Wednesday, December 3, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with silent prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Are there any introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Statements by ministers?
Persons with disabilities: initiatives to coordinate services
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I rise in the House today to inform the House of a range of initiatives to ensure better services to people with disabilities, in our policy of fostering healthy communities.
Responsibility for the current system of services to Yukon people with disabilities is shared by federal, territorial and First Nation governments. It is our policy to find better ways to deliver services so that those who need assistance can benefit to the greatest extent possible.
The initiatives that I speak about today encompass short-term and long-term approaches to coordinate such services. This is part of a national cooperative effort carried out by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for social services. It is a priority of the Ministerial Council on Social Policy Renewal as directed by the premiers, territorial leaders and the Prime Minister.
The federal Minister of Human Resources Development, the hon. Pierre Pettigrew, recently invited the Yukon to enter into negotiations leading to an agreement on a new "employability assistance for people with disabilities initiative" - EAPD.
This initiative will replace the vocational rehabilitation of disabled persons program - VRDP - and was agreed to by Social Services ministers in October, subject to the resolution of outstanding funding issues.
The EAPD responds to a need identified by people with disabilities for programs that will allow them to overcome barriers that they face in preparing for, finding and maintaining employment.
Under the proposed agreement, the Government of Canada would match expenses each province and territory incurs to provide eligible employability programs and services, to an amount no less than each jurisdiction's current allocation under the VRDP.
In the Yukon, the maximum federal contribution would be $1.2 million per year, for five years, starting on April 1, 1998. This new framework means that some programs that are now cost-shared would become ineligible. Other programs, including new initiatives that fall under the framework, would qualify for financial support.
Negotiations will determine what is, or what is or is not eligible. However, the multilateral framework agreement provides a three-year transition period to complete and evaluate this new approach. This will protect our present programming and funding levels in the short term.
Another short-term undertaking, under the national programs and services to persons with disabilities initiative, focuses on developing a strategy to harmonize income support programs. These initiatives are directed at making the current support programs more integrated and effective for clients. The strategy focuses on three main areas: reducing barriers to work in income support programs; rehabilitation and labour market entry and re-entry supports; and, a joint action to streamline and coordinate the assessment process.
In each of these areas, specific actions can help harmonize programs better in the short term. For example, in the Yukon we will be reviewing the rules for social assistance earnings exemptions to determine whether they provide sufficient incentive for persons with disabilities to enter or re-enter the work force.
The Department of Health and Social Services will also consider ways to coordinate local case management practices to remove barriers to work.
For the long term, options will be developed for an integrated approach to ensuring adequate income support.
A national vision and framework has been developed to guide future reform based on the principles of equality and inclusion. It seeks to ensure the full participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of society.
This framework provides a common approach to achieving this vision by identifying objectives and potential policy directions in four key areas: citizenship, employment, disability supports and income supports.
Mr. Speaker, as a partner in the national initiatives, we have agreed to move ahead to develop an action plan for the short-term initiatives and to embrace the national vision as a guide to all our social policy reform.
In adopting this ambitious agenda, it is crucial that we consult with our organizations that represent people with disabilities, with service providers, and most importantly, with people using those services.
We look forward to many fruitful discussions with the newly formed Yukon Council on Disability. We will also involve other departments and agencies in our consultations, including the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, Yukon Housing Corporation and the Department of Education.
Mr. Speaker, there is much work to be done, both at the national and territorial levels, and we are pleased to be taking concrete steps to promote equality and inclusion for persons with disabilities.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, we are pleased to offer our full support to this initiative. The number of people with disabilities in the Yukon represents a significant and an important part of our population. Canadians with disabilities can work, want to work, and their working will benefit all of us to sustain a healthy community.
It is, therefore important that we assist the disabled and those with special needs to find meaningful employment. To do this, we must reduce the barriers that can sometimes prevent people with disabilities from entering the labour force. The employability assistance for people with disabilities initiative is encouraging; however, there are a number of questions that need to be addressed before we are able to determine whether or not it will actually help people with disabilities to enter the Yukon's labour market.
Perhaps the minister, in his rebuttal, could tell members of this House what the outstanding funding issues are that were mentioned in his statement. It is my understanding that the vocational rehabilitation of disabled persons was funded at a level of $168 million, as of a year ago. With the replacement of this program, could the minister tell us if there has occurred a change in this level of funding - whether it has increased or whether it has decreased?
The minister said that the maximum federal contribution to the Yukon would be $1.2 million per year for five years. Is this amount an increase or a decrease in the funds that the Yukon currently receives through the vocational rehabilitation of disabled persons?
What I'm trying to determine, Mr. Speaker, is if the Yukon would be better off or worse off financially under this new arrangement. It is also my understanding that, previously, $50 million of the VRDP allocation was spent on alcohol and drug problems. Will this still apply? Will provincial and territorial governments be required to designate a specific portion of their funds to alcohol and drug programs under this new program?
A report was prepared last year by the federal task force on disabilities, of which there were a number of recommendations that pertained to the VRDP, and that if any changes were to occur, that fund should be broad enough to allow it to support activities that, while not directly connected to the labour market particularly, indirectly affect people with disabilities to participate in the labour market.
Mr. Speaker, the task force also proposed a partnership and innovative component that would support research, demonstration projects, best practice, public awareness and education through partnerships within and between sectors.
Could the minister advise us if such recommendations have been discussed during his meetings with his federal or provincial counterparts, and if these issues are indeed negotiable?
Perhaps the minister could elaborate on what exactly is up for negotiation. What does the Yukon government view as being eligible or ineligible? Are these negotiations currently taking place, Mr. Speaker, and, of course, will Yukoners be given an opportunity to provide input before these negotiations are completed?
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Liberal caucus to support the new initiative regarding persons with disabilities. The change from employability assistance for people with disabilities initiative, or EADP, to the vocational rehabilitation of disabled persons program, or VRDP, will allow for a far more integrated approach to programming for persons with disabilities in the workforce and those wishing to enter the workforce.
We are most pleased that the minister will be consulting with a newly formed Yukon Council on Disability. Their input into the guidelines for the three-year transition fund, called the "opportunities fund", will be invaluable. Certainly, the people who serve on this council represent a wide cross-section of persons with disabilities and the organizations that support and advocate for them.
The cross-departmental approach also makes a lot of sense. I hope that the minister does not forget to include input from the rural communities, where programs for persons with disabilities are most challenging. I would hope, too, that there is going to be input from the Association of Yukon Communities, which includes the City of Whitehorse and the private sector, as they are also major employers in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I thank the opposition parties for their support in this regard.
The Member for Klondike did raise some issues and I have to say that some of these issues are of a concern to us. In terms of the funding, we expect that the funding will remain stable, at least for the present amount. We do have some concerns, however, in - and this is what I made reference to when I said that there may be some programs coming out of this, and that's our major concern. Presently, this new framework could remove funding for alcohol and drug services, which is a major concern for us and would limit our receipt of that.
As well, at the meeting in Ottawa, in October we took a very, very strong position against any changes in this program being based on a population-based funding allocation. Had that been the case, it would have been about $168,000, if it was based on population, so we're relieved that we are continuing to receive the $1.2 million. We will be working to make sure that when we do follow through in our negotiations our funding continues to be at an adequate level.
As well, we are taking a strong position on having programs, including alcohol and drug programs, included in this. This would be a major sort of blow to us.
I think there are a number of commendable aspects to the national view, chief of which is the idea of removing barriers, of trying to remove the impediments to employability. Much of that came out of the recommendations of the Scott report, which formed the basis for much of this new thinking around the VRDP. So, we are looking forward to moving ahead with some of these and we do have some challenges, and there are some concerns that we have, but we think, overall, the national trend, the national vision, is a positive one.
Speaker: This, then, brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Tourism, changes to charter flight regulations
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Tourism and it's regarding the National Transportation Agency's wishes to make changes to regulations for international charter flights. The changes that are being proposed will prevent charter airlines from booking seats on international flights within seven days of travel, the result being that charter companies would be prevented from pricing their own product, threatening the elimination of low-price charter fares for Canadians, which Yukoners have benefited from in the last couple of years.
I'd like to ask the minister if he's been made aware of the proposed changes and if he's received a copy of the draft proposal, and is the minister concerned about these changes and the impact on the Yukon's tourism industry?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, no, I am not aware of the proposed changes regarding the charter companies, and certainly I will have to get further information.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, I have to say I am extremely surprised that the Minister of Tourism is not aware of this, because this particular proposed change could have a major impact on our tourism industry.
The changes, as proposed, would fix minimum prices for overseas flights, prohibit the sale of one-way charter tickets, and lengthen the amount of time between when a ticket is purchased and when it's used.
If approved, these changes would have a major negative impact upon the number of visitors travelling to the Yukon each summer. Charter airlines, such as Canada 3000, Royal Airlines and Air Transat, all of which operate in the Yukon and bring in thousands of visitors to the territory each year, would be affected as a result of fewer passengers flying with these companies. And with fewer passengers, Mr. Speaker, there'd be fewer flights and therefore fewer visitors coming to the territory.
In view of the serious consequences of these changes, I'd like to ask the minister if he would speak to the federal Minister of Transport and if he would write a letter to the federal Minister of Transport expressing his concerns.
When would he send that letter, Mr. Speaker, if he's prepared to do that?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I do work in concert with my department and certainly I will be looking into the changes. I will say quite categorically, right here and now, that we will be opposing any changes that will restrict and affect the tourism industry of the Yukon.
Mr. Phillips: I am really surprised, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of Tourism is not aware of this situation, because it's something that will have a serious impact on Yukon tourism, specifically air travel to the territory.
Will the minister, this afternoon, talk to his officials and draft a letter immediately to the Transport minister and the National Transportion Agency conveying the minister's feelings with respect to this issue. This is a very serious issue if it proceeds any further, and will have a major impact, in a negative way, on tourism in this territory. The minister should be aware of it. Now that I've made the minister aware of it, will the minister act immediately on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, I will be consulting with the department on this. I will also be talking with the Tourism Industry Association on this and getting their input. I'll be talking to the KVA and getting their input into this. Certainly, as I said, it does sound that we would be opposing the changes that would affect tourism to the Yukon.
I do understand that this was on the news just this morning, so I do not think that there's any need for surprise. I do believe that the figures and the advance in tourism and the strategies that are going on are living proof that we can and will work toward better tourism in the Yukon.
Question re: Telephone services to rural customers
Mr. Jenkins: My question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
Mr. Speaker, today, Northwestel announced a $3-million plan to provide telephone service to 300 rural customers in Yukon. But there's a catch in this plan. The catch is that the plan will cost these 300 customers $9,000 each if the federal and Yukon governments do not participate in the plan.
A similar program was provided to 100 rural customers in northern British Columbia for a $1.6 million price tag, with the federal and British Columbia governments picking up two-thirds of this cost.
In view of the fact that the Member for Lake Laberge previously indicated that the Yukon government would be doing something to help rural Yukoners with their telephone service, can the minister help clarify the situation by advising the House if it is in financial support of the latest Northwestel plan, and does the minister have the federal government on side, as well, for financial support?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Many questions contained within one question. Certainly the program that was spoken of in northern British Columbia was funded by the British Columbia/Canada infrastructure program. Northwestel did put in an application for the latest round - I believe, off the top of my head, I think it was $408,000 that we had gotten from the Canadian government for the Yukon infrastructure program.
No, their application was rejected. The only monies that would be brought forth for and on behalf of the Yukon government would be recoverable dollars through the RETP.
Mr. Jenkins: So it sounds like we're going to pay the full cost, recoverable through these payers, despite pleas from the Member for Lake Laberge to not get tied into any contract with Northwestel. Now it's going to cost these people $9,000 each, Mr. Speaker.
It's also my understanding, Mr. Speaker, that rural areas like Marsh Lake, Deep Creek and Morley Bay would be covered by this plan. How the selection of these areas was agreed to is indeed a question but, further to that, there's no mention of providing service in other areas, like along the Alaska Highway west. Could the minister ensure that if this plan proceeds, the rural customers in all areas will be covered equally as well?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly this is a subject that has been around - well, let me say - even with the previous administration. The previous administration had the opportunity to meet with Northwestel and to get things rolling with Northwestel. Well, that is exactly what this administration did. We have taken upon ourselves to meet with Northwestel, and we have met with Northwestel, and we are working with Northwestel so that we ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: ... might be able to provide better service. So this is not a problem that is a new problem. This is a very old problem that this government is going to put into effect.
Now, to the question, certainly I have been meeting with them. I've met with the president and different members of his staff over the last year. We talked about what it would take to bring universal, affordable access to quality telephone communication services. Those are the principles that we went with - affordable.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, that is exactly what we are doing now. They came back with proposals, and we're talking back and forth to one another. Let me just say that we are looking to provide -
Speaker: Will the minister please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am answering the question.
We are looking forward to providing direction to and with Northwestel for the implementation of rural telephone service, be it where ...
Speaker: Would the minister please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: ...the Alaska Highway west, et cetera.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm sure we'd have liked to have been a fly on the wall at the minister's meeting with Northwestel. We would have more of an understanding, perhaps, than his explanation in this House, Mr. Speaker.
Can the minister advise this House when the Yukon government will be making his position known so that Ruraltel customers will know whether it will cost them $1,000 or $9,000 to participate in the plan?
Is this time frame the end of December, or is the minister's statement in the House his final answer?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, the minister does not have the final answer. Certainly, the people of the Yukon have the final answer, and I am here to speak on behalf of the people of the Yukon.
Let me say that, in my submission to the CRTC, we did say that the telecommunications industry fund a national support fund to assist the extension of affordable local service that is too expensive to service the areas in the Yukon that are in that category. That is what we have done as a government, Mr. Speaker.
My position is certainly to get telephone service to the folks here and to do that in conjunction with Northwestel. And, when will we be doing that? I did say in Committee of the Whole that I would be announcing before the end of the year and before Christmas, and that is still the time frame.
Question re: Telephone service to rural customers
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, my question is also for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services on the same topic.
Now, there has been a proposal from Northwestel that points to a partnership in northern B.C. where the federal government, the provincial government, and Northwestel provided its phone service to rural customers, and we have just spoken about that. And, under that partnership, the B.C. government provided one-third of the money for phase 1 of the project, and that amounted to about $400,000. Now, the Northwestel proposal here calls for a total of $3 million to be spent.
Can the minister confirm that there has, in fact, been a letter of intent signed between the Yukon government and Northwestel concerning this very proposal? And, would the minister commit to tabling a copy of that letter of intent in this Legislature this week?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, I have been having an ongoing dialogue with the president of Northwestel. I understand that they have a board meeting coming up very soon, and they asked for clarification, if there would be support, and I have signed a letter to them. I would be happy to table that before the end of the week.
Mrs. Edelman: In April of this year - we had spoken about this as well - Northwestel submitted an application to the Yukon government under the Canada/Yukon infrastructure program, which is a sharing between the federal government and the territorial government. The purpose of this application was for assistance with provision of telephone service to rural Yukon, and that included the Marsh Lake area as well as a number of other areas.
The application asked the Yukon government to contribute approximately $78,000 and the application was rejected. I didn't hear the answer before. Could the minister now tell this House why the application was rejected?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I would have to get back to the member opposite with the exact reasoning but, certainly, it was a decision that was made through a screening committee, I do believe. I will have to get back to the member opposite with a clear answer on that but, certainly, I can confirm that it has been rejected.
Mrs. Edelman: I understand that other companies have expressed interest in providing phone service to rural customers in the future. Now, Northwestel has already asked the government to contribute financially to their proposal to extend service in these areas. Is the Yukon government thinking of providing some financial subsidy to other competitors?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly not, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Electrical rate relief
Mr. Cable: I have some questions on rate relief for the minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation.
A few days ago, I asked the energy commissioner questions about rate relief and what was going to happen on January 1. Now, my understanding of his answers and what I got out of the answers is as follows: firstly, the government's not happy about the Utilities Board's cost-of-service policy, moving residential consumers from 80 percent to at least 90 percent of the cost of service; and secondly, the favourite option for rate relief of this government is a form of targeted rate relief directed at needy consumers; and, lastly, the issue of rate relief will be before the Cabinet this month for a decision - if it hasn't already gone before the Cabinet - so that something will be in place on January 1.
Now, speaking as the minister responsible, does that understanding of what was said reflect the government's positions on rates and what is taking place with respect to the rate relief development?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The rate relief recommendations from the Cabinet Commission on Energy have not come before Cabinet as of yet, and certainly anything that would impact on increased rates for residential consumers is of concern to this government.
Mr. Cable: Okay, the energy commissioner spoke about there probably being an experimental program in place, something that the public can review and comment on. Now, this government, Mr. Speaker, went to the people on the issue of rate stabilization. Then we had, in the energy commissioner's work program, an assertion that the new program would be in place last spring, I think it was. Then we've had public consultations in the fall. So, this government has been in power for over a year.
Could I ask the minister, who I'm sure is aware of this experimental program, what is the purpose of the experimental program? Are we simply avoiding the issue? Are we trying to keep the issue away from the people, keep them tantalized? Are we afraid to make a decision on it?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm waiting for a recommendation from the Liberal Party to bring in the Auditor General to give us a recommendation on rate relief. That's his usual approach to solving all the world's problems.
Mr. Speaker, we're doing precisely opposite of what the member is alleging through innuendo. We're out there talking to the public, and we're trying to formulate conclusions, and the energy commission is trying to formulate conclusions based on discussions with the public and involving Yukoners at large.
With regard to the issue of rate stabilization, in just one year, in extremely difficult circumstances with the Faro mine going on and off the grid and on the grid again, we've brought rate relief back to life. We've announced a massive energy conservation program, and we took action to see the Faro mine get back into production and removed 20 percent of approved rate increases off of Yukoners' bills.
Mr. Cable: Well, that's an interesting political speech, but it looks like we're going to be in the House for another few days at least. Will the energy commissioner and the energy minister commit to having the government make known its rate relief intentions before the House rises, so that we can debate the initiative in the House rather than responding to some communication buff's idea of what constitutes good communication with the public?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, we're obviously anxious to talk to Yukoners about rate relief, and I know the energy commission is busily working on bringing recommendations to Cabinet, so we look forward to their recommendations in due course.
Question re: Burwash firehall, cost overrun
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. Yesterday in the House, I raised the issue of a $100,000 cost overrun on the construction of a firehall in Burwash that was supposed to cost $235,000. This project, as of last week, was 36-percent complete and the cash register on this cost overrun is still ringing. We are not criticizing the construction of a much-needed firehall. We are not criticizing the agreement with the people of Burwash to construct the firehall. We are not criticizing the quality of construction. What we are criticizing and are now demanding answers to is this government's inability to control costs. The official opposition - we're doing our job - our job and our responsibilities are to hold this minister responsible for his department's spending.
Will the minister advise if he has now had an opportunity to review the project and will he call for an independent audit?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I am through saying I am appalled or disgruntled. That just goes without saying any more, from the member opposite. I certainly appreciate that the member opposite speaks from a script and will continue to speak from a script until there's some original thinking brought forth.
Let me say, Mr. Speaker, that there is no cost overrun. There were two CFAs put into place for a total, I believe, of $329,000, and that is exactly what we are going to be spending.
Mr. Jenkins: It's a $100,000 cost overrun. The minister confirmed that, Mr. Speaker, and the Member for Faro is still laughing, as he was yesterday, when this cost overrun was pointed out.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Mr. Jenkins: An alarming trend is carrying over from the previous NDP government and that is their inability to control costs.
Will the minister now reconsider his position and call for an audit?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, I will not reconsider my opinion and call for an audit. I have spoken to the chief just this morning. They are very well-aware that they are being brought forth into the Legislature and that things that are being alluded to are regarding them.
Certainly, there is not a cost overrun in this project, Mr. Speaker. This project is being adhered to under the terms and conditions.
