Wednesday, November 5, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
In remembrance of Frank Joe
Mr. McRobb: I rise today to pay tribute to Frank Joe, who passed away suddenly on July 16, 1997.
Frank was born and raised at Kloo Lake and lived a traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing and trapping. He developed a passion for horses early in his life and worked as a big game guide for a number of outfitters.
Later in life, Frank operated his own business, Ruby Range Trail Rides. He had a love for his country, which was evident in his numerous stories. His knowledge and experiences about the history of his country were often shared with his clients. Frank had many friends throughout his life. He found time for everyone, young and old, offering his knowledge to those who would listen. Frank was especially noted for his sense of humour and good nature. Frank will be sadly missed by his family and many friends and all the people who knew him.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party caucus would like to join with the New Democrats in extending our condolences to the Joe family. I had the privilege of knowing Frank fairly well. He worked for me on several occasions. He was a very competent guide and, as the previous speaker said, had a great sense of humour and a great knowledge of the history of the Yukon.
I am sure he will be sadly missed by friends and family, and we extend our condolences to the family.
In remembrance of Patrick Carberry
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to a great Yukoner who was tragically taken from us before his time due to the effects of cancer. Patrick Carberry passed away in early September. Pat was born in England and apprenticed there as a chef. He served in the British Army in the Second World War.
After being released from the army, he re-offered to the British navy and was conscripted by them to work for two and a half years in their coal mines while still continuing to work nights as a chef in Nottingham. Prior to moving to the Yukon, Pat lived and worked as a chef in Edmonton and at the Royal York in Toronto, where he was involved in the chefs union. As such, he worked to get Canadian chefs certified.
After moving to the Yukon with his wife Claire and his five children in 1969, Pat worked as a chef in many hotels. In 1992 the Chefs Association of the Yukon honoured him for his work. His places of work included the TraveLodge, the Sheffield and the Monte Carlo. His last position as chef was at the Macaulay Lodge. He retired 18 months before his 65th birthday due to ill health.
Pat Carberry was a well known and well respected member of the Yukon community. For several years he performed services on behalf of the Yukon Council of Aging. He served as their president until the time of his death. He was also chairman of their seniors information board. Without a personal agenda, Pat pushed for rate relief for seniors' power and telephone service. He made a presentation on behalf of the Yukon seniors to the hearings of the Canada Pension Plan ratification and brought attention to issues of single senior women living in poverty.
As well, Pat and his wife Claire worked as private citizens to advance the cause of alternative medicine and treatments. Of particular concern to them was the right of every person to have incapacitating pain relieved and managed in a such a way as to afford them life and death with dignity.
Even though I knew that Pat was ill, I, like many of his friends and many of the people that knew him, Pat's own personal vitality belied his illness in many ways. Even while he was very ill, he was still very active in bringing issues to my attention and his presence will be sorely missed.
Our condolences go to Pat's friends and surviving family, especially to his wife Claire, who continues their good work. It's a service, Mr. Speaker, that will be a benefit to many Yukoners for years to come.
Mr. Phillips: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus, I'd also like to pay tribute to Mr. Pat Carberry. Although I did not know Mr. Carberry personally, many Yukoners came to know Pat as an active member of the seniors community. Having served as the president of the Yukon Council on Aging from 1995 until recently, Pat acted upon concerns of the well-being of Yukon seniors and paid particular attention to financial and health matters relating to single senior women.
As my colleague mentioned earlier, Pat spoke out on issues regarding seniors' power and telephone service out of concern for seniors on fixed incomes who have high power rates, particularly for those who use electrical heat. Pat lobbied strongly for an increase in the pioneer utility grant.
At every opportunity, Pat raised the awareness of Yukon seniors and their contributions to the Yukon economy as being one of the reasons to keep seniors healthy and independent. He was a man true to his word, with a heart of gold and a love for the Yukon.
On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I wish to extend our heartfelt thanks for Pat's efforts over the years, and wish to extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Claire and our family and friends.
Mrs. Edelman: I rise today to pay tribute to Pat Carberry. Pat was an outspoken man. During my first election for city council, I decided to try going door to door during the campaign. My first night out, I went to Pat's door to ask him about what he thought about city issues - and he told me. He told me that night, and he continued to tell me during my six years on city council.
During that time, Pat also ran for city council himself. He had the gumption to put his views on the line and ran for public office. He wasn't successful in his bid for city council, but he did do well on the executive of the Yukon Council on Aging, and then finally as the president of the Yukon Council on Aging.
I served with Pat while I, too, served on the executive of the Yukon Council on Aging. Pat worked tirelessly on any committee or project that he committed to. He showed a surprising sensitivity at times and a gentleness that belied his gruff tones and grand bearing. We are richer for Pat's presence on this earth; his humour and his strength will be greatly missed.
Speaker: Are there any introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I have a document for tabling.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I have some letters from the Executive Council for tabling regarding the Shakwak.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have for tabling the 1996-97 annual report of the fleet vehicle agency.
I have for tabling the property management agency annual report 1996-97.
I have for tabling the community agency contribution agreement between the Government of Yukon and Northern Network of Services.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I given notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that by condoning the layoff of CNAs at Whitehorse General Hospital, by threatening the Yukon Teachers Association during arbitration, and by stalling on contract talks with the Yukon Government Employees Union, the NDP government have broken a commitment to develop a constructive relationship with public service employees, teachers and hospital workers; and
THAT this House urges the NDP government to take immediate steps to improve their relationship with public service employees.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
Student recognition program
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I rise to advise members of our government's policy regarding recognition of student achievement in the Yukon school system.
Our government is committed to providing the highest possible quality of public education, Mr. Speaker. Yukon people have reason to be very proud of their educational system and the many dedicated people who comprise the partnerships that make it work so well.
As Minister of Education, I'm always happy to acknowledge the achievements of teachers, school councils, parents, school volunteers and, of course, students themselves, as we undertake the important job of increasing knowledge and understanding for today and the future.
Some months back, Mr. Speaker, I indicated that we would be reviewing the existing student recognition program, the Yukon excellence awards, as required, before the end of 1997. Specifically, we wanted to see how well this program has been working since its introduction in January 1995, and to explore ways to make it work better.
In order to conduct this review, an options paper was circulated to schools, school councils and education partner groups, including students. As well as this, a survey was sent to 500 randomly-selected households of students from grades 8 to 12 in Yukon schools.
The report of the review, which I tabled earlier today, shows several major findings, Mr. Speaker. While our education partners generally support the Yukon excellence awards program, they do not believe the Yukon excellence awards are effective in responding to public concerns about student mastery of basic skills.
This report tells us that there is public support for programs that recognize student effort and/or achievement. It also indicates support for the provision of funding to schools to implement student recognition programs. At the same time, the report suggests that those who participated in the review are not clear about how to implement such programs.
In light of this, I've asked school councils and the Yukon Teachers Association, who are leaders in the education community, to provide specific recommendations by the end of February on how we can improve our student recognition programs in Yukon schools, beginning with the 1988-89 school year.
Mr. Speaker, our government acknowledges that there are many ways to recognize student achievement and that a cash-for-grades program has certain built-in limitations. One of our main concerns in this regard is that many students who work very hard but who are simply unable to register high academic scores may not receive the recognition they deserve for their effort. We feel it is just as important to recognize the hard work of someone who has struggled to gain 70 percent rather than 65 percent, for example, as it is to recognize and reward those students who are consistently at the top end of the academic scale.
Our government also acknowledges that monetary rewards are not the only way to recognize student accomplishments. We will be encouraging our educational partners to recommend other forms of student recognition and support that may be appropriate in their schools or their communities.
I would like to conclude by expressing my thanks and appreciation to everyone who took the time to participate in this review. I would also like to assure members of this House that we will be pursuing the recommendations of this report. Thank you.
Mr. Phillips: I thank the minister for this statement. I will be very interested in reading the document that she tabled today. We on this side of the House feel relatively good about the statement that has been made by this minister. I would like to take members back to a few months ago or even years ago when the members opposite criticized the program severely when it was brought in, and now they have found out by way of consultation that there is public support for programs that recognize student effort and improvement.
In fact, what they look as if they are going to do with this particular program is even follow one of the commitments we made in the last election and that is to continue the Yukon excellence awards program and create a new program, the achievement awards to recognize students who work hard to improve their grades even though they do not qualify for the Yukon excellence award.
I am sure, as I am standing here, that they won't call it the Yukon achievement awards, because the suggestion of that title was not their idea.
It must be a bit embarrassing for some members on the side opposite to sit here today and listen to the statement that has been given here by this minister in accepting the fact that Yukon achievement should be recognized.
Let me take people back to Hansard. I love Hansard, because we can quote directly from Hansard. This was February 15, 1995. This was the position of the New Democrat Party at that time by one of its members, who said, "It is a big fat program that is going to do a big fat zero in terms of helping the people out there who need it the most. When one talks about needs-tested programs, this one certainly does not qualify. This is just another ideological, right-wing, drummed up, maybe-gonna-get-me-a-vote program, which has unfortunately blown up in the minister's face and shredded his credibility as an Education minister, oh-so-fast." That was the Member for Faro, Mr. Harding, who tore apart the awards of excellence program, saying it was a "drummed up, maybe-gonna-get-me-a-vote program."
I am pleased today, Mr. Speaker, that, maybe in the words of the Member for Faro, the new minister is going to continue with this "maybe-gonna-get-me-a-vote program" that the people actually want. I think that, in light of the consultation that took place and in light of the results, the people do want to see achievement recognized and that the Member for Faro owes an apology to the former Minister of Education for his statements. He was just grandstanding at the time. I think the minister should be embarrassed by the comments that he made at that time.
Mr. Speaker, this is just one of many comments that I will be reminding that minister of - ones he made that were absolutely outrageous at the time.
Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank the Minister of Education for following through on this Yukon Party initiative and not cancelling it, as they said they were going to do when they took power, and realizing that it is important, and there is strong public support for programs that recognize student effort and improvement.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has provided a meaningful briefing in her statement as to the status of the Yukon excellence awards. I appreciate that briefing as I'm sure members of the public appreciate it. In fact the members of the public appreciate it particularly well - namely the school councils - because, Mr. Speaker, school councils received this document before we in the Legislature did - a disrespect for her fellow legislators that I'm sure the minister will make certain doesn't happen again.
Although I have not yet reviewed the report tabled today, the findings outlined what most people suspected all along - recognition of student effort and improvement is important. The difficulty with the previous program is the lack of consultation, and this too is emphasized in the minister's statement. There is not clear consensus on how to implement a program to recognize such effort and achievement.
The minister has indicated that she has asked the Yukon Teachers Association and school councils to provide specific recommendations by the end of February. I have several questions and some real difficulty with that option. Clarification by the minister might resolve some of that difficulty.
Firstly, is the minister asking for very specific recommendations from these groups, say from a list of options? Is she asking them to pick option a, b or c, or is the minister saying to the YTA and school councils, "Here's the report. Use your creativity and come up with some agreement or something innovative and wonderful that will end this other thorny political problem"? Either of these two options presents some real difficulty.
School councils in particular are being continually offloaded with ministerial responsibilities. School councils were summoned to determine the capital spending. School councils will determine how we recognize students. School councils serve on building advisory committees. School councils hire and fire principals. School council agendas are very, very full.
Now the minister will be poised at this point to give me A Better Way partnership speech. Save it for the next election. I've heard the message.
My point to the minister is that school councils are volunteers.
In case they missed it, school councils are volunteers. Be very careful in what you burden them with. This is yet another issue with very tight time lines. You have departmental staff and political staff. Perhaps there are some issues where the minister should be making the tough decisions and the recommendations - and be prepared to live with the consequences. Perhaps this is one of those issues.
The minister is likely also poised to give me that the problem was lack of consultation and consensus on the last program, and I certainly agree with that point. There was no consensus. There was no consultation. I would like to advise the minister that I feel she should be prepared that she may not get consensus on this issue, and I'd like to know how she intends to proceed if there is not consensus.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, let me start by saying that I am not the least bit embarrassed to stand up in this House and indicate that we listen to people, that the previous government, when they chose to bring in the Yukon excellence awards program, did not speak to the educational community, to school councils or teachers, or to the Yukon Teachers Association or to parents. Exactly what we have done is deliver on our campaign commitment to listen to people and to act on what they have to say.
The members of the opposition will have full opportunity to participate in the review of what is said in the report and to bring forward their recommendations. What we said, from the beginning of these Yukon excellence awards being launched, is that the government should have listened to the public, and that all of the efforts of all of the students in the public school system need to be acknowledged, not set up a program that only is targeted toward the students who are able to achieve grades of over 80 percent.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I don't think the official opposition critic was ...
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: ... paying full attention when I was reviewing the summary of what's in this report. There is some public support for the student awards program as it presently exists. There's also a very strong segment of the population who would like to see the awards available for recognizing all students' efforts.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Nobody's convinced that the Yukon excellence awards are the most effective way of recognizing student achievement. People think they don't work and need to be fixed. Where people aren't in agreement is on how to develop a new recognition program, and that's exactly what we have asked educational partners to provide us with some advice on.
Now, I have to confess I'm somewhat puzzled at the patronizing tone that the Liberal critic had toward school councils.
I think she should know that school councils, while they are volunteers, run for office because they want to contribute to their children's education and they want to contribute to making decisions about education. I am not offloading ministerial responsibilities on school councils. I am asking school councils for input on issues that they very much want to have input on.
Mr. Speaker, we're here to speak for the public and I make no apologies for delivering the report - which was the report that school councils themselves had worked on as well as parents and members of the public - to the school councils and asking them for their thoughts on it in advance of it being tabled in the Legislature. That is not any affront, or intended as any affront, to the members of this House and I think we would all do well to recognize the important contribution that school councils and other education partners make to education in the territory, and I look forward to working with them in the future.
Building design standards
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to make a statement in keeping with our policy of making government better. Specifically, I am talking about an initiative that will improve the design, construction and operating efficiency of government buildings.
During the last election, this government made a commitment to develop standards that would provide clear direction for the designing of new public buildings. Government Services, in partnership with the Yukon design industry, has completed the first edition of Design Standards for Government Facilities.
It is important to note, Mr. Speaker, that revising and updating this document will be an ongoing process, as conditions and building codes frequently change. The objective is to ensure that our design standards reflect the collective knowledge of all parties involved in the development and maintenance of public buildings in the Yukon.
The document outlines the general design objectives desired in the construction and renovation of government buildings. It describes objective, performance-oriented criteria for the designing of the various components of a building project, including sitework and architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical features.
The design standards combine up-to-date Canadian construction technology with a commonsense Yukon approach to ensure that government buildings are as energy efficient as possible. It is worth noting, Mr. Speaker, that energy-efficient buildings reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which are the major cause of global climate change.
The design standards focus on satisfying the functional needs of the client departments and users of government facilities by: minimizing capital costs; achieving the lowest possible life cycle costs; optimizing the health, safety and comfort of occupants; minimizing environmental impacts; maximizing reliability and durability; and incorporating energy efficiency features.
I should point out that while we are obliged by the law to follow the existing rules with respect to local hiring and local purchasing, we will be studying the recommendations of the Yukon hire commission once it completes its work. I anticipate that the use of locally produced materials could well be a major factor in setting design standards for public buildings in the future.
In a similar vein, the policy recommendations of the Cabinet Commission on Energy, following its public consultations on a comprehensive energy policy early in the new year, could result in further changes to design standards.
This first edition of Design Standards for Government Facilities was prepared by Government Services in partnership and cooperation with local design consultants. The standards describe performance expectations required in the design of new buildings and renovation of government owned and occupied buildings.
Furthermore, landlords wanting to lease space to the government will find the building design standards a useful reference to help them assess the suitability of their building for government occupancy.
With these design standards for government facilities in place, taxpayers can be assured that their tax dollars spent on the construction and operation of government buildings are being used efficiently.
Mr. Jenkins: It gives me great pleasure to be able to once again commend this NDP government for continuing the work of the previous Yukon Party government to improve the design, construction and operating efficiency of our government facilities.
During the Yukon Party's government term in office, considerable thought was given to such improvements and, in turn, acted on by developing policies that encouraged the use of off-the-shelf uniform building designs for government buildings. This was restated in our election platform, in which we made the commitment to continue to strengthen the planning and management of government capital projects, as well as to continue to adopt practical, workable building designs for government facilities.
In the minister's rebuttal, I would like to know if the minister and the government intend to continue using off-the-shelf uniform designs for standard schools and standard fire halls that the Yukon Party first introduced, and at the same time, would these design initiatives and standards be made binding upon Yukon Housing Corporation?
Also, the minister addressed the environmental issues, and in the minister's rebuttal he should be aware that the Government of Yukon is one of the largest users of F-12 refrigerant in their building cooling systems. What steps are being taken by the government in this area?
When speaking of local hire and local purchasing, the government is once again talking from both sides of the mouth. I refer to the Old Crow design contract, worth $274,000, that was recently awarded to an outside contractor from the NWT.
In view of the fact that the NDP, in opposition, severely criticized the Yukon Party government for any contract that was awarded to outside firms who submitted the lowest price, I pose the question as to why it is now right for the government to do exactly the same thing, Mr. Speaker. It is important to recognize the value gained from design contracts performed by local firms. They are better aware of local conditions, local priorities, and are better able to provide onsite services. I believe recognition of this added value is reflected in the criteria used to design and evaluate proposals.
Once again, I am pleased to see this government is continuing the work of the previous government. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: The Yukon Liberal Party caucus would also like to compliment the minister on bringing forward these standards. We are looking forward to reviewing them in some detail.
The caucus is particularly pleased that these standards will be applied throughout Yukon. The thought, perhaps misconception, that buildings outside of Whitehorse are of a different standard than those in Whitehorse, will no longer be applicable. These standards will be applied to government buildings throughout the territory.
We are also particularly pleased that the design standards have focused on a number of points, especially optimizing the health, safety and comfort of occupants, the minimizing of capital costs, and the incorporating of energy features.
The proof of any action, of course, is in the pudding. We are especially interested in the application of the standards, particularly to the new schools anticipated to be built in several communities in Yukon, and particularly interested in the application of these standards as we determine suitable office space for the Government of Yukon employees in Watson Lake.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Just in responding to a couple of these, the Member for Klondike takes the old Soviet line: if you don't like history, you rewrite it. Perhaps he's unaware of the fact that some of the schools that he's mentioned were actually designs that came in under an NDP government. As for the idea of making a uniform, off-the-shelf kind of plan, I have to emphasize that when we're talking about design standards, uniform design standards are not the same as uniform plans. Perhaps - I hate to use props again - but perhaps the member might like to take a look at this, at his leisure.
But I should point out that just because we may use a basic design does not necessarily mean that that school will be the exact same school. For example, even though the footprint of Holy Family has influenced the design of the Old Crow school, there are considerable changes. For one thing, the Holy Family school is a primary school and has certain features there, whereas the school in Old Crow has its own specific structural concerns, including issues revolving around the kind of students we have in terms of age levels and grade levels and so on and so forth, so I'm afraid the member is somewhat confused on that.
As I said, these will guide not only ourselves, in terms of construction of schools, but we are also hoping that partners that we may have in the future in terms of providing office space will have, with these standards, some guidelines that they can work with.
Speaker: This brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Protected areas, Yellowstone to Yukon initiative
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Renewable Resources.
On August 8 of this year, the B.C. premier, Glen Clark, announced an agreement to protect a huge area of wilderness in northern British Columbia, an area of about the size of Nova Scotia that's known as the Muskwa-Kechika, and it was one of the largest land use decisions of its kind in North America.
Mr. Speaker, given this government's commitment to preserve and protect our wilderness habitat and also its close relationship with its NDP counterpart in British Columbia, I'd like to ask the minister if there has been any discussion or any thought given to the Yukon establishing a wilderness area similar to the one that was announced in British Columbia.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: First of all, we are aware of the Yellowstone to Yukon initiative. We haven't been part of any discussions with B.C. at all, through our department, and our own protected areas network is certainly going to be built here in the Yukon with participation of Yukon people, and that's where we stand with this right now.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, the B.C. agreement appears to protect some 4 million hectares of wilderness, and it also adds a significant piece to the puzzle that environmental groups have been trying to put together to establish an 1,800-mile protected zone from Yellowstone to the Yukon.
Yellowstone - it's the Yukon conservation initiative that's in stone, Mr. Speaker.
I'd like to table a map that was in Globe and Mail that sets out a large portion of the Yukon as a dream of these conservationists, and it should come as no surprise to the government that this is making investors very, very nervous and the mining community very, very concerned.
So I would just again like to direct my question to the Minister of Renewable Resources and ask if the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation initiative was on the agenda for discussion when Premier Clark visited with the Government Leader of the Yukon a short time back.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'd like to thank the member for his question. Certainly, this was not a part of discussions that took place when the premier was here. We did take initiative when we got in as government to look at protected areas and since then we have worked at putting together a protected area strategy that suits Yukon needs and involves all the people in the industry to take part in that development, and that is where we stand with that now.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that, Mr. Speaker. We are aware of the protected areas strategy and we are very supportive of it on this side of the House. We worked very, very diligently on it in our four years in office. But the map that's out today, the wish list of the conservationists, certainly takes in a far greater area of the Yukon than what I believe any government has thought about as a protected area strategy.
So, my final supplementary to the minister is, will the minister give assurances to this House that no decisions will be made on this Y-to-Y wilderness park prior to full consultation with Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Our government is committed to the strategy that we had announced previously, and that is the basis we are working on. We have not looked at taking a big chunk of the Yukon to be protected. We looked more or less at an ecosystem type of approach and we have a lot of work to do in those cases in regard to land use planning. Much of the industry has to be part of developing this, including the outfitters and trappers and everybody else who is involved in development, including the mining industry. So this is actually a very big initiative that's being put forward, and I do appreciate the member's support on this and I look forward to more support as we develop the strategy in detail.
Question re: Municipal block funding
Mr. Jenkins: My question today is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and it concerns municipal block funding.
