Monday, December 8, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Ms. Duncan: I have the privilege today of introducing Victor Andersson to the House. Victor is from Sweden. He is in the Yukon studying at Yukon College as a student in the Circumpolar North program.
Please join me in welcoming Victor Andersson to the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Ministers fishing on trans-boundary lakes
Mr. Phillips: My question, Mr. Speaker, is for the Minister of Tourism. Last week, the minister admitted that he and the Minister of Economic Development were fishing this summer on Teslin Lake, and it's been alleged that both were fishing without the appropriate licences for trans-boundary lakes.
The minister was reported to have said that, as an aboriginal Yukoner, he didn't need a licence. The Teslin Tlingit Council final agreement does protect the right of its citizens to fish for subsistence within their traditional territory, but as the minister of the Crown, Mr. Speaker, and the Government of Yukon, he is not just the average Yukon First Nation citizen.
Does the minister believe that a minister of this government making $67,000 a year should be allowed to sports fish and call it subsistence fishing, and thereby not have to pay the $16 a day for the fishing licence that other Yukoners who pay this minister's salary have to pay?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'll give this question just about as much time as it deserves.
First of all, Mr. Speaker, the Teslin Tlingit Council final agreement does not surrender trans-boundary rights in British Columbia; it makes exclusive reference to not doing so.
One could make a very good legal argument that a First Nation member from Teslin Tlingit Council could indeed fish in British Columbia without a licence.
In this particular case, Mr. Speaker, the minister does have a licence.
Mr. Phillips: Well, maybe the minister can finally clear the air. It is alleged, actually, by the Minister of Tourism that he was fishing with the Minister of Economic Development. Can he tell this House if the Minister of Economic Development, who is not a First Nation member and would have to purchase a British Columbia licence to fish in those waters, did have such a licence when he was fishing there, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: If anybody is muddying the waters, it's the members opposite and they want us to clean them. The member has, already in his first question, alleged that the Minister of Economic Development or Minister of Tourism were already fishing in British Columbia waters without a licence; he was wrong, wrong on two counts. Let's see what we can do about number three.
Mr. Phillips: Maybe I can ask the minister then to stand on his feet and tell us that for any fishing he's done on any trans-boundary lake with the Minister of Tourism he had the appropriate licences at the appropriate time and there was no infraction committed whatsoever of fishing in the trans-boundary lakes, Mr. Speaker. That's not the indication I received from the minister in discussions I've had with him.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, strike three.
Question re: Ministers fishing on trans-boundary lakes
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Minister of Economic Development, then. I've had discussions with the Minister of Economic Development about this issue.
In the first case, the minister told me that they had the licences. When I queried him further, he said the Minister of Tourism had the licences. When I queried him further, he pleaded the fifth amendment. That's the United States law where if I say something, it might incriminate me.
I would like to ask the Minister of Economic Development why he did that, then, if there wasn't a problem and he had the appropriate licences?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It is quite obvious from the first line of questioning this afternoon that the member has not brought any factual information to Question Period. It is quite obvious that the member has no credibility on this issue, as well as others.
The members of the government acted in accordance with the law. The allegations that have been levelled by the members opposite are without foundation, and all the muckraking that they've tried to perform in this Legislature and outside this Legislature does not reflect well on a member of this House.
Speaker: Order please.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like the minister to clear the air. I asked the minister these questions in the presence of other witnesses. The minister first said, when I asked the question, "We had licences." After I queried him further, the minister said, "Mr. Keenan had a licence." When I queried if he had one, he said, "I plead the fifth amendment."
Why did he say that to me at that time if he had the appropriate licences? Why did he not just tell me he had a licence?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member is asking a question about two of my ministers, alleging wrongdoing in both cases, in terms of their private activities. I have indicated to the House that it is my understanding that neither of them have acted inappropriately. The information that the member has brought to the floor today, which alleges wrongdoing by the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Economic Development, is without foundation.
Surely, anybody with any sense of shame at all would end the discussion at this point.
Mr. Phillips: Why didn't the minister tell me he had a licence when I first asked him the question? Why did he tell me something different? I'll ask the minister himself to clear the air, once and for all, to rise from his seat, as the Minister of Economic Development, and tell this House that he did not fish in any trans-boundary lake this year without the appropriate licences.
Can the minister stand on his feet and say that? I can stand on my feet and say, "I did that," Mr. Speaker. Can the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, there has to be some mechanism in our Legislature which allows people who make allegations such as this - and this member made allegations about me, too, and when he was in government he had the power to inflict a public inquiry, not only on me but on half a dozen citizens as well. So, Mr. Speaker, this member, of all members ...
Hon. Mr. McDonald: ... understands that just making the allegation causes damage. He's done it before, he's doing it again today; he was wrong before, and he's wrong today.
Question re: Carcross Road dump
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, and it concerns the Carcross Road dump.
Mr. Speaker, residents of Mount Lorne have had concerns about garbage being burned at this dump for many years. The smoke haze created by the fires are, according to a member of the Mount Lorne council, getting worse, not better.
Now, while in opposition, this problem appeared to be a very high priority for the NDP, particularly for the Member for Mount Lorne. Now that the NDP government is in power, it doesn't appear to rank so high on the priority list.
When will this problem be addressed, or should it be added to the list of broken promises, such as building a shelter for the homeless or stabilizing energy rates?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, thank you very much for the question. It's certainly a prudent question, and I thank you.
No, although I must take exception to the way the question was presented, it certainly is not the case. This government takes it very seriously and considers all aspects of it. This government has gone forth on consultation on air emission standards. This government has gone forth on solid waste regulations. This government has gone forth on rural service policies.
Yes, I certainly understand that things are not going as desired for the Hamlet of Mount Lorne, but certainly the Department of Community and Transportation Services is and will continue to work with the hamlet.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, it appears that this issue will continue to be studied year after year while this government refuses to deal with it.
Now, the rural services study results will probably not even hit this Legislature until the fall of next year. What steps are being taken to address the smoke problem in the interim?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, as I said, I met with the Hamlet of Mount Lorne. We've certainly heard first hand their discussions, and I can certainly agree with the member opposite that this is a problem that has been going on year after year after year, and I certainly commend my colleague, now the Minister of Justice and then the critic for Community and Transportation Services, for bringing this forth and continuing to bring this forth.
This government is acting on the problems that we have. We've tried all sorts of things, like controlled burning and what not, that do not seem to help. There is unauthorized burning that takes place at different times of the year. I can certainly say, though, that I will continue to work with the Hamlet of Mount Lorne, and I am currently at this point in time having discussions as to time frames and what we can bring into effect, based on the consultation with the people in the three different consultation processes, to bring a satisfactory conclusion to this problem.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, that's good to hear, because over the last number of years, the population of Mount Lorne has been steadily increasing and the waste management plans have not kept pace. Now, we still have a number of small dumps scattered around and there's no plan in place.
Mr. Speaker, on December 20, 1993 - and that's four years ago - the Member for Mount Lorne asked a number of questions about these issues and, in her own words, "What goes around, comes around." She is now in a position to do something and thus far, the government has not acted.
One of the solutions that's been talked has been the creation of a single, managed landfill for the entire Mount Lorne area. Is the minister still looking at this idea or does he have another solution in mind?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker, we are looking to look at many options. So if I may, I would certainly like to bring some measure of comfort to the people who make up the Hamlet of Mount Lorne and let them know that I can say that we will be bringing to satisfaction a very good conclusion to this and hopefully we'll be doing this in time for next year, say by November at the latest.
Question re: Contract registry, opposition access
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Government Services. My colleague, the Member for Riverside, asked the Minister of Finance for access to the interim report on the contract registry. I asked the Minister of Government Services privately via a note and again today to provide both opposition offices with a copy of the contract registry from April 1, 1997, to a recent date, such as November 26, 1997.
This open and accountable government keeps telling us to go look for ourselves. We've done that and we've been told we cannot have a photocopy of the complete document. The document is produced anyway in the Department of Government Services. Will the minister responsible provide both opposition offices with a copy?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: All the information is public. As the Government Leader said on November 24, all members are assured that they can go look through it, flip through it, as they wish, and have full access to information that they want. I would repeat that it is available for them; all that is required is a modicum of effort.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, my how times have changed. When they were in opposition, the NDP badgered the Yukon Party, and on February 26, the then-Minister of Government Services, Alan Nordling, tabled the interim contract registry. See Hansard page 2358. If he can do it, you can do it, especially when you're the one that was promising open and accountable government to Yukoners.
In fact, Mr. Speaker, we are not even formally asking the minister to formally table the document, and thus make 25 copies. The Liberal caucus wants one copy; the Yukon Party wants one copy of the contract registry in order to enable us to do our job. We have done our homework; we have been to contract services; we can get 12 pages out of 150.
Will the minister provide each opposition office with the copy of the interim contract registry? It is not difficult.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The information is there; the information is public. All that is required is a bit of effort, an hour or two of your time; go down and identify what you need and you can get it.
Ms. Duncan: The minister loves to argue time and expense. We should be using our time and our photocopier to photocopy the document. We would be delighted to do it. Will the minister let us borrow it over the supper hour, so we can make a photocopy? That won't inconvenience one member of the public; it won't inconvenience one member of your staff to let us borrow that document and make a photocopy. We already tried to get it from contract services and couldn't. We expended our effort. All we are asking is that you do your job and let us have one copy of it.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would suggest that the member needs to instruct her staff to do their job. It's not a huge effort. It requires a modicum of effort. Perhaps the member opposite needs to do a little training of their staff.
We realize, of course, that people coming from Ontario are somehow touched by the hand of God, but there is a little bit of work out there that needs to be done, too. Perhaps they should do some training with their researchers.
Question re: Unemployment statistics
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, my question's for the Minister of Economic Development. Since he doesn't want to talk about his fishing practices, maybe he'll talk about the unemployment figures that were tabled last Friday in the Yukon that showed that Yukoners are having trouble finding work.
Mr. Speaker, we have seen unemployment rise to 11.3 percent from 9.8 percent at the same time last year. There's a tremendous social cost when Yukoners can't find work, especially at this time of the year. The lack of jobs creates stress for families and leads to abusive situations. More and more Yukoners turn to alcohol and drugs for hope where there is no hope.
The best social program is still a job, Mr. Speaker, and I would like to ask the minister if he will reconsider his decision not to implement the winter works program to put Yukoners to work?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I'm not going to dignify the member's rumour-mongering with a response, but I will tell him an answer to his question.
First of all, there is a big difference between this time last year and this period that we're in now, and that's the operation of the Faro mine - the full operation of the mine. The member is right, there's a reduction in jobs from last November to this November, of about 300. That is a concern. That's why we've been working so hard in terms of winter works for the community development fund to get people working in the communities. We've been out there working with the mining industry promoting that industry. We've been out there training. We just brought in the oil and gas bill, which is going to pass in this House. We've been investing heavily, millions and millions of dollars, in capital projects to create jobs.
Mr. Speaker, our winter works project got started the day after we got elected.
Mr. Ostashek: It seems like the Minister of Economic Development is going to stand by his pat answer.
Mr. Speaker, in debate in this House last Wednesday, the NDP government of the day accused the federal government of abandoning the job creation policies. I daresay they are just as guilty as the federal government of abandoning job creation policies. Quite clearly, Mr. Speaker, the community development fund hasn't worked to put Yukoners to work. It's going to do absolutely nothing to put the heavy equipment operator to work in my riding this winter - absolutely nothing. And this government sits on their hands and do nothing.
Communities such as Watson Lake, in particular, have been hard hit. I would like the minister to advise this House if he would prevail upon the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and the Minister of Government Services to examine all projects that are slated to go ahead in the Watson Lake area in the next year and see if some of them can't be advanced to put Watson Lakers to work this winter.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Far from the member's allegation - one of the many allegations that aren't true - we have not abandoned job-creating strategies. As a matter of fact, we have many job-creating strategies. What we can't do, Mr. Speaker - we don't believe in what he believes in, which is an economy based solely on government spending. As he, as former Government Leader, brought in the biggest tax increases in Yukon history and spent the most money ever into this economy, creating this false economy.
We can't drive this economy into debt. We don't want to do that. We want to pay as we go and not raise taxes. We are trying, within our means, to create as many jobs as possible. All the strategies that I mentioned to the member - he should have been listening - are reasonable.
With regard to Watson Lake, we are hoping that the reopening of the Sa Dena Hes mine, which is hopefully expected - they put $3.5 million into that project in terms of reopening dollars already - will help Watson Lake out, along with the many other programs and capital works that this government is considering in that area, as well as the good forestry policy work that's been undertaken by the MLA for that area and the forestry commissioner.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, this minister and this government don't think anything of spending money on themselves - absolutely anything - doubling the travel costs of ministers, renovating their own offices and their high-priced commissions. These are all good things that they've got money for. They're not short of money for that, Mr. Speaker, but they're short of money to put Yukoners to work.
I guess the Government Leader's statement that jobs for Yukoners isn't in the cards is ringing very, very true, Mr. Speaker.
In opposition, 7.8 percent was too high for the members opposite when they were in opposition. When the Yukon Party government was in power, we had a 7.8 percent unemployment rate and that was still far too high for them. Today, they're singing a different tune.
I would like the minister and his colleagues to consider bringing in at least a limited winter works project to help some of the communities that are in serious need of jobs by creating some jobs in those communities and ease the tension until spring.
Hon. Mr. Harding: We made the mistake in government of yielding to the request for office renovations of the official opposition, the Yukon Party. Mr. Speaker, we did that because we felt they needed a place to do their self-professed good work, so we invested in their offices. Perhaps we ought not to have done that, because now they rack all that up to us.
But anyway, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the travel that we've undertaken, only our in-territory travel has increased to the extent the member opposite talked of, and that's because we believe in rural Yukon, Mr. Speaker. We believe that this government has to get out of Whitehorse and get into rural Yukon. We're not going to do less of that; we're going to do more of that. The members opposite can continue to oppose that.
With regard to external travel, Mr. Speaker, this government believes that we have to go out there, work with the private sector to make things happen in this territory to create jobs, and we're going to continue to do that as well, and we're going to continue to do good solid business travel on behalf of Yukoners and with them.
With regard to our economic work that we're undertaking in job creation, I've listed just a small smidgen of the actual work that's been undertaken in my first response to the member. We're doing everything we can without taxing and spending like the Yukon Party, with no controls like they did, to get people working in this territory, and we're going to continue that, but we're not going to bring in obscene tax increases.
Question re: Crown attorney office, devolution
Mr. Cable: That certainly answers that question.
I have some questions for the Minister of Justice on her trip to Montreal. Last week, the minister was at a Justice ministers conference in Montreal and, before going, she stated in the House she intended to discuss with the federal minister the transfer of the Crown attorney's office from the federal government to the territory. Did the discussion take place and, if so, what came out of it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'll thank the member opposite for his question. I did have discussions with the federal minister about the transfer of the Crown attorney function, and she indicated that she wanted to take some time to confer with her officials before she got back to me with an answer.
Mr. Cable: I understand that the Justice ministers discussed the issue of the appointment of judges and, according to one of the local radio stations this morning, the minister apparently told the conference that judicial appointments should not be based on who you know, but what you believe.
Could the minister elaborate? Is the minister of the opinion that local appointments to the bench have not been based on merit?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, the member opposite is attempting to lead me down the garden path with his tricky questions, so let me be pretty clear for him on what the discussions were at that table when the Ministers of Justice talked about the public confidence in the justice system and some of the problems that Canadians have on that subject.
There generally seems to be agreement, and an Angus Reid survey that was done shows that not all of the Canadian public has the strong measure of confidence in the justice system. There's room for improvement. I don't think that's a surprise to anyone. What many members of the public believe and what I believe as well is that the system of judicial appointments could be improved by being more open for public input. That was something that my colleagues agreed with.
Mr. Cable: That wasn't the question I asked. The minister was on the radio and apparently quoted as saying in Montreal that she believed that judicial appointments should not be based on who you know, but what you believe. Now, the minister makes the local appointment of judges. So, by way of true confession, is she of the opinion that local appointments have not been based on merit?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is not being very successful in trying to phrase his question into a trap for us.
What is important in judicial appointments is that people are appointed to the bench based on what they believe in and based on what their credentials are. I think also that many Canadians agree that there needs to be more opportunity for public involvement in who is involved in the appointments of judges. Certainly, most jurisdictions in Canada do have a judicial council with lay people appointed to it. The member opposite and I have discussed ways of improving the public involvement of judicial councils. That's something I support, and that's something that many of my colleagues support as well.
Question re: Henderson's Corner, snowploughing of roads
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. My constituents in Klondike living in Henderson's Corner are asking me why the minister doesn't like them. And the reason for their question is quite simple. It is because the roads in their subdivision remain unploughed, while the roads in Bear Creek and Rock Creek are ploughed. Can the minister explain the reason for this selective ploughing and why the people in Henderson's Corner do not have their access roads ploughed?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: That is a very nice comment, seeing as the member opposite knows my sister lives at Henderson's Corner. So, certainly I'm sure my sister's going to continue to enjoy the fruitful relationship, as will my brother-in-law, as will my nieces and certainly as the other people who live out there.
Certainly that, I think, should give light that there is no political favouritism this side of the House and there never will be. So, I do thank the member for the question and I will look into it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, but all three areas, Henderson's Corner, Rock Creek and Bear Creek, pay the same mil rate - the same tax rate - and they're outside the municipality of Dawson. Can the minister advise the House what the snowploughing policy of his government is in these areas?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, off the top of my head I could not do that, but I will certainly get back with information as to the procedure that is followed in that area.
Mr. Jenkins: So, it becomes quite evident, Mr. Speaker, that somehow the minister has issued instructions to his department to curtail snowploughing and to stop -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Well in the budget debate last year, all of the secondary roads, all of the secondary airstrips and emergency airstrips were curtailed and you know it's okay for -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. Order please.
Mr. Jenkins: My constituents aren't laughing, Mr. Speaker; they're trying to get out to get to work and the minister won't plough the main arterial roads in that subdivision. You know, the budget was curtailed last year in a lot of areas and it's affecting rural Yukon. I want to see the minister make a commitment to put money back in the budget to address those issues in rural Yukon. Those issues are very simple - a uniform and consistent policy of these roads in these subdivisions. Will the minister commit to that, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for the opportunity to address this question.
I certainly think, Mr. Speaker, that I should thank the member opposite for endorsing that this government is creating jobs that these people have to get to. I certainly appreciate that endorsement, because that is exactly what the member opposite has done.
As for the roads, I shall certainly get back to the member opposite. I know that the member opposite does not expect me to have that information at the very top of my head, and I will get back, as I said, to the member opposite with the information requested.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed and we will proceed with the Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Today, Committee will continue with its review of Bill No. 43, An Act to Amend the Public Health Act.
