Thursday, November 20, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed with prayers at this time.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Tribute to National Child Day
Hon. Mr. Sloan: In recognition of today being National Child Day, I rise to pay tribute to those in our society who have dedicated themselves to dealing with and attempting to eradicate the grim reality of child abuse and neglect.
We as members today are wearing, pinned onto our jackets, a piece of torn material - a raggedy ribbon, if you will. We are wearing it to bring attention to a new initiative being introduced by the child abuse treatment service of the Department of Health and Social Services.
The raggedy ribbon campaign is designed to recognize the fight against child abuse. It is fitting that this campaign be launched on National Child Day, which marks the anniversary of the United Nations adoption of the Convention of Rights of the Child in 1989.
National Child Day reminds us that children need love, respect, support and guidance in order to achieve their full potential. This is a day that we should celebrate our children and celebrate with our children. Sadly, not all children will celebrate or be celebrated today. Abused children have little to celebrate.
Abuse takes many forms. According to the dictionary, to abuse someone means "to take unfair advantage of, or to treat or to use as so to injure, or to violate sexually." Unfortunately, children are abused in all these ways - Yukon children. This is not a problem that belongs elsewhere. It is a problem within our own boundaries.
Abused children have their own legacy. That legacy may be alcoholism, drug addiction, or sometimes both. It is a legacy of family violence, mental illness, poverty, sexual dysfunction and, sometimes, criminal activity. As a society, we cannot effectively reduce social problems until we deal with the stark fact that child abuse is one of the major contributing factors, and child abuse remains a hidden crime in many ways.
As citizens of the Yukon, we can make a difference. We can have a dramatic impact if we give some thought to our individual responsibility in our individual communities.
Abused children benefit from being with adults who can teach them sound values by being respectful, honest and nurturing. That is why I want to pay tribute today to those who work day by day as parents, as professionals or as volunteers to provide that positive support.
The first step in correcting any problem is recognizing or admitting that the problem exists. The raggedy ribbon campaign symbolizes that recognition.
Mr. Speaker, we wear red ribbons for AIDS awareness, white ribbons for awareness of violence against women; pink ribbons to support the war against breast cancer. Today, we wear a raggedy ribbon to tell everyone that we will not stand by and watch children being abused.
We anticipate that this awareness campaign will grow in coming years. We will continue to demonstrate to the community the importance of all children, and our commitment to ensure that none are lost due to abuse or neglect.
On behalf of every abused child, I encourage all members to wear their ribbon prominently and to explain what it means to anyone who asks. Awareness is the first step in making a child's life better.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I am pleased to rise today to pay tribute to National Child Day.
One of our biggest challenges today lies in educating the public about child abuse. To meet this challenge, it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to heighten awareness and bring about change in attitude and behaviour. This, Mr. Speaker, is absolutely essential. Child abuse and neglect is a sad reality but, with public awareness and education, we can help reduce the number of children being harmed. There is no doubt that, together, we can make a difference in a child's life.
We, too, on this side of the House, are grateful for the efforts of those people who also share the goal of ending child abuse. I am talking about the parents, families, teachers and many volunteers who provide day-to-day support for our children, encouraging, enabling and inspiring them to do their very best and to be proud of who they are.
These days, raising a family is not an easy task. It requires time, patience, love and respect. To fully realize the potential of our children, we need to take time in our own lives to support these young people and recognize their potential by giving praise when needed. Because there are people who have shown they care, many children are living happier and healthier lives. Still, there is much more work to be done, as we all know.
Regardless of our differences, we are joined by the common belief that all children have the right to be safe and should be protected from abuse. Children are the key to our future. Let us ensure that that future is a bright one.
Mrs. Edelman: I rise today on behalf of the Liberal caucus to join the minister in his tribute to those who treat children who have been neglected.
Shortly after taking office, the minister allowed me to take a tour of the child abuse treatment service, or CATS as the children like to call it. Though it is a small building, many Yukon children have passed through its doors to be assessed and treated for the effects of abuse. Many more children, unfortunately, are still out there needing help.
I hope the minister looks quite closely at ways that the outreach of the child abuse treatment service can be expanded in the rural communities.
There are many other professionals out there who deal with child abuse on a regular basis and some of those people need to be recognized as well: the RCMP, foster parents, teachers, day care workers, ministers, Red Cross trained volunteers and the medical community.
Child abuse has lasting effects on the lives of the adults these children become. Child abuse affects their children and, unless something is done, affects their grandchildren.
Though children are not recognized under law as people until they are born, there are children who are abused in the womb as well. I speak about fetuses that are regularly abused by drugs and alcohol intake by their mothers.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is completely preventable. Hopefully this government will allocate some resources soon toward the eradication of FAS in this territory.
Most of us here in this House are parents. None of us like to even think about the defenceless children being victimized. It's a crying shame.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have the pleasure to introduce a number of very distinguished guests who are joining us today in the gallery from afar.
First of all, I'd like to introduce the hon. Ernest McLean who is the MHA for Lake Melville District in Labrador, who is also the Minister of Government Services and Lands and Minister responsible for Labrador. With him in his delegation is Harold Marshall, Secretary to Cabinet for Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, along with Mark Duggan, the Executive Assistant to the Minister.
As well, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the Canadian Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, Mary Simon. Ambassador Simon is the current chair of the Arctic Council and she's in Whitehorse to address the Aboriginal Mining Conference taking place today and tomorrow. While she's here, she is also meeting with Yukon government ministers, the Yukon Circumpolar Ambassador and CYFN officials to provide an update on the Arctic Council and its activities as they relate to the Yukon.
Accompanying her is Mr. Ricky Hurst of the Natural Resources and Environment Branch, Northern Affairs program, DIAND.
I'd ask you all to join me in welcoming them to the House.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to welcome to our House Paul Nettleton, the Liberal MLA from British Columbia. His riding is Prince George-Omineca.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have for tabling the statement of revenue and expenditures, health care insurance programs, 1996-97.
I have also for tabling the Yukon Child Care Board annual report, 1996-97.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motions?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I am pleased to rise today to report significant progress of a major policy initiative of this government.
As members are aware, we announced last spring that we would create a Youth Works program to help prepare young people for life and work.
My colleague, the Minister of Health and Social Services, reminded the House earlier this week that our government recognizes that programs for young people are most effective if young people themselves have a direct say in how those programs are designed and delivered.
Mr. Speaker, the commitment we made was clear. Young people from around the territory will design and administer Youth Works, in association with the Department of Education. They will make the hard decisions about what criteria will be established and what projects will be approved.
I am pleased to announce that we have reached a significant milestone in realizing this commitment with the creation of the Youth Works board of trustees. They are the people who will make those hard decisions I just mentioned. The six youth trustees are Saralee Snider, Tamara Kotar, Naomi Hales and Angie Hall of Whitehorse, Jason Van Fleet from Dawson City and Jodie Clark from Haines Junction. Naomi, Angie and Jodie will be considered trustee trainees to meet the age requirements for legal accountability of trustees.
In addition to the six youth members, four adult trustees will serve on the Youth Works board. They are Marcella Wlochal, Dianne Villeseche and Gerry Quarton of Whitehorse, and Mayo resident Lori Lacey.
Mr. Speaker, the trustees' first meeting on December 6th and 7th will be a busy one as they become familiar with the operations and legal implications of a trust fund. Besides electing an executive, they will review the Youth Works terms of reference and begin work on the application process for project funding.
Over the next year, the board of trustees will review and fund proposals that focus on the following priorities: a need to develop work skills; a need to network and communicate with youth and with the community; a need to develop life skills and prepare to live independently; a need to volunteer for youth and for the community; and, a need for exposure to leisure activities in the community.
Mr. Speaker, this government is dedicated to providing opportunities for our young people to be successful and contribute to Yukon society. The creation of this board demonstrates our belief in the abilities of young people to make informed, responsible decisions on important issues that affect them.
I know my colleagues share my pride in the establishment of the Youth Works board of trustees and wish them well as they work with Yukon youth to design programs that will meet the challenges of the future.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, we in the Yukon Party support this initiative by the minister. One of the issues that we brought forward in this Legislature and in the past Legislature is that programs that are designed for youth should be designed by youth, and I think that is important in this program. It is a very important milestone here that the youth are going to be very much involved in that.
Mr. Speaker, we support the program. We wish the individuals on the committee well, and we look forward to the recommendations that the committee will come up with.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: The Liberal Party caucus would like to express its support for this major policy initiative. I have a question of clarification for the minister. Perhaps she could outline for me and for the House why, on April 23, when the minister first announced the steering committee, the minister indicated that the steering committee would have a two-month lifespan to develop the mandate, terms of reference and structure for the Youth Works board, and the minister has indicated the progress today. Unfortunately, it's seven months later and I'm wondering if the minister could just explain why there seems to have been some kind of an unfortunate delay in this project, and if she could also indicate whether the board has given her any indication of when money will actually be handed out to young people interested in Youth Works and this project?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The youth that were involved on the steering committee, when it was established, spent some time consulting with other youth and with adults, and the process took a little longer than we thought it would because they are very busy kids and also, some of them were in the middle of their school year. The trustees have their meeting on December 6 and 7, and I expect that they will be coming forward after that with a schedule of when applications will be submitted and when they will meet to make decisions on the applications.
I thank the members opposite for their support of the Youth Works program. We're quite excited about it and wish them all well.
Access to capital forum
Hon. Mr. Harding: I rise to inform members of the fulfillment of another election commitment to support Yukon's small businesses as part of our policy of creating jobs and economic opportunities in the territory.
As members are aware, one of the significant barriers confronting small businesses, especially in smaller communities that are remote from the financial centres of Canada, is gaining access to the working capital they need to improve their ability to create or market products or services.
Recognizing that, the Department of Economic Development will host an access to capital forum at the Westmark Inn in Whitehorse on December 4. This forum is essentially a focus group involving members of the Whitehorse and Yukon chambers, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, and the Yukon Federation of Labour.
The majority of the invitations went to specific Yukon-based people who were chosen for their ability to raise capital, their understanding of business financing, or their knowledge of the financing gaps in particular industries. Representatives of major financial institutions will also take part.
Mr. Speaker, accessing capital is a particularly formidable task for entrepreneurs in rural Yukon. Financial institutions often consider them too high a risk, leaving them few other options to pursue their good ideas. As a result, further development and diversification of the Yukon economy, along with the jobs it creates, can be unnecessarily delayed.
It must be recognized that not all businesses have the same capital needs. We also realize that for this initiative to be successful, partnerships with existing programs in the private sector should be encouraged.
In this regard, the participants will review existing funding sources in the Yukon and compare financing options available to businesses in other jurisdictions, as well as national trends. They will have an opportunity to analyze capital needs on a sector-by-sector basis and to discuss innovative future options, such as an immigrant investment fund or business assistance funds targeted at rural businesses.
Another likely topic is the role government should or should not play in creating jobs by encouraging business development. Recommendations from the access to capital forum will be reviewed and presented for more wide-spread discussion and comment in the spring.
Mr. Speaker, this government believes that helping small businesspeople address the question of access to capital is important to the success of our trade and investment diversification strategy. Yukon entrepreneurs will have difficulty increasing their output or exporting their products abroad unless they can secure appropriate financial backing.
By helping them learn new ways to access capital to start or expand their businesses, we can help create jobs and economic opportunities for Yukon people.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Ostashek: This statement by this minister certainly flies in the face of the motion that was put forward by the NDP yesterday, where they were against foreign investment and working to level the playing field.
I'm not completely sure what the minister is aiming at in this statement at all. In the second paragraph, he talks about gaining access to working capital. Then he spends the rest of the statement talking about investment capital. There is a substantial difference in those two terms.
I'm also not certain whether the minister is looking for his department just to be a vehicle for discussion on this or whether the real and ulterior motive of this is to have the Government of Yukon get back into the banking business. That was an option that was tried by a previous NDP government that didn't prove to be very successful and there is still, I believe, hundreds of thousands of dollars in bad debts outstanding in the Yukon because of that program. Maybe the minister can clarify that when he gets up on his feet.
If it's a forum to exchange information and to help small businesses be more aware of where financing is available, we are very, very supportive of it. We would be very concerned if this government is moving to get back into the banking business.
Mr. Cable: I have just a couple of comments, Mr. Speaker. One of the frequent complaints that one hears from female entrepreneurs is that they sometimes feel they're treated differently by lending institutions, and it would be useful to hear from the minister whether this topic is on the agenda. It's an important access to capital issue.
