Tuesday, May 6, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
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?
National Forest Week
Mr. Fentie: I rise today during National Forest Week to advise the House of steps the Forest Commission is taking to ensure that future forest management in the territory will benefit all Yukon people. The status quo was unacceptable.
Problems with how our forests are managed have plagued the territory in recent years, simply because the importance of a team approach to managing our forests has not been recognized. No single government or agency can develop an effective forest policy alone.
This government is committed to an inclusive process that involves three orders of government: territorial, federal and First Nations. It also must include Yukon communities and the public. A team approach to forest management is the only option to ensure success.
To this end, the Yukon Forest Advisory Committee has been restructured to include renewable resource councils, the Yukon Conservation Society, Yukon College and members of the forest industry so that they can be more closely involved in forest policy decision making. The committee will now provide advice to all three orders of government.
A workshop held this March, entitled "Ecosystem Management - Application to Yukon Forests," provided us with a range of views on how to manage our forest better. It was evident that we must increase our knowledge of ecosystem management in order to do so. We are in the unique position of being able to do this from the ground up by observing what has been done in other jurisdictions, both to learn from their mistakes and to benefit from their successes.
We will proceed on the principle that we must use our forests in a responsible manner that recognizes their intrinsic values and gives maximum benefits to all Yukon people, now and in the future. That includes ensuring that the development is sustainable and is based on encouraging local jobs through value-added activity and decreasing our raw-log exports.
Any interim decision making must not compromise the land claims or devolution processes and should consider future industry options as well as community development.
Six months ago, Yukon electors made it clear that they support a commonsense approach to forestry. We are now working with the federal and First Nation governments, communities, industry groups and the public in a team effort to develop a policy that follows that approach.
A strong, cooperative partnership can take us into the future with confidence that our forests will be managed responsibly and successfully through a Yukon forest strategy. Thank you.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the Forest Commission has said that the status quo is unacceptable. I could not agree with him more. Unfortunately, the status quo includes the lack of tangible work on the part of the Forest Commission.
Seven months ago, this government took office and established the four Cabinet commissions. Our caucus allowed that the proof would be in the pudding, or in the productivity of these commissions. Well, we've seen some tangible work on the part of some of the commissions.
The energy commissioner has tabled a workplan.
The Yukon Hire Commission has held numerous public meetings throughout the territory and met with a complete variety of stakeholders and has reported that to this House. Both of these commissions have advised the House of their work. The Forest Commission, on the other hand, has been as silent as the forests themselves.
Last week I asked for the Forest Commission workplan and deadlines. The best response I got from the commissioner was that they were working toward an April 1998 deadline. Well, how is the commissioner working toward this deadline? What is he doing? How does he intend to get the Yukon forest strategy in place in less than a year?
The ministerial statement does nothing to enlighten this House, myself or the general public.
The commissioner did elect to tell us that the Yukon Forest Advisory Committee has been restructured. That's a tidbit of information, which we got last February, and it's still short on details: the committee is providing advice. At what stage of the process are they commenting on a draft strategy?
A workshop was held in March. I have a list of participants because I asked the department for it. The Cabinet commissioner did not provide this House with that information.
Will the discussions be made public? Was the workshop by invitation only? It seems awfully short on attendance by people from Watson Lake - three out of 104 - and there's no question of the importance of the forest industry to that community.
The terms of reference of the Yukon Forest Commission state, "The commission will report on a regular basis to the public and the Yukon Legislative Assembly on the work of the commission." Well, Mr. Speaker, I would contend that the Yukon Forest Commission is not part of the solution to the Yukon forest management; it's part of the problem.
Mr. Fentie: It's obvious the Liberal Opposition has no concept of what it's going to take to develop a forest policy in this territory. There are some more comments over there from the three amigos, but you've had your crack at it and failed miserably.
Let's talk a little bit about the Yukon Party and their administration when it comes to forestry, which they fumbled badly. They failed in devolution. They failed in policy development; they consistently maintained a position that it's a federal government problem, and there's nothing the Yukon government can do, yet during the summer of 1995, when the federal government instituted discussions on how to move forward, the Yukon government came merely as observers. No input. No vision.
Then suddenly, during election campaign, the Yukon Party was willing to offer a stumpage subsidy to industry in the Yukon, which had a cost of $1 million, and was willing to hire a facilitator to help deal with forest issues in this territory. What a feeble attempt at buying votes and what a disgraceful representation of Yukon people.
Now the Liberal Opposition has completely missed the point here. Many attempts at forest policy development have failed. Why is that? Because of process.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Fentie: That's your story; you tell it.
I would suggest that the Yukon Liberals do not support an inclusive process in the development of a forest policy and a made-in-Yukon management plan. I want the Yukon people to know that the forest critic for the Liberals is the same member who so passionately defended the Liberal government in this House when they turned their backs on the Yukon environment. It is the same member who takes every opportunity in this House to showcase her in-depth knowledge of political science 101 and brings all kinds of data into this House to throw up a typical Liberal smokescreen, and then has the audacity to accuse this government of wasting time in this Legislature.
I strongly suggest that the member file all that under useless information. This is Yukon forests 101. It is about a process that ensures the participation of the Yukon public. If the member is sincere about representing Yukoners in forest matters, I have some advice: send a strong, clear message to your federal counterparts that they commit and guarantee to an inclusive process - become part of the solution, instead of remaining part of the problem.
Now, let's talk a little bit about what the Forest Commission has done, Mr. Speaker. We've helped to facilitate a pay-as-you-go stumpage regime and a decrease in stumpage at no cost to Yukoners, contrary to the Yukon Party's commitment of $1 million.
This has resulted in five sawmills in Watson Lake taking on timber this season, and they are manufacturing lumber. It's also created much-needed jobs in my community.
We've also helped to facilitate an agreement with the federal minister on February 3rd, between the Government Leader and the First Nations, that commits to a partnership of the governments and to the citizen-led body of the Yukon Forest Advisory Committee making recommendations to those governments.
We are also diligently working on building that partnership and ensuring the process is inclusive for all Yukon people. This is consistent with our commitment to commonsense forestry and involving Yukoners in decisions that affect them.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Yukon excellence awards
Mr. Phillips: Too bad the forest commissioner doesn't put more effort in his ministerial statements; he seems to put all of his efforts into his rebuttal.
My question is to the Minister of Education, on the student recognition options paper she tabled yesterday. In this...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: A point of order has been called.
Point of order
Speaker: Hon. Government Leader, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: If the member had chosen to want to rebut the forestry commissioner, he had an opportunity to do so during ministerial statements. To use the first portion of his question as a rebuttal, and then ask a question of a different minister is contrary to the rules.
Speaker: Member for Riverdale North, on the point of order.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, there is no point of order.
Speaker: The ruling is that we'll consider this matter, and we'll continue the Question Period.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Education on the student recognition options paper that she tabled yesterday in the House.
In the debate on the Yukon excellence awards that took place on April 23rd, 1997 in this House, it was obvious that the minister and her colleagues are philosophically opposed to the Yukon excellence awards program and to testing in Yukon schools. In the student recognition options paper, the Minister of Education is proposing to reduce the number of exams for which students can earn awards from 28 to 20, which reduces the funds that will flow to the students from the excellence awards from between $200,000 to $250,000 annually to an amount of $125,000, or about half of what it is now.
I wonder if the minister can explain to the House if the cost cutting is another motive for opposition to the Yukon excellence awards.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I think I should advise the member who is asking the question that the change in the department's decision to focus its assessment program on numeracy and literacy was made as a result of the deliberations of the departmental assessment committee. The departmental assessment committee was set up by the previous government and, in fact, those recommendations were made prior even to the election and to the change in government, so the member is completely wrong in his proposition here.
Mr. Phillips: Did the minister consider taking the recommendations of that committee to the school councils to see how they felt about those particular changes?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Is the member suggesting that that's the Yukon Party modus operandi that he thinks we should be adopting here?
The Departmental Administrators Committee includes teachers and administrators from both rural and Yukon schools, and the work that they have done has not changed since the change of government. That committee is still in place and still making the same recommendations to the department.
Mr. Phillips: It's this government that said it consults with school councils and didn't agree with the Yukon Party's way. The report the minister gave us yesterday says they came to their conclusion in September. I would like to ask the minister why they didn't go to the school councils and at least ask the school councils if they feel they should do more consulting - ask them if they felt it was appropriate to reduce the testing on the exams for Yukon students.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: It's this government that is consulting with school councils. It's this government's Minister of Education who had numerous meetings with school councils in the seven months that I've been in office. It is this government that sponsored a two-day session for school council chairs from around the Yukon to meet and to talk about the student recognition options paper, among a number of other issues that student councils were consulted with by this government, and that work is going to continue.
Question re: Yukon excellence awards
Mr. Phillips: I guess they consult just on things they feel they want to consult on.
I'd like to ask the Minister of Education another question. In the two survey papers put out by the excellence awards, three of the questions asked deal with government providing financial support for different categories of programs, namely achievement type, recognition programs and effort-type programs and improvement-type programs. Since there are no definitions or criteria in the papers outlining this, what is meant by these three categories of programs? Can the minister define what is meant by achievement, effort and improvement in the House here today?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, first of all I have to dispute the member's introduction to the question. This is the government that is consulting with school councils. We've put the student recognition survey and the options paper to the school councils for their consideration.
Mr. Speaker, in this option paper, we make it clear that both parents and schools and the Department of Education have a role to play in recognizing achievement, effort and improvement. I think the minister knows what those terms mean and I think that all parents know what is meant by the kind of effort a student puts into the work they do in school and by achievement and improvement.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, if the minister thinks that students know and if the minister thinks that parents know and the minister thinks I know, the question I ask the minister is this: can the minister define, here in the House, what is meant by "achievement, effort and improvement"? Maybe the minister can tell us what it is then.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the point of the work we're doing in taking a student recognition survey out to school councils and to parents and to children is to ask them for their opinions on what they think should be the best way to proceed with recognizing students' work. I believe that if the public or the member reads the option paper and looks at what we're putting forward, that it's clearly understandable.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister is asking parents and students to comment on it, but the minister can't explain it herself.
Mr. Speaker, the question gives people four options and the four options talk about achievement, talk about improvement. I'd like the minister to define it for us in the House so we can clearly explain to parents what the minister is talking about in those particular options.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I'm finding the member's questions somewhat surprising when it was he himself who put out a press release calling on the government to expand the Yukon excellence awards program and to include recognition of achievement and of effort for students.
Mr. Speaker, the member's questions are simple. Effort is the kind of work that students put into learning their studies. Improvement is doing better this month than they were doing last month.
Mr. Speaker, I'd like the member to be more clear on what he's actually trying to find out here.
Question re: Old Crow school, consultations
Ms. Duncan: Yesterday, during the Education debate, I asked the minister about the Old Crow school construction. I neglected to ask the minister - and I would like to do so today - what consultations she or her officials have had with the people of Old Crow about the school. Could she outline those discussions for the House?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I would be happy to give the member a little more information on the work we're doing with the community of Old Crow on replacing the school that burned down this January. Initially, officials were in Old Crow the day after the fire. I went up the day after the fire myself and met with community leaders, with the chief and council, with the school and council and with the employees of the school. Since that time, there have been meetings where the superintendent and other Education officials have gone to the community and have talked with both the First Nation leadership and with the school council.
Ms. Duncan: Yesterday, in Education estimates, the minister stated, "There have also been verbal discussions about a site; there has been no formal, written agreement." This morning I reviewed a copy of the Vuntut Gwitchin MLA's spring riding news. The riding news states, "Education officials and our band have signed an agreement for the construction of the new school." Would the minister resolve the discrepancy between these two statements? Is there a written agreement between officials from the Department of Education and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation respecting the construction of a new school?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I will have to bring the member an answer to that question. I know there have been numerous letters and correspondence between the department and the community, so I'm not sure exactly what letter or what agreement she is referring to in that question. I will be happy to bring an answer back.
Ms. Duncan: The riding news goes on to state, "As outlined in the agreement, a working group has been set up to decide on location and when and how to proceed with construction of the school and teacherage." Could the minister tell the House when the group was set up, who the members of the working group are, who they report to, what their time frame for reporting is, and would she come back with a copy of this written agreement?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I will be happy to bring that information back for the member on the composition of the advisory group and the work that they're doing.
Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital, pediatrics ward safety
Mrs. Edelman: I have a few questions for the minister responsible for the Hospital Corporation. A number of safety concerns have been raised in a recent report by the Yukon Medical Association and, more recently, in a letter received from the pediatric staff of the hospital. This letter is dated April 20th, and it's a follow-up to one that was written on February 7th.
The original letter requested the construction of a gate across the hallway in the pediatrics ward. Nothing has been done, and I'll quote from the letter: "The safety concerns remain unchanged, and each day we manage to get through without incident makes it one day closer to the time when a child will wander, or an intruder will make his or her way into the ward unnoticed. This is a gambling game with very poor odds and horrendous consequences."
Mr. Speaker, the report from the transition team is not due until June, and the recommendations from the team may or may not be followed. In the meantime, children are at risk, and no action's being taken. The Minister of Health is ultimately responsible for the health services offered to Yukoners. What is he going to do now to protect these children?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As the member is clearly aware, the transition team is not only just there to do a report; they're also there to do some operational recommendations. I understand that some of those have already taken place with regard to such things as call systems. I'm sure that this particular issue will come forward. I have received an initial notification with regard to the peds ward. I'm sure that steps will be taken to address any concerns in that regard.
Mrs. Edelman: Another issue that was raised in the letter was with regard to problems in the pediatrics playroom and in the kitchen area. I quote: "There have been hasty stop-gap measures taken under public pressure, which we find in no way satisfactory, and which we will not accept as final solutions." One of the reasons cited for the inaction by the people that are responsible was a lack of money.
The minister is responsible for the money that goes to the Hospital Corporation. When will he make that money available to address those pressing concerns?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The issue surrounding funding for the hospital is something new for me because, from our understanding, we have met with the hospital board and we have determined their budget based on their needs. The initial report by the individual we brought in to do a sort of an assessment of the hospital and its operations indicated that he felt that the hospital was adequately funded. If there are concerns with regard to adequacy of funding, I'm sure that the hospital management and board will bring those back to me.
