Thursday, December 11, 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
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Speaker, it certainly gives me a privilege today, indeed, to be able to introduce the Deputy Chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, Mr. Carl Sidney, representing the Xooxetaan Clan, and the Chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, Mr. Richard Sidney, representing the Yanyeidi Clan.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I have a legislative return and an employment equity report for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notice of motions?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Contract registry, opposition access
Mr. Ostashek: My question is for the minister responsible for Government Services. Mr. Speaker, for weeks and weeks we have gone back and forth with the government on tabling the contract registry in this Legislature. Just before noon today, we get a nice gift-wrapped package from the Minister of Government Services, with a cartoon on it, with some of the contract registry. My question to the Government Leader is, does he believe this is a joke? Or, it is a present to give documents to the opposition that he is supposed to give?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I can just generally say that in this case I was attempting to interject a little levity into the situation. Let's remember what Sir Toby once said to Malvolio, "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no cakes and ale?"
In this case, Mr. Speaker, I was requested by our acting House leader to provide some material - public material, by the way, that has been accessible - for departments that were still yet to come up in budget debate, and I did so.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, I just say to the minister responsible that he could have saved a lot of time and a lot of embarrassment for himself and his government by tabling documents that he should have tabled early in the sitting, not on the twenty-fourth day of the sitting.
Now, Mr. Speaker, while he's made an attempt to try to pacify the opposition, it's not good enough. Where are the first 41 pages of the contract registry? What is the government trying to hide?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, once again, I will repeat that this is public information. No one is attempting to hide it. It's accessible. The member says, "Where are the other 41 pages?" The other 41 pages are down at contract administration.
Basically, the information is public. Anyone can get access to it. I thought the Speaker had a very clear ruling yesterday; however, acting on a request from our acting House leader, I attempted to provide some material for the members, I suppose, to save them a measure of inconvenience. Unfortunately, that wasn't accepted in the spirit that it was offered.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, the member is quite right; it wasn't accepted and it will not be accepted. Mr. Speaker, this contract registry accounts for millions of dollars that this government is spending on behalf of the taxpayers of the Yukon. Millions of dollars are included in the supplementary budget that we're debating in this Legislature this sitting. We have a right to those documents.
By tradition, that document has been tabled upon request of the opposition for 15 years. Further to that, there was an agreement made between House leaders to expedite the business of this House, and that was to provide information in a timely manner.
I'm asking the Minister of Government Services now, will he provide us with the first 41 pages of the contract registry?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think I've already indicated that this is all public information. It's all public access. From my understanding, each of the respective opposition parties have been able to access material upon request. In this regard, these were three departments yet to come in general budget debate, and I was trying to be accommodating and I believe our acting House leader was trying to be accommodating, so I attempted to provide those.
Question re: Contract registry, opposition access
Mr. Ostashek: The minister has not tried to be accommodating. He's playing foolish, silly games. That is what he's doing, and what he's doing is extending the sitting days in this House when he didn't have to.
We have asked for these documents prior to the House being called back - by letter. I asked for them in second reading debate on the supplementary budget. We've asked for them time and time again, every week - sometimes twice a week - and this government, this open, accountable government who campaigned on that and said government could only be better if it was open and accountable to the public, is trying to keep information from the opposition so it wouldn't be scrutinized in this House.
I ask the minister again: will he get us the other 41 pages of this contract registry?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I've indicated that that is all public information. The members are free to go and get it as they choose. This is consistent with the practice that, on specific information, an individual can go and find it if they choose. This is not rocket science; this takes just a modicum of effort to go down and find it out for oneself. It's an easily accessible document; one can go through it as they wish. What we attempted to do here was to provide some information for the members upon request.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, that is a ridiculous explanation in this House by a person and a minister who should know better. The fact remains that the first reason we had for not getting this was that it was too expensive. That was the first reason. It was too expensive. It was too time consuming for the department. Then, we find out the contract registry is lying there, and we could go and look at it. All they had to do was photocopy it. Now the minister, because the session is coming to the end and he's been getting a lot of flack both in the House and outside the House, plays silly games by having the first 41 pages of the registry omitted.
I ask the minister again, will he provide us with those 41 pages before the end of the day today? There's something in there that this government is afraid to have exposed to the public.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, that's simply absurd, and if we talk about the delay of the session, I think the delay of the session has been in some of the debate that has gone on here. We're not attempting to delay this at all. As a matter of fact, even to pursue this is costing thousands of dollars in unnecessary time.
This is simply accessible information. The members can find it. We're not interested in making it difficult for individuals. There is nothing hidden there. If one wants to go down and pursue it and look through there for some kind of nefarious motives, please be my guest. The only thing that I think the member will get is a terminal case of boredom.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member could have expedited debate in this House by providing these at the start of the sitting when he should have. Not only that, Mr. Speaker, they broke the terms of the gentlemen's agreement that we had by not tabling the supps until half way through the session.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: The government House leader says, "False." That's how much he knows about the agreement, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, the fact remains that we want those 41 pages. The opposition in this Legislature doesn't have much power, but we do have the power to extend debate.
I'm asking the member once more: will he table - not table - just provide a copy to our caucus and to the Liberal caucus of the 41 pages instead of playing these silly games and wasting taxpayers' money? Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I already did provide some assistance for the members there with the remaining departments. Thankfully, my years in education did prepare me for dealing with petulant children, so in this case, I'm afraid that the opposition leader's threats to delay this into the next millennium -
Mr. Phillips: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: Point of order.
Mr. Phillips: Point of order, Mr. Speaker. "Petulant children" is unparliamentary language in the House and the minister should withdraw it.
Speaker: Would the member withdraw his language and get on with his answer, please.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Of course, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps it's prepared me to deal with individuals who are a little more recalcitrant.
Where was I? Oh, I'm sorry. I have been providing public information and we are quite prepared to assist them, as we did today, and this information is public. One can get it. We have not -
Speaker: Would the minister please conclude his answer?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We have not attempted to delay this process at all.
Question re: Contract registry, opposition access
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the minister responsible for Government Services.
I have asked, as have others, repeatedly, to receive a single photocopy of the complete Government Services interim contract registry. The Minister of Government Services said, as recently as December 8, that we could have full access to information we want. He suggested we, "Go down and identify what you need, and you can get it." Unfortunately, that's been anything but the case.
The minister, in response to my repeated requests, finally, at lunchtime today, delivered 20 pages of the document, and I must compliment the minister on his artwork. I've received several drawings from the minister in his notes to me, and another one today, and many of us would prefer it if he would pursue his real calling and let those of us who know how it should be done run the government.
Mr. Speaker, let me reassure the members opposite that I have more than a sense of humour. I also have the ability to deal with recalcitrant or petulant children, wherever you find them.
Will the minister provide the Liberal caucus office -
Speaker: Would the member please conclude?
Ms. Duncan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker. He doesn't even have to gift-wrap it this time, much as I love his artwork. Will he please provide us with a complete copy of the interim contract registry?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Peter Ustinov once observed that laughter is the music of a civilized society. Apparently, that doesn't take too much weight in the Liberal caucus.
I have tried to be cooperative in this regard and it was on the request of our acting House leader. This is not a difficult task to accomplish, to go down and identify the areas that one wants, or pick that particular contract that one wants.
There has been a lot of talk around a "registry". A registry implies that all these contracts are somehow verified and so on and so forth. This is merely a running list, and if the member would take, perhaps, a moment to take a look at the list, she will notice that a number of these contracts are not yet complete. So, I would suggest that to use the term "registry" is a misnomer.
Ms. Duncan: The government contract registry, contracts listings by department fiscal year April 1, 1997 to November 26, 1997. All we have asked for is one copy of this document. Between four trips to contract administration, I am only missing about 48 pages of it. I have asked the minister if we could have it this afternoon.
I would like to refer the member to A Better Way. It says, and I quote, "The growing cynicism -
Speaker: Would the member please get to the question.
Ms. Duncan: Certainly, will this minister fulfill the campaign commitment for open and accountable government and give us the last, missing 48 pages of this document, today?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have attempted to assist the opposition and third party here by providing the departments still outstanding in budget debate. Obviously, my efforts fell upon stony ground.
There are absolutely no secrets, as the member is calling out. She is perfectly capable of going down or sending her staff down to find out.
Ms. Duncan: There's a far, far better way, and this isn't it. It's responding in a timely, open and accountable manner to questions posed by those of us on this side. It might come as a surprise to the members opposite, but we were elected by Yukoners, too, and we're here to do a job, and we need the information to do our job.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: I have tried repeatedly. I have been myself, I have sent research staff, I have sent other organizations. The best I can get still is missing 50 pages of this document. Will the minister end the stonewalling and provide us with the last pages of this document so we can do our job? Can we have it this afternoon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, the member said she already has a number of pages. If one takes a look at that list, that represents 20 pages double sided. I would suggest that if it were single sided, that would translate to some 40 pages. So, therefore, it doesn't seem like there would be a tremendous amount of effort for the researcher to go down and find out.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Question re: Contract registry, opposition access
Mr. Cable: I've got some questions for the same minister on the same topic. Just so we know how far this absurd game is going to go in the rest of this mandate, let me ask the minister this question: when he wants an update of the contract registry, does he jump in his car, go down to the contract registry office, thumb through the document in the board room there, and then wheedle and whine, do some Uriah Heep act to get a few photocopies? Is that what he does, or does he get it delivered to him, the whole document?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have to say I haven't had the occasion to request the whole document. I would further suggest that the final contract registry will be available, likely in April or May, and I would also suggest that, beginning in April, all of these lists are going to be put on the Web, and they'll be available for anyone to pull off. Of course, I suppose the next thing we'll have to do is provide somebody to come down and push the print button on the computer.
That's neither here nor there. The fact is that I haven't had occasion to call for all of these.
Mr. Cable: Well, that in itself is worrisome, so let me put the question to the local hire commissioner, who, I'm sure, is busy looking at this list day by day. When he wants to get an update of the list to find out who is getting contracts in the territory and outside the territory, does he or his staff go down to the contract registry and sit there and whine and wheedle to get a few photocopies, or does he get the whole document provided to him?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As the principal question was directed to me, I will take the opportunity of addressing this one. With respect to local hire, we have an ongoing working relationship with the Yukon hire commission, and I'm sure that information is readily transferable back and forth.
I don't believe that anyone has had to, as the member has poetically put it, "whine and wheedle". We are not asking anyone to wheedle and whine. You go down, you identify the pages that you want - as a matter of fact, I believe the member opposite did request a specific list of contracts relating to - I think earlier - Justice and some other departments. I understood that he got some information in that regard even prior to this.
Mr. Cable: Yes, the member did in fact. And I'm sure the minister, when he has the full contract registry, isn't going to go down to the office. He's going to want the document in front of him, so he can look at it at his convenience.
We've gone down there and we've been told, "You can have a few pages - maybe 20 or 30 photocopied - but you can't have 115." Could the minister table the policy directive he has given his staff to tell them that they can't photocopy 115 pages, but they can photocopy 30? Could he tell us what the magic number is - the number of photocopies we can get, and beyond which we can't get?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: In my understanding, past practices have been that members have requested particular aspects of the contract list and they have been able to get it. There is no magic number. I'm just suggesting that the number relates to the level of convenience.
Obviously, we can't have 10 people all march in and demand 115 pages. There certainly has to be a reasonable limit put on things. The member has already indicated that he has been able to receive the information that he's requested.
All I can suggest is that we are willing to continue to cooperate on that basis.
Question re: Contract registry, opposition access
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the same minister. The opposition parties, the media and the general Yukon public must be totally amazed at this unexplained stubborn display that this government and this minister is showing us. It's absolutely unexplainable.
In their document, A Better Way, it states, "Piers McDonald and the New Democrats believe the growing cynicism about government can be reversed if the government is more accountable for its actions. Without this accountability there can be a further erosion of trust in government. Yukon people today are looking for more openness, greater accountability from both the political and bureaucratic levels."
Mr. Speaker, those are pretty strong words, but we're hearing exactly the opposite from that minister. Why won't that minister honour the words of his own leader and table the whole contract registry like he was asked? Why wouldn't he give us a copy of it?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would suggest if there is a measure of cynicism about public life, it may also be engendered by the fact that if this is the best they can do, I think they've got some real problems. In this case, this is open, this is public information. Anyone can go down; anyone can seek the information. What we have said is that within... The opposition can get it. I assume that the media can get it. I assume that the average citizen walking off the street could get it. The Speaker's ruling was clear and I believe that it wasn't seen as an infringement of privilege.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, it was this minister's own leader, in consultation with the leader of the government at the time, and the leader of the Liberal Party who signed an agreement and, in the signing of that agreement, had discussions about providing information such as this in a timely manner. It was on his insistence, Mr. Speaker, because of the shorter session, that this information that should be provided in the House would be provided in the House. Why isn't this government honouring that agreement? Why is the government breaking an agreement of his own leader, who insisted that we should have things that we deal with in this House in a timely manner?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would suggest that perhaps the member's interpretation is somewhat colourful. I don't believe that we are breaking the agreement. This information is public. The opposition, the third party, can get access to that information as needed. We've attempted to assist them, and all I can say is that we are living up to the agreement.
