Monday, November 24, 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?
Introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling the Health and Social Services Council annual report.
I also have a legislative return on the NovaLIS contract.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon River is a historical waterway; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to take steps to commemorate the Yukon River as a historical waterway, prior to and since the gold rush, during the Yukon Centennial Year of celebrations; and
THAT these steps should include plans to restore historic sites along the waterway and to enhance the Yukon River travellers' experience with appropriate additional signage along the waterway.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
Yukon Mining and Exploration Board training agreement
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: It is our government's policy to provide educational and training opportunities to help Yukon people find meaningful employment here in the territory and as much as possible in the communities where they choose to live.
In recognition of this, I rise to advise the House of a new training initiative undertaken by the Yukon government and the Yukon Chamber of Mines, entitled "the Yukon Mining and Exploration Training Board agreement".
Officials in the Department of Education and the Yukon Chamber of Mines have been working over the summer and fall to complete this agreement. This past Friday when the 25th annual Geoscience Forum got underway, chamber president Lee Pigage and I signed the agreement.
Mr. Speaker, good training, skills development and upgrading are essential for a modern workforce. This agreement lays the groundwork and provides seed funding to allow mining and exploration companies to become more involved with the communities and local people in setting the course for mining and exploration training. This agreement has a strong community and First Nation component that will help people who want to stay in their communities receive appropriate training that reflects the industry needs.
Over the next six months, the chamber will undertake three principal tasks: it will establish a training fund with a contribution of $300,000 from the Yukon government; it will set up a mining and exploration training board of between five and nine members, representing industry, labour, affected First Nations and rural communities to administer the training trust fund; it will develop a three-year strategy to address the training needs of the industry, including a schedule of training activity. The strategy will be subject to annual review and adjustment by the board.
Our government is accountable to the public taxpayer, Mr. Speaker, and we have taken steps to build accountability into this agreement. An annual report on expenditures of the fund and any training programs in process will be prepared for both the Chamber of Mines and the Yukon government.
Mr. Speaker, this government supports a healthy mining industry. Mining remains the largest private employer in the Yukon, and we want it to continue contributing to our economy. It is important for the Yukon to have a workforce with the skills necessary to take advantage of opportunities that become available in mining and exploration.
This agreement is all the more important as it involves industry right from the beginning in determining what the training programs are needed. This partnership between industry and government goes a long way toward ensuring that Yukon workers will be able to participate actively in the economic future of the territory.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
We are pleased to see that the government is working with the Yukon Chamber of Mines to come up with a training trust fund. The only concern that we have is that figures were just released on the weekend with respect to the mining exploration and development in the territory, and they're down significantly. So, we all know, Mr. Speaker, that you have to have exploration and development to provide jobs, and to set up a training trust fund and spend your money training when there are no jobs would not be a wise use of the funds.
The government should be focusing more on working with the mining community in encouraging more development and encouraging the startup of more mines in the territory. In that way there will be more jobs created in the long run. It's unfortunate that, although the mining exploration is down here, we can blame it on Bre-X, and other activities in the world that affect us. It is no secret to the mining community that New Democratic Party governments have not been, in British Columbia and in the past, friends of the mining community. And I suppose that part of the sense of insecurity that mining companies have is because the Yukon has currently a New Democratic Party government.
It's interesting also to note that the Minister of Economic Development, who was the critic on this side of the House, used to complain bitterly about the Yukon economy when he was on this side of the House, but since he's become the Minister of Economic Development we have seen higher unemployment, tourism numbers that are flat, mining development and exploration has gone down and mines that are up and running, but just barely.
This Minister of Economic Development has not done a very good job and that is patently obvious by the figures and numbers that we're seeing coming in almost on a weekly or monthly basis. With this particular program, it is good to see that the government is working closely with the mining community. I think that is essential for it to work because the mining community will lay out its needs when it anticipates future needs in the territory, so I think it's critical that they work closely with them.
I would like to ask the minister how this particular training trust fund ties in with the Anvil Range training trust fund that was set up before to work with Anvil Range and how that ties in with it, because that appears to be a training trust fund set up specifically with an individual company and this one is more general. I guess all companies will be involved or more companies will be involved in that. So, I would like to know, from the minister, what the link is between the Anvil Range training trust fund and this mining training trust fund.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: On behalf of the Liberal Party caucus, I'd like to put forward three specific questions for the minister with respect to the ministerial statement issued today.
The first question relates to the mining trust fund that was mentioned a moment ago. On March 26, it was the Minister of Economic Development, the Member for Faro, that announced the $300,000 for a mine training trust fund. On April 8, that was elaborated on again by the Member for Faro, the Minister of Economic Development, who indicated that $150,000 of that training trust fund was coming from Economic Development and Advanced Education and $150,000 from the corporation. The Minister of Economic Development also said on April 8 that the mine training trust fund was separate from the mining training trust fund that was identified in the budget that was announced on that date. The Minister of Economic Development also went on to say that "the mining trust fund identified in the budget," which is what the Minister of Education has spoken about today, "will all be levered with some private sector participation if we have our way in the development of it."
I wonder if the Minister of Education would elaborate on the private sector participation?
The Minister of Education also today has noticeably omitted any time frames from this ministerial statement. I wonder if perhaps she could outline them in her response.
The third question is: does the minister or the government anticipate at any time an evaluation of the training trust model that's being used by the government? For example, Tourism has had some training trust funds for some time. Has an evaluation been conducted of this model, or is one anticipated to be conducted?
Those questions being asked, we would like to offer positive comments on the initiative, in terms of its partnership with industry and with First Nations, and recognizing the importance of the mining industry to the Yukon.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to thank the opposition members for their comments. I note that they are pleased to see that we are working with the mining community, and I would like to assure the Member for Porter Creek North that we are working with the mining community, not just with this particular agreement between the Department of Education and the Yukon Chamber of Mines, but there is a lot of ongoing work that Economic Development is doing with the mining community that we believe will have good results.
The member was also concerned because we were putting funding for training into this trust fund in conjunction with the Chamber of Mines. He was concerned about the timing being poor for that. I'd like to remind the member that the chamber criticized the Yukon Party government for not training in the more quiet times, leaving training until after mines have been opened and having missed the boat on training. That's exactly the kind of criticism that we're trying to avoid.
The Anvil Range trust fund is a separate trust fund, and on questions related to that, I can just tell members that that particular agreement does involve a contribution from government and from the Anvil Range Mining Corporation, which is the largest private sector employer in the territory.
We have ongoing evaluation of the training funds with the annual reports that are provided and ongoing status reports. The model that that uses is one similar to this particular fund, where there is a board that involves industry and labour, affected First Nations and rural communities. We found that to be very effective, and I've certainly appreciated hearing some support from the members opposite for this fund.
Mobile home consumer education
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, as part of this government's policy of fostering healthy communities, I rise today to inform members of a new consumer education initiative undertaken by the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Earlier in the year, this government introduced a mobile home strategy to provide owners of mobile homes and rental properties with affordable options to address their housing needs. One element of this strategy is consumer education to build awareness of housing options and to encourage planning by mobile home owners to help them deal with the home ownership problems.
I am pleased to announce that early next month the Yukon Housing Corporation will conduct three consumer education sessions for mobile home owners. Each session will present information on safety issues and concerns and home ownership options, financing and the application process.
For those with an interest in acting on their housing needs, staff will perform an initial financial review to determine affordability. These evening sessions will be held at no charge to mobile home owners. Based on the demand, Yukon Housing Corporation will offer similar sessions early in the new year.
The corporation has developed a package that includes information on programs as well as an application and registration form for the upcoming sessions. Later this week, these packages will be hand delivered to all units in mobile home parks in Whitehorse.
In regard to public response to Yukon Housing Corporation's program, I would like to advise members that 30 mobile home owners have applied for assistance under the mobile home strategy since the introduction of the new financing options in early July.
In the majority of these applications, there is a desire to relocate existing mobile home units on to titled property. For that reason, the Yukon Housing Corporation is currently working to develop a new land tenure option. I am confident that the corporation will be able to identify practical, affordable solutions to land availability issues in the coming months. In the meantime, I am pleased that mobile home owners and occupants will be provided with information they need to help them improve their housing options.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and the office of the official opposition, we are pleased to hear that the government is committed to addressing the needs of mobile home owners in the Yukon. But we're very concerned, Mr. Speaker, with the amount of time that this government has taken to follow through with its commitment, as outlined in the mobile home strategy.
Mobile home owners make up a significant portion of the Yukon. We, on this side of the House, fully recognize the full range of problems that people face as mobile home owners, finding themselves living in substandard housing units that they cannot afford to repair, giving them no other alternative for relocating or improving their homes.
During the Yukon Party's term in office, a task force of government officials and stakeholders studied the issues regarding mobile home owners and the challenges they faced. In 1996, a report was completed that surveyed mobile home owners and park owners. In May, the minister responsible for Yukon Housing announced the adoption of a mobile home strategy, stating that it was time for action.
Well, six months have passed since that announcement, and the government has been in office for over a year, yet work is still being done to identify solutions for mobile home owners. While we're pleased to see that some minimum progress on this important issue has been made, it looks as if there is much more work to be done. I might remind the minister that the time for action has considerably lapsed and was over a year ago. We're still waiting, Mr. Minister.
The minister also mentioned that work is currently being done to develop new land tenure options. Could the minister advise this House as to when we can expect these options coming forward and whether there have been any discussions or consultations taking place with the actual mobile home or trailer park owners?
During the Yukon Party's term in office, there was a proposal to develop a condominium concept for mobile home parks where mobile home owners could own their own land and common facilities and infrastructure. Could the minister tell me if there has been any progress with respect to this idea? I know this concept is being utilized elsewhere and it has been very successful as it has shown to improve the quality of life for mobile home owners and enhanced their overall security.
With respect to the financing options that were introduced in early July, I'd ask the minister if there was a press release by this government announcing these options or if there was any advertising of the programs. Offhand, I don't seem to recall any such publicity. I'm particularly pleased that this government will be providing each and every mobile home owner with an information package, although it's just in Whitehorse. I guess the rest of the Yukon is ignored.
The timing of the education initiative could have been better. December is really a poor month, Mr. Speaker, to go out and ask people to come to an education meeting on that issue.
I'd be curious if the minister could table the number of mobile home owners attending each session.
I'd also like to ask the minister if he could provide members of this House with a copy of the package that will be delivered door to door, so we'll be able to see exactly what it is this government has done to meet the many needs of mobile home owners. Perhaps we could have a look at it tomorrow, Mr. Speaker?
I guess the essence of this ministerial statement is that we're constantly going to educate but when is this government going to act? When are they going to act on the mobile home owners' needs?
Mrs. Edelman: I am pleased to see that the mobile home strategy announced this year by this government is continuing along. The Yukon has a very unique housing market. We have the largest percentage of mobile homes in our inventory in Canada.
When the mobile home strategy was originally announced, there were four areas that were to be targeted: land, financing, regulations and public information. Obviously, this announcement is an update on the public information aspect of the strategy, but the government also promised to review, within one year, the Landlord and Tenant Act. How is that review progressing?
Also, the biggest stumbling block to the mobile home strategy is the availability of land in Whitehorse on which to place older mobile homes. Now, it is my understanding that the City of Whitehorse is going to be dealing with this very issue of mobile homes this evening on the council agenda. In particular, the City of Whitehorse has a 10-year rule for mobile homes so that if a mobile home is over 10 years old, it cannot be moved into a new mobile home subdivision on titled land.
It is my understanding that the city is going to be re-examining this issue by looking at setting architectural standards for mobile homes instead of insisting that homes be less than 10 years of age in new mobile home subdivisions. The city may wish to stay with the 10-year rule, so how has the Housing Corporation worked with the city on this issue and what other options is the Housing Corporation looking at for land availability for older mobile homes in good condition that the owners want to place on titled land instead of in rental pads in trailer parks, which right now is the only other option?
Is the Housing Corporation working with the private sector on these initiatives? Is the minister partnering at all with the sellers of mobile homes, land developers or mobile home park owners? How does this mobile home strategy work in the Yukon's rural areas? Is there a move afoot to adopt architectural standards or even minimum safety standards for mobile homes in other Yukon communities?
When I read the ministerial statement the first time, it didn't really twig, but this time it has. These information packages are going to be hand delivered to every mobile home in Whitehorse. Is this a crossing of the picket line for Canada Post? What's going on? Was this originally the plan or are you doing this because it's difficult to track down addresses or is there some other point?
Lastly, the Member for Klondike mentioned the condominium study that was done in the last government. That condominium style of mobile home parks is one that's very often used for senior citizens.
Is there any work going ahead with that? Are you looking at that as an option for seniors housing here in the Yukon? Now, I know those are a lot of questions, Mr. Speaker, and I hope the minister can update us on the progress he has made on these issues. If he can't update us today, perhaps he can get back to us by way of letter or legislative return.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: First of all, in response to the Yukon Party's questions in regard to the amount of time, this situation has been developed by mobile home owners over the past 30 years. Since then, not a whole lot has been done to address the health and safety problems. It is a huge problem - people recognize that and it certainly won't be solved overnight. We have continued to work hard on this initiative and in order for this to be a success, we need to bring information to the mobile home owners - an information package to them in regard to financing and the health and safety issues of the parks and the units themselves. People need to know what options they have in regard to mobile homes or affordable homes.
We said it was time for action. We've put together this strategy and we're following up and following through it. It's not something that's going to be resolved immediately, like I said. We're working on putting thoughtful work into this strategy.
In regard to the question of whether or not we're working with the private sector, we have the corporation's joint venture program that the private sector is interested in, and we have been dealing with them on that. We have a bit of interest from them in regard to the private sector helping us resolve these problems. Because of, I guess, commercial confidentiality, I cannot provide specifics to that issue, but I must say that the private sector is interested in getting into the market and they've shown that to us.
The mobile home strategy is a comprehensive plan to deal a wide range of problems, and detailed applications have been received. They focus on two parts of the program. The corporation is dealing with 18 applications for upgrading and 12 applications for clients that want to relocate.
One of the difficulties that we are having right now, and we would recognize it right at the beginning, is in regard to land options, and we are working with our partners in that - the City of Whitehorse and C&TS - to resolve some of these problems.
I do expect that we will have a good turnout at these sessions that will be held. In regard to the older mobile homes, we have brought this issue up with the City of Whitehorse and they will be dealing with it.
As the member said today, hopefully it would be in our favour to fit right into the strategy to resolve some of these problems.
In regard to how does this fit into rural communities, we said we would be hand-delivering this. It has nothing to do with the postal strike. As it was said, we want to make sure that information we are providing is given to every mobile home owner so they will have that package in their hands.
Rural communities have not the problem that we have here in Whitehorse. Every community, through the Yukon Housing Corporation, will have this information provided to the park owners. Dawson and Watson Lake are the two other areas that have more mobile homes than the other communities. Certainly, the rural communities will be given the same information and same type of treatment from the Yukon Housing Corporation in regard to delivery of the information.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Bears shot in Whitehorse area
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the minister responsible for Renewable Resources. The other day, there was yet another grizzly shot in the Whitehorse area. Most of these grizzlies have been shot as a result of the decision by Renewable Resources to electrify the fence around the dump.
Mr. Speaker, over the last three months, a total of 12 grizzlies have been shot out of an estimated 300 black and grizzly bears in the greater Whitehorse area. I'd like to ask the minister this: what can Yukoners expect of this minister and this government in relationship to future bear problems? What's going to happen next spring? Has the government given any thought as to how many more bears are going to have to be destroyed before this problem is solved once and for all?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The fence around the landfill was to resolve a problem of garbage bears and the cycle of younger bears coming and using the garbage dump. We expected a higher number of bears to be coming in and being deflected from the garbage dump, and we're hoping that next year this is not a problem like we had this year. We do have good people that are working and keeping on top of the situation. They have been doing a good job over the past while, and we will continue to alert the public in regard to this problem continuing into next year.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, it seems like these people are very good with a rifle, if not at planning what to do when they are faced with a serious situation.
Mr. Speaker, 12 grizzly bears have been shot and killed as a result of poor planning, literally poor planning, and no thought given to developing a comprehensive plan as to how to deal with these bears when they came to the dump and found it fenced. In any other part of the country this would be considered an ecological disaster, and here in the Yukon it seems to be fait accompli and nothing to get concerned about. This is from the same minister who supported the Aishihik decision and then went and lectured his colleagues on pumping CO2 gases in the air.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister again if he could tell this House and tell Yukoners what changes are going to be made to the government policy to ensure that no more bears have to be killed.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, first of all, the fence around the landfill had reasons for being there; one of them was for caring for the bears. If the member can think about it a little bit, bears come into the dump, eating garbage. We don't know what is in there. They cut up their paws and have burned fur and so on. If we can eliminate that problem in itself just by putting up a fence, then we've done a big thing.
Mr. Speaker, in closing the dump from bears, this doesn't resolve the problem of bears coming into communities. Living in the north, we are going to be faced with that forever. We have our conservation officers that deal with the situation when it does arise.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm very disappointed in this minister. He seems to think that it's better for a bear to be dead than to have its paws cut. That's what he's telling the House today. Let's just destroy the bears. Let's not have them have some singed fur; let's not have them have a cut on their paws; let's just kill them. Well, Mr. Speaker, Yukoners don't think that's very acceptable. They don't think that's very acceptable at all. Where is the Conservation Society when we need them?
Mr. Speaker, I would have expected that there be mass demonstrations in the community by now. I wonder where the friends of the bears are. Maybe they're hiding with the friends of the wolves.
Yukoners, with good reason, want to know what to expect from this minister and this government next spring. They don't want to see a continuation of bears being shot in residential areas of Whitehorse because an electric fence around the dump to solve one problem has created a safety problem within our community. What can Yukoners expect from this minister and this government in dealing with this problem in future years?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The reason for this planning is not for the short term; it's for long-term planning. Mr. Speaker, it's not about the killing of bears. It's about saving bears and preserving them. If the member thinks about it deeply, he would understand it. And, Mr. Speaker, we're talking about the future. We're not talking about the present. I'm surprised at the comments that come from the member opposite when Yukoners all know his hunting practices.
Question re: Bears shot in the Whitehorse area
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, this sounds like the Government Leader's low blows again. We're not talking about my hunting practices. We're talking about this minister's responsibility - or irresponsibility - in handling a very serious situation in the Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, there has been absolutely no planning to deal with the potential problems associated with that electric fence. And, Mr. Speaker, I do know about grizzly bears. I do know that there could have been better planning put into this, not just to funnel the bears down into the Whitehorse residential areas where they have to be destroyed.
Mr. Speaker, contrary to what the minister thinks, Yukoners don't go along with his don't-worry-be-happy attitude when it comes to dealing with bears in the Yukon. I have received numerous calls from residents complaining about the manner in which this government has handled this situation.
Can the minister tell me this: has he received any calls from residents?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, we have received many calls from residents complaining about the number of bears in the landfill, and this has all led to the decisions made between the City of Whitehorse and Renewable Resources. It's all about caring and long-term planning. It's not about something that's short term. The member should think about long-term planning and looking at the caring of animals rather than just looking at killing bears. This is not a program to do that. It's actually a program to save bears.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, this minister is the one who's destroying bears in the Yukon, not the official opposition. The official opposition does care and that's why we're raising this issue and asking the minister to go back to the planning board. Go back and get a plan that works to deal with these bears that are being displaced by the electric fence around the dump.