On October 20, my colleague from Riverdale South, in a news release, raised the issue of the Yukon government using its heavy hand to impose government hiring standards on municipalities by attaching terms and conditions to their municipal block funding.
I can tell the minister that, from my previous background as a mayor, the municipalities will react negatively to any government tampering with their municipal grants. Will the minister give his assurance that there will be no local hire provisions attached to municipal block funding?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It gives me pleasure to rise and answer the question from the member opposite.
The report of the local hire commissioner is not in yet and is not due in. We certainly will be looking at that report.
I would also like to say that I know that the Association of Yukon Communities is very concerned about downloading responsibilities, and my government maintains that certainly no expectations will be placed on the municipalities without full consultation between the parties.
Mr. Jenkins: It is common knowledge that the only government in the Yukon that is not practicing what it preaches in promoting local hire is this NDP government, with all its outside hiring and outside contracting.
Will the minister give us assurances that Yukon municipalities will not be forced to adopt a union-only hiring policy as a condition of receiving their municipal block funding. Will the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, I feel that we will be working with the Association of Yukon Communities. We will be working with the recommendations that come from the local hire commissioner. It is common knowledge that this government is doing what we said we would do. We will continue to do what we said we would do and we are doing what we said we would do.
We term it A Better Way. It got us elected and we are working toward that end.
Mr. Jenkins: Once again, the minister has failed to answer the question. The question was quite specific; it dealt with a union-only hiring policy as a condition of receiving municipal block funding. The minister failed to respond.
Yukon municipalities are concerned about the high-spending policies being advocated by this NDP government in its quest for local hire, and federal transfer payment reductions could seriously erode municipal budgets.
I would ask the minister to make a clear and unequivocal ministerial statement in this House that the government respects the autonomy of municipal governments and will not attempt, through bullying, intimidation, or any other provision, to impose local hire provisions, or any other provisions, upon municipalities that are unacceptable.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I thank you very much for the opportunity, once again, to answer the member opposite's question.
Certainly, to echo my colleague to my left, we are not bullying anybody. We will never bully people, but we will work within a process that will establish what people want and how we're going to do it.
I certainly believe in local governance. I believe that the municipalities are doing a very good job with what they have. I'd also like to state right here, right now, that we have not been tinkering with their funding. We've been maintaining a consistent level of funding with the communities and have an open and ongoing dialogue.
In the next few weeks, I'm going to be having a meeting with the president of the Association of Yukon Communities, and it is going to be in that meeting, and others that are subsequent to that meeting, where we will, with dignity and honour amongst the two, come and do what is right. That is what we're going to do. This is not under the table or over the table. This is eyeball to eyeball, and that is exactly what this government was elected on, and we're going to continue to do that: open and honest and sincere and thoughtful.
Thank you very much.
Question re: Land information management system, local contracts
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Government Services.
We've had several discussions in this Legislature regarding the sole sourcing of work on the land information management system, or LIMS, to NovaLIS. The sole sourcing is one aspect of the work. I'd like to leave that to higher authorities, namely the Auditor General, to look at.
The very real issue I would like to ask the minister about today is the opportunity for local companies to compete for this work. Yesterday, the minister stated in this House that he has "given assurances to interested parties that the government is interested in their participation." The minister went on to say that he gave assurances that he would be trying to make opportunities available to local companies.
Would the minister explain exactly what the assurances were that he gave to interested parties and precisely how he intends to make opportunities available to them?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, I will explain a little bit about what we expect to flow from this particular contract. There are a variety of contracts coming up having to do with the so-called LIMS project, but one of the things that we are anticipating is that there will be around $400,000 worth of data conversion work that will be contracted.
Some of this will involve maps and may be of interest to local engineering firms. The rest will be data entry kinds of processes. So, we feel that our local industry is well-positioned to take good advantage of that.
As well, with regard to the discussions that I had with the folks involved in GIS, they explained to me some of their concerns and some of the areas that they felt needed to be addressed. What we have suggested and what I have undertaken is that we would sit down with them. I asked for representatives, not only from people involved in the GIS, but it was also suggested perhaps from the information technology industry, to sit down with our people from Government Services, specifically from the information services branch, and discuss ways in which those companies could participate in some of the functions that we expect to flow out of the LIMS project. As devolution proceeds, there will be opportunities for different kinds of projects to flow out.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased that the Minister of Government Services has finally seen what his colleague, the Minister of Economic Development, referred to the other day as local experts and the value of them.
Unfortunately, the minister has not given a clear answer to the question of how he would be trying to make opportunities available to local companies. He has indicated that he would work with industry to see what might flow out of the LIMS project.
Could I ask the minister to be more specific? Is he talking about requests for proposals that might be tendered after the LIMS project is complete? Are there time lines for whatever it is he is going to make available for local industry? Could the minister be more specific in the time line and precisely what he intends to make available?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Just with regard to being overly specific as I suggested earlier, much of the development that will flow out of the LIMS project will take place in the future; much will have to do with devolution. There are, for example, things surrounding mineral leases, forestry leases, things of that nature.
We expect that the LIMS will form the basis for a number of future applications and I have had discussions with these people involved in GIS. They agreed that there are some opportunities here for applications that they could bid on and that they would have areas that they could perhaps make proposals on in the future.
I'm not interested in excluding them at all. What I think needs to be done - and I have to at this time thank my colleague in the Yukon hire commission for facilitating this meeting - is that we can say, "Here's where this project is going. These are the kinds of outcomes that we expect to see from it. These are the future developments. What ways can you see the local GIS industry going? What kinds of things can you bring forward where we can work together?"
Speaker: Would the minister please conclude his answer.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, what the minister just stated in this House is that he's paying lip service to local hire. He met with industry. I've asked him three times what specific opportunities and time lines are being given to local industry. Is there going to be a request for tender after LIMS is up and running? What crumbs are being given to local industry?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's simply a nonsensical question. The member is asking me to anticipate a whole variety of projects that will flow out. We do not know at this point. We don't know the time line. We don't know the time line for devolution, we don't know the time line for many of these things to flow. What I have given is an assurance to work with the industry to try and make sure that their opportunities are maximized. That's what I have done. We can't predict the pace of this future development, but we are willing to work with them.
Question re: Victims of domestic violence act
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the Minister of Justice. Mr. Speaker, I read to you from A Better Way, the NDP election platform from the 1996 territorial election: "Yukon people have a right to not only be consulted but involved in things that affect them, from the beginning of a process until the end."
Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the Minister of Justice still stands by that statement?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I have spoken to a number of groups around the territory about their concerns about the very selective and poorly designed consultation on the victims of domestic violence act that this minister is intending to pass through this Legislature this fall.
Will the minister honour the words of her party before the election and do more extensive consultations throughout the Yukon on this positive and important piece of legislation?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the member's allegations. I would like to assure the member that our consultation work on the victims of family violence act has not been restrictive and is ongoing and is being expanded. I have received the letters that were written to me, which were copied to the member, with some concerns expressed by people in the communities about the implementation about the victims of family violence act, about various components of that. I am writing back to those people. I have been meeting with people about it, and I hope that, together with the support that I know is in place from members of opposition parties, we can bring forward a victims of family violence act tailored to the needs in our communities to deal with this very serious and very real problem.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm beginning to wonder whether this act is going to come forward this fall. There are a number of groups that have concerns about this legislation. They have some reservations about the content of the bill. In other words, their concerns go beyond the implementation issues.
If the minister is unwilling to do a proper consultation outside this House, she does have other options. I would suggest that when this bill is being debated before the Committee of the Whole, the minister call witnesses to testify and voice their concerns. This has been done on a number of occasions: in May of 1992 when Mr. Penikett called witnesses on the Faro Mine Act; in May of 1991, when the now Government Leader, Piers McDonald, called witnesses on the Environment Act; and in January 1994, when Mr. Phelps called witnesses to speak on the Yukon Family Services Association Rent Guarantee Act.
Will the minister, if she's truly interested in consultation, agree to call witnesses before this Legislature during the debate, if there is a debate, on this very important piece of legislation?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, not only am I willing to do a proper consultation, we are, at the moment, engaged in doing a proper consultation with the community about the proposed victims of family violence act. I am willing to meet any time, any place, with any individual person or group who has an interest in this bill. There have already been public meetings. There will be more public meetings. There have been recommendations made about some of the implementation aspects of the bill that we will be following up on. There will also be a full debate in this Legislature when the bill is tabled, after we have received all of the comments from people who have things to say to us about it, and I look forward to that debate very much.
Question re: Centennial anniversaries program
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Tourism, and it's regarding the CAP program.
On October 23, there was a statement issued, a press release, that stated that they could not release the $1.5 million territorial contribution for the Whitehorse community centre until the government's contribution is confirmed.
I have heard that this proposal was turned down by the interdepartmental technical committee, partly because it doesn't meet the criteria - number one, low or no tourism component and, number two, they had missed several deadlines. I wonder if the minister could confirm that the technical committee turned down and had strong reservations about this meeting the criteria that other communities had to meet.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I will respond in my capacity as Minister of Economic Development, which has taken a lead on this issue from assuming the portfolio upon the election last year.
With regard to the project, we have made it fundamentally clear that our commitment to the project should stand, but it is dependent on certain criteria being met. We have taken similar positions with projects in Ross River and in Teslin, because they were well along their way. There was a lot of work done and we felt it was important to have every opportunity afforded to the proponents to try and meet those criteria.
In this case, we have gone that extra mile to try and help the people proposing this project to meet the conditions. Unfortunately, although our money has been there, our good friends in Ottawa, the Liberal government, have not been as supportive of this project as they publicly stated.
I would say that, until the Liberal government comes up with a commitment, it's very difficult for the unity foundation to meet some of the criteria that's been put before them.
Mr. Phillips: This project that was initially supposed to be a tourism project is now turning into a community centre project. My concern is that it doesn't conform with the guidelines as set out by CAP. All other communities in this territory had to abide by those guidelines.
The minister didn't answer my question. The question I had for the minister was this: did the technical committee turn this down based on the fact that it didn't meet the guidelines - that it had a low or no tourism component - and that they missed several deadlines? Was the recommendation from the technical committee to actually turn it down, and what has happened is the consequence of there being a political decision to actually fund the project?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Let me just say to the member that, first of all, this project has many similarities with other CAP projects, notably the project that was built by the members opposite in Haines Junction, which also has aspects of a community centre/convention centre as a component of the project.
With regard to the technical committee, as I said to the member in the answer to the first question, they have identified that there are concerns in terms of meeting the criteria.
I have told the member opposite that until the federal government comes forward with the money it is going to be almost impossible for them to meet that criteria.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, the federal government coming forward with the money has nothing to do with the criteria. All other communities in this territory had to meet that criteria, and some communities were told to go back to the drawing board and reconform the design of their program so they'd meet the criteria. What this government is doing is making a political decision to fund a community centre project with money that was earmarked for tourism at the objections of the tourism industry in the territory.
I would ask the minister to go back to the drawing board on this one and to consider that the use of this money was for a tourism-related project to enhance tourism in the territory, and to admit that this community centre project, as designed and as submitted to the minister, has very little tourism component, and the money would be better spent in other areas related to tourism.
Hon. Mr. Harding: This project is very similar, as I just told the member, in many aspects, to what was put forward by the previous government in Haines Junction.
We have given more time to other communities - Ross River, Teslin - and, Mr. Speaker, we've done that because we want them to be afforded the full opportunity to meet the criteria of the program.
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the issues around the criteria, the tourism marketing component is one of the things that is still a difficult issue, and that is because they are not prepared to invest the money in developing this criteria until there's a commitment of funding from the federal government. So, it's a chicken and egg scenario.
So, Mr. Speaker, they are trying to meet the tourism component of this but, until they have a firm commitment from Ottawa for the funding, they do not want to frankly spend any more time and volunteer efforts to come forward with this project.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, Aishihik Lake compensation claims
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the minister responsible for the Energy Corporation.
Earlier this year, the Yukon Energy Corporation invited Yukoners who thought they were entitled to compensation because they were affected by the Energy Corporation's Aishihik Lake operations to come forward and file a claim. The theory was that Yukon Energy would like to deal with the claims in preparation for the Aishihik Lake water licence renewal.
Now, about a month ago, the Energy Corporation said there had been about 75 people file applications for compensation. Since receipt of the claims, has the Energy Corporation made an estimate - even a rough estimate - of the total amount of compensation that the ratepayers are looking at in the way of exposure? Is it $100,000, $1 million or $10 million? What is the rough estimate that we're looking at?
Hon. Mr. Harding: First of all, this process of addressing issues of compensation in the Energy Corporation was around when the member opposite was president of the Energy Corporation. It continued on into the discussions when the previous Yukon Party government was in office. This is not something new invented by this government, Mr. Speaker. This is something that has come forward at this time because those discussions are coming to a head with regard to the issue of the impact of Aishihik Lake and its impact on the traditional people who inhabited that area.
With regard to the estimates, the claims are still being sorted out. As I said to the member at the time the issue came forward by the Energy Corporation, the federal government is ultimately responsible for the damage or the compensatory awards that may come forward. Mr. Speaker, we stand by that.
Mr. Cable: I do not think the minister said that at all. I think he said that the federal government was responsible for the operations up to the date of the takeover.
Now, before the invitation was put out for these claims to come forward, had the Energy Corporation made a rough estimate on the exposure - this is before the claims came forward - and if so, what was it?
Hon. Mr. Harding: In terms of that information, I can provide that to the member. I understand he has an appointment with the new chair of the board, who is responsible for dealing with issues and working with the government on issues that pertain to energy policy; that pertain to issues around re-licensing. So, I invite him to take up that question with the chair of the board when he sits down with him shortly.
Mr. Cable: Well, one of the purposes of Question Period is to get some information out for the public. Perhaps the minister will take that into recognition when he invites me to have this luncheon with the chair of the board.
What was the target date that was set to resolve these claims? Could the minister tell us when he thinks these claims will be resolved, so that the taxpayers and the ratepayers will have some idea of the exposure?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It is not the taxpayers or the ratepayers of the Yukon; it is the federal government's liability and responsibility.
I am very surprised at the member. I am very disappointed that the Liberal Party in this territory has no recognition of the claims that have been long-standing for years of people who have been affected by that area. I think it is indicative of the type of approach of the Liberal Party in this territory. They stand on both sides of every issue.
I would like to know, if the member is opposed to this compensation action and the re-licensing, then he should stand up and say so.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
GOVERNMENT PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Clerk: Motion No. 72, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Livingston.
Motion No. 72
Point of order
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, before you put Motion No. 72 before this House, I would like to declare that I may have a conflict of interest with regard to this motion. I therefore will not participate in the debate or cast votes with respect to this motion.
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Lake Laberge
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) Yukoners deserve reliable, affordable and accessible telephone service;
(2) the present telephone service does not adequately serve the varied needs of rural and urban Yukoners;
(3) the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has a responsibility to Yukoners to ensure that regulated competition facilities lower long-distance rates, improved service and extension of services in underserved areas;
(4) all telephone services directed toward basic home and business use in the Yukon should be regulated by the CRTC to ensure reliable, affordable and accessible service;
(5) the Government of the Yukon should urge the CRTC to direct telecommunications companies operating in Canada to establish a fund to expand the Yukon's telecommunications infrastructure; and
(6) the Government of the Yukon should actively pursue all avenues to promote reliable, affordable and accessible telephone service in the territory.
Mr. Livingston: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to rise and present this motion to the House today - a motion about reliable, affordable and accessible telephone service for Yukoners - because I know that this is a matter that affects virtually every Yukoner.
There are three key issues: reliability, affordability and accessibility, and I'm pleased to see that members on this side of the House have a great deal of concern about this particular matter.
On the question of reliability, we see a number of different areas, from Ruraltel users - who have concerns about losing a particular service, about the cost of their particular service - to Internet users who feel that they can't rely on the quality of the service that's provided, to those that use the radio phones and the fax services, and we find that individuals and small business owners and the public across the Yukon want to be able to have reliable telephone service.
Mr. Speaker, service also needs to be affordable. It needs to be affordable, not only to businesses or individuals that may have higher incomes, but it needs to be affordable to those that have lower incomes.
I note the tribute today to Pat Carberry, who argued vociferously for special, affordable rates for seniors in the area of telephones.
Now, take a look at the typical Ruraltel bill that comes along, where people to date have been charged for every call that's outgoing and every minute of that call that's outgoing and, of course, the new proposals are that they will be charged, as well, for incoming calls - like the negative advertising we recall with Roger's Cable here some time ago, where you don't really have a choice when that call comes in, but you've got to pay for it anyway.
So the issue of affordability is one for Yukoners as well.
Accessibility is another issue, accessibility to affordable and reliable telephone service. We have citizens within less than 10 miles of the City of Whitehorse, the capital city in the Yukon, who aren't able to access regular, affordable telephone service. They need to pay a Ruraltel bill that might average $100 or $200, without much in the way of long-distance calls, or are simply unable to be added to the network, because the network is not there. I know, for example, in the riding of Lake Laberge we have people on the Takhini River Road, which is not very far out of Whitehorse, who simply are not able to access telephone service.
The present telephone service does not adequately serve the varied needs of rural Yukoners. In fact, if we examine what's described as the penetration rate of telephone service in the Yukon as compared to other parts of Canada, we find that in other rural areas of Canada it approaches 100 percent. Virtually every home in rural Canada in other parts of Canada south of 60 have a telephone. In the Yukon, Mr. Speaker, we have a penetration rate of less than 90 percent. That means about one in nine people does not have access to a telephone service. As I've mentioned already, that includes people that are less than 10 miles outside of this town.
In addition, we have small, remote communities that need to be treated specially. In the past, they have been treated specially in other parts of Canada, and this needs to continue here.
I know that Yukoners have been dissatisfied that service extensions have not really progressed very far in the last few years, and people are looking for that extension of service, and I would say, too, Mr. Speaker, that what was previously unrealistic to expect in terms of extension of service from the telephone service provider has now become quite feasible. New possibilities exist for the delivery of services. We have new participants that exist in the telecommunications sector. We have examples of local innovations. We have participants capable of spurring innovation and addressing some of the long-standing problems through adaptations of existing technology through new technology and so on.
I would note, too, Mr. Speaker, that the Canadian government also recognizes the need for good service to exist across the Yukon, and in fact, the 1993 Telecommunications Act establishes a benchmark objective to - and I quote - "render reliable and affordable telecom services of high quality, accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada." The commission, in Telecom decision 94-19 stressed that, "Any changes to the current regulatory framework must be conducive to the attainment of the following objectives," and I'd like to list these objectives: for universal accessibility to basic telephone services; that there should be an opportunity for telephone company shareholders to earn a reasonable return on their investment; there should be an equitable treatment of subscribers in terms of service and price - and of course that, once again, extends to rural customers as well as urban customers - there should be an assurance that telephone companies do not unfairly take advantage of their monopoly or dominant market positions in dealing with competitors; and finally, Mr. Speaker, encouragement of the development and widespread availability of new technology and innovative services to respond to the needs of business and residence customers.
So, how do we take these common objectives and apply them to our needs here in the Yukon? Well, Mr. Speaker, I have already addressed a couple of the problem areas, and I'm going to talk just a little bit more about the problems, because that will help us to have some context for then talking about some solutions.
We've all seen, in the last month or so in the Yukon, the concerns that Ruraltel subscribers have expressed.
They've had numerous public meetings. There's been a number of news stories on them, and they have basically three concerns. The first one is about costs and about the desire that their costs not increase for what really is a substandard service. Currently, they pay a cost for every outgoing call and, of course, they're facing now a tariff increase that would have them charged for every incoming call as well.
I think most members of the community are familiar with the concerns about reliability, about the recordings that you too frequently receive that say, "This phone service is not available at this time." Finally, on the area of quality, being able to access services such as fax services, Internet services, and so on, now those should be made available, one way or another, to rural telephone subscribers.
So, people are disappointed that improvement in technology is not coming as fast to the Yukon as it seems to be coming to the rest of the country. And there's a sense, certainly, that the gap continues to widen. Many Yukoners feel that data transmission and Internet services are substandard in many areas of the territory.
Frankly, Mr. Speaker, in new, competitive environments, we support innovative solutions to long-standing problems such as these.
Yukoners are also concerned about competitive rates, Mr. Speaker. In the Yukon, for a cross-Canada call, we pay in the order of 90 cents a minute. Other Canadians are paying 15 cents a minute. Even our neighbours in the Eastern Arctic, Mr. Speaker, are paying something in the order, I believe, of 46 cents a minute. That's their maximum rate for a cross-Canada call.
This is simply unacceptable, Mr. Speaker, and we can ask the question, I think, not only is this about calling family and friends across Canada, but it's also very difficult for a small business to compete with a business from any other region in Canada, when our long-distance costs are eight times as high. Just think of that, Mr. Speaker. We have to pay $800, for the $100 bill that a small business in southern Canada might face.
The benefits from regulated competition will be felt by businesses and by households that make extensive use of long-distance services. Lower communication costs support economic development and trade and investment initiatives, and we heard a little bit about some of the work that this government is facilitating and supporting yesterday in this House.
Clearly, competitive long-distance rates impact on our ability to keep in touch with family and friends and on our ability to compete effectively. This considerable discrepancy between Yukoners and other Canadians inhibits our ability to be competitive and, indeed, Northwestel quite vigorously polices any illegal bypass that anyone might be tempted to undertake.
So, the Yukon government has committed itself to positive response to competition simply because we see that regulated competition can help to create an environment that will support innovative solutions to some of these long-standing problems.
I would like to turn, Mr. Speaker, to point (3) in the motion, which talks about the CRTC and the responsibility that the CRTC has to Yukoners to ensure that regulated competition facilitates lower long-distance rates, improved service and an extension of services in under-served areas.
I would like to just start off with the CRTC. In the Yukon, we have a pretty fragile telecommunications market. In that context, competition is only welcomed if it can be regulated and if it can serve the purposes that we have for this monopoly utility in the Yukon. I have referenced the mandate provided under the 1993 Telecommunications Act that really underlines once again that there is a role for regulation in supporting these kinds of conditions within the Yukon for reliable, affordable and accessible service for all Yukoners, both urban and rural.