Mr. Phillips: I'm sure this is something that just puzzles everyone who listens, Mr. Speaker. The information that was provided today - half the information that we requested - the minister could have provided the full document in the same amount of time, but the minister is just being stubborn.
Mr. Speaker, if he can come to the House, or deliver to our door, half the document, why can't the minister deliver to our door the whole document? That's what we've been asking for, for over a month, Mr. Speaker. What is the minister's reluctance to provide the document?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, for one thing, I think the member has put an interesting spin on it - I'm supposed to deliver things to their door. In this case ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, good heavens, Mr. Speaker. I've never seen such a negative reaction to a well-intentioned gesture. If this is the spirit of Christmas, well, good heavens.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Ebenezer Scrooge is alive and well.
All I can say, Mr. Speaker, is that, in this regard, we are not breaking the agreement. We have provided public access to the material. The members are free to go over. The members are free to identify material that they need. In this case, I was asked by the acting government House leader to provide some assistance with regard to the -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Excuse me ... to provide the three departments that are still -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Will the minister please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. ... the three departments outstanding in debate, and that's what I did.
Question re: Contract registry, opposition access
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Government Services, and it concerns this government's decision to withhold the contract registry from members of this Legislature.
The minister has stood on his feet and said that members have access to this document and can have photocopies. I have been to contract registry. Our research staff has been to contract registry. The Member for Riverside has been to contract registry. We have asked other individuals to go to contract registry - several other individuals. The most that we can obtain is still missing some 48 pages from the government contract registry.
Opening up government, which is what the NDP promised Yukoners, means providing information when it's asked for. Can the Minister of Government Services tell the Legislature when the NDP plans to follow up on its commitment to open up government by providing our caucus with a complete copy of the interim contract registry?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, once again, I have to emphasize for the members' purposes that this is a running list of contracts -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I'm glad that the Liberal leader has -
Speaker: To the answer, please.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We have provided access to the material. The member indicates that there is some still outstanding. I'm sure that she can probably go and find information as needed. I understand that the Member for Riverside managed to get some information earlier. I understand that other information was provided. By now, the members must have cobbled together almost a complete registry.
Ms. Duncan: Almost. It's taking a crowbar to pry anything out of this government.
Speaker: Will the member please get to the question?
Ms. Duncan: Open government, Mr. Speaker. Open government is what we were promised. Would the minister please tell this House what is the secret on pages 4, 5 and 6, 11 through 22, 26 through 32, pages 40, 56 through 63, 71 and 72, 76 and 93 through 107, because those are the pages we can't get? What's the secret? Where are the taxpayers' dollars being spent on those pages?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is all public information. I would suggest that there's nothing secret on those pages. If anyone's interest is piqued, I urge them to rush down and see what they can find in there. There's very little in there that I think would be of great interest but, certainly, if a person is interested in reviewing it, they can find out.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, Yukoners indeed will be the judge of what this government's performance is - how open and accountable they are. Will the minister provide this caucus and the other opposition caucus with those remaining missing pages, so that we can indeed cobble together the information we should have had delivered to us in November?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I have said before, I was asked to provide some information, or some pages, for the members there - I attempted to do that today - on the remaining departments, which is the understanding I had from our acting government House leader. I attempted to do that today. So, I'm sure that you can seek the information in another forum.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed and we will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 22: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 22, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Harding.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I was anxious to vote on this.
I move that Bill No. 22, entitled Yukon Oil and Gas Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Economic Development that Bill No. 22, entitled Yukon Oil and Gas Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, will you poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Agreed.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Agreed.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Agreed.
Mr. McRobb: Agreed.
Mr. Hardy: Agreed.
Mr. Livingston: Agreed.
Mr. Ostashek: Agreed.
Mr. Phillips: Agreed
Mr. Jenkins: Agreed.
Ms. Duncan: Agreed.
Mr. Cable: Agreed.
Mrs. Edelman: Agreed.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 13 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 22 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 22 has passed this House.
Bill No. 40: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 40, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Harding.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that Bill No. 40, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board that Bill No. 40, entitled An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House are pleased to offer our support to Bill No. 40. Bill No. 40, and the resulting changes, address a number of very important issues in Yukon dealing with our volunteers.
Volunteers play an important role, enriching the lives of men, women and children on a daily basis. Throughout the Yukon, there are many volunteers helping out in a variety of ways, ranging from ambulance services to the helping of senior citizens.
The amendments to provide coverage for these volunteers under the Workers' Compensation Act are important as they will provide certainty to volunteers as well as remove risk from the Government of the Yukon.
In Committee, I raised several concerns and asked the minister some questions regarding a number of issues, one being the possibility of establishing coverage based on maximum earnings for those volunteer members in high-risk categories, such as the ambulance brigade, police auxiliary and the fire departments, and whether the minister would give consideration to including maximum coverage to higher risk categories within the resulting regulations.
I do thank the minister for his response, in which he had asked departmental staff to review and provide him with an analysis of our suggestions, and I look forward to receiving a copy of that analysis and hope that full consideration to this request will be given.
As the minister may recall, there was some discussion given to the 15-percent administration fee to be attached to the liability costs that would be coming forward from the government to the Workers' Compensation Board.
As industry in general pays much more than this for the cost of administering its WCB charges, I made the suggestion that it's time to review the system. The Yukon's Workers' Compensation Board has the highest administration cost of any WCB in Canada, costing employers $4.6 million this last fiscal period to administer and that's for a compensation system covering less than 15,000 workers.
There is quite a concern that, as this is too expensive already for a system, it isn't doing the job it's supposed to be doing. Both injured workers and employers are not happy with the existing system. The point being that there is a need to introduce changes to streamline, downsize and make the Workers' Compensation Board meet the need of injured workers at a price employers can afford.
Mr. Speaker, if nothing is done immediately, we are going to either bankrupt the system as it presently exists or we will see premiums rise some 30 percent to possibly as high as 90 percent more than is now being advocated. These will take effect in the 1999 year. The Compensation Board claims the increases are necessary to cover annual operating deficits of some more than $3 million annually. The reason for the loss being that the annual costs of claims are exceeding revenues from payroll assessments. This is unacceptable, as is the proposal to increase rates for all industries to the point that businesses will not be able to do business in the Yukon because they won't be able to afford to.
The choices are simple: either bankrupt the system, bankrupt business or make changes so that the Yukon Workers' Compensation system can do its job effectively at an affordable rate to Yukoners.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The hon. minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board.
Mr. Harding: Close debate.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'll be very brief. I just have to say a few words in response. This bill was actually the bill that pertains to volunteer coverage - WCB coverage for volunteers. The member opposite chose to factor in some concerns about administration costs and WCB. I don't understand how the two fit together but, nonetheless, I wanted to have him again make the points that he made yesterday in Question Period - not very well, I might add.
The system and the concerns that he has about WCB, I, too, share. The system was left in a complete shambles by the Yukon Party administration, stirring controversy at every turn. We have, in a very thoughtful, deliberate and responsible manner, tried to take the bull by the horns with what was left for us - three successive years of deficits in the Compensation Board and constant controversy about the board.
What we've done is we've appointed a neutral chair. We've hired a workers' advocate to make the system more accessible for injured workers. We have been working with stakeholders on an act review. The board is conducting, at present, a review of administration costs, meaning the employer representatives on the board and the employee representatives on the board. They are very determined to find out if there can be substantial savings made in the area of administration, because it's a concern for both the employer representatives on the board and the employee representatives who represent injured workers, who are the recipients, properly, of the system.
With regard to the "Henny-Penny" talk about how the sky is falling, I would suggest that he look to his right and talk to his colleagues about the shambles that was left for this administration to clean up. We are doing our best. We are rolling up our sleeves. We are getting to work on this. We have been doing it for the last year. I think there are some positive results being seen in this territory.
I think the fact that the member opposite, who is the critic, hasn't asked any questions until yesterday about WCB in this legislative session indicates that, obviously, it's not that controversial right now. They are pretty good ambulance chasers for Question Period, and if there was a lot of negativity in the newspapers about the WCB or in the media, they would certainly be following up on that and raising it in the House. They haven't been doing that.
The other day, the member attended the WCB annual meeting for about 15 minutes, before running out the back door exit. He should have stuck around for some of the discussion; he might've learned something.
I know that the member doesn't listen to me; I know the member doesn't listen to the board; I know the member doesn't listen to the stakeholders, but he should try to. So, Mr. Speaker, I think this is a good bill.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 40 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 40 has passed this House.
Bill No. 43: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 43, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Sloan.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 43, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Health Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Minister of Health and Social Services that Bill No. 43, entitled An Act to Amend the Public Health Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 43 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 43 has passed this House.
Bill No. 47: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 47, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Harding.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I move that Bill No. 47, entitled Public Service Group Insurance Benefit Plan Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. minister responsible for the Public Service Commission that Bill No. 47, entitled Public Service Group Insurance Benefit Plan Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, would you poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. Livingston: Agree.
Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Edelman: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 13 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The ayes have it. I declare the motion carried and that Bill No. 47 has passed this House.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 47 agreed to
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It is moved by the acting 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: We will take a brief recess. Fifteen minutes.
Chair: Committee of the Whole will now come to order. Committee will be dealing with Bill No. 8.
Bill No. 8 - Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98 - continued
Chair: We are on Health and Social Services, general debate.
Department of Health and Social Services - continued
Mrs. Edelman: When we finished last night, we were talking about the Salvation Army, and we were talking about an agreement that the government may or may not have had with the Salvation Army, and the apparent lack of negotiations that the government had with the Salvation Army.
It's interesting, because there was a staff person from the Salvation Army that came up from Prince George. There was a letter of agreement that remained unsigned, but certainly there was a letter of understanding that was drafted between the department and the Salvation Army.
If there were no negotiations going on, I'm wondering why the Salvation Army, at least, went to all the trouble of getting this letter of agreement and bringing a staff person up from Prince George.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm advised that, in this case, they brought up an individual who was familiar with how shelters run and things of that nature. Not all Salvation Army functions have to do with shelters. They do in some places and, in other places, they concentrate on probably more, I suppose, religious activities and, in some cases, as in our Salvation Army detachment here, they also focus on providing meals.
So when we began the discussions, it is true that they brought up an individual. As I said, we've always been interested in pursuing that as an option. However, as I indicated earlier, many of those things were contingent on the availability of space.
We have been actively looking throughout the past year at a variety of spaces, some even quasi-retail, with the idea of what kind of modifications could we do, and as I said, that remains the primary problem and it's one that I think we've managed to work around.
However, I should also point out that as we were discussing, as I indicated earlier, there was a fairly substantial amount, both for operating such a shelter and also in terms of modifications of the facility, as well as a very substantial ongoing rent.
So, we were interested in pursuing these options. However, that has been precluded by some decisions that were out of our control.
Mrs. Edelman: It's interesting, the minister's limited understanding of what the Salvation Army does. What they have is a living faith. They go out and do what they truly believe in, and some of what they do is certainly to run shelters throughout the world. They also help serve people overseas and in a lot of ways they have more corporate knowledge on how to do transient shelters or homeless shelters than any other organization on the face of the earth.
It's interesting because, when the Salvation Army brought forward their budget, there was no communication back from the department saying that maybe this was too much, that maybe there were other possibilities that needed to be looked at. Now we're talking about - and it seems very clear, although, last night, the minister seemed to be waffling on making an announcement this month - it seems to be that we're talking about running Crossroads with government employees to perform this function, or use the Crossroads building, and I'm really concerned that we're going to spend more money than we need to; we're not going to get the service out there for the people who really need it and we're going to ignore the productive partnership we could have had with the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army has a lot to offer. I don't know why the minister is not actively going into some sort of talks with this organization.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, certainly, I have no quarrel with the Salvation Army; I have no quarrel with their philanthropy, their religious activities. As the member said, they have a - I believe the phrase she used was - "living faith", and I think that's been since the very founding of the Salvation Army under General Booth.
However, we have to face some realities. Those realities were in terms of available space and a whole variety of other factors.
The member is prejudging when she says that this particular option would cost more or perhaps we couldn't deliver it. I think that we are interested in pursuing a variety of options. As a matter of fact, you know, it may be that there is a point at which we can draw on some expertise of organizations such as the Salvation Army. We haven't made a final decision. We do not dispute the activities or the value of the Salvation Army at all.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, that's good, because if you value the Salvation Army, then perhaps you might want to talk to them. It makes an awful lot of sense. They are wondering why they are being cut out of the loop. They are wondering why suddenly there is no more conversation.
