always been consistent in the position that there are a number of hurdles to be crossed. It's an extremely complicated issue, and it's one that demands a lot of attention on behalf of the board.
There are many, many details with regard to laying the agreement to rest as they pertain to right of first refusals for the Energy Corporation and Yukon Energy on certain projects, how exactly generation transmission versus distribution are defined - those types of issues.
So, I do believe that there is hope for an agreement, but - certainly it's our government's position that if there's not a good deal, there shouldn't be any deal.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister is aware, from the discussions that we have had with the minister, the questions in this House and the presentation that was put on by the president of the Energy Corporation, in this House that if there was no agreement by April the 30th, the other deadlines didn't matter. That's why I'm so very concerned.
The other thing is that if, in fact, we are unsuccessful in reaching an agreement, there is only eight months left to put something in place. So, I'm asking the minister now, how much further is he prepared to extend this deadline, if they don't reach an agreement by midnight tonight.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Agreements on extensions would be in the domain of the board, and I have not been asked to agree to an extension by anybody. They're still negotiating. I think it's important that a deal be reached within the appropriate time, unless there's some very imperative reason for an extension, and I haven't been apprised of one yet.
The member is quite right, if this deadline is not met, June 30th doesn't matter; I still maintain that position.
Also, I would just say that it is an important arrangement in the negotiations. I know that the president and the board did some due diligence on direct management, had some extensive conversations, and had some extensive work done with other utilities who do direct manage, and they wanted to ascertain whether or not it was a feasible option.
They did reach some very positive conclusions, but also identified some problems. So, it is still a viable option if there's no beneficial deal with Yukon ratepayers with Alberta Power - and the member knows that there's a transition period - if the deal were to fall apart, for Yukon Energy Corporation to take over direct management.
Question re: Selkirk Street Elementary School meeting, concerned parents
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister of Education.
Last Monday, there was a school council meeting at Selkirk Street school and there were several items on the agenda. Approximately 30 to 40 parents attended the meeting to express their concerns over recent actions by this council. Many of the parents who attended felt the school council did not want to listen to their concerns and virtually cut off debate during the meeting. The parents left the meeting very upset and have been phoning our offices and speaking to us about the meeting. They are now turning to the minister and would like an opportunity to speak to the minister first-hand, and I understand the minister's office turned them down.
I'd like to ask the minister why the Minister of Education won't meet with concerned parents of our school children?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member's facts are wrong. I have not turned down any meetings with anyone. Our office has had some calls from people regarding the meeting that was held at Selkirk this week. Many of the parents who were there wanted to talk about a personnel matter and the school council felt that there should not be public debate or discussion on a personnel matter.
Mr. Phillips: The minister is wrong. When the individual talked to the minister's executive assistant today, they made it perfectly clear to the executive assistant that they would not discuss personnel matters. They did want to discuss other actions of the council. They were also advised by the minister's executive assistant to go through the process of talking first to the deputy minister and then to Mr. Seipp.
Well, Mr. Speaker, they had talked to the deputy minister before this even happened, before they called the minister's office today, and they were told by the deputy minister he did not want to discuss the issue any more and he would get Mr. Seipp to call. That was over a week ago.
Would the minister now meet with these individuals and at least allow these parents of students at Selkirk Street Elementary School to express their concerns to the minister about the council's actions?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As I said in the response to the member's previous question, I am very willing to meet with parents about their concerns. Nonetheless, I have to reiterate that discussions from my office with anybody who phoned made it clear that, on personnel matters, it is not appropriate or legal for the political people to get involved in personnel decisions and that we would not do that.
Mr. Phillips: I wish the minister would listen to my question, because in my previous question I told the minister that they made it perfectly clear to the executive assistant that they would not discuss personnel matters. They wanted to discuss the actions of the school council regarding other matters.
Will the minister, then, meet with these individuals, as long as they don't discuss personnel matters?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: If the member opposite would listen to my answers to the same question that he has just repeated three times, I have told him that I am prepared to meet with people who call and want to have a meeting with me. Yes, I will meet with parents when they phone and ask for a meeting.
Question re: Crown corporations, appointments of presidents
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader on his appointments of the presidents of the two Crown corporations last fall. The Yukon Housing Corporation Act, as we have discussed previously, appears to give the board of that corporation the power to appoint the president. The Yukon Development Corporation Act states that the appointment of the president is made on the recommendation of the board of that corporation.
In December, I asked the Government Leader why he had appointed the presidents of those two Crown corporations without the input of the boards of those Crown corporations, and he said that he had the power to do what he did - that was the gist of his comments.
In the letter I got from the Housing Corporation, I was advised that the board of that corporation believes that there are inconsistencies with the appointment process as defined in different acts. The question I have for the Government Leader - and we've gone back and forth on this - is, just for the record: is that the view of the Government Leader, the view that was expressed by the board of the Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank the member for asking the question. Apart from the question yesterday, I have not had many questions in Question Period for over one week, and I've been desperate to speak.
Unfortunately, this question doesn't really get my juices flowing, so perhaps the member could be a little more provocative in his next question.
When the member raised this matter last December, I did allow that I didn't believe there were inconsistencies between the acts. I do believe that the Public Service Act gives Cabinet the authority to appoint presidents of the two corporations he mentions. I do, however, feel that there is also the fact that there are some inconsistencies between the Yukon Development Corporation Act, the Yukon Housing Corporation Act and the Public Service Act. I did indicate to the member before that those inconsistencies should be resolved at some point. I would be more than happy to consider that matter when time allows.
Mr. Cable: Well, I won't go so far as to get the Government Leader's juices going. Let me quote to him what he said in 1989, when the Housing Corporation Act was being amended, setting out that the board shall have the right to appoint the president, and he was responding to the Member for Riverdale South, as she then was: "The member has already read out that the board of the corporation shall appoint its employees. That is not to say that this employee shall be appointed by the government. It does not say that this employee shall be elected. It does not say that this employee will be anything other than appointed by the board of the Housing Corporation." Now, when the president was appointed, and when the president was removed, rather unceremoniously, last fall from the Yukon Housing Corporation, that must have been in the minister's mind, so would the minister - the Government Leader - tell us: what is his intent, that the board of the Housing Corporation run the Housing Corporation or that he has the right to appoint these deputy ministers?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should correct the impression that the president of the Housing Corporation was somehow unceremoniously dealt with in October/November of last year. There wasn't a lot of ceremony around his appointment to the Department of Economic Development, but there was a round of handshaking, and there were some congratulatory remarks, because people felt very confident that this fellow could do this job and do the job well. I just want to make it clear that whatever impression is in the members' minds with respect to this person's transfer to another job, the job was done with some ceremony but not a lot of pomp and ceremony perhaps.
The best advice that I had at the time with respect to the appointments, in terms of technical advice, was that the government did have the authority to undertake the appointments, and the Housing Corporation -- because I know the member has checked - did ask and receive legal advice, which confirmed this fact. But, the member has pointed out an inconsistency with the Housing Corporation Act and the Public Service Act. I would suggest to him that that's not the only inconsistency between that act and other acts of this Legislature. There are a number of other features of the act that should be reviewed as well, so the member has identified one inconsistency. I would argue that there are probably others, and at some point, we should resolve those.
Mr. Cable: Well, stripped of all the legal arguments, the legal mumbo-jumbo, we know that this government, I believe, wants to make the Housing Corporation an arm's-length corporation. Is this government prepared to bring in legislation that will clarify the inconsistencies in the various governing acts?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member will know the Public Accounts Committee has raised the matter of the relationship between the various Crown corporations and the government, and they've recognized, or acknowledged at least, that there has to be some determination as to how arm's length each corporation should be, depending upon its objectives.
The member and I had agreed, as members of the Public Accounts Committee in the last Legislature, that this should be a high priority for the Public Accounts Committee and I would suggest, perhaps before we even get into any legislative review on a corporation-by-corporation basis, that the new Public Accounts Committee put their minds to this particular project.
I know it's a high priority for him. He would have my support. The Public Accounts Committee could then make some recommendations on - in policy terms - how arm's length the corporation could be and then from that point, we could strike a legislative committee to resolve the obvious problems the member has identified.
Question re: Yukon Forest Commission
Ms. Duncan: It's the Liberal Party's day to provide the thrills. My question is the first question for the Yukon forest commissioner.
There's a widely held acceptance that there are a number of differing views about what should and should not be done with Yukon forests. The issues and solutions are not simple. Other than the general mission statement and terms of reference, we have not seen any real information about the Yukon Forest Commission. Is there a workplan or timetable, and is the commissioner prepared to table this information?
Mr. Fentie: I've stated earlier in this House that we have a target date, which coincides with the date for devolution, of April 1998, and we are going to work toward that. We will soon be tabling a workplan in this House and will continue to work through the process of partnership with the other orders of government, a process of consultation with the public and recommendation from the Yukon Forest Advisory Committee.
Ms. Duncan: I look forward to receipt of that workplan.
I'd like to ask about the commission's priorities. The commissioner, in a letter to me dated March 25, indicated, in response to concerns that I had raised with him, that he "...shared my concern regarding the proposal for allocation assignment in the short term, especially in its failure to adequately recognize sawmillers and other long-term operators."
Are these immediate concerns a priority with the commissioner, or are they simply being lumped in, in an overall forestry policy discussion?
Mr. Fentie: In the first place, Mr. Speaker, our obvious priority is the protection of Yukon forests. Also, it is our position that we work to establish a value-added industry in this territory and lessen our dependence on raw-log export. That process must involve the people of the territory: those who are here now and those who may be coming to this territory in relation to this industry.
Ms. Duncan: The commissioner has just stated that the first priority is the protection of Yukon forests. The endangered spaces report card states that, "Now protected areas need to be established in the southeast Yukon; for example, at Frances Lake and the Coal River watershed." Forest management plans being developed for the southeast must include a network of protected areas as a first step. Protected areas are under discussion in other avenues of the government. However, does the forestry commissioner agree with that statement?
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I believe that the process must be inclusive and a forest management plan must include protected areas, and that's exactly how we approached this issue.
Question re: Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, rate increase
Mr. Jenkins: My question today is for the minister responsible for the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. Mr. Deputy Speaker, on Monday in Question Period, the minister made light of the close to 60-percent increase of the assessment for Workers' Compensation premiums for business. The minister blamed these increases on the previous government, on the previous chair of the board, and, I'm sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he would have blamed his own mother if she was a Yukon Party member. Unfortunately for the minister, it is he who is responsible, and it is he who must act to shield Yukon businesses from the significant increase.
Will the minister reconsider his decision not to do anything until the fall of 1998? Will he act now?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'm getting used to this Yukon Party math. The increases started at 20, then they go 40, then they go 60, and every day in Question Period they add a few more percent on it to try and make it sound like it's a new question. This is day 20, and they're drying up. It's getting quite embarrassing.
Anyway, Mr. Speaker, they'll keep rehashing these questions, and I'll keep answering in a responsible manner. The issue of the assessment increases was first announced in January of 1996. There was extensive consultation done by the board, and the chair was appointed by the Yukon Party - that's a fact; I'm just explaining it to the member. There was extensive consultation done with the business community, and there was some tacit acknowledgement within the business community, as I understand it and, in talking to some businesses myself, I've heard the same thing, that they were the lowest rates in the country with regard to the Workers' Compensation Board, and that the overall balance and the position of the corporation had to be protected. Employers wanted that. They wanted to know that their fund was going to be protected.
Now, subsequent to that, they brought in increases. The request that the member has made of me - I don't believe it's appropriate for me to act on it in a manner that he presents. What I have said is that there are two employer representatives on the board who are responsible to their employer constituencies, and there is an independent board there that handles matters such as setting assessment rates, not the Government of the Yukon, and I would say to the member that I will pass on his concerns to the employer reps from the board and to the board at large so that they can deliberate on them in an appropriate fashion.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm sorry, but the minister cannot blame anyone else for the decisions he must make. Political tinkering is fast becoming the hallmark of this particular minister, and it was this minister who removed the previous chair of the Compensation Board and is now up to his eyebrows in the selection of a new chair. Can the minister advise the House who the new chair is going to be?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member is reading a script and almost put me in a state of sleep.
Anyway, I would say to the member opposite that I have not selected, as of yet, a new chair. The reason for the removal of the previous chair was that the previous government did not conduct any consultation with employee organizations as it was mandated to do in the act. The act clearly requires consultation with labour and employers. I've checked that diligently and that is indeed quite the case. I conducted a thorough investigation of all of the communications back and forth that were undertaken with regard to that consultation.
Secondly, we are trying very, very diligently to try and build some consensus, as difficult as it is, between labour and employers about a choice for chair, and we're going to continue to try those best efforts.
Unfortunately, because of the difference of opinion, it has taken longer than I anticipated, but I think it is a pretty important principle that there be some neutrality in the chair, and the chair should be chosen regardless of what political party they represent, but rather whether there is some consent among the stakeholders - that is, the employers who pay the premiums and receive the insurance benefit, and the workers themselves who are injured on the job performing sacrifices in the workplace and who need the benefits that are so desperately required.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what the minister said is simply not true. The minister, in Opposition, made much about helping injured workers in terms of supporting the hiring of a workers' advocate, but in view of the recent protest by injured workers, it is obvious that the minister has not kept his word. When is the workers' advocate position going to be filled?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It is a shame that the member has no respect for the law and the law of the Workers' Compensation Act. He should familiarize himself, as the critic. I encourage him to do it.
I would say to him that we have a very diligent agenda with regard to Workers' Compensation. We said in the campaign, that we would approach a neutral chair; we've done that. We said in the campaign that we'd hire a workers' advocate. I think the hiring is taking place; the hiring committee is meeting April 28th, April 29th, and I think those dates have been met.
So, we've been working along on that respect. We've also asked the board to get up and running on the occupational health and safety review.
We've also announced that we'll have a legislative review for the fall of 1998 of the Workers' Compensation Act. We have a process agenda, and what we've refused to do is to do what the Yukon Party minister did, which was to get his hands in every individual worker's case and write letters to the board asking him to pay invoices for $40 for the use of some truck. I mean you can go back through Hansard and find out all of the problems the previous Yukon Party minister got himself into, because he didn't approach the problem on a policy plane, but rather on an individual case approach. That is not appropriate and it is not legal with regard to interfering with the adjudication of claims.
Question re: Mackenzie River Basin
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have some questions for the Minister of Renewable Resources about the Mackenzie River Basin management agreement. The agreement was initialled by the federal government, four provincial governments and the two territories in March 1993. The purpose of the agreement was to establish common principles for the cooperative management of the Mackenzie River Basin and to make provisions for water management agreements.
The Yukon government has not passed legislation or an order-in-council to put the agreement in place. Is this government working on living up to its commitments?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have asked the department to continue work on this and do a review and come back to me. Work is ongoing with it.
Ms. Duncan: I understand that there's some opposition to the agreement from groups within the Yukon. One of the groups is the Council of Yukon First Nations. Could the minister outline what those concerns are with this agreement or what forum will be used to address the concerns?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, I can bring those back to the member by legislative return if she would like. I, myself, don't know all the concerns that the CYFN had with this.
Ms. Duncan: When the minister comes back to me with the legislative return in that respect, could he also indicate what time frame he has in place for putting the agreement into effect and when legislation might be on the government's timetable?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Certainly, I can give her an update on that.
Question re: Northern Lights Centre
Mr. Phillips: My question is to the Minister of Tourism. Last weekend, I attended the annual tourism conference in Watson Lake. The Town of Watson Lake used this conference to showcase their brand-new Northern Lights Centre. I, as well as the minister, had an opportunity to view the new presentation. I think the minister would agree with me that the facility and the presentation were absolutely outstanding and will help make Watson Lake a real destination.
One of the concerns I heard, though, from Watson Lake residents is that they felt that the government Department of Tourism should promote this facility more than they are at present. This year, in the visitor guide, there's a strong focus on the new Beringia exhibit, as well as a special page on the Yukon Tourism Internet page. I would like to ask the minister if he'll give a commitment to Watson Lake that this new facility will get equal billing and promotion in their tourism marketing.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I can commit to meeting with the proponents of the Northern Lights Centre and work through with them their desire.
Mr. Phillips: Some of the concerns that were expressed to me by the people of Watson Lake were that there are several pages in the new visitor guide dedicated to Beringia as well as a special page on the Internet, and yet there is very small mention of the new Northern Lights Centre that's going to come onstream at about the same time.
So, I'd like to ask the minister if he would have his department work with the people of Watson Lake on developing a marketing plan for this particular centre.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I will reiterate my answer to the member's question that I will have my folks go to Watson and we will be able to work with Watson Lake and come to a mutual and agreeable answer.
Mr. Phillips: The purpose of the centennial anniversaries program is to build significant attractions in all Yukon communities and to make our visitors stay a little longer and have a little more pleasant stay. The Yukon will become a destination on its own if we do this.
Will the minister talk to his department and urge his department to promote all of the CAP projects as they come onstream? There's one in Haines Junction now that's being built. Dawson City is ongoing. Pelly has one. Would the minister promote these particular CAP projects on an equal basis and give them equal treatment as he is to the Beringia Interpretive Centre?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: As we said in our platform A Better Way, we will be working to promote Yukon as a destination - not simply CAP projects but certainly inclusive of CAP projects and also inclusive of other projects. As we proceed to making the Yukon a stand-alone destination, we will be certainly reworking our marketing industries on a year-by-year basis.
I also, as the member opposite has said, was in Watson Lake last weekend. The town was very enthusiastic of their Northern Lights Centre, as I was very enthusiastic, and quite enjoyed the show and do believe that it is something that could be promoted and should be promoted.
Certainly, my staff will be undertaking this initiative and will be working with others to make sure that we do live up to our campaign promise. I thank the member opposite for his question.
Deputy Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Deputy Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call the Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 1997-98 - continued
Department of Economic Development - continued
Chair: I will now call Committee to order. We are on general debate in Economic Development.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I just want to circulate some information to the critics. I'm getting some more information for the members opposite, such as the Cordilleran costs and stuff that was raised.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, in general debate yesterday I was expressing my concern. I felt that this budget put forward by this government and the actions, or lack of actions, by this Minister of Economic Development are causing me some concern as to what's going to happen to the economy of the Yukon as we move on through this year. I know the minister is pinning a lot of his hopes on the recovery in the Yukon being based on the reopening of the Faro mine.
As I said yesterday in Committee debate, I don't think there is anyone in this House or, for that matter, most Yukoners, who would not like to see the mine back in production. I also believe the minister and the government, for lack of a better term, need a plan B to deal with what will be alarmingly high unemployment this next winter if the Faro mine does not go back into operation. That is a major concern of mine and many Yukoners that I've talked to.
As we watch - or as I watch, anyhow - on a fairly regular basis as to what zinc prices are doing and what lead prices are doing and precious metal prices, there isn't a lot of hope there that anything is going to start moving in the immediate future. In fact, I saw lead prices yesterday were, I believe, at 28 cents, and zinc was running in the 56 or 57 cent range, which is a fairly good price for zinc, Mr. Chair, but lead is low and headed in the wrong direction right now. My understanding is that Faro produces a lot of lead from the concentrates that they're producing there.
There is a major concern, and I have a major concern, as to what's going to happen to the economy, and I'd suggest to the minister that they should be working very diligently to try to come up with some options to try to stimulate the economy and create an environment for jobs in the Yukon, other than the long-term stuff that they're doing, for which I commend the minister. As I said yesterday, that's not anything that any other government, either Yukon Party or New Democratic government in the past, has not done. Those are ongoing roles of government and the Department of Economic Development, to be looking at the future and looking for ways to diversify the economy.
What we're going to need now is some action on the job front. We don't need to start doing polls right here in the Yukon. We only need to look at the poll that came out on Monday in relation to the federal election where jobs are the number-one priority of Canadians, and that includes the 15.5 or 15.7 percent of Yukoners that are unemployed.
There are a couple of other things I want to just clarify today, that came out of general debate yesterday. The minister seemed to be taking some comfort from the fact that retail sales were up in February. He called it an anomaly, and said that that happened during the Yukon Party government as well as theirs. I don't know whether the minister didn't have time to review the statistical report in detail or whether he just wasn't prepared to look at what the retail report really says, because there are some alarming things that are developing in this retail report that haven't happened in the past and, I believe, ought to be of concern to the minister.
It really shows where our economy is heading and I would just like to draw to the minister's attention that, in the February retail report, while he is right on a year-over-year basis, retail sales are up 9.3 percent for the month of February. But what has changed in this one dramatically from what has happened in the past, even over the past four years, is that, in January-February of 1996 and even in January-February of 1995, the month-over-month figure continued to rise, where in January-February 1997 the figure has gone down quite dramatically.
