Thursday, March 5, 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 with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
International Women's Day
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I rise today to recognize Sunday, March 8, as International Women's Day.
Ninety years ago, 30,000 women working in New York City sweat-shops marched to protest against poor wages, long hours and terrible working conditions.
In the following decade, women throughout Europe and Russia marched and protested, demanding their political and human rights. In 1977, the United Nations invited member countries to designate a day as International Women's Day. In most countries, that day is March 8. The national theme for this year's celebration is "the evolution of women's rights - a life-long commitment."
It seems fitting to remember that we have accomplished many things. Women now have the vote; some women sit in the Legislature here, but women have not yet achieved equality in our society. We should also remember that the conditions which led to the protest marches at the beginning of this century still prevail in many parts of the world as we approach the next century.
I encourage all members to attend events that have been scheduled over the weekend and next week - special speakers, films and a potluck dinner on Sunday with entertainment by local women performers.
Mr. Phillips: I join the minister today in tribute to International Women's Day. International Women's Day is celebrated throughout the world to mark women's struggles for equality. In recent years, important progress has been made toward achieving equality between women and men. Women's access to education has increased, their participation in the labour force has grown, and legislation that promises equal opportunities for women and respect for human rights has been adopted in more and more countries.
As shown in a survey of Yukon women taken in 1993 by the Women's Directorate and the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, findings reveal that the majority of Yukon women, First Nations and others, believed that they were better off than women living in southern Canada. Seventy-three percent of non-aboriginal women described their lives as good or very good compared with women living in southern Canada, while 56% of First Nations women described their lives that way, as well.
Even so, discrimination against women is still widespread. Violence against women remains a global problem and nothing new to the north. Women's equal access to resources is still restricted and their opportunities for higher education and training are concentrated in some limited fields. Poverty, for women, continues to rise.
In 1995, almost 18 percent of Canadians lived below the poverty line. The overwhelming majority of them were women. Even more disturbing, the statistics show that 68 percent of single-parent families live in poverty. Again, the overwhelming majority of them are women.
There remain barriers to women's advancement in business, government and politics and decisions that affect women continue to be made largely by men.
Today is an important day to reflect upon the history of women and their struggle for their fundamental rights and to look upon the accomplishments women have made through the years and to look how far we have yet to go to achieve equality.
As legislators, it's incumbent upon ourselves to work with each other, with the communities, with the private sector and with governments for the elimination of discrimination against women, and remove all obstacles to equality.
I'd like to take this opportunity to commend the ongoing work of the Women's Directorate for ensuring the concerns of Yukon women are integrated into the mainstream of government policy making and program development. I'd also like to recognize the hard work and efforts of the women's groups in the territory for helping to raise awareness about women's issues and for their commitment to advance opportunities for women in the Yukon.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Liberal caucus to recognize and pay tribute to International Women's Day. This year, we celebrate that on Sunday, March 8.
This is a day when women around the world celebrate their achievements in the name of women's equality and, Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank those women here in the Yukon who have organized the various events that celebrate Women's Day this year.
Mr. Speaker, there is much to celebrate on International Women's Day but there is much more that needs to be done around the world to ensure that women, particularly those in Third World nations, can one day celebrate their equality with men.
We continue the struggle and, Mr. Speaker, I focus on the reason why we continue that struggle. We keep fighting for equality for all women for the next generation, just as our mothers and their mothers did before us. It is important that we spend time with the women of tomorrow to tell them why that struggle is so important, so that they, too, will continue the fight for the next generation.
Mr. Speaker, I can best illustrate this point by reading to you a poem from the local Girl Guide publication, Yukon Trails, and I remind you that guiding is the largest women's organization in the world. I wish I could attribute this piece to someone, but the author is unknown.
And the poem reads, "What is a girl? She is the person who is going to carry on all that you started in this world. She is going to sit where you are sitting and, when you are gone, attend to those things that you think are so important. She is going to take over your committees, your home and your school. You may adopt all the policies you please, but how they are carried out will depend on her. She is going to marry your son. She is going to rock the cradle that holds your grandchildren. She is going to share in the control of your cities, your schools, universities and corporations. She is going to be in charge of your woods and forests and natural resources. How she pursues a full and rewarding life depends on the direction she is learning now. Her individual search for happiness will be determined by the set of values she adopts in forming her creeds and philosophies. All your work is going to be judged, praised and condemned by her. Her future is in your hands, but your reputation and future are also in her hands, so it is well to pay some attention and give her some of yourself now."
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Ms. Duncan: I am delighted to introduce to members of the House the students from Jack Hulland School. They are the grade 7 class, Mr. Ken Taylor's class, and they are joined today by the principal of Jack Hulland School, Christie Whitley, and by the former principal of Jack Hulland School, Don Roberts.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have two legislative returns for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I have for tabling a document, entitled A Report on the Audit of the Yukon Government's Performance on the Environment Act.
Speaker: Are there reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mrs. Edelman: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon's Children's Act was passed over 12 years ago, and there have been many changes in Canadian legislation that affect children since that time; and
THAT this House believe that we need to be responsive to those changes; and
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon Children's Act be reviewed and Yukoners be consulted about possible changes to that act.
Mr. Fentie: I rise today to give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes that
(1) the federal government provides economic assistance programs in other Canadian regions such as Western Diversification Canada and Atlantic Opportunities Canada;
(2) the Yukon has not received direct help from the federal government in this area since the termination of the economic development assistance programs; and
(3) the 1998-99 federal budget has committed to work with northern governments on economic development and diversification; and
THAT it is the opinion of this House that an economic assistance initiative could play a helpful role in diversifying the Yukon economy, creating jobs and developing new economic opportunities; and
THAT this House urges the federal government to cooperate with the Yukon government to enter immediately into negotiations to create new economic development and diversification initiatives for the Yukon.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
Environment Act audit report
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, one of our government's principal commitments, as outlined in the action agenda, 1997 to 2000, is respect for the environment. In that light, I am pleased to rise in the House to comment on our government's policy regarding the document I just tabled, entitled A Report on the Audit of the Yukon Government's Performance under the Environment Act. This audit is a requirement under Section 39(2) of the Environment Act, which states that: "The performance of the Government of the Yukon in meeting its responsibilities under this act shall be subject to an audit with respect to its efficiency and fairness."
To conduct this audit, the Yukon government collaborated with the Office of the Auditor General and an independent consulting company that specializes in audits - KPMG Quality Registrar. This audit covers the period from 1992, when the Environment Act came into force, up to 1997. The first audit was to have been conducted in 1994, but this was not done.
Mr. Speaker, our Environment Act is unique in calling for regular audits of the government's performance. No other Canadian environmental legislation requires government to ensure that it conducts its business and fulfills its commitments in a fair and efficient manner. Since the act came into being, nine sets of regulations and many associated processes and programs, such as the Recycling Club, have been developed and implemented. I'm pleased to note the auditor's conclusion that, with one exception, there is a reasonable assurance that the Government of Yukon's performance, in meeting its responsibility under the act, has been efficient and fair in all significant aspects.
A specific example can be seen in the processes the government has established to meet the requirements for public consultation under the act. The auditors found those processes and consultation with stakeholders and the public to be efficient and fair.
Considerable public consultation led to the development of regulations regarding spills, storage tanks and contaminated sites, which came into force last year. The same consultation principles are currently being applied to the development of air emissions and solid waste regulations.
The single area of the audit cited for improvement was the lack of regulations for the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. As members are aware, our government is committed to expanding the role of the YCEE to seek input from Yukon people and to advise the government on a broad spectrum of economic and environmental issues.
The process for developing regulations for the council will be taking place this year. This is consistent with our government's promise to involve people in the decisions that affect them.
Extensive public consultations are also an integral part of policy development in other environment-related initiatives of this government, including the protected areas strategy, the development assessment process and the made-in-Yukon forest strategy.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would like to stress that our government will continue to respect the Environment Act. I would also like to advise members that the next audit under this act is scheduled for the year 2000.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for his statement today. I just have one suggestion to make to the minister. I would appreciate if, in the future, he's going to be making a ministerial statement on a report that he has just tabled, would he be kind enough to supply us that report embargoed when he supplies us with the ministerial statement so that we would have a chance to at least have a look at it before we have to respond to the report.
I'm pleased to note the auditors' conclusion that it's a reasonable assurance that the government's performance in meeting its responsibilities under the act have been efficient and fair in all significant aspects. I say that because this audit does cover a period of both the Yukon Party administration and the NDP administration. So, I'm pleased to see that both governments have been living up to their obligations under the act.
I'm also encouraged that the minister has stated that the government will make more use of Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment to do the work that's going to be required because it's YCEE that's mandated to do this, and I prefer to see them doing it rather than Cabinet commissions.
Mr. Speaker, initiatives such as the Recycling Club have been very successful and have led to increased interest and awareness in recycling by our youth, as was the implementation of the Yukon Pride anti-litter program. So, I believe by all of us working together, we can respect our environment and have a better place for all Yukoners to live.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to respond to the statement on behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus.
Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank the minister for providing this information to the House today. I am pleased to learn that the Yukon government has been given a clean bill of health, so to speak, with regard to its responsibilities under the Environment Act.
I have three questions for the minister that have arisen from this statement. I would like some clarification as to why an audit was not done in 1994. What was the cost of this particular audit to the Government of the Yukon? And, in the latter part of his statement, the minister indicates that there is a problem with the lack of regulations surrounding the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. Would the minister provide a time frame for when those regulations will be developed?
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the minister for moving forward with some of the commitments made under the action agenda for 1997 to the year 2000 with regard to respecting the environment.
This government has not made as much progress on other priorities, and while there is a progress report on the environmental front, the same cannot be said for building trust in government or creating employment and economic opportunities.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I thank the members for their comments. I know this is positive feedback from the audit on how government is doing in regard to our responsibilities under the Environment Act.
In regard to why it was not done when it was first scheduled, one of the reasons could be that this audit is unique. It's not like any other audit that looks at the finances. It's an environmental audit, and those who were putting this together found it quite a challenge to have to look at a program like this in a different way.
The previous government did start to put together the audit, but did not finish it. We feel that we are required to do things under the act and wanted to make sure that it is completed, even though the audit is past its due date. It is completed now, and we have some things that we can improve on.
In regard to the regulations and time frames, we feel that we can have regulations put in for YCEE this year. We're presently working on it. We have drafts already done up. In regard to the cost, I'm not sure what the cost is. I can come back to the member with that.
This government takes the environmental responsibility seriously. We believe that the public has the right to know how they are being exercised, and we will continue to work closely under the Environment Act.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Electrical rate relief, extended billing date
Mr. Ostashek: My question is for the minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation on his new and improved rate relief program that's going to expire at the end of March.
On February 10, Mr. Speaker, I wrote a letter to the minister on behalf of constituents seeking compensation for loss of his rate relief due to the extension of the billing period. He received rate relief on his December billing for a 28-day billing period, but lost it in January, specifically because the billing period was increased to 34 days in January and, as a result, he went over the 1,500 kilowatts, which is the cutoff.
My question to the minister: would he advise this House how many Yukoners lost their rate relief due to the extended billing period, and will he agree to compensate these electrical consumers for this cost?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member's analysis of what's going on with rate relief is selective. The member knows full well the energy commission is consulting and working on the issue of rate relief and will be coming forward with some suggestions shortly for Yukon ratepayers.
With regard to the issue that the member speaks of, I will raise it with the board of directors of the Energy Corporation. Certainly, I have given no instruction or change of policy through Cabinet order to the utility, or to the board of directors for that matter, with regard to billing periods. So I will take it up with Mr. Wells. Actually, I'll be speaking with him on the phone this afternoon and the member's question was one of the issues that I intend to raise with him.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, my memory is not selective at all on rate relief, Mr. Speaker. I'm speaking to a minister who went out and promised Yukoners to stabilize energy rates, before the last election, and took a petition around to make sure that the Yukon Party government didn't get out of rate relief. And then, in fact, this party did that very thing, and the minister knows it expires at the end of this month and there won't be another one till next fall, and then it'll be very selective.
Mr. Speaker, when I spoke of this billing period of 34 days, that's only the tip of the iceberg. I have had complaints from other constituents in other jurisdictions with billing periods as long as 37 days.
Mr. Speaker, there can be no fairness in a rate relief program that's going to claw back the monies that the consumers pay on their electrical bills by extending the period of billing. It's not consistent. In order for rate relief to work, we have to have a consistent billing period.
I'd like to ask the minister if he could tell this House how much money Yukon Energy Corporation - not the corporation, it's the territorial government that pays the rate relief - has saved by the claw-back of electrical consumers who went over the 1,500 kilowatts because of an extended billing period.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the Yukon Energy Corporation dividends or profits are what pays for rate relief, not the territorial government. The territorial government makes a decision to direct them as such.
I would suggest to the member that there's been no change of policy from this minister to that minister, when he was minister of the Energy Corporation. The policies, from a governmental perspective, are the same.
So, I will say to the member opposite that unless there's been some direction given by the new board of directors to the utility the policies are exactly the same as when he was minister.