These people see the ones that would be using the shelter. They see them every day - during the week, anyway - and what they're talking about doing now is making a room available in their basement. All they've got down there is a cot, but they are so desperate to make sure that these people don't freeze to death on the streets of our city that they would do that. And it seems to me that without that sort of determination to do good, the very least a government department could do is to talk to them.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, no one, to my knowledge, has frozen to death. We have had an interim arrangement in place where we have managed to provide coverage for virtually anyone who needs it.
As I indicated earlier in some previous discussions, the numbers did not come in as we had planned or as we had figured. I gave some indication of the usage.
We've worked out a relationship with the local hotels that seems to cover off the needs of individuals. We haven't had anyone particularly suffer. I certainly haven't had any reports of people facing undue hardships because of this.
You know, if the Salvation Army believed that it has a role there and they're interested in discussing with the department the possibility of using part of their facility, well, we're certainly interested in discussions with them.
I should point out, however, that we do have a working relationship with the Salvation Army already, in terms of the halfway house up in the Hillcrest area that has worked very well and on a very cooperative basis.
Mrs. Edelman: I'm really confused now. I guess we have to wait for someone to freeze to death before we start talking to the Salvation Army. Is that what the minister is saying? I'm really confused.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That's simply an absurd argument. No one has frozen to death. We have provided shelter for individuals. We have had no one in peril because of actions we have taken. The member appears to be suggesting that unless we talk with the Salvation Army there will be all kinds of disasters. Well, that simply hasn't been borne out by our experience.
We have provided shelters for people through an interim relationship. We are working on a more permanent arrangement. So, that's all I can say. We are interested in - if the Salvation Army has some useful discussions or some indications that they could assist us in some regards, by all means.
Mrs. Edelman: Finally. I'm glad to hear that you are willing, at least, to talk to the Salvation Army about this issue. That makes an awful lot of sense.
What I am wondering about now is whether you can start that negotiation in some way in the relatively near future.
Pardon me, the minister earlier talked about not having made a decision last night. The minister started to waffle a bit on making the announcement by the end of this month. Is there going to be an announcement this month?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes.
Mr. Jenkins: I've had an opportunity to review some of the comments made by the minister in last night's debate and cross-reference it to the minister's comments on the radio with respect to the Whitehorse hospital. I refer the minister to page 1948 of Hansard: "Well, another area in the hospital that's causing an increase in costs is that the hospital was supposed to be an acute-care facility, and it's being used more as a chronic-care facility. How does the department and hospital intend to deal with the growing number of patients requiring longer-term care, Mr. Chair?"
The minister's response about the people misusing the hospital and using it for a longer term - let's say misusing it and using it as a "babysitting" service. The chief of medical staff at the Whitehorse Hospital raised that concern. The response of the minister to Dr. de la Mare was that it was simply one doctor's opinion. Yet, in debate, we went on and discussed the issue briefly. The minister did recognize it as a concern.
I was just wondering, in light of the minister's statement on the radio as this simply being one doctor's opinion and our conversation yesterday evening, how they relate, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I believe when I was discussing with the press, I actually said that Dr. de la Mare was volunteering a medical opinion in that regard. To be very frank, the hospital, as an organization, has never raised chronic care patients as a concern and we have been working with WGH on a whole variety of discharge issues, particularly in relation to maternity patients and mental health patients.
So, from an organizational point of view, WGH has never come to us and said that this is a ongoing problem or this is a persistent problem. Dr. de la Mare, I think, was relating some of his experiences and I think he further elaborated that this is not an ongoing issue. If one were to build a hospital where you would have absolutely no possible overages, one would have to probably build a space perhaps three times as big just to ensure that there was sufficient space on the surgical floor, sufficient space on the maternity ward. I have to suggest that the present design of the hospital was done in consultation with an Alberta firm and the design was concluded based on what was the traditional utilization of this hospital.
Mr. Jenkins: We went on to discuss the various options open, meaning that we could look at home care and the various home care programs. The minister indicated that they were looking at that kind of model, but he didn't pin down any exact time frame as to when something was going to occur in this area, other than they were reviewing it and a study was underway and he might have some results by next spring. Well, I'm looking down the road because implementation of that type of a program is certainly going to reduce some of the pressure on the Whitehorse General Hospital and actually reduce some of the costs being incurred by his department.
I was going to ask the minister if he could be time specific as to when he envisions these types of home care programs being upgraded and being put into place and utilized on a more frequent basis.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, to be very frank, we are meeting our home care demands as they stand. However, I can suggest that what I made reference to last night was the whole question of seniors services, the whole idea for sort of a seniors strategy, if one will.
We're going to have to put some things in the sequence of events in terms of addressing what those needs are, both in Whitehorse and in the communities. We may be looking at capital projects. We may be looking at directing resources into other areas.
Mr. Jenkins: Again, what I'm looking for is not the exact programs but time lines for something occurring in this area. Can the minister give us some time lines please?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: What we're planning on doing is bringing forward an options statement in the spring, and that will form the basis for some discussions that we would have with relevant groups, particularly some of those groups which have been most affected. I'm thinking of groups like the Council on Ageing and various seniors groups, because those would be groups involved - and possibly discussions with hospice and some other groups that are related in this area.
Where we would go from there is we would try to identify what the key pressures are at this point, what the key needs are, what we see as the first needs.
As I indicated last night, we have some preliminary data that I shared with the members, and part of our discussions would be that we would sit down with relevant groups and, from there, formulate a plan over the next number of years.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister elaborated quite eloquently on the process. I'm not concerned with the process. The process is rather self-evident. The time lines he tagged on the end was "the next couple of years". Could the minister be more specific than the next couple of years, please, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I have given an indication of where we hope to have an options paper or discussion document or whatever that we will be discussing with our relevant groups.
Where we would plan on going from there would be that we would have to identify if, for example, we were considering capital. That would have to get into the planning process. There is a demographic imperative coming, and that demographic imperative is coming early on in - though it's strange to say it at this point - the next century. But the years 2004 and 2006 will be the major crunches, so clearly, we're going to have to begin that process before that to get whatever we need in terms of, possibly, facilities or whatever in place.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister advise if this is in the five-year capital planning of this government, and what point is it at in that capital planning process?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This formed part of our discussions as a government caucus. I brought forward information to my colleagues to share with them that I felt this was a major need that we had to address and where we had to move ahead. It was a matter of some substantial discussion, and thankfully, there was a great deal of support for this by my colleagues, and we have got it into the government's overall plan.
In terms of capital planning, that's something that we're going to have to be doing as a department, and we are expecting that we will be putting some money into the department's capital plan in the forthcoming year in this regard, at least for some planning and consultation exercises.
Mr. Jenkins: The department and the government have a long-range capital planning exercise they go through. What I'm looking for is the minister's indication of where this is in the capital forecasting program that the government has. Is it in year 2 or 3, or where? I mean, one just has to pick up a copy of the vital statistics and population aging, and one can recognize where we're heading. One can recognize where the population growth is occurring, and what we're going to have to do to address that need doesn't require an Einstein. It just requires some forward planning.
Now, where is that in the forward planning? I appreciate that there's going to be some money budgeted next year for the planning process, but is it in year 3 or 4 that the money is identified in his department's budget and the government's forecasting?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We would put the money in place for doing some planning and a consultation exercise, but what I would like to do is, when the data comes in, sit down with the relevant groups and identify with them what they see as the principal needs, because that very clearly will determine where we go.
I indicated earlier that one of the needs that was identified was the idea of supported independent living. Fine. That may be something that is seen as a need, but perhaps the relevant groups may see the need for something in a more extended-care facility, a heavier care, if you will. That will determine where our planning priorities are, as a matter of both where we see demographic needs and as the community itself tells us.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, but all of these areas are going to cost capital dollars. Where will these capital dollars be identified in the forecasting of the government? In the five-year capital plan of the government, are they in year 2, year 3, year 4? Where are they at, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, as I indicated earlier, we don't want to prejudge this. However, we would put it into Health's capital plan, and we are working with the groups and we are trying to press forward with this. Unfortunately, I can't be more specific than that because, quite frankly, I don't want to announce that we are going to do this or do that without at least some consultation with the people that are going to be most impacted.
Mrs. Edelman: It is interesting that we talk about extended care and we only talk about seniors being in on the consultation, mainly because extended care is not just for seniors. Now, I have been involved for a number of years with the Evergreen group, which is children who would require extended care and who do use extended-care services up at the Thomson Centre. And, one of the biggest problems that there is, is that those children who are in the Thomson Centre and being cared for, there are no facilities in that place for their families. And, for those people who suffer from multiple sclerosis and who have children, there is nowhere in any of our facilities for family, particularly for children.
And, if you are going to do any sort of consultation on extended care in this territory then you need to think a little beyond senior citizens.
That being said, speaking of children, the Child Development Centre and the Child Abuse Treatment Service both have outreach programs and both of those outreach programs are inadequate for the need out in the rural communities. What are the long-term plans? And, what's the policy that this government is starting to evolve on those two outreach programs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I've had several discussions with CDC and we've been talking about where the needs are. They have presented a paper to me, basically identifying some of the pressure points that they saw. We are continuing to work with them. We are looking for areas where we can supply them with some additional resources.
With regard to CATS, CATS has been doing increased outreach, and we are continuing to try to reach out and visit more communities and to deliver services there.
Mrs. Edelman: When the minister attended the board meeting, I think, back in the spring of this year, for the Child Development Centre, it sounded like there was going to be some extra cash coming forward for the outreach program for the Child Development Centre. Is that happening?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, we'll be considering all options in terms of our NGOs and how we work with them in the forthcoming budget. I believe at this point we're dealing with the supplemental budget.
I have been meeting with them, and they've been giving me some areas of concern. I've asked them to consider what kinds of services they can deliver, what their needs are, and we will continue to work with these folks in the forthcoming months.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, it's my understanding that we can speak about policy issues during the supplemental debate or during the general discussion of the budget, and my concern is the policy toward outreach programs into rural Yukon. Another area would be community alcohol programs.
Are we moving away from the Crossroads model? Are we going back into the communities where the services are far more effective, mainly because you can start to develop services and ways of supporting people when they've finished the programs, and they can stay in their own community?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, as the member is easily aware, we had our director of alcohol and drug services do an inventory of what services were available throughout the territory. I have directed that we take a look at a whole variety of options, including the question of community services. Alcohol and drug services are providing some feedback to us, and that will formulate our discussions and our decisions on how we're going to deliver services, both within Whitehorse and in the outlying communities.
As well, I've had a number of discussions with First Nations on how they see alcohol and drug treatment fitting in and the need that they feel for, I suppose, a more holistic-based kind of service.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on this alcohol and drug issue, I refer to the three pilot projects that were initiated under the Yukon Party - well, one project with the Kaska Tribal Council and the other one was the after-care worker in the Ross River and Watson Lake areas and the third one was the family support worker for the Ross River Dena Council.
Where are we at with these projects? As a pilot project, has there been any conclusive results ascertained from these pilot projects? Where do we see them developing from here and what costs will the department incur with the delivery of a project of this nature, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, those programs are still operating right now, and I have just received a letter from the Kaska Dena Council, suggesting a meeting to discuss how the program has worked, the outcomes and where they expect to go in that regard, so they are continuing for the present. I will be meeting with the Kaska Dena Council to discuss what they see as the future and how they see alcohol and drug treatment being delivered.
Mr. Jenkins: It is my understanding that all three projects were to be completed by January 15, 1997, at which time an evaluation was going to be taking place and the recommendations coming forward. Where are we at, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Those are due to be reviewed in 1998. As I indicated, the Kaska Dena Council has made contact with us, because they are interested in meeting with me to discuss their impressions of how the program worked and what suggestions they have and so on. At this point, I'm waiting for an opportunity to meet with them, so we can discuss this in greater detail.
Mr. Jenkins: But the information I have states clearly that they were pilot projects for one year. They were to be completed by January 15, 1997. Now, we are about a year after that. What happened in that first period of time? Were these pilot projects extended? I don't recall seeing any budgeted amount, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm advised that the programs began somewhat slower than what had been initially anticipated and so it was agreed by mutual consent that we would review them in the spring of 1998 because the programs did get going slower than had been anticipated.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's go into social assistance and just a brief overview as to where we're heading there. Social assistance recipients - I don't recall if the numbers in the Yukon and the breakdown as to various areas has been tabled. Could the minister provide that information, please?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I presume that the member is seeking different increases in different communities. Is that his desire, or just in general?
Well, for example, in the variance in regional services, higher social assistance costs were found in seven of the eleven regional communities. The supplemental budget, in this case, of $480,000 to be added to the social assistance line - when I take a look at it, I can provide just some examples. For example, the following communities have used their full 12-month social assistance allocation, if we sort of budget a certain amount designed on the historical basis for communities.
The following communities have used the full 12-month social assistance allocation after seven months and these include, as of the October 24, 1997, Mayo, Faro, Carmacks, Ross River and Pelly Crossing. When we look at communities that we believe will use their full allocation before year-end, they include Carcross and Haines Junction. Communities that we believe will spend within their approved allocation include Dawson City, Old Crow, Watson Lake and Teslin.