This minister has not thought this out. You can see that when he stands up in this House. He doesn't know what he's talking about. He doesn't have any idea what he's talking about.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you have a fence around a garbage dump that's adjacent to a residential area, you're going to funnel those bears down into those residential areas and you're going to continue to do that next year and the year after and the year after that.
I want to ask this minister if he is prepared to go back and come out with a plan that's going to deal with the bears that are displaced by the electric fence.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We have had information that has been given out to the public. We have it advertised in the paper that this could be a possibility and the member should note that we are in the small communities in the north and we're going to continue to have bear incidents in all the communities. That's not going to go away just because we have an electric fence around the Whitehorse landfill. Once a fence is set up, we're going to continue to have bears coming into the City of Whitehorse. It doesn't stop them just because there's a fence.
Again, we've had success with electric fences in other communities and it has been a success in other provinces. We feel that this is a long-term solution to the problem of garbage bears.
Mr. Ostashek: This minister's stumbling and stumbling badly when he's trying to assess this situation. The fact remains that he has a very serious problem on his hands and he's not prepared to deal with it or doesn't know how to deal with it.
We're going to continually have those bears coming into residential areas. This didn't happen until they put an electric fence around the dump. The bears were isolated in the dump area and very few came down into the residential areas.
I would like to ask the minister if he could advise this House how many bears in total have been destroyed in the Yukon by his department this year, not just in Whitehorse but in the other communities as well? What is the magnitude of the bear slaughter that has been carried out by his department? And if he doesn't know, maybe he could come back to this House tomorrow with a legislative return.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The Department of Renewable Resources and the conservation officers respond to nuisance bears in every community. If there's a health and safety problem, we deal with the situation. In regard to the number of bears that have been put away by the department, I can bring those numbers to the member if he so wishes.
Question re: Electrical rate relief
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the energy commissioner on electrical rates, following up on our discussion of the other day.
Last Thursday, I asked the commissioner questions relating to his commission's work on rate relief. We got into an exchange of the four options that the commissioner put out to the public for discussion. The options are found in the discussion paper and the technical paper that the energy commission prepared in order to facilitate the public discussion.
From the discussion paper, under the reference to option 1 - and this was the quote I put to him last Thursday, in discussing the pros and cons of the status quo option - it said, "Most importantly, the status quo reflects conflict with the bill relief policy desired by the Yukon government, in which certain groups in need are targeted." Just for the record - just to clarify what was said the other day - is the form of targeted rate relief the government's desired form of rate relief?
Mr. McRobb: I'm commissioner of the energy commission, Mr. Speaker.
Thank you for the opportunity. To set the record straight, the commission doesn't deal with power rates. We are undertaking a review of the rate relief program. As the member will know, power rates are set by the Yukon Utilities Board after application from the Yukon Energy Corporation, which is under the minister.
The commission's discussion paper, including the options, merely sets out the options to provoke public debate and discussion on various possibilities that could be included in the future program. The first option - the status quo - was included not because that's what we wanted to see, but to basically explain what's currently in place. Indeed, it conflicts with the statements from the minister in this House one year ago, where he explained that we wanted to see a targeted program to assist those most in need, based on affordability and especially targeting seniors and people on fixed incomes. So, the reference to "conflict" in that particular discussion paper merely identifies the difference between what we would like to see and what is currently in place. The program currently in place does not, specifically, target those in need.
Mr. Cable: Okay, trying to work through all that, the targeted rate relief options that are in the discussion paper talk about increases in residential bills, for those not targeted for relief. For example, under option 2 it says, "This option would allow residential bills to increase significantly." Now, when I asked the commissioner last Thursday about the amount of the increases, he was a little vague. So, let me ask this question: when the discussion paper and the technical paper were put out for public discussion had the commissioner or his staff calculated the increases that would result from the three targeted rate relief options?
Mr. McRobb: The answer is no, Mr. Speaker, and for good reason. Those options are merely discussion-provoking options. And, to run simulated scenarios of the costs of each of the options would involve a significant amount of time and money.
At this stage, the consultation and discussion stage, we are dealing with concepts. The item the member refers to, about significant increased cost to residential ratepayers, is once again due to the cost-of-service policy of the previous government, where they required the Utilities Board to increase the cost of service from 80 percent to at least 90 percent over the next 10 years. At this point, that is about seven or eight years. That particular increase amounts to what we refer to as a significant increase.
The reason why that option is included in the discussion paper is to provide opportunity to discuss it and to see whether the people really want this type of increase to residential customers - to give them an opportunity to say "no", "maybe" or "yes". But, the way it currently stands, the government subsidizes the residential rates though this cost-of-service subsidy.
Mr. Cable: So the commissioner wants us to accept the fact that he put out a discussion paper and a technical paper with various options - three of which were talking about rate increases - yet he had not calculated the rate increases. Now, he's indicated that he's going to go to Cabinet by the end of this year with his recommendation or recommendations. Does he anticipate telling Cabinet what the rate increases will be under the desired option?
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I think the member needs to refer back to the discussion paper. These are not rate increases we are referring to. For instance, the first option merely describes the status quo. The status quo involves rate increases of 15 to 20 percent for residential consumers in the next seven to eight years because of the cost of service adjustments.
This is similar to the rebalancing that we are experiencing with the telephone company. The Yukon Party required this to also apply to residential power rates. That is the status quo option. We're not proposing that. That is what is in place now.
As far as the costs of these different options, I'm sure Cabinet will be aware of the costs and the benefits when it makes that decision.
Question re: Electrical rate relief
Mr. Cable: Well, assumedly, in that the commissioner is the one putting the options forward, he will have calculated them.
Now, on Thursday and again today, the commissioner got into a discussion of the move to take residential-class consumers' rates closer to the full cost of service, away from the present subsidization by other customers. I got the impression both on Thursday and today that the commissioner seemed to be making negative comments on this move toward full cost of service by residential consumers.
Is the commissioner saying that, as a matter of policy, this is not desirable?
Mr. McRobb: Once again, I would refer the member back to the discussion paper. The increase in cost of service - referred to as a "significant increase" - is based on a decision already in place, which means unless government steps in and does something about it that increase will occur over the next seven to eight years. The increase is in the neighbourhood of 15 percent to 20 percent.
This decision was made by the Yukon Utilities Board early in 1996, based on an application coming forward in 1995. This is not a proposed increase; this increase is, in effect, a time bomb - if you will - left in place by the previous government.
Mr. Cable: This government has had a whole year to reverse that decision. Is the commissioner saying that this government does not want to instruct the Public Utilities Board to reverse the move toward having residential customers pay the full cost of service?
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I'm sorry for sounding repetitive but, once again, I have to refer the member back to the discussion paper. The status quo has that increase in place. For the government to intervene and reverse that increase would be a significant measure on behalf of government, no doubt one we'd be heavily criticized for, especially considering that the Yukon Utilities Board is completely independent from government.
Now, this increase is certainly something we want to take a look at, and hopefully we'll hear submissions from our stakeholders on this issue and consider it in due process through the recommendations of the commission.
Mr. Cable: The board certainly is an arm's-length board, but it does receive direction, as it did in 1991, when it received direction on cost of service.
Now, the commissioner indicated the other day that his recommendations were going to Cabinet by the end of the year. Assumedly there'll be some decision time and directives to either the Development Corporation or the Yukon Utilities Board, and then there'll be time to change the billing methods on the computer.
When will a new rate relief program be in force?
Mr. McRobb: Well, yes, I can assure the member that, contrary to his own previous press releases on this issue, there will be no gaps in rate relief provided to ratepayers this winter, no matter what happens. There will be rate relief at all times.
Now, what the commission is currently contemplating is an experimental program for 1998 before finalizing the long-term program. There are several different factors that play into this type of decision. Some of them at this time are not known, such as the ultimate fate of the Faro mine, future power rates and issues of affordability, all of which will be taken into consideration by the commission. And, yes, the commission will be forwarding its recommendations to Cabinet next month, and there will be a program in place for 1998, but probably the experimental program - one that everyone can review and comment on and be altered before being cemented in place for the long term.
Question re: Bears shot in the Whitehorse area
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, let me get back to the Minister of Renewable Resources on the grizzly bear problem in the Whitehorse area.
Parks Canada recently completed a six-year, million-dollar study of grizzly bears in Kluane National Park, Mr. Speaker. Some 20 to 25 grizzly bears were radio-collared and tracked. Initial findings of that study indicated that sows produced fewer cubs and less often than their counterparts in British Columbia. This led one of the biologists to comment, "We have to be careful about managing this population because even in good conditions it probably isn't going to be growing very fast."
Mr. Speaker, I want to know from this minister how the slaughter of 12 grizzly bears in the Whitehorse area, approximately half of what was involved in the study, conforms to the study's finding of recommending a higher standard of care for preserving Yukon grizzlies?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: First of all, it was not a slaughter. The department is working with the City of Whitehorse to deal with a long-term solution and to eliminate bears from being shot.
Mr. Speaker, we know that, without the fence around the landfill, there is a possibility of bears coming into town regardless of that, and they could be destroyed by the conservation officers. Mr. Speaker, this is a long-term solution.
Mr. Ostashek: I don't think anyone's advocating the removal of the fence. We're advocating a different manner of handling the bears that are being displaced by the fence, rather than being slaughtered by the game department.
Has the minister given any thought to trapping these bears that come down to the dump and are displaced by the electric fence - and relocating them?
In every other jurisdiction in Canada and the United States, bears are given at least one chance before they're destroyed. Will the minister consider that and be part of the solution of protecting the Yukon grizzly bear population, rather than being a main problem by decimating it?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We have done a number of things in regard to putting up the fence. We're tracking which bears are coming to the fence. There have been snares put up so that bears that are coming toward the landfill may be caught and relocated.
Mr. Speaker, we're not asking people to stop hunting bears. The number of bears that have been hunted over the past years is down considerably. We are not asking that outfitters, for example, stop hunting bears. We're not asking people to do that. What we're trying to do is solve a problem, in the long term, of garbage bears.
Mr. Ostashek: I think the minister should go back to his department and get properly briefed, so that he can answer these questions. All of these bears that are destroyed by the Department of Education impact on the level of harvest that there will be in the future. That's a given.
Mr. Speaker, grizzly bears are on the endangered species list. I would like the member to explain how this bear slaughter is in keeping with the Department of Renewable Resources' mandate to protect and preserve Yukon's wildlife. Can he tell the House that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: As I said to the member a number of times, this is a long-term solution to this problem and it is for the protecting of bears from being shot in the future. I can't see where the member can misunderstand what's being said.
Question re: Tourism, advertising tender
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Tourism. The tendering forecast issued by Government Services earlier this year indicates that the standing offer of agreement for Tourism for advertising in excess of $1 million is to be tendered in November. We're now in the last week of the month and no one I have spoken with has, as yet, seen the standing offer of agreement. Would the minister indicate when it will be tendered?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, certainly the department is working in cooperation with the tourism industry and is currently working on the terms of reference and we expect the tender to be in place in January.
Ms. Duncan: In the past, an argument has been presented and I'm sure the minister's been fully briefed on the need for what's called a full-service agency, one agency that sells the Yukon. This can be the most cost effective and efficient route and, as the minister has noted, is supported by many members of the tourism industry.
However, one of the difficulties with a full-service agency is local knowledge, for example, the Yukon Vacation Guide, which is produced every year. Yukon residents have the computer skills, the design skills and the computer capability to produce the material in digital format, which could then be transferred to the full-service agency, located anywhere in the world. With local knowledge working on pieces like the Vacation Guide, they're a lot less likely to end up with maps that forget Stewart Crossing, for example.
Will the minister commit or advise this House that the standing offer agreement is being thoroughly reviewed in terms of requirement for the full-service agency to shop locally and report locally, in other words, for the full-service agency to comply with some degree of local hire?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker, the department is looking at all of the requests that the member opposite has brought forth, and I certainly have to reiterate that what we do is in consultation with the Tourism Industry Association and that we are looking to get the best bang for our buck. So certainly, the thoughts that the member opposite is stating are being incorporated in, and worked through, the terms of reference and will be somewhat put into place. But again, it's done in consultation with the TIA, and we're here to get the best bang for the buck for what we wish to achieve and accomplish in the Yukon.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I want to make it clear to the minister that I do not dispute the efforts of working with the tourism industry. I wanted to ensure for the record that they were working with the local hire commission as well.
Would the minister indicate in approximate terms - and perhaps he may wish to do this by legislative return - what percentage of that standing offer agreement, the million dollars, is expected to be spent locally?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker, that is not information that we have. I would reiterate and say that we're working through the process now. We expect that we'll have the terms of reference done and a tender brought out and, at that time or even before, I can certainly let the member opposite know the local hire percentages as it evolves.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed, and we will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It is moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
The Committee is dealing with Bill No. 8.
Bill No. 8 - Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98
Chair: We are in general debate.
Executive Council Office - continued
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to address some comments and questions in general debate to the expenditure respecting the land information management system. The Government Leader may wish that the Government Services minister respond, as he and I have already begun our exchange on this particular topic. There was a legislative return today.
I have a great deal of difficulty with this particular project - not the project itself, or the fact that we're doing it, but the way that it has been handled to date. To start with, perhaps I could ask whomever is chosen to respond to indicate if the $300,000 identified in the supplementary budget is payment for the NovaLIS contract.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, there is some funding in there for the infrastructure of that system and, just offhand - I would have to break down the individual contracts - but I would imagine that that is for payment for some of the initial stages of that contract.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would remind the minister that we had a very lengthy discussion in this House between the former Government Leader, the current Government Leader and the Liberal caucus regarding post-approval of expenditures, and it is intended that the parties will address this in the future.
The difficulty I have with this particular series of contracts is the history. The legislative return, unfortunately, further muddies the waters rather than clarifies the waters. Perhaps I could explain to the minister the history of this project as I understand it, and he could elaborate further?
A request for proposal for this LIM system was tendered by Government Services. The request for proposal was so specific that no locals could compete. It required the Oracle software. That contract was won by Monenco Agra and it was in the amount of $42,000.
For some reason, there was a decision made to deviate from the Oracle software, and a request for information that has no basis in our contracting regulations was issued.
The request for information included a presentation on the claim system by the City of Whitehorse and others, business partners of theirs, for a system that is up and operational and is used by the Government of Yukon land titles. This request for information had no prices, no further options and no real questions were asked. Based upon that request for information, some $400,000 is being paid to a Nova Scotia company.
The minister, on November 3, was asked questions about this - we are being asked with this supplementary budget to approve that $400,000 worth of contracts - post-spending, and I have a real difficulty with that. And, that difficulty is compounded, Mr. Chair, by the fact that, on November 3, I asked questions in this House on this contract. On November 3, the Minister of Government Services met with industry and was asked a further series of specific questions, and he was given a recommendation by industry. And, on November 4, industry wrote to the Minister of Government Services. The difficulty we have is that somewhere along the line there has been an error.
Somewhere along the line, somebody didn't tender this project and local opportunists, or people who have the expertise - pardon me, let me rephrase that - local entrepreneurs are not being invited to participate on this. On November 3, the minister and the local hire commissioner met with these individuals, and the minister has accused me of speaking on behalf of one firm in this House, when it was competing firms that met with them. One of the specific recommendations was to put a fence around this project now - get an independent evaluation and let's have a look at it. How far along are we?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The local hire commissioner is piping up from the back benches that I'm wrong. This is going to be a lengthy discussion; perhaps I could have a response on the questions to date, and we'll continue from there.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Could the member clarify what her specific question was?
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, let me focus for the minister's benefit. What is the extent of the Yukon government's commitment to the technology proposed by NovaLIS?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, we intend to follow through with the terms of the contract and that would be the extent of our involvement in this particular contract.
I guess the member is asking where does this move out from here? I've already committed to the industry that, in terms of future developments in that regard, we would certainly be looking at working with them. I received a letter from one of the principals in this project and I have written a letter in that regard back, answering some of the specific questions. Interestingly enough, one of the specific questions was the question just asked by the member.
Ms. Duncan: When was the minister's response sent and is he prepared to provide me with a copy of it?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I wrote the letter last week. I've sent it over for some checking on some technical details. With regard to would the member be getting a copy of it, since the letter was cc'd to her originally from one of the industry principals, yes, by measure of courtesy, I would send it to her.
Ms. Duncan: The first part of the minister's response indicated that the existing contracts with NovaLIS would be completed, will be honoured. The total on that is $400,000-some odd. Could the minister refresh my memory and the public's memory as to what the total value of the LIMS project is anticipated to be?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The contracts are as follows: initiation phase, June 1997, $24,500; software licences and consulting services for land titles and land disposition application, July 1997, $340,438; software licences for mapping components, October 1997, $45,050; transfer of data from existing computer applications, October 1997, $32,500.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I know what the existing contracts to NovaLIS are. The minister finally provided them today.
The question I asked was what the total cost of the LIMS project is anticipated to be.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Besides the NovaLIS-related contracts and money that has been expended before, we're anticipating that flowing out of this there will probably be some additional $400,000 that would be likely in terms of local mapping applications and things of that nature that would be flowing into that. As a matter of fact, we're feeling there will be about $400,000 relating to converting maps and documents to electronic form. That has yet to be tendered, and in all likelihood that would be able to be accomplished by local companies.
Ms. Duncan: I would assume that this is the land survey work that one of the people involved with the project indicated was never going to happen. When does the minister anticipate this work being tendered?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As far as an exact date, I'd have to get back to the member on that, but I would imagine that would be beginning next year.
Ms. Duncan: That is the beginning of next calendar year, or the beginning of the next fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would assume it would be the beginning of the next fiscal year.
Ms. Duncan: Given the minister's earlier response, I would anticipate then that the total cost of the LIMS project is in the neighbourhood of $850,000. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, I think that's a fair assumption.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to go back for a brief moment, if I may, to the method of tendering these contracts to NovaLIS. Has the minister conducted any sort of an investigation into this?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: If, by "investigation" the member is suggesting in a pejorative sense, no. Have I asked questions about how this was done? Have I suggested that perhaps these are areas that we need to look at? Yes.
Ms. Duncan: Am I to understand that the Minister of Government Services is not entirely satisfied with the way that these particular contracts were tendered?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think it's fair to say that we're always seeking ways to do things in a somewhat better way - oh, that flowed nicely. One of the issues, I think, that has been perhaps a bit of concern to me was, I suppose, the lack of response from some of the local companies initially on the first three tenders. What that has suggested to me and what I've conveyed to Government Services is that I would like them, even if on a particular contract we don't get responses - I've suggested that perhaps what we could be doing is at least following through with some of the individuals that might be interested in this to find out if there's some particular way or something about this particular tender that inhibited them. I've asked Government Services, as well as the local hire commission, to give us some suggestions on ways to perhaps make contracts more manageable. Perhaps there are some things that can be done in terms of staging of contracts and things of that nature.
And, to their credit, even though they haven't finished their final report, the local hire commission has given me some suggestions in that regard and I've conveyed those on to Government Services.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the opposite side, and some ministers in particular, are terribly fond of indicating I haven't done my homework, and I'd like to advise the minister that I have done a great deal of work on this particular issue and I'd like to commit to provide him with some information.
