Thursday, March 12, 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. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I have a legislative return for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motions?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Oil and gas regulations and development of
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to rise today to inform members about the further development of the Yukon's common oil and gas regime. This is a natural extension to the Yukon Oil and Gas Act, which was unanimously passed in the House last fall.
The key regulatory components of this regime are under development in preparation for the transfer of authority for oil and gas from the federal government to the Yukon. In passing, I'm very pleased to inform members that yesterday the House of Commons gave third reading to Bill C-8, which permits the transfer.
The Yukon Oil and Gas Act now goes to the Senate for approval, and we expect that the Yukon will have responsibility for this resource later this spring.
The development of appropriate regulations reflects our government's policy of encouraging responsible development of our resources to create jobs and economic opportunities for Yukon people.
We are doing this in a balanced manner, along with the settlement of land claims, the creation of a one-window development assessment process and our government's protected areas strategy.
As well as this, Mr. Speaker, in keeping with our commitment to partner with First Nation governments to develop a common regime, oil and gas regulations are being drafted jointly with First Nations. Yukon and First Nations governments have established an oil and gas working group to undertake this work.
As members may recall, industry associations and companies have indicated that the common regime is a competitive advantage over other jurisdictions since it establishes one set of rules for both Crown and First Nation lands.
To ensure that exploration development and the jobs they create are not unnecessarily delayed, the development of regulations is a priority.
At this time, the drilling and production regulations and geoscience exploration regulations have been completed and will be released for public and industry review soon.
The land tenure regulations will be completed next week and submitted to the First Nation working group for further review prior to release.
Regulations for pipelines and royalties are currently under development and will be completed later this spring.
Our government is committed to involving people in the decisions that affect them. To that end, the draft regulations will be available for public and industry comment once approval is received from the First Nation working group and Cabinet.
It is anticipated that the regulatory code will be passed this fall, which would allow the Yukon to regulate activity and conduct its first ever land sale in early 1999.
Our government knows that to ensure that the Yukon's fledgling oil and gas industry is successful, we must aggressively market our potential and competitive advantages, such as the common regime.
This year's marketing strategy seeks to further our cooperative relationships with oil and gas companies and industry associations, through numerous meetings with targeted companies and attendance at key petroleum trade shows.
In May, I will travel to Calgary with representatives from Yukon First Nations to meet with oil and gas companies and industry associations, and to reinforce the message that the Yukon welcomes companies that respect the environment and seek to maximize benefits for local people.
I look forward to the completion of the oil and gas regulatory code and believe that the responsible development of this resource will result in many new jobs and economic opportunities for Yukoners.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for his update on the oil and gas regulations. I'm pleased to see that the government is moving forward expeditiously with this, and hopefully we will soon be able to say that we've completed our first land sale.
I just have a couple of questions that the minister may be able to answer when he is on his feet, if he could. What does the minister consider "early 1999", for the first sale, and does the minister have any idea as of yet as to what areas of Yukon they are looking at for their first sale of oil and gas exploration rights?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I thank the member opposite. I think that this particular opportunity for Yukoners is one that is considerably unsung. I think that we have a duty as a government to find new ways to produce jobs and opportunities for Yukoners and also opportunities to improve the revenue situation of government, so that government can continue to provide health care, social services and education to Yukoners and continue to maintain that high quality of life.
It is difficult to say what "early 1999" will be. I would hope that we could move very quickly. The answer I guess I could give the member is "as soon as possible". Right after December 1998. But, of course, we have considerations that we have to meet. The public has to be involved. We want to hear from people about potential land sales, so we're going to be starting the process of perhaps, in a preliminary way - well, our first priority is settling land claims - to move in some ways where we have some concurrence from Yukon people. At least as much concurrence as possible.
We do feel that we must push ahead on this agenda. We have good opportunities. I am looking forward to it. We intend to have a big splash in terms of marketing that my department officials are working on very diligently - it involves me and Yukon First Nation government leaders - for Calgary in May.
I will be participating extensively in ensuring that the proper political environment questions are answered for the oil companies who are making investment decisions and that they'll also hear from us what our bottom lines are in terms of creating jobs and opportunities for Yukoners, in terms of respecting the environment and in terms of working with Yukon people.
So, I look forward to this next year. I think it's going to be an exciting one for Yukoners, and I continue to thank the members opposite for their support of our efforts in that regard.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Internal trade agreement, government position
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Government Leader.
Last night, the Government Leader effectively blamed a media reporter for the public confusion over whether or not the MLA for Whitehorse Centre, when speaking from Ottawa, was stating the government's position on the addendum to the 1994 internal trade agreement.
The news article that came out on February 19 stated quite clearly that the member was there speaking on internal trade.
I want to ask the Government Leader if he is aware of another interview that was done on February 17 by the MLA for Whitehorse Centre on the same issue, with the CBC reporter, and which clearly states that the Yukon hire commissioner is heading off to Ottawa this week to meet with federal and provincial ministers on internal trade. And he goes on to say basically the same thing he said in the Whitehorse Star article. I want to ask the Government Leader: is he aware of that media interview?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have seen a news transcript with respect to the matter, Mr. Speaker, when the member raised the issue in the first instance. To put last night's conversation that we had in terms of me blaming news reporters is, I would say, an inflammatory interpretation of my opinion. Certainly, there was a confusion, obviously, in the minds of the members opposite with respect to what the role of the Member for Whitehorse Centre was all about. But certainly the matter in my mind is quite clear with respect to what the Member for Whitehorse Centre was doing at the meeting with respect to his stating the government's position on the MAI and the fact that he had not been involved in the discussions on internal trade.
The member has expressed anxieties about the annex to the internal trade agreement - anxieties that any reasonable person would have - and we haven't had an opportunity as yet to make a decision with respect to that annex to the internal trade agreement, and we won't until we finish consultations locally.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, if we have any confusion over the issue, it's because of the comments that were made by the MLA for Whitehorse Centre. He quite clearly stated in both interviews - he didn't clearly state it, but he left the impression - that he was representing the government's position on internal trade. It's quite clear to both reporters - quite clear in how they crafted their story. So, if there's any confusion, that confusion has been caused by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, and now the Government Leader's trying to distance himself from that statement.
Is the Government Leader saying today that the reporters didn't understand what the Member for Whitehorse Centre was saying, or is he saying that he doesn't agree with what the Member for Whitehorse Centre said? What is his position? Who's wrong here? Is it the Member for Whitehorse Centre or is it the media?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I would suggest that the member's choice of only two options is wrong. First of all, the Member for Whitehorse Centre is perfectly entitled to answer questions of him on the question of internal trade and any anxieties about fitting our local hire agenda into the internal trade agreement. He is perfectly
entitled to express his opinion. I don't muzzle anyone.
However, when it comes to speaking for the government, the Member for Whitehorse Centre, in any case, was not speaking to the issue at the meeting and has not spoken to the issue with respect to the government's position. Part of the reason for that is the government does not have a position and we will not have a position until such time as we've completed our consultations with the AYC.
Mr. Ostashek: The Government Leader went on last night to say, when we raised this issue, and I quote from what he said when he raised the issue in the media. He said, "It would be a full-time job if we were trying to correct wrong information in the media and I have made it my business not to take issue with people in the media, as much as I can."
But, Mr. Speaker, Yukoners have seen a flood of letters to the media from ministers trying to correct the public record on issues that are not nearly as important as internal trade- not nearly as important.
Quite clearly there's a conflict in the NDP caucus. When we look at the letter written by the Minister of Economic Development last July, it says, "All parties to the agreement agree to eliminate trade restrictive practices and to treat businesses and residents of other jurisdictions the same as they treat their own businesses and residents."
Now we have the Member for Whitehorse Centre coming out in totally the opposite direction. I want to ask the Government Leader why he did not take steps to correct the public record when the Member for Whitehorse Centre spoke out on what was not the position of his government.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, the member has to know that it would be a full-time job to correct statements from the opposition. Unfortunately, it's my day job. I do correct the erroneous information coming from opposition members, and I will continue to do so forever.
With respect to the comments made by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, the Member for Whitehorse Centre is not coming at this question from completely the opposite direction at all. He has expressed anxieties about the local hire agenda and restrictions on internal trade - anxieties that any reasonable person would consider and review. Clearly, we are in that process now of considering and reviewing the situation with respect to our decision to agree or not on the subject of the annex to the internal trade agreement. That is what we're doing. We will be able to make a position known when we've made the decision.
Question re: Internal trade agreement, government position
Mr. Ostashek: Quite clearly, the minister's letter already says that the government does agree with the internal trade agreement.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Would members please stop their heckling.
Mr. Ostashek: I would not have any difficulty with the Member for Whitehorse Centre saying whatever he likes to say, had he not left the impression with the media that he was stating a government position. That is what's wrong with the statement. He certainly has a right to his own opinions, but he ought to make that very clear when he's speaking to the media, and not leave the impression that this is a government position.
Can I ask the Government Leader this: has the Member for Whitehorse Centre been reprimanded for leaving the impression with the public that he was speaking on behalf of the Government of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, Mr. Speaker, the issue here is not whether or not the government has bought into the internal trade agreement. That decision was made. The issue is whether or not we're buying into the annex to the internal trade agreement with respect to the MASH sector. It's the annex that is the issue.
Now, the member asked me whether or not I would reprimand the private member for speaking his mind with respect to anxieties respecting the policies underlying the annex to the internal trade agreement - a decision not yet made - and the local hire agenda. At this point, Mr. Speaker, those are anxieties that any reasonable person would share and we haven't finished determining whether or not they are resolved until we've finished our consultations.
So, of course I would not reprimand anyone or draw anyone up short for speaking their minds, and speaking reasonably about the position in any case.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm sure that the people of the Yukon are getting to understand this much, much clearer now that the Government Leader has given his very clear explanation of the government's position and the Member for Whitehorse Centre's position - and the government's non-position because they say they haven't made it yet.
I asked the question last night of the minister as to who paid for the trip and he said he would check on it. Now that the minister has had time to check on it, can he tell us what it costs for the taxpayers of the Yukon for the MLA for Whitehorse Centre to go to Ottawa and state a non-government position?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to know why we are even engaging in this issue in Question Period today. The member has already put out his press release with his conclusions about whether or not I would reprimand members or what my position would be in Question Period. He's already decided the question, so there's nothing more that I could add for the member that would change the conclusion he's already drawn.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader can make light of this or not. We have hundreds of unemployed Yukoners, thousands of unemployed Yukoners. We signed an agreement on internal trade to remove barriers. We have one of his members going around trying to put up barriers and that member, the Government Leader, will not be clear with the Yukon public. He says he has no position yet, that it hasn't been decided.
I want to ask the Government Leader this: when will he tell the public what his position is and where this government stands when it comes to the addendum to internal trade?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This member is completely incapable of understanding that, if one promotes trade, one promotes jobs; if one promotes local hire, one promotes jobs. Every jurisdiction in this country has the same agenda. We are more honest with people about our full agenda than most, but we do care about jobs. We do care about local hire. We do care about promoting trade, and we do not believe they're incompatible.
Even the internal agreement on trade allows for exemptions due to regional economic differences. So clearly there's allowance for such things - in some respects, in the internal trade agreement itself - as local hire provisions, regional economic development programs that may benefit a particular jurisdiction or another.
So these are not incompatible concepts at all. We are promoting need and we're promoting jobs for this territory, both in the local hire agenda and in the trade agenda, and we're going to do so aggressively.
Question re: Justice department personnel vacancies
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Justice. There were two positions that came open in the Justice department late last year. That's the director of community and correctional services and the superintendent of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Could the minister tell us whether these positions have been filled, and whether they were filled with Yukoners?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I do not believe that the positions have been filled yet. The personnel matters are handled internally by the department. I am aware that the competition went out but have not been advised as to whether the positions have yet been filled.
Mr. Cable: We've gone over the advertisements that were put in the papers. There was an ad put in the Globe and Mail on January 7; there was an ad put in the Yukon News on January 7; and there was an ad put in the Whitehorse Star on January 2, essentially all at the same time.