Is that of assistance to the member?
Mr. Jenkins: I'm familiar with the case in my community. It's been pretty well static at about 30 social assistance families for quite a number of years, Mr. Chair - just the low thirties - and it has pretty well remained constant over that period of time. I know that a great deal of care is taken by the people dealing in this area to be considerate of the various individuals who apply, and there is an opportunity in some of the communities that the minister mentioned for obtaining benefits from DIAND and also double-dipping into Government of Yukon coffers.
What steps is the department taking to address this concern, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: One of the things that we do is we have a system where we can cross-reference with DIAND and, hopefully, will prevent any - as the member has put it - double-dipping. As well, we have also been involved with regard to, particularly DIAND individuals, as the member has made reference to. We have a system where we bill back the federal government for any DIAND clients that, by mistake, happen to come into our social assistance.
Mr. Jenkins: It's usually not by mistake that they come into the offices of the government. It's usually a clear understanding and knowledge and background of how both systems work, and I was wondering, when Yukon does pay out people, what is the recovery plan from DIAND? DIAND is certainly very much in arrears in paying the Government of Yukon, and to get into more and more of these programs and spend more and more money and wait to recover it, if indeed you can recover all of it, raises an alarm bell, Mr. Chair.
What steps is the government taking to address this responsibility in this area, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We do identify, when a person comes seeking social assistance, if they are status or not. If they are status, we send them to the respective authority. In this case, most social assistance is delivered by First Nations individually.
There are some cases where, perhaps in a family, there may be one status person and another person who isn't. I'm advised that, actually, this is the one area where DIAND is fairly consistent and fairly good. We haven't had a problem recovering social assistance payments, per se, for individuals. Most of our problems that lie with DIAND are in the field of child welfare. That makes up the greatest bulk of, I suppose, the amount that's owed to us by DIAND.
The other part that is another substantial part is, for example, services such as at the Thomson Centre or Macaulay, that are delivered on behalf of First Nations clients, but generally, as far as SA, that hasn't been a problem.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, there's some $24 million outstanding at last record to Yukon from the federal government on behalf of the delivery of these programs. Could the minister provide a breakdown, by way of legislative return, as to the exact amount in each category and each program?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That shouldn't be a problem. We have been doing a considerable amount of work with DIAND in this regard, and we have been having some ongoing discussions. As I've noted, very recently we've developed some, I think, fairly positive steps, and it appears that, with some of the new local direction of DIAND, we're moving in the right direction, so I don't think that should be difficult.
Mr. Jenkins: In all the dealings that I've had over the years with DIAND, there's always an amount that's going to remain in dispute. When you have a sum of money, such as this $24 million, I'm sure there's going to be an amount in dispute. Just how much does the department not anticipate recovering? I don't want to let the cat out of the bag, so that they have a heads-up over at the offices down the street here, Mr. Chair, but they've probably given clear indication that they're not going to be paying a certain amount. They probably have given that clear indication at this juncture.
Just what is that amount, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We are working very steadily on trying to achieve this. What we received in September was about $3 million toward the outstanding bills for 1993-94 child welfare costs. As well, DIA has agreed to pay what is described as the undisputed portion of the child welfare bill for 1994-95, 1995-96 and 1996-97 when we provide some further details, which we're in the process of doing now. We estimate that that should come to about $14 million.
We are also pursuing them on the rest. We're not willing to let this go. It has been outstanding for a long period of time, and we are making some progress.
Just by way of background, I can provide some details for the member. On the DIA bill, about $21.2 million over the last four years is for child welfare services. Invoices for services to status Indians at the Thomson Centre now total $2.7 million. DIA also owes money to include Kaushee's Place, $568,000, social assistance, which the member raised, $226,000, McDonald Lodge, $174,000, home care, $35,000, and Dawson women's shelter, $11,000. We are continuing to pursue this and it will be our goal to try and achieve absolutely everything.
Mr. Jenkins: Admirable goals, Mr. Minister, but attaining them is sometimes very, very difficult.
In light of the difficulties that the government has had in recovering these funds advanced to pay for the various programs, what steps has the department instituted to clearly identify what is due to the Government of Yukon and to spell out for DIAND that these monies are due - even invoicing in advance or something in that nature, giving them a clear understanding of what is going to be there and due and payable at the end of various fiscal periods? They must certainly come to the department and ask for a budgeted amount at the beginning of the fiscal year. Now, was it underestimated at some juncture or was it not known? How did we get into this position, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We have always had a policy here of providing services to individuals. We don't say that because this person is a First Nations individual when they come to the Thomson Centre, we are going to have to wait until we get the okay from the feds. We provide the service and we invoice back.
This has been a problem that has steadily grown over the last four years and it's really only in the last year that we've been able to make some achievement on this. The deputy minister has been working very hard on this. He thankfully has the financial acumen. He can point out to them where their demands are. I think it's largely a credit to him that we've made the progress that we have, both in actually receiving some money and agreeing on the undisputed amounts.
The deputy minister is still pursuing various payment options. I think that we will be able to recover that money.
Mr. Jenkins: I want to make one thing abundantly clear, Mr. Chair. No one is suggesting that we not make these programs available to anyone. Everyone has a right here in the Yukon to access these programs and maintain service delivery.
Twenty-odd percent of our population is of First Nation descent. Surely in the realm of account in the Department of Indian Affairs and the departments that the minister is responsible for, there must be some back and forth conversation, so that Indian Affairs can budget certain amounts in their fiscal period to address the costs that they know the government is incurring on behalf of their department.
How did it deteriorate to this level that there was $24 million outstanding? We know the population and that all categories are aging. We know everyone is living longer. We know that there are certain individuals requiring certain care, so there has to be ongoing discussions between the minister's departments and Indian Affairs to identify clearly these costs and a method of payment for them. How did these fall through the cracks?
I don't want the minister to get off on some tirade again that we have to provide service to all. That's duly recognized. I would be vehemently opposed to any kind of suggestion that we do not.
I'm just looking on the business side of it; I'm looking on the accounting side of it. It is part and parcel of his department's mandate to address those areas in a fiscally responsible manner.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, as I've indicated to the member, this is not a new problem; it's certainly not a problem that has grown in our administration. When I came into the position, I was surprised at the amounts outstanding.
Part of the problem largely revolves around, I suppose, a dispute between the policies that DIAND has maintained up to now, wherein they have used rates primarily for First Nations people in southern Canada, primarily people on reserves, saying this is how much they will pay, and what we pay for the same services, so that's part of the difficulty.
Quite frankly, our problem has been that DIAND has not paid. They have not paid us on a consistent basis and we're only now starting to get some satisfaction from them. This has been a problem that has persisted over the last four years and we're now beginning to make some gains in that regard and, I have to say, with very consistent, great diligent efforts on behalf of the Department Health and Social Services.
Mr. Chair, I move that we report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Chair: The 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. Member: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
We are now prepared to receive the Commissioner, in her capacity as Lieutenant Governor, to grant assent to the bills which have passed this House.
Commissioner enters the Chamber, announced by the Sergeant-at-Arms
ASSENT TO BILLS
Commissioner: Please be seated.
Speaker: Madam Commissioner, the Assembly has, at its present session, passed certain bills to which, in the name and on behalf of the Assembly, I respectfully request your assent.
Clerk: Crime Prevention and Victim Services Trust Act; An Act to Amend the Constitutional Questions Act; An Act to Amend the Cooperative Associations Act; An Act to Amend the Notaries Act; Continuing Consolidation of Statutes Act; An Act to Amend the Partnership Act; An Act to Amend the Consumer Protection Act; Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Consequential Amendments) Act, 1997; Family Violence Prevention Act; An Act to Amend the Public Utilities Act; An Act to Amend the Animal Protection Act; Animal Health Act; The Intercountry Adoption (Hague Convention) Act; An Act to Amend the Taxpayer Protection Act; An Act to Amend the Financial Administration Act; An Act to Amend the Public Service Act and the Public Service Staff Relations Act; An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act; Third Appropriation Act, 1996-97; Oil and Gas Act; An Act to Amend the Workers' Compensation Act; An Act to Amend the Public Health Act; and, Public Service Group Insurance Benefit Plan Act.
Commissioner: I hereby assent to the bills as enumerated by the Clerk.
Commissioner leaves the Chamber
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting 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 - CONTINUED
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with Health and Social Services, general debate.
Department of Health and Social Services - continued
Mr. Jenkins: We were discussing the amount outstanding from DIAND to the Government of Yukon and what steps the government was taking to ensure that these funds will flow in the future.
When one looks back on the history as to how this commenced, it was during the previous NDP government, Mr. Chair, that they stopped the billing of DIAND for quite a number of years, and there was incurred the greatest amount of these funds, and there arose a concern on the part of the federal governments to address a full review.
The minister's right. These go back quite a number of years. I just don't want to see this happen again, so I'm looking for the minister's assurances that these funds are being billed to Indian Affairs on a regular basis. On what basis are they being billed? Is it monthly? Quarterly? Annually? Normally, when one gets into quite a sum of money of this nature, there are quarterly payments flowing, and it's usually adjusted once a year. The funds more or less come up front in quarter installments, or semi-annual installments. This is not without precedent. I would ask the minister why this is not taking place, based on such a large sum of money, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With regard to the question of billing, it's done on a quarterly basis. It's our understanding that the initial move by DIA, I think, was more of a bargaining technique. I think they probably ceased paying just to see if we would cave on this one.
With regard to payments, the payments usually follow on a yearly basis, for the previous year. As it is right now, the payment of $3 million that we received in September was for 1993-94, and we are working on child welfare for 1994-95, 1995-96, 1996-97.
We do bill them. We bill them on a continuing basis but, once again, as the member can probably appreciate, even if they get billed, they don't necessarily pay.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's what I'm getting at, Mr. Chair. I'd very much like to pay my bills from 1993-94 in 1997. I'm sure everyone in this House would like to have that much of a grace period on a bill, and then pay it without interest, which I'm sure the federal government is doing.
This government must come to a better arrangement on this financial area with our senior level of government. It is not without precedent, Mr. Chair, that such financial arrangements are entered into by the federal government with junior levels of government. Just to cashflow what is occurring, and especially when we're looking at four to five years' lag time in payment.
What steps is the department taking? Could the minister confirm that you're billing on, he said, a regular basis? Is that a quarterly basis?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Okay, it's a quarterly basis they're being billed on. Now, from the date of the billing, what is the time that they're given before they pay?
When do they pay on the current billing?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Generally, we've been paid up to 1993. The difficulty that arises is that there are often disputed portions of the bill. For example, I indicated earlier what DIA sees as what they should be paying and what we actually bill. For example, we will bill them for services and, as far as the undisputed portion goes, they have paid. In other areas, they haven't paid, and sometimes there's to-ing and fro-ing.
As the member has indicated, yes, this is a long period of time. It began in 1993 and carried on through. However, I have to indicate that September was the first major progress that we made in terms of sort of breaking its back, and the further amount of $14 million that they've agreed that we are owed, and it's a matter now of us providing some further details, I think has broken that back and we're looking for a more positive, ongoing relationship with DIA. Certainly, some of the signals that we're getting now indicate this.
As well, we've also been working with CYFN on this because this is a major concern on their part. Like all First Nations groups, they are very concerned at the possibility of the federal government stepping back from what they regard as fiduciary responsibilities to First Nations.
So, while we're pursuing it, we're also pursuing it in tandem with CYFN, who have some very strong concerns in this regard.
Mr. Jenkins: So, of the $24 million, they've indicated they're going to pay basically $17 million, and 17 to 24 is quite a considerable gap. Has the minister or his department taken the time to go through each program with Indian Affairs and confirm that the programs that are being delivered are in agreement with federal government policies, spelling out that this is the way they should be delivered, or are some more of these programs going to come into dispute?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, as the member has indicated before, I don't think we're disputing the fact that we're interested in delivering services. We're not basically willing to go through with - okay, this is a service that you would or wouldn't get because you are a status First Nation person. We deliver the service, then we attempt to recover from DIAND.
We deliver the service. Sometimes our services are more expensive and more comprehensive than what DIAND would pay, but we do follow through. So, we are pursuing this whole option. I don't think it's any secret that DIAND, or rather the federal government in general, has made some very substantial changes to services that they've delivered for First Nations people. I would quote the most recent examples of the impact on Saskatchewan and Manitoba from the federal government stepping back from social assistance costs for First Nations people living off-reserve. It's been a massive cost.