The other point that I'd like some clarification on is on the last paragraph on the first page of the minister's statement because it seems to indicate that he anticipates that the government will be back in the lending business, as was mentioned by the leader of the official opposition, and some clarification as to whether he sees the government re-entering that market as a significant player would be in order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
A couple of points in response to the comments made by the opposition. I'll start with the Yukon Party, my favorite opposition, sitting across from me. They are very predictable. Mr. Speaker, the comment was made that this particular announcement flies in the face of the debate over MAI yesterday. That is indeed completely false. We have always advocated, on this of the House, for fair trade. We have a serious problem with what is connotated by the MAI agreement, as do many other provinces and jurisdictions in this country, and we believe that we are perfectly consistent in terms of our approach for this statement and with our approach in yesterday's debate on the MAI.
Mr. Speaker, I'll deal with the other part of this question. You know, it's always wonderful to hear the comments from the leader of the official opposition, the former Government Leader, when he talks about how he is opposed to loans and grants of any kind, and how he doesn't believe that the government should be in the lending business at all. He actually wondered if there was an "ulterior motive" in our statement.
Now, this member was the leader of a government in this territory that gave a $2.4 million loan to Clifford Frame to pay his power bill; this was the leader of a government that gave a $2.4 million grant to Loki Gold. When that member was in private business - I'm going to table this - he actually accessed, for his business, loans and grants in the vicinity of $25,000 for himself. He's sitting beside a member whose hotel was a big recipient of the business development fund. So, obviously, I'm going to table these so the public and the media can assess their credibility on this question.
So, Mr. Speaker, we don't contemplate at this time what we are going to find in the way of responses to the access to capital forum. That's one of the questions that we want to ask the people who are participating in the forum. However, I would say we are actively seeking very innovative ways to identify capital sources. I mentioned in my statement the immigrant investor funds and programs. Our primary focus is to put people in touch with the tools that they need to access capital and to give them the information they need to find financing and investment sources.
Mr. Speaker, let me just say with that that I look forward to the outcome. It's a commitment we made in the election campaign to work on this particular issue with local businesses, and I look forward to their recommendations and suggestions to government and the followup meetings we will hold on this subject.
Speaker: Before proceeding to Question Period today, the Chair would like to address the rules and practices regarding anticipation during Question Period. Yesterday, the government House leader raised the matter as a point of order.
Standing Order 19(1), paragraph (e) states: "A member will be ruled out of order by the Speaker if that member anticipates any matter on the Order or Notice Paper."
Guideline 12 of the Guidelines to Oral Question Period states: "A question is out of order if a debate is scheduled for that day on the same subject matter."
Annotation 513(1) of Beauchesne's Sixth Edition states: "In determining whether a discussion is out of order on the grounds of anticipation, the Speaker must have regard to the probability of the matter anticipated being brought before the House within a reasonable period."
In our House, "reasonable period" means the same day.
Yesterday, the Chair had been informed prior to the sitting that the supplementary estimates were to be called for second reading.
It is difficult for the Chair to know if questions on specific matters will be the subject of debate at the second reading stage on a budget bill. In such a case, when doubt exists, the Chair will tend to allow a question to be asked.
It must be noted that the Chair had been advised that three bills other than the supplementary bills would be called for debate prior to calling the supplementaries when the House resolved into Committee of the Whole last evening. The Chair, therefore, could not have foreseen that the potential for anticipation existed. As it happened, however, the supplementaries were called first and the subject matter of the questions put in Question Period yesterday by the leader of the official opposition could have been raised at that time, but was not.
As is usual when preparing a statement, precedents from the House of Commons of Canada were reviewed. It was found that the House of Commons decided in April 1997, that restricting questions in Question Period on the basis of anticipation is outmoded and it directed that the Speaker should no longer enforce the guideline.
The anticipation rule still exists here, however, and the Chair must continue to make rulings based on it at this time. The Chair would remind the House that ministers are not required to answer questions. If the Chair fails to notice that a question has been asked on a subject that will be up for debate later that day, the minister can decline to answer, based on anticipation. The Chair hopes that this will clarify the matter.
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Salvation Army Red Shield kettle drive boycott
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health and Social Services. The good friends of the New Democratic Party, the Yukon Federation of Labour, have announced a boycott of the Salvation Army's Christmas Red Shield kettle drive because of a strike by the Public Service Alliance of Canada against the Salvation Army facility in Ottawa. The union slogan is, "Nothing in the kettle until they settle." Can the minister advise the House if this government supports the boycott of the Salvation Army Christmas campaign and what actions, if any, is his department prepared to offer to needy Yukoners who are hurt by this Grinch-like action of the Yukon Federation of Labour?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I can't see quite how a labour dispute in Ottawa is related to government business. I would suggest it would be far better to take that up with the labour federation itself.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister has failed to recognize that the NDP are in bed with the Federation of Labour here in Yukon. They are synonymous in a lot of respects, and the minister will probably see a great deal of offloading from the Salvation Army's benefit plan to his department if there's no assistance offered to the Salvation Army to continue their good work.
Would the minister be prepared to assist the Salvation Army in counteracting the efforts of the boycott by the Yukon Federation of Labour in order to serve the greater good by helping needy Yukon people at this very special time of the year? Would the minister be prepared to do that, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, once again I fail to see where this member is going. I listened to the news reports and, from my understanding, the Yukon Federation of Labour has indicated that they are not interested in having anything impact on the local situation and, as far as I am aware, they are making some kind of a contribution in this regard.
Where this fits in government business, I'm really at a loss to understand, and I suspect that the member himself is at a loss to understand. I suspect it's just a little more mischief.
Mr. Jenkins: If the people fail to receive the help that they've come to rely on from the Salvation Army, they're going to be at the minister's doorstep.
My final supplementary is to the minister responsible for the Yukon Liquor Corporation. In view of the minister's divided loyalty to serve Yukoners and to kowtow to union demands, will he assure this House that the Salvation Army will continue to be allowed to have their kettles at the Whitehorse liquor store? Can he give the House this assurance, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As the member began addressing his principal question to me, I will take the liberty of responding to the member. I would point out, once again, that this is not YTG business. YTG does help people, and they help people through a variety of ways, including social assistance, about which the Yukon Party seemed to be expressing some real reservations yesterday. I can only suppose that they want to slash and burn.
Question re: Salvation Army Red Shield kettle drive boycott
Mr. Jenkins: Once again, I must direct a question to the Minister of Social Services. Mr. Speaker, I'm deeply concerned about this decision of the union leadership in taking this action against the Salvation Army, especially in Yukon, for something that has occurred in Ontario. I am sure many union members today are deeply disturbed about this boycott decision made by their executive.
The Salvation Army does good work in Yukon through the provision of many services - valuable services - to needy Yukoners, which are so important, again, at this time of the year.
In view of the close ties between the union executive and this NDP government, I believe it is important for the minister to make this government's position abundantly clear by issuing a news release calling upon Yukoners to ignore the Yukon Federation of Labour's boycott of the Salvation Army Christmas Red Shield campaign. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Despite what the member across the floor suggests, unions are democratic institutions. They are composed of members who can make their wishes known to their executive, and do. Now, the member over there sees himself as an enlightened despot. However, I would suggest that if members of a union have concerns with the actions of the union executive, they can make that known.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, this minister's department is going to end up with extra costs associated with addressing a need that the Salvation Army will probably not be able to address, as they have in the past. Yukoners are aware of the relationship between this minister and the Salvation Army are already strained over the minister's reneging on the commitment to contract with the Salvation Army for the provision of a shelter for the homeless.
So, I would ask if the minister, by way of atonement, would give his own personal expression of support to the Salvation Army's Red Shield campaign? Would the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm sure General Booth is spinning in his grave at some of the statements made by that member on behalf of an organization which has an exemplary record in taking care of people and, I think we all recognize, does good work.
I'm a little more concerned about the inconsistencies in a party that has a slash-and-burn policy toward social assistance coming forward and posturing at this time. Now, just further on this whole issue with regard to the transient shelter, perhaps the member needs to go back and check the Blues. The reason that our negotiations with the Salvation Army are on hold is simply because we have run into some difficulties in finding a location.
Mr. Jenkins: We've obviously gotten nowhere with the minister today. Will the minister at least encourage Yukoners to support the campaign? Can he do that? These close ties between the NDP government and the Yukon Federation of Labour and the labour unions at large is kind of at cross odds to each other and the minister is not recognizing that. We're going to lose a valuable contribution from the Salvation Army, whose benefits help many, many needy Yukoners.
What we are asking of the minister today is, will he support the campaign? Will he get out and do that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We always support charitable ventures by Yukoners and I would encourage all Yukoners to give what they can, particularly at this time of the year. I would suggest that perhaps all charitable organizations in this territory would benefit from a greater input of citizens' dollars. I think one of the things that we can do as a start is to encourage participation in the United Way campaign, which is going on now.
Question re: Property management agency, Watson Lake government office space
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Government Services with respect to the property management agency.
I note in the report that was recently tabled by the minister that the realty services section of the property management agency allocates office and commercial space to Yukon government departments from the Yukon government's inventory of owned and leased commercial space. I'm sure the minister is well-aware of that.
I wonder if the minister could clarify for me or would indicate for this House how the priorities are established by this particular section of the property management agency. For example, how does realty services decide whether Community and Transportation Services employees need new space or whether the displaced employees in Watson Lake in Justice and Social Services need new space? How is that priority established?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, generally, the driving force is the particular pressures at hand. For example, we have a particular space requirement right now with, I suppose, the devolution of phase 2 health transfer, and that, in turn, has sparked some government moves in Whitehorse here as we try to accommodate that. So, it's generally based on the immediate needs.
Ms. Duncan: I understand that some of the immediate pressures as the minister has outlined are newly renovated lease space on Main Street for the Public Service Commission. Health services, as noted by the minister, is expanding to the office below them on Black Street, and contract administration is rumoured to be moving back to Fourth Avenue.
Now, I have nothing against this government working with the private sector to lease space. It's a good thing, and I'm very pleased for the local contractors who have work from this particular initiative. However, my question is this: when will e Social Services and Justice and the building inspector and the library in Watson Lake be moved into new space?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As the member is probably aware, we have been working with both the Town of Watson Lake and the Liard First Nation on a proposed complex, and it's my understanding that that is moving forward. We're also looking at some other options in Watson Lake in terms of trying to accommodate particularly the Justice area. We'd like to expand victim services somewhat, and we are currently examining some options in that regard.
Ms. Duncan: It's unfortunate that it's taking two years to find this new space. Could the minister elaborate on the moves that I had outlined in my first supplementary? Could the minister indicate the costs for - not the renovations because I understand the renovations are paid for by the building owner - the moves and the cost of leasing the increased space? When will these costs appear before the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I can bring those forward probably during the next session. I can tell the member that the actual costs for relocation, for moving of all the equipment, for setting up such things as servers, things of that nature, come to about $143,000 right now. Then, out of that, there will be some space gained, some space lost, but I'm sure the member is probably familiar with the Government Services' sheet, News To Get You Moving, the one that was distributed to all government departments.
Ms. Duncan: No.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I will send her over a copy.
Question re: Midwifery legislation
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services. In February of this year, the minister announced that he was ready to draft legislation to cover the practice of midwifery. In the 10 months that have passed since this promise, can the minister tell this House what progress has been made on the delivery of this legislation?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I think I deserve an apology for that terrible pun, and I am sure that this was prompted by the birth of the septuplets in Iowa yesterday.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thankfully I didn't. But I can tell the member that we are continuing to work on midwifery legislation. I can also tell the member that one of the interesting issues that's coming forward at the western Health ministers meeting that is proposed in December is the whole question of midwifery legislation, particularly toward the view of establishing a college of midwives, regulations and training standards.
Mrs. Edelman: Perhaps the minister made his announcement about the immediate arrival of midwifery legislation a little prematurely.
On a related issue, the smallest part of the practice of midwifery is the actual delivery of a baby. Midwives spend most of their time on pre- and post-natal care. Mr. Speaker, the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon sent a letter to the minister in March, asking that the Yukon Health and Social Services ad hoc committee on midwifery broaden its mandate to include the prevention of alcohol-related birth defects. That letter was never answered. Will the minister commit to including alcohol- and drug-related birth defects as relevant material for discussion by the ad hoc committee on midwifery?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can certainly say that that would be a matter that we could include. I think it has some merit. As I said, we are proceeding on this. We are examining all the various options. Presently, a workplan is being developed, and we'll be putting forward a discussing paper to address the legislative issues.
Mrs. Edelman: I hope we see that discussion paper very soon. Mr. Speaker, there are a number of nurse midwives throughout the Yukon. The professional designation of "nurse midwife" is not recognized in the Registered Nurses Profession Act. Is proper recognition of nurse midwives being considered by the ad hoc committee on midwifery?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think it would be premature for me to address this right now, to anticipate something that has not yet come to term. However, I can pass on the concerns of the member to the group that's examining this.
Question re: Social assistance, back taxes payment
Mr. Phillips: Before I ask my question, Mr. Speaker, I should issue a warning to members opposite that we just learned another minister is now going on a trip. Mr. Speaker, they better be careful. They've been out of the territory so much in the last year that they might lose Yukon residency if they keep it up.
