Tuesday, March 10, 1998 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling the Yukon Agricultural Association training agreement.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Ms. Duncan: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT this House recognizes that
(1) the Government of Yukon has jurisdiction over the plants and fungi of the Yukon Territory;
(2) there is an increasing interest in the harvesting of wild fungi, such as morels, and there is a rise in the use of naturopathic medicine and herbal remedies;
(3) there is no legislation controlling the commercial harvesting of such natural resources; and
(4) there has been little work on the inventory and distribution of wild fungi; and the work on the inventory and distribution of vascular and non-vascular plants is not complete; and
THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to demonstrate recognition of the importance of cataloguing and preserving the natural biodiversity in the Yukon by developing, in consultation with First Nations, harvesting legislation covering the commercial gathering of wild plants and fungi.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
Challenge/Community Alternatives contribution agreement
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, in keeping with our government's policy of fostering healthy communities and providing jobs and economic opportunities for Yukon people, I am pleased to rise today and announce an agreement that will result in vocational training projects for people with disabilities.
The advanced education branch of the Department of Education recently signed a contribution agreement with Challenge/Community Vocational Alternatives that sees $50,000 in funds being transferred to develop a landscaping assistant training program.
As a result of this agreement, adults with disabilities will be able to further their vocational goals here in the Yukon.
This project is the latest in a series of vocational training projects for people with disabilities to be developed cooperatively by Challenge and Yukon College. The objectives of this program are to help people with disabilities acquire task-oriented skills that will lead to employment in the area of commercial landscaping; to provide opportunities for people with disabilities; to increase interpersonal and social skills that are needed when seeking a job and for maintaining competitive or supported employment; to increase the self-concept and attitude of people with disabilities by ensuring success in interpersonal and task-related skills; to determine how payment affects participation in, and completion of, training programs for individuals with disabilities.
Last week, when I met with Challenge's executive director, Jon Breen, he was enthusiastic about some interesting partnerships that Challenge is in the process of developing. Both partnerships involve the eight students chosen for this program making use of the flowers they grow.
Some of the flowers will be provided to the Yukon government for use along the waterfront this summer. The students will also be providing plants to Career Industries Ltd. to go with the flower boxes it has sold to the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Speaker, as residents and visitors stroll around Whitehorse this summer, they will be able to see the results of this program and share in the pride of accomplishment of these special adult students.
Mr. Phillips: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and the office of the official opposition, I'd like to congratulate the Government of Yukon for establishing an agreement that will provide training opportunities for people with disabilities.
People with disabilities can work and want to work. Their working will, in turn, benefit all of us to sustain a healthy community.
While we on this side of the House, Mr. Speaker, applaud every opportunity to assist the disabled and those with special needs to find meaningful employment, it's important to know that there are jobs waiting for these Yukoners after their training. An initiative such as this creates short-term job opportunities in the Yukon but what we really need is for this government to take a proactive role and create some long-term opportunities for Yukoners that will, in turn, foster much healthier communities.
Last December, the Minister of Health and Social Services announced the Yukon would be entering into negotiations leading to an agreement on a new employability assistance initiative for people with disabilities, to take effect April 1, 1998. Under the proposed agreement, the Government of Canada would match expenses each province and territory incur to provide eligible employability programs and services to an amount no less than each jurisdiction's current allocation under the existing vocational and rehabilitation of disabled persons program.
Perhaps the Minister of Education could tell us today if the Government of Canada is contributing any funds toward this initiative, and if so, maybe the minister could let us know how much that is.
I'd also like to know if the minister consulted with the newly formed Yukon Council of Disabilities about the agreement prior to making a decision, and whether or not there were other proposals that came forward from the council with respect to training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. And, has the Government of Yukon received similar requests from rural Yukon regarding training and employment opportunities in those communities?
As well, Mr. Speaker, can the minister also elaborate further on who will be doing the training? There are several landscaping companies in the Yukon. Will the contract be going out to tender or is it going to be sole-sourced? Is it already sole-sourced? What is the status of that?
I'm hoping, Mr. Speaker, that it will be tendered so that all landscaping companies do have an opportunity to bid on this project. Could the minister also elaborate further as to what landscaping will occur? Specifically, I would like to know if there have been discussions with the City of Whitehorse regarding the work to be carried out, and if these plans have been tied in with the waterfront planning that has been taking place. I know there were meetings weeks ago about new planning for the waterfront, and the minister said that they are going to be planting some of these flowers on the waterfront. So, could the minister tell us if they've talked to the city, and what's going to take place?
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus, I'd like to offer our support for this partnership between Challenge and advanced education. This project gives opportunities to adult learners who have not been able to succeed within the mainstream education system and it's a good idea.
I have just a couple of questions for the minister, though. Part of this project's funding comes from the federal opportunities fund. I wonder if she could quantify how much the federal opportunities fund is putting toward this project and I also wonder if the minister could indicate whether this is the beginning in the series of education initiatives for persons with disabilities and whether there are any upcoming projects in this year for this particular fund?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I appreciate the support from the members opposite. To clarify for the members, the $50,000 that we have contributed to Challenge for this contribution agreement is coming out of the training trust fund and are monies that we have budgeted. This is an important step along the way in looking for long-term employment for people.
The official opposition asked about who would be teaching for this project. This is, as I indicated in the ministerial statement, a collaboration between Yukon College and Challenge, and the college will be delivering the vocational skills and commercial landscaping skills curriculum as part of the project.
The Minister of Health has advised me that we are working with Health and Education during the implementation planning phase to identify what new programming not captured in the Canada health and social transfer might be eligible under the employability assistance for persons with disabilities program. I'm not aware, at this time, of similar requests for training from rural communities.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Education, mathematics 9 examination
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Last November, I raised questions in the House about Yukon students' proficiency in math and problem-solving in response to math results where over 60 percent of Yukon students in grade nine and 10 failed their first term.
I asked the minister if she would admit there was a problem in Yukon schools and would she agree to establish an independent inquiry to determine how to correct the situation. The minister, at that time, called me an alarmist, and said it was only the first term and that teachers would have time to improve the results. I would like to ask the minister if she's had the opportunity to view the results of the Yukon territorial math 9 exam held in January and if she could relay to the members of this House a recap of those results.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I do not have in front of me the results of the particular math term tests that the member is referring to. We have had considerable discussion, Mr. Speaker, on the results of students doing various testing on math, including the SAIP tests and the Yukon territorial examinations. I can inform the member that we're working hard, and teachers and departmental staff are working hard at ensuring that there's a good curriculum and a good offering for students of the math program.
Mr. Phillips: Well, the minister refuses to really admit that there's a problem that she has to deal with. I believe that there is a crisis in our Yukon education system. For example, at F.H. Collins, over 60 percent of grade 9 and 10 students failed their first term marks; 42 percent of math 9 students and 58 percent of math 10 students failed their second term marks.
Results from the January territorial exam are just as alarming. At F.H. Collins, 40 percent of math 9 students failed the exam and 54 percent of the students failed the course. Overall, 48 percent of Yukon students failed the exam and 45 percent of students failed the course.
In view of these alarming results, I would like to ask the minister now if she's prepared to admit that there is a problem in our education system. Will she agree that there's a crisis and will she set up an independent inquiry to look at the situation? It appears, from the actions that have been taken to date, this minister is incapable of judging the problem herself.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The assertions that the member opposite made in his preamble are simply wrong. I have not said that we could not do better. We do need to do better and we're working hard at doing better in the math program, as in other programs. The math results obtained at the end of the first semester do not meet the standards set in the Department of Education assessment action plan, and both the assessment unit and the curriculum division are working to develop plans to address these concerns. Actions include meeting with schools to discuss program organization, help for students and teachers and assessment practices, placing a priority on providing materials and inservicing for the teachers at the grade 8 and 9 level, and making sure that resources are available for students and teachers as we implement the new integrated resource program for mathematics 8 to 10.
Mr. Phillips: The minister just doesn't get it. It has taken about two semesters - almost three semesters now - for the minister to wake up and realize that there's a problem in our math in our schools in the territory. Now she's using her own resources, herself, to judge what the problem is. What I'm asking the minister to do is to get an independent body to look at what we're doing in the Yukon, look at what other jurisdictions are doing, and make some recommendations.
Why won't the minister call on an independent body to look at what we're doing and deal with it now. We've lost a couple of semesters to these young children who are failing their math and have to take it over again. When is the minister going to take immediate action and do something now?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member opposite doesn't get it. The member opposite likes to stand here in this House and criticize the teaching force in the Yukon and criticize the curriculum that's being offered and the results that the students are getting. I can tell the member that we have brought in test designers from Alberta, from the jurisdiction that implemented the new problem-solving curriculum in math earlier than other jurisdictions in Canada and led the country when it came to the results in the recent SAIP test.
We brought in those test designers to work with Yukon teachers on test design and question development. That information will be used in the development of the exam for 1998 and 1999. We have undertaken, Mr. Speaker, a number of measures to improve the offering of the math curriculum in our schools.
Question re: Yukon excellence awards
Mr. Phillips: Well, we'll see, Mr. Speaker. The minister has a terrible record so far in dealing with this problem.
My next question is to the Minister of Education. Last November, the minister tabled a student recognition report, which surveyed stakeholder opinions about the Yukon excellence awards. As the minister will recall, the report showed that 84 percent of parents and 64 percent of students are in support of the excellence awards. Despite this high level of support, the minister expressed opposition to the program, saying that nobody's convinced that the Yukon excellence awards are the most effective way of recognizing student achievement.
Last fall, the minister said she'd be asking school councils and the YTA to provide specific recommendations by the end of February as to how student recognition programs can be improved. I'd like to ask the minister if she can tell me today where we are with respect to that review, if a copy of the recommendations could be made available, and when can we expect a decision on the future of the excellence awards?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The recommendations were made available when the results of the parent and school surveys were published, and provided to members of this House. Mr. Speaker, I have recently received a copy of a letter from the Yukon Teachers Association, responding to the Yukon excellence awards overview and making some recommendations. The spring school council chairs conference will be another opportunity for school councils to provide further recommendations on that.
Mr. Phillips: In a recent newspaper article, a reputable math teacher who recently retired attributes part of her students' success in previous math 12 departmental examinations to the use of the scholarship incentives. Given the successful performance of these students in past years, one would think that these comments would count for something.
In view of the widespread support among parents, students and many of our teachers, will the minister finally acknowledge that the Yukon excellence awards is a good program, it has worked for the students, and when will the minister realize that there's strong public support for the program and make a final announcement on the details of the program, so that students and parents can know the program is in place for next semester?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, it seems that the member is alleging that the program has been abolished; in fact, that is not the case. We made it clear that we support awards for students, and I can tell the member, since he doesn't seem to get it - he doesn't seem to listen - that many teachers and many parents and many students make the case that a recognition awards program should be available to acknowledge all of the effort that all of the students put into their work, and not one that's strictly for those who can achieve 80 percent or higher.
Mr. Phillips: Well, the minister is right, Mr. Speaker. Most of the parents and most of the students think that high achievements should be rewarded, and that's the question I'm asking the minister. When is the minister going to make an announcement about the new program that's going to be in place next fall, incorporating the recommendations that have been made by parents, teachers and students? When are we going to hear about the new program, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I've just indicated to the member, in response to his first questions, that we've recently received correspondence from the Yukon Teachers Association and are anticipating hearing from the school councils. When we've looked at what they have to say, we'll look at any possible changes to the program.
Mr. Speaker, I think that I should also ensure that the member is aware that we have a number of students who got 100 percent in math in recent territorial exams; in fact, we had ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: ... we had a higher number of students who achieved that 100-percent performance than British Columbia.
Question re: FAS/FAE research
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Speaker, in 1991 the fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects action plan recommended that further research into the incidence and prevalence of FAS/FAE in the Yukon is a priority. In other words, how many people in the Yukon are FAS and FAE and how many are being born each year.
Mr. Speaker, you have to know how big a problem it is before you decide what resources to allocate toward preventing and treating the problem.
Mr. Speaker, is research into the prevalence of FAS and FAE still a priority of this government?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: All aspects of FAS/FAE are of concern, and one of the things that we're hoping to get some information from is the high-risk alcohol study that is currently being done for us.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, that study probably has been completed for quite some time, and I hope we see it in the near future.
But I still haven't heard an answer about the numbers. Now, Mr. Speaker, the results of a year's worth of meetings of the FAS working group state that reliable stats for the tracking or the incidence of FAS and FAE are still not available. Every study and plan since 1981 - and that's for the past 17 years - has pointed out that we need accurate numbers of FAS and FAE children and adults in the Yukon. Where are they?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I have worked in the field of education for a number of years, and I can tell the member that sometimes the prevalence of FAS/FAE is very hard to quantify, and it is a fluctuating number. It goes up periodically and goes down periodically. We are trying to get a handle on how many individuals are impacted, and we're also not only just interested in studying. Studying is fine, but studying is sometimes an excuse for inaction. We are trying to bring in policies and programs designed to address those.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, we still haven't got an answer about numbers. Both the State of Alaska and the Province of Manitoba have gathered statistics on the prevalence of FAS and FAE in their jurisdictions, and from that information, both places have developed very good prevention and treatment programs for FAS and FAE. Why can't we get the numbers?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, we can get numbers. The question is how accurate those numbers are and how prevalent they are. As well, I would suggest that those numbers vary tremendously from community to community, and I would be somewhat loathe to be releasing numbers which would categorize one community over another.