We're very much concerned with the federal government stepping away from these areas and we are continuing to pursue this. I think we've made a good step now. We're now willing to let them off the hook for the other $6 million or so. From our point of view, we favour what's called the actual-cost model. That's been accepted by DIA in British Columbia, and British Columbia, like many other provinces, has been going through this battle. British Columbia now has an actual-cost model, and that's what we have said that we want here. We don't want any kind of deal where they say, "Well, this is all we would pay in Ontario," or "This is all we would pay in Nova Scotia." We are saying, "We have actual costs here; we need to have those covered." That's the model that we are pursuing.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, looking backwards, there's a $7-million gap in what the Government of the Yukon has delivered in programs and what Indian Affairs has agreed to pay. Looking forward, I asked the minister if his departments have sat down with Indian Affairs officials and gone over each program and basically asked, "Does this conform with your guidelines, and is this a program that's acceptable to you and the costs that you are going to incur," so that they have a heads-up in advance of you getting involved in a lot of these programs? Is this an approach that the department has taken, or are we just going to be blessed with having another possibly $7 million or $10 million outstanding at the end of a few more years, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, as I indicated earlier, we don't adjust our programs in accordance with what DIAND says they will pay and they will not pay. Yes, we do discuss with them what our programs are. We don't go through and say, "Well, is this program acceptable to you or is this program not acceptable to you?" They're very cognizant of what our programs are. They're very cognizant of what our costs are, but we have refused up to now to adjust our programs, I suppose, downward.
For example, let's take the question of child welfare. If we were to adjust our numbers in accordance with perhaps what DIAND says, "This is what we pay for child welfare elsewhere in Canada," that would suggest that there would be either one of two things: we would have to adjust it downward for everyone or we would have to indicate that there would be some kind of two-tier system and we're simply not willing to do that. We're simply not willing to tailor our programs to DIAND's goals.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, thank you, Mr. Chair, but I want to see nothing but the best in medical coverage for our First Nations people in the Yukon and it is the federal government's responsibility. We are charged with delivering that program and as a government here in the middle, we had better have all our t's crossed and i's dotted on these arrangements so we're not going to be left hanging out to dry for a $7-million gap in the middle. If we don't have these arrangements with our senior level of government, for the next period of time, we could be looking at two or three times that amount of money.
So, I would urge the department to sit down with DIAND, come to some arrangements that are mutually agreeable - probably more mutually agreeable to the Government of Yukon than to DIAND itself - and probably insist on some upfront funds on a quarterly basis. This kind of a request is not unprecedented in this area and it's not unprecedented as a direct consequence of the federal government's not honouring payments that they are responsible for. I just don't want to see the Government of Yukon sitting holding the bag for that kind of money. When everything is put to rest, part of that $7 million, in my opinion, will not be recovered by the department.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm not sure whether there's a question there or not, but I can tell the member that we have been pursuing this with DIAND on a very active basis, on a very regular basis. We have been moving toward an actual-cost model. We've said that's what we want. I believe the deputy minister met just earlier this week, or late last week, with DIAND, and felt that we were making some significant progress on things. So we're certainly interested in pursuing it. We're not interested in having the Yukon taxpayers hold the bag on any of this, so we are continuing to pursue this whole situation.
We have made some significant progress - I think far more progress than what we'd made in the last few years, and we're continuing to press forward.
Mr. Jenkins: Indian Affairs has that wonderful ability. You might go to them and say, "That's what we want," but they usually say, "That's what you're getting," and they're different.
The beginning of this week, Mr. Martin, our federal Minister of Finance, announced that there was some $143 million that's going to be distributed in the health transfer payments. I know it's kind of early, but has the minister received any indication of what impact this will have? You know, $143 million divided over 10 provinces and both territories, it's probably not going to be significant, if it's done on a population basis, but if it's done on initial amounts, and then some, perhaps the minister could advise what effect this is going to filter down to us as.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: One of the great advantages with being the federal minister is that you can announce the same money over and over again. The additional, I believe it was, $143 million, if we did an extrapolation based on population, that's representing one-tenth of one percent. That would work out to $144,000. I'm not going to go out and spend it all in one place. Any money is welcome but, to date, we haven't received anything concrete, other than a rather telegenic image of the Health minister and Finance minister announcing this on TV.
Mr. Jenkins: In that same area, the federal government seems to start all these new programs, fund them initially and then bail out, and there was some thought given by the federal government to the consideration of new social programs like Pharmacare and home care. Has there been any conversation between his department and the feds with respect to these programs - how they would be funded and what impact they'd have on Yukoners, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's very preliminary. To date, the only money that we expect to be released will be, I suppose, for forums or discussions around this. I'm not sure whether the federal government has thought this out in full detail. Pharmacare has the potential to be an enormously expensive program. In fact, many provinces and territories are already delivering a Pharmacare program.
What we have said consistently is that the federal government wants to deliver these as national programs. So, in other words, if they want to include these under the Canada Health Act as programs, then there has to be a commensurate amount transferred from the federal government. To suddenly announce that now home care is going to be part of the health package in perhaps an even greater degree than it is, without some sort of funding transferred for that, is going to be very, very difficult.
We've made this very clear to Mr. Rock. We're hoping to have some positive, ongoing discussions with him, and I am optimistic that we will be able to achieve that some time in the future.
I do know that, just from Clay Serby, who is the chair of the provincial/territorial ministers, there will be a joint federal/provincial conference in, I believe, February in Regina to discuss the whole issue of Pharmacare as a concept, and this is the first sort of opening salvo, and I'm sure it will arouse a lot of spirited discussion.
To be quite frank, at the Health ministers meeting in September, when this came out, the minister announced it and we were all rather in shock, because he had just announced that he was interested into getting into home care and Pharmacare. None of us really had a grasp of exactly how widespread they were looking.
I've noticed that, since then, the federal Health minister seems to have backed away from the Pharmacare aspect, because I think his officials have probably told him just how incredibly expensive that is. As a matter of fact, one of the areas that grows steadily is pharmaceuticals. They are growing at about eight percent a year.
I think perhaps he's backed away from that one a bit and seems to be focusing more on the home care.
Mr. Jenkins: Let me just explore with the minister the medical claims, in and out of the Yukon, over the last couple of years. Has there been a trend developing? Is there more outside of the Yukon? I'm not referring specifically to those sent outside for medical treatment but to invoices coming to the Yukon for treatment given to Yukoners living outside of our jurisdiction.
Has there been a trend there, Mr. Chair, of any significance? Could the minister provide us with a list or a chart showing the number of medical claims, both in Yukon and outside of Yukon, in the last couple of years, as well as those receiving Pharmacare and also assistance under the chronic disease program?
I just want to see where the trends are taking us and the costs associated with these various programs.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can provide some details in a written form at a later date, but basically what we have seen is about a $171,000 increase in out-of-territory physicians' costs. As well, we've also seen just a general increase in utilization of physician services both in and out of the territory.
The cost for service for out-of-territory physicians has risen about 13.5 percent, and this basically reflects higher prices, over which we really don't have too much control. For example, if we send a patient out and the billing for that service is from British Columbia, we have very little control over that. It depends on what has happened with British Columbia's fee-for-service scale and so on.
As well, just in out-of-territory hospital costs, we are predicting that those will increase by about $952,000 in 1997-98. This has been based on a trend during the first few months of this fiscal year. Now, it has, as I think I indicated last night, begun to flatten out and we're hopeful that, if this continues, we might be able to revise this downwards.
I'm just looking at some of the other areas dealing with out-of-territory expenses. Of course, the primary one there is medical travel costs, and that's also a volume- and price-driven increase. We do have an agreement with our major carrier here so we do get some discounts. Those discounts are applied to medical travel and, as well, we have an arrangement with them to cover off individuals.
Overall, the cost of medical travel, primarily volume driven, has gone up $150,000. And, this year, we are anticipating an increase of 14 percent in patients requiring medical travel. Fares have averaged, over the last two years, an increase of 15 percent. So, we are caught with a whole variety of drivers: physician fees down south, higher hospital costs in general, medical travel cost increases, travel cost, airplane costs, and volume drivers. So, this is a trend that we hope will level out.
Now, as I said, sometimes these go up and down and then I suppose there are a variety of reasons for that. Part of it may be the physicians themselves sending more people out. Perhaps they feel that there are medical treatments available now that perhaps weren't available. I think, hoping to offset that will be the ability now with the new complex to do some other kinds of in-patient procedures.
Mr. Jenkins: There are two types of out-of-territory medical expenses that we're incurring. One is for individuals who are sent out for medical attention by the medical profession here in the Yukon, and there are those on their own, while they are away on holidays or travelling, who obtain medical assistance.
I was wondering if there are any trends in the latter category of individuals obtaining assistance while not being referred south? Is there any increase in those costs, Mr. Chair.? Or, are they identified as such?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, we wouldn't have that information. That would probably be more of a function of trying to tie in physician costs, and did that person go out at a particular time and was it a medical referral out? I suppose there are times at which a doctor might say to a patient, "Well, if you are going to be in Vancouver I would like you to go see this person and if you are down there on holidays you could go see some one", and then it would sort of be on your nickel.
People are referred out, and we have been fortunate in being able to maintain a medical travel program that, quite frankly, is the only one existing in Canada without some sort of co-payment. As a matter of fact, it is often remarked by individuals from Atlin, just across the line, that they may come in to see a Whitehorse physician; that Whitehorse physician may say, "I would like you to see someone in Vancouver, an eye/ear/nose and throat specialist." That person is on their own hook for medical travel; whereas, here in the territory, individuals who require medical travel can be sent out.
So, it is a feature of our system that still exists. We would hope to be able to preserve it as much as possible.
Mr. Jenkins: Yes, this feature is well-recognized by quite a number of individuals who choose this place as a residence in part because of this access to this wonderful plan. That led to my initial question: if the department is tracking those seeking medical attention outside of the Yukon and not being referred, if there is some sort of a review conducted. If not, why not, because this program, as pricey as it is to the recipient, there's no cost to individuals for coverage? It's well-known, and there are a number of individuals who probably do not qualify and yet are covered under this plan.
I was referring to what kind of tracking mechanism the department had in place.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think, Mr. Speaker, we'd certainly be aware of formal referrals. The informal referrals that the member mentions would be somewhat more difficult to track. If one had to go and see a specialist, you just can't walk in off the street and say, "Well, I had a problem back here with my adenoids, do you want to take a look?" Generally, a person does require a referral from a physician here in the territory.
With regard to managing the system, one of the things that does occur is that there is a joint management committee that has physicians on it. We do have someone on contract who looks at needs for medical travel. I can tell the member right now that, at least once a week, I get some complaint about medical travel - whether or not a person feels that they've been adequately treated, or whether or not they feel that they've qualified.
I've had some cases where, for example, some individuals have been quite upset because they feel that they should be allowed to accompany their partner. When we've run it by the medical travel review committee, they've said no, that it isn't necessary in this case, and we have generally - well, always - taken the advice of our advisors in this case, because there's no point in having a committee if you're not willing to listen to their directions. They do some determinations and, of course, we're always trying to get the best bang for the buck.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair, but there are still a number of individuals who have chosen the Yukon as their residence, in part because of favourable taxation rules and the Yukon health care situation, and they go to visit physicians in their area, where they reside part of the year, on a regular basis.
Now what I'm asking is if the department has in place a tracking mechanism for these types of individual - not necessarily snowbirds, but people who chose to live for just less than six months in British Columbia or some other jurisdiction?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I assume that the member is suggesting that individuals might live up here for part of the season, six months or so, and then go south. What we can do is I can try to address that. To be quite frank, it hasn't been an issue that has arisen, but I can take that back to our health insurance plan and see if we can get a profile of if, indeed, this is a persistent problem, or if this is, indeed, a large group, and find out how much it costs. But, to be very frank, it isn't an issue that has arisen previously, but we can look into it.
Mr. Jenkins: I only have a couple of other questions for the minister, and then I can turn it over to my colleague.
With respect to the medical claims - in-territory and out-of-territory - in the past couple of years, and the individuals receiving assistance under the chronic disease program and receiving Pharmacare, the previous government made a number of changes to the way these programs were administered as a result of escalating costs. The changes appear to control costs, and it really focused on addressing the needs of those who really need it.
Has the department instituted any changes in these administrative functions, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, we haven't instituted any changes in this regard. We have, I have to say, been lobbied in some cases for, perhaps changes to age levels and things of that nature, but to date, because we are trying to control costs, we haven't made changes in that regard.
Chronic disease, Pharmacare and extended health benefits are expected to increase this year by about $345,000, and this is driven by two things: one, the number of eligible clients submitting claims - in other words, more people are eligible, a volume-driven kind of issue; and, two, average prescription costs have increased by about eight percent a year.
So, we've got two drivers. One is the actual cost of the pharmaceuticals and the other one is just the volume of individuals who are now qualifying for this, and I think in my initial comments, I made reference to some of the demographic changes - the aging population - more people coming on and more people would qualify for benefits in that regard.
Mr. Jenkins: I just have one final question of the minister in the general debate. I'll listen to what my colleague has to say and then I might have some further questions in general debate.
I know the minister receives a considerable number of Christmas cards over the course of the festive season and I was just wondering if the minister could advise the House, where the card was postmarked that he received from Mr. Bemis?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The member presumes that Mr. Bemis is a personal friend, and I can assure the member that Mr. Bemis is a constituent. And I haven't got any Christmas cards from him nor, quite frankly, do I expect any. I haven't received, for that matter, any Christmas cards from the official opposition or Liberal caucus, but then again, I don't expect to.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, it's in the mail.