With regard to stabilizing rates in the wake of two Faro mine shutdowns since we've been elected, we've seen rate decreases of five and a half, and they're going to be three and a half and 20 percent. We've seen a massive energy conservation program brought forward in this territory. So, the question of stability is a difficult one when the largest customer has twice gone off the grid in the same year. But, we're dealing with it. We're moving forward in trying to ensure that there are stabilized rates for Yukoners, because I believe that Yukoners want their government - even in the wake of difficult situations, such as losing the mine off the grid - to make efforts to stabilize rates. We've been doing that.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, that certainly isn't what they told Yukoners before the last election. Now we have all kinds of excuses.
But I want to point out to the minister that there has been a change in policy. The Yukon Party was providing universal rate relief that was not cut off at 1,500 kilowatt hours. It didn't matter what length the billing period was, the customers received their rate relief, and we paid out substantially more money than the NDP has done - with no claw back.
In view of the fact that the NDP government is cancelling the very limited rate relief program they had at the end of this month, in breach of their election commitment, I would ask the minister if he's prepared to bring in a universal residential rate relief program, similar to what the Yukon Party had, that will cover all residential users and be fair to all residential users. Will the minister make that commitment today, in light of the fact that the Faro mine is down again and power rates are going to go up again?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member knows full well that he was bent on killing the rate relief program in this territory. He was going to kill it dead.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Point of order
Speaker: On a point of order. The hon. leader of the official opposition.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, the member knows full well that I stated in this House on April 25, 1996, that rate relief would be extended, so I ask him to withdraw that.
Speaker: On the point of order. The hon. Minister of Economic Development.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the member has no point of order. There is disagreement here between two members.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, on the point of order. If it will help, I will table this Hansard.
Speaker: On the point of order, this is a dispute between members as to the facts, and it is not the responsibility of the Chair to make a ruling on who was correct. Therefore, there is no point of order. Will the member please continue.
Hon. Mr. Harding: As I was saying when I was interrupted, the member opposite was going to kill rate relief dead, absolutely dead, Mr. Speaker. The Yukon New Democrats, as we said in the election campaign, brought it back to life, and Yukoners know full well what the Yukon Party intentions were with regard to rates. Their history was extremely checquered on that question.
Mr. Speaker, we have seen three rate reductions in this territory in the wake of two Faro mine shutdowns. We have brought in policies on energy conservation that are unprecedented in this territory, and I think that's something that this government can be proud of.
Mr. Speaker, we have worked very hard on our commitment to stabilize rates. The energy commission is working very hard on the issue, and I'm sure that the Yukon public - if not the members of the opposition because they're never happy about anything this government does - will be happy with what the government comes up with in the wake of losing the Faro mine off the grid again.
Question re: Community justice program
Mr. Phillips: During the election and throughout the NDP's short reign of power, they have been touting the fact that their relationship with the First Nations community is outstanding. The Government Leader's comments regarding his commitment to working with First Nations in a relationship based on respect, trust and mutual understanding is a matter of public record. The Government Leader has been quoted that if his government failed, "the pain of distrust will reverberate for a generation to come."
My question is for the Minister of Justice concerning the issue raised by Chief Joe Jack and the lack of a community justice program. Mr. Speaker, the First Nations community was promised by this government that they could expect a fair relationship, yet Chief Jack is quoted in the news as saying that he's been waiting for the government to respond to his concerns for over two months. Can the minister kindly tell the House why the minister hasn't responded to the concerns of Chief Joe Jack, and is that her idea of fostering good relations and building an understanding and trust?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As far as I am aware, there is no outstanding correspondence between me and the chief at Kwanlin Dun that has gone unanswered. The Department of Justice is negotiating with a number of communities to determine how funding should be allocated in the coming budget year for community justice programs.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Chief Jack's interpretation of the events are a little different from the minister's. Will the minister now, at least, contact Chief Joe Jack and address the issues that he's raised? He's very concerned about the relationship between this government and the First Nations government of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, because Chief Joe Jack's understanding is that for two months this minister has refused to respond to their community justice initiatives.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I can assure the member opposite, and assure the House, that our government will continue its work of negotiating with communities to determine how funding should be allocated for community justice projects in the current budget year, as we've done in the present year.
Mr. Phillips: As usual in Question Period, we don't really get an answer to our question. We just get a vague generalization of the topic.
Mr. Speaker, the question - and I'll direct it back to the minister again.
Chief Joe Jack is concerned that, for two months, he's not been receiving a response from the Minister of Justice respecting community justice initiatives. Will the Minister of Justice stand on her feet today and give us a date, very soon, on which she will contact Chief Joe Jack and discuss the issue of community justice with the chief? Will she give us that date today - not a generalized statement, but an actual date?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member opposite seems to be taking it upon himself to be a designated spokesperson for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. I can tell the member, as I've said, that our Department of Justice is working with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation on their proposal for funding, and that that work will continue.
Question re: Grandparents' rights under Children's Act
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
The Children's Act is over 12 years old, now, and the legislation affecting children in Canada has changed considerably during this time. One of the issues that needs to be addressed is grandparents' rights.
Mr. Speaker, Yukon grandparents want access rights and protection for their grandchildren, particularly if those children are in divorced homes. In the present Children's Act, grandparents are lumped together with "others who have interests in the child". Plainly, grandparents should be acknowledged as having a greater say in the lives of their grandchildren.
Mr. Speaker, would the minister consider, as many other jurisdictions in Canada have, amending the Children's Act so that grandparents can be acknowledged as having a greater interest in their grandchildren that just those "others who have an interest in the child"?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I can tell the member that I have met with a representative of the grandparents' rights organization and I have listened to their argument and their concerns. I think they are very valid. I sympathize with individuals in that situation. We are looking at a whole variety of changes in terms of such things as adult guardianship and things of that nature, and we will be considering this in due course.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, it's our understanding that the correspondence that GRAY, or the Grandparents' Rights Association of the Yukon, has had with the minister is that there has been a very clear indication that the department has no intention of opening up the act.
Mr. Speaker, quite often when a child is put into care, the Department of Family and Children's Services looks everywhere but to the extended family for short-term or even long-term foster care, and last year one of the recommendations from the First Nations Child Welfare Conference was that there should be mandatory consultation with the extended family before a child is put into care.
Now, Mr. Speaker, would the minister consider opening the Children's Act to add this mandatory consultation with extended family to the act?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I had some discussions last Friday with the First Nations child welfare group and that particular point came up. As a matter of fact, not specifically the grandparents per se, but the whole question of extended family and the idea of aunts and uncles. That is something that we'll be bringing forward and discussing in some further detail. I also think it's one of those issues that needs to be pursued with the First Nations as they approach the PSTA tables.
Mrs. Edelman: Once again, there is no commitment here to open up the Children's Act. Well, Mr. Speaker, in every other jurisdiction but the Yukon, there is legislation to make the reporting of child abuse mandatory for the general public. Will the minister consider opening the Children's Act to address this issue?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That was also a matter of some discussion in our meetings with the First Nation child welfare. We have discussed this in some detail - the whole question of mandatory reporting.
The two groups that are most affected are already covered, one being teachers and the other being individuals who work with children. I've discussed this in some detail with our director of family and children's services, and she reports to me that in other jurisdictions where they've introduced this there has not been an appreciable increase in reporting and that, in fact, the Yukon does somewhat better in this area without mandatory reporting for other groups, other than teachers and child care professionals.
Question re: Faro mine status
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Economic Development on Faro. Now, the Anvil Range mine in Faro has been in difficulty for many months now. Yukoners are, of course, quite apprehensive about the closure and the effects on the economy. There's not a lot of hard information out there for the public to grasp, so I ask the minister: at this time, what is the minister's best information? Is it his and the department's view that the mine will remain closed this calendar year or is it his view that the mine is likely to reopen this calendar year?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Just before I respond to this question, I'd like to table proof from Hansard of the Yukon Party's stated commitment of wanting to end rate relief.
I would say to the member opposite that I thank him for the question. It's a matter of great concern to this government and to a lot of people affected by the closure of this mine and the economy. As the member knows, it's quite important in many, many sectors of the Yukon economy.
The mine right now is under a court ordered restructuring period until roughly the end of March. The company has been given an allotment of money by the creditors and given approval to spend some of that money on the restructuring plan. The prices right now are not cooperating. They're roughly 46 or 47 cents for zinc - very low. The price of lead is also in the 23 to 25 cent range. The Canadian dollar has also risen. This is also a concern. The Asian market crisis is not quite sorted out, nor is there the expected demand for the products that they sell and this is causing some anxiety and some depression of the prices.
I have told my constituents that I am not expecting a resumption of operations over the next three months to a minimum and, beyond that, it's too difficult to tell. I'll be meeting with Anvil Range next week in Toronto and I hope to have some more information. I have sent one of my officials down to some creditors meetings in Vancouver this week.
Mr. Cable: The minister's obviously been doing some thinking about how to get the mine reopened. What options are on the table for government involvement? What is he considering for assisting Anvil Range Mining Corporation to get the operations going again? Is he considering direct financial assistance by way of grants or loans? Is that an option that's on the table?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, as I said to the member opposite, having the mine not operating does have a significant impact on the economy. We can expect to see the unemployment rate in the territory go up substantially when the effects of these layoffs hit, and people were just getting back on their feet. So it's extremely difficult, not only for my constituents, but for ore-truck drivers and people who get spinoff jobs as a result of the mine, and there are many - a lot of local contractors.
With regard to our approach and our position to working with the proponents to develop or reopen the Faro mine, we have always taken the same position that we are prepared to find reasonable and responsible ways to assist where we can, where it's in the public interest to get the mine operating again. One of the things that I will be doing next week when I go to the prospectors/developers conference is that I'll also be meeting with the federal parliamentary secretary to the Minister of DIAND, and I will be putting forward some options that I think might be able to help with regard to the environmental liability and with regard to energy assets that would help get the price of power down in this territory.
Mr. Cable: I'm not sure if the minister answered the question, but during the questioning, I noticed the Government Leader shaking his head negatively. Perhaps we can explore that in the budget this afternoon and get a clear answer out of the minister or his leader.
Now, the government did an impact assessment in late 1996 on the effects of the mine closure, and one of the options discussed was the effects of an indefinite closure. It was stated in the impact statement that over $11 million would be impacted on government revenues during the year 1998-99, and that there would be a total of 570 direct and 140 indirect jobs lost. Is that the government's present view of an indefinite mine closure, or is that impact statement being updated?
Hon. Mr. Harding: One only has to look at the three, four-year projections, five-year projections, that the Finance department put together that the Finance minister tabled in general debate in the Legislature yesterday - or the day before yesterday - to see just how important the Faro mine is to the overall picture of the government in the territory, and the impact that has on the capital project side throughout the territory, the impact that has on power, the impact that has on the unemployment rate, the spinoffs.
Mr. Speaker, let me be clear to the member opposite, if I wasn't clear enough in my second answer with regard to his question about grants and loans, we have always rejected the idea of that for operating expenses. We have always been consistent that we were prepared - and we have done in the past - to look at responsible ways to deal with infrastructure issues, things that pertain to energy. We've done that in the past, as have other governments. We think that is a prudent course of action to take and, certainly, the effects of an indefinite closure would weigh heavy on the economy of the Yukon and influence many sectors. We're mindful and concerned about that, and that's why we're working - as soon as it makes economically feasible sense - to see the mine open. That would be the best thing for Yukoners.
Question re: Group home for fetal alchohol syndrome teenage males in Golden Horn
Mr. Jenkins: My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services. I'd like to quote from the NDP A Better Way.
"Piers McDonald and the NDP recognize that the Yukon people want an open, transparent, decision-making system with full public consultation and information, to strengthen public confidence in the integrity and reliability of government."
Now it appears, Mr. Speaker, that the only time the NDP consults is when they want the public's endorsement. If the NDP suspects the public view will oppose their agenda, no public consultation is done.
Now, the Minister of Health and Social Services decided to relocate a group home for FAS teenage boys, all of whom have done -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
All of these individuals have demonstrated some level of sexual offending. Would the minister advise the House how much public consultation took place with the residents of Golden Horn prior to his decision to relocate this group home into this residential setting?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, I have to correct the member's misapprehension. There has been no decision to relocate this. As the member may be aware, we do have an FAS-teen group home in downtown Whitehorse, and there has been some interest in the future about looking for a rural setting, that being a better opportunity for recreational opportunities and lifeskills for the individuals. There is Commissioner's land in the Golden Horn area.
What was done was a meeting with the residents out there to signal that the department was interested in seeking a zoning change, but there has not been - this is very, very preliminary. We have nothing in the capital budget in the next couple of years in this regard, but it is necessary to begin to look at some of our options.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the residents of Golden Horn area have contacted us and they tell us this department did no public consultation on this issue prior to a decision. In fact, when Golden Horn -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order, order. Would members please stop their heckling, because the Speaker cannot hear the member. Continue, please?
Mr. Jenkins: In fact, Mr. Speaker, when the Golden Horn residents finally forced the minister's department to consult with them, they were told that the decision to move ahead had already been made, pending the availability of funds. The only issue holding it up was funding.
Mr. Speaker, the minister's public consultation was to simply inform the residents what they were going to do. The minister should be ashamed of himself. A group home for FAS boys, who are known to be sex offenders, being relocated in a residential community, is the world's best example of why we need public consultation.