Mr. Speaker, my question is to the same minister, the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services. Yesterday in this House, I asked questions about an individual who, based on principle, refused to pay his back taxes and, after several years of court battle and thousands of dollars of Yukon government money, the government of the territory won a judgment to evict the delinquent taxpayer.
This is where the minister stepped in and used a section of the social assistance regulations to pay the back taxes.
In fact, yesterday the minister told this House that it was section 27(e) that he used, and he said, and I quote, "One of the conditions that exists is that the individual must own or reside on the property."
I am sure the minister did not really mean to mislead the House, because, in fact, the minister misquoted the law. The law says, and I quote section 27(e), "for arrears and debts incurred prior to application for assistance or shelter, utilities, fuel or taxes on residential property, which the recipient owns and resides...." It is not "or", Mr. Speaker, it is "and resides."
Speaker: Would the member please conclude.
Mr. Phillips: Is the minister prepared to correct the record today to say, in fact, that the regulations do say that you must "own" - not "or" - "and reside" on the property to qualify for social assistance?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I certainly will correct that if the member opposite will correct his allegation that I intervened, because that is completely false, and for him to suggest that I intervened in this case is false - purely, patently false.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, what the minister forgets is that he is the Minister of Health and Social Services. Whether he likes it or not, this is his department, this is his act, this is his decision by his people. He is responsible for the actions of that department.
In Mr. Bemis' defence, in his case, he said that he was a squatter and not a landowner. So, he said he didn't own it. The Judge in the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Bemis did not own the property; in fact, he was a trespasser. Usually, trespassers don't own the property. The minister, yesterday, even said that the individual did not own the land.
I would like to ask the minister this: it's clear now that Mr. Bemis did not own the land. It's also clear that the act - the law, Mr. Speaker - says that he had to own it to qualify under that section of the act. Mr. Speaker, why did this government break the law when it granted Mr. Bemis social assistance money under the act? Why did it do that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan:
Well, first of all, I noticed that the member has deftly skated around the question of withdrawing an allegation when he states that I had something directly to do with it. In this regard - and I am restrained somewhat from discussing the case in any detail - our, being the Health and Social Services, reaction was to deny the social assistance. Mr. Bemis followed through, as was his right, to the Social Assistance Appeal Board and they granted him assistance under Section 27. It was a citizens' board. That's what these boards are for, to, I suppose, defend people against the power of government.
Mr. Phillips: That's not what the minister said the first time he stood up to answer. He hid behind a section of the act that didn't say what he said it said.
Mr. Speaker, these government ministers seem to have no problem in breaking the law. We have a Minister of Renewable Resources breaking the law by allowing First Nations to sub-contract a project without prior agreement.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: Point of order has been called. The hon. Minister of Health and Social Services.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, that member across the floor is using his position and using a question to make speeches and to abuse another minister in the course of asking a question on this particular point. Now, I would suggest that that is not germane to the argument; I would suggest that that is an improper use; I would suggest that is an abuse of his right as a member.
Mr. Phillips: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, there is no point of order at all.
My point is that the government is breaking the law and has done so in two or three different circumstances. I'm asking the minister questions about that and he has to answer the questions, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: I rule that to accuse someone of breaking the law is unparliamentary.
So, continue with questions please.
Mr. Phillips: I'd like to ask the minister what this government is going to do with respect to the Bemis case. It is clear now that the minister misspoke himself the other day when he interpreted the law and that his department did not advise the public committee of the correct law, or didn't advise them at all. I'm not sure what happened there, but I'd like to ask the minister what he is going to do now to recover the $3,000 that was inappropriately loaned to Mr. Bemis because Mr. Bemis, under the law, was not entitled to receive that money. What is this government going to do to recover the $3,000 from Mr. Bemis?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, first of all, I think the person who needs to do some correcting of his misspeaking is the member opposite. With regard to this particular case, while I cannot discuss the details, I can tell the member that there is a repayment method and a repayment schedule in place and we will assume that that will follow. If it is not followed, then we will take the necessary actions.
Question re: Electrical rate relief
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the energy commissioner on the commission's work on rate relief. The commissioner's workplan synopsis that was tabled in April called for a report on rate relief by the spring of 1997 and, as we'll recollect, this target date was later moved forward to the summer.
Now, the commission eventually put out a discussion paper several months after the original target date and held a public workshop on October 23 to discuss opinions and options on rate relief. Now, at the time of the issue of the discussion paper to the public, the minister was quoted in the newspaper as saying that he hopes that a new rate relief scheme would be in place by January 1.
This rate relief issue has been up in the air for many months. So for the benefit of the ratepayers, could he tell this House if he now has a definite target date for making a recommendation to Cabinet on the new rate relief program?
Mr. McRobb: Well, we're in the final week of Energy Awareness Month. I want to thank the opposition members for finally getting around to asking me a question on these important issues. The answer is that the energy commission is committed to forwarding to Cabinet its recommendation on the rate relief program for 1998 prior to the end of this year.
Mr. Cable: Now, the discussion paper that the commission put out sets out four options: one, the continuation of the status quo, and three options related to targeted rate relief. Under the comments under the pros and cons for continuing the present rate relief program, it's stated in the discussion paper: "More importantly, the status quo reflects conflict with the bill relief policy desired by the Yukon government in which certain groups in need are targeted."
Assuming that's the direction we're going, all of the targeted rate relief options talk about increases to the average residential bill. What sort of increases is the average residential user looking at with the targeted assistance option? Are we looking at significant increases - minor increases? Is it one percent, two percent or 50 percent?
Mr. McRobb: Well, it's hard to give numbers at this time without knowing what type of targeted program will be available, but I can respond to part of the question on rate increases for residents in the future by saying that residential consumers are facing increases in the neighbourhood of 15 to 20 percent over and above all the other classes of customers in the next seven or eight years because of Yukon Party policy and a Yukon Utilities Board decision to increase the cost of service to residential customers - to increase it from 80 percent up to 90 and even 95 percent - and one of the reasons we included it as an option is that we want to hear from ratepayers on that increase.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: Well, the commissioner can duke that out somewhere later, in the members' lounge maybe.
The discussion paper had these four options put forward, and am I to understand that the minister, in putting these four options out to the public, never analyzed the rate relief consequences and the increases to the average residential consumer at the time that he put the issues out for discussion?
Mr. McRobb: Thank you for the opportunity to address these issues, which are very important to ratepayers in the territory. We all know that the Yukon Party wanted to terminate the program. They're on record with that position. The Liberals, Mr. Speaker, sat on the fence - it was hard to tell where they stood - but we were elected on the grounds of continuing this program, and the discussion paper merely sets out options for public discussion. They are not positions of this government.
Question re: Social assistance, back taxes payment
Mr. Phillips: Boy, I'm glad he doesn't have a real job in this government, Mr. Speaker.
My question is for the Minister of Justice. Yukon taxpayers were shocked and insulted when Mr. Bemis applied to Health and Social Services to bale him out of his tax arrears, Mr. Speaker, and they were even more shocked when Health and Social Services did so.
When we were in government, the Government Leader used to rise to his feet time and time again to talk about breaking the law and that something should be done when the law is broken. Mr. Speaker, it's clear today, from what the Minister of Health and Social Services said with respect to why Mr. Bemis got the money, that the law was broken. They did not follow the law. Mr. Bemis didn't own the land and the law says he has to own the land.
I'd like to ask the Minister of Justice, as the Minister of Justice, what is she going to do in pressing charges against her own colleagues, and Health and Social Services, and in trying to recover the $3,000 when Health and Social Services broke the law?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Once again, my friend from Riverdale North is attempting to be Inspector Morse but is coming across as Inspector Clouseau.
We have tried to point out that this was not a violation of the law; this followed existing procedures. Despite what the member will do, running around with his magnifying glass and his deer-stalker, I doubt that he will find any wrongdoing or attempted wrongdoing here.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health and Social Services might make fun of this. He might make fun of it, but I don't think Yukon taxpayers think this is a joke. When Health and Social Services bails out an individual - bails out his taxes in arrears - when he's fighting the Yukon government and the Yukon government over there spends over $100,000 fighting the case, and wins. The individual who complained about paying taxes didn't argue that he couldn't pay them because he didn't have the money, because he said he paid $5,000 in legal fees. He argued that he couldn't pay them because he didn't believe in paying taxes. That is what he argued.
Mr. Speaker, I'm having real difficulty this session when I ask a specific minister a question. It's like one of those games in a carnival, when you beat on a drum -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Point of order has been called. The hon. Minister of Economic Development.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member is entitled to a brief preamble before his question. I know oftentimes there is some flexibility given to that, but I think he's taking it a bit too far.
Speaker: There is no point of order. Continue the question, please.
Mr. Phillips: What the member is really entitled to is an answer from the right minister. That is what the member is entitled to.
I would like to ask the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Health and Social Services said they followed all procedures. Well, his procedure says this. They didn't follow that procedure. I am asking the Minister of Justice -
Speaker: Will the member please conclude his question.
Mr. Phillips: I am asking the question, Mr. Speaker.
What is the Minister of Justice going to do with respect to the Bemis case, where Health and Social Services violated its own regulations and laws? What is the Minister of Justice going to do about that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The member again is off on a bit of a tirade there, venturing into the land of falsehood. The fact of the matter is that, initially, Mr. Bemis - or, I'm sorry, the individual in question - was turned down.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's becoming more difficult.
The individual in question was denied assistance by the department. He took it to the social assistance appeal committee. The social assistance appeal committee did recommend, or directed the department provide him, with some assistance. We felt that was not within their parameters. We challenged it. It was upheld by the board - by a citizens' board, I might add. I realize the members opposite don't believe in the right of citizens to participate in government; however we do. Considering that the policy was in existence during their term, I think they probably need to get a little bit versed on it.
They determined that we - being social assistance - should lend the money to the individual. There were certain criteria set out, and that's what was done.
Mr. Phillips: I think we know why, Mr. Speaker, and I'll give you a quote. This is a quote that says, "I do not see how it'll help the taxpayer at all to turn this person into a homeless person and make him a client of social assistance, which he is not now, and require him to go into public housing and have the public support him when he was a person that survived in his home for 22 years, admittedly without paying taxes and legitimizing the situation."
Mr. Speaker, that was Mr. Penikett, the former Government Leader, of the New Democratic Party, and that was a few years ago. Guess what? Mr. Bemis got it all. He got his taxes paid and he got it through social assistance. He got it all.
I'd like to ask the minister responsible for social assistance this: obviously, he said they followed the guidelines. I thought the guidelines were the regulations. I thought those were the guidelines by which they judged whether people got social assistance. They obviously didn't follow them, because if they would have, he wouldn't have gotten the money.
So I'd ask the minister to table the guidelines that they made up for this special constituent of the minister's, and tell the people of the Yukon why one of this minister's constituents got $3,000 to pay his delinquent back taxes.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Point of order. The hon. Minister of Health and Social Services.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The member is using this Chamber to make wild accusations. I would challenge him to come forward with any evidence that he has that I intervened personally in this.
Mr. Phillips: I've been trying to challenge the minister to come forward with any evidence that they followed the rules. That's what I've been asking the minister. They have to follow the rules. That's the rule. That's the law. The minister broke the law.
I said before that we don't accuse anybody of breaking the law; it's unparliamentary. So, continue on with your question.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. Question Period has now elapsed.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 15-minute recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee is dealing with Bill No. 8, Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98. Is there any further general debate?
Bill No. 8 - Second Appropriation Act 1997-98 - continued
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, when we left the debate last night, I was asking the Finance minister if he would care to speculate on what the surplus would be on March 31, 1998. He appeared to be very reluctant to give me anything except broad horizons, which I already knew. But when I look at the figures that have been put in front of us, and when I look at the projected surplus - it's around a $23.8-million surplus that's been projected here now - and if the normal course of events follow through as they do most years, would it be fair to say that the surplus would be in the neighbourhood of $15 million?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the member's trying; I've got to give him some credit.
I can say to the member that it is possible; I can say to the member that it is possible that after one takes out the public sector wage increase the surplus could end up, by the year-end, with O&M and capital lapses in the neighbourhood of $35 million to $40 million. It's possible.
Mr. Ostashek: And, if that were the case, that would leave the government in a fairly comfortable position to table their 1998-99 budget; am I correct?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, we are unfortunately, as we were this year and have always been in the past, going to be tabling estimates when we put our budgets on the table in February - presumably in February or March, whenever that is - and we will not know what the lapsed funding will be until May. So, in all likelihood we will be tabling estimates for the year-end projections that are not unlike the votes that the member sees in front of him.