Question re: Electrical transmission grid
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader. In the budget speech, the Government Leader talked about setting aside $100,000 to examine the feasibility of interconnecting Yukon's electrical grid with our nearest neighbour.
Now, when the NDP was in opposition, the then-Yukon Party government raised the subject and it was met with a whole series of cat calls by the NDP. Could the Government Leader tell the House why the NDP opposed the idea in opposition and now appears in favour of spending $100,000 to study the feasibility of interconnecting the grids? Why the change of heart?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, in the first instance, the two ideas are, in fact, conceptually different. The previous government had a dream scheme, which had the Yukon jurisdiction selling power to Alaska and British Columbia, and this was the notion that somehow this was going to constitute economic development for the territory. So, clearly the proposal was that we would be selling power to British Columbia in the first instance, which already has a surplus of power and we would be selling power to Alaska, which had already made it clear that they wanted to sell power to us. So notionally the notion didn't make any sense - even as a long-term visionary dream scheme.
The interconnect notion that we are currently investigating is to determine whether or not the Yukon can purchase surplus power from British Columbia in order to meet its long-term power supply needs, rather than having to embrace, conceptually, the cost of very large power supply projects, which we know a small rate base could ill afford.
Mr. Cable: Okay. Let's say that it wasn't a conversion. Where did the idea come from? Did it come out of the Yukon Energy Corporation, the energy commission or out of the energy group in the Economic Development department? Who originated the idea?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Some wise person, I would presume, Mr. Speaker. I don't know whether anyone would want to ...
Speaker: Order. Order.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: ... hog all the credit for this idea. Let's put it this way: the notion is a good notion. It's worth investigating and we are prepared to do that.
Mr. Cable: The budget speech talks about this feasibility study and the $100,000 contribution. It's not clear whether B.C. Hydro and the Government of British Columbia are also contributing to the study.
Could the Government Leader tell us a little bit about this feasibility study and the contract. Has the contract been let? Who are the parties and will there be cost sharing? When does he expect the study will be finished?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation will be making an announcement in due course with respect to B.C. Hydro's participation and there will be B.C. hydro participation.
I am certain that, when we get to Economic Development, the minister will be in a position to answer the string of questions the member asked with respect to some of the details to the extent that they're currently known.
Question re: Social assistance, back taxes payment
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services concerning the phantom taxpayer, Mr. Gary Bemis, and favoured constituent of the ministers.
Last November, in this House, it was learned that the minister, in contravention of Section 27 of the Social Assistance Act regulations, paid the back taxes, amounting to $5,200 for Mr. Bemis. It was further learned, from the letter that I've received, that additional costs were incurred by the Department of Justice in trying to recover Mr. Bemis' back taxes. While they were pursuing that in court for trespassing, it cost the Yukon taxpayer $12,001.33. This, Mr. Speaker, does not include any accounting for the time spent by the Justice officials, which I estimate to be in the neighborhood of about $5,000.
I'm going to table a letter, Mr. Speaker, from the Minister of C&TS that tells us that it's $12,000 for Mr. Bemis. But, Mr. Speaker, since then, we've discovered that Mr. Bemis had flown the coop, so to speak, seeking sun and sand, also contrary to the social assistance rules. The minister promised an investigation back in November, and I'd like to ask the minister if he was successful in tracking down the elusive Mr. Bemis, and at what further cost to the Yukon taxpayer.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The member there seems to have a particular obsession with this individual. I can tell the member that Mr. Bemis is meeting his obligations as required.
Mr. Phillips: Where's Inspector Clouseau when we need him?
Mr. Speaker, it's my understanding ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Mr. Phillips: ... that the social assistance snowbird has landed back here in Whitehorse, and I would like to know what the minister's doing to recoup the approximately $22,000 plus that the Yukon taxpayers already invested in Mr. Bemis? It's clear the money was given to Mr. Bemis, which violated the act and regulations, and it's clear that Mr. Bemis left the territory without notifying the social assistance department, which requires the government to take action.
Why did the government not take any action with Mr. Bemis when he left the territory without notifying the government?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We did check with the legal services on that and found out that there wasn't any contravention in this regard. So I can just repeat what I said earlier: the individual in question is meeting his obligations.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, this is ridiculous. There are a lot of angry taxpayers out there. It's cost them over $22,000. The minister gave Mr. Bemis the money under the wrong pretenses under the act, and the wrong regulations of the act. Secondly, the minister's department has a policy where, if you leave the territory and you don't notify the department, you're in trouble. Obviously Mr. Bemis is a favourite of this minister.
Why is the minister not doing anything to take action on this, Mr. Speaker, and sending a message to all other taxpayers out there who pay their taxes on a regular basis that the minister is keeping a close eye on these kinds of situations? Why isn't he doing that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, the Member for Riverdale North may be enraptured with this individual; however, I can say quite frankly that I haven't spoken with the individual in question in probably the better part of a year.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. Order.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I realize that I didn't check with the detective for Riverdale North in doing this, but I can just repeat that the individual in question is meeting the obligations as required.
Question re: Blood transfusion, hepatitis C testing
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Speaker, my question again is for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
A few years ago, when AIDS first became a national health issue, there was a look-back program instituted in the Yukon where individuals who had had transfusions during a certain time period were contacted by mail and asked to be tested for the AIDS virus.
Mr. Speaker, during 1986 to 1990, there were a number of Yukoners who had blood transfusions and they may have contacted hepatitis C, which is a likewise fatal disease, but none of these Yukoners, apparently, have been contacted directly to have themselves tested.
Now, it is my understanding that the minister is aware of only five cases of hepatitis C in the Yukon, and it's really important that we have accurate numbers on this so that we can get the federal funds to pay these people some sort of recompense.
Would the minister consider doing a look-back program, similar to the one in B.C., where a search of hospital and doctor records is conducted and those individuals who received blood transfusions before 1990 are notified and encouraged to go for blood tests for hepatitis C?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I am afraid there is some confusion here. When I identified the number of people who had hepatitis C, I was referring to people that we could identify as testing positive due to blood transfusions. And we believe that that's approximately one percent.
Right now, there are 240 people who have tested positive to date in the territory and, based on national population statistics, that would translate to probably somewhere between 300 and 700 who will have hepatitis C in the Yukon.
Now, we have a protocol with Yukon physicians to determine when a person should be looked at. We've also gone back and taken a look at people who are at the most risk. I think the issue that is coming out now is the question of individuals who received a blood transfusion in the period between 1986 and 1990, when the so-called surrogate test was available.
That's the issue that is currently being discussed by provincial, territorial and federal authorities to determine the amount and the exposure period for compensation on hepatitis C.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, this raises a number of questions. How many people in the Yukon with hepatitis C, out of that 240, are purely Yukon hepatitis C victims? In other words, the Yukon has to go to the federal government and say, "This is the number of people that we have that we gave transfusions to during this period and that we're responsible for and that you have to pay recompense for." How many of those 240 are we responsible for as Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I don't think it would be a case of saying how many we are responsible for as much as it would be to identify those people who we know received blood transfusions during that period of time. That number varies between 500 and 700. Now, of that, we also have to determine how many of those people fall within that sort of window of exposure. As well, there is currently - I don't know if the member is aware of it - today, a $4-billion lawsuit launched by some victims of hepatitis C who fall outside of that framework, and that would further complicate the issue.
The basic principles of an agreement have been agreed on. The basic overall amount has been agreed on, and we have an approximate idea - not a full-blown idea, but an approximate idea - of what our exposure would be, financially.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, hepatitis C is a fatal disease, and many people with hepatitis C are no longer able to work, they've lost income, their homes, and some people have lost their lives. Now, would the minister make pre-test counselling available to individuals who are going for blood tests and, if the results are positive, support counselling post-test?
Mr. Speaker, due to the nature of this disease, may I suggest that such counselling should be made available immediately. Waiting six to eight months to see a counsellor if you've been diagnosed with hepatitis C is not practical.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I certainly agree that it can be a disease that is quite debilitating. There are some issues involved with this. About 30 percent of the people who test positive with hepatitis C will have some degree of symptoms, and those can range from virtually none to such things as chronic fatigue. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis, or at the very worst, liver cancer. There isn't a curative treatment at this point.
The most effective drug in this case is interferon alpha, but there are a number of reasons why this drug treatment hasn't been positive. There has been a low response rate and some of the side effects are particularly difficult and people who have hepatitis C that can be treated, we have been sending to Vancouver for training on how to administer the drug themselves, as well as how to manage some of the other issues surrounding a person with hepatitis C.
We have seven people on a chronic disease program right now who are receiving interferon alpha treatment therapy and that ranges anywhere between $3,000 to $15,000, depending on the patient, the length of time and so on. What we are interested in -
Speaker: Will the minister please conclude his statement.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I have a few more pages to go here and I haven't even got to the compensation.
Speaker: Will the minister please conclude his statement.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Gasoline prices
Mr. Jenkins: My question is for the Government Leader. Mr. Speaker, on February 26 in this House, I raised the issue of extremely high gasoline prices that Yukoners are paying at the pumps.
Yukoners were not satisfied with the Economic Development minister's answers, so I'm going to try my luck with the Government Leader in his capacity as the acting Minister of Economic Development.
At the Mapco Refinery, which supplies some gasoline to the Yukon, the price this week was 47.8 U.S. cents per U.S. gallon. Converting this to the Canadian equivalent, it works out around 20 cents per litre. Now, if you add in the federal Canadian tax, the Yukon tax and shipping from the refinery just south of Fairbanks, you add another 20 cents for a total of around 40 cents per litre. We all know what the pump prices are in and around the Yukon. Will the Government Leader undertake to find out why Yukoners are paying so much for gas today?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I can understand why the member opposite didn't like the Minister of Economic Development's answer, because he drew attention to the fact that the Yukon Party raised gas taxes in the Yukon, and that was something -
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: They didn't like it when the Economic Development minister said it and they don't like it when I say it.
Well, I apologize for resurrecting that little piece of Yukon history. Nevertheless, that is a contributing factor, of course, to the gas prices currently being charged at the gas pumps today.
The Minister of Economic Development did say that he would be talking to his department in terms of doing an analysis of the gas prices. The member had asked a question about performing an inquiry and the minister said that he believed that that was not necessary at this time and that an analysis could be done and he would be prepared to respond.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, but Yukon taxes, at 6.2 cents per litre, are the lowest of any jurisdiction in Canada. If the Government Leader feels that they are too high - and they were raised by the Yukon Party - lower them. But, lowering them to what they were will not account for the tremendous price of gas here in the Yukon today.
Also, the Minister of Economic Development previously blamed fuel inventories here in the Yukon as one of the reasons for the continuing high cost. Now, the largest fuel storage in the Yukon is operated by North of 60, who sells Shell brand products today. I'm advised that they have approximately seven days of inventory on hand here in Yukon. Esso draws its fuel from North of 60, so that leaves us with Petro Canada, which truck their products from Edmonton, and Northern Petroleum, which truck their products from North Pole, Alaska. They don't keep any inventory on hand of any consequence. There's virtually no storage time in Yukon to justify the high cost of the product, as the Minister of Economic Development previously suggested.
I asked the Government Leader to have his department officials look into this situation and find out the answers, immediately, as to why Yukoners are not seeing gas prices fall. Will the Government Leader do that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I can understand why the member, in his new capacity as representative of the Yukon Party, feels the need to justify the tax increases that they levied, but I have to tell the member that I am not in a position to lower the tax rates at the present time, because the member himself puts some new spending proposal on the table virtually every day and keeps expectations high. So this member, particularly, has a tremendous reputation for that.
As I indicated already, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Economic Development did say that his department would be doing an analysis of gas prices and analyzing the situation, as the member has described it, but when the member asked in the first instance, some few weeks ago, and insisted that there should be a public inquiry, the Minister of Economic Development at the time said that he did not believe at that point that any such inquiry was required. But he did say that he would be doing an analysis, and an analysis will be done.
Mr. Jenkins: Perhaps if the Government Leader did fill some of the expectations of Yukoners, we'd be much better off.
Mr. Speaker, Yukon consumers are phoning our offices. I'm receiving email from these consumers asking for some answers, and we, like them, are at a loss to explain why fuel prices in the Yukon remain so high, while fuel prices, for example in the United States, are at the lowest inflation-adjusted level in recorded history, Mr. Speaker. Virtually all southern Canadians are enjoying lower gasoline prices, in spite of much higher provincial taxes than the Yukon levies.
Yukoners would like to know why the difference, and are seeking the assurance of this government to find some answers. Will you help them, Mr. Speaker? Will the Government Leader help Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That's my job. I help Yukoners. Along with the rest of my colleagues, we're all helping Yukoners, Mr. Speaker, and the analysis that the member has requested...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: ... is in fact being done. The public inquiry is not necessary. The analysis is in fact being done, and I can assure the member that, even though I may not be meeting his expectations - and he'll remember he asked for $60-million worth of requests in a single week; it had to be a legislative record - we will be meeting many of the expectations of the Yukon public. I'm proud to say that we will continue to do so but, Mr. Speaker, it is my job to help Yukoners, and we're doing it. Rest assured. The member doesn't have to worry.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I would like to introduce some guests that we have in the gallery today. The grade 11 social studies class from Vanier Secondary School is here observing Question Period, and I'd like all members to join me in welcoming them today.
Notice of government private members' business
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the government private members to be called on Wednesday, March 11, 1998. They are Motion No. 92, standing in the name of the Member for Kluane, and Motion No. 53, standing in the name of the Member for Kluane.