Regulated competition must be introduced and regulated in a way that the quality of service will not deteriorate. It needs to ensure that competition does not allow high-grade profitable telecommunications markets where we find competitors simply coming in and taking off the cream.
It is important for both Northwestel and the CRTC to ensure that changes in the competitive environment do not result in local access rates becoming unaffordable. And once again, we think about seniors and other people who are on lower incomes, in particular, but I know all Yukoners are concerned about this as well.
The active presence of several highly active entrepreneurial firms has created a competitive environment in some respects in the Yukon and we see this particularly in the area, I think, of Internet provision, where we have one of the higher rates, certainly, of Internet users across Canada. It has been suggested, in fact, that these local alternative service providers have temporarily buffeted Yukon consumers against price increases from Northwestel.
I think, given the general direction of telecommunications services across the country, where we have seen a significant lowering of long-distance rates and the benefits that has provided to consumers, whether they be residential or business consumers in the south, there is not much question of whether competition will be introduced, but the real test, of course, is how it will be introduced to the Yukon.
Yukoners and Yukon businesses are fully aware of improvements elsewhere in services and pricing and, hence, have pretty high expectations about what's possible there. We know that there's a considerable gap between our prices and prices in the south.
We also expect to see improved service through the regulated competition that CRTC can facilitate, particularly, and I note again, that Yukoners have a sense that service has declined. We know that improvements in technology are there, or certainly are potentially there, and we expect to see those in the Yukon. Regulated competition can help us to see that.
There's a sense as well that restructuring at our local telephone company in the last few years seems to have negatively affected the quality of service and once again regulated competition is one means of possibly addressing that.
There's a sense from Yukoners that data transmission Internet services are substandard here and Yukoners look to the Internet. I think we see the high rate of subscription here. They look to it for a variety of new opportunities, in education, tourism, in business and by the public generally. There is a sense that we want to be able to use this information highway for global sharing of information and, with the expansion of low-cost data services, I think businesses see this as an opportunity to access international markets and educators see it as an opportunity and, really, all Yukoners see it as an opportunity for lifelong learning and for accessing new information and concepts from a distance.
We assert, in point (4), that all telephone services directed toward basic home and business use in the Yukon should be regulated by the CRTC to ensure reliable, affordable and accessible service. I would note, once again, Mr. Speaker, that we have a monopoly utility in the Yukon and that's the condition that exists in most areas of the country, at least on the local network, in the maintenance and delivery of the local network services. So, even with long-distance competition, even with regulated competition in the long-distance market, we will still have a monopoly utility at the local end.
In any monopoly situation, there needs to be some protection of the public interest.
We know, for example, even in terms of how the ownership of the telephone industry is organized, that we have our local company, Northwestel, that has a wholly-owned subsidiary in NMI Mobility. Northwestel itself is owned by one of the largest corporations in Canada, Bell Canada. So we see a fairly interconnected type of system here, and while Northwestel has made some persuasive arguments to the CRTC about the high cost of delivering, the hardships of providing telecom service in a northern environment - they mention things like a harsh climate, extremely vast area, small, dispersed subscriber market - nevertheless, Mr. Speaker, we need to not lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of linkages throughout this system, and that's going to lead me, in a couple of moments, to my fifth point, which talks about the establishment of a national fund.
Mr. Speaker, I know that we had a newspaper ad out here last week from a small, less regulated telephone company that listed a lot of fictions, but I know from talking to other Yukoners that there are concerns about assets trading hands and companies on the one hand that are more regulated and other companies that are less regulated and wholly owned subsidiaries. There are questions around that, and, you know, there may be an appetite from that particular company to try to lay some of those concerns to rest, but there is a public interest here, because there is a monopoly utility.
Mr. Speaker, small, remote communities deserve special treatment to provide modern communications facilities and services. Yukoners are looking for competitive long-distance rates that allow them to compete with businesses in other parts of Canada and for all Yukon persons to be able to contact their family and friends at reasonable rates. So, that's why we need to have regulation of our telephone services, all telephone services, whether it be home or business use, to ensure that we're not trading one gain for significant losses in other areas. When we have one out of every nine homes in the Yukon not even having telephone service, we can't simply trade that away for a savings on long-distance markets.
We need to find some way of regulating and ensuring that we are moving forward on all of our objectives.
I believe that regulated competition by the CRTC can ensure reliable, affordable and accessible service despite corporate restructuring, despite a fragile telecommunications market and in a way that supports both good quality telephone service, as well as services like Internet access, fax service and other multi-media services.
The Yukon government has committed itself to a positive response to competition. We should welcome changes in attitude which reflect the new competitive environment and support innovative solutions to long-standing problems.
I think the fact that Yukoners currently feel they are underserved; the fact that we have the highest long-distance rates in the country; the fact that the Yukon is in the running to be the most underserved in the country, in terms of telephones, supports the contention that we need regulated competition overseen by the CRTC.
What kinds of levers can the CRTC use to achieve these many goals? The Yukon government is promoting the creation of an industry-maintained national support fund to allow competition to be introduced into the north without disruption to the provision and extension of affordable local service.
We recognize the importance of telecommunications in a country like Canada - the second largest nation in the world - and especially in Canada's north, where telecommunications is a vital link between family members, our schools and communities and businesses and the community that they serve.
This type of a national support fund, by the way, is advocated by the Government of the Northwest Territories, as well as by the Government of Saskatchewan. Both are jurisdictions, I would note, in this country that have larger than average rural areas.
It is also in line with what the United States has done.
The benefits from competition will be felt by businesses and by households that make extensive use of long-distance services. Lower communication costs support economic development and trade and investment initiatives, as I said earlier, and this type of a fund would go an awfully long way to supporting a more competitive tariff structure than we currently have, and it would not take away from the expectation that our local telephone provider will extend affordable services in the small, remote communities.
But this would not be a fund that the local telephone service provider would simply be able to write a cheque on. Indeed, we would expect that Northwestel's access to the fund would be governed by its success in meeting pre-set targets, such as extension of service and the quality of service delivered.
In this way, Yukoners should expect to see an improvement in service, service extended to rural and more remote areas, and significantly lower long-distance rates over the next five years, rather than what we've seen over the last five.
Indeed, this should strengthen the ability of Northwestel, our current service provider, and its workers to provide the kind of reliable, affordable, accessible service that Yukon citizens are looking for, and that's very much, Mr. Speaker, what this government wants to see.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the motion also speaks to the Government of the Yukon being committed - and we are committed - to actively pursuing all avenues to promote reliable, affordable and accessible telephone service in the territory. First of all, I would note that the Yukon government is playing an advocacy role. We're advocating, for example, that industry maintains a national support fund that I've just mentioned. The access to that fund, of course, would be governed by success in meeting those various targets.
This government has also made submissions to the CRTC, where we articulate public goals for the monopoly telecommunications industry, and our government's specific goals for Northwestel are, one, to undertake a program to extend affordable service to presently underserviced and underserved areas and, secondly, to undertake improvements to the quality of service throughout the Yukon and, third, to make substantial reductions in long-distance rates.
Mr. Speaker, this government has also requested that, through the CRTC, that Northwestel provide a three-year outline for any proposed tariff changes, and that would, I know, help Yukoners to anticipate, as they, for example, do business plans, as we would plan our own initiatives. It would give us some sense of what was coming a little bit further down the road.
So that's the first item, I think. The first role the Yukon government is playing is one of advocacy for interests of the Yukon public to the CRTC, the national regulatory body.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, from time to time the government will become directly involved where it seems appropriate. The spread of the Internet, an initiative for which the Yukon government took the lead, has been very important in this regard, initiating interest in the Internet services where very little existed before. I would thank the previous government for setting aside their ideology for a moment and for recognizing that government can play a lead role from time to time, and that's okay.
Certainly we've seen Internet use take off in this territory, and that would seem to have been a good initiative.
Third, Mr. Speaker, the Yukon government is intending to make some changes to the rural electrification and telephone program, the RETP, that will make this program more accessible to those communities that would choose to access it.
I know that over the coming weeks, the minister responsible will be leading those discussions and coming forward with some proposals in that particular area, and I look forward with a great deal of interest to what is going to occur there because I know that there are communities out there in my own riding that are interested in seeing affordable telephone services extended into those areas. This can be one of the tools that can help that to happen.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, this government should support new innovations and pilot projects where they make sense and where they meet our objectives of promoting reliable, affordable and accessible telephone service. To that end, members of the government caucus have met with officials of Northwestel to identify various ways of working to achieve these kinds of objectives. I know that this government will be open and interested in any affordable options that would move us in that direction.
This government recognizes the value of an expanded telecommunications infrastructure for this territory, both for the citizens in their day-to-day use, keeping in touch with their loved ones, communicating in cases of emergencies to hospitals and other services. Local businesses will accrue the benefits, given affordable types of services, of access to affordable service locally and through affordable long-distance rates.
We recognize the value of that solid telecommunications infrastructure, and in that sense we recognize that government has a role to play in ensuring this public good comes about.
We recognize that to take advantage of these new technologies and minimize the costs, long-term strategies and coordination are required. Relationships between governments, First Nations, citizens and suppliers of telecommunications services will be fundamentally altered by the emergence of both regulated competition and the new partnerships that will be essential to development of our system to its full potential.
Mr. Speaker, I know that Yukoners deserve reliable, affordable and accessible telephone service and I know that this government will do everything that it can within its financial and research abilities to bring this about.
Mr. Jenkins: The quality of Yukon's telecommunications service, while critically important to all Yukoners, is of primary concern to rural Yukoners. Rural business people, like their urban counterparts, must be able to contact their customers, suppliers and other associates. Rural contractors must be able to contact companies and government. Highway lodge owners who depend on the business generated by tour buses must be able to contact, and be contacted by, tour companies and travel agents. Camp operators, who have a very short operating season, must be able to place orders, contact customers and other businesses.
Rural business people encounter a variety of unique problems and challenges by virtue of operating a business in a rural location within a sparsely populated and vast territory. They must be able to depend upon receiving at least adequate telecommunications service on a consistent basis.
Rural residents, rural health stations, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - they must be able to be contacted by, and contact. A telecommunications system which functions efficiently and effectively and meets their telecommunication needs on a day-to-day basis is of paramount importance, especially in the case of emergencies.
The cost of communications is a concern shared by many Yukoners, particularly those who believe that they are not currently receiving value for money spent on this vital service.
Yukon's size, our geographic features and the distance between communities present problems not only for those who deliver telecommunications but for those who receive and rely upon them.
When rural businesses cannot make, receive or complete calls when connections are poor, repairs slow, business is reduced and/or lost and time is consumed in travelling many miles to use another telecommunication service, even if that is an option, Mr. Speaker.
Of vital importance is Canada's northern development and it cannot efficiently and effectively be achieved without an adequate telecommunications infrastructure.
The tripod on which an economy is built is three-fold: energy, communications and transportation. Government plays a very important role in two of those. The third functions in a government-regulated environment.
Community development requires communications. Business development depends upon it. Telecommunications are not optional services or luxury services, and decisions respecting their delivery and costs are a fact. They're a fact of business today. They're a fact of operating any household. We've come to rely upon the telephone, and yet, here in the north, we are not served. One has to just look at the penetration rate that Northwestel has achieved in this area with respect to delivery of this vital service.
When Ruraltel was installed nearly 10 years ago, it was offered by Northwestel as being more efficient, wider-ranging than the land lines that were removed along the principal highways of Yukon that, at that time, provided basic phone service. This service was going to provide phone service to those within reasonable proximity to Northwestel transmitter sites. Problems associated with Ruraltel have been complex, numerous and have resulted in nothing but headaches for many, many of us, never mind the cost of this service, Mr. Speaker. Yet Yukoners are having to bear the brunt of inconveniences and costs required to operate this antiquated and obsolete system.
Customers of Ruraltel who already pay a premium for basic local access should not be faced with the additional cost, particularly when the service has proven to be unreliable and trouble-plagued since its installation.
The 400 system is now obsolete. The 800 system, which was advocated by many at the onset of cell-system phones here in the north, was ignored by Northwestel at that juncture. Northwestel advocated that it was too expensive an option, required many more cells, and they could provide much wider and better coverage at less rates.
History has proven them wrong.
It was Northwestel who also removed the land lines along the principal highways of the Yukon communities, promising a better telephone service with Ruraltel. Again, we are paying the price of this monopoly provider.
Perhaps the minister, or the mover of the motion - the Member for Lake Laberge - could, in his rebuttal or closing remarks, make comment to the advice that he offered the residences being serviced by Ruraltel. I refer, Mr. Speaker, to a newsclip from Friday, October 17, that says, "Livingston says the government is making changes that will make regular phone service more widely available in rural areas. He says people should keep that in mind and wait for a while if they're considering signing any contracts with NMI. That's what I'm, at this point, urging Yukoners to do, because I would hate to see them get locked into a two-year contract and then find out a month later that, in fact, there is another option available here. So I don't want people to get locked in before they really have the full story. Livingston says the NDP promised Yukoners better and more affordable phone service for rural customers. Now he says his government is taking action." Well, Mr. Speaker, what I am seeking from the Member for Lake Laberge is what he's suggesting that Ruraltel users do at this juncture.
Many, many Ruraltel customers are opposing rate hikes. When we look at the structure set up here in the north, Ma Bell, the owner of Northwestel, has identified one of its areas in which it's not making a profit - that being the eastern Arctic - and conveniently sold that off and created one rate zone all across northern Canada. It sounds great having one rate zone and having our own identity - our new 867 exchange. Now that it's changed over, more and more of you will find out that when you pick up your phone and dial a 1-800 number that used to work previously, it is now being declined.
This change, in my opinion, Mr. Speaker, was made by Northwestel and Ma Bell to maximize the profits of their various entities. Likewise, this new entity in the north, NMI Mobility, is being created to maximize their profits in another centre. This company is being spun off, although the umbilical cord is not being cut to Northwestel, to improve their profitability in a given area - an unregulated area, Mr. Speaker.
One area into which Northwestel does invite competition is this area of wireless. Northwestel, if you speak to them, will say it's open to anyone; just come on in. The reality of it is that the marketplace here in the north is so small, and the interconnect fees to Northwestel are so high, it is a fruitless exercise for any wireless company to look at. Oh, there might be small exceptions in some of the major centres, like Yellowknife, like Whitehorse, and perhaps up in the Mackenzie Delta but, overall, there doesn't appear to be any profit-making centres that could exist on their own, given the stringent requirements placed on the wireless company for interconnect to the Northwestel system.
We have, here in the north, one company with a monopoly. Profit is a cost, and they package a product to us. Service doesn't even enter into the scenario. Of late, there have been many steps taken by Northwestel to improve the level of service. In fact, if you phone what used to be called wait-1-1, which is 8-1-1, it is answered rather quickly today. Many months ago, you could hang on the line for a considerable length of time, then be placed on hold, or be shuffled from voice mailbox to voice mailbox, throughout their whole system. It's amazing how a company can run without people - with just voice mail.
Mr. Speaker, we could go on for hours and hours on end about this issue. The issue is that rural Yukoners - all Yukoners - require access to communication services at an affordable and reliable cost.
That's the aim. That's what we should all be aiming to achieve. Our various motions, Mr. Speaker - my motion and the motion from the Member for Lake Laberge - are not too dissimilar, but I would propose a friendly motion, or an amendment to Motion No. 72.
Mr. Jenkins: I move
THAT Motion No. 72 be amended by adding the following paragraph:
"(7) The Hansard of the debate on this motion be forwarded to CRTC to advise it of the views of the Yukon Legislative Assembly on this important issue."
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Klondike that Motion No. 72 be amended by adding the following paragraph:
"(7) The Hansard of the debate on this motion be forwarded to CRTC to advise it of the views of the Yukon Legislative Assembly on this important issue."
Mr. Jenkins: I would urge that the House support unanimously this friendly amendment to the motion with the hopes of achieving some results from our telco provider, Northwestel.
As I said earlier, Mr. Speaker, one could go on at great lengths about Northwestel, but I believe we have to recognize that Northwestel has a monopoly: one product; profit is a cost to us. They are doing a poor job, although there have been improvements in service delivery, and they should be forced in their regulated monopoly to make every attempt to improve service and lower costs to Yukoners - indeed to all northerners. Thank you very much.
Mr. Livingston: Mr. Speaker, we certainly would have done that in any event and would support the amendment moved by the Member for Klondike.
Mrs. Edelman: On the amendment, this party has no problem with sending it forward, and putting out information is always useful.
Amendment to Motion 72 agreed to
Speaker: Is there any further debate on the main motion as amended?
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I was very pleased to see this government bring forward a territorial issue for discussion on private members' day. That's been a rare occurrence in the past year.
Mr. Speaker, I strongly support any initiative that promotes good service throughout the Yukon. Phones are life lines for many people. Phones are social outlets for some, and phones are valuable business tools for all of us who engage in the marketplace.
Speaking of the private sector, in B.C., the provincial government struck a positive and productive partnership with the private sector and developed a program called the electronic highway. I wonder if the Department of Community and Transportation Services has reviewed this program with an eye to using it here in the Yukon. We have limited resources here. Borrowing ideas, especially good ones, from other jurisdictions is a way to prevent continually re-inventing the wheel or, in this case, the phone.
Now, I have written the Minister of Community and Transportation Services about phone service in Tagish. Tagish is the fastest growing community in the Yukon right now. A great number of the people moving into this lakefront area are retirees. I know a number of the seniors out there, and they have a notion, apparently gleaned from the minister himself, that phone service is going to be brought into their area under a program similar to the rural electrification program. I wonder if this is still the plan.
I have not yet received a reply to my letter to the minister.
When my husband and myself built our cabin out at Marsh Lake, we paid a great deal of money to bring the phone line into our property and then we had to pay additional money to have a pole put in and bring the line in from the road. We did not get any deals from the phone company or the government to bring in the service, and thousands of other Yukoners did not get a deal either. I am wondering - and I know the minister speaks next - to what extent is the government willing to subsidize rural phone service with tax dollars, and if that subsidy is not to be funded with Yukon tax dollars, then who is going to be subsidizing the infrastructure development fund mentioned in subparagraph 5 of the motion?
Generally speaking, Mr. Chair, I support this motion, but I look forward to the minister's comments in some of the rather gray areas of this detail-lacking motion.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It gives me pleasure to stand and speak on behalf of and in support of this motion. Let me first of all say why. I am a rural Yukoner. I come from a rural area and I live out in the boondocks, as you might say, and appreciate the quality of living that comes with it. Many people in the Yukon are in that same mode.
As I have been a part of government, as I took my position and my party's platform to the people within my riding, it became very apparent to me that there are no telephones out there and a lot of people, especially with an aging population, are moving to the country. It is a more quality of life, in my opinion. People deserve it.
Now, as the educated get older and people move, it does not mean that although they move to a rural area that the quality of living should diminish. Indeed, I do believe that the quality of living should be as expected of what they would wish and as they wish.
Certainly, a phone is more than a luxury. It is something that is essential to your life at this point in time. It connects you to family; it connects you to health; it connects you to your grandchildren. In the absence of a phone, it puts a risk factor that should definitely not be there and should not be in your life at all.
Mr. Speaker, as I speak I am reminded of folks from Tagish that told me about an almost-near disaster at Christmas of 1995 when they had their grandchildren out to see them and to be there with them during the Christmas break, and one of the grandchildren went into a convulsion for medical reasons. And it was Christmas and it was cold and it was blowing, and they barely got that child into a hospital situation. I find that intolerable, I guess I could say, and that people do not deserve that. If people are willing and desirous of quality living, then I do believe it is incumbent upon us to go forth in that manner.
This government is here to support affordable service in underserved areas, improvements in the quality of service, and certainly, Mr. Speaker, a substantial reduction in long-distance rates. And we want to do this in partnership. We want to do this in conjunction with people. We are certainly not here to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but more importantly we're here to provide a service to Yukoners, wherever you live.
As I said, a basic telephone service is an essential communication. It is very important to us that live out there and it must be made reliable and provided certainly at a reasonable cost.
It is also an objective - affordable basic service - of the Canadian telecommunications policy and it is central to the federal government's visions for the information highway. I've heard my colleague from Lake Laberge, the Member for Klondike, the Member for Riverdale North and South all speak quite eloquently about what it means, and certainly I will not take up too much time but let me embellish a little bit.
The way people live now and what we do, we're doing things differently than what we did 10 years ago, 15 or even 20 years ago. We're doing things differently. People do not simply go to school now for five years, to college or a learning institution, and then proceed to a job for 20 years. Times are different now, especially in Yukon. You must be flexible and willing to work within different areas in order to maintain a lifestyle.
The communication highway can be used for marketing the cottage industry at home. People can stay at home and work at home out of there. It can be used for marketing. It would encourage the marketing initiatives of small business. As people have said, for tourism, indeed in the bus traffic, it's simply unlimited. So that, Mr. Speaker, I do believe is a very, very important factor.
Many Yukoners feel that the data transmission and Internet services are substandard in most areas of the territory, and we must certainly improve upon that. Yukoners are very aware of the potential of the new technology and assisting with the learning as an educational tool that provides access to the global village.
Mr. Speaker, you've heard me speak many times about the environment and about communication. Simple talk, Mr. Speaker, amongst people will bring the world to a better place. It will make it a better place to live in. By communicating, Mr. Speaker, you will solve problems. You will not be lobbing mudshells, or whatever you would call them - mud balls, snowballs, whatever - into other people's places, and then waiting for one to come, but simple communication is, indeed, a part of healing the world in my vision.
Mr. Speaker, in order to accommodate that, we must work in partnerships between governments, all levels of governments, First Nations governments, the citizens and the suppliers of the telecommunications services. We'll all be needed to be encouraged to develop these new partnerships to meet the needs of the Yukoner. Indeed, that is what we are here for, for the needs of the Yukoner, and not the individual but all Yukoners.