That causes me some concern. It shows - and it says on the inside page - that the figure for February is down some 12.4 percent from January. That's a dramatic drop in one month. In the previous years, the February figure was higher than the January figure. So that ought to be some concern to the minister, and I think it gives him some time to be able to deal with some of the grave concerns and anxieties that Yukoners have out there today and are looking to the government for leadership.
Also, I took the time this morning to look at the consumer price index, which again has some alarming trends in it, and one, which I spoke of yesterday, is that the inflation rate overall on a year-to-year basis is up dramatically and is up almost three percent; but, I believe what's more alarming than that, Mr. Chair, is that when we look at the energy component of the consumer price index, it's up 9.3 percent. Now, that's not even taking into consideration whatever increase will come out of the application that's going to the Utilities Board. It's going to add to that inflationary figure and, as a result, is going to have a dramatic impact on Yukoners - especially those Yukoners that are on fixed income and cannot do anything about it. Quite a few pensioners have raised concerns with me as to their ability to be able to meet their financial obligations if inflation starts to take off as it appears to have done in the Yukon, and let's hope that it's only a short-term burp, but I think the energy component in the consumer price index is sending a clear message to the minister that there are some problems in our economy in the Yukon that need to be dealt with and need some leadership to try to alleviate some of the burden on Yukon residents until such time as we do have an up-turn in the job market in the Yukon.
While I'm hopeful of the Faro mine going back into operation, I'm not nearly as confident as the minister is that the mine will be back in production in this calendar year and probably not in this fiscal year. I'm just not as confident as the minister is, and I would appreciate hearing the minister's thoughts.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I think this is somewhat of an artificial debate. Surely, the member must know that when you take 600 or 700 jobs - maybe even 1,000, if you count all the indirect jobs - out of an economy, it is going to have an impact. It's going to have an impact on sales; it's going to have an impact on inflation. Look at the inflation trends in 1992-93. The member should look at those. He'll see that inflation was up around three percent.
I know he's doing his thing - no problem, but we have a plan B. I've gone through numerous initiatives in the here and now that we're undertaking in job creation. I also said that we can't spend our way out of it. I've talked to a number of pensioners myself who say, right off, "You can't spend your way out of this thing."
So, I don't know. I understand the concern of people about energy rates, but when this member was the Government Leader in 1993, when the Yukon Energy Corporation went for reimbursement of costs that ended up, ultimately, in the rate rider that came into effect in February, surely he must have know then that this could ultimately, when they went to court, lead to a rate increase, and he didn't direct the Energy Corporation not to proceed.
So, I can only say to pensioners that we have some ability to deal with the energy rates question. We already extended rate relief in December and we are going to take action once the Utilities Board deals with the present application. The member also knows that in 1993 there was a 58-percent application before the board.
I would caution him not to be overalarmed. I would say that he should start looking at some of the initiatives that we are doing i
n a more positive light. I cannot spend my way out of this, and you can't take 600 or 700 jobs out of a small economy and not have the stats go wonky.
I don't know what more I can say, and I am not going to read out or get into a huge debate about all of the other initiatives that we're undertaking in the here and now, because I did that yesterday.
I understand his concern. I had the same concern when I watched 58-percent applications go forward. I had the same concern when I watched the Faro mine go down in 1992-93 and watched the GDP drop 18 to 20 percent.
I watched all the impacts of the shutdown. It is almost déjà vu.
The one good thing about this time is that I think our government has a good plan for dealing with it. Secondly, I think that the company situation, with regard to the mining operation, is a lot better. Just since they shut down, the price of zinc has gone from 46 to roughly 56 or 57. They have no debt. They have extensive tax pools that make it an incentive to invest. They have huge multinational corporations behind them. There is a lot going for this company and a lot going for this ore body.
I am not banking all my hopes on the Faro mine, by any means, but the member has to have some realism when it comes to these numbers.
Mr. Ostashek: I think the minister has to take these numbers a lot more seriously than he is. He can sit there and spout the political rhetoric, but that's not going to help put Yukoners to work. There are some very glaring differences in what's happening with our retail trade figures now and what happened even back in 1992. If you go back and look at the report on the back page, you'll see that retail sales went up every year, even with the Faro mine shutdown. That doesn't seem to be happening now.
I know there are some differences. Interest rates are a lot lower now than they were in 1992. There are a lot of things that should make it easier to get out of this time, but the dramatic drop in February from January should send a clear message to the minister. For the minister to say that the government ought not to have proceeded with a court case, let me just say to the minister opposite, he was the minister when the decision came down. It was his decision to go ahead and collect the money. He didn't have to make that decision either. He can't blame the last administration.
He got elected because people didn't like what the Yukon Party was doing. They were going to do things differently. For him to go back and just blame the Yukon Party for everything isn't going to wash with the Yukon public.
The other problem the minister is talking about is blaming the 58-percent increase in power rates under the Yukon Party, when he knows we limited that to 15 percent. That's something this administration hasn't done. They brought in additional rate relief that, in fact, cost ratepayers money. I wouldn't be surprised if, at the end of this year, their contribution to rate relief is going to be less than it was last year.
The other point I want to make is that even though they got rate relief in, the glaring difference between their administration and our administration is that, under our administration, we didn't allow consumers' electrical bills to rise. They have allowed them to go up 10 percent, along with rate relief, with the two riders that have come into effect. We didn't allow that; we absorbed the extra cost under the rate relief. There is a glaring difference that the minister has to deal with.
I'm just pointing those things out to the minister. There are some very glaring differences in what the figures are telling him, and these figures ought to be of concern to him and his department as to how they deal with the situation that we're faced with in the Yukon today, or we're going to be in a very serious situation a year from now if no action is taken by this government.
Mr. Chair, we're not asking the government to go into debt to get jobs for Yukoners. We said time and time again in this budget debate that it's a matter of spending priority. We pointed out where we believe the priorities are wrong, that there could be more jobs created with different priorities. That's our role - to point those things out to government.
What the government does with it is certainly entirely up to them, and we'll be back a year from now to debate another budget and see how successful this administration has been in creating jobs.
Mr. McRobb: I'd like to add a couple of comments on the record, if I may. The Leader of the Official Opposition incorrectly stated that his government reduced rates from the 58-percent application down to eight percent in 1993. I would like to put on the record that it was the Yukon Utilities Board that reduced the 58-percent application to about the 30-percent figure. The rate relief reduced that further, about 15 percent.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: After the Yukon Utilities Board decision, and that's exactly the position we're taking. We don't want to be seen to be interfering with the independence of the utilities regulator, despite the tormenting from the Official Opposition with one press release after another. Now we see a petition. I certainly don't see how it could possibly be justified. It's electioneering at its worst, and the Opposition knows they don't have the ratepayers' interests at heart. It's the headlines they're after, Mr. Chair. That's all.
I was through the process in the last four years. I saw what happened to the regulatory process under the previous administration, how they streamlined the process to discourage interventions, to discourage information from being brought to light, how they streamlined the profits for the power companies, how rates did not reduce when the Faro mine restarted, and now this opportunism, Mr. Chair, these press releases, as they come across my desk these days. I just laugh at them, because that's exactly what they are: laughable. There's no substance to them whatsoever.
As the minister of the Yukon Energy Corporation has stated, we have a plan to mitigate the increase. Our government is responding to the increase. We are aware of the concern expressed by seniors and low-income people especially, and we will be mitigating and announcing that, once the Yukon Utilities Board makes its decision.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, we've heard a lot of utter nonsense there from the Member for Kluane, and that's just his view of what transpired. There are many, many other people who think that actions taken by the Yukon government of the day to streamline the process saved the ratepayers a substantial amount of money, and I know he might be smarting a little bit because he feels his soap box was taken away from him, but many Yukoners think it was the right move. So, we'll see what happens with them.
The fact is, Mr. Chair - and this is for the minister, not for the Member for Kluane - that we announced prior to the Yukon Utilities Board decision that we would be moving in to stabilize the rates; we announced that. This government has said they are going to do something, but they haven't got the credibility with the public because they did something at the end of the year to raise the rate relief to 1,500 kilowatts and yet allowed the rates to go up 10 percent. So, they have a credibility problem with the public. We'll see whether our petition is frivolous when it comes to the Yukon public.
Mr. McRobb: I have just a couple more comments to add to that response. I would like to remind the Leader of the Official Opposition exactly what happened on the 5.5-percent increase that Yukon consumers saw on their bills in March that's directly related to the appeal rider. When the Yukon electrical utilities took the Yukon Utilities Board to court, it went to the Supreme Court of the Yukon. The case was heard in Vancouver, B.C. and, Mr. Chair, that limited the involvement of Yukoners to be heard in that appeal.
The utilities were there in full force, Mr. Chair, along with their battalion of lawyers. They beat out the Yukon Utilities Board. They got the increase they wanted, sanctioned by government, but the question really is on the timing of the increase by the Yukon Utilities Board. The appeal decision was known in April 1996. It did not increase rates until 1997. Why did it take eight or nine months for that increase to go through?
Was it related to the election of September 30th, Mr. Chair? You bet it was. So, when I hear the Leader of the Official Opposition over there saying that rates did not increase under his government - balderdash. When I see him stand up and fight for the independence of Yukon Utilities Board - balderdash.
There's another issue I want to remind him of, and that's the wasted water at Aishihik Lake - two feet of water wasted in 1994 and 1995. I'm very familiar with that issue and, I believe, so is he. That water was wasted because the Yukon government didn't believe the Faro mine would reopen in the summer of 1994. In fact, when it did reopen, I believe it was November 10th, 1994, the previous week his deputy ministers held a retreat for capital planning for the following year's budget. The deputy ministers, along with the government, decided the mine would not reopen. They did not plan for it in the next year's budget. The next week, the mine reopened.
What did we see after that, besides two feet less water in Aishihik Lake that counted for driving rates higher? We saw the Yukon Party taking credit for reopening the mine. We saw the Government Leader holding up charts on how the economy is picking up, how the Yukon Party stands for mining.
The evidence speaks for itself. I believe this government, under the direction of the minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Development Corporation, is doing whatever is possible for the ratepayers of the territory regardless of what we were left by the previous administration. There is a big, big hangover. The appeal rider decision, the dependency on diesel and the fuel increase, the three-percent rider, the wasted water from Aishihik Lake, the drained condition of Aishihik Lake, no alternative means of power generation other than diesel - it was a complete disaster and completely contrary to what was promised in the Yukon Party's four-year plan back in 1992.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions on the documents that were provided to us. I had asked for the update of the energy action plan, and we have filed today the energy workplan. Are we saying that that is one and the same, or is the energy action plan, as updated, about to be given to the House?
Hon. Mr. Harding: They are one and the same.
Mr. Cable: Well, these are two very different documents. I guess I misunderstood what was said at the briefing.
The energy action plan outlines a number of what appears to be actions and whatnot, not necessarily policy directions, but the energy workplan, I assume, is the workplan approved for the Energy Commission. Are we on the right wavelength here, or is there something I'm not appreciating?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Now, what this does, Mr. Chair, is delineate precisely who is responsible for what with regard to energy policy development with regard to energy action in the government. The member will note that there are certain classifications along the right-hand column, and it tells the member who is responsible for what.
Mr. Cable: Okay, I can appreciate that that is in fact the workplan. It's not really an update of the energy action plan at all then. Am I correct?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It was not my first direction to tell the department to update that plan in that specific way. That was the Yukon Party's way of doing things. That was not our way of doing things. This is the energy workplan. It shows an overall view of how government departments liaise when it comes to energy issues. It also shows who has responsibility for certain tasks.
Mr. Cable: All right then. What is the status of this energy action plan, 1995-98, that was prepared and made public by the previous administration? Is that the plan to which the government is working, or has it been taken off the table?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We haven't concentrated on that plan. We've concentrated on the deliverables with regard to energy policy. I know that some of the staff in Economic Development have provided some assistance to the commission as well in terms of energy action plans or workplans.
Mr. Cable: Well, there are a number of actions, though, in this energy action plan; some have been directed to coal, for example, on which I know there was a difference of use between the present and previous administration.
Are we saying that this energy action plan, 1995-98, put out by the previous administration, is no longer the guiding document in the energy area for this present administration?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Absolutely. There is a difference on coal. The Yukon Party had a big coal philosophy. They didn't care whether it made economic or environmental sense.
Our position on coal is that we would only get involved in it if it made economic and environmental sense. So there is a difference; the member is dead on.
Mr. Cable: Well, let's strip away all the verbiage. I took that to be a "yes", that this document that I've been flashing around here, entitled "Energy Action Plan, 1995-98", is no longer the governing document in the energy area. Can we get a yes or no on that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The energy action plan is not the overall guiding document; however, there are some aspects of that energy plan that I, as the critic, agreed with. The Energy Commission is also looking at the document and we'll be able to make some more definitive statements, but all of this, in terms of our energy policy, has got to be subjected, I think, to a more in-depth stakeholder review. We thought one of the failings of the department's action plan was a lack of consultation in energy direction.
Mr. Cable: Well, that may, in fact, be the case, and I don't pass any judgment on that, but if somebody walks into the minister's office and says, "Mr. Minister, this energy action plan of 1995-98, is it the guiding document, the policy document for your department?" And he will say, "Well, some of it is and some of it isn't, and I'm not going to tell you what part of it is."
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: Oh, maybe the minister could clarify that then.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, if someone were to do that, I would say, "No, that was the Yukon Party's guiding philosophy. They were prisoners of the coal philosophy, whatever that was. We tried for hours in debate to try and figure it out. I guess - it was like some God they were worshipping. They didn't care how much it cost or anything else."
The former Government Leader saw some mountain sheep by a coal project in Alberta and thought that was good enough justification to have it here.
So, I would say to the member opposite that there are some aspects of the plan - it wasn't my first order of business to sit down my officials and say, "Okay, let's review the energy action plan that the Yukon Party put out." That wasn't my first order of business. That wasn't the priority that I gave the department. I said let's take some action on the economy.
So, what I would say to the member opposite is that the Energy Commission is looking at aspects of that workplan that made sense and I'm sure will be sending aspects of that plan out for stakeholder review.
Mr. Cable: What I'll tell people who come into my office is that we're not quite certain what parts of this apply, but some of it might and some of it might not, maybe coal and maybe not coal, maybe renewable energy and maybe not.
One of the things I asked for yesterday was a list of the policy initiatives, and I got this document noted, "Speaking notes on the budget". Is this what I'm getting in lieu of the list of policy initiatives?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's a narrative of most of the things the department is doing, including priorities of the government and policy directives.
Mr. Cable: Okay. So, this document then, entitled, "1997-98 Workplan: Strategic Management, Department of Economic Development", is a document providing a response to my request for a list of policy initiatives and the times for completion?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, that is correct, and I would also point out to the member opposite, in response to his last question, that it took the Yukon Party four years to come up with that little booklet on an energy action plan. I would say to him that we have to have a little bit of time - we've only been in six months - to analyze what they were doing and to set a clear course for how we want to proceed in terms of consultation with the public on energy issues. The member knows full well that they are extremely complicated.
Mr. Cable: You got that right.
The minister and I were enjoying the company of an Australian by the name of Jacko Jackson at the Yukon Chamber of Mines meeting back in November. I believe that the minister, either before or after Jacko Jackson's speech - it was some time after Mr. Jackson's speech.and in that speech - this is dated November 26, 1996 - the minister was praising the last NDP government, the NDP government that moved out of office in 1992. He had to say, "As memory serves me, the last NDP government had a pretty good relationship with the mining industry," and there are a number of bullet points. This is on page 7 of his speech, if he kept it. He says, "The Ketza mine, the Sa Dena Hes mine, the Mt. Skukum mine and the Faro mine all benefited from our help." All of these mines, of course, are down now, which raises some questions about just what sort of help should be given to these mines.
I know that, under the Yukon industrial support program, there was some money given to Loki. Has the Loki contract been analyzed to see if all the covenants have been complied with?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There was a fair amount of money given to Loki and it's still being paid out. There are still ongoing commitments for over $400,000 in grants, I think, for this budget year and the next two. The department does some ongoing analysis of how well they are living up to their side of the industrial support policy. It's quite subjective at times, and I would like to see if we can find a better way or a more diligent way of quantifying how well they're living up to the agreements.
The anecdotal evidence is something that you rely on and it is tough to ascertain. I was up there for the pouring of the first gold bar, and everybody seemed happy. That's a good occasion, and I don't know if it's a clear indication of everything that's happening with the company. I know, myself, I feel that the company is a good corporate citizen. I have engaged in a lot of conversations with them. I think that their relationship with the Dawson First Nation, although it's had some rough spots, I think they're pretty progressive in their approach. I think they've really tried hard to use Yukon business as much as possible.
Anecdotally, I think they're living up to it, but I wish I could tell the member that there's a more rigid system in place for analyzing whether that commitment was indeed lived up to.
Mr. Cable: Well, there are a number of commitments in the agreement, and I think it'd be useful to go over those in detail when we get to that line item in the budget, so I would alert the minister to the fact that there'll be some questions asked on it. There's particularly a covenant relating to jobs, as I recollect.
Now, back to the minister's speech on November 26th, 1996. He was beating the podium, saying, "Now we're back and we're prepared to work with you to build a strong future for the mining industry.
The number of new and proposed mining projects is unprecedented."
Could he tell us about these new and proposed mining projects? Does he have a list of them stuck in his back pocket?
Hon. Mr. Harding: What I'll do is I'll ask the Energy Commissioner. He can dig out the Yukon Party caucus update. That was that propaganda document from the pre-election campaign, where they had nine mines ready to open up in the next year.
Mr. Chair, I wouldn't make that claim. I never did. I think that there are some exciting developments.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding:
I don't know what planet the Leader of the Official Opposition lives on some times, but clearly reality is not part of his daily life.
Mr. Chair, with regard to the Skukum project, there's an extensive underground exploration program going on there right now. So, although the mine is not operating, there's still a lot of work that could conceivably be done there.
With regard to the Ketza mine, which is also down - which was just a purchase by BYG of Ketza. They have a plan - I'm not commenting on the feasibility of it, other than what they have told me - to ship ore from Ketza to their Mount Nansen project for milling. So, some of these properties are down, but they're not done. They're still being worked on and there's substantive money being spent on them.
The Minto exploration property is going for their Water Board hearing on May the 14th. There's real potential. They have a major backer of Asarco, who's looking at developing that property. I just met with United Keno Hill Mines. They are also going before the Water Board. They have a lot of problems with regard to their property to work out before that's going to be operable. One of the biggest problems is, of course, the price of silver right now.
There are a bunch of other properties like Western Copper that are going through the permitting stage. Western Copper has had a real tough time because what they're doing is talking about heap-leaching copper, which is a process that's not really that familiar in the north, so they've been having a rough time with the federal Liberal government in getting permitted. That's been a problem, so we've been working through some of those touchy areas with them and with DIAND - and I'm just kidding, by the way, with the member; they're not doing a bad job over there.
The thing is that that is a property that, if it can get through the permitting process without unnecessary hurdles, could create some substantive jobs and perhaps even some value-added copper production in the territory. They're looking at producing sheets of copper here, locally.
The other interesting property that's been the subject of a lot of discussions is the Dublin Gulch property. That's another heap-leach gold, similar to Viceroy. They're getting ready to go before the board. They're working through the permitting process. That's the First Dynasty project. They're looking at getting that ready to roll and then they may sell it because First Dynasty's actually concentrating more on South America and some other areas.
New Millennium that operates or has this property seems very buoyed by the fact that Viceroy has done a fairly successfully job with the heap-leach gold, so that's another property that has some good potential.
There are a number of them. I think the first mine you're going to see is the Minto Exploration's property. I think that Atna Resources has been billing their drilling work and exploration as the Yukon's next mine, and I've been challenging their CEO to beat Minto to the punch, but I think that they are more of an exploration company. However, they have some arrangements with Westmin, who has operating companies such as Gibraltar Mines, so I'm hopeful that they'll really think hard about getting those properties into production.
There's also some extensive work being done at Fire Lake. I don't think there ever were nine mines ready to open next year, as was billed by the Yukon Party, but there's some good potential out there.
Kudz Ze Kayah is also seen as a very big discovery at the prospectors and developers convention. The federal minister, Anne McLellan, identified it as one of the most exciting and important finds in the entire of western Canada, at Wolverine Lake.
So there's some enthusiasm, but I'm not prepared to do what the Yukon Party did and tell everybody it's just around the corner. We're just going to have to keep working through the problems.