Mr. Jenkins: The Yukon Party previously brought in a policy to control costs on capital projects. Changes to these projects were only allowed under very special ...
Speaker: Order please.
Mr. Jenkins: ...circumstances. Has this government changed that policy?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I will certainly agree that there were lots of cost overruns, certainly there. Mr. Speaker, it has just been brought to my attention that they did not bring that piece in.
I will be working with the community in question to make sure that they do a good job. I offer my support to the First Nation so that we can get a firehall there for the betterment of the community.
Question re: Electrical rate relief
Mr. Cable: I have some further questions for the energy minister on rate relief. He seems to be dancing around the issue of rate relief, and what I expect is that, one day after the House rises, we're going to get this pumped up, hyped up press release on what's going to take place.
Will the energy minister commit that, as at January 1, when the new program, whatever it is, comes into place, the average residential consumer will not receive a rate increase?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I'm not dancing around the subject of rate relief. What I explained to the member is that we are consulting with the public. It's an extensive and broad issue. It's one the energy commission is progressing on very well. They look forward to making some recommendations to Cabinet.
With regard to rate relief and the member asking for my assurances that rates won't go up, I should remind him that the rate relief program is independent from the rate-setting process, which is handled by the Utilities Board, which I had assumed he was aware of. It's a very difficult premise that he wishes to get a commitment from me with regard to what the Utilities Board may or may not do in terms of their rulings as an independent body, in terms of setting rates in this territory.
Mr. Cable: That government and that minister had no reticence about talking about rate stabilization during the election campaign. Surely that minister and that government was aware of the fact that the Utilities Board sets rates and that stabilization would have to take place outside the Utilities Board's jurisdiction.
With respect to that election campaign promise, when is this commitment to rate stabilization going to take place? I think I've asked the minister this before. Can we expect it before the end of this mandate?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I love answering that question because, in the face of very difficult circumstances - losing the Faro mine off the grid - weeks after we got into office, we took action very quickly to get 20 percent rate increases approved by the Utilities Board off Yukoners' bills. That was a rate stabilization initiative. We brought rate relief back to life from the Yukon Party. That was a rate stabilization initiative. We've been concentrating on demand-side management and introduced a massive energy conservation program. That was a rate stabilization initiative, and there's more in the hopper. So if the member will just bear with us - we're only in the first year - we'll have more rate stabilization issues to go along with all the other ones we concluded in the first year.
Mr. Cable: Let me encourage the minister to get a copy of Webster's and look up the word "stabilization", because ...
Now, the last question for the minister is, we've heard that the Energy Corporation has a significant bad debt with United Keno Hill Mines. We've heard that there's a deductible on the insurance with respect to the fire and, assumedly, some hidden costs that will be attached to the fire. Could the minister tell us, is there enough cash in the Energy Corporation to fund the continuance of rate relief?
Hon. Mr. Harding: As I understand it, Mr. Speaker, even prior to any finalization of 1997 cost of service, the Yukon Energy Corporation utility is looking at an approximate rate of return of about four percent. Once that's finalized - the 1997 cost of service - I would assume that there would be a fairly significant amount of money available for initiatives such as rate relief, such as investment in supply options, although it won't be as much as it has been in previous years, given the uncertainty surrounding the Faro mine and losing it from the grid.
Mr. Speaker, I guess the short answer to the question is, the Energy Corporation will have sufficient funds to work with issues surrounding rate relief and also to work with supply options, although the money is not falling off trees.
Question re: Porter Creek school cost overrun
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister of Government Services. Previous NDP governments were notorious for the huge cost overruns on major capital projects and this new NDP government appears to be in lockstep with their predecessors in being unable to manage the public's money.
In the Committee debate, the Minister of Education said - and it was revealed - that there was a $500,000 cost overrun on the construction of the Porter Creek school and, I think, some 88 change orders. The Minister of Education passed the buck, so to speak, to the Minister of Government Services to provide the details of this mismanagement, so I'll ask the Minister of Government Services: what went wrong?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, what went wrong. Well, what went wrong is across the floor. We had to fast track a project into 18 months. That's what went wrong. What went wrong was the Porter Creek school being fast-tracked because of an obsession with the two-tier system that resulted in us fast-tracking this project.
As for 88 change order, he needs to check his figures. There are not 88 change orders. There are far more change orders than what we would like, but I think the member has a real nerve in asking that.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, this minister is consistent; there is no doubt about that. When you ask him questions about land and tax issues, it was a committee that made the decision. When you ask him questions about another issue, it's social assistance immunity that he hides behind. Today, he's saying it's the Yukon Party's fault that his government has a cost overrun.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. Order.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, this minister is responsible for those cost overruns. A half a million dollars of a cost overrun is a lot of money. The previous Yukon Party government brought in a policy of controlling spending in capital projects. Can the minister explain why his government has abandoned this policy and they're spending like there's no tomorrow?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That member is seriously deluded. With regard to the costs, just the city alone in some of its site work upgrading, which were not anticipated in the original budget, came to over $232,900. Those were requirements by the City of Whitehorse. The other main difficulties that occurred were really in the speed of the project.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, like I said, he's consistent. It's partly the city's fault now, too. It's everybody but this minister's fault that this is a cost overrun in this government. The bottom line is that these ministers are responsible for their budgets, and there's a $500,000 cost overrun on this project, $100,000 on another project, and no accountability in projects in Carcross and other parts of the territory.
Mr. Speaker, when is this minister and this government going to get a handle on these projects? They're planning to build several more schools in the next few years, and the people of the Yukon want to make sure that this government doesn't spend us into bankruptcy like the previous NDP government did.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I can tell the member one thing. We will not be making precipitous, accelerated, ill-considered moves the way that the previous government did in terms of education, which led directly to this project having to be fast-tracked to conform with the previous Education minister's obsession on the two-tier education system. That's why we've got a problem with that project.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed, and we will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
GOVERNMENT PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Motion No. 73 - adjourned debate
Clerk: Motion No. 73, standing in the name of Mr. Hardy.
Speaker: The motion before the House, as moved by the Member for Whitehorse Centre on November 5, 1997, is
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) The Government of Canada has unfairly restricted access to income support for Canadians who have paid into Unemployment Insurance (renamed Employment Insurance) throughout their working lives; and
(2) despite a projected $20 billion cumulative surplus by the end of 1998, the Government of Canada has unfairly reduced EI benefits, eliminated training programs and appropriated workers' money to pay down the deficit;
THAT this House expresses strong opposition to the federal Liberal government's ongoing attempts to dismantle this vital component of our social safety net, causing great hardship to the victims of Canada's structural unemployment; and
THAT this House calls for the billions in savings, which restrictions to unemployment have produced, to be used to restore the program to meet the real financial and training needs of unemployed workers.
Mr. Hardy: It's like déjà vu all over again.
Mr. Speaker, the unemployment insurance program is vitally important to all working people. I walk through my riding - and my riding's quite a poor riding - and many people that live in my riding are part of a seasonal workforce and the UI program, as it used to stand, was vital for them to ensure that they could survive through the year and provide for their families. UI addresses the fundamental insecurity that all workers face in a market economy. It reduces the economic risk of unemployment, a risk that is felt with particular force today. UI stabilizes incomes of individuals and communities. And, as I walk through my riding, which I do every night, I see the instability that's in my community and among my constituents.
If the jobs aren't there between the seasonal jobs, UI used to be there. If UI is now changed to make fewer people eligible, which is what has happened, then where do the people go? They still have to provide; they still have to pay their bills, so where do they go? They come here, locally, to social services and it's creating a tremendous burden on the resources that we have in the territory and yet there's no transfer of monies to accommodate that increase on social services. My colleague, the Minister of Health and Social Services, I am sure will speak about the increase of costs on social services and the working poor and the non-working as they try to meet those goals, as well as the youth who, as they are going into the workforce, often are employed and unemployed, and employed and unemployed.
UI used to be a bridge. It doesn't seem to do that. It was a cornerstone of Canada's labour adjustment process, and that has disappeared.
Mr. Speaker, our unemployment insurance program has been undergoing progressive cuts and restrictions on eligibility over the last 25 years. A person like myself, when I left school, I entered into very much of a seasonal work environment, which was construction. I often had to go on UI, knowing that I paid into this program. It was an insurance. I felt it was my right to be able to go on this program when I could not find employment. Because of the nature of the work I was involved in, that happened often during the coldest months of the year in the Yukon. I was able to work, of course, during the spring, summer and fall. This was the bridge. This was also what allowed me some dignity in being unemployed when I couldn't find a job, because I also felt that I contributed to this plan. By contributing to it, I had a right to it. I would go back to work and contribute to it again. I believe that what I felt back then, many people felt about UI, and recognized it's value and the fact that, as a worker, it is your plan and your money, and it's not meant to be used for anything else aside from the bridging between employment, as well as to assist with training needs.
There's been a rapid decline in UI expenditures over the last few years. The most recent rounds of cuts - this is the eighth in a series of attacks on this vital program since it was shored up in 1971 - and the fourth major cut in the 1990s. We are seeing the fallout of those cuts now with tremendous poverty throughout Canada and tremendous poverty in the Yukon and for the many people who used to be able to rely on this plan that is no longer there for them in the manner that they deserve.
UI benefit payments were $19.2 billion in 1992-93. Now, they are less than $13 billion.
This is a decrease in expenditures, and it was achieved through a decrease in the unemployment rate, but not necessarily true; it's a decrease in ability to apply to this plan.
A parallel development has been a dramatic decrease in the percentage of unemployed receiving benefits. The CLC has issued many reports, and one of them, from a worker's perspective, for sure, said the percentage of unemployed in receipt of UI has dropped from 87 percent in 1990 down to 48 percent today, and that's been confirmed by many other reports, as well as the government itself recognizing that. Some other reports have also said 46 percent or even down to 43 percent, but the drop is dramatic on who is eligible for this plan now.
There has also been very much a recognition of the increase on the welfare rolls throughout the country and the burden it places upon provincial and territorial governments.
Mr. Speaker, at least $13 billion in surplus has been built up over the last four years, and even if the EI or UI - I guess now it's called EI; I don't know if that's supposed to make everybody feel better, but I still look at it as UI, and I think most people out there recognize it's an unemployment insurance plan, not an employment insurance, because it doesn't create employment, for sure - rate is reduced from $2.90 at its current rate to $2.80 for 1998, the government will still continue to take in over $7 billion more than it's paying out in these benefits.
It is estimated that the program ran a surplus of $5.5 billion in the fiscal year of 1995-96, contributing to the budgetary deficit reduction in that amount and increasing the estimate to $8 billion in 1996-97. Unfortunately, money's being taken out of this insurance plan - and I don't think it can be mentioned enough that it is an insurance plan for the workers.
It's being taken out, taken away from them, and used to pay down the deficit. It's paying other people's debts, without the approval of the workers that contribute to it - and the businesses as well that contribute to it. They actually have no say in where that money is going.
To date, there has been no credible explanation. Our justification from the federal government, for either the rapid decline in expenditures or the proportion of unemployed who are eligible to qualify for UI, is no explanation at all.
In 1971, Bill C-229 was brought forward by Liberal Labour minister Bryce Mackasey and essentially established Canada's modern and comprehensive unemployment insurance program. This is high-water mark for the Liberal government, and I applaud him for that move at that time.
The benefit rate was 75 percent for claimants with dependents. Eight weeks of work were required to be eligible for the plan, and the maximum weeks of benefits was 58 weeks.
The philosophy then was that workers needed income protection from the fluctuation in the job market due to economic forces beyond their own control, and that this was a vital role of the federal government. UI effectively served its primary purpose to stabilize workers' income and ensure that times of unemployment would not result in a marked decrease in the living standards, as it so often does today, even though going on UI always did affect the living standards. This, again, was to help bridge those spaces and to assist.
Since the mid-1970s, however, as I mentioned earlier, the well-being of workers and the devastating impact of unemployment in this country - as it has continued to grow consistently since the 1970s - on families and whole communities, has not been a major consideration in decisions affecting the administration of this program. What has been a motivating factor behind the changes we have seen is often who's driving the agenda, and I will get to that in a bit. But, first we need to look at these changes and see whose interests they serve, the changes that have not been to a benefit of working people.
In 1995, the Liberals passed Bill C-12, one of the latest steps in the process of progressive implementation of a corporate agenda. Some of the significant changes include expanding work weeks required for eligibility from 12 to 16, depending on the local unemployment rate, to 16 to 20 weeks working consecutively. Measurement of a work week has changed from 15 hours to 35.
It's much harder for part-time workers to qualify. Maximum weeks of benefit reduced from 50 to 45. Maximum benefit rates remained at 55 percent, which is quite a drop down from the early 1970s, when it was first introduced, but they are capped at $413 per week. This is 1995.
Reduced rates for those who have used the program in the past - so they are targeting the seasonal workers who have most needed this, and also the cyclical. And in the Yukon we do have both - the seasonal and the cyclical workforce.
It allows the federal government to withdraw from job training programs, which they have done. It allows the feds to use any UI surplus for anything they want, like paying down the deficit on the backs of the victims of a low-wage, high-unemployment economic strategy.
The Fraser Institute, the right-wing think-tank, and other business lobbyists, notably the Business Council on National Issues and the Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters of Canada, feel this is a move in the right direction but that the reforms don't go far enough. This despite the fact that in 1994, with Bill C-17, and in 1995, with the above-mentioned bill, numerous recommendations by the powerful business coalitions were adopted, such as cutting benefits 55 percent, which still doesn't go far enough. I think we know who they represent and I think we also know who they control.
They continue to pressure their government for further changes to fulfill two major business objectives: one, to reduce its cost by reducing the amount of premiums employers must pay; and, two, create more competition by eliminating regional differences in UI payments. In the words of Hal Kraft of the Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters Canada, "We don't want to reward areas where there are no work or no jobs. We want to promote employee mobility."
There's also the belief that the UI lends itself to creating lazy people, and I'll talk about that in a second as well, but that is bogus.
There's also no evidence to support the contention that a reduction in employer premiums would lead to an increase in jobs. That was one of their arguments: if the employers didn't have to pay so much for UI, automatically there'd be more jobs. It doesn't work that way. If there is a demand for the product that they're making and the service that they're providing, of course they will hire more people, but not a reduction in the amount that they're paying on the UI, which is not that much as it is.
As for the mobility argument that was mentioned earlier, apart from the morally questionable practice of pressuring people to leave their homes, it is ludicrous to think that unemployed workers on social assistance would be more likely to leave their home provinces or territories in search of work.
I've met many people over the last few years, one of them a representative of a union and the other a representative of an association of unions - people who have had to move and have come all the way from P.E.I., Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and have gone from one social assistance office to the next, across the country, completely broke with families torn apart to get here and find out there's nothing in place here either. They've hit the end of the line. There's no UI between those jobs and they don't know which way to turn.
Of course, the territorial government and its social programs tries to assist them to at least get back home and try to put their lives back together in their frantic effort to find a job. Many people figure these are lazy people. Many businesses that are driving these changes - the huge businesses, which I do have a problem with because they dictate to this government, not the small businesses, but the huge ones because they dictate. These think tanks, such as the Fraser Institute, feed the government with these ideas that workers in Canada are lazy and UI just contributes to that.
Maybe they should get out of their Mercedes and try to go across this country with nothing in their pockets and their family back home starving. They might have a different view if they came down to the real world.
What works? There is a problem in Canada. One of the problems is that there's not enough work. There's definitely been a downsizing. There's been a shift toward cheaper labour in other countries as plants have moved out and have been encouraged to move out by this government - the Liberal government.
Mr. Speaker, cuts and other changes cannot be justified on financial grounds, and the program account is in a significant surplus. Even without the cuts in C-12, expenditures are less than the Finance minister said he was expecting in his 1995 budget speech. It continues to this day, as well.
UI is primarily paid for by workers. It is a social insurance, not welfare. But the federal government has bought into the right-wing big business philosophy that UI offers incentives to keep people out of the workforce. They also drag out UI cheater stories. We've seen that here with the previous Yukon Party government on the social assistance roles. Welfare cheaters - stories to further support their contention that workers prefer leisure over employment. I don't think that anyone believes that Canadians arrange their own layoff, turn down well- paying jobs and choose to live on an income well below their earning potential, because they want to. Never mind that whenever a company announces a hiring initiative, we witness lineups for blocks in subzero temperatures. We've seen lineups in Canada over the last few years of 10,000 people, applying for 1,000 jobs when a plant is opening. These are not people who don't want to work. Thousands and thousands of applications come to businesses yearly - to big businesses and small businesses. There are hundreds of applications from people trying to find employment.
It's ludicrous and insulting to maintain that Canadian workers prefer to languish in poverty rather than to earn an honest living, but this is a slander our federal government, in conjunction with the right, is supporting. This justifies their changes to EI, or UI.
They want us to believe that if you want to reduce dependency on a program, you have to cut it back further. They promote the idea that being unemployed is the fault of the jobless. We're lazy and dependent and need to be booted out the UI office door. They want to divert attention from corporate downsizing and huge increases in both private and public sector layoffs. They want us to overlook the bankruptcy of federal economic policies and inability or unwillingness of big business to provide adequate jobs, and they still cling to the lie of supply-side capitalism, which, unfortunately, has never really delivered, and it's even less viable today. They want us to overlook the tax structure in this country.
Further rounds of cuts are being contemplated at a time of high unemployment, jobless recoveries and unprecedented attacks on all aspects of the welfare state - CPP, UI and medicare, just to name three.
UI needs to be strengthened, not undermined, and at the same time, job creation needs to be made a priority. The federal NDP calculated that with every one-percent drop in the jobless rate, the government could save $1 billion in program costs.
I'm going to list some suggestions or alternatives to just cutting programs and making the poor pay with some positive steps, especially for youth, who are the worst hit by unemployment. Reducing and maintaining low real interest rates is one of them. That stimulates business.
High interest rates crush a small business. Influencing the production and investment decisions of the private sector through such means as the creation of a capital investment fund would assist. If we truly want to lower the unemployment rate and the cost to UI, these are alternative suggestions; a different approach. Instead of just attacking UI, let's approach the real problem: jobs. Maintaining and strengthening employment in the public sector through the enhanced provision of social and other public services - education, health care, child care - promises that have all been made and not kept; funding a major $10 billion emergency employment investment program over five years, along with significant social and environmental infrastructure investment; sharing our existing work more equitably through reduced overtime, possibly a shorter work week; greater ease of access to parental and educational leaves; other micro-focused policies; and, job entrance for youth and respect for elders in our workforce, so that there can be the proper training and transfer of skills.
Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, it seems that job creation is no longer - if it ever was, even though it was in the red book - a priority of the federal Liberals. They want to maintain a high level of unemployment, in combination with low inflation, high interest rates, and the resulting pool of cheap labour to increase the global competitiveness of big business.
This goes back to that debate we had a while back, that the Liberals thought was so insensitive for us to have up here on the MAI - global competitiveness. We believe in fair competition, but not the huge bank of unemployed people that are paid so very little with tremendous poverty that we often see in Third World countries, transferred into Canada. What we would like to see is our standard of living, the ability to live a better lifestyle, a more equitable distribution of wealth, transferred to the Third World countries, not the other way around.
And though the Liberals don't think we should be discussing globalization and the deals that are being made federally, we are a territory and we have to discuss it. UI is part of that and is affected by it as well, and we have to discuss it.
And how it connects is that often the same groups are negotiating these deals by our own government, and we don't even know it. IMF, the International Monetary Fund, which has had such conflicting success or unsuccessful ventures with third world countries, has been advising our federal government for quite a few years, and one of the suggestions is that the federal government act more forcefully in tightening eligibility for unemployment insurance in order to improve the flexibility of labour markets. IMF is now advising our government, or has been advising our government for a few years, on what we should do with our social programs, and UI is one of them. So is ACD group and they are continuing with the MAI negotiations that will affect Yukon, contrary to what the Liberals and the editor of the Yukon News believe.