These partnerships are very essential for Yukoners to minimize the costs and have access to the new technologies, and for developing the long-term strategies. That is what this will bring about.
I think, specifically, our goal, Mr. Speaker, must be to ensure access to essential services for all Yukoners at reasonable cost, including those that live in rural areas and those in lower income groups. Phone service should not be the right of the elite or where your geographical location is.
Areas such as the Mendenhall, the Klondike River valley, the Takhini River subdivision, the Marsh Lake subdivisions area, the Lake Laberge and Squanga Lake areas, the California Beach at Tagish, Taku subdivision, the cottage lots on Teslin, and other areas that I might have missed, have either no service at all or very, very expensive service options.
Mr. Speaker, people are looking for a better quality of life in the country. I think they deserve it, and I think that again it is incumbent upon government to help where we can within reasonable manners.
Mr. Speaker, the penetration rate has been mentioned, and I must reiterate. In southern Canada, the penetration rate for telephone service is 98.5 percent. By contrast, the penetration rate in the Yukon is only at 87 percent. I do realize that the population base is mostly in the Whitehorse area, in the southern area, but certainly, I reiterate again, that it should not be bound by geography. Where you choose to live, whether it's in Old Crow, Ross River or wherever, you do have that right.
Mr. Speaker, with that penetration rate, what it means is that at least three communities have penetration rates that range from 25 to 29 percent. That means that three-quarters of the people in Old Crow, Ross River, and more than two-thirds of the people in Pelly Crossing do not have the option of making telephone calls from their own homes, even from places of emergency, let alone elders that want to speak to their grandchildren, elders that want to speak to their families - just keeping in touch. They do not have that option.
As I say this, Mr. Speaker, it's very important to ensure that changes in the competitive environment do not result in local access rates becoming unaffordable.
This government is promoting the creation of an industry to maintain a national support fund to ensure that there will be no disruption to the provision and extension of universal access to telephone services at reasonable rates.
Mr. Speaker, it has been mentioned before by my colleague from Lake Laberge, who spoke of the RETP, the rural electrification and telephone program. This government has looked at the history of the RETP, has looked at what it was put forth for and what it accomplished, and then there was a certain period of stagnation where it was not used, so this government took it upon itself to look at it, to rework it and bring it forth once more to be more of a tool that can be used and operated as a delivery vehicle for telephones and not to be sitting on a shelf. That's what this government has done and will continue to do.
I feel that telephones are very, very important to a good quality of life. It's essential. I will stop short of saying "a right", but certainly it is very essential that we all work together to support this motion so that we will be able to provide to all Yukoners that quality of living.
It's been coined many years ago by a gentleman that's deeply respected here that we are the colourful five percent and I will continue to say that. It's the way we do things here in the Yukon that's a bit different, but just because we're a bit different from the rest of Canada does not mean that we should be prejudiced.
So, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for your time and the House for its time. I am going to be speaking in support of this motion and voting for this motion. I would encourage all parties to vote in support of it. What we are about here in the Yukon is providing that quality of life and that lifestyle that we choose to have. It is not that Yukoners want something that others don't have. It's not that Yukoners are not willing to pay for it at reasonable cost, but what they expect is quality service. These are not unreasonable or untoward, Mr. Speaker - not at all.
In closing, I would encourage all people to work toward this end and to support this motion.
Mahsi Cho. Thank you.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I am rising to support the motion put forward by the Member for Laberge about the subject of reliable, affordable and accessible telephone service for all Yukon residents.
I think we know that the present telephone service does not adequately serve the varied needs of rural and urban Yukoners. Particularly those of us who represent rural areas know that there are many pockets of the Yukon where there is no telephone service presently in place.
In my riding, that encompasses largely people in the Marsh Lake area, although there are some areas in the Carcross valley that are also not on the phone lines and rely either on the radio telephone service or Ruraltel or some of the other options available for communicating with people. Many of those services are inferior to the regular telephone service.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission does have a responsibility to Yukoners to ensure that regulated competition can help to lower long-distance rates and can help to improve service and the extension of services in underserved areas.
The Yukon government's overall goals, with respect to telecommunications, are for universal, affordable access to quality telecommunications services for all Yukon residents and organizations. We also need to see the telecommunications industry available for use as a tool for economic and social development. This will improve the ability of our constituents to talk to other Yukon residents, to talk to government, to talk to people that they know outside the territory.
The Yukon government, in its submissions to the CRTC and in its work with Northwestel, has identified some specific goals for Northwestel to undertake a program to extend affordable service to the presently underserviced and underserved areas, and to undertake improvements to the quality of service throughout the Yukon. We know that these improvements are necessary and we also know that Yukon residents want an affordable telephone service.
They need to see the regular phone bills, providing them not just with regular phone service, but with access to the Internet and to the new telecommunications tools that are available, not just for personal use, but for economic use, particularly for people who are embarking on home-based businesses.
We have asked Northwestel to provide us with a three-year plan of what their tariff increases will be in the long term and of how it is going to come forward with plans to improve the service that is presently either not available or not acceptable in rural areas.
Small remote communities deserve special treatment in order to provide them with modern communication facilities and services.
Yukoners are experiencing problems in our ability to communicate effectively with the rest of the country. That deters our ability to compete effectively, not just with the rest of Canada but in the world. Improvements in technology are not coming as fast to the Yukon as they are to the rest of the country and this gap continues to widen.
Many Yukoners have spoken to me and to other members in this Legislature about data transmission and Internet services that they find to be substandard in most areas of the territory. Service extensions have not really progressed very far in the last few years and people are continuing to demand extensions of service. These rising expectations and consumer demand are a normal consequence when we see the improvements that are available in other parts of the country. The Yukon is no exception in wanting to see the spread of the Internet. The Yukon government took the lead in bringing Internet service to rural communities and that's been very important, but while we've seen them come to some communities, there is certainly a demand for that service to be available in other towns and villages in the Yukon as well.
What was previously unrealistic to expect of any telephone service provider has now become feasible. There are new possibilities for the delivery of service. There are also new participants in the telecommunications sector who are capable of innovation and who have been successful in developing markets around the territory.
The community of Marsh Lake, which has a growing population and is one of the largest, growing populations in the territory, remains very much an underserviced area, primarily due to the costs that are absorbed by families for basic service which remain exorbitantly expensive. It is not out of the ordinary for some domestic households to have monthly phone bills in the order of $500 per month. Most of this cost is due to them having to pay long-distance rates to Whitehorse. Marsh Lake residents pay the following tolls for calls to Whitehorse: 36 cents for the first minute and 21 cents for each additional minute between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. The 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. discount is 29 cents for the first minute and 14 cents for each additional minute.
Between 11:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., there's a 23 cent charge for the first minute and eight cents for each additional minute. It is cheaper to call from Vancouver to Hong Kong than it is to call from Marsh Lake to Whitehorse. It's only 35 miles from Marsh Lake to Whitehorse, and many of the people in that area are commuting on a daily basis to Whitehorse and are working in Whitehorse, and it is part of the Whitehorse economy. There's no technological reason for the Marsh Lake residents not to have a Whitehorse phone exchange. The technical ability is there. In fact, some households have Whitehorse phone numbers in their homes in Marsh Lake and don't pay the long-distance charges. It seems to be an error or a glitch, because the phone company wants to see those long-distance charges remain, but my constituents in Marsh Lake certainly question how that is reasonable.
There are as well many areas in Marsh Lake where there's no phone service at all. There have been a number of suggestions made on how Northwestel could improve the delivery of service to those underserviced areas. That hasn't taken place yet, and I think the CRTC has a fundamental responsibility to help hold the phone company accountable for providing this basic service to people in a very well-populated area.
Residents in Marsh Lake have also been trying for some time to achieve connection to Internet access, and it was only through concerted efforts of citizens in Marsh Lake lobbying over a two-year period, with submissions on the part of the government and the opposition caucus to the CRTC encouraging the development of this Internet access, that eventually toll-free Internet access was made available to 35 subscribers in Marsh Lake.
People in the valley who are limited to radio-telephone service are unable to use new technology such as the Internet and phone/fax systems. This makes a major marketing tool for business inaccessible to people, which is a further impediment to the growth of economic activity.
I think it's realistic, Mr. Speaker, to expect that in today's technological world, we should have the ability to communicate effectively with the latest technology and with the rest of the world.
My colleague, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, spoke about the rural electrification and telephone program. This is a program that's available to help people get electrical service and telephone service. Under the program, people who have taken a petition around and achieved 75-percent support from lot owners to bring in telephone service can apply to have this service financed under the rural electrification and telephone program. Under that program, the money will be advanced by the government to enable the phone service to be put in, and the property owners will pay for that service by paying a fee on their taxes amortized over a 10 or 15-year period.
On many occasions, lot owners have expressed an interest in bringing in telephone service but have not achieved the required 75-percent support from lot owners in order to proceed with the RETP. This is happening because some lot owners are absentee lot owners. They may reside in other parts of Canada. They may reside in Germany. They may reside in the United States. If they're coming to Marsh Lake for recreational purposes once a year or once every two years, they don't take an interest in responding to a survey or in having phone service available.
Our government, as the minister indicated, has looked at the requests from the public to modify the RET program. We are presently considering that if 75-percent of the homeowners who respond to a survey wish to proceed with new service, they should be eligible to proceed with that service. I think that would be fair, because I know that in many cases, there are strong numbers of people who are year-round residents, who want to bring in either phone service or electrical service, and who have found the program criteria as they are presently administered to be too restrictive.
Residents of Marsh Lake have also formed a committee to look at other alternatives, including a petition to the CRTC to have Northwestel justify its service, its cost and any proposed changes to their wireless systems. Northwestel has presented options to the residents, but the residents feel it is too expensive.
Many people have installed cellular 800 service in a fixed application. Others are reliant on the Ruraltel system. Many other people would like to see a fibre optic line from Whitehorse, rather than an exchange at Judas Creek, in order to eliminate long-distance charges to Whitehorse.
I think, Mr. Speaker, that what this motion lays out before us is not only our responsibility as government to encourage Northwestel and to encourage the CRTC to do the right thing, it also puts forward that the CRTC needs to look at many ways to improve service in the territory. The CRTC could direct telecommunications companies operating in Canada to establish a fund to help to expand the Yukon's telecommunications infrastructure.
We, as a government, will continue to actively pursue all the avenues we can to promote reliable, affordable and accessible telephone service in the territory. I know that the CRTC has been asked in the past to look at the mileage charges that are applied to my constituents in the Carcross valley. Those mileage charges were initially levied to recoup the cost of installing the phone lines. Those costs have now paid for the installation of those phone lines many times over. So, I think a serious attempt has to be made by Northwestel and by the CRTC to ensure that the service it is offering is responsible, is cost effective and meets the needs of all of the residents in all of our ridings.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Phillips: I am pleased to rise today in support of the motion that is before us and I was pleased to hear the comments made by many of the members who spoke previous to this.
I am also pleased, Mr. Speaker, that the member has seen fit to accept the friendly amendment from the Member for Klondike ensuring that it's clear in the motion that CRTC will, in fact, be able to look at this motion and things that members here have been saying.
Mr. Speaker, Northwestel has been serving Yukoners for a great number of years and we here today have been somewhat critical of that service. And I'm going to do the same but, on the other hand, I do want to say a couple of things in a positive light about Northwestel.
The fact is that they are here and the fact is that there are a lot of people who work for Northwestel that are dedicated in providing good-quality phone service to the territory - some of them are long-term residents who have lived here for a long time and raised their family here and have purchased goods and services here for many, many years. Northwestel and its employees have made a contribution. Northwestel as a corporate citizen has a series of awards and things that it carries on every year and supports the arts community, so Northwestel has, in some respects, had a positive impact on our community.
The problem I have, Mr. Speaker, is that it appears that with the takeover of Northwestel by Bell Canada, Ma Bell, there seems to be a bit of a change and there also seems to be a bit of a panic in the wind with respect to Northwestel's fear that competition is coming.
Unfortunately, I don't think Northwestel has reacted in a way that will help them keep the customers they have if competition ever comes. In fact, I was at a meeting the other day where I spoke to the vice president of Northwestel and hopefully gave them a clear warning about the way they are doing things in this territory. I said if a competitor ever arrives here, Yukoners, I believe, will leave in droves because of the way they have been treated, and I would hope that Northwestel keeps that in mind because it will be too late to be fairer to Yukoners only because they are forced to do so by a competing company.
Other members have spoken today about the phone service as being an essential service, and indeed it is an essential service. This is 1997, and I certainly don't know how I would ever operate without a telephone or how very many people do.
I grew up in the City of Whitehorse and never thought a lot about the telephone service other than the fact that my long-distance bills were rather high, but the phone always worked. The repair service was usually pretty quick and pretty dependable. In those days, you actually could talk to somebody that was here, and that was a positive move, and sometimes you even knew the person who was on the phone on the other end. But that has changed for me, because my partner and I have recently made a change in our lives, and we've decided to move to another beautiful riding in the territory out near Marsh Lake.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: The Member for Mount Lorne has encouraged me to throw my hat in the ring in her riding, and I have to tell the member that she's not the only one who is doing that, so I'll just leave it at that. She can line up with many of her constituents in the lobby effort, and I appreciate the positive comments from the member in having confidence in me to run in that area.
Mr. Chair, like I said, when I moved to Marsh Lake I got a wake-up with respect to phone service. I'm on the cellular 800. I have had my service since April, paid $250 to buy my little black box, and I am now told that if Northwestel is successful in its rate application my rates are going to double. I'm going to pay for calls in and out. I'm going to pay for long-distance rates. I'm going to pay for other things. I'm told that if I want to switch, I have to pay another $500 for another black box that I just bought. This one I'll own; the other one I paid $250 for, and then I paid $40 a month renting it, so I paid $250, I guess, for the right to put it in my house. I don't know. I haven't quite figured that one out yet.
I've blown up three black boxes. They've disintegrated in the middle of phone calls and whatever. I was told at one time by the person in Winnipeg who takes the trouble calls - it was on a Sunday - that I needed my phone hooked up the next morning because it went out. I was phoning from a neighbour's phone. My phone blew up. And they said, "Well, you realize, Mr. Phillips, we have five days to reconnect your phone." And I said, "Well, you realize that you probably have one day or I will be in your president's office tomorrow morning and I will disconnect his phone until mine is reconnected and maybe we'll argue over that." Because a phone is an essential service to me and an essential service, I think, to the individuals at Northwestel. The next day, somebody was out to fix my phone. But it's happened three or four times.
Quality of service - just the other day I was in my office and my phone rang. It was me. For some reason, my telephone calls the last number I called and that morning, before I'd come to work, I'd phoned my office and talked to somebody in my office, then hung up and came in. About four hours later, my answering machine called me. I said, "Hello, hello, hello." There was no one on the other end. I hung up the phone and when I got home at night my answering machine indicated that I had a message. When I played it, it was me saying, "Hello, hello, hello."
To Northwestel, "Hello, they need to fix the service." They told me that it was my answering machine that was wrong. I've reported the incident two or three different times and last time I reported the incident happening again - it hasn't happened in probably a week or two now - they told me that it's not my answering machine, they found the same problem in Yellowknife. Somebody's got the same problem in Yellowknife where their answering machine is calling the last people they called.
That's just some of the minor problems associated with this phone system. I have to say, though, that when it comes to repairs and actually someone in Whitehorse gets the message that the phone has to be repaired, the technicians that come out are very efficient and do their best job to get the service back up and running as quickly as possible.
Phone service has to be affordable. I made that point to Northwestel a couple of weeks ago at a public meeting and one of the answers to me was that if I switched over to this NMI Mobility and their prices started to get out of line, it wouldn't be competition that would hold the prices down. It would be me, because I would cease to use their service if their prices went too high, and that's the only thing that will keep their prices down. I reminded the fellow that I haven't got too many other options. If I cease to use their service, I won't have any other option.
We are in a bit of a dilemma right now in rural Yukon. There is a lot of uncertainty. There is a rate hike that has been applied for by Northwestel. There is the rather glossy and polished presentation by NMI Mobility for us to switch over to a new, supposedly less costly system to begin with, and one, I think, in fact, Mr. Speaker, it was all put together for rural Yukon until we raised the issue that there was nothing in the presentation to accommodate businesses in rural Yukon. It was all primarily just for the average household.
There is another uncertainty, I think. One, is the rate hike, one is NMI Mobility. The other one is the statements by our own territorial government. Mr. Livingston, who attended a public meeting and said that the Yukon government was going to help us, and again today, I think, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services talked briefly about some options and the Minister of Justice just spoke again about changing the percentage of the number of people who could respond so that they could go that route with the taxes and spread the cost of land-line service over a longer period of time.
I guess the difficulty I have is that I would have hoped that if the Yukon government had some solutions to this problem after a year in office we would have heard them. I know a year ago when they were elected they talked about rural telephone service to rural Yukon, and where I am disappointed, Mr. Speaker, is that rural Yukoners are in a dilemma right now. There is a lot of uncertainty. They do not know about the rate hikes; they do not know NMI; they do not know about Mr. Livingston's comments.
I guess if I were to suggest anything to the government, I would suggest that they burn the midnight oil and that they come in here this session with a ministerial statement, laying out the fact that they are changing the ground rules, that they are going to make a difference so that people can make choices. We do not have a lot of time. NMI is coming on stream, I think in probably either December or January. It is sometime in January that I think the CRTC is going to make a decision, and people are going to have to decide what they are going to do.
After a senior citizen on a fixed income in my new riding of Mount Lorne purchases a black box for $500, it will be too late for that individual to throw the black box out and pay an extra $100 or $200 a year on their taxes to pay for a land line.
So there is some urgency to this matter now, and I was almost expecting today, in fact, a ministerial statement prior to this motion laying the groundwork or, lacking that, the minister standing up during the presentation and saying, "This is what we're going to do," because they have created some real uncertainty out there. I went to a meeting where there was a senior from the Mount Lorne riding who was on a fixed income, had a phone only for use in emergencies and rarely phoned out any other time, and wanted it for health reasons, because she and her husband had some minor health issues, and they wanted to make sure they were close to a phone in case they had to contact the officials. That person was very, very concerned about having to buy another system, having to spend some more money and not knowing whether this was the end of it, whether this would be enough to do.
Like this woman said, she doesn't make a lot of phone calls, and the phone calls she does make are usually very important, and so she needs a phone. I think that needs to be addressed very, very quickly by this government, and I would hope that in the next week or 10 days, there would be a ministerial statement. They have had a year to work on it. I know some of them there haven't been around much to hold the fort, but this is an issue that they made a commitment on, and they made a commitment over a year ago that they were going to do something about it, so I would hope that rather than raising our expectations and then waiting for another six months or a year or another legislative session, or whatever we have to do, let's get on with it. Let's get the job done.
One of the issues out there with the telephone service is that - and I think it was mentioned by the Minister of Justice - many people now are moving out to rural Yukon from the centres, and many of those people are operating their own home-based businesses from their home, and there is a real necessity to have telephones as an essential service for that.
I think as well, Mr. Speaker, about the tourism industry. Some touched briefly on that, but phone service is essential nowadays to the tourism industry. I had some complaints when I was the Minister of Tourism from some people on some of the highway lodges up and down the Alaska Highway where in today's world of technology, when someone pulls in with an RV that takes a couple of hundred dollars' worth of fuel, or a hundred dollars' worth of fuel, and the person hands you a VISA card, you have to verify it.
One individual told me that they were really sticking their necks out a mile, because they were collecting the cards, or the numbers, all day long, and not verifying them, because they were too busy and it took too long on the phone to get a verification, because you had to do a verbal verification, and get lines through, and all the communication problems, and they were, at the end of the day, sitting down for an hour or two, verifying all the VISA cards. Their fear is that it only took one of them to be invalid to wipe out the whole day's receipts, and that's a strong concern out there in the tourism industry, and it is the way people do business with plastic, with their credit cards. It's the way the world works, and it is an essential service in the north, as well.
Tourism needs the up-to-date technology to operate in today's world.
Another area, Mr. Speaker, that I think is important is the 9-1-1 area. Presently, 9-1-1 goes up and down the highway a few miles either side of Whitehorse. With an educational program, it's fine for people in Whitehorse, but we're improving the cellular service up and down the Alaska Highway now. Many of our visitors who come north are seniors. Many of them have cellular phones, because they're used quite readily in the south, and they know only one number to call if there's a problem: 9-1-1. We don't have the technology here to do that.
Mind you, I shouldn't say that. We probably do have the technology here, because the more questions you ask about these things, the more you find out that it is actually there, it's just not being offered, and I think the Member for Mount Lorne made that point where some people in Marsh Lake have Whitehorse numbers, and some people have long-distance numbers. I found out that very thing when I asked for options on my phone, Mr. Speaker, and I found out that options I was told I couldn't have, some had.
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, I think it's important to send a strong message to the CRTC and Northwestel that Northwestel is not providing adequate phone service to the north. It has a parent company who spent millions of dollars in subsidizing the eastern Arctic and has spent very little in providing affordable phone service and phone rates to Yukoners.
Northwestel has a rate of return of over 12 percent. Every business in this town would die for that rate of return. Northwestel should spend some of the millions of dollars of profits it has taken out of the territory in the last few years and reinvest it in providing up-to-date, modern and affordable telephone service to Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, this is an extremely important issue to Yukoners. It affects almost every Yukoner - at least 90 percent of them. There are a small 10 percent or so that still are not afforded any service at all, and Northwestel's mandate over the past few years has been to provide this adequate service to everyone.
So I urge all members of this House to speak out strongly on this issue and to urge CRTC to push Northwestel to the point where they have to provide this adequate service and affordable service to Yukoners.
What a lot of Yukoners are doing nowadays is, if they have friends and relatives outside, they're actually sending them money so that they would call them because it's about a quarter of the cost for them to call in. And the ironic thing is that we're using the same telephone lines and it's hard for people to understand that something can't be done.
