Tuesday, March 3, 1998 - 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?
1998 Arctic Winter Games
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to the 338 athletes, coaches, artists and mission staff who will represent the Yukon in the 1998 Arctic Winter Games later this month.
Team Yukon members will participate along with teams from the Northwest Territories, Alaska, northern Alberta, Greenland and the Russian provinces of Magadan and Tyumen. In all, 1,600 athletes and members of cultural contingents will converge on Yellowknife from March 14 to 21.
This government is proud to support the Team Yukon members and the hundreds of athletes who took part in the team trials, as well as the cultural participants. In our 1997-98 budget, we provided $300,000 toward preparation, administration and travel for this year's games.
The Arctic Winter Games provide an important showcase for developing athletes and artists throughout the north. The Yukon government supports the underlying goals of the games that are signified by the three interlocking rings of the international committee's logo: athletic competition, cultural exhibition, and social exchange.
Mr. Speaker, by participating in the Arctic Winter Games, we are investing in Yukon's youth. Through their participation, they will learn the value of cultural differences, fair play, respect for self and others, personal growth and community development.
I'm sure all of them will return with some new friendships, and some will return with medals. But in the long run, the real legacy is not how many medals we win but how our team members represent themselves and how they grow as individuals.
I am confident that we have assembled an impressive array of mission staff and coaches under the capable leadership of Team Yukon chef de mission, Mr. Vern Haggard, in the audience with us here today - and others, I see.
Mr. Speaker, the City of Whitehorse will host the next Arctic Winter Games in the year 2000. This government looks forward to being an important partner with the Whitehorse Host Society over the next two years.
I know all members of this House join me in wishing this year's Team Yukon a successful and rewarding time at the 1998 Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife. Please join me in welcoming them.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party and office of the official opposition, I am pleased to extend our best wishes to the Yukon athletes who will soon be taking part in the Arctic Winter Games.
Mr. Speaker, these games reflect the true spirit, the enthusiasm and goodwill with which northerners come together to compete, to learn from each other and to share in the friendship that makes participation in these games such a unique and special experience.
Our athletes and coaches have been training hard over the course of the year to give their very best and to proudly represent Yukon. It is an honour to have been chosen to participate in the games, and this can be attributed to a lot of hard work on the part of these athletes. We are proud of your accomplishments and wish you all the best in your pursuit of excellence.
We on this side of the House also look forward to the next Arctic Winter Games, in the year 2000, to be held in Yukon, here in Whitehorse. Similarly, we look forward to having the opportunity to host the Canada Winter Games in the year 2007, and are encouraged by the NDP government commitment to follow through with the previous Yukon Party government initiative to establish a Canada Winter Games building fund. As we know, this is a major sports and cultural event that has the potential to benefit all Yukoners in so many different ways. It is a tremendous opportunity for Yukoners to work together as a community to showcase our northern sports and our cultures, as well as our excellent way to develop and modernize our facilities for sporting events.
Mrs. Edelman: I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to join with others in this House to pay tribute to the 338 Yukoners who are going to the Arctic Winter Games. As a former gold medalist in one of the first Arctic Winter Games held in Anchorage, I can tell you first hand how exciting it is to be involved with this event. As an athlete, there is nothing better than challenging yourself to greater heights in your sport and to reach that goal and, as an athlete, there is nothing that teaches you more about yourself than the experience of losing.
Yukoners will be taking part in the games, meeting other athletes and coaches, presenting in the cultural events or learning about other northern cities where the games are held and I know they'll have fun, too. There is nothing that seems to make you more of a Yukoner than taking the Yukoner out of the Yukon.
This year the games are being held in Yellowknife and I know we will host the games well in the year 2000. I join all other members of this House in wishing this year's Yukon contingent good luck.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors?
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I have a document for tabling, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to advise the House of some of the steps our government is pursuing in keeping with their policy of aggressively promoting the Yukon as a first-class tourist destination.
I'd like to inform members that I'll be leaving in a few short hours for a number of important meetings in Europe. Later this week, I will attend the International Tourism Börse in Berlin. The ITB, as it's commonly known as, is held every March and it's the world's largest marketplace for members of the travel trade. It attracts more than 600 international travel companies and approximately 175 destination marketing organizations.
This business trip will allow me to meet with international air carriers, tour wholesalers, officials from the Canadian Tourism Commission and other Canadian jurisdictions.
I will also be meeting with the Fulda Corporation to explore future partnerships.
Following the ITB, I will go to Zurich, Switzerland, to meet with the curator of the Indianermuseum to finalize plans for the Yukon First Nations exhibition, which will be held there in May. As members know, the rich heritage of the First Nations and our pristine wilderness environment continue to be major drawing cards for people who come to the Yukon each year from all over the world.
Mr. Speaker, as we enter the final year of anniversaries and celebrate the centennial of the Klondike Gold Rush, our government is investing in the future of tourism. This is an important component of our government's philosophy and policy of diversifying the Yukon's economy.
In this year's budget, members will see an additional $200,000 for marketing and another $50,000 to develop a long-term tourism strategy to take us beyond the decade of anniversaries and into the new millennium. This strategy will address product development initiatives that are market driven and that enhance the quantity and quality of Yukon tourism products. The process for developing these initiatives will begin at the annual general meeting of the Tourism Industry Association in Dawson City next month.
Through consultation and in partnership with the Yukon's tourism industry, we are working to develop a new image for the Yukon that will continue to position this remarkable region as a destination for visitors.
Mr. Speaker, the future success of this industry depends on a successful working relationship with our partners in tourism: the private sector, the industry associations, the non-governmental organizations and other governments. The work we are doing today to promote the Yukon is an indication of our government's long-term vision and our commitment to building a solid economic foundation for the future.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I am very pleased to rise in the House today in support of the minister's trip to Europe, Mr. Speaker, unlike when the NDP was in opposition and they didn't support our initiatives in Europe. I'm pleased to see that the Minister of Tourism is continuing with the groundwork that the Yukon Party laid when they were in Europe, and hopefully, Mr. Speaker, we will see some concrete results.
I know we do have some work to do, because the Government Leader has talked about the great move to get Air Transat, but I think we should all be reminded that although it was good to get Air Transat, that only gets us about half-way back to where we were a couple of years ago with our European visitors. So, I hope that the Minister of Tourism, during his trip to Europe, can be convincing enough to encourage others to make Yukon a destination.
Mr. Speaker, the minister also talks in his budget about the $200,000 and I, too, believe that's a very positive initiative, but I think the minister knows full well what $200,000 buys you in tourism marketing nowadays. Although it is a positive initiative, I think a booth in the ITB alone is about $4,000 or $5,000 and about another $6,000 or $7,000 to be there for the few days that ITB is on, so it doesn't take long to use up $200,000.
One of the other things that the minister mentioned today that I think is significant is that, in ITB, there are about 600 international travel companies and 175 destinations. It should be noted that many of these other destinations have increased their tourism budget significantly so that they can get their presence and their names known throughout the world, and we are going to have to consider doing that if we are going to maintain the good presence and the good name that we now have in Europe.
Mr. Speaker, one other area that I would like to talk about is another segment of growth for the Yukon, and that's the Canadian market. I would like to encourage the minister to look at doing something significant in the Canadian market. One only has to look back to a year ago when Newfoundland celebrated its 500th anniversary of the landing of Cabot, and they did promotions all across this country, encouraging Canadians to go and visit Newfoundland.
They had a very outstanding tourism year in Newfoundland because they encouraged Canadians to see it, and I don't think anyone in here has met a Canadian, that we've talked to when we've travelled in the south, that hasn't said that one day they want to come and visit Yukon. So I think there's an untapped market there that we don't do a lot in at the present time and we should consider doing more in the future, especially, Mr. Speaker, since we now have Canada 3000 and Canadian Airlines as well offering excursions in the summertime, trying to get people to come to the north.
Mr. Speaker, I wish the minister well on his visit. I am very pleased to see that this minister is continuing to market in Europe, despite some of the comments that have been made by the Minister of Economic Development when he was in opposition. I'm glad to see that the Minister of Tourism is supportive of the program that we initiated and built to where it is today, so I'm pleased to see him following through with that.
The other question I have for the minister, Mr. Speaker, is he mentioned the exhibit in Switzerland, and maybe the minister could provide us with some information on what the showcase is and what exactly we're going to be doing in Switzerland and what the cost will be to the Yukon taxpayer, what kind of a show we're going to put on there.
Again, in closing, Mr. Speaker, good luck to the minister. I'm glad that he's continuing on with the good work that was begun years ago and I wish him well. I hope he comes back with another Air Transat flight so that we can hopefully get back up to where we were a couple of years ago.
Ms. Duncan: I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus to thank the minister for his statement today. I appreciate the fact that he has been forthright with the House and outlined his meeting schedule in Europe as part of the tourism marketing strategy.
We in our caucus wish him much success in his meetings and look forward to asking some questions upon his return.
I have a few immediate questions that I'd like the minister to address prior to his departure.
In the supplementary budget, there was an additional $285,000 approved for the marketing agreement with Air Transat. I've asked the minister privately if I could get a copy of this agreement. Perhaps I could just remind him publicly of this request. I know his officials are listening, so perhaps he could send that over.
The minister has indicated in today's statement that an additional $200,000 is targeted for marketing initiatives in this year's budget. I have some questions about this $200,000 and exactly where it came from, and where it's being spent, but we'll leave that to the Tourism debate. I would, however, in the minister's absence, like to examine the overall marketing strategy for the department. We've spent, and plan to spend, public money marketing our territory - as we should be. Tourism is an important economic engine for the territory. However, I would like to see the overall document of the strategy that outlines the expenditures, whether its marketing council minutes or a planning document. I'd like to see a copy of the plan for marketing the Yukon.
Perhaps the minister could also immediately advise how the plan, as it exists now, addresses some of the markets other than the European markets. For example, how does the Yukon intend to turn our low Canadian dollar into a tourism opportunity for us and what steps are we taking in marketing to our American neighbours to the south and to the west? What are the plans for the rubber-tire traffic that travels to the Yukon from south of the border, and also the winter tourism marketing initiatives?
I'd like the minister's note that the government will spend $50,000 to develop a long-term tourism strategy. Presumably, that strategy will address such issues as how we improve our services and attractions once the visitors arrive and the key markets we need to look to in the future.
I wonder if it will also address how communities can be better involved; for example, in the Government Leader's Budget Address, he applauded the people of Watson Lake, who, along with Central Mountain Air, have attracted Taiwanese visitors. Yet, I haven't heard of Department of Tourism initiatives in the Taiwanese or Asian market. Perhaps the minister could address in some detail in his response or at a later date how the $50,000 long-term tourism strategy will be developed.
I'd like to say in closing that our caucus agrees with the minister on the potential and the strength of the Yukon's tourism industry. We look forward to a full and frank discussion of his trip upon his return, and Tourism during the budget debate. I look forward to reviewing some information from the department in his absence and, in the meantime, wish him, on behalf of my caucus, safe journey.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It's very encouraging to hear the support that comes from all members of the House, or certainly both opposition parties.
But let me straighten out the process here just a tad. It was not the Yukon Party that laid the groundwork for the initiatives that are happening. This initiative has been ongoing for many, many years, as I recall the previous Minister of Tourism of the New Democrat government going over there 12 years before. So, this is not a new focus and I continue on.
I certainly appreciate the members opposite's direction. It seems that we're half-way back to where we were. Well, if we would have had the airlines come in and have solidity to them, we would have been there, but certainly this year is going to be a good year because we're working with due diligence to do it.
I was asked about the $200,000. It's certainly good to hear that there is support for O&M budget because that is exactly what the $200,000 is in.
I would like to let you know also that Tourism, through hard work and very good people who work within the department, has a success rate of leveraging dollars of almost three to one in most cases.
We talked about doing something significant. What about the Canadian market? Well, we are going to be doing something significant. We are working with the people of the Yukon Territory so that we might be able to involve the people of the Yukon Territory in the development of the tourism marketing - and in product development, also. We spoke about the Newfoundland experience. Certainly, it's a wonderful experience that has happened and I do believe that we will be as successful as Newfoundland, if not more, in terms of turning the Yukon into a world-class destination.
The continuing market in Europe - again, I stress that it wasn't initiated by the Yukon Party, but they certainly did carry on with good New Democratic philosophy at that time, and that was to make sure that tourism was, and will continue to be, a substantial market. Of course, the European market is the market that we focus on at this point in time.
I do thank the official Tourism critic from the official opposition for the support, though, that he gives, because, certainly, I myself and all members of the New Democratic Party, inclusive of all of us, are very much aware that tourism is the future of the Yukon Territory and will continue to be a part and a meaningful economic engine.
Yes. I certainly appreciate the public reminder from the leader of the third party. The department is working, at this point in time, in getting the information together for you as you wished, so I appreciate it in public and I appreciate it in private. You will be getting the information that you've come with.
Speaking about the $200,000 we gained and how we are going to best work it, well, we put our money where our mouth is. We are going to be working on it. We are going to be developing an overall marketing strategy, yes, but in terms that we are going to continue with what we have now, in that we are going to look at an image focus or an image change. It's all in part. Certainly, I would be more than willing to have the department sit down, in my absence, with the members opposite, to get an understanding of how you market, where you market and what the focus groups do, et cetera - that type of thing.