Speaker: We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and 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
Executive Council Office - continued
Chair: We will continue with general debate.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I have some information to table with respect to the Bureau of Management Improvements workplan, and I also have some information to pass out with respect to the cost of the Cabinet commissions, which I will pass out now.
A member asked yesterday about an employee on secondment from Education. I can report that the secondment will last until March 31, 1999. The primary project is devolution negotiations, and the person has also been chairing the Faro community taskforce, the interdepartmental working group dealing with the closure of the Faro mine and related community-based issues. The person does have an office here but does work out of their home as well.
Members asked about the French language agreement. This agreement is about to be renewed and the projection, at this point, is that the new agreement would amount to about $8.5 million over a five-year period and that is what is shown in the budget figures.
I don't recall any other questions about the French language agreement, but if the members have them, I can answer those too, probably.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for the information. Can the minister tell me how many people in total are working on devolution?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, there are basically two people who spend most of their time on devolution that I know of - the person I just mentioned and the ADM responsible for intergovernmental relations - but I am certain that there are other support people who provide some support here and there in intergovernmental relations.
There are a number of people working on it and there'll be people in departments who are providing support services as well, and providing information to the government to these two negotiators on the various positions that are being put forward and responding to positions being put forward by other parties.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, when we left debate yesterday evening, I was seeking some assurances from the Government Leader with respect to the issue of land claims and costs to municipal governments. The Government Leader got very defensive at a number of points, and I'm just seeking his assurances, in general policy terms, that there have been no changes in his government's direction to the Land Claims Secretariat with respect to a number of areas. If we could go through them one by one, Mr. Chair, it would probably be appropriate.
The effects of land claims on municipal governments, according to previous ministers and according to previous governments, has been consistent - that there was to be no additional cost to municipal governments for the land claim settlement. Yet we're seeing breaks in that armour, or that position. Can the minister confirm that that is still the position of his government, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I don't know that the member has characterized the long-term position appropriately, and I want to assure him that I'm not being defensive at all about this matter. There's something about the member's tone of voice that gets my back up, but that's nothing to worry about. The position of the government has, in fact, not changed at all, of course. The position of the government is that municipalities will bear no direct costs associated with implementation and that is a position that is being sustained today.
Mr. Jenkins: In fact, if we look at the Association of Yukon Communities in 1997, they were given some $30,000 to cover the costs incurred by municipal governments while negotiating land claims. Is that not the case, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, what the Association of Yukon Communities wishes to do with the funds is, of course, their business. I don't think the funds are being put toward, for example, a municipality negotiating a local services agreement with a First Nation. The Association of Yukon Communities requested funds to do an analysis of the land claims and to provide technical support to their members. We provided $30,000 - the member is quite right - as a contribution to that effort.
Mr. Jenkins: Now, the cost of any municipal service agreement between the municipal government and the First Nation government will have to be borne by whom?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The cost of negotiating would be borne by the parties involved.
Mr. Jenkins: So, in fact, what the Government Leader is suggesting is that the cost of negotiating a municipal service agreement will be borne by the municipality and the cost for negotiating on behalf of the First Nations will be borne by the First Nations?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That's correct, and that's consistent with past policies.
Mr. Jenkins: And is the minister of the opinion, Mr. Chair, that the municipal cost of negotiating a municipal service agreement should be borne by the end user and not just the general ratepayers - by the benefactor of the municipal service agreement?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'm not sure I understand the member's question.
Mr. Jenkins: There are two parties negotiating an agreement. Both parties incur costs in negotiating the agreement. The agreement is for the provision of specific services. Now, is the Government Leader of the opinion that the municipality's cost of providing that service that is negotiated should also include the cost of negotiating that agreement?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'm still not clear, Mr. Chair, but let me take a stab at this. In terms of negotiating local service agreements - the sharing of municipal services between a municipality and a First Nation - the cost associated with negotiating that would be borne by the municipality and the First Nation, and the cost of implementing it would be borne by the municipality and the First Nation. There's no obligation on the municipality to enter into negotiations at all, except that it is reasonable and fair and common sense that they do. But the cost of negotiating it, as per past practice, is in fact the responsibility of the parties to the negotiations. I've not changed that policy.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the Government Leader is avoiding the issue completely. What we have is a municipal government that is requested to provide certain services by a First Nation government. They negotiate an agreement. The basis for the service, the municipal service agreement, is usually based on a cost-of-service analysis that is done because it's required to justify the costs that are going to be incurred.
Now the cost for that cost-of-service study, as well as the cost that the municipality incurs to negotiate that agreement, should all be borne by the end user. That is an opinion that is common to all negotiated agreements for the provision of service.
Now, is the Government Leader suggesting that all of those costs be borne by the municipal government?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'm not familiar with the terminology the member is using with respect to "costs being borne by end user." This is a principle that I'm not familiar with, if it is indeed a principle.
I'm not avoiding the question at all. The member asked me a very direct question, and I answered very directly. He said, "Who is responsible for bearing the costs of negotiating local service agreements?" I said the municipality and the First Nation. Those parties in the discussions are responsible for the negotiations. I checked again with land claims this morning. That's always the way it has been. That is the policy. And that's the way it will be.
The member's shaking his head. He obviously has superior knowledge on the subject, superior to that of land claims and the Yukon government personnel, but that is our position, and that's the way it will be.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'd like to get into this debate, because that seems to be a different view than what I was operating under, which was under the instructions of advisors who were far more knowledgeable in land claims than I was. I passed the message directly on to municipalities when they were approaching me for funding to negotiate these agreements.
I was advised by land claims negotiators, and, previous to then, they said that that was the position of the government up to and when I came to office - that the costs of negotiating any service agreements would be incorporated into the total cost of the package so that there would be no direct cost to the municipality at the end of the day. They would incur costs while they were negotiating it, but those costs would be worked into the final financial figure for the cost of delivering those services or receiving those services.
That was the premise that I operated on. Now, if the Government Leader is operating under a different premise, that seems to be a change. I just want clarification on that.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: My understanding is that municipalities will not bear any direct costs associated with implementation, but negotiating local services agreements - checking with land claims this morning - is clearly the responsibility of the municipality and the First Nation, because there is nothing mandatory about it entering into local service agreements. It is an optional thing. It's a commonsense thing, but it's an optional thing.
I was assured this morning that no municipalities, including those municipalities that are already on their way to local service agreements, received any implementation funding for negotiations from the Yukon government or from the federal government, to my knowledge.
Mr. Ostashek: I agree with the Government Leader on the point that there is no funding to give them for negotiating service agreements. What they were told by land claims negotiators in the past was that if there were any costs incurred, they should be worked in to the total financial package of service agreements so that they didn't have any direct costs.
Now, what I'm hearing from the Government Leader is that he is of the opinion now that the cost of negotiating the agreement is a cost that needs to be borne by the municipality and cannot be worked into the service agreement. Now, I don't know if that's the message he's trying to leave in the Legislature. I know that wasn't the message that I relayed to municipal governments when I was dealing with them.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well in the first instance, Mr. Chair, I can assure the member that I have provided no direction that is any different on this subject from whatever my predecessors, both the member opposite and the previous Government Leader, gave with respect on this matter. So, whatever it is, there is no change, but my understanding, based on the assessment given by land claims negotiators, is, in fact, that the $30,000 that we recently provided to the AYC is to provide technical advice to municipalities in terms of interpretation so that they can get their own views of things - they didn't have to depend on the Government of Yukon negotiators - and perhaps do some templates for use around the territory - that kind of thing.
Any direct costs associated with implementation, like a cost as a result of a specific feature of a First Nation final agreement, would be covered in the implementation costs. The negotiating costs for local service agreements would be borne by the parties involved.
Mr. Ostashek: I guess we're on the same wavelength. The Government Leader said that there's been no change, no different directions given, so, therefore, he's following the same course. He may interpret it differently from how I interpreted it, but he is following the same procedure that I did and that my predecessor did because, when we took over, that seemed to be the format that was being used. As the Government Leader is aware, the municipalities are always after us because they perceive that they have costs associated with land claims that they are not being able to recoup. I do know that the Government Leader gave them $30,000. That was not for implementation or anything else; that was just given to them because the Government Leader thought they made a good case for it, that they needed some money to do things.
So, I think we're in agreement on that. The Government Leader has said on public record that there has been no change in direction on how these things are negotiated. I just know that the message I was told by lawyers and advisors in the land claim portfolio is that if municipalities thought there were any costs incurred they could work those into the service agreement and recoup their costs that way.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I would be more than happy, if the member wants to sit down with the Land Claims Secretariat and negotiators and get a really clear reading in terms of the distinct definition, pleased to make the offer available. I'm sure the member could ask himself, but I make the offer available to the members and they can sit down and talk to representatives from the secretariat about that. I have not given any change of direction.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. If I could just explore another area with the Government Leader dealing with commissioner's land within a municipal boundary, that is, during the land claims negotiating process, swapped or exchanged or provided to the First Nations. The usual procedure is that the commissioner's land would be transferred to the senior level of government - to the federal government - in trust for the First Nation involved. Common practice in the past, in every case that I'm aware of within the municipal boundaries of Dawson, has been that when the Government of Yukon conducted this transfer, all the frontage and service connection charges that had been applied to that property were paid out. Has the Government Leader or his government issued any instructions to change that position?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the member is getting more technical now. What I'll have to do - because I want to be precise and we're getting very close, I know, to the issue that was raised and presented before the courts recently - is be very careful about this and provide only the most precise answers. I will undertake to give the member a precise answer to that specific question in the form of a legislative return.
Mr. Jenkins: We could go on to another area, Mr. Chair, and that concerns land again that is transferred from one level of government - and I'll give you an example, the City of Dawson - to an individual and, for a certain period of time, taxes were paid on that undeveloped, raw land - titled, deeded lots - for a number of fiscal periods or taxation years. And then the land is subsequently transferred to the federal government in trust for the First Nations. Is the Government Leader of the opinion that it should be classified as tax-exempt status at that juncture and no grant-in-lieu should be paid on that land because it's undeveloped?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I know the member has been hovering around the case that was filed in the courts recently. Now he's landed squarely on top of the case. Because he has and because the case is before the courts, I'll have to provide a very specific response to the member, drafted by the lawyers.
Mr. Jenkins: So, could the Government Leader confirm that he will be bringing forward a legislative return on that question?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: To the extent that I can answer the question now, prior to the court case, I will.
Mr. Jenkins: That leads us to another question: the issue of taxation. The area that I'm exploring with the Government Leader is where the Government of Yukon were the only ones present at the negotiating table on a specific issue dealing with this area.
Could the Government Leader advise why the federal negotiators that play a very important role were not at the table when a lot of these concerns and areas were discussed and ratified, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't understand what the member's talking about.
Mr. Jenkins: When a lot of this area was negotiated with the First Nations in Dawson, the federal negotiators were not present. Was that under the instructions of the Government Leader? Because it is paramount to have the federal negotiators present virtually at all times on major issues such as this, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'm not familiar with the situation the member has cited, and I can assure the member that federal negotiators do not take direction from me.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it appears in this instance that negotiators from the Government of the Yukon were acting - and they usually act in concert with their federal counterparts - but they were acting in isolation. I'd like to ask the Government Leader why.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Again, Mr. Chair, I'm not familiar with the situation the member is citing. I don't know that what he is saying is in fact true. I'd have to have the matter checked. He's made some suggestion that there's some negotiating session sometime during the negotiation of a First Nation final agreement, at some point in the last year or two, that there was a session. I'm assuming he's citing that all federal negotiators were not present. I'm not sure I understand the point or anything about the member's suggestion, or perhaps question. I would have to ask the Land Claims Secretariat if they could make sense of the issue that the member's raising.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, to be specific, Mr. Chair, there was a negotiating session that recently took place in Dawson City, and it dealt with a tax-free period of time for certain lands within the municipal boundaries of the City of Dawson, and the negotiating team consisted solely of members of the Government of the Yukon. No negotiating individuals were present from the federal government. Was that done under the direction of the Government Leader?
Obviously, they take direction from the Government Leader or from Cabinet on this important point. So there had to be some input from the Government Leader, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Again, I'll repeat my answer - I guess my generic answer - to the member. Federal negotiators do not take direction from Yukon government, Yukon negotiators, Yukon ministers, Yukon Government Leader or Yukon Cabinet. Federal negotiators take direction from the federal public service, who ultimately report to the federal minister.
We are not in a position to tell the federal government when and where they can participate in a land claims agreement. That is the decision that they have to make themselves.
Now, I don't know about the situation the member raises. I can tell from the subject matter the member alleges was the focus of the meeting that, once again, it refers to the court case that I am unable to speak about. But, if the member can cite a date or a general time, I will ask the land claims negotiators if they know why the federal negotiators weren't present.
But the Yukon government doesn't direct federal land claims negotiators at all, believe me. It doesn't happen.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm quite aware, for the Government Leader's information, that the federal negotiators for land claims are the lead and the Government of Yukon is there to protect the interests of all Yukoners. It would appear that this area that could be ultra vires was negotiated separately and distinctly between the ministers' officials - or officials of the Government of Yukon - and the First Nations. In all other cases that I'm aware of, dealing with tax issues, the federal negotiators have also been present.
This sets a very interesting precedent in this regard, Mr. Chair, and I was just wondering why the Government Leader had his officials negotiate this specific area without the benefit or without the addition of the federal government officials being present.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, the member makes a number of allegations which I don't know to be true. Based on the member's track record, I'd better check.