Mr. Cable: Okay, on this Yukon short-term economic outlook, were any of those mining proposals factored into the short-term outlook in the sense of job creation or GDP?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The operating mines were. That's the Mount Nansen BYG operation and the Viceroy, but the report was done on a worst case scenario basis. There was some reference in the forward-looking part of the document to the successful conclusion of mines like Minto getting through the permitting process, spending development money and getting into production of having a positive benefit later. But, no, in the actual numbers it's a worst case scenario.
Mr. Ostashek: It was sort of interesting listening to the Minister of Economic Development sparring with the Leader of the Liberal Party. For a while I thought that the minister could qualify to be a Liberal because he was coming down on either side of the argument. Whichever one fit his argument the best, that's the side he'd come down on. He is very proficient at that. He was very against the coal project in Opposition; now, they support a coal project.
Mr. Chair, I've got some questions for the minister on short-term economic development that he's been trying to distance himself from. I'm going to say to the minister that he's responsible for the Department of Economic Development and he tabled this so-called short-term economic outlook in the Legislature. I just want to ask the minister if he reviewed this document before he took it to Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, I did a cursory review of the document; basically I read it and took it to caucus and Cabinet and informed them that this would be coming out and they had an opportunity to read it prior to it coming out and then I released it.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm going to say to the minister - just for the record, and I'm not going to go on forever on this, but I'm going to put it on the record - that had the Yukon Party tabled a document of this nature that is so lacking in information, so many key indicators missing, we would have been in debate in this House for several weeks when that member was in Opposition.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
No, it's not wrong, Mr. Chair, it's right. I want to just point out, to the member, some of the statements in this document - and I hope that they never table another one as bad as this. Not because of what direction it's giving, but because of misinformation and lack of information. I just want to go over a few of the glaring things here and ask the minister how he could have let it go through without questioning the department.
If you go to page 4 of the document, in the second paragraph, where it talks about oil and gas, there's a statement in here that says, "In anticipation of the transfer of authority from Canada to Yukon and the completion of the Yukon land claims, the industry may undertake more preliminary exploration activity in 1997, particularly in the southeast Yukon." Well, give me a break, Mr. Chair. I don't believe there's anybody in the Yukon that believes that the oil and gas transfer was going to take place in time for any economic benefit in 1997. Certainly land claims aren't going to be finalized in 1997. I ask the minister if he reviewed this, which he should have, and how could he let those things go through?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm not surprised the member can't believe any activity would take place in oil and gas, because he couldn't get any agreement on devolution from the federal government. We, on the other hand, have a cooperative approach with Yukon First Nations, and I want to tell the member that we're very excited about the potential for oil and gas.
I also want to say that there is a difference. If it was a document from a public servant who is not a professional economist, I would have provided more direction. I probably would have asked for changes. My understanding of what the short-term economic outlook is is that a department hires an economist. The economist is a professional. The economist puts forward a document that is an independent review of the economy. With regard to the omissions that the member talked about, I can counter that by saying that the Yukon Party didn't even table a short-term economic outlook in 1995, I believe. So, that was the ultimate omission.
I don't understand the member's criticism on this. I am not an economist. The whole point of a short-term economic outlook is to have an independent, economically - rather than politically - driven review. Mr. Chair, I did not edit the document, and I respected the professional opinion of the economist. I will pass on to the deputy minister the member's objection to the work of the economist, and the deputy minister, which is responsible for personnel matters, can deal with those questions.
Mr. Ostashek: As I said, the member could be a Liberal, because that isn't the position he took on the short-term economic outlook when he was in Opposition, and let me say to the minister when he says we didn't put one out, the NDP didn't put one out in 1992 either. So, let's put that on the record.
The reality is that this is a document that the business sector looks at for what's going to happen in the Yukon for next year. Otherwise, what are we putting it out for at all?
In my opinion, this is a very shabby document - incomplete and a lot of misstatements in it. If we're going to take the time and the energy to put out a document, I think it ought to be of some benefit to people who are going to be interested in it. I would be ashamed to distribute this document if I were the minister. There are so many statements in here - go to Tourism. It says in the script that the department passes onto the economist that it's going to see a growth of at least 1.5 percent. When we get to the statistics in the back, it says 1.5 to four percent. I mean, come on. Let's get real here. If we're going to put out a document, let's put out something that is based on some fact and some projections, which I know are subjective, but at least a little more realistic, and when we get to the part of the document that says "permitted building construction", well, there's no reason that that ought to be left blank. It's not a very hard figure to get a hold of, and certainly, it's a subjective figure, but as the minister says, that's what the document is. But, if we're going to have a document that's going to be any use to anybody and is a cost to taxpayers, then it ought to be complete based on the best information that's available at the time.
Don't make statements such as that there's going to be some economic benefit to exploration in 1997 because they're moving ahead with devolution, when the minister knows that the federal government is not prepared to issue any land releases in oil and gas, and the minister told them that.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, we're working very hard on the oil and gas issue. I think we've advanced it further in a few months than the member opposite did in four years.
I've already spoken to a lot of people in the oil industry who are very excited about the Yukon and the potential for oil and gas. We have agreement with other Yukoners and Yukon First governments to proceed with the passage of the bill. Sure, it's delayed by the election, but it's not going to be delayed forever.
The biggest factor in the ultimate delay, in the last four years, was the fact that the member had no agreement with First Nations. Every time that they tried to ignore that, the First Nations would lobby the federal minister and the federal minister would back off - period.
So, with regard to the short-term economic forecast, I'll just say to the member that they didn't table anything in 1995, and because the private sector does rely somewhat, in some cases, on this economic forecast, the economist did not want to provide uninformed estimates. I think in the long term your credibility is at stake if you try to manipulate the political information to make it look like a Yukon Party caucus update. I'm sorry, but there were not nine mines ready to operate this year, and I do not think the economists should have put that in the economic outlook.
Mr. Ostashek: There's one thing that's on the line here, and that's the credibility of this Minister of Economic Development.
The economy of the Yukon is in the poorest shape of any Minister of Economic Development in the history of the Yukon, and this minister has got his work cut out for him. He ought to move ahead very quickly and take his job a little more seriously than he has been in the past.
The minister is responsible for this document, whether he wants to be or not. He is the minister of that department. If we're going to spend taxpayers' money to put a document out, it ought to be of some use to somebody.
We will review this document one year from now, along with a new one that comes out. I hope that the minister takes something away from this debate and passes on some direction so that we have a document that is going to be a little more factual and a little more accurate than what we have in front of us today and what Yukoners have. This is a joke.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I will let the economist, through the deputy minister, know what the member's concerns are. Perhaps he can incorporate some more information. If he has to qualify it more, I suppose that could take place. If the member wants the information in that document, we could take a look at it.
I don't want to fight with the member. I could talk about 1992-93 and the stats from 1992-93 when the Faro mine shut down and the former Member for Watson Lake's record as a minister. I will put my abilities and actions up against that minister's any time in the handling of a difficult situation such as this.
I am working very hard. I am looking ahead, though. I want to move ahead with Yukoners. We have a number of initiatives - I have read them into the record and talked about them ad nauseum here - that I think are going to help the Yukon in the long term. We have a fundamental difference of opinion and, Mr. Chair, I'll just leave it at that.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister is right, we do have a fundamental difference of opinion, but I just encourage the minister to reflect on the debate in this Legislature and to deal with the very serious issues that are facing Yukoners.
I do not have anything more in general debate. I am prepared to go line by line.
Ms. Duncan: I wonder if I could just ask the minister for a point of clarification in terms of policy discussions, in particular the workplan of the strategic management section that was tabled today or provided to the members.
On pages 2 and 3, there are a whole host of areas where the work of the Department of Economic Development cross-references with the Department of Renewable Resources. I can understand that that comes together in some instances under some areas, such as the commissioner for Yukon forests. However, are there other points where this work might come together at the officials' level?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Tons, actually, and the Minister of Renewable Resources and I have made it a priority for the Economic Development and Renewable Resources deputy ministers and departments to try and work interdepartmentally on a lot of these issues of priority.
We have development assessment process Cabinet subcommittee meetings where both attend, as well as the deputy minister for ECO. We do the same on energy, forestry and tourism. We believe that the endangered spaces agenda has some good economic potential and we want to make sure that that is realized, because there will be other sides to it. There will be people in the mining industry that would disagree with that. We want to at least show people that there is a long-term benefit, economically, that can be attached to endangered spaces.
I just think it's fundamentally important that Economic Development and Renewable Resources are tied together in terms of dealing with tough issues. Very often, there are two very different perspectives that come out of the two departments. In order to have that balanced view, you must ensure, when you're working on tough issues like energy or development assessment, that those debates take place not just at the political level, but also within the bureaucracy.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could I ask the minister to clarify how it works in terms of the public? How does the public see these two departments, in particular - Economic Development and Renewable Resources - and I couldn't agree with him more that it's very important that they work together. How does it work when Jane Doe, who wants to start a mine, goes to deal with the government? How does she know those two departments are speaking to each other?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The department has really been trying, when meeting with stakeholder groups and the public, to work together. I'll give an example to the member on the Tombstone Park issue. There were representatives from the bureaucracy, from both departments, meeting with the chamber, mining facilitator and parks people from Renewable Resources. So, in that way, they would be liaising with the public. We've also done that in meeting with the conservation groups. We've tried to show the public that we are prepared to deal with both sides of the equation, economically and environmentally.
Usually, if someone would come into the department with a question, we would make sure that they were channeled through to the right people, whether it was a question that involved Renewable or whether it was a question of Economic Development. If it was one that crossed over both departments, we've really tried to work hard on interdepartmental exchanges and staff between the two departments. We've had people from Economic Development move over, on secondment, to Renewable Resources when there are issues that really excite them and they feel they can contribute something to them.
Ms. Duncan: Does the interdepartmental exchange extend, or is there some training or something that extends to the front-line staff, as opposed to the managerial policy level?
Hon. Mr. Harding: These would be the front-line people I'm referring to. We had a person who was quite knowledgeable in Economic Development on forestry issues, who transferred over to deal with protected spaces agenda and liaise with the public. So it's not just at the higher levels. It's also at the other levels of the public service.
Mr. Phillips: Following along the same line of questions that the Member for Porter Creek South talked about - the officials overlapping in departments and working within departments - I have a suggestion for the minister, which I think would be a useful one. When the minister was in Opposition, he was very critical at times of the tourism industry and very critical of the people involved in the industry, and made light quite a few times of the industry and the direction it was going. Even when it recommended certain things, the minister, when he was in Opposition, was critical of those things, and even here, just the other day, when we sent him over some resolutions from the Tourism Industry Association, the minister made light of them.
What I'd like to ask the minister to do is - I think it would be useful - since he is the Minister of Economic Development, and tourism is the second-largest industry in the territory, maybe the minister could give us a commitment that he would meet with the marketing council, meet with the TIA board, meet with the First Nations Tourism Association and take part in a briefing by the Department of Tourism marketing branch so he has an overview of the importance of tourism to the territory and the direction we're going and why we're going in those directions.
I know that the minister, in his travels to the prospectors' meeting and the other mining meetings he's going to, has discovered that it's important to be out there and be seen and be showing the flag and promoting the Yukon. But it might help if the minister went to these various groups and met with them and found out where the industry is really at, because it was obvious by his comments in Opposition that he didn't know that. He should just get more familiar with the Tourism department so that when he does go on his travels he can actually speak from a background of knowledge in the industry and from where the industry is coming from.
So, could the minister give me a commitment that he takes his job very seriously and that he will take time out of his busy schedule to meet with these organizations? I know he meets with the Chamber of Commerce, but he has tourism programs, I believe - the CAP programs and centennial events program are all in the minister's budget.
What I'd like from the minister is just a commitment that he'll take all of his responsibilities as the minister responsible for economic cevelopment very seriously, he'll become more informed about tourism and what tourism is and what it's all about, and that he will attend some meetings with the Tourism department and with the non-government agencies that give advice to government from time to time.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I'll take the member's condescending suggestion to heart and I'll see what I can do.
I have met several times with representatives of the tourism industry, since I've been minister, on a whole slew of issues. We have somebody actually from Tourism, from the marketing branch, working in Economic Development. We've talked to Tourism about a number of issues, including the trade investment diversification strategy. The member is wrong about my views on tourism. I won't get into it; there's lots I could say.
The member used to like - when I criticized him - to say I was criticizing the tourism industry and that was a good tactic, I guess, when you're in government, but I stand by any comments I made.
I worked very hard on the Campbell region tourism initiatives as an Opposition MLA. My constituents know that, and so do the people of Ross River who are involved, as well. So, I think it's a stretch to say I was against tourism - a real stretch.
Mr. Phillips: I didn't say the minister was against tourism, I said the minister didn't understand tourism and what tourism is all about.
I have to tell the minister, with all honesty, that there's a lot of people in the industry that I've talked in the last several years with respect to the tourism industry who were quite bewildered by the comments made by that member when he was in Opposition. - right from the issue of pairing, when we wanted to do some tourism marketing initiatives. When he had to pair, he made some snide comments about pairing and dismissed it as useless.
The industry is nervous about this minister who now has some power and control over where we go in the future. So, all I'm asking the minister to do is to take some time, go to the meetings with these various groups, sit down with them, exchange his views and, if nothing else, listen to their views, and the minister will learn something. I think that would be useful.
I don't mean it in a condescending way.
The minister has spoken out loud and clear, on the record, about the tourism industry and how he feels about it, and the tourism industry itself is very nervous about this minister, so I just want him to take some time out of his busy schedule and meet with them. He can cancel one of his next Mexican holidays if he wants, and take that week to meet with them.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I know how serious and sincere the member is with his non-condescending suggestions now. The member, the other day, did say in Question Period that I was against tourism. That is a favourite tactic. You know, if you criticize the member, you say, "you're against tourism." Or if you criticize what they're doing on the economy, they say, "You're against the economy."
Mr. Chair, that's not been the case. I've had a number of discussions with representatives of the tourism industry, from wilderness tourism to the director of the TIA organization. Actually, we jointly attended the opening of the Canada/Yukon Business Service Centre not too long ago.
So, if the Tourism Industry Association would like to meet with me - if they're that nervous - I would expect that they would contact me and I would be happy to meet with them on a more formal basis, if they want. I'm going to the business after hours here in a little while and
I'll be happy to talk with people there and if they want to have a more formal discussion, then I'd be more than pleased.
I am very supportive of tourism; I always have been. I wasn't supportive of all the initiatives of the minister though. I don't agree with everything the minister did. I'm sorry about that, but, Mr. Chair, I would say to him that that's just a fact of life and he's going to have to get over it.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I am absolutely shocked at the approach that this Minister of Economic Development is taking - how arrogant. What he said here a few moments ago is: if they want to meet with me, they can call me.
Mr. Chair, he's the minister responsible for Economic Development. The second largest industry in the Yukon is tourism. That minister should be taking the initiative. He shouldn't have to wait for an invitation. It's that minister's job to contact the marketing council, to contact the First Nations, to contact TIA and sit down and meet with them and not sit up there in his big gold office in the corner of the government building and say, "If they want to meet with me, they can come and meet with me; they can ask to meet with me; we'll put them on the schedule." They should be on the minister's schedule right from the beginning.
Talk about condescending. Mr. Chair, this minister should be making overtures to the industry, sitting down with the Department of Tourism officials in marketing and finding out what tourism is all about. He should get out of his first-class seat and make an effort.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'm going to try and remain calm in response to the member opposite. I know he likes to get on his soapbox when he talks about a lot of issues. The member who spent thousands of dollars touring first class around Europe and did all kinds of things now seems to be quite high up on his high horse.
I would say to him that I have met with and talked with many people involved in tourism since I became the minister. The member opposite has asked me for a formal meeting. He's asked me to do that. I would hope that, given the discussions and openness that I have expressed to people in the tourism industry since I've been elected, they would feel free to meet with me at any time. I don't know what analogy or what the member has tried to draw from what I've said. I would say to him, though, that I have hardly sat in my office since I got elected. I've had hundreds of meetings with local businesses, including tourism businesses, on an ongoing basis. I've been out promoting the Yukon and I've been promoting wilderness tourism. I met with the Asia-Pacific Foundation and talked with them extensively about it.
The member is quite out to lunch. I know he's a big defender of his little enterprises and whatnot, but I don't agree with everything he did, so that's too bad.
Mr. Phillips: I would like to get an answer out of the minister. Will the minister ask for a meeting with the First Nations Tourism Association to find out what they're doing and with the Tourism Industry Association to find out what they're doing? Will he go to the next marketing council meeting to listen to what we're doing in marketing in tourism? As well, I would like a commitment from the minister to sit down with tourism officials in the Department of Tourism and get a briefing on our overall marketing plan. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: If there are people in the tourism industry who want to meet, I would be more than happy. I will extend an offer to meet with them in the future.
The member is going to have to get used to the fact that he is no longer the Tourism minister. He's no longer in government. He was fired out of office a few months ago. Get used to it.
Mr. Phillips: I'm quite used to it. The problem we have here, with this minister, is that he doesn't know what his job is. He doesn't know who he's supposed to represent as the Minister of Economic Development. It isn't just the mining community. There are other aspects of economic development that are very important. I haven't seen one overture from this minister with respect to tourism.
Why didn't he go to the TIA convention this weekend? Is he not interested? Why didn't he go to the marketing council meeting a couple of weeks ago? Was he not interested? Why didn't he go to the TIA meeting a couple of weeks ago? Was he not interested? Mr. Chair, that is economic development. Those are agencies that deal a lot with economic development.
All I'm asking the minister to do is his job. I am not asking him to do anything more than just his job. He hasn't done a very good one up to this date.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, that's the member opposite's opinion. He's very bitter and very vindictive about the fact he's no longer the Tourism minister. You know, we end up talking about the litter in the yard over by the Tourism VRC because of the scope or the scale of his vision when it comes to tourism in this territory. The member opposite didn't look beyond the anniversaries when it came to tourism planning. I think that was an error on his part.
Mr. Chair, we've worked, through my department, with Economic Development, to involve them in the trade investment diversification strategy. We are working on pursuing initiatives with the Department of Tourism to enhance and develop tourism opportunities in the Yukon.
I don't know what more I can say to the member. I don't expect that he's going to laud any work that I do. It's borne out of bitterness and vindictiveness, and there's nothing I can do to change that. I'd be more than happy to meet with people in the tourism industry who would like to meet. At some point in the future, I hope that we have more formal meetings.
However, the member opposite, when he was Tourism minister, didn't go to all of the meetings that affected Economic Development. We have a Tourism minister who attended the meeting in Watson Lake this weekend on behalf of the government. It doesn't mean I'm not interested. We have a Tourism minister who attended on the government's behalf.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister's just helped me make my point. The minister said that we didn't think beyond the anniversaries, we did nothing beyond the anniversaries. Well, Mr. Chair, if he goes over to the Department of Tourism and he sits down with the marketing branch, he will discover that the initiatives that the new minister is working on now were well underway under our administration - all of them. Not one new thing, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: You see, Mr. Chair, he rose on his feet to say we didn't have a vision, but you know why he doesn't know the truth? Because he knows nothing about tourism.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Phillips: He just said he's against it, Mr. Chair. The member's got to do his job. If he was doing his job, Mr. Chair -
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Harding, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I didn't say I was against it. I was simply mimicking the member opposite's silly comments.
I see there is no point of order. Please continue.
Mr. Phillips: If the minister had taken a little bit of time out of his busy schedule, if he'd have stuck around in the Yukon instead of lying on the beaches of Mexico, he would have known that there was a vision, and the plan that was laid out in front of the tourism people this last weekend was in development long before the NDP government came to power. Lots of work was being done on it with the various people putting together the questionnaires and focus studies. I knew all about that coming down, but obviously the minister didn't, and that's why I think it's important that the minister go and get a briefing. It's important to understand what your job was all about.
I'm trying to help the minister here; I'm not trying to harm him. I'm just trying to get the minister out there doing the work he's supposed to be doing instead of sitting in his office. All I wanted from the minister was a commitment that he would call up these individuals and groups and members and people in the Department of Tourism, meet with them and get informed, and I'm pleased to see that the minister is giving me that commitment, so I'll leave it at that, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, I'll be kind to the member opposite. There is a lot more I could say. He's taking every cheap shot he can - Mexico, first class. He's holier than thou now on the other side of the House, but I know the member is very narrow in terms of his approach on issues, and so there's not very often a lot of substance behind what he says. I won't change that, so I will refrain from getting down into the gutter with the member opposite as he makes his condescending suggestions. There is lots I could say, but I'll refrain from doing that in the interests of a better debate in this Legislature.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Chair: Is there any general debate? Clear.