Mrs. Edelman: There is an issue that the minister can do something about. The recent YMA report said that there are eight patient rooms being occupied by hospital administrative staff, and I quote from that report: "Surely, these staff could be moved into a portable trailer or such temporary accommodation so that these beds can be freed up before the anticipated increased burden on the hospital during the summer months."
Now, there are admin staff in hospital beds while seniors are being discharged too quickly from the hospital. Will the minister provide the money for some temporary arrangement if it's requested from the hospital board?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can assure the member that we are trying to address that whole issue surrounding the occupation of not only rooms at the hospital but rooms at the Thomson Centre. I've given direction to both the Thomson Centre and the hospital that I want to see this rectified as soon as possible.
The schedule for completion of the bulk of the work at the hospital is due for the summer, and I would imagine that would take over any concerns that we have there.
I should remind the member opposite that a decision was made by the previous government to occupy rooms at the Thomson Centre, and not by this government.
Question re: Capital assistance plan
Mr. Ostashek: My question is for the minister that is kibitzing from the side opposite, the Minister of Economic Development and the minister responsible for the CAP program in the Yukon.
CAP was put in place by the Yukon Party government to develop tourism infrastructure in Yukon communities that would create long-lasting tourism attractions. Those who have had the good fortune of being able to visit the facility in Watson Lake have seen what can be done when a community decides to take the initiative with some government support, to put a facility in place that has turned out to be a truly remarkable facility.
I understand that there are several other proposals in the works that are not going as well, and we haven't had an update from the minister on the CAP projects for some time.
I would like to ask the minister to advise this House what is happening in relation to the CAP project in Teslin, since it was embroiled in some controversy a while back. Can the minister advise if the Teslin CAP project is proceeding?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We just had a question on the same subject last week in Question Period and we just went through Economic Development estimates where we discussed CAP projects at some length. So, I'm surprised at the question, although the Opposition has been somewhat void of any earth-shattering questions.
So, what I will tell the member is that the CAP projects in Whitehorse have been given a May 31st deadline to try and accomplish some changes and meet the feasibility requirements as outlined by the program that was produced by the Yukon Party government, one that I will stand by my comments on when I said that it was over hyped and under funded.
With regard to both Ross River and Teslin, we have allowed them some opportunities to work through some of the concerns and some of the difficulties that they have identified so that they may meet the criteria as it was set out by the previous administration.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, the issue here is not the questions; it's the sorry answers that we get from the members opposite, and that's why we have to keep repeating them. We just went through an Education debate yesterday, and we have a question on the floor today that should have been answered in the estimates debate.
Another CAP project that's embroiled in some controversy is the waterfront project in Carcross, one that I thought would do well for the Carcross people and the Yukon as a whole. I know it's a very ambitious proposal, but I wonder if the minister could bring us up to the current status of that project.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, there are a number of the CAP projects that were embroiled in controversy. The community of Carcross initiative actually was embroiled in controversy, and a lot of it involved the former MLA for Ross River-Southern Lakes, who had some very strong views about the project and some of the proponents and opponents of that particular undertaking. However, my understanding with regard to this project is that they are working through the problems trying to come to some conclusion on them. It's the same for the Whitehorse; it's the same for the Ross River; and it's the same for the Teslin project. There are a number of issues that have been identified as a concern. I have asked my officials to work through them in a timely fashion.
As the member knows, the commitment of a pool of money was not set aside, so the monies that are for the projects are budgeted on an annual basis, and there are many, many demands out there in the Yukon for expenditures, and what we're trying to do is ensure that, if these projects can go ahead within the criteria that was identified, they should. If not, we should move on and identify other priority areas for the expenditures.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I'm sure that any money spent on these projects will bring a better return to Yukon than what is being spent on the commissions that this government has put in place.
The centennial anniversaries program provides Yukon communities with a tremendous opportunity to develop long-lasting tourism attractions - ones that will benefit their community and the territory as a whole. So, I'd like to ask the minister to advise the House: how many of the CAP projects does he believe will be in place for the 1998 centennial?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I would say to the member opposite, with regard to his comment about the commissions and the cost of them, that the commissions are being funded from within existing departments, and I would say that the approach that we've taken is far superior to the failed attempts at reaching policy conclusions that the Yukon Party undertook. The Member for Watson Lake identified the cheap fix that the member opposite, when he was the Government Leader, tried to bestow upon the people of Watson Lake, where he offered them a $1-million stumpage subsidy for raw-log export, and then he flew in an American mediator and -
Point of order
Mr. Ostashek: On a point of order.
Speaker: Point of order is called. The Leader of the Official Opposition, on a point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: The member is not answering the question I asked. He's getting off on a speech.
Speaker: Answer the question, please.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I was merely speaking to the introductory comment from the member opposite in the preamble to his question.
Mr. Speaker, I'll bring the member back a full update as I did with regard to the CAP project and the Economic Development estimates just a few days ago, and if he'd like to ask about it in Question Period tomorrow, I can probably produce some more information.
Question re: Disaster preparedness
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
This is EMO Week, so I've got some questions about our disaster preparedness in the territory.
We live in a very cold climate and sometimes it even snows here in May. I have reviewed the earthquake plan for the Yukon, but I see little or no mention of how we could deal with the effects of a major earthquake that occurs in the winter.
In Whitehorse there is a dam in the middle of town and if there was a major quake, the dam would break and we would have frozen water everywhere. People in apartment buildings would be without electricity and probably without heat at 40 below.
What are we doing about preparing for disaster in the Yukon winter?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I thank the member opposite for the question. This being EMO Week, I will certainly have to take a look at all the disaster relief, whether it's winter or summer. The member opposite has brought forth a very valid and credible question as to what would happen if an earthquake burst forth in the wintertime in this particular example. I will have to take this into consideration and discuss it with my officials, and get back to the member opposite on her exact query. I know that we are continuing to update our disaster relief and to look forward to all types - not look forward to all types of disasters, but to look forward to how we would be able to adequately work our way through a disaster.
Mrs. Edelman: During the somewhat interminable debate on Community and Transportation Services, there were requests from some of the members about capital items like boats or jaws of life being placed in their particular communities. I do not believe that decisions about the placement of emergency equipment in communities should be made by politicians who know nothing about the whole Yukon picture of disaster readiness.
Mr. Speaker, I made a suggestion during estimates that the Yukon Disaster Committee should make capital decisions about EMO equipment and, at the time, the minister seemed quite amenable to that suggestion. The twice-yearly meeting of the Yukon Disaster Committee is being held at the end of this month. Is the minister going to ask these various experts for their plans for capital expenditures on EMO equipment in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I'll reply to the member opposite's question of politicians knowing absolutely nothing about disasters. Well, certainly that could be quite true in some cases.
Yes, I am going to be working, as I alluded to maybe in my first answer. Certainly we'll be working with the EMO officials so that we may tighten up on our procedures in advance of any disaster that should strike the Yukon.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, every year Yukon towns and cities are threatened by forest fires, and years ago the City of Whitehorse had a partial fire cut around the perimeter of Crestview and that would still serve to protect that subdivision today.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the issue of dry hydrants or large holes in the ground that you dump water into and pump that water on to a forest fire also came up in the somewhat laborious C&TS budget debate. Despite the fact that this is a well-used, effective way to fight forest fires everywhere else in the world, the minister did not seem willing to re-examine this issue.
Now, Mr. Speaker, dry hydrants and fire breaks are time-honoured ways to mitigate the spread of forest fires. We have major forest fires in the Yukon every year. Will the minister commit to seriously investigating these methods to protect Yukon towns and cities against forest fire?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite is well aware, yes, we've talked about this in the budget debates. Certainly the department and the EMO officials will hold the training and we'll work towards making life and quality of life for all Yukoners - rural Yukoners, Whitehorse Yukoners - a bit more safe.
Certainly, I appreciate the member opposite's input into the budget and certainly the recommendations brought forth by the member opposite will be taken into consideration.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, certainly in Watson Lake at the Association of Yukon Communities annual general meeting this weekend, there was a very informative session on disasters and fire control. So, I certainly appreciate the work that has been done by the AYC on this issue.
Certainly, the fire threats - people need to be aware of the fire threats and what is expected of government and what is expected of them when they are building in rural Yukon. Certainly, if I could say that this is within federal jurisdiction - fire suppression - we're going to be continuing to work with our federal government to ensure that these issues will be addressed, such as flood monitoring and flood relief, et cetera, throughout this tenure to make it work even better for all of us.
So, the fire attack plans, as we try to make improvements, will be ongoing, and certainly I will take the member opposite's direction into consideration in making these decisions. Thank you.
Question re: Campbell Highway upgrade
Mr. Jenkins: My question today is for the minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services.
Last Thursday, I asked the minister to explain his decision to spend $4 million on the south Campbell Highway. I asked him if his reason for this expenditure included such things as a traffic count on the highway, whether Cominco, the owner of Kudz Ze Kayah, had selected a route for their future ore shipments or was it because of the previous political rantings of the MLA for Faro about the highway when he was in Opposition.
I was somewhat surprised by the minister's response, and I quote, "It's a combination of all the above." Another minister, the Minister of Renewable Resources, had to cancel the predator control program for several weeks because of the MLA for Faro. But the expenditure of $4 million on the little-used highways is a lot of money to be spending, covering up the comments made by the MLA for Faro. Would the minister not agree?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I'm somewhat amused, if I could say it in that light, that we would be comparing rantings and ravings on both sides of the House. I'm certain that there is only one rant, and that is going to continue as such. I feel like Yogi Berra, I think it was, that said, "This is déjà vu all over again." Certainly the question was answered on Thursday.
I would just like to say that, no, it was not a political decision. No, it was certainly not just purely statistics. It was done in a well-balanced, thought-out avenue. Certainly in our budget-making process, we look at every avenue and light. We look at honouring our commitments, and we shall. I shall stand here and defend it. I'm certain that the construction industry, of which the administration previously touted so much about doing things for, would be somewhat surprised and astonished that they would be taking and asking these questions.
Certainly, we will be looking to improve all roads in the Yukon. We are taking a pro-active approach to the mining industry in the Yukon and we will continue to do that. We will work in partnership, not only with the mining industry, but also with other industries in the Yukon.
Mr. Jenkins: The decision to spend $4 million cannot be taken lightly. I would ask the minister to table the information he used in making the decision about Cominco, announcing its production decision and its selection of the south Campbell Highway as the future route to transport its ore, because I'm unaware of any such decision having been made.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly I will explain to the member opposite the process for making decisions, and certainly maybe he could just look to his right and certainly ask the question of his colleagues to his right as to how they came upon to spend money on the Campbell Highway within their tenure. Was it all of the above, was it statistics, or was it truly political? Well, certainly I'll let the public of the Yukon make their own decisions.
Mr. Speaker, I say that we are going to be working in conjunction with all segments of society and industry within the Yukon, and we will continue to do so. Certainly the mining industry, I think, will be very appreciative and supportive of it. The trucking industry will be very appreciative and supportive of it. The travelling public will be appreciative and supportive of it. The tourism industry will be appreciative and supportive of upgrading that highway, Mr. Speaker.
Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I expect that we will be able to say that the mining industry will change their slogan from "Open to business" to "Still open for business," that we are participating in actual meaningful decisions so that we may continue to develop Yukon as we should.
Mr. Speaker, all of those slots were put into context when we came forth to make the decision to improve the Campbell Highway, and I'll stand behind that decision any time of the day or night.
Mr. Jenkins: That's quite the answer, Mr. Speaker. But, the capital upgrading of a highway is a multi-million dollar undertaking, and while we on this side appreciate the need for upgrading the entire Campbell Highway, it must be on the basis of return of an economic benefit to the Yukon and based on vehicle use of that highway route.
Would the minister not agree? And, what factors did his Cabinet use, other than political rhetoric or honouring a political commitment to reach the decision that was reached, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I will attempt to do it all over again. Mr. Speaker, certainly the member opposite must be aware that these decisions are not made lightly, that these decisions are made in a well-thought-out and balanced approach.
Again, Mr. Speaker, I'm somewhat amazed, astonished and amused that the member opposite would use this light. Certainly the member opposite always says TROY, TROY, TROY - the rest of Yukon. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, there is the rest of Yukon, and this government is going to be representative of the rest of Yukon and we're going to be looking after the rest of the Yukon.
I mean, we need jobs everywhere, we need roads built, we need safety. Why? For the mining industry. Why? For the tourism industry. Why? For the locals to use. Why? Is that a political decision? In part, you bet it is.
Is it also based on statistics? It's also based on visionary thinking and thinking maybe just a bit down the road past four years. Mr. Speaker, I say that it is and, Mr. Speaker, I say that we will continue to do that type of thinking until we have all of our roads upgraded, and we'll continue in that fashion.
Mr. Speaker, it will take some time, because money is very tight. Certainly, we will continue to exercise our authority over how to best spend that money and in what areas. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, all of those thoughts were taken into context when we moved forward to make that decision.
Now, if the member opposite would like a more detailed briefing, I shall be very glad to have the member come in for a technical briefing so that he, at his limited learning stage and vision, might be able to soak it up. I have a great big blackboard in my office that I will be more than happy to write big letters for the member opposite on.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of Opposition Private Members' Business
Mr. Cable: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.23, I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the third party to be called on Wednesday, May 7th, 1997. They are Motion No. 49, standing in the name of the Member for Riverside, and Motion No. 65, standing in the name of the Member for Porter Creek South.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: 15 minutes.
Chair: I will call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 4 - First Appropriation Act, 1997-98 - continued
Department of Government Services - continued
Chair: We are in Government Services. Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Just before I begin my comments on capital, I would like to make some reference to some questions that were raised by the Member for Porter Creek South on April 30th in Education debate, and then again they were alluded to last night in debate on Government Services. This deals with preventive maintenance in schools.
There is a preventive maintenance program for all school facilities. It consists of regularly-scheduled inspections of all building components by qualified trades personnel and maintenance staff. Included in the program are annual contracts for all specialized equipment, such as fire alarms certification, sprinkler system verification, pneumatic and electronic controls for heating and ventilation, boiler cleaning, et cetera.
Property management, trades and maintenance personnel, in addition to responding to the day-to-day maintenance needs of these buildings, are also actively involved in regular preventive maintenance, such as the rotational replacement of all filter media in ventilation units; lubrication of pumps; servicing of compressors; boiler water treatment; servicing burners, including combustion and efficiency testing; regular inspections of all door and window hardware; inspections of exterior siding and interior wall finishes; and inspection of electrical systems.