I believe it can. I believe it will be done if Yukoners like members of this Legislature and others, like Barbara Drury and others who have fought long and hard to make changes, keep the fight up. Because Northwestel is starting to make some changes, but not fast enough. Hopefully, this will get the message across loud and clear to CRTC and Northwestel that Yukoners demand better service.
Mr. Fentie: I'll be brief. I don't think there's a need to repeat many of the things that the members in this House have said this afternoon. I think we all agree that there's a need here in the Yukon, that we do not have a reliable and affordable telephone service and there must be something done about that. I'd like to thank my colleague and Member for Lake Laberge for bringing this motion forward in this House and I fully support it as amended.
We all have specific examples, I'm sure, of our telephone service and some of the issues that we face, and I think that goes without saying. I would like to also state that I think that the fund that we've talked about here is an extremely good idea and it's something that could be very useful in ensuring that we do achieve what we want for telephone service here in the Yukon.
Further, there is a point made by the Member for Riverside, who said that this government has now been in power for one year, and what have we done in the way of telephone service, and I would like to say that the Yukon Party was in government for four years, had the same problems - unreliable telephone service, inadequate service. I say to you, the Yukon Party, what did you do?
The final point I'd like to make, Mr. Speaker, is regarding the fund that we speak of. The Member for Riverdale South questioned how we would establish that fund, and I would say to her that we should lobby the federal Liberal government to ensure that fund is established. Let's not forget that, while Yukoners - and in fact many northerners - suffered through inadequate phone service, the federal Liberals spent millions on flags for this country and still almost lost the referendum in Quebec. The Liberal members in this House have said to this side of the House, "It's about spending priorities," and in fact more clearly have stated, "Show me the money." I say back to you, my friends and colleagues from the Liberal side of the House, let's lobby the federal Liberal government to show us the money, and let's get phone service in this territory addressed.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, Mr. Speaker, we've come a long way since smoke signals, and we have a long way to go in good communications.
Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of this motion. I agree that Yukoners deserve reliable, affordable and accessible telephone service, and I'm concerned that the present telephone service is not meeting the needs of people in the constituency that I represent, and I would like to see rural Yukon afforded better basic telephone services and improved access to new communication tools such as the web.
I know that people who live in communities in my riding like Pelly Crossing have a real problem with telephone service. People who want to get telephone service have a long time to wait. People who try to make calls out of the community often get busy signals because of the limited number of lines out. People calling into the community of Pelly Crossing must think that everyone spends all their time on the telephone, because the outside lines are full, and a busy signal is what they get. Mr. Speaker, even when calls get through, the signals are often full of static, and this is something that I have often experienced when calling into Pelly Crossing.
In some parts of my riding, basic telephone service is not even available at all at reasonable prices. I know that my constituents who operate the Silver Trail Inn at the Halfway Lakes north of Mayo have been trying for many years to get ordinary telephone service. So far, they have been offered a choice between a mobile-phone-type service, which has been abandoned in other parts of the country, or a very expensive cellular system, priced way above what is affordable.
For a small business, this is a real problem. People from outside who are seeking to make reservations or enquiries about accommodations, do not know how to deal with a telephone system that still requires an operator. Mr. Speaker, I know the Yukon is often a very difficult area to serve. The communities are all spread out and great distances apart. It is not easy or cheap to keep all of us connected by telephone or any other communication system.
I know that people working for Northwestel do their best to keep the lines open, but Yukoners know that other parts of the country are being served better than we are and at lower costs.
I think it is going to be very important for the CRTC to consider those factors when it considers Northwestel's application. I think that what this motion proposes is that regulated competition is very important. If competitors want to enter the Yukon market - and I think they should - they should be helping to cover the cost of extending basic services. I think that a telecommunications infrastructure fund would make a lot of sense and is going to be necessary to make regular telephone services affordable and accessible to Yukon people, particularly in parts of the territory outside the big city centre of Whitehorse.
Telephone infrastructure in other parts of the country was developed in a regulated environment which made sure that rural people got the same access as people in the cities.
The fact that much of the country has been opened up to competition does not mean that regulations should be simply tossed out here in the north. The Yukon needs the CRTC to help to ensure reliable, affordable and accessible service.
Mr. Speaker, I encourage all members of this House to join in support of this motion.
Mr. Cable: I, too, will be brief. I was somewhat amused by the Member for Tatchun's comments that we've come a long way since smoke signals. I should draw his attention to Question Period that we haven't come a long way from smoke, though. If he wants to go through Hansard, he will undoubtedly have his memory refreshed.
I'd like to speak about a couple of issues. The main issue I'd like to speak on is competition. The final comments of the Government of the Yukon are submissions that I agree with and the Liberal caucus agrees with. The government carefully went over the advantages and disadvantages of competition, the likelihood of the reduction of long-distance rates as an advantage, of course, and simply that properly managed competition will force Northwestel to become more efficient. I think both of those submissions are accurate.
On the other side of the coin, the government, in its submission, indicated that there is a possibility of a lower quality of service, especially in the remote areas, but I think the most important comment is that the trend toward competition is a global one and cannot be ignored or reversed. In other words, let us get with the program, and the program is competition.
There was an interesting article in the Globe and Mail of August 25th, and it dealt with deregulation in the energy sector, and there were some comments from the organization called Energy Probe, which I think many of the members may be familiar with. I'll just read a brief comment. This is a quote.
"'The primary lesson from the United States is that customers ought to be in control, not regulators, not utilities,' said Tom Adams, executive director of Toronto-based Energy Probe, an independent environmental research organization."
Then there's another quote. "The people who pay the bills should be guaranteed the right to shop around."
I think we have to ensure that this is the direction for our phone service. The government, the YTG submissions, I think quite correctly comment on the potential disruption to users with the introduction of competition, and I think we also have to recognize the possible disruption if the competition is brought in without careful checks - the undoubted disruption to Northwestel families and the employees.
And this disruption, of course, is equally important. Many of the employees are good community members who are involved in community activities and provide, of course, money into the business coffers, and contribute generally to the community. So I don't think anyone in this House should be recommending a Draconian approach to competition but we should be recommending a slow but sure movement toward that goal. And these, I believe, are the substance of the government's submissions to the CRTC in relation to competition. I agree with those and the other members of the Liberal caucus agree with those.
The governments in North America are increasingly recognizing that in the long run the market is the best arbiter in the delivery of services, whether we're talking about telephones or electrical energy or air travel or whatever, and that in the long run will make for better service, more efficient service and probably cheaper service to the Yukon consumer - as long as we keep in mind that the advancing of competition is not to supplant or bankrupt the main provider, Northwestel, but to, as Energy Probe put it, "offer to consumers choices".
So I say to the CRTC, if in fact this is who we're making the signal to, that the method of obtaining competition is as important as the goal of greater competition.
I would like to comment on subsection (5) of the motion. We are going to support this motion but I would like to indicate some qualifications. We're talking about the Government of Yukon urging the CRTC to direct telecommunication companies operating in Canada to establish a fund to expand the Yukon's telecommunications infrastructure. It is an intriguing idea and, of course, I'll support it. If CRTC sees fit to do that, then, fine, we'll get cheaper telephone rates.
But we are, in effect, asking the phone users in southern Canada to indirectly support us and we have to bear in mind that the phone users in southern Canada are pensioners, just like many people up here, and there are poor people in southern Canada and they are being asked to support a jurisdiction which has a wage level which is amongst the highest in Canada, so that may not fly from an equable standpoint.
I should also suggest that I have a reservation as to whether an unelected body such as the CRTC should be making that type of policy. This is basically a government policy issue. It's a form of indirect taxation, really, on the phone users in southern Canada, and it would be useful to hear from the member who made the motion as to whether my perception of what's being recommended is in fact accurate, and as I indicated, we will be supporting the motion, should it come to a vote. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Harding: To do my part to ensure there's a vote on this motion, I'll be brief. I must say, though, that I was surprised by the Member for Riverside so openly showing his frustration as a long-time opposition member at not being able to eviscerate the government in Question Period. I can assure the member that the information that we provide is of the best content available to us, that we're open and accountable, and we deliver good government in a thoughtful, deliberate and responsible manner. Having said that and set the tone for my comments, I would like to say to the Member for Riverside that I'm pleased that they'll be supporting the motion put forward by my colleague, the Member for Lake Laberge, regarding phone service.
It's certainly a concern to me, even though we don't deal with as many of the rural issues in terms of cellular phones and radio phones as some of the other members of this House - in my constituency - but many people are often shocked at the rates that they pay as fairly new residents of the Yukon when they start phoning friends and relatives abroad. Therefore, they often ask me questions about the history of Northwestel and how this could be allowed when their relatives phone on Sprint or some other phone service at much cheaper prices, and I try to explain to them the differences and the infrastructure problems and the governing bodies, such as the CRTC, that have to look at all of the complicated issues that pertain to phone service use, but it doesn't always work that there's a concrete understanding.
Many people speak of the leakage whereby rather than phone themselves, they'll phone people to immediately phone them back, and phone into the Yukon, and there was even a service being used that was done out of the States called "Prime Call" that recently had their services suspended - that was a way of dealing with the rates that people were being charged.
It is a concern, and I think that, thoughtfully and deliberately, we should be pushing as a government toward increasing competition and allowing Northwestel to not be forgotten for the efforts they've put in for the north, and for other competitors to understand the investment that's been made. But we have to realize that all the jurisdictions in Canada are facing increased competitive pressures, business-wise, and residential phone customers here are really at quite a disadvantage. We have to continue to work toward ways to improve that situation. I think pushing toward increased competition, while not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, is a good thing.
The other thing people have to remember, I think, is that Northwestel provides a lot of jobs in the Yukon, and they're well-paid and long-term jobs. We shouldn't forget about those people and those jobs, either, as we move toward trying to take action to get rates down.
So I advocate for a comprehensive approach to the problem, one that takes action in the immediate and short-term and works toward ultimately long-term goals of more competitive phone rates for residential and commercial customers.
So with that, I'll support the motion as amended, and I thank the Member for Laberge for bringing it forward. I thank our Minister of Community and Transportation Services for so clearly communicating to the Yukon public the direction this government is taking on behalf of Yukoners. I know that I've sent some of the information out to my constituents, and I think it's been fairly well-received, but we have to go through all the issues in order to present a thoughtful position. I think that's important, and the more educated we all are about the different facets of the issue, the better we will be in a position to make positive change.
Mr. McRobb: I rise with pleasure to support this motion and the amendment to this motion. In recognition of the several good points made by my colleagues this afternoon, I would like to focus on a number of other areas in the limited time available to me. I also wish to say that I have not had a whole lot of time in which to prepare this motion, but this is Energy Awareness Month and, as everybody knows, the family energy expo is being held this Friday and Saturday at the Yukon College gym, so come out to this family event and have some fun.
I know the members opposite would be interested to know that I did -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Point of order has been called. Mr. Phillips, on the point of order.
Mr. Phillips: I don't think we have in our Standing Orders a little commercial break here. We seem to be getting a commercial advertisement in the middle of a very important debate. Maybe the member should stick to the topic.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Harding: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: On the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the exuberance of my colleague is certainly understandable. He's trying to show just how important issues of energy and connectedness are to Yukoners, and relating in an analogous way to the situation that affects us with phone rates, and all of these matters are primarily front and centre in the public interest. Certainly, I think he should be entitled to elaborate on them.
Mr. Phillips: I know the member is charged up about this issue, but Mr. Speaker, we are talking about telephone rates, not electrical rates. So, let's keep it to the electrical rates.
Speaker: Order please. Can the speaker speak to the motion.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It seems we hit a short circuit in the members opposite.
I know the members opposite would also be interested to know that I did some surfing this afternoon in preparation for this motion - surfing the Internet, that is - and I found several interesting pieces of information that I hope to share, both from Northwestel's website and that of its owner, BCE, or Ma Bell.
First, I would like to talk about the needs of my constituents, particularly those who live in the Takhini River subdivision, just west of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway. Residents there are without basic telephone service. Needless to say, Mr. Speaker, this concerns me greatly, as it does our government.
Not having communication with emergency services puts people at risk. This means that, should there be an emergency, whether it be a medical emergency, police emergency or an emergency related to a natural disaster, they are unable to telephone for assistance.
People living in Takhini are very concerned. Earlier this year, they sent a petition to Northwestel requesting telephone service. Currently, there are nearly 30 families living in this new subdivision and, from what I understand, the community is expected to expand considerably as it is further developed by the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation.
Not having basic telephone service is also a deterrent to local businesses in that community. Some people have been so concerned that, in the interest of their family, they have been forced to move out of that community.
Mr. Speaker, in recent months, we have heard the concerns of other rural citizens, including Barbara Drury, in relation to the prices charged by Northwestel and, as pointed out by my colleagues, we are working with them on those other areas of concern.
Telephones are not a luxury item, Mr. Speaker. Telephones are what is commonly referred to in regulatory language as an essential lifeline service. For many rural Yukoners without telephone service, it could very well be a life and death matter whether they have a phone.
In recognition of this reality, this government has made it clear to Northwestel that our top priority is promoting the extension of basic telephone service to areas such as Takhini River subdivision.
In addition, this government has established an internal telephone committee comprised of elected officials, their staff, as well as departmental people. We have met several times to date and have met with Mr. Jean Poirier, Northwestel's new president. In fact, we are scheduled to meet with him again next week. The purpose of our meetings is to establish communication and cooperation between this investor-owned company and the Yukon government. These meetings have provided the opportunity to better understand and respect each other while cooperating together to achieve common goals.
Already we are working in partnership to meet the challenges of extending basic telephone service, and hopefully this will produce desired results in the near future.
Although we, as Government of the Yukon, have our wish list, we hope that people will understand that Northwestel's operations and ownership are in no way associated with our government. It is a private company.
We must also respect that, when you talk telephones, you're talking about several complex issues and relationships - issues such as cost of service, new technologies, competition, regulation, et cetera - relationships such as the one just described between the Yukon government and Northwestel, as well as the Yukon government and the CRTC, and Northwestel and the CRTC.
The CRTC is the independent regulator of the local telephone utility known as Northwestel. The CRTC also regulates other telephone companies as well as other industries, such as cable TV, across this country.
The CRTC is also a quasi-judicial tribunal, meaning that it functions independently under its own act and under the rules of natural justice and procedural fairness.
When the Yukon government wishes to promote its position to the CRTC, it does so as an intervener in the regulatory process. To date, Mr. Speaker, this role has not been very productive. That is why we are trying less formal and more cooperative means of accomplishing our objectives on behalf of Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, I can recall a previous meeting with Northwestel back when I was involved with the Utilities Consumers Group a couple of years ago in which we met with several representatives from that company. For a good part of the afternoon, we talked about issues such as rebalancing, cost of service, competition, et cetera.
Northwestel assured us that the CRTC scrutinizes its applications and operations very closely, but does it really, Mr. Speaker? The CRTC is based thousands of miles away in Ottawa. They are charged with the responsibility of regulating hundreds of companies. I think it's very important to encourage the commission to hold its hearings in the Yukon in order to promote more involvement by Yukoners. For that reason, Mr. Speaker, as well as a number of other reasons important to consumers and Yukoners, the Yukon government continues to intervene before the CRTC to make its position known.
Some members opposite raised the issue of competition in the local market, Mr. Speaker, but when you talk competition, whether it's in the telephone industry or the electric industry in the Yukon, we must realize that articles in the Globe and Mail simply do not apply to our situation here in the Yukon. In the Yukon, we are very unique, as compared to southern jurisdictions and southern cities, which are able to take advantage of intercontinental grids, telephone services and so on, where several existing companies are available for them to choose which provider offers the best deal.
In the Yukon, it's a careful balancing act. Should competition be unregulated in the territory, Mr. Speaker, we could see a fight for the gravy of the revenues from the telephone markets here in the territory, thereby causing companies to abandon those communities which don't provide the revenues necessary in order to compete.
I speak of rural communities such as Beaver Creek, Old Crow, Destruction Bay, Elsa, Mayo. These are all communities, Mr. Speaker, that don't produce enough revenue to cover the basic cost of service. If Northwestel were crippled through competition to the extent they had to abandon servicing these communities, would you see another provider step in and take its place? I highly doubt it. These companies put making money at the top of their priority and there's no way they would step in and compete in a losing market.
So when you speak competition in the north, Mr. Speaker, you must recognize what is known as Yukon realities: very large geography combined with a very small and scattered user base.
I mentioned visiting websites earlier, Mr. Speaker. On Northwestel's website, they offer quite a bit of information on the history of telephones in the north as well as their own annual statements and corporate objectives, and so on. It wasn't very long ago, Mr. Speaker, when there wasn't long-distance service in some Yukon communities, such as Old Crow. As a matter of fact, it was 1972 when that community first received long-distance service.
It wasn't until 1979 that Northwestel began operating as an independent telephone industry, completely independent of CN. In 1988, BCE, or Ma Bell, a Montreal-based corporation, purchased Northwestel. In visiting its website, I was pleased to see a number of key strategies identified, such as aggressively developing new markets - I certainly hope this would include an extension of basic telephone service to underserviced areas, such as the Takhini River subdivision; i
ncreasing customer loyalty - I hope this would be through providing better service; forged partnerships - perhaps that would apply to the partnership that the Yukon government and Northwestel have in extending local service; investing in network infrastructure and in access technologies, and continuing to lower operating costs. I think this is something that all Yukon consumers would welcome.
I also came across a message to shareholders, and I will read some of the opening paragraph now.
"The year 1996 marked a successful recovery at BCE with improved results in all operating areas. The company reported net earnings of $1.152 billion, an increase of 47.3 percent over 1995 earnings. Revenues reached a record $28.2 billion, a 14.4 percent increase over that recorded the previous year."
Well, Mr. Speaker, these profits are enormous, absolutely enormous. Considering that Northwestel is an important subsidiary of BCE, one would think that proposals, such as the one discussed today on developing the national support fund, would deserve recognition, both from the CRTC and Northwestel's parent company, BCE.
In regard to Northwestel's annual report, I couldn't help but notice its operating revenues have steadily increased since 1992 to last year, 1996 - in fact, an increase of 30 percent. In addition, their return on average total common equity remains very high, at about 10 percent, a very envious number for many local businesses, Mr. Speaker, especially ones that have to deal with the volatility of Yukon realities mentioned previously.
Other constituents in my riding, Mr. Speaker, are also concerned about lack of service. I know from my own personal case. Last year I was forced to spend some $6,000 on a mobile satellite telephone. The basic monthly charge was about $35, and if I wanted to make a call, it was about $3 a minute, so it was an extremely expensive method of communication, but when you weigh it against the dangers of not having communication, it's something that a lot of people wish they could afford.
In summary, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to give recognition to Northwestel for its participation in meeting with our government to identify common goals and objectives and work toward achieving those objectives on behalf of all Yukoners. Thank you.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I thought for a while that I was not going to add my voice to this debate, because most of the things that I have to say have already been covered by previous speakers, but I believe that I need to put my views on the record after listening to the Member for Kluane.
There are some things that he has said that I find very discouraging, and really wouldn't do much to provide telephone service for Yukoners if, in fact, we were to follow his approach. And while I would not be one to stand here and criticize the investment that any corporation has put into the Yukon, I would be one to stand here and criticize the service that a monopoly puts into the Yukon when it is concerned only with the bottom line and is not concerned with service to the Yukon.
I'm going to speak to this motion, Mr. Speaker, from a perspective of a rural Yukoner, because I have had to endure the poor quality of service provided by Northwestel in rural Yukon for many, many years and have tried to operate a business there without access to telephone. And I know that my colleague, the Member for Kluane, has mentioned his concern that if we allowed competition into the Yukon nobody would pick up these small pockets if there's no profit in it. Well, I'm not as concerned about that, Mr. Speaker, because I believe that there's profit for companies in all areas of the Yukon, based on the modern technologies that we have available today.
There is no longer a necessity to provide seven-digit service with a telephone land line, and as long as we have monopolies and no competition for that service, we're going to find that other methods of service are just too expensive for most Yukoners - as mentioned by my colleague from Kluane on the M-SAT, where it was a tremendous amount of money. I believe, if there was competition in the Yukon, that type of satellite service would be in the reach of many, many more Yukoners if we didn't have a monopoly here today.
Mr. Speaker, there are many areas along the Alaska Highway that can't even get cellular service. You don't get it on the north highway. It's not even an option to you.
The only option we have is radio telephone or the very expensive satellite system. Northwestel has removed land lines in a lot of areas on the north highway and not provided a viable alternative to their subscribers, and I don't believe that is acceptable.
So I'm not afraid of competition in the provision of telephone service. In fact, I believe that Yukoners in small areas, such as Elsa, as was mentioned by the Member for Kluane, and other small communities may have better service through satellite systems at a very reasonable rate if we have competition, because the satellite system can cover broad areas, Mr. Speaker. Mining companies are using it now.
I thought it was great. I went out a couple of years ago to an exploration camp in the Bonnet Plume, and here's a fax machine, here's a telephone and all of these things. The technology is there. It is only competition that will bring the cost of that technology down to where more and more Yukoners can enjoy it, and with that will come access to the Internet and other things like that. But that is the movement for people who have access to telephones today, but there are many Yukoners who don't have access to telephones. There are many Yukoners that don't have any viable alternative, such as cellular, at any price.
The only alternative they have is to go to the satellite system, which, provided by the provider that we have now, has not been that reliable either,as I understand from the people that I have talked to that have had that service.
So, Mr. Speaker, I'm in full support of the amended motion as speakers before me have been, and I would say that I'm also open to seeing competition in this area, where I believe, with the technologies that are available to us today, all Yukoners will benefit from the competition and need not fear it.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm not going to speak overly long on this matter. I think the subject has been covered quite well. I would like to speak to the motion nonetheless.
I could relate a bit to what the Member for Riverdale North said about using alternate methods of dealing with high phone bills. I hadn't really understood how high a phone bill could go until I had my daughter move away from home, and then my monthly phone bill approached the national annual budget of some small African nations.
So, we have moved to, I suppose, an alternative serving system by having her call us and trying to take advantage of some of the lower cost.