Will the minister now go back to the residents of Golden Horn, consult with them, and obtain their support prior to the building of this group home in that area?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, the member needs to take a good, hard look at his budgets. If he does, he can see that there is no forward planning for such a facility in the next couple of years. Second of all, on January 2, a meeting was held to discuss the possibility of seeking a zoning change. We have been looking for a larger, vacant, rural property. One of the things about these individuals - and I think this member is a master at portraying people in possibly the worst possible light. Yes, some of these individuals have exhibited sexually inappropriate behaviour; however, we have operated this group home for the past two years. There has never been an incident. These young people are very, very carefully supervised. None of these boys have re-offended since being admitted to the home.
The member there is trying to portray this as a threat to public safety and I would challenge him to prove it. In this case, what we are doing is looking at a more appropriate placement for a group of young people who have, by no fault of their own, some serious health issues. We are looking at all our options. We are in an extremely preliminary state.
The member talks about consulting; ...
Speaker: Will the minister please conclude his statement.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: ... this was the first attempt.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, the minister's letter to me on February 13 on this subject says that there are no zoning restrictions on this area and the people in this area are questioning why they're breaking ground in that area for the development of this home. His letter goes on to further state that it is based on funding availability.
The Golden Horn residents have been lobbying their MLA, Ms. Moorcroft, for support on this issue. My question is for the Minister of Justice. What steps will she be taking and has she taken to ensure that the NDP promise of public consultation will be applied in her constituency? Will she join with me in demanding that the Golden Horn residents are consulted and their support obtained prior to a group home being forced into their neighborhood?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I'll take the opportunity to respond to that. There is no attempt to force anyone to do anything. This member is trying to create an issue where one does not exist. The Golden Horn land use plan is being completed this year. We are trying to get a public input process. This member here is like some of his colleagues; he's trying to portray a group of people who have some serious health issues in a very, very negative light. I, for one, take serious exception to that.
Question re: Education, mathematics curriculum consultation
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, yesterday I asked the Minister of Education several times if she would meet with the Yukon Teachers Association regarding the implementation of the new kindergarten to grade 7 math curriculum. She was steadfast in her refusal to hear directly from her professional partners in education.
Today, I would like to ask the Minister of Education to answer a very basic question: will the Minister of Education stand today in this House and admit that the implementation of the new math program has not gone well and that a problem exists?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, we have another questioner, this time from the Liberal Party, trying to do some fear mongering again and to create a crisis where one does not, in fact, exist.
As I've outlined in response to numerous questions in this House throughout the week regarding the implementation of the new math curriculum, a number of math tutoring programs and other supports have been available for teachers. There has also been a series of math contact sessions established for teachers and administrators, to be held throughout the month of March and April, in order to provide further opportunity to exchange ideas and ask questions regarding the new math program.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister accuses me of fear-mongering. The concern that I have is that there are children who have suffered from the poor implementation of this math curriculum. Let me give the minister two examples from parents' examples that have been given to me.
A student in a Whitehorse school this year - she's in grade 6 - her teacher went back to the old math curriculum part way through this year out of frustration. Next year, she will have the new curriculum. The following year, in grade 8, she goes back to a version of the old curriculum.
A male student, an average student in a lower grade with a lot of support at home, struggled mightily, as did his parents, with this new math curriculum this year. Mid-way through the year, his teacher has gone back to the old curriculum.
Will the minister stand on her feet and admit that there's been a problem with the implementation of the new math curriculum for the grades K to 7 program? Will she admit that there's been a problem?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I will stand on my feet here in the Legislature this afternoon and assure the member that the employees of the Department of Education and the curriculum consultants and the professional teachers have been both receiving and providing math inservicing for teachers in order to implement the new curriculum. We are making additional math contact sessions available, and the administrators, the curriculum consultants and superintendents are providing support to the teachers in order to ensure that the new curriculum is implemented well.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'll simply get back to these parents and tell them that the minister can't hear their concerns; won't hear their concerns. Perhaps she'll table that information, as I've asked her in other questions earlier this week.
The president of the Yukon Teachers Association stated on a newscast this morning that the Department of Education - these are her officials - need to hold one big meeting with math teachers. That's what they're asking for. Since the minister doesn't seem to have time to attend such a meeting and doesn't think it's her job, will she at least instruct her department to hold that meeting as soon as possible with these math teachers that have concerns? They're parents, too.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, I have here - and I could certainly provide this information to the member opposite if she would like it - a copy of a letter from the Yukon Teachers Association to the Assistant Deputy Minister of Education, requesting a consultation with classroom teachers in relation to the new math curriculum.
And, Mr. Speaker, I also have a copy of the response of a week later, of February 19, from the assistant deputy minister ...
Speaker: Order. Stop the heckling please.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: ... to the Yukon Teachers Association, responding to those concerns.
And, Mr. Speaker, I have a copy of the schedule that has been set up for math contact sessions for Whitehorse schools at the Department of Education, with the primary and intermediate coordinators, to give math teachers a chance to share concerns regarding the new math program and to have any of their questions answered.
Mr. Speaker, there are always challenges to face. We are working very hard - and the Department of Education is working very hard - to ensure that teachers have the support they need in order to implement the new math curriculum. We will continue to do that.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do 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
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 9 - First Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Chair: Committee will continue with general debate on the budget bill.
Mr. Cable: Just by way of touch-up from last night, I think the Government Leader was going to provide some population stats. Are those available?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, they are, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions on the perversity factor. It's my understanding that the way it operates is that there's a weighted average of the tax rates from various other jurisdictions and the weight relating to the population of each of the other jurisdictions. Then those tax rates are all melded into one and it's determined where we are in relation to that sort of melded, weighted tax rate.
Is my understanding of how the perversity factor is calculated accurate, in sort of a global, very rough sense?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, the member is correct. Our tax rates are compared to national average tax rates.
Mr. Cable: And they're weighted averages, I believe, are they not? The weight is related to the population. Okay, the minister is indicating yes, by nodding his head.
Now, I understand there's been very significant tax reductions in Ontario, which of course has over a third of our country's population, and these took place, I think, shortly after Mr. Harris took office. Then there was another tax reduction fairly recently. I don't whether it's worked itself through the system or not. And there's also a tax reduction, brought in by Mr. Klein, and the population of both those provinces, Ontario and Alberta, is very, very close to half of the Canadian population.
When is it expected - well, let me ask this question first: is there anything in the budget that acknowledges what I think would be a favourable turn to our perversity factor as these tax reductions work themselves through the system?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, what's happened so far across the country has been factored into the calculations that we have presented in the Legislature - yes.
Mr. Cable: Just to be clear, does that include - I think there was a tax reduction in Ontario, and I'm sure the deputy is much more up to date than I am, that was working itself through the system. Whether it has been approved by the Ontario Legislature, I'm not sure. And I think Klein just recently brought in a budget that had tax reductions. Have all of the tax reductions promised by Mr. Harris and those tax reductions in the recent Alberta budget been factored into the budget calculations that are before us?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I'm just checking the answer with respect to the forecast that I presented the other day - the forecast numbers for future years. But as far as this year is concerned and the extent that we know or anticipate the tax rates, they have been taken into account.
Mr. Cable: What is the perversity factor that's being used in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The overall perversity factor is about 110 percent - $1.10.
Mr. Cable: I believe that's a reduction from last year, is it not?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We'll check on that. We don't know.
Mr. Cable: The Government Leader, of course, and the leader of the official opposition understand how these things work. I'm not quite sure, myself, but are there some negotiations that have to take place with the federal Finance department before the perversity factor is finally determined or do those officials accept those figures that are brought forward by the deputy's department here?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The perversity calculation is in the formula. The information that is made to feed into the calculation to spit out the conclusion is essentially StatsCan numbers. So, they are not so much negotiations. The negotiations take place in the creation of the calculation.
What happens now is simply technicians feeding in StatsCan numbers and spitting out the conclusion.
Mr. Cable: So then we can take, with some confidence, that there won't be any change in the perversity factor from $1.10 during the course of the next fiscal year. Is that accurate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I guess the short answer is yes, Mr. Chair, though the perversity factor can bounce around a little bit by a percent or two, depending on Conference Board numbers but, basically, $1.10 would be a reasonably reliable number, yes.
Mr. Cable: Would that number vary as between worst case and best case? Just for the record. I'm not sure exactly what the minister said.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, that would not be a variable.
Mr. Cable: And is the minister going to provide the House, then, with the projected perversity factor over the course of the five-year period that is set out in the five-year financial plan? Is that one of the things we've agreed on?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We can get the number that was used in the calculation, yes.
Mr. Cable: Okay. Other than Alberta and Ontario, is it anticipated that any of the other provinces that seem to be moving to balanced budgets are going to be reducing their tax rates and thereby favourably influence our transfer payments by a reduction of the perversity factor?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I guess the short answer - which is not really an answer - is that we hope so. However, I don't know of other governments that have made a priority of tax reductions. There is a possibility that the federal government might.
Mr. Cable: Okay. I'll look forward to receipt of that information, and there may be some further questions on that when I receive it.
Now, in Question Period, I put a question to the Minister of Economic Development on the document that he had tabled in the House some time ago relating to the impact of the closure of the Faro mine. It's a document prepared by Yukon Economic Development and Yukon Finance, the minister's department. It was dated November 28, 1996, and entitled Economic and Fiscal Analysis of the Faro Mine Closure.
During Question Period I asked him whether the number that's set out in appendix 1, at page 5, that relates to the indefinite closure, under the column, 1998-99, the total impact on YTG revenues is shown as minus $11,173,000. I'm not sure how that reconciles with the worst case/best case scenario. Is that the figure that was used in the calculation of the worst case/best case scenarios or is that a gross figure that has to be reduced by some numbers to give a net figure?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As I understand, the member asked in Question Period whether or not there had been any update from the December 1996 projections on what it might mean to Yukon government revenues, and the short answer is that we have done an update and I have a copy here for distribution that will help the member understand what we are thinking about.
With respect to best case, of course, the best case is Anvil Range operating; the worst case is Anvil Range closed for the full year and in perpetuity.
As the member will soon see from the update, we have expected reductions in revenue for three scenarios: a closure of three months, a closure of six months and a permanent closure. And there are projections from the 1997-98, which is the current year, through to the year 2001. It includes personal and corporate income tax, gasoline, diesel, tobacco, liquor and insurance taxes and even includes, to an extent, the calculations for motor vehicles licences, property taxes, the Faro loan, bulk commodity fees and, of course, the impact on the formula financing grant.
Mr. Cable: Is this one-page sheet that the minister provided part of a larger document on the update of the Faro mine closure that could be tabled?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't know what the member is referring to in terms of larger documents. This is a sheet detailing the impact on YTG revenues. Is there something else that the member is thinking of?
Mr. Cable: Well, the original document prepared in 1996 had a number of things. Impact on revenues is just one of them. There was the impact on jobs and what not. Has this been done in a larger context, or is this the whole thing - this one page that we've been given?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, as far as revenues are concerned, this is it in terms of the revenue side of the equation. Is there some other information that the member wishes? With respect to changes in expenditures, that has been taken into account on the budget side, as well, in the current year budget with the assumption that the closure is for the full year.
In terms of job losses, I'm certain we can provide that information as well. I am not certain that that has been updated recently. I haven't seen recently updated figures myself, but we certainly do have the experience of last year, and I do know that they have been monitoring the closure fairly carefully.
Mr. Cable: Okay, I'll look forward to receiving any update that the minister provides on aspects other than the revenue streams.
I haven't had a chance to look at this document, but what is the Government Leader's position on the money owing by Anvil Range Mine to the government and to the Yukon Energy Corporation? Are those bad debts in his view at the present time, and should they be booked as bad debts?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: At this point, Mr. Chair, we are not booking them as bad debts. We are still pursuing our interests, the public's interests, the workers' interests and the creditors' interests in court. There has not been resolution to the situation, so we are not giving up the ghost at this time. We feel that we should be trying to pursue our general objectives, and probably, by later in the spring, there will be a clearer picture as to what we can expect to happen from the fallout of the mine closure.
Mr. Cable: Is it the government's view that, at this time, the mine will have to be up and running for that recovery to be made, or is there some suggestion that there could be recovery under the security, whether or not the mine reopens?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, there may be some opportunity, depending on how the mine closes and what the reorganization of the mine and ownership is all about; whether or not there are differing scenarios, if a reciever were to take it over or if there were an attempt at restructuring with the participation of creditors or whether or not they might try to keep it on hold or pilot a potential startup. There are different scenarios that are being analyzed and the government's expectations with respect to reovery will depend on which scenario is ultimately adopted.
Mr. Cable: So, just to be clear and make sure I've understood what the minister said, it is anticipated that, later this spring, there will be some sort of definitive analysis made on whether these funds that are owed to both the Yukon Energy Corporation and the government, which I think now totals something like $5 million or over $5 million, are bad debts or not bad debts?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, at some point, Mr. Chair, and I don't have the date that it will be returning to court, there will be a decision made as to whether or not a receiver is employed or whether or not there is a successful restructuring of the mine ownership that is to the satisfaction of the creditors.
Either scenario will depend very much upon what we think we might be able to receive from the mine. Clearly, our preference is for a mine startup. One of our general objectives in participating in the pre-courtroom drama is to create conditions for as early a startup as possible, and try to avoid the cannibalizing of the assets of the mine to pay off creditors, if we can. But, there are many different players involved. We are one. The federal government is a major player. We are not in a position yet to determine what we can expect to receive with respect to our overall objectives or with respect to the objective of recovering the loan already given to the Yukon Energy Corporation.