Now, with respect to the issue, again, I think the member is trying to bore his way back to the court case, because I presume that an issue of whether or not something was negotiated or could be negotiated is the subject of the court case. The member will not draw me back there, because it would be improper and irresponsible for me to go into that subject matter.
Now, the reasons for federal involvement or not, in any particular negotiating session, should be put, presumably, to the federal negotiators. They're in a better position to answer the question than, certainly, am I or the Land Claims Secretariat.
The member will know that the legal draft of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in final agreement is, in fact, being signed off this afternoon. All parties to that agreement are signing it off, as I understand, so, presumably, all parties are buying into the provisions of that agreement, I understand. That may be helpful for the member in understanding the federal position in respect of such matters.
Nevertheless, I can only say to the member that, if I can, I will try to find out what the circumstances are around a particular meeting and why federal negotiators were not present. I don't know, first of all, that such a meeting took place; I don't know that they were not present and I don't know that anything that they did was ultra vires. So, the member is going to have to wait until that information can be sought from the Land Claims Secretariat. If the member wants to shortcut that review - because it is ultimately going to have to go back to the federal negotiators - the member might want to phone the federal negotiator and ask.
Mr. Ostashek: Let me get into this debate and try to get away from one specific incident and get a broader aspect to this. As the Government Leader knows, some of the land claims that are left to be settled are major land claims where there is a municipal government, and there are going to be some real problems to be resolved. I want to know, just in general terms - and I want to stay away entirely from any court challenges that there are - in a situation where there was a temporary tax exemption negotiated - whichever municipality - that would cost the municipality some taxes that they had been collecting prior to the temporary tax exemption, who is ultimately responsible for that loss? Is it the municipality? Is it the territorial government, or is it the federal government? And this refers to any municipality, not just the City of Dawson.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, with the greatest respect, the member, in attempting to broaden the subject matter and make it theoretical, has hit on the exact issue that is currently being raised by the municipality of Dawson in the court. That makes it very difficult for me to respond in anything other than legal language on the subject. I cannot be in a situation where I'm speaking off the top of my head with respect to general policy matters when this situation is before the court, and the lawyers will be dissecting every last nuance and every last word. So, I have to regretfully state to the member that, as a matter of the record, I can respond, to the fullest extent possible, through a legislative return, because I want to make sure that the language that is used is not lay language but is precise language on this particular subject, because I think it's important that it be clear.
The member asked me before, at the beginning of all of this, whether or not policies have changed.
Our policies haven't changed but the specific issue that is being raised here is about to be dissected, probably at great length, by some lawyers and that's the way it's going to have to be, I'm afraid, because now it's going to court.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, first of all, I'm going to disagree with the member. It's not in front of the courts. There's been a claim filed. I think our Standing Orders say we can discuss matters in this Legislature unless the court case is taking place at that time, and we may have to ask the Chair for a ruling on it.
I don't want to do that. What I want to do is get the position of this government and this Government Leader because it seems to municipalities that there's been a divergence from what they were told before of their not having to pick up any direct costs. The Government Leader has to agree with me that if it's the municipality that has to bear a tax loss, even during a temporary tax exemption - which could run up to five years from my understanding of the umbrella final agreement and the self-government agreement - while a tax regime is being worked out, the municipality is going to be out that money.
I want to know if that's the position that this government is taking, that until such time as this is resolved - regardless if it's Dawson, Whitehorse, Haines Junction, Watson Lake or any other municipality - is in fact the position of this government. I'm not asking for a legal opinion. I'm not asking him to delve into the arguments of the court case, because I don't even know what the arguments of the court case are.
This Legislature is sitting now; it won't sit again until next fall. The Government Leader has said land claims should be finalized by the end of December. I think it's important that Yukoners know the position of this government on a very important issue such as this.
One of the major claims to be settled yet is the City of Whitehorse, where there are very, very many competing interests in the land. There are competing taxation interests. First Nations believe they have a right to certain things. I'm not getting into that at all.
I'm just asking the position that this government is taking in the situation where a temporary tax exemption is being put in. Is it this Government Leader's and this government's opinion . . .
Let me not even specify it that way. Who does this government think ought to be picking up that money if there's a tax revenue loss to the municipality? Does the municipality bear it? Does the territorial government bear it or does the federal government bear it or does the First Nation bear it? The First Nation doesn't bear because they've been given a temporary exemption. Somebody has to be responsible for that tax loss. I just want to know what the position of the territorial government is, who, I don't need to point out to the Government Leader is at the table to protect the interest of all Yukoners.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't have to be reminded of what my duty is. I certainly know what it is.
With respect to the matter at hand, the member may not know what the issue is before the court personally, but he's just described it almost right down the funnel. Unreal. It's completely right down the funnel.
I'm not trying to get the Chair to make a ruling to prevent the members from asking the question. I'm telling the members how I'm going to answer the question, because I do know that the issues here are complicated, and I'm not a tax lawyer. I want to ensure that what is said will not, in any way, jeopardize or interfere with the normal operations of the review that's taking place.
The government's policy remains that municipalities will not bear direct costs associated with implementation. In the land claims agreements, there are references. For example, in the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation agreement, there are references to what municipalities will be failsafed. For example, in the Champagne-Aishihik agreement, 14.6.1, it states that, to the extent that the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation imposes property taxation for local purposes, the Yukon shall ensure that Yukon municipalities do not incur any consequential net loss. That's an example of how the municipalities are failsafed.
With respect to the matter in Dawson, I presume some of the issues to be settled are whether or not the municipality did incur any loss, and whether or not there is a case in the first place. Those issues, presumably, will be explored, and I can respond to the member - I will respond to the members - but I will do so in very careful language. I'm happy to sit here this afternoon repeating that answer over and over again, but it's going to be the same answer, because I can't be drawn in to something that may end up causing a significant complication.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, I appreciate the position that the Government Leader is in, and I'm not even wanting to talk about whether there is a tax loss in Dawson or whether there is not a tax loss. I asked the Government Leader a question in a much broader term and, if he's not going to answer it today, he can bring it back in a legislative return. In the event that there is a tax loss to the municipality, who ultimately is responsible for it? I want to know what the government's position is. Whatever position the government took on the one in Dawson is being disputed by the town of Dawson. That's a separate issue.
While I'm talking about the same general premise, if, in fact, there is a temporary tax exemption granted in Whitehorse, and there is a tax loss, who is ultimately responsible for it? That's all I want to know, so that Yukoners will know what position this government is taking. I'm not interested in the details of the Dawson case. I don't know if there is a case. I don't know if there has been a loss. I'm not arguing that with the Government Leader at all. I'm arguing policy.
What policy is this government taking in that situation, which could arise in other land claims settlements. That's all I'm asking.
If the Government Leader is not going to answer on his feet, I would look forward to a detailed legislative return laying out the government's policy, which may have something to do with this court case because it's being disputed by one municipality but, as the Government Leader said, he doesn't even know if they have a legitimate claim. It's not my concern.
My concern is,if there is a tax loss to any municipality, who is going to pay the bill? That's what I want to know. That's the policy I want to know from the Government Leader. Very simple. And if he doesn't want to answer it here on his feet, I would just ask him, can we expect an answer in a timely fashion so we have time to debate it in this House before this legislative sitting is over?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, the answer is yes. The member can receive a more precise policy answer to the question, which I will have drafted in the form of a legislative return, because I do know that there are a number of complications to this. There are various classes of vacant lands, some for which there are grants-in-lieu currently paid, some for which there are not. There are a number of complications that I want to be careful about speaking to at this point because of the court case, but the member does deserve an answer with respect to the policy issue at hand and I will provide him an answer in the form of a legislative return.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I don't have any further debate on this area, but I'm seeking the Government Leader's assurances that when we receive these legislative returns on this subject matter, we can go back into debate. Can we stand aside this specific area and then go back into debate on it? If I could have the government's assurances on that, I would appreciate it.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, it seems to be a reasonable request of the Government Leader that, upon receipt of these legislative returns that he has promised and assured the House he will provide in a timely manner, we will have an opportunity to discuss them. That's all I'm asking. Could the Government Leader provide reasons why he's not prepared to go back into general debate on that subject matter?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, Mr. Chair. The answer is that I'm not willing to do that, because that would potentially keep this particular budget - or any budget - on the table indefinitely. I'm not prepared to do that.
There are many questions that the member may ask for which there may be information coming forward at some point in the future - 10 days, two weeks or six months. It is not reasonable for the member to request that these departmental estimates in any department be held over like that at any time. So, I won't agree.
If the member wants to continue asking questions on the ECO estimates, feel free. I will be happy to provide the information, perhaps even tomorrow, and if the member can get the information digested, we will continue on. But, I'm not prepared to agree to the member's request; I don't think it's reasonable.
Chair: Are there any more questions?
Mr. Cable: Yesterday, I asked the Government Leader to provide us with the commission budgets, and we were provided with a document today where the Cabinet commission budgets are lumped together. It was my desire to get the various commissions broken down, and I think this was done once before, where the four commission budgets setting out personnel costs and travel costs and costs of paperclips and what not for each of the commissions were set out. Is the Government Leader prepared to do that before we get to the line item?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: If we have that information readily available, certainly I think we can, Mr. Chair. I thought that I had provided the information precisely as we had provided it before, but if there is another way of doing it and it can be easily done, then I'd be happy to provide the information for the member.
Actually, come to think of it, Mr. Chair, I might even have it right here. Perhaps after the break - I think I may have it in my own briefing book here, so I'll make sure the member has it.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the development assessment process commissioner. I'm sure he's had a chance now to look at Hansard, and just before the evening break, he talked about having met with members of the conservation community and so on as well, and he said, "Our most recent meeting with miners and the conservation community was just in the last month - indications of continuing support for the kinds of positions that we're taking at the table and an acknowledgment of the progress that we've made on a number of issues." I just want to be sure that the commissioner understands the subject matter of what I think was an agreement last night with respect to a legislative return.
Is he going to provide a list of what he refers to as the kinds of positions that the government is taking at the table through his commission and in acknowledgement of the progress that they made on a number of issues? Is this what he's about to do?
Mr. Livingston: What I indicated last night was that I would be prepared to outline the interests that the Yukon was standing for. I know we had the conversation about positions versus interests, and so on. While I did use the word "positions" earlier in the evening, certainly it's the interests that I presented and what I would like to provide the member with, in terms of the Yukon interests that we're pursuing at the table. There will be a listing of matters that we've made progress on, as well.
Mr. Cable: The commissioner used the word "positions," which I can readily comprehend. What does he mean by the interests that he's dealing with?
Mr. Livingston: What I mean by interests is the goals and objectives that we have, and some sense of how we would see ourselves achieving those. I distinguish that from positions because positions very much indicates - at least in the jargon that's used in round tables, and so on - a series or a number of items on which there seems to be very little kind of negotiating position or very little kind of ability to move around. We felt it far better for us to identify what our core interests were, because that leaves us some flexibility about how we in fact might achieve them rather than to have very definitive positions that allows us basically no wiggle room in terms of where we would go.
So that's why I'm referring to core interests rather than positions.
Mr. Cable: I'm not sure whether that's a distinction without a difference.
Did the commissioner mean to say, then, that when he was talking to the stakeholders he put forth interests rather than positions, that what he said in the House was a mistake?
Mr. Livingston: Mr. Chair, what I put forward to the various interested groups was a set of interests, yes, a set of Yukon interests that we were pursuing at the table in response to the concerns and so on that various Yukon people and groups have indicated to us. So, I was referring to interests and not to positions.
Mr. Cable: Okay. Well, if I appreciate what the commissioner's saying, he's talking about an interlocutory role. He's simply going to be telling the people he's negotiating with that certain people in the community are saying certain things, and here's their interests, their positions. He's not putting forth the government position. Is that what he's saying?
Mr. Livingston: No. The member's not quite accurate in that account. We heard from a number of different groups and, if the member would like, I can talk about some of the different groups, certainly, that we have talked to over the past 15 months or so. I mentioned the six NGOs and so on that each have their set of interests, things they want to pursue, and there are, as well, everyone from renewable resource councils; we have had some conversations with First Nations; we've certainly been talking with municipal councils; we have met with groups like the Yukon Fish and Game Association, the Agricultural Association, a number of different groups that have some interest in the assessment process and how it's going to work.
Each of those groups individually have their interests. Our task, of course, is to pull those interests into something that fits together and represents a set of Yukon interests. Part of our task is to try to make that comprehensive set of interests. That's what we're advancing at the table and that's what I would be preparing to share with the member opposite - what we see as that comprehensive set of Yukon interests.
Mr. Cable: Whether we call them positions or interests, they are an amalgamation of what this government sees as what Yukoners generally would like to see come out of the end of the development assessment process negotiations. If I'm correct in that, maybe the minister could tell me. Am I correct in this understanding, because I'm not really sure what the difference between an interest and a position is?
Mr. Livingston: Maybe we're watching paint dry here, Mr. Chair, and we can kind of move on.
I think the key thing is that the member opposite has asked for the outstanding issues. That's what I'm going to be providing the member with and, more particularly, what the Yukon interests are in those outstanding positions. I will be providing him as well with a list of some of the matters that have been resolved.
Mr. Cable: Could the commissioner indicate to the House when he expects that that legislative return will be produced for the House? How soon can we receive it?
Mr. Livingston: Yes, I can provide that to the member this week, I expect.
Mr. Cable: I thank the commissioner for that commitment.