Bill No. 43 - An Act to Amend the Public Health Act - continued
Chair: We are dealing with Clause 8.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I thought you wanted to deal with clause 9.16(4).
On Clause 8 - continued
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, all of these clauses are hand-in-glove situations. Perhaps we can deal with them as a group and get back to line by line, and let the minister lead off with some explanations that I'm sure he's uncovered over the weekend.
Chair: That's what general debate is for.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, when we spoke on Thursday, there seemed to be a good deal of concern around subsection 16.4 of section 9, focusing primarily on the relationship between the municipal governments and the Government of Yukon as to public health and safety services and the question about who would bear the cost on that.
As I emphasized on Thursday, the purpose of this was primarily to bring this section into line with section 272 of the Municipal Act.
What I did was I took the concerns the members had on Thursday, and I met with the department. We discussed it in some detail. We discussed it further with Justice, and I have a proposed amendment that I would like to bring forward at this time.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'll just wait a second until the members have had a opportunity to take a look at it.
Bill No 43, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Health Act,
be amended in clause 9, on page 5 by
deleting the proposed section 16.4 and substituting the following section for it:
"16.4 The Minister may make agreements with municipalities under which the Government of the Yukon will provide, and pay some or all of the cost of providing, public health services to the municipality."
The intention of this was to, I suppose, address some of the concerns about the previous section being too open-ended and that it might be perceived as an offloading in this regard. Our department did have a discussion with a representative of AYC. This had not been an issue for them previously, and we listened to their concerns, and so this amendment is being suggested as a way to remove a measure of ambiguity in that regard so that the municipality would not see itself as being obliged to hold the costs for health services that the department may provide.
Chair: It has been moved by the hon. Dave Sloan
THAT Bill No. 43, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Health Act, be amended in clause 9 on page 5 by deleting the proposed section 16.4 and substituting the following section for it: "16.4 The Minister may make agreements with municipalities under which the Government of the Yukon will provide, and pay some or all of the cost of providing, public health services to the municipality."
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I do feel that this addresses an awful lot of concerns, particularly by changing the "may" to the "will". What I'm still concerned about is the generality on public health, and who takes control, who takes the lead in these matters. The Member for Klondike brought up very good examples about what happened in his municipality, and I'm wondering if there was any more clarification on that particular issue as well.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With regard to that, I can say that there's not an attempt by the department to establish, I suppose, a kind of an "us/them" kind of relationship. The object of this bill is to provide a more consultative relationship between municipalities and Health. I did bring up the issue of responsibility, and I think that probably what we can do with that is set out some very clear parameters of responsibility when we get to the regulation in terms of reporting authorities, and things of that nature.
My understanding, from Friday, or at least from the tenor of the comments that followed, was that the principal measure of concern was 16.4, so that's what we focused in on and looked at various ways. As I said, we had a discussion with representatives of AYC. We talked about it with the legal people, about how we could clarify this, so that the municipalities would not feel that they were being unduly burdened.
Mr. Jenkins: On the amendment, Mr. Chair, it does serve to tidy up somewhat the concerns that I raised on this area of downloading to and ultimately just invoicing the municipal governments for a service that is being provided, but we've missed the main thrust of the whole conversation last week.
What we are looking at is a transfer of responsibilities for this area from the federal government to the territorial government. This act was supposed to streamline the delivery of that service, under the Government of Yukon. It does not provide any more clarity in who's responsible to whom under what situations than it did before, and I would be very hopeful that the minister could address that issue.
Going further, 16.4 as amended, Mr. Chair, does serve to provide an avenue of downloading to municipal governments - that the municipalities are a party to this agreement. The Government of Yukon is ultimately vested with the responsibility and the authority to make this legislation, to oversee this legislation, and to deliver this legislation, but that clause, when one starts to analyze how one could work with it, could very well serve to download the financial responsibility to municipal governments.
The minister may make agreements with municipalities. The minister usually sends a copy of a contract to the municipality and says, "Sign this here and this is what we're going to do for you."
Having been on the receiving end many, many times, one only has to talk to his colleague, the Minister of Education, who just recently sent a contract to the City of Dawson saying, "Sign here and send it back." It's a renewal of the agreement to maintain the modular school units in that municipality.
So, that's how that clause can be interpreted - very readily, very easily - by the minister. What I'm looking for is clarity, number one, and fiscal certainty, number two. The measure of comfort provided by this act certainly does not address those two issues, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: In practice, the Government of Yukon does provide health services to municipalities. It isn't always clearly indicated in the Public Health Act.
I guess if we go back and take a look at paragraph 16.4, what it really was meant to do was to parallel section 272 of the Municipal Act, which does state, "Council made a bylaw authorizing an agreement between the municipality and the Government of the Yukon, under which the Government of the Yukon provides public health services to the municipality and the municipality pays some or all of the costs of these services."
The original 16.4 was to parallel that particular clause. I understood that the member's objections were that that was too open-ended because that would leave the onus upon the municipality for picking up those costs. What we've attempted to do in this amendment is to say that we would make agreements with those municipalities and that we would provide or pay some or all of those costs if we provide public health services to the municipalities.
Now obviously there's probably going to be some cost that would be shared. Let's take, for example, water testing. Some municipalities take water samples and send them outside and some of them send them to us. So, there may be an option there for seeking some shared payments there.
What this is is an attempt to clarify the relationship and give the municipalities some comfort.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister's example just doesn't hold water. Water testing done by the municipalities is done as a requirement of the water licence issued to that municipality. Virtually all of that testing is done in labs. Some of it can be done in the Yukon; some of it's done in labs in Vancouver; some of it's done in labs in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The public health people pull samples randomly and virtually duplicate a number of tests on their own. The public health people, the health inspector - or the federal health inspector, as that individual has been called up until now - does that separately and distinctly from any terms and conditions applied to municipal water testing and the location where that testing takes place.
There has been occasion where the health inspector will take water samples from individual wells and do that testing in house.
I would like the minister to cite another example in that area, because I spent a considerable amount of time running over this and I couldn't think of any other area. At present, Mr. Chair, the health inspector carries out and pays for all of these various inspections. I couldn't think of any area where the municipality is responsible to pick up any of the costs or would pick up any of the costs.
In the event of an accident or a spill or something of that nature, I can see where the municipality has a very distinct and identifiable obligation - and a financial obligation also, Mr. Chair - to address that issue. Other than that, in the routine course of business, could the minister please cite an example where this could be used and where it has been used, because I'm not aware of any.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can probably check and see if we can provide the member with some examples of how this might work. I guess my concern is, presently I'm at a bit of a loss to understand what the objection is, since there's a clause similar to the original 16.4 within the Municipal Act. I suppose if that clause is there and has a substantive similarity to this particular clause, then I'm at a loss to understand what the principal objection is to this particular section.
I had hoped that, by bringing in the amendment here, it would give a measure of clarify to this issue. Perhaps we can find out why, if it exists in the Municipal Act, what's the objection to having a parallel clause, or similar clause, in the Public Health Act.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess the standard answer, or the very easy answer is, although it's there in the Municipal Act, it has never caused any concern. It has never been utilized, and I'm not aware of any municipal government that has established their own health authority in this area. I'm not aware of any, Mr. Chair. Perhaps I could be advised if there are municipal governments that have taken it upon themselves to draw down this authority.
Also, Mr. Chair, the federal authority is usually loathe to download any fiscal responsibility for this area on the municipal governments and has not done so in the past. They've been more than accommodating. I wouldn't call them generous. They've done their task. From time to time, there hasn't been an individual in place to perform this function. The position has been vacant for quite a number of months in the course of the last couple of decades that I'm aware of, Mr. Chair, but overall, they've delivered their service, and they've delivered it well, and they've delivered it at no cost to municipal governments.
This clause just allows the Government of Yukon to put their toe in the door, and it could be built upon to download costs to municipal governments. I said previously in this House that I didn't have any quarrel with costs being assessed to municipal governments where, in fact, they were found in violation of specific areas and were found to be at fault.
In those cases, then, the costs of the resulting action and any inspection services probably should be borne by that municipal government. But, by and large, this just leads to a wide, open-ended - you might as well say a blank cheque, ultimately - because it would allow the government to step in and virtually dictate that this is the way we are heading and this is how we are going to do it and this is what your costs are going to be, period, full stop.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would, first of all, hope that we would be at least as accommodating as the federal government. I didn't know that the Member for Klondike was quite such a fan of the federal government.
However, when I take a look at these, and I take a look at section 272, and I take a look at the proposed amendment to 16.4, I would have to say that just in comparison, the term "The minister may make agreements with municipalities under which the Government of the Yukon will provide, and pay some of the cost of providing public health services to the municipality" does a great deal more in terms of protection of the municipalities than section 272 because 272 suggests that the municipality is going to bear - at least the tenor of it suggests that the municipality will bear at least some or all of the services, where this one here has it, by implication, the fact that the Government of the Yukon will bear the principal costs in this.
So, I would say that the proposed amendment to section 16.4 goes somewhat further than section 272, which, as the member has said, already exists, and while it may not have been used, he is not aware of any time that it has been used. I would say that probably this proposed amendment would likely fall in the same way.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I guess it all boils down to trust, but 272 of the Municipal Act empowers the municipality to get involved in that area. The municipality has to take the onus upon themselves to explore that area and to enact a bylaw to get involved in that area. That is an issue separate and distinct from section 16.4.
It doesn't say that after the municipality empowers itself, the Government of Yukon can enter into a contract with it. They're not dovetailed in the way that the minister is leading us to believe.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would say that the member has hit the nail on the head when he said that it becomes a matter of trust, and I think in this case what we've tried to do is indicate, in this revised clause 16.4, that we are not going to be jumping into situations where we're going to impose things on municipalities and that we're prepared to work cooperatively with municipalities. That, I think, is the tenor of this entire act. I would suggest that the amended clause 16.4 does address some of those concerns.
Mr. Jenkins: Like I said earlier, Mr. Chair, it addresses some of those concerns, but it doesn't address all of those concerns, and it's not an open and shut case. It still leaves the door open. It's not wide open, but it's still open.
Now, I'm sure the minister had a number of conversations with his officials last Friday, and perhaps, even over the weekend, if he was attending to his responsibilities in the manner that he normally feels he should. I was hoping that the minister might go back to his department and consider dovetailing this so that it provides further clarity to the issue at hand.
Would the minister consider that request, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, we did. As the member has indicated, following our conversation on Thursday, I identified the areas of concern that the member had raised. I sent those to the department. I met with the staff on Friday morning. I asked that they discuss with Justice the proposed concerns. I asked that an amendment be drafted, which would address the concerns of both members who raised this issue. They did, as well as with an undertaking for the Member for Riverdale South.
There was some discussion with AYC on this. AYC had not seen it as an issue until, I suppose, it was raised, and there didn't seem to be any outstanding problems. The amendment came back. We discussed the amendment at some length.
We did get a legal opinion. Was this in congruence with what was in the Municipal Act, et cetera, et cetera, so this is what we're bringing forward? So the work was done on it and there were at least three meetings on this as well as work done by policy people and Justice over the weekend.
Mr. Jenkins: Now we've come full circle to the whole purpose of the act, and the act, as explained to the various municipal governments and to AYC was that it was a housekeeping act to address the transfer of responsibility from the federal government to the territorial government. And they were told that virtually nothing would change.
Probably at the onset, Mr. Chair, nothing will change, but with these little clauses, it leaves the door open for a downloading of fiscal responsibility to the municipal governments. It also does not address the issue of clarity as to overall responsibility and who's responsible for what.
So, I would have thought that the two major areas of concern to municipal governments are, one, that clarity as to who is responsible for what, when and how and under what conditions would be clearly spelled out and identified in this act. And I would also hope that the minister could spell out clearly how the fiscal responsibility is going to be addressed.
It's an issue that no one is going to be even concerned with until such time as it happens, and then the minister's officials and his department are going to say, "Mr. Minister, this is the section you hang your hat on, and it gives you the complete authority to enter into those agreements and transfer those costs to the lower level of governments who are utilizing our services." They could make one heck of a good case for it, and I'd suggest to the minister that we might not be too far off before we see this occur.
So, I'm looking for clarity, number one, and I'm looking for clear delineation of that downloading of fiscal responsibilities - how it could be done and how it can be addressed - because it's clearly in the minister's domain to enter into an agreement and pass on those costs to that municipal government.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I suppose I have perhaps a less Machiavellian view of government and public servants than the member opposite.
I would remind the member that the consultations on this began in October 1994. Ever since the start of this, there have been municipalities represented. There have been consultations with the Department of Justice on a variety of issues and with the RCMP on issues such as the question of regulated matter. A consultation document was done in May or June of 1995 that was reviewed by a whole variety of departments. There was a consultation paper that went out to all municipalities, all First Nations, CYFN, federal departments, the First Nation Health Committee, the Yukon Medical Association and the registered nurses. There were communications and news releases on radio, and public advertising. People were encouraged to contact us. Copies of the document were made available in Whitehorse and the communities.
Frankly, there were very few responses to the consultation received. Most of them were from individuals and related to specific concerns. There was one meeting held with the registered nurses, who wanted to address some issues there.
This has gone back and forth. There has been a lot of consultation. Most recently, in October, at the request of the department, the Association of Yukon Communities sent a final letter to all municipalities asking for comments. No comments were received.
Mr. Chair, I would say that the municipalities, in this case, have been consulted. It hasn't appeared to have been an issue until we got into this Chamber. I'm of the view that municipalities are probably as capable as anyone else, if they saw an issue here that they felt was dangerous to their fiscal independence or that they felt was an offloaded kind of responsibility, they would have raised it. To date, that has not emerged. I just wonder, in this case, why the member feels that he has to be the champion of an issue that has not yet arisen from any of the municipalities whom he purports to protect. It seems to me that these people are perfectly capable of raising their own concerns.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Chair, but the minister has to face that scrutiny. What we are here to do is to put in place good acts and I have no quarrel with the amount of consultation -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, could you get your member over there to behave himself and be quiet so we can debate intelligently in this House?
Point of order
Hon. Mr. Harding: Point of order, Mr. Chair. I couldn't hear him over the ranting of the Member for Riverdale North. What did he say?
Mr. Jenkins: On the point of order, Mr. Chair. You know, you've got a member over there who constantly heckles and harasses everybody in this House over on this side. You know, tell him to behave himself and act accordingly.
Chair: I would like to remind members to not speak before they're recognized and to keep their remarks parliamentary.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I assume that the member has finished his comments. No?
Mr. Jenkins: Let's back up a step or two, Mr. Chair, and let's look at what the minister has just said. He's gone out, and his department has consulted with all concerned parties, and admirably so; it's duly recognized.
The gist of the consultation was that this act is a bridging act for a change of responsibility from the federal government to the Government of Yukon and there's going to be no change in the delivery of the service. That was my interpretation of what was said to the municipal governments, and it wouldn't raise any alarm bells that there are areas that are going to be changed, that are going to be somewhat altered unless one got specifically and intimately involved with every detail of the act - o
f the act itself, the Public Health Act, of the Municipal Act and of this act, An Act to Amend the Public Health Act.
When one takes the time to put them all together, one can recognize areas where the Government of Yukon can download and also tag on the associated costs of that downloading, and one doesn't recognize these immediately, Mr. Chair, unless one has been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment from a senior level of government.
Then when, after a while, one learns what to look out for, and you have a heads-up, and I've cited a number of for-instances of exact occurrences how municipalities have been treated under various pieces of legislation where downloading has occurred, and there have been a lot of difficulties associated with it. What I'm looking for from the minister in this act is clarity, a firm, delineated chain of command as to who is responsible for what under what circumstances and, also, this area of the act - 16.4 - dealing with the potential to download fiscal costs to municipal governments. I'm looking for a way of fairly treating municipal governments.
Now, you're not going to get any of the municipal governments alarmed at this juncture, Mr. Chair, because none of them have been faced with this area, and none of them have adopted, or drawn down, powers available to them under section 272 of the Municipal Act - at least none of the municipalities I'm aware of, and I can go back some time. That leads me to conclude that either this was bootlegged in with some intention down the road, or it's the direction the government is going to be taking down the road to offload some of their costs associated with the delivery of this service.
Now, what is the case, Mr. Chair? Yes, it boils down to trust, but the trends today are a downloading of responsibility from the federal government to the provincial or territorial government, and a subsequent downloading of that responsibility, and the fiscal cost, from that level of government to the next level of government. That concerns me greatly, Mr. Chair, because we only have one taxpayer.
Chair: Before proceeding, the Chair would like to remind members they should become more familiar with the House rules. For instance, the Chair does not represent any particular side in the Committee of the Whole and, therefore, does not "have any members".
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, first of all, I really take strong exception to this term "bootlegging". Bootlegging suggests that there is something improper going on here, that there's some kind of le main caché, some kind of grey eminence hiding out there in the Department of Health, that's looking for ways to dump on municipalities. I would suggest that that is wrong, and I would suggest that the member's tone is pejorative, bullying, hectoring and makes absolutely no relevance to this act at all. I would say he's just playing the old anti-government card.
This act is designed to assist the administration of public health, and I would ask the member to withdraw the term "bootleg". I think that's totally improper.
Mr. Jenkins: I haven't heard the minister that upset until he decided to hide the contracts that he's got in his other department, and he won't provide them. So, I guess the minister is on an emotional sled ride and can't address his responsibilities with this act.
I'm very, very hopeful that he can see his way clear to address the issue, and the issue is clearly identified. Number one, it's clarity, clarity of the responsibility of authority all the way down - a clearly delineated chain of command. Number two is to remove this avenue of possibility of costs being downloaded to municipal governments.
That's the case all over Canada. It's not specifically associated with the minister's department. It's an area that governments all over are having to deal with. So, I'd be very, very hopeful if the minister could see his way clear and address these two issues.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, we have attempted to say that we are looking for a cooperative relationship with municipalities. We are not locked into the kind of, I suppose, jack-booted, militaristic hierarchy that the member so fondly favours. What we're seeking to do is work cooperatively with municipalities here.
Now, if the member is of the opinion that we're trying to pull a fast one here or we're trying to dump things on municipalities, he is wrong. He is bluntly wrong, and I would suggest that he needs to take a look at what the tenor of this act is. He needs to take a look at the revised amendment.
I don't have any particular emotional investment in this amendment, but I do have an emotional investment in a department that he has taken great time to slam by suggesting that "bootleg," which is a term that to me would suggest that we've tried by clause 16.4 to slide something under the table.