Ms. Duncan: Could I have an explanation? In the $860,000, there's $3,000 for credit bureau fees. Could I have a detailed explanation of that? It's in your briefing note.
Hon. Mr. Harding: That's for credit bureau information for accessing for the BDF venture loan guarantee program - those types of lendings - that the government has done or did do.
Ms. Duncan: Also, in the $860,000, there is some $16,000 for acquisition of books, reports and periodicals for the library. I would assume this is a library kept by the Department of Economic Development. What steps are taken to ensure that there is not a duplication of resources with the tourism information centre in the new building, which I have had the opportunity to see and use, and the newly opened Business Service Centre?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The Business Service Centre uses our library and there's some referencing work done to ensure that there is minimal duplication between what Tourism does and what Economic Development does in terms of library work. However, there is some overlap because of the relationship between the general directions of Tourism and Economic Development. The information that is collected is intertwined sometimes. If you're looking at visitor stats, it has an impact on economic development and the service sector.
Ms. Duncan: Then perhaps I could ask if there's some reason why we couldn't centralize this information.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'm informed that the duplication is extremely minimal and that normally tourism information, unless there's some definite point of overlap, is sent to Tourism, and economic development information is kept at Economic Development. So, I don't think it's really an issue. I could probably get more information for the member if she wants and if she's still not satisfied with the answer I've given her.
I don't know if the member has ever been up to Economic Development, to the library. She's nodding her head, yes. The library there is responsible mainly for economic development information, with very little overlap with tourism. Tourism information is referenced to Tourism. If people come in looking for that information for tourism, they're sent to Tourism, and vice versa with people coming in off the street for economic development information.
Ms. Duncan: That is my point. There are so many different locations for people wanting economic development information. There's the Business Service Centre. There's the Department of Tourism. There's the Department of Economic Development. That was my point. Is there not some thought that perhaps there could be some cost saving if this information were in one location?
I don't want to belabour the point. That is the point I am trying to make.
Hon. Mr. Harding: All information, all the periodicals and journals, are on the system, or the Internet, and can be accessed by anybody through that method.
I can tell the member that we'll see if there's any utility in her suggestion.
Administration in the amount of $860,000 agreed to
On Mines and Resource Development
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Is the member opposite asking me to give him a breakdown of costs, or is he asking me to give him a breakdown of what the department of mines and resource development does, as a former Economic Development minister?
Mr. Ostashek: What the practice was in the Legislature before, Mr. Chair, is when we got to each one of these branches in the departments, the minister would stand up and give a breakdown of what's happening in the departments, where the money is going, why the increases. If the minister doesn't have that I can live without it, but I think it would be a lot more informative debate if the minister could do that.
We can read the sheets that are in front of us without coming into the Legislature to do that. It's been a practice in the past, and I was just asking the minister to go along with that practice.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Okay, I'm prepared to go along with that. The member had a technical briefing; I thought a lot of that information was provided.
Certainly, on mines and resource development, the member can see the program objectives in front of him. Certainly, they're the branch that liaises with the mining industry, with the resource sector.
The changes in the expenditures - I can go through line by line. The information isn't capsulized in one specific page, depending on what line item you're looking at. I can tell him in the administration section the change from forecast last year is because of full staffing in 1997-98.
The senior director position was staffed part way through the forecast year, and there's an administrative assistant fully budgeted toward administration in the forecast split between administration and energy resources, and there's a slight reduction that offsets it in outside travel and entertainment.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that, as sketchy as it was. Fine, I'll let him off this time. We have another budget coming a year from now, and I may not be so generous then.
I just want to point out to the minister, and I want to raise my concern on the record again, that is: we look through each arm of this department right from administration, right through. We have an increase in staffing in every arm of this department. We have an overall increase in the operation and maintenance budget of this department, I believe, of some 12 percent. How much of that is for staffing, and how much is for other costs - the 12 percent?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the total FTEs are 42 in the 1996-97 mains, versus 43.6 FTEs in the 1997-98 mains. The member opposite will know that we are embarking on an aggressive program to try and get oil and gas up and running in this territory. So, that is, in large part, responsible for any increase in personnel.
I know the member opposite is shaking his head. He doesn't agree with that, but it is indeed true that we are trying to ensure that the oil and gas industry develops in the territory, and that's going to take some expenditures.
The member also knows that there is a transfer of some resources from Ottawa on an annual basis in the Northern Accord to do that. Traditionally, the governments of the Yukon, generically, have not spent all of that money on oil and gas. We're putting more of that money towards oil and gas development in the Yukon this year.
Mr. Ostashek: I would like the minister to clarify for me, the operation and maintenance of the department has gone up by 12 percent. I'm not clear, and will the minister clarify it for me: are there recoveries that are going to offset some of that 12 percent increase? If there are, tell me how much the actual increase to the Yukon taxpayers is going to be. All I'm asking is for clarification of his budget.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I'd be more than happy to present the member with a lot of detail on the question. I already read him out the difference in FTEs. The total dollar amount difference between the 1997-98 personnel mains and the 1996-97 forecast was $210,000 in overall monies. Okay?
The difference between the 1996-97 mains and forecasts is $139,000, due to vacancies. The $71,000 difference between the 1997-98 mains and 1996-97 mains is due to increased staffing. An administrative position budgeted as an indeterminate was filled as a two-year term from April 1, 1996.
In mines and resource development, utilities analysts in four additional positions in the oil and gas unit are budgeted to be filled in the mid-year. One of them is a GIS technician, for the summer of 1997, geologist engineer and a land administrator in the last quarter of 1997-98. We really do want to get the regime happening.
In strategic management there is a term secondee to the policy and planning unit to assist in priority areas, such as devolution, a sectoral strategies diversification and corporate strategic planning.
Now, in industry, trade and investment, there was a re-organization under the previous administration. The director and two community positions in Watson Lake and Dawson were eliminated in 1996-97. I believe the cost for them was partially shared under EDA funding, but we gained a new marketing position and .8 program delivery FTEs, as of April 1, 1997, resulting in a net reduction of 1.2. So, that's the whole story.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister for some explanation? In the technical briefing, in mines and resource development oil and gas, under other, there's a line item, travel outside, non-government job interviews, house hunting trips, for $12,000. Underneath that, on contract services for expertise relating to relocation costs, there's $45,000. I understand, from what the minister has said, that we are filling a new position and it may be that the expertise isn't available in the Yukon, that we may have to bring someone in from outside. Still, these two figures seem rather high to me and seem to be a duplication. Could I have an explanation, please?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I've asked the department to do everything they can to ensure that if there are people here, they're given opportunities for the jobs. Unfortunately, since we haven't had much of an industry, there is an increased expenditure in this government - higher than I would like it to be - for outside expertise, both on contract and in positions. The numbers there are high because of the lack of required expertise here.
Mr. Chair, I'd just say that, hopefully, as we develop an industry, we won't have to do this so much in the future.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to have his department provide me - or perhaps his other department, Public Service Commission - with information as to exactly what the Government of Yukon pays for in terms of relocation? This $12,000 - we're not bringing a horse, I trust.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I can get that.
Mr. Ostashek: I just have one question, if the minister will allow me. I'm not exactly sure where it fits in now, since we've got out of the EDA, the BDF and that. It's been a practice at every budget session to table a list of the loans that are out there and what is in arrears. Can the minister give us the commitment that he will do that before the end of this session - a s soon as possible? I should have asked for it earlier, but it's one of those things that I overlooked, as well.
If I could have that commitment, I'd appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I can get that information, consistent with the practice of the House.
Mr. Cable: The minister and I had some conversations today on some further communications with the conflicts commissioner on the Member for Kluane's role. I just want to confirm for the record that it's the minister's understanding and the member's understanding that we'll draft a joint letter to outline the activities of the member in and around Aishihik Lake. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'm hopeful that it can be a joint letter, but there's going to have to be some communication between the Member for Kluane and the Member for Riverside on the issue to boil it down, and hopefully they'll be able to achieve that and get some further clarification through due process. I think that would be beneficial.
Administration in the amount of $153,000 agreed to
On Mineral Resources
Mineral Resources in the amount of $320,000 agreed to
On Energy Resources
Energy Resources in the amount of $1,030,000 agreed to
On Forest Industry Development
Mr. Cable: Who's leading off in the silviculture area, Renewable Resources or the minister's department - Economic Development?
Hon. Mr. Harding: If the member's referring to silviculture as a result of forest harvesting, that would be Renewable Resources.
Forest Industry Development in the amount of $71,000 agreed to
Mines and Resource Development in the amount of $1,574,000 agreed to
On Strategic Management
Chair: Is there general debate?
Mr. Ostashek: I just have one question. I have some questions on the community projects initiatives. Where would the minister like me to ask them? I don't see where in the budget to ask them.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Capital.
Mr. Ostashek: Okay, that's fine.
On Strategic Management
Mr. Cable: Does the minister's department collect the various studies that it's done over the years on market research in the various sectors of the economy and make them available on a regular basis to the private sector? I know there've been studies on things like abattoirs, vegetable cold storage and on the brewing industry.
Hon. Mr. Harding: There are tons of studies available in the library. The member asked for a specific commitment to do anything with them, most of them are available to the public.
Mr. Cable: What's the general policy on availability to the public? Are they usually open to the public as soon as they are prepared?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Normally, unless there is some reason for them not being released, which is not all that often, on issues of confidentiality or things like that. They would be immediately available to the public, and they are also interchanged with the library in Whitehorse sometimes.
Strategic Management in the amount of $924,000 agreed to
On Industry, Trade and Investment
On Program Delivery
Program Delivery in the amount of $554,000 agreed to
On Trade/Investment Diversification Strategy
Mr. Cable: I raised some questions yesterday on Mr. Brandt's contract, which I gather is in this area, if I've understood all the buzz words correctly. How long has the contract been extended for, and what's the extension amount? Can the minister tell us?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The amount has not been extended. The time for completion has been extended.
Trade/Investment Diversification Strategy in the amount of $287,000 agreed to
Industry, Trade and Investment in the amount of $841,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there questions on the recoveries in revenue?
Are there questions on the transfer payments?
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Economic Development in the amount of $4,199,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I don't have a capital budget speech prepared, but it's never a problem for me to make a speech, so I'd just say to the members opposite that I think this is a fine capital budget. There are a few problem areas. Just like in Tourism, I didn't agree with every expenditure that the previous administration was making, but let me just say that I think there are expenditures here in this capital budget that will help to create jobs in the Yukon. I think that a lot of the expenditures in capital construction will be helpful and will provide some long-term benefit for Yukoners with respect to tourism attraction.
I also would say that we have some significant monies available for community development initiatives, which I'm sure the members opposite will have more questions on as we get into the capital budget.
Mr. Ostashek: I just want to say to the minister that we'll let him get away with it for this session. We had hoped that he would be a little better prepared for debate on his department. I know he is new to the department and I appreciate he also has a new deputy minister this time, but I would like to see a little more preparation for the debate in the House.
I only have a few questions here. I'm not going to belabour this. I've already made my views known on the community project initiatives. I've made my views known on CDF. The minister knows quite well how I feel about these programs, and the proof will be in the pudding as to how they are developed
I would just go on the record once more with the CDF that, when the minister is developing guidelines, if this program is going to gain any credibility with a lot of the general public - now, I know it's appreciated by communities. I'm not going to argue that for one minute. Any time there's a pool of money they can get their hands on, they appreciate it, no doubt about it. But it will cause political problems - I don't care what political philosophy you are as a government - as to how it's administered.
If it's going to be administered similar to how the last one was, where the minister has the final say and can overrule the board that makes the recommendations to the minister, I don't accept that, and I would hope that a process is put in place so that the minister cannot be accused of political interference in making decisions as to who gets the money.
I have a couple of questions. I want to know, on the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and the community projects initiative - the carpentry and training development of $100,000 - who is going to be doing the training and what is the criteria for the training to be able to have approval for these funds?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'll have to get some more detail. I have the project expenditures and what the program is. I do know, just from my recollection from a decision that was made, that we are liaising with justice and the Yukon College, and that we're ensuring that there's adequate training provided so that it does actually provide some longer term benefit for the people who are actually getting the training.
Mr. Ostashek: I should tell the minister that I don't have any difficulty in training people. I want to be satisfied that when we transfer taxpayers' money to another level of government or another organization, there are some safeguards in place and that there are some qualified people to do the training. That is my concern and that's a concern of many, many Yukoners.
So, I would appreciate it if the minister would come back to this House with some terms of reference for the community projects initiative and the CDF - if it's going for training programs - as to who is going to do the training and what checks and balances are put in place that qualified people are doing the training.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I can do that, but I reiterate to the member that there was some consideration given in regard to that in the analysis of this project, but I'll bring him more detail.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the member for that and I would like to move on to the Kluane First Nation, construct a human resource centre for $100,000. Is this a new building, or is this a contribution to the administration building that the Kluane First Nation has been building for several years?
Hon. Mr. Harding: My understanding of this is that this is a new human resource centre. I just had a discussion with the Kluane First Nation this weekend about the issue. There is some money set aside. They have a number of hurdles they have to cross. I know the member's opposition to it full well.
Mr. Ostashek: Yes, I just want to reclarify - and the minister, I believe, has clarified it - that this is going to be a new building and not a contribution to the administration building that's been under construction for several years. Have I understood the minister correctly?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I'm not sure that we have an agreement on the uses of the two buildings - the older one and the new one. I don't think we're jiving in a parallel fashion on both of those, at least on the issue of what's going to be done on them, but it's a new structure that we're talking about here, yes.
Mr. Ostashek: That's not the point, Mr. Chair. The point here is that in the list of community project initiatives that we have been given, it says, "construct a human resource centre." My interpretation of that is a new building. Now, if this is going to be a contribution to the administration building that the Kluane First Nation has been trying to complete for three or four years, then it ought to be identified in this list of projects as a contribution to that building. That's what I'm trying to clarify with the minister.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I'll be happy to bring back more detail for the member. It's hard and I apologize. I'll make sure that in future budgets I have all of the issue-by-issue breakdowns. I don't have it here. I'm not so sure I want to get into long debates about the details of each particular project. There are a lot of projects, but I'll certainly bring back more information.
My understanding or my recollection is that we're talking about a new building here.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister and I appreciate that. I don't want to get into a long debate on every one of these projects either. I just want to know that when a project is identified in here to be a certain thing that that is exactly what it is and the money is not being used for something else, and I think that's a fair request by the Opposition.
I will move on and I will appreciate that information as soon as the minister can get it back to me.
I'd like to go now to the Yukon Conservation Society and the tourism outreach pilot project. It's $7,000. Can the minister tell me what that is?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I wasn't at the board meeting. I can provide more detail for the member if he wants a better explanation of that particular project.
While I'm on my feet, I'd like to table for the Member for Porter Creek South, Ms. Duncan, the information she was looking for.
Mr. Ostashek: I would appreciate information on that because it's just something that jumped out at me when I was going through the list. We've got the Conservation Society doing a tourism outreach pilot project. It's just something that raises a question for me as critic for the department, and I would appreciate that information.
I don't have any more questions on that at this time. Maybe my colleagues have.
Mr. Cable: We're moving fairly quickly, so I have a suspicion the minister won't get a chance to delve too deeply into the Loki contract, but there are two items on the industrial support policy so I would like to determine whether, in fact, the Loki contract had any operational audit done on it to determine whether the covenants were performed by Loki.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, the mining facilitator does some work in terms of hanging on to those covenants and making sure that the company is doing their best to live up to them. A couple of statistics I have is that the stats from 1996 show 55 percent of the employees are from Dawson City, including 34 Tr'ondek Hwech'in members.
There are a number of other initiatives that were identified that the company would undertake some due diligence to try and meet, including mine training. They've done some truck driver training courses. They've hired six of the 25 participants in that. They've got some machinery maintenance courses and heavy equipment operator courses at the mine. One was for the First Nation and one was for the community at large. There was a First Nation graduate hired after the course.
So it's coming along. The company and the First Nation have initialled a socio-economic agreement with the Tr'ondek Hwech'in. There have been some concerns about the ratification of that, but the company's working through it. I've been in contact myself with Paul Saxton, their chief executive officer or chief operating officer - I'm not sure of his precise title - but he feels that that may come to pass, hopefully.
Mr. Cable: There were some road maintenance agreements in the contract, and there was also a clause - it appears a bit disjunctive at section 2(h) of the agreement. It says, - this is an agreement by Loki - "Make contracting opportunities in support of the mine, in this project, available to Yukon-based contractors, wherever economically feasible and practical." Have those two covenants, to the minister's knowledge - that's the road maintenance and the contracting opportunities - been complied with?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, there's a significant amount of tracking that's been done by the mining facilitator.
Anecdotally, and in looking at the evidence, it appears that there's been quite a few local contracting people employed.
I can get the member a list, I think, of all of the people that have been employed on contracts. If it is possible, I'll check and make sure that it is. I also have a list of all of the employees - I'm not sure if the member wants that, but there's been some significant tracking done as to where they live, where they're from, and I think it's a good thing, I think that we have to ensure, when there's public monies involved, that there has to be some good tracking of that kind of thing, and some accountability. There is a list, and as I said to the member, of contractors.
Certainly, the people who attended the pouring of the first gold bar were quite excited about the way it was handled, including people from the City of Dawson who spoke about it, but, again, I can't tell the member, it wasn't a commitment that I made, it was a commitment of the previous government, so it's anecdotal.
I hope to provide him with some list of the contractors. I've given him some numbers on the people who were hired from Dawson City, as well as some information on the socio-economic agreement.
Mr. Cable: There's been considerable debate in this House on local hire and local hire policies and whatnot, and there are two line items under the industrial support policy. Is the minister of the view that the arrangements in the Loki contract are strong enough to ensure that there will in fact be preference given to Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I've had lengthy discussions with the mining facilitator about this. I think there is room to improve our accountability on the basis of local hire, and I've communicated with the local hire commission about that. I've asked that they consider development agreements when they are looking at recommending policies to government as to how we can firm up the commitments. It is tough but not impossible to improve that, and in this particular agreement, I have heard complaints from some citizens of Dawson, but I don't know if you'd be ever able to get 100-percent satisfaction with an arrangement like that. I will say, however, that I commit to looking into and trying to improve the issue as much as we possibly can, and involving the local hire commission to try to develop as tight as possible - when public expenditures are made - commitments to hiring locally.
Mr. Cable: The two Yukon industrial support policy line items that we'll be approaching in a few moments - will those disbursements be accompanied by contracts that will in fact have local hire provisions in them?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Loki already have an agreement. The disbursements that are coming out are based on the initial agreement, so I wouldn't go back to them now and try and add on. I could have casual conversations with them about it, but I wouldn't want to, as a new government, lump on new commitments. We said we'd honour the contractual agreements signed by the previous government and I would like to stay with that policy.
However, in our discussions, we've consistently emphasized - the member was reading that speech I gave when he referred to table-thumping at the Mt. McIntyre Recreation Centre for the mining industry - and I've continued, on every discussion that I've had with mining companies to talk about hiring locally, and how good it is for the industry in the long term to do that and develop the reputation of being locally based companies, and how that helps them. Much to my pleasure, there are a lot of companies who have been quite supportive of that approach.
Mr. Ostashek: I just have a few more questions here that just may be clarified for my colleague.
On the Loki one, the money was given for road reconstruction. That's all been done. They're being paid out over a period of years to make sure that there was some mine life there before the government made the big commitment for the money. So, the work's been done; it was done last year, for the money that they got under the industrial support policy.
The new one is one that has been initiated by this government on the Mount Nansen road, I believe. That wasn't one that we negotiated, I don't believe. It was signed off by this government.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The negotiations for Mount Nansen were all pretty much concluded under the previous administration. It didn't go to Cabinet, though, prior to the election, so it was approved. The ultimate accountability will rest with this Cabinet. However, the negotiations were undertaken with the mining facilitator under the previous government.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you. I'm just going to go back on a few more items under community projects and I probably won't have any questions when we get to the line items.
As I go through this list, I'm a little bit concerned and I would like some more detail. When I go through it, I see there are four projects for the Little Salmon-Carmacks Band that total in excess of $124,000. I would like some details on those projects as well.
I also would like some details on the Vuntut Gwitchin's social services, the youth summer camp for $31,000. I would like some details on that as to how that money is going to be spent and how it's going to be distributed and I would like to know what the terms of reference are for the money being given out on this. Do the people just apply for it and the money is given to them? Is it given on an invoice basis? How is it given? I'm concerned and many Yukoners are concerned about that; that there are no checks and balances in this.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I will provide the member with some more details and many Yukoners are also very pleased with the initiative, but I'd be happy to provide some more information for the member.