Could the minister tell us why her department advertised outside prior to exhausting the local market?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member just read into the record the dates that the ads were put in the local newspapers, which preceded the postings in the Globe and Mail. The Yukon News was closed during the Christmas break and did not publish on January 2, as the Whitehorse Star did, so their ad went in on the first date that they published after they'd received the advertisement for insertion.
Mr. Cable: Well, surely the minister isn't making the proposition that putting an ad in the local papers five days before the outside paper is exhausting the local market.
The recommendations of the Yukon hire commission - the final report - I draw her attention to recommendation no. 1, which is, "Ensure that hiring is at first limited to Yukon applicants. Only if skills are not available or if there are special circumstances should outside applicants be considered. Maintain existing PSC requirement for ministerial approval of outside hires."
Does the minister, in her capacity as the Minister of Justice, subscribe to that recommendation?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, we look at local applicants who meet the criteria for the position on a priority basis. The ads were placed simultaneously - not simultaneously; the one local paper that published January 2 had the ad prior to it appearing in the second local paper and the outside newspapers. There was some urgency for the recruitment and so the ads were posted and the position was advertised. Qualified local candidates are considered prior to considering any candidates from outside but, in all cases, the candidates must all have and meet all the essential requirements for the position.
Question re: FAS/FAE coordinating officer
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Speaker, the 1992 federal fetal alcohol syndrome subcommittee on health issues recommended to their territorial counterparts that, "there be established coordinators who would focus on prevention, identification of high-risk individuals and groups, clinical services for women of child-bearing age, early identification of affected offspring and treatment, and care facilities for FAS and FAE children."
Mr. Speaker, is this government considering developing a coordinating officer's position to help deal with the epidemic of FAS and FAE incidents in the Yukon?
The minister says FAS prevention is a priority. Will he prove it by adopting this recommendation to establish an FAS coordinator's position?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, as I indicated the other day, one of the things that we are looking at is the entire issue of early intervention. I've had several discussions with our department. We are looking at models for early intervention, not only focusing on issues such as FAS/FAE, but a whole variety of prenatal and postnatal conditions.
What I'm hoping to do is to bring that forward. How we're going to be approaching this, as I've said, is that we've looked at a couple of models outside. As we get more details and formulate our response, I will be bringing that forward.
Mrs. Edelman: I still didn't hear from the minister whether they are even considering this option.
The 1996 working group on FAS noted that there was a lack of an FAS/FAE resource centre and a coordinator for that centre. Is this government supportive of developing a resource centre similar to the ones in B.C. and Manitoba, and hiring a coordinator to deal with the services, or the lack of coordinated services for people, with FAS/FAE in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I suppose I'm somewhat taken aback that the member is suggesting that we don't do anything with FAS/FAE. I can point to a plethora of things that we are doing, not only with FAS prevention and working with families, as well as working with the FAS support group, but also the variety of things we're doing in terms of supporting individuals with disabilities in their later years, as well as educational support.
One of the things that we are waiting for are some recommendations that are coming forward from the high-risk alcohol study that is currently being done by our stats people and Carleton University. As we get final recommendations from that, no doubt we'll be looking at what their recommendations are.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, once again, I haven't got an answer.
Mr. Speaker, in the Yukon, there are a number of groups that deal with FAS/FAE. One of these groups is FASSY, which is an advocacy group for FAS. In addition to that, there's the Yukon Association for Community Living, the new Disabilities Council and the government departments of DIAND, First Nation health directors, family and children's services, the Department of Health, the Department of Education, the Department of Justice and Yukon Housing. Despite that, there are still FAS and FAE babies born every month in the Yukon.
Somebody has to coordinate all this good work. When is the department going to listen to every plan, every study, every implementation strategy and action plan for the past 17 years - now, we hear that we're waiting for yet another - and create a resource centre and staff to coordinate its services around fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, the member is right and, I think, answered some of her own question when she listed off all of the people that are involved in this. I would suggest that probably the most appropriate avenue would be for us to do a comprehensive, early intervention program addressing a whole variety of socioeconomic factors, including prenatal alcohol abuse, in trying to help all children. And I would suggest that what we are doing is we are working on a strategy that we think will be addressing some of these, and we're hoping to bear fruit very soon.
Question re: Internal trade agreement, government position
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, once again, my question is to the Government Leader on internal trade. The Government Leader last night said that the government has not yet taken a position on the trade annex to the internal trade agreement and would not take a position on it until after they had heard from the Association of Yukon Communities. Yet, Mr. Speaker, we find out this morning that the Association of Yukon Communities advised this government more than six months ago that they had no problems with the annexed agreement to the internal trade agreement. So, I ask the Government Leader, why is he using AYC for an excuse when in fact he already knows their position?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, that's not the case, as I understand it, at all. The Association of Yukon Communities has not given us the final position with respect to the MASH sector, so consequently we are not going to be making our decision until we finish hearing from them. So consequently, we are not yet going to be announcing our position with respect to the internal trade annex, but we should be able to do so approximately the end of the month.
Mr. Ostashek: This is so typical of this NDP government and this administration. They consult with municipal governments, they consult with First Nation groups, they consult with individuals, they consult with NGOs, but they never actually listen to what the people are telling them. They will only respond if they hear the preconceived answer that they already have, and it's in accordance with their party line.
Can the Government Leader explain to me today, and to Yukoners, why letters on the internal trade agreement are continuing to go out to AYC as late as February 26, when the association had already made its views known some six months ago - that they had no problems with the trade annex? Is the Government Leader waiting until he hears a reversal of its position before he moves on an annex on internal trade?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, so typical of the NDP government: they consult, they consult, they consult. Boy oh boy. That sounds terrible. It sounds awful. We wouldn't want any preconceived notions, like a press release that went out already before Question Period started, which says that the leader of the official opposition has already exposed a major rift in the NDP. I can understand why the member's so desperate. He's already announced ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Sorry, Mr. Speaker. He's already announced that he exposed a major rift. Now he hasn't been able to prove it, and so consequently there's a note of desperation in the member's voice. I can see why he feels the way he does.
Mr. Speaker, we are going to ensure, before we make a decision, that the parties to this annex - which includes municipalities and other non-government sectors - are satisfied, or if they're not, that we can feel satisfied that they've been truly consulted before we make our decision. Now, we will be making our decision shortly.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the reason we keep asking the questions is because we're not getting any straight answers. That's why we keep asking the questions, and the goal posts keep moving, Mr. Speaker. Last night it was AYC; today it's AYC and other groups - until they find the answer that they want.
Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader has stated that they will be making the decision around the end of the month. He failed to answer my previous question. How much did it cost the taxpayers to send the Member for Whitehorse Centre to Ottawa?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, that question was actually put to me last night, not in Question Period today. But I was -
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I can understand why they're so desperate. This must be an embarrassing moment for them in their lives in the official opposition. They've pulled a real boner today and it's tough on them. I can understand that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned last night, the Member for Whitehorse Centre was already in Ottawa at his own expense, not at the Government of Yukon's expense. I mentioned that, and I indicated that if there were any other ancillary costs at all that we detect - even a taxi fare - I would pull it out and get the information to the members opposite.
Mr. Speaker, the problem here is that the members are not getting the answers they want so they keep asking the same questions over and over and over again, but the answers have, in fact, been consistent with respect to this government's position, with respect to what we're expecting with respect to the role of the Member for Whitehorse Centre. We have been consistent in this Legislature.
Question re: Yukon Employees Union negotiations
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. The glacier-like negotiations with the Yukon Employees Union have moved a little bit. Volume 98 of the union newsletter provides an update on the negotiations. The newsletter indicates that the Government of Yukon has agreed to a letter of understanding, (a) which will amend the shift schedule for security guards. The effect of the amended shift schedule is to reduce employees from permanent full-time to permanent part-time, with a subsequent loss in pay and benefits, saving government about $40,000 on the backs of those who can least afford it, those closest to retirement.
My question for the minister is this: why was this proposal put forward by the NDP government? Did the government instruct negotiators to save money by changing staff schedules and status?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, the basher of the working people now is trying to come off as the defender of working people. I would suggest to the member opposite that the collective bargaining negotiations are being held down in terms of their moving forward with mediation, which is an acceptable, agreed-upon route for difficult discussions.
With regard to the specific issue that has been raised, the issue was not put forward by the NDP government but, rather, by the collective bargaining agent, the union, which we respect as the duly certified bargaining agent for the membership that they represent, and therefore, that would be an element of the collective bargaining negotiations and would remain as an element of those negotiations, which I don't want to discuss on the floor of this House, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I was asking the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission about a stance at the negotiating table that was public information, that had been agreed to and is public. I was not asking him to outline future policy at the table or about working with the mediator.
I have a signed document from a union negotiator that says that, in fact, this proposal to amend a security guard's shift schedule was put forward by the government. In fact, the letter says, "At negotiations, the employer proposed the work schedules for security guards, not the union."
Would the minister clarify that? Was it the government or the union that put forward this position?
Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I don't intend, on a piecemeal basis, to get into the elements of collective bargaining negotiations. On the issue she speaks of, that is certainly contrary to my understanding.
Ms. Duncan: Well, perhaps the minister could verify that with some form of a legislative return. I'm not asking for piecemeal information. I'm asking about a specific point of concern that is causing a great deal of worry for Government of Yukon employees.
The minister has said, over and over, that the budget's about people, that the government believes in people, and, Mr. Speaker, this issue is about people - people close to retirement age who are going to be forced into giving up their jobs because they can't afford to work their last few years under this government's actions. This is exactly what the Yukon Party did, and what that government condemned them for.
The two-percent rollback affected most -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Ms. Duncan: The two-percent rollback instituted by the Yukon Party affected most people who were closest to retirement age. This point will affect the people closest to the retirement age. Will the minister explain why this issue was brought forward?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, coming from the Liberal -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: When the member's cousins in Ottawa are so famous for slashing tens of thousands of jobs, unemployment insurance, all kinds of benefits for workers, I find -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. Order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Federal public servants, I think -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order. Order please.
Hon. Mr. Harding: - now for some six years, Mr. Speaker. The Liberal track record on collective bargaining is atrocious, and I don't think that even the Liberals can criticize the Yukon Party. I don't believe that's fair.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her representation. I understand exactly what the situation is. We are at the collective bargaining table. We're still at the collective bargaining table. My understanding is that it was signed off by both parties and was not proposed by the employer.
So, Mr. Speaker, that's my understanding. Obviously, if we're still at the collective bargaining table, which we are, if the bargaining agent no longer wishes to engage in the proposal they put forward, then they may want to propose changing it, and that will be reflected at the collective bargaining table - not on the floor of this Legislature - where it more appropriately should be held.
And the reason that we are engaged in collective bargaining is because we care about workers and we care about workers' rights, and their fundamental, democratic right to collective bargaining in this territory.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Special adjournment motion
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House, at its rising, do stand adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday, March 23, 1998.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House, at its rising, do stand adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday, March 23, 1998.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, that momentous change in the routine threw me off.
But, Mr. Speaker, I would like to move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the Committee to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Is 20 minutes okay today?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 9 - First Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Department of Education - continued
Chair: Committee is dealing with the estimates for the Department of Education. Is there any further general debate?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I would like to begin by reviewing some of the items that were under discussion last evening, and then proceeding from there with questions.
For the record, the comparison between the 1997-98 main estimates show that the 1998-99 main estimates represent an increase of $1,244,000 or 1.6 percent over the 1997-98 main estimates.
The 1997-98 main estimates, Mr. Chair, are $79,839,014 and, as this budget shows -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the members opposite will have their chance to speak and to heckle in due course.
The 1998-99 budget is $81,830,000. The critic for the official opposition was asking questions in relation to overexpenditures. I'm not clear exactly what he meant by overexpenditures. I can speak to the major items of the supplementary budget.
Additional costs due to increasing staff at the Faro school of $500,000 were in the supplementary estimates, as well as the inclusion of funds for the YTA collective agreement of $576,000; and additional costs incurred for the replacement of individual teacher curriculum aids and materials and to set up the temporary housing for the teachers as a result of the Old Crow school fire - that last item in the amount of $75,000.
The member also asked questions in relation to power costs.