We were speaking earlier about medical travel, and one of the things that's quite interesting is that a lot of the programs that we cover across the Yukon for all Yukoners - a lot of the services that we, as taxpayers, pay for - are actually covered again in some of the private insurance plans that we have. For example, on my little misadventure on the Chilkoot Trail this past year, when I got to take my first helicopter ride, I found out that the whole shebang was paid for by my insurance company, which I get from the extended plan out of being a Yukon government employee of sorts.
I'm wondering what sort of an investigation are you doing on that, because I know that the city had plans. You know, there are many larger organizations, like Northwestel, for example, that have a private health plan. What are you doing to make sure that maybe we should be getting some of the money from the insurance plans instead of from the government?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think that it's fair to suggest that, given the growth in just costs for Health and Social Services, we're going to be looking, not so much at reductions, but we're certainly going to have to look at some kind of cost-containment. And so, for example, issues surrounding the insurer of last resort and things like that will be foremost in our mind.
The member is quite right in terms of saying that, you know, many people do carry plans. What I find somewhat more alarming, I suppose, is the latter, the fact that many people travel outside of the territory without sufficient coverage.
We always associate this with the horror story about being in the United States, but in reality, beyond basic services such as hospital and physician, which are the services covered under the Canada Health Act and are transferable - if you had to see a physician in Newfoundland, fine; if you had to go to the hospital in Newfoundland, fine - but many people assume that other services, which we provide up here, such as ambulance, such as medevacs, exist for - you know, they say, "Oh, well, I had an accident on the Alaska Highway. I'll just expect to be medevac'd to Terrace or wherever." That does not exist outside of the territory, and some people get a very, very rude awakening
As well, certainly the problems of travelling into the United States exist. We have made an active effort, with our local travel agents, to try and promote that idea. There is a small pamphlet available if you're travelling outside the Yukon. We do ask that the travel agents assist us in this regard to just let people know.
The other problem that we often have very often are students who are outside of the territory for a long period of time and don't keep up their medical coverage.
It's not a huge task. They just have to let us know. What we have begun to do is to work with Education, particularly through advanced education, with grants and things like that, to try and remind students, realizing of course that for young people in their late adolescence and early 20s, that's often the last thing on their mind when they're heading off to the great adventures of higher education, so we are trying to pursue that.
Mrs. Edelman: There aren't many adventures in higher education; I have to agree.
I still haven't really heard an answer, though, from the minister, although it was a very interesting conversation, about whether you're looking at the duplication of insurances.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Edelman: I'm hearing from the minister that, yes, that is one of the things they are looking at.
One of the things we also spoke about was the increase of costs and we were talking about it being primarily because of population increases. The Yukon Medical Association has been very careful to be ever vigilant on the cost of treatment for Yukon patients, either in the Yukon or outside of the Yukon, and I'm wondering if the minister recognizes the efforts that the Yukon Medical Association has made on that front?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Very much so, and I can tell you that I would not like to be a physician in today's world because one of the things that often happens is that when people see medical changes, people have come to expect a whole wide range of medical services, including some that, quite frankly, we don't have here.
I would suggest that probably one of the toughest things a physician has to do is to say, "Well, maybe this isn't an appropriate procedure for you. You may have seen it on television and you may have heard a preliminary report about it." I think it's very difficult and, to give them credit, physicians do try to keep the cost of services down and we're very cognizant of that.
We value the partnership that we've had with the YMA, for example in regards to the Physician Resource Council and things of that nature, and we are working with them cooperatively. They recognize where we have pressures and I think that we also recognize the fact that their costs have risen as well.
So, we are interested in working with them and we are interested in trying to achieve some cooperative gains with them.
Mrs. Edelman: We also spoke earlier about the actual cost model out of B.C. that's being used in the negotiations with the DIA. I'm wondering, was there any consultation since that time with the Council of Yukon First Nations? From my discussions with them, they were a little unclear as to why that particular model was chosen. Hopefully, has there been discussions with them?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We're in continual discussion with the CYFN on this, because they have a very large stake in this. As a matter of fact, it was not this past Friday, but the Friday before, that I met with Chief Adamson and Ms. McLean from CYFN, along with the deputy minister and some other officials. These issues were issues that were discussed. They have a very common concern with this. Certainly, First Nations are very cognizant of the fact that, should they choose to draw down powers, particularly in terms of, say, child welfare powers, there may be an expectation, perhaps unrealistic, based on what we're currently paying, that the federal government will give that amount. That may not be the case.
As well, we have heard concerns voiced from CYFN in possible changes to the non-insured benefits for First Nations people - such things as pharmaceuticals and opticals. That could be a potential very high cost for a First Nations community that chose to pull down medical services if the federal government stepped away from that. So, we are continually working with CYFN.
Mrs. Edelman: If the federal government does turn away from that and that becomes a territorial responsibility, which is the other possibility, what is the government doing about looking at some future planning in that regard?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, we live in fear. We're very cognizant of what this could do to us, particularly if the federal government should step away from medical travel for First Nations people. If they would do that, our estimates would be that our cost in that area would increase very dramatically. We would have to, at that point, begin to take a look at what kinds of cost containment, or what kinds of - you know, I don't even want to speculate, but I mean, I think there's a whole plethora of things that we would have to look at, because simply that program would become financially not viable. We wouldn't be able to handle it, literally.
As I said, we live in fear that the federal government would step away from this, because this could have a major impact on us - a huge impact.
Mrs. Edelman: If that's the case, then, is this government working very hard and very cooperatively with the Council of Yukon First Nations and the First Nations that are not part of CYFN to lobby the government to make sure that those benefits stay in the purview of the federal government?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Of course, and were I not here enjoying this charming discourse, I would be sitting in Winnipeg right now, raising these very issues with provincial colleagues, particularly in the west, who are very, very concerned about this - extremely concerned.
As a matter of fact, the meeting that's currently going on in Winnipeg was initiated by the Province of Manitoba, who has inherited massive costs in the City of Winnipeg alone. This has been a body blow to many of their programs. We're very concerned, and they're concerned about further erosion. This has only been strictly in the social services net area.
If, for example, the federal government were to step back from non-insured medical benefits for First Nations people, this would be even more dramatic. We are continually working with CYFN and advocating in that regard to make sure that the federal government follows through with its fiduciary responsibility.
Mrs. Edelman: Certainly, Mr. Chair, the Yukon Liberal Party shares the concerns of the minister in that particular area.
One of the things that the government could do, at some pint in the future, is to bring back premiums for health care. Is that one of the options that are going to be looked at in the near future by this government ?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, that's not contemplated.
Mrs. Edelman: Am I to understand that no matter what the cost increases, and they are going up every year as the minister has said, we will not be looking at that as an option?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: One never says never, but we're not advocating a re-establishment of premiums. I'm not sure if that is the position of the third party, but we are not anticipating premiums at this time.
Mrs. Edelman: Hopefully, there will be some other form of revenue generation.
We were talking about the federal government and the $143-million promise, the déjà vu promise that keeps coming back and back and back and back in the media. The minister indicated that it was his understanding that we would be getting around $144,000 because it would be on a per capita division.
Is that his understanding of the division of those funds?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I said, the only thing that we've been in receipt of is rather telegenic images of the Health minister and Finance minister, probably soon to be PM, grinning away, announcing this money and looking very earnest. We haven't had any communication with the federal government in that regard. I assume that they will tell us in their own time how this is going to be distributed. For example, the $143 million - there is a very strong inclination here, and this has been echoed by Health ministers, that they're hoping that that money - and I realize that for us it's about $143,000, but for a province like Ontario this is a very sizeable chunk.
I believe the treasurer of Ontario, Mr. Eves, a gentleman perhaps even more sarcastic than I, had some rather caustic remarks going to dinner with the Finance minister about that because he said, "$143 million," I think his term was, "Be still my beating heart. You know, you've taken $2.4 billion away from us and now you give us $143 million, and we will only get a portion of that, maybe 30 percent."
So, from our point of view, we don't have any idea of how it is going to be delivered .
There is real concern among individuals involved in health that the federal government may choose to say, "Okay, that's $143 million we're going to put back into health, but what we may do is decide on the kinds of programs that we're going to put in. They're sometimes called "boutique" programs, where they would say, "Okay, well this is a nifty kind of pilot program."
We, I think, as provinces and territories, have to be very leery about the federal government going that route because, what they may do is say, "This is a Jimdandy program," bring it in and then step back from it when public expectation is heightened. If the $143 million is going to be distributed, we would assume that there would be some kind of formula for giving that out. If it's on a population base, we'll get $143,000. If, for example, the federal government, in its generosity, says because of the vagaries of our climate and location and everything, we're going to give you a bit more - well, I welcome it but, to date, I have no way of knowing how that's going to be distributed.
Mrs. Edelman: I know that the Health minister indicated a few minutes ago that $143,000 was enough to still his beating heart. That's a lot of money. And one of the programs that the federal government did start in the Yukon and then has stepped away from - and there are many - was the tobacco reduction strategy. It came into the Yukon because this was the only place in Canada, including the Northwest Territories, that didn't have a program. The largest cause of preventable death in Canada is smoking.
Now, the tobacco reduction strategy right now has got about $50,000 worth of material. It has volunteers running the office and the rent is being paid by Yukon College. What are the long-term plans for this program?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The member is very correct in saying that this was begun by the federal government and they stepped away from it.
Tobacco consumption in the territory is a major problem for us. We have some communities where the rate of adult smoking is 46 percent, where I think the national average is around 25 or 26 percent. We have one community that we have identified where, in approximately 300 people, there are 100 packs of cigarettes sold per day.
We have a very, very high consumption rate of tobacco, and it is a concern for us. We would like to be able to do more in that field, but it was also a program that, as the member said, the federal government began and stepped away from. Hopefully, if the great federal cash tap were turned on, these are the kinds of programs we might be able to support to a greater degree. We have had some limited work with the tobacco reduction strategy and certainly I would hope that, if funds do begin to flow - even funds that might flow from some sort of settlement on some of our population statistics - we could assist programs of this nature.
Mrs. Edelman: It's interesting, because .08 percent of the revenue from the territorial government comes from tobacco taxes. We also pay tremendous health care costs because of people who smoke. Does it not make sense for the minister to at least commit some of the money that's raised from tobacco taxes back into the tobacco reduction strategy just to save us money?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That's more appropriately, I suppose, a question for Finance and appropriate for questions surrounding taxation.
The money that does come in to us - we don't get money that's earmarked "this is for this and this is for that" and so on. Even if we take a look at how money flows to us, that's ostensibly on issues such as money for health. That goes into general revenue and is spent and, as the member can see quite rightly from the figures, to a very large degree here on what I think is a generous and well-funded program.
Yes, we're concerned about tobacco reduction and, yes, we'd like to be able to do more, and hopefully, as I said, if we have funds coming in of a nature that would allow us to do some things in this regard, we would attempt to.
Mrs. Edelman: May I point out that we do have the funds and that every other jurisdiction in Canada uses that tobacco tax money to fund their tobacco reduction strategies. I think that to ignore that, or to pretend that, somehow or other, the money just disappears, is not too realistic.
One of the programs that was not loaded down from the federal government is the hearing services. Hearing and speech services here in the Yukon has a waiting list that is quite lengthy. My concern is for children who have some sort of learning disability. If you have a hearing problem on top of that or an undiagnosed hearing problem - which is even worse - then you've got big problems.
The waiting list for adults is even longer. At what point do you decide that you're going to put more resources toward this program in order to keep those waiting lists down?
INTRODUCTION OF VISITOR
Hon. Mr. Sloan: If I just might, on a point of order, Mr. Chair, I'd like to welcome former Speaker, Mr. John Devries, to the gallery today. I guess it's indicative of the fact that he must be seeking the excitement of this Chamber once again. I thought that he had cheerfully shaken the dust from his boots as he left, but we certainly welcome him back and wish him and his family well.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I will certainly take a look at the issue of waiting lists for hearing. It hasn't been something that has come to my attention. It isn't something that appears to have been brought to me on a - well actually, it doesn't appear to have been brought to my attention. So, I'll certainly take a look into it and see.
I can say that, on the occasion when I had cause to take my son for audiology tests, I had very prompt treatment, and similarly with my late father-in-law. We were very well treated.
Now, that was a year or two ago, but I'll certainly look into the whole issue of waiting lists and see what we can do in that regard.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, as a former educator, I'm sure that the minister knows how important it is to get those hearing problems dealt with as soon as possible.