I would suggest that that is wrong. I would suggest that this act in its entirety has been an object of discussion amongst municipalities, who, I presume, have some staff available to take a look at these acts and to comment on them, and we have not received any concerns in that regard. Now, the member may see himself as a champion - sort of a white knight charging out to defend the municipalities - but obviously the municipalities don't feel that they are indeed being threatened by the YTG dragon, so they were quite content in this regard.
Now, I realize that, in his rather Don Quixote-like manner, he's off tilting at various windmills but I would suggest that this is one windmill that we're spending a heck of a lot of time on, at a great deal of public expense, on an issue which I don't think truly warrants it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, unfortunately I don't share the minister's opinion of these kinds of acts and the way that the senior levels of government deal with the junior levels of government. I've been on the junior level of government, junior to the Government of the Yukon, for quite a number of years, Mr. Chair - through NDP governments in power, through Yukon Party governments in power - and the officials set an agenda. Perhaps it could be beyond the ability of the minister to recognize the potential of this clause; I don't know that, Mr. Chair. I suggest he hasn't had the chance to analyze it and to see how this could work.
But this leaves the door open, Mr. Chair, and it leaves it open at a considerable width so that the wind can blow in and the cold can get in and the end result will be that there will be a cost associated with it that will be charged to the municipal governments, and there will be a downloading of that cost. As soon as there's a cost that goes beyond the budgeted ability of this government to handle, then the next area that will be looked at is downloading that cost to the municipal governments.
That's what I see occurring down the road - perhaps not at this juncture, perhaps not this year - well, this year is almost over - but I don't see it in the too far distant future, that this area and that clause specifically will be used to download some of the costs - probably not all of the costs but some of the costs - associated with this act to the municipal government.
Can the minister give us his assurances that there is going to be no such downloading, and how can we enshrine that into this act so that that could be made to exist in that manner and not affect the financial costs of municipal governments, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm not privy to Jo Jo's psychic hotline as the member is opposite, but I can tell the member that the intention of this clause was not to impose any undue hardship on any municipality. It has not been our custom in this department to try to offload anything in terms of financial or other responsibilities. As a matter of fact, we often find ourselves on the receiving end of offloaded responsibilities, be they DIA or whatever. So, we have no intention here of trying to offload on to any municipality. I thought I had emphasized that. The purpose of this amendment was to give the member some comfort in saying that if there are some public health services that the department would provide, or the Government of the Yukon would provide, then the minister can make an agreement with the municipality to either pick up all or part of the cost. So, by its very tenor, I would suggest that this revised amendment is an acceptance of an implicit responsibility, and it articulates the fact that we will work cooperatively with the municipality.
Mr. Jenkins: I notice that the minister selected his words extremely carefully. He's not going to place any undue hardships on any municipal governments. He didn't say he wasn't going to download financial costs to municipal governments. And, let me suggest to the minister, Mr. Chair, the first area that is going to be looked at and either downloaded directly to the municipal government or the proponent. Currently, if someone is building a home or a commercial undertaking and it is not on a piped water and sewer system and they have to put in a septic field, all of that inspection service is done, gratis, by the federal health officer. It has been suggested to me that that will be the first area that this government will look at, at assessing a charge and assessing a charge to either the proponent or the municipal government for this undertaking. That I see as the first step, Mr. Chair. Now, is that what the minister is advocating? Because that certainly can be done under this section that is being bootlegged into the act.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Once again, the member has used a pejorative term. I think that it's not a term that is either respectful of this House or respectful of public officials. I know he has very little respect for public officials but, nonetheless, I think we do have to endeavour to assume that people who work for the public sector do have a measure of concern for the common good.
The member has made reference to, say, something such as inspections of wells and things of that nature as being gratis. I would just refer the member to the fact that the Auditor General has identified many things that the government is currently doing gratis, or at a reduced cost, and that perhaps they should be looking at some recovery of revenues. I can't guarantee that a future Auditor General may not come along and say that these are the kinds of things that should be covered or should be used as a revenue-generating issue. Perhaps some of our costs are out of line; I don't know.
I know that we do provide a vast number of services that are free. I can't guarantee that at a future point we won't be advised by the powers that be that perhaps we should be looking at a different delivery system.
I can take a look at this amendment. If the member is so convinced - absolutely convinced - that beavering away down in the bowels of the public health department are a group of people who are coming up with all kinds of scenarios to sting the municipalities - if he really believes that - I will indulge his fantasy for a moment and suggest that this section 16.4 is not, as I indicated earlier, something that I'm completely wed to in terms of having to have it in. If the member would prefer, we can delete the entire section 16.4 and let it fall upon section 272 of the Municipal Act and have that as the underlying element.
For the sake of expediency and for the sake of moving this bill along, it really doesn't impact us any, except that the suggested amendment would, I thought, provide a measure of clarity.
If the members are so convinced that this is a bad clause, then I would ask the member if he would state right now that he believes that this revised 16.4 is, in fact, an attempt by the Yukon government to steal resources away from the municipality. If he will give me that declaration, then I would say that I would have to indulge his fantasy there, and we can withdraw this.
Mr. Jenkins: What I've stated, Mr. Chair, and what I will state again for the record, is that this clause leaves the door open for the minister to download responsibility and the associated fiscal costs to the municipalities. Under section 272 of the Municipal Act, the municipal government has to, by bylaw, take on that authority before they can do anything.
As I said earlier, Mr. Chair, I'm not aware of any municipal government having drawn down that power. So the power has been remaining with the Government of Yukon to undertake this area, and it would be completely acceptable to me to delete that entire clause.
Mind you, the minister can put into the regulations this type of an area, and put in a whole series of costs by regulation for various services - various fees for various services provided. He can enact that irrespective of this clause being present or omitted.
So, I'd be acceptable to the minister deleting this clause in its entirety. Then the total onus for any downloading is vested with the minister and his department and his officials. It would be nice to have it in there with certain clarity as to how and the methodology that this would conform to, should it be enacted, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I guess I'll just have to instruct all the folks over in public health to sharpen their knives in other ways, because I'm sure they'll be crushed that all the skullduggery that they've been planning up to now to offload responsibilities on to municipalities has gone for naught.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yeah, it's true. It's sort of like the evil equivalent of Santa's elves. We're down there, just trying to figure out ways to get the municipalities.
However, since the member has obviously made this his raison d'être, I certainly don't want to rain on his parade. What we will do is I will propose that we will withdraw this amendment, and though I believe wholeheartedly that the member's allegations are wrong, I believe wholeheartedly that the member has taken a tack during this debate which I think is disrespectful of public servants, disrespectful of the ability of municipalities to determine their own futures and disrespectful of their ability to interpret legislation on their own behalf.
I will withdraw the amended 16.4 and, in fact, that section from 9. But, once again, I would have to emphasize that there was never an intention in this piece of legislation to impose any hardship upon the municipalities.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, despite the high cost of electricity, Mr. Chair, I'm pleased that the minister has seen the light and thank him.
Chair: Is there a unanimous consent to withdraw the amendment?
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I believe that the offer on the floor, so to speak, right now is to withdraw section 9.
Chair: The offer on the floor is to withdraw the amendment. Is it agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Unanimous consent has been granted to withdraw the amendment. Now, does clause 8 carry?
Point of order
Chair: Point of order, Mr. Harding.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I believe, if I could be of any assistance, what the minister is advocating is that he removes a clause. Perhaps the Clerk can help us.
Chair: Does clause 8 carry?
Clause 8 agreed to
On Clause 9
Hon. Mr. Sloan: What I will have to do is get a written amendment here, but I would move that section 16.4 be deleted from section 9.
Chair: Do subclauses 1, 2 and 3 clear first?
Mr. Jenkins: I'm still somewhat concerned, Mr. Chair, with respect to section 8, as it refers to 13.1 with "the health officer believes" and section 9 referring to 16.1 with "the health officer suspects."
Now, there's a great deal of distance between believing something and suspecting something, and that suspicion and the powers given to that individual are all-encompassing. My concern is that, from the time the medical health officer suspects something, makes a phone call and says, "You are to do this," and actually physically is on site - or someone designated by that medical health officer is physically on site - to investigate the allegation, those time lines can be, in some cases, one or two or three days apart, and therein lies a problem, Mr. Chair.
Is the minister prepared to tighten it up, and I take the minister's word if, in regulations, there are time lines applied to when the medical health officer enacts section 9, makes a phone call and says, "I suspect this. You're to shut down your restaurant or your processing plant immediately," and then doesn't show up or have any official show up on the site for one or two or three days to conduct an investigation or to do the appropriate testing - i
s the minister prepared to bring forward, in the regulations, time lines to ensure that this followup is done in a very forthright manner, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, Mr. Chair. I discussed this issue with the department on Friday and we can include some kind of time lines within regulations that ensure that this is done with a measure of alacrity.
Mr. Jenkins: If that minister's assurance is there, I'm prepared to clear section 9.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, like much of the act, a lot of the language in here is very broad and very, very lacking in clarity. It is not concise.
In 16.2, we talk about "The Department of Health and Social Services has determined that there exists anywhere in the Yukon a hazard to public health or safety." I'd still like to have a little bit more definition of what that is.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, it's a bit difficult to anticipate what that might be in terms of a hazard to public health and safety. I mean, it's such an all-encompassing kind of issue. It could be an outbreak of communicable disease. It could be a chemical spill. It could be perhaps a building where there was discovered to be some kind of contaminant, or, I mean, in the system - asbestos or something of that nature.
I think, basically, it's designed to try and address this idea that, you know, there is any kind of hazard to public health and safety. I don't think we can be too definite on it, because there are always issues arising that we might not be able to anticipate.
Mrs. Edelman: I guess that that's where I have a concern. If you say that anything could be a threat to public health and safety, then at what point do you say that what the person is perceiving to be a threat to public health and safety is, in fact, a nuisance. Where do you draw the line between a nuisance and a threat to public health and safety? Anything can be a threat to my health or my safety. I mean, bad lighting could be a threat to my health and my safety.
So, I guess that that's where I have a concern. At what point would you direct the public health officer to, you know, only look at major concerns? That's where I have a problem, because quite often, people get caught up in the minutiae of life, and that's where I have a concern, and I don't want to see municipalities, for example, paying for people coming back and back and back on what becomes a smaller and smaller and smaller issue.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Let's just take an example of, perhaps, a building, and, for sake of argument, we've got a building which individuals may perceive as being somewhat hazardous to their health in terms of perhaps lighting or ventilation or whatever. There are procedures in place where those can be brought forward, in terms of safety committees and things of that nature, to take a look at the environmental conditions in a building.
I think what this act is intended to do is to sort of move beyond that, and my interpretation of an issue of public health and safety would be something that would have a degree of seriousness that could impact upon a large group of people that would be, perhaps, extraordinary to the normal conditions or the conditions that individuals are living under or working under.
I don't think it's the kind of thing where we would call in the medical health officer for perhaps things that could be dealt with in other ways. So, while I realize that there is a bit of scope there, I also think that we need a measure of scope to be able to anticipate issues that do arise.
Mrs. Edelman: I may be speaking out of turn. Is there somewhere else in the act where there is a clearer definition of public health and safety, similar to the one the minister has just given?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, if you go back to the preamble, and when we take a look at the preamble, while there isn't, strictly speaking, a need to have a preamble on legislation, it has been added. I think I have spoke about this earlier. For example, paragraph 1, "recognizing the public reasonably expects high standards of public health and safety", and then going on, "recognizing that there also needs to be effective ways to prevent and protect against threats to the public health and safety, and recognize the individuals, corporations, governments, each have a responsibility to act in the interest of public health and safety."
I think that is an attempt to define things that are basically of a larger concern, and I also think that it also recognizes that there will be issues in which we have to have a measure of freedom to deal with some of these, whether they're, as I said, an outbreak of communicable disease or perhaps an environmental concern.
I wouldn't like to get too narrow in our definition because then what we might get into is a jurisdictional kind of thing. For example, if we are talking about a spill of solid material, insulation for example, does that fall under an environmental concern, or does it have to a liquid leakage of fuel or whatever. And, I think that what this does is it empowers the department to take action whenever there is some kind of threat to the public health.
Mrs. Edelman: I still sense a lack of clarity, and I've heard this concern from other places, and that is my concern, that there is no definition. Is it possible to at least say that it affects more than one person? For example, when kids drop something on the floor at my house, it becomes a problem with my health - like, am I going to slip on it, which invariably I do, I might point out. At what point do we decide that this is a big hazard for everybody in the Yukon, or is it just a hazard for the Member for Riverdale South?
I suppose, if there is an opportunity anywhere in here, just as a friendly suggestion, to say at least that it affects more than one person, that might be more clear.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would suggest that the very fact that the act is a public health act and that it does make reference to the idea of threats against public health and safety as opposed to, perhaps, individual health and safety - the member, as she has pointed out, may cook up some chicken that's gone past its best-before date and, consequently, cause some difficulties within her own household in terms of food poisoning - but I would suggest that, in terms of the public, the role of the department in this case would be to intervene and to ensure that adequate food standards and adequate ways of food preparation that would affect the public at large would, I think, be the intent of this act.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, just to be clear, as I haven't tried to poison my children recently, is there something in the main act that speaks to what "public" is, then?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm sorry, I nearly missed that because of the muttering over there.
I would say that it's a little hard to focus in on anything, but it does say, for example, that it recognizes that individuals, corporations and government have responsibility.
It also suggests by its intent, and later on by the substance of some of the acts - for example, regulations concerning cemeteries, crematoriums, that kind of thing - just presuming that's not kind of a do-it-yourself sort of act, it talks about the facilities, it talks about food preparation facilities, sanitation of public premises, it talks about protecting the public from radiation. I haven't fired up my cyclotron in the last little while, but I would imagine that that would suggest that there is something with regard to the public - just the entire substance of the bill, when it makes reference to customers, clients, occupants of premises, public facilities, public premises, goods or services to be sold or supplied to the public or customers or clients - the entire tenor really suggests we're talking about something that does involve the public at large. So I would suggest that the substance of the bill, the title of the bill and the preamble, would indicate that we're talking about something that deals with the overall public.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm still troubled by this interpretation - "believes" and "suspects". I note that if we move on further, Mr. Chair, there's a section for the police officers, under 10(2), "if a health officer or peace officer believes on reasonable grounds". You know, perhaps it would be prudent where a medical health officer believes on reasonable grounds that there exists a hazard to public health or safety, rather than just suspects. I think it would tighten it up. It is tightened up if you go to 10(2) and look at that section, Mr. Chair. I'm just concerned with how wide open it is.
I'm not suggesting or not trying to suggest to the minister that anyone is going to abuse any responsibility vested with them, but I think it's prudent that we provide adequate legislation, Mr. Chair, that spells out how people empowered under this act can act. I would suggest to the minister that it would make an abundant amount of sense to me to add in 16.1 before "suspects," "believes on reasonable grounds". How would the minister view that kind of an approach?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think I went over this in some detail this past Thursday regarding basically what the idea of suspecting or believing is. I would suggest that what this does is that this gives the medical health officer some latitude in being able to take a look at a situation where there might not be a concrete kind of example.
I would suggest that what this does is this just provides a measure of latitude so that a medical health officer can take the necessary action, in this case, to notify the prescribed officer of Health and Social Services or the municipality or the chief administrative officer and then work with them to investigate whether that hazard exists.
There may be some cases where, for example, a condition may exist where perhaps an area was contaminated at one time or there was suspicion that an area was contaminated one time with PCBs in an area that is being considered for development and the medical health officer comes into some information where it's being suggested, well didn't - oh, I don't know - Northwestel or someone stored something there at a given time. There might not be anything particularly definite in this case, but it might be worthwhile for the medical health officer at that point to contact the municipal authorities or the chief administrative officer and say, "Well, you know, can we check this out? Can we see if indeed that was the case?"
I believe that "suspect" gives the medical health officer an opportunity to look into situations which might exist without a clear sort of sequence of events, that this follows this, and so on. I think it just gives the medical health officer some latitude in that regard.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, the example cited by the minister is clearly covered by the Environment Act and associated environmental regulations. And when one looks at the Public Health Act, the medical health officer or the health inspector have the powers, at virtually any time, to investigate and to do an examination of any food processing, food serving, or any public facility. The example that the minister cited was very, very far-fetched and I, again, searched my background to see if I could come up with an example where this could be utilized.
In virtually all cases, somebody is either conducting a routine check on a premise or is involved in investigating a complaint. But to suggest that a medical health officer "suspects" - what is the basis for their suspicion? In my opinion, Mr. Chair, it has to go somewhat beyond "suspect". We all have suspicions about everything in the normal course of our day, but we don't take action until we have something that confirms that suspicion. And the same holds true in this act.
So I'm just suggesting to the minister that this area would be much more palatable if it was tightened up somewhat.
The reasons that the minister has provided, in my opinion, are very, very broad and the examples the minister gave are covered by other legislation.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Okay, let me just see if I can provide perhaps a different example. Suppose there's a suspicion of a contaminant in the food supply something akin to meat products that might be contaminated in southern Canada. We're not clear as to whether those products have come into the Yukon - Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Perhaps we've had recent examples in the United States of E. coli bacteria being found in large amounts in hamburger.
With the opening of trade borders there, we have American products coming into our food chain. We have overseas products - perhaps things such as the meat products from Britain, where there has been an outbreak of certain kinds of disease.
Even though we don't have anything clearly saying, "Well, this product came here to Canada; it was shipped to Montreal; it was shipped west to Edmonton and distributed by XYZ meat company, or whatever," there may be sufficient concern that the medical health officer may say, "Well, just to be on the safe side, let's take a look and see if we do have some food contaminants, just as a safeguard." So, I would say that what "suspects" does is give the medical health officer in this case a little more latitude than having to clearly point out a sequence of events.
I don't think it's an attempt to impose anything or to do anything untoward, because if one takes a look at what is being suggested here, it's not suggesting that the medical health officer shall shut down something. It's the medical health officer notifying the Department of Health and Social Services or the mayor and municipality of the affected municipality, and the prescribed officer - and that would be whomever in the Department of Health and Social Services - may in consultation with the representatives - and I note that "may in consultation with the representatives of the municipality" - direct an investigation to determine whether that hazard exists and what to do about it.
Mr. Jenkins: Again, the example that the minister cited is somewhat far-fetched from what the 16.1 would apply to. The medical health officer, in the case that the minister cited, would be acting on reasonable grounds. There would be a suspicion that would give rise to the medical health officer's concerns that there was an E. coli outbreak in some processed food at some place in some plant, and that processed food could have ended up in the food chain here in Yukon. Now, that would be more than suspicion.
What we are looking at is "suspect". "Suspect" is very, very broad, Mr. Chair, and the minister has still skirted all around it but couldn't come up with a definite answer as to why "suspect" should be included in the wording here when, in all other cases in this act, it is much more specific. The health officer believes, the peace officer believes on reasonable grounds, or the medical health officer believes on reasonable grounds. That should be the test of any enforcement action or reaction by any regulatory agency. You have suspicions, but you have them on reasonable and probable grounds, or reasonable grounds.