The New Brunswick GIC, which is the Geographic Information Corporation, is expanded to the point where people can get their driver licences and so on in remote communities. I've had lengthy discussions with this Crown corporation and they were very kind to give me their request for proposal for the development of the planned PID databank request for proposal, which is very similar to the original request for proposal that the government issued. I'm going to provide it to the minister and to the local hire commission. Amongst other things, there's a requirement in this - the original request for proposal was not responded to by industry because it was so specific in calling for the Oracle software.
The minister is nodding in agreement.
The original request for proposals, which was won by Monenco Agra was so specific, local people did not bid on it. The New Brunswick request for proposal also called for the Oracle software, but it allowed local companies to bid on it, because it allowed them to get that expertise from elsewhere.
I'm going to provide this to the minister and to the local hire commission with my request, on behalf of people who are involved in the industry, to take a close look at it. Had the government used the model from New Brunswick, three local companies could have bid on this project in its original form.
Can I have the minister's public commitment to examine this particular request for proposals?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We always welcome information - things that could make the process better - and I'll certainly take a look at it and refer it to Government Services for review.
With specific regard to the New Brunswick proposal, I believe the member raised this before, mentioning that NovaLIS, in this case, did not follow up on that project. When I did some checking in that regard, I found that NovaLIS' reluctance was basically twofold: one was the scale of the project - they felt that it was on a smaller scale; and, two, it would have required the entire team to locate in New Brunswick and they didn't feel that the cost benefit would have - I'm just conveying to the member what was relayed to me - so, for that reason, they chose not to participate.
Ms. Duncan: We're engaging in a vigorous discussion of "he said, she said." That's not productive to the work of this Legislature. My point is that I feel that these contracts were not dealt with appropriately. I felt that there should be some form of an independent review of them. The minister has indicated that he has reviewed, and there will be recommendations forthcoming. I have to accept that. I have no choice; the $400,000 has been spent.
I also have the minister's commitment that the balance of the work will be tendered locally - or will be tendered.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: It will be tendered. Will it be tendered in such a way that local companies have the opportunity to compete on it? Will they be reviewing or providing input on the request for proposal or tender - or however the remainder of the work is put out?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I said before, there is about $400,000 related largely to maps and data transfer, and that will be tendered. One of the feelings of the department is that, given the expertise, given the familiarity of some of the local companies with Oracle technology, that would fall easily within their realm. So, they're feeling that this would be a good area for local companies to be involved in.
I'm sorry, I just can't recall what the other part of the question was. No, that was it? I can give the member assurance that the $400,000 will be tendered.
Ms. Duncan: The balance of the question was as follows: will it be tendered in such a fashion that local companies will be able to compete on it or will it be tendered so that it's written for NovaLIS?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, it will be tendered in a way to give local companies the best opportunity. One of the things that I did commit to in working with the industry and in my response to one of the principals was that I would like to see how we could, in future, develop a system in such a way that there would be the maximum opportunities for local companies involving GIS technology. I've directed the department to make contact with the companies, and I took the letter from the individual who wrote to me as being a signal that they wanted to move in that direction. So, we are interested in working with the industry in this regard.
Ms. Duncan: Will there be further consultations with industry then?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, that's the object of this. As a matter of fact, I've suggested that we sort of expand it out - and that was on the suggestion of one of the other participants at the meeting - so that not only do we work with people involved in the GIS technology, but also in terms of the whole kind of electronic information kinds of industry as well.
So, I have directed that our department look at setting up a series of ongoing consultations. I think that's very consistent with the direction that I would like to see Government Services go; a greater participation with various industries, not just GIS but construction and others in looking at some of the regulations and some of the ways that we can make contracts more, I suppose, in a sense, user-friendly for the local industries.
Mr. Jenkins: Last Thursday when we left off, I had a question of the Minister of Finance, asking the minister to table the contract registry from March 31 forward. The Minister of Finance responded, "No," and then, after a short pause, said he'd review the matter and provide the members with an answer on Monday. So my question is to the Minister of Finance: is he prepared to do the honourable thing today and table the contract registry from March 31 forward?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: What constitutes the honourable thing perhaps has varied over the course of the last several years. Certainly, the honourable thing would be to ensure that any member of the Legislature, or their staff, can have access to the contract registry. I can assure the member that the contract registry is open for their scrutiny. If they wish to go and have a look at it, time will be made for them to flip through it and get any information they wish to receive, and they can have full access to the information that they want.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, but that's a very convoluted program, Mr. Chair, and I was wondering why the minister chose this course to access this information. The easiest thing for both sides, and for this Legislature, is to table the contract registry and get it over and done with. You know, we're going to spend considerable time and effort on this side going up and going through it. I don't know what the minister is trying to hide by taking this course of action, but by taking this course of action, where's all this accountable government that the minister is constantly talking about? Is this just a facade that he's putting forward, and the reality is something else? That seems to be the case, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the government is just as accountable as it was last year and the year before that. The last time an interim contract registry was actually published at cost and tabled was 1993.
Since then, the government has chosen not to publish interim reports, but has instead published once a year. I'm saying to the member that there is nothing being hidden and that the innuendo - the snide innuendo - does him no service. There's nothing being hidden at all, and with a little bit of effort, a minuscule bit of effort, the member can actually go and see all the contracts, all the information, in its detail, as he wishes. It is something that is perfectly available to him, and if he or his staff is at all capable of taking an hour and flipping the registry, then they can do so.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It seems like a heck of a process that we're going to go through to get information that is routinely tabled in the House. I understand that annually this information is tabled, but an update has been provided to the House on any regular basis over any number of years.
I was hoping that the minister, in his new, more open type of government that he constantly amplifies in the public domain, would like to take it upon himself and provide this information. It is the basis for which we can correlate expenditures back to contracts and see where this money has gone, and ultimately save the House the considerable amount of time in back and forth discussions as to what this about and going into the most minuscule of details.
I would encourage the minister to reconsider his position - he has opened up somewhat - and to table that contract registry from March 31 forward, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the information, as I pointed out to the member, is not routinely tabled at all. It was tabled once, and I understand at considerable expense. There is no attempt to hide anything from the member. I realize that the member's got a busy schedule, but it will only take an hour or so to go to the contracts office and flip through the register. There is nothing difficult about that, if the member wants to do that. He doesn't have to take any time of this Legislature. I realize he's busy, but surely he has some staff or someone who can flip through the contract registry.
The information is available to anyone who wants to go and see it, and the members can see it. If they have any questions about any particulars, the information will be right there, right then. They don't have to go through any intermediaries. They don't have to ask other people to do their work for them. They can get the information right away.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, so much for open, accountable, cooperative government. I notice that the ministers are very, very busy - busy travelling. In the travel documents or travel things that were put out by the minister last Thursday, we see that ministerial travel has doubled from the last 14 months of the Yukon Party, and that's doubled, Mr. Chair, vis-à-vis 12 and a half months for the NDP to 14 months for the Yukon Party.
Can the minister give us any explanation why travel costs have doubled?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, Mr. Chair, I find the opening shot by the member particularly obnoxious, because the policies that we're abiding by right now with respect to the disclosure of public materials is exactly his policy, and for him to stand up only a very short time later and say that somehow the actions that were taken are unfortunate betrays a certain inconsistency. And I have said that the information that the member wishes is public information, is available. Only the most minor bit of energy on their part can get them access to every single document with respect to that contract registry - not just summaries, but every single thing they want.
With respect to ministerial business travel, the member has chosen to compare the amount of travel that the government does, which, I believe, when it's detailed, the public will see is justified. But he has chosen to compare that level of travel with last year. If one compares it with 1994-95, one will see that it is exactly the same as that year for a comparable period of time and using the same indicators, comparing apples to apples, oranges to oranges. The amount of outside travel by ministers and their staff is exactly the same. I think we're different by only $200. We are up $200 from 1994-95 for exactly the same period.
The government has a job to do. The ministers are not going to retreat from their duties. They're not going to go and hide. They've got a job to do, and I expect them to do the job. There's no ivory-tower decision making here. We're not waiting for people to come to us. We've got work to do.
If the member looks at each of the business travel items that are in the list, he'll see that every business travel had a purpose. If he disagrees with the particulars, then he can say so. If he doesn't think a particular trip was warranted, he can say so. But, in its detail, I believe that this travel was essential for the operations of this government.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister can get as defensive as he likes. The fact remains that travel is up double. We don't believe that it's necessary that it's up that high. I will go back and check 1994-95. We're checking the last four months; those are the latest figures we have to go by.
We have a Government Leader who is going around the Yukon telling Yukoners that they have to tighten their belt, that they have to lower their expectations as to what government can provide for them. Yet, they think nothing of spending money on themselves - a substantial amount of money, Mr. Chair - both inside and outside the Yukon. Travel has doubled.
I find that offensive when he's going around telling Yukoners that they have to tighten their belts, and they can just go ahead, merrily on their way, and spend all the money they think is necessary to travel. It looks like they take a substantial amount of political staff with them, something that was a policy of my government to not do.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, in the first instance, travel is not up from 1994-95 by any means. Outside travel is not up at all. In fact, it mirrors what the Yukon Party did itself. Secondly, what is up is the in-territory travel. I can tell the member that I'm happy that the travel is up for in-territory travel by ministers and by the caucus. I'm happy, and I will defend it anywhere.
I can tell the member another thing: there is hardly anyone in rural Yukon - I have not met anybody, but I will say that there's hardly anybody - who believes that ministers should not be travelling more into rural Yukon instead of always insisting that the people from rural Yukon travel to the oracle in Whitehorse.
This is an opportunity for the people to get into the rural communities and speak directly with the rural communities. The meetings we had in Mayo, Watson Lake, Haines Junction had very large community events and people were very happy to see the members there. They were very pleased to see the members there for a couple of days. They felt that that level of attention was more than overdue them. I only regret that, when I was in government before, we weren't doing that same thing. The people weren't getting into the communities more.
But I can tell the member, just so he knows - on notice - that if that level of internal travel or travel inside the territory goes up again, I'm going to be supportive of it. I will take the member on in public, any time, on that expenditure. Then the member can go out into the rural communities and ask, himself, if he thinks that this is a worthwhile expenditure of public funds for some of the ministers to get into the communities a little more often. He will have a come-uppance like he's never had in his life if he goes out there saying that the few hundred bucks for a trip into rural Yukon was a waste of money.
Because the rural people have had it when it comes to always insisting that they have to come to Whitehorse in order to see a minister or talk to the government in some comprehensive way. I disagree with the member on that front. I disagree with the member that this is an inappropriate use of funds. In fact, I think it is an extremely important use of funds.
And, by the way, I was going out there talking to people about more modest expectations. People wanted to see me, and others, and they wanted to have that dialogue in their homes, in their community halls, in their kitchens, with them on their turf. Because some of the expectations out of the last political campaign were astronomical, and they wanted to talk about priorities. Amongst things, they wanted to talk about the CDF and wanted to make sure that we were supporting the CDF and weren't listening to those other guys. And I reassured them, indeed, we will be supporting the CDF, just as an example. But that dialogue is going to continue, Mr. Chair. It will continue, and I'm hoping there will be more of it.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, the only come-uppance I see is what this Government Leader will get when he gets the courage enough to call the next election. That's the come-uppance I seek.
Mr. Chair, the fact remains that the ministers did travel under my administration. It was the style they travelled in - that's the whole difference. This Government Leader thinks he can stand there and get angry and thinks he's going to shut us up. Well, I've got news for him. We're not going to shut up. We're going to question him, and we're going to question him very critically, just as he did when he was in opposition. The fact remains, travel is up 100 percent by a Government Leader who's telling Yukoners to tighten their belt, that they can't have the same expectations of government. Well, they certainly can't if he's going to spend money this liberally on himself, that's for sure.
Can the minister tell me, does he expect that travel is going to go up next year again, or is it going to come down?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't want to dissuade the member from carrying on this line of questioning at all. I am so confident about our position, and I'm so confident about going into rural Yukon today and running in an election and cleaning that member's clock, that there's no possible way that I would want this member to do anything other than he's doing right now. Because I can guarantee the member that I've already thought of a couple of good quotes from the member that are going to get into rural Yukon; believe me. I want the debate; I want the discussion; and I want the member to object, because when we go into a rural community, showing up in a government car like previous ministers, staying in a community hotel, just like the previous members, when we go and do that, and they talk about this as being unrealistic or unwarranted, then believe me, he doesn't even have to carry his message into rural Yukon. I will carry his message into rural Yukon. No problem.
When it comes to outside-of-territory travel, the amount of travel that has been taken, I believe, is justified. The member says it's doubled over last year. Well, it's the same as the year 1994-95, the previous year that he was in government.
So he's obviously condemning his own practices; he's obviously having a change of heart now that he's in opposition, but I'm telling the member that I believe that the travel that was taken by our government officials to conferences - going to first ministers conferences, going to the Cordilleran Roundup, going to the Prospectors and Developers Association last year - these trips, I believe, are important. The ministerial conferences I believe are important too, because these meetings are important places where national issues affecting the Yukon are discussed. We don't go to all the conferences, of course, but we do believe the ones we've chosen to attend are important for the future of this territory, and we will be there.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I'd like to know which one they missed, because it seems like they attended them all. Not only that, it's the size of the delegations they're taking, such as to the Cordilleran last year.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: "Yes, what?" the Minister of Economic Development says. I believe there were five government members at that meeting, four for sure.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: One was, but the other four weren't.
The minister says he can justify all that travel. The biggest complaint that we had of a previous NDP government seems to be the same as this government, is all of the staff that they surround themselves with, so nobody can talk to them when they go to a community anyhow, and that seems to be where the biggest increase in travel cost is - the amount of staff that they're taking with them.
Will the minister be prepared to table a list of attendance at his community meetings, each and every one of them - the number of people that attended. On the outside travel, can the minister tell me, when he goes to Ottawa, does he take staff with him?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, in answer to the last question no, not always. This last meeting with Mr. Martin and the meeting with Jane Stewart last week or the week before, no staff went with me. That doesn't mean that they won't go in the future. It depends on the purpose of the meeting. It depends on whether or not there should be some staff and it's a judgment call made in each case.
With respect to the Cordilleran Roundup last year, two ministers happened to be coming through because they were attending other conferences and they attended that gathering. They took an interest in this meeting because they were travelling through and they made a point of coming. They made a point of it. The Minister of Economic Development, of course, was there and I was there and the commissioner responsible for DAP was there. So clearly, I received no complaints whatsoever from anybody other than the member opposite. In fact, I received comments from the people who attended the conference that it was a good thing that the member who was responsible for the development assessment process was present, a very good thing. They were happy that we were there. So, the member should open his door, go outside, breathe a little fresh air, talk to a citizen and come back and we'll have a discussion again.
With respect to the staff in the communities, we took the caucus staff into the community meetings in Mayo, Watson Lake and Haines Junction. Everybody went in a big bus and they doubled up in the hotel rooms. The reason why I insisted that they go was because they should understand, too, what the issues are, who the people they are dealing with over the phone are in those communities and that this would be an excellent opportunity for them to meet the people in the communities. And you know, nobody thought it was unjustified. We got nothing but support. We've got letters of support from mayors of the communities. We've got people saying that it's about time that everyone showed up. It's about time that people actually went to see them instead of us insisting that they come to see us and they regard it as being a major show of respect for them, for their community and for rural Yukon. I can tell the member if he wants to keep up the criticism, then I've already got my quotes, he doesn't have to say anything more. I've got what I need to have in order to make my case elsewhere, but I can tell him that it is a good thing for the caucus members and the staff to get into the rural communities. There should be more of that, frankly.
Mr. Ostashek: As long as the minister keeps looking at how he justifies his expenses through rose-colored glasses, I guess it just makes our job easier.
Mr. Speaker, just going back to Cordilleran, a little, I can remember the now Minister of Economic Development standing on this side of the House calling it a glorified cocktail party. Mocking it and mocking our involvement in it. Was that just political opportunism because they were in opposition?
Mr. Chair, the fact remains that this Government Leader is going around telling Yukoners to tighten their belts and is doing absolutely nothing to cut down on his own expenditures or the expenditures of his political staff. And it is resonating with the Yukon public, there is no doubt about it; we do get calls and we do talk to the public. So, if the minister wants to keep on doing it, that's fine, and we'll continue to keep on criticizing it in this Legislature.
Mr. Chair, I don't have a whole lot more questions for general debate. Maybe my colleagues here do.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I'll be happy to address these issues with the member in rural Yukon, in fact anywhere in public. I think it is a useful discussion and there is definitely a difference of opinion as to how the government should conduct itself.
Having been a representative from rural Yukon for 10 years, I do know what people's sensitivities are, and as soon as I had an opportunity to show them more respect, I took it. Obviously that is receiving very spirited opposition from the member opposite, the Member for Porter Creek North. I am happy that he is opposed. This is not padding government expense accounts; it has nothing to do with that. As a matter of fact, the expenditures here are fairly modest. In terms of the amount of travel being taken, I think it should be more.
With respect to the government padding its budgets, I want to point out to the member that we have a much larger caucus than the member did, and the budget supporting that caucus is exactly the same as it was to support his caucus yet it was a smaller caucus.
So, I would point out to the member, once again, as I pointed out at length in the spring sitting, when it comes to taking care of one's self, the member opposite has it up on all of us.
Mr. Jenkins: I think, Mr. Chair, the Minister of Finance, the Government Leader, is missing the point on the issue of travel in rural Yukon. It's needed and it's necessary when a party first comes to power. I just certainly have to question the size of the contingent that goes around to each community. You know, where one or perhaps two ministers can do the job and do the job on a first-hand basis, when you surround yourself with a whole entourage, then your feeling for the community is filtered, and it's filtered considerably, whereas on a first-hand basis the minister comes into contact with virtually everyone.
So, I guess what I'm hearing is the filtered version of what the minister has received in rural Yukon, and I don't accept his overview of what he's just suggested is necessary, and it's necessary on the grandiose scale that the Government Leader is undertaking - his travel in rural Yukon.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, on the record right now, I would challenge the member to debate this issue in his own hometown. Next time we get to Dawson, I will make a personal effort to invite the member.
The member didn't come to the meeting I had in Dawson the other day - or last month - but I'd like the member to come the next time, and I will debate this issue on his turf, and we will let the people there decide on his turf in his town what they think about ministers travelling.
And there were only three community trips which the caucus staff went on too, which was very much appreciated by the people in those communities. Most of the business travel for the ministers inside the territory was undertaken by the ministers themselves. Most of it is done that way, but there were a few community meetings which did involve all the caucus staff too, and it was very much appreciated by the community members. So, I'll be happy to debate that issue with the member.
Mr. Jenkins: I must remind the Government Leader that the issue has been debated in Dawson and ruled upon, and it will be debated three years hence again, and we'll look forward to that debate with the Government Leader, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, I do regret having sabotaged my candidate's campaign in Dawson. I told him that he couldn't be promising what the member who did get elected promised. I was not in a position to be able to give him the wish list that the member seems to think was realistic but was, of course, completely outrageous.
He did try, of course, making those requests in the Legislature within his first week of coming to the Legislature and put $60 million of requests on the table. Of course, now that reality strikes home, and it will be a very interesting election in three years from now.
But I won't wait for three years in terms of this debate, Mr. Chair. Why? Let's talk about it when we get to Dawson next.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'd like to address questions to the Minister of Finance in general debate on this Executive Council Office. My questions come from the perspective of collection on receivables, if you will.