The goal of full employment was abandoned many years ago, around the time that the slow and steady dismantling of our UI programs got underway. This is the real challenge we face with this government, that economic prosperity is now something to be measured by growth in corporate profits, the volume of trading on the floors of our stock exchanges and the unfettered flow of investment capital. It is no longer measured by the rate of employment and the financial well-being of workers and their families in their communities. And the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor gets wider and wider doesn't seem to impact on the thinking of this government, which continues to create new and lucrative tax breaks for the privileged of this country.
The Liberal government would really like to talk about their red book - the promises that they made. I bought this book when I was in Ottawa. It is put out every year, it seems. It is called, How Ottawa Spends: Seeing Red - A Liberal Report Card. I would recommend that all Liberals read it. It is put out by Carleton University, which I wouldn't say is a radical university. They do a report card on any federal government that's in. They do not pick on the Liberals or the Tories or the Liberals again or the Tories again or the Liberals again or the Tories. They just happen to be the ones who are elected.
They say, "Since the Liberals grade themselves on the red book commitments, no report card would be complete without final grades." I really think that the Member for Riverdale South should be here. He likes grades and he likes measurements a lot. Here is a final grade.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Hardy: Sorry, I stand corrected. Riverdale North. I have to get that one straight. I know he has moved, and is not living there. Thanks a lot.
"With an unemployment problem not much better than when he took office, and recent attempts to abdicate any responsibility for creating jobs, the Liberals deserve no more than a D grade for their labour market employment policy." So, Carleton University. It's a great book. It's not all negative for the Liberals, but I recommend they read it; it's an interesting read. They get a D on employment creation which, of course, affects UI, since when you're working, you pay into it, which makes the plan healthier and should make Mr. Martin happier, because then he can take more from the workers out of it and pay more of the deficit down, take all the credit and not pass it on to the people who are paying it down - the workers.
The question I ask you is this: why won't the Liberals set real targets for employment and job creation? Why do they set - and I don't oppose this; don't get me wrong - their targets for deficit reduction? Good targets. UI targets, CPP targets, what they want. But when it comes down to job creation and employment, they won't do it. They will not set targets for the stimulation of job creation.
If they put as much effort into training and jobs as they promised in the red book and hold accountable companies that often receive huge loans - that often get the loans and a year later, close up their plants and move to Mexico or some place - if they made them accountable, if they put conditions on that money for job creation and stability in that community, if they put that effort into it, maybe we would start to see some results that would be quite different than just attacking the UI program, from attacking the people - an insurance program that was set up to assist unemployed people between jobs - maybe we'd actually see some more employment. Maybe we'd see some more stimulus in small business and maybe we'd stop seeing such a transfer of wealth leave this country and head off to other countries that have a cheaper workforce and exploitation in those areas.
What it comes down to is, where are the priorities? It's easy to cut. That's the truth; it really is. It's easy to say, oh, that has to go, chop that out. It's a lot harder to be innovative, consultative and work with this country, work with all the people of this country, all the governments, the provinces, the municipalities, First Nations, the territories, to work with them all to find true solutions to employment and jobs for the youth.
It has a tremendous impact on youth. I was looking at some stuff recently, just some of the titles, when they talk about employment and opportunities for youth - crime; quality of life; poverty; the increase in suicide when there's no future, when there's no bridging, there's no opportunity and there's nothing there; quality of housing, what people live in, and you lose your homes because you don't have that security any more between your jobs. It even affects the environment and how we treat our own environment, and our attitude toward our environment, especially when you pit workers against environmental concerns, which has been happening in this country, and should never happen in that manner. But it is used to split people and split long-term initiatives that are so desperately needed for the survival of this planet. It's all tied into this change to a UI program that we've had since the 1970s, which means so much to so many people, and it's making it almost impossible for anybody to get.
I'm going to read a couple of scenarios in a minute. We can make our choice of what kind of world we want to live in, the kind of impact. On a poverty level now, four million Canadians live in poverty, out of a population of around 30 million. Over one million of those are children. There are now more than two million welfare recipients. We talk about a burden upon the coffers of federal governments, provincial and territorial. There are over two million welfare recipients, and we used to have an insurance program that people paid into and people were able to take money out of to help them. Now, there's been a huge shift to put people into a welfare system where there's very little contribution, but the need is being taken out of it.
It's not a good shift. It's a tremendous burden for this territory and for, I'm sure, the provinces and the other territory as well, and I know there's been a lot of debate on the changes and the impact it's having.
But there are two million people in the welfare system, out of a population of 30 million, and roughly about 1.4 million people out of work. One of the last figures here is that 50 percent of the poor families are headed by women. Fifty percent. So, we know very quickly where changes have, like the UI, the most impact. Of course, it's the women and children and communities, such as a lot of our rural communities, where you can only work in the spring, summer and fall, and then, of course, you can't work outdoors. The construction industry, the mining communities, the placer miners - many of them are affected by this as well, and if they don't get a good enough year in to save money, then they can't get UI if they don't get enough weeks, because the changes are so hard, and there's not much there any more. Eventually, if they can't find a job, they have to come down to seek social assistance, and that's very difficult for very proud, working people to do.
So, we oppose this politically motivated attack on workers, and that's what I believe it is, because there are other ways to get money to pay down the deficit. They could leave the money in there.
We call for restoration of the UI program to levels of accessibility and financial coverage that is consistent with its original purpose, to provide workers with income protection and stability, and to ensure a reasonable standard of living during times of joblessness. We need to go back and reconfirm our commitment to the understanding that the federal government's most vital role is to mitigate the negative impacts of the marketplace on the lives of its citizens, not to further aggravate them by undermining the protections already in place that we have worked so hard to achieve - the people before us and us today.
There are ample resources to support this and so we will push for an increase of benefits from the 45 percent to the vast majority of claimants, back up to the 80 or 85 percent; the money is there, and their rights are there as well; a restoration of the benefit rate to sixty-six and two-thirds of earnings, not what it is now; a separate UI account to ensure that premium revenues will be used only for UI benefits and other areas that are designated by negotiation and discussion with the contributors to the plan, which the federal government is not, though they have taken on the responsibility of making all the decisions; and, the budget, our budget, will not be balanced on the back of unemployed workers.
I'm going to close with those two alternatives that I talked about. It will be a few more minutes as I read them. One is from Maclean's magazine, and it was after interviewing Canadians about their opinions on life in the year in 2005, and this was the vision that they got, "The classified section of the on-line newspaper contains hundreds of employment opportunities but not one is for a full time job. The people with work are putting in longer hours and getting less money then they did back in the 1990s.
"Most cannot afford to retire at 65. With the private sector taking on a larger role in shaping society the public sector has become increasingly irrelevant, effectively neutered by its diminished spending power.
"Health care and universities operate on two tiers: publicly supported institutions for those with limited funds and a private system for those with money. Cash-strapped governments have passed off the burden of many social services to charities, government pensions are a thing of the past and there's little assistant for people who lose their jobs.
"The risk of violence and harm has increased and the nation is only hanging together by a thread. It's a lean, mean world, where people must fend for themselves against the vagaries of society and the marketplace."
That's the interview Maclean's did with Canadians and what they see the year 2005 as. That's their view.
Now, we can have another one. The classified section contains hundreds of jobs, every one of them decent-paying, many of them jobs in knowledge-based industries or new technologies. With Canada's commitment to education and research, it's made it a world leader. Young people have jobs: meaningful, well-paying, family-sustaining jobs; jobs working in the community for a better environment, in schools, with seniors, with children; jobs built on equitable, quality, accessible public education; jobs that improve the health of people on the planet, that provide housing and build communities; jobs that make every young person a contributing member of society.
Imagine an economy that serves people, an economy where corporations tailor their drive for profits to practices that serve society, where labour standards are strong and enforced, where every corporation and every working person contributes to social programs that further enrich the lives of everyone, where public spending goes not to the benefit of people who would rather be working but to improving health, literacy and human rights.
Imagine a world where young people work, not to pay off deficits that enrich the banks, international money traders or the wealthy, but to reverse social deficits, where young people build a future that is deserving of the generations that will follow them.
Two competing views: one is what the people have today, on a poll, the first one; the other is what we can have, but we're never going to have it if we continue to attack programs - sacred programs, insurance programs - that are for people in need, such as the UI program or the EI program.
So, I ask everybody to support this motion and recognize the importance of having these bridging programs as well as all the other social programs that unfortunately are under attack today.
Mr. Jenkins: As I rise to speak to the motion by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, his overview of it very much reminded me of a professor I had a long time ago and his description of communism - a very, very similar parallel as to what I recall that professor having said and what is being advocated here, that we're all standard, that we all are entitled to everything, and government will provide all our needs and meet our every whim and want.
When we look at the employment insurance as it now stands in Canada, and from what it has developed into over the years, Mr. Speaker, we see a system that was commenced as an insurance program to give employees that were laid off or lost their jobs, through one reason or another, some monies to bridge them between jobs. What that program has now developed into is a guaranteed annual income, and it's being treated as such by a greater and greater number of people.
The major cause of unemployment, Mr. Speaker, is the business cycle and the failure of government to provide an environment that provides for full-time employment, something this government is very familiar with. Government creates the environment that attracts business. It creates the environment by setting out policies and procedures and regulatory bodies to control the various areas. It also sets the tax rates for that business and the payroll taxes that constitute a greater and growing cost of doing business in Canada.
The payroll taxes alone count for one of the largest components of any employer. When we look at 50 percent of the gross national product of Canada being consumed by government, and when we look at small business being the creator of those jobs and what drives the economy, something has gone dramatically wrong in Canada.
We're over governed, over regulated, over controlled. The environment that attracts business has to compete with other areas of the world - indeed many, many other areas of the world. I guess one of our major attractions is our employment insurance. It is now the federal government's largest single social program. It's also its most controversial. It's controversial because its cost is growing. There's perceived to be widespread cheating and fraud, and there's that dreaded effect of long-term dependence on EI, even when all the rules are followed.
Our Canadian program is large and complex, and it is no exaggeration to suggest that it influences the economic well-being of almost every individual active in the labour market. It's becoming more and more apparent, Mr. Speaker, that Canadians have engaged in repeated use of the system, working at seasonal or short-term jobs, or in areas where there's little hope of stable long-term employment. It becomes a trend and, when one gets on that treadmill, it's very difficult to get off of it.
In some cases, people want to be into that system and want to maintain that position in the workforce. In other cases, there's very much a need for employment insurance that's not being adequately met by our federal government. But when we go from coast to coast in Canada and look at the areas controlled by government - if we look at the east coast and the fishing industry and how that has been devastated by overregulation, and not regulating enough in some areas, providing more government incentives when the fishing fleet is overbuilt, and then the devastating effect it's had on workers in that area - that was caused by government intervention, not correct government intervention. It knocks the free enterprise system when government intervention is not done in a correct and reasonable manner.
Going back to small business in eastern Canada, it's really the only area that is expanding. There are some major provincial drives to attract business in the maritime provinces, and they've done well with plants like Michelin, with the McCains and with courier service that is based in that region. These are government incentives and plans to attract business that have worked well, and one of the major costs that they look at is the cost of doing business in that area. The playing field, Mr. Speaker, must be level and must be reasonable, and the costs for employee benefits have to be in line with what they would expect to pay in other regions.
We can go right across Canada in that same manner, but one only has to look at the provinces, at the jurisdictions in Canada that are leading in job creation, full employment, and the levels that those individuals are being taxed. One only has to look around at the turnaround in Ontario and Alberta if one wants to see a government that is providing the necessary incentives to encourage the development of business and to provide the incentives to attract business. These are successful provinces today, Mr. Speaker.
But what we have here is a motion before us suggesting that we get into a guaranteed annual income type of approach and pump all of the money back into benefits and expand the system.
It's interesting that the Member for Whitehorse Centre said this is employees' money. Well, indeed it is, but for every dollar put into that fund by employees, $1.40 is contributed by the employer. One only has to spend a short while in the private sector in business, and go to the bank on the 15th of the month to meet all of these required deductions and pay them to get an appreciation of the tremendous costs associated with these social programs.
That's an area that the member that put forward the motion hasn't a clue about and, from what he had to say about it, he has no concern whatsoever as to what costs are being borne by employers.
There's always room for improvement in any social program, but what is needed, Mr. Speaker, is to take this employment insurance and use it for the purpose that it's now designed to be used for, to provide bridging when an individual loses his position or his job and requires retraining before he or she can enter into the marketplace filling a new role.
This is an area that can be and is controlled by government. It's an area that can be improved upon, and one only has to witness the constant change to the various programs to recognize that there's always room for improvement.
So, let's look at the positive side of the equation. Let's not look at the communist model that's been advanced by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. Let's look at a realistic approach that's going to benefit all Canadians.
That can only be achieved, Mr. Speaker, by a careful review of this program as it presently exists, eliminate the area - the perceived area perhaps - of cheating and get government to control this growing cost - put a ceiling on it. EI premiums are going down, but they're being offset for employers with an increase in Canada Pension Plan contributions.
So, it looks like, for once, it's going to be a saw-off for employers this next fiscal period. That is not to say it cannot change.
Just because there is a surplus of funds in the EI program at the current time, Mr. Speaker, doesn't mean it hasn't been the other way around.
One only has to look back in history to see that over the years, the employment insurance program has been in serious financial difficulties in Canada and has required millions of dollars of federal government money to bail it out.
That is not the case today. That is not the case today. This one program is showing a surplus. So, I guess it's an NDP philosophy that you just get into the barrel and spend, spend, spend - something that this government is very capable of doing on an ongoing and constant basis. On an ongoing basis, this government just spends, spends, spends. "Well, we've located another pot of money, let's just rush out and spend it; let's not look at the repercussions of our spending; let's not look at who it's going to benefit or how it's going to benefit. Oh, Mr. Speaker, it has to benefit our friends. I guess we should look at who supported us and spend in that manner" - such as this government is doing on a consistent basis in the last little while.
Let's go back to the actual motion. The motion indicates that there's a projected $20-billion surplus by the end of 1998. Some of that money is going to be transferred to pay down the deficit of Canada and the Member for Whitehorse Centre didn't even explore that avenue as to the ultimate benefits that would accrue to the economy of Canada by paying down the deficit of Canada with funds from this area.
There is nothing to say that these funds have to be held in isolation. It's a government decision, but strangely all of that area wasn't explored by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. He just targeted that pool of money and said it's not being used for its intended purpose and rather than curtail this, this and this, we should open it up and get that money back out - expand the unemployment insurance program.
There're probably areas that the EI could be expanded and could benefit employees and I'm sure - even though I'm not a big supporter of the group that's elected in Ottawa today - they'll have the ability to look at that area and examine it and perhaps adjust it so Canadians will benefit accordingly.
I don't have much further to say, Mr. Speaker, other than that's a very, very biased motion supporting one extreme end of the spectrum, while not even addressing the centre or the other end of the spectrum, and I'm disappointed that the member would even consider a motion of this nature and spend the time in this House debating such an issue, as he has done previously. These are motions that, if dealt with in another manner, can serve to enhance the image of the House and probably gain us a greater deal of recognition in Ottawa, where recognition is needed.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, it gives me great pleasure to speak on this motion today, because this motion certainly has an impact on my department, the Department of Health and Social Services, and I think it's worthwhile to take a look at the whole question of unemployment insurance and how we've got to the point today where we are dealing with this euphemistic term, "employment insurance."
People have begun to try to characterize this idea of unemployment insurance as being, somehow, a giveaway, something that people don't deserve, that somehow for people it's undignified, and that it's a form of charity.
I would like to remind everyone that this is actually an issue of insurance. We insure in many ways. We insure ourselves against catastrophic illness. We insure ourselves against loss of our homes. We insure ourselves against problems on the road. Unemployment insurance is just that. It is part of a social safety net to which everyone pays in. Everyone who is employed pays in, the same way that we have our national pension plans, the same way that we have private pension plans. These are a form of insurance. These are a form of insurance for our senior years.
The Canadian Labour Congress reports that the percentage of unemployed individuals in receipt of UI has dropped from an eligibility rate of 87 percent in 1990 to some 48 percent today, and some people are suggesting that the actual figure could be as low as 43 percent of Canadians actually qualifying for UI.
In 1971, Bill C-229, brought forward by the then-Labour minister, Bryce Mackasey, contained measures to establish a modern, comprehensive unemployment insurance program, and I think we have to recognize this as being a high-water mark in unemployment insurance.
At that time, the benefit rate was 75 percent for claims with dependants, with eight weeks of work required for eligibility, and the maximum number of benefits was 58. The philosophy then was that workers needed an income protection from fluctuations in job markets due to economic forces beyond their control, and we've seen the day, even now in the late 1990s, that workers are still subject to those kinds of economic factors - factors of globalization, factors that have arisen because of technology where people are being displaced from traditional incomes.
So, those economic factors were beyond people's control, and the federal government at that time felt that there was a responsible role, a vital role, to insure and to protect people from these kinds of economic vagaries.
Since the 1970s, however, the well-being of workers has basically deteriorated, and I characterize this as a factor in decisions on the whole administration of this program. In 1995, the Liberal government passed C-12, and I think that was the latest in a process of systematic dismantling, and I believe, quite frankly, that this C-12 was largely the result of a business agenda. And if we take a look at some of the factors there - increasing the number of work weeks for eligibility - down considerably. The measurement of the work week changed in hours from 15 to 35 hours, which effectively made it very difficult for part-time workers to qualify and really targeted people who had been so dependent on this, primarily seasonal workers.
Now, like it or not, the nature of this country, the nature of our climate, the nature of our resoursce-based economy means that we have a very high percentage of seasonal workers, probably much more so than many other countries that have an industrial base.
This program was one way that those seasonal workers were protected.
The other aspect of C-12 that I found particularly odious was that the federal government began to withdraw from a lot of job training programs and it also allowed the federal government to use the EI surplus for anything that they wanted.
It is interesting to see the people who praise this. The Fraser Institute, the business lobbies, all felt that reforms did not go far enough, despite the fact that in 1994, C-17, and in 1995, numerous recommendations of the business coalition were accepted, such as cutting benefits 55 percent.
They still felt that wasn't enough. They still continued to pressure government for further changes to fulfill two major business objectives. We are not talking about workers here, we are talking about business objectives. One is to reduce cost by reducing the amount of premiums that employers have to pay and, two, create more competition by eliminating regional differences in UI payments.
Basically, in the words of Howcroft of the Alliance of Manufacturing and Exporters of Canada, - listen to this, Mr. Speaker - "We don't want to reward areas where there are no jobs, we want to promote employee mobility." Well, that must just play great for someone in an outport in Newfoundland; that must be great on the south shore of Nova Scotia; that must be great in some of the forestry areas of northern Ontario; and that must be great with fish workers on the west coast; and that must be great here, where people are displaced sometimes by mine fluctuations and by seasonal employment.
These cuts cannot be justified on financial grounds. Even without the cuts that came about in C-12, the expenditures are less than what the Finance minister was saying in his 1995 budget. UI is paid for primarily by workers. It is a social insurance; it is not welfare. But the federal government has bought into the right-wing business philosophy. The term Liberal, I think, has lost a great deal of currency, because, if anything, they should be conservative Liberals or right wing Liberals, or something like that, because basically this whole scheme has been a right-wing business agenda.
What does the right wing see? They see UI as being some kind of incentive to keep people out of the labour force. So there's this idea that, somehow, people receiving UI are somehow less inclined to work; they become dependent. People like to characterize this as, if you're unemployed, somehow that's your fault because, somehow, there's something the matter with you - you're lazy, or you're dependent, or you need to be booted out of that UI door. They don't realize, it still hasn't clued in, that this is a form of social insurance. It's not a gift. It's a form of insurance that helps protect people from the fluctuations in an economy.