Mr. Cable: When the Yukon Party was in power, there was a bad debt write-off - I think it was of the money owed by Curragh to the government. I think there was some discussion in the House as to when it's appropriate to trigger the write-off, and I assume it's under the rubric of generally accepted accounting principles of some sort.
Could the minister tell us what, in fact, will be used as the general terms of reference for deciding whether that money owing to both the Energy Corporation and to the government should be written off as a bad debt?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the answer, which probably is not very helpful to the member - the answer that I've been given to relate - is: generally accepted accounting principles.
What I can assure the member is that we will certainly try to avoid any Auditor General notations about how it's done but, at this point, in our estimation, it is too early to determine what the fate of the loan funding is at this point. It's wrapped up in many different discussions that are at play here, with the highest priority being given to trying to set the stage for a reopening of the mine.
Mr. Cable: The money that was assigned from the Energy Corporation - I think, if I remember correctly - had a principal amount of $1.5 million. Was there any interest running on that, or is any interest being booked on that at the present time?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I can check for the member precisely what the interest might be and whether it's being booked.
Mr. Cable: Okay. Just one final question. I think I know the answer, but just for clarification and for the record, should it be, according to generally accepted accounting principles, written off as a bad debt in the upcoming fiscal year, that I assume will be added directly to the annual deficit and come off the accumulated surplus - am I correct in that assumption?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, it may come out of contingency. It may not add to the deficit. We have not decided yet how it would be shown, if we do show it, because it may be that we find other cost-cutting measures that would not enter the deficit. We haven't decided yet.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I have a series of questions that I need to explore with the Minister of Finance but I think I might as well start with one that's top on our minds now, and that's with the loan write-offs.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: I'm sorry. Can you hear me now? Okay. I said I have a line of questions I'd like to pursue but I would like to start with the immediate ones, and that's the loan write-off, or in the event of a loan write-off, because this was a topic of vigorous debate when I was a Finance minister and the now Finance minister was the leader of the official opposition and the Finance critic, where he believed that we were writing them off too quickly to decrease the surplus. I believe at that time that I told him a very similar answer to what he just gave the Liberal critic, that it could be written off under general accounting practices.
If I remember right, from my time as Finance minister, the general accounting principles say that you should declare a bad debt after it has been on the books for one year and payment on it has not been received. But that does not mean that you don't continue to try to collect the debt.
Am I correct in my memory that that is a general accounting principle, that once the debt has been on the books for one year with no payments, the Auditor General would like to see it classed as a bad debt?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, apparently there are other factors that are taken into account. I mean a lot will depend on individual circumstances to determine whether or not one would write the loan off. But the member is quite right that whether we write the loan off or count it as a bad debt, there will still be collection action, if it's possible.
Mr. Ostashek: Yes, I appreciate that, but I guess what I'm trying to get here is if there is going to be a different practice used now by this Finance minister, after the vigorous debate that was in this House when he was in opposition. I want to get some clarification on that.
I want to know: is it the intention of the Finance minister to follow general accounting practices? Because what we have now is we will be perceived to be trying to lower the surplus. I don't think that's in the best interest of any government now to try and lower surplus when it's as small as it is, and it will have an impact on the surplus, if in fact the debt is written off.
So, I just want to know if this Finance minister is going to follow the same practices that were followed by the Yukon Party and that's following general accounting practices.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There is a good deal of interpretation, in my view, about when the government can and should be writing it off. Clearly, when there's a sense that you're not going to be getting receipt of the money, when you're clear about that, then you write it off.
I am not rushing to write this off, as the member can tell. And I'm not sending any signals to any courtroom, either, that we're writing it off, and that's a factor as well. We are looking to meet a number of different interests in court and balance those interests, and we will be acting prudently.
If there is a need to write it off and if we sense that there is no chance in the near future to make a collection, we will write it off. It doesn't mean we won't try to collect if there's a chance later on, but we will follow acceptable accounting principles, yes.
Mr. Ostashek: That is the point I wanted to make. We had great debate about how this should be handled. The member is not sending the signal to the court by writing it off. I believe that the Auditor General, after a period of time, would say that this is a doubtful debt and, to follow general accounting practices, you ought to consider it as a bad debt. It doesn't mean you don't try to collect it. That's the same process we went through. We did write it off as a bad debt. We did continue to try to collect it, and we did manage to get some of the money back. I just want it on the public record that this minister is going to follow the same procedure that the Yukon Party did.
I have a number of other questions. One goes back to perversity, because I think that's important. Is the minister going to be able to get us a reply to the questions asked by my colleague as to what the perversity was last year? Because I distinctly remember asking the question of the Finance minister last year, and I believe the answer I received was $1.21. Are we going to be able to get that today?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, Mr. Chair, I can assure the member, so that the member isn't under the impression that we're going to try to jam any write-offs into this fiscal year so we can show it in this fiscal year, we're not doing that before fiscal year-end. So, I'm not sure what the Yukon Party's machinations were in the back rooms with respect to trying to get that $64 million to $64 million that year. I am not thinking about the situation in that way at all. I'm thinking about the situation differently, as I explained it.
With respect to the perversity factor, I'm told that it may have been down to $1.08 last year. It's about $1.10, but as I said, the thing does fluctuate a little bit. The sense is that it was about the same last year as this budget year.
Mr. Ostashek: I will just speak to the minister's preamble on that. I wasn't trying to insinuate that the minister was going to try and cram the write-off into this fiscal year. If that's what he thought, that's not the case. What I wanted to know from the minister - and I believe he's given me the answer - is that he's going to follow general accounting practices, because that's exactly what we did, whether he believes it or not. That is a debate we can continue to have in this House, but I just wanted that on the public record: that we are following the same accounting practices. He has the ability now to go back through the books and see whether we, in fact, were or not.
When the Finance department comes back, would they also come back then - I'll have to check Hansard, but it seems to me that that is not the figure we had last year. I know it could have changed over the year. I'm not saying we were given a wrong figure, but I would like to know what the perversity factor was at the start of this formula financing agreement, because I think there's been a substantial benefit received by the territorial government - or are receiving a substantial benefit from tax cuts in other jurisdictions.
I believe that, before we left office, there was $1.5 million in benefit that we were receiving by not raising taxes ourselves, but because of cuts in other jurisdictions pushing the Yukon closer to the national average. So, I would like to have those and then we can see if there's any further debate in that respect.
The minister has also given us the population figures that were used in his projections, which is what he calls them now - five-year projections. I have some difficulty with them, trying to rationalize the population figures that are used by the Finance department and the population figures that are used by the Economic Development department in the Yukon short-term economic forecast. They are substantially different, and I don't know how we can rationalize for the public the two different documents with this substantial difference. Even the best case scenario of the Finance department is less than the average population being used by the economist. In the worst case scenario, it's substantially less than what's being used.
I look at the note on the bottom of the Finance officials' document, from the minister's department, saying that 1998 figures are based on StatsCan data; annual growth of 300 is a YTG forecast of natural population increase.
Then when I look at the short-term economic forecast that was tabled in this House the other day, and it says data sources, the population figures for 1996-97 were Yukon Bureau of Statistics - health care population estimates - and 1998 figures are Yukon Economic Development figures.
Now, I don't know what is meant by Yukon Economic Development figures, but I would like the minister, if he can, to explain how we can rationalize the difference in these populations by two different departments, and how can we and Yukoners have any comfort in the projections that have been given to us in these two separate documents?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: To answer the member's first question, tax rate reductions in the rest of the country have certainly improved the situation for us and have certainly lowered the perversity factor for us. That is why there have been reductions recently. That's very much the case.
With respect to the population figures, the statistics branch, Yukon government, uses Yukon health care statistics. They are traditionally always higher - substantially higher - than StatsCan figures. Now, why do we use StatsCan figures? Well, we use StatsCan figures because, as the member I'm sure is aware, the federal government, in determining the formula financing payments, will only use StatsCan figures, and will not accept our figures. That's the reason for the discrepancy.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I understand that, but I think it's very confusing to the public when we have two forecasting documents that are using different population figures. I mean, if this short-term economic forecast is to be of any use to the businesses in the Yukon; if it's what the Government Leader - Finance minister - believes is a signal of stable budgeting to Yukoners through his projections paper - which I take some exception to, but he is adamant that this is sending a signal of some stability to Yukoners - I don't understand why we can't get departments together and use the same set of figures when we're doing forecasting.
I mean, that's one of the biggest problems with government - not simplifying things in languages that the Yukon public understands.
It's okay for the Finance minister and I to sit here and debate formula financing and talk about StatsCan's figures. It's okay for us to debate this and talk about Yukon health records, but it confuses the ordinary Yukoner on the street, and I think government's obligation is to try to make the information that they're putting out as simple as possible.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I'd love for the federal government to accept the stats branch's figures. The reason why we published the branch's figures is because we believe the statistics branch. I believe in the calculations that they use and I believe in the methodology that they use, including health care statistics, to determine, with better accuracy, the population of the territory.
It's just that we can't get the federal government to accept those. So, my dilemma is this: do I use exactly the same population statistics for the ones that are published through the short-term economic outlook in the same document that I present to the members opposite with respect to population projections to support formula financing negotiations when I know full well that the federal government's not going to accept those population projections?
I think it would be nice if we all agreed on one set and felt that they were reliable, but unfortunately, when it comes to calculating the grant, the federal government won't play and won't accept our figures. And we can't accept their figures because we don't believe their figures when it comes to accurately counting people.
So, it is a dilemma. I wish we could resolve it but, in order to be completely honest, we have to present two figures for different purposes because that's the way the world works in the formula financing environment.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, we all understand that formula financing is a very complicated process. I'm talking about the signals that the Finance minister wants to send to the general public.
And if we - just let me use an example - have a business that is saying, "Well, from what we got from the government, let's see what we can expect as to whether we want to increase the size of our business or whether we're going to have to tighten our belt." And we look at one set of figures that says we're going to have a population of 31,100 in the Finance minister's projections to lend some stability to government spending, and then we look at the economic forecast for the year and it says we're going to have 33,519 people, I don't think that it would make any difference if we were talking about millions, but it's a substantial amount if we're talking about numbers in the 30,000-person range.
I know that the minister isn't going to be able to do anything about it, but I urge him to discuss this at the Cabinet level and with various departments and see if they can't come up with some method of using similar numbers for projections.
Now, the Finance minister said that Finance isn't going to accept his projections for formula financing. Well, nobody's asking him to. I mean, this is a projection that he's given Yukoners as to where the government is going and how much money they are going to have, based on the money they get from Ottawa.
I know that that's done in StatsCan figures. I know they always run a little behind, but they do catch up eventually to the population, or there is an adjustment made, as there is at census time. So, the money eventually does come to Yukoners. So, that is a criticism that I'll put forward to the minister.
I just want to get back to this document about the projections a little bit, because when I looked in the document that the Government Leader and Finance minister campaigned on, they say that with each annual budget they will present a five-year financial plan so that the Yukon would know the direction that the government is moving in. We talked about that last night that has right on the top of it "projections." Does the Finance minister believe that that is a financial plan?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Firstly, Mr. Chair, with respect to the population projections, the population projections that we put on the table for the public, we believe, as a government - not as politicians - are accurate, using time-tried methodology are the ones in the economic forecast, population projections by our officials. I am not trying to sell the figures that the StatsCan uses as accurate figures for the public. I'm merely acknowledging that we did not publish the population numbers that StatsCan produced. In our forecast for the future, based on the StatsCan numbers, we did not try to promote that as accurate. What we're doing is simply acknowledging that these would be numbers that would be more acceptable to the federal government in determining the amount of the formula grant because these are the numbers that they're more likely to accept.
With respect to the plan - the plan, of course, includes forecast revenues and are planned expenditures, on the operation and capital side, if certain scenarios take place. This is it. If the member wants other supporting information - and there's lots of supporting information - then I invite him to ask for it. We'll deliver it to him. I note that the offer, so far, to do a brief on how the figures were calculated has not been taken by either member in the opposition who've been asking questions. That's not to say that they're not the calculations and perhaps next year, because of the nature of the discussion here, the foundation calculations for all these numbers will be published at the same time and then members will get a sense of how they were calculated in their detail.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'm trying to point out to the Finance minister that he is not producing what he offered the Yukon public. This is not a financial plan. These are projections. He has admitted in debate in this House that these are best guestimates. I think that was the term he used yesterday. That is not a financial plan. That is not something the Yukon public can count on, because that could change dramatically from what this document says. And that is not the commitment that the Minister of Finance and his party made to the Yukon public. That's what I am pointing out.
After much debate in this Legislature for four years about long-range financial planning, I have great difficulty in the Minister of Finance trying to sell this to the Yukon public as long-range financial planning. These are projections. The Minister of Finance himself has admitted that. That has very little to do with financial planning, and if this is what he perceives to be financial planning, it's little wonder the NDP, in the past, got into financial difficulty.
I'm disappointed in this. I expected much more. I'm sure that Yukoners did, too.
Mr. Chair, we're going to be waiting for the perversity figures. Hopefully, we'll get them. If not, we'll get back to them in the Finance debate. But I just want to go back over part of the debate we had the other night in this Legislature when I asked for the tax numbers, where we had the members of the government in office saying that tax increases weren't required; the wage rollbacks weren't required. Yet, when we look at the impact of the rate changes on territorial budgets, and some $12.5 million in tax increases for the 1998-99 year, there will probably be - and I'm just going to guess, but I'll guess anyhow - a $4 million or $5 million or $6 million impact of a change in perversity factors over the life of this formula so far.