So, again, there's not enough continuity in these proposed amendments, and these are very, very broad and sweeping powers that are accorded to this medical health officer in this case, Mr. Chair. We still haven't ferreted out why the power should be that broad.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I don't think a speculative venture, such as suspicion, suddenly springs into someone's mind. "Suspicion" implies that there needs to be some kind of association with an issue. As I used earlier, perhaps it's an outbreak of a particular kind of food contaminant.
Perhaps it is that some bottled water was discover to contain traces of benzene, and that water was in Whitehorse. While there may be no information that that water had ended in the stores of Watson Lake, Faro or Carmacks, the medical health officer may be suspect, just based on one example or a couple of examples, that this instance may occur in other places and follow through.
Suspicion generally implies that there has to be something behind it. I don't think anyone wakes up in the middle of the night and says, well, I suspect this that or the other thing. I think there generally has to be a pre-existing condition to lead to speculation. I think "believe" is a far stronger term because "believe" indicates that generally there is some hard, associative kind of evidence.
I can't see where this is too open ended. I think we have to have the ability to take some action in terms of protecting the public health. If the member would read through the section, he can see that there are certain safeguards. For example, the medical health officer can't take sort of precipitous action. They have to work with the Department of Health and Social Services and the mayor or chief administrative officer, and, as well, in consultation, direct what kind of investigation you need in terms of hazard. It may turn out that all you are really going to do is check some water, but I don't think that it is as open ended as the member suggested.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, would the minister entertain a friendly amendment, that the medical health officer suspects "on reasonable grounds" that there exists a hazard to public health or safety?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: My colleague, the Minister of Education, has suggested that that would be implicit in the legislation, that there would be some kind of reasonable grounds, and I would have to take a look at if putting in that term would overly restrict the medical health officer in that regard. I would hope that it would be understood that a medical health officer would not take precipitous action in that regard.
Mr. Jenkins: So, is the minister going to get back to us on that or is he going to give his consideration to it at a break, or how would he suggest we proceed?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I will get back to the member after the break and report if that, indeed, would pose any difficulties or any restriction.
Chair: Do members wish to report progress on this, and go on to the next bill? Do members wish to take a brief recess? Do members wish to set this clause aside and proceed with this bill?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Clause 9 stood over
Chair: We will go now to clause 10, page 6.
On Clause 10
Clause 10 agreed to
On Clause 11
Clause 11 agreed to
Chair: Is it the members' wish to now take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Clause 9 revisited
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With regard to section 9, subsection 16.1, I have consulted with counsel just over the break and I'm told that it would not be any problem to add the term, "health officer suspects on reasonable grounds." We are drafting that amendment and we'll bring that forward as soon as it's possible. The French translation may be somewhat lagging in time, but I can give the member the assurance that we can insert that.
Do I need to move that particular amendment?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I would move that section 16.1 be amended in clause 9 on page 5 by: inserting after the word "suspects" the expression "upon reasonable grounds".
Chair: It has been moved by the hon. Mr. Sloan
THAT Bill No. 43, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Health Act, be amended in clause 9 on page 5 by: inserting after the word "suspects" the expression "upon reasonable grounds".
Amendment agreed to
Mr. Jenkins: Just on subclauses 16.1 and 16.2, in section 9, the minister did promise to bring in, under regulations, time lines for reacting. This is an area that's given rise to concerns, and I was hoping that in the time lines that the minister considers - and I'd like his assurances - when a premise is shut down verbally over the telephone by the public health officer, an investigation will be carried out by officials of that department within 24 hours and a determination made if that closure should continue or not continue.
That's the area I'm quite concerned with, Mr. Chair. I'm looking for the minister's assurance that this type of situation won't recur.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I don't know about the time frame, but I will endeavour that in regulations we make it as expediently as possible, and I would hope that that would be as short a duration as necessary to get staff there and do whatever is needed. So, I can give the member an assurance that in regulations we'll try to make it as expedient as possible.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, one of the concerns that I have is that people who are in business can lose a lot of money in one day. They can lose even more within a week, and that's enough to put some businesses under because you live almost hand to mouth, especially in your first year of operation. And having someone out there who is saying that your place isn't fit for people to eat at does an awful lot toward the reputation of your establishment, and you can lose your establishment just on the rumour.
That's why I think that the sooner you get that through, the better it is, and that "expedient" is not clear enough. It needs to be clearer than that. It needs to be within 24 hours. I think the Member for Klondike had a very good suggestion. I think you have to treat business well. They bring a lot into our communities and, if we don't have them, we won't have restaurants and we won't have stores and we won't have anything else, and we'll have to go and shop outside.
That's really a concern and I think that, if you are looking at that, maybe you need to set some really clear time lines.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think the members have a point and I'll certainly discuss that with the department in regulations because we are not interested in creating hardship for restaurants. We know that, particularly during the tourist season, they have a very narrow window in which to make their profits because very often the tourist season is the thing that carries many businesses through. So, we would not be interested in trying to impact on a business's bottom line.
So, I will raise that with the department. I'll take the suggestion forward for some kind of response within 24 hours, and see what we can do in terms of determining regulations.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, thank you, Mr. Chair, but again I would appreciate the minister being very specific, and what I'm referring to is in the instances where a phone call has gone from the office saying, we suspect that there is a problem there, you close that premise right away. What I'm looking for is, in that type of situation, that the department attend at that premise within 24 hours and make a determination whether that premise will continue to stay closed or reopen. I'm not looking for his assurances that, when there's a suspicion, that an investigation take place within a certain period of time. I'm looking for the minister's assurances that 24 hours be the absolute limit time line that, when the health official - inspection official - closes a premise by telephone or by serving fax notice on that premise, especially along the highways of Yukon, that someone be in attendance at that property within 24 hours of giving that notice to make a determination if in fact there is a risk to health and public safety and if in fact that premise should continue to be closed, because there's been one case that I'm well aware of that there was quite a time line from the time that the phone call was made saying "You are to close" and someone attended there to make a determination, and that cost irreparable damage to that firm's reputation and trade. So, that's the one area that I am looking for a definite commitment - time lines of 24 hours max. Can the minister consider that and give his assurance please?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I can certainly consider it. While I can't make any assurances as to whether within 24 hours a person can make a determination whether the business would reopen or not, what I can do is make an assurance that in regulations that someone will attend within that period of time.
I think that is reasonable. I think making a determination at the end of 24 hours whether or not there has to be further closure or whatever or whether there has to be some investigation, I think might be a bit much, but I will give assurances on the idea of having an official attend within 24 hours.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd like to thank the minister for his cooperation on this act, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Do subclauses 16.2 and 16. 3 carry?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I move that Bill No. 43, An Act to Amend the Public Health Act, be amended in clause 9 on page 5 by deleting the proposed section 16.4.
Chair: It has been moved by the hon. Dave Sloan that
Bill No. 43, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Health Act, be amended in clause 9 on page 5 by deleting the proposed section 16.4.
Amendment agreed to
Clause 9 agreed to as amended
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I move that Bill No. 43 be moved out of Committee with amendment.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 47 - An Act to Amend the Public Service Group Insurance Benefit Plan Act
Mr. Ostashek: I was just wondering if the minister had any general comments in general debate.
Hon. Mr. Harding: My speech in second reading was pretty comprehensive, and I'm just willing to answer any questions and hear the members out on this bill.
Mr. Ostashek: We're in agreement with this bill. I do have a couple of questions that I'd like to ask the minister to clarify for us on the group insurance. I take it this is part of the repatriation of the pensions and everything from Ottawa, and this is the first step in the process. Can the minister tell me if I'm right in that assumption?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, they're not necessarily intertwined. However, it is consistent with the government's goal to want to try and patriate both the benefits package and the pension to the Yukon and to the Yukon government employees.
Mr. Ostashek: Okay, I appreciate that. I realize that they are two separate programs. I do know that there have been ongoing negotiations for many, many, many years on the patriation of pensions. I was just wondering, can the minister tell us, when the public group insurance was handled by the federal government, was it done in house? Did the premiums stay with the federal government or was it through a private insurance plan?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, there is some pretty extensive information on insurance that I can provide for the member. Each plan that it has held is underwritten and the underwriting is supposed to protect the plan, depending on the type of risk that people are being faced with.
There are two poles of insurance continuum. At one end, all risk is transferred to the carrier and the policy holder pays the premium levied for the pool of participants, and at the other end the policyholder retains the risk and pays for the cost of their experience.
Now, it was administered mainly by the feds; however, we will take over, obviously, some of the administration, and we feel that because we are eliminating a middle person in the relationship we actually should be able to cut down somewhat on the administrative costs. We no longer have two levels of government administering the plan - just the one.
Mr. Ostashek: What I'm trying to get at here is, as the minister is aware, with the federal government handling the pension benefits, it's an unfunded liability of the federal government. Premiums are paid into that and, when an employee quits and draws out his share of the pension money they've put in, the rest stays in the federal government pool.
One of the reasons we've had difficulty in repatriating the pension plan is to come up with a figure of what we believe the federal government owes us if we were to take over the pension plan.
I just want to know thisfrom the minister: is there a pool of money involved in this at the federal level that the federal government will be holding when we take this over, or do the premiums that we pay as employees go directly to an underwriter? I just want to know if there's a pool of money in the federal government and, if there is, has it been negotiated as to what the transfer would be?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have an official who can perhaps answer this specific question. I'm not sure if the member is, perhaps, asking a question that's more appropriately applied to the patriation of the pension plan as opposed to the benefits package, but I guess in terms of a pool of money - just bear with me a moment.
My official confirms that it's just related to the pension side, not the benefits.
Mr. Ostashek: Yes, that's fine. I wasn't quite clear on that - whether it was handled the same way as the pension was or whether this was handled differently, and the premiums went directly to the underwriter. If there's no pool of money, then I really don't have any further questions on this bill. I'm sitting in for my colleague, the critic of this, but he said that he had no difficulty with it, so we're prepared to go line by line at any time that our colleagues are.
Ms. Duncan: I just have a couple of questions in general debate for the minister. I'd just like to, first of all, give some credit where credit is due. I understand that the idea, or part of the idea, for this piece of legislation started with a former YTA president, and I'd just like to give credit where credit is due.
I understand that this piece of legislation is consistent with the government's overall desire to repatriate other benefits and, as the Member for Porter Creek North has said, the pension plan, but the minister didn't give a time frame on that. Is there any time frame estimated for that repatriation?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's in the hands of the Treasury Board. So, if the member can lobby her colleagues in Ottawa, we would be more than happy to have it.
Ms. Duncan: We'll discuss the effectiveness of my ability to lobby members when we get the contract registry.
I understand that there was a vote taken by YTA and by the Public Service Alliance members endorsing this particular legislation. Were those votes unanimous?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes.
Ms. Duncan: I understand that there was some question of what the cost might be to the government in terms of administering this particular legislation and that an independent analysis from the Alexander Group was obtained to estimate that cost. Would the minister provide us with that information for our own background purposes?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We don't have that handy. We can try to get it for the member, but there is no substantial changes to the cost.
Ms. Duncan: I just meant by way of background information. If we could have it sent over to our offices for our own information and future reference, I'd appreciate it.
Chair: Not seeing any further general debate, we'll go to clause 1.
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
On Clause 3
Clause 3 agreed to
On Clause 4
Clause 4 agreed to
On Clause 5
Clause 5 agreed to
On Clause 6
Clause 6 agreed to
On Clause 7
Clause 7 agreed to
On Clause 8
Clause 8 agreed to
On Clause 9
Clause 9 agreed to
On Clause 10
Clause 10 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I move you report Bill No. 47 out of Committee without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Bill No. 8 -Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98 - continued
Department of Finance
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There is not a lot to explain by way of the supplementary. Obviously, the Department of Finance is giving up the $59,000. Savings are concentrated in the treasury program where there is an expectation that $66,000 will be saved, and there is a slight project overrun in Workers' Compensation supplementary benefits.
The explanation for the treasury program reduction is largely due to less banking costing required, thanks to larger than expected compensating bank balances at the beginning of the year. In Workers' Compensation, based on the first six months of activity, there is an expectation that $8,000 more than this will be required.
Mr. Ostashek: I don't believe I have any questions in general debate. I asked the most of the questions that I had pertaining to the minister's Finance budget in the general debate on the supplementary budget. I believe they have been answered as well as can be answered at this time, and I'll wait for further comments on this department for the budget in the spring.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions on the change in transfers from Ottawa on the Health and Social Services portion of the budget. I'll ask those in the Health and Social Services budget if that is more convenient to the minister, or is it more convenient under this particular heading with the deputy sitting beside him?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, a lot depends on what the question's all about, Mr. Chair. If there is some question the member wants to put respecting the mechanics of the way a transfer is made, then the deputy sitting here now would be the best candidate for answering those questions. If it is a question surrounding the policies behind the federal government's contributions to health and social services, the Minister of Health and Social Services would be the better person to respond.
Mr. Cable: Well, let's start off under Finance and then see how far we get.
The minister's deputy provided me with a number of calculation sheets and I'd like to go over those.
Before getting into the numbers, I would like to establish a couple of points. The first is that I don't see any significant change in the health and social transfer of monies as between the last year of the Yukon Party's administration and the present year, the 1997-98 year. Am I correct in making that assumption? That's the money coming from Ottawa.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Is the member asking me whether or not the Canada health and social transfer is the same as last year? Or is he asking me whether or not there has been a change in mid-year? I'm not certain I entirely understand. I think I've got most of the budget books in front of me. What's the member's point?
Mr. Cable: There are two questions that I'm leading up to. One is whether the Canada health and social services transfer has been changed, and I think the minister indicated at the time of the budget debate that if you extract some one-time entries there has not been a significant change. That's the second question.
The question I was attempting to get the minister to deal with was if, in all monies that go to health, there has been any significant change since the last year of the Yukon Party's administration and the first year, that's 1997-98, of the present government's administration.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, let me see if I can help, Mr. Chair. On one of the documents that the member was given titled, Federal Transfers Versus YTG Expenditures for Post-Secondary Education and Health and Social Services Costs, shows, at the bottom of page 1, a list of federal transfers from 1995-96 through to 1997-98 and it shows the total transfers for 1995-96 being $58 million; from 1996-97 being $31,568,000; and for 1997-98, $30,347,000. Is that what the member is referring to in terms of the changes in federal transfers? Is he referring to the document that I gave him?
Mr. Cable: While I was working around the document. Let me go at this slowly because we have a sea of figures here, some of which need some interpretation. Let me ask this question: once the one-time entries are extracted from the Canada health and social transfer, as between 1996-97 and 1997-98, was there any significant change in the amount of the Canada health and social transfer? And the reason I ask that question is that, during the budget debate, I got the impression that when you extract those one-time items, there was no significant change in the Canada health and social transfer - nothing else, just the Canada health and social transfer.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I'm having trouble quite understanding what the member is asking. If I understood it perhaps I'd be able to answer better, so the member will have to forgive me.
First of all, I'm not aware of any one-time items associated with the CHST. There were some one-time transfers associated with the health transfer, phase 2, but that one-time transfer, I believe was largely on the capital side and it shows up in the 1997-98 budget. In terms of the health transfer, phase 2, the transfer is right into the base of the formula transfer base. The CHST is different, but I'm not certain what the member is referring to - if he's referring to a one-time transfer.
Mr. Cable: I'll go back through the Hansard and, perhaps in the Health and Social Services debate, we can get to that. For the minister's reference, we talked about it on April 3, and it's pretty well covered on April 3. The minister could go back to that, or his deputy could go back through that. Then in the Health debate maybe we could go over that again.
Down at the bottom of page 1 on the document that the minister referred to, we have under 1995-96 the three entries on the receipts: the CAP funding at $12,331,000; the EPF funding at $12,822,000; then the formula grant, which goes back to some calculation from 1982-83, of $33,180,000.
What is that portion of the EPF? Is that the portion of the EPF that relates to Health and Social Services, or is that the total EPF?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That's the total.
Mr. Cable: So that $12,822,000 includes an education portion.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, post-secondary education.
Mr. Cable: I think the numbers are referred to elsewhere in the handouts. What should be extracted from the EPF funding to remove the education portion of the health and social services transfer?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The official will try to find an answer for the member. If the member wants to go through lots of figures and wants to focus the discussion with me on the subject of policy, then I do invite the member - or other member, or any members - to go to the officials themselves. They don't even have to clear through me, just phone the guy up and ask the question. If you need to spend an hour or so at it to try to understand the government's budgets or books, or financial figures, I would invite the member to do that, because that would certainly help us all boil our discussion down to policy.
Mr. Cable: Yes, I'm going to do that. It's obvious that we're not making too much headway here. The matter of policy that I think we'll focus on is the attribution of the base cut to health and social services, and the division as between education and health and social services, and the division with health and social services attribution as between those two elements - health on one end and social services on the other.
There's been a claim that there have been major, major cuts to health services. I think that's what the Government Leader has been saying and I want to see the numbers for myself. I'll take the minister up on his proposition to talk about the numbers with his deputy minister.
I do have some other questions relating to general debate. It appears - at least I assume - that the Faro mine, the Anvil Range Mining Corporation, is not going to show a profit this year. At least, that would be a reasonable expectation. When calculating the revenues, was it anticipated that there would be corporate income tax flowing from Anvil Range Mining Corporation in the present fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, part of the answer is that I agree with the member that they probably won't be making a profit this year. Secondly, I would agree with the proposition that it's probably a good idea to speak with the deputy minister on the subject of the numbers. Then, if there is a straight determination as to whether or not we think that $20 million is a big cut, or the member argues that $12 million is less of a cut to health care and, consequently, is not major, we can argue those questions once the member is satisfied in his own mind what the information actually says.
I'm certainly confident - and I believe the leader of the official opposition is confident - that the cuts do reflect significant cuts to health care and education. Perhaps once the member has had a chance to go through all the finances with the Department of Finance, he may share with us our concern, or he may dispute it further.
On the subject of the percentage of the total EPF that is allocated to post-secondary funding, the percentage is 24.1 percent, for the members' information.
The short answer to the member's question is no. There has been no expectation that Anvil Range will be paying corporate income tax this year. The figures that we have are straight from Revenue Canada. We always take our figures from Revenue Canada, and they do their own determination, but I think it would be highly unlikely that they would expect that Anvil Range would be operating and making a profit.