I think those in the big business community want to divert attention from the idea of corporate downsizing - that's a nice phrase; basically you kick people out the door - and huge increases in both private and public sector layoffs. I think that's part of the agenda, and so what you do is you blame a program as being, somehow, a disincentive to work.
We're into now a great euphemism - this one I love: the jobless recovery. Well, good. So now people, federal politicians, can stand up with a straight face and talk about a jobless recovery, and somehow attribute problems in the economy to UI recipients. UI needs to be strengthened. It doesn't need to be gutted any more.
Let's take a look. If we actually put some of the money that we're gutting out of UI toward actual programs to create jobs, it's estimated that with every one-percent drop in the jobless rate, the federal government would save over $1 billion in program costs.
I have some real concerns as to whether the job creation is a priority to the federal Liberals, if it ever was. Basically, I think they have a policy where they are interested in maintaining a high level of unemployment. They're interested in maintaining this. They're interested in maintaining low inflation. They're certainly interested in high interest rates, and I think they're quite interested in creating a pool of cheap labour to improve "our competitiveness".
We've seen this whole process go on and on and on. So, what's the impact here in the Yukon, and why should we be talking about it today in this House? Well, I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, right now, as we get into Health and Social Services, one of the things we're going to see is social assistance increases that we believe we can attribute to some of the impact of UI. It's very hard to nail it down in quantitative terms. We do know that, particularly from rural communities, what we're getting is people coming to us seeking social assistance, because they find they can no longer qualify under the present rules, particularly if they are involved in seasonal work and particularly if they're involved in employment that's dependent on the resource industry.
What we've got here, in a sense, is another federal Liberal program to offload costs on to territories and provinces. They're trying to get their books in order by throwing it on to our backs. Quite frankly, I don't think we can endure this. Quite frankly, I don't think we can accept any more of this offloading. If we take a look at the number of programs here in this territory that have been offloaded in the last little while, what do we see? Well, we see, for example, Skookum Jim Friendship Centre - the Secretary of State withdrew funding for friendship centres. Canada Assistance Plan cuts - we lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cancellation of CAP has reduced departmental recoveries by $12 million a year. DIA billings - well, we're getting some progress on that, but there are millions of dollars still around and, even today, one of the struggles that we're having - and it relates to my earlier ministerial statement - is on disabled adults and the unwillingness of the federal government to accept their responsibilities in this regard, particularly in terms of care for them.
Home care, Kaushee's Place, Dawson shelter, Help and Hope in Watson Lake, Macaulay Lodge, McDonald Lodge and the Thomson Centre have all been impacted by federal cuts. The community action program for children was cut; New Horizons was cut; the Canada drug program was cut.
All of these impact on us. Right now, some of our provincial counterparts are fighting with the federal government on the whole question of young offenders, including the shared cost of young offenders facilities. The problem right now is that there have been increasingly lengthened sentences and requirements for more programming, which have resulted in higher costs, at the same time that the federal contribution to young offenders is being capped. It's a good technique. You can impose more criteria, and you can impose more conditions, but then you can say, "Well, yeah, but we're not giving any more money."
One of the concerns that I have and one of the concerns that I was going to be speaking to next week in Winnipeg, if this House happens to rise, is the whole question of non-insured health benefits. It's something that I've had some discussions with CYFN about. We are very concerned about the possible impact there.
We are concerned as well about the cuts to the training component of UI, because we feel this, quite frankly, places increased pressure on employees who have been trained in specific jobs, such as mining, and now find themselves without work. So, what are they to do? What options do they have?
So, for all of these reasons, Mr. Speaker, we are very concerned about the direction that this government is taking, and particularly the direction that they're taking with regard to UI. I cannot emphasize again that this is not welfare. This is not something that people receive. This is something that people insure themselves with. It's something that is a keenly felt part of our social program.
As a matter of fact, if we want to take a look at the origins of where such things as pensions and unemployment insurance came about, we have to look further back, much further back than this country's history. We have to look back to the Germany of Bismarck, because it was Bismarck who introduced such things as workers' pensions, an early form of unemployment insurance, and why did he do it, Mr. Speaker? He didn't do it because Otto von Bismarck, the father of realpolitik, had a great love for workers. He did it because at that time, Europe was in turmoil, because workers realized where they fit in this great capitalist machine, and they were no longer content. Bismarck did it very clearly to ward off social discontent.
It's my fear that if we begin to kick away any more of the props, any more of those support mechanisms for workers in this country, we are going to face some real discontent, and no amount of patch-up will be able to do it. No amount of patch-up will be able to bring us back to a point where we actually do care about people.
Unemployment insurance is a basic tenet of a civilized country, and I urge the federal government to restore that faith that Canadians have in their government by stopping the erosion to unemployment insurance. Thank you.
Ms. Duncan: I believe that it's helpful to the debate on this particular motion to examine the root of the motion, what it's about. I'd like to do that through the course of my response to it this afternoon.
First of all, I'd like to look at the employment insurance program. Employment insurance replaced the old unemployment insurance program, as referred to many times in this House. There were slips of the tongue - UI, EI, UI. It's the employment insurance program.
The employment insurance program, the new employment insurance system, is based on hours of paid work instead of weeks. A fundamental change has been noted. Whether an individual works full time, part time as a seasonal worker, or on and off throughout the year, the hours that one works are accumulated toward eligibility for these benefits.
Now, in any program, there are those qualify and those who do not. If you're entering the workforce for the first time, or re-entering the workforce after an absence of two years, you need 910 hours of work. To me, when I read that in preparation for this debate, I found that particularly penalizing to women who would perhaps be re-entering the workforce after being at home with children.
I noted also that, in the qualifications for benefits, if you apply for sickness, maternity or parental benefits, you need 700 hours of work, or 12 hours per week over the course of the previous year. And that point is particularly beneficial because it starts to recognize part-time work. As has been noted by other members in this House, there are more and more jobs that are part-time versus full-time positions.
The EI benefits are paid for between 14 and 45 weeks, depending upon circumstances.
And the focus of the EI has now shifted and changed to a focus on re-employment, and there are a number of programs and points in this regard: targeted wage subsidies, self-employment - and the self-employment program has had a strong uptake in the Yukon. I've had several constituents approach me about this aspect of the employment insurance program and singing its positive aspects, and also noting that there are problems with it - in particular the self-employment doesn't recognize the need for child care when you're not simply out selling your new product or marketing your new product, but when you're developing a business plan as well. Anyone who has tried to write a business plan between naps of small children, I'm sure, can appreciate the difficulty that that presents.
Another aspect of the employment insurance program is job creation partnerships. Partnerships have been spoken about many times by this government and in this House and, in this instance, this program is referring to partnerships with labour and community groups as well as the private sector. And there are other aspects: targeted earning supplements, skills loans and grants, and employment assistance services.
I notice that the federal government is getting out of the training area and, in particular, after June 30, 1999, the federal government won't be purchasing training, and that particularly represents difficulties for Yukon College and programs that they offer.
There are others - employment assistance services and local labour market partnerships, working with labour groups, community organizations and government agencies, to create opportunities for the unemployed and the underemployed.
There's no question that there are some under the employment insurance program who are not now eligible, and they're individuals who used to be eligible for the employment insurance benefits. Always there are cracks in the sidewalk, holes in programs, where there are people who are deserving of that program and, for one reason or another, the way that restrictions are written, are not receiving the benefits that they should.
There's also no question, and no dispute in this House, that there's a surplus in this particular program. How much is it, and how should it be spent?
All of the data and information that I was able to review prior to entering this debate would indicate that the surplus is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $7 billion. I believe that other members have noted that as well.
So, what should be done with this tremendous surplus, which is a number that most of us who balance a household budget can hardly comprehend - or who try to balance a departmental budget? There's a school of thought that there should be a cut to premiums, and excessive EI premiums are labeled by one writer in the Financial Post as a cash grab. That writer went on to indicate that EI premiums are a tax without consultation, because the excess of premiums is paying down Canada's debt, and this is not what the original intent was.
There's another school of thought that says cutting EI premiums would create jobs. Now, this is interesting, and the Member for Klondike has referred to it, and I have experienced several aspects of this program from a number of different fronts. The whole issue of EI premiums and the amount paid by employers - I don't have the immediate statistic at hand, but I would venture to guess that most of the businesses in Yukon are small businesses.
And I have worked with several of them in terms of that cheque on the fifteenth of the month to the Receiver General. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that there are a lot of worried faces in the bank lineups on the fifteenth. There are many of those employers who are wondering how the bank will cover that cheque. That payment is made before they've taken their salary or taken any pay themselves. I've seen many businesses where they ultimately, yes, hope to realize a benefit at the sale of the business, but they're taking, in terms of a salary or payments, less than what many employees who work for them are getting.
There is a lot of worry about cashflow, because we have so many seasonal businesses in the Yukon and its cyclical. There are many worried faces in our community in the retail industry, which is dependent upon, not just on the tourism season, but on Yukoners spending locally. If they can't pay their employees, their employee can't buy goods from other businesses. It goes around and around and around.
I think it should be a requirement that everyone who seeks any kind of public office has seen both sides - has waited for that cheque and worried that the employer can't pay it and has met a mortgage and balanced a family budget and also suffered through situations where the EI program didn't apply to them. You should see the situation from the various perspectives that are out there.
The Reform Party spin doctors tell us that EI premium cuts would provide average Canadians with a $300 a year tax cut and inject billions into medium-sized businesses and generate 200,000 jobs by the year 2000. Well, that's their version.
In April 1997, there was a study by the C.D. Howe Institute, which I found very interesting. McMaster University economist William Scarth says that the best strategy would be to reduce the payroll tax employers pay for low-wage workers and to increase the tax paid for high-wage workers, and employee contributions should remain stable.
Mr. Scarth went on to say that the job-killer label does apply to payroll taxes in unskilled low-paying jobs, because minimum wage laws prevent wages from falling and employers who can't pass on the costs are reluctant to hire. He also said that people in the public debate seem to think payroll taxes are generally job-killers, when I don't know any economist who really thinks this is the case.
Well, economic theorists don't pay minimum wage employees' bills, and they don't pay small-business employer remittances.
I'd like to see more information on that, quite frankly. I think that there are some interesting arguments being presented, and I'm interested to learn more.
We also were able to obtain from Dylan Reid his thoughts regarding what should be done with the excess in the employment insurance fund. His argument was to introduce a training rebate to EI rather than a premium reduction, and he went on to say that an EI training rebate could be accomplished fairly simply. The government could offer a rebate on EI premiums to companies who train their workers equivalent to a third of the money spent on training to one percent of payroll, so a company that spends three percent of its total payroll on training would receive one percent of its total payroll back from the EI fund. However, since training is mainly a provincial responsibility, it would be up to the provinces to identify what forms of training would qualify for the rebate, which some, I suppose, would characterize as offloading and others would see as an opportunity.
He also deals quite directly in this article with the whole issue of corruption and how easily a system such as an EI training rebate could be or could not be corrupted.
The real issue is what to do with the money. And, it is exactly as stated by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. The real issue that we are discussing today, is the people in his riding: the unemployed, the poor and the disadvantaged. The Member for Whitehorse Centre is not the only one who has unemployed in his riding, who has poor, who has disadvantaged people living in his riding. The Member for Whitehorse Centre doesn't have a lock on speaking on behalf of these people in our society. We are all here to represent our constituencies and the people of Yukon. And, who are these people? Well, according to the government's own Bureau of Statistics - this government - employment insurance claims in the Yukon decreased 22.2 percent from July 1997 to August 1997 and, in Whitehorse, EI claims decreased by 17.4 percent over the same period.
Looking at the types of employment insurance benefits and comparing July 1997 - this past summer - to the previous summer, the following changes are apparent: total beneficiaries increased 12.8 percent, regular beneficiaries increased 120 or 15.6 percent, and sickness beneficiaries stayed the same. Monthly changes in the unemployment rate show that the October 1997 figure, 10.8 percent, is down 1.1 percent from the previous month, September 1997 was 11.9 percent.
There are statistics and statistics and more statistics, and there are many in this House who could take issue with those statistics.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Exactly. There are people who give up; there are people who have, as the Member for Whitehorse West knows, given up. There are also people, as I stated at the beginning, who fall through the cracks; there a holes in the program.
We all have people in our constituencies who are out of work and who are not recognized as being out of work. We have people whose work is not being recognized or valued in any way by our society.
The real issue here is, what are we doing? On that side, what are we doing - either administering or critiquing this government to help make people's lives better, to help Yukoners today and, more importantly, given that almost 25-percent, or one-quarter, of Yukoners are under the age of 15, what are we doing to help the children?
This motion doesn't address Yukoners' needs directly and, as the Member for Whitehorse Centre no doubt expects, I find unfortunate the choice of rhetoric. I believe, personally and as a member of this House, that it isn't terribly productive to this debate or to making the case or to be making a strong case to have this kind of flamboyant rhetoric contained in a motion.
However, this motion sparked a debate about a program which I will join him in defending. Employment insurance is a necessary program. It's fundamental. Regardless of their political stripe or their political level, I believe that there isn't a government program that isn't without fault and without problems, and if you believe you or your government's perfect, well, you've started to believe your own propaganda. What's more, you've placed yourself far above this earthly realm.
The action step contained in this motion, if you get past the rhetoric, is to ask the federal government to use the $7-billion excess in the EI fund to meet the needs of the unemployed. I do not dispute using this money -
Speaker: The member has a minute and a half.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I do not dispute using this money to meet the needs of the unemployed, to meet the needs of those who, through no fault of their own, are less fortunate than others - less fortunate in that the position they were working in is no longer available or that they are under-recognized for what they do.
Past the rhetoric, past the various political dogmas that are expressed on and off, Canadians, and Yukoners in particular - 11 percent of Yukon's unemployed - are anxious to know what we suggest, what we're going to do, how we're going to lobby, and how we feel this money should be spent to help all Canadians and Yukoners and, most especially, the unemployed and the underemployed.
I'm looking forward to the balance of the debate on this motion.
Mr. Livingston: I rise in this House today on behalf of workers in Yukon and their families, small businesses and, indeed, workers and families and small businesses across this country, to support the continuation or the regeneration of an unemployment insurance scheme that does what it's supposed to do: to support unemployed workers through times of stress, times of trouble, when they're without work, in between jobs, to make sure that those workers can live in a sense of security, that their families will have enough to eat, will have clothes on their backs, will have a roof over their heads, to provide that kind of security that Canadians have come to expect in this country of ours.
Mr. Speaker, I was, I guess, flabbergasted to hear the member from the official opposition, to watch him shake his head as he exclaimed, "You know, this Yukon New Democratic Party government believes that all people are entitled to basic needs," and he was shaking his head and wondering how we could come to such a sorry conclusion.
All I can do is just appeal to that member and to all members of this House to think about the children in those families, where a parent may lose their job, for whatever reason. If they can't understand that basic right for the workers, to think about the children and their need for food, their need for shelter, their need for clothes. I can only imagine, Mr. Speaker, that that criticism of the member opposite, that these people aren't entitled to basic needs, would extend to public education, public health care, and the like.
What an incredible thing for a member of this House to say.
The member went on to talk about the environment that attracts business and that we have to compete with all parts of the world. And certainly, I acknowledge that we live in a day when global trade is a part of the reality that we have to deal with, but I would note a recent journey on behalf of members of this House that one of our members took to a small island nation of Mauritius, where they have a port area that has a zero percent corporate tax rate, where they restrict the ability of the local government to apply labour and environmental standards, and where a member of this House visited a number of schools on that island.
They had to search high and low to find a world map so he could show the children in those classrooms where he was from. Finally, they were able to rummage up one of those old chocolate bar maps of the world. It was a number of years old and showed all the Commonwealth countries in pink and all of the French relations in green, and so on, and he had a young student carry this map around from classroom to classroom. That was the world map.
That's the standard in public education that existed in that particular country. This is the kind of country, I would suggest, that, without some standards, without social security programs like unemployment insurance - I cannot believe that Canadians - in fact I know that Canadians aren't looking for that kind of a society.
I would also urge that member to do his research. He suggests that unemployment insurance costs are continuing to grow. Well, in fact, the numbers show us that they are decreasing. The member has simply not done his homework. He talked about the government on this side being a spend, spend, spend government. Well, Mr. Speaker, he represents a party, the last party in the House, that had record-spending levels for the Yukon government.
His suggestion, Mr. Speaker, that this motion is a waste of time is utterly ridiculous.
Canada's unemployment insurance system, though, has been under constant attack and its benefits repeatedly reduced over the past 20 years. So this member is not alone in his attack on this program. In fact, cutting unemployment insurance protection has been a key element in harmonizing Canada's labour market and social programs with those of the United States under the free trade agreement and under NAFTA - programs, of course, that were negotiated under a Conservative government in the 1980s - and it has resulted in deep cuts to these particular programs.
The current round of cuts cut federal support for training and labour market programs that have been going on over the last decade. Under the Tories, there was an attempt to withdraw from training and labour market programs through an unsuccessful constitutional change. The Liberals are simply doing it through the Employment Insurance Act.
Further, the provisions of part 2, the employment benefits, does much more than this. It shifts the responsibility for training and employment programs not just to the provinces but it transfers the ultimate cost, Mr. Speaker, of training individuals through loan programs to individuals, employment program services, and it tries to turn these into a profit-driven service. Now, we see some provinces already moving in that kind of a direction.
It's useful just to take a step back for a moment and look at the magnitude of the impacts of changes to unemployment insurance over the last number of years. The Canadian Labour Congress estimates that, by the end of 1997 when the cuts in the new Employment Insurance Act are felt, the proportion of jobless Canadians ineligible for unemployment insurance will be well above 60 percent. Mr. Speaker, close to two-thirds of workers who are unemployed will not be eligible under the new program for income security - the income security plan that they have paid into.
That's not all. The amount of benefits received by the eligible is dropping. The unemployment insurance benefits, from November 1995 to November 1996, decreased by nearly nine percent across the country - that's in one year, Mr. Speaker - by almost 10 percent, despite the fact that the unemployment rate increased by more than one-half of a percentage point - by about 0.6 of a percentage point.
These unemployment cuts deliver a message to both the unemployed and those with jobs. To the jobless, it says, "If you don't have a job, you deserve to be poor; it's your own fault." That's what the message of these unemployment changes is.
To date, the federal Liberal government has not even explained the incredible damage that has already been done to the UI program. I've talked a little bit about that. It is interesting, I think, to take a look at the politics of how this came about.
In the 1993 election campaign, it took place against the backdrop of a couple of recent rounds of unemployment insurance cuts by the former Conservative government under Brian Mulroney and Michael Wilson. These were part of a broad pattern of social spending cuts across the whole spectrum. It is interesting to note that the Liberal Members of Parliament at that time were very critical of both the UI cuts and the general pattern of cuts.
The Tory cuts and the changing pattern of employment and unemployment percentage reduced the number of unemployed Canadians to about two-thirds at the time of the election. There were only two-thirds of unemployed workers who were receiving unemployment insurance.
During the 1993 election campaign, we saw the Prime Minister refuse to debate social policy. She said an election campaign is not the place to debate social policy. We saw the Liberals attacking Prime Minister Campbell, but they didn't tell the voters that within six months of the election they would put social programs on the chopping block.
Quite the opposite. In fact, the red book assured Canadians that jobs and preserving our social programs were priorities. I want to quote a short quotation from the red book. It said, "Without a doubt, one of the greatest failings of the Conservative government has been the tendency to focus obsessively on one problem, such as the deficit or inflation, without understanding or caring about the consequences of their policies on other areas, such as lost jobs, increased poverty and dependence on social assistance. Social costs are real. They are measured in human suffering and hard dollars."
Little wonder then that we saw Canadians believing that they were voting for jobs and maintaining our social programs.
We heard the leader of the Liberal Party today, at the beginning of her speech, using euphemisms in calling our unemployment insurance program and employment insurance program. We've changed the words a little bit; changed the emphasis.