Property management has made a commitment to its clients to develop and enhance a preventive maintenance program in order to meet the increasing building-maintenance needs of all government buildings, including schools.
On Capital Expenditures
The 1997 capital estimates for the Department of Government Services total $5,732,000. This amount represents a 36-percent decrease from the forecast expenditures for the fiscal year just ended.
The main factors that account for the significant decrease are as follows.
Fewer projects will be eligible for business incentive rebates. Funding requested for that program, therefore, has been reduced.
There is a $1.5-million reduction in funding requested for information systems, because the human resource information systems - HRIS - is approaching completion. Funding for the LIM system is less than last year, and the network installations were substantially completed in 1996-97.
There is a $725,000 reduction in fleet vehicle agency contributions. Funds are carried forward from 1996-97 and will be sufficient for the necessary vehicle purchases this year.
Fewer capital maintenance projects were planned by property management agency. This accounts for a further reduction of $955,000.
A $1.5 million funding estimate for the building development section of property management is essentially unchanged from 1996-97. This is a program that provides management services for the department's capital construction projects.
During this fiscal year, the property management agency will undertake projects to reduce energy consumption on operating costs in government buildings. Projects with short-term paybacks will be given first priority.
New customer service agreements have necessitated increased spending for purchasing tools and equipment for building trades and custodial workers.
The Queen's Printer will improve efficiency by adding a networking capability that will enable departments to send their print jobs electronically from desktop computers to the print room. Work begun in the fall of 1994 to develop the HRIS will be completed at the end of May. Funding for 1997 will provide additional functions to manage documents electronically and provide detailed time and labour distributions.
Work continues on development of the LIM system so that it will provide a one-window access for the public to all land-related programs operated by the Yukon and federal governments. This year the technology will become operational for land titles and the lands dispositions services of land branch of C&TS.
The capability of the government-wide network will be expanded to meet new demands and new applications being developed by the departments. The functional capability of the network will be increased to handle program delivery for the communities; for example, distance education.
One million two hundred thousand dollars will be invested in developing and installing support systems and replacing or upgrading equipment and applications common to all departments. A portion of this includes upgrades to the mainframe to accommodate the year 2000.
These are highlights of the 1997-98 Government Services capital budget. I would be happy to answer some specific questions at this time.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the technical briefing provided by the Department of Government Services outlined that a study by the name of a Yukon facilities condition study will be undertaken by the department in this area. It's linked in with all the other capital projects. Could I ask the minister to elaborate on the terms and parameters of that study, please?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Essentially, that study relates to some of the questions that the member had asked for earlier, in terms of government buildings. As the member has noted, we've got some 400 buildings that range anywhere from small concrete shacks down on the waterfront to very large buildings. This is an attempt to do an assessment of the condition of those facilities, when the last modifications were made, type of structure, et cetera. We're trying to gain a better range of information so that we'll know what kinds of actions are necessary, for example, in terms of upgrading, in terms of disposition of those properties in the future.
Ms. Duncan: To do all of what the minister has just outlined - the study is only allocated $40,000. It seems woefully under funded; either that, or the minister and his department are taking one of two approaches. It's a very, very preliminary assessment; it's listing the buildings only, or they're asking the contracting community to come in and say, "Well, this is what the estimate for the repairs will be," with no remuneration. Could he provide us with some detail on the parameters?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: What we're doing is we're working on a priority system right now. We're not doing all of the buildings at once, but we're trying to get a better handle on the kind of information we have. Obviously, there are some buildings that we have clear information on. Quite frankly, when I went through the inventory of government buildings, I was astonished to find that we owned a variety of buildings. I was, quite frankly, puzzled about how they came into our possession.
I think what we're trying to do is work through some priorities and try and get a better handle on the facilities that we do have.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to provide a time frame for this study and for when we might see some kind of complete listing of the government buildings? This is presumably linked in with the IBIS.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I will attempt to get that back to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: For lack of a better area to broach it, the Department of Government Services is the lead department with respect to a large amount of the computer installation and a large amount of networking of the various computer installations between the various departments.
What I am looking for is the total cost that the government incurs every year from our telephone company here in the Yukon, Northwestel. There are access charges, some equipment rental, service contracts, our T1 line to Vancouver or the lower mainland, there are long distance charges, there are the 1-800 charges, and there is the MDMRS - the capital and the O&M.
Now, I recognize that a lot of these areas are in other departments, especially when you are looking at the new computer systems that are brought on board. But, Government Services is the lead department, and I think it would be a very interesting exercise to see what we spend in total in a given year.
The other area is that every time a subdivision goes in, there's a capital contribution made by the Government of Yukon to the telephone company for cabling, and usually a contribution to the exchange.
Just what are we spending in the course of a year for communications? I think that it's all hidden in so many different departments. To pull it all together would be a very worthwhile undertaking and give us some insight as to what kind of costs we're incurring. Could I ask the minister to undertake that analysis?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, we'll certainly attempt to do that. The member has identified a major problem in the fact that communication budgets are often broken out between so many departments that it's difficult, very frequently, to get a handle on them.
What we can do is try to pull this all together and get it back to the member.
Ms. Duncan: Could I just ask the minister to elaborate? There is a tremendous increase in the property management equipment. I was given to understand that the reflection is a change in custodial for education facilities - a large number of new vacuums or whatever, being purchased. Could the minister just clarify that for the record, please?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As the member is aware, we took over the function of running schools. Of course, there is equipment that needs replacement, and this is just part of the acquisition of that role. We've taken it on, we've brought in new custodial equipment and so it does add up fairly substantially.
This is the year where we're replacing a good deal, but we're trying to get a handle on controlling our expenses in future years.
Ms. Duncan: Who's monitoring the new relationship between the custodial staff and Education and/or Government Services and/or the principals in the specific schools? Who's monitoring to see how well that new relationship is working?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think, in a large part, what we're relying on is Education and their feedback from various schools - from principals, from superintendents - to identify areas that we need to do some work in, or areas that we could be improving. So, we largely rely on our relationship with Education. If they have major concerns, I'm sure they would bring them forward and identify them by area.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to make the undertaking to do some tracking in this area to perhaps indicate at a future date what the response time is between a request from the custodial staff through Education to Government Services and so on, just to monitor how well this relationship is working? Could I ask that that undertaking be made?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, I can undertake to do that, in terms of asking our department to do a bit of an assessment of how long it takes for, say, a work request or a maintenance request to work its way through the system.
Generally, I've found that - just from my own experience - that there has been a fairly prompt response, particularly in some of the rural areas, to requests. I mean, I certainly can't generalize, but just from personal experience, there seemed to be a fairly quick response in that area.
Mr. Cable: I put a number of general questions to the minister last night, not expecting that we would move so rapidly through the debate. I hadn't expected him to have the answers at his fingertips, so I'm going to leave them with him. I put the question of the strategic plan to him and asked the minister whether this government - the new government - had adopted that 1996-98 strategic plan as it sits, or whether there was any intention to make any changes to it, and I'll leave that question with him, unless he's in a position to answer it today.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The strategic plan will not be rewritten. It will be updated as we sort of adjust our operations. For example, part of the strategic plan, I think, called for an earlier implementation of the Queen's Printer and, for a variety of reasons, it's going through now, so obviously the strategic plan is going to be adjusted. We are doing an update on it at this moment.
Mr. Cable: Perhaps by way of legislative return the minister could indicate to us what areas he anticipates reviewing, so that we'll know what's coming down the line for the legislative session in the fall.
With respect to the energy conservation questions I put to him last night, I would ask the minister whether there was some rough megawattage that his energy people thought could be saved if there was a comprehensive electrical energy plan. I had the impression from his answer that the thinking hasn't progressed that far, but I would ask him whether he could ask his person working on the energy retrofits whether they can come up with a rough guesstimate as to whether there is a significant potential electrical energy saving - and this, of course, has some ramifications on the energy workplan, I would assume.
Are we talking about a few hundred kilowatts, or are we talking about several megawatts that might be saved by relighting our government buildings and working out a plan with private business for relighting their buildings in those instances where there is in fact a reasonable payback period - I'm not suggesting people spend thousands and thousands of dollars to relight a building and never get a payback. I was wondering whether he would ask his staff to give us a guesstimate as to the order of magnitude of the potential savings.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I will ask if we can get something in terms of wattage. I can tell the member opposite that the sort of pilot on this was the schools, and in terms of the schools, there were some very substantial savings. The six pilot schools that were involved saved about $74,000.
As the member noted, there were such issues as reducing wattage - you know, very simple stuff - turning off lights when they are not needed, thermostats, and controlling and reducing water consumption, which, to my understanding, represents about 17 percent of all electrical costs - just used for pumping water and maintaining water pressure. Of the savings, about 20 percent goes back to the schools in terms of incentives, and that goes directly into instructional programs. Some goes for maintenance for additional equipment. Small percentages go for custodians for new equipment, but about 55 percent of it goes directly into retrofits, so there is an attempt to turn this back into even further savings. Quite frankly, I think if the Education experience is an example, I think we do have an advantage to not only reduce our electrical consumption but also our water consumption, and, I suppose, ultimately reducing emissions.
Mr. Cable: It would be useful also to hear what the minister's department is doing, if anything - or the minister's government, in the broader sense, is doing - with the municipalities in such areas as street lighting and water recirculation costs, that sort of thing - if the minister could give us an answer on that at some time.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm afraid at this point I couldn't elaborate on what is going on with regards to municipalities. Our function has been largely on trying to do energy savings within government buildings, and that's what we've focused on at this point. But I'm certain that many of the things that we can do have applicability for municipalities. As a matter of fact, one of the models that we're hoping to use for basing our water reduction on is the City of Whitehorse water-reduction model. So, we will borrow from the municipalities and hopefully we can get some ideas that we can pass on to municipalities in turn.
On Corporate Services
Chair: As there is no more general debate, we will move to Corporate Services. Is there any general debate in Corporate Services? If not, we'll go under capital expenditures.
Mr. Cable: In the business incentive policy, during the campaign, the minister will recollect there was some election rhetoric about going to court, if necessary, to test the validity of the preferences given to Yukon contractors and Yukon people. Has there been any further thought on that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We have received a legal opinion from Justice in regard to a whole variety of issues that we could be undertaking in terms of maximizing Yukon hire and maximizing Yukon content. Some of that information I passed on to the Yukon Hire Commission, and I noticed in their initial sort of cut, they made reference to some of the legal issues surrounding this and, as well, some ways in which the existing interprovincial trade agreements can be used in this regard.
Mr. Cable: Is the minister saying there has been a position actually adopted within his ministry with respect to local hire and local purchase?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Not at this point, Mr. Chair. What we have done is we've tried to work hand in hand with the Yukon Hire Commission. What we did do is we sought from Justice some legal opinions in this regard, some clarification of the issues surrounding interprovincial trade and, as a matter of fact, on the whole international trade picture. We also took a look at some things that we could do internally with our own procedures, in terms of maximizing Yukon hire, Yukon content, and ran those by Justice to see if there were any potential legal issues that came up. That information, as I said, I passed on to the Yukon Hire Commission. We'll be working with them. If they have suggestions, no doubt we'll have to do some consultation with Justice to see as to legalities, et cetera, et cetera.
Chair: If there's no more general debate, we'll move into capital expenditures.
On Business Incentive Policy
Business Incentive Policy in the amount of $308,000 agreed to
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $280,000 agreed to
Corporate Services in the amount of $588,000 agreed to
On Information Services
Chair: Is there any general debate? As I see no general debate, we'll move on to capital expenditures.
On Corporate Computer Equipment and Systems
Corporate Computer Equipment and Systems in the amount of $3,000,000 agreed to
Information Services in the amount of $3,000,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
Chair: Is there any general debate?
On Acquisition of Used Assets
Acquisition of Used Assets in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
On Queen's Printer Equipment
Queen's Printer Equipment in the amount of $69,000 agreed to
Supply Services in the amount of $74,000 agreed to
On Property Management
Chair: Is there any general debate? As I seen none.
On Building Development Overhead
Building Development Overhead in the amount of $1,500,000 agreed to
Pre-Engineering in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Capital Maintenance and Upgrade
Capital Maintenance and Upgrade in the amount of $175,000 agreed to
On Energy Conservation Retrofits
Mr. Jenkins: Perhaps just an explanation of where we're at in that program, overall. We've gone through the schools, but were we going to be involved in the next series of energy retrofits within the government's buildings?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I mentioned the previous evening, what we're doing is beginning on a series of training workshops identifying energy coordinators and other management staff who would be involved in this.
We're hoping to move out from the Education pilot project into other departments, and we're encouraging other departments to move into this wherever possible to review what they're doing in their own departments, and trying to see what kinds of savings we can achieve from all other departments.
The reason we began with Education is because Education has probably the most significant energy bill, followed closely by - well, actually, the lead is Government Services, which, understandably, is the main buildings, and then is followed by Education with the schools.
Community and Transportation Services is very much below that, so we're trying to expand it out to all other departments, and this is the first step to move from the Education model and try to apply that to other departments.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair, but the question wasn't answered. Which buildings or which series of government buildings are we heading into next? I would envision these funds to be spent on the actual acquisition of new fixtures, not just programs, or are we capitalizing training programs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Within capital, there are a couple of areas that we've identified in terms of energy savings: the lighting retrofits at the Law Centre and Yukon College for $105,000 and upgrading of exterior receptacles here at the main administration building.
Energy Conservation Retrofits in the amount of $135,000 agreed to
On Common Facilities
Common Facilities in the amount of $160,000 agreed to
On Property Management Equipment
Property Management Equipment in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
Property Management in the amount of $2,070,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on recoveries?
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to clarify that, should the former l'École Emilie Tremblay portables be sold within the next year, it's my understanding that any revenue realized from that would show up in this line item next year? Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would presume that that would show up as a recovery in that area.
Ms. Duncan: Then, in effect, the Department of Education doesn't realize any benefit from that? It's the other hand of government, Government Services?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I've been waiting to use the motto of Government Services. We have no money. We spend other people's money wisely, and we'll certainly take what money we can get.
Chair: As there are no more questions, does the total capital carry?
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Government Services in the amount of $5,732,000 agreed to
Department of Govermment Services agreed to
Department of Health and Social Services
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, today I'm pleased to introduce the 1997-98 budget for the Department of Health and Social Services. I am requesting $102,860,000 in operation and maintenance expenditures and $5,177,000 in capital expenditures over the next year.