Earlier in this debate we had a discussion about Health and Social Services - the federal government owing the Yukon government $28 million. The Minister of Health and Social Services and I were having an informal discussion about this. Somewhere in that debate on $28 million or $25 million, it is $12 million out. The minister indicated $3 million has been repaid, $13 million is now undisputed. On the other $12 million, could the Minister of Finance just elaborate? I'm hearing from the other benches that this is an inappropriate question. I'll save it.
Could I ask the minister, then, to elaborate on this response? Earlier in his discussion of ECO, he alluded to costs that were 100-percent recoverable, and I was trying to find the exact reference. I believe it may even have been again to the LIMS project. Could the minister indicate, then, what is the repayment schedule? When these costs are 100-percent recoverable, do they come attached with the repayment schedule?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, I think the member was originally asking a question about the outstanding billings by the Yukon government to the federal government for aboriginal services. The deputy of Finance is not here but I can certainly get some information about that to the member.
With respect to the LIMS project, 100-percent recoverable means that we will, in this kind of item - or any recoverable item like this - we book the expenditure, presumably spend it, and we will receive that money, and it will be registered as being received in this fiscal year. So, it will be from the federal government. They will provide, essentially, the equivalent of a cheque in this fiscal year.
Ms. Duncan: Is there any exposure on the part of the Yukon government? Could the federal government say, "We don't approve of the way an expenditure was made" and refuse to pay that $300,000?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, a lot depends on what the expenditure is for and what the agreement is all about. Every agreement has a funding agreement attached - a technical document attached. In the case of implementation funding, there will probably be a fair amount of flexibility to what we consider to be an implementation project. When the land claim was negotiated, we negotiated a total dollar sum of what we could use to implement all our responsibilities under the claim. Whatever one thinks of that sum, the fact is that there's a fair amount of flexibility.
But there are other recoverable projects that we will undertake, where the work we agree to do that is recoverable is very specifically spelled out in a funding agreement, and we would have to live to the letter of that agreement. For example, a capital project that they may fund - we may agree to build a road on their behalf, as we used to do many times. We would have to build it to a certain standard, very specifically designed in order to receive the recoverable.
Ms. Duncan: So, this particular recoverable is part of that general implementation plan, then, and it is not specifically spelled out - the minister used the example of roads - that we must have this information system up and running and implemented, prior to receiving repayment?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, I believe that in the case of the implementation projects, the flexibility is more ours, but we draw down as we use it.
Mr. Cable: A couple of questions. The minister referred us to contract administration for the contracts in ECO, and suggested we go over there and indicated that was all right with him. Just a mechanical question here. Is he prepared to instruct the staff to provide whatever photocopying is reasonable in the circumstances, rather than us spend days there taking notes?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Sure, Mr. Chair, whatever's reasonable.
Mr. Cable: On the budgets for the commissions, there were some questions put to the minister the other day, and we indicated that we did not have extensive documentation on the budgets. What we do have is a one-page sheet, which adds up to $499,000, which was the amount in the main estimates, and a two-page sheet, entitled "commission cost", and it goes over the four commissions and has global figures.
Is there anything else available in greater detail? In particular, the first sheet that I referred to had a personnel entry of $211,000, and employee travel in Yukon, $91,690, employee travel outside Yukon, $80,870. Is there something in the budget that gives us some greater detail, a breakdown as between the various commissions? Is there documentation that relates to the expenditures to date under the various items?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I asked the department to pull some information that the member requested, and they put together an update on the budget and expenditures to mid-November. I can pass it around to the member.
Mr. Ostashek: I just have a couple more questions here that I could ask him in line by line, but I'll ask him in general debate.
Intergovernmental relations and that includes the Ottawa office - are there any changes to the Ottawa office or are there any contemplated changes?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There is no change to the plan that I have indicated to the member. There is a recruitment that's underway for a staff member at the Ottawa office. That's a public service standard recruitment. I'm still contemplating what we might do in order to find some support for who may lobby government caucuses, or at least inform them of what we're doing, which I think is going to be an important issue for us or an important task for us in the coming months, particularly around the subject of devolution. I have not yet come to any conclusions about the best way to acquire that service.
Mr. Ostashek: Which position is being advertised for in Ottawa right now?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Say that again.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister said that there was one position being recruited for now. Which position is being recruited for now?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The position that's being recruited for now is a position that was held by Mr. Grant. Mr. Grant has moved to a Finance position in Ottawa.
Mr. Ostashek: The Bureau of Management Improvement, I see, has given back some money here. What is the Bureau of Management Improvement doing now? What are their tasks right now?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, as the member knows, it is largely the internal audit service and, as the member can see, it is returning $16,000. Generally, the returns here are staff vacancies and some internal economies. So, there is no change to the basic function. The director of internal audit has still not been recruited. The internal auditor is filling that position as we speak. There is some private contract work to local accounting companies to do some of the audit work.
They still nominally oversee the service improvement program, I think it was called. There has been no further activity in this area. I asked some time ago as to whether or not there were any new suggestions for improved efficiencies and they'd indicated not for the last couple of years, but they still nominally are responsible for that program as well.
Mr. Ostashek: I'd just like to ask the minister this: do they have a workplan for this fiscal year that the minister could table for us to have a look at?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, I think I might be able to get a workplan or a suggested workplan for next year too, and I could table that as well.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, on a similar issue, in the spring when we were discussing the budget, I asked the Government Leader about the service improvement program, and in response to my question, the Government Leader indicated that following the hiring of a new director of the Bureau of Management Improvement, there will be a review of the service improvement program. What stage is that review at?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, in the first instance, as I just mentioned, we have not hired the new director. We have had some discussions internally. I have had some discussions with the department respecting the program and what might be done to actually resurrect the program or to give some outlet for people to make suggestions beyond the simple suggestion box, which is something that people can do at almost any time. So, those discussions are underway.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, that's good to hear, Mr. Chair, because now there is a $12-million shortfall, and it's probably time to ask the people who work in the system every day where the kindest cuts should be.
Now, in B.C., they are under the employee suggestion program, and in the City of Whitehorse there is a cash incentive program. Is the cash incentive program part of the review of this service that the Government Leader has indicated that he is already undergoing?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: All options - not all options, but a good array of options - are being considered. There is certainly a lot of information on the record in the departmental files, because the service improvement program was only initiated a few years back. Presumably, due to the publicity, while it had a fair amount of activity within the first few months, it seemed to die off quite dramatically. It has simply been moribund since then, but there are various options being considered, indeed.
Mrs. Edelman: To a certain extent, I sort of understand why that interest has waned. Over the years, there have been a number of suggestion systems that have come and gone. People have filled out questionnaires, they've done surveys and they've attended brainstorming sessions, and all of these methods have been unsuccessful because nothing's ever come of the good suggestions that those employees have given, generally speaking and, after a while they've stopped giving them.
So what would this government do to make sure that employees are included in the decision-making process to effectively save and spend taxpayer dollars?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As I just said, Mr. Chair, we're reviewing the situation. We will be in a position to make some changes, presumably. If the member has some ideas about how she thinks the program could be improved or how suggestions can be received, handled or managed, I'd be more than happy to listen. I'm here.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, in the spring I gave the Government Leader the complete outline of the B.C. program, which has been tremendously successful and saved millions of dollars for the Province of B.C., so it would be one of my suggestions that certainly they might want to look closely at that particular program.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I thank the member for that, and I'll certainly re-read her remarks. If she has anything to add, I'll take that into consideration.
Chair: Not seeing any further general debate, we will go to the book.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Chair: Is there general debate?
On Cabinet and Management Support
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I thought I'd just stand when the item is of a moderately large size, just to give an explanation.
Briefly, this is a decrease in salaries - a savings in salaries, unfilled positions, including a number of positions in this particular branch. There are also some savings with respect to the budgeted amount for travel contracts and supplies.
Cabinet and Management Support in the amount of an underexpenditure of $66,000 agreed to
On Land Claims Secretariat
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member opposite was looking for an explanation. It's the same. The reasons were staff vacancies in this case.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister has increased a number of negotiating tables, I believe, at the land claims. Has there been an increase in staff? What's the total land claims staff contingent at land claims? Can the minister bring back a paper laying out how many people are in the Land Claims Secretariat now?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I only have one copy of this and the member can have it. It's the organization chart for the Land Claims Secretariat. If he asks any questions, I'll have to get another copy.
Mr. Ostashek: For the public record, has there been any change in the amount of people at Land Claims Secretariat?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No. We've recruited all the people that we said we were and I believe that it's fully staffed.
Land Claims Secretariat in the amount of an underexpenditure of $16,000 agreed to
On Intergovernmental Relations
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, we've added $56,000 to intergovernmental relations in order to support the pace of the devolution negotiations that are requiring more time and attention. And, of course, this is a branch that is leading the devolution discussions for the government.
Intergovernmental Relations in the amount of $56,000 agreed to
Policy in the amount of $38,000 agreed to
On Public Communications Services
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, there are two basic reasons for the reduction: first of all, vacancies, and also there were, at one time, two directors in this branch - one was public communication services and the other one was French language services - and there is one director fulfilling both functions now.
Public Communications Services in the amount of an underexpenditure of $73,000 agreed to
On Bureau of Management Improvement
Bureau of Management Improvement in the amount of an underexpenditure of $16,000 agreed to
On Bureau of Statistics
Bureau of Statistics in the amount of an underexpediture of $5,000 agreed to
On Office of the Commissioner
Office of the Commissioner in the amount of an underexpenditure $4,000 agreed to
On Cabinet Offices
Cabinet Offices in the amount of an underexpenditure of $5,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the recoveries?
Operating and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of an underexpenditure of $91,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Land Information Management System (LIMS)
Land Information Management System (LIMS) in the amount of $300,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the recoveries?
Mrs. Edelman: I'm sorry I didn't hear, did the Chair say that O&M recoveries was $81,000 or $91,000? I know it says $81,000, and I could have sworn that the Chair said $91,000.
Chair: I didn't state a figure for the recoveries. I merely asked if there were any questions on them. The $91,000 reduction is for the total O&M expenditure, on page 22 of the book.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, just briefly, the $81,000 recovery is $80,000 for two new renewable resource councils, and the $1,000 is provided to the statistics branch.
Capital Expenditures in the amount of $300,000 agreed to
Executive Council Office agreed to
Community and Transportation Services
Chair: We'll go now to Community and Transportation Services. Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Please allow me to provide the highlights in the Supplementary Estimates No. 1 for the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
Estimated expenditure for operation and maintenance has decreased by a net of $650,000. This net decrease represents a gross decrease of $961,000, offset by a projected revenue increase of $275,000 from the ore haul route and other recovery increase of $36,000.
I just read the first paragraph of the speech. Maybe I could start over for the benefit of the critic opposite, who just showed up.
Please allow me to provide the highlights in the Supplementary Estimates No. 1 for the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
The estimated expenditure for operation and maintenance has decreased by a net of $650,000. This net decrease represents a gross decrease of $961,000, which is offset by a projected revenue increase of $275,000 - and that's from the ore haul route - and other recovery increase of $36,000.
Mr. Chair, the gross reduction of $961,000 represents 1.5 percent of the department's base operation and maintenance budget. As the members are aware, this 1.5-percent reduction has also been applied to other departments in order for the government to deal with priorities that emerged in the areas of health and education.
A substantial portion of the reduction has been sourced from our maintenance budget for highways. The department will continue with this planned reduction on the highway maintenance budget to the extent that our mandated responsibilities for the safety of the travelling public are not compromised.
In addition, funding has been retained to cover increased expenditures expected as a result of the Faro ore haul. As I outlined earlier, these costs are offset by increased revenues from bulk haul fees.
Non-discretionary items, such as grants and contributions, remain at our main estimate level. As well, the reduction of O&M will not have an impact on the level of the department's full-time equivalent positions.
Operation and maintenance recoveries have increased by a net of $36,000 to provide for increased expenditure funding for sports groups, as recommended by the Yukon Recreation Advisory Committee.
The department's projected capital expenditure has increased by about $2.4 million, and this increase consists of revotes required for capital projects carried over from the previous year totalling $3.1 million, which is offset by expenditure reduction of about $700,000 on various other projects. The total revote funding requested is about four percent of the 1996-97 improved capital budget, which is compared to an average of six-percent revote for the preceding years.
The projected capital recoveries are lower than the main estimate by about $771,000, and this reduction in recoveries is largely due to reductions in land development and corresponding reductions in the 1997-98 fiscal year in recoverable expenditures under the strategic highway improvement program.
Mr. Chair, I would be glad to provide details on the specifics if the members have questions on the supplementary, which I am sure they do.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, it's interesting to note that there has been a reduction in the O&M costs of the department, and while usually that is commendable, it's been at the expense of highway maintenance, and I do have some concerns that it has been an across-the-board reduction in maintenance of 1.5 percent.
Now, I can understand if it is a reduction because of the snowfall or less requirement for certain areas because they're up to standards, but such is not the case, and anyone living in rural Yukon can attest to the decrease that we are experiencing in the highway maintenance program in our respective areas.
And I was just noticing the trend the last number of years as to the reduction in highway maintenance. When is this going to bottom out, or is it this government's policy to not concentrate on highways and get right out of the business altogether, it almost seems, as is the case with mining roads in the Mayo and Dawson area. The amount of maintenance that these roads received this last summer has been virtually non-existent compared to the last four or five years, Mr. Chair.
So, I'm just wondering if the minister could provide his comments as to whether we have bottomed out as far as reductions in highway maintenance is concerned, and what the trends are going to be from here, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, as the member opposite puts it, have we bottomed out - I'm not sure if that's the correct language to use. The department is certainly cognizant that we had to trim 1.5 percent and we have no plans to do that at the jeopardy of the travelling public or at the expense of the health and safety of the travelling public. We are certainly working to perform this year's winter maintenance budget for normal winter conditions and that is the bottom line on it.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess that leads to another point, or another way of looking at the reduction in highway maintenance - are we maintaining those roads to a standard that won't jeopardize life or safety, or are we just not maintaining roads and saying we're not maintaining them so there's no need to conform to any life safety standards because they're out of the loop with respect to mining roads in the Duncan Creek and Dawson area? Could the minister provide his comments there? There's less and less, to the point that there's no maintenance being done on a number of these roads. You can hide behind it and say, "Yes, we're not doing anything so we don't have to concentrate on maintaining them to a certain standard." Is that the case, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, no. I'll just reiterate that no, we are looking for this winter and for winter conditions, and this supplementary budget speaks to the conditions that will be coming up this winter. So, there is no change in policy from the situation that the member opposite has stated regarding the Duncan Creek roads or the mining roads in general. These roads or highways that I'm speaking of are the main transportation corridors that, I guess you'd say, are normally open throughout the duration of the winter months.
Mr. Jenkins: I wish the minister were correct in his overview. All of these roads are virtually closed at this time of the year. There's very, very little, if any, maintenance going on on them. What I'm referring to is the maintenance on these roads over the course of the summer mining season that was curtailed to such an extent as to being non-existent. What I'm seeking from the minister is his assurance that some maintenance is going to take place on these mining roads.
Now, the mask - or the shield - that the minister is hiding behind is he's going to maintain his highways to a standard that will not jeopardize the life and safety of those travelling on them, but what is happening, on a number of these roads, there's no maintenance whatsoever, and the government just says, "We're not maintaining them, we haven't been maintaining them, and we don't have any responsibility for life safety," and that's the message that's coming across. Is this the case, Mr. Chair? Where do we stop?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, the shield that I am not hiding behind is, as I've stated currently. We are going to be maintaining the roads to a normal condition - the main highways. I do believe that looks after the pertinence of what is contained within the supplementary budget.
Now the member opposite is asking me, are there going to be improvements to the mining roads or the policy for the mining roads, for wherever it may be within the mining community - whether it's in the Mayo or Dawson area, I guess it doesn't much matter. I believe that is where the member is coming from.
Certainly, in this day of lessening budgets - I guess if I could say it in that way - we have to spend wisely and we have to try and get the best bang for the buck, so certainly I cannot guarantee that we're going to be bringing certain roads - whether it's mining access roads - up to a better standard, but certainly we're going to continue with the program, as we have, to enable the roads to be traversed, if I can say it in that way.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess we're not looking for a better standard for these roads, Mr. Chair. What we're looking for is that the routine maintenance that was normally accorded these routes be continued rather than curtailed. On the one hand we have the Minister of Economic Development going around the world and going around North America touting the opportunities for mining opportunities in the Yukon. Then we have the Minister of Community and Transportation Services - he won't even open the highways into the mining areas in the spring, let alone maintain them after they're open. So, just where are we at?
When are we going to get these routes maintained to a consistent level? Each spring, it's brought up in the House that we have to open these routes and the government is more and more reluctant to do so. It's impeding business. It's impeding one of the major contributors to the Yukon economy: the mining industry. This impediment is a heck of an impediment, Mr. Chair, and I would urge the minister, if he has such a surplus in his budget, to reconsider his position with respect to access to the mining districts, specifically Mayo and Dawson.
Could the minister give the House that assurance, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: First of all, let me say, Mr. Chair, that there is no surplus - absolutely is no surplus - within the Community and Transportation Services budget. What we are doing though, working in concert with my colleagues at the Cabinet level, at every level, whether it's Ec. Dev. or Health or Education or Renewable Resources, is working toward the implementation of our agreed-upon plan.
Now, with that set aside, I do believe that what the member opposite is asking for is maybe earlier openings and more maintenance. I can let the member know that I would be more than willing to look at these on a case-by-case basis so that we do not impede business. That's not what we're here for and I don't even like the allusion or somebody alluding that we are here to impede business, because we're certainly not. I will sit with the member opposite and look at it on a case-by-case position so that we might be able to keep up with our campaign promises, and exactly what we said we're going to do, we will do.
Mr. Jenkins: Whether the minister likes it or not, his approach to the maintenance on these routes has been an impediment to the mining industry, and it continues to be, unless his department establishes a firm policy as to when the majority of these routes will be opened in the springtime and to what standard they will be maintained over the course of the mining season.
Now, I don't know how many times I have to repeat that, but that is the issue before us - that access to the mining areas has to be done on a consistent basis, and these roads have to be maintained to a uniform standard. There has been a lessening of that standard this year, and a considerable lessening of the standard since, say, two years ago or the previous four or five years, Mr. Chair, and I would urge the minister to reconsider his position on that area.
Now, I welcome the opportunity to sit down with the minister and go over it on a case-by-case basis, but it's in the springtime; it's opening the Sixty Mile road; it's opening the road around the Granville loop; and it's opening the Duncan Creek road. It's the same year after year after year, Mr. Chair, and the minister is just avoiding the issue and hiding behind a facade of life safety, but we have to put people to work in Yukon, and we cannot put people to work in Yukon unless these roads are maintained to a certain standard - and consistently to a certain standard - and opened up in the springtime at virtually the same time, unless there's a requirement to open them up somewhat earlier.
So, I'm just looking for those assurances from the minister, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, let me first of all again correct that I'm not hiding behind anything. I'm certainly here to work in concert with my colleagues from Economic Development and other areas, who are working stringently to provide new opportunities for Yukoners in the area of economic development and, in some cases particularly, in the mining industry.
I will sit with the member opposite and work on a case-by-case basis so that we can work in concert, and we will not be an impediment to business, if I may.