Well, Mr. Speaker, we still have a lot of unemployed Canadians out there and we know about those problems in a small volatile economy like the Yukon's, where one employer can make the difference, a significant difference, in our unemployment rate.
We know the value of maintaining a national program that can afford the bumps and the troughs that exist in the economic cycles that go on across our country. That's the value in having a national program. When we look at the national economy, it's dependent on manufacturing; it's dependent on agriculture; it's dependent on forestry and on mining. The value in having a national program is that we share the load; we share it across a broad-based economy and no one region is hit when it's that region's turn to have a bit of a tough economic time.
So, following the 1993 election, another message began to emerge. Another message emerged that led up to the budget of the new government. The Minister of Finance started talking about unemployment insurance being too generous and unemployment insurance dependency. The deficit replaced jobs as the government's priority. They announced a new benefits structure in the 1994 budget, where benefits were cut by more than $4 billion.
Never in the more than the half-century history of this program had such sweeping changes been made without warning, without consultation, without public debate or any extensive hearings. The 1994 budget, the federal Liberal budget, not only did serious damage to unemployment insurance, it cast serious doubt over the entire social security review that had been announced only a few months earlier, in January 1994.
The recent history of debate on unemployment insurance has been a history of the government forcing changes on Canadians over their negative effects or public opposition. Basically, those aspects have been ignored by this government.
What have been some of the impacts on Yukoners? Cuts to the unemployment insurance program have had an impact on social assistance budgets. It is interesting to note that the leader of the Liberal Party talked about increased numbers on the unemployment rolls. Well, once again we see the single largest employer in the Yukon up and down and having some difficulties, despite the fact that unemployment insurance is extended to fewer, and fewer, and fewer Canadians, it is no wonder those numbers might show a slight increase. And, guess why, Mr. Speaker? Because it's this government that has carried the load with our social assistance budgets, especially for the rural residents who depend on seasonal employment.
But, we have to also remember that, with our relatively small budget, at least in terms of the national picture, this is just one more example of the federal Liberal government offloading programs to territories and provinces. And, we cannot take on all these programs offloaded by the federal government. We don't have the fiscal or the human resources to do that.
Further, Mr. Speaker, we have to remember that unemployment insurance is a program that is funded by workers and employers; it is not a program that sits in the general coffers of government, and currently it is a self-funding program. But, it is valuable, I think, to point out that the cuts in federal Liberal programs are extensive. We see the Canada Assistance Plan cuts, Skookum Jim Friendship Centre no longer funded from federal dollars, DIA billings - the Department of Indian Affairs billings - often taking extensive time to get paid, if they get paid. We have, of course, land claims implementation dollars looming on the horizon, and some number of concerns around that.
We have debated recently the importance of alcohol and drug programs, and yet, the Department of Indian Affairs redirected all of the alcohol and drug programming into community programs and refused to continue to cover the cost of treatment for status Indians, and they put a cap on their program funding.
So, we've seen a number of cuts, Mr. Speaker, and I guess what I would point out to the leader of the Liberal Party is that this government has done a number of things despite these cuts.
What are we doing? Well, we've bit the bullet on social service funding. Even though the numbers of claims have increased, we've paid out those claims, because those families deserve to have some sense of security.
We've established programs like Youth Works and other significant programs, programs that have already been described in some detail and listed in this Legislature. I won't go through all of them, but they are there if the member is really interested in seeing the kinds of things that this government has done.
What are Yukoners saying? Well, Yukoners are saying a number of things, and I note in the Yukon hire commission's consultation paper recently issued by the Yukon hire commissioner, one of the things they are commenting about is training. One of the topics that repeatedly came up in discussions was training. "A lack of trained personnel is frequently used to justify outside hiring," it says.
That's why this government has made a commitment in our recent budget speech that the current Yukon training strategy would be reviewed and modified to address current training needs in the Yukon, and it will be the Department of Education spearheading this initiative, and the Yukon hire commission working closely with it.
But clearly, we have got work to do in the areas of inadequate training programs in rural communities, in terms of the number of skilled and qualified people, and this at a time, Mr. Speaker, when one of the direct cuts, one of the direct negative hits, has been the funding through the unemployment insurance program to the Yukon College over a period, I believe, of five years, in the order of $1.2 million. Mr. Speaker, this is simply unacceptable.
It's interesting to note that several Canadian provinces now have lower unemployment insurance protection than some American states. Shortening the benefit period has left over a million claimants exhausting their benefits before they can find other jobs. This is across Canada, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Mr. Livingston: Mr. Speaker, we see cutbacks in a number of areas - the rollback - and the freezing of the maximum weekly benefits that will be lowered to less than 50-percent penalty on weeks not worked prior to layoff. A claimant, for example, with 10 weeks before layoff, where the fixed period under the act has 20, would get a benefit equivalent to only 27.5 percent of pay. How can he live on that? How can a family survive on that? That's what we're talking about. It's about families meeting their basic needs through these kinds of programs.
There are also penalties now on repeat claims of one percent for every 20 weeks of benefits received. The impact, Mr. Speaker, is in the area of child poverty, women who re-enter the labour force, thousands of laid-off young people, thousands of seasonal workers. Mr. Speaker, Bill C-12 will have a devastating effect on hundreds of communities and whole regions of the country, on the people and those families, on the small businesses that rely on their business. This is not good news, Mr. Speaker.
This is all about deficits. Well, guess what? This fund, the unemployment insurance fund, has a surplus. In the 1995 year, there was nearly $4.3 billion. It could have completely paid off the $3.6 billion debt of the unemployment insurance account and had a surplus of more than half a billion dollars by year end.
The estimate for the 1996-97 year ranges between $4 billion and $7 billion. Yet, where are we planning to divert this? Into general government coffers. Well, I'll remind you, Mr. Speaker, and all members of this House, it was the workers and the small businesses that paid into this program, and that's where the benefits should remain.
There are a number of things that we can do, Mr. Speaker, and I would urge the federal Liberal government to -
Speaker: The member's time has now elapsed.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, I don't think you'll have to cut me off. I don't think I'll go on that long on this motion, but it's important that I do rise to speak to this motion today.
I've listened with great interest to the debate on this motion, and I should say that of the speakers before me, none of them have surprised me, whether they be the mover of the motion, the Member for Whitehorse Centre, or whether it be the Member for Laberge or the Member for Whitehorse West or the Member for Porter Creek South. None of them have surprised me in what they've said to this motion.
And it ought not to surprise members opposite when I stand here and say that my caucus will not be supporting this motion. And I will lay out my reasons why we cannot support this motion.
Let me say first of all, for the record, Mr. Speaker, that I and my caucus fully believe in employment insurance. We believe it's a fundamental insurance that is required in this country in the 1990s, and has been for the last 50 years. It's worked well since it was brought in. But let me also say that I don't believe for one minute, like the members opposite, that it should be the be-all and end-all of social programs for Canadians, because it wasn't designed to be a social program, and we keep talking about it as a social program.
It is not a social program. It was designed as an insurance program that employers and employees would contribute to, and I believe, when it first came out, it was on an equal basis. I could be wrong on that, but I believe it was on an equal basis. And since then, the employers are paying more.
But for the members opposite to think that the employers and employees should continue to fund a social program in this country is wrong. Social programs ought to be funded out of general revenues and I, for one, believe that we need to get back the employment insurance, as they call it now - call it unemployment insurance or employment insurance, Mr. Speaker; it means nothing - what we need to do is get back to the fundamental basics of why the program was designed and what it was designed to do.
And that, Mr. Speaker, has gotten lost by various governments of various political stripes at the federal level over the years.
The program has been used by consecutive federal governments as a guaranteed annual wage and, from the debate I heard from members opposite in the New Democratic caucus, they want to see it continue as a guaranteed annual wage, and I am fundamentally opposed to that.
It may surprise members opposite that I'm not totally opposed to guaranteed annual wage. I think there're some pros and cons to that concept of a social program, but I am fundamentally opposed to it being funded out of an insurance program.
That is what's wrong with this motion. This motion states that the Government of Canada has unfairly restricted access to income support for Canadians who have paid into unemployment insurance - renamed employment insurance - throughout their working lives. And they go on to say, "despite accumulated surplus."
Yes, I agree there is a huge surplus. I have debated this surplus with the Finance minister, when I had the opportunities, as to how it should be handled.
What members in this House seem to be forgetting - or conveniently omitting from this debate - is the fact that for many, many years, the unemployment insurance account ran a deficit that was picked up by the federal government. It wasn't always that this account enjoyed a surplus. In fact, government after government fell over themselves to see how fast they could spend the money.
Let me say, Mr. Speaker, while I'm speaking to this motion, that governments - especially governments - are notorious for abusing the unemployment insurance system - using it to their own means in how they hire seasonal employees and how they expect these employees to be able to draw unemployment insurance for the six months that they're not working for the government. This government is as guilty of it as any government. It's not the only government in Canada that's guilty of it, but they use the unemployment insurance system to keep those employees around so that they're there for them to hire on a seasonal basis the next year. That's wrong.
I think a case in point to that was the supplemental agreement and the funding that went to the cod fisherman in Newfoundland, where the federal government would give them six or eight weeks' work, so that they could qualify for another 12 months of unemployment insurance, on the backs of the employers and employees across this country. That is wrong. That ought to be paid for out of general revenue, not out of an insurance fund.
As I said earlier, Mr. Speaker, I'm not surprised about what I heard in this House on this debate on this motion today, but I was somewhat surprised by the Member for Porter Creek South and what she contributed to the debate. I listened very intently to her speak for 20 minutes and not take a position, pro or con, on this motion.
This is the lof the Liberal Party in the Yukon who cannot come down on one side of an issue or another, but wants to ride the fence. I'm not even sure how she's going to vote on this motion. She said she was going to wait and see what the rest of the debate developed into before she was going to make a decision to vote on this motion.
Well, Mr. Speaker, I have made my decision as to how I'm going to vote. I will not be supporting this motion.
There are a few other things I want to add to this debate. As I said earlier, I don't always support the federal government. It's very seldom that I support the federal Liberal government in what they're trying to do, but I cannot be as critical of them as the members in this House have been in this debate today by utilizing the surplus in the fund now to help pay down the deficit. I believe it's wrong, but we have to remember that when the fund couldn't pay its way, the federal government took money out of general revenues. The fund ran with a deficit for many, many years. It has not always been as rich as it is today and it's only getting as rich as it is today because finally some government - and heaven forbid, I hate to say this - had political courage to step in and say, "Enough is enough, and this is no longer going to be administered as a social program"; we're going to go back to what it was designed for and that's an insurance program.
That, Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, is what it should be: an insurance program.
Job training - is it only the responsibility of the employers in this country and the employees who are working to pay for job training? I think not. Job training ought to be funded out of general revenues.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre doesn't believe that the premiums should go down. He thinks that's a wrong move. Well, I'm from a different school of thought and I don't think that'll be any surprise to the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
But I believe that the premiums ought to come down, and that is the one thing that I've criticized the federal Liberal government, and Mr. Martin, for not bringing down payroll taxes enough. We now have an increase in the Canada pension premiums - a payroll tax. That ought to have been offset, Mr. Speaker, by a further reduction in the UI premiums. I, for one, believe that we needed to increase the premiums in the Canada pension.
But again, why do we need to increase it? Because of another socialistic program. Canada pension was designed to supplement pensioners' incomes when it first came in. Then they started using it to pay disability payments, so they didn't have to pay them out of their health and social services costs. They tried to piggyback everything into the Canada Pension Plan, and they lent money to the provinces at a very low rate of interest. That's why we're in the predicament we're in with the Canada Pension Plan, and I believe that if the federal government was concerned about jobs in Canada, they would work very, very diligently to reduce payroll taxes as quickly as possible.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, we've got the kibitzer from Faro in the background again.
One thing I would like to say to the Member for Faro is that at least this government created jobs and we didn't have to whine about unemployment insurance because we couldn't create jobs for Yukoners. We put them to work. We didn't put them on the welfare rolls, Mr. Speaker, and this government here has failed miserably in providing jobs for Yukoners, and that's why they have to bring a motion like this forward to increase UI payments, because they're not capable of putting Yukoners to work.
So, there are many different views on what should happen, but I believe that some of the legitimate views by some of the best think tanks in the country have made a very good argument for a reduction in payroll taxes to create jobs in Canada, and that will keep our companies competitive.
There's also a lot of abuse in the system, and not just by employees - by employers, and especially governments, in how they abuse the system and use it to try to basically turn it into a guaranteed annual wage.
The territorial government is one of the biggest abusers of it. We need only look at their seasonal workers on highways. Two people in a family go to work for six months of the year, draw a very substantial income for that six months, and then the two of them draw unemployment insurance for the other six months. Some of them live a pretty good lifestyle by it, but it's not their fault: it's the government's fault.
If governments are concerned about the cost of unemployment, then they ought to be doing more to put people to work and Yukoners to work, and not paying people not to work, Mr. Speaker. That is the wrong expenditure of government money - to pay people not to work.
We should be helping people to work and to get into the workforce and the government ought to do their part to create jobs for Yukoners, not sit here and criticize the federal government, like the Member for Whitehorse Centre did, saying that the federal government has given up on job creation programs. Well, he's part of a government that's also given up on job creation programs - "Can't do nothing, let them look after themselves, we'll fight as hard as we can to get more unemployment for them, we'll pay them social assistance, but we can't do nothing to help put them to work."
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: There is no doubt that, as I said, we need to have an insurance program for people who are unemployed.
When I was listening to the debate, the Member for Porter Creek South said something that I thought was interesting. I believe she said that one ought to have been on both sides of the issue before they debated this thing. Before they had the right to debate it, they ought to have experienced being unemployed, and they ought to have experienced having to meet a payroll. I just want to say, Mr. Speaker, I believe, in her eyes, I at least qualify to speak to this debate today, because I have been unemployed at times and, many years ago, I did draw unemployment insurance for a short period of time.
But let me tell you something, Mr. Speaker, it wasn't as lucrative as it is today. You didn't get unemployment insurance with 10 weeks' work or eight weeks' work or 12 weeks' work and you didn't draw it for a year, and the payments you got weren't 75 percent of your wages like they are today. So, the members opposite can kibitz all they like, and they can say all they like, but I have difficulty with a motion being proposed in this House by a government that doesn't want to create jobs for Yukoners and is asking the federal government to pay the bill for them. That is not right, either.
Mr. Speaker, I have spoken out strongly to the federal Minister of Finance about him using the surplus in the employment insurance fund to pay down the deficit. He has the deficit under control now. I believe that the surplus money should go to reducing premiums, and I differ from the members opposite on that. But I make no apologies for it, because I believe that, if we reduce the premiums and reduce them enough quickly enough, we could put a lot more Canadians to work.
I think that's what it's all about. No matter what our philosophical beliefs are, I think we all want to see employment for Canadians. It's how we get to that position of putting Canadians to work.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, he'll be very busy, because I know he has nothing to add to this debate - absolutely nothing.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Mr. Ostashek: Nothing intelligent anyway, Mr. Speaker.
All we hear is that socialist dogma from the other side of the House. We want to take the money away from you people and we'll hand it out to you, as much as you deserve. We're not going to let you spend it on your own. We're not going to let you make decisions on how you spend the money. We'll take it from you and we'll redistribute it in society and we will be Big Brother and we will be the great people at the end of the day - very similar to what the Liberals tried to do.
Mr. Speaker, I don't believe I have anything more to add to this debate today. I have said quite clearly and unequivocally that I and my caucus believe in employment insurance. We believe it's necessary. We do not believe that employment insurance should be a guaranteed annual wage.
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Mr. Ostashek: I got carried away. I spoke longer than I intended to. If the members opposite wouldn't kibitz so much, I wouldn't speak so long.
But, Mr. Speaker, we cannot support the motion with the wording the way that the Member for Whitehorse Centre has presented it to the House. We just don't agree with the philosophical view that he has of how the dollars in an insurance fund ought to be spent, and for that reason, Mr. Speaker, we will not be supporting the motion.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'll make my comments brief on this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I support the motion advanced by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, and as a member representing a rural riding, where lots of people depend on seasonal employment, I don't like the effects that these changes have had on the people that I represent. Cuts in benefits rates and an increase in eligibility requirements mean that more people are stuck with trying to get by on a lot less.
It is upsetting to see people in the communities having a much harder time while the government announces a big surplus in the employment insurance fund. People don't like the fact that the government is using the surplus as an excuse to cut contribution rates to employers and people who are employed. They would rather see the money go into training programs and the employment development that would give them the skills and opportunity to get back into the job market.
Maybe what the Liberals are doing to unemployment insurance makes sense if you don't have any roots and are ready to move from place to place to get a job, but most of the people who live in my riding are there because it is their home and it is the place they want to be. They are people who feel a connection to their communities and to the land.
Mr. Speaker, the employment insurance system, the way it works now, seems to set up and encourage economic migrants. People who live in the communities take whatever work that comes up. Sometimes it's just for a few weeks or a month or two at a time, with breaks in between.
We all know that more and more people everywhere are only able to find part-time work. The new eligibility requirements set out by the federal government make it much more difficult for people in this kind of situation to draw on any insurance benefits.
The employment insurance program of today is obviously not meeting the needs of the unemployed. In 1990, nine out of 10 unemployed people were eligible for and received unemployment insurance. Today, with the rules imposed by successive Conservative and Liberal governments, fewer than five out of every 10 unemployed people are able to draw benefits while they are unemployed.
I oppose the changes that the Liberal government has made to this program because the very people that the Unemployment Insurance Commission was set up to help are those who are now being most hurt by them.
I'm also concerned about the effects these changes have on other levels of governments in this country.
When people without work are dealt out of benefits by unrealistic eligibility standards, they don't have many options. In the past, unemployed people often used the opportunity to obtain new skills and that's no longer possible. Training programs that used to be offered by the Government of Canada have been slashed so that people who would like to improve their skills are turning to other levels of government for assistance.
Federal funding to post-secondary education has also been cut so that the cost of training and education are rising at the same time that the assistance to meet those costs are disappearing. This is not the situation that encourages unemployed people to improve their skills.
For some, limitations placed on access to employment insurance benefits means that social assistance is the only real option they have to get through long Yukon winters. This is a concern to a jurisdiction like ours because the Yukon finds itself assuming the cost that used to be covered by unemployment insurance - costs that used to be shared by the country as a whole, with regions having a higher year-round employment helping to carry areas characterized by seasonal employment, are now being picked up by the jurisdiction that can ill-afford to take up the slack.
The Yukon budget is already tight, and each dollar that we have to commit to social assistance, because of the change to the UIC, means one dollar less for the construction of new schools or the maintenance of roads.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that the continuing destruction of the social safety net by the federal Liberal government is causing hardship to the people of my constituency, and I would like to encourage all members to support this motion to propose that the surplus generated by the employment insurance fund be directed to meet the financial and training needs of unemployed workers. It would be an investment in our future.
Thank you very much.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, would you poll the House?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. Livingston: Agree.
Mr. Ostashek: Disagree.
Mr. Phillips: Disagree.
Mr. Jenkins: Disagree.
Ms. Duncan: Disagree.
Mr. Cable: Disagree.
Mrs. Edelman: Disagree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are eight yea, six nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it. I declare the motion carried.
Motion No. 73 agreed to
Motion No. 53
Clerk: Motion No. 53, standing in the name of Mr. McRobb.
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Klondike
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(1) reconstruction of the North Alaska Highway through the Yukon to Alaska is a project that provides considerable benefit to both countries, particularly the tourism and transportation industries,
(2) Alaskan Senate Joint Resolution No. 12 of the Alaska State Legislature in support of continued funding for completion of the highway reconstruction project is recognized and welcome,
(3) efforts by the Government of Yukon to work in partnership with the neighboring Government of Alaska to secure the required funds for project completion should continue unabated, and
(4) the Government of Yukon should communicate the position of this Assembly to the Governments of Canada and the United States.