It's a substantial amount of money.
Now, the Finance minister stood in this House the other day and said, well, we can't do without it now because of the spending patterns that were put in place by our predecessors. Then he went on to say that his discretionary capital budget is very similar to the first capital budget that the Yukon Party put in prior to having the benefit of the tax increases.
So, I think there's a lot of inconsistency in what the government members are saying: that tax increases weren't required, but we're not prepared to give them back to the public because we can't afford to because the Yukon Party increased spending, and people have become dependent on that spending now.
Quite clearly the O&M spending didn't go up under the administration of the Yukon Party, and the Government Leader - the Finance minister himself - admitted that his discretionary capital budget is very similar to the first year that the Yukon Party was in government.
So, I'll just ask the Finance minister if he could rationalize that for me.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, quite easily, Mr. Chair, but first of all, let me get back to the first point the member made.
With respect to the commitments that the NDP made in the last election, this is the commitment. The commitment was to end the roller-coaster chaos of very complicated "have big money, have no money" messages coming out of the government.
On one hand, we were dealing in those years with the biggest budgets in Yukon's history and, at the same time, there were tales being told that there was just no money to be had for certain things, and there was everything from tax increases to wage rollbacks. There were new programs being offered, lots of net capital even being put into highway construction. It was not a matter - as I recall the debate - of whether or not the government had the money. It was a matter of priorities.
It always boiled down, in those days, to what are your priorities? But what people were saying was, "Don't keep telling us that there is a crisis and then start spending record-sized sums and then there's a crisis and then there's record-sized sums. That doesn't make any sense and it gives us a great sense of insecurity."
People wanted an end to that. The challenge for this government is not to engage in that kind of activity, not to engage in that kind of messaging and I won't, despite the provocation by the member opposite who seems to feel comfortable in that world. It's not good for the territory. It's not good for business. It's not good for anybody.
The member talks about the NDP having financial difficulty. I would point out this to the member: go back to all the years that the NDP, as I mentioned yesterday, was in control of the financial situation of this territory, from the beginning of the year to the end of the fiscal year. There was always a surplus, every year, and we were in government for seven and a half years.
Now, the member talks about the question of expectations, spending habits in the territory and he wants me to reconcile the fact that I'm not in a position to lower taxes, despite the fact that we didn't promise to lower taxes. We promised to not raise taxes. So, he's saying now, why don't you lower taxes?
Now I recall the budget speeches given by virtually every member in the opposition - the ones that were taking the lead from the leader of the official opposition - saying that the budget lacked vision because we weren't spending more. They have an absolutely insatiable appetite for spending and if we really had vision, we'd add another $30 million to the budget.
Because apart from the notion of cutting commissions and perhaps cutting back all Cabinet staff, there haven't been any serious proposals for cutting O&M costs in this government. What I do have are good quotes from the member himself about how he did not want to cut back operation and maintenance when he was delivering his first budgets. That's what I have in hand in terms of the history from the Yukon Party, and we hear from the members opposite over and over again that if you were just spending some more money, you'd have some vision. Now, in some people's minds in this territory, maybe that's true. Maybe they do equate vision with sheer spending power, but I don't. I believe that a budget can have lots of vision - spending plans and action plans can have lots of vision - without having to overspend one's accounts.
So, are there huge expectations in this territory? There certainly are. We can spend a total of $10 million less in gross expenditures. We could even spend the same amount in the O&M that we spent in the forecast for last year and be criticized for having no vision because we're not spending more. So, I think that even that message is clear enough - that the expenditure expectations are way over the top, as it is.
The member's own colleague from Dawson is well-practiced at putting expenditure proposals on the table almost every time he speaks. He set some kind of record in the first week of this Legislature by racking up expenditure requests of $70 million more.
So, is the member asking me whether or not there are high expectations out there, whether the people think we should be spending more than we are spending right now? Of course there are. A lot of the expectations, in my estimation, have been raised by the members themselves.
Mr. Ostashek: I know the Finance minister is very sensitive about this, because he said things in opposition he's not doing now in government. He's trying to portray himself as a sound fiscal manager, and he's very selective in the cut-off terms he uses when he talks about finance. Mr. Chair, I submit to him the reality is that when the NDP came to power they had a $70 million surplus. After seven and one-half years, they left government with a $13 million debt. That's what the books say.
Mr. Chair, this Finance minister equates giving good services to Yukoners with spending more money. That's what got governments in trouble for many, many, many years. The fact that you're spending lots of money doesn't relate to good service and I think the Finance minister knows that.
He talks now of providing stability for Yukoners by putting this flimsy document out - projections - and calling it financial planning. Well, I think you could take that to any accounting firm and they would tell you that's not financial planning at all. They call that projections. It's just one part financial planning.
Whether he meant it or whether he didn't mean it, in the debates in this House when he was in opposition, he was adamant that the government ought to be doing five-year financial planning. That hasn't happened under his administration.
He speaks of having some stability, not big budgets and small budgets. Yet, last night, when we asked him, "If you get another $20 million in Shakwak projects, are you going to spend it?" he said "Absolutely". Well, he's going to be in the same scenario we were in, in that he is doing exactly the same thing we were. He would spend every nickel he gets.
And he hasn't brought any stability to budgeting in the Yukon or to long-range financial planning, Mr. Chair. That is a fact.
He says that they're not going to increase taxes but, in fact, Yukoners are paying higher taxes because of cuts in other jurisdictions, in comparison to their counterparts in other jurisdictions. The gap between the two is closing, and this Finance minister's quite prepared to let it close and sit there and beat his chest, and say, "We're not going to increase taxes. We're good, sound financial managers. We know what we're doing."
Well, I think in another budget or two, we'll see if they know what they're doing.
As I said last night, this document that he put out - these projections - will be interesting when we start comparing them to the actual budgets in future years.
I just want to explore with the Finance minister a little bit of a different line, but on the same thing. He perceives us, because we want to be spending money on capital, to be some hard-hearted people who don't want to provide services to Yukoners, and we just want to spend it all on capital and create jobs, and we're prepared to leave the underprivileged out there on their own, which is simply not true and he knows it, because we increased spending in social programs when we were in government, too.
But does this Finance minister - I want to know his philosophy now - does he view spending money on infrastructure - on highways, on power grids, on communications - as an expense, or does he view them as an investment?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Just to answer the last question first briefly and then get back to it, the NDP invented the word "investment" when it came to public expenditures. It was only recently adopted by the member opposite, in terms of his brief tenure in this Legislature.
Mr. Chair, I want to assure the member that I don't take issue with the member's comments. I'm not sensitive about them. I just disagree with him - profoundly and totally disagree with his assessment of NDP financial abilities. I believe that it was very good from the years 1985-1992, and I'm happy about that. I think that the surpluses did not run from $70 million in the beginning to $64 million debts. I don't accept, Mr. Chair, that it was a downward slide at all.
That's the member's own take on history. I don't accept it, I don't agree with and the Auditor General doesn't support it, in terms of the actual numbers.
With respect to the comment the member made with respect to spending, that spending lots more money does not necessarily equate to improved services, the member is quite right - it doesn't. Neither does it equate to increased vision in terms of budget direction. The amount of money, by itself, is not necessarily tied to either improvements in the public service or to increased vision. I would hope that, at some point, the member opposite will accept that notion, but I'm not holding my breath.
With respect to the government's basic financial plan, the government's objective is to end the roller-coaster chaos of the messaging that was the hallmark of my predecessor. It was to bring more stable messages to the floor of this Legislature and, hopefully, in the area within that area in which we have control, bring stable spending patterns. It begins by not calling some routine budget crunches, "crises".
Every time the Cabinet had to deal with limited funds or not unlimited funds, they walk out of the Cabinet room and announce that there's a financial crisis. That was a real sign, in my opinion - and the member can take it for what it's worth and he can dismiss it if he likes - I got the distinct impression that when our predecessors entered office that the moment they faced reality and the tough decision making that is government, they immediately announced crises and sent shockwaves through the community. And every time there was a budget or budget development sessions, there was this crisis mentality, as if somehow what they were facing was any tougher than anybody else.
I didn't accept that, and I saw very carefully what the impact was in our community, and people didn't like it. People felt more insecure as a result. And I have not been trading those budget messages with the public at all. In fact, I've been disagreeing with the member every time he's tried to make it seem as if there is a problem.
With respect to the budget philosophy about the building infrastructure, and whether or not that is an expense versus investment, I would say that it is an investment - building infrastructure on the capital side. Highways, certainly transportation links, airports, power infrastructure grids, and even training people, I say, are building infrastructure in the broadest possible terms, because all of those factors help to promote a healthier economy and a healthier society, ultimately. So, I agree, and I would refer to them as an investment.
Where the member and I may disagree is that I also believe that much of what is expended on the operation side is investment too, because I believe that the millions of dollars that we put into the public education system in this territory is very much an investment in our children and in our future.
I believe that the money that we put into the health care system is an investment in keeping our community healthy and that we heal people who are in trouble and keep healthy the productive members of our community. I believe that building inspectors and grader operators also provide for an investment in the future of this territory. So, I don't see a distinction. I know the member at one point has said - and he's repeated it even in this sitting - O&M expenditures are decoration; capital expenditures are wealth creation. I think that O&M and capital can be wealth creation if invested wisely.
I have not targeted any particular expenditure location in government as being unworthy, because if it's unworthy, Mr. Chair, then we shouldn't be spending money in that area, whether it's on the O&M or capital side. So, if the member wants a thumbnail sketch of my philosophy in terms of public expenditures, that's it.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I didn't, for one minute, say that O&M was debt; was bad. I didn't say that at all. I did relate to the Finance minister the other night that we're in a period of economic uncertainty in the territory. Almost every private sector business is having to downsize, especially those that are dependent on the resources. Yet, we have a government that is not downsizing. That doesn't send a very positive message to investors in the Yukon.
Mr. Chair, I just want to go back to a comment the member made earlier, and I don't want him to get mad and fly off the handle, but he says he doesn't accept that there was $64 million deficit. I just want to point out to him that he was Chair of the Public Accounts Committee that verified the Auditor General's report.
He says he sees O&M as investment; I do too, but I believe where we differ is that we just don't believe that continuing to put more money into O&M is going to provide better services to Yukoners. I'm not saying that it's easy - I never did - but I am saying that governments - all governments - have to be cognizant of the services that they are providing to Yukoners.
And they need to be able to provide the infrastructure that's required, because I don't know whether the Government Leader believes it's his responsibility to provide infrastructure in the Yukon or not, but I do believe that it's government's responsibility to provide infrastructure.
I guess I was somewhat disappointed by a comment that was made by the Finance minister and Government Leader in relation to the Campbell Highway last fall, when he said they couldn't afford to upgrade it. Allegedly said. It was reported in the paper that they couldn't afford to upgrade the Campbell Highway, and I'm certain it was the Government Leader who said it. It may have been one of his ministers, but it was said. And I'm of the position that they can't afford not to upgrade it if, in fact, Kudz Ze Kayah or one of those properties are going to go ahead. Is it going to be easy? No. Does he have the money to do it? No. But we have to get creative and we have to find the money, and we have to do it maybe a little at a time. Do we do it on a gamble? No. But I think that you can deal with these companies that want to develop in the Yukon and work with them, to be able to put the infrastructure in place that I believe we, as a government, should be providing, not only for mining but for tourism and for everything else.
So we differ on that.
I want to go back to last night just for a few minutes. I have a few more questions here. I didn't get a clear answer from the Finance minister on his projection of a $6.5 million lapse in O&M this year. Is there any specific situation in government that he knows will increase that O&M from, I believe he said $2.5 million last year or $1.5 million, to $6.5 million this year? He must have some idea. There must be something, some department that hasn't spent their money, for whatever reason, and that he's going to have a substantial lapse in O&M this year.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I'm going to get some more information here in a minute with respect to the details on lapses to the extent that we know it, but I feel compelled to respond to some of the things the member said.
First of all, the member and I probably are never going to agree on what motivated a $64 million debt in March 31, 1993. I have some very strong feelings about that, and the member and I are just simply not going to agree on this point. There's all kinds of evidence, in my mind, that suggests that there were attempts to drive that figure up, up, up, and no serious attempts to bring it down.
The point that I made with respect to the generalization the member made about the NDP's record in government from 1985 to 1992 - he made it seem as if the NDP started with a $70-million surplus and worked its way gradually to a $64-million debt. That's the farthest thing from the truth. There was a surplus every year. It actually bounced back up and down during that period, right through to 1991. There was only the one year, when we shared responsibility for the budget, that the Auditor General recorded the $64 million debt and a $13-million accumulated debt. That was the year.
So, based on my experience, based on what I know, Mr. Chair, this member and I are not going to agree on this point - ever.
With respect to the point about what happened in the past - and I bring the member back to 1993. The member said at that time that he was not going to cut O&M; he was not going to lay off people, because he didn't think that sent an appropriate signal to the economy. He didn't get disagreement from me on that point. For him now to suggest to me that a signal to the business community that some businesses may have to readjust - some businesses that are not in business because of the closure of the Faro mine - and that somehow the government has to mirror that activity, is inconsistent with his own actions in 1993.