This request represents a nine-percent increase in O&M expenditures and a 77-percent decrease in capital expenditure requests.
With respect to the O&M budget, the majority of the increase is attributable to two main initiatives: the completion of phase 2 of the health transfer, which was effective April 1, 1997, and the opening of 10 additional beds at the Thomson Centre.
The health transfer accounts for an increase in the overall budget of the department for $7,094,000. This amount is made up of an increase of $8,831,000 for personnel and an addition of $3,783,000 to other O&M. These budget increases are offset by a reduction in transfers to Health Canada of $5,520,000, for a net $7 million increase.
The increase in the Thomson Centre, due to the opening of new beds, is felt largely in the personnel allotment, where the increase is $551,000 for staffing. The remaining $66,000 is found in other O&M.
Eleven FTEs are required to open up the 10 Thomson Centre beds, and 128 FTEs have been added to the department as a direct result of the health transfer. This brings the total FTEs for Health and Social Services in 1997-98 to 502.5.
While these two major increases account for a nine-percent overall increase in the budget, they do not fully reflect the number of activities that will be undertaken by the department over the next year that are aimed at addressing the priorities of this government.
Mr. Chair, the health transfer is not about increased health budgets or changing employment status for a large number of employees. It's about a new direction, new relationships and partnerships, about a better way of involving people of the Yukon, and a better way of making decisions and setting directions in the evolution of our health care system.
Phase 2 of the health transfer offers tremendous opportunities for the involvement of staff, medical professions, communities, First Nation governments and the people of the Yukon to be directly involved in determining the future design and delivery of health care services. We are taking advantage of that opportunity, and over the next year we will be involving the people of the Yukon in health planning and health consultations related to program and service delivery in our communities.
One area that is a priority for this department and one we expect to hear a lot about in our community health planning process is mental health services. We've already established the mental health program and have moved the responsibility for the Yukon Family Services Association from Social Services to Health within the department. We have also included funding for the Second Opinion Society in this program area and have increased their funding over the next year by 29 percent.
Another area I wish to draw to your attention is health promotion and prevention. You will recall that this government made a commitment in A Better Way to develop stronger community preventive approaches to health care. With the phase 2 transfer, we are now in a position to thoroughly review our community health programs and services.
Through the health planning and consultation process, we will identify community-based health prevention and promotion policies. In this budget we recognize the increased need for health promotion and prevention activities by providing an additional .5 FTEs. Our health promotion program provides technical support materials, training and a resource centre for health professionals, teachers and community agencies.
The present focus on youth health issues will be broadened to include issues in the adult population. Under this program, funds are directed to HOIs for prevention activities and direct services to persons who are HIV positive throughout the territory.
The health investment fund also comes under health promotion and, as indicated in earlier announcements, funding has been increased by $30,000 to support school councils in their efforts to provide nutrition programs in the schools.
I would also like to draw your attention to one program of enormous benefit in the community that we are continuing to support: the work in the Whitehorse outreach community health nurse in influencing the lives of many hard to reach people must be mentioned and recognized. This individual works out of the clinic at the Chilkoot Hotel and soon those services will be expanded to the Pioneer Hotel. She has established a positive and trusting relationship with at-risk individuals and ensures that their health needs are met.
This outreach nurse provides a variety of health prevention, promotion and advocacy services, including operating the needle exchange program, counselling, referral to other medical services, work with high-risk youth, coordination of the TB program and health education services at the adult resource centre operated by the Salvation Army. Without the work of this outreach nurse, many individuals would not receive the health care they require. This service provides an easy door to these at-risk individuals to enter our health care system.
The issue of FAS/FAE is another health promotion priority that I've asked the department to focus on. I've requested the Health and Social Services Council to review activities in this area and to bring forward recommendations to me in the fall.
I'd like to turn your attention to some of the budget highlights and activities of the department aimed at addressing the priority of child poverty.
As I've just mentioned, the health investment fund has been expanded in this budget to include funds specifically for the purpose of assisting school councils with costs associated with nutrition programs. Also included in this budget is an additional $270,000 for the provision of drug and optical benefits to children of low-income families.
These efforts are meant to build on national efforts being pursued by the ministers of social services and first ministers in the development of the national child benefit. Over the next year, details and implementation issues are finalized. The Yukon will realize some savings from the implementation of the national child benefit. It is my intention to speak with people of the Yukon about ideas they have for reinvesting these savings in programs, services or benefits that will directly address issues of child poverty.
With respect to our social assistance program, I would be remiss if I did not highlight a rather disturbing trend in increased social assistance caseloads. This trend is being carefully monitored to determine if the budget impact is of a long-term or a shorter nature. The social assistance budget estimates have not been increased at this time, as we're still assessing the nature and characteristic of these trends, and whether or not they will be correcting themselves over the summer months.
If necessary, adjustments in the social services budget will be made in fall supplementaries to account for unforeseen impacts, such as the result of a potential Faro shutdown.
In spite of the increasing trend in caseloads, a $75,000 decrease in the social assistance budget is projected, based on decreased transfers to the Department of Indian Affairs.
Another social services program, redefining of income security and programs for people with disabilities, is being undertaken at a national level and may impact on the range and scope of services provided by the territory.
As Minister of Social Services and Health Yukon's representative on the ministerial council on social policy reform and renewal, I'm constantly monitoring progress on these fronts to represent the best interests of this government in any proposed changes.
In addition to being involved in discussions on a national scene, the department is undertaking a major review of our long-term care needs and the role of our facilities and home care in meeting those needs. This review follows the move of continuing care services from Health to Social Services in order to better coordinate all residential and community services.
These are a few of the highlights directly related to the O&M budget. I would now like to draw, briefly, attention to the capital budget.
In the fiscal year of 1997-98, I'm requesting $5,177,000 for capital expenditures. Forty percent of this capital request - $2,116,000 - is related to the completion of the new Whitehorse General Hospital construction project. These funds will be used to renovate portions of the old hospital that will become part of the new facility. Our target date for completion on this project is the third quarter of the fiscal year.
I'm pleased to inform members that the cost of this project remains within budget, and our target time table for completion remains on schedule.
An additional $250,000 was requested for new equipment in Whitehorse General Hospital for operating room equipment in order to implement the case-cart system aimed at improving patient safety and increasing operating room efficiency.
Under community health programs, we're anticipating capital expenditures of $823,000. These will be made up of $262,000 for upgrading of equipment in our rural community facilities, and $561,000 for upgrading of the actual facilities themselves. They will also include the planning and design of a new health centre in Teslin.
Additional modifications and ongoing maintenance work on the Thomson Centre facility are required in 1997-98. For this purpose, we have an estimated $342,000 in capital expenditures. The majority of the work this fiscal year will focus on changes in the short-term stay areas and provide expanded residential space for extended care clients.
This completes highlights for the operation and maintenance and capital budgets for the Department of Health and Social Services. I'd be pleased to respond to any questions the members may have at this time. Thank you.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, last week we heard from the Minister of Finance with respect to lapsed funds from the various departments. The only department that appears will not be lapsing in any funds - in fact, is overspent or over budget - is Health and Social Services. Would the minister provide an explanation as to how we managed to achieve this distinction?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The primary reasons for overexpenditures are twofold. One has been an increase in the third quarter of the fiscal year in terms of SA volume increases - not rates, but actual volumes. The volumes have been increasing somewhat differently from the historical trends. We're trying to get a better sense of why that has occurred. We suspect it may be related to EI changes.
As well, there have also been some increases in areas such as some higher cost case management in terms of family and children services.
Mr. Jenkins: Are the SA payments across the board, across the whole Yukon Territory, or are they specifically attributable to one area? Let's single out Faro. Has there been a burp in Faro that was unanticipated as a consequence of their shutdown?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, primarily, the costs have increased in Whitehorse. Faro is in the position right now where many of the individuals are still on EI. What we project is that - well, we're starting to see SA rates starting to climb in Faro, as people exhaust their EI and have to move on to the system. So, it's been primarily in the Whitehorse area.
Mr. Jenkins: Trends kind of come and go, but the one trend that was rather evident under the previous NDP government was the economy got up and running, but SA payments continued to escalate. Are we reverting to the former procedure of paying out a large amount of social assistance and underestimating the value of this? Where are we going?
I guess what I'm asking the minister is: is he confident that his budget projections are realistic?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With regards to that, we're making our best estimate right now. There are a whole variety of factors such as in-migration and out-migration.
We are assuming that, as was indicated previously, this budget is based on the worst case scenario. Presumably, if there was a major, say, downturn in the economy, we would have a certain amount of net out-migration, which would balance out.
It's very, very difficult for us to predict SA rates. As I said, traditionally, there has been an historical pattern of rates spiking up, in the period just after the summer, and then leveling out again.
Well, we haven't seen that. As a matter of fact, the volume has actually increased, so we're trying to determine what to attribute this to, and, as I say, this is an estimate based on what's been the situation in the past, and we're trying to take into account all of the different factors.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister made the statement that this budget is prepared on the worst case scenario. Well, if that is a given, in his preamble, the minister also said that if it wasn't adequate, we'd be bringing back supps in the fall.
Now, that's a rather conflicting pair of statements - we're preparing the budget based on the worst case scenario, yet, we might have to bring in supps. Which one is it? Do we anticipate bringing in supps at this juncture? It sounds very much like it is, which leads back to the question: are the budget projections realistic?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, we do feel they are realistic. Defining something like social assistance volume is imprecise at best. As I indicated before, there is a whole variety of factors and a whole range of things where the economy could take a particular direction. For example, if this was a banner year in tourism, that would affect employment opportunities and that in turn would affect our projected SA rates. There are issues surrounding the question of there being an out-migration with regard to Faro.
What I'm trying to do is that I'm simply trying to signal that if economic trends are particularly negative, I may have to come back in this regard. This was not an area that we had speculated on earlier. The trend, quite frankly, has been somewhat troublesome. With regard to some of the desires that I had, it has limited some things with SA simply because of the volume of requests.
Mr. Jenkins: That leads to the question: have there been any changes made to government policies relating to the Social Assistance Act?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, there hasn't been at this point. There haven't been the increases, although I have to say that the rates remained fairly stable in 1991. There haven't been changes in eligibility or other issues surrounding SA. Much as perhaps there might be a desire to do that, and certainly I've had representations from a whole variety of NGOs and social-related agencies seeking some movement in that direction, I've been fairly forthright in saying that, given the trend that we have right now, that's simply not in the cards for the foreseeable future.
Mr. Jenkins: So, the answer is that there have been no changes in policy and we're not anticipating any changes in policy that would incur additional costs. Would those be correct statements, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Essentially, those are correct statements, although I have to signal to the member opposite that it's the desire of many people to try to ameliorate the conditions of some people living in poverty conditions.
Mr. Jenkins: In 1993, the report on social assistance outlined various options. Has the department already undertaken those options from the report that were considered useful? Have they been implemented and acted upon, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, a number of those issues have been acted upon - primarily issues such as verification of information, validation of information, monitoring of SA. There is the issue of the fraud investigator who was brought in. This individual is reviewing the current social assistance policies and procedures and also assisting in developing an auditing process for the Whitehorse office.
Mr. Jenkins: Given the hiring of a fraud investigator into SA, is there going to be a set of guidelines or information that he's to follow in following up on various cases, or is this individual just being given carte blanche in the investigative field? What are his terms of reference? I've yet to see how he's going to enforce policy.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Essentially, the fraud investigator has a couple of functions. One is to perform some internal audits on the policies and procedures, and to give back some recommendations. As well, there is a component of doing some staff training to social assistance workers in areas of potential financial abuse recognition and, I suppose, in the case of an actual detected fraud, this individual would then proceed to work with the Crown in trying to act on that.
Mr. Jenkins: We were working on a social assistance policy manual. Has that been completed, and is it out? Is it a manual that's available for the public or is it just an internal document, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: My information is that that has been substantially completed. I can find out the case of where it is in actual production. As well, we've also been asked to try to do some information packages for individuals who might be going on SA, outlining what the procedures are in something that's a little more understandable for the potential clients - as to what they are actually entitled to, what they have to do, what's allowable, et cetera, et cetera.
Mr. Jenkins: I just have a couple of other questions in general, and then I'll turn it over to my colleague, who I am sure is anxiously chomping at the bit.
Teslin is going to be the recipient of a new health care centre. Could the minister explain the government's policy with respect to how that is determined and how the priorities are set for the various Yukon communities with respect to the provision of new facilities?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That essentially was a federal decision taken prior to the transfer. They had identified a number of priorities. We merely inherited that particular project, so it's on its way - it's in the loop - and we are obliged to sort of follow through on that. That is their priority. How they arrived at that priority, we are not sure.
Mr. Jenkins: What I'm looking at is how a community gets into this loop. I refer specifically to the community that I represent. I notice that there is going to be some capital work undertaken on the McDonald Lodge there to stabilize and level the foundation. It appears, from all reports, to be just a band-aid type of solution on that structure to effectively give it a couple more years' life.
Can the minister advise how the policy works to get into this loop for new structures and what he envisions as the timetable for Dawson to receive a new health care facility combined with a lodge.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: During the past year, the Department of Health and Social Services, in conjunction with Health Canada, has been doing a review of the health and social services facility needs in Dawson. This review is part of our overall examination of all health facilities transferred to the Yukon.
A working group has been established from the medical clinic, the Father Judge nursing station, McDonald Lodge, the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation and the City of Dawson, as well as Health and Social Services, Dawson, and are carrying out this review.
Basically, there are two phases in this. One is a health-needs assessment, and the second is a facilities option. There have been a number of interviews held with Dawson residents, and we expect that the health facilities review will be completed by fall of 1997. One of the issues that we heard from Dawson residents is the idea of doing a combined facility - the clinic, the hospital, and perhaps extended care. So, that's something that has been done.
A formal physical review of all the facilities has been undertaken. McDonald Lodge has a structural life expectancy of another two to three years, and the Father Judge nursing station has a structural expectancy of five to 10 years. I think there's perhaps some opportunities there to look at a combined facility, if that's the route that residents in Dawson would seek to go.