It is difficult to accurately anticipate utility costs as they depend to a large extent on weather: how cold a winter the temperatures are, the status of the Faro mine and other unpredictable variables.
Historically, the department has had decreasing utility costs, which can be attributed to the conservation action program, which is an energy management program that has been implemented in most of the schools. Energy savings can be expected to continue as the remaining schools are brought into the program.
As more schools are now taking part in the conservation action program, the anticipated increase in power costs may be mitigated.
The member requested a copy of the letter that I sent to the business representative of the Teamsters local union on March 5. That letter, Mr. Chair, stated that, as recommended by the busing review, the mandate of the Whitehorse Busing Committee is presently being reviewed by the government and school councils.
I am asking that they provide a mechanism for the participation of school bus drivers. I recognize that their input can provide valuable information about student and safety issues.
I have a copy of that letter to circulate to the critics and would ask that the page also make a photocopy for the Clerk's table and their information.
The member also asked about the dates for the collective agreement with the Yukon Teachers Association. The YTA collective agreement presently in effect runs for two years from July 1, 1996, to June 30, 1998. Section 216 of the Education Act allows either party to serve notice to bargain on the other within three months of the expiry of the contract.
No notice to bargain has been sent by either party.
I think that responds to the items that were left for follow-up. I also wish to advise members that Education officials are working on the final version of answers to their questions raised at the technical briefing, and we hope to have those available for them before the end of the day.
Mr. Phillips: Well, if we don't get them before the end of the day, I hope we can get them before we get back in here a week from now. It's important to have that information.
Mr. Chair, what's that saying - what a difference 24 hours makes. Last night, we went on and on and on for probably half an hour in this House - the minister and I - discussing what the numbers were in the budget, and the minister went back and said to the officials, "Get back there and cover my backside, because I've got to come back here with some pretty strong arguments tomorrow to show them that this budget hasn't gone down, because we've been saying it's going up." And the officials did more than what I think the minister probably expected and what most of us thought they could do, and they came up with a budget that's $1 million more than last year. I think that was the figure the minister used - $1 million something, although that's not reflected in the numbers we see here.
These are supposed to be understandable by the public, and if they look at 1997-98 where it says $81,183,000 and they look at 1998-99, $81,083,000, that, in anybody's math - except the minister's - is $100,000 less. I don't care how you cut it, how you try and spin it, what you try and do with it, the fact of the matter is, if the minister is now $1 million over, then we should have had a budget item in here that said $82,183,000. Let's quit trying to fool the people.
Mr. Chair, it's frustrating to see the government, rather than admit an error, to do everything in the world to spin it in their direction, and that's what this minister has tried to do with this one. I'm not going to accept it, and I know anyone reading this budget, any lay person who reads this budget, won't accept it.
In real terms, it's gone down by $100,000, and there's no doubt about it. In fact, what is really surprising today is that last night the minister said over and over and over that there was a zero-percent decrease. That's how we do it. Zero percent. And today the minister is saying it's over $1 million more.
Mr. Speaker, the minister can't have it both ways and should have thought of that before she produced her figures here today. If it had been a million dollars more, it would have been an increase, and it would have shown up as an increase - it wouldn't have shown zero percent, because a million dollars is more than zero percent, even when you round it out.
Last night when I left off, I raised an issue of a letter that the Teamsters Local 31 had sent to the minister with respect to the fair-wage act and schedule. I was asking the minister what her views were with respect to the concerns raised in the letter by the Teamsters local on behalf of the bus drivers.
I was somewhat dismayed to have the minister, rather than answer the question, come back and attack us, Mr. Chair, and claim that we had some nerve to even raise this issue on behalf of these individuals who copied the letter to us, because of the wage restraint legislation.
Well, let me tell the minister something so she is aware of it. I have spoken to an awful lot of union members in the last few weeks, from the teachers union to the employees union, and when it comes to the issue of the wage restraint, although they weren't happy with what we did as a government, they are even more unhappy with what the New Democratic Party is doing as a government, because the New Democratic Party made a public commitment that the two percent was not needed. Yet, when they got into government and had the ability to return the two percent, they broke a promise and didn't do it.
They didn't do it. In fact, even worse than that, Mr. Chair, I think they offered them less than that for a contract, and so they were insulted and figured they'd been deceived by the campaign promises made in the election by the New Democratic Party. So, if they think they have a captive market on union members now, they are very much on the wrong track.
In fact, I talked to some people today with respect to the busing and they were very angry after they had read the comments made by the minister last night about taking for granted that all union members support them, because they have found in the last few months that they haven't got very many straight answers from this government on an awful lot of issues. So I think the government should realize they don't have a captive market in garnering the union vote any longer. They've broken too many promises to have that.
Mr. Chair, I would like an answer on behalf of these individuals who copied a letter to me with respect to the fair-wage schedule. The minister mentioned last night that it wasn't in the fair-wage act and schedule before but that it appears that the Teamsters Union and the local bus drivers want to discuss that issue with the minister. What is the minister's position on that and will she be prepared to listen to them? What's her opinion? Does she think it should be included in the fair-wage schedule? Can she give us that opinion?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, first of all, Mr. Chair, I'm going to have to respond to all of the member's comments, before I get to his final comments. The member opposite is the person who stood in this House for a considerable period of time and during the previous departmental debate talking about comparing apples to apples, and comparing 1997-98 main estimates to 1998-98 main estimates is comparing apples to apples. The difference between the 1997-98 mains and the 1998-99 mains is an increase of $1,244,000.
Secondly, the member opposite is alleging that this government has broken promises. I completely dispute that statement. That is not accurate. The Yukon Party imposed wage restraint legislation on public servants, which included all employees of the Yukon government and members of the Yukon Teachers Association. The Yukon Party took the money and spent it.
We agreed and we campaigned to restore collective bargaining, and we did restore collective bargaining and rescind the wage restraint legislation as a first item of business when we formed government. That was a commitment kept.
Mr. Chair, I would never - and did not - argue that we had the support of every member of every union in the territory. That is the opposite member's interpretation that he chooses to put on it. I would never be so foolish as to think that all members of any one organization, whether it was a union or a community group, would hold identical views, particularly identical political views. People are different and people have different beliefs for their own personal reasons, and I'm very well-aware of that.
The member also has asked about the fair-wage schedule and the inquiry from the Teamsters Union about restoring the bus drivers to the fair-wage schedule. I committed to him that I would respond to that question and have done so, and have indicated that, in fact, as I stated in the House last night, the fair-wage schedule has only applied to building construction, heavy construction and road, sewer and water main construction.
The request to consider adding bus drivers to the fair-wage schedule is one that I will certainly listen to from the Teamsters. I think that the Teamsters have already sent a letter to me, as the minister. They have already pursued following up with the Employment Standards Board, which, under the Employment Standards Act, is the body that administers the fair-wage schedule. They may well consider recommending changes and I will consider those recommendations as I receive them.
Mr. Phillips: I want to get some facts on the record, because I think the minister has gone out on a bit of a limb here.
Mr. Chair, one of the facts is that the NDP government, in opposition, said the two percent was unnecessary. The minister rose in the House today and said that the Yukon Party took the money and spent it. That's what she said - "took the money and spent it." Mr. Chair, that's not what the Auditor General said. The Auditor General said that when the NDP came into power, less than six months later, they had a $64 million - rather, a $42-million surplus.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: Hold it. The Member for Whitehorse West said he knows I have trouble with math. I apologize for the $64 million. I was thinking about the AG's report the year that we took office when we inherited the NDP's $64-million debt. I just can't get that out of my mind. We wrestled with that. When the Minister of Education said ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please. Order please.
Mr. Phillips: ... the money was gone and it was spent, she must have been talking about the previous NDP government. Because, if you listen to the Auditor General, who is the person who audits our books, independently, when the Yukon Party government took over we were $64 million in the hole. But when the NDP took over, the money wasn't spent. The surplus was there. There was $42 million there.
That's the problem, Mr. Chair, that the teachers had with this government, because when they went to the bargaining table they expected that because this government said that the two percent was unnecessary before and they now had $42 million in the bank, they were going to honour the commitment and return the two percent. They didn't do that. They offered them far less than that. They decided to spend the money for education on a bunch of useless commissions. That's what they did.
It's almost getting to be a ritual, Mr. Chair, where commissioner after commissioner after commissioner jumps up in the House like little dolls in a carnival saying, "Here's my new progress report," and the new progress report sounds very similar to the old progress report. So, there's obviously very little or no progress from these commissions. Meanwhile, education suffers.
So, I think the minister should get her facts straight - the money wasn't spent when their government came into power. They had $42 million. They also had a commitment to return the two percent to the teachers. They said that it was unnecessary, and so they should have returned it if it was unnecessary, if that's what they believed.
But in fact, Mr. Chair, they broke a promise to the teachers, which is what I'm hearing from many of the people in government who are disappointed in what this government said it was going to do in A Better Way and what it's actually doing.
In fact, people are telling me that instead of A Better Way, they should have called it "My Way or the Highway," because that's what this government has been doing at the union negotiations.
Although they are negotiating, they're insulting the union with some of the offers that they've put on the table, in light of what they said in the past.
Maybe I can ask the minister if she was aware that, in light of the comments she made - that the Yukon Party took the money and spent it - in April of their first year, 1997, the Auditor General's report said they had a $42-million surplus, when they were discussing contracts with the teachers? Is the minister aware of that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I believe we are in the Education estimates here, and I want to respond to what the member has been saying about spending the money on commissions and not spending the money on education.
Mr. Chair, this budget shows that we are spending money on education. We are spending money on students, on our youth, and on adult learners, in public schools, in libraries and archives, in advanced education, and in a wide range of programs that serve the educational needs of the members of this community.
The member is wrong in saying that we do not have a commitment to education. We do have a strong commitment to education, and we're spending money to meet that commitment.
Mr. Phillips: I want to get an answer from the minister on this, and I'm not going to quit until I do. The minister said the Yukon Party took the money and spent it. Mr. Chair, I'd like to ask the minister again, is the minister aware that, when the Auditor General reported the finances of the Government of the Yukon last year, it was reported that we had a $42-million surplus, and that's far from taking the money and spending it? Wouldn't the minister agree?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, does the member opposite not agree that a financial commitment in excess of $81 million for the Department of Education is not a strong commitment to the educational needs of youth and adults in this community? That is the fact, Mr. Chair, and the member opposite doesn't want to admit it. But, that is the fact.
Mr. Phillips: Okay. What we're supposed to be doing in here, Mr. Chair, is that I'm supposed to ask the minister questions and the minister is supposed to answer. That's kind of what we've been doing here for quite awhile and I would like that tradition to kind of continue.
But, just so that I can hopefully get an answer from the minister to my questions, I will, this one time, answer her question. Yes, I think $81 million is a lot of money in Education. But, I think it's less than the budget shows that was in there last year. It's not anywhere near as much as the minister said, when she was in opposition, that she would do with all these programs, by increasing them all when she was in opposition. Now it's my turn to ask the questions and it's the minister's turn to answer.
The minister said, in this House, that the Yukon Party, when we left government in 1996, took all the money and spent it. That's what she said. Hansard will show that. I would like to ask the minister today if she is aware that when the Auditor General's report came down, in April of the next year, it said that there was a $42-million surplus. In fact, will she retract the statement that all the money was taken and spent. It wasn't. They had a $42-million surplus.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member opposite is not only not listening to my response, he doesn't even remember his own argument and the arguments the members of his party made during the general debate on this budget when we presented it.
The position of that party is that the government should have reduced O&M costs more, that we should have increased capital costs more because O&M was bad and capital was good and there just wasn't enough attention being paid to the capital budget.
Mr. Chair, we have maintained education funding in this budget because it's important that we provide services to our students, whether they're youth or adults. We have increased funding in the training area. We have provided for a capital budget which will see construction of a new school in Old Crow as well as a number of works in other communities, and another large number of capital improvements to F.H. Collins and several schools throughout the territory, because that is our job when it comes to education funding. Our commitment to education is clear.