I agreed with him in 1993 and I don't agree with him today. I do believe that government can provide a stabilizing force in the economy and, at the same time, that stabilizing role includes maintaining levels of service in this territory. It doesn't mean, necessarily, that O&M budgets remain static. Things can go up and down. I point out to the member that last November's supplementary showed most departments showing their O&M budget going down. So, the O&M side of most departments was being squeezed. They were still trying to maintain services, so that we could meet what we understood to be some growth areas in medical health services primarily. We didn't want to jeopardize the services that people had come to expect in this territory and we didn't think it was the appropriate time to be sending signals of instability.
That's the reason why we have not cut the O&M budget overall.
With respect to government infrastructure, the member should know that NDP governments build infrastructure too, even by the definition of the member opposite. I remember tabling, back I think in 1988-89, the national highways report which said that the Government of the Yukon, at the time, was the biggest spender per capita on highways anywhere in the country. We were happy to be so.
Almost one-quarter of our net expenditures this year are on highways. So, to say that we ignore highways because we don't put even more into highways is not true.
Now, last year, we put some money into the Campbell Highway, and I remember the Member for Klondike criticizing us, saying, "Why would you put money into a highway where there is nothing going on?" We said, "Well, there is potential there. We want to do a little bit at a time. We can't do it all at once." So, we started incrementally building up the Campbell Highway, and we're doing so again this year. We don't have the money to do it all at once, but we do have the money to do it gradually on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Now, I know the member has heard from constituents with respect to proposals for accelerating the construction of the Campbell Highway, and I'd be interested in hearing his thoughts on those proposals. I know the Liberals have heard the same thing, because the people told me that they had shared this with the Liberals and the Yukon Party, and that there was general agreement on these proposals. If that's what the member is referring to, I'd like to hear his thoughts on that subject, because that has a very direct impact on budgeting philosophy. It has a very direct impact on the economy of the territory, and I would just like to know the member's opinion.
Sorry, I want to just answer the member's question.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I want to do that, too - the surplus.
On the O&M side, Mr. Chair, the largest lapse projections so far are for Health and Social Services.
Mr. Cable: I just have a couple of questions. I think it's been the practice, at least on occasion, to provide the opposition with a list of the non-governmental organizations that are being funded during the fiscal year, and the anticipated amounts that would be provided to them, and the names of the organizations. I wonder if the Government Leader would undertake to provide those to us before we get too far down the road.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Does the member want something other than what's in the budget book? Contributions by department are listed at the end of every department listing. Is there something more that the member wants? Does he want it all rolled up into one thing? What's he looking for?
Mrs. Edelman: I wonder if we could have a copy of the NGOs that have completed the three-year funding agreements or the planning exercise with the departments. I know some have completed those and some haven't, so specifically those NGOs.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, we can compile that list and, at some point, as soon as we get it, we'll pass it over.
Mr. Cable: The document that the Government Leader provided for us today - the Faro mine closure impact on YTG revenues, the update of the fall 1996 document - I'm having some trouble reconciling the impact numbers. For example, in the year 2000-01, the formula financing grant is shown as dropping off by $15,248,000. Am I reading this document correctly?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cable: In the financial plan document that was tabled three or four days ago, the transfer from Canada is showing as growing through each of the five years and it doesn't seem to reconcile itself with the fact that the formula financing grant is dropping, or am I misreading and misappreciating the numbers?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, there are other elements to the construction of the formula financing grant at play here as well, Mr. Chair. Population adjustments are one, but there are other elements that factor in, tax effort, et cetera, and all of those are taken into account so that we do lose funding as a direct result of the Anvil Range mine, but that doesn't mean necessarily that the grant will be going down by that much. There are other factors at play.
Mr. Cable: Okay, so the numbers that were given to us today on that sheet, those are gross, unadjusted numbers and eventually the numbers will be made up for by operation of the formula financing agreement to correspond with the numbers shown in the financial plan. Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I want to say, just for the record, that the Finance minister and I are not very far apart on how we deal with the operation and maintenance of government. He is under the perception that I'm saying to lay off people, we've never said that for one minute. He's under the perception the only way you can control the cost of government is by lay-offs. I don't believe that for a minute. I believe that there are too many staff. That can be accomplished very, very easily through attrition. There is a perception in the public right now, and it'll be interesting when we get to the Public Service Commission debate, to see if there's any basis of fact behind the perception that the civil service is growing.
Now, we will investigate that. There is a perception that the government is gobbling up office space in town. When we get to Government Services we will be looking at that, to see if there's any validity to that.
All I'm saying to the Government Leader is that there are ways of controlling costs to government without directly laying off people. That is not acceptable, I don't believe, especially in an economic downturn. I said that before, and I fully believe that today. But I also fully believe that it's not prudent to be increasing the size of the civil service if, in fact, that's what's happening. And there certainly is a perception there.
So, we will be exploring those as we go through the budget debate. That's what it's for. I, for one, believe that there are things that we could be doing differently that would save money, and we will be examining all of those as we go through this.
As for how we develop infrastructure, when I said to the Government Leader that we need to get creative on how we develop infrastructure in a small jurisdiction, I was not speaking about one individual proposal. I would be happy to sit down with the Government Leader and talk with him at any time that he would like about my thoughts on those types of proposals. I don't think that's advanced far enough to be debated on the floor of this Legislature, but I do believe that we need to get creative at how we do it, but I think there are ways that we can get creative and develop infrastructure so that we can promote economic activity in the territory without huge risk to the taxpayer in the territory.
I believe that's where we differ.
I don't have a lot more in general debate. In fact, I don't think I have anything right now. I will wait for the perversity figures, but I'm sure that the Finance minister will allow me to discuss them when we get to the Department of Finance and debate them as vigorously as they need to be debated at that point. So I have no intention of just carrying on this debate for the sake of carrying on the debate.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, with respect to the perversity figures, we'll send those down tomorrow, so they'll have them in plenty of time for the Finance debate.
I want to make a couple of points though, because I think these are important. First of all, every government must retain the right to lay off public servants if there is no longer a need for a service. I've never said "no layoffs" at all, but I have said we want to maintain services. If and when we do layoffs and it means a reduction in services, then I'm breaking a promise, because I said "maintain public services." So clearly, theoretically, you can lay off without affecting services if you want to do something in a new way. That's why there's a lay-off clause in collective agreements.
The government, like any other employer, has got to respond to their constituency or, in business terms, to their customers. And, if their customers want different things done in different ways, you've got to be able to respond. You can't just do the same old thing in the same old way forever. Conditions change. That's been true, as far as I'm aware, all the time I've been in this Legislature. NDP, Yukon Party - it doesn't matter.
The member is right that often there's a perception, particularly in the City of Whitehorse, that there's a growth in government and growth in office space. I have to tell him, and this might be painful, but there was a perception of the same sort of thing going on in the last few years. When the building was built across the street, people were saying, "What's going on; this is growth in government." Those types of perceptions are going to take place, but I want the member to know that this government's focusing on services first, how services are being maintained and whether or not we can provide a sense of stability in the community.
At the same time, we are trying, in order to be able to spend money in the most appropriate way, to ratchet back certain kinds of expenditures that we believe have less utility than others. For example, last year, the overall budgets for systems, equipment, furniture and so on were cut back 25 percent. This year, in this budget, we're cutting them back 15 percent - not a further 15 percent, but 15 percent from the new level - in order to redirect funds so that we can put them to best use.
There's not a sane government on earth that is willing to waste money when they could be spending the money better. That ought to be what any sane government would want to pursue.
So, I don't want the member to be left with that impression, because at one point he finished off his remarks by saying "in that area, we disagree." I don't know whether we disagree. I'm just telling him what our position is.
Mr. Ostashek: I just have a few comments to make about what the Finance minister has said there. He has said that they have cut back on office furniture. He has said he's cut back on computer systems, and I think they did some last year. They did it again this year. I believe they also cut back on highway maintenance to some extent. I think we had that debate in the Legislature last year, and we can do that for a few years. We can't continue to do it and be able to provide the services that the Finance minister says we need to provide to the people. At some point, if we don't start spending the money required - and I'm not debating with the Finance minister at this point how much money is required, because I don't know. That was part of his budgetary process in putting it together. I know that departments will always ask for a lot more than what you can give them, but they do require a certain number of computer systems, which, I think, the horrendous costs associated with them has defied anybody who has sat in that Finance minister's chair over there over the years. Yet we're always told that we need to have them, because we can't do the job without them.
So, the point that I'm trying to make is that I believe that we can control the size of the civil service through attrition in an area like the Yukon, especially in the time of a downturning economy here. It's tougher to do it that way. I know that, because departments, to a certain extent, have a bunch of positions that they think need to be filled, and they fill them.
I guess just one question that I can ask in Executive Council or I can ask it here: has the Finance minister - Mr. Chair, it's probably more appropriate to ask it in the Executive Council Office. I just won't ask it in this debate.
With that, I don't have any more questions in general debate on the budget, Mr. Chair. I don't know about my colleagues.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Without wanting to leave the impression that we don't care about computers, we just care more about some other things. We are still making expenditures on computers, and I'm certain that the ministers will be able to provide as erudite explanations of why one computing system is being proposed this year as the members opposite did when they were in government.
I am interested, though, at some point in talking to the member about his comments with respect to creative ways - philosophically, not in any specific project - to fund infrastructure. I am not sold on the notion of a creative way that includes debt financing because that was the creative way of the late '70s and early '80s and people are creatively trying to find ways today out of the debt that they created back then.
So, there are proposals out there for ways to creatively do things, but I think we have to be extraordinarily cautious if it means that one is transferring a significant obligation to cover an economic need of the moment - a significant new obligation - to another generation. I wouldn't mind hearing the member's comments on that and the Member for Riverside's comments on that, either now or at some point or at some point during this budget debate - if not today, some other time.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the member for that. I just wanted to make it very clear to him. He spoke of a proposal that he knows we are aware of. He's right. I just wanted to point out to him that I'm not married to any one proposal. I believe there are many creative ways that governments can provide infrastructure that's required without putting taxpayers at risk. I don't believe that I'm prepared to talk about those on the floor of this Legislature now, but I would be happy to sit down with the Government Leader at some point, if he so desires, and give him my thoughts on the subject. I think it's premature to be discussing them on the floor of this Legislature.
But I wouldn't have any difficulty sitting down with the Government Leader - Finance minister - and talking about them at a private meeting first.
Mr. Cable: I think that's perhaps the more appropriate method, and probably the less politicized method. There are some ideas that have been bandied around by the group that I'm sure has talked to the Economic Development minister and to the Government Leader. It might be useful for all of us to hear their general proposition at the same time and gather information.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I certainly don't mind having private discussions. I'm also prepared to put our general principles on the table and in public, right now, with respect to the boundaries of what we consider to be creative solutions to meeting economic needs or infrastructure needs.
I'm not referring to any specific proposal, because there have been other proposals beyond ones that I think we're talking about here. I know that there were proposals to fund, for example, the bridge over Dawson - the Skagway port. There have been proposals for building new schools and jails. We've heard lots of proposals.
Unfortunately, most of the creative proposals involve the notion - not all, but most - of incurring some extra obligation that one has to transfer to another generation to pay a debt of some kind.
There is a cost of capital if you're going to borrow the money to transfer it to another generation. There's got to be payback. For example, if the private sector or public sector borrow money for something, if that's part of the proposal, there is the cost of that capital. Right now, we do pay as we go. Everything is bought and paid for - this Legislature, the street outside, the school down the street, the Justice Centre, the Arts Centre. I mean it's all paid for, but if there are proposals that cost more because you're borrowing to fund them, then you're passing on an obligation to another generation that otherwise wouldn't be there. Now one could say that you're passing on an asset, too, to the next generation, but that was exactly the same thinking that was taking place in the late 1970s and early 1980s when we were investing in all kinds of things. It would be great for the next generation. Well, we're certainly taking advantage of some of those things, but we're also labouring under accumulated debt. It just sort of adds up. Each individual project doesn't seem to be particularly scary, but once you layer these things one on top of the other, there comes a time when even provinces like Alberta can be paying 20 cents on the dollar to debt servicing on previous generation's commitments.
Yet, they still have current-generation problems to address, and most governments with debt complain that they would rather be able to spend the money on something positive for their generation - put people to work - than service a debt for something that was built 15 or 20 years ago.
I'm interested in having a general discussion around this and I'm happy to have it on the record. I agree that any individual proposal put forward by any citizen should be explored in another forum, but I do think that at some point there ought to be some discussion about where people stand on general principles.
Mr. Cable: Well, I think that's appropriate. I don't know what the best mechanism is for analyzing the idea. We have some considerations ourselves, of course: protection of the taxpayer and getting the lowest price for the project. The proposition that's on the table, as I understand it, I don't think is the long-term financing. I don't think there's significant inter-generational transfers, so I'm not sure that's a problem with us, the Liberal caucus, but everybody, obviously, has to be satisfied that it is in the best interest of the taxpayers. Everyone is going to have some terms of reference.
I think I could safely say that we're open to any reasonable mode of discussion to get through the general principles and then perhaps on to the specific proposal.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Based on that answer, Mr. Chair, I think I sometimes feel the way the opposition feels when they're asking questions of ministers. I don't know what the member said, but it sure sounded good.
Mr. Cable: Well, let me say it again. I think the Government Leader has - as have the members in the opposition - been approached by a group of businessmen to look at a rather innovative way of financing infrastructure projects. I think this is being done across Canada.