I would like to just sort of make some comments on how I think developments in this area should take place. We, as my friend from Kluane indicated, have been interested in talking about increased service and improved service with Northwestel because the fact is, they are the major service deliverers here, and we are concerned particularly about rural communities, and in particular the ability to develop our information technology strategy. I think that's key.
I think it's important for both Northwestel and the CRTC to ensure that the changes that come in in the competitive environment, do not result in local access rates becoming unaffordable - this, in particular, for subscribers with lower incomes.
We are promoting the creation of an industry-maintained national support fund to allow the competition to be introduced in the north, without the disruption to the provision of extension of affordable local service. Following along on those lines, we believe the competition must be introduced and regulated in a way that the quality of service should not deteriorate. In particular, we have special concerns for small and remote communities that really do require some special treatment to provide modern communications facilities and services.
So, these are some things that we are particularly interested in. I think it's key, and it's been referred to before by the member of the official opposition, that with regard to improvements in technology, of course, we know that improvements in technology are not coming as fast in this territory as they are in the rest of the country. The gap does continue to widen, and particularly I can think in terms of fast modem lines. It wasn't too long ago that 1440 was considered to be the standard in modems and now that's way, way behind. So, I think the technology expands and our ability to keep up with it must follow.
In particular, the things that we are hearing - I guess I'm hearing - is that data transmission and Internet services are the major area where people feel that lag. We think that regulated competition would ensure that the competition will not be all just sort of high-grade or take-off-the-cream of the telecommunications market. Because of that, because of rising expectations and consumer demand, we feel that the real demand is going to be - and I speak here primarily for Government Services - in the extension of information services out to rural communities. We consider this key, and we're interested in working to try and improve that. I have particular interest in issues such as tele-medicine, which is something that I would like to see develop in the next few years. So, those are the kinds of issues that we're promoting.
Just following along on some of these comments, we think that any competition that comes in needs to do several things. They need to be able to take advantage of new technologies, they need to be able to minimize costs, and along with that, I think we have to develop some relationships, not only between governments but I think First Nations increasingly are interested in getting into that area. We believe that the development of competition in the telecommunication field will really require new partnerships to develop.
We recognize that the active presence of several highly entrepreneurial firms has created a more competitive atmosphere here in the Yukon, particularly in the case of Internet provision, and I've even heard it suggested that the number of local alternative providers have, in a sense, sort of buffeted Yukon consumers from some price increases in this regard.
Markets and technologies are changing, and we believe that some sound business rationales can be made for proposals to serve perhaps formerly uneconomic local markets, and to provide new services for smaller markets. There's been reference here to some of the new satellite technologies. I think all of those things could combine to reduce the cost.
So, we've committed ourselves to a positive response to competition and we would welcome changes that reflect that new competitive atmosphere. We support regulatory change which makes clear that Yukon-based businesses and Yukon residents are the primary beneficiaries.
The question isn't whether competition should be introduced at all. The question is how it should be introduced. We believe that affordability and quality services entwined with universality can be best served in a competitive market. We have to move away from the old concept of just a telephone. A phone call is no longer - we're no longer talking about calling just a relative or calling someone on business. Phone service now is high-speed fax, it's e-mail, it's a whole variety of delivery of services, and I think the future competitive atmosphere has to reflect that.
So, in closing, I would just like to say I am in support of this motion and I look forward to a response from the House.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I rise to speak briefly to this worthwhile motion forwarded by the Member for Laberge today.
Mr. Speaker, many members have given worthwhile speeches today which have captured the intent, I believe, of the mover of the motion to ensure that all angles are pursued.
Particularly, knowing the well-earned reputation of the Member for Riverside of being reluctant to take a position on anything, I realize what a sacrifice he made today in wading in so near to the end of the debate to bravely declare that his support for the motion would make the position of the Legislature unanimous.
Members will note that the member didn't want to set too dangerous a precedent by seeming decisive, so he did qualify his support for the motion somewhat, however, and was dangerously close to expressing an opinion when he was expressing concerns about the notion of cross-subsidization of densely populated areas for sparsely populated areas.
Mr. Speaker, this is a position, of course, that is well applied in many national policies and it's a concern, however, of his that he has expressed in the context of cuts to the Yukon's equivalent to the equalization payments, and I would love to pursue that matter with him perhaps in Committee at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Because if there is a concern about cross-subsidization of Canada with the Yukon in this particular arena, I'm particularly interested in hearing more about his concerns about the cross-subsidization of the Yukon by Canadian taxpayers in the context of equalization payments, and I'm also concerned about the issue of cross-subsidization of rural Yukoners, particularly Yukoners living in sparsely populated areas, by the more densely populated areas in the territory. And of course, a lot of what this motion is all about is providing support for providing priority support for those people who do live in more sparsely populated areas.
Now, Mr. Speaker, while members will be happy to hear that the Member for Klondike has already taken the opportunity to express his joy to the public about this particular motion this afternoon, he will be forgiven if he seems a little insecure and wanted to take credit for this motion, but nevertheless, we can at least take some solace in the fact that he has decisively agreed with the motion put forward by the Member for Lake Laberge. That is in itself probably somewhat of a victory for our side of the House, and I think it is a notable day in our Legislature.
Mr. Speaker, I do agree with the intent of the motion and do join with others in expressing our support. My support is unqualified. I do think that for too long, people - particularly people who live in small communities and people who do not even live in communities but who depend on telephone service - have not been well-served by the regulatory process that has overseen the operations of the telephone company, and so it would behove all of us to give direction not only to the telephone company, a popular whipping boy, but also to the regulatory agency that oversees the telephone operations in the territory to ensure that the people who do live in the most remote parts of the territory are afforded basic, reliable and affordable telephone service that they need, as do all members of the Yukon community need.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Would any other members like to be heard?
Mr. Livingston: I am certainly encouraged by the support from all members of this House for the motion that has been presented on reliable, affordable and accessible telephone service for all Yukoners. I understand the Hansard transcripts from the debate today will be forwarded by the minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services to the CRTC, along with any other submissions that his department might be forwarding.
I am also pleased to be able to take this opportunity to clarify the comments that were reported in the newspaper from earlier in October - October 5, I believe he said, if I recall the date - because in one case, there is an error, there is an inaccuracy where it is reported that we are working on legislation making telephone service more accessible. That should be on changing of regulations, and you will note that that is not in quotes and so it is not actually misquoted, but it is certainly misreported in that sense.
The other comment I would make is just with respect to the gist of my comments to the media, in fact to the public meeting that evening, regarding Ruraltel users and NMI and affordable telephone service. Ruraltel service subscribers are reporting monthly bills of $100 to $400 a month, and that hardly fits into the notion of affordability for people particularly on low incomes or for seniors. So, when we talk about affordable and accessible quality service, we are talking about something better than Ruraltel.
Of course, as at least one member has reported tonight, we did receive a rather splashy presentation from NMI Mobility about their particular program. My hope is that, with RETP and new initiatives, in fact, from our primary telephone service provider in the territory, that there'll be an alternative for Yukon residents in underserved areas.
Concerns have been expressed about cross-subsidization, and the Government Leader made a few remarks about that. It's interesting that there'd be this assertion that, somehow, this is not quite right having the 25 million or 30 million in southern Canada helping to extend service to some of the rural and remote areas in the Yukon. This principle, of course, is one that we find applied in many, many areas of Canadian life, not least of which is the areas of health care, the areas of education, even of transportation services. Those are areas that are not governed, strictly speaking, by a marketplace kind of a mindset, but rather by the need to provide some basic services.
Certainly, telephones increasingly, as many members of the House have stated today, fall into that particular category.
There seemed to be some discomfort from at least one of the members opposite regarding the use of a national fund. The challenges of providing telecommunication service in our northern environment and - as I mentioned earlier, Northwestel has made argument about these - the hard climate, the extremely vast area, the small dispersed subscriber market, that do make it a bit of a challenge to try to service. It's difficult, if you like, to introduce and maintain universal, affordable and quality access in isolation.
I think it's helpful to note that Northwestel is a member of the BCE Inc., the Bell group of companies, one of the largest and most profitable corporations in Canada, and so it's recognized that the small, remote communities and the geographic and climatic conditions here dictate special treatment to provide modern communication facilities and services.
And that's why the Yukon government supports the use of a telecommunications industry-funded national support fund to enable competition to be introduced into the north without disruption, for the provision and extension of affordable local service.
I also note, Mr. Speaker, the comments from Daniel Bénéteau, of Québec Téléphone. His comments are contained in the Competition and Culture in Canada's Information Highway report, and he states this:
"Surely the object is not to give precedence to large cities at the expense of less populated regions for which the information highway represents a unique opportunity. Be it in the form of economic activity, job creation or incentives for young people to stay in their home towns, less populated communities will not really benefit from competition unless we give them a fighting chance."
And that, Mr. Speaker, is what regulated competition is about and that's what we're advocating the CRTC in fact deliver on. The CRTC currently has a mandate. It's contained in the Telecommunications Act of 1993 to ensure that there is equitable service provided, both in rural and in urban areas, and that the cost of these services be shared. So I would suggest that this is not about making new policy but, rather, about the CRTC carrying out existing policy of the federal parliament.
And, Mr. Speaker, this is also about economic development. It's about giving Yukoners a fighting chance to compete in the larger market, the global market, the Canadian market, at rates that are in fact competitive with those in southern Canada. I think that that's something we want to be encouraging and something that, if these measures are in fact undertaken, can be achieved.
So in closing, Mr. Speaker, I would urge the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to listen very carefully to all that has been said in the House this afternoon. Yukoners want to be able to communicate with our southern friends and neighbours. We want to be able to do it at affordable rates, and we want all Yukoners to basically be able to do that. For family, for health-care reasons, in emergencies, businesses, for information access, for educational purposes, we need to see the telecommunications infrastructure in the Yukon extended into underserved areas. We need to see improved services, and we need to see lower long-distance rates.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you, members of this House, for your support for this motion.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question on the motion as amended?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, would you poll the House.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. Livingston: Agree.
Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Edelman: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 16 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion No. 72 agreed to as amended
Motion No. 73
Clerk: Motion No. 73, standing in the name of Mr. Hardy.
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Whitehorse Centre
THAT it is the opinion of the this House that:
(1) the Government of Canada has unfairly restricted access to income support for Canadians who have paid into Unemployment Insurance (renamed Employment Insurance) throughout their working lives; and
(2) despite a projected $20 billion cumulative surplus by the end of 1998, the Government of Canada has unfairly reduced EI benefits, eliminated training programs and appropriated workers' money to pay down the deficit;
THAT this House expresses strong opposition to the federal Liberal government's ongoing attempts to dismantle this vital component of our social safety net, causing great hardship to the victims of Canada's structural unemployment; and
THAT this House calls for the billions in savings, which restrictions to unemployment insurance have produced, to be used to restore the program to meet the real financial and training needs of unemployed workers.
Mr. Hardy: It's a shame that we have such a short amount of time to discuss something that affects three to four million people in Canada, and that's affecting 2,000 to 3,000 people in the Yukon, and we have very little time to discuss it.
It's also a shame that we have to discuss such a topic, that we have to deal with an issue of the abandonment of people that are unemployed, the lack of jobs, the lack of incentive from a federal government, even though in their red book, they promised jobs, jobs, jobs. Our unemployment insurance program, under continued pressure from the big business lobby, has been undergoing progressive cuts and restrictions on eligibility over the last 25 years. There has been a rapid decline in UI expenditures over the last few years. The most recent round of cuts is the eighth in a series of attacks to this vital program since it was shored up in 1971, and the fourth major cut in the 1990s.
UI benefits were $19.2 billion in 1992-93 and were less than $13 billion in 1995-96. If this decrease in expenditures were achieved through a decrease in the unemployment rate, we would applaud these savings, but this has not been the case. Instead, there's been an increase in the unemployed.
A parallel development has been a dramatic decrease in the percentage of unemployed receiving benefits. The CLC reports that the percentage of unemployed in receipt of UI has dropped from 87 percent in 1990 to 48 percent today. Other sources say it's 46 or even 43, so it's way down. At least a $13 billion surplus has been built up over the last four years and, even if the EI, UI, whatever they want to call it, any spin you want to put on it, is reduced from $2.90, its current rate, to $2.80 for 1998, the government will continue to take in over $7 billion more than it is paying out in benefits next year and will end the year with a cumulative surplus over $20 billion.
There's money in this plan. Where does it go? We have to ask ourselves that. I don't think it's too hard to find out if we keep discussing this.
It's estimated that the program ran a surplus of $5.5 billion in the fiscal year of 1995-96, contributing to the budgetary deficit reduction in that amount, and increasing to $8 billion in 1996-97.
To date, there has been no credible explanation or justification from the federal government for either the rapid decline in expenditures or the proportion of unemployed who are able to qualify for UI benefits.
In 1971, Bill C-229 was brought forward by the Liberal Labour Minister, Bryce Mackasey, and essentially established Canada's modern comprehensive unemployment insurance program. This was a high-water mark. This was a very proud moment within Canada and I think it was a very proud moment with the Liberal government.
Back then, the benefit rate was 75 percent for claimants with dependants. Eight weeks of work was required for eligibility. The maximum weeks of benefits was 58. The philosophy back then was that workers needed income protection from fluctuations in the job market due to economic forces beyond their control, and that this was a vital role of the federal government. UI effectively served this primary purpose: to stabilize workers' incomes and ensure that times of unemployment would not result in a marked decrease in living standards, as it so often does today.
Since the mid-1970s, the well-being of the workers and the devastating impact of unemployment on families and whole communities has not been of major consideration in decisions affecting the administration of this program.
What has been a motivating factor behind the changes we have seen? First, we need to take a look at these changes to see whose interest they serve.
In 1995, the Liberals passed Bill C-12, one of the latest steps in the process of progressive implementation of a corporate agenda. Some of the significant changes: expanding work weeks required for eligibility from 12 to 16. Depending on the local unemployment rate, it could be up to 20.
The measurement of the work week was changed from 15 hours to 35, making it much harder for part-time workers to qualify, which is the fastest growing market right now for workers.
The maximum weeks of benefits were reduced from 50 to 45. The maximum benefit rate remains at 55 percent, but capped at $413 per week. There were reduced rates for those who have used the program in the past, targeting seasonal workers, and that means targeting a lot of the workers up here, seasonal and cyclical workers, that we seem to have a lot of - partly because of the weather, but partly because of work patterns and the up and down of our economy.
It allows the federal government to withdraw from job training programs. It allows the feds to use an EI surplus for anything they want, by paying down the deficit on the backs of the victims of the low-wage, high-unemployment economic strategy.
The Fraser Institute and other business lobbies, notably the Business Council on National Issues and the Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters of Canada, feel this is a move in the right direction but that the reforms don't go far enough. Despite the fact that in 1994, with Bill C-17, and in 1995, with the above-mentioned bill, numerous recommendations by the powerful business coalitions were adopted, such as cutting benefits to 55 percent, they continue to pressure the government for further changes to fulfill two major business objectives: number one, to reduce its cost by reducing the amount of premiums employers must pay; and number two, to create more competition by eliminating regional differences in UI benefits.
In the words of Howecraft of the Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters of Canada, "We don't want to reward areas where there are no jobs," as if they think an insurance plan is a reward. I can't believe this. "We want to promote employee mobility." This, of course, is totally bogus. There is no evidence to support the contention that a reduction in employer premiums would lead to an increase in jobs, and as for the mobility argument, apart from the morally questionable practice of pressuring people to leave their homes, it is ludicrous to think that unemployed workers on social assistance would be more likely to leave their home provinces or territories in search of work, and we might ask, "What work?" What work out there? It's easy to demonstrate that workers on UI have far greater mobility potential since UI is portable, while residency requirements restrict the ability of SA recipients to move from one jurisdiction to another.
Again, cuts and other changes cannot be justified on financial grounds, and the program account is in a significant surplus. Even without the cuts in C-12, expenditures are less than the financial minister said he was expecting in his 1995 budget.
UI is primarily paid for by workers. It's social insurance, not welfare, but the federal government has bought into the right-wing big-business philosophy that UI offers incentives to keep people out of the labour force, and they also drag out the UI cheater stories to further support their contention that workers prefer leisure over employment.
I think we've seen a little example of that a few years ago with the previous government in Yukon that felt that practically anybody on welfare had to be a cheater, and let's go after them, let's get them.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Never mind that whenever a company announces a hiring initiative, we witness lineups for blocks in sub-zero temperatures. It's absolutely ludicrous and insulting to maintain that Canadian workers prefer to languish in poverty rather than to earn an honest living. But this is the slander of the federal government in conjunction with the right-wing movement, and it is supporting it.
They want us to believe that if you want to reduce dependency on a program, you have to cut it back even further. They promote the idea that being unemployed is the fault of the jobless, who are lazy and dependent and need to be booted out of the UI office door. They want to divert attention from corporate downsizing and huge increases in both private and public sector layoffs. They want us to overlook the bankruptcy of federal economic policies and the inability or unwillingness of big business to provide adequate jobs, or the government itself to work with big business and other business to supply jobs to stimulate the economy. They still cling to the lie of supply-side capitalism, which has never really delivered and is even less viable today.
Speaker: Order please. The time being 5:30 p.m., the Speaker will now leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Debate on Motion No. 73 accordingly adjourned
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
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. We are still in general debate on Bill No. 26.
Bill No. 26 - An Act to Amend the Animal Protection Act - continued
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I left off the other day at the question: what can the various officers do? The peace officer is identified in the act, and it's a member of the RCMP, a municipal bylaw officer or a special officer. The RCMP or bylaw officers can enforce all provisions of the act. The special officers can do the same, but these officers are appointed from outside and are the usual ranks of government.
Section 8(2) allows government to appoint an officer or employee to the Humane Society as special officer with the authority to act as peace officer. Before appointing this special officer, we would probably want to set out in the regulations the qualifications and training they need to have. As peace officers, each type of officer has the same powers in the act. The powers of a peace officer are clear in the act. For example, under section 2, a peace officer may take custody of, arrange transport, food, care, shelter and medical treatment for an animal in distress and deliver it to a humane society.
Another question that was asked was: how will the bill actually work? Could the minister look at some of the recent incidents and described how things might have worked if this amendment were in place?
The most recent one has been in the news, regarding puppies left in the dump. There is an important difference between what happened with this incident occurring only with the Criminal Code to use and what the RCMP could have done under the amended Animal Protection Act. Under these amendments, if the RCMP had sufficient evidence of the identity of the person who dumped the puppies, a charge could have been laid under section 2.1(1) of the act, which reads "No person shall cause an animal to be, or continue to be, in distress." Unlike the Criminal Code, there would be no legal hurdle to prove the identified person was the owner of the puppies, which is a point a person can easily deny, and no legal hurdle to prove the owner intended to harm the puppies.
Government can get a conviction with these amendments simply by getting the right person and showing that the person's action harmed the animal - simple and effective.
Regarding livestock situations, an operational directive has been in place for a number of years. It spells out how an incident is investigated by the agriculture branch and the field services branch. According to this directive, if a report of abuse comes in, an investigation would be done by those two branches and this includes a conservation officer. Depending on the circumstances, a veterinarian may be requested to go as well. Then, if the animal is determined to be in distress, either the owner would be ordered to relieve the distress or the RCMP would be called in for the enforcement.
With this amendment in place, initial investigation would be the same. The difference is that we would now have a greater power to lay charges besides the Criminal Code. We would also have the offence section of this Animal Protection Act, so, with this amendment, a peace officer could lay a charge that does not depend on there being intent to cause distress, as with the Criminal Code.
In these introductory comments, I have tried to deal with most of the concerns expressed by the members the other day and I hope that this helps to clarify some things.
Mr. Ostashek: As I said in second reading, we agree with the principle of the bill. I am not going to have a lot of questions on it. I do have a few that we may be able to cover off in general debate but, prior to that, I just want to say that we know there's been criticism by some members of the public that the act is very small. Some people were looking for a far more in-depth act.
I just want to say for the record that this was something that we were working on when we were in government, and the advice was that this simple act would give the government the power to be able to act in a time, when it was required, when animals were being abused.
I guess time will tell whether it will work or not. I do still have some concerns on the enforcement part of it.
I know that the minister has tried hard to explain how his department sees it working, but with no one enforcement agency taking clear responsibility for it, I do see the opportunity for times when nobody would act because they thought somebody else acted. So I guess we're going to have to wait and see how the government handles that and hope that that's not the case.
One question that I do have in general debate, if the minister could maybe give us some further explanation on it, concerns this section that's been added in the "prohibition against causing or permitting distress", the subsection 3 of that says, "Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply if the distress results from an activity carried out in accordance with reasonable and generally accepted practices of animal management..."
Mr. Chair, that is a very straightforward comment, and maybe a good ruler to use, but I guess my question to the minister is: who's going to decide before acting? Who's going to make that decision about what are reasonable and generally accepted animal management practices? How is that going to be arrived at? Will there be guidelines put out for the peace officers? Are there going to be certain criteria set out on what is general accepted practice in animal management?
I guess I'm concerned that, while that statement looks like it covers all bases, it leaves a very broad range to interpretation, unless some terms of reference are set out for what is in accordance with generally accepted practice of animal management. Mr. Chair, as we know, there may be a great debate on what is a generally accepted practice. Is it a generally accepted practice that's the norm across Canada? Is it one that is the norm in the Yukon, or what is it? If the minister could just try to elaborate on that, I would really appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The establishment of limits to what can be considered distress, for example, the generally accepted animal husbandry practices, are not considered distress. With these things, once a charge is laid, it would then be up to the courts to decide what is a generally accepted practice. It can run from communities or First Nations and organizations and how they do things. For example, a generally accepted practice that the dog mushers use, or whatnot, as an example. Also, there are differences in communities within the Yukon itself that do accept certain things that are different from other communities. For example, Old Crow could be different from the community of Teslin.
Mr. Ostashek: I guess that is my difficulty. What the minister said is exactly right. What is acceptable in Old Crow may not be acceptable in Whitehorse or in another jurisdiction, yet we are going to be having a peace officer making a decision as to what is a generally accepted practice before charging someone.