One of the things that we were talking about was First Nations and health care systems. This is an interesting story, Mr. Chair, and it talks about sharing resources with the Yukon First Nations in health care and our policy toward that. CYFN had a training video to train home care workers. They only had one copy, and the copy was sent around the Yukon, and somehow it got lost, so now there is no training video for home care workers in the Yukon from CYFN, and people are not getting trained. What about giving Yukon First Nations, under CYFN, access to the health library? Is that a possibility?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Absolutely, Mr. Chair, and, as a matter of fact, anything that we could encourage in terms of promoting the flow of information between ourselves and CYFN, I think, is a very commendable idea, and I would certainly encourage that if CYFN is seeking assistance in that regard, we would be more than happy to provide it.
As well, I'll use this occasion to suggest that if there are other areas, perhaps training opportunities, where we can work with CYFN, giving, for example, some of the resources of our department in helping to train or set up programs, we're more than happy to do that. That's the kind of cooperative relationship that, I think, I'm seeking with CYFN in that regard.
Mrs. Edelman: This is, again, good to hear, because it only makes sense. We all live here together and we have limited resources, and why not, n
ow that we've got all the secrets out of the way for the day.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
The community nutrition program out of the hospital, when it belonged to the federal government, was utilized by Yukon First Nations. Now, the community nutrition program - and I know that the ministers always look somewhat puzzled whenever I bring this up - there were two staff at the hospital - now, I think there's just one who does it - used to travel out of the hospital to the communities and deliver nutrition education programs. Now, that money to support that program seems to have disappeared. I'm wondering what the minister's future thoughts are on this program, which was quite good.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As the member is aware, we've focused a good deal on school nutrition, and the issue of community nutrition is an issue that is well worthwhile looking at. I can certainly take a look into it and see what sorts of services we provide and what sorts of services could be provided in that regard. I can't make any guarantees in terms of money because, as the member can readily judge from her budget sheets, money is very, very tight.
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will call Committee of the Whole to order.
We will continue with Health and Social Services.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, just as a policy question, one of the things that has come on the public agenda over and over and over again is the issue of a guaranteed income for persons with severe or profound disabilities. I suppose that happens because it doesn't make sense to send somebody out on a job search if they've got an IQ of about 30; that's totally unrealistic. There's an awful lot of administration costs in keeping somebody on social assistance. If you have a guaranteed income, then you basically get a cheque that comes to you and it applies to you no matter what, and it's the same figure every year unless there's a change in your income.
Is the department looking at this as a possibility?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, the department is looking at it, but it's part of a larger national framework, and I believe I made reference to this earlier in some of my statements on individuals with disabilities.
There was, as recently as October 6 and 7, a conference on that whole question, and all the jurisdictions looked at various initiatives to sort of harmonize income support for people with disabilities.
We will be working with our local groups, with disability advocates and individuals in that area to get their input on some of this so that when we bring it forward on a national agenda, we'll have a sense of how people in this territory feel. As well, we'll be working with our partners in the provinces and territories to try and bring forward this agenda.
So, we have been working primarily on a national framework here.
I should say that the federal government has moved, with regard to VRDP, toward the idea of a concept of emphasizing employment, and they have indicated very clearly that services not directly related to assisting a person to enter the workforce will not be eligible for future VRDP funding.
So, we have some concerns around that, and we'll be continuing to work with the federal Minister of Human Resources, the hon. Mr. Pettigrew, in the future on discussions surrounding the whole question of disabled Canadians and the income support programs.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, there's a newly formed council in the Yukon for persons with disabilities and I'm wondering if this topic might be one that the minister might want to bring up with them and whether there might be some discussion to get an idea of how people in the Yukon feel about this.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Absolutely, Mr. Chair, and as a matter of fact we welcome the formation. We gave some financial support to the formation of that group and we would look upon - particularly as we draw closer to some of these discussions - sitting down and getting some input on such matters. I have previously consulted with the director of Challenge on some of the similar issues. Prior to going to meetings, I've asked for some opinions there and some sense of how this would impact on the disabled community.
So, we are certainly interested in working with any group in this area. As well, I think there will be other groups working with disabled adults and children that we will have draw upon for their expertise as well.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, one of the things that happened in the last CDF go around of funding was that there was some money that went to two non-profit day cares - I think both of them, outside of Whitehorse - and these day cares got some money to put playground equipment in. What happens with day cares in Whitehorse is that they don't have their own play equipment. They usually use school yards that are closed or the playground that is down the street. I've talked to a number of day care operators in my riding and they're wondering if they would have the opportunity to get that same type of funding.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, there's a couple of opportunities. I would imagine that CDF would be one, but we also have capital grants for certain kinds of equipment for day cares and play centres and things of that nature. So I would imagine there are at least a couple of sources there and groups could come forward.
As well, I know that in the past there have been some occasions where groups have also gone - I would have some difficulty recalling the specific group - but I believe there were some not-for-profit day care societies that did receive some support from Lotteries and things of that nature. There may be more opportunities than what I'm bringing forward here.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, I know that Kiwanis, in the past, has built playgrounds.
I suppose my concern is that if you were running a day home, for example, you don't qualify for any of those programs. I suppose it's a question of fairness. If you're operating a business out in the rural community, will you always subsidize the rural community, as opposed to the business in the City of Whitehorse?
This is what's happened. You have a for-profit business out in the communities and you have for-profit businesses here in Whitehorse, even though sometimes it's not much profit, and they just aren't getting the same opportunities.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I presume that if a for-profit business wanted to invest some of their funds, it would probably be some kind of payback in terms of tax write-offs, or whatever. I'll have to take a look into what the member has brought forward. I do know that, particularly with rural day cares, we have had an increase in the numbers. This is also reflected in some of the increased child care costs.
Mrs. Edelman: My only interest is that there be fairness in the process, and that everybody gets the same kick at the cat. Perhaps that's violent language. Same opportunities, then. I have nothing against cats, of course.
One of the things that's also come up over the years is the issue of privatizing health services. Is this government developing a policy, or does it already have a policy, on the privatizing of medical services in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Does the member mean private clinics? In other words, something stepping out beyond the Canada Health Act?
Because if the member is suggesting, for example, some of the experiments that have been tried in Alberta with regard to the Gimbel eye clinic and some other private clinics - I know there's even been some suggestion of private hospitals - I can tell her very categorically, "No, this is not in the cards." I think not only is it not in the cards for this government, I think the federal government would take a very dim view - and has taken a very dim view - of any steps in that regard.
Mrs. Edelman: Once again, just verifying again this year that the NDP government is not heading toward a two-tier health system.
About two Wednesdays ago now, we had a discussion in the House about alcohol abuse, and part of that discussion were my comments on the prenatal nutrient program. And, there are four places actually. I forgot one. There's Skookum Jim's, there is the Teen Parent Centre, there is the one called the Dawson City Shelter, and there is the one at the Fort Liard basin.
Now, these programs are tremendously effective. They are an intervention program for prenatal health, and they are very, very, effective in perhaps preventing FAS, which is a totally preventable birth defect, of course.
What I am wondering about is what sort of support does the department offer to the program and is there any hope of extending that support?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can bring back a breakdown of further details of expenses and things like that. We have, for example, supported Skookum Jim's with their parenting program - and I can certainly find out in regard to the other groups that the member has suggested, and get back to her.
Mrs. Edelman: Young men in Canada, particularly between the ages of 15 and 25 - the leading case of death is suicide and motor vehicle accidents.
What programs has the department got going now in suicide prevention and what are we aiming at for the future?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, we support a variety of programs including Yukon Family Services, which provides counselling services. There are, of course, counselling services within Education; they have a very rapid response team in the case of suicides or attempted suicides in communities. We provide counselling services to both the the young offenders and the youth achievement centres. We support, for example, NGOs that are working with people who may have inclinations in that regard, such groups as SOS and other groups.
So, I think we're trying to address that problem. It is a problem in the territory. It is a problem that we're continually faced with, particularly in northern communities, and I don't think we're alone in this regard.
Mrs. Edelman: We've got the second-highest suicide rate in Canada with that particular age group.
What I'm a little concerned about is that I hear about what the department is doing afterwards. I'm hearing a little bit about what Family Services is doing regarding counselling, but what sort of proactive programs is the minister doing through the Department of Health and Social Services? I'm also hearing what you're doing through Education, but what is the Department of Health and Social Services doing?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We work through things such as the Youth Achievement Centre and the young offenders facility, with high-risk kids. As I indicated, we have services available for individuals that are facing difficult periods in their life, where we can access mental health services, and, as well, we have Yukon Family Services.
As for a specific suicide prevention program, where we actively go out and recruit children into such programs, no, we don't. Education, I think, provides a very broad spectrum of counselling services. As well, there are such things as the CAP programs within high schools that would address issues such as many of the problems facing young people - drugs, suicide, perhaps STDs, et cetera. So, there are programs that are active in school.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, one of the issues that's come up in this House over and over and over again is the issue of fraud in social assistance. I wonder if the minister can update the House on where we sit with that. Is the fraud investigator a busy man or is he bored? Where do we sit with that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. I probably shouldn't laugh, but the member for a minute made him seem like the Maytag repair man - the loneliest guy in town. No, actually, on the question of, I think, fraud in relation to overpayment and in relationship to SA - I think that there are a variety of reasons why there is overpayment in social assistance, and not all of it has to do with fraud. It's one aspect of it.
We know that, since January 1997, there has been about $87,000 that has been identified as possible fraud. That's about one percent of expenditures. That could grow, naturally, if there wasn't some active review, and we do have the individual - the rather lonely individual, who is the fraud investigator - going through files and trying to identify possible areas of fraud.
But, I think it's also important to recognize that, in some cases, overpayments in SA can arise from, for example, SA stepping in to give people assistance in paying back bills or hydro hook-ups. Sometimes it can be client mistakes, failure to report income, or people not understanding the reporting requirements. It could be due to administrative errors that we may make. So, presently, we're owed. If we go back to about 1990 - and this is not specific to fraud, and I have to emphasize that - we're owed approximately $1,245,000, just in overpayments, and we're always attempting to catch that up and always trying to recover it.
One of the things that we have to recognize is that sometimes people are on the move, and sometimes people will go to other jurisdictions. I suppose that if you wanted to do kind of a rule-of-thumb - oh rats, there's that phrase again.
A sort of a rule of cats, to keep with the member's feline analogy there. I suppose, since her colleague was not offended by the derogatory reference to felines, I will assume that I can invent the term, "rule of cats."
There sometimes will be a fraud rate, perhaps of as much as four to five percent. That's hard for us to determine.
Yes, we are pursuing it. One of the problems that we do have, quite frankly, some difficulty in is getting assistance and getting the RCMP to follow up on some of these concerns. I imagine that they have some other cats to skin or fish to fry, but that's been one of our problems. We have pursued certain channels, but were often stymied by the reluctance of the RCMP to follow up on some of these.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I hate to dog the minister about this, but this is $1.25 million of overpayments that we're talking about. I might point out to the Chair that I never get overpaid for anything - no women do.
What is the minister doing to try to get some of that money back? Has some of it been written off? How old is the debt, and are we paying interest on that amount? Perhaps we can get a few more details on that amount.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, as I indicated earlier, by overpayments we also include people who we've paid such things as back bills, or perhaps paid hydro hook-ups. Sometimes people on SA find themselves at the point where, when they move into a house, because of previous difficulties, they don't have sufficient credit rating to get hydro hook-ups.
We haven't written this off. Some of this money is owing to us. We do have a collection mode. For example, we have an automated program where we follow up with letters to clients whose files have been closed, requesting payment, and then we refer on to the Finance department and sometimes use a collection agency.
We can, on files that are still active, collect on the monthly payment through a negotiated reduction - in most cases, the SA payment. But I think we also have to recognize that, for many of these individuals, recovery of the money can be difficult because of personal circumstances.
So, we do try to recover the money. As well, we follow up as best we can on individuals who may have left the jurisdiction, and so on.
Mrs. Edelman: I certainly hope, for $1.25 million, that we're expending some effort.
One of the interesting things that's happened in the last little while has been the hiring - or the lack of hiring, I guess - of the director of patient services at the hospital.
I wonder if the minister can sort of update us on the latest on that.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I did raise the issue with the board chair, because I was interested in where they were in that regard. Basically, what they chose to do - I think there was some sort of misconception that individuals in the territory were not considered. As a matter of fact, there are some local candidates, but I guess there was also a desire to see as wide a range of skill set as possible, so the decision was made to also advertise outside the territory.
I have not, in recent weeks, followed up on where that process is. I assume that they're going through their own selection process, based on competition, and they will do their own shortlisting and proceed with hiring as they see fit. They have a fairly competent management group, as well as what I regard as a very competent chair of the hospital board. I think they'll probably be making some decisions.
Mrs. Edelman: It's interesting, Mr. Chair, because I know that there were five extremely well-qualified applicants for that position. Indeed, I have personal knowledge of just about every one of them. It's also interesting, because it was probably a real introduction for the new CEO of the hospital. He goes away on holidays, comes back and finds out that his name has been bandied about the House in his absence.
Certainly people from Ontario don't expect that sort of real grassroots sort of accountability.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Edelman: Yes, he had a very interesting introduction to the Yukon - the way it really is - and if he gets used to coming to open his meetings late, then he'll fit right in.