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $30,000 agreed to
Chair: Before we begin general debate on mines and resource development, is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We are dealing with mines and resource development, program objectives, page 4-4. Is there any general debate?
On Mines and Resource Development
On Yukon Mining Incentives Program (YMIP)
Mr. Ostashek: Can the minister explain the 14-percent drop?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It was a reduction due to budgetary items being reallocated. For example, we wanted to create a trade investment diversification initiative, so there was a removal of $85,000 - a much smaller decrease than in the previous year.
Yukon Mining Incentives Program (YMIP) in the amount of $506,000 agreed to
On Geological Surveys
Geological Surveys in the amount of $1,391,000 agreed to
On Oil and Gas Management - Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Oil and Gas Management - Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $34,000 agreed to
On Resource Assessments
Resource Assessments in the amount of $150,000 agreed to
On Infrastructure Support Programs: Yukon Industrial Support Policy - VLB Resource Corporation
Infrastructure Support Programs: Yukon Industrial Support Policy - VLB Resource Corporation in the amount of $413,000 agreed to
On Infrastructure Support Programs: Yukon Industrial Support Policy - BYG Resources
Mr. Ostashek: Could the minister just tell us what the $150,000 is going to go for, and is this just this year's portion or is this the total application under the industrial support policy?
Hon. Mr. Harding: They actually requested quite a bit more, as the former Government Leader may know, but it was pretty much identified that the funding wasn't available to them. The negotiations, when I took over, were pretty much concluded. We had to provide a reduced amount with the hope that some of the C&TS budget that's normally spent on other roads could be used to top up to do a little bit more work than the $150,000. The road is used by more than just the mining company, and there's no future commitment. It's a one-time-only commitment.
I have a number of details. Is the member interested in hearing them?
Mr. Ostashek: All I'm trying to find out from the minister is: is the $150,000 going to be used on the Mount Nansen road or is it going to be used where BYG Resources leaves the road that goes in there now? I know that for at least two budgets under my administration we had money allocated for that road under the strategic highways program, I believe it was - the $10 million that we got from Ottawa that was being cost shared 50/50 - the $20 million program that we had. But I believe that program has expired now.
All I'm trying to get from the minister is whether the $150,000 is going to be spent on the main road or is it going to be spent where they leave the main road to go to their property?
Hon. Mr. Harding: My understanding is that it is for the main road. I will try and confirm that for the member with some more details, but in my recollection of the discussions, I was more amenable to the request because it was for work on the main road, but I will check into that for the member.
Mr. Ostashek: My recollection of it is that it was for work off the main road, but I could be wrong on that, because, as the minister said, the main road from Carmacks over into the Dawson range is used by many, many people and I don't know that it would be fair to ask one mining company for the upgrading on that road.
I was of the opinion, and I stand to be corrected on it, because I wasn't that familiar with it, that the request from BYG was to upgrade the road from where it left the main road to go into their property, but I'll look forward to information.
Hon. Mr. Harding: My deputy minister is telling me he thinks it might be where it leaves the main road, but I'll get more details. The company is doing some of their own work, so it's kind of overlapping. We have C&TS involved in some of that work, as well. They normally put some money in their budget to do the Mount Nansen road, the main road at least. The company is putting a lot of money into their road, $85,000 for a new culvert on Victoria Creek, and there's a lot more money coming in. The original application was somewhere in the vicinity of $413,000.
Infrastructure Support Programs: Yukon Industrial Support Policy - BYG Resources in the amount of $150,000 agreed to
On Energy Infrastructure Loans for Resource Development
Energy Infrastructure Loans for Resource Development in the amount of one dollar agreed to
On Bad Debts Expense (SEAL and YEAP)
Bad Debts Expense (SEAL and YEAP) in the amount of one dollar agreed to
On Prior Years' Projects
Prior Years' Projects in the amount of nil agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the statistics? Clear.
Mines and Resource Development in the amount of $2,644,000 agreed to
On Industry, Trade and Investment
Chair: Is there general debate?
Mr. Cable: I asked the minister some time ago, and again yesterday, about the success or lack of success of the venture capital fund - the loan history, the number of loans out and the exposure.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Not a bite yet there, Mr. Chair, not a bite.
Mr. Cable: I wasn't talking about fishing. What he is saying is that there has been no allocation of any funds whatsoever under the venture capital fund? The minister is nodding his head sideways; that means no, I guess.
Hon. Mr. Harding: There has been no money provided under the venture loan guarantee program. There's no exposure created for the Yukon government. A lot of people have inquired about it, but nobody so far has been successful in actually using it.
Mr. Cable: My recollection of the debates in the House when that came out was that the minister and his colleagues, when they were in Opposition, were faintly negative on the program. Is that his position today? Is he intending to keep this program in place?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Actually, it is interesting that the member noticed that. Because of my great support of the tourism industry and lobbies and concerns from organizations such as TIA, there was one change made to the program, and that was to expand it to be eligible for tourism-related upgrades and expenditures on tourism-related businesses. That is the only change we've made.
My criticisms of the program are still there. However, I do feel that there needs to be some form of a program for access to capital in the interim, while we develop new programs. I'm still critical of it, but I'm not prepared, out of my feelings over it, to close off all avenues that some businesses may have for using it for access to capital.
Mr. Cable: I gather one of the reasons that program was brought in was that there was some problem with financing in the communities outside of Whitehorse. Has there been any advertising done outside of Whitehorse to bring people's attention to the availability of this program?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I don't know the answer to that question. I will check on it. I think that the Yukon Business Service Centre that we just opened with funding from the federal Liberals will probably help in terms of accessing that information. I know that the program is on that new Business Service Centre.
Mr. Cable: The venture capital fund, I think, is basically a loan guarantee fund, which is by its nature a little different from venture capital, with the shares, preferred shares and whatnot.
Is the minister of the view that the program should be enlarged to include what conventionally comes under the rubric of venture capital?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We made a commitment in the election campaign to look at access-to-capital issues and convene some public forums on it, and we've had some discussions with organizations, such as Dana Naye, about appropriate ways to do that. We're working on it and it's not something that we'll probably be able to do immediately.
We also have a couple of other irons in the fire on access-to-capital issues that I'm not prepared to make any announcements on yet, but I'm not interested, really, in expanding the venture loan guarantee program much more for the reasons that I indicated when I was in Opposition.
Mr. Cable: In view of the fact that there has been no draw-down under the plan in over a year, does the minister intend to review the plan to see whether the need that was identified for bringing it in is, in fact, still there? I guess the question I'm asking him is: is he going to keep it on the books or is he going to get rid of it if it's not being used?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, it hasn't been a year because the program wasn't even really green-lighted under the previous administration. They were just getting the pamphlets ready and the ad campaign ready to promote it. So, they didn't have a chance to do that. I don't know if it's fair yet to do an uptake evaluation on it. However, if the program is properly advertised and there's no uptake and the utility of it is questioned, then I wouldn't be opposed to removing it as a vehicle for businesses finding capital.
On Economic Development Agreement
Economic Development Agreement in the amount of $342,000 agreed
On Centennial Anniversaries Program
Centennial Anniversaries Program in the amount of $3,350,000 agreed
On Centennial Events Program
Centennial Events Program in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
On Community Projects Initiative
Community Projects Initiative in the amount of $500,000 agreed to
On Community Development Fund
Community Development Fund in the amount of $2,000,000 agreed to
On BDF Loan Guarantee Contingency
Mr. Cable: The minister provided us with a list of the BDF loans, I believe. I asked this question in the briefing, which was given to us: what's being done to wind up this fund if, in fact, that's the intention? Has the minister retained any services to collect that last $250,000?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We have a person in the department who's responsible for dealing with these issues. They were transferred in from Watson Lake and they are the main point person in the department for ensuring that there is accountability of payment. There's also some strong direction from the previous Cabinet to the department in collections. We feel that we don't want to try and get blood out of a stone, but we think there are some obligations for these people to pay, so we've asked the department to be diligent in their collections, and that's what's underway. Sometimes, outside collection firms are used in very difficult cases.
BDF Loan Guarantee Contingency in the amount of $250,000 agreed
On Bad Debts Expense (BDF and EDA)
Bad Debts Expense (BDF and EDA) in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Chair: Are there questions on the statistics?
Any questions on the recoveries?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'd like to just deliver for dispersement - I'm not supposed to say table - the delinquent loans over 90 days for the Liberals and the Tories, over the question ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, PC, Yukon Party, same thing. I'd like to just table the business development fund delinquent loans.
Chair: That will clear.
Were there questions on the transfer payments? Clear.
Industry, Trade and Investment in the amount of $6,542,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Economic Development in the amount of $9,216,000 agreed to
Department of Economic Development agreed to
Department of Education
Chair: We are now dealing with the Department of Education.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I am pleased to provide details of Education's capital and operation and maintenance budget for the coming fiscal year. The department has a number of work sites, including 29 schools, Yukon Archives, Whitehorse Public Library, 10 community libraries, seven volunteer libraries, Gadzoosdaa Residence and the Teen Parent Centre.
The capital budget for the department of $13,167,000 includes such things as the continuation of the grade reorganization project, with $3,451,000 set aside for the completion of the Porter Creek school and $3 million for the renovations to other schools. It also includes $650,000 for upgrading of F.H. Collins and $500,000 for planning the replacement of the Chief Zzeh Gittlit school.
The operation and maintenance budget of $79,839,000 includes an amount of $51,939,000, which is approximately 65 percent, for the estimated cost of salaries and benefits. The remaining $27,846,000, or 35 percent, is made up of other program costs and transfer payments to individuals and organizations.
I would like to note for the members opposite that there was an organizational change which transferred the facilities and transportation unit to education support services. It involved a change of name to property management and a restatement of budgets and actuals from public schools to education support services.
Total full-time equivalents covered by this budget include 884.7, with the largest percentage - 81.9 percent or 724.5 positions - located in the public schools branch. Of the total FTEs in the Department of Education, 74.6 percent - 660 positions - are directly related to school-based staff, including teachers, educational assistants, remedial tutors, native language instructors, school counsellors, secretaries and Gadzoosdaa residence support workers.
The percentage change is calculated between the forecast from 1996-97 and the O&M main estimates for 1997-98. The comparison between the 1996-97 main estimates shows that the 1997-98 main estimates represent an increase of $2,687,000 - or 3.5 percent - over the 1996-97 main estimates.
This budget focuses on investing in the people of Yukon, who form the real infrastructure of our territory. This is reflected in our investment in the reading recovery early intervention program, school apprentice program, and the expansion of school library programs, all of which will build a solid foundation for the future. This is also evident in the capital budget through our trust fund for youth works and mine training and further investments with Yukon College as our partner.
These funds have proven very effective in the past as we partner with other governments and businesses in Yukon to achieve an even greater impact on the economy.
It allows us to build for the future, developing the human resources that form the heart and backbone of this territory.
Some of the funding associated with the above includes $400,000 for the reading recovery program. The $1,330,000 increase included in the 1996-97 supplementary has been retained. This translates into a real increase of public school staff of 25 full-time equivalents when this budget is compared to the 1996-97 main estimates. There is $200,000 in capital training trust funding for Youth Works; $300,000 in capital training trust fund for mine training; $500,000 in capital to plan for and design the replacement school for Old Crow.
The members will note that Whitehorse grade reorganization forms a large part of the capital budget for 1997-98. This project is being completed to meet the needs of our students and to place them on an equal level with their peers in B.C., with whom Yukon shares a common curriculum. I will now be pleased to answer questions with regard to this budget.
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Mr. Phillips: I thank the minister for her comments.
Mr. Chair, before I begin, I do want to give a special thanks to the people in the Department of Education who provided the technical briefing for us, as well as a very useful booklet and background to all our questions. I thank them again. It was a good briefing. It has answered a lot of my questions. It was very thorough, and I appreciate the work that has gone into it.
I have a couple of questions. The minister talked about the number of increased FTEs over last year, and it was explained to me in the briefing that it was because of changes in schools and additional schools. Can the minister tell us if the student/teacher ratio has changed, and what is the student/teacher ratio at the present time?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I am not aware of any significant changes in the pupil/teacher ratio. What I can do is bring back that detailed information for the member.
Mr. Phillips: I believe last year it was 13 to one, so if the minister could come back with that, I would appreciate that.
Mr. Chair, I have a question about the Granger school addition. I know that they are adding on to the school at the present time, but it was brought to my attention that when the school was initially designed it was designed keeping in mind that there would possibly be an expansion in the future. What was brought to my attention - and it was brought to my attention by a contractor - is that they did set out the tender for the addition, and I guess there is a successful bidder. I'm assuming that a successful bidder is working on the job. The concern that the person who spoke to me had was that when they built the school they provided for expansion, and then when they put out the tender, they called for the addition to the school not on the wing where all the pipes and conduits were, but on another wing, and it was some several hundreds of thousands of dollars more to add the addition on that they just added on. Is that correct? Was this individual correct that they actually changed their minds on where they wanted to add the addition on to the school and, in fact, it cost quite a bit more money to run, I suppose, the main electrical wires and conduit and plumbing and everything else that they would need to run back down the whole length of the school to the other end to hook up to where they wanted to build the addition?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The information that I have about the Elijah Smith Elementary School is that there is $860,000 for a four-classroom addition and, as well, $30,000 for the purchase of furniture, equipment and materials.
As far as the details about the contract, I know that the low bidder was awarded the tender and that the construction completion is scheduled for August the 15th.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm sure that the member is aware that the site has some physical limitations. The original location of the school was supposed to be farther forward - I suppose if one wants to put it like that - on the site. However, subsequent soil testing revealed that it was unstable, so the school was moved farther to the back.
Now, the school backs on to a ridge, so to speak, and there are some physical limitations in going out one side because of the alternative power plant - the wood-burning power plant - as well as parking lots and access pipes, and things like that. So there's limitations on one end.
My understanding is that to move toward the front of the school would entail - I guess the front being out toward the field - would represent some stabilization problems with the soil and that the only alternative was to go out the far end.
Now, I should say that we are currently engaged in litigation with A.J. Carlson for some of the - what we consider to be - faulty work on soil sampling.
Mr. Phillips: Well, it appears then that my information about building on to another wing, not the planned expansion wing, is accurate - that's what they had to do, they had to go the other way.
I wonder if the minister could provide for me the amount of extra money it cost to do that. I heard it was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range to run everything back the other way; it was fairly expensive. It sort of brings us back to the previous NDP government that built the school there in the first place, and I suppose this Minister of Government Services can't do much about it, but I know there were a lot of questions about the movement of the school and where the school was to be located, and lots of questions back there. I can remember being in this Legislature questioning that, and it appears that whole problem has come back to haunt us again, by having this problem that we've got now.
I would like to ask the minister where are we at with the lawsuit with the group - the contractor that built it initially? If the minister could provide me with that information, I'd appreciate that and, as well, who got the contract this time. Who was the successful bidder?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With regard to the lawsuit, I'm not sure if the member is aware, but A.J. Carlson is currently in receivership, and we are one of the participants in trying to recover monies from that.
We did intervene earlier this year in some hearings in that regard. What I can do is find some details on the disposition of that action right now. As well, I can pursue some information with regard to the other question that the member asked in that same regard.
Mr. Phillips: I almost hate to ask this next question, but I'm going to give it a try anyway.
Are we planning for any more expansion of that school, and have we done thorough soil testing in the area we plan to expand? Are we sure that where that school is situated we can even expand at all? Can we expand at all where the school is at now?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think that, with regard to that, it's important to keep in mind that the school council itself at Elijah Smith has indicated that they are interested in capping the school at a particular limit. Right now, the school is at about 300 - 301, the last I heard - and I believe that the school council has indicated that they would prefer to see a ceiling on that school at about 350.
Whether or not that's possible, given issues surrounding growth in the Copper Ridge area, is another matter. We will have to see how things sort out in that regard. I should point out that there have been some indications of other options with regard to that area.
Mr. Phillips: I will leave this if I can get a commitment from the minister that they will bring us back tomorrow in the House an estimate of what this change, from one end of the building to the other, cost us overall. If the minister could do that, I would appreciate it.
I'd like to move on to another area - the area of the Yukon native teachers education program. I thank the department for the numbers they gave me. It appears Mr. Chair, by reading this, that 26 students have graduated and 16 have been employed in the elementary grades in seven Yukon communities. One is employed in the secondary grades. Four have returned to communities outside of the Yukon. One teacher is on leave of absence; one teacher is employed by the First Nations Education Commission, and three are not currently seeking employment.
This program is a fairly expensive program to run for the limited number of students we have in it, but I think it's a useful program. The concern, I have when I look at the results we have here, is that really only 17 of 26 are actually working in our school system.
Has the minister thought of a possible way to get some kind of a guarantee from the graduates of this program that they would remain in the Yukon for four years or two years or three years?
I know that the whole purpose of the program is, in fact, to train Yukon First Nations people so as to have more First Nations people in our schools, of course, as teachers, but also as role models for our First Nations students. So, if we seem to be losing a fairly significant portion of them for other reasons, I wonder if the minister would consider putting in some kind of a safeguard. I mean, many of them are sponsored for the program, they get into the program, and maybe there could be some kind of a guarantee that once you graduate and you receive a job you'll spend at least four or five years in the job?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As the member knows, we've supported the program for the same reasons the member just indicated; that it's important to have First Nations people trained as educators and in classrooms in the Yukon.
The Yukon Party government, last summer, initiated a First Nations education review which is presently underway. One of the programs included in the First Nations education review is the Yukon native teacher education program and, anticipating the member's next question, we expect to have that review completed within the next month or so.
The Yukon native teacher education program has a steering committee, which includes representatives of Yukon College, the Council for Yukon First Nations and the University of Regina that brokers the program to Yukon College, and I can certainly ask the steering committee to consider that issue. We do, as the member knows, make an effort to hire YNTEP graduates into the Yukon school system.
Mr. Phillips: I would appreciate it if, when the minister receives the report, it is possible to get a copy of those recommendations that will come out of that report.
I don't know whether the minister wants to tread on these grounds. I tried it once and it wasn't the most successful in my career as the Minister of Education, but is the minister - we get a lot of Yukoners who are not First Nations who raise the issue of the native teachers education program, becoming teachers in the Yukon and being able to be trained in the Yukon, and a lot of them get rather frustrated when they find out that, although they've maybe been born here and lived their whole life here and grown up here, they have to go to Saskatchewan or Alberta or British Columbia to get their teaching degree. Yet we have vacant spaces or room in the Yukon native teachers program.
So, I wonder if the minister has given any thought to a way to allow for that, maybe on a limited basis or whatever, because it is a bit of a burden for families whose sons and daughters may have to leave the territory to partake in a similar program. In fact, one of the points I made when I tried to raise this issue was that, if a non-native person took that program here in the Yukon with all the First Nations people involved, they would certainly gain a much better understanding of First Nations' issues and First Nations' problems just working with other classmates in that program, and it would be useful.
Many of these people are rather frustrated right now that they have to leave the Yukon to gain this kind of education. If the minister is not prepared to open up that program - and heaven forbid it even crosses her lips because I still feel the scars from that one, Mr. Chair.
I would suggest to the minister to see if there's a way that we could offer the program here in the Yukon, if it wasn't included in YNTEP, in some other way. I know that it's pretty expensive to deliver a program like that, but is there any possibility of including other Yukoners in this program?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I thank the member for his suggestions and I certainly would be willing to pass them on to the steering committee that's involved with the YNTEP program. As well, as I've just indicated, the First Nations education review is underway and is talking to people about the YNTEP program and looking at the review being of YNTEP as well as other programs.
I certainly recall the debate and I know I was the former minister's strongest critic on it, so I would hesitate to go forward with changes to the program without talking to both the YNTEP steering committee and the other partners in education that would be affected by that decision.
I have some other information regarding the background information on YNTEP students. There is not a requirement to teach in the Yukon, following graduation from YNTEP, although many students do. Students can be living outside the Yukon when they apply to the program. Four students have, in fact, returned to their home communities outside the Yukon. Two students are in northern B.C. One taught in the Yukon for two years before moving on to British Columbia. One student is from Manitoba and returned there after graduation. One student was offered a job in the Northwest Territories, but hopes to return to the Yukon. As well, among the YNTEP grads, we have graduates employed: one in Teslin, four in Carcross, one in Dawson, six in Whitehorse, one in Old Crow, one in Mayo and one in Carmacks. These students have been employed to teach elementary grades and one student is teaching in the secondary stream in Whitehorse.