Let me give you a case in point. Many horse owners in the Yukon don't have a barn. Yet, a lot of horses, you couldn't get into a barn. The range horses - it would be very difficult to get them in a barn if they needed help. Yet, they get shelter. Maybe the person has a very thick clump of brush on his land, or something, that the range horses get into for shelter. Does the minister see that as acceptable under the act, or will every horse owner be required to have a barn. That's what I'm trying to find out.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I would see that as a generally accepted practice. We've looked at this, especially on farms where there are chickens that are outside without shelter and it's 20- or 30-below. That is seen as acceptable in many parts of the Yukon - probably all parts.
When we start getting into severe abuse, that is where these things come into question, and this clause can apply.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I guess we will have to see how it works, but I have to agree with my colleague here - maybe the chicken does not think it is acceptable. My concern in this instance is not so much whether the chicken finds it acceptable, but whether the peace officer is going to find it acceptable when he is faced with this situation, when there are no specific guidelines as to what constitutes shelter for different animals.
Ms. Duncan: In the minister's response in general debate to my question about why we have only amendments and not a rewritten piece of legislation, he likened the act to a vehicle with a bad motor. He felt it was easier and cheaper and more expedient to put in a good engine than replace the whole car.
Unfortunately, the public is saying, and has said over and over again, that what we really need is a new car. In fact, we need a whole new brand of car.
The Humane Society in fact is telling us that the existing act is a rust-bucket with no fenders. The minister and the government have nonetheless chosen not to draft new legislation as the public has requested. They have chosen to go this route. That being said, I would restate that we are prepared to support these amendments; however, we would like to engage in a vigorous discussion of them and the direction of this legislation.
The minister indicated that a draft animal protection act was never costed out, and there was no knowledge as to whether or not one had ever been drafted, and why there were no costs that had been attached. The Humane Society has drafted an animal protection act. It has drafted several. It has been through several amendments, and the minister and his staff don't seem to be aware of this.
Could the minister just indicate why there was no look at an omnibus bill, a revised animal protection act, and why it wasn't costed, and why the Humane Society wasn't asked if they had a draft if the department officials didn't?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We have not been aware of any draft act that involves all of the animal protection - that is including things like the Dog Act, the Pounds Act and all the rest of them into one. What we have done is taken an act that was not working very well, and made very simple changes to it that could be enforced at very little cost to the public. If the public did come forward and wanted to see all of these acts put into one, that is something we could consider in the future.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I thank the minister then. For the record, what I heard him to say was that, if the public continues to believe that there should be one omnibus bill, the minister will certainly give it consideration. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: That's correct. I mean, taking everything into consideration - the costs and time involved in doing this - yes, we will.
Ms. Duncan: I was also pleased to hear the minister mention the Dog Act and the recent case of abuse that unfortunately made national headlines, the case of the puppies in the dumpster. I was pleased to hear the minister raise the issue of the Dog Act and the issue of that recent case.
Would the minister explain why there was no prosecution under the existing Dog Act provisions for this case?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: There is not an end to this abuse right now. It's still being investigated.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, my point, for the record, is that there are existing provisions in the Dog Act that cover cases of abuse. The minister stated also that he and officials felt that there was no conflict, no overlap, between the various existing pieces of legislation and these amendments to the Animal Protection Act. I believe I just pointed out that there is an overlap. The Dog Act states that no person shall punish or abuse a dog in any manner or to an extent that is cruel or unnecessary. There is overlap between the pieces of legislation. Would the minister care to address that issue?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The Dog Act is put in place to protect people from dogs.
The difference between that and this act is that this one protects people from animals. It basically involves all animals and not specifically dogs.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister is not entirely correct. The Dog Act, section 3, has a feed and water section: "No owner shall allow a dog to remain unfed or unwatered for a sufficient period either to amount to cruelty or to cause the dogs to become a nuisance." It's an overlap with the amendments to the Animal Protection Act, and I'm seeking clarification as to why there's duplication in various pieces of legislation.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Yes, there is an overlap with that, but there is a difference between the two acts. That's the thing that we have put forward; there is a big difference in which way the two acts can be used. It can also be at the discretion of the enforcement officer to use whichever act they want.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I believe my colleague will be elaborating on this issue more, as he has the legal training. From a legal perspective, the point is obviously made that this legislation, and this need that has to be addressed in legislation, could be better dealt with - rather than half a dozen acts - with one omnibus piece of legislation. I am pleased that the minister stated at the beginning that he's going to look at that again.
The point with these pieces of legislation, both of them, is that they are both absolutely useless without enforcement. The Dog Act was on the books. There could, once the investigation is complete, be charges laid under it. There could be all of this done without the amendments to the legislation that we're looking at now. However, it's no good to the dogs or any other animal without enforcement.
The enforcement issue has not been resolved. In his remarks, the minister has referred to RCMP, to peace officers, to conservation officers. Who will have responsibility for enforcement?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The RCMP would do the enforcement, except in the City of Whitehorse, where it could be a City of Whitehorse bylaw officer.
Ms. Duncan: We've just added a rather long list of incidents for the RCMP to follow up on. If the choice is between a motor vehicle accident and responding to or investigating one of the 400-plus complaints that are made to the Humane Society every year, one has to deal with the priorities and set priorities.
I don't believe - and I don't believe that any member of the public is prepared to believe - that this will necessarily receive the due diligence required if it's at the bottom of an already busy agenda.
The enforcement issue has to be revisited. I note that my research says that SPCAs do receive funding and they hold the mandates for enforcement. I raise that with the minister in the context of asking whether or not the government was prepared to enter into an agreement with a non-government organization, such as the Humane Society, with respect to enforcement.
The minister indicated that there might be an approach made to the Humane Society with respect to having them act as official animal keepers. This is not enforcement. Acting as an animal keeper is a separate issue, and I will deal with that in a second question.
Is the minister prepared to enter into a contribution agreement to deal with enforcement?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: First of all, yes, we are prepared to enter into an agreement with the NGO on enforcement. We do have a protocol right now that is between the RCMP and the City of Whitehorse bylaw officers and the Department of Justice in regard to having it look at one big animal protection act.
What I said is that we will consider it should the public again be asking for one big act to amalgamate all the smaller acts. As the member knows, it does take a fair bit of time and energy to put these things together, and that is one of the things we would be considering in doing this.
Ms. Duncan: The minister knows full well that every one of the volunteers who has worked for the past seven or eight years on this issue knows and appreciates the time and energy it takes to draft omnibus legislation. They have reached that solution, they have asked for it and they have drafted it. I would only hope, plead and urge the minister to look at the draft omnibus legislation they have and revisit this issue.
With respect to the minister's commitment of entering into agreement with NGOs as official animal keepers, is the minister prepared to dedicate resources to this? It is certainly interesting that the department would offer the Humane Society that title, but they do not have the facilities. They have to have the ability to do the job to act as animal keepers; right now they do not. Is the minister prepared to look at that as well, in terms of a funding arrangement with NGOs?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: One of the reasons we have asked that this act come into force on a day fixed by the Commissioner in Executive Council is to give us that time to look at all the various requirements that we need for improvements of this act. We do not see that this act will be put into place as soon as the legislative session is finished or once it has been voted on. We would like a period of time to go back in and look at where we could make improvements in regard to the enforcement arrangements of the act.
Ms. Duncan: Is that not a bit like asking the Legislature to pass a blank cheque? How can we pass something if we do not know how it is going to be enforced?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: It is not that we do not know how it is going to be enforced. We have small things that we do need to work out in regard to enforcement arrangements, to make sure that once we get this act working and in place, we have things working satisfactorily to make sure that the act can actually work.
Ms. Duncan: I accept that explanation from the minister. I would like to ask if the minister would be prepared to table or provide information on the animal protection action plan for the opposition parties. The exact reference from Hansard escapes me, but the minister has referenced the plan for this piece of legislation. Is he prepared, or is the department prepared, to provide that information to the opposition benches?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: It was not a document that went out to the public. It was an internal working document, but I can provide that for you, yes. I can table it for you.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to state for the records that we'd like to receive that on an informal basis, if possible, not for public circulation but simply for our own education with respect to this piece of legislation.
Mr. Phillips: I'd like the minister to explain for us how this act would work, for instance, on First Nations category A lands. Does this act apply? I'm just guessing that, without separate law by the First Nation, this particular law would apply to all lands in the territory, and so that if there happened to be a report of an abused animal on First Nations land, the peace officer could go in and act as if it was on any other land, and maybe the minister can explain if the First Nations could eventually draw these kinds of powers down to them, and what would happen in the case that they diminished, for example, the powers of this act. What would happen in that case? Can the minister kind of run through that for us? Because I think the purpose of this act for all of us here is to provide protection for animals throughout the whole territory on everybody's lands everywhere, any place, any time kind of thing, and I would hope that this act would do that. Maybe the minister can elaborate a little bit on how that would work.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Like all the acts and laws that are passed by this government, it will fall under the laws of general application until such time as the First Nation passes a law that is paramount or supersedes the one that we have.
Mr. Phillips: So the minister is saying that even if they draw down the law, whichever law is stronger will be the prevailing law with respect to protection of wildlife. Is that what the minister is saying? So if the First Nation draws it down and weakens the law, this law will still prevail, or will it draw it down? In fact maybe the First Nation, for one reason or another, doesn't want it to be as strong as this and doesn't want police officers looking at it and wants to put in other people, maybe inspectors or whatever. I mean, I don't know. I couldn't imagine the scenario, but all I'm worried about here is that with the First Nations settlements in the territory, we're going to have a fair amount of land that is going to be category A land and under the management of First Nations, and there are going to be quite a few domestic animals on this land. Are we putting a law in place that prevents abuse of animals in the whole Yukon Territory, or could it possibly be less on some lands than it is on others? That is the question I am asking.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I will provide a non-legal answer to the question, and I'm certain the member does know the answer to this question, because I think he voted for the UFA when it passed through the Legislature and the legislation which gave approval to the First Nation final agreements that passed through this Legislature. I think he was here and I think he voted for them.
In any case, all laws passed by the Legislature apply to all lands in the territory until such time as a First Nation takes down the authority to govern a particular area through legislation that they pass themselves. The legislation that they pass themselves can be different - the standards can be different - but it would only be the case that they would be in effect if they went through the law-making power according to their constitution. So they have to go through that process. But they can be different. I mean, the standards can be different. One can say that the laws can be better or worse, depending on one's point of view, but they can be different.
I would suspect that, in most cases, and this was anticipated I believe in the discussions around the UFA, the First Nation would in all likelihood pass laws that would ensure that the First Nation's interest, specifically, would be covered in a First Nation law. So they would use what is currently the base of activity and do whatever they wanted to do differently in their own law.
But they have the choice under the UFA to do something completely differently than we are doing here, unless that issue is identified in the UFA as having a special status. For example, if they wanted to pass laws on lands on which they have self-government powers that deal with land use planning, there may be restrictions in the First Nation final agreements which limit the degree to which those laws can be passed on the principle of comparability and compatibility with land use next door.
So, there are some restrictions but they have to be identified in the First Nations' final agreements to be in effect.
Mr. Phillips: I didn't mean to upset the Government Leader. I'm not trying to be difficult.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'm not upset.
Mr. Phillips: All I'm concerned about, and all I wanted to get on the record, is that we can pass this law, but it could change as First Nations draw down responsibilities. It could be a law that we, in this House, could consider a little bit less than what we're doing today, or it could be a law which is a little bit more than what we're doing today. So, there could be, technically, on this and, I suppose, almost every other law in the territory down the road, a difference. That difference may or may not - I guess, depending on who they get to enforce their side of the law - provide more confusion for the enforcement officers.
And now, I think, we have about three agencies that will be enforcing this law, and there could be a fourth, with the First Nation. The First Nation could probably, I would imagine - each First Nation could be different, so there could be 14 different ones, if that's what they wanted to do. And then, as well, the First Nation, I suppose, could delegate maybe the RCMP to do the enforcement on theirs, I guess - or request that they do it. I mean, I'm just guessing. It could be almost anything.
I just wanted to be sure of what we were doing here. I understand the UFA, and that's what I thought. I thought there could be a possibility of two different laws. I would hope that if this law works, this would be - if any First Nation drew it down - the least we would see, and that we would be giving full protection to the animals.
That's what we're doing. I heard other members speak on this when we started, and we talked about how we're the only ones that can really provide protection for them. They can't do it themselves, and so that's why we're doing this now. So, that was my concern. I mean, I guess there isn't much we can do about it. The UFA is there, and we can only hope. I'm fairly confident in my mind that First Nations will at least meet, or beat, these particular levels. I'm hoping that's the case.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, I want to say to the member that I'm not upset at all. There's nothing untoward about the questions he's asking nor, I believe, of the answers that I'm giving. I guess the member's quite right that there can technically be 14 different sets of laws with different standards, depending on what the various governments decide they want to do. I think the Yukon government can play, as a larger government with perhaps broader responsibilities for more people, a leadership role in the fullness of time to try to encourage comparability of standards.
First of all, on this subject, I think one would find that First Nations people would be as careful, if not more careful, than most in terms of wanting the care of animals to be respected. But, in the case of any particular law at all, a First Nations government would have to decide, if it passes the law, how it will enforce the law. They may or may not be successful in getting operating funds from, ultimately, the federal government, to ensure that their programs are respected. They may legitimately try to ask the Yukon government if it makes sense to get into a service agreement in terms of enforcement on settlement lands. If it makes sense - if it is practical and doesn't cost taxpayers more - it might be just the ticket. That's ultimately a decision for the First Nation government to make when the time comes for them to make their laws on their lands.
Mr. Phillips: Just to continue this discussion a little bit, we know that enforcement of this issue will cost something. There is a dollar value to the enforcement.
Is the minister saying that if the First Nation decides to draw down the law, that his government would consider paying for that enforcement over and above the existing monies we pay for enforcement now? I know that he said they would have to try and go to the federal government, but I guess if the federal government said no - I know that minister and we, on this side, have been somewhat upset by the amount of money the federal government has given us for implementation - and the First Nation continues to say that they want to draw down the power, my concern would be that it would either cost other Yukon taxpayers money to pay for the enforcement, whatever it may be, or there may be no enforcement. Then, animals on those lands wouldn't receive the protection that we're giving animals on all other lands.
I think that these are questions that have to be asked, because it just might happen somewhere down the road. I would like the minister to maybe give us some idea of how it might work.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This is most definitely a very big issue for the Yukon government. Our position is that the incremental increased costs associated with self-government are the responsibility of the federal government, not this government. Any additional costs are their financial responsibility. To the extent that they will provide it, willingly or otherwise, is a debate underway right now.
In the interests of the taxpayer generally - the Canadian taxpayer - if it doesn't cost us any more to enforce a small provision on First Nations lands beyond what we're doing right now, why wouldn't we agree to do that? It would just make good, neighbourly sense for us to do that if we have the people in the field already.
Our position is that where a First Nation enters the field, except where there is cost of duplication - a field of endeavour or law - then that incremental increased cost is the responsibility of the federal government and any savings that we get because we are no longer providing service on those lands for a particular purpose, we will turn back to the federal government, as per the First Nation final agreement.
Mr. Phillips: Let me maybe just paint a little bit of a scenario for the minister. There is a report of abused animals on First Nation land and a First Nation has not drawn down the powers. Our powers that be go in there and charge an individual or individuals for the abuse of the animals. That may move some people in the First Nation to be rather upset with the enforcement or the way it was handled or whatever happened and they may say, "This is a power we want to draw down in the future. We do not want these folks here on our land bothering us." They draw it down, but they do not have the enforcement money to do it and they don't want YTG to do it. They just want money to hire their own enforcers to do it. The feds won't come up with the money and so I guess then the decision lies with us in the Yukon government. Other taxpayers of the Yukon have to pick up that extra cost. That is not an unlikely scenario, that an incident might cause them to say that they want to draw it down.
I know that one of the first communities to request a draw-down on Justice was the community of Teslin and one of their reasons was that they had some concerns with the existing justice system and felt that the First Nations justice would be something that would work better in that community and they made indications that they wanted to do that.
So, there could be a single incident that may lead to a call for us to get our enforcers off their land and the bands themselves may lobby the chief and say, "Let's draw down this part of the law for ourselves and let's administer it," but they might be asking us to pay for it and I just wonder where the Government Leader stands on that if that happens.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, for a First Nation to indicate that it wants to draw down a responsibility, they have to go through a law-making process, according to their constitution, the same as we do. So, they have to actually pass a law and the constitution talks about how that law will be passed and what the approval process will be.
Let us say that, for the sake of argument, a First Nation decides to go in to draw down powers in this particular area. They would have to pass a law which deals with the same field of activity.
Now say that had some expensive elements to it in terms of some excessive expectations on how the law will be administered. The Yukon government's formal, legal, constitutional responsibility ends when the First Nation passes the law. We have to also at that point take a calculation of what savings we might realize for no longer having to enforce that law in that traditional territory for the First Nation. There's not always a savings; maybe there's only one person for the northern Yukon who is currently providing this service, and we are unable to shave off a portion of that person's time to account for this, so there may not be any savings. If there is no savings, then we don't pass those savings on to the federal government. What happens is that the First Nation has to go through the process referred to as negotiating PSTAs, program service transfer agreements, with the federal government, whereby they seek the funding for those programs in order to administer them. Now, generally speaking what happens is that the First Nation, as a responsible government, goes through the process of negotiating the PSTAs before, or at least simultaneously with, the process of law making, because there is no point in building in administrative requirements that cost money if you don't have the money or you can't secure the money.
The financial responsibility does not rest with the Yukon government, and the First Nation final agreements - all of them - say exactly the same thing. The UFA says exactly the same thing, that we are only responsible to turn back what we refer to as savings and the incremental increase costs in those agreements are the responsibility of the federal government.
The challenge - and this is a challenge that is ongoing right now, and it's a serious and big one - is to what extent the federal government feels they have to provide a certain measure of funding. Now, in the final agreements, the language refers to comparable levels of service, so the First Nation can provide a comparable level of service - or will be given the money to provide a comparable level of service if they choose to take down a responsibility - and the Yukon government can retain sufficient funds to provide a comparable level of service to that which existed before.
So, the extent to which there is additional cost must be borne by the federal government. Now, the federal government is now saying, "Oh, sure, sure, sure, but you have to take it from within existing resources," and unfortunately that doesn't compute because "existing resources," as currently defined, are clearly not meeting expectations. So we have to break the back of this issue very soon so that we know that the fiduciary responsibility, as defined in the UFA, as defined in the First Nation final agreements, will in fact be respected by the federal government in order to make self-government come alive.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I certainly want to make it real clear from our side here that we believe that, if this happens, it is the federal government's responsibility to pay the full shot when they draw down and there are cost implications. But that's my fear. The Government Leader hasn't given me total confidence in the fact that he's going to say "absolutely no," even if the federal government says no, and that's the concern I have. Once we open the door to picking up some of the tab, the federal government will walk further away from the picture - like the member says, like they did with the YES, and that's true. And like they've done with the legal aid program and a bunch of other programs in the past few years.
My concern is that we can't afford it. I'm really concerned that the burden - I mean, because I know what the minister's talking about. There may be one enforcement officer that covers between here and Haines Junction and if the First Nation between here and Haines Junction draws down those kinds of powers they may, with an act like this, want a poundskeeper, they may want an administrator, they may want somebody to go out on the road to administer it. In fact, we've got one person sort of doing a great deal of that work and to shave off a little bit of their salary would make it difficult for us as well.
So, I'm just concerned that the Government of the Yukon take an extremely strong position and says no to the federal government and argues in very strong terms for the federal government to pay the shot. I know when I was the Minister of Justice, with the justice draw-down, there were enormous cost implications. I know there was talk at one time with the Minister of Education of one of the First Nations establishing its own school.
Because they had 60 percent or 70 percent of the students, they wanted to pull 60 percent or 70 percent of the money out of the schools. Yet, we would still have to fund the whole facility, have to have almost the same number of teachers and still have to provide the same services. It created a real dilemma for us. I think this is something that is going to provide some very difficult questions for the government down the road. But I want to make sure that this government is taking the position that Yukon taxpayers won't pay that extra cost and that it is completely and wholly the responsibility of the federal Liberal government, which negotiated the agreement and agreed to the UFA and the other parts of the agreement, so that the Yukon taxpayer doesn't have to shoulder that extra burden.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, this issue was raised in Calgary last November at the premiers and aboriginal leaders conference. It was raised by me, because we are in a unique position. We finally have a good treaty. It is respectable one, but one that comes with financial obligations that are clearly the responsibility of the federal government, except to the extent where a financial commitment is clearly defined in the UFA that is the Yukon government's.
I've raised that issue with the premiers. I've raised it at an aboriginal affairs ministers conference. I hope to raise it this month at another aboriginal affairs ministers conference. I've raised it with Paul Martin, I've raised it with Jane Stewart and I raised it with Ron Irwin. Our position can't be clearer.
It's not in anyone's interest in this territory, including First Nation citizens' interest, for us to face a situation where we're trying to pay for what I will refer to as a duplication of service in order to respect two sets of laws or a number of sets of laws responding to different governments, because, what it ends up doing is eroding the principle of comparability of service and it ends up resulting in a reduced level of service for all of us. We don't have the funds to make this work. We are not prepared to allow for there to be a chink in the armor. We've got to be fairly clear about this in order to ensure that the ongoing federal fiduciary responsibility to aboriginal people is respected through all time in the agreements that we signed - and we all signed them. They were passed in this House unanimously - passed in Parliament. The principles of funding and the calculation of funding for self-government could be clearer, in my view, than what it is today in law.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, my fear is even greater than the minister's, and that is that we won't have duplication of services, we could have as many as 15 different laws with respect to protection of animals, or any other law that we pass in this House that the First Nations wish to draw down. The expense of administering that is horrendous, to say the least, for 30,000 people. There is no way, if the laws are much different, and they all require enforcement, and all require other things, that this territory could ever afford it - or, for that matter, that the federal government could ever afford it. I think it would be a very expensive proposition.