Mr. Phillips: Well, later on we're going to get discussing more the NDP's commitment to education but what I want to discuss right now is the answers that the minister gave me with respect to some questions that I posed. I told the minister, Mr. Chair - just so I can refresh the minister on what we're talking about here - that her party said that the two-percent reduction in the wages of the employees of the Government of Yukon were unnecessary. The minister, in response to that point, said that when we got into power, the Yukon Party had taken all the money and spent it. That is not true.
Now, I'm going to ask the minister again: would she not agree that that statement is false, because the Auditor General said, less than six months after they came into power, that for the last fiscal year, 1996-97, there was a $42-million surplus? Would the minister not agree that the money was not spent and so, the argument she made that they didn't have money to return the two percent is false? They did have money.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, it's been how many months now since the fall of '96, and the member opposite, who's asking questions, left office as Minister of Education so he doesn't remember what it was that his government did while they were responsible for the Education budgets. So, let me just refresh his memory, since it doesn't seem to go beyond 16 months.
The previous government initiated grade reorganization in Whitehorse. They came in one day and thought, "Hmm, that's a good idea. Let's go to a two-tiered system and put grade 7 in the elementary schools and get rid of the junior high schools and make high school 8-12 and we'll add on to Porter Creek junior high to make it a secondary school and we'll make all these adjustments to all these elementary schools throughout Whitehorse to accommodate the decision to proceed with grade reorganization." Did they talk to school councils in advance of making that decision? No, they did not. They just made their decision and they announced it and they proceeded to spend millions and millions of dollars on renovations in elementary and secondary schools within this city.
I don't think the member can dispute that. The member's arguments just don't have weight when one day they're saying, "You need to reduce the O&M costs so that you can increase the capital costs." We have maintained education funding in order to provide good quality educational services to the youth and the adults in this territory. That's our commitment, and we continue to meet it.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, we're going to be here a long time with this minister until we get this straight. You can't stand up in this House, as a minister of the Crown, and make statements that aren't factual.
I'm going to go at this one at a time, so I'm going to ask the minister one at a time, Mr. Chair. Is she aware that the Auditor General's report in 1996-97 said that there was a $42-million surplus, that the government was not broke; it had $42 million in the bank?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member opposite knows that we are maintaining education funding. The member opposite knows that they brought forward, not just the grade reorganization decision, but many decisions, without involving the community in them. The member opposite knows that their record on involving the public is not good and that their record on financial decisions is not sound. It was not a sound decision to impose wage restraint legislation on teachers and public servants.
The approximate capital cost for grade reorganization is in excess of $8 million.
Mr. Phillips: Yeah, well, nice try, Mr. Chair. Maybe the minister is using her Justice portfolio in trying to create a diversion to the question. I'm not going to accept the diversion; I'll tell the minister that right now. We will be here until 5:30 tonight - and when we come back - until I get the minister to give me the answer.
I want to ask the minister, Mr. Chair. The minister made a statement in this House that I believe to be inaccurate, grossly inaccurate. I'd like to ask the minister again: is she aware that the Auditor General presented a report to this government that said that we had a $42-million surplus when the Yukon Party left government? Is she aware of that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: What I'm aware of is that the Yukon Party government, when they were in office, did not demonstrate a commitment to support schools in rural Yukon. That's what I'm aware of.
The Yukon Party wasted $8 million of taxpayers' money on killing the Taga Ku project. That could have built a school, say, perhaps in Old Crow or in Ross River or in Mayo, or even - I see the Member for Klondike over there waving his hand. Yes, Mr. Chair, perhaps even in Dawson City. In fact, I think that was one of the things they said they wanted to do, but they didn't do it. They didn't build any rural schools. They didn't -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the member opposite is engaging in - well, I think perhaps we might call it badgering in Finance debate. And in this Education debate, I'm happy to put our record of spending on education matters and our approach to decision making on education matters and pit it against the member opposite's decisions and funding that he spent on, for example, no rural schools, because they didn't build any. We have a commitment to support education, and we will continue to demonstrate that commitment.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I'm going to ask the same question again, and I'm going to go back and refresh the minister's memory of what she said. The NDP government, when they were in the election campaign, said that the two percent was unnecessary. In response to a question I asked the minister - "Why didn't they return the two percent then if it was unnecessary" - her response was that the Yukon Party took all the money and spent it. What I'm trying to get the minister to admit is that that statement is inaccurate. There was $42 million in the bank. The money wasn't spent. What I want the minister to admit is that she is aware - let me ask this question: is the minister even aware of the Auditor General's report with respect to the fiscal status of the Government of the Yukon?
Is the minister aware of the financial status of the Government of the Yukon at that time when the Auditor General's report came down?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, my statement is not inaccurate. All members of this House are aware of the budgets, the public accounts and the Auditor General's statements.
The member opposite is alleging that they did not spend the money. They spent the money. They were in government. They presented budgets. They spent the money.
Mr. Phillips: In 1996-97, when they were putting together the spring budget, they had a $42-million surplus. The folks who audit our books, independently, aside from all the magical bookkeeping that goes on in government, decided that we had a $42-million surplus. We have accepted that as legislators in this Legislature since forever.
What I'm puzzled about is why the minister rose to her feet when I asked, "Why didn't you return the two percent?", and she said, "We were broke; you took the money and spent it." Mr. Chair, there was a $42-million surplus. I want the minister to admit, Mr. Chair, and we will be here until she does, that she made a mistake by making that comment. The money wasn't spent. It was a question of priorities. And their priority, although they said that the two percent was unnecessary, was not about returning the two percent. Is that not true?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, finally we have some agreement here. You're darn right that it's a question of priorities. What I'm aware of is the Yukon Party's capital spending patterns. It didn't include schools. It included road construction. It included monuments. It included, with significant funding from the federal government, the new Whitehorse General Hospital.
But on a question of priorities, Mr. Chair, that member, in office, did not demonstrate a commitment to supporting educational infrastructure in this territory. They did not build schools in rural Yukon. They did spend money on a rural school facility study and they identified needs but they didn't do anything to address those needs. That was left for us to do when we came into office, and we've begun the process of building schools to replace the facilities that need to be replaced. We've also included elected school council members in the decision making on meeting those capital priorities. That's a good record, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, that's fine but that's not the record we're talking about here. The record we're talking about is the statements by the minister and the minister has an obligation to make accurate and truthful statements in this House. She said, in answer to my question - "Why didn't you turn back the two percent?" - that we were broke. What I want to get the minister to admit was that they weren't broke, that they had $42 million. That's what I want the minister to admit. Will the minister admit that they had a $42-million surplus, according to the Auditor General's report?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I've been listening with some fascination to the member's intervention this afternoon and I find it amazing that the member is even taking this tack. I wonder if the member wants to go back to the 1996-97 main estimates that his government put on the table back when he was still a minister of the Crown. Presumably the members opposite were putting forward information that they believed to be accurate at the time. Presumably when they put forward information at the time, in that year, the election year, when they were pretending to be straight with the public, presumably they were putting forward information they believed to be accurate.
Now, Mr. Chair, at that time, they put forward a budget that showed a $25 million annual deficit for the year. That was the information that they put forward at the time. It was a $24,855,000 deficit for the year. They showed an estimated accumulated surplus for March 31, 1997 - which presumably they believed at the time to be accurate - of $7.5 million.
Now, Mr. Chair, during that year, much of that money lapsed. That money ended up in the next year, bumping up the surplus to $46 million - not $42 million - $46 million. So, I've just given the member an extra $4 million, and the member is so ignorant that he thinks he's just won something. Mr. Chair, this is really quite amazing.
When one looks at the summary pages in the main estimates, year by year by year, one has to acknowledge that the funding that was lapsed from the previous years rolls into the next year, bumping up the surplus. And when it bumps up the surplus, it makes it seem as if money is available in that year but, in fact, the money is going to roll into the following year.
So, Mr. Chair, in the first instance, the member opposite is saying that the estimates they had for the 1996-97 year are presumably not accurate, or the plans weren't accurate, the plans were nonsense, were untrue, that it was always the plan to have lots of money left over when, in fact, they were planning to leave, on March 31, 1997, $7.5 million after having spent money that included a $25-million deficit for the year.
Now, the member is saying, "Why don't you have the money now? We have a $23-million surplus now; we could perhaps give money back now and just drop it down a little bit. You have the money now." Well, the Member for Klondike has taken care of that himself in spades and he does it every day he sits in this Legislature asking for more.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, the member opposite, first of all, doesn't know anything - other than how to be irritating, and doesn't understand his own budget estimates that he put forward himself, or at least that he was nominally responsible for, which demonstrates clearly that they weren't planning to leave anything.
The members opposite talk about a big deficit for the year. They're very concerned about the size of the $8-million deficit that this current budget is all about. Yet, the year before - 1996-97 - they were busily estimating a three times -
Mr. Ostashek: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
Point of order
Chair: Leader of the official opposition, on a point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, the minister is off base totally. The critic was asking the Education minister about the accuracy of a statement she made. We're not talking about the budget. We've already debated the budget.
Chair: Government Leader, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I came into this Legislature expecting to hear Education estimates, and I heard the member opposite, in a very irritating way, go on and on about the main estimates and about budgets and about whether or not we had big surpluses, which I agree with the member opposite we had already debated, but that wasn't good enough for this member. This member wanted to carry on and on about the same subject.
So I'm more than happy to engage him on that subject if he wishes.
Chair: I see this dispute as a disagreement among members, but I would remind all members to keep their debate focused on the budget. I would also like to remind all members to refrain from using abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As I was saying, the money that the members opposite thought that they were bequeathing to the Legislature, in the first instance, wasn't even known until well after they left office, because it was obviously a complete surprise to them, because they were talking about running a huge deficit and leaving a tiny operating surplus.
So they were planning to spend every dime. It was only by mere happenstance that a lot of that money lapsed for capital works that were undertaken in the following year -
much of it, incidentally, in Education.
With respect to the argument as to whether or not we can give back money or provide money to either give back for taxes taken by the Yukon Party government or give it back to public servants, I would point out to the members that the total amount of that money is close to $60 million or $70 million. We are not in a position to give that back. That money has been spent. The question now is do we care enough about this particular issue to dedicate some extra money to people who have been wronged in the past, and the point that I made in general debate - and I apologize for harkening back to general debate for just a moment, but it is relevant - and the point I make now is that the spending habits of government and the spending expectations of the public and the spending expectations of the MLAs in the opposition benches are enormous. And there is not the flexibility to simply go back and rewrite all of history.
So, the question now, Mr. Chair, is what are we spending on the Education budget? What are we spending on the Education estimates? What's important in terms of spending priorities to the government today? And when one compares mains to mains, one can clearly see a clear commitment to education by this government, a commitment I'm proud of.
Mr. Phillips: Well, it's too bad, Mr. Chair, that we didn't have a row of trumpeters in the gallery to signal the charge on the big white steed of the Government Leader as he came charging down here to save his Education minister. In his haste, he trampled her. He ran right over her. He added another $4 million to all the money we'd spent.
Mr. Chair, I want to get back to Education, and I want to get back to the question. The minister and the government said, when they were in opposition, that a two-percent wage rollback for the teachers was unnecessary. The minister said that the Yukon Party, when it left office, had taken the money and spent it. The Auditor General said that the Yukon Party hadn't taken the money and spent it. In fact, there was $42 million in the bank - $46 million, sorry. I've got to change my number because of the knight on the white steed that came charging down here to save his Education minister.
Mr. Chair, I want the minister to admit that there was a $46-million surplus from the 1996-97 budget.
Will she do that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: What a ludicrous question. What a strange and ludicrous question. The member asks whether or not the Auditor General reported, on March 31, 1997, a $46-million surplus. It wasn't what the Yukon Party thought they were bequeathing. That wasn't the case. The Yukon Party thought they were going to be bequeathing the most limited amount of funding available to the next government possible, so they were projecting a surplus down as low - as low, Mr. Chair - as $7.5 million. That was their main estimate. That was their spending plan. That's what they wanted to do. That's what this member was collaborating in. That was his venture. For all the hollow statements about big deficits for the year and all the concerns about the NDP's deficit for this year, this member collaborated in the -
Mr. Phillips: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Member for Riverdale North, on a point of order.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, on the point of order. We're in the Education debate. I'm asking the Education minister about a statement she made regarding why she didn't return the two percent to the teachers and about a comment she made about there being no money. I'm just trying to clarify that there was money at the time that she said that there was no money. That's what we're on; it's the Education debate, not to rehash all the old budgets of the past.