How do we expand into the American market? How do we take advantage of the low Canadian dollar? The rubber-tire market is the biggest market for the Yukon. That is where we get our best results. Winter tourism: I am working with the Yukon Quest. I just had a meeting with the president of the Yukon Quest this morning, and will continue to work with the Yukon Quest to see if we can solidify, through business plan development, the longevity of the Yukon Quest. More importantly, how do we tie in all beneficiaries to the Yukon Quest and the other winter tourism initiatives that we have?
So, there is work to be done. The $50,000 is not necessarily just to look at how to improve services and expand the market, but it's certainly to involve the communities and involve the people who live outside of the communities. How do we best move along? So, we're going to be working with TIA Yukon and others to see how best we spend that $50,000, and how best do we focus on delivering what people want.
But certainly in my absence, as you say, the department is listening, and they will ...
Speaker: Twenty seconds left.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: ... bring to fruition a meeting with you.
On the Taiwanese market - you say it never mentioned it in here - well, I'm certainly very, very proud of the work that has been done, not totally in absence of government, but working with government on the Taiwanese market. It shows that there is a lot of initiative in Watson Lake, and it should continue to be, because they have great potential and great strength.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Agricultural training agreement (Yukon)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, in keeping with this government's goal of creating employment and economic opportunities, I'm pleased to rise in the House and report the signing of a significant agreement yesterday evening.
The Yukon Agricultural Association and this government signed the Yukon agricultural training agreement, which will make a positive contribution to the future of the agricultural industry in the Yukon.
Agriculture has played an important role in the territory for many years. During the Klondike Gold Rush, people ate local produce or no produce at all. Photos from the Yukon Archives document outstanding vegetable harvests from 100 years ago.
Yukon-grown produce and livestock offer fresh and healthy eating for consumers, just as supporting the agricultural industry helps to enhance the territory's economic independence.
The Yukon agricultural training agreement provides $200,000 in funding from the amount set aside for training trust funds. Advanced education officials, the Yukon Agricultural Association and the Renewable Resources agriculture branch worked together to finalize this agreement.
Mr. Speaker, our government supports a diversified economy and an economy that is developed by and for Yukon people. This agreement will enable the association to work with local farmers, growers, ranchers and agribusiness in setting the course for training in agricultural operations.
One of the most important facets of this agreement is that it calls for representatives from rural communities to sit on the training board.
In the next six months, the association will establish a training board with representatives of industry and rural communities; develop a training plan to address the training needs of the industry; and establish the fund and criteria for applications to the training fund.
Mr. Speaker, this agreement is a concrete example of putting those who are most directly affected in the position of determining the kinds of training that best meet the needs of the industry. These training opportunities can help advance the viability of local agriculture.
The government is proud to be in partnership with the Yukon Agricultural Association, and we look forward to being part of their success in the future.
Mr. Phillips: Well, we in the office of the official opposition can generally support the concept of this training trust fund for agriculture, but I do have a few questions for the minister, mostly because the ministerial statement itself is very vague. In fact, it sounds like the groups just got together to talk about it and there's no criteria set up yet or nothing set up to know how the fund will work, what it will be used for, and those kinds of things. Maybe if the minister has some of that information, she can elaborate on that.
I do have some questions for the minister, though. Did the Agricultural Association request this fund or was this a suggestion by the minister? Was there consultation with the association before they came up with this idea? Was the association looking to do other things and the minister's department suggested this?
I'm just curious about how this came about, because there is some money in the budget to set up trust funds and there are other groups and organizations out there who might be interested in setting up a trust fund. I just wonder if the Agricultural Association approached the government or the government approached the Agricultural Association with this idea.
If the government was the one who approached the Agricultural Association, perhaps the minister could tell us if an analysis was done as to whether this was something that was needed at this time and how much consultation actually took place with respect to setting up this fund.
Will the Agricultural Association contribute equal shares to make the fund a little more, from $200,000 to maybe $400,000, or whatever, or is this just strictly a government fund? Is it the plan to just use the interest from the fund or are they planning on using the principal? If they're just using the interest and there is no other contribution, we're probably looking at about $5,000 or $6,000 a year, which can be used in training. As the minister knows, $5,000 or $6,000 doesn't go a very long way today.
Maybe the minister can also tell us what other trust funds they are contemplating in the future. Are there other industries that they're planning to develop trust funds in, and have they contacted individuals, and are there discussions ongoing?
Generally, Mr. Speaker, we do support the concept. We just have the questions that I laid out a few moments ago about how this all came about and what the criteria are and when they expect the fund to be up and running and when they expect the first monies to flow from the fund.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus to respond to this ministerial statement today. I appreciate, and would like to recognize at the outset, the minister's efforts in outlining some of the historical perspectives of the Agricultural Association and the agricultural industry in the Yukon. I'm sure many of us in this House and many Yukoners listening remember the experimental farm at Haines Junction in the Member for Kluane's riding and the very good work that was done there and the records that were finally relocated to the Yukon. It's good work that can be built upon.
Indeed, the farm community in the Yukon is growing in size. Unfortunately, however, the Yukon is a net importer of food and so moves to invest in the farm productivity and farm production make sound economic sense.
Agricultural expansion is a useful form of diversification. It's not dependent upon the outside economy. We, in the Liberal Party caucus, would very much like to review in detail the actual agreement that the minister has outlined briefly today, and we look forward to studying it to see exactly how it will operate, working with the Yukon Agricultural Association and others.
We would also like to express support for the initiative in this regard with the agricultural industry in the Yukon and indicate our qualified support, pending a further review of this particular initiative, and note that this is in addition to the significant federal contribution that was made under the CARD fund and that was announced at this year's Harvest Fair.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, I was somewhat surprised by the comments from the official opposition. Obviously, he's a skeptic when it comes to the agricultural industry. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by that. Certainly the Member for Klondike yesterday, in speaking about agriculture in the budget debate, indicated that it was a narrow window of economic opportunity.
Mr. Speaker, in 1986, the value of agricultural production in the Yukon was $500,000. In 1991, it was $2 million, and in 1996, it was $3.5 million. I call that a very feasible industry, and I will certainly be happy to provide for the members opposite a copy of the agreement, so that they can review it in detail.
Certainly the Yukon Agricultural Association, when I met with them and others last night, indicated that training and education was, indeed, identified as a major need for the agriculture industry, and they're looking forward to working with this government.
Many, many of the training trust funds that have been implemented in the past have successfully been used to lever other funds, in order to expand the range of training that can be available. The agriculture industry is looking to see if it's possible for them to do that as well.
Speaker's ruling on question of privilege
Speaker: Before proceeding to Question Period, the Chair will provide a ruling on the question of privilege raised on March 2, 1998, by the leader of the official opposition.
Standing Order 7(4) states that the Speaker must rule on (a) whether there appears on the face of it to be a case of breach of privilege and, (b) whether the matter has been raised at the earliest opportunity.
It is the practice of this House that raising a question of privilege on the next sitting day meets the requirements that it be raised at the earliest opportunity.
Also, the member met the notice requirement found in Standing Order 7(1)(b) by submitting a written notice to the Office of the Speaker at 10:15 a.m. on March 2.
The question for the Chair to decide on, then, is whether the leader of the official opposition has raised a question which, on the face of it, is a possible breach of privilege.
The leader of the official opposition described an exchange in the House which had occurred between the Government Leader and himself on February 26, 1998. During the course of Question Period, the Government Leader stated, in part, that, "...we wouldn't be calling First Nation leaders liars in the media." The leader of the official opposition rose on a point of order and stated, "The member knows that I never called a First Nation leader a liar. I ask that he retract that immediately." The Government Leader declined to retract the remark.
The Chair ruled that there was no point of order on the basis that this was a dispute between members about facts. In situations where members provide differing versions of a particular event, it is not the responsibility of the Chair to sort out whose version is the accurate one. Annotation 494 of Beauchesne states:
"It has been formally ruled by Speakers that statements by members respecting themselves and particularly within their own knowledge must be accepted. It is not unparliamentary temperately to criticize statements made by Members as being contrary to the facts; but no imputation of intentional falsehood is permissible. On rare occasions, this may result in the House having to accept two contradictory accounts of the same incident."
In raising the same matter as a question of privilege, the leader of the official opposition, in both his letter to the Speaker and his presentation to the House, focused on the point that the Government Leader had "introduced into the House statements and language that are clearly unparliamentary and should be withdrawn."
The government House leader, in addressing the question of privilege raised by the leader of the official opposition, stated: "In this House, when members are engaging in a stiff debate about important issues such as this, it is very important that members be able to speak of past events and be able to speak of past experiences and things that have taken place in the media and in the public on the floor of this Legislative Assembly."
The government House leader is quite correct about the importance of allowing members to speak freely in this House. I am sure that the House supports that contention on his part. I am also sure that the House would support the notion that, when members are speaking freely, they should be careful to use language that is polite and worthy of the place in which it is spoken.
Having reviewed Hansard in preparation for this ruling, the Chair is concerned that more attention should have been paid to the language being used at the time as it is a violation of Standing Order 19(1)(j) to use abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder. Since the language used in the House must be dealt with as a point of order and not a question of privilege, it is too late now to deal with the issue of whether the language used by the Government Leader on February 26 was unparliamentary. However, in the future the Chair will give greater consideration to the language used by members when they are referring to something which happened either in the House or, allegedly, outside the House.
In conclusion, the Chair must rule that the matter raised by the leader of the official opposition is not a breach of privilege.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Crossroads
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, my question today is for the Minister of Health and Social Services and it's concerning the Crossroads treatment centre.
Mr. Speaker, the minister has advised the House that the Yukon government itself is going to be providing the alcohol and drug treatment services that were previously addressed by Crossroads for some 26 years, and the minister is on the public record claiming he will save $100,000 by delivering the programs this way.
I'd like to ask the minister about the treatment programs he intends to put in place in the communities that he stated were going to be part of his new, improved, overall, comprehensive treatment program. Who is going to be delivering these programs? The Yukon government, employees, First Nations, or NGOs? And what is the anticipated cost of these programs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think we've got several options with regard to that. One of the things that I've heard most frequently from First Nations is the need for locally delivered alcohol and drug treatment programs. We have begun some work with Kwanlin Dun in helping them with their alcohol and drug treatment programs.
Specifically in the rural communities, I think there are several options there. We can support local groups. We can do training with local groups. Or what we may choose to do is enter into per diem agreements with some of the First Nations for their healing centres.
Mr. Jenkins: Some of the current wilderness treatment programs that are primarily being provided for First Nations youth are very expensive. The cost is some $91,256 for eight clients for a two-month program at the camp near Mayo. This works out to $5,700-odd per client per month. In addition, the government paid the camp startup cost of some $9,120.
Is it the minister's intention to fund more of these community wilderness treatment programs as part of the Yukon government's so-called new, comprehensive program?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, I think the member is somewhat confused. The camps that we are looking at - or that we have been using - have been specific wilderness camps, and primarily have been targeted toward youth and young offenders. I think he is in some confusion there. Yes, the costs are very high, but, in many cases, what we are looking at is very specific 24-hour-day treatment and these are very, very specific for the needs of the individuals.
Mr. Jenkins: I can assure the minister that I'm not confused. Most of the individuals attending these camps have a background, in most cases, of alcohol and substance abuse. I've already pointed out that the wilderness camps are primarily dedicated to high-risk, First Nation youths, whereas many of the clients at Crossroads are neither First Nations nor are they youths.
What community treatment programs are going to be put in place to deal with these people who have chronic alcohol and, also, drug problems?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have had several meetings with some of the First Nation communities who are interested in wilderness healing camps. I've had meetings with the Northern Tutchone and the Aishihik treatment centre, and I've asked them for some specifics on the kinds of programs that they could offer, the kinds of costs, what their per diems are and what their scheduling is.
As we work through this, we will be trying to expand our association with First Nations. This was something that was identified very clearly in our discussions around the territory, and I think it's something we need to follow through on.
Question re: Wilderness youth addiction treatment camps
Mr. Jenkins: Once again, to the Minister of Health and Social Services, could we explore with the minister the issue of wilderness youth addiction treatment camps? The government has recently issued a request for expressions of interest for the provision of wilderness youth addiction treatment camps, and the requests have to be submitted to the government by March 19.
Recently, our office received the contracts from the minister concerning the youth healing camp in Old Crow. The total cost of the contracts provided to us was for some $246,820 for 15 clients. It amounts to some $215 per day per client, and this does not include the set-up cost for the camp, which the government paid for with another $17,652, or an additional $1,000 per client.
As the minister can see, youth healing camps are expensive. Can the minister advise the House how many of these camps are currently operating in the Yukon in the last fiscal period, and how many of them are funded by the Yukon government?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We operate on a contract basis. There is one contract for a 1997 summer camp for 10 FAS boys, and 11.4 staff. There's the Old Crow treatment camp that operated - let me just do a quick count: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 individual contracts. There are also some group home contracts, which I assume the member isn't looking at. We have one contract with the Spectrum Learning Centre in B.C. for 215 days. We have the Wind River camp, with some - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine - contracts, ranging from in around 61 days for young individuals. Then, of course, we have the group home contracts. I assume that the member's interested in those.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, we're interested in the effective delivery of a treatment program. That's the issue. Now, we know the money is being spent. Can the minister advise the House if the Department of Health and Social Services has conducted an evaluation of the youth healing camps as to their effectiveness, rate of recidivism, et cetera, especially in view of the amount of money being expended. If he has conducted this review, we'd appreciate receiving a copy of it. And if he hasn't, when is this evaluation scheduled to be undertaken and completed by?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm a little surprised that the member has so little faith in the people that deal with our young people. If he really understood the situation, which I seriously doubt because he doesn't take any opportunity to avail himself of any issues, he would realize that there is a higher per diem cost because the actual costs of the operators are negotiated, and the higher per diem represents the higher number of staff who have to be used to supervise the youth.