Mr. McRobb: Let me correct the record, Mr. Speaker. It is the Member for Kluane and not Klondike, and let me assure you that if it were the Member for Klondike I think all the constituents would be down here storming the Legislature, given his comments in recent days regarding Sifton Air, regarding the Burwash Landing firehall, regarding the road into Kluane Park. Mr. Speaker, it would be a disaster. The list is absolutely endless. They would be outraged, and if there wasn't recall legislation in place right now, there certainly would be in no time at all.
The motion, Mr. Speaker, is on the Shakwak reconstruction project, which deals with the north Alaska Highway, primarily between Haines Junction and Beaver Creek, and I would like to start with some of the history of the project. I hope this information increases the awareness of the members, especially the opposition members, because, based on what I've heard so far from them, they seem to have their facts really mixed up, especially regarding the role they had to play in the cancellation of this deal and the role our government is playing in trying to renew the Shakwak project for the future and for the betterment of all Yukoners in improving tourism development in the territory, increasing jobs in the territory, and so on.
The Alaska Highway and Haines Road were constructed in 1942-43 during the war by the U.S. army to provide a road to the State of Alaska for military purposes. Many of you have seen the old documents of the U.S. Army actually constructing the road, which was pushed through in an incredibly short time period.
The road was extremely rough, winding and narrow, with the construction workers following a path of least resistance, resulting in structural problems and geometric deficiencies. Nonetheless, the completion of the road was an amazing feat, given the time in which it was constructed.
Responsibility for the maintenance and improvement of the road was turned over to Canada at the end of the war, and since that time concentration for upgrading the road has been on the more southerly, widely travelled portions of the Alaska Highway.
Initial discussions began in the following decade, 1955, in regard to the possible upgrading of the road from Haines Junction to the Alaska-Yukon border near Beaver Creek.
In 1970, the U.S. Congress began to consider providing an all-weather road between southwest and interior Alaska and requested a feasibility study for the paving of the Haines Road and the north Alaska Highway.
In February 1977, the Canadian and U.S. governments struck an agreement to reconstruct the Haines Road and the Alaska Highway north of Haines Junction. The terms of the agreement provided that the U.S. government was to fund 100 percent of the reconstruction of the road and Canada agreed to provide the right-of-way access to natural construction materials, and to maintain the highway.
The Shakwak Highway reconstruction project covers 325 miles, or 520 kilometres, of which 50 miles, or 80 kilometres, are located in northwestern British Columbia, and the remainder in the Yukon. The northern section of the Alaska Highway lies in a major geological feature called the Shakwak Trench, which is how the project derived its name.
The project was initially proposed by the United States government to provide for the predominantly American users of the highway, which accounts for about 80 to 85 percent of all traffic, and has been funded by the United States government and, in the late 1980s, by the State of Alaska.
The Government of the Yukon has let 80 consultant and construction contracts related to the Shakwak project in the amount of $98,668,091 since 1992; $89.6 million was appropriated by Congress in 1992 for the period of 1992-1996.
This funding has enabled construction of the northernmost 128 kilometers of the Alaska Highway in the Yukon, with a 123 kilometers having a BST surface, and replacement of the White River bridge. And speaking of the White River bridge, Mr. Speaker, I can recall about a month or so back when I accompanied the Government Leader on his pre-budget consultation tour and we travelled to Beaver Creek and back in one day. On the way north we crossed the old bridge, and on the way back we were one of the first vehicles across the new bridge. So, it was a bit of lucky timing, and across the new bridge we said a few words in dedication of the bridge, as a matter of fact.
So, just to let everyone know, there was somewhat of an official ceremonial opening of the bridge. I think we slowed down to maybe about 20 kilometers an hour as we crossed the bridge and all this took place.
That's another example of good financial management on behalf of this government - financial restraint, doing more with less.
Approximately, 170 kilometers north of Haines Junction has yet to be constructed.
The Government of Yukon's role has been limited to lobbying key decision makers to secure additional funding, as well as seeking support from the Governor of Alaska and the Alaska State Legislature, as our government is not party to the Shakwak agreement.
The current status of the project, Mr. Speaker, is that by the end of the 1997-98 year the appropriated Shakwak funds will have been substantially expended. It is estimated that approximately $94 million U.S., over and above the current allocation, will be required to complete the road work to the BST standard north of Haines Junction.
That's $94 million U.S., Mr. Speaker, we don't have. That brings to light the importance of these negotiations our government is working hard on. The U.S. Department of Transportation has not included funding for the Shakwak in its proposal for reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, or ISTEA. The Alaska State Legislature earlier this year affirmed its support for funding to complete the Shakwak project and has requested, and I quote, "... the United States government and the Canadian government to honor their agreement and provide the additional funds necessary, through direct federal appropriations, independent of the federal funds apportioned to Alaska by the federal highway administration, to complete the remaining portions of the Shakwak project."
The Government of Yukon has been diligently lobbying for additional Shakwak funding. The Government Leader has sent letters to members of the Alaskan congressional delegation, the Governor of Alaska, and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, requesting support for funding to complete the Shakwak project.
The Government Leader has also sent a letter to the Prime Minister requesting his intervention with President Clinton. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services has written letters to the U.S. federal highway administrator, the Alaska Commissioner of Transportation, and Senator Randy Phillips of Alaska, requesting support for the appropriation of additional funds to complete the project.
Other department officials have also written letters in an effort to lobby for funding to complete the project.
Our Government Leader and Minister of Community and Transportation Services met recently with Governor Tony Knowles of Alaska, during which a protocol was signed pledging further cooperation between Alaska and Yukon. The Government Leader and the Governor of Alaska agreed to seek further funding to complete the project.
The Yukon Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution during the executive and board's annual general meeting in an effort to support and lobby the U.S. and Canadian governments to honour their agreements. The Mayor of Haines Junction has also written a number of letters to mayors in Alaska to drum up support for the project.
Recently, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, or PNWER, passed a resolution calling for the U.S. government to approve transportation funding to complete the Shakwak project and it will lobby the U.S. federal legislators.
There're a few noteworthy points here I wish to add, Mr. Speaker. The United States stands the most to benefit from the completion of the project. As I mentioned earlier, 80 percent to 85 percent of the traffic using the north Alaska Highway are U.S. American citizens bound for Alaska. Summer traffic estimates reveal that approximately 1,000 vehicles per day use this transportation corridor.
The Shakwak corridor is the only highway connecting the interior of Alaska to the state capital of Juneau in the southeast. The Shakwak corridor is the only highway connecting Alaska to the lower 48 states. This project has been underway since 1974 and now is two-thirds complete. The Shakwak project benefits the growing tourism and commercial sector of Alaska, which is of significant value to Alaskans.
Although road construction is always a problem, the unreconstructed road poses safety hazards that have to be addressed. The unreconstructed road has outlived its day and, with increased traffic, is making it increasingly difficult for the Yukon government to keep the old road maintained to an acceptable standard for tourists bound for Alaska.
Reconstruction of the Alaska Highway, including Shakwak, has resulted in safety improvements, less wear and tear on vehicles, and significant travel time-savings for trucking to interior Alaska.
The Shakwak project, Mr. Speaker, has also benefited Yukon and has had a profound impact on the economy. The project created opportunities in the form of jobs, economic spinoffs. We also benefit from the tourists who travel through to Alaska. However, we are currently maintaining this portion of unreconstructed highway so that Americans can travel through to Alaska, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep the old road maintained to an acceptable standard.
I'd like to relate some of my own experiences driving this stretch of road. I know the opposition members will be pleased to hear about these stories. They are all nodding their heads, Mr. Speaker. It's rather inspiring to see them nodding their heads across the floor. They all want to hear these stories and, yes, I'll get around to them if there is enough time. I see they have their pens out; they're even going to take notes.
I guess this is what you call a kinder, more gentle Legislature, Mr. Speaker.
I can recall a trip I took about a year ago with the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and his deputy minister. We tested the road, so to speak, to just give ourselves an idea of how this reconstruction affects travel on the highway, especially in the wintertime - it was early November, I believe. I can recall the deputy minister of transportation giving encouraging signals that indeed it did reduce travel time.
It certainly improves road safety.
I can also recall another trip, about 20 years ago, when I was with a fellow worker, and we were run off the road and had to spend the night in the ditch.
So, Mr. Speaker, the opposition members are diligently taking notes.
This was due to the narrowness of the road.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Yes, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike says he's gone off the road before too, but it didn't necessarily have to be due to the narrow road. He said he has done it on his way home at night. I think that's what he said.
Regardless, Mr. Speaker, it wasn't a serious accident, but it could have been and, for the record, I wasn't driving. But certainly, I recall the incident. The driver of the car that we were attempting to pass wasn't even aware this truck was coming up and passing, even after we went in the ditch, and I think that's testament to the condition of the road. The Member for Faro is indicating there are sections like that on the south Campbell Highway, and certainly I can agree that there are still unimproved sections of road in the territory that are hazardous to travel, that create public safety concerns, and so on, and also discourage tourism traffic and inhibit economic development in our communities.
The current Shakwak deal is being negotiated by the NDP government, and we've -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Faro is reminding me there are other sections in his riding that require some reconstruction too, and the North Canol Road is another situation altogether.
The Shakwak project is very important to our government. I guess what I've been saying is, politically, we've chosen to get involved where the previous government didn't get involved. They basically left the negotiations up to the department.
Although I've been in politics for a year - I'm a relative neophyte - I can recognize already the problems with trying to accomplish something internationally that requires negotiations where you're missing the political strength. I think the approach we're taking so far with the steady involvement of the Government Leader and the Minister of Community and Transportation Services is testament to our pledge to the people of the Yukon to pursue a new deal for Shakwak and to try to bring a new deal about.
So far, Mr. Speaker, since elected, I've made about 13 or 14 trips to Beaver Creek. I try to keep an average of one trip a month, which the people up there really appreciate. They say it's certainly a big improvement from what they had seen previously.
Again, the opposition members are all nodding their heads again and agreeing. I guess it's easy for them to ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Yes, it is a pleasure when we communicate effectively, I guess. It must be getting close to Christmas, Mr. Speaker. They're getting considerably lighter in their mood, which is a good thing, I guess.
The people in Beaver Creek are a pleasure to know. Certainly, I've enjoyed -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Yes, I will. They're a pleasure to know, and -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Porter Creek North wants me to recite every one of their names and addresses and phone numbers. I don't know if there's enough time this afternoon to do that, Mr. Speaker.
If I did provide them with this information they would be complaining to me about the junk mail they'd be getting.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Yes, as a matter of fact, we have a request here. The Member for Klondike - not to be confused with Kluane - would like to know a little about Beaver Creek, probably so he can criticize it in Question Period next week.
Well, let me tell him that I was up there on July 1. We had a little ceremony. We opened the CAP project for Beaver Creek, which was a highway beautification project, and it consists of some statues of people and dogsleds, and so on.
This was a real community-driven project, and I must -
The Member from Klondike reminds me of a good point, Mr. Speaker. This was the only CAP project that came in - yes, this no joke - under budget and on time - the only one, and it was a pleasure, Mr. Speaker. I'll probably be the only MLA to ever be able to say that I attended and helped open a CAP program that came in on time and under budget, and for that I'm proud. It shows the project and program weren't all that bad.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
We'll get to Burwash in a minute, Mr. Speaker, and also talk about the people in Burwash, and especially how they appreciate the government getting them involved in construction in their community, and so on, but I have a little bit more to talk about on Beaver Creek first.
Let me talk about the community club, Mr. Speaker. The community club in Beaver Creek has been around for years, almost as long as the Member for Klondike, and I'm really impressed by the level of volunteer support in Beaver Creek. The people there have a strong sense of community spirit, and they certainly go out of their way to volunteer to make their community a better place to live. For that, I commend the Beaver Creek Community Club and all the success stories it has, including the CAP project which, as I said, was the only one to come in on time and under budget.
Mr. Speaker, White River First Nation - there's a good one. I recall, when I showed up, they asked me who I was and I said "MLA" and they said, "What's that?" They didn't know what an MLA was, and for good reason.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: No, I didn't send them a bill for this, Mr. Speaker. It was done because I take my job seriously and I like to get out and talk to the people in my riding. If the Member for Klondike sends people bills when he comes and visits them, that's up to him, but I do it as part of the undertaking I'm sworn to, to fulfill my job and my responsibilities as best I can.
Let me talk about White River for a moment, before moving a little bit closer on the highway. The White River First Nation, Mr. Speaker - and it's not as funny as the Member for Klondike might think it is - as we all know, is comprised of two factions, the Northern Tutchone and the Upper Tanana, and both are proud First Nations people and are working together for the betterment of their community and their people, and I'm really proud to be part of a government that has reached out and helped these people help themselves. We've spent money under the community initiatives project for planning for a new administration building.
I know this summer there was Canada/Yukon infrastructure support, of which the Yukon government is a main player in that funding for a new drinking water source for members in the community. I was up there before that particular project was completed, and I was talking to some members of the First Nation who were ill and whose young children were getting ill because the water supply was contaminated and they had no money to replace it. This is an example, Mr. Speaker, of how government can reach out to help the people and help future generations in what seems like a small undertaking but is very important to these people in these communities and is also important to the Yukon Territory.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
The Member for Klondike is, I think, practising for his moonlighting job downtown here. He's going to be a standup comedian. Anyone who has followed Question Period recently has seen that he's been actively practising for the job.
The people in White River are extremely pleased that I've managed to go up there and visit them on a one-trip-a-month basis, and I can recall one of their main concerns was that the Yukon government not treat Beaver Creek as the forgotten community, which is what they called it. Certainly, we have not forgotten Beaver Creek, and we never will, because I intend to keep up this frequency of visits to that community and others who live along the highway.
I recall also attending the Upper Tanana glossary book launch, which, I believe, was back in April, and it was a very interesting event, Mr. Speaker. There was a community celebration, and I recall Bessie Johns, a well-respected elder in the community, who played a very important role in the writing of this book, as did her daughter Doris. This glossary was the first ever book put together and I was proud to be part of that occasion.
Of course, this all relates to the Shakwak Highway reconstruction project, because it accommodates travel within the Yukon, not just between the southern states and Alaska or the Port of Haines and the Alaskan border on the north highway. But it facilitates travel within the Yukon as well, and I guess that's what I'm getting to, Mr. Speaker. It's how I relate to my travels to Beaver Creek.
The Member for Klondike wants to know some stories about Burwash Landing, and he wants to learn more maybe about the firehall there and just what else is taking place, and after listening to him recently, I can certainly understand why.
Speaker: Order. Maybe the member would just speak to the motion, please.
Mr. McRobb: Absolutely, Mr. Speaker.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Absolutely - speak to the motion.
Improving this highway will increase the frequency of trips to places like Burwash Landing, not only Beaver Creek, where I can see the new firehall from the highway.
I was just reading a story in today's paper about the Japanese visitor in the rickshaw who was badly injured in an accident very close to Burwash Landing.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Klondike, I think, maybe it's due to his bad driving habits, was somehow implicated in this unfortunate accident, but I'm not sure.
This unfortunate individual, Mr. Speaker, went through considerable pain and injury, and it was due, in part, to the poor safety conditions of the existing highway. Had that section of road been upgraded to Shakwak standards, one can probably make a good argument that the accident would not have happened.
I can also recall Yukoners who have been injured and killed on this same section of highway, Mr. Speaker.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: I won't mention names. Maybe, Mr. Speaker, if there's time for the Yukon Party to address this motion, they wouldn't find a problem in mentioning the names, but I won't mention the names.
That underlines the importance of continuing financial support to upgrade this section of highway.
As well, there are other people in the Yukon who travel that section of road. I am aware of several people in Haines Junction who make regular trips up the highway, who also are much in favour of seeing this roadway improved. I am sure this roadway, as well, would reduce maintenance costs, including hospital services and ambulance services along the way.
I know that, speaking to someone in Beaver Creek just this last trip, they were telling me how the need for the ambulance has been drastically reduced since the highway has been reconstructed in that area. Perhaps similar-type services in other parts of the road can be lessened, as well, thereby saving Yukon taxpayers' money.
Mr. Speaker, I recall about a year ago, when the Minister of Community and Transportation Services gave a new lease to life to the grader maintenance station in Destruction Bay. Hear, hear.
This responded to the call from people in the communities. We heard it from not only people living in Destruction Bay, as the opposition has tried to pretend it is limited to; we have heard from people in Burwash Landing, people living near Kluane Wilderness Village, people in Beaver Creek; they were all concerned - people in Haines Junction, too.
They were all concerned the closure of this highway maintenance camp would cause a real safety concern for them along that stretch of road. And, I feel somewhat vindicated, knowing that just the other day, the tremendous snowfall they had there, more than a metre of snow, there was a grader maintenance station johnny-on-the-spot, able to clear out the traffic and rescue people who were stuck in the snow who had to abandon their vehicles, and so on, and who may have been in life-threatening situations had the grader station not been there.
Our plan is to continue the grader station until such time as it appears that its need will be reduced, and that can be brought on by extension of the Shakwak Highway reconstruction closer to Destruction Bay and closer to Haines Junction.
The Member for Klondike again. He wants to know how many bridges we need along the new section of Shakwak, and I think he's getting into Christmas spirits. He's willing to give up the bridge in Dawson now for maybe one along the Donjek that's getting a little old.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McRobb: Fix the paint, yes. Well, I think they were green before the paint flaked off.
The Member for Klondike, Mr. Speaker, is still practising for that moonlighting job, being the comedian, down at Yuk-Yuk's.
The only problem I have, Mr. Speaker, is that I guess all Yukon taxpayers are sort of contributing to his new career because of the cost for the extra Hansard materials and so on. I imagine we can expect a press release from the Liberals tomorrow talking about just how much it did cost.
The Shakwak Highway, Mr. Speaker - before I get too far sidetracked off the highway by members opposite - getting back to it, I want to emphasize again the importance of reconstructing that road not only to Yukoners but to Americans who travel the road, and so on. Certainly, it's reassuring to know that the State of Alaska and other business organizations in the United States feel the same way as the Yukon government, and we're lobbying together to try to convince the American government to allocate the funds necessary to complete this project.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Let the member speak to the motion.
Mr. McRobb: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'm somewhat reassured to know that his microphone isn't on, at least.
Mr. Speaker, I can recall a news release on Monday talking about the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, PNWER, which I mentioned earlier.
I know my time is running low, and I would like to go through this a little bit more for the record.
The fact that it's endorsed the completion of the Shakwak project as we have shows that certainly there is support out there in the business community and in the communities to persuade and lobby the American government to devote the funds necessary to complete this project.
The Shakwak projects created many jobs and economic opportunities for the Yukon people, and we want to see it finished as planned. I recall the Minister of Economic Development, the Member for Faro - that's one of the other ridings in need of highway reconstruction. I see the members opposite nodding their heads in support, and I look forward to the next budget debate when we may be looking at approving funds for reconstruction of that particularly bad stretch of road in his riding.
For their agreement on the record - it's easy for them to sit there and nod their heads now, but when it comes to the record, it's quite often a different thing.
At a recent meeting in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, PNWER transportation working group members passed a resolution calling for the U.S. government to approve transportation funding to complete the Shakwak project, reconstructing and servicing the Alaska Highway north of Haines Junction. That's quite reassuring, knowing that this group, centred in the Pacific northwest, has taken the effort to put themselves on record in support of this project, which is thousands of kilometres away from where they're based.
Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, there are businesses and people within the region who frequently travel back and forth to Alaska or whose businesses transport goods in and out of Alaska who are affected and who have brought their concerns to the attention of this group. If we can find other groups like PNWER, that would certainly broaden the base of support and increase the chances of convincing the American government to find the funds necessary to complete this project.