I don't think there is any one way of advancing the analysis of the general proposal or the specific proposal. It's probably desirable that we look at it and make sure our heads are in the same direction before we start trying to win some points on the floor of the Legislature. I'm sure the Minister of Economic Development wouldn't do that, but if we could sit down together with the proponents, either separately or together, and see where we're going on the project, I think we may be able to find a very innovative way for financing infrastructure in a day and age when the government is strapped. You know, I'm looking at these worst case/best case scenarios. This government is going to be strapped for awhile.
So, I don't know if that further enlightens the Government Leader or not, but we're happy to sit down with the Government Leader and have a chat. I guess we can summarize it like that.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The member is correct. He did repeat his answer.
Chair: Seeing no further general debate, is it the members' wish to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. There being no further general debate, Committee will now go to the estimates book, Yukon Legislative Assembly, page 1-4.
Yukon Legislative Assembly
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The operation and maintenance budget proposed for the Yukon Legislative Assembly for 1998-99 totals $3,147,000, which is an increase of $8,000 over the 1997-98 forecast. This is a $40,000 decrease, or 1.3 percent, from the 1997-98 main estimates of $3,187,000.
The capital budget proposed for the Legislative Assembly for 1998-99 totals $5,000, which is an $18,000 decrease from the 1997-98 forecast. There are six programs in this vote.
In the legislative services program, there's an increase of $53,000. This is broken down as follows: an additional $16,000 is being budgeted for MLA indemnities and expense allowances as required by the provisions of the Legislative Assembly Act; a
n additional $3,000 is being provided for the activities of the Yukon branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; t
here is an increase of $11,000 to cover fringe benefits for additional established positions under the Cabinet and Caucus Employees Act;
there is also a one-time expenditure of $23,000 being budgeted to cover the costs of the special sitting in Dawson City on June 13, 1998; t
he $461,000 shown in the estimates for the Legislative Assembly Office program is a $6,000 increase over the 1997-98 forecast. This increase in funding is allocated to supplies and communications.
The budget for the elections program is $157,000, which is $32,000 more than the 1997-98 forecast. In recognition of the school council general elections scheduled for this fall, there is a $20,000 increase in the activity covering elections under the Education Act. A further $12,000 is being added to this program to allow continuing preparations to be made for the next territorial general election.
The budget for the program respecting retirement allowances and death benefits is $430,000, which is a $63,000 decrease from the 1997-98 main forecast. This results from a reduction in contributions to the MLA pension plan, as recommended by the most recent actuarial evaluation.
The budget for the Hansard program is $367,000, which is a $20,000 decrease from the 1997-98 forecast. This is to cover the costs of the contracts for producing, printing and binding Hansard.
Upon the recommendation of the conflicts commissioner, there is no change in the funding for the conflicts commission program from last year's main estimates and forecast expenditures of $13,000 to this year's estimates.
The capital budget is $5,000 to cover the cost of replacement furniture and equipment. It's a decrease of $18,000 from the 1997-98 forecast.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, as normal practice, I don't have a whole bunch of questions on the Legislative Assembly, but I do have one that piqued my curiosity as I went through the book here. On the statistics page of legislative services, where we have 60 sitting days in the forecast for 1997-98 and an estimate for 1998-99 of only 50 days. Could I have the rationale behind it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, there is not, Mr. Chair, because I suspect that there'll be 60 days. That's my own personal feeling.
Mr. Ostashek: I was wondering, because I thought maybe the Government Leader had sent a message to the Clerk that they were going to be more forthcoming with their answers and we would expedite the time in debate here. Nevertheless, I was just wondering what the reason was.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It's a two-way street, of course, and as the member knows, questions put only once deserve only one answer.
Mr. Cable: The Clerk has provided a report on the Elections Act, and I was wondering what the government's intention is with respect to that report. Have we solicited the various parties' opinions or their recommendations on the proposed amendments to the Elections Act? Where do we go from here?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, with respect to the amendments that would come through the Chief Electoral Officer's office, I understand that there will be a process this year of ensuring that there is full agreement among all parties represented in the Legislature on the detail that would be inserted into drafting regulations, and then ultimately there would be legislation drafted at some time, on which it would be my intention that there would be all-party agreement on the details of that legislation so that when I reach the floor of the House it would be my intention that every detail of that legislation would be agreed to by all members.
Mr. Cable: Just from the standpoint of timing, is it our intention to have the legislation before the House in a legislative session before the next election so that when we go into the next election we will have the changes that have been recommended?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes.
Mr. Cable: Now, during one of the previous budget debates, I invited the minister to give us his thoughts on new and innovative ways to practice democracy here in the Yukon - things like the transferable ballot and recall and proportional representation. Has he given any further thought to those new and innovative ways of dealing with elected officials, both at the election stage and after the election?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, as I recall, Mr. Chair, about this time last year the member promised that he was going to provide me with all kinds of reports and studies, and I think the Australian experience. I've been waiting for all this information that he's going to flood me with. If the member wants to share that with me, with other members, then I invite him to. He's going to have his work cut out for him, in terms of some of the propositions I'm sure, but I, like most other members, don't want to be dogmatic about it. We're willing to listen and to think about it.
Mr. Cable: Well, I apologize to the Government Leader for that slip up in my memory. I wonder if we could just get a sampling of the Government Leader's thinking though. He is, of course, one of the main policy generators in the NDP cabinet, I'm sure. What does he think about proportional representation? I know there are various jurisdictions in the western world, and I think Tony Blair in Great Britain - one of his social democrat counterparts - is looking seriously at proportional representation. Does he think it's a good idea? Does he feel it's worth some sort of public input?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, it's an interesting idea. I'm not sure that I'd want to see the Yukon pioneer it. It certainly has not been embraced with gusto by the federal Parliament.
As I mentioned before, people have expressed concerns to me about this notion, suggesting that it is quite conceivable that nobody's first choice would be elected but everybody's second choice might be. And I know it's infamous of the Liberal Party to think that they are everybody's second choice, because it's their party philosophy to be as inoffensive and noncommittal as possible.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That was my attempt at being nice. Wait a minute. I'm trying to be generous here.
But I have not thought it through deeply and certainly, I generally do, as do most members, like to think about it carefully before passing judgment.
Mr. Cable: Well, I should alert the Government Leader to the fact that we're going to make a tape of this last few minutes and, whenever the Minister of Economic Development gets up and calls us confrontational, we're going to wheel this out. Do unto others as they do unto you.
What about the getting of public input into these new forms of government? I know some people in the public, particularly political wonks, are quite interested in these new forms of democracy. They feel that governments basically elected with less than 50 percent of the vote are not totally representative of their wishes, and there's a lot of anxiety out there in the electorate about politicians generally and about political parties and about the electoral process.
I'm just wondering about soliciting the views of the people. I know this government talks about consultation. Is that something that's worth taking to the people, to get some initial reactions?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I'm not certain that we'll sponsor that discussion. I'll have to think about it. First of all, clearly, there are not many MLAs in this Legislature who would be elected if, at the riding level, they depended on 50 percent of the vote. I know that it does give parties in Israel, for example, a great deal of power in determining who will be in government, because the percentage vote is tallied up and the top candidates, as determined by the party, are put into office. But there are not many MLAs in here right now who achieved 50 percent plus one in their own riding elections. The fellow on my left here is a notable exception. What was it, 95 percent? Not all of us have that record.
So, the question is, if we want to be rigorous about this principle, do we accord that kind of power to parties and to party leaders and party executives when it comes to running the Legislature? I am not certain that I'm sold on the notion.
I want to make it clear to the member that I'm not trying to give the impression that I have come to conclusions, but I have thought a little bit about it as an interested observer, and would be more than happy to read perhaps executive summaries of whatever information the member has to offer. I'm certain he's been thorough and has all kinds of information on his desk, so I don't necessarily want to make the promise that I'll read every word. But I am interested in the subject, as I know he is, and I would be happy to do some more thinking on the matter.
Mr. Cable: As I understand the Australian system - which I don't think is called proportional representation; I think it's the transferable ballot system - one marks their ballot for first, second and third choice. If no one has 50 percent on the first count, the electoral officers look at the ballots and pick up the votes from the third person, I guess it would be, so you have an elimination until such time as you reach someone who ostensibly has the backing of 50 percent of the people, albeit maybe incorporated into that 50 percent are some second and third choices.
Is the minister prepared to look at that? Is the Government Leader prepared to look at that and perhaps put it out for some initial thoughts from our electorate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, that's possible, Mr. Chair. Again, I'm not prepared to make any commitments. We were, in the first instance, elected to do a number of things and they're part of our plan to do. I know that the member opposite did raise issues about electoral reform - the recall, that sort of thing - in the election campaign and I know that it is part of the Liberal plan, but we're going to put our energies primarily into the things that we got elected to do. If there is time and we can't think through some of these things between now and the next election, then there is a potential for some review, but I can't make any commitments to that effect right now.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'd like to get into this debate, not on proportional representation or new election laws but on something we do have some control over - and I think maybe now is the time that we should be doing it - and that's an electoral boundaries review. We have a large discrepancy among the voters in several ridings in the Yukon and I'm just wondering if the Government Leader has any stomach or desire for an electoral boundary review before the next election?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I frankly had not thought about that at all at this point. I'd have to, first of all, ascertain whether or not there is a substantial difference in terms of population shift from the last time we had the electoral boundary review. I know the electoral boundary review last time wasn't exactly everybody's cup of tea, but if there hasn't been a substantial shift in numbers, then I personally wouldn't want to put us through the exercise of doing another review with the potential of coming up with the same kinds of results.
But if there is a substantial change in terms of a shift in numbers between ridings, then it may be worthwhile. But we can always undertake the review, and ask the Chief Electoral Officer - along with the stats branch - to perhaps report to Members' Services at some point, or to Rules, Elections and Privileges, or to whichever is the appropriate committee, on whether or not there has been any shift - major or minor - from the last time the boundaries were set.
Mr. Ostashek: The number is not in my head, but I can think of a couple of areas in the Yukon where it's very obvious that there has been a tremendous shift, and Whitehorse West is one of them - like 1,400 or 1,500 voters in the last election, I believe. Then we have the Member for Faro's riding with a mine that has shut down and may not go back into operation, so I think it's worthy of a look.
There is a disproportion between some ridings, and I agree with the Government Leader that a lot of people weren't happy with the last review, but I think that could be improved upon by, first of all, hiring some impartial person in the Yukon to conduct the review rather than going outside of the Yukon to hold the review. I think that was part of the problem with the last review. There wasn't a lot of common sense put into how the lines were drawn and defined. So, I would encourage the Government Leader to ask someone to provide statistics for Members' Services or SCREP as to whether or not there has been a major population shift between the last review and before going into the next election, which will be two to two-and-a-half years from now, and see if it would be the opportune time to do a review.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We'll see, Mr. Chair. Obviously there's no rush. I do remember participating in some discussions around how we were going to conduct the electoral boundary review before the 1992 election. Clearly, there was a lot of debate as to whether or not there could be an independent perspective inside the Yukon. I guess the Government Leader at the time, after discussing it with the opposition leader, could not detect such a person. Even people who had very good reputations did not want to be held responsible for the results, given that they still planned to remain residents here.
It was a difficult issue. I think there was an attempt, at the time, to find somebody who was somewhat familiar with the Yukon but was not a resident, and who had a legal background. I think there was a lot of hope on everybody's part that it was going to produce good results.
The anomalies that were produced, such as the Ross River-Southern Lakes riding, with all that that entails and the difficulty in its representation, obviously did not go over well in some people's minds and, Mr. Chair, they eliminated my riding. I had no place to represent. I was not particularly happy, either.
If it had been a Conservative-led review, I might have been complaining, but it was sponsored by the NDP government.
Anyway, joking aside, I think when we get closer to the election period - and there's no anticipation of an election at this time - we will be thinking more about whether or not we need to do such a review. I can commit to the members, both the leader of the official opposition and the leader of the third party, that if we do a review the terms of that review will be agreed to by all parties in the Legislature, that we will not undertake any process that does not have that support.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, if I could just enter into this debate for a moment, I vividly recall that particular electoral boundaries commission, and the anomalies, I think, can be found in every riding. It seems to me - and perhaps the Government Leader could clarify this - that that report required that after two elections the boundaries be examined.
The Clerk is shaking his head. Perhaps, then, that is something that we should insist be placed in future reports and put it in the terms of reference for whomever, and I agree it will be difficult to find a person to do this, whoever ends up doing it, that it must be re-examined after a period of time. Particularly, I think it is incumbent upon us to do this, as there are complaints that I have received about many of the ridings, in terms of difficulty to successfully serve the constituents contained in the riding or to represent the views of everyone or seek all of those views.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: My memory is clearly imperfect with respect to all the rationale behind the decision making leading up to the review, but I can recall that I think Mr. Thick was involved in a promise - I shouldn't say a threat - of a court action or a suggestion that a court action might be taken if some of the anomalies between rural Yukon and Whitehorse ridings were not corrected. And there was some talk in the media about the size of some of the ridings as compared, for example, to the Old Crow riding. The biggest riding at the time I think was the old Whitehorse West, which includes virtually all of my riding, which is now I think the biggest, as well as the current Whitehorse West, which is probably the second biggest, versus Old Crow.