Each placement contract reflects the maximum number of days that they are expected, and some come in at different times. I can provide the member with the comparative costs of the camps over the last three years.
With regard to the assessments, yes, we do continuous assessments. We do that ongoing through Family and Children's Services. The indications that we have are, in particular, that some of the wilderness experiences are very effective with young people. I can probably provide the member with some details on how effective we find these. However, this is not a new phenomenon. This has gone back several years, so I'm a little surprised at the member's sudden interest in this.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess there's an issue here and the minister's missing the point. The issue is, we had these programs in place previously. They've been expanded upon greatly. Now, where is the program evaluation that justified the expansion and has continued to address our responsibility to ensure that the delivery of these programs is effective? That's what we want to ascertain, Mr. Speaker.
Many of these healing camps are First Nation youth status. How much of the costs have been picked up by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs for these treatments, Mr. Speaker? And we'd certainly like the program evaluation delivered also.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, as the member is aware, the issue of DIA funding has been an ongoing one with ourselves and DIA for a considerable amount of time. We do endeavour to carry these costs forward to DIA and present them. To some degree, we're successful; to some degree, we're not. We have received some funding. We have an amount that we have determined with DIA that's undisputed.
With regard to program evaluations, I can go back and take a look and see what is available in that regard. With regard to actual usage of the camps, usages have fluctuated at different times. For example, they've gone up at different seasons - for example, summer, winter.
I'm kind of at a loss to understand what the member's problem is. Is he suggesting that we incarcerate more young people or we try some alternative placements?
Question re: Workers' Compensation Board, witnesses appear before the House
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board on some workers' compensation issues.
Last December, as the minister will recollect, I asked the minister if he is prepared to ask the President and the Chair of the Workers' Compensation Board to appear before us this session to discuss various workers' compensation issues and the minister said that he would give the matter his serious consideration.
Now I sent the minister a letter - a followup letter, which he hasn't answered yet - and the issue has been brought up in the House leader's meeting several times without resolution.
Now I gather the minister's position - and he can clarify this - is that he won't accommodate the opposition's request unless the agreement relating to the sitting days, the agreement that's attached to the rules, is re-signed by the members of the opposition. Is that his position?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I want to say that, first of all, I have made available, to both opposition parties, an opportunity to meet with the board and the chair of the Workers' Compensation Board outside of the Legislature. That is much more cost effective. The cost of this House is somewhere in the vicinity of $1,000 an hour.
We would give serious consideration - and have been giving serious consideration as I said we would - to the requests of the members opposite to bring the chair and some board members before the Legislature. However, Mr. Speaker, we were quite disappointed last session, not so much by the conduct of the Liberal Party but by the official opposition who did not budget their time very well in this House and ended going over the allotted time and sitting until the wee hours of the morning to complete the session by the 25th day.
I simply said that this is a budget session by the agreement that we have among the three parties and that if they wanted to do something other than budget discussion - i.e. bringing in the boards and committees, and it could be the Energy Corporation as well or any other number of groups that they often propose come forward - we'd just like to have a request from both opposition parties of a reaffirmation of their commitment to a 35-day sitting.
Mr. Cable: Well, just before we get into that rather silly game, let me go back a step. The minister, when he was in opposition, was one of the opposition members calling for the board to appear, and when the board appeared, he asked questions. He asked questions on behalf of injured workers and he asked questions on behalf of people paying premiums and he asked questions on behalf of the general public. So, just for the record, did the member, when in opposition, think that the exercise of having the Workers' Compensation Board appear before this House was a useful exercise?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I guess I'm not jumping fast enough for the member opposite, but I want to say to him that the matter is being given serious consideration.
This is not a silly game, Mr. Speaker. The silly game was played by the opposition in the last legislative session, and I simply would like a request from both opposition parties that they would like to bring groups - important organizations like the board and the chair of the Workers' Compensation Board - before the Legislature in the spring budget sitting and that they are prepared to live by the commitment that they signed. I'd like to see a reaffirmation of that because, judging by the evidence of the last session in particular, the official opposition is not wedded to the agreement that they signed.
Mr. Cable: Now, despite the fact that the agreement was signed by the now Government Leader, the leader of the official opposition and me, representing all three sitting parties in this Legislature, despite the fact that the agreement has been confirmed in this House and despite the fact that we sat until 6 a.m. in the morning to show our bona fide, what the minister is saying is that unless we, on this side of the House, play this game, we are precluded from having the board appear as witnesses for questioning publicly on the record. Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the agreement says that this sitting is a budget sitting. That's the agreement. That's the agreement that was signed in the last year of the Yukon Party administration. That was the deal. The members are asking us to depart from what is in the agreement. We are saying we would seriously consider that; however, given the game that was played in the last sitting by, particularly, the official opposition, we want a reaffirmation of their commitment to the agreement, or if they would like to expand beyond the agreement, to take up more time in the House.
I also want to say - and reaffirm - our commitment to briefings and meetings with the board and the opposition to avail themselves of a full opportunity to have a broad examination of all the issues as they pertain to workers' compensation in this territory. I think the number of issues that the opposition has raised in the preambles to their questions today are all relevant and important issues. They could be discussed at a meeting or on the floor of the Legislature. I'm simply asking for something to go beyond the agreement from the opposition. The matter is under serious consideration.
Question re: Workers' Compensation Board, workers' advocate
Mr. Cable: Same minister and followup questions on the Workers' Compensation Board.
Let me say that I'm disappointed that the minister takes this issue as a reaffirmation of marriage vows; that we have a signed contract that isn't good enough.
The minister's party, when in opposition, supported the establishment of a workers' advocate. I would like to read from A Better Way, the NDP election platform.
It says, "An NDP government, led by Piers McDonald, will immediately establish the independent position of workers' advocate."
Now, other jurisdictions have established this position as a permanent position. Would the minister just refresh our memory? Why was this position set up as a term position?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have to speak to the preamble before I answer the specific question. Mr. Speaker, the agreement that we have among the parties says that there are 35 days for budget. If the WCB won't add to the 35 days for budget, Mr. Speaker, then we're more than prepared to ask them to come before the House.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the workers' advocate, the reason the position was set up as such was because, when we analyzed the different forms of providing this service across the country - this workers' advocate service - to injured workers, we found a myriad of different experiences around the country. We were not sure, for the first time going into this, what would work best for the Yukon. So we agreed with, and among, the stakeholders - labour and business - that perhaps the most responsible course of action would be to set it up initially on a term position to allow for a year's running of the program, and then a thorough analysis with the stakeholders. From that point on, we would determine how it could be entrenched into a permanent position.
Mr. Cable: It's my information that there was a temporary appointment that took place last summer - the gentleman from Manitoba - and there was a permanent term position - if I could call it that - where a person was appointed in October. It's my information that the present arrangement - the workers' advocate arrangement - on the payroll, rather than by contract, is working very well.
Is this the view of the minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Board?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, key to our agenda - and my agenda when I took over as minister - was that I wanted to address the foundations of the Workers' Compensation Board. I wanted to deal with the root problems, and part of the problem was a lack of access by injured workers to the system and lack of fair representation. Part of the problem was legislative. Part of the problem was accountability of the board to the different stakeholders in labour and business. Part of the problem was we had a chair who wasn't mutually selected.
So I've been working to redress all of those concerns, and I think the new chair and the board as it is assembled right now has been doing a very good job of changing the structure of the board and getting closer to their stakeholders. And I think that that is key.
With regard to the workers' advocate, it has been incredibly good for injured workers, because they now have fairer access to the system, and I'm pleased, Mr. Speaker, that I am not called upon, as I was in the first weeks after the election, with a line-up of injured workers asking for ministerial interference in their claims, which I adamantly refused to do.
I think we now have a good process in place for injured workers so that they have good access to the system.
So, yes, I do think it is working.
Mr. Cable: That's my information also, and we do have a good process in place, and it's one we talked about in this House when both the minister and I were in opposition. We talked about the workers' advocate for many, many, many months and we finally have one in place.
Now, I gather his caseload when he started was about 30 - in October - and it's now up around 90, with files being turned over by the unions and by the lawyers in town. So they obviously have confidence in both the position and the incumbent.
Could I encourage the minister to ensure that there is sufficient stability in this position that he takes the analysis that he's going to make and moves it up so that we don't have to wait for another several months to determine whether the job is going to be set up as a permanent position? Will he take the evaluation time back to the drawing board and move it up?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We are very much committed to the workers' advocate and that's why we instituted the advocate. We said we were going to do it in the election campaign and we did it.
I have an agreement, as far as I'm concerned, with the stakeholders who sat on an advisory committee who actually made the recommendation to the Public Service Commission to hire this particular person that there would be this evaluation period, but I have talked to some people in labour who are concerned about the backlog, and what I will commit to the member and commit to the stakeholders is that I will discuss with them the appropriateness of moving ahead the schedule of the evaluation, because I do think the issue of access is critical and paramount to the success of the system working better for injured workers in this territory, and I think that the member opposite, as he points out, is quite right that the individual and the office have gained some large measure of credibility and have been very, very busy in terms of dealing with the various situations that injured workers face in the territory.
So, I'll take his question under advisement and we'll hope to get back to him in the next few months.
Question re: Child support payments
Mr. Phillips: Almost a year ago, the federal government passed child support legislation that included stronger enforcement measures, as well as important changes to the way child support payments are taxed. Whereas under the old tax treatment the receiving parent would have to pay taxes on child support, recent changes to the Income Tax Act reversed this trend so that the taxes are no longer paid. The end result being that the money is for the kids.
That's great news, Mr. Speaker. Unfortunately, it appears that the Government of Yukon is of a different opinion. Having received a call from a constituent a few days ago, it was brought to my attention that the Whitehorse Housing Authority had not been made aware of the federal changes and would therefore continue to treat child support as income to the mother or father when calculating the tenant's rent based on 25 percent of his or her total income.
I'd like to ask the minister of the Housing Corporation if he is aware of the problem and is he prepared to waive this requirement so that in the single-parent families, the money that's supposed to be for the children will go directly to the mother of the children rather than to be taxed by the Yukon Housing Corporation?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I rise as Minister of Justice to respond to this question, because this government planned to introduce amendments to the Family Property and Support Act during the last sitting of the Legislature, but deferred them to allow for future consultation at the request of the local bar.
We have had a number of information sessions provided on the Family Property and Support Act, and if the Yukon Housing Corporation is not aware of those changes, we can certainly ensure that they are made so.
Mr. Phillips: I was surprised that the minister responsible for the Housing Corporation didn't respond, because I would have thought that the Minister of Justice, who has been so strong in the past on these issues, would have conveyed to her colleagues and all government departments the recent changes so that it could take effect.
Will the minister, Mr. Speaker, be making changes immediately to retroactively refund the 25 percent of the child support payments that it's taken from these mothers, so that the money that's meant to go directly to the children, under recent federal changes, will go to the children and not 25 percent to the Housing Corporation?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I have to repeat for the member opposite that the amendments to the Yukon legislation are presently being reviewed by the family law subcommittee of the Canadian Bar Association. We expect to receive their comments in the middle of this month.
I can certainly, as I indicated previously, ensure that all departments of government are aware of the changes to the federal child support guidelines. The Yukon changes to regulations are not presently in effect.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, regulations - that's fine. The minister can work on the regulation changes, but we're talking about a policy of the Yukon Housing Corporation to deduct 25 percent of the total income of a renter, Mr. Speaker, for the rent. They know what the mothers or fathers receive for their children. Why can't they make an immediate policy change, retroactive to when the federal government made its change, so that the money that's supposed to be meant for the children will go to the children? Why can't the government do that now, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, this is an issue that has come up over the past year. We have been looking into it and wanting to give some direction to this overall as a government. The concerns that you raise will, again, be taken under advisement.
Question re: Education, mathematics curriculum consultation
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Education.
Yesterday, in response to information from the school achievement indicators program, the minister was asked what steps she was taking to deal with some of the results. The minister was asked to examine the results from the above-average jurisdictions, Alberta and Quebec, and to heed the advice from the head of the UBC math department, which was to seek the views as to what is right for each individual's jurisdiction.
The minister talked briefly about curriculum work and ongoing inservice. Could the minister elaborate today more precisely on what steps have been taken with regard to math in Yukon schools?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'd be very happy to do that, since the member opposite has asked.
I think, Mr. Speaker, that we need to go back to the national teachers of mathematics and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematical Standards, who proposed some new goals for education to ensure that all children become mathematically literate, both as consumers and as workers, and that they learn how to value and enjoy mathematics and to become mathematical problem-solvers.
There have been changes in math curriculum in jurisdictions across Canada. To speak to the changes in math curriculum for the Yukon, there have been discussions with the western Canada protocol agreement. The western Canada protocol agreement is the four western provinces and the two territories, and they have recommended changes to math curriculum. That includes Alberta and British Columbia.
Changes have been made, as I indicated yesterday, to kindergarten through grades 7, and grades 11 and 12 in the territorial math curriculum. We have provided math inservicing for teachers as well as resource supports for teachers. Some schools have also been holding evening information sessions for parents.
Ms. Duncan: It is my understanding that the Yukon Teachers Association passed a unanimous resolution that there be immediate consultation with classroom teachers to address the problems and concerns that have become apparent. This resolution was with respect to the math curriculum. As the minister has noted, the K to 7 math curriculum was changed all in one year.