I just want to know why the minister said that there was no money and that it was spent. That's all I want to know, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Mr. McDonald, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: On the point of order, Mr. Chair, this is a classic example of "truth hurts". This is completely relevant to the equation. This issue is completely relevant, because it demonstrates not only spending practices, but spending plans and spending habits. It's completely relevant to this debate. The member in fact is asking a question about rehashing Yukon Party days. I am returning to the Yukon Party days, talking about what the Yukon Party government wanted to do. It is very clear what they were intending to do, so I am laying out the history. I'm sorry that the member doesn't like the fact that this is the truth. He doesn't like the fact that this is relevant, but it is entirely relevant.
Chair: The Chair sees this as merely another dispute among members, and I'd like to remind all members that we are on the Department of Education general debate and to try to keep their comments directed in that area.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, as I was saying before I was interrupted, the spending pattern of the government of the day shows that they were not interested in bequeathing any of the funds that they had extracted either from taxes or from wage reductions to the public servants, and that they were, in fact, intending to spend it all, right down to the bone. That's what their plan was.
The fact that the plan wasn't realized in some cases is irrelevant, but a lot of money that they planned to spend in this election year - to drop into the economy in the election year - a lot of that money lapsed. Some of that money lapsed. So, suddenly, the members opposite seem to be of this illusion that, therefore, there is lots of money to be had for returning taxes or in terms of giving back public servant wages.
Well, I beg to differ, because most of that money that lapsed was in capital; in capital projects which we committed and the opposition wanted us to commit to continuing.
So, if one moves from that year - the last estimates to the next set of estimates - one can see in the summary pages, Mr. Chair, that when one takes out the lapsed capital, there is no money left for things such as the member opposite has requested. There is no money left there at all. So, where does he get off saying that there is money left over, when it was really lapsed capital that ended up being spent in capital?
The member doesn't know what he's talking about.
What the new Government of Yukon chose to do was to raise the issue in collective bargaining with the public servants, a right that was denied by the Yukon Party, a right that was cancelled by the Yukon Party. And in collective bargaining, successfully concluded, a deal was reached, and that was satisfactory.
The Minister of Education was completely correct in saying the money was spent, because it was spent. The member can see it from the summary pages. If he wants to have a look at it, he can see that most of that money that was lapsed into this year was, in fact, lapsed capital that was committed to capital. That's the reality, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, when we get to Finance, I'd like to have the same discussion again. The members seem to love to take up the time doing this. We'll have the same discussion again about the taxation system, about all the money that's extracted through taxes, the tens of millions of dollars extracted through taxes there. But here, if the members opposite seem to think the money is now available, they're wrong; it's not.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, a while ago, I asked the Minister of Education a question and I would like the minister to try and answer her own questions. The minister does have an obligation to be responsible for what the minister says.
The minister, in response to a question that I asked with respect to the two percent, said that the reason they did not give back the two percent is because the Yukon Party took the money and spent it.
I don't know how many times I'm going to have to say this today before I can get the minister to realize that that was an inaccurate statement. They had money in the budget. They had the discretion to choose where they spent the money. So that is an inaccurate statement. If, when they took power, there was a deficit; if, when they took power, there was no money at all, a zero balance, that statement would be accurate.
Not "if" - and this is the truth, Mr. Chair; it's not "if". The fact is there was $46 million in the bank with discretionary spending of this government, so it's about priorities. So to say that the minister had no room to move is not correct. Mr. Chair, I want the minister - not some knight in shining armour to dive in and try to save the minister - I want the minister - unless she's incapable of dealing with these kinds of matters; maybe that's the case, Mr. Chair. When the minister gets in trouble, they send in the heavy hitter, and the heavy hitter comes in and tries to deflect the attack by bringing up all kinds of other things and doing whatever the minister can, Mr. Chair, to try and confuse the public. It seems that the philosophy of this government on the side opposite is, if you say things a number of times, they soon, hopefully, become the truth, even if they're not necessarily true.
I'd like the minister to rise. I'd like the minister to be responsible for what she said in this House, Mr. Chair. I'd like the minister to stand up and answer the question. Why did the minister say we took the money and spent it, when she knows the Auditor General said there was $46 million in the bank? Why did she say that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I just want to be helpful. The member has no call to be calling me a heavy hitter. I've been working out. I work out every day. It's just not fair, Mr. Chair, to dismiss all that hard work every morning by calling me a heavy hitter.
Mr. Chair, listen, I want to tell the member this: the reason why I would like to provide some information is because I think, in the context of the member's questioning, it lacked a whole lot of facts, and I'm just trying to help by providing some facts and some accuracy. That's all. I'm only reading from budget documents, and half the budget documents I've been reading from so far - and I have them all in front of me - were authored by the members opposite when they were in government. So I'm just reading from their documents.
I do have Auditor Generals' reports here. I read from them, too. But let me say this, Mr. Chair. The truth of the matter clearly is that the reason why the Minister of Education said that the money was spent was because it was spent, and the fantasy that the member has conjured in his mind of $46 million in cash just isn't real. It's not real because most of it needed to be revoted for capital. That's what most of it was all about. See? The member might be catching on. Who knows? I'm more than happy to leave, as we work our way through to 5:30, in the capable hands of my colleagues the handling of this issue. If the member doesn't want me at all to participate, I can try to accommodate him and I'll try not to listen, even though I have a hard time listening to the member who takes one fact and develops a whole argument around it, most of which is bogus. My instinct is to want to come rushing back, give the member a hug, and help him out. And he calls me a heavy hitter.
Mr. Chair, that's just cruel. It's downright cruel.
I just want to tell the member that the reason why the money was spent was because of not only the Yukon Party's spending plans from the previous year but also the capital spending plans for the year before. And a lot of those capital spending plans were not realized. They were rolled into the next year and that upped the accumulated surplus for the year. It doesn't mean that they weren't committed funds at all, and I say that with the greatest, warmest respect for the member opposite.
The reality is, the money was spent.
Mr. Phillips: I'd like to try and get back to the minister responsible here. Mr. Chair, well, I wouldn't mind comments from the Government Leader if they were relevant to the comments made by his Education minister who, the record will show, has refused to answer several questions and has called in someone else to try and deflect the criticism.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to ask the Minister of Education why she said that she couldn't return the two percent to the teachers in the negotiations because the Yukon Party took the money and spent it. Why did the Minister of Education make that statement in the House here about an hour ago?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Boy, the hours do go by quickly, don't they? Mr. Chair, the member opposite seems to be having a real problem with memory lapse today. He doesn't seem to remember what the Yukon Party government spent their money on, and he doesn't remember what they didn't spend it on.
Mr. Chair, the Yukon Party spent money on the Tourism office building, roads, the Beringia Centre, grade reorganization, more roads, and what didn't they spend the money on? They didn't spend the money on schools in rural Yukon, and they didn't spend the money on paying the wages of teachers and public servants that had been negotiated between their bargaining agents and the Yukon government.
They cancelled that right to collective bargaining. We restored the right to collective bargaining, bargained with the Yukon Teachers Association, and reached an agreement.
The member opposite seems to be having a problem with remembering what they spent the money on. They did spend the money, Mr. Chair. That's why I stated that they had spent the money.
Mr. Phillips: Well, the minister doesn't get it. This isn't about what the previous Yukon Party government spent on education or the previous NDP government spent on education or any of that. This is about the minister making accurate and truthful statements in the House.
Mr. Chair, the point is, I asked the minister a question about the two percent and said, "Why didn't you return it?" The minister answered that the reason they didn't return it is that they were broke, because the Yukon Party took the money and spent it. What I want the minister to admit is that they weren't broke. That's all the minister has to do and we can move on, if the minister admits that we weren't broke and that, yes, we had $46 million and what it really boiled down to is a question of priorities of where we spent it and what we decided to do as a government.
What the minister should stand up and say is what they decided as a government, that, "Although we said prior to the election the two percent was unnecessary, we had other things we wanted to spend our money on." That's what the minister should say, because they did have money. They did have the discretion and I'd like the minister to stand up and acknowledge that they had money when they were looking at their budgets and deciding where they would spend the money.
Hon. Mr. Harding: As the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, maybe I could clear up some misconceptions for the member opposite.
First of all, with regard to the whole question of the two percent, we were very clear. Actually, there is a letter that I have on my desk right here that I could table for the member. They were asked if two percent would be immediately returned to the teachers upon our election and the clear answer was that we would engage in collective bargaining, but the reality is that it was more than two percent in the settlement that was achieved through binding arbitration. The fact is that most of it came through the reinstatement of increments which was a request of the Yukon Teachers Association through the bargaining process, and it was something that we wholeheartedly endorsed and supported.
So, Mr. Chair, it was an aim of ours to deal with the increments question. That was something that was negotiated away through collective bargaining when the Yukon Party was in power. So, the total dollar figure associated with the settlement through binding arbitration was actually more than two percent of payroll; it was just the form that it came in which was in a mixture of wage increases and reinstatement of increments that I think were removed through collective bargaining in 1994.
So, just in case the member had any misconceptions about how much the settlement was - I think it was $796,000 or so - it was actually more than two percent of payroll. However, through the collective bargaining process, which is the process we said we would engage in, given the tight restraints, because the Yukon Party had spent so much money when they were the administration - they had raised taxes and spent all that money, and rolled back the wages and spent all that money - we had to be consistent with what we said in terms of going back to collective bargaining, but also we worked very hard to ensure that we addressed the issue of increments and we addressed the issue of wage increases, and actually ended up with a package that was better than two percent in terms of payroll costs.
So, Mr. Chair, in effect we did actually return more than was taken away through the rollbacks, in dollar figures.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, now they're flying the heavy hitters in from Toronto. They're all coming back, bringing them in in droves. We have a couple more ministers left to stand up and defend the Minister of Education. It's interesting that we've had two other ministers do so now, and each minister's given a different answer in trying to defend the Minister of Education.
In fact, Mr. Chair, I can partially accept the rationale that the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission gave me. I can partially accept that. I'll look at it tomorrow to see whether in fact it is two percent, and talk to some of the government union employees, and maybe the union, to see whether they felt it was two percent. That's fine. I'll do that. I can accept that.
But the problem I have is that isn't what the Minister of Education said a few moments ago in this House. That's the problem I have. If the Minister of Education had gotten up and said the same thing that the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission said, I could have maybe bought part of that. He didn't say they didn't have any money. The Minister of Economic Development said, in fact, that they got their two percent. It was the Minister of Education that said the reason they didn't get the two percent back is that the Yukon Party took the money and spent it.
So now we have the Government Leader upping the ante from $42 million to $46 million - I like that. Now we have the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission saying they did get the two percent - in fact, a little more - and we have the Minister of Education saying they didn't get the two percent because we were broke.
Mr. Chair, we're getting three different stories, so I'm kind of looking for the fourth guy in here who might give us another rendition of what really took place.
So, I'm going to ask the Minister of Education, in light of what her minister responsible for the Public Service Commission just said, why did she say that they didn't get the two percent back because the Yukon Party took the money and spent it? Why did she say that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Quite simply, the reason that I said that is because it's true.
Mr. Chair, the Government Leader and the Minister of Finance and the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission have stated exactly the same thing.
The member opposite doesn't remember what they spent the money on. The record is clear that they spent the money. When we came into office, we restored the right to collective bargaining. We bargained with the teachers and we provided, in signing an agreement, funding for that agreement.
The fact remains that the government of the day - the Yukon Party government - when they reduced, by legislation, the wages of public servants, they also spent the money.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, this minister should be in the excavating business, because she's sure digging a hole. Is the minister telling us in this House today that the Auditor General was inaccurate when he said that we had a $42-million surplus at the end of 1996-97? Is that what the minister is telling us, that the minister didn't have one cent of a discretionary budget? Is that what the minister is telling us, that they didn't have one cent to possibly delegate to possibly reinstating the two percent that the union lost and that they said was unnecessary?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I'm waiting for the member opposite to ask his questions in a way that makes some sense.