Now I have some questions for the Government Leader on the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. I was provided with a copy of the letter directed by the Government Leader to the chair of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment and this was dated November 17, 1997. There appears to be what we would a call a Renewable Resources interest, an Economic Development department interest and an Executive Council interest in this council. Who actually is the minister responsible? Who has it been agreed will provide direction to this council?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I suppose, technically, the council reports directly to the Government Leader. The ministers of Economic Development and Renewable Resources sit ex officio on the council, as they have in the past, and they will be providing input, of course, to the general direction that the council receives - to the extent that it does receive direction.
Mr. Cable: Now, I don't know if the Government Leader has this letter in front of him or not - the letter of November 17, 1997 - which appears to be the charging directive to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. Perhaps he recollects the letter to Ms. Morrow, the chair. Has there been any other direction given to the council, other than that letter of November 17, 1997?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The letter itself, as I recall - and if I have to correct myself, I will certainly take the opportunity to do so - is a letter of instruction to the council. I don't have a copy of the letter in front of me.
But, it does lay out the obligations of the council as we see them, both pursuant to the legislative requirements, as well as the issues that we believe ought to be addressed by the council.
Mr. Cable: I have a copy of the letter and I'll ask the page to make some copies and then, when we receive that, I'll get back in the debate on the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. Perhaps one of the other members has some further debate while we're waiting for those copies to be made.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I was just looking at the details of the expenditures for the commissions. I was sort of alarmed, but I would just like the minister to confirm them. I just looked at the budget book figure. The sheet he just handed out is not in actual dollars; it is in thousands of dollars - can I confirm that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The total is not $424; it's $424,000.
Mr. Ostashek: I just checked it with the budget book. I just wanted to confirm that to make sure that that was accurate.
I wanted to turn now to ministerial travel. I want to ask the minister, has the method for calculating ministerial travel changed from our administration to this administration, or is it still calculated in the same manner by the Executive Council Office?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As far as I'm aware, it's still calculated in precisely the same manner.
Mr. Ostashek: We've debated this. I think we debated it last fall; we debated it before, about what I perceive to be a dramatic increase in travel by ministers and ministerial staff. When I look at the figures that I have - the last figures I have, 1994-95, for the Yukon Party government, it was $56,800 for ministerial travel. If we look at the figures that the minister gave us yesterday or the day before, and if we separate out just the ministerial travel, it's in excess of $80,000 for 11 months. That's a dramatic increase, in my opinion. Does the minister have any explanation for it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the figures I have don't line up with the member's figures with respect to the past. I asked the Department of Executive Council Office to give me a sense of history, so that we could do appropriate comparisons. I'd just point out to the member, for example, that the member chooses 1995-96 as his preferred year for determining travel costs. For April to February travel, which is the same time period as that which I just tabled, for 1994-95 the in-territory travel was $11,656, the outside territory travel was $73,204, for a total of $84,860. In 1997-98, the same period - April to February - the amount of in-territory travel was $21,871, clearly a significant jump, and the amount of outside-territory travel is $75,639.
So, obviously the significant increase in travel is largely explained through an increase in in-territory travel, and as I explained to the member before, he finds that alarming whereas I interpret it differently. I think that ministers should be encouraged to travel in this territory, and, in fact, where they have business outside the territory which requires Yukon's attendance to speak up for Yukoners, I support that too.
So, I think that the policies surrounding travel are sound. They do make sense to me, because I think that where Yukon's voices must be heard, they should be heard.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, that could well be the position of the Government Leader. What I'm disputing is the figures that the Government Leader is putting forward. And the figures that we have - and I will go back and verify them again - are: from 1992-93, we had $41,000; from 1993-94, we had $62,700; from 1994-95 - the last full-year figures - I have $56,800. That's a lot different from what the Government Leader has just read into the record.
There is a substantial increase if, in fact, my figures are correct. I will go back and check them again. We have double-checked these several times, and I don't know if the Government Leader would like to apprise me of how they came up with their figures on ministerial travel. I would like to know, because they are the same people that calculated them for us in the Executive Council Office when we asked for them as when the Government Leader asked for them when he was in opposition. Those are the figures that were given to him. So, I don't know where this new set of figures came from.
I do know that the Government Leader has said on the record that there is no difference in how figures are calculated. Yet when I look at the figures that they put forward, there must be some difference or there is something here that I'm missing, because when I look at a couple of trips - the Tourism critic will speak more to it - we have a trip by the Government Leader's Tourism minister on October 13 to October 20 for a total cost of $1,470.
That was to Germany. We have another one on March 19 - I presume that's March 19 of this year, which he's given us, even though it's over the 11-month period - for $1,571. Yet, when my minister went to Germany, the return that was given to the members in this Legislature was the total cost of $7,720. So, I ask the Government Leader to explain those figures.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: With respect to the specific figures associated with a specific trip, we'll have to take notice on the question, Mr. Chair.
With respect to the costs associated with the trips, my understanding is that the measure of activity of the Executive Council Office is precisely the way it has always been. We have not changed it in any way whatsoever.
The information that I'm giving is from the Executive Council Office with respect to travel costs. I didn't personally verify the numbers, but I'll just read them out. Well, I did read them out, with respect to the 1994-95 period versus the 1997-98 period.
There is, in the figures given to the member, a recoverable amount of just over $4,000 for one trip outside the territory associated with the trip to Kyoto. That was recoverable from the federal government, so that would be subtracted from the total that the member has received. But we don't generally recover costs for trips from other governments. That's a bit of a new thing.
In any case, Mr. Chair, if the member has any specific questions about specific travel, then I'm certain the ministers can answer those questions.
Mr. Phillips: I'd like to follow up on the leader of the opposition's comments about the Tourism minister's travel. Just out of curiosity, March 4 to March 19, the trip that the minister is on now, we show a total cost of $1,571, but there is a note there that says, "Note: trade mission funded by Department of Tourism." So obviously there's more money included in that somewhere.
Now, the minister's gone over to the world travel market in Berlin and then he's going over to Zurich, I understand, afterwards for a meeting with respect to the museums display.
That's very similar to the trip that we made in November 1994. We went to Europe. We went to world travel market in London and then we went, I think, to six or seven cities in Europe. That was $7,720.
I think what we included in that trip was, I think, the total cost of the trip, which was hotel rooms, accommodation, airfare and so on. This trip on March 4 to 19 is 15 days for $1,571, and I think the Government Leader, if he hasn't been to Europe, he's probably not aware that in Europe if you can travel around for $100 a day, you're virtually backpacking it. It's not a cheap place to travel to.
So, that's why we're asking the question, because it seems to me that for 15 days there is probably another $10,000 or $12,000 that is not included in this that may be coming out of the Tourism marketing budget. Now, I don't know if that was done. It's hard to tell from the document we tabled whether that was done before and just added into this or whether or not it was all taken out of Executive Council Office.
It looks like it all came out of ECO before because it was tabled by the Government Leader at that time. So, there seems to be a bit of a difference in how we're accounting for that.
The other one is the $1,400 to Frankfurt, Germany, in the fall when the Minister of Tourism was there. That's another seven days for $1,400. That's $200 a day to Germany. You'd be sleeping on the street for that in Germany, and I guess you're swimming across, because that doesn't include airfare either.
That's the concern I have: the cost for those two trips seem to be low compared to what they should've cost for seven days and 15 days. So, maybe the minister can come back with the real cost of those trips to the government with respect to travel, so that we're not having to kind of dissect it.
That one, by the way, Mr. Chair, talked about promoting the Quest but didn't have any notation about a trade mission funded by the Department of Tourism. So, who did fund it? I'm sure it didn't just cost $1,400 unless we got a heck of a deal and everybody donated hotel rooms, airfares and everything.
Sometimes you get some of those in the tourism industry and I was one who supported those kinds of things if they were available from our partners in tourism. Maybe the minister could come back with more accurate figures to reflect what the real value of those kinds of trips so we can compare apples to apples, hopefully.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I'm in favour of doing that, Mr. Chair. I'm not certain that I would agree with the notion that ministers should be accepting gifts from private companies, but I frankly don't know whether that's happening currently. But if it is happening, I'll take it up with the minister, because I'm not certain that I think that's appropriate.
In terms of the issue of counting travel, I have raised this issue with Executive Council Office in the past. I remember, for example, that some members of the front bench of the Yukon Party went off to the Bonnet Plume, but there was no cost associated with that. They simply went and came back. I think there was a travel claim for $50 or something. I thought, well, that's a flight that I'd like to be on, but it was borne by some department, but in the Executive Council Office estimates, it was not there, so what happened?
I was assured that whatever the practice is for counting, the practice is the same, that I shouldn't make a deal of that, because that's the way it happens sometimes. I remember talking about the Cordilleran Roundup, and why ministers' costs were so low. Well, it turned out the departments paid for the hotel rooms for ministers. I didn't know that, either.
The point I was trying to make with Executive Council Office was, let's count the same things. So I'm with the members entirely on that score. The question is, what is the practice?
This is, I'm told, the way that the counting has been done, and I'm trusting them to count the same things in the same years, so that we have a sense of whether or not there's increased or lesser activity.
I'm with the member on that question. I mean, if we can find some way of counting exactly the same things and providing good, comparative information, I'm in favour.
Mr. Phillips: I didn't want to leave the member with the impression that I was suggesting that the government should accept gifts from private companies. What I was talking about specifically is, when we were in government, we had a marketing arrangement with Canadian Airlines. Canadian Airlines was benefiting, and so was the Yukon. Part of the marketing initiative was that, I think, they were providing either no-cost or low-cost tickets to our officials, as well as to the minister, to go to Europe to market.
Now, that's done by every other jurisdiction in the tourism industry in Canada. They all do it, because it's an effective way to market. You co-op market. It's the same as a co-op marketing agreement. They provide the transportation over. Many other jurisdictions take those opportunities.
I would even suggest that if the minister is going to do something with respect to Air Transat as a carrier, they might even work something out with Air Transat where our officials might go back and forth to Europe at a lower cost to improve the marketing of the Yukon. Rather than use our dollars to get over there, the beneficiaries, of course, would be the Yukon. I don't see a problem with that. I am opposed, of course, as all members are, to just accepting an outright gift - a jacket or some other outright gift - or even a hotel room.
I'm not sure if they work those things out either, because I can't see a huge benefit to a hotel in Germany giving someone from here a deal on a hotel room. An airline is a bit different, because they do co-op marketing and there's a benefit to the airline and to the people of the Yukon.
That's what I just want to clarify with the minister with respect to that. It's joint marketing. It's done by almost every other jurisdiction in Canada, if not all of them. The Yukon shouldn't exclude itself from that.
We're already at a disadvantage with the amount of dollars we have for marketing compared to others. It just makes it worse if we decide to pay our own way on all these trips over there when we're joint marketing with the very airline that's going over there. You strike a partnership that's beneficial to Yukon people and the Yukon tourism industry. That's one, I think, that the industry supports, and we did as a government, when we were dealing with it.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'll think about that one. I must say that I'm a little bit nervous about that kind of arrangement, as the member knows. I think one has to be very careful. We have a very different tradition in this country than does the United States when it comes to accepting benefits from private companies.
I just think we have to be very careful. Not that I'm going to make a deal of it, but I will raise the matter with the Minister of Tourism to make sure that we feel completely comfortable and not compromised by any of these benefits.
I have some information that I have just received with respect to the March costs. We've thrown this into this listing of April through February, and the member will see that the costs are being borne in March of this year, this month, so we're adding that in just so the members know that we're still thinking about it. The only costs associated with the trip that we have fixed on now is just the airfare. The additional costs, whatever they happen to be, will come in and will be added to the list at some future point.
One difference in the in-territory travel, Mr. Chair, that I think members should be made aware of is that the costs associated with Cabinet retreats, et cetera, are shown as part of this budget. So, for example, the Cabinet retreats are shown as part of this budget and they are calculated into the in-territory travel. And that's new, apparently.
As well, we're also showing the total costs of staff attending various meetings, because political staff do travel with ministers from time to time.
Mr. Ostashek: We did separate out the staff travel from the figures I just quoted, for the record.
Rather than the Government Leader and I standing here and going back and forth about who is spending more money on travel, I would like to ask him if he would allow his officials to sit down with my staff and show how they calculate it. Because I believe the figures that I've read in for our travel came from legislative returns that were tabled in this Legislature.
Will he be prepared to do that to expedite debate in this House, rather than us going back and forth for a couple of hours here on travel? Let's get the actual figures and let everybody agree that they're the right figures before we get into a debate on whether we perceive this to be too much travel?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, Mr. Chair, I've come to the conclusion that whatever travel we take, the opposition will perceive it as too much. That's always the way it's been, and so I suspect that's the way it will continue to be. And I'm prepared to defend every last business trip that the ministers take, and the members can raise it any time they want.
With respect to the figures, I'd be more than happy to have the department staff of the Executive Council Office provide further information to the members opposite.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the member for that, and I won't pursue the travel any more at this point. I'll have my staff call up and make an appointment for when it's convenient to sit down with both parties to go over it, and I will even be so generous as to offer to my colleagues on the left to sit in if they would so choose.