We will try to bring the calculations as close as we can to what we know to be the case at the time, but it will be very difficult to find out what the actual lapse will be until we clear the year-end. So, that's something that we'll have to bear in mind. We will have to be working with the numbers we know for sure.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I can appreciate the minister not being able to go on the public record because the numbers are not finalized but the fact remains that the minister, by the time he tables his budget, his estimates, in this House in March of next year, will have a pretty good handle on what the lapses will be. They may not be accurate totally. I know that there are always adjustments to them, but in most instances, before the spring session is over, the minister has a good idea of what the surpluses will be - or deficits, whichever the case may be.
There is no doubt that surpluses, especially on the operation and maintenance side, have been getting smaller, and that is one of my concerns with the $370 million operation and maintenance budget we see in front of us today.
Capital lapses, with not as many projects in the works, will also be smaller. But it's the operation and maintenance lapses which really give the extra cushion to the minister when he's putting his next budget together.
We've had great debates in this House on what surplus is comfortable. I know that Finance officials say that they would like to see one month's surplus which, on the level of spending we have now, is in the neighbourhood of $40 million, in order for us to be in a comfortable position, they say.
The Minister of Finance of the day has said that he feels comfortable with $15 million. Could I ask the minister how he reconciles that between himself and the department?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, I would point out to the member that the information that we'll have about lapsed funding on the O&M or capital side really won't be known until after the fiscal year-end.
I would point out to the member - and he will know this from his own experience - that when that infamous $20-million surplus came about, the information was actually on the table after the year-end. Presumably, the member opposite didn't know that this funding was coming forward. He certainly seemed a little surprised. I think he expressed some surprise at the size of the surplus that year, and he had available to him what I have available to me.
In some respects, there is a bit of a judgment call. Some departments hold back funds right to the bitter end. They volunteer no information about potential lapses until it's all over. I am in possession of no greater knowledge than I was last year. We will do a calculation. There will probably be a late-in-the-year-period variance. That will give us perhaps a bit of an indication, but, again, the variance is only as good as the information that is pumped into it by the departments.
I will give the best estimate with the most reliable information I have for year-end, and we'll establish our budgets based on the best estimates coming out of departments at that time. I would suspect that they will probably be very close to this, even though the member and I both know that there'll be capital and operating lapses, and ultimately some revotes into the next year.
I don't want to be assuming anything with respect to the year-end financial picture until the year-end comes. I think that would be very, very risky.
Certainly, as the member's pointed out - we pointed it out last night - if we make some changes to the Financial Administration Act, which improves the accuracy of the budgeting process, then ultimately that'll make the figures more reliable at the end of the year.
In terms of the O&M lapses, the O&M lapses were not as high last year. As I mentioned, they were $2.5 million total. As has historically been the case, they've been very high - $15 million, I know and higher - in the past. Whether this year sees lapses in the $2.5-million to $5-million to $7-million range, I have absolutely no reliable knowledge about that at this point.
So, I can't really offer much more to the member than that. I can't really provide any more information that could magically cause the reliability of the information to improve. The member made some comments about our budgeting priorities. I think our budgeting priorities are obviously on the table for all to see. When the main estimates come forward next spring, based on the general baseline information that the members got here in the supplementary, the member will be able to see where our priorities are for next year.
Mr. Ostashek: I appreciate what the member is saying. He made mention of the infamous $20-million surplus, which I believe we were being accused, by the opposition, of hiding at the time. He was right; it was a bit of a surprise. There were also some changes made in the reporting system after that so that we wouldn't be surprised in the future. I would imagine those changes are still in place, that we have tightened it up as the years have gone by as to how we report. Nevertheless, we know it's still a calculated guess at the end of the year.
I have another question here of a general nature right now. The minister has referred to, several times in different presentations on his supplementary budgets, the special operating agencies revolving fund that has $1-point-some million, which he says is not available. It's calculated in the surplus and is not available for general government spending. Has there been some thought to coming in with some better system where the special operating agencies are excluded from the surplus of government so that when the figures are put forward they're as simple and clear as possible for the public to understand, for the opposition to understand and for the public to understand.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, it might be worthwhile to have an understanding among us all that in the unconsolidated statements we will always automatically account for special operating agencies, and we will factor that information out. So, they can be consolidated unconsolidated accounts at year-end, as long as we all understand the difference. Because those special operating agencies exist, when we indicate that there is an operating surplus, we'll all understand that it does include the special operating agencies, and if there is a change in terms of how the money is recorded, people will account for it.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I guess that's why I was surprised when I saw it in here, Mr. Chair, because my understanding is that's the way we handle the highways revolving fund. It's not included in our surplus, and I never expected to see the revolving fund of the special operating agencies included in the surplus either.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I guess my point is that we can take this fund out. I'd be more than prepared to do that, as long as we all know that the funds exist and they are funded, and if there are any comments from the Auditor General, then we'll know how to read them.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I had a question in Question Period for the minister one time a couple of weeks back on the press release that he put out on his supplementary estimate, where he said the net increase was one percent. I heard my colleague in the Liberal Party last night calculating it at 4.5 percent, as I had. Is the minister prepared to clear the record and say that the operation and maintenance estimates of the government have increased by 4.5 percent?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, of course not. I said the net increase is one percent. The net increase is that which is found on page S-3 at the top of the page: operation and maintenance net increase, $3.6 million. That's the increase. It represents one percent. So I'm not prepared to change it; of course not.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm still not clear how the minister arrived at that. He said in Question Period that he was excluding devolution. I can't accept that. Devolution is part of the operation and maintenance costs of government. The fact remains that the operation and maintenance of the government has increased by some $16 million in the estimates. That certainly is more than one percent.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I'm not referring to the factoring out of devolution in this calculation at all. Devolution is not relevant to this particular calculation, because what we're talking about is what was voted to date, which included the devolution of the health transfer, versus the supplementary. So, I'm not using devolution as an element in the calculation at all.
What I am saying - and I've said this very clearly - is that the net increase in the operation request - the net request; net request - is $3.6 million. That's what I said. And that request is $3.6 million, and that's what the budget book says. It's a net request which does, in fact, have an impact on the surplus/deficit situation. It is the gross request, minus the recoveries - the net request - which has an impact on the surplus/deficit situation, and is $3.6 million. That represents one percent of the total. That's all.
Mr. Ostashek: The reason I'm pursuing this is that, when that member was in opposition, he continually pursued us about putting out accurate and clear figures to the people of the Yukon. He harassed us constantly about that. The reality is that his operation and maintenance budget increased far more than one percent over last year's estimates, when the supplementary budget is included. It's up $16 million. By my calculations, $16 million is more than one percent.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I said that the net increase - net - is $3.6 million, which has an impact. The net increase has an impact on the surplus/deficit situation. So, I've made the point that the net increase is one percent. The net increase is one percent. I'm not prepared to qualify that in any way. That's the truth. That's the way it is.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister may not be prepared to qualify or clear it in any way, but the fact remains that it could lead people to believe that the operation and maintenance costs of government aren't going up, when in fact they are going up and going up quite dramatically - 4.5 percent, by the estimates. That's what I'm pointing to.
We talk about putting out figures in statements that the public understands, in a simple manner. I'm not saying that the net increase - by the minister's calculations - the figures in these supps from the main estimates is one percent. But, that may leave the wrong impression with the general public, is what I'm saying, and I think we ought to be clear when we're putting figures out to the public.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The reason for using that calculation at all, Mr. Chair, is that if we had increased the operation and maintenance of government by, let's say $30 million, and there was $30 million recoverable, then one couldn't necessarily say that there was growth of government, which impacted on the surplus/deficit situation and affected it negatively. In fact, there would be no net change to the surplus/deficit situation of government. That's the reason why I use the net figure. That does show the material change in the surplus/deficit situation. That was my point.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm not going to waste a whole day in the Legislature belabouring it, but I do take exception to it and I do believe that it's very confusing for the general public. The fact remains is, when the numbers are all in at the end of the year, once the Auditor General has calculated them, we will see what the actual increase is, and that is what causes me concern and, from what I understand from listening to my colleague last night, it's causing him some concern also.
Insurance proceeds for the Old Crow school - is it fully covered? What is the method of recovering that? Do we have to build a new school first? Have we been paid out on it, or when do we get paid out on it?
Two points: is it fully covered, and how's the money going to be accounted for?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, the answer is that it's not fully covered, but the details of the situation can be provided by the Minister of Education and the Minister of Government Services when we get into the lines. We are booking a portion of the insurance recovery this year, in large part because we're claiming on that recovery this year. We're spending money toward the construction of the facility this year, and there are also, of course, renovation costs to existing facilities in Old Crow that have to be funded and were covered by the insurance, as well.
That's the reason why we're showing a recovery.
As for the exact amount of the eligible insurance, the Minister of Education and Government Services will be in a better position to provide that information when we get to the department votes.
Mr. Ostashek: I've got just a couple of questions, then I'll let my colleague go. I know I have some more in general debate yet.
I wrote a letter to the minister a while back asking for travel expenditures for Executive Council Office, asking for employment figures. We also asked for contracts. Are we going to get those in this supplementary debate, or not?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, with respect to ministerial travel, when we get to the department vote, I will provide the information, as per usual, to the members with respect to ministerial and all Cabinet office travel.
What was the second question? Employment contracts, okay.
PSC employment? Yes, I presume that the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission will be in a position to provide information with respect to employment.
With respect to contracts, I have to take notice of the question.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I'll tell the minister now that the reason I am raising it is because our researcher was told by one of the staff in the minister's office that we weren't getting it. I find that hard to believe, because we did provide it for the opposition. She said it's too much work; I don't believe it's that much work to run off whatever there is to date. So that's why I'm raising it with the minister.
As far as the ministerial travel goes, I would appreciate it if we could have it a little ahead of getting into the debate on the Executive Council Office. There's not much in these supps; we don't intend to belabour them, but I'm certainly not prepared to get them the day we go into the supps and to clear the Executive Council Office before I've had a chance to review the travel of the ministers.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the standard procedure when people ask for information in a departmental vote is the information is given when we go to that department. If the members don't want to clear it then I'm certain that we can talk about lots of things in the Executive Council Office until the members are ready.
We got into a brief discussion last night about the Government Leader's expectations of the budget, and whether it was to be balanced or not, and he suggested I read Hansard, which I did. I just want to refresh the Government Leader's - We got into a fairly lengthy discussion on the budget on April 3, and I asked the minister what his projections were, whether they were conservative, and he corrected me and said they were cautious instead. I went on to ask him about his forecast, and this is what I said, "Now I read that as a very cautious approach and based on what I would assume is a cautious forecast. Am I reading that correctly, that the minister in fact suspects that the budget will be balanced at the end of the year, but he's playing it safe." The minister replied, "Essentially, yes, I am." Now this isn't by way of a "gotcha"; it's just to point out what I was talking about last night. I think at one juncture the Minister of Finance thought that, when all the t's were crossed, and all the i's dotted, and all the lapses were in, and all the revotes were in, and everything else was figured out - at that time anyway, in April 1997 - and the year-end came around, there would be a balanced budget.
Is that in fact his expectation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: What I indicated last year and what I indicate now is that we were projecting a deficit budget, meaning that in the year that we were making the estimates we were going to draw down the surplus by a certain amount. We thought that we could recoup that amount, the amount of the deficit, through lapsed funding from the previous year. I indicated that I thought those were cautious estimates based on past practice, based on what had historically happened.
Last year was the budget that we were working with and last year the O&M lapses were only $2.5 million. So obviously I was not cautious enough with respect to estimating the lapses. That's one of the reasons why I'm excessively cautious now in predicting lapses, because it is very difficult to predict what the available funding might be there after year-end for expenditure in future years.
Mr. Cable: What I was leading up to when I was speaking last night was, assuming that there was an expectation of a balanced budget after the lapses, at some juncture, that would mean that the deficit prediction of $17 million would, in fact, be off by $17 million. I had calculated that out as 4.5 percent. That was erroneous; it's something less than that. I had actually used the $22 million accumulated deficit rather than the annual deficit. I was wondering whether that, in the Finance minister's view, was an acceptable discrepancy, whether that sort of difference of, let's say 3.5 percent, was acceptable in his forecasting or whether he should be going back to the drawing board and looking at the forecasting?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, in terms of the items to be aware of and to be particularly vigilant about, they involve the increased costs from the estimates in the departments that are showing those significant increases, and particularly Education and Health and Social Services, in this particular case.
If, from the previous year, the government lapses money in the capital side - in this case $25 million or so - that's not something that I can predict, and that's not something that necessarily should cause anybody any particular anxiety. But the growth in the departmental expenditures is - and the net growth, I would argue, and obviously members opposite disagree. The net growth in operations for the government that has a material impact on the surplus deficit situation is something that should be identified and reviewed. That's the issue that I have focused on.