Mr. Chair, I'm not just quite where he got off track here, but I think it was on the subject of the resumption of collective bargaining and the impact that that's had on budgets.
When we restored collective bargaining, we negotiated with the YTA and came up with an agreement. That's the fact, Mr. Chair. We negotiated an agreement and we spent government funds - funds in the Department of Education budget - to cover the wages of the employees. I will again remind the member opposite that the previous government did not spend their money on the wages that had been negotiated between the YTA and the Yukon government.
The previous administration brought forward public sector wage restraint legislation and took two percent away from the teachers. They spent that money. They spent that money on grade reorganization. They spent it on the Tourism office building, a Beringia centre, road construction -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, they did. And that's why I've made the statements that I have today, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Phillips: Oh, Mr. Chair, where's that beam of light when you need it? It's out there in that Tagish area. Maybe if we're lucky the beam of light will swing over toward Carcross and enlighten the minister.
Mr. Chair, the point I'm trying to make here today is that the ministers can't rise in this House and just make broad statements that aren't factual.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: Well, the Member for Faro says, "Sure we can." Well, the Member for Faro is the champion of those kinds of statements and makes them all the time, and he's getting caught because Hansard is catching up to him. Every time we come into the House, there's another quote from Hansard, where he said one thing one time and he has to eat his words later. There's more to come. There's a lot more to come for that member, and we're looking forward to that.
Mr. Chair, what I'm worried about is that it appears to be a virus, and it's spreading to other members on the front bench. I hope it doesn't end up on the back bench there and infect some of the members of the New Democratic caucus that are spending their time in the woods.
Mr. Chair, I'm worried about ministers just rising on their feet and making broad statements. I can recall when we were in government and they were in opposition, some members would go on and on and on about statements members made and ask them to clarify them. So, what I'm trying to do here today is to get the Minister of Education to explain to us in this House why she made that broad statement - that the union didn't get the two percent back because the government was broke, and the Yukon Party spent the money, took all the money and spent it - when the Auditor General said something to the contrary.
Maybe the minister can answer this question for me, Mr. Chair: is the minister aware, in the $46-million surplus, was there any discretionary spending at all?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member wants to revisit the same question that he's been asking for the past hour or better about what the Yukon Party spent their money on and what the Yukon Party record is all about. If they want to make sure that any members of the public who may have forgotten that they rescinded collective bargaining rights and brought in public sector wage restraint legislation against teachers and public servants when they didn't have to, that's entirely up to them. They can do that. The record is clear and I'm happy to continue to acknowledge that the Yukon Party brought forward wage restraint legislation to reduce the teachers' and public sector employees' wages by two percent.
I'm also happy to repeat, for the record, that the Yukon Party spent that money on a number of initiatives, that they did not spend the money on building schools in rural Yukon, which I would argue is a priority that they should have given some attention to, particularly since they did a rural school facility study that demonstrated just exactly how great the need was. And after four years of Yukon Party government, Mr. Chair, I'm glad that we finally have an opportunity to address those needs and are addressing those needs by building a school in Old Crow during the current budget year and by having spent money already on planning, so that we can construct a school in Ross River next year, and a school in Mayo in the following year.
Those are important education priorities, and I'm pleased to be here trying to defend a budget that deals with those priorities. I wish that the member opposite would ask some questions in relation to the Education spending in this debate and not try to keep on being an obstructionist and entering into the Finance department debate.
Mr. Phillips: Well, no one is being obstructionist. What we have is a minister who is not prepared to stand behind statements she made in the House. You can't just stand up in this House and make a statement that isn't factual, that doesn't have any basis to it whatsoever and then try and raise every other red herring in the world. We're not talking about what the Yukon Party did, what the NDP did or what anybody else did. What we're talking about here is what this minister did and what this minister said an hour or so ago in the House.
Now, if the minister wants to remain honourable in the eyes of other members, then the minister would admit that in fact that statement she made earlier was not accurate. If she'd have said the same thing that the Minister of the Public Service Commission said, I'd have probably bought it. I might argue whether or not they got their full two percent back and I would've checked it out, but the minister said the reason they didn't get it back is there wasn't any money. That isn't what the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission said or even what the Government Leader said. He added $4 million to my figure to bring it up to $46 million.
So, Mr. Chair, what I'm concerned about here is that ministers, when they come into the House and make these statements about what a previous government did or didn't do, they're accurate. So, I'd like the minister to stand on her feet and retract the statement she said and maybe agree with the Public Service Commissioner and we can move on.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, this member wants to enter into the same debate over and over again and I'm certainly prepared to respond to that. However, I have not only backed up my statement with some facts that the Yukon Party doesn't want to acknowledge are true, but the comments of the Minister of Finance and the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission have, as well.
When we restored collective bargaining and entered into contract negotiations with the Yukon Teachers Association, we entered into an agreement for the period from 1996 through to 1998, a two-year agreement, which will expire, as I indicated when we came into the House about an hour and one-half ago, on June 30 of 1998.
The collective agreement from July 1, 1996, to June 30, 1998, is being funded by the Department of Education. That collective agreement is for wages for the 1996-1998 period. The wage restraint legislation brought in by the Yukon Party took effect in 1994 and remained in effect until 1996, so the member opposite just does not have a case and is not making a rational argument.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, my concern is that that's not what the minister said a while ago. You can't just come into this House and make statements that aren't factual, and I'm going to hold the minister accountable for those statements.
So I want the minister, Mr. Chair, to retract her statement that she made with respect to the two percent, where she said the Yukon Party took the money and spent it, because in April of 1997 the Auditor General's report said there was $46 million in the bank and they had some discretionary spending in there. I know that. The minister knows that. So, to say that there was no money, to say that it was all spent, is false, is not true, and that's all I want the minister to say.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, the member opposite can stand up and try and twist my words and try and force me to acknowledge that I need to retract a statement, which I have been attempting to clarify for the member, but the fact is that I stand by my statements. The member opposite is not making an argument, and I think he's just grandstanding, and I am sure he will be happy to pursue this debate in the Finance estimates. In the Education estimates, let me state again that in the 1997-98 supplementary budget, we brought forward an inclusion of funds for the YTA collective agreement for the 1996 to 1998 period. I fail to see what the member opposite's arguments are for in relation to me retracting statements.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, in discussions we had with the minister, the minister is right. We are talking about the collective bargaining. Let's just refresh the minister's memory. In discussions, we talked about the two-percent rollback. In fact, the minister has mentioned the two-percent rollback several times. I asked the minister, since the New Democratic Party government said it was unnecessary, why didn't they return the money? Now, if the minister had given me the answer that the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission did, I might have accepted that. But the minister didn't do that. It was the minister that said that, back in 1996-97, the Yukon Party - because we haven't been there since then - took the money and spent it. That's what the minister said. Those are the minister's words.
So, I want the minister to do the honourable thing, Mr. Chair, and stand up and say that she made a mistake in making that statement, and that in fact she agrees with the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission who said something exactly the opposite. He didn't say anything about being broke in 1996. He said that the teachers got more than two percent with the arbitrator-negotiated agreement.
So, I'll accept that, but, I won't accept the minister standing on the floor of the House and saying that back in 1996-97, the Yukon Party took all the money and spent it, because they didn't do that.
I will advise the Member for Faro that there's a big hole over there where the Minister of Education is sitting. You don't want to dive in there. There're a couple in there already. It's getting deeper all the time.
All I want is for the minister to do the honourable thing here. We can get on with debate, but I'm talking about a statement the minister made and I want the minister to retract the statement and maybe agree with the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, and we'll get on with the debate.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the member opposite seems to be attempting to make some form of a convoluted argument that the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission was stating things differently from what I stated. That is not the fact, Mr. Chair.
The member opposite is heckling. He's not only heckling when he's on his feet at the mike, but he's heckling while he's sitting there and telling me to read Hansard. I can assure him that I will not need to read Hansard, since I am present at this debate, hearing it all first hand.
Mr. Chair, as I've stated - and I don't know why the member opposite wants to keep dragging his record out for public scrutiny on this, but he does, so we will - the Yukon Party imposed wage restraint legislation on public servants in the Yukon in 1994. In 1996, an election was held. We campaigned for office. We indicated that we would restore collective bargaining rights to public servants and we did that. We restored collective bargaining rights and we negotiated a contract with the Yukon Teachers Association.
The contract that we reached with the YTA came into effect on July 1, 1996, to run for two years to June 30, 1998.
In the 1997-98 budget, the Department of Education brought forward supplementary estimates to include funds for the YTA collective agreement of $576,000. That money is applying to wages that have been negotiated from 1996 forward to 1998. That sum of money does not apply to the period from 1994 to 1996, when the Yukon Party had imposed the wage restraint legislation and reduced teachers' wages by two percent.
Mr. Phillips: Maybe I'll pose my question in a different way. When the NDP took over government in November of 1996, was there an accumulated debt?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I was wanting to just enter briefly into this debate to tell the member opposite that, while he needs some education on the finances of government - and I don't really want to get into a long debate about it in the Education department - he should know that the main estimates that the Yukon Party tabled in the election year actually forecasted a $25-million current-year deficit and a drain-down of the bank account of the Yukon to $7 million. Surely even he can understand that the room to move, with regard to all the other demands, particularly when the Yukon Party asked for millions and millions and millions of dollars in government spending on a daily basis and asked us to raise taxes and cut health care and education, there are some difficult challenges ahead.
However, we did agree to bring collective bargaining back to life after it was killed by the Yukon Party. We did agree that we would negotiate with our employees upon assuming government. We did as we said we would do in the election campaign - to the letter and beyond.
And, Mr. Chair, I guess perhaps some of his confusion, if I could hope or hazard to understand it, probably emanates from the fact that he's caught up on the two percent. Probably he feels burned by that and feels that the two percent number is symbolic of why he's sitting on the other side of the Legislature. He feels he's the Tourism minister in exile.
We often have to hear his lectures and his views on the world, and how, if he was just still the Tourism minister, the runway would be extended and we'd have three flights daily from around the world, even in the winter, visiting the Yukon.
Most Yukoners know how the former Minister of Tourism, now in exile, likes to pat himself on the back, but we kind of have lots of chuckles out on the street, talking to people about it but, in all seriousness, I think it is important that the member try and wrap his head around the finances of government.
I urge him, in these lengthy dissertations and finance questions, to spend some quality time in Finance debate, engaged in discussion with the Government Leader, the Minister of Finance, and learn about the budget, learn about the budgeting process, learn about how things work, learn, when he brought in a current-year deficit projected at $25 million and got the bank account down to $7 million, what impact that had on the budgeting process. I think that would help him.
Secondly, he might want to ask about the tax increases that the Yukon Party brought in, and what impact they had on the decision-making process of government. I think that would help him, as well. He might also want to ask about the constant cuts that we're asked to invoke in health care and education by the Yukon Party, and what that would do to services for Yukoners - how many beds we'd have to close in the hospital, how many teachers and civil servants we'd have to lay off. That would help him understand the budgeting process.
So, Mr. Chair, I would just say to the member opposite that he has 35 days. Actually it's down to 22 in this legislative sitting. He should probably spend a considerable amount of time, maybe three or four days, with the Finance minister in Committee of the Whole debate, discussing the estimates and the budgeting process, so that he can get a better sense of them.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I'm not sure whether the Education minister heard me or not. I'm just wondering if the Education minister could answer the question I asked a few moments ago. Was there an accumulated debt when the New Democratic Party took over?
The minister is asking me to repeat the question. This is for the third time. The first time the minister didn't get up; the second time the minister didn't hear it, but I'll ask it again. Was there an accumulated debt when the New Democratic Party Government Leader met with the Finance people and were advised of the state of finances of the Government of Yukon? Were they told at that time there was an accumulated debt?
Hon. Mr. Harding: On a point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Harding, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, we are in the Education debate in the legislative sitting and the member is asking questions that should more appropriately be addressed to the Finance minister. As I indicated in my earlier statements, it's my view that if the member wants to discuss policy questions in Education - and I hear a lot of advice is being handed around - but I would simply and humbly suggest that the member should stick to Education policy questions.