I'm pretty well wrapped up in general debate, but I do have one question, and it's more of a philosophical question than anything else. Maybe I can get the Government Leader on record. I believe all three political parties were delivered a letter this morning by a member of the Reform Party asking us to move forward with legislation to elect a senator. Now, I'm not going to stand here and debate whether the senator has a good record in the Senate or not, but I would just like to know if the Government Leader has any desire to look at maybe sending a strong message to Ottawa by enacting legislation in the Yukon that our senators be elected.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I'd like to point out to the member opposite that the only colleagues in this Legislature that he has to the left are in the government benches. The Liberals take every opportunity in this Legislature to prove once and again that they are identical models with the member and his mesmerizing leadership in policy and financial matters.
Some wag even referred to the opposition leader as - and I don't mean this unkindly in any way - as "Svengali-O." So the member can take heart that he is providing some leadership skills that seem to be attracting some people. He doesn't have to worry about any criticism from the left, from the opposition side of the world.
With respect to the Senate of Canada, as the member knows, certainly the policy of the New Democrats is that the Senate is an anachronistic institution; it's not necessary; the Parliament of Canada performs well the legislative function in this country; that the taxpayers would do well to save on the salaries and support staff of the entire Senate institution; and that the Senate should be abolished.
I'm not certain that the election of one Senator will legitimize the decisions made by this institution, and I would note that Alberta fronted the cost for a federal election in order to make a point once, a point that they wanted to make during constitutional discussions, but they have not obviously repeated that process beyond the one point that they were prepared to make with Alberta tax dollars, because they basically had made their point. Since then, of course, some of the senators have been appointed from the Province of Alberta, who presumably are the rare breed in Alberta: the rare Liberal Party supporter.
In any case, I have, obviously, as many people do, some problems with the institution itself, being made up essentially of faithful party loyalists and party workers.
That adds to people's concern about the legitimacy of that institution. Whether they were elected or not, I would tend to believe that the Parliament of Canada is doing an adequate job, and, of course, the territory of the Yukon currently has a representative, popularly elected, who currently represents Yukon's interests.
I think the costs associated with an election - I don't know what it would be for the equivalent of the federal election here - I don't know, $100,000 maybe? I would be hesitant to promote the Yukon taxpayer paying for a federal election at this point. Sorry, the point about the legitimacy of the institution has been well-made on a number of fronts and Alberta has contributed once to that process.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the member for putting his views on the record. I am quite sure that, had the NDP been in power for the number of years the Conservatives and Liberals were in power in Ottawa, the Senate wouldn't be loaded with NDP party faithful and party workers. I'm certain of that.
I'm not going to prolong the debate on this. I just wanted to get the government's views on this - whether he had any desire to maybe have more say in who the senator was by having an election. If he doesn't want to pursue it, I'm certainly not going to make a national issue out of it. I thank him for indulging me with an answer to the question.
Mr. Cable: Just on that point, it seems to me that maybe the Government Leader, who was there - perhaps he has a better memory of the sequence of events - could tell us something. It seems to me that the Charlottetown Accord had a triple-E Senate in it, if I remember correctly, or a 2.5-E Senate. And, both the NDP sitting federal member and the NDP government, I believe, supported the Charlottetown Accord. Is my recollection correct on that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, I think the member's recollection is correct. The reason for that, of course, is that the Yukon government's support was predicated on the belief that this was going to advance Yukon's claims that were obviously running against the flow in looking for the abolition of the Senate given that, clearly, the mood in the country among the political elite in the other parties was to preserve the Senate in some way. Obviously, if one has to make a choice between a Senate that is made up of patronage appointments versus a Senate that is elected, one would prefer the elected Senate to the patronage appointments. So that doesn't mean that we haven't given up our hope for the abolition of the Senate. Certainly, if the matter is raised again, we'll make our pitch and see if the rest of the political elite in the country buy into it.
Mr. Cable: Mr. Klein, of course, is being pushed to bring forth the legislation. As a matter of fact, he may have already done so. If, in fact, he's successful in encouraging the Prime Minister to follow the results of the election in Alberta, is the Government Leader prepared to take the issue back to the drawing board and is he prepared to consider bringing before this House legislation that would enable an election for the Senate here in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, as I indicated to the leader of the official opposition, I don't believe that one or two elected people in the Senate make it more legitimate. I think there's a danger, in fact, that somehow decisions made by the organization heavily loaded with patronage appointments would be seen to be more legitimate because it has a few elected members. It would make more sense to me that if you're going to go with the second best option, which is an elected Senate, that everyone be elected and that would be the preferred approach before we opt to jump into the national arena and start running federal elections for the federal government.
Mr. Cable: Okay, I'll leave that topic. I have a number of touch-up questions on the travel expenses that the Government Leader provided to the House.
My recollection is that, during the last government's mandate, there were some discussions about ministers, after they had been to ministers' meetings in particular, rather than on a marketing tour, for example, reporting back to the House by way of ministerial statement and tell us what they'd done so we could judge whether we got our money's worth.
Is that practice going to be practised by this government? Are the ministers going to tell us what they've been doing when they've been on these trips, incurring expense to the taxpayers?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Absolutely, Mr. Chair. I suppose there are a number of ways of doing that. I note that the two ministers who are currently attending the tourism marketing tour and the minister attending the Prospectors and Developers Association conference have both been responding to media calls already, to respond to the general public as to what they are doing. They will be expected to respond to members' questions in the Legislature, in terms of what they are doing. And certainly there will be some announcements made with respect to accomplishments and objectives of trips from time to time.
If the member has specific questions, of course, about any that are not covered under the framework of any of those opportunities, then the ministers should be obligated, if they don't already feel the obligation, to respond to the members' questions.
Mr. Cable: Well, I think the government's been fairly diligent in issuing press releases before ministers go off travelling, but there hasn't been the same sort of diligence in reporting back to the House by way of ministerial statement on what was accomplished at the various conferences.
Could I encourage the Government Leader to encourage his ministers to provide more in the way of ministerial statements?
I note there has been some criticism in some quarters about the lack of content in some of the ministerial statements we've seen, and perhaps this would be one way of improving the subject matter of your average ministerial statement.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I realize that the content of some ministerial statements don't necessarily impress the opposition, but of course we're not trying to impress the opposition. We're trying to speak to the public, and that's the basic objective of the ministerial statement.
Certainly, Mr. Chair, I think it would be a good idea for ministers to report on their undertakings, and as long as we don't get any complaints from the opposition that they've heard it all before, or through some other medium that they've heard it before, we'll be more than happy to use a ministerial statement forum to relate, in a formal way, their activities.
Mr. Cable: I thank the Government Leader for that. I have just another touch-up question on the commissions. I noticed in the detailed analysis that was provide to us, there's a very significant entry for contract services. The 1997-98 forecast is for $158,000, and the 1998-99 mains is for $80,000 - that's with the Yukon hire commission having completed its work.
Now when the commissions were originally set up, I believe the Government Leader indicated initially that he didn't think there would be any additional expense in policy development, because people would be seconded from the various ministries. I think that approach was softened a little bit, but it appears to me that when there's $80,000 worth of contract services - which I assume are in substitution for payroll costs - there has been, in fact, a significant charge over and above what one would have if everybody were seconded from the ministry.
So when we get to the commission debate, I just want to telegraph to the Government Leader that we would want some information on these items. In particular, there's $53,000 shown for contract services for the forestry commission. I'd like to find out if that's really something that could be done internally in the government, so that the original proposition that was put on the table - that there wouldn't be any increased costs - would be the governing proposition.
Do I have the minister's commitment to provide that information when we come to the commission debates?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't necessarily accept the proposition that the member alleges. In fact, I don't accept the proposition that the member alleges - that the only cost associated with commissions would be salary costs. I don't remember ever saying that any special technical expertise would not be employed - or whatever else may be associated with contract services, and I can get categories of the kinds of activities that would be incorporated by contract services - but I don't think I can accept the member's basic proposition or memory of the situation, as it was characterized before.
But, in answer to the member's question, yes, I can give the member the kinds of expenditures that would be covered under contract services when we get to Cabinet commissions.
Mr. Cable: Well, we can both leaf through the newspaper clips on what was said on the costs of the commissions, and we can check whose memory is more accurate for the record - for whatever that's worth.
The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment - I provided the Government Leader with a copy of the letter dated November 17, 1997, that he sent to the chair of the council, and I'd like to ask him a few questions on that. Has there been any further instruction to the council, either from himself or his ministers, outlining what he or they would like to see the council do?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, this is the letter of instruction, Mr. Chair - the one that the member refers to - and it lays out the projects that we believe should be pursued by the council.
Mr. Cable: Well, I'm just asking the question: has there been any further instruction, or is this the whole truth and nothing but the truth and all of the instruction that the council has at the present time from the government?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't recall any other correspondence, but if my memory is mistaken, then I can correct the record.
Mr. Cable: Okay, there's an interesting paragraph at the top of the second page. My copy, unfortunately, is a little fuzzy. The Government Leader says to the council chair, "I would also like to suggest that one of the first initiatives of the YCEE could be to help develop an environmental scan of the Yukon, which would highlight pertinent economic, demographic and environmental information."
Could the Government Leader expand on that? What's he looking for from the council?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, essentially, the information that typically I request when preparing budgets, for example, is information about the, as I refer to it, environmental scan of the territory. Not a scan of the territory's environment, but a scan of various demographic statistical factors and projections that are done by various persons in government who do analyses. The purpose of that scan is to detect trends and possible pressure points that the government may have to consider in the longer term.
Now, that information is, I would say, currently imperfect. It could be more sophisticated if the right questions were asked and the necessary statistical information compiled.
I felt it was desirable to ask the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment how they might improve that process, so that we might all be better able to essentially predict future trends and future pressure points that the territory may have to face in time, both short term and long term. So, that's what I'm referring to in the context of an environmental scan.
This is information that I'm certain they would find useful, in terms of getting to know the territory better, and a broader picture, because individual appointees of the council often come from a very specific background that might necessarily allow them to have a better sense or a broader sense of what's going on in the territory. Also, if they put their heads together, as well, they may be able to ask questions of the people who compile information that would help the statisticians and the economists to better understand the kinds of things that we should be considering when we're making public policy, and ultimately, if the information that we're getting is not as reliable or as relevant as we would like, to start collecting the appropriate information so that we can predict trends better than we currently are.
Mr. Cable: I believe the Government Leader indicated that what he's looking for is some identification of where he sees conflict, and then perhaps some suggestions as to how to deal with conflict resolution in areas that have something to do with the economic, social, demographic and environmental fabric of the Yukon. What he wants is a heads-up on where, in the future, there will be groups who will come in conflict with one another and where he sees a contest in philosophical views.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Not quite, Mr. Chair. An example might be that, through a demographic analysis of the territory, we determine that the population is not only getting older, but they are using more services and, in fact, retiring in the territory. That ultimately has the potential for increased costs to the citizenry for extended care facilities and for the upper end medical care that is associated with people of older age. There may also be pressures with respect to the kinds of settlement patterns in the territory that might be the consequence of that trend and may have some impact on the housing market. There may be any number of consequences associated with that.
I think it's important for us to get a sense of some of those trends, be aware of some of those trends or a trend like that, for example, so that when it comes time to make long-term projections, thinking about the future and anticipating problems as they may arise, we all know that there may be an issue with respect to seniors, for example.
So that's the kind of information that would be compiled to get a sense of what the territory looks like. Take the incidence, for example, of alcohol and drug abuse and compile that with other statistical information to give ourselves a clearer, fuller picture of what the territory looks like.
Mr. Cable: Okay, also in the letter of November 17, the Government Leader states, "I have asked the ministers of Renewable Resources and Economic Development and staff in their departments to work with the council to develop a reasonable workplan for the next year or more and to assist the council in meeting these objectives. Where does that workplan sit? Does the Government Leader know whether it's been produced or how far along we are with the workplan?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'll take notice on the question, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cable: Okay, I assume we'll have a legislative return on that. The Government Leader is shaking his head.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: He's nodding his head in the affirmative, I'm told. He's not shaking his head.
Now in the body of the letter, there are a number of fairly wide-ranging requests put to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, among other things, "Review the Yukon conservation strategy and the Yukon economic strategy and consider whether their underlying principles are still relevant and up to date." He talks about, "stimulating public interest in the ideas of sustainable development through public education."
These things seem to have, I would think, a bit of a dollar sign attached to them. I'm not sure what the total budget is.
The question I have to ask the Government Leader is about when the Environment Act and the Economic Development Act were brought in - you know, the charging statutes for the council - I know these were very much front and centre pieces of NDP public policy - they may be good; they may be bad, depending on one's view - and it was thought that the council would play a very large role in developing public policy. This was my impression anyway. I wasn't in the House at the time, but this was my impression as to what was foreseen for the council's role in Yukon society.
What is the Government Leader's intention with respect to funding? How much is there in this budget? I'm not sure it's spelled out in the various line items. Is there enough for the council to work through this reasonable workplan that's talked about in the letter? What are the future intentions?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, there is funding in the budget for the Council on the Economy and the Environment. It is largely in Economic Development and Renewable Resources. There are some secretariat services in the Executive Council Office as well. Indeed, the member is correct that the mandate outlined in the Environment Act and the Economic Development Act are, in fact, not only proud accomplishments of a previous NDP government, they're also the law and, we believe, a law that should be obeyed. So consequently, not only have we put the obligations from the law to the Council on the Economy and the Environment, but also have provided some funds for them to do an analysis.
Just for my own interest, the member has suggested that these laws are good or bad, depending on one's point of view. Can I ask the member's point of view on those pieces of legislation? Does he regard them as good or bad?
Mr. Cable: I think they're excellent laws, and the NDP is to be applauded for having brought them in. The Council on the Economy and the Environment, I think, is an excellent idea.