Mr. Jenkins: The other question, Mr. Chair, that I wish to seek some direction from the minister on is the status of the various health care facilities. Whitehorse has a hospital. The rural Yukon - Mayo, Dawson, Faro - has nursing stations. Watson Lake has a cottage hospital-type status. What are the guidelines that the department has that one jumps from one status to the next status, say from a nursing station to a cottage hospital status? What are the guidelines there? Are there a steady set of goal posts, or do we keep moving those, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The policies that we've been following have been essentially Health Canada's. Health Canada has a particular standard by which they go, based on population, distance from major centres, and so on and so forth. Part of what we're doing as follow up to phase 2 is a series of community health consultations. One of the things that we will probably hear is a variety of issues surrounding this. That may suggest that what we need to do is revise the Health Canada standards that we've inherited and, if necessary, tailor them to what our needs are.
The member pointed out the Watson Lake cottage hospital, which was a federal institution, and so on and so forth. So, I think we've inherited a particular system. We're going to be taking a look at it, tailoring it to our own needs, tailoring it to what the needs of the communities are, so we hope to gain some of that kind of information in our community health consultations.
Mr. Jenkins: Further to that, Watson Lake had a cottage hospital, Mayo had a cottage hospital, Dawson had a cottage hospital. All were downgraded with the exception of Watson Lake, and I know our community was told the population had to get to 2,000 before it could be upgraded to a cottage hospital and suddenly that figure went to 2,500. Now, I believe, it's 3,000. What I'm referring to is that the goal posts are constantly changing on the playing field. So, I'm seeking the minister's assurance that if we're going to adopt a set of guidelines, let's adopt it, but let's not keep moving the goal posts, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I can't comment too much on my federal counterparts, but generally if it's their ball, their field, they can move the goal posts pretty much wherever they want. We've got the ball, we've got the field and we also have the players, so we're going to be talking with those players and trying to get some of their views and trying to adapt a health system to better reflect what we want to do up here.
Mr. Jenkins: The other area that's quite contentious in rural Yukon, Mr. Chair, is dealing with the attraction in wage and benefit or fee-for-service arrangement to attract doctors and dentists to rural communities. Is the government anticipating coming out with a policy in this area that would seek to attract and retain physicians in rural Yukon, and when can we look forward to seeing such a policy if it's envisioned, and the same for dentists?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Actually, we have a fairly attractive situation for doctors up here. Our doctors, I believe, are the highest paid in Canada. We're currently beginning some revisions and doing some discussions on rates. One of the things we have established with our physicians is a resource planning council, which determines how many additional physicians there should be and the kinds of billing procedures that we have. I would suggest that if we were looking at, I guess, issues surrounding incentives for doctors to practice in rural communities and things like that, that would be an issue that the YMA would bring forward, and I would suggest that probably if it was that major an issue for them, it would be something that they would want to include perhaps as a trade-off in fee negotiations.
Mr. Jenkins: One tends to get a different vantage point from rural Yukon when looking back toward Whitehorse than one receives when one is in Whitehorse looking out. I would suggest to the minister that most of the answer that he just gave was a view originating in Whitehorse looking out. There is quite a different vantage point and view point established when one is outside looking in. There is a difficulty in attracting and obtaining positions in rural Yukon.
Yes, we have some of the highest paid positions in Canada up here, but it is, again, extremely difficult to attract those to rural Yukon. You just have to look at the current case with Faro, where you ended up having to hire a physician on a salary basis versus a fee-for-service basis to attract and retain one for that community.
So, I'm not convinced that this is an issue that is going to spark any kind of outburst from the YMA and any encouragement. I don't think the government will have any problems attracting physicians into the Whitehorse area. In fact, there's probably going to be an overabundance of them very quickly, if anything. Yet, rural Yukon will go on neglected.
There is a need for a policy for recruitment, retention and a wage and benefit package to attract these individuals to rural Yukon, and I'm urging the minister to consider such a policy and to implement such a policy forthwith.
I ask the minister for his viewpoint on that issue and whether he is prepared to bring back such a policy.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, the member should keep in mind that I've spent the majority of my time actually in rural Yukon. I have lived in communities without physicians and I've lived in communities with physician services.
I have a tremendous respect for rural physicians. My son was delivered at the Watson Lake hospital. We had superb medical treatment, and I have nothing but admiration for Dr. Secerbegovic and his medical staff down there.
Incidentally, there are three physicians, to my knowledge, in Watson Lake. There are two in Dawson, I believe, and two currently in Faro.
We are presently sitting down with the YMA and looking - one of our talking points, one of our issues that we'll be bringing forward to them - at ways that we can provide incentives for doctors.
Certainly, we like to work cooperatively with the YMA. We like to make sure that we are trying to provide an adequate level of medical services throughout the territory.
Mr. Jenkins: Again, Mr. Chair, it is an issue and, unless the government takes the initiative, the voice that's going to receive the greatest amount of weight is the voice emanating out of Whitehorse and out of the medical fraternity here. It has to be balanced, and it can only be balanced if the voice from rural Yukon representing the interests of rural Yukoners can be heard a little bit louder than the voice originating out of Whitehorse, saying what they feel about rural Yukon.
So, I'd urge the minister to weigh it accordingly, and would he consider the same type of policy for dentists for rural Yukon? There is a shortage. Those of us in rural Yukon have to travel into Whitehorse. I just had two constituents call today saying there's no dentist in Dawson; they tried to make an appointment for this weekend in Whitehorse, any time Friday or Monday, but every dental clinic they contacted were booked up solid. So there certainly is a problem, and a policy in this area is also needed.
What is the minister prepared to do with respect to the attraction and retention of dentists in rural Yukon settings, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: To the best of my knowledge, we have, in rural Yukon, both in Faro and Watson Lake, dentists who are in private practice. With reference to the dentist in Faro, this is an issue that I have discussed with the member before. One of the things we've tried to do is to make as attractive arrangements as we can to aid Dr. Schoener in remaining in Dawson in terms of the kind of space that we've offered him, the kinds of modifications of that space. I believe that the amount that was being bandied about as a potential cost for this individual in Dawson was $146.75, including heat, electricity, water and sewer, which I considered fairly attractive. I know that probably there would be some dentists who would appreciate that kind of incentive, so we are willing to provide, where requested, assistance to communities in trying to retain dentists.
Mr. Jenkins: I might remind the minister that that sum of money was only arrived at after years of arduous negotiation, and it wasn't healthy to either side to subject anyone to that process. That's probably the prime reason why the dentist has thrown his hat in the ring and said, "To heck with it. I'm leaving," and has given up his practice. It's not the actual rate that was set. It was the time that it took to establish that kind of rate and the process that was used over many, many years.
So, there is room for a policy, Mr. Chair, in this regard, and I would urge the minister to bring forth a consistent policy in this area to attract and retain dentists in rural Yukon.
Is the minister prepared to do something of that nature?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Just to perhaps set the record straight, when we had the ability to work on this issue, we did respond very quickly. I understand there was some difficulty previously with the federal government's service in that regard, but I believe we did respond very quickly to Dr. Schoener.
As far as a policy, it has not emerged as a major issue before. We certainly haven't heard anything in that regard from other communities in terms of retaining dentists. Certainly we haven't heard anything from Faro. We haven't heard anything from Watson Lake. I would imagine that if there was some concern in that regard, it would be relayed on to us, and if there was enough of a critical mass, I suppose, on that issue, we would deal with it.
Mr. Jenkins: It's only an issue that raises its head when a dentist moves on, and when those communities - we're talking three larger communities outside of Whitehorse - are without those services. Then it comes right to the front burner and it has to be reacted to by government very, very quickly.
That has been the case historically with attracting doctors into Faro. That has been the case historically with attracting doctors to Dawson and, to a lesser degree, to the Watson Lake area. It is a planning exercise, and it would be of tremendous benefit to rural Yukon to have such a policy in place.
Once again, I ask the minister to consider putting into place such a policy for the attraction, retention and how these doctors are going to be paid in rural Yukon, because it's going to rear its head again, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I've said before, I would like to sit down with the Yukon Medical Association and identify if that is indeed a priority of theirs and if they feel it is an area that is being under-utilized, if they can have some suggestions, if they can assist us on that, but I would suggest that sometimes blanket policies are not always applicable for this territory. This is a very diverse territory, and there are very diverse communities, so I'm not sure whether one blanket policy would be effective, but I can say that it is an area of discussion with the YMA, and we'll be seeking their views on it.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on the subject of doctors, is there a ceiling on wages for new doctors coming into the territory versus what is being paid to existing and established doctors in Yukon, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The advantage in this case primarily works toward established doctors.
The basic program allows that new doctors coming in who are not approved by the Physician Resource Planning Council receive about 50 percent of the billing that established doctors do. What this sometimes does is, very often some physicians coming in will go into shared-practice situations with others.
As a matter of fact, we have an interesting medical profession up here. We have many doctors who choose to work part-time, perhaps because of lifestyles, and this seems to work quite well for our physicians up here. There are a number of shared practices. It seems to prove out very well.
Mrs. Edelman: The Na-Cho Ny'ak Dun sent a letter on the 10th of April to the department, asking for the drawing down of authority for family and children's services, and there are letters coming from the Selkirk, Carmacks and Dawson bands, as well as the Kluane First Nation, which sort of goes back and forth on that issue. Is there a consistent policy that deals with this process? Do you put on extra staff? Are you talking about secondments to help with pilot projects? What is the policy?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That is primarily a land claims issue. Those are powers that First Nations can draw down. We do have staff that work at the land claims table for when issues of this nature come up, trying to work out all the mechanics of it.
With regard to the letter from Mayo, I think, as I recall, the letter from Mayo was basically just serving notice on YTG that the Na-Cho Ny'ak Dun had an interest in a whole variety of issues, one of which was child welfare. We haven't received anything formalized, but certainly drawing down the child welfare is a power within the umbrella final agreement.
Mrs. Edelman: The minister also attended the conference on Yukon First Nations child welfare, and one of the concerns at that conference was that this is going to be a process that's going to be happening with family and children's services, and that there should be a consistent approach to bringing in those authorities to the band level.
It would only make sense, considering that the department has known for numerous years that this is eventually going to happen, that there would be a consistent and coordinated approach to dealing with the devolution of those responsibilities. This is past the land claims table; this is right into self-government, and the way that we deal with First Nations on these issues is extremely important.
What I'm wondering about is if there's been any pre-planning. Are you going to be putting on any extra staff? Will there be any secondments to help with pilot projects?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: To date, we haven't had any formal request. We've had some indication; we haven't had any formal request. This is actually under the PSTA. We do have dedicated staff that are working with bands. There's a whole variety of issues. There's a variety of which powers individual First Nations want to draw down on what basis; timing. One of the things I heard bandied around the conference on Friday, which was an idea I had heard for the first time there, was the idea of a central First Nations child welfare agency.
I've never heard that one before, but apparently that's sort of out there - the idea of a number of bands perhaps using a central agency of their own establishment in that regard.
So, I think we're still on a very preliminary stage yet. We haven't received any formal requests in that regard.
Mrs. Edelman: The department has known for years that this issue is happening, and it's happening now. You talk about dedicating staff in this area, and you were speaking about a central agency. There's also probably going to be a First Nations child welfare act at some point in the future, and that's been spoken about for quite a number of years, as well, and that probably makes sense, as the delivery of health services and health acts under the Yukon First Nations is a possibility, too.
We've been going through the land claims process since I was a little girl here, which wasn't that long ago.
What I'm saying is that surely you've been doing some preplanning.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, as a matter of fact, I spoke with the deputy minister about this last week, and we are. I mean, we're geared up to go. We've got legal opinions, as there are issues surrounding responsibility. We know the necessary legal actions we would have to take in this regard. Basically, what we're waiting for is the individual First Nations to come forward with proposals that we can then work around.
As I said, we're ready to go on this, but what we need are some formal proposals and, at that time, we would need to sort of hammer out all the details and all the legalities, et cetera, et cetera. There are, for example, some interesting kinds of issues around this and there's even some question as to if a First Nation were to draw down a child welfare responsibility, would the ultimate legal responsibility reside with us? There's some suggestion that it might, which really sort of brings this whole question into question.
So, I think there's a number of issues we'd have to deal with as they come forward.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I'm sure that the Yukon First Nations will be interested in hearing those theories.
Another policy initiative is around preventive health. Now, nationally, preventive health is being much touted as the way to go, but it's not a politically sexy, I guess, theory because, basically, you're talking about planning what goes on past the four years of a person's mandate - well into 10 or even 20 years down the line.
Preventive health requires a longer term vision, but it ultimately saves dollars. What is this government's policy on preventive health?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I made some comments in my opening statements on our interest in developing the whole question of community health and prevention and promotion. So, we are committing dollars to that. It is something that we looked toward down the road. I can assure the member that I'm looking beyond this mandate and imagine sometime in the far future I'll have an inoculation centre named after me, or something of that nature. I want to make my mark and I want to know that when the little kids get their shots, they'll remember me - years from now.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Chair, that's my fondest hope as well.
When we're talking about health policies, there are two types of health alternatives out there. One of them is alternative therapies that people will use instead of traditional. A lot of those alternative therapies are not sanctioned by the medical community. The other type is complementary therapies.
From personal experience and from other areas, I know that these are tremendously effective. Some of those would be things like visualization for pain, biofeedback - once again for pain control - megavitamins, that sort of thing. These complementary treatments are very ancient - many of them - and they're very effective. They're used in conjunction with traditional treatments.
Is there any particular policy that this government has on either alternative therapies or complementary therapies?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Just on the whole question of complementary medication and complementary therapies, we have nothing right now that prevents the utilization of, for example, alternative treatments - acupuncture, issues of that kind. However, that being said, we don't necessarily fund them. What we depend upon, again, is recommendations from physicians with regard to inclusion of particular therapies and particular medications.
There is nothing to prevent, say, a person practising, as the member has said, visualization or alternative therapies in this territory but, you know, do we cover them at this point? No.
That being said, as well, it's also important to note that we do support, for example, with our First Nations, the idea of traditional healing conference, which we're sponsoring. We're building a First Nations healing centre over at the hospital, in which First Nations spiritual and medicinal ideas will be followed at the hospital in trying to create a more, I guess, culturally sensitive healing environment there.
With regard to that, we are doing some things in support, but are not directly involved.
Mrs. Edelman: Am I to gather from that information that the government of the day supports First Nations' complementary medicine financially, but not other types of complementary medicine?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No. With regard to the conference, it's not a case that we're funding one kind of medicine over another.