I guess what I'd like to hear from the minister, then, is that his position is clear to Yukoners that there will be no money, other than money that's identified as our share - our savings - that will go toward these programs, that under no circumstances will the Yukon government come up with money to pay for this. I think if we say that to the federal government, and I'm sure that the minister has said something similar to that, but I think he should give comfort to Yukoners, as well, and let's be clear about it: it's your responsibility, and not one penny of Yukon government's money will ever be spent in this area. And say it loud and clear so that Yukoners can feel comfort that this thing is not going to cost us an awful lot of money down the road.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I've made it as clear as I possibly can to the federal government. We are in full agreement with CYFN and the Kaska on this subject. No one wants to see a dilution of what the Yukon government is currently able to afford to do. We do not have new money; I don't care what anybody says. There is not bags and bags of money for this or, frankly, for any new major initiative, and certainly not for incremental increased costs for self-government.
As a matter of fact, taking the subject of devolution for a moment, it was because some federal officials intimated that the northern affairs program, once transferred to the Yukon government, would be transferred with the fiduciary responsibility for funding self-government along with it, including management of settlement lands. But we said that we want a very clear signal that the federal government will retain responsibility for funding self-government in the arena of lands and resource management on settlement lands or we would not accept the northern affairs program as a devolved item.
The offer they've put on the table essentially for ongoing costs is $33 million. If there is any hint or suggestion that that's to pay for land resource management for public lands and perhaps potentially 14 other land resource management regimes, $33 million will not turn the trick. We're not prepared to accept the transfer on that basis, and I've made that very clear; as much as we do want to have devolution, we will not buy the responsibility from the federal government. And that's the subject that we're discussing today. We want to ensure that the federal government will live up to its responsibilities as specifically stated in the UFA and in the final agreements.
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Cable: Mr. Chair, the Member for Porter Creek South was encouraging the minister to take the proposition for an omnibus bill back to the drawing board, and I think he offered some encouragement in that direction. Let me offer some more encouragement to him.
Yesterday, the Minister of Justice introduced a bill called the Continuing Consolidation of Yukon Statutes Act, and one of her propositions was that the Justice department would be making a number of efforts over the years to make the law more user-friendly, and I think we all sort of nodded in agreement that that was a good idea. Her idea was to make the statutes more readily readable by the average lay person, and I think this is an effort that I would like to encourage the minister to very seriously consider, with that as a backdrop, with respect to the various pieces of animal legislation.
Just going through these pieces of animal legislation, we have in the Dog Act, as was pointed out, this feed and water clause; and in the Pounds Act, in section 20, we have some remedies that are available when animals are found in a weak or poor condition, and, of course we have the distress clause, which the amendment brings in.
So, we have a whole variety of somewhat similar remedies to deal with animals that are under distress. Then we have a whole variety of different sorts of officers. In the Dog Act, we have an officer described as a person appointed by the Commissioner in Executive Council to carry out the provisions of this act and any member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Then, under the Pounds Act, we refer to officers, under section 20 - not a definition section - but "Any person finding an animal in weak or poor condition shall notify the nearest detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a conservation officer or a resource management officer."
Then, in the Animal Protection Act, we have the definition of peace officers.
What I would suggest to the minister and I would urge him to consider is that I don't think this legislation is user-friendly. It's not an income tax bill where one would have to have a battery of accountants and lawyers to help you to walk through it. It's a bill the average lay person should readily be able to comprehend what the remedies are and how animals are protected.
So, let me just further urge him to take the issue back to the drawing board and reconsider the bringing forth of an omnibus bill. Now, I know this would be quite a tortuous exercise for the draftsman and probably would require a fair amount of time of the Renewable Resources people, but it is an exercise I would like to recommend to the minister. I would ask him to think about that.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: It's certainly confusing at times when there are a number of acts that we need to implement and make work. It is something that we can consider when looking at the big picture and having things like devolution not far off. We could have our department double in size by having lands and resources devolve down. There is certainly a lot more responsibility that this department will be going through.
With the implementation of land claims and other First Nations having their agreements not quite finished yet, at times we need to look at bringing those people in and up to speed on this. It would be nice to define, around the Yukon, what are settlement lands and what aren't. We feel that we are not far off from doing that, and we did make a commitment that it is a priority of government to finish land claims. We are hoping to do that.
With regard to having one big bill for animal protection, we will certainly be considering that and keeping it in mind when amalgamating a number of these acts when the time is right and when the people of the Yukon are asking for it to be done, but considering, like you said, the time and resources, I need to go into it and where the Yukon stands as it is right now in regard to land claims and devolution.
Chair: Seeing no further general debate, we will go to clause 1.
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, just before we get into the definitions in clause 3, I just wonder if I could ask the minister to have something clarified for me. The Act to Amend the Animal Protection Act, in correcting or adding to the existing Animal Protection Act, didn't further define the issue of veterinary surgeons. Perhaps the minister could get back to me by legislative return or would seek clarification from his officials as to whether the existing definition meets the needs or whether we should have a friendly amendment in this act to further clarify that definition.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We felt that the definition within the act meets the needs as the act is presently.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'd just like to make sure that I made that point clear for the minister. The definition in the existing act says, "'Veterinary surgeon' means a person who is entitled to practice veterinary medicine in a province or in the State of Alaska." Now, I'm assuming from the Minister's answer that that includes the Northwest Territories, and that we don't need to amend this definition. I understand, speaking with some vets, that there are those who practice federally - say, on the Government of Canada experimental farm - and who may not have a provincial licence. Have we covered everything off with the existing definition?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: If this is required, as far as an amendment, we can get back to the member on that by legislative return. At this point, the question was asked in regard to this, and the answer back was that it does cover off the needs.
Clause 3 agreed to
On Clause 4
Clause 4 agreed to
On Clause 5
Clause 5 agreed to
On Clause 6
Clause 6 agreed to
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, just before we move it out of Committee, I would like to ask the minister when he expects this amendment will be proclaimed, and when this amended act will take effect.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: It's our intention to bring this act, as with the Animal Health Act, in at the same time on April 1 of next year.
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 26 out of Committee without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: It's the understanding of the Chair that we will now go to Bill 33.
Bill No. 33 - The Intercountry Adoption (Hague Convention) Act - continued
On Clauses 4 and 5 - previously stood over
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Just with regard to clauses 4 and 5, in response to some points of clarification requested by the Member for Klondike, the question with regard to whether the bill needed to be amended to read, "Director of Family and Children's Services or designate". While it's a good point, the information that I have is that staff within the department are designated as designates and serve the functions required of the director. The Children's Act has the section 108(2), which provides for the appointment of assistant directors for Family and Children's Services, so accordingly, we don't believe that it's necessary in this case to duplicate that provision. There are currently four assistant directors in the department, and all four of those individuals have training and could fill that as part of their duties under section 108.
With regard to a question raised on clause 5, regarding the power of the minister to authorize public bodies or persons to perform the duties of the central authority and the question as to whether this needs to be tidied up to constrain the minister's choice, section 5 of the bill needs to be read in conjunction with the provisions of the convention itself. Read together, the convention constrains the minister's choice of public bodies and persons who can act as a central authority. Therefore, according to this, we do not believe that the minister can simply authorize anyone he or she wishes to perform those functions at a central authority.
The convention says that the minister can only authorize a public body to act if it meets the requirements of articles 10 and 11 of the convention and, further, that a person or body of persons may only be authorized if he or she meets the requirements of subparagraph (a) and (b) of article 22.2.
It is the belief of the department that this limits the powers of the minister in that regard.
On the last point, which is along the same line as to bodies who can act as central authorities, this matter would be relevant if we had a private adoption agency incorporated in the Yukon. These do exist in some larger jurisdictions, such as Ontario.
Ontario has used its regulatory power under its adoption legislation to define the qualifications and responsibilities of those corporations. We could similarly use a regulatory power under the intercountry adoption bill or the Children's Act if we were faced with the establishment of a similar agency here.
Does that address the concerns of the member?
Chair: We are on clause 4.
Mr. Jenkins: As long as the minister is comfortable that if private adoption agencies are forthcoming in the Yukon and that they are adequately covered and contained within the proposed legislation, I am comfortable, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With regard to a question that was raised by the Member for Riverdale South with regard to private adoptions, I know that she wasn't questioning the clause, but she did ask a question and I would just like to respond to her.
With regard to private adoptions, the Hague Convention governs both adoptions made by the director of children in his or her care or the agency and private adoptions where the placement is arranged between the birth parents and adoptive parents, using an intermediary such as a lawyer or physician and/or the private adoption agencies referred to before. So, that would fall under the same classification.
Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to
Schedule agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 33 out of Committee with amendment.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 27 - Animal Health Act
Chair: We will now go to Bill No. 27. Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: As with the case of the Animal Protection Act amendments, I would like to begin by providing answers to concerns that have been raised by the members opposite during second reading, if that is all right.
I did not think that there were many questions on this bill, but in looking at the responses, I have a number of pages to go through. As we go through these and as we go through the bill, I would just ask that we keep in mind and not get mixed up with animal protection, but to keep in mind that this bill is to look at the prevention of entry and spread of animal disease in the Yukon and focus on that as we go through this.
Several members were interested in the procedures involving health certificates and were concerned that the requirement of health certificates could have unwanted effects. Since this is key to the act, I would like to explain how we expect to see it work.
Over the next while, the agriculture branch will begin monitoring disease outbreaks in Canada by staying in contact with across-Canada agencies like Agriculture Canada and possibly officials in Alaska. If there's a known, documented outbreak of disease in a certain type of animals from specific regions, we would issue an order requiring anyone bringing such an animal into Yukon to provide the government with a veterinarian health certificate, responding to the minister's concern about the disease. In practice, a copy of such an order would be distributed to livestock owners and to other agriculture branch clientele to make them aware of the requirement, and a copy would be delivered to each weigh station and possibly to the RCMP and conservation officers. I would expect that we would also want to post notices in feed stores and other places regularly visited by people who keep animals.
As a result of the order, anyone bringing in that type of animal from that region would have to produce a veterinarian certificate.
The Government Leader, in his second reading comments, said that he was concerned about the impacts that it might have on the people moving animals on highways and he didn't want to impede the public. We don't want to do that either. This act would be implemented to impede the transportation of animals. People would be able to bring animals to the Yukon as a matter of course. Following proclamation of this act, it will be "business as usual".
The act simply would allow us to respond, when necessary, to a known, documented outbreak of disease in certain types of animals from a specific region. In such a scenario, I would expect that we would issue an order requiring anyone bringing such an animal into Yukon to provide government with a veterinarian health certificate responding to the minister's concern about that disease.
The Yukon is a small community and we would expect to be able to contact most, if not all, of those who might be affected by that order.
Anyone bringing in that type of animal from the region would have to produce, again, a health certificate issued by the veterinarian.
The act is flexible enough that if the transporter was unaware of the order and arrived in the Yukon with animals requiring a health certificate, there are two major options. The most obvious one would be for the transporter or the animal owner to arrange for a veterinarian inspection of the animals as soon as possible to determine if the animal carried the disease. If no disease was found, the health certificate would end that concern. The act speaks specifically to this situation in section 3, where it states, "The minister may require a health certificate during the animal's visit or transit through the Yukon." The transporter also has the option to be able to turn around and leave the Yukon. Obviously, if this kind of system is going to work, people will have to be aware of the act and how it will work.
The members raised a concern during second reading. We agree that public education is necessary. The agriculture branch has specifically sought a delay of proclamation of this act to allow time to cover implementation matters, such as public education. We would expect to inform people about the act in a number of different ways. These could include the use of an information newsletter, which goes out regularly to the agricultural industry, along with publication of a brochure explaining the act. The brochure could be made available through the agriculture branch and other government offices, as well as pet shops, vet offices and feed and farm supply stores. Since we have a pretty good handle on people who regularly handle livestock, we would also want to do a mail-out to people, such as farmers and outfitters. Advertisements in newspapers and radio ads would be used to inform the general public.
Several members had questions about who would enforce the act, what qualifications they would have and what kind of procedures would be followed. In an ideal world, all inspectors would be veterinarians, and in practice this is not likely to be possible. In the earlier stages of implementation, we expect to appoint two agriculture branch staff as inspectors, who will rely heavily on the veterinarian's advice. Inspectors will be qualified specialists. The minimum qualifications we are proposing are set out in the draft enforcement and compliance policy and the operational directive. They require an inspector to have a two-year diploma in animal health technology or its educational equivalent, or a combination of relevant study and several years of related experience.
Members will probably have noted that an inspector is able to delegate specific powers to another person for a specific, limited period of time under section 8. This would be to allow something to be done quickly in remote locations where a regular inspector is not available. For example, a government official in a community may be delegated an inspector's authority on a set date to inspect a place or vehicle to look at an animal and then report observations to the agriculture branch and a veterinarian.
Several members expressed concerns about possible abuse of power. The act is written to permit the inspector to act with broad powers if they are ever required. There are enough checks and balances in the act to ensure that an inspector is not abusing his or her power or acting unreasonably. For example, there is a requirement that an inspector must attempt to notify the owner before entering a private place like a barn, in section 10(2). There is a requirement that an inspector have the permission of the occupant or a warrant issued by a justice before entering a residence, except in the case of emergencies. You'll find that in section 11 of the act.
There is a requirement that an inspector must have reason to believe that disease may be present before stopping a vehicle. There is a requirement to seek the advice of a veterinarian before taking any of the actions to stop the spread of disease described in section 16, other than temporary quarantine.
There is a requirement to attempt to notify the owner before taking any action under section 16. There is a requirement to base a decision to establish a quarantine over 72 hours on the advice of a veterinarian. Finally, there is a requirement that post mortem examinations be done by a veterinarian.
For the information of members, section 7, which provides for designation of inspectors, is a standard type of wording for this purpose. Very similar sections are found in other statutes, such as the Agricultural Products Act.
In answer to another question raised at second reading, I can advise that inspectors would operate under the general direction of the director of the agriculture branch, which will administer the act. The leader of the opposition was curious about how the sections on entering a home or property will work and the definition of "reasonable belief." Sections 10 and 11 are the sections that deal with inspections of public and private places and homes. Section 10 is about an inspector doing two things: entering a place and examining an animal.
An inspector cannot enter any place and examine any animal at his or her complete discretion. The law requires an inspector to have a reason to believe that disease may be present before inspecting animals in that place. This is some protection to the public from unjustified intrusion, and it informs the inspector that he or she must seriously consider the need to enter and investigate before doing so.
As a result of public consultation, section 10(2) was added to require animal or property owners to be made aware of an inspector's presence whenever possible. An example of an attempt to notify would be to try to make a telephone call to the animal owner or occupant. If the inspector found that there was no telephone or there was a number that was unlisted, the inspector might then go to the person's front door and attempt to advise them.
More than one person raised questions about compensation. There is clear Yukon precedence for the position taken in this act. I think it is reasonable for a government of our size and resources. The precedent is established in the game farm regulations, which deny compensation to animal owners for their animal losses due to government action.
The decision made in that precedent was that government decided not to act as an insurer to commercial animal owners. In other jurisdictions, such as British Columbia and the four eastern provinces, no compensation is paid by governments for animals that must be destroyed because of disease.
I might also note that Yukon does not pay compensation for animals killed by wildlife or by other acts of nature.
There was also a general question about the implementation of this act and what regulations might look like. First, I would like to say that the act will not be proclaimed immediately, like I said earlier, to allow matters like public education on law, to find veterinarians interested in doing the work under the act, and to set up the necessary administrative procedures such as regular checks with Agriculture Canada on status of outside disease outbreaks.
As we see things right now, we do not believe that specific regulations would be necessary to begin implementation and to allow us to respond to disease for almost all animals. One area where this might be necessary before we could act is in regard to fish disease matters.
However, the federal government is currently considering changes to its fish health protection regulations and we intend to follow that process to see what is produced, rather than immediately begin consultation on Yukon fish regulations when a federal amendment may cover off our concerns.
There were questions about reporting arrangements for inspectors. Inspectors would operate under the general direction of the director of the agriculture branch, which will be the branch of the department administering this act.
The Liberal House leader raised some questions regarding the definition of "veterinarian." As the member is probably aware, the Yukon does not have a veterinarian act. The definition used in this act, which requires a veterinarian to be licensed to practice in either a province or a territory, recognizes this fact and utilizes the requirements set out for veterinarian licensing in other jurisdictions. This means that current Yukon vets or new ones, so long as they were currently licensed in Canadian jurisdictions, would be able to serve as veterinarians for the purpose of this act.
Some members also suggested that the definition of "humanely killed" will require some debate.
Basically, "humanely killed" means that you lessen the pain and suffering of an animal as much as possible in the circumstance. Where appropriate, death by lethal injection, administered by veterinarians would be used.
At second reading, it was suggested by the Member for Porter Creek South that sections 25 and 26 seem to provide powers to the minister and wondered when and why that authority would be used.
Section 25 is basically the appeal provision of the act. The draft enforcement and compliance policy states that, under certain circumstances, an animal owner may ask the minister to obtain a second opinion on their animal disease. Section 25 empowers the minister to look at the second opinion and decide to change the inspector's decision if warranted. In cases such as this, the person seeking the opinion would pay the costs.
In regard to questions about who bears the costs of actions under the act, government bears the inspection and examination costs in most circumstances. Examples of exceptions are that the costs of a health certificate required by the minister and, as just mentioned, the cost of a second opinion of an inspector or veterinarian's diagnosis or decision would be at the expense of the animal owner.
Section 26 is about the government's decision on compensation. The wording for this section almost matches the same section in the game farm regulations and the intent and range of this section is the same. It would be up to the court to decide how widely the denial of compensation would be interpreted for either section. The intent is not to have government to be either the insurer of all animals in the territory or be liable for action it needs to take under the act to preserve the health of Yukon animals.
Another area of the bill identified as generating some questions was the section dealing with restitution. Section 33 deals with this. Under section 33, a judge may make a restitution order for a person who suffers monetary loss because of the actions of the convicted offender under the act or any regulations. This section would not prevent a person making an independent civil suit if a person charged with an offence under the act was not convicted. But if a person were charged and convicted, a person who had been harmed by their violations of the act might receive restitution by court order rather than having to pursue a civil suit.
Mr. Chair, I have attempted to address some of the concerns again raised by the members during second reading and I hope that this answers a lot of their questions and concerns.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for his efforts in responding to the questions that we raised in second reading and to help expedite the debate on this bill.
As I said in second reading, we agree with this bill in principle. We have done a lot of work on this bill, and it is one of the bills that we would have been bringing in last fall, had we been returned to office. So, we don't have a lot of questions on the bill. I will have some questions on some wording that I see as we go line by line.
I do have one question of a general nature now that I would like the minister to maybe enlighten me on. He spoke of taking our suggestions and that it would require a lot of education for the act to be workable; I appreciate that. He also said that it was easy to notify people through the Agricultural Association of that, and also people who bring livestock or animals to the Yukon on a regular basis. My concern is not so much with those people who bring animals on a regular basis. My concern is with people who don't bring them on a regular basis, but those who bring them on an irregular basis, or people who are transporting animals not through commercial means, but through private means through the Yukon - either to the Northwest Territories or Alaska - arriving through a port of entry, such as Watson Lake, and being detained because they were unaware of the new rules and regulations in the Yukon pertaining to the health of animals.
So my question to the minister is this: once the act is proclaimed and in effect, will there be a grace period of a certain length of time to help to educate the public? I know we can put all kinds of ads in the papers. We can put all kinds of announcements on the radio. We can send circulars and flyers out to the people in the territory, but it's those people that are travelling through that... Well, we don't want to see disease come into the Yukon. We also don't want to see these people unnecessarily detained, because they haven't got the proper kind of documentation, so if there was to be a grace period of say six months to a year after the act came in when people would be given a warning... Because some of these people go back and forth, especially to Alaska, maybe once a year with animals, or something like that.
So, has there been any consideration given to that? I think the minister understands what I'm getting at.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Like the Animal Protection Act, we said that what we wanted to do was to proclaim this act on April 1, 1998, both together, and during the period from now until then, it would give us time to do some refinements and put together some things like brochures for public education, but even when the act is proclaimed, I would think that we would act slowly on this and not have the act in force in full, because I don't think we would really have the capacity at that time, especially in getting information out to people. I would expect that this act would be used very little, simply because we would not be asking for a health certificate from animal owners just because they're coming into the Yukon. It's only when we suspect that the animal is diseased or that there is an outbreak.
We still feel that once this is passed, it will be business as usual until such a time as reports of diseased animals do come in, and that's when we can take, implement and enforce this act.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that and I hope that he will give serious consideration to moving very slowly on this and make the public aware of that, so that we don't run into problems with it.
Mr. Chair, I guess the Minister of Economic Development is tired tonight and wants to go home, so I will report progress on Bill No. 27 at this point.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 26, An Act to Amend the Animal Protection Act, and directed me to report it without amendment.
Further, Committee has considered Bill No. 33, The Intercountry Adoption (Hague Convention) Act, and directed me to report it with amendment.
Further, Committee considered Bill No. 27, Animal Health Act, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:27 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 5, 1997:
Student Recognition Report (dated August 1997) (Moorcroft)
Property Management Agency 1996-97 Annual Report (Sloan)
Fleet Vehicle Agency 1996-97 Annual Report (Sloan)
Community agency contribution agreement between the Government of Yukon and the Northern Network of Services Society, effective April 1, 1997, to March 31, 1998 (Sloan)
The following Legislative Return was tabled November 5, 1997:
Shakwak project: correspondence from Yukon Cabinet ministers to the Alaskan government and to U.S. congressmen and government to secure funding (McDonald)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1226
The following Document was filed November 5, 1997:
Rocky Mountains wildlife range: maps showing proposed protected area from Wyoming, U.S.A., to Yukon, Canada (Globe and Mail, October 9, 1997) (Ostashek)