Mr. Cable: I've gone back over the last couple of budgets and the first supplemental change in those budgets. If I remember correctly, this $17-million change is fairly significantly larger than the previous ones. Is it within the sort of normal range of expectations of the Government Leader or the Minister of Finance that the first supplemental would yield a deficit of this size - the change in the deficit of this size?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't quite understand the question. Perhaps the member could give me the intent of the question, and perhaps I would be able to respond better.
I would just point out to the member that we had estimated at the beginning of the year, if one wants to talk about trends - that we were going to have a surplus of $15 million. It's now almost $24 million. One could argue that that's an improvement.
The increase that we are showing here for the current year deficit is about equal to the net revote of the lapsed 1996-97 capital.
So, I don't see that there is a major concern to address outside of the obvious increased costs in health care and education. Those are the things that we've been focusing on; those are the things that one should be mindful of, and we, in this particular case, rather than trying to suppress those cost pressures in those particular areas, knowing that they were largely driven by volume increases, made a conscious decision to support those expenditures because we believed that the people of the territory want us to do that because people don't want us to compromise the program designs and the programs they've come to enjoy in those particular areas, particularly.
That's a sense of what our priorities are. We have clearly cut back in the operating side a total of $2 million in other departmental expenditures because we believe, and this is our sense of priority, that the public is prepared to see some reduction in that area in order to support education and health care expenditures.
We are not saying, and we haven't said, that the Departments of Health and Social Services and Education can write blank cheques, but what we have said is that we want to protect program services for those departments and we are going to do what we can to meet the obvious growing demand in various specified areas. And that's what the supplementary estimates are all about, in my view.
Mr. Cable: Just to pursue that for a short distance - I don't want to belabour it - but the $17-million increase in the projected deficit for the year is about that 3.5 percent over the total expenditures of $452 million, as he started out.
If I'm hearing the Minister of Finance correctly then, he is saying that the change in the deficit of that amount between the time of the tabling of the mains and the tabling of the supps does not set off any major alarm bells with respect to forecasting in the departments.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The alarm bells, if one wants to refer to them as alarm bells, will be going off in the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Education, which are projecting to overspend their budgets by a certain amount - the amount that's shown in the estimates.
When the alarm bells go off, so to speak - I'll use the member's word; I think there's probably a better terminology for it, but just so we know what we're talking about - in those particular areas, we analyzed those cost pressures to determine whether or not we were going to try to suppress the growth in those areas, or whether or not we were going to meet the proposed increased costs. Because of what we understood to be the reasons for those increased costs in those particular areas, we agreed to fund those items and make reductions elsewhere in government. That's what we have indicated is our priority. That's the point that we've been making with respect to the supplementary estimates and what we're trying to respond to.
Mr. Cable: So what the Minister of Finance then is saying is that the forecasting procedure was all right, but there were some unexpected changes in some of the areas, such as social assistance in Health and Social Services, and the alarm bells then should not be ringing with respect to the forecasting process. Is that what he's saying?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I hesitate to portray them as alarm bells, because I don't want people to believe that we are terribly concerned with a view to cutting back our expenditures in these particular areas: health care and education. But, there are noticeable increases. We have to determine very carefully how the increases were generated. As I say, because we are comfortable that these increases are more or less generated through volume increases in our community, we felt that we should be supporting these items.
With respect to a large portion of the revotes, this is particularly not something that we, who weren't the estimators of the original budgets, are not in a particularly good position to be able to read. But, it's only the net change that has a material impact on the surplus/deficit. That's where, in my own view, we should be focusing our attention.
As I say, on the net operations side, the member can very easily read where our priorities are. They're crystal clear, in my view.
Mr. Cable: Yes, I appreciate that.
In last night's Yukon News, there was a lengthy article on the finances of the government. There was a paragraph on the surplus which, now pegged at $28.3 million, is expected to drop to $19 million if the government's public servants get a contract similar to the one signed by the Yukon teachers, said the minister. This would mean that, using the teachers' contract as a guide, there would be a $4.8-million addition to the YGEU's contract. Are the figures in the article correct?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, it could be, depending on how one wants to read the settlement, in the neighbourhood of $3 million to $4 million in terms of the wage settlements. So, it could be $20 million; it could be a little over $20 million - if one uses the public sector as a guide - $19 million or $20 million, that neighbourhood, is quite correct, yes.
Mr. Cable: The numbers that were used - what time period do they relate to? Would it include back pay up to the end of March 1998? What is the time frame for that $4.8 million or whatever lesser sum is involved?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't know. The member would have to ask the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission as to precisely what the time frame involves. I don't believe, as the member knows, that the mandate from the government did not include retroactive pay before the period of the start of the official date of the contract. I'm certain the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission can provide that information to the member easily enough.
Mr. Cable: I have some sort of global questions on health care funding and we can deal with them later in the Health and Social Services budget if the minister feels that it's inappropriate now.
We had a fairly lengthy discussion during the budget about whether the health care fund had in fact been reduced. If I remember what the minister said, he basically said no, the Canada health and social transfer, when you remove some one-time entries, had not been reduced. There was a reduction to the transfer payment but not to the Canada health and social transfer, but that there was some offloading of federal programs and this is what was being proffered as a health care funding cut.
Has health care funding - the global term - been cut by the federal government?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I will leave some of the issues to the Minister of Health and Social Services but I will say this: if there is a cut to the Canada health and social transfer, that is offset by the formula financing arrangement. If there is an increase to the CHST, as the member knows we asked special permission that we benefit from any - not increase - improvement, so that it's not offset by the calculations on the formula financing agreement.
But knowing that, in terms of the federal cuts to the territories, rather than cutting various transfers, they rolled them into one single cut to the Yukon government a couple of years back, and that was a $20-million cut. It included general cuts, cuts that they could have made and had made to others. They rolled it into one big cut, and that cut was suffered a couple of years and a year ago.
Mr. Cable: Okay. What I'd like to see, and this can be done in the Health and Social Services budget, is backup for the statement that there have been health care funding cuts in this territory over the last year, if in fact that's the proposition. If it's not the proposition, then I'd like to hear what the proposition is.
I'd also like to have confirmed the amount of the money that will be coming to the territory by virtue of the Canada health and social transfer increase that took place during the election. I think, after some negotiation, it was decided that the transfer agreement set-offs would not operate against that money, so that there was a net increase, and I think it was something in the order of $700,000 starting in the next year and $7 million or $8 million over a period of five years, if I remember the numbers correctly.
There's a lot of misinformation out there about the health care funding, and if we could specifically set out what has been provided by the federal government - not two or three years ago but over the last year, for which I think the comparisons are probably more easily made because of the change to the Canada health and social transfer concept - I would greatly appreciate that so we can deal with it in the public domain. I know the Minister of Health and Social Services - I don't want to tell tales on him because I don't think the premier was around at the time when he issued this somewhat intemperate press release.
It was kind of funny. I actually talked about VSA - very selective amnesia. It's been a long time. And he said, "'Has she forgotten...'" that's the Member for Porter Creek South "'...that the federal Liberals are responsible for drastic cutbacks in health care funding,' Sloan asked. 'I'd like to find out whether that's kind of some intemperate over-reaction, or whether in fact that's the fact.'"
So I alert the Minister of Health and Social Services that I'd like to see that statement, intemperate or otherwise, backed up with some numbers. Hopefully he'll present some numbers on a sheet of paper, so we can test the thesis. I wonder if the Minister of Finance could make that commitment on behalf of his minister.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the member's not going to like what I have to say. I have to give him full credit for valiantly supporting the federal government, and he does so at great cost to himself and his party here. Certainly I give him full credit.
However, the cut to the Yukon took place, of course, with a five-percent cut to our formula base, which translated into a seven-and-a-half percent cut to our grant. Now, the base includes funding for health care, and the justification for this cut was because the federal government was cutting transfers - EPFs - to provinces, and they felt that we were eligible for cuts, too. So consequently, yes, indeed, one can easily argue - and we have argued - that the cuts, in the first instance, were greater on a percentage basis than they were to the provinces, in the first instance, and secondly, that they did represent cuts - given the federal government's intention, and given the size of these cuts - did represent cuts to health care.
Now, it just so happens that the Yukon government - and I'll include the Member for Porter Creek North in this statement, because I'm feeling very generous right now - the previous government and this government have stubbornly resisted cutting health care during this period, and I think the main estimates and the O&M estimates will bear this out, that despite the cuts, funding in these key and priority areas were still stubbornly funded by a resisting Yukon government.
In terms of the funding that is to be provided to the Yukon, thanks to the federal Finance minister's agreement that they will allow the Yukon to benefit from changes made during the election campaign to the CHST funding - and what it essentially means is that they will not be cutting as much as they said they were going to cut - the change will probably mean about a net increase of $1 million in the coming year to the Yukon government.
When they cut the Yukon government, in terms of the five percent from the formula base, they cut the Yukon government in one fell swoop, and it represented a very large and very sizeable sum. Based on the fact that they were justifying that cut as being a cut that they were making to the other provinces, and in the provinces they were cutting the health and social services, the CHST or the old EPF, one can be certainly be forgiven if they interpret the formula base cut as being a cut to health and social services primarily. But the federal minister has very graciously allowed both territories to see some small measure of restoration for the cuts, and we think that next year it will be about $1 million.
Mr. Cable: I can assure the Finance minister that I'm simply valiantly searching for the truth. There is no personal expense to me - none whatsoever. The truth shall make us free.
I wonder if the minister would do this. I don't think it would take a lot of work; I'm sure the deputy would be happy to do this. Starting back in 1995-96 and working through 1996-97 and 1997-98, could he track the health program as it's transformed through the Canada health and social transfer monies, so that we can see them year by year and draw comparisons? Then, could he take what he feels is a fair attribution of the base cut and tell us what that works out to, and then add the two together, so we can track them through those three fiscal years? Then, could he, for the upcoming fiscal year, once we get this extra grab bag of money we got during the election, show us whether in fact that will result in a cutback? Then we can all form our own opinions; then they'll be free of political rhetoric.
Mr. Ostashek: The member can get all the figures he wants from that; I think that's legitimate. Maybe I can ease the member's mind, because I was the Finance minister of the day.
All of the cut that we took for our base was in relation to post-secondary education, health and social services. They were cut from established program financing to the provinces by four percent. They cut our base by five percent, but they included the money we put into the base, so it related to a seven-percent cut. I had very many hot meetings with the federal government over it, until they finally admitted that we got hit harder than the provinces. But I have no difficulty with the member asking for the tracking; I think it's probably a good idea.
The fact is that, in my opinion, the entire cut to our base was to social programs, post-secondary education and health and social services. As you can see in the budget now, we have an CHST line, where before, it was under established program financing.
Mr. Cable: I guess we've got a round robin going here. I wonder if the minister understands what I'm asking for or is the communication flowing here back and forth?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I think I do. I must say that my interpretation of the situation is very closely akin to the leader of the official opposition's with respect to what the intent of the cuts were. It's largely because the cuts that were made to provinces - in all the discussion around the cuts that were made to the provinces - focused on the health and social program areas.
Then they came to us and said, "You're going to do your share. How is that to be interpreted? Well, they can't cut the CHST or they can't cut the old EPF and have it make any difference because of the formula financing agreement, so they went after the base. So, very easily, one draws the conclusion that they were after that kind of expenditure here.
Now we have the ability to - because of our own budgeting rules and our abilities - restore, essentially, funding to the priority areas in health care and social service spending if we wish. Clearly, in this particular case and in this particular budget, there is a conscious effort to spend money in these particular areas.
I think I understand and will read Hansard and read the Blues, and if we have any questions whatsoever, we'll be in contact with the member.
Mr. Cable: Just to be absolutely certain, I'd like to see stripped out of the base change the educational part of it. I'm solely interested in the health and social spending. Are we clear on that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I think so. I can't say that I'm completely clear, but I don't think there's any percentage in getting clarification on the record right now unless the member wants to pursue it. We could talk to the member and we'll try to do what we can to help the member, but my understanding of the situation with respect to what the cuts have all meant is very clear and very clearly on the record.
Mr. Cable: Just for my own education - my own edification, I suppose - I wonder if the minister would extend the courtesy of some time with his deputies so that I can work out exactly what I want.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Did the member say he wanted some time with my deputy? Sure.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Ostashek: I had a little rest; now I can get back into the debate here.
Mr. Chair, I want to go back to the overall operation and maintenance cost of government, which are in the estimates - $370 million - and we hear the Finance minister telling us today that could increase the estimates now. We don't know what the actuals will be, but that could increase by some $3 million to $5 million, depending on the outcome of the contract negotiations with our employees. Am I correct in that assumption? Is that what the minister said to the Finance critic from the Liberal Party?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes indeed. I hesitate in an instant to say that I would think, and I believe, that the $5 million range is very high, and that there will be some increase to the O&M estimates, which will presumably be offset by some lapses, as well.
Mr. Ostashek: I guess that's where my concern is, Mr. Chair, and that's why I think this debate is going to be useful.