What I'm concerned about, though, is the whole issue around local hire. Now, the Hospital Corporation is funded completely now through the Department of Health and Social Services. The minister is responsible for the Hospital Corporation. There are a number of NGOs that are completely funded by the Department of Health and Social Services.
To what extent is the Department of Health and Social Services going to push the issue of local hire with all these various agencies that they fund?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: At this juncture, I would be very loathe to impose upon any NGO or any corporation that may come under our purview any conditions. I haven't anticipated dictating to an NGO who they may hire and who they may not hire, nor would I even presume the same for the Hospital Corporation.
The Hospital Corporation has an independent board. The individuals on the hospital board are all Yukoners. They represent what we strive for, a cross-section of Yukoners. I think when they seek a CEO or they seek staff, we have to give them the liberty to make those kinds of decisions and to be responsible for them. So, I have not attempted to intervene in any of the hiring for any of the positions in NGOs under our department, nor do I intend to.
Mrs. Edelman: That interesting, particularly because municipalities that also receive some of their funding from the territorial government seem to be being forced to embrace the issue of local hire and local purchase. So, it's interesting to hear now the minister is not going to be asking any of his NGOs or any of the boards and the various corporations that he deals with to extend the policy of local hire from this government.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I hadn't anticipated it. Is the third party suggesting that we do? Is that the direction that the member's taking us in?
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I just have a few questions for the minister prior to moving into line by line. I've been asked by a number of my constituents and individuals for clarification regarding the establishment of group homes and facilities where young people are housed, for one reason or another. I understand, of course, that there are reasons why the identity of these individuals is not revealed. However, there are instances where the existence of such group homes within neighbourhoods is being questioned.
I wonder if the minister could elaborate on what the departmental policies are in that respect. How much consultation is there with the neighbours?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think there are a couple of issues - one, the question of group homes. In most of the areas where we have group homes, we have owned the building for a number of years. In new homes, there is generally a consultation process that goes on with neighbours in that area.
Now, if the member is talking - and I think we have to distinguish here - is the member talking, for example, foster homes? Because there's a somewhat different procedure there in terms of foster homes or open custody homes, or whatever. But, with regard to group homes, many of those buildings have been in place for a long time. Now the management may have changed, or perhaps even the direction of the program may have changed, but they are established there.
I hope we're not suggesting that there's some sort of NIMBY pattern out there, because I think that we have to recognize that group homes do - the Member for Riverdale South is shaking her head. There is a NIMBY issue out there. I think we have to recognize the children sometimes find themselves in very difficult circumstances through no fault of their own, and we have a statutory obligation to try and provide services for those children. I would hope that everyone would recognize that that is an issue that we have to address.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister's inference that this is some kind of a NIMBY issue, or not-in-my-backyard issue, is unfair. That's not what I was asking about, and this discussion shouldn't be characterized that way.
There are situations where the Department of Health and Social Services owns various group homes. This is perhaps not public information. Perhaps the minister can tell me whether or not it's public information, but it's certainly well-known within the neighbourhood and that's fine. It's not an issue. What is an issue is the ability of individuals to provide care for other individuals.
What I'm wondering, and it's a question of procedure, is how - the minister mentioned open custody. If, let's say, for example, I decided in my next career that I wanted to provide a caring environment for individuals in open custody. If I met the department's requirements, could I do that out of my home without asking the neighbours?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, well, the member has indicated that there are certain criteria that would have to be met. For example, there would have to be criminal reference checks, there would have to be home studies, there would have to be discussion with the individual in question about the nature of the children that might come into their care, and there are questions around how they would handle particular discipline or behavioural issues.
There are also city bylaw concerns that have to be met.
Would the member have to inform her neighbours? No, I think, as long as there was compliance with city bylaws and as long as the home met compliance with the guidelines. I would suggest probably that, if the member or any individual was anticipating undertaking something like that, it would probably be well within their interest to at least discuss it with their neighbours, with the aim of keeping harmonious relationships in the neighbourhood.
But our focus is largely on matching the home to the child.
With regard to who goes into such homes, there are limitations on who would go into, say, open-custody care. For example, young people that might be convicted of a violent crime would not be the appropriate candidate for that kind of home. As well, there may be certain issues in terms of behaviour that preclude from a particular home. There has to be a level of tolerance as to what the individuals can handle. So, there is an attempt to match.
It has to be emphasized that we don't make open custody - "we" being Health and Social Services - decisions. Those are decisions made by the youth court. Sometimes they take our advice in that regard; sometimes they don't.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the courts aren't always right, unfortunately. What I'm having a difficulty with is that the minister has said that, for example, a person who had lost their way and who might have been accused of violent behaviour would not be a candidate. Is the system foolproof? Is it possible that there are violent offenders who are being placed in open-custody homes?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I can't say that any system is totally foolproof, but I just want to exercise the caution that we don't place young people who have a known history of violent behaviour in open custody. We can't predict 100 percent. We can't predict how young people will change. And as a matter of fact, sometimes we have placed young people in homes where the behaviour has been completely inappropriate and, at that point, well, sometimes those young people will be returned to secure custody. We have the ability to do that.
One hundred percent? Nothing is infallible. We strive for our very best.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, can the minister advise me, what's the route for those who have concerns in this area - if they have concern that a home is housing young people and the neighbors haven't been consulted? The minister has said that it would be wise, if you were going to do this, to consult with your neighbors. What happens if they don't and those neighbors may not be enlightened? They may have a not-in-my-backyard attitude for one reason or another. What's their route? What's their option?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I am presuming that the member is suggesting that those individuals haven't dealt with the operator of the group home or perhaps they've failed to have satisfaction in that regard.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Or perhaps they don't want to.
Well, I think it would be a larger community concern. If that concern were somehow founded on a variety of legitimate kinds of complaints or issues, perhaps the appropriate thing, then, to do would be to approach the department and suggest that that was either an inappropriate placement - or perhaps they had some concerns with regard to monitoring or whatever.
So there's an avenue, if individuals did have concerns about a particular home, to take it to the department and discuss it. That may involve the department saying, okay, there are clearly concerns here of supervision, or clearly concerns of whatever, and then dealing with that group home operator and saying these procedures need to be addressed, or so on.
Ms. Duncan: I have a few questions for the minister regarding contracts that have been issued by his department.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: As a matter of fact, I have these pieces of paper. They've been most helpful.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: As a matter of fact, this particular piece of the registry is two pages that an individual that I asked to obtain this information waited 45 minutes to get photocopied.
The contracts issued by this department, in particular the contracts for wilderness camps and disability residences, are sole-sourced contracts. The minister has explained to others, I believe, why this sole-sourcing occurs under this particular instance, but I'd like the explanation, please, for the record, and for my own understanding of Government Services and this particular department.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, generally what happens is that there may be a general tender seeking individuals to work with particular individuals. These are very specialized placements. Now, what often happens then is, as individuals flow out of the system, we're not going to say, "We have a young person with a clear disability; let's put out a tender for that and see which one. We have already identified certain homes or certain placements that we can put them into." But in many cases, many of these individuals are very, very specialized and it's not the kind of thing that we have a great deal of uptake in.
Ms. Duncan: Well, that would cover the disability residence contracts that are issued. I wonder, though, why they're split in two for exactly the same amount. In particular, I'm talking about four contracts. Two of them are for exactly the same amount and exactly the same time period, but for some reason it's split into two contracts of $105,850. Why wasn't one contract issued for $211,000?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's generally done as an individual contract per child, and I can tell the member quite frankly that, in some of these cases, I routinely sign off what seems to me sometimes very startling amounts but that's because of the specialized nature of the treatment - we're talking about 24-hour supervision for some of these very high-risk individuals.
So, it's an individual contract geared to each individual person.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate the minister's explanation on those disability residence contracts.
Unfortunately, I don't think that explanation applies to these wilderness camp contracts. Why are they sole sourced?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I'm advised that there was a generalized expression of interest put out for such wilderness placements earlier. Now what happens is, many of these are young offenders who are plugged in to a specific camp. Some of the camps, for example, will focus on activities for young individuals. Sometimes those individuals will be given a placement in a wilderness camp as an alternative to another kind of placement.
Once again, this is one of those sort of limited activities. I am meeting, for example, with a couple of individuals who are bringing forward a proposal for something similar in terms of young women, and they want to outline that program but, once again, this is kind of a specialized sort of service.
Ms. Duncan: I understand that there are situations where they are specialized type of services; I fully appreciate that. I also appreciate that people are receiving government funds and that, at some point in time, there should be a request for proposal for who else can offer this service and who else might meet the requirements.
Sole-sourced contracts shouldn't continue to go on and on and on, just because it is a specialized service.
The minister said that, periodically, generalized expressions of interest are issued. What is that, precisely? A request for proposal?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm advised that it is done usually on about a two or three year basis. It is similar to a proposal we put out. We put out an ad saying this is the kind of setting that we are looking at, a wilderness setting, identifying perhaps some of the clientele and the nature of the clientele. Sometimes we get in proposals that are viable and sometimes we get in proposals that aren't, given the sometimes very high cost, or perhaps, the proposal isn't well-fleshed out or well-developed, so we then begin to contract with those groups that meet our needs and we try to plug in - if that's the right term - the appropriate young person with the appropriate program.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister's explanation previously with regard to disability residents and why the contracts were split up would explain why there are eight contracts for the same amount for a particular service. Those are eight different individuals. Fair enough. I understand that.
Would the minister explain is there's a cap on these programs? For example, there's one particular area where there are about six different contracts all to the same company, and they range from $697,000 to as low as $2,000. These are all sole-sourced. At some point in time, does the minister review these amounts and see if perhaps we're paying rather an exorbitant amount to one business?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The ones that are sole-sourced are primarily geared toward very specialized services. The others are generally tendered.
I have to remind the member that sometimes this is not a field that individuals want to get into. We do have, for example, one extremely specialized facility here in Whitehorse that deals with FAS/FAE young male sex offenders, which is extremely specialized, extremely high demand, and I know that sometimes those figures are startling, as I have indicated before. We often look and say, "This is a remarkable amount for one individual."
We're talking, in many cases, of 24 hour, closely monitored supervision.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister has repeated that and repeated that, and I've said that I understood it and I understood it and I understood it. Now I'd like him to answer the question.
At any point in time are these contracts reviewed and a cap put on the amount? For example, a business may be offering four or five or six of these different specialized services and all of these contracts are sole-sourced. Does that set off any warning signs with the minister? Is there any point when they say, "Well, maybe because this one company or this one business is receiving $1 million worth of contracts it's time we re-tendered this or put out more requests for proposals?"
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I am advised that we do put out periodic tenders. As well, we have to recognize that the money has to be directly applied to the kind of service that is being provided, so it's not a case of a cash cow or a great windfall. These individuals are delivering a service, and sometimes a very demanding service.
But do bells go off? Well, any time I expend a large amount of money, I would suggest that bells go off. I would also suggest that I periodically will sign off often very substantial amounts for young people in extremely specialized settings, not even within the territory - often sometimes in Alberta or B.C. - and those are such limited facilities, that I don't really have too much choice; that's who provides them.
Ms. Duncan: I have one last question. I understand where the minister's coming from and I appreciate that. No one is suggesting that there should be a decline in that care. It's just a question about contracting and the way it's done through that particular department.
Now, the last question for the minister - and it's particularly appropriate in general debate - I asked the minister what plans and studies the department was undertaking in terms of developing a crematorium facility in the Yukon and he indicated in his response to me that we're working with the Yukon Council on Ageing. That response was sketchy on details or information and I wonder if he could just elaborate on that.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I did have a note on that particular issue, if the member can bear with me for a moment. Where was I here.
Ms. Duncan: If the minister wishes, he can get back to me in written form.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, that's fine. We have met with the Council on Ageing. They have brought this forward. Presently, all bodies that are requiring cremation are flown to Victoria, B.C. The council has indicated that they would be willing to form a society in support of this option, if we would be supportive.
I guess there are also some issues surrounding economic viability. I think there's also the question of profit versus non-profit, where the location would be, and what legislative authority would have to occur. We're certainly prepared to work with the council and explore options. It would require changes to the Cemeteries and Burial Sites Act, because we presently don't have any provision in that act to allow for one.
We do have some indications from our friends over in Justice that a crematorium might be economically viable, but we would have to explore a variety of options, including how this would impact on the present funeral home business.
Chair: Does general debate clear?
Some Hon. Members: Clear.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that you report progress on Bill No. 8.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 8, Second Appropriation Act, 1997-98, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Order. The time being past 5:30 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. next Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:32 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled December 11, 1997:
Employment Equity 1990-96 progress report (dated October 1997) (Harding)
The following Legislative Return was tabled December 11, 1997:
Financial assistance agreement between the Government of Yukon and the Yukon Federation of Labour, dated March 4, 1997, and list of other contribution agreements (Harding)