Mrs. Edelman: To get back to the 1.5-percent reduction in O&M budget, one of the things that I've often wondered about is why it came off road maintenance. Now, there have been some problems with operational costs in the Department of Community and Transportation Services. One's heard rumours over the years about people who drive their time sheets in from a certain outer municipality, rather than faxing them in, like the other government departments do. When was the last time an operational audit was done in the department? Is there another one coming up? If not, basically, why not? If you're looking at cutting costs, this is a great way to do it.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, the only time that the department would have to drive in from outlying communities, regarding communication, is if the fax lines, or telephone lines, or something, were down. I sincerely believe that that is a very rare occurrence, and I'll leave it at that. Each year, though, certainly, we are audited by the Auditor General and do work within that process with the Auditor General.
Is that what the member opposite meant? Okay, please clarify it for me.
Mrs. Edelman: What I'm speaking about is an operational audit, which is very different from a financial audit. This is something that a lot of businesses do, if they're having problems with cashflow, or if they're having problems with their overhead, is they'll do an operational audit. It's also very typical for some government departments to do that on a regular basis, if they have funding coming from other sources, for example - like the federal government - to do an operational audit. It makes sense, because unless the department is divine, it can always do with some sort of improvement.
What I'm saying to the minister, then, is it might be possible to do an operational audit to find ways to save money, and probably save money so that there's less of a cut to road maintenance. All I'm saying is that they might want to consider doing an operational audit in that particular department.
Another issue that comes up over and over again is the issue around the sale of lots. Earlier in this session, I asked the minister about relaxing some of the restrictions on building on some of the lots that haven't been sold, particularly the ones that have been in inventory for a long period of time. I also asked the minister about considering discounts on land, similar to the discounts that they did in Porter Creek C in the early 1990s. I've never received a response back from the minister on that particular issue, and I'm wondering if he has had any thoughts in the meantime about the sale of lots and ways to get them out of inventory and into the tax base, so we can raise some money for municipalities?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, thank you for taking the time to clarify the operational audit for me. I hear the member opposite and certainly will take into light the member's comments on it. As you know, we like to think, as managers, that we do strive to be better money managers as we evolve. So, certainly the comments will be taken to heart and we will see how much we can work within that, but I would like to state here that it is ongoing, good management practices that we'd like to continue to work with. I guess that could be certainly argued, member to member.
Certainly on the sale of lots, as the member opposite has asked for, I think in a week or two weeks - I'm sorry I can't remember the exact date, but it is in the system right now and we are getting back to it and treating it as casework. We're thinking some good thoughts on it. It has triggered good thought and we will be getting back to the member as soon as possible.
Mr. Jenkins: Just to explore another area with the minister with respect to the capital side of his department, could the minister indicate the number of full-time employees he has in the engineering and planning department who deal with capital projects or capital undertaking?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: That is information I do not have right at my fingertips. I will certainly have to get that information back to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Where we are heading is - if one looks at the capital that is going to be spent within the Department of C&TS on highways and bridges in the next fiscal year and in the last fiscal year, it is down. It's going down at an alarming rate.
The information I have is that we will be very, very fortunate if any funds flow from the U.S. government to Canada for the Shakwak project, and we'd be very fortunate if those funds flow in the 1999 fiscal year.
Has the department given any consideration - and I'm aware of the ballpark number of FTEs within that department - to the justification of maintaining the strength at its current level, given the amount of capital projects that the department will be undertaking in, let's say, the next two years.
Can the minister provide some justification for maintaining the department strength at the level it currently is or is there something on the horizon that we're all not aware of; for example, that there's going to be a major announcement of bridge building over the Yukon River and a few other highways being chipsealed and upgraded?
Where are we heading, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, certainly I can justify the department's FTEs, as I'm sure the member opposite will accept. We are doing very hard political work, my Government Leader and myself, and with engineers within the department at their level in stridently working to ensure that we keep a continual flow of Shakwak dollars. Now, if that is going to happen this year, it has yet to be seen, but I am somewhat optimistic that we might have something move. Is that just myself being optimistic? I'm not sure. But I would certainly say that we cannot just sort of fire out or have a lack of planning in the absence of money. We must continue the planning as we have and will until we complete the project.
So, it's a case of planning and, at the political level, continuing to do good work.
Mr. Phillips: I want to follow along that line of thinking. Mr. Chair, the now-Leader of the Government of the Yukon, when he was in opposition, was extremely critical of the Yukon Party for the funds we spent on our highways, knowing full well that much of the money was for the Shakwak project and some was from the federal government to upgrade the Alaska Highway. He made some comments about our government at some period of time being a government that likes to just spend money on roads and forgets about health and education. But the current Minister of Community and Transportation Services is also the current Minister of Tourism, and that minister is aware that the most negative comment in the last visitor exit survey was the condition of our highways. That was the most negative comment from our visitors.
So, I'd like to know from the minister where improvement of our highways stacks up with respect to priorities of this government, because the tourism industry is the second-largest industry in the territory and probably employs more people than any other industry in the territory, has a huge potential for growth.
I know the minister and I have lived in this territory for a long, long time, Mr. Chair, and we think our roads are great because we can remember when they used to be little gravel trails so now we figure they're just great highways. But my concern is that most of the people who travel here come from other countries. In Germany they have the autobahn and in the United States they have their major highway system throughout the United States. Everything's all paved, well-signed, well-marked, well-identified, so when they arrive here they are somewhat concerned with the condition of our highways.
So, although we think the highways are better than they were a few years ago, and they certainly are, it's very important to continue to upgrade the highways, because those people have higher expectations and those are the people that are going to go back to their friends or relatives and either tell them that it's safe to drive their RV to the territory or pick another spot because it's not so good.
So, I'd like to ask the minister where the priorities are of his department with respect to improving our roads, because we see criticism from his own Government Leader that the previous government spent too much money on roads, and we see that in the last budget they tabled in the House, a lot of the highway construction money was cut out of it. So, maybe the minister can tell us what we can expect in the future from this minister with respect to improving roads in this territory.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I wasn't around, certainly, for the previous administration as a new minister or as critic, but as the colleague of mine has categorically stated over there, that is a completely false interpretation of what my Government Leader has said.
But let me say that this government will be making commitments and making thoughtful and deliberate commitments to the budget process so that we will not be holding up industry or anything like as such. But it is going to be balanced, and we will ensure that some road jobs are going to be moving forward.
We will certainly continue to spend the money on the roads through capital and also through operation and maintenance, and I certainly appreciate the concern, but certainly large budgets should be pared, and we do not have the ability at this time to just go randomly forth to build roads.
But certainly, we'll take a thoughtful and deliberate approach to it and be working in concert with all departments and with the caucus to establish a budget that will be very reflective of Yukon.
Mr. Phillips: Well, the minister didn't answer the question.
Since that minister has been in his position as the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, we've seen the capital budget of highways shrink dramatically. Now, some of that's out of the minister's control, but as well - and I'm not just talking about tourism here. I'm also talking about another economic engine of our economy, and that's mining. There are a couple of mining companies on the south Campbell Highway who have been talking about going into production in the future, and one of the areas they are concerned about are the highways as well.
I mean, it's fine and dandy to reallocate your spending. You know, the minister says he's going to weigh all government requests, but I can see the pendulum swinging over to the social services side. Because of the lack of control of our Social Services minister, our costs are skyrocketing in the social side.
Unemployment is high, and what I suggest to the minister is that if you improve the roads down the road, mining companies will have better access to get their products to market, more tourists will come, more jobs will be created, less people will hopefully be on social assistance, and it goes around.
To take all your money away from the things that actually create wealth and create jobs seems to me to be a kind of backward approach. And, I know that the side opposite claims to have the biggest heart in the world and the only party that claims to care about people, but people aren't really looking for social assistance, people are looking for jobs.
Highway work creates jobs, mining creates jobs, increased tourism creates jobs, and I know that the poor people in transportation services have taken a beating from this particular government in respect to seeing their budget slashes, and yet that is sort of short-term gain. I mean you can forget to run a grader over the road now or cut out another 30 or 40 miles of chipseal this year but it is the kind of thing that comes back to haunt you.
All I'm trying to get across to the minister is that in his other role as a Tourism minister our visitors said that that is the biggest problem they see in the territory: our highways. So, if the minister starts cutting back on highway spending, he's going to create problems for his other job. I'm encouraging him to give strong consideration to both.
Maybe I can ask the minister this. The Government Leader told us the other day that there was a one and a half percent reduction from all the government departments. Can the minister tell us where the one and a half percent came from within Department of Community and Transportation Services? Was any highway work cut out, or any maintenance work? Where exactly did the one and a half percent come from?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Chair, there is so much to answer in that question that I will certainly take my time and be thoughtful and deliberate on it.
First of all, let me say specifically that I thank the member opposite for the endorsement to spend money on the south Canol Highway. I certainly did hear that. Now I realize that the member opposite asking the questions is not the official critic for the Department of Community and Transportation Services but that the member sitting to his left is, and I certainly hope that there is communication flowing between the two because certainly last spring, I think, I took one heck of a beating simply on that one point.
So certainly I thank the member opposite for the endorsement.
Just building upon that, I would just like to say to the member opposite that we will be, and I will be, working in concert with my Cabinet and caucus colleagues, so that we might be able to bring forth, certainly, a budget that will be reflective of the economy and all sectors of the economy, whether it's a tourism engine, whether it's the highway engine, or the mining engine - as the member opposite put it. We are going to be doing things in concert.
I absolutely thank the member opposite for the words that he said. Certainly, when we get into Health and Education, the members opposite can ask the correct Cabinet ministers to explain and rationalize the rationale that we have for the supplementary budget, and I do believe that they will.
Let me also say that, yes, I know we all have hearts. We here do stand up for the poor and the downtrodden, and I know that members opposite also do, but certainly this government shows it, and this government is not going to be doing anything to the detriment of others. I'd like to think that we're going to be bringing something forth for road maintenance, certainly in concert with all departments, and it will certainly be a privilege to share it with the member next spring.
Also, for the breakdown, the member opposite will find the breakdown on page 3-2.
Chair: Order please. Is it members' wish to take a recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will call Committee of the Whole to order.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I have an answer for a question that was asked by the member opposite. We have a total of 35 people working within the transportation and engineering departments.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, where I was heading with that question concerns the capital projects that could be on the drawing board but have probably been stuffed on to the back shelf somewhere or are being used as book-ends by the department, and those are a number of highway projects, number one being the Shakwak and number two being transfer payments from the federal government. It's my understanding that there's virtually little or no engineering going on today for capital undertakings for the next fiscal year.
I'm just wondering how soon it's going to be before this department, or this area of the Department of Community and Transportation Services, crashes and burns because they don't have anything to do. There really isn't anything on the drawing board. Most of the major contractors - road contractors, paving contractors - are looking at jobs and relocating elsewhere, to the detriment of the Yukon, and taking highly skilled Yukoners with them.
A lot can be done by this government, but virtually little, if anything, is being done, and that is a major concern of this side of the House, Mr. Chair. I'm seeking the minister's understanding of it and I'm also seeking clarification as to where he is taking the whole department.
There doesn't seem to be anything happening other than a consultation process and that we're going to, I don't know, hug and squeeze and all that kind of stuff, which doesn't do anything to build infrastructure, which he's charged with the responsibility for. Highways are the number-one area that his department is charged with.
That transportation network is critical to the economic development of Yukon, and it's suffered major slashes in O&M monies these last periods. It's come under a further cut and the capital side of the budget is virtually non-existent. And that capital side is what creates jobs - jobs for Yukoners, but those Yukoners are relocating somewhere else because of the lack of this government's undertaking of these capital projects.
At what juncture, Mr. Chair, is the need for these 35 people in the engineering and planning section redundant? Because it looks like it's coming to an impasse now.
Could I ask the minister to clarify where he is taking his department in this regard?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, the department must be flexible and, through good management practices, we will continue to be flexible. Certainly when we find certainty, then we will be able to go forth and continue the fine job that the department has done historically, and we will continue to do that.
I thank the member opposite for his cautions and for his direction, and as we get into the preparation of the capital budget for next year, I'll certainly be cognizant of the direction.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm sure when one listens in to what has transpired here in the exchange of dialogues one would think we were in a dance class rather than a serious debate on where the Department of C&TS is taking Yukon. I'm very, very concerned with the Government of Yukon's current position and where the minister is heading with his whole department in the engineering, planning and the capital projects.
Just to clarify another point for the minister, and it's with respect to his incorrect interpretation of this side's position on the Campbell Highway, this side is certainly not opposed to the construction of highways and certainly not opposed to the upgrading of highways, but there has to be a reason for doing so, and it's not to take us just to a fishing lake, which in some cases is necessary.
If there are mining properties to go into production along the Campbell Highway, it's contingent upon the government to get involved as soon as they are assured by those mining operators that they're going to be going into operation and they're going to be commencing production. But to invest the many, many millions of capital dollars on a secondary road, at this juncture, I'm not quite sure that it holds water to the extent that we were led to believe.
If we could clarify that area for the minister, Mr. Chair, I'd appreciate it. What we have is a large budget and a large government, but as to what it comes down to, it's costing more and more in the department of highways to do less and less. That's the trend, and any time there's a cut within C&TS, it comes out of the highways area. I'm looking for the minister's assurances that we've stopped cutting. When do those cuts stop? When are we going to maintain what we have to a decent level, and not start nit-picking in all the little areas of airports and secondary airports and airstrips and secondary roads into mining areas? Can the minister give us the assurance that we've bottomed out in that regard?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, it is reminiscent of a dance class, isn't it? Certainly, I have been dancing with the member opposite before, and it's unfortunate that we enjoy to dance so doggone much, but certainly I'm prepared to dance as long as the member wishes to dance.
Let me say though, also, Mr. Chair, that I am giving forthright answers. I'm speaking to where we have trimmed 1.5 percent off Community and Transportation Services and, on page 3.2, as I've said to the members opposite, it gives a breakdown as we get into line by line. Certainly the member opposite will be more understanding, or have a broader knowledge base.
Let me again say that this is not at the detriment of health and safety for this winter. We will be maintaining the roads to a normal standard, not at the jeopardy of health and safety. When we get into the development and the preparation, as is taking place now on the capital budget, we will be looking so that we will be able to provide a balanced industry, if I may. We'll be looking at all industries and looking toward spending a dollar where it is mostly needed at this point in time.
As far as "bottomed out", we're certainly going to be continuing to have good management practices, and we'll have to continue to be flexible. If more money comes in, well then certainly we'll be putting more monies toward where the Cabinet and caucus decide what the priorities are.
I thank the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm sure most Yukoners will receive a tremendous degree of comfort from the minister's response.
Can we explore with the minister another area that his department has responsibility for, and that is the assessment process and the taxation categories. What does the minister contemplate having his officials do with establishing additional categories or zones for taxation purposes?
The Yukon has a uniform assessment program in place, based on Whitehorse replacement costs less observed depreciation, with land being valued at the market value for most areas, whereas the improvements are treated differently. Because the assessment process takes place and is upgraded every four years throughout the Yukon Territory, there are jumps in assessments of alarming amounts, from time to time, such as happened in the Marsh Lake area, which led to various ministers being beaten upon severely by their constituents. The outcome was that another classification of taxation area was implemented by your government.
Does the minister anticipate bringing into place additional categories of this nature? And for the record, if that area was assessed in the way the balance of the rural Yukon was assessed, what tax dollars would it have generated and what has been the loss in the tax dollars as a consequence of this new category being implemented, Mr. Chair?
Perhaps, Mr. Chair, to save the House time, if the minister doesn't have that information at his fingertips he can bring it back by way of a legislative return.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Certainly, in regard to the assessment process, we are making moves to look at that, as I think I explained last year to the member's question.
Certainly, the property taxation now is going to be done as it has been, as we said it would be, at a revenue and neutral basis, and there will be no change in the property tax.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chair, but the balance of the Yukon that has been reassessed is paying that rural Yukon assessment rate. There was a new zone established in the Marsh Lake area. What is the effect of not charging the same mill rate for that area? What would a gross tax revenue be under the new assessment and the previous mill rate versus the new assessment and the mill rate established for that current category of property? How much of a tax benefit did the residents in that area receive?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I'll have to get back to the member opposite with the information requested.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on the subject of taxes, as property is transferred from the federal government to the Government of Yukon under the devolution process, the grant in lieu process for the federal government versus Government of Yukon is quite different. The federal government does not accept the assessment put in place by the territorial assessment department and they pay what their department feels is the correct amount for grants in lieu; whereas the Government of Yukon accepts the values placed on the improvements by the Community and Transportation department and pays a grant in lieu on the same basis as if it were taxes. This has resulted in a considerable net benefit for the communities that have had buildings transferred from the federal government to the territorial government, a main example being Whitehorse with the Whitehorse hospital, the airport, and any of the other structures that were in the domain of the federal government.
Now, what I'm looking for, Mr. Chair, is the dollars that were paid previously and the dollars that are currently paid now. What is the difference between them? It's costing the Government of the Yukon more money under this process. How much more?
Again, I don't think this is information that the minister would have readily available, and if he could bring it back by way of legislative return I'd be quite pleased.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you muchly, Mr. Chair. Certainly, we will have to get the information that the member opposite requests back to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Some of the other areas in general debate that I'd like to cover with the minister have to do with Ruraltel. As Ruraltel and telephone communications comes under the purview of the Minister of C&TS, I want to know where the minister is headed and where his government is headed with respect to Ruraltel.
The Member for Lake Laberge promised, on behalf of the government, that they would be offering some kind of a reduction in telephone service and said, "Don't sign up until we've conducted our review."
Just where are we with respect to Ruraltel and cell phone initiatives by Northwestel's subsidiary company here in the Yukon? Where are we heading and where is the government going to lead us?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly the rural electrification and telephone program is currently working its way through the Cabinet process and I expect that it will have Cabinet's critique, if I may, certainly, by the new year - certainly soon.
Mr. Jenkins: Now am I led to believe the end of this year, December 31, 1997, or are we talking the fiscal year or of what are we talking?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: We are talking calendar years.
Mr. Jenkins: So, we can look forward to an announcement very soon by his government - in January. Could the minister give us some insight as to what direction the government is taking in this regard, because the cell phone system and the Ruraltel issue is upon us right now.
Many, many users are being asked to sign contracts. What are they to do? What is the minister's advice to these people in the public who are going to be paying humungous bills under the proposed charges that will be levied by Northwestel's subsidiary?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, as my colleague from Lake Laberge has alluded to, the RETP is going to be critiqued; it is being critiqued, and will be coming forward for management approval. What I could let folks know out there is that the RETP, in its conception many years ago, worked and worked quite well. It became stagnant over the last couple of years, so I instructed the department to find a way that we might be able to make it work better now and become a much more vibrant program. So, that is exactly what the department has done, and it's now working its way through the approval process, and, as I said, it will be done by the end of this calendar year, and we will be making an announcement December 31, and we will be making an announcement hopefully to the people at that point in time.
Let me also say that we are doing very fine work with the Northwestel people so that we might be able to provide the services to all Yukoners.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I thank the minister, Mr. Chair, for his response, but again, it's one of those soft, mushy things with no substance to it, and I was wondering if the minister could elaborate and give an overview of the various options that are being considered at this juncture.