Mr. Cable: The reason I ask is that it's projected, in the revenue side, that personal income tax is going to go down, yet corporate income tax is going to go up by $673,000. Is there some new mine that came on stream that would account for the increase in corporate income tax of $673,000, which appears to be about an eight-percent increase?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the tradition is that we take, straight from Revenue Canada, their projections and we put those projections into our budget books. This is the second count this year. These estimates are based on receipts so far to date, presumably. Revenue Canada has their own method of calculation and we draw from them their estimates.
Mr. Cable: All right, let's leave that, then. If the federal government has made that projection and the local government is riding on that, the proof will be in the pudding later on.
A couple of technical questions: rate relief financing - when I asked the minister about this in the spring, he indicated that he didn't anticipate there would be any financing required except internally through the Yukon Energy Corporation. Is it anticipated that, before this fiscal year ends, there will be money flowing from government coffers to fund the rate relief program?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, Mr. Chair, I don't believe so.
Mr. Cable: The Auditor General, in his report that was tabled recently, indicated that he thought some of the fees that were being charged for government services didn't make for cost recovery. What's the minister's view on that? Is the Auditor General correct and, if so, does he intend to raise fees in areas, such as wildlife licences, for example?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I hesitate to say this, because I don't want the Auditor General to be mad with me, but I think that the Auditor General may be moving into an area which is more political in nature and outside the realm of what an auditor should do.
The fees that the Auditor General cites in his report do not follow a fully stated cost recovery policy. That is, those fees aren't determined by how much it costs to deliver a particular service or program. There is no clear policy that I'm aware of that says that the fee should be so much because the service costs so much to provide. In the absence of that clearly defined administrative policy, it is in my view a political judgment as to whether or not the Yukon government wants to raise one fee or another, or raise tuition fees, which is another item that the Auditor General has cited as a candidate for potential increase.
If the Auditor General feels that we should be charging more for a particular service, I would say that is a political decision and not a decision for the Auditor General to make. I'm always happy to receive the Auditor General's advice, and the staff are very wise, worldly people but, in the context of an Auditor General's report, I'd say that they are very close to crossing the boundary between what is appropriate for the Auditor General to recommend and what is for the Legislature to decide.
Mr. Cable: Well, okay, let's say we're in agreement on that. What is the minister's intention? Does he want to move those items that were referred to in the Auditor General's report? Whether or not the Auditor General's crossed the line, does he want to move wildlife licensing closer to some notion of cost recovery, and does he want to move the tuition at Yukon College up more in line with the national average?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We have not contemplated any such fee increases. Certainly in the context of this supplementary and this subject midway through a year, we have made no decisions to change our revenue picture at all.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the supplementary, the supplementary itself is simply a snapshot update of plans that were initiated at the beginning of the year. We have not changed those plans substantially. I stand by that; we have not changed those plans. This is a tune-up. Most of the elements of this supplementary are in fact revotes, with the exception of four cost overruns in four separate departments.
So, the basic revenue and expenditure picture, in fact, is substantially the same as when we started, with the exception of the very clearly defined items in the departments of Health and Social Services, Education, Tourism and Economic Development.
In terms of the revenue picture, we have not changed our revenue policies whatsoever. I would think it would be a long shot, to answer the member's question, to get into the hypothetical arena. I think it would be a long shot that we would change it substantially either in the longer term. And, as the member knows, we will not be raising taxes.
Chair: Not seeing further general debate, we'll proceed to operation and maintenance expenditures.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Treasury in the amount of an underexpenditure in the amount of $66,000 agreed to
Workers' Compensation Supplementary Benefits
Mr. Ostashek: Is the increase because we had more employees, or what was the reason for the increase?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The initial estimate was based on last year's billings. This forecast is based on actual billings received for the first six months of this year. So there are no new people in the program. The expenditures were based on the actual billings for this year, based on the experience of the first six months.
Mr. Jenkins: With respect to Workers' Compensation and the benefits, could the Government Leader advise where the costs incurred by the changes to the Worker's Compensation Act are going to be allocated or if they are included here. There is another $207,000 of additional costs that is going to be realized by the government.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As the member will know, in the terms of the Public Service Commission estimates, the costs associated with the Workers' Compensation program - any costs associated with public service compensation program for government employees - is covered through the estimate in the Public Service Commission. So, if it goes up or down, our costs as an employer are found in the Public Service Commission estimates.
With respect to this particular line item, this is for the payment of supplements to benefits paid to workers who were insured by private insurers before the Workers' Compensation Act came into effect. So, for those persons who are a long-time disabled, we are still paying our obligation to them through this line item before the Workers' Compensation Act came into effect - when it was first created.
Workers' Compensation Supplementary Benefits in the amount of $8,000 agreed to
On Bad Debts Expense
Bad Debts Expense in the amount of an underexpenditure of $1,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of an underexpenditure of $59,000 agreed to
Department of Finance agreed to
Yukon Housing Corporation - continued
Chair: Is there any further general debate on Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I'm going to be handling this for members. If members wish to ask questions, please stand and deliver.
Chair: Not seeing any further general debate - the Chair would like to urge members to be a little quicker on their feet.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
When we left off in general debate, there was at issue an interpretation of the financial statement with respect to the statement made by the chair of the Housing Corporation with respect to declining interests rates creating a shortfall in revenue from our lending programs.
When one looks at both sides of the ledger, the revenues and expense sides, the interest expense was considerably less, resulting in a net gain to the corporation of $145,000, I think. Well, there was a considerable difference - $266,000 less paid out on one, and $145,000 less taken in.
My question of the minister was, is that a correct statement? And it was pointed out that the other part of it was that the operating loan at the bank was considerably reduced. It was down to nil. But when one looks at the accounts payable, it indicates that they are up, and I was just wanting clarification that the accounts payable were not at that level because of slow payments by the Housing Corporation.
Does the Housing Corporation adhere to the same policy as the Government of Yukon with respect to paying their bills and paying interest if they go beyond a certain time line, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, they do, Mr. Chair. The member made a number of statements there that I think may be best addressed by accountants, but I will indicate to him that the interest income for the year the member cites over the previous fiscal year was, in fact, due to lower interest rates, but not from lending programs. Lending programs come with fixed mortgage rates. The interest expense is relating to expense on staff and social housing long-term debt, CMHC debentures interest, a line of credit with the bank.
I think the member has expressed some concerns about the balance sheet. Perhaps the member would want to avail himself of a few minutes of time with the Yukon Housing Corporation accountants and satisfy himself as to whether or not they are following government policy. I'm informed that they are; the Auditor General has indicated that, indeed, these statements are, to my knowledge, unqualified, so I would suspect that they are following accepted accounting practices.
Mr. Jenkins: What I'm referring to, for the Government Leader's information, if he looks at page 4 of the annual report, to the text, third paragraph down, the chair makes the statement that, during the year, declining interest rates created a shortfall in revenue from our lending programs. That is quite specific. Then when one looks at the reduction in the amount that they received from their lending programs, on the balance sheet, and one looks at their borrowing, their cost of borrowing is also subsequently reduced, as is the cost of what they've received - taken in - and there is a difference in favour of the corporation.
I was just wondering if, in the text, the chair omitted looking at both sides of the balance sheet, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There are many factors that would go in for the board chair to make this particular determination. It was not meant as anything other than a highlight - something to consider - but there are other issues at stake as well.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: If the member - I'll say it again - wants to go through an interpretation with accountants as to how the balance sheet should read for the Housing Corporation, then I would invite him to do so, and then, when the member has a policy question to address, the policy question can be very focused. If the policy concern, for example, is that the Housing Corporation, based on one's interpretation of the report, and after examination, is behind on their payments and is not doing good service to local suppliers or provisions of service, then that is a policy question that we can address immediately. I'm informed that there is no problem in this particular area.
So, perhaps that might be a way that the member could zero in on the issues of policy that he's concerned about.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd like to thank the Government Leader for his overview of this financial statement and this annual report, but what I'm looking for is an association of the text to the balance sheet, and it's a question of both policy issues and issues of the financial statement.
My question as to whether the corporation pays in the same manner as the Yukon government their accounts payable - and there is an age listing - and in the event that it goes beyond a certain day, it was a very valid question to justify why the accrued accounts payable were as high as they are. If one looks at the balance sheet, they are very, very high in relationship to previous fiscal periods, which indicates either a high construction period or a lot of activity, or it could also mean other conditions exist. So, I'm quite familiar with the balance sheet and an interpretation of it, but I thank the Government Leader for his offer of a briefing on how to interpret it.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I have a couple of questions. This is an opportunity for us to get updates on some of the programs that are going on that weren't announced when the budget was out. One of those programs is the commercial energy management program, and I wonder if we could get an update on how that's going.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The program, Mr. Chair, has been up and running for about three months and there are two applicants in the processing stage at the current time.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, that's kind of an underwhelming response. I'm wondering, are we looking at changing the way that the program is being marketed? Is there a different way of advertising for it? Is he doing a direct sell? Basically, what's happening and why are there only two people applying for this program?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, as the member is aware, the program is being managed on behalf of Yukon Development Corporation. I think it is too early to cast judgment that the response is underwhelming. I refer the member to the old YEAP, the Yukon energy alternatives program, which was initiated back in the middle 1980s and went through about 10 years' worth of existence and produced, I think maybe, less than half a dozen applications. One could therefore argue that perhaps the existence of two applicants at this point is probably good news for this new program. But in any case, if one were to be honest about it, one could not draw a conclusion one way or another as to whether or not the program is a success or otherwise. I think by the spring and perhaps well into next year, we will be able to see better as to whether or not this program has what it takes to meet its basic objectives. Certainly any suggestions for improvement on delivery would always be appreciated and any changes made that could assist in assuring that there is as full as possible uptake would obviously be appreciated as well.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, hopefully, we won't have to wait 10 years before we decide to do a review on this program to decide whether or not we want to continue using taxpayers' dollars to support it. Am I to understand then, from the minister's response, that there will be an upcoming review of this program in the spring to see whether or not it's feasible?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I think any good board of directors, Mr. Chair, would do a review annually, and certainly this spring would be a good time for the YDC board, which is the sponsoring agency. The Yukon Housing board, which is the delivering agency, should be speaking to each other regularly, including a once-annual review, when the funding commitments are made, to ensure that there is maximum possible uptake.
There's no doubt that the YEAP was not a resounding success, and I think we didn't need 10 years to draw that conclusion.
Mrs. Edelman: Am I to understand then that next fall there'll be a review of this program?
My next question, of course, is about the residential energy management program. How is that going? Are there an awful lot of applicants for that particular program?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The circumstances around this program are considerably different. We have 180 applicants being processed at the present time, and the corporation feels that this is a very respectable uptake.
Mrs. Edelman: One hundred and eighty is much larger than two so, yes, that is much better.
Generally in issues around policy, staff housing in the communities - this has been brought up before by the Member for Klondike - is there a continued commitment from this government to provide staff housing within the communities?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Clearly, where there's a clear housing market, in consultation with the local government, we will try to leave the housing needs of Yukon government staff to the market itself. But where there is not a market, we will again be discussing with the communities, but we will be steeling ourselves with the knowledge that we will probably have to provide reasonable staff housing for our employees.
Having been responsible for Education for many years, I know precisely how hard it is to recruit into a community where there is no housing at all, or very, very little housing. So this is a subject that's going to probably be on our plates for further discussion for some time but, in each case, the Housing Corporation will work with local authorities, government, First Nation government and relevant governments to ensure that our housing needs, as an employer, are met, while respecting the existing or local marketplace.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, it's good to hear that commitment said in the House.
One of the things that I'm concerned about, though, is that there doesn't seem to be any clear understanding of what is a market, when does this market develop, what's the criteria, when do you decide that a community has a housing market that's suitable to generate staff housing so that the Yukon government no longer has to provide it? Obviously Whitehorse has a huge market. Has Watson Lake got a big enough market? Dawson City? Where do you decide?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, there are a number of factors that are taken into account by the Housing Corporation respecting how they determine whether or not there is a market. Certainly, the number of housing sales would be a factor. Whether or not you can get bank financing, a mortgage, would be another factor. Whether or not it costs more to build a home than you would receive in selling a home, and whether or not there's an active rental market, are all considered factors that governments and representatives of the Housing Corporation and municipal governments and First Nation governments would take into account through that consultation process as to whether or not we would consider there to be a sufficient marketplace for prospective staff to find their own housing accommodation.
Mrs. Edelman: Who makes the decision at that threshold, about there now being a market and that you can get out of staff housing in that community? Who would make that decision? Would it be the minister responsible?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, essentially, consensus is sought between the local community government and the local housing association - so long as they have a housing corporation, of course - as to determining whether or not they have a housing market. If a community feels that it has a housing market and the sponsoring department or the department wants to recruit into the community disagrees, then I believe that the weight of the decision would go with the community. And, given that the community and the departments generally have the same objective, and that is to get positions staffed as well as to ensure that there is respect for the local housing market, generally consensus can be reached.
Mrs. Edelman: So, Mr. Chair, are there any communities in the Yukon outside of Whitehorse that are close to this point, or actually have staff housing outside of the Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There are two communities that are considered - after this process has been gone through - to have housing markets, and they are Haines Junction and Dawson City, and Watson Lake can be considered to have a housing market. Generally speaking, when the mine is operating, it's considered to have a housing market.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, one of the other issues that has come up repeatedly in the House and talked about with the minister responsible has been seniors housing. One of the options that's out there - and I believe that your officials have recently discussed this actually, so it was kind of fortuitous - is reversed mortgages. Is there any discussion of reverse mortgages? By reverse mortgages, what I mean is that, as a senior, you don't pay your taxes, et cetera. That comes out of your mortgage. It's a reverse mortgage. This is particularly good in areas like, for example, Oak Bay in Victoria, where the taxes are extremely high, and it allows the person to stay within their own home, which, of course, is cheaper for all of us in the long run. I'm wondering whether that discussion is going to be ongoing or whether that's going to start.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The answer to both questions is yes. It has started, and it's ongoing. The discussions are ongoing. As a matter of fact, the leader of the official opposition as well has made a presentation to me on the subject through Finance, a portfolio on a similar subject, a similar way of treating, in this case, property taxes - charging property taxes against the principal of the house to be recovered when the house is sold. That is another way of making living circumstances for senior citizens more affordable, and we are investigating and exploring that option as well.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, that's good to hear. Are there any other seniors options out there that the government is working on right now that perhaps we're not aware of? Are there any particular partnerships going on with, say, the private sector out in the community - particularly in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There have been discussions between Housing Corporation and CMHC - very preliminary discussions at the present time - exploring the potential for private and public partnerships in providing support for seniors housing. As I say, this is in it's preliminary stages and I would be hard pressed to provide details. But, certainly by the spring, I would suspect, when we deal with a proper budget cycle in the main estimates we will be in a better position to explain the nature of those discussions and proposals.
Mrs. Edelman: That is also very good to hear, and I hope to be updated in the extremely near future.
One of the issues that also came up in our last discussions on December 3, when we spoke to the hon. Mr. Fairclough, was a multi-level care facility. And, earlier in the year, the Minister for Health and Social Services had said that there was going to be some sort of joint planning process on a multi-level care facility for seniors and that would take place between that part of Health and Social Services and the Yukon Housing Corporation. I never really did get, quite frankly, an answer out of the minister on that issue, and I am wondering whether that planning process is ongoing or whether it has started?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member's sixth sense seems to be showing itself, given that there is a meeting being held tomorrow between Health and Social Services and Yukon Housing Corporation to discuss a multi-care facility, and that meeting is to explore the ground work the Health and Social Services has already done in this particular area and to pursue a potential partnership.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, one of the other issues that's come up is the issue of changing the funding process. Now, there is a position in Watson Lake that was funded under the federal government. I'm new to this Legislature, and I need to probably be brought up to speed by the Government Leader. Is it normal to take federally funded positions and transfer them to another department?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: You mean on a secondment basis? Does the member mean transfer a position from the federal government in a community to a Yukon government department in a community as a secondment or as a devolution?
Mrs. Edelman: It's quite interesting actually because this is a CMHC - which is a federal body - funded position, and now the person is working for the Department of Health and Social Services in Watson Lake for the Signpost Seniors as a homemaker, I believe.
I'm wondering whether that's normal, because it's my understanding that federal funds are usually attached to many, many guidelines, and you have to be very careful about how you spend your money. They give it to you for a specific purpose and that's the way you have to spend that money. So, for example, if they give you a janitorial position, then you have to make sure it's a janitorial position. Can the minister be a bit clearer on that issue? I'm not too sure what the precedent is for that.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I'm not sure exactly what the circumstances are in Watson Lake, but I doubt very much whether the CMHC would fund a position for a Yukon government department. I think that there may be something to this particular position. Perhaps the person left the position and went to work for Health and Social Services; maybe it's a half-time position with the federal government and they are working half-time for Health and Social Services. I could undertake to find out for the member and find out precisely what the circumstances are in terms of the role of this person working for the Yukon government and also whether or not they're still working for CMHC.
Mrs. Edelman: If the minister could undertake that, I wouldn't mind seeing what the agreement was - if he could table the agreement. It would seem to me that there should be some very specific guidelines on what the money is supposed to be spent on, and if I could have the agreement. If we've taken the federal money and we've spent it, does this set a precedent? That's what my concern is. It's my understanding that federal money has got a lot of strict guidelines attached to it. If there is an agreement, I would like to see that.
If there is no agreement between CMHC to take that money and spend it on health and social services, then what I'd like to know is, are we setting a precedent or have we done this in the past?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, we have to determine whether or not there's an agreement between the federal government and us. I believe that there may be a transfer between the Housing Corporation and the Department of Health and Social Services. I'm not certain that the federal government's involved at all, and I'm not certain that there's an agreement at all, but what I can do is explore the situation for the member, get the precise information, and let the member know what is happening.
Mrs. Edelman: I would appreciate it. The other thing that I'm of course concerned about is whether this is a continuing process, whether there will be continually money coming out of the Housing Corporation going into Health and Social Services. That, of course, is one of my biggest concerns.
I can see the generalized cut that everybody took at 1.5 percent across all the departments. Then that money generally goes toward the Department of Health and Social Services and, I believe, Education. But to go that specific, I'm quite concerned that we're setting a precedent. Is this allowable? Does Management Board generally allow that sort of thing to happen?
The other thing I'm wondering about is, would CMHC continue to fund that position for Health and Social Services. If the minister could get back to me on that detail as well, I'd appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, I will, Mr. Chair. I'll just explain briefly for the member that there are many precedents of departments transferring money back and forth to each other in order to undertake a particular project. So, there are lots of precedents of that. If it does increase the overall vote of a department, however, then that net increase still has to come back to the Legislature because, what we're actually voting here is not individual projects, individual programs; we're voting an entire amount. But what the Financial Administration Act requests of us is that we approve the entire vote on the operations side and on the capital side for each department. So, there is lots of opportunity for departments, as per Management Board directives, to transfer money within programs and between departments. Only where that department's vote is increased does there need to be legislative authority. So, there is precedent for that.