Strangely enough, all parties went to the hearing and said that Old Crow should be retained. The decision was to recommend that it be retained with a name change. So, there may be a number of variables that may drive us to consider a review. I would like to have a look at the situation objectively before considering the matter again, and that's why I suggested that maybe we should look at population shifts first and get some accurate numbers before we do it, and think about it nearer the end of the mandate, rather than in the middle of the mandate. I can assure the members that the mandate's not over.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I partially agree with the Government Leader. I know his mandate's not over, but I was not part of this Legislature when the last review took place. I did speak to the committee when they were in our area. But, having run in the 1992 election and having the review pushed up right within just a couple of months - just three months; I think it was May or June that it was passed in this Legislature just prior to the election - I thought was too close to the election. I think the Government Leader ought to keep that in mind as we move forward.
I agree that we shouldn't just rush into a review without knowing that there have been some population shifts that would require review. I heard the leader of the Liberal Party saying that we should perhaps write it in that it should be after a period of time. I don't agree with that either. Unless there's been a major population shift, what is the reason for going through a review? We need to have a population shift to go through a review. I think we should leave it open, because they are costly. If there's some rationale or reason for it then, by all means, we ought to do it.
Chair: Is there any further general debate? Not seeing any, we will proceed to Legislative Assembly, Legislative Services, Program, O&M expenditures. Is there any general debate? Not seeing any, we will proceed to Legislative Assembly.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Legislative Services
On Legislative Assembly
Legislative Assembly in the amount of $1,197,000 agreed to
On Caucus Support Services
Caucus Support Services in the amount of $464,000 agreed to
On Legislative Committees
Legislative Committees in the amount of $19,000 agreed to
On Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in the amount of $39,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the statistics?
Legislative Services in the amount of $1,719,000 agreed to
On Legislative Assembly Office
On Clerk's Office
Clerk's Office in the amount of $461,000 agreed to
Legislative Assembly Office in the amount of $461,000 agreed to
On Chief Electoral Office
Chief Electoral Office in the amount of $118,000 agreed to
On Elections: Education Act
Election, Education Act in the amount of $39,000 agreed to
On Elections Administration
Elections Administration in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Elections in the amount of $157,000 agreed to
On Retirement Allowances and Death Benefits
Chair: Is there general debate?
On Retirement Allowances
Mr. Phillips: Why did that go down?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I believe the latest actuarial review has resulted in a reduction in forecasted contributions for the plan. That is my understanding.
Retirement Allowances in the amount of $430,000 agreed to
On Death Benefits
Death Benefits in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Retirement Allowances and Death Benefits in the amount of $430,000 agreed to
On Transcription Services
Mr. Ostashek: I just have one question here. It's dropped from $384,000 from 1997-98. Is that because of the 50-day forecast rather than 60 days?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, Mr. Chair. This is the result of a lower bid price after the tendering for the new contract.
Transcription Services in the amount of $367,000 agreed to
Hansard in the amount of $367,000 agreed to
On Conflicts Commission
Conflicts Commission in the amount of $13,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $3,147,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Chair: Is there general debate?
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures in the amount of $5,000 agreed to
Legislative Assembly Office agreed to
Yukon Legislative Assembly agreed to
Office of the Ombudsman
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the funding provided for the office of the ombudsman under vote 23 is equal to the main estimates and forecast expenditures for 1997-98. The amounts provided are $207,000 for operation and maintenance and $5,000 for capital. These amounts were approved by the Members' Services Board pursuant to the provisions of section 9 of the Ombudsman Act.
Mr. Cable: I've got a little bone to pick with the government, and maybe the Government Leader can help me out.
The ombudsman, of course, is our access to information person also, and over the last couple of years, anyway, I've made application for information, which I think clearly should have been made available to the people. I was one of the representatives of some of the people anyway, and have been rebuffed.
I'll go into this, because I think it's useful to discuss the particular instance - I had gotten back one of the worst pieces of bureaucratic bafflegab I think I've ever seen in my life, and that relates to the abattoir. I don't have the letter in front of me, but I wish I had brought it into the House. I thought I had it.
We have a situation where there was public money put into a project; it was in a circumstance where there was no competition. There was no commercial secrecy needed, in my view, and if there was competition, then the question is why was the money put into the project in the first place. We have a project where the amount of public money that was put into the project exceeded the proponent's own investment, and the money was put in as a grant - not a loan, but as a grant. It was taxpayers' money that went into this project. And we have the newspapers that have covered the project quite extensively. There was a two-page spread in one of the newspapers. Yet, as an elected representative, I can't get the security documents that set out the conditions for default so that we know - and the people that are going to use that service know - what the rules are surrounding the processing of the slaughtering of animals.
I find this simply outrageous. There's no real reason why this information can't be released - none whatsoever.
Here's the question that I asked previously: is the minister prepared to make those conditions - the security agreement itself - public, so that we can judge the effectiveness of this initiative two or three years down the road? The answer I get back is that some of this information will be made public when parts of the general security agreement are registered at the personal property security registry at corporate affairs, Justice. What will be registered will be the financing statements, in which the following information is disclosed: the date of the agreement - very helpful; the parties - we know who the parties are, at least we know that the government's one of the parties, I can't find out what the actual name of the other party is, but we have the name of some of the principals; the amount secured - we know that; that was given to us; it was in the budget; and the description of the equipment taken as security and any prior charges acknowledged.
Now, just how helpful is that? Assuming that we can find out who the proponent is and we can walk down there and do the search, how does that help the users of that service, who are going to go up, banging on the door, saying, "Slaughter these chickens or slaughter these cattle and, by the way, what is your fee structure, and is that fee structure the one authorized by the government and, if not, what is the government going to do about it if you raise that fee structure too high?"
Here's the question I asked in this House: is the maintenance of the fee schedule one of the conditions? Is the fee schedule to hold for the whole of the five years? Perhaps the minister could check if, in fact, an attempt to charge fees in addition to what the government has authorized will trigger the security agreement.
This is the answer: "The fee schedule, as proposed by Partridge Creek Farm, is set out in the business plan they presented to the government. The farm noted that the schedule is subject to adjustment as the business grows and matures. However, no attempt has been made in the business plan to project an adjustment of the fee schedule over the five-year period."
And on and on, ta-da, ta-da, ta-da.
"It is also noted that the Yukon shall be the sole judge of whether Partridge Creek Farm is maintaining abattoir services in accordance with the agreement. This means that, should the operation make drastic changes to the fee schedule, the government could decide that this is not in the spirit of the agreement and give notice to the business to remedy the situation."
How do we know that? How do we, as elected representatives, judge whether this government has put out a project that adequately protects the users and, also protects the taxpayers?
I find the withholding of this particular information extremely offensive, and I think the government is hiding behind the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The federal information commissioner has reported, if I recollect the newspaper article correctly, that the federal act is being used as a shield, rather than a sword, which it was intended to be used as in the first place. You know, we can see the Somalia affair - all the tortured gyrations that people had to go through to get information out of their government about the operation of their army.
So, I have to ask the Government Leader just what is the attitude of this government toward the release of public information? Is it going to hide behind the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, or is it going to make the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act work?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the member set up the question in a very awkward way, and I mean this with all of the greatest respect. He has put on the table a very specific concern, documented, I presume, very well in the way that we've come to respect from him, and then has asked me whether or not, pursuant to that presentation, we want the information act to work. Of course, the only answer that I can give is yes, we want the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act to work. We don't want it to be a shield, in an unwarranted way, to protect public servants from disclosing reasonable information to the public within certain limits, but I can't apply that general comment to the very specific situation that the member has raised, because I am not fully seized of all the elements of that particular situation. The general philosophical concept, indeed, as I understand the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act that was passed here, was that it was supposed to make more information public.
I'll ask the member a question: did the member pass this before the privacy commissioner? Did the privacy commissioner report or make recommendations? Did the privacy commissioner indicate that he was in some way prevented from doing what was reasonable in the circumstances and therefore felt that he was hamstrung by the legislation? Was it the privacy commissioner who indicated that the legislation is, in this particular instance, a problem? Maybe the member can help me.
Mr. Cable: Well, I made an assumption that the Government Leader knew there was a request for access being processed and obviously he's not, so let's stay off the particular file, then.
What I find odd is that the public servants would enter into negotiations with large sums of money being involved without telling the proponent that, "Look, this is public business; this isn't just your business; you're going to get money from the taxpayer and the quid pro quo is that the taxpayer and the users of the service are going to want to know a lot about what's going on." And I think that's the same rule that should apply in Economic Development when money is given. I don't think we should be hiding behind this commercial secrecy cloth. If people want public money, the quid pro quo is that the public should have some information.
Does the Government Leader sort of agree with that general proposition?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I think, in general terms, yes, I do. I think, though, that there are limits to the information. I know we've had long discussions in this Legislature about what kinds of information we should be releasing with respect to people who have outstanding loans with the government, and there's always been a sawoff as to how much information should be provided.
I would have to take the question as notice and think about it more thoroughly, with respect to this particular instance or a class of instances like this, because I haven't thought it through. The Department of Education is the department that handles access to information requests, and I haven't thought through the implications of what it is he's referring to. He's laid an issue on the table. I'm not aware of it. I wasn't aware of it until he raised it, but I'm not convinced that I know enough about it to be able to make a comment off the top of my head.
Given the member's obvious consternation, I would be happy to look into the matter personally and see what might be done. I do, as a general proposition, expect that when public money is involved there ought to be a higher degree of visibility toward what that money is being put toward than it would be under for a normal, private transaction.
I don't know what the standards are. I don't know what the situation is in other jurisdictions with respect to what the cut-off is, or how much information and under what circumstances should it be released in order to protect individuals' privacy, and then balance the individual's privacy versus the public's right to know. Presumably, some people have thought this through and I would be interested in their advice.
Mr. Cable: Just let me add that when the Government Leader thinks about the proposition where there has been money granted or loaned for a specific project, say with Anvil Range or Curragh or for the road into Loki Gold, I think the documents have surfaced. They've come out in the House here. They were debated on the floor of the Legislature and I can remember talking about 14 conditions for the loan to Curragh.
What the taxpayers were going to get out of it - the specific investments, not general program investments or loans under some program, but specific investments - there was going to be a test of the efficiency of this investment permitted by the members of the opposition at some juncture down the road. Let me encourage the minister to review that aspect of it.
I'd like also to draw his attention to A Better Way. We've discussed that. On page 23, under the heading "Greater Accountability", the now Government Leader has indicated he will undertake a full review, by department, of what information is public and what is private, and how to make it public or keep it private.
Has that been done? Have the public servants been educated on what the taxpayers are entitled to and, if not, when does the Government Leader intend to do that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It is in our action agenda, as well. It has not been undertaken, to my knowledge, at this point. We do intend to do it in our term.
There are many instances where there is confusion in departments as to whether or not they should release information. Some people get some information, and other people are denied the same information, coming at the information from a different direction.
So, there is confusion, I believe, in the government, and I would think it would be worthwhile to go through that exercise. Hence the commitment to do a review.
I have been thinking that it would be appropriate for the privacy commissioner to be in office for awhile before we ask the privacy commissioner to lead such a discussion.
But, certainly, it is our intention to carry through with that commitment at some point.
Mr. Cable: I think that when these acts were brought in, they were intended to change the onus, so that information is public unless there's a darn good reason for it not being public. Now, unfortunately, there's always umpteen dozen exceptions, but I think there's an inclination to cloister and protect the information, because it might be used in some fashion that's detrimental to whoever is holding the information. I think that message has to be clear to the whole of government: that information should be public and there should be a darn good reason for withholding it. Not that the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is a neat way of avoiding the release of the information.
Let me encourage the Government Leader to get that message out to the public service and throughout the government, so that we don't get a repeat of this sort of dreadful approach on the abattoir.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I agree with the member. I honestly can say that I very much, as a general proposition, do agree with the member, hence the reason for wanting to see some reform in this particular area. I don't see any reason why information - even if the public servants haven't done all their homework and haven't covered off all the bases, I don't see why that shouldn't be exposed, and that that is a measure accountability. So I think that it is a good thing.
With respect to the matter itself that the member raises, I will ask for a review of that, see what the procedures were that were followed and see if I can get more information about what precisely the information was that was being withheld. And I'm certain that I can find out what was being withheld - not that I'm the best arbitrator, but it will certainly give me a better appreciation for what the issues are here.
With respect to the privacy commissioner, I think it would be worthwhile to have the discussion about - perhaps we could do it on Monday - what the member's experience was with the privacy commissioner. Is the privacy commissioner not able to respond? Are there problems that the privacy commissioner has identified?
Perhaps we should have a brief discussion on that subject.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on this bill.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, First Appropriation Act, 1998-99, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. next Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:28 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled March 5, 1998:
Environment Act audit report (Fairclough)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled March 5, 1998:
Delgamuukw decision: impact on the umbrella final agreement and on Yukon First Nations final agreements (McDonald)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2207
Contracts provided to the leader of the official opposition by the Executive Council Office (McDonald)
The following Documents were filed March 5, 1998:
Rate relief: Hansard excerpt (April 25, 1996) (Ostashek)
Rate relief: letter to the editor (July 28, 1997) (Harding)
Population projections (Yukon) for 1998 to 2001 (worst case/best case scenarios) (McDonald)
Revenues to Yukon government: impact on re Faro mine closure (McDonald)