What I am saying is that, as part of the phase 2 transfer, one of the things that there was an interest in, from the First Nations aspect, was gaining a better sense of traditional medicines and traditional healing practices.
We said that we could support the conference so that issues like this can be discussed, very much in the same way that we've supported a First Nations child welfare conference, where traditional child welfare practices, such as custom adoption and things of that nature, were discussed. I think there's nothing incompatible with trying to support our First Nation citizens in that regard.
Mrs. Edelman: I think that I'm getting a mixed message here. On the one hand, you were talking about building a facility at the hospital in support, and the next time that the member stood up he was speaking about a conference. Are you speaking about two different issues?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Perhaps, I wasn't quite so clear.
We are sponsoring, with CYFN and the First Nations, a traditional healing conference later on this year. Also, within the hospital construction there is a component, which will begin this summer, of a First Nations healing centre. It's a centre that's basically between the Thomson wing and what's now presently the cafeteria, done in a, I suppose, a traditional or culturally relevant style, which will accommodate First Nation citizens who are in there, allow for visiting, allow for spiritual practices at the hospital to aid in the recovery of First Nation individuals who are at the hospital.
Mrs. Edelman: There are other programs that are put on by the First Nations at the hospital which are tremendously effective and very useful.
One of those programs is the support for families when they come into emergency, particularly support for families when a family member has to be medevaced.
Now, that same support is not available to other people in the community. Is there any hope that the minister would support a program for all persons in the Yukon who need that type of help?
For example, you come in, there's been a car crash, your child has been severely injured, that child has to go out - and not just because there're not enough hospital beds - if you are a First Nations member then there would be support from that program for the family, and not only financially; I'm talking about somebody who comes down to emergency and helps that family out: this is where you can stay; this is where the hospital is; here's a map; these are the services that are available to you.
Quite frankly, you need that. You're not thinking clearly, you don't know what's going to happen to you. All that you are focusing on is your child. Is there any hope that kind of programming can go on for the rest of Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, we do have services in terms of social work support. There's a chapel there. We have a certain number of rooms which, I suppose, for lack of a better term are, say, for example, hostel rooms. We offer accommodations. In the case of a child who has to be medevaced, we do pay for a family member to be medevaced out with them, to be taken out. That's something we do just as part of our escort policy for medical travel.
I guess what the member is suggesting is that we have some kind of crisis intervention team in that regard, and I suppose that's something that we could investigate at a future date.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Minister, there are many Yukoners in the Yukon who would appreciate that.
One of the things that I need to go back to is the issue of alternative therapies. Alternative therapies are often used instead of traditional therapies. For example, instead of chemo, you might go out and eat herbs or something. Actually, most chemo does come from herbs, as it would happen, but this is dangerous. This is life-threatening behaviour, and it in no way should be sanctioned by the government.
Is there any particular policy other than what the medical community says?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: One of the issues about this is the Canada Health Act. We are required to follow evidence-based medical therapies as part of the Canada Health Act, just for funds that we receive.
With regard to, for example, specific medications and herbal medications, things like that, that has been the subject of some controversy because of Health Canada's actions surrounding particularly the oriental medicines very recently. Some issues surrounding particular medications really do fall under Health Canada, but we are obliged, as part of our funding under the Canada Health Act, to follow particular therapies. As a matter of fact, they will only pay for evidence-based therapies.
Mrs. Edelman: So, what you're saying is that you won't pay for anything that's alternative?
Is there anything else that you do? So, for example, if Dr. Joe Blow was out there saying that, if you have, say, prostate cancer patient, if you use this treatment, which is a mud bath or something else like that, then you will be cured. Now, what do you do with a physician like that? What does the government do?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, it's an interesting example.
For example, chelation therapies are not sanctioned by the Canadian Medical Association except in particular cases and, therefore, we would not pay for those. That's not saying that we would restrict someone from receiving chelation therapy, or, to use the member's example, therapeutic mud baths, but we would not pay for those if they were not deemed to be medically necessary by the Canadian Medical Association and, certainly, their arm up here - the YMA.
Mrs. Edelman: Am I to understand then that, although you wouldn't pay for it, by not saying that that's not acceptable, then what you're saying is that it's okay. I guess what I'm looking for is a bit more direction from the government on whether you would accept basically someone out there - a quack - and whether that is acceptable. A very dangerous quack.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I would say that we don't regulate the medical profession any more than we would regulate the legal profession. Section 22 of the Medical Profession Act stipulates that the Yukon Medical Council may investigate the actions of any member of the medical profession who, in terms of skill and knowledge, practices generally accepted standards, so they are the self-governing authority, and they are the people that determine if, indeed - to use the member's phrase - a member is a quack.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I suppose that I need to get back to this and be a little bit clearer.
Now, if you are a person who works on brakes on vehicles, there are certain standards that you have to meet. Well, the medical profession and the legal profession, for some reason over time, seem to only regulate themselves, which is an interesting theory. What I'm saying is that if someone is out there using mud baths instead of getting chemo, they are going to die, and that's a really important issue.
As the Minister of Health, it is your responsibility to look out for the health services provided in this community and in the Yukon. What I'm saying to you is this: is there no thought of getting greater legal sanctions against people who do these sorts of things?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: In this case, we're very similar to other jurisdictions throughout North America. I guess it is a particularly slippery slope. Do we then say that a medical practice that someone might inherently believe, whether it's medically proven or not, enhances their life or extends their life? A person does have a certain amount of freedom of choice in actions that they take, and sometimes those actions may be taken for very legitimate and perhaps even desperate reasons.
I think everyone has to operate with a certain amount of hope, and I would be loathe to take away hope in extreme cases. Sometimes people will have traditional practices which may not appear to have too much of a basis in science but, for them, has a certain amount of value. In this, we are no different than any other jurisdiction in North America. I think we do have to rely on the medical profession, which is a self-regulating body, to exercise discretion over their own members and to bring forward cases of concern.
I would suggest, however, that if the person were practising medicine in a fraudulent manner that they were not qualified to do - if they were passing themselves off as a physician or medical professional without any basis - there would probably be some sanctions within the law, and, I would suspect, within the Criminal Code in that regard.
Mrs. Edelman: Well that, at least, is good to hear.
The Sport Yukon building in Whitehorse, when it first started, was a wonderful idea. What it did was bring together all the NGOs and all the sports groups and all the rec groups under one roof. It became a one-stop shop. A lot of people thought it was very good because you got all your administrative support together and there was a lot of networking that went on. It was just a tremendous time and money saver.
NGOs in the Yukon, for example - and I'm thinking of groups that have their little, tiny, hole-in-the-wall offices, such as Heart and Stroke, Red Cross and even the Tobacco Reduction Strategy, the hot lunch program; any of those groups - have very small facilities. They have universal problems. The first problem is, of course, space. There is not enough space. The second problem is that there's not enough storage. The third problem is that there's no room for meetings; there's no administrative support. It's endless, but it's always the same problems. Is there any thought for a one-stop shop for NGOs and non-profit groups?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's my understanding that the Health and Social Services Council has indeed looked at this idea. In principle, it's not a bad idea. I guess the question really comes down to space. If we put together a whole variety of NGOs, the question is where, and so on and so forth. So, that is something I think will probably be coming forward. It probably has some merit in discussing.
I guess, as well, there's the whole issue of how much groups are going to pay, what's the nature of the group - are they ongoing; do they tend to have a more focused period? So, I think there're a number of issues around this. I'm not rejecting the idea but, as I said, the Health and Social Services Council - I believe it's on their schedule to put forward.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Minister, I'm glad to hear the minister thinks it has some merit, because certainly I think if you went through and you looked at all those various groups and the money they spend alone on these rinky-dinky offices that cost them a fortune, they don't meet their needs, and if you put them all together I think that, in the end, there would be a cost-savings, because they do come to the Yukon government looking for that money to pay for those offices.
I'm glad to hear that the minister is appreciative of that thought.
Now, multi-year funding for NGOs - basically what I'm wondering about from the minister is, is this sort of a one-time deal, or is this a three-year program? You have a four-year mandate. Are you looking at longer term, multi-year funding?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, with regard to the member's comments, when we say long-term funding, we mean long-term funding. So, we are looking right now at a three-year cycle. The reason that the three-year cycle, incidentally, was chosen as sort of a benchmark, is that it was considered to be probably an optimum period for NGOs to sort of look at planning. The idea is, okay, it should go four years or five years.
One of the things that I heard from some NGOs is that it's pretty hard to predict what your needs are going to be in that period of time. As well, shorter periods were considered, but that's not really an improvement over the present arrangement. So three years was considered to be sort of the cycle that they felt most comfortable with.
Incidentally, from the point of view of Health and Social Services, we have sent out the NGO discussion paper and a letter, and we're proposing, on May 24th, which is a Saturday, to do a meeting of representatives from NGOs, and sort of get their views on this whole matter.
Mrs. Edelman: That's good to hear, and certainly the Liberal caucus will be watching.
One of the things that has come up over and over and over again, and it came up in the technical briefing from the department, was the issue around medical equipment. The department seems to be under the mistaken idea that this whole thing of lending medical equipment to people is coordinated. It's not.
For example, the Red Cross gets every call from the First Nations health people at the hospital every time a First Nations person is discharged and the Red Cross doesn't have enough equipment to deal with that. They aren't getting any funding from the government to pay for their equipment or to have it maintained or lent out, and there seems to be absolutely no coordination with home care.
Now, I know of at least one senior who was discharged early from the hospital and was sent out who needed a wheelchair, and that need wasn't even assessed. The only reason she knew about the Red Cross wheelchair was through a personal friend. Now, there's a real communication problem going on here and I am wondering what your policy is. You seem to think it's coordinated, but it's not, and the Red Cross offers a service to you for free. It's not supported and the very least you could be doing, I think, with this group and probably with quite a few other groups that offer these free services to the government, is to coordinate that.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Our understanding was that there was a measure of coordination. I will accept the member's contention that there is not and if the problem seems to persist, we'll look into it, and if the problem persists, we'll see what we can do to coordinate our own services from home care. With the Red Cross, certainly we appreciate the efforts of the Red Cross in this regard and we'll attempt to work with them.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm quite pleased to hear that there is going to be some sort of effort to coordinate and that there is a policy that we should be coordinated.
The issue of midwifery - now, I think this is going to have an impact on the budget. I know that the minister has told the House before that he's bringing regulations on midwifery to the House in the fall.
Now, midwifery means pre- and post-partem counselling, and that's a large, large portion of what midwives do everywhere in the world. Now, the YMA, in their report, which I know is still a working document, said that currently the pre- and post-partum counselling is woefully inadequate in the territory, particularly when you've lost the CNAs on maternity who had, "an exquisite knowledge of post-partum and neo-natal care."
Are you looking at midwifery as an issue in the next budget discussion? Is that going to be part of your policy on health care here in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: There are a number of those kinds of issues that are out there, floating, with regards to this. First of all, my commitment with regard to midwifery is that any proposed or draft legislation I would like to take back to the relevant groups that gave us some input earlier and have them give some views and then possibly bring this legislation in as soon as possible after that.
With regards to midwifery, I think it needs to be noted that sanctioning midwifery here does not necessarily mean it would come under the health insurance system. In some jurisdictions, midwifery is actually an individual choice and is paid for by the woman involved.
So, there are a couple of issues around there.
With regards to pre-natal and post-natal and some of the changes that we've tried bringing in - and I'm sure the member's familiar with some of the ads that have appeared recently - the Whitehorse Health Centre has been trying to get up the ongoing sort of pre-natal clinics, increasing their frequency and increasing their accessibility by moving to a noon-hour option. As well, there has been an increase in the number of Saturday post-partum visits. We're doing such things as home visits to rural mothers who are staying in for a period of time after delivery. As I said, the weekday, noon, early pre-natal classes are primarily geared to women who are in early stages of pregnancy or contemplating becoming pregnant.
As well, within Whitehorse, nurses visit all newly-delivered mothers in the local hospital maternity ward, and afterwards, mothers and newborns are visited in Whitehorse and rural communities from 24 to 48 hours after discharge.
I think there are a number of things we could do in this regard, and certainly I'm hoping to hear from the hospital review any suggestions they could provide in that regard. Perhaps they'll come forward with some suggestions.
I had an opportunity to discuss some of these issues with the president of the Canadian Nurses Association last Friday, as I'm sure the member did, and she gave me some interesting thoughts in that regard. I indicated to the president of the Yukon Nurses Association that these are a couple of issues that I would like to explore with them in further detail.
Mrs. Edelman: I think it's interesting that we are now talking about consulting on midwifery. I'm glad to hear that we're going to be doing that. I'd love to know who we're going to be consulting with.
When you speak about midwifery in terms of paying for the service - that's the American model; it's not the Canadian model of midwifery, and the development of midwifery regulations across the country are very, very different, and they talk about making exemptions for First Nations people. What you're talking about is a two-tiered system. You're talking about people who can afford midwives will get them, and those who can't won't, and I have a problem with that.
I'm wondering, what is the minister talking about?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm not suggesting that we're going to a two-tiered system at all. What I am suggesting is that I don't want to anticipate right now when this is going to come through. I've been informed that there are some jurisdictions where midwifery is paid for - Ontario and B.C.
What I'm suggesting is that I'd like to see what kind of regulations come forward, what kind of recommendations come forward, and consult with the relevant groups and go from there.
Mrs. Edelman: Midwifery is covered under the insurance plans in those areas.
We spoke earlier about the auto-defibrillator - I think that was yesterday - someone over there mentioned something about that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Edelman: Pardon me.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Edelman: Oh, automatic - that's not what I thought you said. The AED's then.
I think it's interesting, but it speaks to a greater issue, and I think it was alluded to earlier, about what is the level of service that is going to be offered by hospitals and health stations in the rural communities, and what's the staff input that you're going to be getting from people about what are the actual real health needs in those areas?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I have indicated on a couple of occasions, we're interested in going out and visiting and meeting with folks in the communities. Initially, what I'm planning on doing when the session is out is taking a trip around to visit the health stations to meet the personnel there, to get a sense from them of what they see is the direction. Part of it is to get acquainted, and part of it is to get a sense for myself as to what the on-ground level of service is, what kinds of deficiencies there might be and then, as part of our plan to consult with communities, we'll be sending out teams to do some consultation in all Yukon communities. We had an initial stage of this when we met with the CYFN, and they identified some areas of concern for them that will help form the basis of some of these consultations.