With respect to the fundamental question the member asked, I will make sure that the Housing Corporation provides the member with a detailed response on what the circumstances were surrounding this individual working for Signpost Seniors and who is paying for the position.
Mr. Jenkins: If I could just explore with the Government Leader the policies with respect to the home ownership program and what, if any, changes are contemplated within the department to encourage home ownership. Currently, you can get into your own home for as little as 2.5 percent down, with various forms of program association. The problem still arises that most individuals are having trouble coming up with the necessary down payment.
Are there any changes anticipated to this home ownership program to encourage home ownership, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As the member knows, historically, one of the reasons why any lending institution requests a down payment is to ensure, first of all, a certain buy-in by the home owner and the unit itself. Secondly, the size of the down payment, at least for banking institutions, is often at a level of recognition that if the person can afford the down payment, then, obviously, home ownership is considered to be affordable too.
Now, as the member will know - and he will remember this from the announcement of the mobile home strategy - there is a provision being piloted through the mobile home strategy for allowing that no down payment is required in certain circumstances. So, I'm certain that the member is familiar with that particular provision.
With respect to the other home ownership programs in the Housing Corporation, the Housing Corporation board, as I understand it, is going to be reviewing this particular feature of their home ownership programs this spring.
Mr. Jenkins: Heaven forbid.
Well, Mr. Chair, there are a number of individuals that are in social housing geared to income where a certain percentage of their income is allocated toward rent and utilities. Some of these individuals are employed seasonally where they have a very high income for four or five or six or seven months of the year, and of course they rely on EI for the balance of the year.
A number of years ago, the suggestion was brought forward that, instead of - let's use for instance - 25 percent of their income, that these individuals be charged, if they wished, a percentage escalated to 30 percent, and that five percent be placed in an interest-bearing account by the corporation and, when it had accumulated to the sum of money needed for the down payment, the money flowed into the down payment and the individuals took on home ownership, thus relieving the Housing Corporation of maintaining another social housing unit and providing pride of ownership for these individuals.
Having reviewed a number of financial situations of a number of individuals in this category, it's completely workable. I just wanted to know where it's at, Mr. Chair, within the corporation, if the corporation is considering this approach and what's their time frame, if they are, for implementation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, as I indicated already, Mr. Chair, the Housing Corporation Board is already piloting through the mobile home strategy some significant movement in this area already but, for the bulk of the home ownership programs, they are going to be reviewing the situation this spring.
With respect to the market-driven rent - 25 percent of one's income to be paid in rent - this is of course a feature of federal/territorial housing programs. Essentially, the restriction has to be eliminated by both parties, the federal government included. Given that there doesn't seem to be much flexibility on the federal side, we would have to get out of those federal/territorial programs in order to change the 25-percent rule. With respect to any houses that we may have that do not fall into that category, of course, there's more flexibility.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister has circled all around the issue. When one is in these social housing units, it's a percentage of the income. There isn't anything in that arrangement with the Housing Corporation to preclude the Housing Corporation from making a secondary agreement with the tenant to put another five percent into an interest-bearing account - like the corporation saves up the down payment for them. Because some of these individuals in the course of their working career, they're paying $1,200, $1,300, $1,500 and $1,800 a month for the time period where they're employed.
Some are higher than that. What we want to do is encourage these people to get into their own homes and certainly, with this kind of an approach, they have this ability. Now, I'm hoping the Government Leader has been given more of an understanding of where I'm heading and can respond in a more affirmative manner, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, if the member is talking about wanting to encourage people living in social housing units to get into home ownership situations, which I presume is the objective, then there are a number of ways, including the way the member has mentioned, of securing one's down payment, and those ways will be explored by the Housing Corporation, who take all good suggestions and explore them as well.
With respect to the stricture in the federal/territorial agreements, there is not flexibility in that stricture, but there are many interesting ways that we can explore to try to get low-income people into homes that they own. That was the general purpose of the home ownership programs that were piloted in the late 1980s, and continued with the mobile home strategy.
Mr. Jenkins: I think the minister is just referring to a certain area. What I'm referring to, Mr. Chair, are specifically those individuals that are in social housing that have a very high income for a certain period of the year, and in the balance of the year they are on EI or some other form of employment assistance. The percentage that they pay into the Housing Corporation is usually in excess of $1,000 per month for that period of time.
This was explored a number of years ago, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Chair, to encourage home ownership, which I sincerely believe is the route that we should be taking for those that can afford it. A financial analysis of a lot of these individuals' income over the period of the year concluded at that juncture, and it was at higher interest rates than today, that this was a feasible way, but yet it just seemed to be lost in the wind somewhere.
I was just hoping that the minister could see the benefits of such a program and would encourage its development, because there is a lot of flexibility. I know we cannot tinker with the arrangements that Yukon Housing has with the federal government for the delivery of these programs, but there isn't anything to preclude, by separate arrangement above and beyond that basic agreement with the tenants, to provide for an interest-bearing savings-type account to save up the down payment.
That's the area that I'm urging the Government Leader to consider at this juncture. Is he prepared to provide some direction to the Housing Corporation to explore this area, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I presume what the member is referring to is that if the federal and territorial government are extracting 25 percent of income and if that income is very high for a few months of the year, then at least the territorial government would take a portion of its share of its income from the tenant and put it towards a tenant down payment. Is that what the member's talking about?
Mr. Jenkins: No, I'm referring to a separate agreement, separate and distinct from the basic agreement. There's an agreement that they pay 25 percent of their gross income. Now, with a separate arrangement, another five percent could go into an interest-bearing account, and you'd find that after a period of about two years that, depending on the housing value, that individual could probably have enough saved up to provide for the down payment on their own property. That's what I'm referring to, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Why would the Housing Corporation do that with their own bank?
Chair: The time being close to 5:30, we will recess until 7:30 tonight.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with general debate on the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mrs. Edelman: One of the things that happened this past year is that the Yukon Housing Corporation Board travelled to Dawson City with a stop in Carmacks. Generally speaking, this is a good thing; it's probably wise for the board to occasionally get outside of Whitehorse and to have meetings in some of the other communities. And I understand that this trip was sort of like the discount trip. It wasn't very expensive; it was a no-frills, no-chills kind of trip. What I am wondering about is whether the board is going to be travelling again to another community over the next two or three years?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the policy of the board is apparently that they would like to travel to a rural community every other meeting. They will be going to Watson Lake this coming spring, I believe, and it's a policy I support.
Mrs. Edelman: As I was mentioning earlier, I certainly support the same idea. Generally speaking, though, who's paying for that, and where is it coming from?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It comes out of the administration costs of the Housing Corporation.
Mrs. Edelman: There's been a study done. It was the Yukon's rugged individualists: seen but are they heard? It was a study that was commissioned by the Yukon Council on Ageing, and it was done by Ann MacKenzie.
Now, in this study there was an assessment of sort of a forgotten group of people here in the Yukon, although there is quite a number of them, and it is pre-seniors, most of whom were single gentlemen, although there were a couple of single women, as well.
What I'm concerned about is that we already have an assessment of their needs done through that study. Now, are you going to be including the needs of these individuals in the seniors assessment that you're going to be doing over the next couple of months?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: When you say "you," Mr. Chair, I'm sure that when one says "you," one doesn't mean the Member for Kluane, but is probably referring indirectly to the Housing Corporation.
The issues surrounding the category the member refers to as pre-seniors is of interest to the Housing Corporation, as it is of interest to the Department of Health and Social Services. The position of the Housing Corporation is that they should continue discussing the needs analysis with the Department of Health and Social Services, with a view to determining what the total needs are and how the Housing Corporation might play a role in responding to some of those needs.
Mrs. Edelman: The other need that has been identified in the Yukon is that of an extended care facility in Watson Lake. Is the Yukon Housing Corporation taking any role in the planning or development of that particular facility?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the Department of Health and Social Services is the lead agency in determining whether or not extended care facilities would proceed in any particular community. The Housing Corporation played a unique role in the development of the Thomson Centre, thanks to some funding arrangements that could be secured through an interrelationship with the federal government. That's not to say that the Housing Corporation will always play a role in this type of housing, but in any case, the determination as to whether or not the government will proceed is a decision located in the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mrs. Edelman: One of the reasons that I'm most interested in Watson Lake is the fact that there's only the one suite there that's handicapped-accessible and that's why I have an interest. So, even if it's not seniors, it would certainly be people with accessibility issues. And that's one of the reasons why I'm wondering whether there's going to be any further development in accessible housing in Watson Lake.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the program that was used to address issues facing disabled seniors and disabled persons was cut. The federal program was cut, but the Housing Corporation Board is looking to the possibility of changing its own home repair program to better address the needs of those who have problems accessing homes or problems inside the homes in terms of the home's friendliness to people with disabilities.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, is there any plan to increase the number of accessible social housing units in Watson Lake?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No plans at present, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Just before we broke for dinner, I had the opportunity to question the Government Leader about the home ownership issue arising out of social housing, and we never concluded that discussion.
I was hoping the minister could shed some more light on it and share with us his views as to whether he deems it appropriate to pursue this avenue and pass along this suggested course of action to the board of Yukon Housing and take issue with the board to address this type of action to encourage home ownership.
Will the Government Leader provide some sort of insight into where he would like to take us on that issue?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, all my comments, I realize, are on the record, so I will tell the member that in the first instance, to the extent that I understand what the member is talking about, the member ended the discussion this afternoon with the question, "Why shouldn't the banks perform that particular service? It seemed to be a straight savings account proposition." That may betray a misunderstanding of what the member has to suggest, but I can tell the member that the propositions that we should encourage more home ownership and that we should be particularly mindful of the need to address the down-payment issue are concerns that I share, that the Housing Corporation shares, and apparently the minister responsible for the Housing Corporation shares. As I mentioned to the member, the Housing Corporation Board will be reviewing this particular subject in the spring.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, with respect to the issue of just going to the bank and building up a savings account, I'm sure the Government Leader is aware that very few people are that disciplined that they can take it upon themselves to accumulate that nest egg. Therein lies the problem.
When it's a mandatory requirement that you contribute this after you've signed up, it's more apt to be followed and the nest egg is more apt to accumulate, which would ultimately result in that deposit requirement being met. That is the suggestion I have for the Government Leader to take back to the Yukon Housing Corporation. If a tenant so indicates that they could sign up for a plan of that nature, it would be more or less a mandatory plan that would encourage them to save up the nest egg necessary to provide that down payment.
It could be simply done in those periods during the year where the employee is gainfully employed and paying to Yukon Housing Corporation a sum in excess of $1,000 a month; that, in addition to the 25-percent component, which in other jurisdictions has been increased to 30 percent. There could be another plan in place for a five-percent component that would be saved by the Yukon Housing Corporation in an interest-bearing account until such a time as the tenant wishes to get into housing and would have the necessary down payment.
It is a very simple, logical progression of money - saving it and encouraging money to be saved. It can be done very, very simply and ultimately result in home ownership, which would provide pride of ownership for these individuals and probably somewhat better members of our communities at large. That's where I'm asking the Government Leader to take us and explore that possibility. Will the Government Leader undertake to do so?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I was sort of with the member right up until the moment he made the suggestion that this would somehow make the people who are in the social housing units better members of the community. I'm not sure he meant it in the way that it sounded to me. But, I'll let the member off the hook on that one.
I would like to say that I do admire the member's courage for making the suggestion, because the proposition to respond to those people who are complaining about the 25 percent of their seasonal high income to the Housing Corporation should be expanded to 30 percent is of course an enormously controversial proposition. It would be seen by at least some people as being somewhat insensitive to the needs of people who are making a larger portion of money in the high season and then are virtually on social assistance, or perhaps are making very little money, in the very low season. They would argue that, when they have the chance to make the money, they have to make the money in certain seasons in order to offset the income that they have to make, that they are no longer making in the low season. For us to come along, as a government, and say, "In order for you to take advantage of social housing in this territory, we are going to force a further five percent from you," would, of course, be seen by many as quite a controversial proposition.
I realize that the member is sticking his neck out quite a bit making this proposition. I would say to the member that I understand the basic policy point he's trying to make, to encourage people into housing, and certainly provide no disincentives to people to get into houses that they own. Home ownership is a laudable goal. There are probably more creative ways, other than authoritarian methods, of achieving that task. I'm certain that if the member and I were to put our minds to it, we could probably think of a few ourselves.
But, I thank the member for his suggestion. I would think it would be a bit of a long shot to force people to take up savings accounts on the relatively little income they make, but I can tell the member that I am with him when it comes to the final objective, which is to encourage home ownership.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'd like to thank the Government Leader for at least coming part way to the party and understanding the issue at large and the object being to get individuals into home ownership ultimately, but he's missed the whole thrust of this initiative. The additional five percent would be a voluntary plan that individuals would subscribe to.
Now, what I'm suggesting is that there are a number of people in social housing who work seasonally; they are employed seasonally. They have a very high income for six or seven or five or nine months of the year where they pay a very large proportion of their income for their housing. They can't seem to get together the necessary money to put the down payment on a house of their own. When one does an analysis of these types of people over the course of a year, ultimately there would enough income there to justify their own home, but they can't put together the necessary down payment.
One of the suggestions that has come from a number of people that I know in this group is that there be some sort of mandatory program of saving that they can involve themselves in. It would be a voluntary type of commitment for during the period of the year when they were gainfully employed and they had a large income and they were paying a large component to Yukon Housing Corporation, that they could subscribe to this type of a savings plan, set this money aside and when it accumulated to a level that they could justify purchasing their own home that would be the necessary down payment.
There's nothing forced upon them. These individuals would have to subscribe to this plan and it would appear to be a very logical evolution of the various programs we have in place.
I was asking the Government Leader to consider it as a way of encouraging home ownership because ultimately with home ownership comes a lot of pride in those individuals, and these people as home owners probably would take much more interest and pride in their community. I'm not trying to degrade this group of individuals; I'm just trying to encourage them to follow a course of action that would ultimately lead to those individuals owning their own home and I think it's very beneficial and very worthwhile to the whole community.
I was asking the Government Leader if he could subscribe to such a plan and advance its cost.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't understand the utility of the member repeating his proposition three, four, five times. He says, "Maybe because I'm thick." That's what he said off the record. This voluntary, mandatory program that the member has dreamed up - he referred to it as mandatory; he's also called it voluntary - so this voluntary-mandatory program that the member has dreamed up is incredible paternalism. The member should have left it about half an hour ago when he was on his third attempt to explain this voluntary-mandatory program when I was in a real frame of mind to graciously turn it over to the Housing Corporation and see if they could make sense of it. But the member has repeated it a number of times, added nothing new to the discussion whatsoever, repeated it a number of times and now he's talking about forcing people to undertake a savings plan because they won't do it otherwise - I'm just writing down his words. This voluntary program - we're going to force them to do this voluntarily, because the people can't put the necessary cash together.
Well, I'm certain that some people in that category may not be able to put the necessary cash together because they're low income. Low-income people generally put a very large proportion of their money into things like living expenses and food and things. And that's the reason why some of them are in social housing in the first place.
Now, if the member can identify people who want to be told that they can - let me see if I can get this right - if this concept makes any sense whatsoever, that they can voluntarily come to the Housing Corporation and be forced to enter into a savings program, if that's the member's proposition, because the member does not believe that the people, themselves, can save the money for a down payment, or they won't voluntarily do it at the bank because the bank doesn't have any similar voluntary-mandatory savings programs, then I will turn the matter over to the Housing Corporation and they can consider it.
Mr. Jenkins: It's quite amusing to hear the Government Leader elaborating on various areas without the aid of a spin doctor. It comes out quite interesting.
What we're looking at, Mr. Chair, is a voluntary program. It's a voluntary program; not a mandatory program. It would assist people in social housing who have a high income at certain times of the year, and aid them to raise the necessary down payment to purchase their own home.
Now, if the Government Leader wants to make a mockery of it, dance all around it, and take off from there, that's fine. But this would and could be a very beneficial program for Yukon. I'm just urging the Government Leader to consider passing this suggestion on to Yukon Housing Corporation and exploring it to see if it is workable and could benefit us all - which I believe it could, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, for the umpteenth time, I have said I will pass this confused jumble of principles to the Housing Corporation and plead with them to see if they can make sense of it and, if they can, to return to us with their oracle, with the light shining on them after the heavens have opened up, and let us know what the heck this member has been talking about for the last half hour.
Mr. Jenkins: Could we just explore with the Government Leader the buy-back program that Yukon Housing Corporation has in place for their employees and get a date as to when the government is going to bring back amendments to the act that would increase the maximum purchase price of $68,400 that was set in the 1970s. When will this area be explored, and when will we get a review of this number, which is certainly very, very low by current standards, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Housing Corporation, Mr. Chair, is reviewing the matter with the communities in the context of the entire staff housing program, and any change to the legislation, which contains the limitations, would come after the Housing Corporation has discussed the matter with the communities.
Mr. Jenkins: When does the Government Leader envision that this consultation program will be completed? He can come back with a concrete date as to when something will happen in this area. Certainly, he must agree that this value is very, very low, in fact, to the point that it doesn't even provide an incentive for the government employees to entertain constructing or purchasing their own homes when, in some of the communities, they might have to rely on this purchase price of $68,400.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Housing Corporation's plans for a review of the staff housing program should be completed in the next year and a half to two years, and any changes to this will come only after that review with communities, which is beginning now, has taken place.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's virtually a joke, Mr. Chair - a year and a half to two years to review something as simple as the upper level of a buy-back program, something that has been in place since the 1970s.
Can I encourage the Government Leader to give careful consideration to a review that will take us maybe into the spring session to explore this area, and use it for what it was intended to do: an encouragement for employees of the Government of Yukon to construct or purchase their own homes in rural municipalities and provide a cushion in the event that there wasn't a market there in the event that they were transferred or chose to relocate somewhere else? Can the minister undertake to do that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I can assure the member that I know the purposes of the employee buy-back program. I will take the question as notice and transfer it to the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mr. Jenkins: Could I just explore with the Government Leader the educational programs that the Yukon Housing Corporation has in place? What has the demand been and what are the numbers of people currently availing themselves of these programs? Are they justified to be continually maintained?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The self-help program is conducted on a demand basis, which means that if people want it, it happens. The mobile home program, which has a component of educating people as to what the potential is for upgrading their living circumstances, has 37 people registered in it. I would suspect that there will probably be more, given the general popularity of the program itself.
Mr. Jenkins: The mobile home program is a new program, relatively new in the whole scheme of things, but the self-help for construction and owner-build program are what I am referring to. What has been the number of people availing themselves of this program?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: If the member wants the precise numbers, I can transfer them to him. The ballpark is about 10 people in the communities every three months.