Now, if it's an excellent idea, I would like to see appropriate funding provided to them, otherwise the charging letter, I think, would be virtually meaningless.
Now it seems to me, last year that $20,000 came out of Economic Development and $20,000 came out of Renewable Resources. I wonder if I could get sort of a finger-painting job here. Is that the level of financing we're looking at for this year?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It's increased somewhat, Mr. Chair, but the exact amounts I'd have to extract from the departmental budgets to provide to the member. I was kind of hoping that the member would take the leadership of the Yukon Party and pooh-pooh not only the Economic Development Act and the provisions of the Environment Act, but say some snide thing about the Council on the Economy and the Environment, too.
See, the exceptions to the rule prove the rule, Mr. Chair. I'll be careful not to ask the member for an opinion again.
Mr. Cable: Well, having enlightened the Yukon public on all of those subjects, that concludes our general debate.
Mr. Ostashek: I thought I had concluded debate, but my colleague to the left here has made it very important that I rise when he's asking for ministerial statements on government travel.
I totally disagree with the ministerial statement. Our Standing Orders are very, very clear about ministerial statements, as listed in Standing Order 11.2: "...a minister may make a short factual statement on government policy." The practice in the Yukon Party administration was, at the request of the opposition, to table a report when they returned from a ministerial trip. I believe that that is the proper procedure - not ministerial statements. So, we are not supportive of ministers making ministerial statements on government travel unless they do deal with a change in government policy.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I really wanted to direct this question to the DAP commissioner, but he's got a rather blank look on his face at the present time, so I think I'm going to direct my question to the Government Leader.
Last night, the DAP commissioner was talking about the DAP agreement and coming to an agreement. And I know the position of the Yukon government is to have one process that people go through, but the DAP commissioner last night said that they've got some proposals before the core table now that would create 15 different playing fields across the territory - one for each of the First Nations and the Yukon government.
And he said, "I guess 16, if you throw in the federal government." So I was kind of under the impression that the First Nations agreed with a one-step process, but it sounds like now that it's not only the federal government but also the First Nations who have a differing opinion from the Government of Yukon. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, first of all, the blank stare from the commissioner was only that the member opposite would stand up and ask such a question.
Certainly, the member will be more than happy to respond to the member's concern about the comments last night respecting the number of playing fields that may result from the negotiations if they're not set on a different track.
Clearly, as a general proposition, but I'll let the DAP commissioner respond in more detail, it's in the interests of the territory to have a single development assessment process regime for the entire territory, for the Yukon and for all First Nations, and that is what is being pursued by the Yukon.
To comment briefly on the question of ministerial statements versus trip reports, I know the member opposite will know that not every minister who returned from a trip filed a trip report in the Legislature, but I'll tell the member what: if the ministers feel that they have sufficient cause to file a ministerial statement that meets the rules of the Legislature, then we will do that. If we can provide further information to members with respect to the business travel that was taken, we'll take whatever legislative means are at our disposal to force the information onto the record.
Mr. Phillips: I have to apologize to the Government Leader. I fully intended to ask the question of the DAP commissioner, but the blank look I got from the commissioner when I asked the question was almost as if he wasn't with us - do you know what I mean? It was sort of like he just didn't get the question at the time. That's why I turned to the Government Leader to ask the question.
Unfortunately, that might have been a mistake, because I kind of got a blank answer from the Government Leader. He didn't really answer the question.
I thought that, initially, it was the Yukon government and the First Nations that were looking at a one-step process, and it was the federal government who was looking at being involved. It sounds, from the comments made by the DAP commissioner last night, that now it's not only the federal government that wants to be involved in a separate process or have control over it, it's also possibly 15 First Nations. Is that a correct assessment from what the DAP commissioner said last night?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: Or 14 First Nations. So, he said 15 different playing fields: 14 for the First Nations and I guess one for the Yukon government and one for the federal government. It appears that we're kind of going backwards here.
I would like to know from the Government Leader or the DAP commissioner, if he wishes to answer: what is the status? Is the Yukon standing alone with a position that there should only be one process at the present time? Do we have any of the 14 First Nations on board or all they all united that they feel that they should have their own process?
Mr. Livingston: The only reason that the member opposite might have seen a blank stare from this side of the House was that I was just trying to comprehend the question, because I think the questioner was just having a heck of a time getting out a question that fit together and made a lot of sense.
The comments last night, basically about a level playing field across the Yukon as being in the Yukon interest, were about how we want a common set of thresholds. We want a project to be a project and to be defined as a project, whether it be on Yukon Commissioner's land - that is, land that the Yukon government has responsibility for - whether it be on any of the 14 First Nations' land or whether it be on federal government land. That's one of the interests that we're having to assert at the core table, that notion of a common set of thresholds across the Yukon and a project being treated as a project on all lands.
We're pleased at the support that is building on that notion among Yukon people. It's one that we're having to continue to assert at the core table in order to ensure that we have a DAP that works.
Chair: Order please. The time being about 4:30, is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We're dealing with the Executive Council Office. Is there any further general debate? We'll go to Cabinet and Management Support. Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, as members can see, the estimate for this particular section shows a decrease of $125,000. This decrease is related to not staffing behind a secondment and reducing contract budgets.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Cabinet and Management Support
Administration/Secretariat in the amount of $742,000 agreed to
Cabinet and Management Support in the amount of $742,000 agreed to
On Land Claims Secretariat
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The budget for the Land Claims Secretariat has increased by $1,036,000. This reflects the fact that the completion of the First Nation final self-government agreements continues to be a top priority, of course. The budget provides for a full year's salary for the additional staff hired last year to handle the increased negotiating and policy activity necessary to complete the agreements.
The increase is in the implementation budget and that's, of course, recoverable.
So, the net increase is offset, of course, by a recovery from the federal government.
Mr. Ostashek: Could the minister tell us how much of the money is actually for implementation and how much is for negotiations?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the amount that's recoverable is for implementation, and the balance is for negotiations.
On Land Claims Secretariat
Land Claims Secretariat in the amount of $5,207 agreed to
On Intergovernmental Relations
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the budget shows an increase of $181,000 over the supplementary estimates. This increase reflects a full year's funding for positions filled at different times during the last fiscal year. As members will remember, we reorganized this section.
And the senior government representative for the Ottawa office was staffed just in February. This is the final position to be filled.
Mr. Ostashek: The senior position that was staffed in Ottawa - was somebody from here sent down or has a new person been hired there?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There was a competition for the position and the successful candidate was the director of French language services in the department.
Mr. Cable: It is my understanding that this is where we have the devolution personnel located. Am I correct in that assumption?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The people who work on devolution report to the ADM for intergovernmental relations.
Mr. Cable: In the past, I believe that the Government Leader has produced an organizational chart with the various positions set out. Could he repeat that and could he fill in the names of the incumbents? I think this was done once before. It might be useful information to see what sort of focus is being put on devolution.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair. I can provide that for the member.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, have there been any changes to the number of positions in the Ottawa office in this budget, or do the positions remain the same and they are now all full?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The positions are the senior government representative, the representative for Finance, a secretarial position, and a part-time - I believe one or maybe two days a week - position of the outgoing representative from the Department of Finance.
Intergovernmental Relations in the amount of $750,000 agreed to
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, this shows a small increase of $5,000. This is for contract costs that have increased by $5,000.
Mr. Cable: It appears that virtually all of the policy development in the minister's department is being done in house. Personnel costs are $492,000. Is it the intention of the government to use outside consultants for policy development on any particular issue?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: It's impossible to say, Mr. Chair. We have a fairly competent staff, but there may be a need, from time to time, for outside assistance. There historically has been; there may well be in the future, but there's been no direction from me, certainly, to move policy development outside the department.
Mr. Cable: In the past, I've asked various ministers, both in this administration and the previous administration, to provide a list of current policy initiatives. Is the Government Leader in a position to do that by way of legislative return?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the policy initiatives that the government is undertaking could be found very well, probably, in the action agenda, 1997 to the year 2000. Those are the areas that we are committed to pursuing in policy terms. For something more specific than that that the member wants, he can perhaps let me know.
Policy in the amount of $508,000 agreed to
On Public Communication Services
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This is a $392,000 increase from previous years. The major increase, of course, is in French language services. As anticipated, as I mentioned earlier today, the agreement to be signed the first year for a further five-year agreement will show an increase of the amount shown here. It will be recoverable from the federal government. In terms of the public communications costs, it will be largely program materials, et cetera.
Public Communication Services in the amount of $568,000 agreed to
On French Language Services
French Language Services in the amount of $1,532,000 agreed to
Chair: Any questions on the supplementary information?
Public Communication Services in the amount of $2,100,000 agreed to
On Aboriginal Language Services
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, this has to be a first, Mr. Chair. I don't recall getting such an exact number for a particular program: $1 million even. There is an increase, thanks to a negotiators agreement, to this particular program. I promise to provide the leader of the official opposition with the negotiators agreement that has not yet been ratified by government or signed by me, but I have indicated that I will provide that to the member. The expenditures here, of course, are recoverable.
Aboriginal Language Services in the amount of $1,000,000 agreed to
On Bureau of Management Improvement
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, this is a reduction of $58,000 and, as I've indicated before, it's a reduction in staff from three positions to two positions. The one senior position will not be filled, but we do believe that the services provided by the existing staff, as well as contract auditors, will be able to meet the audit plan that I tabled with the members today.
On Internal Audit
Internal Audit in the amount of $156,000 agreed to
On Bureau of Statistics
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, there is an increase of $263,000 proposed in this particular branch. It's largely due to an increase in external recoveries for the initiation of the third cycle of the national longitudinal health and children's survey. This is carried out under contract to StatsCan every second year and the next cycle will be 2000-2001. The bureau's core budget, excluding recoveries, has decreased by $63,000 total over the last six or seven years and the reason for increases have generally been associated with recoverable projects.
With respect to the $21,000 in management and information services, this is for auxiliary support related to that survey that I just mentioned, and the $242,000 is due to the initiation of the survey project itself.
Ms. Duncan: Could I just ask the Government Leader if he has any information about that survey - what the focus will be and what will happen with the results of that survey? Like if it's intended to direct government policy in some regard? Could he elaborate on the survey?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As far as I'm aware, Mr. Chair, the survey is to determine largely the health care statistics in the territory in accordance with meeting national standards for the collection of information. It's part of a national survey that is being conducted. In terms of the questions asked and the information sought, I can give the member a return or some documentation to provide her with more information if she likes.
Ms. Duncan: That would be fine. I would also like an indication from the minister at the time if he could indicate how the results will be dealt with, if they'll be passed on to the appropriate department, or what sort of an action plan might arise out of the results of this survey.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I can do that, Mr. Chair.
On Management and Information Services
Management and Information Services in the amount of $322,000 agreed to
On Operations and Research Services
Operations and Research Services in the amount of $576,000 agreed to
Bureau of Statistics in the amount of $898,000 agreed to
On Office of the Commissioner
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We are not proposing a change to the budget for this item, Mr. Chair.
Office of the Commissioner in the amount of $115,000 agreed to
On Cabinet Offices
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the only change to this particular item is in ministerial business travel to support the Yukon trade and investment strategy and to ensure that the Yukon's voice is heard at various conferences, et cetera.
Mr. Ostashek: Is that what the $141,000 is for - ministerial travel? Is that what that is? When it says "Ministers" and $141,000, could the Government Leader just explain that line for us?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, it's not entirely for travel. There is $17,000 for travel inside the territory, $89,000 for travel outside the territory, and $31,000 for communications, which is telephone.
Mr. Ostashek: Eighty-nine thousand dollars is a substantial amount of money for travel outside the territory. How many people is this covering? Could the minister give us some further explanation? Eighty-nine thousand seems like a substantial amount of money for travel.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, the travel is for ministers and ministers' staff. It also includes, I believe, commissioners as well, but I'd have to check on that.
Mr. Ostashek: Would the minister be good enough to bring back a legislative return with a clear and detailed explanation of the breakdown of the $141,000.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Phillips: I wonder if the minister could tell us what was done in this line item in the past? I asked some questions earlier about Tourism with respect to the two trips, which seemed to be rather low, and I would imagine that those trips, that $1,500, would have probably come out of this minister's budget. That would be the area it would have come out of.
Is that a change from before? Before, on a trip like this, did they take money out of this budget to cover all of the trip, including the airfare, the hotel rooms, the per diems - everything? Did that all come out of this budget before, and is there a change now?
With Tourism, it appears that we took the trip over out of the budget and they've now got an item noted on that "travel of the minister - trade commission out of the Department of Tourism budget." So, is that a change from before or was that done that way before, with respect to the bulk of the expenses for the minister travelling coming from maybe the minister's department or another department involved?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I'm told that it's exactly the same as before. Whatever was done, it's exactly the same as before. The members have asked for a comparison of costs. They can have that analysis. The information will be taken from the ledgers and they can dissect it as they wish.
As I mentioned to the member already, the trips being taken now by the Minister of Tourism - the business travel - shows only the airfare for that minister. The only reason we put it in was because we thought it might be helpful. But, the purpose of the comparison was supposed to be April through to February. We threw in those trips, because we wanted to show what we knew so far. For the purposes of comparison, year to year to year, the information that we were taking was April through to February. The trip itself is the airfare only, so far.
Mr. Phillips: I don't have a problem with that. From my recollection, when I went to Europe in 1994, I was surprised at the $7,000 for the whole trip. I was under the assumption that that was for the airfare, the accommodation and any other travel we did for me as a minister in Europe.