Mr. Phillips: Maybe that's something that the committee should look at is the requirement to teach in the Yukon, because that's one of the main reasons for having the program here: to put more First Nation teachers in our classrooms. When we see that four of them have left and may or may not be teaching in other communities, that's probably good for the other communities, but it's a very expensive program for the Yukon to run, and we lose the opportunity to have those teachers teaching here.
I think the minister must understand the total frustration that other Yukoners must feel when they, as a young woman or young man, have to go to Saskatchewan to get a degree and then come back to the Yukon and have difficulty getting a job, and then see the YNTEP program that's run here, and they see the YNTEP grads going to work elsewhere, not working in the Yukon.
It must be pretty frustrating for them to see that happening, and I would think that there must be ways we can tighten the program up to make sure that if someone graduates from this program here in the territory, that the program does what the program is supposed to do, and that is put First Nation teachers in Yukon schools. I think that has to be the primary focus of the program.
I mean, there are other provinces that run teacher training programs as well, and they put First Nation teachers, I suppose, in their schools as well. We're a little bit unique in the Yukon, because the delivery of the program is probably just as expensive for 25 teachers as it is for 65, or 25 students as it is for 65, because the classroom is there, the room is in the classroom, and it just amounts to books and other things.
So, it ends up being a very expensive program for us to run, but I think a worthwhile one if we make sure that First Nations graduates from YNTEP end up teaching in our Yukon schools.
I wonder if the minister could also provide me with the information of how many people are in the program now - I don't recall seeing that in the information I got - in the first, second, third and fourth year. If the minister could give me that breakdown - I don't think the minister has to read it into the record, but if the minister wants to, that's fine. If she just has a legislative return, that would be good as well. I just want that information.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: First I'd like to tell the member that there are a total of 32 students enrolled in the YNTEP program as of April 1st, 1997, and that includes 10 students in the entry class this year. I can bring back further information for the member.
On the question regarding local hire, I provided a legislative return a couple of days ago, which had the hiring protocol on that. The hiring protocol is the same hiring protocol that the Yukon Party followed. It was developed in conjunction with the Yukon Teachers Association, and it does provide for local teachers to be hired first. Now, I can get another copy of that hiring protocol at the break and provide it to the member.
Mr. Phillips: I must have missed that one, but I'm sure it's here. I'll find it.
Mr. Chair, getting back for a second to YNTEP, has the minister or the department set a goal on how many First Nations teachers it wants to see in the system - 25 percent? Fifty percent? How long does the minister plan to run the program?
I know that there were other programs run at the college from time to time - the nursing program and other programs that they run, and then they decide that we've filled the program up, and you don't want to train people and not have jobs for them. Nowadays, there's not a lot of turnover in the teaching profession, and I wonder - especially in the Yukon, at least in the last couple of years, I think the turnover was pretty low - if the minister and department have looked at how many students they can handle each year as graduates from that particular program. Do they have a goal?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, those are the kinds of questions that we'll be considering after the First Nations education review completes their report. As well, the YNTEP operates through an affiliation agreement between Yukon College, the University of Regina, the Yukon government and the Council of Yukon First Nations, so it's not a decision that is made solely by the government. We'll be looking at the First Nations education review and considering the YNTEP program, as well as others.
Mr. Phillips: I'll look forward to receiving that review, if I can.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to move on to another area - temporary teachers. I think it was around Christmas this year that I think all of us received a card in the mail with the temporary teachers on it, who were concerned about their future. What's the position that this government is taking with respect to including temporary teachers? I believe the bargaining unit was the issue - that they wanted to be included in the bargaining unit.
I'm looking for information to see how the program is filling out and whether others are taking advantage of it. I would hope that, because we're now getting teachers in the schools, it is encouraging other First Nations people to apply and there are more students in years one and two. I would hope that that's happening.
Moving away from that for a moment, but in the same area, is the policy of this government on local hire. I know they made a lot about it in the election, and I know they talked here about the number of Yukon teachers in our Yukon schools, but what I'd like to know from the minister is, what is the policy, what priority does the minister give to Yukon students who grow up in the Yukon or, let's put it this way, qualify for the student loan and then go out and further their education in another university and come back with a teaching degree and apply to Yukon schools? Are they the highest priority when you're hiring at the elementary level or at the first entry level? Is that your highest priority?
Maybe the minister could tell us what the priorities are with respect to the hiring of teachers?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Just to further respond to the member's question regarding the Yukon native teacher education program, we are discussing teachers in the context of the employment equity requirements in the umbrella final agreement. So, that will be part of the considerations in looking at the Yukon native teacher education program.
The candy cane campaign at Christmastime was a campaign that went not only to the political people. It went to the Yukon Teachers Association. At the present time, as members know, the government is in negotiation with the Yukon Teachers Association for a new contract. The YTA have taken the issue of substitute teachers to the bargaining table, so I'm unable to discuss it in the Legislature.
Mr. Phillips: It's fine if it's at the bargaining table, but is the minister telling us that the minister can't say whether the government is for or against on-call teachers being included in the bargaining unit? That's something that I think the teachers on call should know - whether the government supports it or doesn't support it. Discussions of the wages or that kind of thing is a different matter, but just the principle of whether or not the government thinks that teachers on call should be included in the bargaining unit.
Does the minister have an answer to whether the minister thinks they should be or shouldn't be?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We support fair treatment of substitute teachers and of all teachers. That exact question is being discussed at the negotiating table at this time, so I am unable to give further answers to the member at this time.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I'm a little disappointed that the member can't comment at all on what position they're taking. I'm not asking for a percentage of the wage increase, or whatever they're doing, I'm just asking whether they accept the principle that they should be included in the bargaining unit, so I'm a bit mystified why the minister can't give us an answer on that one.
The minister talked about the contract talks. Can she tell us what the status is now - where they're at and when they hope to achieve an agreement?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I believe that the government and the Yukon Teachers Association will be meeting in mid-May to return to the bargaining table.
Mr. Phillips: One of the issues that the member talked about when she was in Opposition was the issue of a professional development fund. The professional development fund was set at a $45,000 level, I believe, a couple of years ago, and I remember the member, when she was a critic, beating up the minister at the time, talking about the importance of the professional development fund, but I see there's no change in that fund for this budget. Can the minister tell me why, after having sort of harped on the reasons for increasing the fund when she was in Opposition, she chose not to increase it when she became the Minister of Education?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, the professional development fund is in this year's budget, being sustained at the same level it was in the previous year. The professional development fund is also something that is negotiated with the Yukon Teachers Association, and I'm not clear whether they're negotiating for more money on that or not, but in any event the decisions on bargaining will become public once an agreement is reached.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, the government chooses, when it's putting its budget together, its priorities. When the member was in Opposition, the member said that this should be a priority, and went over and over and over about the importance of professional development for teachers. In fact, the minister has just said to us that she doesn't know whether the Yukon teachers want that number increased. Well, I can tell you that they do want it increased; they've always wanted it increased - every year.
So, what I find troublesome is that the minister could have sent a clear message to Yukon teachers that they were interested in the professional development fund and the minister was going to put her money where her mouth was, so to speak.
So, I don't know why the minister didn't put in a few more dollars in this particular line item. I guess now what the minister is telling us, Mr. Chair, is that the budget we have here in front of us is not all the money that the Department of Education plans to spend because we know, of course, that there is nothing in this budget for increased electrical costs. We know there's nothing in this budget for increased costs on the labour side if they negotiate a contract and we also know now, I guess - and this is a new one on me - that the professional development fund is part of negotiations and it could be more than $45,000. So, I guess these are all things that'll increase the deficit if they come about.
I'm disappointed that the minister, after beating up on two or three other Ministers of Education in the past about not promoting this fund and increasing this fund, saw fit to ignore it when she put her budget together.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, I'd like to remind the member that there is more than one line item in support of professional development. There are a number of activities. For example, there was a workshop in Whitehorse a couple of weeks ago on the subject of improving gender equity in the schools that a number of teachers came in to.
The member's criticisms indicate that he still doesn't understand and respect the integrity of the bargaining process. It's not a matter for public debate in this House on what the mandate is for the parties and what is being discussed at the table. As I've said, when an agreement is reached, it will be a matter of public record, but I really want the member to respect that we should not be debating what the negotiators are dealing with at the bargaining table.
Chair: The time being about 5:30, I declare the Committee adjourned until 7:30.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We will proceed with the Department of Education, general debate.
Mr. Phillips: When we left off before the break, we were talking about the professional development fund. I just had an opportunity to pull one quote out of Hansard. It was April 10, 1996, page 3013. It was Mr. Sloan. He asked the then Minister of Education, "I wonder if the Minister and the department have given any thought to the idea of restoring the professional development fund to a more reasonable level to allow this to occur in conjunction with the Yukon Teachers Association." Obviously, one of the members on the other side, who has some influence in the government, I hope, felt that the professional development fund was too low. Again, I mention that to the minister. She does have the prerogative of putting a larger number in the budget for that line item. I won't believe that the numbers necessarily have to be put in after the negotiations. I think you can put the numbers in when you're establishing your budget, so I will leave that with the minister.
One of the things that happened to me as the Minister of Education, years ago, was that, shortly after becoming Minister of Education, I asked to go up to a board meeting at Yukon College and sit down with the board of Yukon College. They invited me up to the board meeting and advised me, prior to the meeting, that they wanted to hear my ideas about where the college might be going in the future and what programs they should provide - those kinds of things. I went up and talked about, I guess, a mission statement or some ideas that we had, as the Yukon Party government of the time, about where we thought the college should focus, and we left that with the board. Consequently, the board moved in that direction, in many areas, and did a very fine job.
My question to the minister: has she met with the Yukon College board, and has she had the opportunity to explain to the board what she sees the role of the college being in Yukon's education, and would she share that with us here today?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, I have met with the Yukon College Board of Governors, both prior to and since becoming Minister of Education. As the member will know, it was the New Democrat administration that created the College Act, which allowed for an independent board of governance. We do support that model and the college has found that the policy governance that they are doing is quite successful.
I think the role of the college is critical. As the member knows, the college offers both academic and trades programs, as well as academic upgrading for students who haven't yet reached a grade 12 equivalency, and I think that they do a good job and that they have a good range of programs.
Mr. Phillips: Are there any specific areas that the minister would like to see the college focus on with respect to training Yukoners?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We're going to be working with the college, as well as with the Department of Education and Economic Development, looking at the present Yukon training strategy and looking at updating that. That work will be ongoing, and I don't have anything to report to the member at this time.
Mr. Phillips: Two of the primary industries in the territory, of course, are the mining industry and the tourism industry. Has the minister had any discussions with anyone in the industry about where they see the role of not only the public school education system but, as well, the post-secondary and the Yukon College role? Has the minister met with any individuals from, for example, the Chamber of Commerce, TIA or other organizations to discuss this?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The subject of mine training is something that is very much on the minds of the industry, the college and the communities. I have had discussions with the college, mining companies and various communities about the mine training initiatives that have already taken place and about future ones. As the member knows from the budget address, we have also set aside money for a mine training trust fund in this budget.
Mr. Phillips: That covers one area, but I also mentioned tourism. I know that Yukon College has instituted a few new tourism programs at the college, and I commend them for that. In fact, I think one of the administrators is now on the board of directors of the Tourism Industry Association.
I think that's a very critical link and a very good link, not only for the college, but for the TIA board, as well. That individual was at the TIA convention on the weekend, spoke about the programs at the college and was very well received by the industry, as the industry is now crying out for trained personnel. The college has several programs that it has instituted in tourism training.
I just wonder if the minister has met with the TIA board and, if she hasn't, if she plans to do so, and does the minister have any plans to urge the college to increase its activity in the tourism training field?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As the member himself just said, the college has expanded its offerings of tourism courses. In fact, as well, the Yukon Tourism Education Council is working with students interested in expanding into the hospitality industry and we're supportive of the work that they do. I have not met with the Tourism Industry Association as of yet, but will certainly do so.
Mr. Phillips: I would highly recommend that to the minister because I think that that's a good liaison.
I also would like to suggest to the minister that, aside from the college board, the minister may want to consider having discussions with the tourism industry with respect to maybe some kinds of programs that they could institute in our high schools and with the youth - maybe a credit-type program, tourism programs, that they could supplement and that the industry would be involved in. The industry is crying out for trained individuals, so it would be beneficial to the industry, even if the public school system in the higher grades helped to do some of the work with the youth and hopefully provide future jobs for them by giving them some basic training in the tourism industry.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: There is already in place a co-op education program, which includes several businesses and work placement programs, and I believe that some of those are in the hospitality industry. I will take the member's representation into consideration.
Mr. Phillips: I'll move to another area for a moment - the grade reorganization. The minister talked about it briefly in her opening remarks. Just for sort of an update on that, is it on schedule, Mr. Chair? Have there been any major glitches with it as well? I'd like to know who is in charge of the program now. There was an individual that used to be the principal of Riverdale Junior High, and I'm not sure whether or not the individual is still in the same position. Is there someone else doing that job, or is that individual still coordinating grade reorganization?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The grade reorganization project is on target and I have quite a lengthy breakdown of changes to schools and budget items which I could provide for the member rather than reading it into the record. I will confirm for him who the contact person is in the Department of Education that is overseeing the grade reorganization project. I believe that the person who was previously in that position is now acting as a superintendent.
Mr. Phillips: Yes, Mr. Chair, that would be fine if the minister provides that by way of writing.
We were working in the past in standardized curriculum in various subjects and maybe the minister can bring us up to date on what the status of that is.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The department is still participating in the western consortium project and I can bring the member further details if he is interested.
Mr. Phillips: I won't - or maybe I will. I was going to leave the awards of excellence because we had a debate in the House, but I think I will touch on it a little bit.
The other day when we spoke to the minister responsible for community affairs, we talked about the elite athletes program and the similarities between that program and the awards of excellence. Does the minister see the similarities between those two programs?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'd like to point out to the member some of the differences between the elite athletes program and the Yukon excellence awards. The Yukon excellence awards are based on one multiple choice examination and if a student achieves 80 percent in a B.C. provincial examination then they are eligible for an excellence award, provided they attend college or university.
The elite athletes program is not based on one single performance. In order to register with the elite athletes program, the athlete has to demonstrate a training plan, they need support from a coach and they have to have a record that includes more than a single performance. So, those are some of the differences that I recognize.
Mr. Phillips: Surely, the minister must see some of the similarities as well. It does look at a low percentage number of people. Not everyone qualifies for this particular program. The athletes have to reach a certain level, whether it be 80 percent or 90 percent before they qualify for the program; that's the same as the awards of excellence. Both the athletes and the academics can qualify and do qualify for the student grant.
So, I just point out to the minister that it seems kind of odd that her party would condemn an academic program recognizing youth achievement, and at the same time commend an athletic program that does just about exactly the same thing.
I think there are lots of programs in the Department of Education and other programs in government that deal with low numbers of individuals, or a low percentage of numbers of individuals. The minister just had a ministerial statement today on reading that dealt with $350,000 going to projects such as that.
In our budget here we have a special education department that has a dozen or more individuals working there who deal with the students with special needs, and they each have a budget attached to them.
I don't think it's that bad to have a program that recognizes students that achieve academically. Now, the minister said, "Well, it's all based on one test." Well, the test is about what the students learned all year, and the students have to study and work hard all year to achieve those marks.
Some students - many students, in fact - have increased their marks to qualify for it. We saw in the document that the minister gave us that every year the number of students that qualify for the excellence awards is going up. I think in 1994-95 there were 360 students. In 1995-96 there were 647 students. So, it's going up all the time, and, in fact, when you look at the statistics that the member gave us, it's benefiting rural and urban students.
There needs to be more work done, I think, in some of the rural areas, but just the same, it does benefit these students and it's getting more and more expensive to go to college to further your education, and I would forewarn the minister that the minister should not rush into this. I know they are going to present a paper and I'd like to get a copy of that paper as soon as it's ready, with the recommendations that they're going to make to the school councils.
Maybe the minister could provide that for us. The meeting is, I believe, next week, on the third or fourth. If the minister has that document that she's going to be presenting to them, I would appreciate receiving a copy of it.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I think that the differences of opinion between myself and the Yukon Party critic were very well articulated in the three-hour debate we had on the Yukon excellence awards in the Legislature just one week ago. The member was just referring to the option paper that the Department of Education has drafted for consideration by the education community. That document is planned to be released on May 3rd, when school council chairs are meeting in Whitehorse this weekend. We will certainly make it available to the member, as well, and I can let him know that I will put his comments at the very top of the pile to be reviewed.
Mr. Phillips: I would like to ask the minister about the student grants. Is it the plan of this government to continue with the student grants, or are they planning on any changes? If so, could the minister give us some idea of what those changes might be?
I know that there has been pressure for some time to increase the amount of the grant. In fact, on April 10, 1996, Mr. Sloan asked a very similar question. He said, and I quote, "First of all, will the Yukon student grants be continued? In light of the increased post-secondary costs, will the department be reviewing the grants to see if they are now indeed sufficient as we enter the latter half of the last decade of the 20th century?" It is clear that the member, at the time, felt the grants were too low and that they should be increased. So, I would like to ask the minister what they are doing with respect to the student loans and student grants.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: In some areas, the Yukon government has the more generous student financial assistance package and, in other areas, less so.
This is something that is changing very rapidly across the country. As we've discussed in the House repeatedly, there have been significant federal funding cuts to both provincial and territorial government budgets for education and to the Canada student loans program.
There have also been other changes, for example, to the employment insurance legislation, that affect student training programs. This is one, very large area that we have not reviewed as of yet, but there are some elements of it that are being discussed now as we look at some of the federal changes.
The Canadian Council of Ministers of Education has also struck a committee for all provincial and territorial ministers to work together to try and ensure that our students can afford to get a good education.
Mr. Phillips: There we go again. Those darned Liberals are at it again, chipping away at our education system and our social structure.
I wish the minister well. I know that there was a study done, just prior to the Yukon Party coming into office, of the student grant system. It really is a minefield. It's not an easy one to solve and I wish the minister luck in solving it, because there are many, many interests and not an awful lot of money. I would hope that, whatever we do with the student grant system, we certainly keep in mind our most recent graduates and students who are working through the system now, and that that be seen as a priority.
I know there are all kinds of questions about students who live their whole life in the Yukon with their parents, then they leave and miss the two high school years that are here, and then come back. They don't qualify in the province or territory they're in but they don't qualify here either because they didn't spend the couple of years in our system.
There are all kinds of cases like that where people fall through the cracks. I know there were some demands from some people who'd moved in three, four or five years ago and were deciding to further their education at Yukon College and figured, since they'd been here five years, they should qualify for a grant.
Like I said, I wish the minister well. It really is a difficult area, and I look forward to hearing what the minister plans to do on it.
Does the minister have any idea of a time line on reviewing this issue, and when something might be coming out so we could have a look at it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I certainly appreciate the member's support on that, because, as he has said, it's both a complex and a difficult issue. We have summer employment programs in place for students. We have preference in the Department of Education for hiring Yukon graduates to be teachers in the school system. There is no time frame for any plans to release a public discussion paper.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I suppose that she may hear from some of the school councils as part of an agenda item somewhere down the road. I'm sure it will come up. It comes up every time.
There was a program that was running at F. H. Collins. We remodelled the cafeteria at F.H. Collins two or three years ago, and there was a program there in which the students actually ran a small business out of the cafeteria, and it was a business program, and I think they worked in conjunction with some local businesses. Is that program still alive? Do the students still operate a sort of store and serve other students lunches and that sort of thing?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, the program that the member refers to - the FEAST program - is still offered at F.H. Collins. I know that because I went over to the co-op education graduation ceremony at F.H. Collins, and the FEAST students put on a feast for the employers who were there as well as the graduates and the minister.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I'm glad to see that that program is still there.
I spoke privately to the minister on this issue before, and it was about an individual who is a director of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and is also a school teacher here in the Yukon. I think there was another teacher at the time. It wasn't the same individual. There have been two teachers holding this position. The Yukon has two directors on the Canadian Wildlife Federation, an environmental organization that is one of the largest in the country. The Yukon has two members on the board of directors, as does each province and territory. We have full voice as the provinces do, and in the past, the Yukon Party government and the previous New Democratic Party government granted leave with pay to this teacher to go to these meetings, and I understand that the department has clamped down a little more on this now and that they are going to grant the individual leave, but it's going to be without pay.
I would just suggest to the minister that the Canadian Wildlife Federation is a very large organization. It does a lot of good things for our environment and the wildlife. In fact, Project Wild, which is in our schools every spring, is either running now or is going to run shortly during National Wildlife Week. This individual plays a fairly significant part in that organization, and the decision that the department has made is actually going to cost this individual quite a few dollars, and I don't think it's a major sacrifice. I think it's important to be on these national bodies, and my feeling is that it didn't hurt us that much to do it before, and I don't think it would hurt us that much to do it now. In fact, I think it would be a major benefit to the territory to have this individual, or if it was any other teacher or government employee who asked for leave with pay, to go on this trip, and it would be a worthwhile endeavour.