Mr. Jenkins: I have a couple of other concerns.
I know that the government is exploring a multi-level care facility, but the focus of that facility is Whitehorse. There is a need in rural Yukon for the same type of facility. Has there been any initiative from the department to examine areas like Watson Lake and Dawson City - more appropriately, Dawson City than Watson Lake - for this type of facility or augmenting the existing seniors complex, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, as I indicated to the Member for Riverdale South, the Yukon Housing Corporation is going to be meeting tomorrow with the Department of Health and Social Services to discuss the subject, including the provision of services inside and outside of Whitehorse. The Housing Corporation is cast more in a role of a support agency to the prime movers in this project, and that would be Health and Social Services.
Mr. Jenkins: But there is a need for housing units for our seniors in rural Yukon, above and beyond what presently exists, and that demand is growing, Mr. Chair. What is Yukon Housing doing to meet that growing demand in rural Yukon?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, tomorrow the Department of Health and Social Services is going to be meeting with the Housing Corporation to talk about demands for seniors housing, various types of housing for seniors throughout the territory. As the Minister of Health and Social Services has already pointed out in the Legislature, the demographics for the territory are starting to demonstrate that more people are retiring in the territory. Obviously, some long-range plans must be made to address the slowly growing need, and the Department of Health and Social Services is beginning to undertake that activity, not the Housing Corporation.
Mr. Jenkins: There was a needs assessment done for seniors a number of years ago on their housing needs. It was undertaken by the Housing Corporation, and it clearly identified what areas needed to be addressed and what type of housing units were needed, Mr. Chair, and no action seems to have been taken on this assessment of needs.
Yes, I guess we're going on to another meeting or we're going to do another assessment study, or we're going to go around the circumference of the wheel again, but could the minister indicate what areas have been addressed to date as a result of that assessment of needs, other than that we're going into another study or meeting, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The result of the study, ironically - despite the fact that we all believe that there is a growing need and I still believe that there's a growing need or there will be at least a need for seniors housing - did suggest that there should be more seniors housing constructed for seniors in the communities. The seniors, however, took a different view and the member will remember the Teslin fourplex that was constructed for seniors, which seniors did not move into.
Now, the Housing Association and the people in the community did indicate in the first instance - and I was the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation at the time and I went and actually opened the so-called seniors complex - that they would like to see seniors housing for people so they could retire in Teslin. The seniors in Teslin did not want to retire into government housing and that was an example of people voting with their feet. Consequently, what we have to do is determine, when it comes to seniors housing, precisely what the needs are by speaking to seniors and trying to hit the mark.
Some of the housing types that the member has already identified in the last few minutes in terms of extended care facilities are clearly, I think, desired in the communities and that is, of course, an expensive proposition. It is a proposition that is being reviewed by the Department of Health and Social Services. In the long term, it is my view that we must respond to those needs.
In terms of straight housing for seniors, at least in the communities, at least to the extent that some seniors housing was built, it was unfortunately not used.
Mr. Jenkins: It's interesting, just this weekend I had occasion to speak with a number of seniors in my community who were involved in this assessment needs study a number of years ago and they strongly advocated at that time that they were to remain in their own home and not move into any government units. And now - I'm not sure where the letter from one of these individuals ended up, but - there's a letter either underway or received by either the Minister of Health and Social Services or Yukon Housing dealing directly with this issue with a change in where they would like to see the emphasis placed by Yukon Housing Corporation.
This is a direct result, Mr. Chair, of the aging of that population and the requirement for more barrier-free access facilities, and not necessarily full handicapped facilities in the washrooms, but more than what exists in a conventional unit. So, the needs have somewhat changed with the aging of the population and the longer life expectancy of most of these people. While I commend the Department of Health and Social Services on meeting with Yukon Housing Corporation, what's the time frame for something happening, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member has acknowledged that the Department of Health and Social Services and Yukon Housing Corporation are meeting to discuss the needs of seniors and various types of housing. That is, in fact, the case, and we expect to hear from their joint discussions before too long. It does not mean, of course, that the Housing Corporation cannot address accessibility issues for seniors anywhere - Whitehorse or the communities.
As I already indicated to members, the Housing Corporation is going to be reviewing its home repair program to address the issue of accessibility for seniors, with a view to trying to encourage and permit, where possible, seniors to remain in their own homes as long as possible. That's obviously where most feel they would be most comfortable.
If there are accessibility issues in their homes, the Housing Corporation is apprised of the matter and is interested in addressing it. The comments I've made respecting new units, I think, are just simply a matter of historical record.
Mr. Jenkins: I thank the Government Leader for his response. The issue of accessibility to housing units has been reasonably addressed by Yukon Housing Corporation. They make available funds, and they make available contractors to do this type of work, and they've done a reasonably good job in this area in my community, Mr. Chair. But the question to the Government Leader was this: after this meeting that is going to be held tomorrow between the various departments, what's the actual time frame for something happening? I was told, "Before too long." Now, before too long could be, you know - could the minister quantify that "before too long"?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, a lot depends, Mr. Chair, on what the recommended solutions are - if they require a long time for implementation. I guess "before too long" means "before not too very long". If there is not very much in terms of new administrative arrangements and the cost is not excessive and can be handled within existing year's budgets, it won't be long at all. But, if the member is asking me for a precise time frame, I can't answer the member only because I don't know what the conclusion of the discussions are going to be.
Mrs. Edelman: One of the examples that I've always used over the years for poor planning was the Teslin fourplex for seniors. And, one of the reasons it was such poor planning was that nobody bothered to ask the seniors in that community what they wanted. A construction crew just appeared one day and started building a fourplex, and that was certainly the impression that the people in that town had. So, I was never really clear on who they actually consulted with. All I do know is that the people in that area were somewhat disturbed by the fact that they got something that was never asked for.
I know that the minister is on holidays and the Government Leader is speaking to this budget and he was the minister responsible for housing at the time, but I think my hope is that when we start developing more seniors housing - no matter whether it is social housing or whether it is an extended care facility - that we do one heck of a better job than that. Because nothing would be worse than to waste taxpayers' money by putting up a seniors dwelling again that stays empty. It is just a statement.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I just got a short statement in reply. First of all, the member is wrong that there was no support in the community and that the building was built over their objections or as a surprise. The member is wrong that there was no discussion with the housing authority or with the municipality. We've got letters on record asking for this facility. I think a lot of people felt that this facility would be a good idea. So - just a statement.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, just another statement: no seniors moved into the building.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That's right, Mr. Chair. They didn't, and that's the reason why we have to be extremely careful about responding to, for example, community requests or any requests for the simple answer. We have to do a proper review, and I'm hoping that the departments do that.
Mr. Jenkins: Just to explore with the Government Leader the issue of social housing, one of the numbers that are now missing from any of the reviews that I've seen is the vacancy rate for social housing in the respective communities. Just what is that vacancy rate in the last fiscal period?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the vacancy rates are generally tabled with the main estimates. We don't have them here, but I can certainly get the vacancy rate by community for the member - up to the most recent month.
Mr. Jenkins: We're all aware of the areas that have had a very high vacancy rate over the past. Mayo was one area that was singled out. Have there been any changes in the vacancy rate - of normal swings - because it's an area where if you have vacant homes, there are probably other avenues that could be explored for their use? We're maintaining them. We're heating them. It would appear to me that we could utilize these structures for something else or expand the terms for people to gain access to them.
So, what I'm looking for is if there have been any changes in policy to fill up these houses that have been vacant for quite a number of years, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, certainly, while we do require the permission of Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation to make use of them for anything other than social housing, I would agree that not letting the houses go vacant, as long as you have the potential to meet the social clients that are there, is a good idea, and I would certainly encourage the Housing Corporation to encourage CMHC to permit the appropriate use of some of these units to meet some community needs.
Mr. Jenkins: While I appreciate the Government Leader concurring with my thoughts in that regard, could the Government Leader elaborate and tell us what steps the Housing Corporation has taken to fulfill the abnormally high vacancy rate in a number of communities? I know of two, offhand, and one sticks out specifically that has had an abnormally high vacancy rate for at least the last four years, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Again, Mr. Chair, the approval of CMHC - I don't know if I made that clear enough - is required and, generally speaking, that is, as I understand it, difficult to achieve.
I don't have the figures in front of me which would corroborate the member's assertions that there was an abnormally high vacancy rate, but let me just say that, in theory, should there be a community with an abnormally high vacancy rate for an extended period of time, the local housing association should, once the approval of CMHC is secured - if that's even at all possible - be requested and encouraged to permit other uses.
If the member wants the board's current thinking on the subject, I will undertake to solicit it.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's get a little bit more specific. The prime community I'm referring to is Mayo. The vacancy rate there has been abnormally high for the last four years that I'm aware of. There were a number of homes there that were completely retrofitted and they've stood vacant. Now, I share the Government Leader's concern that they should explore other avenues to put these homes to use. Could the corporation expand on what they've actually done to date, or have these homes stood vacant for all of that time, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, apparently the First Nation has expressed an interest in purchasing a number of the units. That will certainly reduce the vacancy rate. I don't know what else the member is requesting. He asked me a policy question and I gave him a direct answer. He asked me what the corporation was doing and I told him I would solicit the response. I don't know what more I can give the member. I'm wracking my brain thinking about it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what the minister can do is put these homes to use. All of the responses that the Government Leader has given are that, currently, the First Nations in Mayo are exploring the purchase of these vacant units. I would remind the Government Leader that many of these units have been vacant now for four years that I'm aware of, perhaps even longer. That is a considerable cost to the taxpayers of Canada and that is a considerable cost to this program.
Surely I would have thought that during the past couple of years some other use would have been made of these programs. I appreciate the Government Leader's initiatives to explore these other areas, but it's rather late at this juncture, as they have sat empty for four-plus years that I'm certainly aware of, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I think the member has made his point. I certainly don't disagree with him. He might ask his benchmates what their thoughts were when they let the vacancies exist for three, four or five years.
But the basic point is, I believe, a valid one. We don't need large numbers of vacancies in the communities if there are other ways of making use of these vacancies, or if there's a First Nation, for example, that wishes to purchase them, it is something that should be explored.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, it will be a while until we see the next budget, and I'm just wondering - the last time I was up in the Yukon Housing Corporation, I noticed that they were practically sitting on top of each other. I'm wondering if there are any plans for the Yukon Housing Corporation to expand their offices.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, I will point out to the member that we'll be back here in two months and going through the same process for a period of 12 weeks, so the member does not have to worry - I know she loves the place - about being absent for too long.
With respect to the Housing Corporation, they will be taking on a little bit of additional space in order to handle the persons who are assuming the responsibilities for the mobile home strategy.
Mrs. Edelman: Am I to understand, then, that there will be separate offices for the mobile home strategy?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There will be space required for people who will be doing the work around the mobile home strategy. I believe it is space contiguous with the space they're currently in.
Mr. Jenkins: One of the other concerns that's brought to my attention on a regular basis is the cost of operating staff housing by the occupant. What steps has the corporation taken, Mr. Chair, to do an energy audit on those dwelling units that have proven to be of very, very high cost in heating and electrical?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Housing Corporation is undertaking to do conversions to promote energy efficiency in a number of communities - Teslin and Dawson City are among those communities - with a view to making staff housing more energy efficient.
Mr. Jenkins: With respect to staff housing, what's the time frame for this being undertaken and completed? I'm aware of a couple who have still very, very high costs as far as propane use, and the government is aware of it. They've been aware of it since the construction was completed and the first tenants moved in there and virtually nothing has been done. There's been a constant turnover of people in these housing units. There's one specifically that has caused all sorts of aggravation and grief and, in fact, the teachers have moved out of that unit on a regular basis. So obviously there are some areas of fault in this program and it requires some initiative to get it moving. So, could the Government Leader advise us of what steps are being taken, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm not sure one can assign fault to the conversion program. Perhaps if the people just moved into it, one might assign fault to the original construction, if fault were something one were seeking.
I'm not personally familiar with the situation the member is addressing, but the Housing Corporation representative certainly seems to think she understands what the member is referring to. I'm under the impression, and I've been told, that there are funds in this year's budget for the conversion.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, maybe I can get more clarification. Is there a preventive maintenance program on Yukon Housing stock?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes.
Mrs. Edelman: Is there a regular review or an annual review on the priorities for that program?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, it is completed by the communities.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister give us some idea as to the acceptance of the lending programs and what sort of buy-in we have? How many people are in the various programs, and how well are they being received? Are there some that are more beneficial than others, and should we be looking at enhancing some of the programs, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I can get the member information on that subject. I can pull it together. I don't believe that it's here right now.
Mr. Jenkins: Could I explore with the Government Leader those areas, Mr. Chair, that are being well-received, and whether they are worthwhile enhancing? There must be some sort of background with the corporation and an understanding of which programs are being well-received and which are not.
I'm not looking for exact numbers, Mr. Chair, as to how many people are subscribing to each program, but some of them we can make work better, and others maybe we should explore abolishing. These are policy directions. We take on new initiatives all the time, like the mobile home strategy and the mobile home initiative, so perhaps we can be looking at abolishing another program on another side that's not very well-received and subscribed to.
What is being utilized and what is not, or is this just something to fill up a book?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, if we don't use the money - if nobody comes forward and makes the application, we don't spend the money and the budget books show a reflection of that. If, for example, we were to budget $4 million every year for the home repair program, if one looks at the capital expenditures, and every year the home repair program came in at a $1 million takeup, that would suggest that the interest in the program is less than what was predicted. If that happens every year, then perhaps the planning for the program or the amount of energy put into the program should be reviewed or the program should be reviewed for potential changes.
There's no question that all the programs are essentially up for review all the time and that one has to do an assessment as to whether or not there is takeup every year. We can tell from even the most cursory view, as legislators, of the capital expenditures as to what is showing interest and what is not.
The owner-build program is projected to show more interest year. It's up by a third. The rental suite program is down a bit. The home ownership program, thanks to the mobile home strategy and increased demand in this particular area, is showing considerable increases as well. The home repair program does not show as much takeup as was predicted at the beginning of the year, and I'm certain that that would be reflected in the main estimates in the coming year as well.
So, there is analysis done regularly on all of the programs to determine their applicability to the marketplace. These programs are largely recoverable and in no case do we lend money to people who don't apply for it.
Mr. Jenkins: No one is suggesting that we lend money to people who do not apply for it. But when one looks at the role of the corporation - right at the beginning - it's a three-pronged role: one is to help Yukon residents obtain appropriate accommodation; number two is to cooperate with the housing industry in meeting the housing needs of Yukon; and number three is to foster community participation in the design, development and delivery of housing programs.
So, my question to the Government Leader was very succinct and very straightforward: what is the reception granted to these programs? He responded, "Well, we budget so much money and if it's taken, it's taken; if it's not, it's not.
So, what I'm suggesting is that this review be conducted in a more open manner than what is currently being done and an analysis of the programs being undertaken on a regular basis with a view to changing the way that they're delivered to enhance them for Yukon's population. Will the Government Leader undertake that kind of an overview, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I don't know what kind of study the member wants me to endorse here. I would think that the expression of consumer demand plays heavily on determining the desirability and applicability of the programming that the Housing Corporation provides.
I would point out to the member that in each of the programs that he's asked a direct question, I've answered the question with respect to how the budget figures relate. If one wants to take a look at the expression of consumer demand for these programs, one can clearly see that there is a heavy demand for most of the programs.
There is one program, the REMP, which is substantially undersubscribed. Most of the other programs are oversubscribed. So, inasmuch as that is an indicator of whether or not the government or the Housing Corporation is meeting a need, I'd say that by business standards that would be a pretty good indication.
If the member is asking me to do something else, or asking me to endorse something else, like a full review of the Housing Corporation's programs in some sort of comprehensive way, the member is going to have to explain the particular rationale for that, because that takes a lot of administrative time.
The Housing Corporation has extensive consultative processes with everyone, from the real estate industry to municipalities, and they have their own housing authorities and they have their own advisory board. The Housing Corporation Board itself is a citizen board that undertakes extensive discussions on an ongoing basis.
Every program is analyzed on an ongoing basis. If there are new suggestions - even some of the suggestions that have been raised in this Legislature - that make some sense, they are put into the mix as well. So, I think that we have a fairly good indication that the vast majority of the Housing Corporation's programs are in fact well appreciated and well supported by the general public. Certainly there's a lot of takeup.
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess for 10 minutes?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with general debate on Yukon Housing Corporation. Not seeing further general debate, we will proceed to operation and maintenance expenditures.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Gross Expenditures
Mrs. Edelman: I wonder if the minister could provide some detail on that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, Yukon Housing Corporation had forecasted using its line of credit with the TD Bank to a much greater extent in 1997-98. Cashflows have been such that no borrowings were required to date for 1997-98, thereby reducing the interest cost on borrowings.
Mr. Jenkins: We just went through with the Government Leader all of the various programs that have been more or less oversubscribed, as he elaborated on, with the exception of one program. In what areas has the Housing Corporation not undertaken the initiatives that they had forecasted to undertake, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I didn't say, Mr. Chair, that they had not been undertaking certain things. I said that the way the cashflows have been run, they did not require as much borrowing as I thought they would; therefore, they have less interest costs on borrowings than had been projected.
Mr. Jenkins: Were these borrowings for long-term or short-term obligations, or just to cashflow the corporation in a normal flow of business?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I guess a short answer is all of the above, Mr. Chair. The member wants a very precise answer. I'll have to get the accountants to provide him with one.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, but I'm sure that somewhere in the briefing notes in front of the Government Leader, there is more of a breakdown of that kind of expenditure or saving than what he has provided here in the House this evening.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't create the information, Mr. Chair. This is the information that has been given by the Housing Corporation as to why it is spending less in this particular program area. It is not facing as much interest cost on its borrowings, thanks to its cashflow. That's the answer. If the member wants an accountant's reply, then I'll have to come back. I'm not an accountant, but I'll come back and tell him.
Gross Expenditures in the underexpenditure of $182,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of an underexpenditure of $182,000 agreed to
Chair: Any questions on the recoveries?
Mr. Jenkins: It would be appreciated if the Government Leader would just elaborate on each one of the line items so that we don't have to get into any questioning, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the rent income increased due to staff housing units transferred from Health and Social Services as part of the phase 2 health transfer. There were 27 units in total spread out through the territory.
The other recoveries that are also listed in the operations recoveries is from the Energy Corporation for the administration of the CEMP.