The minister has talked about his government's priorities, and that's fair game. They were elected, and they have some priorities. They're not going to be the same priorities that we have, but I believe that we have some useful comments to make in this budget debate, and the fact that what the government of the day is doing - we have seen the estimates go up dramatically in one year.
I guess my next question to the minister is this: does he expect to see a levelling off? He has already done a budget for next year, or at least put out the call letters. I'm sure he's not going to tell us exactly what was in them, but let's try it.
What instructions were given to departments for operation and maintenance for the next budget?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Nice try, Mr. Chair.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member says that he gave them to us. I think if he gave them to us, he gave them in the most general terms possible.
We want - and we have wanted - the departments to provide realistic and sensible estimates, accounting for full economy and efficiency in delivering government operations. How's that for general? We have, in fact, not issued the formal call letter for the operations budgets at all at this point, but we intend to within a week or so.
The member made reference to the priorities of the government. We're not hiding the fact that we've put a bargaining mandate with our employees on the table at two percent. We're not hiding that. That's part of the public record.
The cost overruns in Health and Social Services are overruns in large part that we're prepared to support. We're not hiding that. They are indeed a couple of our priorities. They're not the only priorities of government - we have others - but they are in this budget and we do support them.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, we need only go through the budget book, and we can see money turned back in many, many lines in the budget. I know that the minister said in the House, in debate here in the previous day or two, that he extracted another 1.5 percent from other departments to help to pay the increased costs in Health and Social Services.
My concern is how long does the minister think he can continue to do that if we're going to have a continuing escalation of Health and Social Services costs? We already have citizens in the Yukon complaining to us about the lower maintenance of highways - not as much money being spent on the maintenance of highways, not as many hours being worked as there were in the past, and I don't believe that we can continue to take money out of maintenance of highways and buildings, if that's what's happening. Government Services has some reductions on their property management. We cannot continue to do that without leaving ourselves open to some very large expenses in the future.
Could I have the minister's thoughts on that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, as strange as it may seem, I agree with the member. We have no intention of, by the year 2020, having everybody work for the Department of Health and Social Services. We have a number of priorities in this government: everything from mailing tourism brochures to maintaining highways to handing out drivers' licences, et cetera, as well as providing quality education and quality health care.
In this particular case, when we're tuning up our budgets and these, in the bigger scheme of things, are minor adjustments, when cleaning up our budgets, clearly, if one wants to detect where the government's priorities are, the government's priorities, at this time, are to try to protect the service levels in health care and education, because, in large part, they are driven by volume increases. We did not want to be in a situation, because we believe we understand what the public's desire is in this case - that they want these services protected.
I don't believe that the cuts that we have inflicted on departments will mean any change in fundamental service levels to the public. I will qualify that in one respect. If a department sees a better way of doing something or meeting a particular service and they want to change the way they do it, that is perfectly legitimate at any time. If it can be more efficiently delivered, I would support them in trying to deliver it more efficiently. But, in terms of things such as road maintenance or fundamental services, I believe we can sustain those services.
It will mean that we will have to slow the growth trajectory, particularly in the Department of Health and Social Services. There is no question about that. Clearly, if all things stay the same and there are no tax increases and revenues are fixed, 20 or 30 years from now, we would all be working for the Department of Health and Social Services. So, the growth trajectory has to be held in check. But, we are not prepared to cut the service levels at this time. We don't feel it's justified and we don't believe that the minor adjustments that we're making should cause any concern.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, if we continue the rate of growth that we have in Health and Social Services, it'll be a long time before 2020 that we'll all be working for Health and Social Services. It's growing -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: We hear the Member for Faro here chipping in -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: We got 10 of it back.
So, Mr. Chair, back to the Finance minister, whom I'm debating with, rather than the Member for Faro. While I agree with the minister that he knew that for a year or even two years, at some point those budgets are going to have to be increased again to make up for the reduction in maintenance, or there's just going to have to be savings made throughout the departments. And one of my concerns is that, I know in the four years that we were there, we took a lot of money out of Community and Transportation Services on the operation and maintenance side, and I'm not convinced that we can stand to take much more without having a detrimental effect on the services provided by that department.
There's been some debate in the public, and different figures have been put out by the Minister of Finance and by his Economic Development minister showing what will be available in revenues for the budget for the 1997-98 year. And while I don't expect the Finance minister to tell me what figure it is, because I know he doesn't know himself right now, does he expect it to be in the same range as what was in the 1997-98 budget?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, we're debating next spring's budget. I haven't even developed next spring's budget. We haven't even done final calculations on the formula grant for next year. I'm in a very poor position to be able to indicate with any precision and, if I gave any number at all, I'd have the Member for Riverside saying, "Well, that's pretty poor prognostication; boy, maybe there's real cause for trouble here, maybe there's cause for concern." So, the encouragement is to press me into giving a number, which is sort of a best guess, and then I'm held to it, and if it's not that number than there is a problem.
I'm going to have to resist the member's request. I would say that the expenditure levels will probably be in the $400 million to the $460-million range - somewhere in that neighbourhood. I think that's probably pretty safe.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, the reason I ask the question is because there is one figure out there that the Finance minister put out there. There's another one that was put out by his Economic Development minister at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Haines, Alaska, last summer. That's why I've asked the question, because there are two different figures out. And, I have one by the Finance minister here that will likely be between $420 million and $440 million.
That's what he said to the public, yet he's not prepared to say it to this House. His Economic Development minister said in Haines, Alaska - we were looking for the news article, but we haven't been able to get our hands on it, but I specifically remember it - that there would only be $400 million, which is going to have a tremendous impact on Yukoners as to how much the revenue is.
Now, I know the government has been trying to downplay the expectations of Yukoners, but while this may be next spring's budget we are talking about, these supplementary budgets have an impact on what's in next spring's budget. So, I think it is an appropriate question, to ask the minister what his calculation is.
Is the minister prepared to stay by the statement that was reported that he said: $420 million to 440 million?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: In the first instance, what we do now will affect what the budget is three years from now. If we overspend dramatically, presumably it may take us two or three years to recover, but that's not justification for debating next year's spring budget now, in my view.
A lot will depend on how much the total budget estimates are. What we can secure in recoverable funding will depend on what those budgets are, and there's work going on to try to ensure that our recoverable funding is as high as possible for various projects, such as the Shakwak project. I can tell the member that if the Shakwak project comes in and it's $30 million in one year, I'll put it in the budget before I will try to prove that the budget estimates will not be $450 million but instead will be $480 million. I will put it in the budget anyway, because we want to be able to undertake those projects. Based on the information we have, I suspect it will be anywhere, as I say, between $400 million, $450 million, $460 million, depending on the recoverable. You name it; maybe it's $470 million. It could be any number of figures, depending on what projects we can secure between now and budget time.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm not trying to upset the Finance minister, but he is putting figures out in public, and I think we have the right to question those figures.
I want to just change gears here a little bit. The minister said in the debate last fall, when the commissions were set up, that they had a finite life. We understand that the local hire commission is going to be tabling their report to Cabinet before the end of the year. Does that mean that this commission is going to no longer exist?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: When they finish, they will no longer exist. That's right. When they're finished making their recommendations, that commission will no longer exist.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister stated yesterday that there was a bit more revenue because of more-than-anticipated revenues from our banking agreement with the TD. Did I not hear the minister say in one of his speeches to the supps that there was an increase in the revenues that we received from the bank because of our agreement?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't recall that reference. I don't know what the member is referring to.
Mr. Ostashek: I'll check the Blues and see. When does the banking contract come up for renewal?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I believe it expires in March 1999. The tender for renewal will have to go out next year sometime.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Oh, sorry - November 1999. I apologize. But the tender will probably go out sometime next year, I would imagine.
Mr. Ostashek: I don't know if the minister has had time to think about this, but is it his intention to go out to tender for it? I know there have been two methods of going out for tender: one is a long time in advance so we get some constructive bids; other times, the tender goes out where really no other institution has a chance to bid on it. That has happened in the past with various governments. I'm not accusing the Finance minister of doing anything wrong. It was done under Conservative governments, too. But we have benefited immensely from the fact that we put this out for tender this time, changed banks, and kept the banks honest in this instance, and it has been a great benefit to the taxpayers. I'm just wondering if the minister had thought about what he was going to do with it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: My preference is to provide plenty of advance notice for a tender with a reasonably long tender period. We want to encourage a good competitive atmosphere and thoughtful bidding in the process. We will also, in all likelihood, undertake some public discussion in the communities about the banking services, because I know that they are interested in the levels of service, et cetera. I think sometime next year, probably, we will initiate that kind of discussion, that kind of consultation.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that and I wholeheartedly agree with him that it will probably be of benefit to the taxpayers if it's handled in that way.
On the capital expenditures, there has been a $17-million increase and I know some of that's to do with some of the projects that are going on. Does the minister have at his fingertips there, or could he get for us - was there any increase other than the Old Crow school in discretionary capital projects?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: In terms of new projects, I believe that basically - I can check it - the projects are the Old Crow school and the Old Crow road, or the road from the Dempster to Old Crow that are, sort of, major new projects in the budget. The vast majority of the projects here are revotes from previous years. There may be one or two little things here and there but, generally speaking, we've not been approving new capital projects.
Mr. Ostashek: There was an article in the paper the other day where I believe the Minister of Health and Social Services said that there was some $25 million outstanding in native health buildings - from the federal government. I believe that we provide not only health services but social assistance service as well to some native people and then bill back to DIAND. Am I correct in that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Maybe I can add a little more information on that. The majority of our billings are for First Nations children in care. The other main components of that are for status people at the Thomson Centre and some other services we deliver.
We've had some limited success to date on recoveries. We've received about $3 million. We have come to an agreement with the federal government on $13 million that is undisputed. In other words, they can agree that we actually did expend this, and we're at the process of providing them with details as backup on that amount.
Mr. Ostashek: My question is for the Finance minister, and that $13 million would go a long way to helping him solve some of his financial problems in the Yukon here. Is there consistent pressure being put on the federal government to pay their bill, at least the $13 million that is not in dispute? Because the federal government has been notoriously slow in paying these bills, and $25 million to a small jurisdiction like the Yukon is a substantial amount of money.
I think it's totally inappropriate for a senior level of government to withhold that type of funding if they are legitimate billings, and I know from my time in the member opposite's position that I was convinced that they were legitimate billings.
In questioning the Finance minister, he can put his Government Leader's cap on, if he likes. What are we doing to try to collect this money in a timely fashion?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the member is quite right, Mr. Chair, that it is inappropriate that this outstanding account is taking so long to be repaid. I will say - and this is all with greatest respect, of course, to the federal government - that I have raised the matter with the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, and, to her credit, she acknowledged that there was a problem that had to be addressed and indicated that she would provide direction to ensure that a timely repayment schedule is established. She did not try to resist accepting responsibility for the outstanding billings.
Now, having said that, of course, there is some disagreement as to the federal government's view of what the outstanding billings are and what ours are.
What we do agree about them is that there is a fairly large, outstanding account that must be paid. The federal minister did say that she would provide direction. As the member points out, a repayment schedule has been constructed.
The member, I know, knows that these funds have all been booked, so what it does do is affect our cash position, which of course will help us, particularly when it comes to paying for banking services, et cetera. Having the money in our account is a lot better than having the money on the books to be collected. I would much prefer, given the size, frankly, of our land inventory, to have this cash in hand, because I do believe that it would give us some comfort in terms of cashflow.
Mr. Ostashek: Speaking of cash on hand, what kind of balances are we carrying in the bank now, and what do we have in investment capital, in short-term stuff?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'm told that we have $17 million in the bank today.
Mr. Cable: We touched on it briefly, but are there any problems with the present banking contract, the arrangement, I believe, with the TD Bank?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I've not heard of any difficulties from the Department of Finance's perspective. I've not heard of anything that would count as a problem with the contract itself, with the contractor.
Mr. Ostashek: Just one more question on banking. I know there've been demands - maybe not formal demands, but there have been questions asked and inquiries made about establishing banking services in some rural communities where they're not now. Does the Finance minister have any intention of establishing any more rural banking services at this time?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There remain three communities - Carcross, Destruction Bay, Burwash - that don't have banking services and I have not received any requests from those communities for banking services. I presume that the communities up the north highway bank in Haines Junction, and Carcross residents bank in Whitehorse and that's probably the reason why we don't receive many requests. I've never received any requests, frankly.
Now, I have heard concerns that the old banking contractor might be pulling their existing agencies out of communities. We believe that we have an arrangement with the contractor which will allow the contractor, who does move into those communities, to provide the banking service should another bank pull out. That's the only rumour I've heard but I don't have any information to substantiate that rumour. I just have heard it, but I do feel that the government is duly protected in terms of the contract in that the contractor, TD, would have to come in and provide that service if, before the end of the contract, the service was pulled out of a community where they are currently banking.