There are people in the public domain that are being urged by the telephone company to sign up in order to receive the benefits immediately. Now, is the minister saying, "Sign up," or not to sign up. The Member for Lake Laberge urged the general population not to sign up until they heard from the government. Is that still the case? Do not sign up until next January, or what is the minister saying? We, again, have got mixed messages out there, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: As I have stated, we are working in concert with Northwestel. Certainly, the relationship might have been difficult, but the relationship is coming together. Northwestel knows that this government wishes to provide telephone service. We have a desire to have telephone service for Yukoners, for most Yukoners. Now, that is going to be very difficult, because a lot of Yukoners live in very isolated places and under very isolated conditions. But for most of the Yukoners that live in collective spots, we are working on a plan for them. I would just like to reiterate my colleague's statements from Lake Laberge that certainly this government is caring and will be coming with announcements soon. I cannot circumvent the Cabinet process and the process that we have. I can assure the member opposite though that we are coming with something and that it is going to be very good for Yukon.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm sure that the something coming is very good - for whom, I do not know at this juncture. Christmas is coming also. The question of the minister, Mr. Chair, is what are the people that are being urged by NMI Mobility to sign up in order to receive the benefits to do right now? There are deadlines being placed by NMI to sign up to get the package.
The Member for Lake Laberge has gone on the record in a public meeting saying, "Don't sign up now." Now, what is the minister urging the general population in that category to do? To sign up or not to sign up?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, as I've said and I will continue to say, we're working with Northwestel to expand the range of options for the public, and that's exactly what we're doing. We're going to be coming with our end of the option, the revamp for the RETP, to make it more accessible to the Yukoners. We're going to be doing that by the end of the calendar year, at the latest.
I would encourage people, certainly, to hang in there, because certainly we're doing something. This government is doing something in concert with Northwestel that will certainly help to alleviate the problem that we are experiencing at this time.
Mr. Jenkins: Now, if we were to translate what the minister just said into a press release, could the minister elaborate on what it would say? I'm sure the press release to the general public that are users of Northwestel Ruraltel and cell systems can't be told "Hang in there." Is the minister saying, "Delay signing any contract with Northwestel or subsidiary companies until after our announcement"? Is that what the minister is saying, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I am saying that by this year's end this government will be bringing forth an option on the RETP for the people at large. That's what I am saying. This government has been proactive to develop and to look and to take the old RETP and to bring back a new RETP so that people will access the new RETP. What more can I say? If the member wants to go for a little waltz, here I am.
Mr. Jenkins: The exercise, Mr. Chair, is not to be waltzing. The exercise is to send a clear message to Yukoners as to what steps this government envisions them to take to receive service under the Ruraltel or cell system.
Now, I am looking for clear direction from the minister. Is the minister stating to the general population in that category that they should be holding off signing any agreement with Northwestel or a Northwestel subsidiary company until after they hear the announcement from the Government of Yukon with respect to the RETP that they have before Cabinet? Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, what I am saying is that this government is going to be bringing back a revamped rural electrification and telephone program by the end of this year. It is going to be more accessible for Yukoners and I am going to have it back and announced in the public domain by the end of this year. What I cannot do is circumvent the Cabinet process or the Management Board process. This is not the Minister of Community and Transportation Services working in isolation; this is the Minister of Community and Transportation Services working in concert with all of his colleagues.
Thank you muchly.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, while the minister is working in concert with all his colleagues, Mr. Chair, what are the Ruraltel users to do? Are they to continue using the same system or is it the minister's recommendation to wait until after the RETP is announced and implemented before they sign any agreement? Or are they just to stop using their telephone until the minister tells them to do so? What options do people have?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, thank you very much.
A quote from the Member for Lake Laberge is that he had "urged Yukoners to examine all of their options and certainly Yukoners can decide". Now, what this government has done is to commit to revamp the RETP and we are doing that. It is within the process of revamping right now. It is working its way through the caucus and through the Cabinet process, and it will be ready to be announced by the end of this calendar year.
Now, what are people to do? Well, people should be using their wisdom to examine their options. And, there is going to be a new option by the end of the year.
Mr. Jenkins: So, if I could put words in the minister mouth, Mr. Chair, what he is trying to say to the people, but he is reluctant to do so, is don't make a move until you hear about our RETP that should be announced early in January 1998. Is that what the minister has said? Yes or no, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, let me say that this government is working and will have a revamped rural electrification and telephone program for the public to access and to use by January 1. That is exactly what this government is going to do and it is on record.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mrs. Edelman: Back to the issue of the rural electrification program, the rural services consultation was actually one of the best consultations I've ever seen a government put out. In addition to that, the Motor Vehicles Act review consultation was also excellent.
In the rural services consultation paper, there wasn't much discussion around the rural electrification program. I'm just wondering whether that will be included as part of the discussions of rural services?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, it is one of the most brought-up subjects within the rural services consultation, and I thank the member opposite for the critique on the consultation because the department does take it very, very seriously because it is a very serious situation.
It has been coming up. What my government is doing is working in concert - that seems to be my word of the day - to enable people to access something. Certainly, my government will be able to have a program put into place by Christmas on the RETP, and certainly we encourage people to bring forth their thoughts through the process of consultation on rural services.
Mrs. Edelman: In addition to that, the issue around DCCs - or development cost charges - didn't come up much in the rural services consultation paper, as well. Now, development cost charges would probably be part of a rural electrification program and a rural electrification phone program, as well. Development cost charges, is that going to be part of the discussion around rural services?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, I hear the member opposite, Mr. Chair. The development cost charges are still contained and dealt with within the RETP.
Mrs. Edelman: So what you're talking about is a general discussion around getting money back for services offered, then. What we're talking about then is, generally speaking, getting money back from people who have got services from the government in some way or other.
By the same token, under the rural services consultation, there isn't much discussion around block funding. Now, block funding for municipalities has been frozen for over 10 years. If a rural services regional agreement comes into place, then block funding may be in jeopardy. What sort of discussion is happening with municipalities now about changes to block funding due to changes in the way services are offered in the regions?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: As we evolve through - at this point in time, no. There is no real relationship between what we are doing and the consultation, although we do have the municipal governments, and we have the First Nations, and whichever government is in that particular area to make presentations to what they see. It doesn't mean that in the future something might not come of it as we evolve through the system of consultation with the communities, and certainly with what we're doing with the Association of Yukon Communities. But certainly at this point in time, we do not - well, the whole purpose of consultation is how we can make things easier, I think, for the municipalities, because as the member is very well aware, there is a very small locale within some of the villages, and it's the periphery users that put an impact on that. So it will be coming to light some time through the process, and it certainly won't be to the detriment of the communities.
Mrs. Edelman: So, to be clear then, Mr. Chair, what the minister is saying is that there is going to be change in block funding because of the way rural services are being delivered in regions, then it won't be at the cost to communities. Therefore, municipal block funding will not be cut because of changes in regional services or rural services.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Unless the community doesn't want to deliver any of those services or anything like as such, so I would put it in a sense that, certainly, we are not here to effect delivery service but we are here to look at how to make delivery service better and how to expand delivery service, and that is the point of this whole consultation process - so that we might enable ourselves to provide better delivery, not to the detriment of the communities.
Mrs. Edelman: That is very good news. I'm sure municipalities across the Yukon are thrilled to hear that their block funding at least won't be cut. They were hoping, of course, for increases in block funding but it looks like it's not going to be cut this year at least.
Mr. Chair, back to the issue around services, one of the services that the Yukon government offers to the people of Yukon is bridge and road access throughout the Yukon. The south Campbell Highway, throughout the last three governments, has been allowed to deteriorate to the point where the roadbed is probably not even salvageable.
Are there any plans to do something about the south Campbell Highway in the foreseeable future - not little bits and pieces of it, but to upgrade the south Campbell Highway?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, I can share with the member opposite a document, the south Campbell functional plan. It's a study of the south Campbell Highway, and I'll provide it to the member.
Mrs. Edelman: Part of the issue of the south Campbell Highway has been the bridges on the south Campbell Highway, one bridge in particular, which is in quite sad shape, or has been in quite sad shape. Bridges throughout the Yukon, indeed, have come down to a point where they need an awful lot of work.
I notice here in the supplementary budget that there are more and more cuts done to O&M. Are we going to be looking at any capital changes to the bridges in the Yukon? Are we going to look at any more O&M work on bridges in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I can let the member opposite know that we have done some work to three bridges on the south Campbell this year, and will continue to do such. On the identified problems, as the member will see when we get the report to the member opposite, I would be expecting the member's support, if and when we do allocate, because it's not my decision. It's a Cabinet decision, a caucus decision, as to how you allocate the dollars in the capital budget. So, certainly, I thank the member for her direction.
Mrs. Edelman: This member, at least, does support bridges; bridges are good. Bridges anywhere in the Yukon are good. What concerns me is that what I understand from the last bridge report is that the state of Yukon bridges has deteriorated considerably and therefore if there is going to be some sort of capital outlay or at least stronger O&M, then we would be strongly supportive of that.
Ms. Duncan: I have a number of questions. I'd just like to start with this. My colleague mentioned an operational audit and whether or not this had been conducted by the Department of Community and Transportation Services. In the operational audit there are two payments that are made by the Department of Community and Transportation Services. They're made to the special operating agencies, operated under the Government Services department.
The minister may wish to review this over the supper break. I would like his department's opinion on the operation of those special operating agencies and how well they're working with his department.
What I'm after, if I can clarify it for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, the minister's department pays, let's say $500,000, to the property management agency to look after the property. When the Department of Community and Transportation Services has to do an operational audit, do they get an accounting for that $500,000? Are they told how they can save money in terms of the property management? Perhaps the minister would like to review that over the supper break.
Chair: Order please. The time being 5:30 p.m., Committee will recess until 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We are dealing with Bill No. 8, Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98. We will continue with general debate on Community and Transportation Services.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, before we broke for a supper of veal cutlets, I was asked a question about the auditing and the special operating agencies.
It was brought in by the previous administration approximately two years ago, and we are in our second year of this process. There will be ongoing procedural adjustments as we go through. At this point in time, we are looking to make the system work. I do believe that the question was if it will be audited. Of course, it will be adjusted as we go through the process and certainly take into context the comments of the Auditor General, also.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, perhaps I didn't explain myself clearly enough. When a government department is asked to cut 1.5 percent from their budget, as I believe the department was, the department officials will sit down and they'll go through every expenditure, line by line by line, and try and figure out where they can save money. Is it on maintenance, is it on vehicles - where can they save money?
So when the department makes a payment to a special operating agency like the property management agency, they need to know as they look at that payment to say, well, instead of $500,000 could we make it $400,000. Is there some way we could save money here, in this particular expenditure, and I'm wondering if the property management agency did this to its client department's satisfaction.
So, I see the Minister of Government Services all set to nod his head and answer. I'd like two answers, if I could, to this one question: one, did it meet the department's satisfaction, and, the other, does it do this for departments?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. There are a couple of indications in this, and perhaps one of them I can direct the member's attention to: the property management annual report. One of the areas in the performance and benchmarking results indicated, for example, that there had been a lower cost per square foot than forecast in the management of government facilities. So, that's one indicator that we have: the actual cost per square foot.
The system that we - well, we're using several systems - but, as I indicated before with regard to special operating agencies, one of the ways they do that is with customer satisfaction surveys.
Increasingly, one of the things we'll be able to do is to actually track buildings better, in terms of the operating costs for operating through the IBIS system, which is the integrated building management information system. What we're hoping to do is, with that, get a better sense of what the costs are in all aspects of the building, as well as be able to track more easily the projected necessary repairs, the life expectancy, et cetera, et cetera, of buildings. So, we're trying to get a better handle on how much it costs us to operate a building over a particular period of time. That information, of course, would be available to client departments so that they could make some, I suppose, more informed decisions about facilities, in terms of replacement, is the facility being used to its maximum potential, et cetera, et cetera.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, what the Minister of Government Services has told me is that improvements are coming for client departments like Community and Transportation Services. The difficulty is that when they're told now to trim their budgets, in fact, today the property management agency isn't able to help them cut their costs - not yet, is what you're saying. They can't tell them, "Well, you're paying $14 a square foot and we can make it $13." They're not able to give them that information at this point in time.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think to some degree we can. One has to keep in mind that both the property management and fleet vehicle agencies are really only going into their second year of operations. I think we do have some baseline data - for example, what we projected on operating costs per square foot - so we can go back and say to the client department, whether it's Community and Transportation Services, and say, "Last year we estimated it was going to cost X amount. Now our information tells us that perhaps it won't be that much, so you can go back and revise your costs." Or, in some cases, the projections may have been too low in certain cases for certain buildings, and that has happened. After a year of operations of a facility, you're able to go back and give a more realistic figure in terms of energy costs, maintenance and so on.
So, I think we're getting there. Hopefully, the IBIS system will improve that delivery of information even better.
Ms. Duncan: Was the department able to save money this year in terms of their payment, too? And perhaps the minister would like to answer this question.
The question for the minister is, was the department able to save money in the payment they make to property management this year?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, no, the department has not been able to manage to save money in that respect this year but are certainly looking forward to doing it next year, as my colleague to my right has stated.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to move on to another one of the minister's colleague's agencies - the fleet vehicle agency. When a department such as Community and Transportation Services orders a vehicle for one of its staff members - let's say in enforcement, or any of the other agencies, or any of the other instances where you'd need a vehicle - could the minister outline how that request is processed? Let's say the department wants to order a bare-bones vehicle, which presumably they would do. They do not have a lot of money to spend. How is that processed by the fleet vehicle management agency?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I'm having a little difficulty understanding where the member opposite is coming from. I'll answer in the manner that I think the member opposite is coming from.
Last year we went through another scenario of this. The objective of the vehicle fleet agency - now in the way it's done - is to tighten it up and to make it much, much better. That was done, as I said, a couple of years ago under the previous administration. The money was transferred from the department over to property management, and at that point in time when we went for a vehicle, whether it's whoever needs a vehicle from the department, approaches the department, fills out the regular forms and the department is charged on mileage and a regular basis, much like, as I alluded to, like, I guess, Tilden or any regular car rental company. It is being treated in that manner to cut down on abuses, if I may.
Ms. Duncan: We've had two years of this SOA - special operating agency - operating. Has this saved the department money?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, in the second year of operation, we saw a two-cent decrease in the variable rate and a comparable increase in the constant rates.
Actually, yes, we have come down. We've got an increase of vehicle utilization rate. It's 16,000 kilometres per vehicle and better than expected gas mileage. So, we are actually saving money on this particular fleet vehicle agency.
Ms. Duncan: I don't want this to degenerate into the pros and cons of Government Services. That's going to come. What I wanted to know is, has this agency saved the Department of Community and Transportation Services money?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The minister has just said yes. Thank you.
When the department then sat down and said, "We have to pay our costs," is this one of the places they cut costs?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No. This was not one of the places that were cut to cost.
Ms. Duncan: Can the minister elaborate as to why not?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly. It's something that is being critiqued as we go along. It is, as I said, in its second year - say, approximately a year and a half. The department is conscientiously monitoring it as they move through. Certainly, we will be making procedural adjustments as we go through. It is saving us money at this point in time, which was the intent. No, 1.5 was not trimmed off of that, at this point in time.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, if I had a choice between a grader at the top of South Access and a few more kilometres, I'd pick the grader; however, it's the minister's choice.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: It's an O&M. It's an operation and maintenance.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: What I asked was whether or not it saved money.
I have raised the issue of bridge repair, and particularly painting. I'd like to ask the minister about the Lewes River bridge. It's scheduled to be sandblasted this summer and painted. Has the minister, with his Tourism hat, given any thought to scheduling of this, given this is the 1998 celebration
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, and please, I hope I did not give the member opposite any misinformation. It is not scheduled to be painted this year, because the process is just working its way through now. But certainly, as I said publicly, it is going to be given best efforts, and it is going to be done within the process of my colleagues in order to ensure that.
As for the second question with the Minister of Tourism hat on, I'm sorry I didn't quite get that.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I had hoped that this particular bridge would be done this summer in light of the two warning letters. My question for the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Community and Transportation Services was, what is the scheduling? If it does take place, we've got a busy tourism season ahead, we hope.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, it is a special process. It has to be done with certain temperatures, et cetera, which certainly defines the time frame. But it will be done - if and when it is done - to certainly not hold up the traffic. It will be done in a user-friendly manner, if I may say so.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, when I raised this original question, it was directed to the minister responsible for the environment with respect to the flecking paint - on that particular bridge. Of course it is the Minister of Community and Transportation Services' responsibility to include it in the budget for the repair, and I understand that there has been, and there is, ongoing assessments of the bridges. Many of them - I've read some of that information, and on the assessments the paint is graded one through 10 as to whether it needs repainting, it's flaking, or whatever. Has this information been pulled out of the reports and brought to the minister's attention?
Hon. Mr. Keenan:
Specifically, has it been brought to my attention? I guess I would have to say it has, yes it has been - through the controversy as it has been raised, especially over the preceding few months this summer, the construction months that we have just gone through.
So, yes it has been brought to my attention.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, would the minister indicate, in bringing this to the course of his attention, has there been a suggested schedule brought to his attention?
Is there a Management Board submission being prepared that indicates the need of this particular project and the dollars that it would require over a period of years to bring the bridges back up to standard?
Hon. Mr. Keenan:
Mr. Chair, no, but you can say in that in terms of coming to Management Board, nothing like that has happened on this particular bridge. Certainly, what I offer, and I have offered generally, I would say, and certainly with all seriousness, we are going to be looking at that through the Cabinet process. And, that is the Management Board Cabinet process, the budget process. That is going to be happening, well, now as we speak and certainly earlier in the coming year. It will be certainly ready in time for the spring budget session.
As to the schedules the member opposite has talked about, no, nothing like that has come up. But, certainly something like that could be, I'm sure - and I have just checked with my deputy - to enable us to put into the terms of reference of that particular contract. So, I do believe that if we take the member opposite's suggestion and incorporate it in there it can be accommodated.
And, on the cost of it - I'm sorry, confusing? - I would have to get back with the estimated costs to the member opposite - the cost of the total bridge allowance.
Let me reiterate. You are asking about the schedule. If and when it is done, will it be interrupting traffic? What I am saying is that what we can do is put into the contract or into the terms of reference some scheduling matters what will mitigate or minimize the impact on the tourism.
Ms. Duncan: I believe the minister just answered with one particular bridge, the Lewes bridge. I've expanded the question to all of the bridges. The department does a survey of bridges and on that survey, one of the conditions they check is the paint. I've read the reports on the bridges. The highest grade I saw one bridge get was a five, and this is out of 10, and beside it was written "flaking paint". This was not the Lewes bridge. It was yet another bridge in the Yukon. Has the minister asked for a Management Board submission that would detail the requirement to paint the bridges and the costs throughout the Yukon. Has he asked for a Management Board submission to be prepared?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you to the member opposite for the clarification. Yes, I was speaking particularly of one bridge and certainly that bridge, as the member opposite has stated, has received two warnings, so it is certainly incumbent upon us to do best efforts. That will go through the Cabinet caucus process, as I've said. That is one way.