The minister makes a great deal of her government's partnerships with Yukoners to better the education in the territory. Has she - has the minister; not her officials, but the minister - as is her responsibility, met with math teachers or the Yukon Teachers Association group that passed this resolution?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I have to set the member opposite straight. I do not teach, and I have not had meetings with math teachers. Neither have I had meetings with history teachers, geography teachers or teachers in the whole range of subjects that we offer in the school system on an individual basis - by the departments and by the subject that they teach.
I have had meetings with the Yukon Teachers Association and with teachers in a whole range of capacities that they serve in, if they're members of other volunteer boards and groups.
I can assure the member that there is good work being done by the Department of Education officials, curriculum consultants, superintendents and the departmental assessment committee to make sure that teachers are getting the support they need for implementing the new math curriculum.
Ms. Duncan: One of the interesting results from the school performance indicators test that was released said that except for 13 year olds in math content, males performed significantly better at higher levels than females in this assessment and that this finding is consistent with the findings from several other studies.
I haven't heard much from the minister in terms of her work with the partnerships, however, I would like to ask the minister, if the results with regard to male versus female results hold true for Yukon students, what steps is the minister taking to deal with this aspect - the minister taking?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, that's a very interesting question that the member raises and I will have to determine whether there is a gender breakdown to the mathematics results in the Yukon, as there has been an indication that there is across the country.
There are different ways of approaching the problem of boys scoring better than girls on math tests or, indeed, on other subjects. One of the initiatives that has been tried successfully in some jurisdictions is male-only and female-only classes. I've had parents come to me and make a recommendation that we try something like that in the Yukon.
As with other suggestions that people bring forward, we consider them. We ask school councils and the Yukon Teachers Association and others to consider them. I can't stand here today and say in this Legislature what specific initiatives we may bring forward to address her concern, but I can assure her that we'll look at all the options.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Mr. Phillips: I just have one short question, Mr. Speaker. Can I get it in?
Mr. Phillips: Okay, Mr. Speaker. It'll have to wait until tomorrow.
Notice of opposition private members' busuiness
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the item standing in the name of the official opposition, to be called on Wednesday, March 4. It is Motion No. 93, standing in the name of the Member for Klondike.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the item standing in the name of the third party, to be called on Wednesday, March 4, 1998. It is Motion No. 99, standing in the name of the Member for Riverside.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Deputy 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.
Deputy Chair: Ten minutes.
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee will continue with general debate on the budget bill.
Bill No. 9 - First Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yesterday, I had just begun to answer some of the questions that the member opposite had asked and I can continue on, I guess, in answering some of those questions.
I have some information for the member that he will presumably want. Last night the member was asking about budget philosophy and what we thought of capital budget versus operation budgets. I think I could sum it up simply by saying that we had indicated very clearly that we were going to preserve services.
As I pointed out last night, we have been squeezing the operational budget of the government, and I pointed to the fact that in the supplementaries for 1997-98, the departments that show increases in that supplementary on the operations side are Education, Health and Social Services, Tourism and Economic Development, but the Economic Development item was only a recovery because it was the loan to Anvil Range.
Clearly, the priorities, in terms of the major expenditures for health care and education, were accommodated by the government. If the member looks at the supplementary on the summary, page 4, he will see that every other department, including the Yukon Housing Corporation, showed decreases. For example, Executive Council Office, $91,000; Community and Transportation Services, a $650,000 decrease; Government Services, $296,000 decrease; Justice, $202,000 decrease. Essentially, there are decreases of 1.5 percent in other departments to contribute toward the cost of the overexpenditures in education and health care.
The member indicated last night that he's concerned about the general expenditures in the mains, going from the 1996-97 mains of $346 million proposed to the 1998-99 mains of $370 million. I will point out again, Mr. Speaker, that, of that amount in 1997-98, that first update to the Yukon Party's main estimates budget was 99-percent proposed by the departments under Yukon Party control.
The major expenditures there were just over $10 million for devolution - $10.3 million. There were two proposed significant increases in health services and education of $2 million and $2.6 million respectively. Then there was a relatively small amount in that supplementary of $1.5 million.
The increases in the O&M mains - or the fork in the budget that was the first supplementary for this year, the last budget we debated - showed the increase being $1.3 million in Education and $5.6 million in Health and Social Services. Clearly the growth in the budgets is in those areas: health care and education.
We committed ourselves to doing everything that we could to protect those services, and that comes at a price. So clearly, we did not commit ourselves to maintaining the O&M budgets from the main estimates last tabled by the Yukon Party. In fact, from that supplementary that we passed when we first came into office, Mr. Speaker, the main estimates for many of the departments are actually below that amount on the operations side.
So that is the working reality, Mr. Chair. We did indicate that we believed last year, when we tabled the main estimates, that $15 million was a reasonable bank account. Clearly, the amount of the bank account is an arbitrary figure. I have said in the past that one month's operating expenditures for the government was a reasonable bank account. I believe, at one time, the budget philosophy in the government was one month's operating and capital expenditures was a reasonable bank account. Based on the accounting and our ability to track expenditures, I believe that $15 million as a bank account is a safe level - perhaps more than safe, for that matter.
I note that the last government did project a bank account in their main estimates that was only $7 million at the time.
We all know that it's always going to go up, but, in terms of laying out the proposal, it has been down as low as $7 million in recent years. Anyway, $15 million is what we targeted last year, what we're targeting this year, and what we will be targeting throughout the mandate. I believe that's reasonable under the current circumstances.
The member asked about taxes and wage rollbacks and whether or not the Government of Yukon is interested in rescinding the tax increases or rescinding the wage rollbacks. Well, Mr. Speaker, first of all, with respect to the general proposition, it is of no surprise to the member that once the spending habits of government take effect there are certain expectations in the public about maintaining that level of spending, and certainly that is not lost on the government.
With respect to the wage rollbacks, the member will note that, quite contrary to that rather fanciful press release that the Liberal caucus put out yesterday, the budgets do include funding for collective agreements. The member does know what the mandate was for the Teachers Association, because that is a settlement, and the settlement was approximately two percent.
The minister responsible for the Public Service Commission suggested that that was a benchmark that we ought to be pursuing - a fairly reasonable proposition.
Now the cost of the teachers' settlement is already in the Department of Education's main estimates. The cost of the settlement to the rest of the government will be either or both in the contingency that we've allowed in the departmental main estimates, if we choose to request the departments to manage some of that increase themselves.
The member has said that the public servants are expecting a return of two percent on the wages, then they have all the experience to judge what the government's response to that expectation is.
I want to point out that with respect to the funding already taken away and spent by the government, to use the ex-leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Taylor's words, "That's water under the bridge." That money has been taken and has been spent So, the question is: what do we do? So, that is our basic position on that front.
The government has made it clear, not only did it want to maintain services, it also wanted to provide stable funding for NGOs, and that is a commitment that we are respecting. I would point out to the member that I believe, as I indicated last year, that the spending rate that we are proposing is, in fact, sustainable, and I do have, for this afternoon, our spending projections - revenue projections - for the next few years, to the year 2002. That will demonstrate why we believe that we do have a proposal that will provide for stable spending overall.
The member asked about the power rate increase, and where that money is coming from. Well, Mr. Chair, the money will come from departments that will have to find it within their bases to provide for that increase. Now, I'm certain that the increase won't be in the neighbourhood of 30 percent, as the member keeps alleging but, nevertheless, there will be some rate increase, and the Yukon government, like every other user of electricity, will have to absorb the cost. It doesn't always mean that we can simply add to the departmental bases in order to provide for it. It means that the departmental bases may have to be readjusted to pay for it from within, and that is something that the departments are going to have to contend with, just as people in the public have to contend with that same issue.
When families are faced with an increase at the gas pump or in their electricity bill, they don't necessarily have an opportunity to go to their employer and ask for an increase. They have to somehow find it from within - readjust their budgets, readjust their priorities and pay the bills. I expect that of the departments, as well.
I don't know whether I've answered them thoroughly enough. I'm certain the member will want to pursue them some more. What I should probably do is let the member speak for awhile, and then I'll start again.
Mr. Ostashek: I hope the member is going to send us over a copy of the revenues from the tax increases and the wage rollbacks I asked for last night. If he could give us a slip on it, I would certainly appreciate it.
I have quite a bit to respond to, because the member said, last night, that I like going back to the last mandate. The reason I have to go back to the last mandate is because what the members opposite, who are now in government, are telling us now is so fundamentally opposed to what they were criticizing our government for. They are now doing some of the same things that they criticized us for very severely, and for day after day after day.
I spoke about the tax increases. This government is saying that they are not going to increase taxes, but they are quite happy to spend the tax increases that were imposed by the Yukon Party government and, while they fundamentally say and continue to say that they weren't required, they now say that the spending habits of government don't give them the latitude to give them back. I'm sorry, I don't accept that from the Government Leader because, if we just look at the main estimates, which is comparing apples to apples and not starting to split hairs about supplementary budgets and everything else, it is a very good comparison.
The Government Leader can see, as all Yukoners can see, that the operation and maintenance of government did not start to rise until the NDP government took over. They were stable for four years under a Yukon Party government.
We started in 1993-94 with a $352,485,000 operation and maintenance budget. The last estimates that we put forward in 1996-97 were $346,821,000. So, if the spending happens to have increased, it's because of decisions that were made by the government that's in power now. So they cannot blame us for incorporating spending into the budget in which they don't have any latitude to return those tax dollars now if they so strongly felt that they weren't required, because we didn't raise the operation and maintenance cost of government. We maintained it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Well, the Member for Faro is shaking his head, Mr. Chair. I ask him to refer to the Budget Address book and the main estimates historical comparison in millions of dollars, and I mean that is just totally ridiculous.
The Government Leader goes on to say that part of it was devolution. Well, I'm sorry. We devolved the first phase of the hospital transfer while we were in government, too, and we still went out of office with the same level of operation and maintenance as we did coming in - basically the same.
Well, Mr. Chair, it is about priorities. It is about what the government wants to do. But I have great difficulty in how they rationalize that tax increases weren't required, the operation and maintenance costs of government did not go up over four years, and yet they can't give it back because of spending habits that were incurred by a Yukon Party government. I don't know how they reconcile that, because it simply isn't borne out by the numbers in the budget books. So, if they wanted to give it back, they could give it back.
My concern is with the escalation of the operation and maintenance budget now. The member is quite right. There are departments that have gone down. There are departments that have gone up. I don't believe that this rate of increase can be sustained. Now I know it's a very small increase in the main estimates this year, but we have pointed to a few things that are going to cost the government more money. If the government can continue to forecast the deficit and still continue to forecast a $15-million surplus each and every year, I don't have much difficulty with that.
But I do really believe that we ought to be concerned about operation and maintenance costs - the overall cost to government. I'm not worried about where it goes. Priorities are in Health and Social Services, fine. I have no difficulty with that.
But what the Government Leader is telling me is that he's running a government that's so efficient that there's no place to save any dollars. That is what I'm getting from this debate, that there is absolutely no place that he can cut without impacting services to the Yukon public. I have difficulty accepting that. I have difficulty accepting that because I believe that, if necessary, we can always find some savings somewhere. It can happen, and I think it's government's responsibility to do it.
The Government Leader in his reply didn't say anything about the report, or reports - plural, I guess - that have been put forward by economists that you get more mileage out of dollars spent on capital when it comes to creating economic activity and jobs in the Yukon than you do on the operation and maintenance side of the budget.
I just want to ask the Government Leader if he believes and accepts that as a fact or if he disputes the fact that's put forward by economists. I know if you put three economists in a room you get three different opinions, but it seems to be a consensus of economists that there is more mileage out of spending dollars on capital than on operation and maintenance.
I want to make it very, very clear to this government that we are not talking about compromising services to Yukoners. Absolutely not. But I need only look at the main estimates for this year - we've already debated the supplementary budget; we don't need to debate it again. And I look at page S-4 in the budget and we see that Executive Council Office spending has gone up by 16 percent. We see that Community and Transportation has dropped marginally. We see Economic Development has dropped by 17 percent. We will be looking for explanations for those figures when we get into departmental debate.
But Health and Social Services? Yes. Education has remained flat in this budget, so I don't know. The Government Leader may have been referring to his supplementary budget when he was talking to the press the other day but, in this budget, the main estimates are basically flat. It's $100,000 less - that is what it looks like - for Education in here.
So I have some difficulty with that.
I just say that, you know, that we get a little perplexed over here by the members opposite always saying the tax increases weren't required, yet, the figures, when we see them, I think we'll see that they're quite substantial and that the government is now using those dollars to provide services. I find it offensive when the Government Leader says that we instilled spending habits in government that require those extra revenues that are being generated by those tax dollars today when, in fact, the numbers that have been presented to us don't bear that out.
I guess the question that I really want to sum up on this part of it is, how long does the government - the Finance minister; I'm sorry, I should be using the proper term here, Mr. Chair - feel that this government can continue to have the operation and maintenance cost of government go up without getting into any serious financial problems?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: In order to answer that question, let me join with him for a few moments in the initial days of his own government in 1993, and just return back to those moments when the opposition leader was the Finance minister and the Government Leader at the time.