Chair: Order please. The Chair has heard enough. The Chair would like to remind members that we are on the Department of Education and to keep their comments and questions directed in that area.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Chair. That's the reason I'm asking these questions. We were talking about the two-percent rollback. We were talking about why the government didn't return it to the teachers, and the minister stated, Mr. Chair, - I didn't - that the Yukon Party took the money and spent it. All I'm trying to find out is where the minister came up with that idea because she hasn't answered the question, and I'll ask it one more time: was there an accumulated debt when the NDP took office? Could the minister answer that question, please?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, it's unfortunate that the member opposite doesn't seem to understand the budgets and doesn't even seem to remember the last budget that they tabled before they left office in this territory, which projected a $25-million current-year deficit and had a $7-million accumulated surplus forecast - a bank account or a savings account of $7 million accumulated.
They had, as the Finance minister laid out - and perhaps the member didn't understand it because it was too fast - there was lapsed capital funding, as there often is, which was revoted to take care of any parts of the surplus.
Now, Mr. Chair, perhaps it would help the member if I were to lay out the breakdown on the YTA award so that he understands the costs there. And again, this takes us back to the record of the Yukon Party and its dealings with the teachers in the Yukon, which is not a good record.
In September 1993, the increment that employees would have been eligible to receive was withheld. The arbitral award directed that employees who were not currently at maximum be restored to the correct placement on the grid and that employees who had lost the increment for all or part of the period from September of 1993 to October of 1997 be paid 50 percent of the loss in two installments in December of 1997 and June of 1998.
I can break down the figures for the member: $215,697 was for restoration of the increment as of September 1, 1997; $52,236 was for consolidation of the paraprofessional grids; $11,817 was a two-percent increase to supervisory allowances; and $3,992 was a two-percent increase to community allowances.
So, to repeat, because it seems that the member opposite is having some difficulty taking in what we're saying here, the agreement between the Yukon government and the Yukon Teachers Association, which was reached after we took office and restored collective bargaining rights, resulted in a supplementary budget - last year's budget - in the amount of $576,000 for the Yukon Teachers Association collective agreement.
Mr. Phillips: This is somewhat like pulling hens' teeth. What I'm trying to get from the minister - and I think I'm getting part way there now, as I think I heard the minister say in her last statement that there was a projected $7-million surplus in that last fiscal year. I heard the minister say that there was a $7.5-million surplus. But, actually, when the Auditor General looked at it, it turned out to be $46 million at the end of the year. Is that correct?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, we can get the Department of Finance to send down the Auditor General's report for the member opposite. It has been explained to him that the lapses were revoted. We have gone back, for the record, and told the member what his budgets were.
I would really appreciate, Mr. Chair, if your ruling that we're in the 1998-99 budget debate in the Department of Education would be respected by members and that questions be directed in relation to the 1998 Education estimates.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I don't have a problem sticking to the budget, but it was the minister herself who made the comment that, back in 1996, the Yukon Party took all the money and spent it. Those were the minister's words, not mine. I didn't draw us back to 1996. And it was in response to a question that I asked about why they didn't return the two percent. So, the minister brought this on herself. If the minister had stood up and answered the question the way the Public Service Commissioner had, we'd have been over with this an hour and one-half ago.
The minister made a statement that was inaccurate, and, in fact, has even admitted a few minutes ago that there was a $7-million surplus and, in fact, knows that the Auditor General said there was a $46-million surplus at the end of the year. She also knows, Mr. Chair, that they criticized a lot of our capital projects and a lot of these other projects. So, they had the opportunity as a government, when they had the $46-million surplus. Rather than revoting it for some projects, they had the ability to move it around. They were in government, not us, so they could have moved it around and done what they said was unfair. They said it was unfair to take the two percent. It was unnecessary. They could have returned it. They had $46 million.
They can't say they didn't have money to return. They chose to do other things with the money.
They chose to continue with some of the Yukon Party projects that they even condemned when they were in opposition. They chose to establish expensive commissions that have been wandering all over the countryside.
Mr. Chair, what I'm concerned about, and I go back to it as I said it before, is if ministers are going to come into this House and make statements like that, they had better be accurate, because I'll call them on them every time, and we'll be here a long time getting the ministers to admit that they've made a mistake. I believe that the Minister of Education is at least coming around to admitting that there was a surplus, and so her statement that we took all the money and spent it was not true, simply not true. The minister shouldn't be making those kinds of statements in the House if they're not true and accurate, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fentie: I would wonder, the Member for Riverdale North is accusing the minister of making false statements, and then said that he would call this side of the House at any time when we make false statements. I would wonder if that goes both ways.
Well, I just recently heard this afternoon that the expensive - as they call it - commissions and the forest commission, to be exact, is wandering around looking at closed sawmills and I would like to submit here today that the former colleague, the former member of the Yukon Party, the former MLA for Watson Lake is working in a sawmill today, cutting two by fours. Is that not a false statement?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order. Order please.
Mr. Phillips: On a point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Mr. Phillips, on a point of order.
Mr. Phillips: I think if the member will check the record, I don't think any member in this House today said anything about sawmills. It's not on the record. I don't think anyone said anything about sawmills.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please. Order please. I think right now is a very good time for a break. See you in 10 minutes.
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. The Committee is dealing with the estimates for the Department of Education. Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, we had a 15- or 20-minute break. I'm just wondering if the minister had a chance to reflect on what she said before, and if she is now ready to come into the House and tell us that she did misspeak herself earlier, and that in fact she now knows that there was $7 million minimum when the New Democratic Party took over, and in fact, with lapses and other monies - there was other income from revenue - there was $46 million, according to the Auditor General. Is the member now, after taking a bit of a break and calming down, prepared to admit that maybe she was a little hasty in her earlier comments?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, let me assure the member that I am completely calm. I was hoping that the member opposite might be willing to move forward in the debate on the 1998-99 Education budget and debate policy initiatives of the government and debate spending priorities of the government.
If that's not what he wants to do, then we can continue to have Finance debate in the estimates debate, and I do hope that the member opposite will also have this debate during the Finance estimates. I don't necessarily hold a lot of hope that the member opposite might be able to understand other ministers where he doesn't seem to be able to understand what I have been saying.
Mr. Chair, let me say for the record that the member wants to revisit the question of the lapses and the revotes and, as the member opposite knows - he is pretending not to know but I believe he does know - revotes on capital projects were assigned to capital projects. The capital projects that the Yukon Party engaged in may not have been the ones that we would have selected. Nonetheless, we revoted funds to complete the Beringia Centre. We spent the money that had lapsed on the Porter Creek Secondary School to direct those funds to completing Porter Creek Secondary School.
I'm absolutely amazed that the member wouldn't support that. I think completing Porter Creek Secondary School is something that's going to benefit the students and teachers who are at that school.
When I, along with other members in this House, attended the opening of the Porter Creek school, there was a lot of enthusiasm among the students and parents and staff and administration about that facility, and I'm extremely surprised that the member opposite, having imposed the decision for a grade reorganization - which cost the Yukon government millions of dollars over several budget years - now doesn't support that.
Mr. Phillips: I don't know where the minister got that from. I never said I haven't supported it. In fact, I voted for that. It was the minister, in her previous role as an opposition member, who voted against it. I remind the minister of that. But I guess the minister didn't hesitate to show up as the Education minister and try and take some credit for the opening of the school.
I imagine the minister would do that, even though she didn't support it then, and obviously by the comments she's made here today with respect to grade reorganization, she doesn't even support it now. That's unfortunate.
What we're talking about here, Mr. Chair, is ministers coming into the House and making statements that aren't accurate and then refusing to defend the accuracy of those statements.
We've had a display here today of the Government Leader charging down from up above and giving us one excuse. We've had the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission riding to the rescue shortly thereafter and giving us a second excuse that was different than the Government Leader's. And then we had even the minister herself, after much questioning and much debate, change somewhat her rationale for making the statement in the first place and trying to use every means of deflecting one away from the issues.
So, Mr. Chair, I am going to move on, but I'm going to, for the time being - if you categorized them as a, b and c, the Minister of Education, the Government Leader, and last, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission - I'm going to accept c, the Public Service Commission excuse as the better one of the three that were tried on us this afternoon.
I think it was probably one that at least pertained more to the issue.
Having said that, I will be very interested in discussing the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission's explanation that he felt that the teachers got two percent and more in negotiations. I was of the understanding that teachers felt it was a lot less than the two percent, but I'll leave that discussion until I have a chance, later this week or early next week, to talk to representatives from the Yukon Teachers Association before I form an opinion on that.
So, I'm going to move on, but I'm going to accept the excuse of the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, which differed greatly from the excuse that the minister gave us.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to ask a couple of questions about the three-year agreement with Yukon College. Is that guaranteed funding for the college for three years, that they will get exactly that amount, and is there any kind of built in COLA clause or an accelerated clause? For example, they just had a wage settlement up there. They're probably going to have to be back at the negotiating table again before three years are up. Are there any of those kinds of conditions built into the agreement? I haven't seen a copy of the agreement, so maybe the minister could also provide us with a copy of the agreement.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The agreement between the Yukon government and Yukon College for funding is to provide $10 million for operation and maintenance funding for the current fiscal year and the next two fiscal years. The Yukon government transfers the whole of the funds for Yukon College on April 1 to allow them the benefit of accruing interest on the principal.
Yukon College remains an autonomous body, so, once the funds have been transferred to the college on April 1, they are responsible for its expenditure.
The agreement does not include a COLA clause, to answer that part of the member's question.
We have indicated to the College Board of Governors and to the hospital board that we are prepared to provide some funding for wage increases comparable to the settlement that we achieve with our own employees, but that is not part of the agreement between the college and the Yukon government. The agreement, I believe, I can provide to the member opposite. I'm not aware of any difficulty with that, and I'll check into it and provide it for him if there's no difficulty.
Mr. Phillips: The college just signed a contract, I believe, with its employees. The minister said that they have discussed with the college providing increased funds for those kinds of agreements. The increased funds that they're talking about providing, are they based on our settlement with our employees or their settlement with their employees?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That is based on our settlement with our employees. We are not - I'll advise the member to pursue that matter with the Public Service Commission minister who sent the letter to the college board.
Mr. Phillips: Well, if the minister would, Mr. Chair, I'd appreciate receiving a copy of that letter. She could ask her colleague to provide a copy of that letter to us. And maybe the minister can tell us if that includes any additional funds for this year, because I think they just signed an agreement, or is this an agreement for future years? How does that work? Is it in place now? I can't recall what the college got. I thought it was two or three percent over two years, or something.
What I'd like to know from the minister is this: does that mean that there's more money this year going to the college for their wage increases? Then the question would be this: if there is, is that money included in the budget?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yukon College is a separate legal entity, as the member knows. It is a separate employer. The negotiating mandate for Yukon College is established by the Yukon College Board of Governors, and they negotiate with their employees. The Yukon government is not involved and has made no commitments to help fund the recent agreement reached between the college and its employees or, indeed, future agreements, other than the commitment made to the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, which he can take up with that minister and request details.
Mr. Phillips: I'm getting a bit confused here, Mr. Chair.
I thought the minister just told us that the government had agreed with the college and with the hospital board to look at, over the years, increasing the budgets of those two entities based on what our increases were to our employees. That's what I thought the minister said.
The minister said something contrary to that a minute or two ago. My question was this: if that's what's happened, when does this agreement kick in? Does it include the past agreement that we just had that the college just signed, or that we just signed with our teachers? If it's according to our teachers, do they get the one percent and the same thing we gave our teachers, or is it for future agreements down the road that we sign with our government employees?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I just want to correct a bit of a misapprehension. There are two agreements at the hospital. One involves the professional staff. The PIPS have settled, and their settlement was in the one-percent range. The agreement with the PSAC workers at the hospital is that all of the other issues, with the exception of the non-monetary, have been resolved. The monetary aspect is premised on what the overall PSAC settlement will be, less two percent. So, in other words, whatever the overall PSAC settlement is, the PSAC workers at the hospital will get the same, less two percent. So, there is a bit of a difference here in the two institutions.