The Yukon government has recently joined PNWER, which is an organization made up of states and provinces from the Pacific Northwest and created in 1991 with an aim to make the region a major player in the global economy by combining its members' strengthened resources, and PNWER will now lobby U.S. federal legislators interested in approving transportation and communications between Alaska and the rest of the United States.
It's also reassuring, Mr. Speaker, to see the smiling faces on the members opposite in support of this motion, and maybe we should call for a vote on this motion to see if those smiles can translate into yeses. It certainly would be reassuring to know that what you see is what you get - with the Liberals especially.
They're still nodding, Mr. Speaker.
Let the record show they are in complete agreement, and now they are waving. They are nodding, and they are waving. Oh, now they are weaving and bobbing. They're nodding, waving, weaving and bobbing, Mr. Speaker. They are in the Christmas spirits already, I think.
But on that note, I see the time rapidly approaching 5:30. I think it's time to sit down, but before I do, I picked up a few things from last year, especially from the Member for Whitehorse West and the Member for Lake Laberge, too. You never want to sit down too early, because you might regret it because you had more things to say.
But I would like to assure the people up in the north highway communities that I will continue to visit them, regardless of whether funds are approved by the American government or not, because I certainly appreciate them -
Speaker: Order please. The time being 5:30 p.m., the Speaker will leave the chair until 7:30 p.m.
Debate on Motion No. 53 accordingly adjourned
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Committee will be dealing with the Department of Renewable Resources. Is there any further general debate?
Department of Renewable Resources - continued
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I was wondering if the minister could give me a general update on how the PCB cleanup is going in Carcross?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We have had the contaminated site taken out and cleaned. It has been backfilled and landscaped. They were cleaning the contaminated soil that they had stockpiled, but due to cold weather they had stopped for the winter months to resume the cleanup in the spring.
Mrs. Edelman: There was a concern about contamination getting into the Nares River, and particularly into the fish and into the food chain.
Can the minister speak again about what you're going to be doing about dealing with that particular issue?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: That issue has been taken care of with the cleanup the company has been doing.
Mrs. Edelman: I pleased to hear that, and I hope that the Carcross First Nation is also impressed with that.
Now, the downplaying of contaminants at the Arctic mine, which is up on Montana Mountain - there is a concern that once again contaminants are getting into the food chain, particularly where moose drink at the tailings pond.
I wonder if the minister can give us a little more information on that.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We don't have information with us on that particular mine, at this time.
Mrs. Edelman: This has been another issue of the people in that area, and I'm wondering if I can get information on that at some point in the extremely near future.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we can provide that.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions about the Environment Act. The Environment Act calls for a state of the environment report. My recollection is that there was one done a few years ago. Can the minister tell us when the next report is due?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: A draft report is being reviewed at this time by Environment Canada and, following this, it will be reviewed internally by the Yukon and federal government staff before undergoing a focused public review, which will include the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. It's estimated that the report would be published in the first few months of this coming year.
Mr. Cable: I sent over to the minister a press release issued by the previous administration on November 24, 1995, and some correspondence by the then-Minister of Renewable Resources relating to the reduction of greenhouse gases, a plan of the previous administration. I asked some questions last night and I had the impression that the minister wasn't aware of the previous administration's efforts in this area. Could I refer the minister to the two documents. I've just provided copies to his deputy there.
Could the minister indicate whether those initiatives that are outlined in the press release and which are described in the letter of December 20, 1995, to me from the then-Minister of Renewable Resources, whether that plan that's shown in the documents is still in force or whether it has been improved or whether it has been completed?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I thank the member for this information in regard to his question the other day. I do have a response to them, and I can table that now.
Mr. Cable: With your permission, Mr. Chair, I'll just have a look at this document while we're waiting.
Let's move on to another topic while the document is being copied, I guess.
The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment - has the minister in conjunction with his colleagues provided them with any instructions or directives as to what they want them to do in the next few years?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment met yesterday. We had staff members there with them. We were there, basically, for introductions, and we are trying to get them to focus on a global approach to this. At this time, we are asking for them to get more familiar with what their responsibilities were and to work with both the Departments of Economic Development and Renewable Resources, and to try to focus on where they could start their first tasks. We haven't had anything come back to us on that yet.
Mr. Cable: On those tasks, has there been any formal communication with the council on what the government wants the council to do - any directive or issue that's been given to them to address?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: There are a number of things that the council could be doing. We haven't asked them to do anything specifically, although what we were waiting to get back from them was where we felt they could do their first task and what they thought the important issues were for them to tackle at this point.
Mr. Cable: Is there any general instruction that could be tabled? The appointments, I gather, have been made for several months now. Is there no mandate, even in general terms, that we can have a look at - some correspondence to the chair of the council?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Given that the appointments were just recently made - yesterday was their first meeting - the instructions we gave them were to take a broad approach to government in doing some of their evaluations and reviews on how we've been handling things.
One of the main things that they were discussing yesterday with the Departments of Renewable Resources and Economic Development was what their mandate should be.
Mr. Cable: I don't want to belabour the point, but is there a letter that was given to the council just spelling out what the minister just said?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, there hasn't been a letter. We have met with the chair a couple of times. Both the Minister of Economic Development and the Government Leader have also talked with them and have given them some direction.
Ms. Duncan: I just have a couple more questions in general debate. One issue that was raised with me is the Department of Renewable Resources in terms of the environment.
Is there work being done, in cooperation with the Department of Government Services, with respect to the use of environmentally friendly cleaners in our Government of Yukon buildings?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We have been involving Government Services in a number of different areas.
Just give me a second here.
We have been involving Government Services in developing the regulations under the Environment Act. At this point, we haven't had any other discussions with regard to what the member just brought up.
Ms. Duncan: I am told by others that municipalities have policies in this regard. So, perhaps the ministers would like the territory to take a look at their policies.
An issue related to the Yukon, but with the federal Liberals, is that the National Parks Act requires a management plan be tabled in Parliament, and of course we have national park sites in the Yukon. I wonder if the Government of Yukon Department of Renewable Resources takes an active role in working with Parks Canada in developing these management plans.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we do meet regularly with Parks Canada and also with the trans-boundary parks in Alaska on management plans.
Ms. Duncan: And, one other question with respect to the working relationship with the federal government. I had the opportunity to attend a salmon committee this summer, a public meeting, and I didn't note any territorial government presence there, although members of the renewable resource councils were in attendance. Is the link from the salmon committee through the renewable resource councils to the Government of Yukon or do they also make a habit of attending other salmon committee meetings?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we do have our director of fish and wildlife that sits on the salmon committee.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the minister for that information.
My last question. I was interested in an article regarding poaching that referred to poaching as the $6-billion tragedy, and particularly highlighted bears. It was in response to British Columbia.
I was told, off the record if you will, by some of the minister's staff that poaching is not a terribly large issue in the Yukon, that we've had a fairly strong ability to track this and that it hasn't proven to be a negative issue. I was just wondering if that situation has changed at all, and if the minister still feels this is an issue we need to be vigilant on, but it's not as difficult a situation as it is in other provinces.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, the situation has not changed. We have had incidents in the Yukon, and we've taken those in the department fairly seriously, and we're hoping that, with more public involvement in development and in current practices that are being done out on the land, they could be channelled through to us a lot more quickly through the resource councils. I think that once they've been set up, we'd have those eyes in the communities doing a lot of the work for us.
Ms. Duncan: Does the credit for this situation go to the TIPS program, in the minister's opinion?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, this program is partly responsible for that, but we also do have a lot of international cooperation in regard to investigations and so on.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I just have a couple more questions in general debate on this, and then I'll be done until we get into the budget in the spring. Last night, I asked the minister about the audit that he has ordered into the Carcross caribou recovery program, and the minister told me last night that he was consulting with the band in Carcross in trying to get this set up. Does the minister have any date as to when he expects this audit to be completed?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, we don't have and we did not put forward a date for this to be completed. We're trying to wrap up our discussions and ask that this be done as quickly as possible.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that. Could the minister tell me who is going to be doing the audit?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, I don't know the firm that'll be doing it, although it is an independent audit that's going to be taking place.
Mr. Ostashek: I don't want to belabour this with the minister, but I think these are very serious allegations that have been made by six Carcross First Nations people last March and I believe that they deserve a timely answer.
I would urge the minister to move expeditiously on this matter. Can the minister tell me if outside people have been consulted or requested to do this audit? Have they even explored with the private sector who is going to do this independent audit? Have they even thought about the terms of reference for the audit? I would like to have a little more detail from the minister, if I could.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we have been looking at an outside firm to do this. In regard to the terms of reference, this has been discussed with the First Nation at this point.
Mr. Ostashek: The whole contribution agreement amounted to $25,000. I personally can't see this being a great encumbrance upon anybody to do an independent audit, which the minister has the right to do under the terms of the contribution agreement. Books are supposed to be up to date, and it ought to be a very simple operation to do an independent audit. If nothing is found, that ought to be the end of it. If something is found, then there are other steps that will have to be taken, but the step of the audit itself ought not to be a great undertaking.
It would seem to me, with the department being aware of this since last June - I believe the first complaint was filed in March - that things would have progressed to the point where the minister could stand on his feet in the House tonight and say, "Yes, there is an audit going to be done. Yes, we have engaged this and this firm to do it, and, yes, it will be done by such and such a date," and then be able to relay to this House what the terms and conditions of that audit are.
I don't see this as a great undertaking. It's not a $25 million audit. It's a $25,000 audit. That's not to say that it isn't important, Mr. Chair. Anytime taxpayers' dollars are involved, it is very important that they are spent in the appropriate manner, but it appears that the minister doesn't know, or can't relay to the House tonight, when the audit is going to take place or what the terms of reference are.
Can I ask the minister tonight if he will advise me and members of this Legislature, as soon as possible, about the terms of the audit and who's going to be conducting the audit?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we can inform the House as to what the terms of reference are. Mr. Chair, we have laid out how things have gone since we had the information given to us. We've had letters written to the First Nation. They have gone through a leadership change, and the present leadership in the First Nation knew very little about this. We are presently working with them to try and bring a conclusion to this.
Mr. Ostashek: Would the minister be prepared to table a copy of the correspondence he's had with the First Nation on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, I can provide the letters that have been written to the First Nation by the department and some of the responses that we did get back from them.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that and, as far as when the audit's going to be done and who's doing it, the minister said he would give that information to the House. If the House is not sitting, do we have a commitment from the minister that he will relay that to us by mail in the form of a letter?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, providing there's not a postal strike. Yes, we can give that information to the member. Just to note that this will be my last evening in the Legislature here. I'm taking a trip to Kyoto tomorrow afternoon.
Mr. Ostashek: I understand that this is going to be the minister's last evening in the Legislature probably this session, unless it drags out to Christmas or after Christmas but, nevertheless, I just want to be assured that the minister's not going to wait until the spring session to table the documents that have been asked for now.
I also would like to ask the minister if he would be prepared to give the opposition copies of the results of the audit once it is completed?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, I believe that it is public information and we can provide that to both opposition parties.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that.
I want to raise one more issue with the minister and it's a concern that has been brought to me by one of my constituents, and that's in regard as to how the department handles enforcement issues within the department. The department is responsible for enforcements under the Environment Act, is responsible for enforcements under the Wildlife Act and I believe also under the Freshwater Fisheries Agreement Act that the minister's department is responsible for.
Can the minister relay to me in broad terms what the government's policy is in the area of enforcement in all the areas that he is responsible for?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: That is a pretty loaded question. It is one that will take, I guess, a long time to answer. I was wondering whether the member is focusing on something that is a lot simpler than the policies we do have with regard to enforcement on the number of things that we're responsible for.
Mr. Ostashek: Well then, let me simplify it for the minister.
Can the minister tell me if it's the policy of his department and his government that all people will be treated equal under the law when it comes to enforcement of different legislation that his department is responsible for? Can the minister tell me that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes. We do treat everyone equally. We have to take into account the First Nations agreements and the rights they have.
Mr. Ostashek: I appreciate the rights that the First Nations have under their land claim agreements. That is not the issue that was raised with me. I want confirmation from the minister that his department does enforce all laws they are responsible for, be they under the Environment Act, be they under the Freshwater Fisheries Agreement Act or be they under the Wildlife Act, on an equal basis, regardless of the person's stature in the community. Can everybody expect to be treated in the same manner? That's the question I'm asking the minister.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, that is the direction in which this department and this government operates.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that, and I can get back to my constituent and tell him that that's a policy of the government, and I'll see that he's relayed a copy of Hansard from this evening.
I don't believe I have any further questions in general debate, unless some of my colleagues have any.
Chair: Not seeing any further general debate, we will go to operation and maintenance expenditures.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could we ask the minister as a matter of course to brief us on each of these lines, and then we'll see if we have questions, please?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The unfavourable variance of $83,000 is due primarily to unforeseen needs for a position description related to post-devolution organizational structure and incremental rent for the overhead office at 10 Burns Road. Both items are being funded internally from a surplus identified in the policy and planning branch.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, did I hear the minister state correctly that there was an increase in rent at 10 Burns Road? Is that what he said?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, that's correct.
Ms. Duncan: I gather this is rather unexpected and outside of any lease arrangements we might have. Is this a direct result of increased utility costs?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, if I remember correctly, when I left government, we had extended the lease on 10 Burns Road for a period of one year. Has the department renegotiated another lease with the landlord, and is that the reason for the increase in the cost?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, this is for increased office space and renovations to accommodate the departmental requirements. It's basically a one-time cost with the increase in rent for the extra office space.
Mr. Ostashek: So, what the minister is telling me is that we have leased more space at 10 Burns Road than what we had before. Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, that's correct.
Mr. Ostashek: I know that this is probably not an appropriate question at this time, but I would hope the minister would answer it. Has there been a new lease agreement renegotiated on 10 Burns Road?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'm not aware of one that has been. I'm sure that if a lease is coming to an end, that we will be. We have done renovations to this additional space and have put money forward to it for the increase in office space, due to overcrowding.
Mr. Ostashek: I will not belabour this in the supplementaries because that is not the proper place for it, but I just want to say to the minister that I understood that the lease was to expire in June 1997 and, since the department is still in the building, I would have assumed that they have negotiated a new lease. But I will save those questions for the budget debate in the spring and I hope that the minister is prepared to answer them for me then.
Administration in the amount of $83,000 agreed to
On Policy and Planning
Mr. Ostashek: If the minister could just stand up and tell us why, we would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The favourable variance of $83,000 is due primarily to a decrease in personnel cost as a result of vacancies, turnover and a leave of absence without pay. This surplus was used to cover the shortfall incurred by the administration branch.
Ms. Duncan: Could the minister just advise where those vacancies occurred?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The director of policy is one of the positions that this is related to. Basically, that person is filling in for the ADM position and also in regard to the manager of policy, who is on education leave.
Ms. Duncan: Would the minister just indicate the absences of staff in these positions. Is that not creating a concern with respect to the overall development of policy within that section of Renewable Resources? These vacancies - are they not a cause for concern?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We've had some additional staff come over from Land Claims Secretariat - Karen Armour. We also had a secondment from DIAND in the policy branch.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I just want to get on the public record speaking of these vacancies. After being four years in government and dealing with departments, this seems to be a place where departments can budget for positions that, in many instances, they have no intentions of filling during the fiscal year that it is budgeted for. It leaves them with a cushion or - as some people would like to say - a slush fund for their pet projects within the department.
I would just like to ask the minister, how long have these positions been vacant, and when is it his intention to fill these positions, or is he going to eliminate them? If the positions are not required, then they should be removed from the departmental budgets, or they should be filled expeditiously if the positions are required. Can the minister tell me that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We've had the ADM position filled. The person who left that position has been paid out to December, and we've had this recently filled. The person we hired in that position is Joy Waters.
Mr. Ostashek: The minister spoke of one position. Is all of the money that has been lapsed in relation to that one position only?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: There are monies that are part of this amount for the manager, who has taken a leave without pay. That person will be coming back to fill the position.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Chair: The Chair would like to draw members' attention to the gallery, where we have the 8th Whitehorse Legion Scouts and their Scout leader, Michael Dougherty. Please join with me in welcoming them to the gallery.
Policy and Planning in the amount of an underexpenditure of $83,000 agreed to
On Environment, Parks and Field Services
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The favourable variance of $46,000 is due primarily to decreased personnel costs from vacancies, reduced use of auxiliaries and reallocation of labour costs incurred on capital projects.
Also included in this program is an additional expenditure of $20,000 toward electrification of the Whitehorse dump, offset by the equivalent recovery from the City of Whitehorse.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm at a loss to understand how we could have reduced costs for staffing in field services and auxiliary staff when the minister and I earlier had a discussion about the degree of overtime that conservation officers were working. Are they in a different line item? Is this why there's a reduction here?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I guess this is basically that we did not use as many temporary people as we have done in the past.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, the workload hasn't gone down. In fact, in Whitehorse we've seen it increase with the work that was done over this summer. Was this a cost-saving measure? Did the department deliberately say, "We aren't going to hire temporaries this year; we're going to save some money so we can come into the House in the fall and have saved some money in this line item?" Because I haven't seen the workload go down.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Some of the reductions are in regard to reduced travel and contracts in environmental protection assessment, reduced support costs in parks and outdoors recreation branch and, like I said, the decrease in personnel costs due to vacancies, and reduced use of auxiliaries. We've had personnel that have been allocated to capital projects such as the protected area strategy.
Environment, Parks and Field Services in the amount of an underexpenditure of $46,000 agreed to
On Resource Management
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The $95,000 is due primarily to decreased personnel costs as a result of vacancies and with staff turnover in the fish and wildlife branch.
Mr. Ostashek: I am just going to raise my concern once more. We have heard three line items now, and the lapses are all because of vacancies that have not been filled within the department. I have a concern about that. I had a concern about it when I was in government and I have a concern about it in opposition. These positions are allowed to sit vacant. If we're budgeting, the department may or may not be budgeting for positions that they have no intention of filling. They are in the fiscal year that the budget has gone in for. I don't believe that's appropriate.
I would just like to ask the minister again, how long have these positions been vacant, does the department intend to fill them and when do they intend to fill them?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: These were positions that were budgeted for in the mains. Some of the vacancies relate to two positions that are still not filled. These are the regional biologist positions and the bear biologist. We have not found the qualified regional biologist that we were looking for. We are hoping to hire a bear biologist fairly soon. Those were primarily the cost-savings that the department had in regard to personnel.
Mr. Ostashek: Has the minister considered moving some of his biologists from Whitehorse out to the regions, rather than hiring more biologists?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, some of the biologists that are in Whitehorse have been filling in these positions. What we wanted to do with the regional biologists is to have all of Yukon covered.
Also, what I did not mention here is that the position of director of fish and wildlife will be filled very soon.
Mr. Ostashek: This is a pet peeve of mine, Mr. Chair, and I'm going to be on the public record.
I believe in the philosophy of regional biologists. I don't believe in a building full of biologists sitting in Whitehorse. Outside of all of the grizzly bears being in Whitehorse, not much other wildlife is in Whitehorse, and all biologists should be out in the communities, listening to what the people have to say and living there on a day-to-day basis so that they have a better understanding of wildlife in the Yukon.
I would ask the minister that he seriously consider eliminating a couple of positions in Whitehorse and putting them out in the regions as regional biologists that are responsible for all the wildlife that's in the area, rather than this specialist route that we have seen in the last 15 or 20 years in the Yukon - hiring these biologists, supposedly specialists.
I know from experience that a lot of the people that were hired as specialists in a specific region had no experience in that region whatsoever, yet they came to the Yukon and were given a job as a specialist in that area. So, I would ask the minister to seriously consider that.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, I agree with the member. That is why we are taking the direction of hiring regional biologists. We would like to see them in the position of all corners of the Yukon. We have one in Haines Junction and Dawson; we should have two in the Mayo and Tutchone areas, and the other one that was supposed to be hired was in the Southern Lakes area, and we have one in Watson Lake.
That's the whole idea and approach we wanted to take, to get them out there where work needs to be done.