So, I think there are two ways we're going to do it. I'm going to take a visit around to all community health facilities myself, and then there will be a consultation process that goes on, and out of that will come some recommendations, probably in terms of future direction.
I also think the staff in many of the community health stations is very diverse. There are some community health stations where the staff has taken a more involved role in delivery of health services as opposed to some where they are working in consultation with physicians. So, I think I'm expecting a fairly wide variety of views on this.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I am most pleased to hear that this government is interested in staff input. I know that there have been whole facilities that have been built in the Yukon with little or no staff input.
One of the problems that I'm having, though, is what happened during the phase 2 health transfer? During the phase 2 health transfer, there was a problem with job descriptions for nurses in the outlying areas. For some reason or another, their pay scale was thought to be similar to that of what it should be for a nurse at Macaulay Lodge.
Now, what a nurse does in Haines Junction is far, far beyond what a nurse does at Macaulay Lodge, and she has an awful lot more responsibility. She works by herself most of the time and, actually, the nurse at Haines Junction, for example, is a midwife. A lot of those things are not taken into account.
What I'm particularly wondering about is the policy on these job descriptions. These job descriptions - what happened was, two weeks before the actual transfer, there was a big kafuffle that had been going on for quite a bit of time before that, and they were asked in three days to get together an idea of what they thought their job descriptions were - the nurses in rural outlying areas. Certainly, I don't think that that was a very respectful way of doing it, and I think you didn't give them enough time. I think that they need to be listened to and not just in issues around their own staffing, but in issues around what services are being delivered out there in those communities. Because for many, many Yukoners, the service that they get out in communities is better than they get in Whitehorse, and I hope that the minister is going to continue to look for staff input on all those decisions.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, one of the things that we did in the face of the transfer was we depended a great deal on MSB, who were actually delivering the service in previous terms, and they came in with their own job descriptions. In discussions with the Public Service Commission, the levels of classification were determined.
That is what we worked on for this process, but that being said, we realized that there is some dissatisfaction, and to be very fair to some of the individuals involved, for many cases it's not even a monetary issue, because the wage levels are comparable. But I think there is a sense that the duties of people working within the community health aspect are very different. Sometimes they can be more stressful in certain aspects. Sometimes they can be more demanding in certain aspects than say, for example, an acute-care nurse, or whatever, at Whitehorse General Hospital, who has more of a team, more of a collegial-kind of atmosphere to depend on, and if you are a nurse out in Pelly Crossing by yourself making a kind of a life-or-death decision, it's often a very high demand.
With that in mind, what we have done is that we've sent out letters to all the folks that came in in that regard and said that we are willing to look at this whole issue again and that we're willing to engage in a review of classifications.
Basically, with regard to the time line, we're working within certain time constraints. If we had not been able to accomplish this by the end of January, it's likely that we would not have been able to accomplish the phase 2 by April 1, and there were some very, very serious financial implications for us in not achieving that goal. So, we moved in that regard, and we took the actions that we did, but we've also made a commitment to those employees that will review classifications.
Mrs. Edelman: Just before we break, Mr. Chair, the issue then is that you are going to be looking at staff input when you're talking about the level of service that should be offered, the equipment levels and basically what money goes into which nursing station, and I think that that's the sort of input that you need to get back from staff because they're the ones who know. Those of us who are sitting in these hallowed halls here in Whitehorse have little or no understanding of what's going on out there, and I hope that this government will continue to listen to staff and to truly gain their input in a respectful way.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We have been somewhat errant, perhaps, in some aspects of not taking into account those folks who do work on the front line. When we get into difficulties, in all aspects of health, it's often by not going to the people that really do work right there with patient service and patient delivery.
The comments that I made last Friday to the Nurses Association were very heartfelt, because when I met with those nurses - I met with the nurses' executive - they were coming forward not with issues involving pay or other related issues. They were talking about their concerns with regard to patient delivery. One of the things I've been impressed by up here is the medical community - all aspects of the medical community - and their concern for people's well-being.
So, I am committed to working with community health nurses and community health workers at all levels to try and gain their expertise and their views in the delivery of the health care system.
Chair: Before we take a break, I'd just like to remind both members - I'm not going to ask you to shorten anything - just to address your remarks to the Chair. It's a nice conversation going on, but please address your remarks as per the rules.
It is 4:30 p.m. We'll take a recess now. Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with the budget, Health and Social Services. Is there further general debate?
Mrs. Edelman: One of the issues that's come up in this budget, and we'll talk about it in the line by line, is that there was a half-time position that was eliminated. It was a half-time position for respite for the Evergreen children. There are respite dollars in the rest of the budget in general, although there probably isn't enough.
What I'm wondering is does this government understand the importance of respite and what respite actually does, and how it saves you money in the long run? The reason I say that it saves you money in the long run is that, if you offer foster parents or parents of a child with special needs respite, then you enable that parent to keep that child in the community and you spend less dollars in the long run. In addition to that, if you offer a family respite from the continuing 24-hour needs of a very special-needs child, then what you do is give them a rest that they need so that they can maintain their own health and the time they need to spend with other siblings of that child. You give those families hope that they can make it through.
There are no words to describe how necessary that respite is. Thankfully, most of us in this House don't ever have to find out.
What I need from this government is sort of a general policy statement on how they prioritize or how they see the need for respite.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, I think we can all identify with the issue of respite and the strain that caring for either a special-needs child - or even an adult, perhaps an aging parent - and the kind of stress that it can put on a family.
I know that my father-in-law lived with us. He was largely incapacitated. It was a tremendous strain on the family, because it's the kind of thing that never leaves you. It's morning through night, and just the stress that it puts on individuals, just in terms of physical stress and emotional stress, I think anyone can identify with. And we are very cognizant of the fact that families living with these kinds of individuals in their homes and working to provide care for special-needs people or people with extreme disabilities is a savings for the health system.
With regard to the issue surrounding children with disabilities, we've worked with the Evergreen Society. We've provided care-giver homes. We also have some services within the Thomson Centre. Just very recently, on a trip to Watson Lake, I met with a parent who had a child with extreme disabilities. We've tried to provide respite care for that family's child at the Thomson Centre. So, what we're trying to do is provide the form of care that families prefer and, yes, we are committed to providing respite care and we are very cognizant of the importance of this.
Mrs. Edelman: That's a good thing to hear, mainly because the number of respite beds at the Thomson Centre and Macaulay certainly has not increased. As our population ages and as more and more children are being saved, those respite beds are only going to increase in number and the need for those beds is only going to increase dramatically.
Now, one of the issues around social assistance is the fact that some people stay on social assistance for a great long time, but the majority of people are on it for maybe three to six months, and it is in that time that you want to make sure that those people have a way to get off.
Now, there are programs that target just that particular group and there are programs that target people who are what you would think unemployable. Now, I don't see any increase in funding towards at least one of those organizations that provides that service and I'm wondering if - and once again, this is one of these things where it's really hard to quantify, but ultimately you save money. If you can get them off at the very beginning then they won't come back, very likely. And if you can get them doing any type of work, when they are considered to be unemployable, then you save money again.
What I'm wondering about is: are you going to be targeting more dollars in this area? It just seems to make sense.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I wonder if the member could identify the organization for me. Is it Challenge that she is speaking of, specifically?
I had a meeting yesterday with our folks in vocational rehabilitation - and I have to remember the changed term - but we discussed that. We discussed the whole issue around employability and employability factors. And I've actually had a couple of meetings with Mr. Breen over at Challenge on this. One, in general, about the programs and where the programs are going and, two, I've been trying to get some of his views with regard to positions that we should be venturing with discussions on the national level because, as the member may be aware, the federal government is now taking a look at a major revision of programs for vocationally disabled individuals. Part of the focus for that program is trying to promote attachment to the workplace. So, I think increasingly, if we see federal funding in that regard, if we see increased federal efforts, it will be in the idea of trying to promote workplace attachment.
Mr. Breen, for example, outlined a number of the problems that disabled adults have; in particular, such things as simply gaining enough working hours to qualify for things such as pensions. He gave me a number of views. I've discussed them with my own department, and it'll give us a better sense when we go to meet with our federal counterparts.
We based our contributions to NGOs on a historical basis. We looked at some minor adjustments to try and overcome areas we felt were lacking. I'm sure that if this is an area that we want to develop more, we'll certainly be working with Challenge in this regard. As a matter of fact, there's been some discussions with Challenge precisely on the degree of vocational services for disabled adults.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on that topic, if I could ask the minister to elaborate on the Head Start program, and whether there are any plans to expand it. Basically, it's for individuals on social assistance that are reintroduced into the workforce and trained. Where are we heading? Are we planning on any expansion in this program?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Actually, no, we don't have any additional funds in that regard, because basically federal funds that have supported that have dried up, so we're somewhat limited in our ability to expand that program, much as we would like to.
But, I think, if I read the federal government's approach right, certainly from the minister, there is a strong tendency to promote workplace attachment in future development. So, perhaps we could see something with regard to increased funding in that aspect. I am hoping, anyhow.
Mr. Jenkins: So, I guess what we have to do is hope. Is that the minister's response? There are no other avenues left open to us to explore, to enhance and improve and get this program back in place?
Does the minister feel that it was a worthwhile program? Or, was it not beneficial? What were the reasons for its curtailment, other than the federal funding was lapsed?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Our understanding is that it is to continue this year. I can do some checking on that.
Yes, it had some advantages in improving the employability of individuals and certainly making the transition from SA into the workplace a lot easier. It is a program, I think, that has some merit and hopefully - we cannot only simply hope, we can lobby very actively.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, of course we would lobby very actively. We lobbied very actively on such things as the CAPC program and those were the kinds of things the federal government, hopefully in the spirit of cooperative federalism, will listen to. Certainly they listened on CAPC, so we're hopeful that in this regard they will listen to our concern.
The whole question of workplace attachment is a very strong one amongst most provincial and territorial jurisdictions. Certainly, some of the steps that we would like to take in that regard we hope will assist in workplace attachment.
Mrs. Edelman: One of the interesting things that came up in the technical briefing for health services was a physician-cost increase, and it was up a greater amount.
Now I realize you're in contract negotiations with the physicians as we speak, but it's interesting, because nowhere else in the budget do we talk about increases in, basically, a wage.
Is it a policy that this government has that you would be budgeting for a wage increase for one area, but not in others? Because, I know, for example, you're in negotiations with the Public Service Commission, you are in negotiations with YGE, and you're in negotiations with the nursing association. What I'm wondering about is: why this group?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With regard to this, in the agreement with the Yukon Medical Association, which was entered into with the previous government, there is a two-percent increase in 1995-96 and 1996-97. This has sort of set the kind of traditional benchmarks with regard to physician services.
As I said, we've been working with physicians. I suppose any time that one goes into negotiations with any group, they have to keep in mind what the financial parameters are. I mean, I think, in sitting down with the physicians, there are a number of issues that we might want to discuss. There may be actually some areas of trade off that may be not economic. There may be some issues, as the Member for Klondike has made reference to, in terms of rural enhancement. I certainly don't want to prejudge what the outcome of these negotiations will be, but I think that you always have to sort of build in a certain amount of leeway.
Mrs. Edelman: This has come up before in this Legislature, and when you speak in the budget about a plan to combat poverty, what I'm wondering about is: what is happening with this plan to combat poverty? I know that a few people have phoned now, asking me and asking the department, for the plan. As far as we've been able to determine, there really is no plan yet.
Where are you on progressing on the plan that was mentioned in the budget speech?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Actually, I guess the phrase is "actions speak louder than words." We've taken some steps with regard to relieving poverty. Some of those steps have been in conjunction with our federal colleagues and our territorial and provincial colleagues. We've brought in a couple of steps that are targeted at relieving child poverty.
I have some initiatives in mind, should we have a certain amount of financial leeway, for steps that I would like to take with regard to moving in similar directions in that regard.
I don't like the idea so much of "the big plan." What I like is a series of concerted efforts that we can take across a broad front.
For example, I talk about poverty, and if I talk about relieving poverty I might also be addressing some issues surrounding children at risk. I might also be addressing issues surrounding, as the member has referred to, vocational opportunities for disabled adults. I might also be looking, for example, at providing services for perhaps individuals with mental disabilities who sometimes can make up a large portion of the poor.
So, our approach has been to try and approach the whole question of poverty across a fairly broad front. Certainly, one of our concerns, quite frankly, is the question of the number of children living in impoverished circumstances. We have made that sort of our first area that we'd like to address, and there are other areas that we'd like to expand out into.
Mrs. Edelman: Quite frankly, Mr. Chair, I don't think there is such a thing as child poverty. It's family poverty. Children are not big bread-winners here. They're poor because their family is poor. I know there have been a number of initiatives on both the federal government's part and this government's, but I worry when I hear the minister talking about the various initiatives that he has started and plans that he has. Have you not gone and talked to the people about what they think should be the priorities? What is the plan for consultation? Are you going to the Anti-Poverty Coalition? They might know quite a bit about what you should be targeting. Have you gone to the rural areas and have you talked to groups that you know need to be targeted, and asked them what they think the priorities should be?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Quite frankly, the answer is yes. I have met on a couple of occasions with representatives from anti-poverty groups. I've also met with groups that work with individuals in poverty. I've had consultations with Yukon Family Services. I've met with representatives from groups such as the United Way, who have their own sort of social policy committee who came forward and gave me some ideas in this regard. I've met and discussed with my own Health and Social Services Council, many of whom represent people from rural areas. I've met with a whole variety of people who work across the board.
The one kind of common consensus that I've heard from many, many groups has been the whole question of school nutrition. That's why we chose to do something more on that. We also heard about the extra strains that particular expenses can put on family budgets, and that's why, for example, the opticals and pharmaceuticals emerged as something we felt we could do in the relatively short term.
We believe that there is some scope, as well, when the NCB comes into play, that we can actually enhance and develop further programs.
As I said, I've been given a whole variety of issues that have come forward. Some particular groups have suggested modifications for the single-parent policy on SA. Some groups have suggested, for example, increasing the exemption of employable earnings for individuals so that they can actually make more money without it impacting on their SA, to give them more of a margin. There is a whole variety of issues that have come forward. What we've tried to do is try to weigh out what we can do at this point, given our financial constraints, and certainly there are things down the line that we would like to move into, and so I'm meeting with these groups. I'm always interested in hearing from them, and I'll continue discussions.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Chair, unfortunately the poor will always be with us and, of course, the 15-percent unemployment rate does a lot to explain why the roles in SA are going up.