Mr. Chair, at the time, the budget estimates that the member brought forward to the Legislature from the 1992-93 estimates went from $314 million to the main estimates figure - that's the main estimates for 1992-93 to 1993-94 - of $353 million. Now, clearly, some of that is accounted for in the hospital transfer. A large portion of that is not. I recall very clearly, in the Health and Social Services budget, the minister of the day referring to it as honest budgeting, referring to it as a desire to provide services for people, not wanting to cut services for people, and therefore it was a necessary expenditure.
Now, the estimate for that year was $314 million. The forecast for that year, at that time in that budget when the budget was brought forward, was $334 million, and the estimate for the 1993-94 was, as I say, over $353 million.
Now, in net terms - just so we're all speaking about the same things - the estimate for 1992-93 was $261 million. The forecast was $292 million and the estimate for 1993-94 was $310 million. So, however the members want to characterize it, the O&M budget went up.
Now, in the last moments of the member's term, of course, one of the first acts of the New Democrat government in 1996-97 was to bring forward a supplementary for the final accounting of the last year that the Yukon Party was in charge.
As I indicated to the member - and I read out the figures for him - I will briefly, briefly repeat for the member what happened then. The O&M mains went from $346 million - now up to $346 million - up to $363 million, which included, besides devolution, $4.5 million in health services and education. That was being proposed by departments as necessary expenditures. We brought them forward. We weren't in charge of the department's resources at that time. We simply brought the expenditures forward and they were approved in this Legislature. Thus, $4.6 million O&M was approved in health services and education. So, to say that there were no increases in O&M is at variance with the budget estimate books that the member brought forward himself.
Now, the member says that he finds it offensive if I indicate that the tax increases have created spending habits and spending expectations in this territory. I'm sorry that he finds it offensive, but it's what I believe. It certainly has created expectations, whether it be on the O&M side or on the capital side. Certainly, there are expectations that there should be lots of spending, including capital. For us to pretend that somehow the private sector that feeds on capital spending is less dependent than the public sector, which gets a paycheque from government - it's quite clear that the private sector very much does think that what the government does is extremely important to their livelihood.
Now, let me point out to the member one thing. When the member was a Finance minister, he said, in 1993, in that first budget which brought in the larger O&M budget that I have just cited, at the time, "I do not know anywhere in this O&M budget that we could cut, or the capital budget, without it costing jobs to Yukoners." Well, he was right. If he cut the budgets, it will cost jobs to Yukoners, whether it's on the operations side or on the capital side.
Now, at that time if we remember, Anvil Range was in trouble - or the Curragh mine was down - the economy was in difficulty, the bright sparks on the horizon of course were the Shakwak project funding and the coming of the hospital - that was not quite there yet, but it was coming. But at the time - a time not dissimilar to this time today - the Finance minister at the time said, "For us to bring in a budget that would have meant cutting civil service jobs at this time would not have been acceptable." I don't think we took issue with that statement.
So, the circumstances are similar. The member is suggesting and has suggested, or at least there are people in the public who have suggested, that we should have cut the operations budget substantially - meaning layoffs, of course - in order to put more money into capital. And I agree with the Finance minister of the day, at least, in 1993, that that would not have been acceptable if we had done that.
Now, with respect to the member's comments about the ECO budget being way up, he has said something that is, of course - and I'm sure he knows this - incorrect if he is trying to leave the impression that net spending in the Executive Council Office is up. It is clearly not. The gross spending in the Executive Council Office dedicated to land claims implementation is, in fact, up, but the net spending is not.
In fact, net spending is down. So I would enjoin the member to recognize the difference - because I know he knows the difference - and to tell his fellows in the Liberal caucus who have repeated this line, because of the Svengali-like control he seems to have over the Liberal caucus, that there is a difference between their criticism and the working reality.
I will also, of course, myself, take up with the author of the front page cover story on budgets in the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce newsletter because, as I read through it this afternoon, I could have ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have it right here, Mr. Chair. It just came out.
This could have been written by the Yukon Party. It carries not only the same lines, the same analysis, it even makes the same mistakes in its analysis - virtually identical mistakes. It, too, says that the Executive Council Office spending for central government coordination and communication will increase by $1.8 million. They go on to say that Economic Development is declining by a million dollars.
Mr. Chair, the net spending in Economic Development is not declining at all. If one factors out the one-time loan that was factored into last year's budget, net spending in Economic Development is going up. So, we'll have to correct what looks to be a rather partisan commentary by the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce. It is uncanny how close this commentary is with the direct commentary from the official opposition, the Yukon Party. I will be raising that with the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
Clearly we'd want to ensure that they hear all sides of the equation before they pass judgment on the budget, because clearly they'd want to be seen as non-partisan in every respect, surely.
Mr. Speaker, where the member and I agree is on the rate of growth, particularly in education and health care. We want to protect those services, and we are the first to acknowledge that the O&M associated with those services has been rising significantly. We also acknowledge and admit that much of this increase is driven by a population increase, because we have not seen a significant population decline in the last few years. It's been going up, and the department is claiming increased rates of activity, particularly in the provision of health services. Nevertheless, we must be vigilant in trying to curb the spending trajectory in those departments. So, I agree with him in that respect in general terms.
Now, the member has said that he has some proof from economists that capital spending gives more mileage in the economy than does O&M spending, and I guess he's got an economist or a few economists who will demonstrate that principle.
Mr. Speaker, I don't choose to look at it that way particularly, because I do know that all operation and maintenance spending does have an impact on the economy as well. As a matter of fact, as the member has alluded, economists do disagree on this point, and I recall back in the middle to late 1980s, an econometric model, which was promoted by a guru economist of the day in analyzing public spending in the north, suggested to us that the biggest bang for the buck in fact, in his opinion, is in lower wage public servants than any other single expenditure.
And he made this argument on the grounds that most of the income from the lower wage public servant would stay in the territory and roll around in the service sector economy, whereas the cost per job on the capital side would be anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000, depending on whether or not we are into road construction or building construction.
Well, I can tell you, Mr. Chair, that the government didn't rush off to hire lots of low-wage public servants in order to boost the economic fortunes of the territory, but it was a useful example of how economists can disagree on these points and it does give some pause for thought with respect to what the real working circumstances are when one dissects the political rhetoric from the reality.
I am aware - I'm acutely aware - of how the government's decisions will have an impact on the private sector, both on the operations side and the capital side. I am aware that if the government of the day, for example, doesn't build any capital buildings in the territory, then a lot of carpenters can be out of work for a very long time. I'm aware that if they spend large sums of money on road construction during the same period - road construction funding that can't be sustained in the long term because say, for example, the Shakwak project is a finite project - then at some point there's going to be a bust in that economy because it can't be sustained.
So, just in terms of the spending patterns of government, certainly the government has to be aware of what kind of impact it's having on the economy - the entire economy including both private and public sectors - and that should be factored into the capital planning process.
Certainly, it has been, to a degree, factored into our capital planning process, even respecting the choices we've had to make with a smaller overall capital budget.
I will let the member continue.
Mr. Ostashek: I have several points and then I'll let my colleagues get into the debate here.
I just want to go back to the main estimates again. If the Minister of Finance is going to bring in supplementary budgets in 1996-97, then, in order to be fair, he has to go back and bring in supplementary budgets in 1992-93. We need to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. There was a substantial supplementary budget in 1992-93 that drove up the operation and maintenance of government.
I said at the time the same as he said in 1996-97. It was their estimates; we weren't going to defend them - just as he said in 1996-97 when he brought them in, "I'm not going to stand here and defend your estimates." That is why I've been using a historical comparison for the mains.
We will also see that without spending too much time on this, because neither one of us is going to be a winner on this, there was a substantial increase in the operation and maintenance costs from 1990-91 to 1991-92. I don't know what the rationale was for that, but it was in excess of $50 million. It was a substantial increase.
The point I am trying to make is that it is not cutting government spending, but cutting government growth. That is what we are seeing here. We've had difficulty with the commissions. Now the Liberals have difficulty with the commissions. That is government growth. We brought in deputy ministers to develop policy, which cost extra dollars - policy that was being developed in the departments before. There's a substantial amount of money being spent there, in each and every place.
I don't believe that you have to lay off government employees to cut government spending. Attrition will take care of that for you, but you can't keep replacing everybody in government either. I think that that's where we have a difference of opinion.
I'm glad to see the Finance minister has concern about the level of growth on the operation and maintenance side of the budget, even if he wants to attribute it to Health and Social Services and Education. Because even that rate of growth in those departments, in my humble opinion, is not sustainable, and we need to find more creative ways of delivering the service and being able to provide a good, sound level of service for Yukoners without this continual growth in the spending by government.
As for his comments about the Chamber of Commerce, I think the Chamber of Commerce can read as well as I can, and I believe, if I look at the operation and maintenance budget without the explanations from government, the numbers are there: 16-percent increase in the Executive Council Office, 17-percent decrease in Economic Development. I don't think you need to be a rocket scientist to read that.
Certainly, there are explanations for everything government does. I don't expect that there isn't, but I think what is more important here than the numbers themselves, or the rhetoric that's going back and forth across the floor, is the trend, and we need to work to curtail that trend.
The Yukon is probably the most over-governed jurisdiction in Canada, probably North America, with the various levels of government we have, and we're getting more of them with land claims - more levels of government. All of them have to be paid for by somebody.
So, you know, it's a concern to many of my constituents. How long can we keep doing this? How long before we have to take drastic actions, rather than doing it slowly and curtailing the growth of government?
We could go on forever on the estimates, and we're never going to win on it. I think I've said all I want to say on the record on that point. The fact is that the overall trend is what I'm generally concerned with, and I believe that it could come back to haunt the Finance minister before the end of his mandate unless some actions are taken to curtail it.
The reports I spoke of by economists, the Government Leader has them in his files. We tabled them in the House when we were government. There was great debate on them here, as to where the biggest bang for the dollar was. That's one thing I can agree with the Government Leader on, about which he's as consistent in government as he was in opposition, and that's the size of the bureaucracy. There hasn't been any change in his position on that. If that's his philosophical belief, that's fine. I don't have any difficulty with that, but I don't believe that you need to cut and slash and burn to control the costs of government.
So, Mr. Chair, I will have some more questions. Is the Finance minister going to send us over those taxation numbers?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, I am, Mr. Chair. As I indicated already, I am going to do that.
First of all, Mr. Chair, the member and his alter ego in the Liberal Party both used the loaded phrase "growth in government" to describe the increases in health care and education that were taking place last year. They both referred to government spending more on itself - of course, a very loaded, a very philosophically partisan statement to make. The member referred to it again, as the growth in the bureaucracy.
Well, I was here during the debate last fall, which debated the health care estimates, and I remember physician fees increasing. I remember out-of-territory medical costs increasing dramatically. I remember the cost of the hospital being a major issue last fall and during the estimates debate.
Mr. Chair, this is not government just gobbling up more money with a desire to be bloated and to simply spend more on itself without a care in the world for the citizenry of this territory.
This is government responding with services that people want and need, particularly in a time of need. This is not government getting big and spending more money on itself. One would get the impression that we're spending more money on computing systems and furniture, when in fact last year we spent less and this year we're spending even less.
So, I can't accept the very philosophically-loaded terminology that both the Conservatives and Liberals use when they are describing the growth of the government's budgets, because it's not growth in government; it's the growth in the cost of providing essential services to people.
I will say only this about the many hours of debate we spent referring to the 1992-93 budget and the spending proposals that the members brought forward. I recall very clearly the concerns. I remember even an editorial in the papers of Yukon Party ministers gleefully in the Edgewater bar talking about how they were going to put it to the NDP and charge as much to that year as they possibly could.
I remember that, because I was part of a government that had surpluses every year.
We had bank accounts as high as $70 million, and I'll explain that in a minute, Mr. Chair, because that is a corner I wish to turn because, even then - with the spending practices of the NDP even then - there is the concern about balancing expenditures over the years. And I don't believe that we are any practiced practitioners at keeping stable spending patterns over a number of years to provide stability to the economy.
We had major spending years that were good, short-term hits to the economy, but they could not be sustained. We always had a bank account. We always had a sizeable bank account and even had a bank account that was, as I mentioned, as high as $70 million.
I know that the member, at the time, was extremely nervous last November - or the November that we assumed office; a year ago November - because he went way over the top in criticizing what he thought I was trying to do, which was the same to him that he had done unto me, or unto the NDP years before and was trying to rack up extra bills to make the situation look as bleak as possible. I was doing no such thing. If I dare use this word, the member opposite even called me the "L" word at the time, because he was so hyper-sensitive that I was actually going to do something to him that he had done to the NDP and, of course, we didn't, because we don't behave that way and the member really had nothing to fear in the first place.
With respect to the Chamber of Commerce and its rather partisan view of the budget, as I indicated, I will take up the matter with the chamber because I do believe that a lot of the story is in the telling. I do believe this is very slanted and I do believe it's uncannily close to the Yukon Party's own position, and I believe that if there is a partisan flavour to the story, it should not be repeated unless the Chamber of Commerce, of course, wants to be a partisan organization. If that's their choice, that's their choice, but let's be honest about the relationship. I'm perfectly prepared to have a more-than-professional relationship with that organization and any organization in this territory. If they want to be partisan, that's something that we'll have to take into account.
With respect to the commissions, again, we've had this debate on many occasions. I'm certain we're going to have fun tomorrow afternoon talking about the commissions' budgets and the purpose of the commissions. I'm looking forward to that discussion. I'm sure we'll have some fun with it, as we do every Wednesday afternoon.