Mr. Phillips: Okay, Mr. Chair. Well, let me simplify it for the minister then. All I really want to know is, whatever agreements the government has made, if there will be any impact of those agreements on this fiscal year's budget, and that's all I'm really needing to know. Are there any additional funds that the college will be receiving from the government that isn't showing up in the Department of Education budget based on any agreement that we made with them? That's all I need to know. If the minister could provide me with that, that would be fine.
Mr. Chair, there was an article in the local media about the college itself being very concerned about a $600,000 shortfall. And part of that was in capital, but there were some concerns about possible layoffs at the college and that kind of thing. Has the minister met with the board to discuss the shortfall and the concerns that the board has, as the Minister of Health did with the hospital when they talked about their shortfall? I know that part of the reason for the shortfall was the downloading from the federal Liberal government in Ottawa, who has backed away from some programs, but what I need to know is if this government is doing anything to sort of maintain the level of education at the college so they don't have to lay people off or reduce programs or reduce staff in that way.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes. This government is providing funding to the college to give them some financial security. One of the things that we have done is to sign an agreement, so that they have stable funding in effect for the next three years, so that they will know that they have a $10-million grant due to them and being advanced at the beginning of our fiscal year when budgets are approved, so that they have the benefit of interest and so that they know what the level of funding will be.
In addition, last year, in 1997-98, the college received $750,000 in capital funding. In 1998-99, the college will receive $500,000 in capital funding with an additional one-time fund of $250,000 to complete a systems upgrade. We provided the college with $200,000 for systems work last year.
As I've already stated, the Yukon government does transfer the whole of the funds at the beginning of the fiscal year, which is also a benefit to the college.
The loss in funding from Human Resources Development Canada has been known since the Employment Insurance Act was passed in July of 1996.
The funding for direct course purchases at Yukon College was to be eliminated within three years, beginning in 1996-97. The shortfall being experienced for 1998-99 by Yukon College is therefore not something that is new. We are, however, making a commitment, both in capital funding and in O&M funding, to support the college.
Mr. Phillips: Well, there are some other things that aren't new, either, and one of them is that the college gets their money up front every year. That was done in the past. They were given the money that way before, as well.
As well, I do not believe that the college saw a decrease in its O&M budget under the Yukon Party government or even under the previous NDP government.
It was the capital budget, I think, that went up and down from time to time, as it will in any budget. So, the three-year agreement gives them some stability, but I guess my concern is what's not in the three-year agreement. If there are severe increases in costs, say in power rates, do we have any kind of contingency where, if the power rates go up significantly, Yukon College will receive more money from the Government of Yukon?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As the member indicated, capital budgets are not the same as O&M budgets and they do vary from year to year. Some years, if there are significant expenditures in one area, there isn't as much capital money available in others.
The question on power costs, as I've indicated earlier this afternoon, is difficult to accurately anticipate. Utility costs depend on the weather, the status of the Faro mine. The member is asking a hypothetical question about what the utility costs might be for the college in the future and we're just going to have to see how they vary over the course of the year.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't think it's too hypothetical. I think that the fact is that Faro is down now, and when Faro goes down, as we know, it affects our power rates, and there will be, no doubt, some increase in power rates. The minister responsible for the Public Service Commission has told us that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: The Member for Watson Lake says rate relief, but the Member for Watson Lake I'm sure is aware that the Government of Yukon and its educational facilities don't get a cheque for rate relief.
It's the consumers. They pay 140 percent of the cost of power, so, in fact, they pay a little more.
Mr. Chair, my concern is that there is no money at all in this budget to cover increased power costs for not only our educational facilities, but also for the Yukon College, and that they are already in a situation where they say there's a $600,000 shortfall. The price of our fuel oil hasn't gone down, and may not. We'll be the only jurisdiction in Canada where it hasn't, but it may not. It hasn't so far. And the price of our power is going to go up. There's no doubt about it.
I would think that it would be a lot more hypothetical to suggest that Anvil Range will be coming back on stream in a few months. I think that would be pretty hypothetical. It's pretty much a fact that it's not going to come on stream for probably at least this year, so we are going to be facing some kind of a power increase for government buildings this year, unless the Utilities Board and the Energy Corporation do something magical. Maybe they get hit by a beam of light and they can pull something out of the hat, but I don't know whether or not that will be possible.
So, really, what I want to get from the minister is that they haven't built any contingency in whatsoever for power costs or energy cost increases at the college. Is it correct to say that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I can advise the member that the college, like the schools, has engaged in some energy conservation retrofits in the previous year. The schools are involved in a conservation action program that has been reducing utility costs, and the energy retrofits at the college, in particular for lighting, we hope will help to reduce utility costs at the college as well.
It is hypothetical to try and determine what the utility costs will be over the course of the year. I believe this subject was debated in general debate on the budget; we have not put money in for expenditures for utility increases.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I'll leave that. It's obvious that there's no money in the budget for any anticipated energy increases, but we will - probably in a supplementary in the fall - be looking at some, unless there can be significant savings in the energy programs they have in the schools.
I should point out - I'm sure the minister's aware - that those energy programs were initiated about four or five years ago under a Yukon Party government. I think the first initial savings started back in 1996. I really do applaud the people who have set up the program, and the children and the teachers in the schools who have made, I think, some fairly significant savings in some schools. They made a big difference. I think it's a good program, and I'm glad to see that this government's continuing with it.
Mr. Chair, the minister didn't really answer my question that I asked earlier about the concerns the college expressed about laying people off. Has the minister had any discussions with the Yukon College president and the board about what they may have to do and what contingency plan is in place in case it comes to the point where they have to cut programs and lay people off?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I have had a number of meetings with the College Board. They have not raised with me their concerns about layoffs, although they have indicated that they felt that the reporting of their position recently in relation to a shortfall was not particularly accurate.
Nonetheless, Mr. Chair, I will continue to meet with the college board and administration, and I'm happy to discuss any concerns that they have.
Mr. Phillips: So, is the minister comfortable in saying that she doesn't anticipate that the college will be asking for more funds from the Government of the Yukon in this fiscal year with respect to their shortfall?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't have a crystal ball to gaze into the future and see who may come forward with requests for funding or whether the college will come forward with future requests for funding. I think it is fair to say that we have a good working relationship, and the college is quite pleased to have the security of a long-term financial agreement in place.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see on that one.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to move back to public schools for a few minutes and take the minister up to Old Crow and discuss for a moment some things in Old Crow.
First of all, the teacherage. I know that the Yukon Housing Corporation was doing some work up there and there were some problems with the existing buildings with respect to freeze-ups and that kind of thing. Has that all been settled now? Does the minister feel more comfortable that the teachers are happy with the efforts that the government has made in trying to get the life back to normal for them?
I know some of them were going out in the yard and scooping up snow in their teapot to make tea because they didn't have water, and it's a bit kind of primitive to expect a teacher to do that, but there were some problems there that continued for some length of time. I just wonder if the minister has been in contact or if the minister's officials have been in contact with the teachers in Old Crow, and if they are now happy with the work that's gone on and the response that they've received from the people doing the repairs.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, I can assure the member opposite that the government has been working very hard with the residents of Old Crow, including the teachers and the problems experienced with the teachers' residence. The worst of the problems occurred, not surprisingly, over the Christmas break, when the buildings were unoccupied for the most part and the weather was extremely severe. Yukon Housing was the primary respondent, since the Yukon Housing Corporation constructed the two duplexes that are near the site of the new school.
Many steps have been taken to address the inconveniences. Departmental officials have been maintaining contact with the teachers and with the community. As far as I am aware, there are no problems at present in relation to the teachers' residences.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I have had some discussions with some people who were in Old Crow and have worked in Old Crow and people in town here who are aware of what happened up there. Can the minister confirm that, in fact, the problems that happened weren't necessarily because people left doors open, that there were some design problems. My understanding is that the building itself was designed to be a floating-type of building but, contrary to the advice that was given by some, the designer or the government decided to go ahead with the heating units or utility room being attached to the building, and it wasn't floating. Then, when the building shifted, there were shifts in the wall.
Can the minister confirm that in fact that's the kind of thing that happened, that they were advised by the builder and others that the construction was fine but that part of the problems were as a result of some design flaws that the government was made aware of but didn't want to change?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I guess, just to fill in the member a bit on this, we did have a person who went up to Old Crow to do some of the repairs and we asked that they do some inspection of the units that had problems and they came back and said that there is, in fact, a problem with a draft that's going up the chase that houses the chimney. It's reversing; instead of cold air coming down, it's drawing air up and out of the house and freezing the coils in the furnaces, and that was one of the problems that they had with it.
Now, in regard to the shifting of the main building and the add-on, I don't know if that was a problem. I know that they had a sensor in there that is similar to a thermostat that was put in the wrong place and giving the wrong signals to the furnace, and it kept kicking it out because of the freezing problems.
In regard to who's responsible for the design or the problem that exists in the chase, we're still researching that and seeing whether or not it's actually a construction problem or a design problem. Hopefully, I'm going to resolve that and take care of that specific problem.
Mr. Phillips: Maybe the minister could get back with some information for me.
Maybe the minister can tell me if his department was ever made aware of some anticipated problems with the existing design, by the contractor or others, and what did they do about it when they were made aware of it? Did they agree with the contractor and change it, or did they leave it the way it was, and is it part of what created the problem that we have now? I'm just trying to find out what happened.
I think in one case the door was left open or something - a door was open. But that was only one incident. There were a lot of other incidents up there where pipes froze and there were some problems. My understanding is that it wasn't the construction itself, but it may have been partly in the design, and maybe the design wasn't anticipated, like the minister said, with the air being drawn up the flue the wrong way. That's something that I guess is possibly a highly technical design problem. I'm not sure.
But maybe the minister could tell us when they expect to get a report on what went wrong, and would the minister make the report available to us so we can see what the findings were of the problems? Maybe the minister could tell us, when he's on his feet now, who's doing the report, who's doing the investigation? Is Yukon Housing, who is managing the project, doing it, or did we hire somebody independent to go and have a look at it to give us an assessment of what happened?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, it is staff that we have working that do the repairs that have done the investigation. But I must say that the building design itself is one that was used in Old Crow in the past, and they've used that same duplex design for the teacherages. The only difference in the two is the heating system, and they've tried a different heating system and discovered a few problems with it. Hopefully, those problems will not be coming up again in the next little while.
One of the things that they are continuing to look into, of course, is the draft that's being drawn in - the cold air is drawn in with the warm air from the house. I'm sure that over the summer months, if it hasn't been done already, they will just figure out where the problem came from - whether it's the design or the actual construction of the building.
Mr. Phillips: When does the minister expect to have that report back? Does he have a time frame set where he said he'd like something by the end of this month, or the end of April? What time frame are we looking at?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We never asked for a time frame on it. What we asked the staff to do, while they were up there, was investigate this. We are now working with the contractor to find out where and who is responsible for this.
But in regard to the others, in regard to design and so on, the questions that you raise, I can bring forward to you a more complete and more detailed report.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I would appreciate getting a copy of that report, if I could, when it is available.
I wonder if the minister could just give us an update on the Old Crow school, before we finish up here today. I know we're getting pretty close to the end of the day - just on material that's arrived, condition of the road, if everything's still on schedule and seems to be working okay.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can just give you a quick thumbnail sketch. The road has been completed and is being continually upgraded. The report I had as recently as yesterday indicates that it's in considerably better shape than it was earlier, particularly the lower stretch of the road. They're doing ongoing maintenance work.
The pilings for the foundation have been completed, as far as that goes. We've received the technical drawings and the plans. They're being currently reviewed. There is a series of meetings set up to review those. As well, a fair amount of the materials have already rolled in. I can probably get an update as to how much has been received by this point and pass that on when I get a chance to check.
From all reports, things are going well. The project director has had several meetings with the Old Crow First Nation on such things as how to maximize local labour and local benefits. The Old Crow people themselves have been using the road. The last week, there was a considerable amount of material that went in. As well, there will also be some convoys going in this weekend.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 9.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, First Appropriation Act, 1998-99, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday, March 23, 1998.
The House adjourned at 5:26 p.m.
The following Legislative Return was tabled March 12, 1998:
Development assessment process (DAP): Yukon government interests at the DAP core table (McDonald for Livingston)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2370