Mr. Jenkins: That's the commercial energy program, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes. The "M" is management - commercial energy management program.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Could I just refer the Government Leader to the Yukon Energy Corporation staff housing that was recently constructed in Dawson City? Is it under the umbrella of Yukon Housing Corporation and is it in this line item, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'm informed that those two units were disbursed in last year's budget, not this year's budget.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, but what I'm asking is, is the ongoing operation and maintenance under the umbrella of Yukon Housing Corporation or is this being dealt with separately by the Energy Corporation?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Energy Corporation.
Mr. Jenkins: That gives rise to the issue of problems encountered with the design and the foundation construction of these units and with the actual heating systems in these units. Who is picking up the additional cost associated with all the remedial action so identified? Is that something that the Housing Corporation, as the general contractor and designer, would be doing, or are the associated costs something that the Energy Corporation is going to be blessed with?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Yukon Housing Corporation is apparently assisting the Energy Corporation in the warranty items around these units. I am presuming the member is referring to those in Dawson. The units are, of course, the Yukon Energy Corporation's units, as I mentioned.
Mr. Jenkins: The Housing Corporation is assisting the Energy Corporation. There are apparently quite considerable costs associated with the remedial action necessary to address the issues of improper foundation design and heating systems that didn't work as originally designed. Who will ultimately bear the cost of these change-overs that have occurred in the last six-month period, Mr. Chair? Is that going to be the Housing Corporation, as the prime contractor and designer, or is this something that's passed on to the Energy Corporation, and ultimately passed on to the ratepayers of Yukon?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This is apparently a prototype. The units are apparently a prototype that the CMHC was pioneering, and I'm informed that CMHC will pick up the costs associated with remedial action required.
Chair: We will proceed to capital expenditures.
On Capital Expenditures
On Home Repair
Mrs. Edelman: Just again, Mr. Chair, if we can have detail on each line, it would be most appreciated.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The reduction here is largely due to the reduced consumer demand for the home repair program. The reduced consumer demand is actually, approximately $1.9 million, but that is offset somewhat by a feature of the mobile home strategy, which appears in this line, and the residential energy management program, which also appears on this line, and both of those programs total $475,000.
Mrs. Edelman: One of the concerns that I've heard, quite often actually, is that when people go in and they need to do repairs on their home, a staff person from Yukon Housing Corporation comes by and does an audit. And, the problem that people have is that they come in and say they basically want a new back deck, because it's starting to rot. The person from Yukon Housing Corporation comes by and says that in order to do that you have to do this, this, this, this and this, and that puts the price well above $35,000. It also puts it out of the reach of the people who simply want to get a new back deck.
My concern is that maybe the staff, in their zeal to improve the housing stock in the Yukon, particularly in Whitehorse, are making far too many recommendations, and they're making recommendations that they say are mandatory, when in fact they really don't need to be. What I wondering about is whether someone is looking at the recommendations that staff are making about the home repair program.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I'd like to ask if the member could give me some actual instances, and I would invite her to provide those to the minister responsible for the Housing Corporation. I would suspect that the Housing Corporation and the inspectors, in these instances, are going to be looking to bring existing units up to the current building code, and I would be very, very surprised - and if the member can provide me with an instance where the Housing Corporation has demanded that improvements be made to a house that are not essential to meeting code requirements but are instead meant to beautify the home or something else, I would think that that would be probably out of bounds. If the member can provide the sort of information of where inspectors are making it mandatory to do cosmetic changes to houses that are not code-related, then I'm certain the Housing Corporation would investigate further.
Mrs. Edelman: Perhaps the minister has misunderstood. People who are coming to this program usually have older homes. They have older homes and they usually are in an older home because they can't afford or they don't want to move into more expensive housing.
If a person comes to the Housing Corporation and says that they want, say, their back deck - and this is one case, for example, where all they wanted was the back deck replaced because it was starting to rot - the staff come in and they say, "Certainly, you can get that done. This is the price that you might be paying, but may we strongly suggest that you don't just do the deck; you do A, B, C and D." And we're not talking about cosmetic changes. We're talking about things, perhaps some of them, to bring them up to code. But because the final bill becomes so absolutely overwhelming, people don't take advantage of the program at all.
I would venture to say that, out of this figure, there's actually quite a few people that had themselves audited for a particular change and then backed out because the final cost was so expensive. Maybe, looking back on the records of people that got themselves audited, got someone to come over and take a look at their project and then decided not to take up the program, might be a useful exercise.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I could ask the Housing Corporation to look into the matter. I know that the issue was raised in the context of the mobile home strategy, where people who were living in mobile homes at one point had wanted to upgrade their homes for safety reasons, and when a building inspector - let alone somebody from the Yukon Housing Corporation - came on to the property, all kinds of violations of code were cited, and consequently, some of them were not seen to be as essential or urgent as others. So, consequently, nothing happened, because the resident couldn't meet the entire needs of the code upgrading but would have liked to address the most serious concerns with their home.
So, I am not completely unsympathetic with the proposition that the member is putting forward, and this may be a policy question that should be addressed even outside the mobile home strategy to other areas, and I can ask the Housing Corporation to look at it and, if they have already looked at it, to respond back to the member.
Home Repair in the amount of an underexpenditure of $1,510,000 agreed to
On Home Ownership
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This is for a component of the mobile home strategy and increased consumer demand for the home ownership program itself.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister advise what component of that is for the mobile home strategy, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, just one second. The amount for the mobile home strategy is $350,000. The increased consumer demand in the program was $400,000.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, how much of the home ownership program takes place out in the rural communities?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'll have to take notice of the question, Mr. Chair. The program is certainly delivered in the rural communities, but I don't have the figures.
Home Ownership in the amount of $750,000 agreed to
On Owner Build
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Increased consumer demand, Mr. Chair.
Mrs. Edelman: The issue around owner build, it's my understanding that it's now easier to get mortgages out in the outer areas. For example, I know that there are people out at Marsh Lake who are now getting CMHC mortgages. Is that starting to increase? Is that one of the reasons that demand is going up?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This does not have anything to do, Mr. Chair, with CMHC-backed mortgages. This is to allow people to build their own homes over a two-year period.
Mr. Jenkins: With respect to CMHC mortgages - which is one of the building blocks on which justification for mortgages are based in the Yukon - what steps has the Housing Corporation taken to provide for CMHC backing? What initiatives has the Housing Corporation taken to CMHC to expand CMHC guarantees to rural Yukon?
There are only a few areas that CMHC will look at in the Yukon unless it's for a government building, but for the private sector it's very difficult to obtain a CMHC-guaranteed mortgage in a lot of areas of rural Yukon. So, just what steps has the Housing Corporation undertaken in this regard, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, there were always, and have been, for as long as I've been around, a tendency by the Housing Corporation to loosen not only CMHC rules, but also the banking rules for rural Yukon.
There has been no movement from CMHC and there remains no movement from CMHC to expand its operations into what they referred to as higher risk areas. That is the reason why the extended mortgage guarantee program was instituted by the Housing Corporation to help address demand in the rural areas.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, thank you very much. I am aware of how CMHC mortgages came into our community in the private sector, and spent a lot of time with the then-Canada mortgage to ensure that this occurred. It takes a lot of effort on the part of either the local government or the Government of Yukon to ensure that this does occur, but there are still areas surrounding my community of Dawson that CMHC will not guarantee a mortgage. Thus, the banks will not lend unless it's a very high-ratio mortgage.
It would appear to me to take very little initiative on the part of government or Yukon Housing to go to CMHC and extend their current policy to the surrounding areas. It makes no difference whether it be at Bear Creek or Henderson's Corner. One side of the highway they allow it; the other side of the highway they do not allow it. There doesn't appear to be any justification. It just seems that there hasn't been any followup by the government of the day or the Housing Corporation.
Is the Government Leader prepared to undertake an initiative in this area, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, as I already indicated once, the Housing Corporation is continuing to discuss the issue with CMHC. For as long as I've been around, there has been constant pressure on CMHC to encourage them to insure mortgages in areas that they're not currently covering and, from time to time, some minor break-throughs are permissible. But, generally speaking, there is as much resistance as there ever was. It doesn't mean that we won't stop trying. The Housing Corporation will continue trying.
Owner Build in the amount of $200,000 agreed to
On Rental Suites
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Lower than anticipated consumer demand, Mr. Chair.
Mrs. Edelman: It's my understanding that if the vacancy rate is so high, then we no longer put dollars into this program. The vacancy rate right now is quite high in Whitehorse. Is there any thought to dropping this program at some point in the future? The reason I say that is that, basically, a lot of the rental suites that this program was targeted at have been fixed up.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Housing Corporation has a policy, as the member cited, of not supporting new rental suites when the vacancy rate is less than four percent. However, the Housing Corporation, apparently, is still working with the City of Whitehorse on the upgrading of existing rental suites that are not up to code. As the member is probably aware, there are a number of rental suites constructed - certainly, a lot were constructed with the new construction up in the Granger area - and the need was identified to upgrade these rental suites. So there is still some support for those upgrades. The general policy is to not support new construction when the vacancy rate is less than four percent, of course.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, it's getting extremely late. The issue around updating the old rental suites in some of the older homes - I know that, when this program first came into effect, quite a few were done and what I'm wondering is, what is the uptake on this program at the present time?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The city apparently has legalized over 100 suites. Some of these have used the rental suite program for upgrading.
Mrs. Edelman: I suppose what I'm trying to get at, Mr. Chair, is, is there a diminishing uptake on the program? Are there fewer and fewer people taking advantage of the program over time?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There is a slight decline, Mr. Chair. Obviously, there is a substantial decline this year. The takeup is being reduced. We are turning back money, but the Housing Corporation is not encouraging the construction of new rental suites at this time, for the reasons I've mentioned.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I suppose what I'm trying to get at is, for the upgrading of the old rental suites, the ones that are less than they should be, is the Yukon Housing Corporation, at some point, going to make a decision as to whether to drop that particular aspect of the program?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I suppose there is, Mr. Chair, but in the event that there may be some need in other communities, there's no reason why the program can't be kept on the books. It doesn't have to be funded and it doesn't even have to be staffed, but we could still have a program to provide for a programatic response to an identified community need.
But certainly, at this point, particularly in the City of Whitehorse, obviously the need is dropping and the Housing Corporation is not encouraging construction of new units.
Rental Suites in the amount of an underexpenditure of $110,000 agreed to
On Joint Venture
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, there are a number of different items here. This was a net of two items: the transfer of some funds to staff housing - the Old Crow duplexes - and the offset by the administration of the commercial energy management program on behalf of the Energy Corporation.
Mr. Jenkins: Were there any major undertakings of a large component of this line item, Mr. Chair, or is it just all broken down into smaller sums over a broad spectrum?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, there were a lot of small sums. The major items in this program are the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, which is $263,000, the Gateway Housing loan of $92,000, the commercial energy management program that I mentioned, and the Yukon energy housing project of $30,000 that the member has already raised. Those are the major projects under this program.
Mr. Jenkins: Is the last item, the $30,000 Yukon housing project, the Yukon energy homes in Dawson City, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, that is the project.
Mr. Jenkins: If these were an undertaking of and a cost to the Energy Corporation, how would the Housing Corporation incur an obligation of $30,000, or is this just an in-and-out amount?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This is an in-and-out amount, Mr. Chair. It is the warranty holdback from the contractor.
Joint Venture in the amount of $20,000 agreed to
On Mobile Home Strategy
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This is the mobile home strategy, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, when I look at this total department line item of some $10 million capital expenditure and when I look at the home repair being 1.5 under, when I look at a new initiative in the home ownership of some $350,000 and when I look at this new initiative of the mobile home strategy of some $450,000, that adds up to in excess of $2 million of a $10-million budget that was unforeseen. A large part of it was unforeseen or unplanned for at the onset when this budget was first put together and yet we can still be within our limits
It would appear to me that there's a great deal of flexibility within this budget to absorb that kind of cost. Could the Government Leader explain why the forecasting of the Housing Corporation is not more accurate? We have $2 million here on a $10-million line. That's significant, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, I realize this is the member's first supplementary. I would encourage him to go back and look at other supplementaries and the member will see the variances in the Housing Corporation over a period of time and he'll see that the variances are not particularly out of line.
One of the reasons for that is that the estimates that are put into the Housing Corporation's budgets were done about 18 months ago and economic conditions do change. There is, in one particular instance - and this is the home repair program; one could localize it there - where the greatest reduction has taken place and there has just not been as much uptake there as there has been elsewhere.
I point out to the member that only last year the government itself was busily developing even more lots in the Logan-Copper Ridge area on the assumption that there was going to be even more uptake. There has been virtually no uptake on those lots and we're building more lots. We've built even more lots this year because the planning process was kicked in a couple of years ago and it'll be some time before those lots are sold. So, conditions certainly do change and, in terms of the initiatives, the mobile home strategy was the reason for the increase.
Mr. Jenkins: I have taken it upon myself to review the year-end financial report for the Yukon Housing Corporation going back for a considerable number of years, and I have cross referenced that, Mr. Chair, to the supps and to the main estimates. The lapses for Yukon Housing Corporation are usually very significant, and I was just wondering if the Government Leader - as Minister of Finance, also - found it acceptable to have virtually a 25-percent variance in this area.
Does he deem that to be appropriate budgeting and forecasting or is that acceptable to him? I know in the business world it is very, very rare that you would accept that kind of a margin of error in your forecasting.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't think we're going to have many lapses in the budget this year, Mr. Chair. In the first instance, the mobile home strategy is going to eat most of the so called lapses.
With respect to the planning process, one can see from the housing program that there was, in the design of these budget estimates, very opimistic forecasts about the potential uptake of the programs. And, because it really doesn't matter from a surplus/deficit situation whether or not the money is spent, because if it is not spent, these are all recoverable programs, so it doesn't affect the surplus/deficit situation, the Management Board of government has historically fairly relaxed in allowing both the Yukon Housing Corporation budget and the land development budget in Department of Community and Transportation Services to be optimistic.
If one looks at the Yukon Housing Corporation budget lapses, one can compare that with the lapses, typically, in land development. The Department of Lands, for example budgets it's monies for land development for the territory and, in the end, for one reason or another, usually community consultations projects can't be undertaken.
So, the Management Board has historically been fairly generous in terms of allowing for optimistic scenarios because it does not impact on the surplus-deficit situation, and the programs are only taken up if there is, in this case, a qualified applicant, and, of course, the programs are fully recoverable.
Mr. Jenkins: What I hear the Government Leader saying is that he's very comfortable with a forecasting that is 25 percent out of whack on a $10 million budget, and they'll make it up, or it doesn't really matter to him or to his Management Board. Is that what I'm hearing?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The word "comfortable" is not appropriate. The word is perhaps "understanding". We are as understanding as previous Management Boards because of the reasons I've cited. It is not a question of the need for accurate forecasting for the purposes of ensuring there are not overexpenditures because these are recoverable programs - recoverable. If we were to put $10 million into a particular program, the only people who could apply for the program would be qualified applicants, and the program would spend only as much as there are qualified applicants.
So, the situation is not as the member has described it, in terms of the need for accurate budgeting. The imperatives, in terms of budgeting, are different in these kinds of programs than they are in normal expenditure programs.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I disagree with the Government Leader. There is a need to forecast more accurately than what is being conveyed to the House this evening, and there is a need, Mr. Chair, because what it does is to allow for political will to move wherever it wants to go. There is that much flexibility that one can initiate a whole new program and plug it in and still come out ahead, by a long shot.
Now, I don't have any quarrel, if there's political direction given, but before new programs are announced, that should be something that comes back to the House.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I'm going to be generous right through till 9:30 tonight - right through to the bitter end - and I refuse to allow this member, in ignorance, to bait me.
A program can be initiated by a government in mid-year without vote authority as long as the vote authority is sought and cashflows are not overextended, and that could happen right now. That could happen right now. That could happen even if all these other programs were completely over-subscribed.
That's the reality of the budgeting process here. That's why I entreat the member to understand it and show as much understanding with the Housing Corporation now as I'm sure he did when his benchmates were leading the corporation over the last four or five years.
Mobile Home Strategy in the amount of $453,000 agreed to
On Staff Housing
On Renovation and Rehabilitation Existing Stock
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the $56,000 was transferred to Health and Social Services to provide for a contribution to the Signpost Seniors Society and $115,000 was transferred to the joint venture program to provide the Old Crow duplexes.
Mrs. Edelman: On this particular line for $56,000 - and that's the transfer to the Watson Lake Signpost Seniors - can we stand this line aside? The hour is late. We can get the information tomorrow and I think we'll have a much more informed debate.
I don't feel comfortable at all about clearing this line at all until we get that further information, particularly the information around the possible CMHC funding of this position.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I think we should just continue going, because we're going to get past the allotted hour anyway. So, the amount of money here was transferred to the Department of Health and Social Services, and it ended up as a contribution to the Signpost Seniors Society. That's what this funding was for. It was taken out of the staff housing budget and was transferred to the Department of Health and Social Services.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, earlier in the debate, the minister kindly agreed to offer more information and to bring more information forward on this line. You have to realize that until that information is received, then we could not in any sense be able to make a very good decision at this particular point, and I know it's late, and I know we want to go home, but I don't see any reason why we can't stand this line aside. I know we stand lines aside for far less reason than that. Perhaps we can just put this line aside, as well.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, what is the information that the member is wishing? These funds were transferred to the Department of Health and Social Services so that they could make a contribution to the Signpost Seniors Society - money that they didn't have.
We felt that there was less of a need in this particular line item under staff housing and we transferred the money to the Department of Health and Social Services. There is a request and a vote in Health and Social Services for $56,000. What more does the member want?
Mrs. Edelman: I guess that Jekyll and Hyde thing is coming out, big time, right now.
Earlier in the debate, the minister kindly agreed to offer more detail on this particular line, because there was some concern that the funding for this particular position came from federal funds from CMHC. All that this member would like to see is some verification of where those dollars came from. I don't think that that's unreasonable, Mr. Chair. Certainly, that was what the minister agreed to earlier in the debate, and if we have to wait for Hansard to verify what the minister already said, then maybe that's what we need to do. But this is not something we need to argue about. This is something that you've already agreed to.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The funding here has nothing to do with CMHC funding. This has a straight government allocation. There are no recoverable funds under staff housing. It's a straight expenditure program. So, there is no CMHC involvement whatsoever in this particular line item - none whatsoever.
I don't know what the member was referring to - I wrote down Jekyll and Hyde. I don't know what that necessarily referred to, unless the member was referring to the potion that the Member for Riverside put on the table. I'm hoping there's some left. There might be a need for some of that particular potion.
Seeing the lateness of the time, Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress, however limited, on this bill.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 43, An Act to Amend the Public Health Act, and directed me to report it with amendment.
Further, Committee has considered Bill No. 47, Public Service Group Insurance Benefit Plan Act, and directed me to report it without amendment.
Further, Committee has considered Bill No. 8, Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:28 p.m.