What appears to be missing from the equation the government has - and I'm just wondering if there's a change in policy now, where they're now just doing the airfare for the ministers out of this $141,000, and the other accommodation and other expenses are going to come from Economic Development or Tourism or some other department. That's the question I'm asking. Have we changed the policy somewhat so that, by looking, at first blush, at the minister's travel, you're only really seeing the cost of the airfare. You're not seeing his hotel expenses, the per diem expenses and so on. That's what I'm asking.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: He hasn't had hotel expenses. He has not submitted a claim yet for hotel expenses. That, presumably, will come and that cost will be added to the cost of the trip. All we know is the airfare at this point. Presumably, there will be other costs associated with this, unless he sleeps in a park, which I don't think he'll do.
I have already indicated to the members that I will give the information to the members, and they can dissect it as they wish. They can sit down with members in the Executive Council Office, et cetera, et cetera.
Mr. Phillips: That's a good explanation, and I buy that from the minister for the March 4 to 19 trip, but that doesn't explain the October 13 to 20 trip to Frankfurt, Germany, for seven days for $1,470. It seems to my like the $1,470 there would be the airfare again, and that's fairly inexpensive airfare to Europe. I'm sure that the minister must have filled out an expense account with his hotel room. I hope he has by now, and that would have shown up on here as well.
So I buy the minister's argument on the second one, but I'm having trouble understanding if the minister's using the same argument for the first one, because that was three or four months ago that the minister made the trip, and that should show up here as the whole part of the trip, as ours did.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I'll check into that particular one. With respect to the cost of travel, sometimes the cost is borne by departments. I don't know of anything outstanding or anything different from the past, but I do know, as I mentioned earlier on in the debate, that some travel that ministers take now, or have taken in the past in the previous government, was in fact borne by departments - I know that - and did not show up in ECO estimates, but I'm not aware of any change in terms of practice between departments and the Executive Council Office.
Mr. Phillips: Well, all I really want to do is compare apples to apples - that's all. So if we did it a certain way in 1994 when I went to Europe, then I think we should do it the same way in October 13 to 20, when the now Minister of Tourism went to Frankfurt, so we can look at it and compare apples to apples.
That's all I want. I realize that some departments do pay for these kinds of things, but this appears to be a bit of a variance from what was done in the past, and that's why I asked the question. Is there a policy change in this $141,000 that maybe we'll do more of that in the future, where the Economic Development minister will go somewhere and the airfare will be paid out of the minister's budget, and all the accommodation and other things will be paid out of the trade and investment part of Economic Development? So it will maybe not reflect the real cost of the travel directly attributed to the minister, that's all.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, as I indicated already to the member, I'm all in favour of comparing apples to apples. Just briefly at the break, I was asking about this - "Are we certain that this is the same thing?" And they said, "Well, the departments have always borne some costs." Sometimes the department will bear a cost that they don't bear the next time.
In terms of, for example, the airfares here, the entire airfare for this trip is being borne by the Yukon government. For example, when the member went to Germany, I understand there was an upgrade paid for by Canadian Airlines. That wouldn't be showing up in the ministerial budget, but it was another thing.
So, comparing apples to apples is not the easiest thing in the world. All I can tell the member is that I have not changed any policies, and I am not aware of any practice that is changing things.
Mr. Cable: Just following up on that, during the Executive Council Office briefing, which I was unable to attend - I had another obligation - the Liberal researcher thought he had heard that there were some trade and investment strategy travel costs paid for out of the Executive Council Office. Is that correct, and is this particular line item that we're dealing with the line item out of which they are paid? It's a two-part question.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, in the strategy, the role of the minister ranks very high in promoting trade in the territory, so the extent to which the minister participates will be paid out of this budget, in terms of the minister's personal costs.
Mr. Cable: The number that was relayed to me was either $30,000 or $33,000. Could the minister check as to whether in fact we have the correct information?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the difference in the forecast from forecast to estimate is $33,000 - $108,000 to $141,000. That's from the forecast of last year to this year. When one looks at the actual column from 1996-97, it's $132,000. So that's a $9,000 increase in that year. In any case, it's an increase, and the $33,000 would refer to forecast to estimate.
Ministers in the amount of $141,000 agreed to
On OIC Personnel
OIC Personnel in the amount of $1,137,000 agreed to
Cabinet Offices in the amount of $1,278,000 agreed to
On Cabinet Commissions
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The decrease reflects the completion of the Yukon hire project and is offset somewhat by the funding for the DAP commission, which is not recoverable in this budget.
The member has asked questions with respect to the contract services associated with the Cabinet commissions and I'm getting that information from the commissions themselves.
For the DAP commission, the contract work would refer to a legal review of the legislation draft.
In forestry, there are various technical experts in forest management that are currently not possessed by the Yukon government. I'm getting a more complete list from the commissions now and I will be able to table that for members.
Mr. Cable: I have a variety of questions. On the local hire commission, could we get the time line confirmed? I believe there has been a press release on this. The local hire commissioner's work has been done and, I believe, it's heading toward Cabinet. When is it expected that Cabinet will deal with the recommendations of the local hire commissioner?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can advise the member that the initial draft went to DMRC today. It will be coming forward to Cabinet at the earliest opportunity for review.
Mr. Cable: When would that earliest opportunity be, approximately? Are we talking about a week or 10 days or two months or what?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would look at it coming forward at the Cabinet meeting the week after next.
Mr. Cable: Is it anticipated that to put the local hire policy into effect there will be any legislative enactments required, or is it simply a matter of adopting the policy?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, at first blush, there are a whole variety of issues there. I haven't really had a full chance to study the draft document, but many of the issues look like policy or regulatory changes. They vary in scope. The departments have been asked to give not only their ability to follow through on a particular aspect, but what it's going to require in terms of resources and in terms of time lines and the kinds of changes that they will need to make in their own policies.
It's fairly comprehensive and we'll have to take a look at it, study it, and go from there.
Mr. Cable: Okay. When is the target date for bringing the policy into force, whatever the mechanics are of bringing it into force?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Once again, depending on the complexity of the particular issue, I've been advised, for example, that there are some things that can be done within Government Services in a relatively straightforward and rapid fashion. There are some aspects that are going to probably be more long term. We'll need more of a commitment of resources from the respective or affected departments.
But I would look at probably the late spring as being a target date that we could work toward and, once again, it would depend upon discussion and directions of Cabinet.
Mr. Cable: Now, the interprovincial trade agreement, of course, which we've talked about in this House, was intended to loosen up the trade bonds in the country. Are there any contradictions, or has the minister had an opportunity to determine whether there are any contradictions between that trade agreement and the recommendations that have been provided by the local hire commission?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I've said, we've received a very preliminary first cut of this document. At first review, I can't see anything that leaps out as being in contradiction to interprovincial trade barriers, or decrease of interprovincial trade barriers. Many of the directions given to us look fairly straightforward in a lot of ways. There are going to probably be some issues that are going to have to be debated around, and we will be seeking the guidance of Justice in some areas.
But as I said, I've just received it today. It's very preliminary.
Mr. Cable: Did I hear the minister correctly? Did he say that was the first cut on the recommendations? Is there something further expected?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's the first draft. Quite obviously, it's going to have to be reviewed by DMRC. There'll probably be some input, some suggestions and discussions. Then it'll come forward to Cabinet, and I would imagine there'll be some debate around Cabinet on that as to the feasibility and time lines and priorities, et cetera.
Mr. Cable: I thought there was some linkage between the interprovincial trade agreement and the recommendations of the local hire commission, and that's why we weren't signing the interprovincial trade agreement amendments.
Perhaps the Government Leader can clarify that. I know he's responded to questions from the leader of the official opposition and, at least in part, there was some discussion on the multilateral agreement that I know a motion was brought forward on.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: MAI.
Is there any other reason, other than this multilateral agreement, that the interprovincial trade agreement isn't being signed? Is there some reason relating to the recommendations of the local hire commission?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The answer's no, Mr. Chair. The recommendations of the local hire commission are not preventing the Yukon government from responding to, or signing on to, the interprovincial agreement on trade. The signing of that agreement will be coming to Cabinet for determination before too long.
With respect to the multilateral agreement on investment, that has nothing to do with the government's response, either, to the local hire commission report.
Mr. Cable: Okay, just to be clear, to make sure that we've all heard the position from the government, when the local hire commissioner was in Ottawa and attending the meeting, I think he took the position that the MAI - the multilateral agreement on investment - was a problem with respect to this government signing that agreement. Did I correctly understand the assertions made in the House?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: There are two different agreements. The multilateral agreement on investment is an international agreement between countries, and it does have impacts on other jurisdictions within Canada, but it is ultimately a matter for the federal government to decide. And we obviously passed a motion in this House which expressed serious concerns about the general intentions under the principles underlying the multilateral agreement on investment.
The interprovincial agreement on trade is an internal-to-Canada agreement, and we have not yet made a decision with respect to our signing on to that agreement, but I'm not aware of any potential conflict because of signing on to that agreement, with its various features respecting the north. I'm not aware that that would conflict with the government's potential response to the Yukon hire report.
Mr. Cable: Okay. At the risk of being repetitious then, the government's apprehensions that are being expressed for not signing the interprovincial trade agreement have nothing to do with the local hire commission's recommendations. I believe that's what the minister just said. He's nodding his head. Thank you.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm going to enter into this debate, because I need to get some clarification. There seems to be various messages being sent or misunderstood on this side of the House as to where we're at here.
I just heard the Government Leader say that the interprovincial trade agreement - I assume he's talking about the amendments to it for the MUSH sector now, because the agreement was signed under my administration; we agreed to it - is coming to Cabinet for a yea or a nay, soon. Yet, we had a letter from the Minister of Economic Development some nine months ago, that supported the agreement. Has there been a change by the members opposite, so that what the Minister of Economic Development wrote to us last July is no longer valid?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Not having the benefit of the letter in front of me, I can't tell whether or not the member has got a point. All I can tell the member is that our response to the amendments is not yet determined by Cabinet because it hasn't come to Cabinet. So, I'm in no position to say what the government's position is on that particular subject.
And for the Member for Riverside's benefit, that has nothing to do with the response time to the local hire commission report.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, let's go back. We raised these questions in Question Period earlier. I was of the understanding that the Member for Whitehorse Centre represented the Government of Yukon at the interprovincial trade meeting that was held in Ottawa some time back in respect to the amendments to the MUSH sector. In fact, some of the comments and criticisms made by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, who I believe was speaking on behalf of the territorial government, were reported in the local media. Did, in fact, the MLA for Whitehorse Centre represent the Yukon government at the meeting? I'm not asking whether or not he spoke. I'm asking whether he represented the government at the meeting on the amendments to the interprovincial trade agreement dealing with the MUSH sector?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No.
Mr. Ostashek: Okay. Well, the Member for Whitehorse Centre was in Ottawa at the time, because he reported to the media on the interprovincial trade deal. I mean, he reported that he wasn't in favour of it unless certain things happened.
Let me ask the question of the Government Leader then. Was the Member for Whitehorse Centre in Ottawa representing the government on another matter at the same time as the interprovincial trade agreement was on?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, are we killing time while the Member for Riverdale North goes out and gets the letter from the Minister of Economic Development? I mean, all these questions have been answered thoroughly. If we are, then why don't we talk about the audit committee report? We haven't mentioned that at all.
I already indicated to the member that the Member for Whitehorse Centre was in Ottawa representing the government with respect to the issue of multilateral agreement on investment. That's what the member did. He did not represent the government on the interprovincial trade agreement. He spoke to the MAI and that's all he spoke to. He did not attend the meeting with respect to the subject on interprovincial agreement on trade, and, consequently, did not say anything at the meeting with respect to that matter because he wasn't representing the government on that matter.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'm certainly not stalling for time. I'm trying to get a clear message from this government. It was reported in the local media on comments the Member for Whitehorse Centre made in relation to the internal trade agreement.
I want to know from the Government Leader if in fact he was representing the Government of the Yukon there. That's what I'm trying to find out, because nobody seems to be very clear on the other side about exactly what happened. Did the MAI meeting that the Member for Whitehorse Centre was at take place at the same time as the internal trade agreement meeting that was taking place in Ottawa?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I will go through this one more time. There was a meeting of trade ministers in Ottawa. It had two items on the agenda. One was the multilateral agreement on investment. The other was the internal agreement on trade.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre represented the government on the subject of the multilateral agreement on investment.
The member did not - not - represent the government or speak to the issue on the internal agreement on trade. He was not representing the government. No, he did not represent the government on the internal agreement on trade - did not do it. I've said it a dozen times: Not. No, not.
There were two items on the agenda, one where he did represent the government's position, the multilateral agreement on investment, and one where he didn't. He wasn't there, didn't represent the government, and didn't speak to the other agenda item.
That's what happened and that's all there is to say, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I move you report progress on this bill and put us out of our misery.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, 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 Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:27 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled March 10, 1998:
Agricultural Association (Yukon) training agreement (dated March 2, 1998) (Moorcroft)
The following Documents were filed March 10, 1998:
Legal proceedings (cost of) against squatter Gary Bemis: letter dated January 26, 1998, to Doug Phillips, MLA for Riverdale North, from Hon. Dave Keenan, Minister of Community and Transportation Services (Phillips)
Bureau of Management Improvement, audit and evaluation: multi-year work plans (McDonald)
Cabinet commissions: main estimates 1998-99 (McDonald)