I just pass it on to the minister because I do think it's worthwhile. It's unfortunate it's probably going to cost this individual well over $1,000 out of his own pocket for the time that he has to be away for this job. I think the benefits of providing this individual with leave with pay far exceed the approach that the government has taken. I was a bit disappointed to hear that, yes, they've granted leave but, no, he won't get any pay, because I think it makes the decision to stay on in an organization like this a little more difficult for someone who has to take so much time off. There are people in many provinces that can just take a day or two to go to the meetings and come back, but we end up taking four days just because of the travel. I think it's important to recognize that this is an important national organization and the Yukon plays an equal role to all of the provinces.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The Department of Education has granted leave without pay to the applicant, and granting this leave demonstrates the support of the government to those Yukon citizens who represent the territory in community functions. This response is consistent with the actions of other school jurisdictions that have employees attending the Canadian Wildlife Federation meeting. It's also consistent with the level of support given to other Yukon employees who participate in similar community service activities. As well, Mr. Chair, I believe that this decision is consistent with Yukon Party practice in the past.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, it's not. My understanding is that it was always leave with pay. It was never leave without pay. I don't think that happened.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to move into another area now on the capital side, the Dawson school. The numbers are starting to increase in Dawson and there has been some talk, as we mentioned here, I think, earlier today, about the site for the school. I wonder if the minister is in communication with the school council and if there are any plans in the near future to put the plan for the new school in Dawson back on the books and what kind of priority it will receive by this minister in future capital projects.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: First of all, Mr. Chair, I can assure that I am in correspondence with the Dawson City school council. He was asking in Question Period yesterday about the site for the Dawson school. The Department of Education is committed to maintaining that site in Dawson for the school. We do not have a time frame for when the Dawson elementary school might proceed beyond design.
Mr. Phillips: Maybe I can ask the minister then about the Mayo school. The Mayo school has been identified in the study as one of the schools in dire need of replacement, according to the consultant's report. Are there any plans to move that school ahead in the near future?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, what I can tell the member is that the Mayo school is not slated for construction this year. We do not have a list of which schools will be built when and the Mayo school was certainly identified in the rural school facilities study that the Yukon Party completed as one of the schools that was in critical need of replacement. There are other schools in the same situation.
Mr. Phillips: Still on the area of schools - the Old Crow school - I understand that, at least I was led to believe they've selected a site for the school and there is a very limited time line of being able to get at the gravel, put the pad down for the school, I guess, because of the rising water levels and they only have a very small window to work within.
Is the minister planning to do any work in the Old Crow area this summer to get at that gravel? I guess if they don't get at the gravel this summer, then they can't even start to get the gravel until next spring and that means that it might be a full year and a half delay in starting any real construction.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, I can confirm for the member that there has been a site selected by the community. So, there is a site identified for the new Old Crow school. There have been no engineering studies done yet. There is, in this budget, $500,000 identified for design work and preliminary studies ahead of construction. This is a priority for the government and we will be proceeding with it in conjunction with working with the community.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, could I make a suggestion to the minister with respect to the Old Crow school? They're going to need some gravel wherever they select the site. In the area that I believe they've selected, there is going to be some excavation and gravel needed. It might be wise if the department looked at moving some of that gravel now, even if they don't put it right on the site, but get it out of the river bank, where they do get their gravel there before the water rises, otherwise it means that they won't be able to get the gravel until this time next spring and that may mean a bit of a delay in building the school. If they go in there now and remove a few thousand yards of gravel, or whatever they need in their estimation, and stockpile it near the location of the school, that could be a way of keeping the project moving and also employing some of the people of Old Crow in the actual moving of the gravel.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, it seems that the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation are on top of that one. There has, in fact, been some gravel work already started and we are aware of the time constraints, and the work is being done.
Mr. Phillips: A year ago, the minister, as an Opposition member, asked a question of the then Minister of Education. Arising out of the Department of Education annual report for 1994-95, and under special programs, which refers to the task force that looked at current practices and how services to the student with exceptional needs could be improved, it presented a list of nine recommendations in its report in March 1995. The critic then asked the minister what had been done to respond to the recommendations, and my question is the same to this minister: what has been done to respond to those recommendations?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'll have to come back to the member with an answer on what work has been done relating to those recommendations.
Mr. Phillips: Okay, thank you, that will be fine. I just have a few more questions for the minister.
Busing - I know we were doing a study. Could the minister just update us on where all of that is? One question that people have been asking me is: does the Government of the Yukon have any intent to do the busing itself, as some jurisdictions, I guess, do?
Is the minister planning to continue with the contracting out of the busing? I understand we've given the contractor this year a year's extension because of all of the transition that's taken place, but could the minister sort of give us an idea of where they're going with this one?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As the member is aware, there has been a busing contract put out for a one-year period. The reason for that is that at the present time, a busing review is being done. This review was initiated under the previous minister, prior to the election.
We want to have time to respond to all of the recommendations of the busing review, based on the information they gleaned from talking to the members of the community and from working with school councils, as well as the department.
There have been no plans made on how to respond to the busing review, because we have not received it yet.
Mr. Phillips: I think for now that probably wraps up most of my questions in general debate. Again, I would like to thank the minister and her staff for the excellent briefing and the information they provided us in the briefing.
Ms. Duncan: I would also like to begin my remarks by thanking the departmental staff for the briefing and, in particular, they have been most diligent in follow-up, with their answers to questions, and I commend them for that.
One comment I would like to make about the briefing was that it was very refreshing to have the previous data supplied for us, but for those of us who are rookies - and I think that just applies to me in this debate and perhaps to the deputy minister of the department - it was a little different from the other departments in terms of written detail about the department functions, and perhaps as we go along I'll gain more of that information. Perhaps next year we could have a little more of the written stuff that goes with the technical briefing.
Overall, I would like to ask the minister for her comments with respect to the Education budget. She has said repeatedly that it is this government's desire to restore partnerships in education and, of course, paying greater attention to school councils or meeting with school councils is certainly one way to do that and that is not a cost.
I don't see any overall real changes in directions in terms of this budget. Could I just have a few comments from the minister in terms of how she intends to set different tone in terms of budget application?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: First of all, I would like to say that I appreciate both the critics' appreciation of the staff's efforts in putting together the technical briefing. That was something that the previous government did and I believe it was a good initiative, and I'm glad that it's helpful for members. We will certainly try and improve it, based on the suggestions that the member has just made.
In response to the questions about the direction for education and how to do a better job of ensuring that the government recognizes the partnership in education, in many ways I think that can be done with the kind of political work that I've tried to do just in the first six months in this position. I've had a number of meetings with several groups in the community that are active in the field of education, whether it's literacy or post-secondary. I've also had meetings with school councils and, as members know, there is the school council chairs' annual conference for two days on Friday and Saturday.
I think that what the member will find is that, over the mandate and the period of time this government is in office, we'll be attempting to reflect the direction of working with the partners in education, based on the recommendations that come to us.
Ms. Duncan: We've begun talking about school councils and there's been quite a discussion by at least two school councils about the expansion of school councils and the addition of members. I understand that the minister's response has been to suggest to these school councils that the addition of members take place in consultation with affected First Nations and also that, of course, there be no additional funds and that the cost of an additional member has to come from the existing school councils' budgets.
Is there an intention at some point in time to increase the school councils' budgets to allow for a greater representation and a greater number of individuals on these school councils?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That's a good question that the member raises, because the whole subject of the size of school councils is something that needs to be reviewed. There is no actual requirement that there be a certain number of school council members based on the student population size. So, some very small schools might have the maximum number of school council members, and some very large schools might not have the maximum. That item is one that I believe school councils have on their agenda for the meeting coming up.
Another suggestion that has been made is that, because the fall election of school councillors occurs after the school year starts, the school councillors are coming in after the school plan for the year has been determined, there has been a suggestion that school council elections might be held in the spring rather than the fall.
Those are issues that we're going to ask school councils what their views are on.
Ms. Duncan: I understand that the timeliness of the ability to have an additional member serve on a school council and having an additional member appointed, and the actual swearing in and appointment of members are also issues that have been raised, and I'm sure that the minister will hear more from the actual school councils at their meeting.
Just to advise the minister that, in the line item with respect to education-related organizations and funding for organizations, I did not request in the technical briefing but would like to ask her to provide me at some point with more details as to what those organizations are.
We no longer have the Education Advisory Council but there's a $9,000 line item for education-related organizations. So if I could just at some point have some more detail on that.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'd certainly be happy to provide the member with the information she has requested. There is some information, I believe, in the statistics pages of the budget that gives the transfer payments to education organizations.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the minister, and I'll take a second look and see if I've just overlooked the information.
Fundraising by school councils has been an item of at least two of the school council meetings I've attended, and quite a discussion by members of the school councils. There are a number of issues: there is safety of students and children when they are out selling goods and services, what they sell and what the money is raised for. There is quite a variety. I've been asked to buy tickets, and whatever - different items for a camping trip. Also, it can vary to they feel they need an additional computer in a library. Is there a policy in the department about this fundraising, and any sort of guidelines issued to school councils or a discussion document that's available for school councils to use?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: No, I do not believe that there is any policy related to fundraising. It has largely been a school-based decision. Certainly, I am prepared to consider the member's requests, and I'm sure that school councils that have already indicated their interest in the subject of fundraising will be bringing it to my attention as well.
Ms. Duncan: It's quite an area of discussion, and it varies widely between school councils, so I'm not sure you'll hear it necessarily raised by school councils. It may come to the minister from parents.
With respect also to school councils, could the minister just provide me with some information about the training that is afforded school councils, and who determines what training is required and how training sessions are established?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: When the school council elections are held and a new school council is elected, the coordinator within the Department of Education has a package of information that's sent out to the school council. That includes the Education Act and relevant policies, and the oaths that they have to take. As well, because some school councils, particularly in rural areas, expressed to me that they would like to see better training, particularly for new members, we had an Education official travel to the communities to meet with school councils to answer any of their questions. Getting a big envelope with a package of information in it isn't sometimes as helpful as a face-to-face meeting. As well, school council members attend an annual conference, and we have a school council chairs' annual conference occurring in Whitehorse this weekend.
Ms. Duncan: Just to elaborate further on the training, there has been quite a number of changes across Canada and throughout North America in the way that boards and committees work and their ways of work. Has there been any thought or have any of these school council chairs' annual spring conferences brought in a guest speaker in that respect or, in terms of local hire, brought in local expertise - individuals who have experience working with boards that have undergone change? For example, there is a lot of talk about the Carver model of governance and ways of work, and I'm just wondering if school councils have had these discussions as well.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: There have been a number of local groups that have in fact adopted policy governments, including the college, which looked at the Carver model of governance, and the Porter Creek Secondary School. So, I believe that we have local expertise that could be available to school councils if they were interested in that subject.
Ms. Duncan: I think my question is: has this been a discussion at school council spring conferences, or has it been a suggestion even that the minister is considering putting forward to school councils that they have this as an agenda item?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, I have to tell the member that I'm not aware of what the exact agenda items were under the Yukon Party government when school council chair meetings were held. So, I don't have an answer for that.
Ms. Duncan: One of the items on all of the school council meeting agendas seems to be emergency measures, and I note that there's a really wide variance in what school councils have been able to achieve in this respect. For example, there was an emergency measures plan tabled at the F.H. Collins school council meeting, which was an excellent document, from what I saw of it, and there are other schools working on their plans.
Could the minister advise me what support is available to school councils, with respect to doing their emergency measures planning, and how far along the school councils are with this?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, the department provides leadership and coaching to school councils on the subject of emergency measures and, yes, we are supportive of it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The minister has noted there's quite the team on the benches opposite.
One of the other members in this House has raised the issue of volunteers, in terms of how we treat our volunteers as employees, and I'm going to raise this in the Public Service Commission debate, but I'm also going to raise it with this minister, because of the number of people directly employed by her department.
The way we treat our employees and, in particular, our volunteers, is very important and it's part of our changing society, and how we as an employer treat these people who are also volunteers in their spare time is an issue of concern.
For example, I know of at least two school council chairs who are also Government of Yukon employees. These people have a choice. They can either take leave without pay or vacation time to attend this weekend's meeting.
Is the government prepared to look at a change in volunteer policy to provide volunteers, perhaps on a case-by-case basis, or a new policy in allowing volunteers leave with pay for attendance at some functions?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, certainly it's a priority and a serious concern for us that there are respectful relationships in the schools, and the expectation is that those respectful relationships would occur between teachers and students, between students and teachers, and, as well, extend to the volunteers.
Last year, one of the education excellence awards went to a volunteer coordinator, and two parent volunteers this year were recognized for their contributions to education.
We have not considered policy with regard to providing paid leave, and the previous questioner was raising the subject of paid leave for someone to attend conferences outside of the Yukon. The policy that is in place is that we provide leave without pay.
Ms. Duncan: I understood that answer at the time. My point obviously got lost because I don't think any of the sides in the House understood what I was trying to say. The point I'm trying to make is that, for example, in a business situation, if your employer knows that you need to take a day off to deal with school council business, that employer has a choice. If you're on salary, they can say, "Make up the time," or if you're an hourly paid employee, they can turn a blind eye and say, "Fill your time sheet out as per usual and you get paid for it."
Now, the minister has just told me that the government's policy is that you take leave without pay, and I'm asking if there would be consideration - and the example I used is that there are Government of Yukon employees who are also school council chairs at this weekend's meeting - to changing the policy to allow a volunteer who is taking time off from their Government of Yukon job to be paid at the same time they're taking the time off, so to speak.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, I will consider the member's suggestion. When people decide to run for a position, such as a school council, those are the kinds of things they take into account when they decide to put their names forward. I know that some of the school council chairs who are unable to attend this weekend have asked someone else from the school council to attend on their behalf to ensure that every school council has an opportunity to be represented.
Ms. Duncan: On this same subject, on occasion when there is a particular conference that is being advertised as open to the general public, there'll be a notification that day care subsidies will be available. Are day care subsidies available to school council members?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I'm not sure if they are and I will certainly find out for the member.
Ms. Duncan: Obviously, no one has asked that question, judging by the hesitation. It just occurred to me.
I'd like to change the discussion slightly, if I could, to the capital planning for education. I've asked the minister several times about the capital planning process and I appreciate that I have received the school council agenda and appreciate, on behalf of several school councils, that the actual capital planning discussion has been moved to the Saturday as opposed to the Friday.
Could the minister just provide me with a brief outline as to how the facilitator, Dr. Smith, intends to lead the discussion, if she's aware of the plan for that discussion.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As the member has just noted, we do have a facilitator from outside of the Department of Education coming in to help with that session, which I think is a good idea. The school facilities manager for the Department of Education is going to give an overview of the present capital planning process for new schools. Then the discussion will be open for school councils to talk about ways that that process could be improved to talk about what criteria they think should be given primary consideration in determining the capital planning for the government.
Ms. Duncan: Further, on the capital, I would like to express my thanks to the government, after my rather surprising question with respect to the contingency fund and the concern about the fourth change room for Porter Creek. I understand that they have a fourth change room being constructed. Thank you so much. I appreciate that on behalf of the students who will be attending that next year.
Could I, while we're in the capital discussion, have confirmation or just a general indication as to when students will actually be in the school and it will be totally functional?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The New Democrat government has the good fortune to have a couple of educators in the caucus to help out in this debate and the Government Services minister says he has a more recent update, so he can provide some information to you on that.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The latest information that I have on the expansion of Porter Creek Secondary indicates that we are anticipating that the new administration offices and the gym will be ready for the beginning of the new school year. This most recent note was on March 13th.
The indication that I have is that it will be able to accommodate the additional classroom space, and that there is a projection that it will be finished some time - completion for the whole project would be November 15th. I have a rather startlingly long chronology of how we got to this point.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps the Minister of Government Services would like to send me that written information as opposed to taking up House time on it in the Government Services debate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: There will be another update by the time we get to Government Services, that's correct.
In discussion with respect to the Porter Creek school, there has been raised the issue of agreements with the City of Whitehorse, and there have been a number of discussions, such as you require sidewalks or a parking lot and file it with the City of Whitehorse and pay for it in your building development permit - this sort of a discussion - and school councils are saying, "Well, there's a user agreement with the city. The city gets this beautiful facility, but they're asking the government to pay for too much." I wonder if perhaps the Minister of Education or the Minister of Government Services could perhaps just enlighten myself and this House as to discussions, with the City of Whitehorse in particular, in reaching any sort of a new user agreement.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member is talking about the fact that there is in place a user agreement between the City of Whitehorse and the Department of Education. The City of Whitehorse uses school facilities for recreation programs. I don't know the precise date that that agreement expires. I'm not sure if it's a one-year agreement that's in place, but I can certainly come back with further information for the member.
Ms. Duncan: If I could just review that agreement, if the minister could send it over to me, I'd be interested in it, and in whether there are discussions to be undertaken or a time frame for its renewal.
The Golden Horn school in the minister's riding had quite a discussion with respect to which space for next year was appropriate, whether a portable or a school expansion. Could the minister enlighten me as to what the most recent request from that school council is with respect to their facility for next year?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I have not received anything from the Golden Horn school council since their most recent meeting. The Golden Horn population survey that was recently completed put a five-year enrollment projection for the Golden Horn attendance area forward. That showed that the student population will peak in the year 2000 and then begin to decrease thereafter. The Yukon Bureau of Statistics provided advice to the task force that conducted that survey.
Ms. Duncan: There seems to be some issue between what people feel will be the school enrollment and what the department feels will be the school enrollment. For example, there are some people who, in spite of the survey that the minister has just referred to, still believe that if they build it they will come and that you need more facilities. For example, at Holy Family, it was raised that, "Well, the department said we'd only reach 295 by such-and-such a year and we will be at 297 students next year." There seems to be a difference between what the public thinks we need for school facilities and what the department and the statistical surveys seem to think we need for school facilities.
Can the minister enlighten me as to what the policy is and how these decisions are reached - briefly?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: First of all, I'd like to say that I'm well aware that many people would like to live in Mount Lorne and that it's one of the more popular residential neighbourhoods in the greater Whitehorse area. And, in part, it is because of the very attractive school. Golden Horn school is very well respected by the parents who have had students in there, and it has a very good reputation.
The task force received the final report on the population at a meeting on December 12 for the present school year. If the student population predictions are accurate, then no additions to the school will be necessary. Preliminary planning for the addition of another modular unit is underway now, in the event that an unanticipated influx of students necessitates the creation of another classroom.
The Golden Horn school council met with parents in March to inform them of the results and, once again, is seeking their input. They are presently developing a short survey, which will go to all parents. Certainly, responding to the growing population is something that I think the Department of Education needs to work closely with the Department of Community and Transportation Services so that we're aware of planned lot development, so that if there are going to be more families moving into an area that the school will be big enough to accommodate their children. That's something that we're endeavoring to do in a responsible manner.
Chair: Do the members wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with the Department of Education. Is there any further general debate?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I have a response to one of the member's questions regarding funding to other organizations.
Under contributions, there is $6,040, which is allocated as annual support to the Canadian Education Association by the Yukon, in accordance with other provinces and the Northwest Territories. There is, as well, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada annual fees, for $3,500, for a total of $9,540.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the minister for that information.
We were discussing capital planning for education, and I had asked a general question - just in terms of the public and the department - on how the decision is arrived at to build new schools and where new schools might go and, as I had pointed out before the break, there seems to be a difference of opinion. The department will think a school is never going to be full, and guess what? The enrollment is darn near close a couple of years into the school's life.
The minister had indicated that she had hoped and would ensure that the Department of Education is talking to the Department of Community and Transportation Services with respect to new lots, but could she just elaborate on how the department arrives at the decisions that they have made with respect to new schools?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As I am sure the member can appreciate, there are always a limited number of financial resources available, so the demands and needs can always exceed the amount of funding available for schools, as for other projects.
The process that's used as far as looking at where new schools are needed is based on the five-year capital planning project and is based on the annual determination of the budget when the Cabinet of the day sits down and looks at the total amount of capital money available and how to allocate it.
Ms. Duncan: And, as I understand it, the minister is trying to improve this process by involving school councils and that is the discussion that's taking place this weekend.