Yes, we do have, I do believe, cost estimates for the one bridge. What we would have to do then, in light of the deterioration, I guess, or the need of repair for the bridges, as the member opposite is saying, is to look at it in that light. I must say, essentially, to the member opposite, though, that if we did every bridge in the territory, it would be all focused into one industry, so certainly we have to look, and do our best efforts to keep up with bridge maintenance and do it in a timely manner so that we are not in the predicament that we are in now.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we're in a predicament. We have a problem. I don't think the minister and I disagree on that. I don't think anyone disagrees on that. In fact, I'll send over to him the flakes of paint from the Donjek River bridge. It's a serious problem. Will the minister ask that a Management Board submission be prepared that sets out a schedule so we know where the most serious problems are? If a placer miner was doing to the Tatchun Creek what the Tatchun Creek bridge is doing - flaking into a prime salmon spawning area - the Department of Environment would act so fast that our collective heads would be spinning. This has to be dealt with. It's a major environmental problem. We can't wait until we get continued letters from the Department of Environment. Is the minister going to ask that a Management Board submission be prepared that sets out a schedule for repainting Yukon bridges?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, I will not be asking for a Management Board submission for that, but certainly, I will be looking and working within the parameters of the bridge reports and making sure that we're not into this quagmire that we're into now.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I hear the minister recognizing there's a problem. I don't hear any acceptance of responsibility or ability to act on that. Can he outline for me some course of action? If it's simply that there will be a further assessment and some kind of a schedule developed, at least that's a start. But I don't hear, in the minister's response, any commitment to action, and that's what I'm looking for.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, do not get me wrong here. Certainly I am talking about process and it will be within the process, and if there are bridges that need to be repaired then we will certainly have to look to prioritizing that. But there are other sectors of the economy and there are other priorities, but certainly it comes down to a matter of prioritization and certainly I will be acting upon it so that we will start and it will be on a priority basis and that will be done through the process of which I had said.
So, do I take it seriously? Absolutely, I take it seriously. Are we going to be doing something about it? Absolutely we're going to be doing something on it. How and when? I cannot at this point in time say, but certainly I do know now that there are not one but two, and possibly more, and we're certainly going to be looking at prioritization so that we can get over this. I certainly hope that answers the member's question.
Ms. Duncan: I have a question with respect to following up on this particular problem. Somebody, some contractor somewhere for some government - because we didn't take over this responsibility until 1992 - must have painted those bridges. Is there any recourse for what's commonly called failed paint? When the paint starts flaking, it's referred to as failed. Is there any recourse to the contractor who painted that bridge?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I've been informed that the guarantees last for one year and therefore have expired.
Ms. Duncan: I have two questions with respect to policy in that case. Could the minister tell this House the departmental policy with respect to the use of lead-based paint? Could he spell out what that policy is?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I am just catching a little heck on this side here for my pronunciations of things, but certainly it is not how you enunciate things; it's the intent. We do not use lead-based paints any more. We use epoxies.
Ms. Duncan: Would the minister indicate when this change was made? He said, "We do not use lead-based paint any more." When was this policy changed?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I will have to get back to the member opposite on the dates.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could I refer back to an earlier question? I asked the minister about the study of the bridges and I mentioned that, in some places in the report, it grades the paint job and states whether or not the paint is flaking, and so on. In that report, I didn't notice whether or not they assessed the flaking paint. Could the minister get back to me and indicate in those reports if they do a lab analysis on the flaking paint?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: The common assumption on this side is no, but we will have to check in and get more of an academic answer.
Ms. Duncan: Could I also ask the minister, given that he's becoming an expert on paint, if he could find out why this is happening; why the paint is flaking on the bridges - if it's an application issue or an issue with the paint?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: My colleague is suggesting it's bad primer, but perhaps you could come up with a better answer than that.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, we will not take the expert on the other side no matter how many experts are in pink, and we will get back to the member opposite on that.
Mr. Jenkins: Before we leave this wonderful area of bridges, I'd like to ask the minister if the repair and the inspection are still being capitalized in this forthcoming budget that he'll be presenting next year. In the fall budget review, the minister indicated that yes, it was capitalized and that has been the past practice of the government. Has the government identified this as an area that is O&M, not capitalized, and will that be put into the O&M side of the ledger for the next fiscal period?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, it is in the capital budget, and as I said and will reiterate, it's going to be given very, very serious consideration by my colleagues as we go through the capital projections, and we will be working within that context.
Mr. Jenkins: And I'm sure, while the minister and his Cabinet colleagues were looking at bridges, they'd have an explanation as to why the Pelly bridge was closed over the weekend. Was this a scheduled repair, or was it something unscheduled and of an emergency nature, or was this a winter works project? They'll be starting with painting that one at this time of the year.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, as the member is aware, there was an accident on the bridge, and the bridge had to be brought up to a standard, and it certainly was done under that context. It hasn't been done as a make-work project or anything like as such, and I must say that that's just a terrible thing to say at this time of the year.
Mr. Jenkins: Make work at this time of the year is something terrible. It's easier to access the bottom of the bridge this time of the year.
Mr. Chair, earlier in the general debate, we were exploring RETP. The proposal that is going to be announced early next year by the minister had me thinking over dinner. While it might be dangerous for some people, it allows me time to reflect, get my thought process lined up, and come back at the minister with a further series of questions as to where we're going on this issue.
The rural electrification and telephone program is based on having so many subscribers in a given area that require the service, whether it be telephone or whether it be electricity. Now, in order to implement the program that the minister has suggested is going to be announced, there's only a number of ways that it can be undertaken: one is an upfront capital contribution by the government which, if we're going in that direction, leads to the question, if the government is going to make that kind of an exception and give a major cash contribution, what happens in the other areas of Yukon? I guess the other way, within the context of the existing program, is to lower the entrance level of the number of subscribers that are needed to drive the program. Then, the government would make an upfront capital contribution to either Northwestel or Alberta Power or Yukon Energy, or whatever the case may be. In the majority of instances, it would be Northwestel, or a subsidiary company, or Yukon Electrical - however they funnel their money - and to add it back into the tax base of the subscribers in that area, but not just the subscribers who want the service, but all of the taxpayers in that area. Is this the minister's intention? Is he going to make a capital contribution, or is he going to make a capital contribution based on recovering it through the tax base in that area?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It will be made on a recoverable process, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: So, we're back to the basic program, but probably altered somewhat, Mr. Chair. Given the issue before us, we will end up making a capital contribution to a company who has a monopoly, operates in a regulated environment, and all of this money will go into the asset base of that company and we will be required, as ratepayers - all of us - to allow them a regulated return on their investment of currently some 12 or 13 percent in that area. Does the minister believe that this is the way to go?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I'm certainly not looking at it from that member's point of view. That is certainly not my line of thinking and that is not what brought me, as the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, to this point for the revamp of the RETP. Why the RETP is being revamped is so that we might be able to provide better service to people who are without services at this point in time. That is the underlying thrust of it.
Of course, as we know, there are other processes that we can use and that we have used as a territorial government, such as the CRTC process, so that we might be able to put forth a dissatisfaction or a satisfaction. The member opposite is very well-aware and has read the submission to the CRTC from the Yukon territorial government.
Mr. Jenkins: So, the minister's comments were to the effect that they would help any people who do not have this service. So, what is the minister going to do with the people who currently have an alternate form of service? Are they excluded now from this game plan, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, I think we have a classic case of the little boy trying to open up his Christmas presents before Christmas day. I am here to say that we are going to be having this announcement this calendar year, and that the RETP will be announced after it has gone through the Cabinet process and has been agreed upon as such by the territorial government.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm just seeking the minister's overview that Yukoners will be treated the same, whether they presently receive a service or whether they have to be unserviced totally before they can access this avenue that the minister is going to announce in the RETP. Which way is the minister going to take Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I'd just like to reiterate one more time that I feel I have satisfactorily answered this question a couple of times in the House this evening now and I will continue with the answer until it is absorbed. Certainly, as I have said, the RETP is working its way through the Cabinet process and we will be making this announcement within the time frame that I have said and that will be this calendar year - by the end of this calendar year. Just hang on.
Mr. Jenkins: My colleague enlightened me very, very much and I will move on, Mr. Chair. While we're on the area of capital, have there been any overruns in any of the capital projects undertaken by C&TS in this last period?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I would be more than happy to explain the process, if there are questions, within the context of line by line.
Mr. Jenkins: I was just looking at saving the House a bit of time when I was asking the minister this: have there been any overruns in any of the capital projects undertaken by C&TS? I'm sure there are overruns and there are some capital projects that are coming in under budget. So, would the minister kindly advise if there are any projects that have come in over budget?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Chair, I certainly appreciate the member opposite saving the House time, and I can let him know that yes, I can give one example where there was a net increase of $187,000, and it was covered by a transfer from the Campbell Highway, which resulted from higher than estimated costs of the base course by $293,000, which was offset by a reduction of $106,000 in the resurfacing project at kilometre 0 to kilometre 6. Of course, we're talking about the Top of the World Highway.
Mr. Jenkins: Is that the only area on the highways budget in the capital projects that has come in over budget?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I would be happy to reiterate this and to elaborate on this information as we get into line by line.
Mr. Jenkins: How about construction projects - buildings and whatnot - that the minister has within the portfolio? Have there been any that have come in over budget within his department, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I can say that there is an additional $100,000 required for the construction of a new firehall in Burwash, and I again stress that we are getting sporadic in our jumps that would become much clearer in context if and when we do get into the line by line.
Mr. Jenkins: If I could explore with the minister the airport situation within the Yukon now that they have been devolved to the care of the Government of Yukon.
Given that movements of aircraft at all the major Yukon airports are down by some 30 percent this year - in some cases higher than that, Mr. Chair - and a lot of the fees used to fund the O&M of the airports are derived from aircraft movements, and this trend that seems to be continuing for the next fiscal period, can the minister advise what steps his department is taking to address the downward trend in aircraft movement, the upward trend in O&M cost, and how it's being funded at present? They've turned back some funds, but it looks like we're heading in a downward slope as far as revenues from aircraft movement.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: The reduction is $42,000, and it is a result of the cancellation of the NWT Air, which reduced the revenue from the leases, the concessions and the landing fees.
Mr. Jenkins: That's just one of the areas where there has been a downward trend. Movement at all Yukon airports is down, and down considerably this year; on average it is 30 percent or more. Fees derived from aircraft movement is what pays a lot of the concession fees, and we have seen the abandonment of a couple of sched routes in Yukon with a corresponding reduction or elimination of concession fees at the principal airports. Now that trend appears like it will continue.
What steps is the minister taking within his department to address that area?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I must say that we are going to be looking seriously at that. It will be looked at within the context of the next year's budget, and of course this is the supplementary budget.
I thank the member opposite.
One of the other areas that I brought to the minister's attention and was curious about the last time, was one of the fancy cars that highway enforcement used to tear up and down the roads here in the Yukon. Last time it was a $30,000 vehicle; it was a large Chev or Ford, full-size, and now I notice they are into one of those $50,000 Expeditions with all the bells and whistles. We have virtually doubled the cost. Who sets the trend for the acquisition? Is it just whatever is new on the market? Do we have to have one of those? Is this the minister giving himself a Christmas present before it is Christmastime?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Let me say that, as we shopped, we did look at what would be most practical and how we would work it through for costs, et cetera. We looked at a Surburban, and the Suburban's replacement cost would have been $41,900. But, we managed to come up with a brand new little Ford Expedition, and the cost of that was $36,000.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think I understand where the minister is heading, but if the minister could bring back the total costs, because that's just the basic acquisition cost of the vehicle. By the time all of the bells and whistles are added on to it, I'm sure that we can add another $10,000 worth of radio gear, light bars, sirens and the like. If the minister would bring back that total cost by way of a legislative return, I would certainly appreciate it. Can I have the minister's undertaking?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I know I've said this before, Mr. Chair, but was it Yogi Berra who said déja vu all over again?
Yes, I would just like to let the member opposite know that all the bells and whistles, as he states so categorically, which are very necessary equipment for the jobs being handed to us, would just be put on top of the basic costs of the Suburban or of the Expedition. Certainly, I will get back to the member opposite on it in some detail - maybe a lot of detail.
Mr. Jenkins: I was wondering how the department determined the effective life of these vehicles. It appeared that within the department there is quite a range of vehicle life. Highway enforcement, for the longest time, appeared to get about four to five years out of a vehicle. The last vehicles were about two years. They were supposed to be super duper vehicles - the cars. One was two and one was three. I could stand corrected, but they certainly didn't go the full five-year term.
The new vehicles appear to be down to about a two- to three-year life, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, the background on this is actually that we're replacing a 1990 Chevrolet Lumina, and I think that's the answer - 1990 to the present.
Mr. Phillips: I wonder if I might drag the minister into an area that he's probably quite familiar with, and that is garbage dumps.
Mr. Chair, we contract out, for the most part, the cleaning up of our garbage dumps throughout the territory. How do we monitor that it's done on an ongoing basis?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: We do have folks who are paid to do that, and they do it on a regular basis. Of course, if there's a complaint, then we would certainly investigate. But I can say to the member opposite that, having taken it upon myself after the spring session to stop at one garbage dump to monitor it and see how it was done over the course of the summer, I must say that it was not Quigley.
Mr. Phillips: I have, on occasion, had to call the department with respect to garbage dumps that appear to be neglected or not cleaned up. One in particular was the Marsh Lake dump, and I do thank the department for responding immediately when I did call and mentioned there was a problem. What I was concerned about is that when I had called and complained about the dump, which was just a terrible mess - there was garbage everywhere. You couldn't get within a couple hundred feet of the pit. It had been like that for several weeks - probably four to five weeks. This was in the summer. There must have been a contract with an individual or individuals to keep that clean. I just wonder how we monitor it. I mean, we're paying somebody to do it, obviously - they bid on it, or whatever process we go through. Obviously, they're making money on it month by month by month. So, what do we do when they don't keep it clean, or when they don't show up? Do we deduct?
I mean, I could go back - I have a diary at home, and I kept a diary of it. I think it was somewhere in the month of June and part of July. So, should we maybe not be paying the individual for that month, because they didn't do anything there. People just kept piling their garbage up, and kept piling it further and further away from the pit because they couldn't get it into the pit.
Someone was responsible for cleaning it up. It attracted all kinds of animals in and around the dump. It made a pretty hazardous situation, not just for the animals that were showing up in the dump, but for the people who were showing up there to dump their garbage off.
So in my view it has been kept clean. Mind you, something has been done now because it has been kept clean for the past six or eight weeks or so. I was there a couple of days ago and it was relatively clean and they're doing a good job of it, whoever is doing it now. I know a lot of residents in that area are complaining about the dump. Did we deduct anything off the contract with the individuals who had the dump?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, that is not information I have off the top of my head, if we withheld anything. That is the dump of which I was speaking. I realize that there were some complaints on it and I did take it upon myself to stop in and to monitor the situation and it just so happened at the times I did stop in, they were actually there cleaning it up. So, the bit of pressure that was put on to them certainly worked. I would certainly have to get back with the schedule - if there is such a schedule - to monitor it and to take into consideration the member opposite's direction, I guess.
Mr. Phillips: I understand the individual who cleaned it up was a subcontractor who got called by either the ones who had the contract or the government or somebody else. My concern is not just that dump, but there seems to be, at least at the beginning of the summer, no system of monitoring, that the contractor who had the dump contract was actually doing what they were supposed to do for the money. And so, maybe the minister could bring back for us what they have in the contract. There must be a contract that says the dump will be monitored or maybe there isn't, I don't know. Is there a dump contract? Maybe I'll ask that question. Is there a contract with somebody to keep the dump clean and, in the contract, is there a self-policing mechanism or do we actually stop in?
I'm sure we don't send the minister to every dump in the territory. I don't think it's really funny. I think it has a humorous connotation to it, but if the minister had been there when I was there - and I think I took some photographs of it and I could show the minister the photographs - it was a real mess and it was a hazardous mess. So, my concern is that if we're going to issue contracts to somebody and pay them good dollars - and I suspect there is a fairly reasonable contract for that - that they're monitored and that I or the minister or anyone elsedon't have to complain that they can't get near the pit because somebody is responsible for keeping that clean.
So, that's all I'm asking the minister, that there is an ongoing monitoring program to make sure that these people who have the contracts carry the contract. I mean, if I had a contract with the government to deliver a service, I would expect that I would either deliver the service or lose the contract, and so if someone is just collecting the money every year and not doing anything for it, and it's creating an animal and people health hazard, then we should have some clause in the contract to remove it and cancel it and get somebody who will do it. There are lots of people looking for that kind of work. So, that's all I'm suggesting to the minister.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, the member opposite has some thoughts on that that make sense, and we'd be happy to get back to the member opposite with all of the thoughts that he has, and we'll do that from one G-man to another.
Mr. Phillips: Garbage dump regulations would be forthcoming - I think that's something the minister said in the spring of the year. So, where are we at with that?
There were also some discussions about future garbage dumps in some areas of the territory. I think I got into a discussion with the minister last spring about not dumping anything in my backyard, and I think a lot of other people feel the same way, and so I just want to get an idea from the minister if we've gone any further with planning of future rural garbage dumps, if any locations have been chosen.
And the issue of the fire at the Carcross dump - I know there was some concern over pollution in that area. I know there was somebody who put something up on the Internet and raised a bit of a stink about it - I didn't mean that.
I didn't mean that as a pun. It came out that way, anyway. Maybe the minister could also provide that information for us.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: If the members opposite will just indulge me for a moment, I'll answer both questions.
The first question is yes. It is a part of the rural services policy consultation. As the member opposite knows, we had to go out for the last two weeks of November, which is upon us right now. It is expected that the information that we'll have from there will be garnered and pulled together by the end of the year. Certainly, a policy based upon the direction of Yukoners will be forthcoming next year and likely into 1998 - by the end of the calendar of 1998, I would think - to do that.
On mile 9, I wonder if you would just give me 30 seconds here.
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a break?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: In reply to the previous member's question on the waste regulations and garbage dumps, let me say that Renewable Resources is also working on the development of solid waste regulations, and it has started. The initial background research has been completed, and the government will conduct the initial community consultation during the months of November and December of this year. Drafting of the regulations and a six-day public review is scheduled for 1998. That is in conjunction with the rural services.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I was interested in the minister's response with respect to the highway enforcement vehicle that was replaced. It was a 1990 Lumina. Given the minister's and his department officials' tremendous scrutiny of the requirements of the officials within his department, I'm sure the justification for going from a two-wheel drive vehicle to a four-wheel drive vehicle was because of the deteriorating level of highway maintenance. Is this the case, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Indeed it gives me pleasure to respond to that slider. I thought that certainly baseball season was over, but obviously it's not.
So let me speak about the need for the Ford Expedition. The vehicle meets the operation requirements of the branches of the department. Let me say that for the transport services branch, there is ample room and heat in the back to safely transport the portable weights all year round. The seating capacity will accommodate two or more inspectors and officers when large inspection blitzes are conducted or room for commercial drivers in cases of emergencies. The four-by-four drive is required for driving down the logging roads and the mining roads, et cetera. Certainly the front bucket seats are all standard equipment now at this point in time.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair, but could the minister offer an explanation as to why we could get by with two-wheel drive vehicles for seven years, and yet we have to go to a four-wheel drive vehicle all of a sudden. It just doesn't make any sense, and for the amount of time that these vehicles spend on mining roads and logging roads, it's pretty far-fetched unless you're indicating that the road to Dawson is now a mining road. Given the conditions of it last night, I'm sure the minister would agree with me. It was very much similar to a mining road.