Mr. Chair, the contention that the commissions have resulted in the growth in O&M spending is not true, as I've indicated on many occasions. I indicated again today that any additional cost associated with commission work was taken from departmental base budgets. Because we wanted to not only focus our attention to try to bring some conclusion to some very important policy issues that have been facing the government for years - not just the last year, but for many years, without successful resolution - we thought that not only did we want an interdepartmental working group, we wanted it to have some political advisor involved as well, and some political support, and put very effective, very capable, private members to work in the effort.
So I think that the proposal, albeit new - and anything new frightens people who are ideologically conservative. I'm the first to admit that and to acknowledge that trait in my colleagues across the floor. But I believe that the work that the commissions have been doing has been very valuable. I'm sure we'll have more to say about that tomorrow.
So I do agree with some things the member has said, firstly with respect to the growth in spending overall. I do believe that there ought to be some balances struck between the people who do depend on public expenditures for their livelihoods, so that while we're attempting to provide basic services for all citizens of this territory, we try as much as we can to respond to the needs of those citizens who, historically, have made a living either working for the government in a service to the public or doing contract work through the capital budget for the public.
Ms. Duncan: I welcome the opportunity to ask the Finance minister some questions in general debate regarding the budget. I will certainly try to avoid any pat or cliché phrases, although I do have what the Finance minister, given his experience, probably interprets as some simple questions. I would like to just ask the questions for background information for guidance in the future debate of the days ahead.
I would like to begin by asking the Finance minister about the information behind the numbers that have been presented to us in general debate. The Finance minister has talked about consultation with communities, prior to the debate, and has indicated that there has been some reaction to the budget from various quarters. I wonder if the Finance minister could just outline, in terms of the consultation process, pre-finalization of the budget, if there are specific suggestions there that are at the request of communities - without communities in a negative sense, but are there specific suggestions from communities that have been included - a
lso, on the followup consultation. What is the process for following up afterwards with communities in terms of the budget?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member rightly noted that the government went through a formal consultation exercise with the communities, focused on budget discussions per se. This is not to say that this is the only way a government consults on budget development. There are ministers and members - even good issues raised in the Legislature - who can all contribute to the mix in determining budget proposals. It is not focused on simply one process, but it is the result of probably literally hundreds of meetings that we all have with our constituents at any given time and many of the meetings that the ministers and commissioners have with the public on a variety of issues that happen routinely and all the time.
As I say, good ideas hopefully percolate to the surface and, if they are consistent with the government's objectives and the people's objectives, then they find their way into the budget.
With respect to the consultation exercise itself, there were meetings around the territory in every community. Ideas were presented and there was good dialogue between publicly attended meetings and me, particularly about budget priorities and about budget history and about where the territory is going. In Watson Lake, people were talking about funding for the Signpost Seniors. They raised issues about, for example, a community development fund, whether or not it was going to be funded, whether or not it could be increased. People raised issues around training, for example, throughout the territory. There were questions about everything from whether or not a particular road would be upgraded to whether there would be some major capital work on the Top of the World Highway.
I certainly made many suggestions on what could be funded. We had some good discussion as well around the revenue side in some communities. Not everybody focused on the revenue side so much, but in some communities there were suggestions that, if the government was short of revenue, maybe they might want to consider medicare premiums, as an example. I made reference to that in the budget speech. As much as medicare premiums would probably draw in $4 million or $5 million, it would be taking it out of the economy itself, taking it out of people's pockets, and we didn't want to do that.
Philosophically, of course, we want to maintain a universal, publicly funded medical system, and we believe that, as a priority of the territory, it should be funded through the general taxpaying public.
There were many different suggestions. There were many different conversations. There were some targeted consultations in Whitehorse with business organizations, labour organizations, environmental groups. I had many meetings with various individual organizations who expressed an interest in talking about budgets as well as other things, and many good suggestions were made. Obviously, in terms of funding for specific items, choices had to be made, and the budget before you is our choice this year.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the minister for that response. The minister has indicated that there were a number of suggestions made, and the minister also indicated that the government came back and made some choices based upon a number of suggestions and their own philosophical beliefs. I'd like to ask the minister to explain for a few moments the process following that, and this perhaps gets into a discussion we've already had - political rhetoric - about vision, or lack of it, and creativity.
Did the government come back with these suggestions and simply try to see where they fit, or at some point, was there a process whereupon departments and the government as a whole looked at it? This is the list of legislative requirements and the fixed costs, for example, that we are legislated to fund, and we do believe in funding social assistance costs. We can estimate that they will be at this level.
There are other programs - for example, the Yukon excellence awards. There was some debate about that in the Legislature. Although there is a contingent liability, there isn't a piece of legislation in the books that says we have to do those excellence awards, and we're looking at some $200,000 in a program. Maybe that could be better spent elsewhere.
What I'm asking the Finance minister to indicate is this: was there a process where the government, in essence, looked at every expenditure in light of the suggestions that were made by the community? Was there any kind of extensive process?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I suppose the member's referring to whether or not the government did zero-based budgeting, and the answer is no. First of all, the administrative time taken to do a completely rigorous review of all expenditures would have been enormous. Certainly government-wide, it would have been phenomenal.
I would point out to the member that that doesn't mean that whatever departments get they continue to get forever. In fact, the departments themselves have had to manage, in essence, some diminishing resources over a fairly long period of time, because, for example, the cost-of-living increases that people have to bear, merit costs for employees, things like increased energy costs from time to time, are items that departments have had to absorb. Last year, as I mentioned with the leader of the official opposition, last fall, most departments had to absorb a 1.5-percent cut to their operation and maintenance base budget.
This has caused the departments themselves, and the focus groups that they respond to, to rejig and refocus how they do business. There's actually very little in the budget that is specifically driven by legislation. There are some things. You go through the door at social services, you have so much by way of need. There's some that's discretionary; there's some that's pretty fixed.
But, for example, in building inspections, we could technically have one inspector for the entire territory, not doing a particularly marvelous job trying to cover off all building inspections, but we could have just one. We could have five, we could have 10. Now in that particular case, just as an example, in the last - I can't remember how many years. I can't remember how many years - I think it's six or seven or eight years, the inspection services have gone from trying to inspect every job site to inspecting representative sites, to trusting reputable contractors, to trusting journey-level trades people to comply with the building code and this has allowed them to maintain a coverage of the territory with some certainty that the laws are being obeyed with the same number of inspectors I think - there may be fewer; I can't remember - but at the same time, more building construction sites. So, they've had to accommodate how they do business and change how they do business in order to accommodate new realities, and that kind of process continues.
So, certainly it's the case that there are some costs that are driven by legislation, but there is a lot that's not - an awful lot that's not. In time, departments are being forced, in fact, to rethink how they do business in order to accommodate increased costs for which they are not getting routine, increased allotments from this Legislature.
I believe the last time that the Legislature routinely provided O&M costs - and they referred to it as forced growth - was in the middle or later 1980s where they would simply say that they had this much new expenditure and they'd just be given it, and it would be passed through this Legislature like a hot knife through butter. Nowadays, people don't look at expenditure growth that way.
And certainly that's true of our Management Board and I would suspect it would be true of the previous government, as well.
Ms. Duncan: I guess what I'm expressing to the Government Leader is nowadays the citizens also take a far greater interest I think in our budgets and in what's discussed in this Legislature, and I think it's an interesting discussion to see what is legislated, what is required, and where the government can redirect programs or spend the money differently.
The Member for Porter Creek North talked about the level of government for the Yukon and the numbers of layers of government, and the Government Leader thought my question was based upon some kind of zero-base budgeting exercise. In actual fact, what I was thinking more about was a program review type of exercise.
And I wonder if he could just indicate, at some point in time, if that is planned by the government during this mandate? At some point in time, is there an intention to take a serious program review look throughout the government and see, particularly in light of the number of land claims that the minister anticipates will be signed by the end of the year? There are areas of duplication. Is there some kind of a program review? And in light of reduced expenditures as well, is there some kind of a program review planned?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the short answer to the member's question is yes, we have been asking some departments to do program reviews, particularly those programs that show the highest growth rates in terms of overall expenditure. Yes, they will be asked to carefully examine how they do business and the projected costs of doing business in their areas.
I think that any program review has to be very carefully managed, because I have seen program reviews done in this government, both in opposition and in government, where, when the program review is completed, the reviewer has come back and suggested that programs are seriously underfunded.
They say so because the departmental program objectives are very broadly stated. One can argue that any given program objective in this Legislature is so broadly stated that one can almost attach any budget figure to any department or any program. That is, of course, a problem with program reviews generally, and I know a lot has been written about that subject by experts all over the world.
In any case, we are interested in the growth rates in some areas of the government's budget. We do not believe that some of the growth rates are sustainable, and we want to do what we can to bring them under control.
Ms. Duncan: The Finance minister indicated that, during the consultations in various communities, including targeted discussions, occasionally the revenue side of the budget was discussed. He used the example of medicare premiums.
I wonder if the Finance minister can indicate if there were any other suggestions with regard to any other fees or licences that are collected by the Government of Yukon, and what those suggestions were and the response.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I will be candid with the member that not many suggestions for increases in fees and taxes were being proposed. I was just asking the deputy to see if we could be reminded about a proposal, I think it was in Watson Lake, from someone who wanted fees increased or taxes increased. When it comes to my mind, I will relate it to the member.
Certainly there have been suggestions that campground fees be increased - user fees, et cetera, be increased - from time to time.
There was one person en route who suggested that we should increase our sales tax rate. I indicated to the person that we don't have a sales tax rate; we don't have a sales tax, and are not planning on implementing one. In every case, I must admit that I did not encourage a lot of discussion, because I indicated in my opening remarks in the communities that whatever good ideas people have for increasing revenue, if they involve a tax rate increase, we would not be undertaking a tax rate increase because we had made a commitment not to. So, we didn't encourage a lot. We got some suggestions, and medicare premiums was the most common suggestion put out, but not by many people.
Ms. Duncan: At some point, I think, the discussion about medicare premiums would be an interesting one, but it's long since passed in this Legislature for the moment. One of the examples that comes to my mind when we're discussing this is, for example, fishing licences. At one point in time, fishing licences were increased with the understanding that the increase went to stocking Yukon lakes. People are prepared then for the people who use it to be the people paying for it; they're paying for the continuation and the preservation of the resource.
The other fees that are charged by the Government of the Yukon can include such fees as drivers' licences. I felt at the time that I last renewed my licence that the fee I was charged as an individual was low considering the cost of maintenance on our highways and the excellent job that's done by the maintenance crews and the expenditure by the department. I wonder if the minister, who stated in his campaign statement and in statements in this Legislature that tax increases will not be considered, includes the fees charged by the Government of the Yukon. Is the minister committed to no fee increases?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, we didn't commit to any fee increases, but we're not rushing to increase fees generally either.
The member has touched on a point that is a long-standing issue in the Legislature, and that is the issue of whether or not the Legislature or the Executive Council, through regulation, can regularly update fees to ensure that there is some relation to the level of a fee versus a service they provide. On many occasions in the past, with very good intentions, the politicians of the day have set up fees. Even the whole issue of property tax, as the member will remember, was supposed to be the community's contribution to the running of the school system.
Because the fees weren't regularly updated and there wasn't a culture in the community that the fees would be updated to respond to the growing costs of providing that services, it led to jumps and starts in the application of fees, so that every time a fee is increased, however rarely, it becomes an event.
This Legislature spent a whole lot of time talking about campground fees some years back. While the argument of the minister of the day, who happened to be an NDP government minister, was that the campground fees were somehow to relate to the provision of the service and were collected by people who actually provide the service - many of them on contract - the argument didn't go over too well. Certainly there were people who charged that this was an anti-tourist measure designed to get tourists to pass through the territory as quickly as possible and not to keep them here, and that we should not be increasing fees. The original concept of whatever the fees were was definitely lost in that debate.
The example I mentioned, which is a property tax issue supporting the school system, even before it was eliminated, has long since lost any relevance because it no longer bore any relationship to the cost of the public school system.
I think if the government were to try to institute such a measure and to try to direct fees or charges to services, they would have to take some extraordinary measure in my view to reassure the public that the dedicated revenue from that fee is actually going into providing a very specific targeted service. In all likelihood, the revenue collected would probably have to be transferred to some fund outside of government in order for it to be credible.
But in any case, our government, to this date, has not given any direction to update fees or to bring all fees up to date, if they were ever considered targeted or dedicated in the past. We have heard some suggestions but, to this date, we have not acted on them.
Ms. Duncan: The minister had a discussion earlier with the leader of the official opposition regarding tax increases that were imposed by the previous government, and the minister has, as I said in the previous question, campaigned and restated in this House that this government does not anticipate any tax increases. Are there any plans to repeal the taxes that were brought in by the previous governments - the tax increases?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, Mr. Chair, we didn't commit to doing that in the election campaign and, based on the spending expectations of the public, including members of this House, it's very unlikely we will be in a position to be able to do that.
Ms. Duncan: Last year, my colleague, the Member for Riverside, and the Finance minister engaged in quite a vigorous discussion regarding the estimates and the terminology "cautious" - I won't use the word "conservative", which was used. And I notice that the minister, in his Budget Address, used the word "prudent", and I would agree that the accounting for the situation in Faro and allowing for it in the budget estimates is, indeed, prudent.
There have also been many discussions about lapses between what's forecast and what actually ends up being spent. Would the Finance minister give an indication on whether he anticipates that there would be lapses this year or that we will - as he has cautiously forecast in this budget - come in with a deficit?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member is quite correct that we are anticipating a worse case scenario, meaning that Anvil Range as a mine is down. Members will know that that mine has a tremendous impact on the territory's GDP, and when it's down, our revenues are down, too. Besides the loss of hundreds and hundreds of jobs, of course, it means that our revenues from the federal government will be down as well.