That brings us to the subject of Grey Mountain Primary, which must take up discs in Hansard. However, as I am new to this House, I have come at this issue from, I think, a somewhat fresher perspective. It would seem to me that what has been lacking by any of the previous governments is a clear commitment to that school. Either let's commit to it and let's deal with it in terms of the lineup for facility improvements or let's say, no, we're not committing to that school.
Can the minister give me a time frame as to when the government will make a commitment to Grey Mountain Primary School?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We don't give time frames for specific commitments as to when to build a particular school, other than the debate of the annual budget. In this particular budget, there's money for the design of the Old Crow school, as well as the grade reorganization initiatives that we've already touched on.
With regard to Grey Mountain Primary, I would like to advise the member that when the Poon Gardner report was done that indicated a number of the problems with that facility, a lot of upgrading was undertaken. In fact, a total of $350,000 was spent to replace wall coverings and flooring. There was a new learning assistance room, and an addition to the school to accommodate and expand an administration area was done. There's a new ventilation system and a renovated kindergarten and a renovated computer room.
One of the recommendations in the Whitehorse school facilities report discusses dismantling Grey Mountain Primary and integrating the students into Selkirk Elementary School. There is presently no discussion around the issue of school replacement. The minimum practical size of a K to 7 elementary school is 200 students, and the department cannot justify the construction of a new elementary school which would not be full, particularly in view of other urgently needed facility replacement and upgrading projects in the communities.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the minister's remarks in terms of the present facility, and that it's in line, like everything else, for repairs, but I think that begs the issue of a clear commitment to Grey Mountain Primary School, and I think it's time we, as a Legislature and as legislators, came clean with the students and parents of students of Grey Mountain Primary.
The minister has said that the department can't justify another K to 7 school in that area. This isn't a K to 7 school, it's a K to 3 primary school. To say it is much loved by parents and students who have been through that system would be like saying the Yukon has enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day - it's an incredible understatement, and it just seems to me so grossly unfair that we can't seem to say yes or no.
The minister, when she was on this side of the House, supported the movement of $4 million and that discussion was for Grey Mountain Primary - it never happened. I appreciate that the department comes back with one set of statistics, and the discussion comes back to this House again and again.
I believe there needs to be a decision made, and I'm asking the minister: is she prepared to make a tough, political decision with respect to Grey Mountain Primary?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: First of all, Mr. Chair, I am aware, as the member states, that Grey Mountain Primary is a K to 3 school, and the comments that I made to the member were based on the fact that her colleague, the Member for Riverdale South, had put on the Order Paper a recommendation that the government should include in the 1997-98 capital budget the funds to reconstruct Grey Mountain Primary School from grades K to 7.
The current Grey Mountain primary facility remains in good condition. There have been extensive renovations undertaken to the existing facility and it should meet the needs of the community for at least the next five years.
One of the things that the school council chairs will be seeing at their meeting this weekend is slides of the various schools in the Yukon. There are a number of other schools that are outside of the Whitehorse area that are in absolutely deplorable condition, but they're not subjected to the same kind of public scrutiny that Whitehorse schools are.
I have to tell the member that the replacement of Grey Mountain Primary is not a priority of this government at this time.
Mrs. Edelman: I think there need to be a few issues dealt with here. First of all, the previous government changed the boundaries twice to make sure that the population of Grey Mountain school would go down, but it didn't. That school is full. Selkirk is full. The Catholic school system is full. Whitehorse Elementary is full. There is nowhere to go. You can keep band-aiding that school, but sooner or later you have to make the decision that says, "We can keep throwing money, $300,000 here, another $300,000 there. It's going to save you money in the long run if you just rebuild that school." That whole subdivision is getting younger and younger and younger, and there are more and more children there all the time. It is not a retirement community. It is growing and vibrant. The densest population in Whitehorse and in the Yukon is in Riverdale, and the minister has to be aware.
You made a commitment to that school in the past. Now you don't, and I need to be a little bit clearer, and my constituents need to be clearer, on where you stand on this.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I can certainly appreciate the member's passion. She does represent the Riverdale community in this Legislature and I'm well aware that the school is full. However, I would give the same response. Grey Mountain Primary School has received a lot of upgrading as a result of some of the specific problems that were identified in that school. It's a school that should meet the needs of the community for at least the next five years, and we're simply unable to build every school that is being requested.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I understand the minister's commitment and understanding of her budget and her budget restraints. Not every school can be built this year or next year, or even within five years. There's a lot of money asked for in these two reports and I fully appreciate that Mayo is a good example. The J.V. Clark School has needed more than just repairs for many, many years.
The difficulty I have is that, as I understand it, these 15-year-old portables were moved in 20 years ago, or the 20-year-old portables that were moved in 15 years ago - I always get the two statistics confused. These portables, old portables, were moved in and Grey Mountain was a temporary facility.
What I'm asking for, in terms of future planning: does the Government of the Yukon under this Minister of Education see Grey Mountain Primary as a permanent facility?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, schools that are built out of portables are not permanent structures and Grey Mountain Primary, like the Mayo school the member just mentioned and like the Ross River school, were put in place as temporary structures and they're not going to last forever.
I would like the member, though, to be aware that the Ross River school, which is also portables, has exactly the same kinds of problems. There are structural deficiencies in the building and the floors are crooked. It's really in deplorable condition.
There are a lot of schools in this territory that need to have some work done and there was not a very aggressive capital budget in Education over the previous four-year administration. We hope to improve that. We are spending $500,000 on capital project planning and pre-engineering in this budget, where planning won't bear fruit until some further work has been done.
So, we have made a commitment to capital expenditures, but I can't stand here today and promise that Grey Mountain Primary will be a school that is constructed in the next budget year or the next one after that. It's one of a number of schools that will not last forever and it will eventually have to be replaced.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the issue I have is that while Ross River and Mayo schools - and we're using those two examples - are in deplorable condition, there is no suggestion in either of those communities that they may not have a school. The suggestion that Grey Mountain Primary may not continue to exist hangs over the heads of the school councils, students and parents in that subdivision, and it hangs over this Legislature like a little, black rain cloud. All I'm asking is for this minister to say yes or no about continuing to support the existence of a Grey Mountain Primary School.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We are continuing to support the existence of Grey Mountain Primary School. The renovations and additions that have been completed at that facility make it a viable school for some years into the future. As Grey Mountain Primary approaches the end of its life, we will have to look at all the options that are available. As I said when we started out with the discussion on Grey Mountain Primary, one of the recommendations in the school facilities report indicated that Grey Mountain Primary students could be integrated into Selkirk Elementary. At the present time, we have an enormous shift in the student population in Whitehorse with the grade reorganization project. I can't predict what the future will hold.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has mentioned a couple of different time frames in the discussion of this school. She's said "next five years", "some years into the future" and "the end of its life". Does the minister have any idea what time frame she is looking at currently with respect to this school?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The renovations that have been completed to Grey Mountain Primary indicate that it remains in good condition and that it should meet the needs of the community for at least the next five years. That's as far as the planning has gone at the present time - that Grey Mountain Primary should meet the needs of the community for at least the next five years and that its replacement at this time is not something that the government is proceeding with.
Ms. Duncan: The minister raised the issue of grade reorganization and mentioned integration of Grey Mountain Primary School students into Selkirk Street Elementary School. I missed the complete reference. Could she just elaborate on that point for me? As I understand it, that's not taking place - no, it's not. The minister is shaking her head. Okay. And there are no changes to the grade reorganization plans as they stand now. There has been no changes.
I'd like to ask about the capital planning for the -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Through the fresh eyes of this legislator, I think it's a useful discussion to have.
With respect to capital planning, I'd like to talk about the Old Crow school for a moment. As I understand it, the government is endeavouring to work with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation on this project, and the minister indicated earlier to my colleague that there was some work that had been done - some gravel had been moved to date. Can she just give us a progress report in terms of facility design plans? What progress has been made in that respect - selection of a design?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: There has not been a selection of a design for the Old Crow community school as of yet. That work is underway with the Department of Education, in conjunction with the community, looking at the best approach to proceed.
There has been, as the member just stated, some gravel moved, as well as the school itself. There are teacher residences being constructed. That is in the Yukon Housing Corporation budget. So, other than to say that there is $700,000 for some duplexes to replace the staff housing so that teachers will have somewhere to live for the next school year, that's the main construction that will, in fact, take place over the coming year.
With the school, the $500,000 that is in the budget is for planning, and that planning process is underway.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to elaborate on the partnership with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation? For example, when it comes to the awarding of contracts for design-build and any other sort of contracts for moving gravel or selection of design, how is that working? Is Government Services awarding contracts, calling for tenders and discussing with Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation? Could you elaborate on that process for me, please?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Perhaps I can sort of give the member a very quick précis of how the arrangement is working. We've been trying to work with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation here in a number of ways and, basically, Education has taken the lead in coordinating the various parties involved.
Government Services' function has been mainly the design of the temporary renovations, and we've been supporting that. The managing and construction of the renovations is being led by the Vuntut Gwitchin. The funding of the old site clearance is Education's responsibility. They've taken the lead in that. Clearing debris from the site was the Vuntut Gwitchin. They've taken the lead. New site selection was the Vuntut Gwitchin Building Advisory Committee. That was their lead.
Estimate costs of the replacement school is the Government Services', and we're doing the support in that. Funding, of course, for the replacement school is Education's lead. The approval of the design of the school will be Education and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. For the project management of the replacement, Government Services would be the support in that, and I understand that there are various scenarios being considered right now in terms of design-build. There are some suggestions that have come forward from the Gwitchin Development Corporation out of Fort McPherson. So, I think that particular aspect is still open for some discussion.
The indication that we had from the Vuntut Gwitchin people is that they want to proceed in a manner that's well thought-out. They are not particularly interested in getting something up in the immediacy. They are interested in doing a good job and thinking it out well.
Ms. Duncan: The Fort McPherson Vuntut Gwitchin, as I understand it, are in partnership with a firm by the name of Ferguson Simek Clark, who built the Fort McPherson school. Is the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow in partnership with this firm as well, and is Government Services contemplating a design-build contract?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think the member has a sense that, yes, the Gwitchin Development Corporation and the FSC group are bringing a design-build proposal forward and this will likely be presented to YTG by the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. Like everything else, I think we'll just have to consider it when it comes and see if it's adequate and see if it is certainly within the reasonable scope of what we have in terms of resources.
Ms. Duncan: I thought I had completed the capital, but there is one other question I want to raise, and that's the issue of preventive maintenance in our school facilities.
There doesn't seem to be a real preventative maintenance type of program. It seems to be a capital request on an as-needed basis, as opposed to someone reviewing the school facility in a less detailed fashion than the facilities studies. I am referring to preventative maintenance, like checking fixtures and doors - those sort of minor repairs, if you will. There doesn't seem to be a preventative maintenance program for our school facilities. Is there any sort of thought to addressing this in the future?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'd like to ask if the member is referring to the conservation action plan in any way, or if her question is more in line with the kind of maintenance work that Government Services staff are doing. Certainly, we do maintain the schools in a state of good repair. There is regular custodial and maintenance work done as part of maintaining any public building. I would think that Government Services would be more appropriately responding to the detailed questions the member might have.
Ms. Duncan: I will pursue that line of questioning when we get to the Government Services debate, because it is an issue that has been raised by school councils and it is an issue in our schools.
I'd like to ask about some of the actual activities within the schools.
Crisis counselling has been raised with me as an issue. I understand there is a crisis counsellor available. However, there is a greater need in each school. When you need a crisis counsellor, you need them now, not two weeks from now when you can get an appointment.
What crisis counselling is available in our schools and what is the government's policy with respect to supplying crisis counselling in our schools?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I accept the member's statement that, when crisis counselling is needed, it is needed immediately. I do want to remind the member, though, that here in the Yukon we are fortunate to have, I think, the best student/teacher ratio, and not just the student/teacher ratio, but we have significant resources in special programs that result in counselling being available to students. That's important. On the exact numbers of counsellors that are available and the kinds of special crisis counselling, I can provide further details to the member. There is a comprehensive school counselling model in place.
Ms. Duncan: I would just like to request that the member provide me with more detailed information when it is available from the department, and written information is fine.
I'm seeking not so much the larger crisis issues or issues that would require more in-depth counselling, but the more day-to-day type of crisis counselling that's required. The situation of a student having difficulty, extreme difficulty - an anger management sort of an issue - that's immediate and needs to be dealt with.
What crisis counselling is available in the schools for - and, it's more the secondary schools that I'm thinking of - that situation.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We do have a high level of services, compared with other jurisdictions. Counsellors work in schools with all students and with parents, teachers, administrators and the community, through a balanced program of direct and indirect services and activities.
There is also in place development of a counselling program plan for each school, which makes sure that agencies and interest groups are used in a planned manner, rather than groups or information being parachuted into the student body.
As well, the member was talking about anger management. There is the whole initiative of safe schools, which looks at ways of ensuring that students are taught how to deal with their emotions in a constructive way. It is also integrated into the curriculum through things like the career and personal planning program.
Comprehensive counselling provides a basis for developing a positive school culture. The
school counsellors have clearly defined roles and expectations, and certainly, there's always room for improvement, but I believe that we do do well, that Yukon students are well served.
Coordinated crisis intervention is conducted by department staff. We do have staff in the department that respond. For example, when the school in Old Crow burned down and there was a real crisis in the community, we had an educational psychologist available to go up and to work with students, and there is an action plan in place to respond to crises and to bring people to help the students and teachers and parents as needed.
Ms. Duncan: I was thinking along the lines of not so much as a crisis such as the Old Crow school fire, I was thinking along the lines of an immediate student suspension - that sort of a crisis counselling.
What counselling is available to the students, the teachers, the school council and the principal when there is that immediate situation, and it's a one-on-one situation? What I'm hearing the minister say is that the schools are adequately staffed in that respect and that there is counselling available. So, I will accept that answer.
Could I ask the minister to have the departmental officials provide me with an update on what's termed as the Grove Street program, the use of - it's not a portable, but a trailer behind Jack Hulland School for students that are not to be in the facility for one reason or another. It was tried on a pilot program and the minister's colleague will know what I'm speaking of. Could I just ask for information on that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, we'll bring that information back for the member.
Ms. Duncan: The minister mentioned the safe schools program and I have referred many times to the very well done safety audit of the Porter Creek school. Could the minister advise me, over and above the safe schools program, is there a plan or a suggestion, a long-range idea in the department that there should be a safety audit done of all Yukon schools?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: One of the reasons that the safety audit in the Porter Creek school was quite timely is that there was construction being planned and so it fit well with what was going on at that school at that time. The long-range strategic plan for the safe schools initiative is in process and there are a number of things that are happening that I think relate to the member's request. Although they're not directly safety audits, there have been bully prevention and safe schools workshops, and there is an ongoing review of materials, resources and programs. Each school is required to have a school safety committee and develop an emergency response plan. I can certainly ask school councils and school safety committees to think about whether a safety audit would be of value in their particular school community.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would ask the minister that she take that as a serious suggestion back to school councils and to her various meetings. These safety audits can serve as a valuable tool to the entire community. There are so many more groups than simply students who use school facilities, and I believe if they had an opportunity to look at a safety audit and use the Porter Creek model they would see the tremendous value in these audits. I would just ask that the minister consider that a serious suggestion and take it forward in her planning.
I'd like to discuss briefly, if I could, the issue of health in our schools. There has been quite a discussion about smoking and a smoking policy in various schools, in particular a growing acceptance and philosophy that we should not just be banning smoking in our schools but banning smoking on our school grounds, as well. Can I ask the minister for her position with respect to this initiative?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: It's a very serious concern. I hear from my teenaged children and other parents that I talk to that very large numbers of junior high and high school students are smoking on school grounds and are becoming addicted to tobacco at an increasingly younger age. It's a very powerful and a deadly addiction. So, I think that we should be working really hard at trying to eliminate it, particularly with our students. There is a tobacco-reduction teen group who are quite active, and I think that they've had some success.
The Education Act provides for school councils to be very much decision-makers in their school environments and I support that. I would certainly like to take to school councils my personal recommendation that we should consider having school grounds be smoke-free. It would help to reduce the availability of tobacco for students who haven't started smoking yet, and we need to reduce the level of addiction among our students.
Ms. Duncan: Related to the discussion of health in our schools, have there been any initiatives or programs undertaken - and I realize the minister has been in office for a reasonably short time - with respect to AIDS education and awareness in our schools? Is the Department of Education working with AIDS Yukon Alliance with respect to education in our schools?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The B.C. curriculum on health does include a unit on AIDS, so that is part of the curriculum. As well, the AIDS Yukon Alliance, which is supported by the Department of Health and Social Services, does do a significant amount of their work with teens, because they are a high-risk group. They have, in the past, visited schools and I expect that that will continue.
Ms. Duncan: Is there similar education discussion or work being done by the department and health officials with respect to suicide prevention?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, suicide prevention is a very difficult and sensitive issue to deal with. That is part of the work that school councillors, which we were discussing just a few minutes ago, are involved in, and as well, there is curriculum on family life and personal crises available in the schools.
Ms. Duncan: As the minister well knows, the highest suicide rate appears in the latest statistics among teenage boys, and I raise this issue with her and realize that it is a difficult and sensitive discussion, and I was looking for information as to what initiatives might have been or might be thought of being undertaken in our schools.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Unfortunately, I don't have my book here, but I have a fairly extensive note on the whole variety of programs that we have geared toward suicide prevention, intervention and critical stress debriefing and things of that nature that I could bring to her. Some of the programs are geared at teens specifically, because it's a very high-risk group. I could bring that information forward.
Ms. Duncan: When that information comes forward, could I ask that it shows the linkages between the two departments, at what levels, and how those linkages occur?
My colleague has raised the issue of the Students Financial Assistance Act, and I realize that there are many, many different "exceptions" that come forward to the minister over the year, and as far back as my experience in the department, I can recall that every year there was at least one different exception brought forward.
The minister didn't indicate earlier in her discussion whether or not there was any plan to review the Students Financial Assistance Act at this point in time.
I do wonder, though, if she could ask her department officials if they have kept any kind of record of the different - and I'm using the term in quotation marks - "exceptions" that have been requested under this act, if they've kept track of the number of times that there have been exceptions asked for. Does the minister have any idea whether or not they have?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The officials will look for that information for the member. I am not certain if they have.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I suspect that they have not, however, I do know that the officials in the department working in this area have been with the department for many, many years. It may not be scientific information, but if they could gather anecdotal information, I think it would be useful to a future discussion. For example, the Dawson City's animal doctor - the story that was in the news - that was looking for student financial assistance, is just one example of possible exceptions to the rule. If the minister could have the anecdotal information, I think it would be useful, and perhaps the department would want to interview previous ministers to ask which requests came to them.
The minister didn't indicate if there were any plans to review the Students Financial Assistance Act. That was some time ago, earlier in the debate. Are there still no plans in this respect?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: No, there are still no plans in that respect. At the risk of provoking further debate, I have to advise the member that one of the reasons we're not preparing to do a review of the Yukon Students Financial Assistance Act is that there are major changes occurring, based on federal changes to the kinds of funding mechanisms to colleges and universities, as well as their whole student loan program. This is a subject of some controversy between students and university and college administrators and various governments.
As I indicated to a previous questioner, the Council of Ministers of Education in Canada also has a working committee that is keeping aware of ongoing changes in provinces and territories and attempting to work with the federal government to ensure that we can still provide a good post-secondary education for all of our students.
Ms. Duncan: I have one last question that I want to ask in general debate. Is it your wish that I ask this question or report progress? Do you? Okay, thank you.
My last question was with respect to YNTEP program, which was raised earlier as well. I wonder if the minister can advise, in the review of this program, if the study is examining options such as once every four years, for example, allowing non-native Yukon people to enter that program? I ask this question, in particular, because the individuals who have asked me about entrance into this program have been women who are returning to learning, who may have one or two credits, who may also have volunteer experience in the school system. Is the option of, for example, once every four years allowing a limited number of non-native entrants to that program being considered?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The First Nations education review that is being done was commissioned by the previous government. I have not made requests for the shape of that review to change. There has been First Nations involvement in determining the nature of the review and I can provide that information to the member when it becomes available.
I move that the Member for Lake Laberge, Mr. Livingston, report progress on Bill No. 4.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move the Deputy Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker resumes the Chair
Deputy Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Member for Lake Laberge, on behalf of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Livingston: Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 1997-98, and directed me to report progress on it.
Deputy Speaker: You have heard the report. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:28 p.m.
The following Documents were filed April 30, 1997:
Energy work plan: for Yukon government departments and Crown corporations with energy-related responsibilities (approved by Cabinet March 13, 1997) (Harding)
Department of Economic Development 1997-98 work plan: strategic management (Harding)