Mr. Ostashek: I don't have any difficulty with the TD stepping in if the previous bank pulls out, but I do believe that there will be some additional cost to us if that happens because, right now, one of the major benefits of the contract was that CIBC didn't pull out of all the communities, but we were paying them to stay in. They were being funded by taxpayer dollars to stay there and, once they lost the contract, they still saw fit to stay there and, as a result, we had some extra bonuses in the contract that we had with TD. But am I not correct in saying that, if we had to step in, which I know our contractor will have to do, there would be additional costs to the government?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The answer is yes.
I was just asking the deputy here if the TD pulled out of all their banking communities - Watson Lake, Dawson - would the contract costs be substantially more. The answer is yes, they would. I don't know if we have a savings or not with this banking contract, but certainly that would make a change to the way things are done.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Not seeing any, we will go to the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Yukon Legislative Assembly
Chair: Is there any general debate? This is page 1 of the book.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I am shuffling papers here, Mr. Chair.
The member can see that there is a reduction being proposed to the Yukon Legislative Assembly office. The reason for the reduction is that the appropriation to cover the cost of Hansard is being reduced by $48,000. The revised total of $387,000 is to cover the cost of the contract for transcribing Hansard, the cost of printing Hansard and the cost of updating the compact disk to Hansard from 1987 to 1998.
Chair: Is there any further debate?
Mr. Ostashek: As the minister said, if there is a reduction for the one year, why is there a reduction? Did the minister say? I may not have caught him. Why was there a reduction?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The reason for the reduction is that at the time that the budget was set the contract had not been signed and the bids came in and realized a total savings of $48,000.
Chair: Not hearing further debate, I will continue.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Hansard in the amount of an underexpenditure of $48,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of an underexpenditure of $48,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Legislative Assembly Office
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The $8,000 is a revote required to finish the building renovations for the information services branch, which was relocated last year, resulting from the renovations of the opposition office area.
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $8,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures in the amount of $8,000 agreed to
Legislative Assembly Office agreed to
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a break for 10 minutes?
Chair: I will call Committee of the Whole to order. We'll go to Executive Council Office. Is there any general debate?
Executive Council Office
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, while I've got the opportunity, I will answer questions or perhaps pass out a little bit of information relating to a question that was posed by the Member for Porter Creek North regarding which capital lapses were not revoted for the 1996-97 year. I'll pass that information around to members. Perhaps if members have specific questions about a specific item, they can ask the relevant minister at the relevant time.
I also have information respecting travel that I will pass around to the members as well.
The supplementary provides for a decrease of $91,000 in O&M funding, spending by the Executive Council Office, and an increase of $300,000 in capital for a 100-percent recoverable project. The O&M decrease is further supported by increased O&M recoveries of $81,000. This results in a total O&M savings of $172,000 for this vote.
The reduction in O&M expenditures is in response to the government's commitment to manage the spending. The cuts were made carefully, revealing all areas of expenditure. Most of the cut funds were the result of staffing delays. However, program spending will be limited in order to remain within this budget.
Some reallocation between programs has been necessary to support the priority work being done in the intergovernmental relations and policy branches. Fifty-six thousand dollars has been transferred to intergovernmental relations to support the pace of devolution negotiations.
In addition to the intergovernmental support for unity consultations, $15,000 of the public communications branch budget has also been set aside, providing a total fund of $40,000 for this project.
The other major component of the O&M funding is increased contribution agreements funding of $8,000 for two new renewable resource councils, which take effect with the signing of the Little Salmon-Carmacks and Selkirk land claims agreements. These funds are 100-percent recoverable from the federal government under bilateral funding agreements.
I'll just explain the capital supplementary. As mentioned previously, there's a $300,000 increase in capital spending in this supplementary. This is for a 100-percent recoverable land claims implementation project - the land information management system, or LIMS project - being carried out by Government Services. This project is funded in partnership with DIAND and Natural Resources Canada.
These funds are being revoted from last fiscal year because federal funding was made available in fiscal 1996-97, allowing the Yukon government to delay its contribution until this year.
That's the general explanation for the votes.
Mr. Ostashek: We spoke in debate, last night I believe - I know I did, in that I was having difficulty getting a true cost of what commissions were costing because of expenditures being scattered through various departments and almost impossible for us to track from this side of the House. I know the minister has said in this House before that some of the staff has been seconded, their salaries are being paid by the department, and his rationale on some of it was that, well, they'd been working on policy anyhow so it really doesn't count.
But I think this government has chosen to set up commissions for policy development, and that's their prerogative, but I believe we, as opposition, have a right to know what the total cost of these commissions is, and so does the general public.
So, is the minister prepared to try to give us a breakdown of the cost of each of the commissions, trying to pull things in from the other departments? Is the minister prepared to do that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I spent a substantial amount of time in the spring estimates doing precisely that. In the interim period, there has been no change to the budget allotments. There has been no change to the budget estimates for the commissions.
I tabled a substantial amount of information in the spring sitting. I have been told by the department that the commissions are on budget. In a couple of cases, they are slightly under. But, there is no change. I don't know what more I can provide for the members that I haven't already provided.
Mr. Ostashek: We will go back and look at those tables in the spring and see if that is satisfactory. I know that we felt that all of the costs were not being accounted for, but maybe they were, so we'll go back and look at that.
While we're in general debate here, could the minister just give us an update on land claims and where we're at and whether his target date, I believe, of December 31, 1998, for the settlement of all outstanding claims that he made in this Legislature one year ago or maybe last spring - I forget which - is still valid? And, if he could just bring us up to date on where land claims are at.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Things are proceeding along fairly expeditiously, Mr. Chair. I think, on the whole, things are going well. There are a couple of hiccups that I can speak to briefly.
In the first instance, the first items that have happened since the last spring, of course, are that the agreements that were negotiated by the previous government were completed in the legal drafting. There are a few minor issues to address out of that, something that's pretty routine. Of course, they were signed.
With respect to the Tr'ondek Hwech'in agreement, that has been signed and legal drafting is underway. I believe the legal drafting is in federal hands at this point.
Negotiations for White River and Kluane are nearing completion and either next month or January should be completed.
Liard First Nations negotiations are expected to be completed by the end of March 1998; that's the current target. We expect Ross River Dena Council negotiations to be complete sometime in June/July, if all goes well.
We also think, though, that the Carcross-Tagish First Nation should be completed shortly, perhaps in March. Those negotiations went more quickly than expected. Virtually nothing had been done up until recently, and so we were pleasantly surprised to see that negotiations could proceed apace.
As the member knows, the Ta'an Kwach'an Council negotiations have been completed to the extent possible, and they are pending finalization of the separation agreement between the Ta'an Kwach'an and Kwanlin Dun. Once that separation is complete, we expect that the agreements can be completed very rapidly.
There is obviously Kwanlin Dun, and we are not in negotiations presently with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. The federal and territorial governments have reviewed the land claims proposal put on the table by Chief Joe Jack in the summer, and while there are many interesting and innovative ideas, the proposal would have put us substantially outside the UFA in terms of the negotiating parameters, and so consequently we are not in a position to negotiate successfully that particular proposal.
Of course the member is aware that there was an enormous uncertainty at Kwanlin Dun as to whether or not the First Nation can achieve a mandate at the table. In any case, the inability of the council to operate effectively has created a situation where I don't think - unless something else happens - we'll be heading into negotiations in the near future.
I believe I've covered all the First Nations on that list.
Mr. Ostashek: My understanding was that there has been a separation agreement that has been signed or maybe wasn't signed between the Ta'an Kwach'an and the Kwanlin Dun. There was one signed between the Ta'an and the Little Salmon-Carmacks. Is the one between the Ta'an and the Kwanlin Dun still outstanding? Do I have that right?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I believe so. I understand that negotiations that were pursued with the current chief at Kwanlin Dun had come to a negotiators' agreement. However, the inability of the - and I believe I'm being correct in this. If I'm not, I'll come back and correct myself - council at Kwanlin Dun to ratify such an agreement has made it difficult for it to be concluded and consequently, at this moment, it's in limbo.
Mr. Ostashek: Did the minister say that the Little Salmon-Carmacks agreement with the Kwanlin Dun was in limbo because I was under the impression - and I could have got it wrong - that the federal government had accepted that agreement.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'll have to check for the member. I wouldn't be very precise in my language, so let me check precisely to see what the status of that is.
Mr. Ostashek: I can recall sitting in the chair opposite there. It happened the Minister of Finance, who was the leader of the official opposition, chastised me quite severely for not making any progress with Kwanlin Dun in my time in office. When the NDP government was elected, they did a complete overhaul of the Land Claims Secretariat, in an effort to speed up land claims.
Would it be fair to say that the overhaul of the land claims office has not done anything to speed up the land claims process in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, it's a little bit like asking me whether or not I've stopped beating my spouse. First of all, I dispute the fact that there was an overhaul and, secondly, I believe that things are going along fairly quickly.
I think that the inability of the Kwanlin Dun to come to the negotiating table is unfortunate. The inability for us to pursue negotiations with Kwanlin Dun is truly unfortunate, and certainly there are a lot of people who will suffer for that inability, but it is no lack of energy on our part, given that we had increased the number of negotiating tables, reduced the number of files per negotiator and put a lot more energy into pursuing the completion of the land claims.
The land claim negotiators that the member had before are the same land claim negotiators, plus one, that we have now, and they are doing an effective job of getting land claims agreements. We are very much interested in securing these agreements, and we believe that we will show progress. We are showing progress, as a matter of fact, in terms of getting agreements concluded.
Mr. Ostashek: I have difficulty following how the minister can stand there and say that the negotiators are the same when, in fact, they've been changed. The chief negotiator has been changed. The assistant chief negotiator has been moved to another department. They are not the same negotiators that were there under our administration.
I'm not saying that the minister has not been trying, but we, too, tried, and put forward every effort to try and reach agreements on the land claim and facilitate them. We did get chastised severely by the member opposite for not making progress. I am just saying to him now that he has been in there a year. As far as the general public is concerned, there has been very little progress on the land claims front.
We will see if, now that we have some dates nailed down by the minister, hopefully, that they can be completed in those time frames.
Is the minister saying to me today that we will have to wait for an election in Kwanlin Dun for them to resolve the council problems before we will be able to get back to negotiations with them?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, knowing what I know about the land claims negotiations, Mr. Chair, I must say that I do believe that negotiations are going along very, very well right now.
With respect to the issue of changing negotiators, I don't want to relive the moments of last spring, but I'll tell you, Mr. Chair, that the principal negotiators are the same principal negotiators - the actual on-the-ground negotiators, the people who actually deal with the First Nations - that were there before. We've just added one.
With respect to the comments about changing negotiators, those are, of course, loaded comments, and the member will know that I disagree with his interpretation of what happened and what has been happening at the Land Claims Secretariat. I do believe that rather substantial progress is being made, and I'm very happy with the results of a lot of that progress.
Let me say that it is important that the First Nation be able to ratify its agreement. We are currently operating on the basis of legal opinions, a number of which have been sought by the federal government, to determine the ability of the First Nation to operate, both at the land claims table and in striking agreements with other orders of governments on other issues.
At this point, we are unable, without a council resolution, to my understanding of our legal position, to conclude land claims agreements, or sign them off, and we are unable to conclude other sorts of agreements without the chief and council resolution. If the council is not operating or is not being convened to make decisions, then we are in no position to conclude arrangements with them.
Mr. Ostashek: I understand that the chief federal land claim negotiator is not in good health now and is recovering in Vancouver. We just want to wish him well and hope that he gets back on his feet quickly. My question to the minister: is this going to have an impact on the pace of negotiations?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I will begin by saying that, indeed, the situation with the federal land claims negotiator is serious and we do wish him well as well, and we have communicated that to him on behalf of everyone, hoping that the situation improves. He was transferred mainly to the transboundary land claim file just before he became ill, and the other federal negotiators have been filling in on the domestic claims. We believe they are ably handling those claims and we feel that the federal government is participating more than adequately in pursuing settlements.
Mr. Ostashek: Speaking of transboundary, can the minister enlighten me and Yukoners as to what is actually happening in the Liard negotiation? Are we into a transboundary negotiation where we are negotiating a Yukon claim, or is the Yukon claim being negotiated under the auspices of the UFA, which was signed by the Liard First Nation? Has there been a change? What I want to know is, is there a different set of rules for the negotiation of the Liard First Nation than what there was for other First Nations in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The short answer is no. The Liard First Nation is negotiating its land claim under the UFA and within the guidelines of the UFA. There are only, at this point, very preliminary discussions on negotiating mandates on the issue of transboundary claims generally, and we have, to my knowledge, not engaged in any serious negotiations with transboundary claimants at this point - actual negotiations in terms of trying to get things accomplished.