But for seven years we can get by with a two-wheel drive vehicle, and all of a sudden we have to go to a very, very high maintenance four-wheel drive vehicle. Why?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, let me state that there is only one four-by-four and it is certainly to make it safer, as we know that there are certainly logging roads and mining roads that require this. We might have been able to get by with a one-wheel drive, certainly not a two-wheel drive I don't believe; maybe a front-wheel drive or whatever, but this certainly makes it that much safer for the people. Again, there is ample room and heat in the back to make it much more safe. I do believe that it was a good and considerate move.
Mr. Jenkins: It sounds like all the wheels aren't into something here. I've never heard of a one-wheel drive vehicle, other than a motorcycle; a two-wheel drive is the normal convention. But the minister's response just does not hold water.
Is a log kept of where this vehicle operates in the course of a year? It would be very, very interesting to do a review of one of the logs of these vehicles to see where they do travel. Because the Expedition spends most of its time in Whitehorse; I've seen it outside of Whitehorse on two occasions, all on major highways. I don't believe this vehicle has been off the major highways.
Could the minister elaborate as to what kind of investigation was undertaken before the justification was made to buy a four-wheel drive vehicle?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Whether the member opposite thinks it holds water or not, I certainly do think it holds water. Paramount to any working condition is the effect of health and safety. When these folks are required - and who knows at what time, where and when they go - then it is always best to be prepared. This makes us be prepared. Not always are they going to be off of the main highways, but not always are they going to be on the main highways.
I drive a four-by-four vehicle. I know others drive a four-by-four vehicle, and I certainly think that it's a good move and will continue to be a good move in cases of dire emergency. Think of the worst possible situation, the worst case scenario, and apply that to the member's logic. I think that the members opposite will have to agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, but under the worst case scenario, a four-wheel drive wouldn't be adequate. We'd better start looking at track vehicles, because that's probably where we're heading if we want to amplify that area.
I just can't get over the fact that for seven years a two-wheel drive vehicle was more than adequate to serve the function of this position. Now, all of a sudden, it's no longer satisfactory, and we have to go to a four-wheel drive vehicle. It just doesn't make sense. It doesn't hold water. It wouldn't hold water long this time of the year; it would freeze. Still, it doesn't make sense and it's an added burden to the taxpayer. It's no wonder we're into a deficit position. You start adding up all of these little areas and putting them together, and we've got a major, major deficit that we're going to incur very quickly.
What steps is the minister going to take in the future to ensure that a complete analysis is going to be done before an acquisition of a major capital nature is undertaken? What kind of a review process are we going to go through, or is it just because somebody wants that type of vehicle?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I am absolutely amazed. What this member is stating in this House is actually the opposite of what I think that he actually feels. If the member is stating that people should, no matter where they go, what time of the day or where they go geographically, have to do it with a two-wheel drive, which I will give to the member opposite, a Lumina-would-be, that is ludicrous because what we are doing is we are painting the worst case scenario.
This is not a case of pampering. This is not a case of putting forth bells and whistles so that we'll be the prettiest on the highway. This is a case of maintaining health and safety for the people who work for the territorial government and enforce the rules for the territorial government. So, in blizzard conditions when they have to get off the main highway and go and do their job, I want those people to do it in a healthy, safe and timely manner and be protected and be able to get home. Is the member opposite advocating the opposite of that? Because if he is, say it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, emotions are certainly running high, but the reality of it is the minister is way off base. He's off on the clouds in the ozone layer there or out in the middle of Teslin Lake fishing and dreaming about this.
One of the major users of emergency vehicles in the Yukon is our Yukon ambulances. They're called upon day and night at much more frequent intervals than the highway enforcement people are, yet not one of our ambulances is four-wheel drive. Now, if what the minister is saying holds true across the whole spectrum of emergency vehicles, why are there not a whole fleet of four-wheel drive ambulances, which certainly are called on at a greater frequency at more hours of the day and night than the highway enforcement vehicles are, to respond to emergencies.
Can the minister compare apples to apples? Why is one department saying one thing, doing one thing, when another department that has to respond more frequently to a much higher degree and in a much more timely fashion are not using four-wheel drive ambulances?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, emotions should run high because that's what we're here for. We are here because we believe in things. That's why I am here, because I am going to do things - how would you say it? A better way, my friend, a better way. But thank you for being three-quarters correct, as you normally are. Let me also say now that we do things - and I will reiterate - on a health and safety basis.
Now, if you're comparing apples to apples or oranges to oranges, I'm not doing it. I'm looking at the principle of health and safety. If you look at all the other people who are on the roads, four-by-fours are becoming very common. Are you going to begrudge the RCMP having four-by-four vehicles, when they should be driving Luminas?
I'm saying that this department is looking at, and working in, a cost-effective way, and that four-by-fours for this branch, being utilized by two different departments within the branch, is a very good move and a health and safety move.
Mr. Jenkins: It's interesting to note the comparison that the minister made to the RCMP four-wheel drive vehicles - that the RCMP are using two-wheel drive. I believe they're mostly Luminas and the big Crown Victorias in the rural areas. These cars are out on the highway on a much more frequent basis than the minister's highway enforcement cars are.
The RCMP are downgrading, but still there are no four-wheel drive ambulances in the Yukon operated by the Government of Yukon. Now, if what the minister is saying is that it's for health and safety reasons, surely to goodness that would be the first priority, and it's not. Why doesn't the minister just admit this was a luxury vehicle, beyond the needs of the department, beyond the needs of the officials, and yet it was purchased to - what? - increase the deficit?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I really don't know how to further answer this question for the member opposite. You can only answer questions if there are people willing to listen to reason.
I certainly hear where the member opposite is coming from. He has a record of wanting to be that way, his way, and certainly he will be, and there's nothing I can do to change that, and I will not even attempt to try to change that, but what I will do is work with cost efficiency and I will work so that we will be able to provide safe and efficient services for the people. And it is for the people, not the people that drive that. Please get that out of your mind, I say to the member opposite. It is to the people that are being served, and that is the people of the Yukon Territory. Those are the ones being served.
I just go back. You say the RCMP. I happen to come from rural Yukon, as most of my colleagues come from rural Yukon, and within those rural communities - as I'm sure in Dawson City - there are four-by-four vehicles. So I cannot seem to understand where the member opposite is coming from. I feel I've answered this question satisfactorily numerous times, and if the member opposite would wish to put it in another way, maybe I'll attempt to answer it so that the member opposite can grasp the answer.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I was interested in the minister's comments about preparing for worst case scenarios or preparing for the worst, and that's why we have these emergency four-by-four vehicles for the health and safety of the individuals. So, I want to take the minister back for a minute to last spring session, and one issue that I raised with the minister was the need - I think a fairly urgent need - for a proper motor vessel, a water boat, for Marsh Lake and Tagish.
We're putting some people at some pretty high risk by having them go out in the types of vessels they have to go out in now to carry out rescues, and I wonder if the minister would translate his concern for the government employees and the need for a four-by-four there into helping the Marsh Lake emergency group there purchase a proper motor vessel for emergencies. Can the minister do that? Can the minister give us that commitment that he will work toward that?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, that line of thinking will be worked into the budget for next year's capital.
Mr. Phillips: So, I got the minister right then. He is going to be putting some line item in the budget that will address the need for an emergency motor vessel in the next spring budget.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I did not say I would put it in as a line item. I said, "that line of thinking", and I will certainly be considering that in the context of next year's budget, and that is up to my colleagues and myself to do that.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, thinking won't save anyone's life. Purchasing a motor vessel that has the capability of standing up to the type of weather that lake can produce will. So I would like to know the minister's thoughts as to the immediate need for such a vessel on Marsh Lake, because it is probably the most extensively used body of water in the Yukon at the present time, by recreational users and even commercial users. I believe there are two - at least two - outfits that run commercial operations on that lake and literally hundreds of Yukoners that utilize the lake all summer long. I know that even this past summer there were several SOS emergency responses on the lake, and I know the crews responded to that. I know that many of the people on the emergency crews expressed to me the concern that they felt in some cases they were putting themselves at very great risk in going out with the equipment they had. And they were borrowing other people's equipment at the spur of the moment. It is not really the way to operate, when you're trying to save a family out on a sinking houseboat or somebody out there in a craft who has gotten into trouble, or even trying to determine if the people who were out on the lake before a storm blew up have reached safety. In some cases, there is no way to get across the lake to determine whether everyone is okay or if anyone is in need of medical services, or whatever.
So, I just want to get the thinking of the minister. Does he think it is an extremely high priority and will he be addressing it in his spring budget?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, I can say we'll be considering it. All the thoughts that the member opposite has spoken of are certainly not original thoughts, but they are certainly thoughts that come from this side of the House too. As I said, if it comes to public health and safety, it is given that priority.
Will we consider it? Absolutely. It is not my decision in total. It is the decision of this government and we will work as a team to work those thoughts in and of course those thoughts are paramount in our minds.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I am pleased to see that the minister has taken that approach. I guess we'll just have to wait till the spring budget and see whether or not his colleagues share that priority of life and safety. We'll be watching closely the spring budget.
Mr. Jenkins: If I could take the minister back in general debate to his previous comments with respect to municipal block funding and the position that the government has taken in the past period and explore with the minister some indication of where he is going to go in the future.
Is it envisioned by the minister that he is going to abandon some of the tax room presently occupied by the Government of Yukon and allow municipalities to get involved in this area in order to maintain existing block funding, or is the status quo going to prevail?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, of course, the member knows that this is a supplementary budget and this is not the main estimates for next year. The main estimates for next year will make it clear where the government is going with respect to a full range of matters, particularly with respect to expenditures.
I don't know what the member is talking about when he talks about tax room with municipalities or sharing a tax room. The question doesn't make any sense. If he is talking about the size of the block fund for municipalities or the size of the grants from the Yukon government to the municipalities, that will be made known in the spring when we table the main estimates.
Chair: Not seeing any further general debate, we will proceed to operation and maintenance expenditures.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Office of the Deputy Minister
Office of the Deputy Minister in the amount of an underexpenditure of $13,000 agreed to
On Corporate Services Division
Mrs. Edelman: Could we have detail for this area, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly. The reductions include miscellaneous reductions in human resources of $9,000; the finance systems and administration of $9,000, and policy planning and evaluation, $31,000, due to the temporary vacancy of a policy analyst.
Corporate Services Division in the amount of an underexpenditure of $49,000 agreed to
On Transportation Division
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister provide a breakdown of the $443,000 savings, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly. The division administration reduction of $10,000 is due to the administrative assistant position vacancy for four months and a reduction on miscellaneous items of $8,000; a $131,000 savings on airports and personnel costs due to various temporary vacancies and underfills from secondments in various areas of branch operations, and reduced contractual work requirements of $27,000; $11,000 savings on various transport service branch administration; motor vehicle reduction is due to a deferral of production of driver's manuals, $15,000; $5,000 savings on defensive driving course manuals not ordered, and $5,000 savings for miscellaneous items, and a $5,000 highway maintenance reduction on the Alaska Highway and $72,000 on the Klondike Highway.
Mr. Jenkins: Could we start by exploring with the minister the savings in airports, and could the minister provide an explanation as to how the secondment of the gentleman in Haines Junction to - I believe he's gone to the First Nation? How is the accounting of that position taking place and what fiscal cost does the Government of Yukon bear for that secondment, Mr. Chair? Director of transportation, I believe his position is - or airports.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, it'll give me pleasure to get back.
Mr. Jenkins: And perhaps while the minister is at it, Mr. Chair, this is one secondment that I'm aware of. Could the minister bring back any other positions in which a secondment has taken place and the resulting impact that's had on the budget, what costs are still being absorbed by the department and what costs are being absorbed elsewhere? Could the minister undertake to do that, please?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on airports - the $131,000 savings - could the minister elaborate further? I'm sure not all of it is attributable to the secondment of an individual.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, I'll read the portion again. It's $131,000 savings in airports, personnel costs, and it's due to the various temporary vacancies of areas and underfills and some secondments in various areas of the branch operations and, of course, our reduced contractual work requirements of $27,000.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister alluded to some secondments. Just how many secondments are there in the airports, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Two.
Mr. Jenkins: Where are these positions seconded to and for what duration, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I will certainly make that part of the package for the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: If we just look at the $500,000 saving on the Klondike Highway, is this directly attributable to Lomak not running during a certain fiscal period? What is it attributable to?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I was slightly wrong for the member opposite and I will apologize for reading too fast. The highway maintenance reductions were on the Alaska Highway for $500,000 and the Klondike Highway for $72,000.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister elaborate on how we've managed to save $500,000 on the Alaska Highway, please, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly. The department has reduced $572,000 in total out of this year's winter maintenance budget and that's with the plan to perform maintenance activities for normal winter conditions only.
If it gets into abnormal conditions, which could potentially impact on the level of service, the department will have to assess the impact and reconsider funding adjustments as the winter progresses. For now, we do believe that we can work within it.
Mr. Jenkins: Has there been any change in the department's policy with respect to the classifications of the highway and the amount of snow before maintenance takes place for the various classifications of highway routes in the Yukon? Has there been any change whatsoever in that policy, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, there has not been a change in policy, to the best of my knowledge.
Mr. Jenkins: So, it's still based on accumulated snowfall and we have this good fortune to blame on the weather that has prevailed. We'll send a thank you note to El Niño, wherever that individual may reside.
Transportation Division in the amount of an underexpediture of $443,000 agreed to
On Municipal and Community Affairs Division
Mr. Jenkins: Would the minister provide a breakdown of the $145,000 saving?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly. The home owner grants are $43,000 less than the original budgeted estimation; miscellaneous reductions of $5,000 in lands and property assessments; public safety reductions due to a vacancy of auxiliary building inspector position, $27,000; and other miscellaneous items, $27,000; a municipal administration reduction of $64,000, and that's due to temporary vacancies of community advisor and director positions. Grants in lieu of taxes was reduced $35,000 as tax rates in municipalities did not increase to expected levels and there were other adjustments of $17,000; an engineering development administration reduction due to temporary vacancy of municipal service officer position, $15,000; and travel with that, $2,000. Mosquito control showed a savings of $19,000 as the program was done in house rather than by contract and also because only nine of the communities participated in the program rather than twelve as budgeted for. Lands and property assessments increased due to the need for coverage of two retired, long-term employees, $45,000; and the Yukon Recreation Advisory Committee increased funding due to sport and recreation groups by a net of $36,000, which is 100-percent recoverable from the Yukon Lottery Commission. There was an increase of $30,000 in municipal administration for contracts required to maintain client services during vacancies.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister advise if there has been any change in policy interpreted by his department officials with respect to the home owners grant?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, there is no change in policy.
Mr. Jenkins: In my area, there are quite a number of people in the placer mining business that have mining claims that the department has assessed that the individuals residing thereon have paid taxes, or have been required by this government to pay taxes. In some people's opinion it could be ultra vires in this respect, but it is explained that it is just taxes on the improvements. In years past, the government has paid a home owners grant to residents of these properties and the seniors home owners grant. Why is the government no longer paying the home owners grant and seniors home owners grant supplement out to these taxpayers, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I believe, as the member opposite is aware, that this is being treated as a case worker at this point in time and I will have to get back to the member as to the position and where it's at in this point in time.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, but in the onset I distinctly heard the minister say that there is no change in the policy, no change whatsoever. Now, what I am hearing is that, yes, there are instances that have arisen where the home owners grant that has been paid previously and the seniors home owners grant are no longer paid. So, that would indicate to me that somewhere along the line there is a change in the policy. Now, what is it, Mr. Chair. Which way is the minister going?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I do believe the member opposite is speaking of casework, and I thought that the casework had been sent back. Have you received the letter? No. Well, it's on the way. To cut right to the short and quick of it, historically, there was a payment made, but the payment was made in error, and now the payment is not to be made.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, we have made a lot of errors over the years. This is not the only case - the case that I brought to the minister's attention. There are about 30-some odd individuals in this same category, and all of them have been treated in the same, consistent manner over the years since the implementation of this home owners grant and the seniors grant. There are fewer than that number that have received the seniors benefit. Now, is the minister telling me that a mistake was made in all of these cases, and they are going to forgo paying them the home owners grant in the future? Is that what the minister is saying in the House today?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: There has been no policy change. If they're entitled, they get it; if they're not entitled, they don't get it. Certainly, I'm aware of the one case - I'm not sure of the number of cases, but I would be willing to explore it with the member opposite in more detail, so we can clear it up.
Mr. Jenkins: I don't really believe there's anything to clear up. All I'm looking for is a consistent application of the policies of this government. They have been consistently applied for quite a considerable number of years, in the case of placer claims.
For a goodly number of years, a lot of the people that were assessed refused to pay it and they moved their improvements around from claim to claim, so that they could justifiably say, "Hey, these are movable buildings and they don't qualify." But, in the cases where the individuals have chosen to put a permanent structure on the property, and there are a goodly number of those - my last count was 30, and I know definitely of 30 in this category - that have received home owners grants in the past. There are a couple that have received the seniors. Now, you're telling me they do not.
The only one I've brought to the minister's attention was the one case where the government refused to pay it after paying it out for quite a number of years. This indicates, clearly, a change in policy; not a mistake, but a change in policy.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, Mr. Chair, the number 30 is not my number. I believe it's the member opposite's number. I did not say that they would not get this. I said that there has been no change in the policy and that certainly the policy will be applied, though I am listening with interest to the member opposite's situation.
Mr. Jenkins: Now that the minister has listened with interest to my position, what is he prepared to do with it?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly to apply, as per the policy.
Mr. Jenkins: So what the minister is saying is nothing. So I thank the minister for his remarks, and I'm sure when I send a copy of Hansard to the miners in the area that have conformed to all the rules and regulations, they'll be most interested in the way that this government is treating taxpayers in the mining area, Mr. Chair.
Municipal and Community Affairs Division in the amount of an underexpenditure of $145,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the recoveries or revenues? Clear.
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for Community and Transportation Services in the amount of an underexpenditure of $650,000 agreed to
Chair: We will move to capital expenditures.
On Capital Expenditures
Chair: Is there general debate?
On Office of the Deputy Minister
On VHF System
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister elaborate on the $100,000 reduction on the VHF system? Where was that saving realized?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: The decrease of $100,000 is to be used for the establishing of a new MDMRS site in the Pelly Crossing area, and that has been cancelled as Northwestel no longer has the resources to provide the required addition.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on the topic of the MDMRS system, I recently had some correspondence with the CRTC with respect to the extension of the towers up the Dempster Highway. There are 11 of those towers in place now, and they're not being totally utilized for the original intended purpose and justification. Is the minister aware of this, and what steps is he prepared to undertake?
We have a major capital expenditure of some multi-millions of dollars in the rate base of the telephone users in Yukon. The towers are primarily being used for the MDMRS, and I'm sure that was a part of the original contractual obligation between Northwestel and the Government of Yukon. What is the minister prepared to do in this regard?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: This is the job of the CRTC. We use our portion of the MDMRS and will continue to do so. What I will have to do here is get some more information and come back with it for the member opposite.
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 the 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 in agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:25 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled November 24, 1997:
Health and Social Services Council 1996-97 Annual Report (Sloan)
The following Legislative Return was tabled November 24, 1997:
NovaLIS contract: information pertaining to contract award (Sloan)
Written Question No. 1 and No. 2, dated November 3, 1997, by Ms. Duncan