So we have anticipated that scenario, even though, as I indicated in the budget speech, that when the base metal prices rise we will certainly do what we did last year, which was to try to encourage a reopening, and as soon as we can.
As I mentioned in the budget speech as well, there is some potential for increases in revenue, but we have been cautious or prudent in laying out what we thing will be the receipts for this year.
With respect to lapses, there will be lapses, as there always have been, because departments will typically underspend the estimates that we provide. That accounts for revenue coming in, and it will certainly boost the projected year-end surplus that we tabled in the Legislature last spring.
So when I've said in the past that we are spending money we do have, I meant it: we are spending money we do have, not money we don't have. And we are trying to set a trajectory of spending that accommodates what we understand to be our revenues coming in from various sources with the expenditure pattern that we're setting for ourselves. I have information to table - I can table it now, perhaps - which shows spending and revenue projections for the coming years.
We'll just do that so that the members will still have it in front of them.
I will encourage members, between now and tomorrow night, to take advantage of an opportunity to speak with the Deputy Minister of Finance if they need some clarification as to how the figures were arrived at. Certainly what we're trying to do is to ensure, as much as we possibly can, stable spending levels so that we do not contribute to the boom-bust nature of this economy.
As the member knows, the technical definition of a deficit is spending more money in a single year than you're taking in. So, if you took in the year before, you're spending it in this following year, it's still a technical deficit, but you took it in the year before. So, I encourage the member to understand the difference when they're delivering their criticism that this is not pay as you go or that this is spending money we don't have, because it's not spending money we don't have; it's spending money we do have. Otherwise, we would have an accumulated debt. We don't have an accumulated debt.
With respect to the problem that we potentially face, I fully admit that the NDP governments of the past were not as mindful of this problem as we are now. But that's an innovation; things improve; times change.
But the problem is that if you save money every year and do not spend it - so, showing no technical deficit in that year - and you keep saving the money, then the money in the savings account gets bigger and bigger and bigger. At some point, if you decide to spend the money, then you're going to have a massive deficit for the year, and for me that doesn't make a great deal of sense because it contributes to the boom-bust economy that the territory doesn't like.
So the challenge for us is to try to find spending patterns that will be sustainable over a four- or five-year stretch - as far as you can predict in terms of your revenues - without having balloons in spending that create artificial economies.
Ms. Duncan: The minister touched on the boom-bust economies that have been referenced throughout this discussion, and there have been some notions put forward that there are some people that believe that capital spending is an either/or situation - either you have it or you don't. The difficulty that I have with little or no capital spending is that I don't believe our infrastructure is complete. I believe there are still things we can do to build our infrastructure, and I have a very real concern that I'm sure the Finance minister shares of a skilled workforce leaving the Yukon to relocate to other jobs.
At the very end of his last answer to me, the minister touched on this notion that there has to be a level of capital spending that is sustainable within the financial picture of the Yukon. I just wonder if the minister could elaborate on what he senses that figure might be over five years. What is the sustainable amount of capital spending? What can we anticipate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I think, Mr. Chair, that the net level of capital expenditures that we've tabled now is sustainable, but there is certainly more to it than that. All things being equal as we're projecting, it is sustainable. The problem is that how you spend the capital budget becomes a major issue, as well.
I know the people in building construction feel somewhat aggrieved because the capital spending in recent years has been focused on road construction. People in road construction feel a little bit aggrieved because they got used to big road construction budgets. Shakwak won't be there forever. At some point, when we get Shakwak reviewed next year, it will end at some point. There will be a point when there will not be Shakwak funding.
As people have indicated to me, some of them have started a family on road construction work and have actually got a mortgage based on road construction work. People in the building construction field have told me that many people have had to leave the territory because there was a very dry period in the last four years.
What we have tried to do, to the extent that we can, is try to send some signals to the building construction industry that we are going to be there. We do have priorities on the capital building construction side that we will be pursuing over the next few years to keep a level of activity we believe is sustainable. There is a measure of road construction activity, outside of Shakwak, that we do believe is sustainable. We do believe that there are sufficiently important road projects here to last us a lifetime.
Certainly, how the money is spent on the capital side is more of an issue, and is an issue that I know the business community is interested in and wants to discuss further with us.
Ms. Duncan: If I could back up to the previous answer, we started out talking about Faro. The Finance minister's budget address said, "At the same time, we are working with the mine's owners and investors, with labour and with the community." The minister indicated that metal prices suggested it would not be prudent to budget for the resumption of mining and we have a projection that indicates the permanent closure of the Faro mine - worst case.
Would the minister, or perhaps would he have his Economic Development minister indicate, by legislative return, the work that is being done with the mines owners and investors, with labour in the community? He mentioned it in his budget speech and we've had no details. Could we have some details?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: She certainly can, Mr. Chair. Of course, last year we did a lot of work encouraging the mine to open, and we've stated publicly what the results of those discussions were. In the last month and a half, the government and the Minister of Economic Development have spent some considerable time with representatives of the workers and the creditors, as well as with the mine owners, as well as with potential investors, to determine, firstly, what could be done - and this was obviously successfully worked out - to secure workers' wages, what can be done to ensure that the creditors have the best chance of getting back the investments that they have in the mining operation, and thirdly, how the ownership can be restructured to ensure a startup as soon as economically feasible.
Those were the basic objectives and the Minister of Economic Development can, perhaps in the departmental estimates, provide a detailed breakdown of what they have been doing.
Deputy Chair: Order please. Is it the wish of the members to take a 10-minute recess?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: Okay, carried.
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee will continue with the general debate on the budget bill.
Ms. Duncan: I have a question for the Finance minister with regard to the community development fund and the sense from his meetings throughout the community. Does the minister have any sort of sense of anticipation of what projects might be coming forward? This is in relation, of course, to our discussion about capital, as well. We talked about the building construction having been somewhat neglected, in his view, over the past few years. Is there a sense that the community development fund is leaning toward projects or specific construction projects, or is there any sense of what might be coming forward?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'm not the best person to answer the question. I'm sure the member will be much more satisfied if she puts the question to the Minister of Economic Development, who can give her a very clear picture of what's coming down the pike. I would have to get a briefing from that department to answer adequately, I think.
Ms. Duncan: I'll focus my question in that area then, and I'll focus on a statement that the Finance minister did make. It was in regard to the five-year forecast. The minister indicated that that was to come when he responded to my colleague last week. Is the five-year forecast due this week, or when will we see it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That's what I just handed out, Mr. Chair. That was a multi-year forecast. It's got the current year, which is next year, and the following three years. Those are the years that we feel that we can provide anything like realistic estimates with respect to the revenue side.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, my apologies. I didn't take a close enough look at that when it was handed out. I had passed it on to my colleagues immediately.
Just a last request for information from the minister - could we have updated information from the minister with respect to ministerial travel and the commission expenditures? Could we have that provided to us?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair. I will certainly take notice on that question. When we get to Executive Council Office, which is the budget lines, I will present the information there.
Mr. Jenkins: I would just like to explore with the Minister of Finance his consultation with the communities, his tour of the Yukon and the resulting effect it had on the budget and the focus of the budget. When we dissect the budget, the major capital project, the replacement of the Old Crow school, is very high on the capital side. That came about as a result of the unfortunate fire, Mr. Chair.
How do we determine - and how did the Minister of Finance determine on his tour - what other areas would gain priority? When one looks at the monies disbursed throughout rural Yukon, there's very little emphasis. Most of the funding in virtually all departments is going to rest in Whitehorse. Yes, there are a couple of long-term commitments made, but there's no immediate infusion on the capital side, and the O&M side appears to be reduced in most areas in the balance of the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the member will know that I'll disagree with him right off the bat. The issues that were raised in rural communities have very much been responded to in their various details. The member says that, apart from the Old Crow school, there has been no commitment in rural Yukon. That seems to satisfy him.
Mr. Chair, I'd point out to the member that a lot of what is done in the capital budget, particularly, and a lot of what's done in the O&M budget, is, indeed, invested in rural Yukon. I would point out, as well, that the community development fund, which I know the members don't like, the lion's share of that is invested in rural Yukon. The road construction expenditures are entirely, with the exception of the landscaping of the South Access Road, dedicated to rural Yukon. There is even now a road budget to support small capital roadworks in rural Yukon, the like of which we've not seen in many, many years.
There are community recreation projects that are also in the capital budget; they have not been incorporated into the framework of the community development fund.
There were many requests made in the territory that we are responding to. There was even a request for some major capital work in the City of Dawson, which we are responding to.
The kinds of issues that were raised in most of the communities that I attended were small projects that people wanted to see pursued, and many of those will proceed. There were some requests, of course, to maintain basic service levels in rural Yukon and the question was put to me whether or not we would support any further recentralization of personnel that had been centralized by the government prior to 1992. I said no, we would not be continuing with any recentralization program to bring public servants back to Whitehorse - public servants that had been in rural communities.
So, indeed there is a lot in this budget that is dedicated to rural Yukon, and that's how it should be.
Mr. Jenkins: If one takes an overview of the Community and Transportation Services budget, Mr. Chair, one looks at the number of dollars that are going to be expended in this fiscal year just in land development in the Whitehorse area and in areas like the Whitehorse waterfront initiative. This appears to come out of nowhere, and for what purpose other than what the minister has very carefully alluded to in responding to the background and reasons for the Whitehorse waterfront relocation program. The mobile home strategy is another area. But the total focus of all of these programs, Mr. Chair, is Whitehorse and the Whitehorse periphery, with the exception being in the C&TS budget of the $390,000 for country and residential lots in basically four Yukon communities - Carcross, Dawson City, Haines Junction and Ross River.
So, while I did listen to what the Minister of Finance had to say on this issue, it still bears examining in light of the actual breakdown of where this funding is going. Perhaps the Minister of Finance can look at it in that context and provide an explanation.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I'd be happy to, Mr. Chair. With respect to the programs that the member has mentioned, he has identified a few that are dedicated largely to Whitehorse - a very selective, very crafty, list of projects, designed to lead the uninitiated to a single conclusion. I don't share that member's view that the majority of capital expenditures, particularly, are being centralized in Whitehorse. That's not true at all.
With respect to the various needs around the territory, we are trying to respond to needs, and that means, at times, that one community seems to get a little more than other communities. I know that we've had some people question why we were dedicating a major project for Dawson, when Dawson clearly has been the beneficiary of many, many projects over a very long period of time. I initiated a bunch of them myself. The thought was that perhaps other communities should be given a chance before Dawson.
I don't play that game, Mr. Chair, and I know the member loves to try to set Whitehorse up against the rest of the territory, because presumably it plays well on home turf, but this is a government for all the people in the territory, including the people of Dawson, and we've proven that in these budget estimates.
With respect to the Whitehorse waterfront relocation exercise, if the member had been watching the Legislature during the period of time during the Yukon Party government's term in office, he would not be surprised at this expenditure. He would not be surprised at this initiative, because the issue of Whitehorse waterfront residents was raised time and time and time again, over and over and over again, because at some point the City of Whitehorse, particularly, wants to develop its waterfront.
There is a problem. It is a very community-specific problem in this respect, and we are proposing to respond to it in the same manner as we responded in the past, not only to the squatter's policy, but also to the escarpment relocation program, which was initiated by the Progressive Conservatives, precursors to the current Yukon Party and the mentors to the current Liberal Party.
The land development program is in fact down in Whitehorse from what it historically has been and down from what had been projected in the capital plan presented by our predecessors. It is down because the lots in Copper Ridge are not selling. That's obvious. It has been raised and even cited by the Auditor General in the latest report.
While I suggested that the Auditor General maybe should not have said it, because it was already a political discussion, I did say that I did agree with the Auditor General that we had a very large land inventory and that the large land inventory was being driven by that development in the Granger/Copper Ridge area.
So, we haven't cut it off altogether and just said, "No more." We have tried to slow it down and start redirecting funds to where there is a need for land development.
The member takes issue with the desirability of developing mobile home lots in Whitehorse. Well, he should come to a meeting in my constituency to talk to the mobile home owners and tell them that these recoverable funds are not worthy - these funds that the government should be investing to provide for mobile home owners are not something that we should be considering. I took from the member's comments and the way he phrased his question that he begrudged this particular expenditure. I can tell the member that he would not be a popular person in that constituency, particularly as the net cost to government is zero for undertaking this work.
If there is a need for land development around the territory, then that should be pursued. If there is any reasonable expectation that the lots will be sold, then the land development should be pursued. So, I take it that it is the member's thesis that this is a budget for Whitehorse and not for rural Yukon. I profoundly disagree.
I believe that the budget estimates have run completely contrary to the member's assertions and feel that we have responded very well to the many issues raised in the rest of the territory, outside of Whitehorse and feel that we are meeting needs everywhere in the territory, including Whitehorse. I'm proud that the budget, in that respect, is balanced.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we do have a fundamental disagreement. Let's refer to the mobile home lot development in Whitehorse. I didn't say I was opposed to these lots being developed in Whitehorse; I'm just asking why the government hasn't considered the same program for the rest of the Yukon. Where's the initiative and where's the thrust in this area, because mobile homes and land tenure for them is not just a problem in Whitehorse and the Whitehorse periphery; it is a problem throughout all Yukon. So, if the minister could kindly advise what the intentions of his government with respect to mobile home lot development in the balance of the Yukon, it would be much appreciated.