Mr. Ostashek: I would like the minister, for the record, to say there is going to be a reduction of the number of biologists in Whitehorse to offset the regional biologists. Will the minister make that commitment?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, at this time we are not reducing those numbers. We wanted to be able to have all of Yukon covered and we need the additional two positions.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like, for the record, to express my concern about the loss of staff and positions to this department. Renewable Resources, as I have learned over the last year, is an incredibly valuable department to the government and to Yukoners. Yukoners and Canadians in general have a high demand for their public officials in the area of endangered species management, non-game management, wildlife viewing, ecosystem community management, and protected areas. We've seen some initiatives from the government, the Yukon protected areas strategy discussion paper and a bit of movement and some work being done, but I see the staff, in the supplementary budget, gone, and the positions, gone. The money is going and I'm worried about this department. Labour relations and morale must not be very high when we see this kind of staff turnover evidenced.
As I said in an earlier question to which I didn't get an answer, the workload hasn't decreased.
I'm wondering if the minister can indicate, more clearly, some direction for that department. For example, is there any thought to realignment of the existing branches to establish a conservation management section to deal with some of these issues? I mean, it has been in the media; there have been many discussions about the direction of that department and the changes in staff positions. I was surprised to hear the minister indicate that the bear biologist position hadn't been staffed. That was advertised this summer.
There's a reason we can't find anybody to work in that department. There's a problem, and I'd like the minister to indicate, for the record, what steps he and his officials plan to take to deal with these issues.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: In regard to the bear biologist, we have been advertising in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. It's part of the problem of filling those positions. In regard to positions being empty, the two biologist positions were not there before. They are two positions that are being created.
We have looked, like I said earlier, into doing an internal restructuring of the department. It's something that could take place once devolution happens. We're looking to prepare for that.
In regard to morale in the department, morale is definitely up a fair bit. People have a lot of energy in moving in a new direction and having new projects to work on. People are excited about working on the protected areas strategy. So, in regard to the people working together, I think that has improved greatly over the past while.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister said something there that's just piqued my curiosity. What does the number of biologists we have have to do with devolution? We've had responsibility for wildlife for many, many years in the Yukon. I don't know anything that's coming over with devolution that's going to require more biologists. Can the minister explain?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, I did not say that those positions were involved in devolution. They're positions that aid in renewable resource councils and basically in the management of wildlife that's out there and, in turn, could provide us with information in regard to inventory and that sort of thing. As to what's out there, they can be using a number of different ways of getting information that we may need in regard to devolution.
Ms. Duncan: I believe the minister indicated that there was thought to restructuring the department after devolution. Is the minister saying that we'd be looking at a stronger, more clearly focused Department of Renewable Resources after April 1998?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, I don't believe that something like this is going to happen fairly quickly. It has to have careful planning and a lot of thought put into it. What we would like to do after devolution is really focus on an ecosystem management type of approach and have the department focus more so in that way.
Resource Management in the amount of an underexpenditure of $95,000 agreed to
On Land Claims
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Again, the $40,000 is due to a decrease in personnel costs as a result of a vacancy and reduced administration support costs.
The personnel costs in land claims is a position vacancy of boards and council administration officers for six months.
Land Claims in the amount of an underexpenditure of $40,000 agreed to
Chair: Any questions on the recoveries?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The recoveries variances of $20,000 is due to the increased contribution from field services branch to the City of Whitehorse to assist with the electrification of the Whitehorse dump.
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of an underexpenditure of $181,000 agreed to
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We'll go to capital expenditures.
On Capital Expenditures
On Information Systems
On Computer Equipment
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: It is a revote from 1996-97 capital funds approved for purchase of computer workstations, which were not received until early in the 1997-98 fiscal year.
Computer Equipment in the amount of $15,000 agreed to
On Local Area Network - Phase III
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Again, this is a revote from 1996-97 capital funds approved for the connection and installation of the local area network, which was delayed due to technical difficulties but completed in the 1997-98 year.
Local Area Network - Phase III in the amount of $22,000 agreed to
On Environment, Parks and Field Services
On Territorial Parks and Protected Areas
On Park System Plan
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Again, this is a revote from 1996-97 capital funds approved to conduct a stakeholders' workshop for the development of the Yukon protected areas strategy.
Park System Plan in the amount of $16,000 agreed to
On Yukon Protected Areas Strategy
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Current year expenditures toward the development of a Yukon protected areas strategy with full public participation. Because this was not developed when the mains were put in place, we had to add the figures in when we did get the correct amount. The $200,000 is made up of $50,000 for a workshop held in May 1997; $40,000 for an additional workshop to be held in January; $25,000 for two rounds of public and community and First Nation consultation; $25,000 for travel, accommodation, administration and support for YPS and the advisory committee; $30,000 for public communications and design advertising, printing and distribution; $10,000 for secretarial and administrative support, and $20,000 for professional contracts, such as workshop facilitators.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to have his department's officials send over to us the - he's gone quite quickly through a cost breakdown. Could we have that in writing, more detailed, and contracts? For example, the $20,000 to facilitate a workshop is, of course, within the sole-sourced limit. Could we have indications as to where those contracts went, please?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we can provide the member with the information that we do have. As the member knows, we have identified these to members for workshops and so on, but some of these monies are not spent yet.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister advise if any of the commission's work is buried somewhere in this line item - any of the commission's work?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, not in the protected areas strategy, not in the $200,000.
Yukon Protected Areas Strategy in the amount of $200,000 agreed to
On Territorial Campgrounds and Day Use Areas
On Capital Works - Campground Facilities
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: This again is a revote from 1996-97 capital funds approved for legal survey of Congdon Creek to prevent encroachment on parks and lands and facilitate enforcement of boundaries.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to elaborate on that last comment, "facilitate enforcement of boundaries"?
Ms. Duncan: Are we putting a chain link fence around the campground?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: This was basically to identify the boundaries because of private lands being close by and so that the campground wouldn't be encroached upon.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I was at that campground this summer. Is the minister talking about putting up some kind of barrier between the campground and this private property, or is it just simply a survey? It's just a survey he's adding. Okay, thank you.
Capital Works - Campground Facilities in the amount of $23,000 agreed to
On Heritage Rivers
On Bonnet Plume River
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: This is a revote from capital funds approved for public consultation, and a draft management plan.
Mr. Ostashek: Where are we at with the draft management plan for the Heritage River and the Bonnet Plume?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The notes that I have here say that the management plan is expected to be approved by the Mayo Renewable Resource Council, YTG and the federal government, DIAND and Heritage Canada in December 1997. If the completion date changes from that, I can let the member know, but this is the date we do have so far.
Mr. Ostashek: Is the management plan public information at this time? Can we get a copy of it?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, it has been out for public consultation and we can provide the member with what has been worked on.
Mr. Ostashek: I appreciate that it has been out for public consultation, but I want to know if the final version that is being given to the renewable resource council - or the group that is in Mayo - for approval, is that the copy of the plan we'll get - not the one that was out for public consultation? I would like to see the one with any amendments that were made to it after the public consultation.
I would like to see the plan that's in front of the council now for approval.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we can provide that. Once this is approved by the governments and the resource council, it will then be presented to the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board, soon after which there will be a designation ceremony.
Bonnet Plume River in the amount of $4,000 agreed to
On Tatshenshini River
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Again, this is a revote, the same as the Bonnet Plume River. It's for a public review on the Canadian Heritage nomination document.
Tatshenshini River in the amount of $4,000 agreed to
On Resource Management
On Infrastructure Facilities (Abattoir)
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: A revote again from capital funds, approved for a contribution agreement with the successful proponent toward the establishment of an abattoir within the territory.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, my colleague, the Member for Riverside, has had several discussions with the minister regarding the abattoir. One of the questions that has not been addressed is whether or not it's anticipated that the abattoir would be looking toward game animals and game farm animals as a product.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: There is a possibility that it can be used for that. Should they use it for that, they would have to do a complete shutdown and do a proper cleanup before and after.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there are mutterings from the benches further to the right that the abattoir would have to do that in any event if they were to change from beef to chickens or whatever. Is it anticipated -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Why don't you go over there and tell him that answer?
What the minister is telling me is that there is a possibility that this facility could be used to slaughter reindeer, elk, or any of the wild game animals that are game farmed in the Yukon, and that could be done.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, it is a possibility. It hasn't been identified, though, with the company that has the abattoir. But again, it is a possibility.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it's a possibility, but it's not contained in the long-range business plan - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Like I said, it is a possibility the company did indicate that they could be doing this type of work, but it has not been part of the plan laid out to us.
Infrastructure Facilities (Abattoir) in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Renewable Resources in the amount of $334,000 agreed to
Department of Renewable Resources agreed to
Yukon Housing Corporation
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'm pleased to rise in the House today to present the supplementary budget for Yukon Housing Corporation. There are some important features of the corporation's budget that I wish to bring to your attention.
At the start of the fiscal year, the net expenditure for the corporation's O&M and capital was set at $5,760,000. This represents a difference between all expenditures and all recoveries. With the introduction of the supplementary budget, you will note that $182,000 has been reduced from the corporation's O&M budget pursuant to government's direction to reduce O&M expenditures.
In addition, the corporation is now projecting additional O&M recoveries of $178,000. This is the result of the additional rental revenue generated by the transfer of 27 federal staff housing units, as well as an operating agreement with Yukon Development Corporation for the delivery of the commercial energy management program.
The dollar value of the corporation's capital budget remains the same; however, the program and capital budgets have been reprofiled as a result of the introduction of the mobile home strategy, residential, commercial and electrical management program, as well as consumer demand.
It is also important to note that, as a result of the refiled capital budget, Yukon Housing Corporation now projects an additional $103,000 in recoveries. The net operating cost for Yukon Housing Corporation is now projected at $5,297,000, as opposed to $5,760,000 reflected in the main estimates. This represents an eight-percent reduction in the net recovery of the Yukon Housing Corporation. The corporation is providing additional programs and services based on consumer demand and they are providing them in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Mr. Jenkins: I refer the minister to the annual report of the Housing Corporation and in the letter from the chair, one notable trend is that declining interest rates created a shortfall in revenue from our lending programs. Is that trend continuing?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: At present, the interest rate does remain low and we expect not to have those revenues coming in any higher than they are now.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm sorry, I'm missing something. If the minister were to look at the annual report of the Housing Corporation and the letter from the chair, the sentences are in the third paragraph, "There is one issue concerning the audited statements that I would like to address. During the year, declining interest rates created a shortfall in revenue from our lending programs." The question to the minister is, is that trend continuing and what kind of a shortfall can we expect?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We have made allowances for the lower interest rate, but as it is right now, it's stabilizing.
Mr. Jenkins: If one were to take the minister's position on that issue and refer to the financial statements, page 20, the revenues and expenses, one would see that the interest income is down by $145,000 for the last fiscal period. Yet, when one looks at the interest expense, the corporation paid $266,000 less. So, it would be appear there is considerable net saving to the corporation as a result of the lowering of the interest rates, not what is reported at the onset.
Can the minister explain the difference? In the preamble it says that there is a shortfall and declining interest rates are creating a shortfall in revenue, and on the opposite side of the ledger there is considerable less paying out being incurred in interest expense by the corporation. There's actually a net saving for the corporation.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, the member is correct. What we didn't have to do this year was use our credit line.
Mr. Jenkins: But if you look at the bank statement position at one point, the bank indebtedness for last year was $1.3 million and this year it's down to nil. But, due to the Government of the Yukon, the accounts payable have increased significantly to offset that reduction in the line of credit by virtually a corresponding amount. The bank indebtedness on page 18 of the financial statements last year was $1.3 million; accounts payable was $1.2 million, and it has gone to $2.2 million, so there's a $900,000 increase right there, plus, due to the Government of the Yukon, it's gone from $60,000 to $370,000, so there's a $310,000 increase right there, which rounds out to just about $1 million. Given the change in interest rates over this period, those would be awash, so how can the minister respond in the manner he has done?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'm not sure what the member's question is on this. Although this is very much a complicated issue, if the member would like we can have our staff do an analysis with him on these amounts.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, but it's just a balance sheet entry. It's the simplest of accounting procedures that one has and it's the first area that one is supposed to comprehend when one analyzes any kind of a business. And this is a business, Mr. Chair, and the minister should know these areas. The minister should be able to explain the simple cashflows in and out.
Mr. Jenkins: We're in general debate, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Order please.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: You haven't asked me a question on that. What's the question?
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, it's the same question as before - you know, just a simple breakdown. If the minister refers to page 80 of the financial statements of the corporation, he's explained that they didn't get into their operating line of credit, and that's why there was a corresponding reduction in interest charges for the corporation. But if one goes, Mr. Chair, to page 18, liabilities, one would see that the current liabilities or the bank indebtedness is nil at the end of the 1997 fiscal year, but it was at $1.3 million at the end of the 1996 fiscal year.
One would also see that the accounts payable has increased from $1.2 million to $2.2 million, which is basically a million dollars that the corporation is either stretching out their accounts payables by so they don't have to get into their operating line at that juncture. One would have to analyse the cashflow of the corporation to see what's going on, and one has to look further. Due to the Government of Yukon has increased from $60,000 to $370,000. So, when you add those two together, Mr. Chair, one comes up with an amount similar to what the previous indebtedness at the bank was in the operating line of credit.
It's a very, very simple overview. The liability remains virtually - well, it's actually increased at the end of the fiscal period 1997 versus 1996. Now, that would suggest to me, Mr. Chair, that instead of the banks carrying the corporation, the people that have money due from the corporation are being stretched out. The accounts payable have quite significantly increased for that period.
Now, what is the position? What is the reason, Mr. Chair?
Obviously, we're at an issue that the minister does not have an understanding of. Perhaps it would be prudent if he sends the information over by way of legislative return. Can the minister confirm that he is prepared to do so?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes. This particular line item is quite complicated to explain and the best thing I can do at this point is have that sent over to the member and broken down a little bit better than what we have it in this book.
Mr. Jenkins: Can the minister advise if there are any changes in financial contributions from the federal government or any downloading of costs that the corporation is going to have to absorb and, if so, what areas and programs and what are the dollar values, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, in regard to CMHC, there is a cap on CMHC at the 1995 level, so that in downloading, it would be one area that we would have to be taking.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister advise what dollar value we're looking at, and what would be the effect of this change on the corporation?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We are presently in negotiations with them. We have not negotiated an amount at this time. This agreement that we're working on would give us more flexibility in the programs.
Mr. Jenkins: What do the department officials anticipate the change is going to be, Mr. Chair? So, instead of having monies under CMHC's various programs, designated for specific programs, am I given to understand that it will be a lump sum to a maximum value? Is that where the department is headed?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, in part, yes. The dollars, though, do have to go toward housing and targeted households. With the rest, though, we would be flexible in how we deal with that.
Mr. Jenkins: I have another question with respect to the financial statements, Mr. Chair. If I could refer the minister to page 21 of the financial statements, under financing activities, transfer of land agreements from the Government of Yukon, could the minister advise what lands are being transferred from Government of Yukon to the corporation? I'm only aware at this juncture of lands being transferred from the federal government to YTG. Are there some other lands involved?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, those were the sales agreements that we've had with individuals in taking this over from C&TS.
Mr. Jenkins: So, which sales agreements would these be?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: These are individual lot owners.
Mr. Jenkins: So, individual lot owners are transferring title of their land to the Yukon Housing Corporation to be held in trust, or what's the purpose? Is this one of the lending programs?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: It's just when they purchase, we hold title until it's paid out.
Mr. Jenkins: So, is this value the sale value, the book value, the assessed value or the indebted value? What values are we using?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: This was transferred over from C&TS and it was whatever C&TS had when they had it on their books at that time.
Mr. Jenkins: So, it's book value. Could I refer the minister to one of the other programs that is due for an overhaul and has not been addressed as of yet, and I would like the minister's overview as to when his department will be looking at this area. It's the employee buy-back program that is prevalent in rural Yukon. One of the major ways that we attract good public sector employees to our regions and retain them is adequate housing for these individuals.
Buy-back value that encourages them to get into their own home was set in 1979. It has not been reviewed at this point, and it is $68,400 or 93 percent of the appraised value. I am not aware of too many homes that could be purchased for that price, Mr. Chair. When will this value be looked at with a view to bringing it more up to market value. What's the time frame for his department's review?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We will not be looking at changing this in the next little while. In order to do that, we would have to open up the act and at that point in time, if we ever did that we would have to put a time frame on that. There is no time frame, but what we want to do, though, is look at the community studies that we have proceeded to do this year and get direction from communities.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, in this budget there has been a transfer to Health and Social Services that went to the Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake. Because we know the minister is going to be unavailable for comment in the extremely near future, I wonder if he can give us a little bit of detail on that and explain why it went to Watson Lake seniors and whether this is a trend. Are we going to start joint funding with Health and Social Services?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: This was a one-time interdepartmental transfer of funds from Yukon Housing Corporation to Health and Social Services. The money was used to fund the position of a senior health and social services information officer for a one-year trial period. This came about as a result of a group approaching the Yukon government with a request for funding the position and to act in an advisory capacity on programs and services for seniors living in Watson Lake.
The seniors population of Watson Lake as of June was 83 people aged 65 years and over. Subsequently, the target group was expanded to include people of any age with physical or mental disabilities or chronic conditions with acute needs, due to a survey of trauma and chemotherapy or with a terminal illness who wish to die in their homes and to remain as long as possible, and frail elderly who require assistance with the activities of daily living.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, there are strange things done in Watson Lake. One of the things that also has been occurring in Watson Lake is that there has been use of Yukon Housing buildings by Government of Yukon staff.
Now, there are persons with disabilities in Watson Lake who have less-than-adequate housing, and there are Government of Yukon staff that are in the housing that is available. When can we see an end to that, and how long is the arrangement already set for with the Yukon Housing Corporation in order to house Yukon government staff?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Chair, we are presently managing the staff housing for the Public Service Commission. Although with the direction in which the member brought forward - we're hoping that this type of direction will come back to the corporation when we do our community studies.
Mrs. Edelman: So, am I to understand then that what the minister is saying is that if the community says that they want to have other offices for Government of Yukon staff, then that is what's going to happen?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I responded to - not to the use of staff housing for office space. But, if there is a need through Government Services, those people are out and can be replaced.
Mrs. Edelman: I'm sorry. I didn't understand what the member said. Were you saying that the people were out and the offices are in?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Should Government Services say there is a need for that space, then the people who are occupying it for office space would be out.
Mrs. Edelman: It's good to hear that there's some sort of priority there.
Back to the staff position allocated for the Signpost Seniors through Yukon Housing. This is a one-year staff position. What happens when you have a one-year staff position? What is this person doing? Are they coming up with seniors' needs? Is it only for people with disabilities? Are we talking about extended care?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we just provided the dollars for it. It is in the Health and Social Services department.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, it's interesting because the Minister of Health and Social Services said earlier this year that he was working with the Yukon Housing Corporation on the multi-level care facility for seniors in the Yukon and I'm wondering, does this have something to do with that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, this has nothing to do with it. The monies that went to the seniors in Watson Lake was a one-time deal.
Mrs. Edelman: The Yukon Housing Corporation does not have a separate policy for seniors housing within the social housing framework. What is the Yukon Housing Corporation doing to address that need?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Too much advice on this side of the table, Mr. Chair.
No, we don't have a separate policy for seniors. Those houses are social housing units, although, again, we are working with seniors to try and see their needs. Affordability is not the only thing that has been coming forward from them. We will continue to try and become involved more with the seniors and try and help out in that way.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, back to the issue of the staff person out of the Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake. What program is this out of?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: This was basically additional dollars that were transferred from the federal government with the housing. Those dollars were used toward that.
Chair: The time being 9:30 p.m. I will now rise and report.
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: The Committee of the Whole considered Bill No. 8, Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98, and I now report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
The time being past 9:30 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:32 p.m.