One of the policies that was changed in the previous government was that mothers who were staying home with their children would have to go for a mandatory job search only after their youngest child was in school, and the previous government decided, "Oh no," at the age of two, it was no longer valuable for her or him to stay at home, and that they had to go out and do this mandatory job search. Now, I have a lot of problems with that particular one.
One of the comments that I heard from certain people back at that time was: "Well, what you do is have women who just keep having babies to stay on SA." Well, the reality is that nobody wants to be on social assistance. That's a myth.
But there is also no recognition in social assistance - or anywhere else as far as I can determine - in our society of the good work that people do who stay at home and who raise children and offer that support to them, and that is good work in our society and it's hard work.
What I'm wondering about is if there is going to be a change in policy there. Are you going to be bringing that age back up to what it was under the previous NDP, so that mandatory job search doesn't start until the youngest child is back in school?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can tell the member that we do value the role of parents at home. I think probably that's an area of work that is undervalued in general by society. The role of child-rearing and the role of taking care of children I think is sometimes undervalued.
With regard to the group - if we want to refer to them as single mothers - they tend to be the most motivated group in terms of returning to work. They stay on SA an average of 10 months, as opposed to the regular norm. It is something I would like to do. It was one of my hopes to modify this program but, unfortunately, we've been precluded at this time by the volume of SA increases. It's still in the cards for me. If I have flexibility, it's one of the things that I've identified that I would like to do.
Presently, right now, if we were to look at the idea of about 100 lone parents - for lack of a better term - remaining on SA until the youngest child reaches the age of five, there is a potential increase of about $550,000 in one fiscal year. Quite frankly, within our sort of social services envelope, that's fairly steep, given our present constraints. Can we modify it? I think we can. Can we raise it, perhaps gradually? I think that's a possibility. Will we be looking at it again? Most certainly. I can assure the member that it's an area of interest of mine. If we have the possibility of doing it, it's an area that we'll move into.
Mrs. Edelman: There is a connection between health promotion and absenteeism at work. There's a connection between sports and recreation and C&TS and health promotions. All of those things work very well together. Now, a lot of that speaks to things like healthy lifestyles. For example, a person who doesn't smoke is going to cost the health system a lot less than somebody who does smoke. What I'm wondering about is, what is the department doing to foster those connections between those departments and to promote that healthy lifestyle?
In the Public Service Commission, you get healthy people who don't smoke - people who have a good, healthy lifestyle, they're very likely going to be at work every day. If you have people in C&TS who are actively working to promote healthy lifestyles through recreation programs, that helps the whole government and all the people who work for it. What are you doing to promote that connection?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, first of all, I put signs up in my window cautioning smokers how much they're costing me but, besides that - because I am directly over the smoking area - one of the things that we have been doing is working with both our colleagues in C&TS and Education in the youth investment program, co-sponsoring it, and we have been encouraging, wherever possible, cross-departmental efforts.
One of the issues that was just brought in as being the - let's see if I could call it the northern leadership program, which is essentially a recreation program. We are co-sponsoring it with our educational colleagues to sort of promote more positive lifestyles for young people in the communities.
There are a number of things that we can do. I think certainly we've been doing some cooperative things with regards to immunization with other departments, trying to support them in their efforts. So, I think there are a number of things that we can do and I think there are a number of things we could probably do even in increased awareness. I think one of the things that we could probably do is encourage individuals throughout government on such things as break-free days and things of that nature. So, I think there are a variety of things in Health and Social Services we can work with other departments on.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, if we could just explore another, or several, of the other areas in the financial domain that I can't seem to get a handle on.
If we deal with NGOs, a number of them are funded on a fee-for-service basis and a number of them are just an outright amount that's provided to the NGOs. How do we determine, if it's on a fee-for-service basis, what we're going to budget for that association? Is there is a cap on what we'll provide to that NGO?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: There are a number of NGOs that are on a fee-for-service basis and, consequently, in some cases volume driven. Yukon Family Services being one; they deliver a variety of counselling and family services. The CDC, the Child Development Centre, does work with children out in the communities.
There are some that are primarily sort of service organizations to groups - perhaps groups such as SOS, which not only deliver services, but also work with individuals and provide recreational and social opportunities.
There are some organizations, such as the Council for Aging, who do lobbying and advocacy work for seniors.
I think that is probably reflected in the level of contribution. The big organizations that do deliver a fee-for-service and often perform functions for us, obviously, will get more, and those amounts tend to increase as volumes increase.
Mr. Jenkins: That was exactly my question: how do we budget; how do we get a handle on the financial obligation that the government will incur in funding on a fee-for-service basis? How do we budget in that area? It's very, very gray.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think the only thing we can really do is based on historical levels and keep in mind the organizations themselves - what they see as pressures, what they see as demands. They are usually fairly good at sort of alerting us to areas where they think that they might be expanding programs. They come, they sit down, they give us an indication of what they see as pressures coming in the future, and we try to accommodate them.
In certain cases, an NGO might take on an additional service, or they may find certain aspects of their funding curtailed - perhaps through federal cutbacks, or whatever - and they generally let us know and we try to build that into our funding program.
Mr. Jenkins: If we could just explore this same methodology, or the methodology employed by the department to forecast medical travel and hospital claims out of the Yukon, how do we get a handle on those costs? At the technical briefing, it was indicated that the trend was downward. Now, how do we get a handle on it if that swings up, or what has happened to cause it to go down?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That's one of those things that we can never really predict. Certainly, I think we can make some generalized conjectures on that. One of the reasons that we've seen the out-of-territory hospital costs go down has been the advent of the new facility. Along with that are certain procedures that can now be done which couldn't have been done before.
The most notable is cataract surgery. For years, people who required cataract surgery were routinely flown out. We now have a facility where cataract surgery can be done here, where we can bring up visiting specialists so those kinds of things can be accomplished, so we make a savings there.
I think what we will see is probably a general decline as we get more specialized services in the hospital. That being said, there's no prediction of what it can be. It may be that there's an increase in the number of medical procedures in any given year. There's no iron-clad formula.
Mr. Jenkins: Another question originating from rural Yukon is that a delivery in rural Yukon is not undertaken in too many communities. On occasion, it happens in our community. Most of the time in Watson Lake, unless it's a difficult birth, it takes place in Watson Lake, but virtually everyone else is referred to Whitehorse. Is the government committed to continuing with their program of providing financial assistance to women from rural Yukon who have to locate to Whitehorse for the birth of their child?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, we are committed to continuing that.
Mr. Jenkins: The other areas I'd appreciate exploring, Mr. Chair, with the minister is the issue of drug and alcohol abuse in Yukon, and recent headlines show every indication that drug abuse is rising at an alarming rate.
What additional steps are we taking on the preventive side from what is already in existence? Are there any plans or policy changes or shifts in this area?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The member is right. I had an opportunity to be over at Crossroads and met with one of the counsellors over there who gave us to understand that the incidence of injectables, for example, is increasing at a fairly alarming rate.
We are increasing funding towards alcohol and drug services. As well, we have a study coming in on high-risk alcohol behaviour. This is basically a study of alcohol abuse and alcohol-related harm, and is a joint research project by Health Canada, our own department and the Yukon Bureau of Statistics as well as Carleton University. This is a very extensive study and what it's looking at is trying to identify people at risk of alcohol-related harm, building an understanding of various perspectives and agencies who deal with the issue, and providing an economic costing for alcohol-related harm with the aim of providing some decision-making tools.
This is due to be out, I believe, on June 4th, 1997.
The study, I think, that was taken on was actually much greater in magnitude than what had been expected, because it did go back and take a look at the whole historical issue around alcohol and alcohol abuse and the costs to society, and that will help us make some decisions in terms of future planning for alcohol prevention.
Mr. Jenkins: So if I understand the minister, what exists, exists. We have no plans to expand any of our existing programs, but after we review the results of this study, we will be looking at implementing or developing other programs. Is that a summation of what the minister said, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think what this study will do is it will give us some areas where we can re-target, where we can perhaps better direct our efforts. Should we, for example, be emphasizing to society the economic cost, the social cost? Certainly up here, alcohol is a major revenue agent, but too often, we don't realize what the human and social costs are, so I think one of the things this study will do is give us a better handle on what our alcohol cost with the impact actually is. We are looking at an increase in alcohol and drug services of some eight percent in this budget, and hopefully what that will allow us to do is to increase our services to individuals, and I can get into that when we move to line by line.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's what I was referring to, Mr. Chair. There is an increase in that line item, and I thought, in general terms, there'd been some policy change or some enhancement of some programs to take up that additional allocation, and I'm disappointed to hear that nothing is underway, and yet this is a growing and alarming concern.
I guess we could move on to another area that I have some concerns with and have identified, Mr. Chair.
If the minister could advise us with respect to young offenders. Is Health and Social Services investigating with the federal Department of Justice the deterrent effect of revealing the identity of young offenders? Is this on the books anywhere, or are we exploring that, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: There was, as the member may be aware, during the fall, the Standing Committee on Youth Justice, which came around. We participated and we made some representation in that aspect. The general consensus for both the federal government standing committee and ourselves was that there's little deterrent effect in revealing young offenders' identities. We're of the opinion that that is actually probably against the spirit of the Young Offenders Act and certainly that was the opinion shared by the majority of the federal standing committee on the Young Offenders Act. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that one of the recommendations of that committee brought forward recommended against that.
Mr. Jenkins: If we could just look at another area of the seniors in rural Yukon. What is the government going to be doing to enable elders and seniors to retire in their home communities and to continue to reside in Yukon? If you look at the occupancy level at McDonald Lodge in our community, it's running at 90 percent. When you have 11 rooms, it's virtually 100-percent occupancy. What policy direction is the government taking, and what programs are they going to institute so this can occur, especially in rural Yukon, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think one of the more interesting models that has come out has been the Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake, and we're working with them.
They've brought forward a program where they're not only supplying - I suppose the traditional - services to seniors, in terms of recreation and things of that nature, but they also have moved into the aspect of the delivery of home care services.
It's an interesting model; we're supporting it, and we're hoping to see if this can have applicability for other areas. I think that's one thing that we can do.
I guess this, in many ways, is a new problem, in certain aspects. Our senior population has been growing. I was quite startled, for example - I lived in Watson Lake for a number of years and I was quite startled - when the actual number of seniors was revealed to me, because I think people are staying in their homes longer, they're choosing to stay in the territory, and it's something that we're going to have to address.
Signpost Seniors is an interesting model. I think it's one that we can work with, and if there's applicability, perhaps it's a model that could expand out.
However, saying that, I would say that one of the commendable aspects of Signpost Seniors is that it is largely community driven. It's responding to community needs. They've come up with their own solutions and we're supporting that.
Mr. Jenkins: With respect to McDonald Lodge, there was no response on that issue. It's running at virtually 100 percent occupancy at the present time. What direction is the minister going to be pursuing with respect to increasing the ability of this lodge to provide additional room and probably extend it to additional care?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: One of the things I referred to earlier was the Dawson facilities review, and I mentioned, at that time, that there was some inclination on the part of some individuals in Dawson to look at a medical-continuing care complex. We are in the process of completing a study on seniors' needs, particularly in regards to housing and accommodations and continuing care. Some of the implications are quite interesting in terms of demographics in the future - the aging populations. That will all factor into certain decisions that we make.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other areas I'd like to explore with the minister is dealing with recoveries. It shows total recoveries at $12 million. Does that include outstanding amounts due? Is there an aged listing of accounts receivable by the department? I understand it's in the neighbourhood of some $15 million to $17 million. It's probably higher. I understand it's for the provision of medical services.
Could the minister table the exact amount and the aged listing of the accounts receivable, where it's due from, and how much do we anticipate recovering from the federal government? They usually argue on virtually every nickel and dime, never mind the pennies. Do we anticipate recovering at all, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We can certainly provide that for the member - in terms of the list.
With regard to the origin of most of these costs, the majority of these costs are from DIAND and, for the most part, refer to children-in-care expenses. It is a substantial amount. We're currently in negotiations with DIAND right now, and the member can rest assured that we are going to try to recover as much as we can.
As the member so accurately noted, there is often dispute between what is actually seen as the appropriate level of cost by DIAND and what is seen as the appropriate level by us, but we are in negotiations right now.
Mr. Jenkins: Just for the record at this juncture, what is the amount outstanding, and how much do we anticipate recovering, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We're currently revising that, but it is in the $23 million to $26 million range.
As to how much we're going to recover, we're a little loathe to tip our hand in that, because we are in negotiations, and if we said, "Well, we're going to take this", obviously, some keenly attuned ear over at DIAND would say, "Well, we know what to offer." So we are trying to recover as much as possible.
Mr. Jenkins: On that note, has there been any move to indicate to the recipients of these programs that the federal government is not living up to their responsibility and paying their respective invoices, and getting that message out into the public domain?
Those darn Liberals, you know, they've got to 'fess up and address their financial obligations.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, those amounts are at the PSTTA table. Apparently, the First Nations are aware of these and this is an issue that they are interested in having resolved because if, as the Member for Riverdale South has indicated, First Nations were to draw down, for example, child welfare, they would like to know the kind of figures that they could reasonably expect. So, it is an issue that everyone, I think, would like to get resolved, with the possible exception of the federal government.
We would like to have this resolved. We certainly would like to recover the money and I think, for the First Nations, they would like to know what kind of figures they're dealing with.
Mr. Jenkins: A $26 million shortfall in payments to this government has serious repercussions on our financial position and our cashflow. I would think that that is an issue that should be dealt with at the highest level, with the Government Leader addressing with the Minister of Finance and pulling out all stops to ensure that these funds are paid forthwith.
This kind of a financial shortfall can have serious repercussions on the whole Yukon Territory; $26 million is a considerable sum of money when you look at the total amount that's transferred annually from the federal government to the Government of Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As a matter of fact, I'm waiting with bated breath for the Prime Minister to come in the door with the cheque, at any moment, since they're in a mood of federal largesse, however -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: If I just might finish, it's primarily a cashflow situation for us.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 4.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, the Committee has considered Bill No. 4, First Appropriation Act, 1997-98, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, it is indeed good to have you back. I move the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:30 p.m.