If we want to look on the capital side of the program - and the minister indicated a lot of the expenditures are in rural Yukon and he pointed out highway construction. Well, if you look at the highway construction on the South Campbell, if you look at the highway construction on the Top of the World Highway, you will recognize it as being chipsealing, to the greatest extent.
The crushing crews originate out of Whitehorse. The chipping crews originate out of Whitehorse. The product is usually imported from Alberta. And the benefits that accrue to rural Yukon are, by and large, very minimal, and yet the amount of money that is designated going into that region or that area of Yukon is quite significant.
The minister has failed to recognize where the majority of the dollars in these projects ends up, and perhaps the minister would care to comment on those two points.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'd be happy to, Mr. Chair. First of all, the member, in his comments about highway construction, seems to dismiss the impact, or the proposal, to finish the Top of the World Highway. There's only so much one can do at this point to the Top of the World Highway because this is the last leg of this project. There is nothing more to do other than to chipseal and to finally finish it off.
So, if the member wants us to build side-roads off the Top of the World Highway, just for road construction purposes, he can feel free to do so. I would point out to the member that the chipseal crew - I know some of them personally; I know many of them who live in rural Yukon; I also know that the emulsion is mixed in Watson Lake - so the member can't tell me anything about the chipseal process that I don't know already, because from what the member has said he knows very little.
With respect to the south Campbell Highway, it may well be that some of the people working on the south Campbell Highway may be residents of Whitehorse. I know that a very good friend of mine who is a lead hand on a Pelly construction crew, for example, resides near Elsa.
There are people who are hired from around the territory on some of those crews. So to try to paint these projects as being projects that benefit Whitehorse is, I think, nonsensical.
With respect to the mobile home strategy, it does apply to the entire territory. With respect to two-thirds of the program, which is all about helping mobile home owners upgrade their homes, it applies to all the territory - everywhere that there is a mobile home.
With respect to land development, land development can take place any place, and it's Whitehorse, as you may note, that has the development restriction that prevents mobile homes from moving from one part of the city to the other if they're older than 10 years old. That's not a restriction that's true in every community. So the situation is not precisely the same in every community.
But if municipal governments want to undertake land development activities where there's a reasonable expectation, unlike the lots in Beaver Creek, that these lots will actually be sold, then we will be there, and any good government should be there.
Now, the member seems to have taken the view that this budget is all about protecting, in some way, Whitehorse and ignoring rural Yukon. That is so patently false, such a ridiculous statement, based on the numbers in the budget itself, based on the million dollars that's going to be invested in that member's main community, right through to the year 2007 - nine years' worth of a million dollars expenditure per year, on top of the other things that the community is getting - shows a complete blindness to the reality here.
Now, if the member's asking me for philosophical views about whether the government should invest in rural communities, I can tell the member that we do believe that we should be investing in rural communities.
It was not I who suggested that there may be some communities in the next 15 or 20 years that may disappear because there is no economic purpose for them any more. It was not I who said that. It was not I who suggested that it would be a waste of money to continue investing in the infrastructure of many communities. It was not I who said that.
Mr. Chair, the NDP government - this government - has a good record of supporting rural communities. We continue to do so. The previous NDP government had a good record of supporting rural communities and will continue to do so, and the budget bears that out.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we do have a disagreement, Mr. Chair. I'm very surprised, but I do recognize the Government Leader's commitment to community infrastructure after he constructed the curling rink in Elsa and that community shut down.
But that's the reality of the political game he's playing, and as to the money and the disbursement throughout the Yukon, Mr. Chair, in this budget, there is the greatest amount being expended in Whitehorse, and there are promises made to rural Yukon. If we want to look at the long-range aims and objectives of this government, it's somewhat identified in the Department of Education planning with two new schools being mentioned in the budget, and they're based on an analysis done by the chairs of the various school councils, and there were very valid concerns brought forward.
What we have is a situation where the number of students are rising in a given community, and that isn't being acknowledged or identified by this government. It's certainly not being addressed. It gives rise to the question: why is this government not addressing their responsibilities to provide adequate space for students in those communities that have an increasing population?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, now I see what this is all about, Mr. Chair. This is all about the Member for Klondike acknowledging - paying lip service - to the notion that school council chairs getting together will determine the needs of the territory and provide recommendations to the government. He is giving that passing reference, and then trying to jump line.
Presumably, various factors are taken into account. Boy, this member will be a great member to have on the government side. There would be highrises in Dawson before any basic needs in other rural communities would be even attended to.
The member pooh-poohed the accomplishments of the previous government and then myself, but he'll remember that it was he - the ever-effusive, ever-friendly, ever-accommodating Mayor of Dawson City - who, in front of many people in the City of Dawson, turned over an honourary citizen of the year award to none other than me, thanking me for the good works that the Yukon government had undertaken in the City of Dawson, acknowledging effusively that that government really responded to community needs like nobody's business.
You know, it took a school, a dike, millions in water and sewer, millions in LEOP and CDF to do it, but, darn it, I got that citizen of the year award from that member.
"What have you done for me lately?" he says. Well, Mr. Chair, this is not about salting the community of Dawson with major capital projects. This is not about trying to live up to the quite unrealistic campaign promises of that member and other candidates, the Liberal candidate in Dawson - live up to the campaign expectations to provide all kinds of capital into that community. This is not what the budgeting process in this Legislature should be about. If the member got himself into hot water by promising things that he couldn't deliver, that's his business. He had a chance to do the responsible thing. He's grown up. He's seen the real world out there. He knows what the municipal governments can expect.
He saw what happened when the Yukon Party was in government and what the community could expect.
And, Mr. Chair, in this particular case, the community of Dawson, represented by the mayor, has said to us over and over and over and over again that the priority of the City of Dawson is a community recreation centre. That's what he said it is. He even said, "If you want to speak to a representative of Dawson, speak to me, because I represent the community of Dawson. Don't speak to anybody else." I don't know why he was emphasizing that point, but the member can only guess. And he said a community rec centre is the priority.
We have acknowledged in this budget that a community rec centre is a laudable objective, but we also see treated sewer as being a necessary expenditure, and if the water licensing authority says it must proceed, then we know we will be on the hook for some expenditure there.
We recognize our responsibility. So what we've indicated to everyone is that we're prepared to save up to meet that expenditure. If the water licensing authorities say that the City of Dawson does not require any further treatment systems for sewage, then we can dedicate the funding to a community recreation centre, which the Mayor of Dawson has repeatedly said is the priority.
Now we have a million dollars in this budget, we'll have a million dollars in the next budget, and a million dollars in the next budget, and six million dollars more coming to meet that objective. That's not something that we've promised to every community. In fact, it's the biggest single capital project we're saving up for in this budget before us.
If the member feels, in terms of the capital construction needs, that the need for building schools has given Dawson short shrift, or that the chair of the Dawson school council has been unable to convince their colleagues that a school in Dawson should be given higher priority than other schools, then I would invite him to provide those arguments to the school council chairs and let them take that into the mix. Presumably they're going to be making recommendations to the government on the basis of need, as they perceive it.
Now, if the member's saying that he supports Old Crow, Ross River and Mayo, but feels that there ought to be a further capital expenditure for yet another school, a school that the Yukon Party, in its declining moments in government, decided was not required, and if he feels that new arguments could be made, that we should have four schools in three years, instead of three schools in three years, I point out to the member that we are doing what we can to provide school construction.
There are many needs in this budget for net capital dollars - many needs - and we are trying, with this budget, to build three schools in three years.
The member will note that that is a better record than our predecessors and it ties the record of the NDP government, which built seven schools in seven years previously. We're doing what we can and I believe that the record is going to be fairly good, but there is a process for determining which schools should proceed. It's a process that seems to be acceptable to the majority of people in this territory. They understand that there is give and take and that compromise is required.
If the member feels that he has arguments that were not heard before and should be heard again, then I encourage him to support the overall process by putting those arguments forward to the people who are making recommendations to the government and not to bypass or try to jump line and try to get special treatment, because that's not just. It's not right for everybody else, and we shouldn't be building budgets that way.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, as usual, the minister has missed the point completely. How we got into the savings program for Dawson for a recreational complex and sewage treatment, I don't know. What we were discussing and what I had on the plate for discussion with the Government Leader, Mr. Chair, was the issue of a school and the need for an additional school or additional space in Dawson City.
Now, the Government Leader has gone through all of the scenario as to what drives the process, but he's omitted the major factor, and that is the students, the student body itself, and those student numbers that exist in Dawson, which rise considerably higher in the fall registration and are starting to rise again with the return of a lot of individuals, are there to justify more classrooms.
Now just what weight is given to the number of the student body? It doesn't appear to even enter into the scenario that the Government Leader advanced here just a few minutes ago, and I'm somewhat disappointed.
Education is clearly a responsibility of the Government of the Yukon. It's not a responsibility of the municipal governments, so we're crossing over lines here - jump lines as the minister clearly wants to identify it. If the minister could stick to the topic, and the topic is a school and the process by which a new school is justified, the number-one factor should be the student body and the size of that student body and its growth.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, to state the obvious, we do build schools for students. It is the welfare of the students that we are considering when we decide to make appropriations for school construction.
We are thinking of schools and school children around the territory when the decision is made: school children in Dawson, school children in Mayo, school children in Whitehorse, school children in Watson Lake and school children in Old Crow - Faro, too. School children everywhere are considered. Their welfare and their futures are considered when making these appropriations. I would be the last one to say that school council chairs, who have made the recommendations for major school capital construction, did not have children in mind when they made the decision. I would think that the school council chairs had children foremost in their minds when they made the decision.
But what they've had to do is assess need around the territory in order to come to conclusions about the order of the priorities.
I don't know, Mr. Chair, why the Yukon Party government did not build the school in the last term of office, other than perhaps they wanted to put more money into road construction. I don't know why. But the process that this government followed in determining priorities for school construction was to involve parents themselves, to ensure that parents and parent representatives, who have the greatest stake in the school system at large, would have an opportunity to come forward and speak their minds, assess objectively the needs around the territory, use the technical consultants' reports for advice and bring forward various needs in order to draw conclusions and make recommendations to government.
That is the approach that we decided to take. That is the fair approach.
It's not all about power politics on the floor of this Legislature. It's not about campaign commitments to satisfy a single constituency and ignore every other need in the territory. That's not what the decision-making process is all about. It's about fairness; it's about respect for children; about taking arguments into account that should be applied, and making the final decision.
As I say, if the member feels that, somehow in their deliberations, the people who have been making recommendations to government have ignored essential information or not considered it, or have taken it into account and not given it great enough weight, then he has an opportunity to make that suggestion to that group, but the Minister of Education herself did not go in and try to arm wrestle people to come to any particular conclusion. They came to the conclusion themselves.
I'll have the member know that the expansion of school construction out at Mount Lorne, the school in the minister's own riding, was an election issue.
It would be the easiest thing in the world for the member to come in and say, "Hey, I'm taking care of my own first," and try to manipulate the process, but that was a process that was not to be manipulated. Anyone could make their argument that there's a growing student population in the area at the south end of Whitehorse. They should be accommodated, too, but the minister set up a process that's fair. The process drew conclusions and those conclusions are reflected in this budget and our budget plans. How can anyone ask for a fairer system?
Mr. Chair, this government is going to great lengths to build new schools for Yukon students. There's a commitment in our term to build three schools. We will build three schools. There was a commitment from the previous government to build a school in Porter Creek as a priority. Our budget estimates included the bulk of funding for that school, too.
The commitment had been made. Perhaps it was a campaign commitment, too. I don't know. Perhaps the member wasn't in decision-making circles of the Yukon Party at the time and couldn't sway events. But, nevertheless, that priority was made to build the school in Porter Creek. We completed the project. We have set up a fair process involving the public, involving the key stakeholders. They have made recommendations about the priorities for construction. We are following that list. We feel that we've made a substantial commitment to students in this territory, and I'm happy that we'll be able to respond to those needs as we have.
The member says that education is the responsibility of the Yukon government. How right he is. And no matter what happens, students in Dawson will have a place to learn that is safe, secure and appropriate for their needs, no matter what happens. That is our pledge. That is the pledge we will follow.
And, when the time comes to build new school space in Dawson, because the people of the territory decide that that is a territory, then new school space, even if the member himself is representing the riding of Klondike - even then - that space will be built, even if this government is in office, because we don't play favourites, and these budget estimates prove it.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's cut to the chase. What is the major factor that drives the construction of new schools? In my opinion, it's the number of students, the student body. That's the point I'm wishing to get through to the Government Leader, and he's skirted all around, and we've gone through all of the rhetoric and all of the chat, and we've passed the buck, but the issue is the student body, the size of the student body and how it continues to grow. Now, I'm sure the Government Leader can agree that that's the major factor.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That is a factor, a factor presumably taken into account by school chairs, school chairs who care about students too, including the school chair of the Robert Service School in Dawson. I have a lot of respect for those people and their wisdom and their judgment.
So, Mr. Chair, we are going to be taking the advice of the people of this territory in making our decisions.
I move you report progress on this bill.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. May the House have the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, First Appropriation Act, 1998-99, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:27 p.m.
The following Legislative Return was tabled March 3, 1998:
Contracts provided to the leader of the official opposition by the Department of Economic Development (Harding)
The following document was filed on March 3, 1998:
Government of the Yukon financial projections re permanent/short-term closure of Faro mine: 1998/99 to 2001/02 (McDonald)