I have raised the matter with the Premier of B.C. on the subject of transboundary claims of Yukon First Nations into northern B.C. As I understand it, the B.C. government is now starting to develop a mandate for transboundary claims from Yukon-based First Nations into northern British Columbia, and the federal government representative, Mr. Koepke, was assigned to that file.
Mr. Ostashek: For the record, if the minister could just clarify it, we are negotiating with the Liard First Nation, we are not negotiating with the Kaska First Nation. We are negotiating separately with the Liard First Nation, separately with the Ross River Kaska, or whatever their band is called. Am I correct in that assumption?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, those in the Kaska nation with whom we are negotiating are the Ross River Dena Council and the Liard First Nation. They have constructed their own umbrella framework with all the Kaska peoples in northern B.C. and Yukon. We have had meetings with the Kaska Tribal Council and the Kaska Dena Council, but those with whom we are negotiating are the First Nations in the Yukon under the UFA.
Mr. Ostashek: Just to bring me up to date of where we are at with DAP, when is DAP going to be implemented?
Mr. Livingston: To respond to the member opposite, the development assessment process is currently under design at a three-cornered table with the Council of First Nations, the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon. We anticipate agreeing on the substantive policy matters that are still outstanding around the table in mid-December of this year, and the federal legislation should go before the House, I would anticipate, in the first half of 1998. So I would anticipate that DAP in fact would come into force probably at the beginning of 1999.
Mr. Cable: Just a couple of questions on the commissions. I gather the local hire commission is about to be wound up. It has a time line where I think the interim report was due at the end of the year, and the recommendations. The forestry commission, I understand, is due to report about the time of devolution, which I think is tentatively talked about as April.
Have there been any changes in the time lines as put forward in the House during budget debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It would probably be appropriate for the commissioners to answer those questions in their detail. The time lines that I'm aware of are still valid, in terms of the DAP commission. It is to be presumably concluded sometime in the spring; for the forestry, sometime at the end of the fiscal year, presumably, or April, somewhere in that neighbourhood. I can let the energy commissioner speak for the energy commission in a few moments, if he wishes. Local hire will be concluded presumably by January.
Mr. Cable: This is a bit of a loaded question, but what's the Government Leader's view on the success of these commissions? Does he have any...
This is a leading question. It gives him a podium to make the case.
Does he anticipate any further commissions being set up?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I believe that the commissions are a very effective way of focusing policy work in a particular area. I know there are skeptics in the opposition benches, but I can tell the member that, from my experience, both in this Legislature and in government over a very long time, it is often difficult to get not only the focus on a particular policy area, but also to get the political attention to ensure the project flies and survives. I think, generally speaking, the commissions have done very well and are meeting their objectives, and ensure that there is not only good, solid, interdepartmental administrative work, but also appropriate political attention.
At this point, I've not made any decisions with respect to further commission work, or new commissions, or anything of that sort. I know the members opposite have made suggestions for another commission. I've not made any decisions in that respect, nor has the government.
Mr. Cable: Last night, I was asking for the budgets of the commissions, and I think the Member for Kluane indicated that those are on record. Now, all we've got is a composite budget on our files, showing $499,000. Has there been a breakdown of the four commissions' individual budgets and have they been provided to the House? I have no recollection of receiving individual budgets. I wonder if we can get a confirmation of that.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I'll have to check. I do know that the members last spring put us through every gymnastic event to try to account for the commissions, looking at it from every different angle, up, down, sideways, behind the back, and up-front, and I know that I had the Executive Council Office working overtime, long hours, trying to pull all the information together. I would be surprised if the member doesn't have something because certainly a lot of work went into trying to answer the question, no matter how the members opposite put it. But I can check on that for the member, and if the members want to have more information, I can try to provide it. But, I thought I had covered it off in every different which-way; there has been no changes to the budget, to my knowledge.
Mr. Cable: Yes, we do have the global budgets, as I mentioned, and there is a recollection of being provided estimates, I think, of the number of people involved in secondments. So, there was some information provided. I would expect that the Executive Council debate will continue on into Monday. I wonder, i
f it is not a great deal of effort, whether we can get the four budgets broken down, and the expenditures to date, so that we can see whether they are in fact on time and on budget as was mentioned the other day by one of the commissioners, I believe.
Is that possible?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, it is. I can provide the information to the member and I'd be more than happy to do that. If the member wants to put forth any more questions, I'll be more than happy to put the department through the effort to get the information.
The Government Leader indicated during the budget debate that the secondment costs were not rolled into the budgets, I believe. Are these secondment costs actually isolated or are they simply left to the departments to account for them as they see fit?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I believe they're left in the departments. They're certainly not in this budget and they're not working for free, so I suspect that they're somewhere in the departments.
Mr. Cable: I guess the question is this: are they collected globally by the minister so that he can keep tabs on global secondment costs, or is anybody keeping an eye on what these secondments are costing us?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, of course, just as we keep an eye on what all the budgetary expenditures are costing. I know the members aren't interested in any other policy work in the government, but a lot of policy work is ongoing and there are people who work - there are whole policy units that are even bigger than the commissions in a single department that are doing work for the government every day and those costs are being tracked as well.
If the member wants to ask how, for example, the C&TS policy unit is constructed and how much it costs and how we track the policy work of that area, I'd be happy to do it. I suspect he's not interested in it, but if he wants it, we can do that, too.
Mr. Cable: Well, we're interested in a lot of things. Right at the moment, what we're interested in is the commissions.
Is there a global collection of the secondment costs? Do they wind up on the minister's desk, as the Minister of Finance, so that he knows what is flowing out of the various departments that could be allocated against the commissions?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I can forgive the member for not knowing what the minister does every day, but, no, the costs of various secondments throughout government do not reach my desk. I can ask for the information if the member asks for the information. He says he's interested in lots of things. He's clearly not interested in the cost of any other policy work in the entire government. But, I would entertain those costs, if the member wants to demonstrate that he is interested in sort of a broad issue or whether or not he is trying to make a point or a case with respect to the commissions alone.
As I think about it, off the top of my head, I think it would be worthwhile to calculate the costs of doing policy work for, for example, the Department of Community and Transportation Services and show comparisons, so that members know that there are costs of policy work going on today - important policy work - that is done in the traditional way of one department doing its own thing in its own isolation, and compare that with the cost of policy work that's being done by an interdepartmental team that we refer to as a commission, doing policy work that crosses departmental lines. It may be worthwhile to do that calculation, so that when the members ultimately come forward with their political campaign, we can ensure that there are appropriate references to the working reality throughout government.
Mr. Cable: Well, that's an odd piece of logic. My asking questions on the costs of the commissions excludes my interest in any other piece of policy. I will have to think about how the Government Leader arrived at that conclusion.
If he's prepared to present the global costs of the secondments, that would be very useful.
On the devolution, we got into a discussion of that one night here. I think the minister indicated that he was getting into some tough negotiations with the federal government and that he wasn't prepared to take over the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development programs, unless they were adequately funded. Since that time, I think he has spoken to Mr. Martin and possibly the federal DIAND minister. Has he had any further resolution of the problem that he expressed at that time?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, I'll point out, Mr. Chair, that there is nothing at all curious about my logic in noting that it's patently obvious that the opposition is pursuing the costs of one aspect of policy work simply because it is a commission, because I've not heard, and the member can correct me, the member or members ask about the cost of any other policy work being done in this government. So, based on the criticism that has been levelled and the deep serious concerns that have been levelled by the members opposite and the political rhetoric from the members opposite respecting the commissions, the member will forgive me if I am of the belief that the member is trying to build a political campaign or develop information about the commissions that he can use in isolation to criticize the cost of doing policy work.
I think it is a fair comment from me to be saying that trying to determine the cost of policy work for the commissions in isolation of what it costs to do policy work for departments is not fair. And I'm not naive about what's going on, Mr. Chair. There's nothing innocent about these questions at all. They're legitimate questions and I accept the member's proposition that he wants to have information, but I know he's developing a political campaign. I wasn't born yesterday.
So, Mr. Chair, there's no need to be precious about this. I know what's going on and I will provide the information as the member requests.
With respect to devolution, I did indicate and I do indicate that the government is not interested in being in a position where the transfer of the Northern Affairs program is going to cost Yukon government money in order to meet its basic obligations. It is for that reason that we went through the due diligence exercise last spring to determine whether or not the base level funding in the region and whatever we could extract from head office was sufficient in order to meet the existing public government obligations of the Northern Affairs program.
We did determine that the public government obligations could be met by the base budget and that we could proceed to the next step in the devolution negotiations. The next step included a calculation of one-time costs as well as a calculation about environmental liabilities, et cetera. Those discussions are currently underway about the assembly of the one-time costs and the determination of whether or not we can come to an agreement, and we expect that, by the end of this calendar year, meaning after Christmas or early into January, we'll be in a position where we can sign off the next stage of the devolution negotiations, which will address some of the bigger one-time issues.
We feel that if all we're talking about, in general terms, is transferring the public government responsibilities from the federal government to the Yukon government, we are probably in the ballpark. If there is any hint or suggestion that we are assuming the fiduciary obligations to First Nations in this particular area, then of course we're not in a position to accept the transfer under those circumstances.
So, we're tying down the basic positioning on this score, and I believe that the federal government agrees, in general and in principle, that the fiduciary obligation to First Nations is not to be transferred to the Yukon government through devolution; neither is it considered to be the case that the Yukon government has a fiduciary responsibility to First Nations for those program responsibilities that they currently have.
Mr. Cable: It sounds, assuming that there is a satisfactory conclusion to the latter issue - the retention of the fiduciary duty and the federal government - like we could meet this April deadline. I think the minister had indicated this the other day. He has since talked to, I believe, at least one of the federal ministers. Could he confirm that this April time line is still realistic for the devolution?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I believe so, Mr. Chair. The actual transfer of all the employees may take place after that date, but the agreements and the workplan and the details should be worked out by the beginning of the next fiscal year.
Mr. Cable: I assume the unions are in the negotiations. Are they on side with respect to transfer of benefits and transfer of salary levels, and whatnot?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Some preliminary discussions with the Public Service Alliance have been undertaken, of course. These issues will have to be discussed in their detail with details of employment status, and the terms of the transfer will have to be discussed with the federal government. Ultimately, there should be consultation with the unions. They will, of course, be the bargaining agent for the employees when they are transferred.
At this point, the details to my knowledge have not all been tied down, but there is every interest in ensuring that they are, so that this transfer proceeds smoothly.
Mr. Cable: I asked the Government Leader some questions the other day, in respect to a statement that the federal DIAND minister made that she thought that devolution and the land claims could be completed together. Her comment was in response to a comment made by one of the First Nation leaders to the effect that devolution should be second in priority to the land claims. The federal minister had responded by inference that she thought that they could do both at the same time and that the land claims could be concluded.
Now, I think that, from the outside looking in on the Kwanlin Dun negotiations and some of the problems that have been in the press with respect to the management of that First Nation, is it realistic to expect all the land claim agreements will be negotiated by April - you know, the time line for devolution?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, the MOU signed between the Yukon government and the First Nation governments last January stated quite specifically that land claims negotiations and devolution negotiations could happen, and should happen, spontaneously. So, we have made land claims negotiations a top priority and it certainly is a top priority for us, but I believe that both priorities - and I agree with the federal minister - can be met.
With respect to the timing, I would suspect that, by next year, most land selection throughout the territory will be agreed to. It may be that Kwanlin Dun will be the exception. Clearly, appropriate protections should be available in any agreement to ensure that First Nations who have not yet selected lands can have their interests protected.
There were provisions in the Oil and Gas Act - I know the member has already debated that, so he'll know the details. There were also provisions or the notation that First Nations should be allowed to select lands; these lands substantially should not be alienated before they have a chance to select those lands. For those traditional territories that have yet to negotiate their land selections, some respect for their need to negotiate lands should be identified in the intergovernmental arrangements to ensure that they have a chance to select lands. This doesn't mean that no land development can take place, but substantial land alienation should not.
Mr. Jenkins: Can I ask the Minister of Finance to table a copy of the contract registry from March 31, 1997, forward, for at least the last six, possibly seven, months, please?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No.
Mr. Ostashek: Why not? We tabled them when the minister was in opposition. We tabled the contracts, and we gave them the information that they required to do their job.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I'll review the matter and will be able to provide the members, once I've had a chance to determine past practice. I'll have a chance to determine the situation and come back on Monday to talk about it.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 8.
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. 8, Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. next Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:25 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 20, 1997:
Health Care Insurance programs: statement of 1996-97 revenue and expenditures (dated November 1997) (Sloan)
Yukon Child Care Board 1996-97 Annual Report (Sloan)
The following Document was filed November 20, 1997:
Information respecting Ostashek Outfitting Ltd. and funding provided under EDA (1986-89) (Harding)