Monday, March 23, 1998 - 1:30 p.m.
Clerk: It is my duty, pursuant to the provisions of section 24 of the Legislative Assembly Act, to inform the Legislative Assembly of the absence of the Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers. I would ask that members bow their heads in a moment of silent reflection.
Deputy Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Tribute to participants in Arctic Winter Games
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
I am pleased to rise today to acknowledge the tremendous achievements of our athletes, coaches, cultural contingent and mission staff who represented Yukon so well at the Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife last week. I had the privilege of being in Yellowknife for the first three days of competition to cheer on and support our team members, as I am sure members will attest from my throat.
Mr. Speaker, I've never been so proud to be a Yukoner as I was over those three days. Our young athletes provided some outstanding performances, earning medals and achieving personal bests in the process. Heather Lang earned five gold medals and a silver, competing in Arctic sports competition for the very first time. Heather's performance was the best overall of 1,600 athletes competing in the games.
Our snowshoe athletes captured a total of 14 medals, while our cross country ski team earned widespread recognition, winning a total of 11 medals, led by the performances of Stephen Hutton and Nathan Doering.
In the Dene games competition, Jordan Caesar and John Acklack Jr. from Ross River, along with Edwin and Dwayne McGinty from Teslin, earned the respect of all the Dene games competitors and elders by winning the stick gambling competition in a convincing fashion.
This is only a sample of the many successes Yukon enjoyed at the games. However, Mr. Speaker, the games are about much more than winning medals. They are about adults taking the time to help our young people to grow and to develop and to feel good about themselves. I saw our coaches providing positive support to our athletes, helping to celebrate their achievements while consoling them in moments of disappointment. The Arctic Winter Games are also about young people supporting and helping each other to get through the tough times and to overcome adversity.
In short, the games are about young and old learning about values and celebrating life. Mr. Speaker, the games are about Yukon parents filling a plane to travel to Yellowknife to support their children throughout the week of competition. The games are also about a team of Yukon and Magadan soccer players living together in shared accommodation, becoming friends and then supporting each other at games throughout the week, and ironically, Mr. Speaker, these same teams met with each other in the gold-medal match. They were tied at the end of regulation time and remained tied at the end of overtime. Yukon lost the shoot-out, but the players from both teams shared in the friendships they had formed and both shared a mutual victory.
Mr. Speaker, it is important that governments continue to invest in developing young people through their participation in events such as the Arctic Winter Games. It is also important that we continue to invest in the development of skilled coaches and leaders to ensure that our young people have positive role models to learn from and become those skilled coaches and leaders.
It's important that we continue to support our Host Society to put on a successful event when it's the Yukon's turn to host. The 1998 games are now history but we all look forward to hosting this important international event when athletes from across the north come to join us in Whitehorse in the year 2000.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I'm thrilled to acknowledge Team Yukon's achievement in winning the prestigious Hodgson's trophy that is awarded to the unit that best exemplifies the spirit of the games and demonstrates the values of fair play and respect for the officials and other players. This achievement is a credit to the calibre of our Yukon athletes, coaches, mission staff and the parents, and the Yukon's sport and recreation system. I know that all of you will join me in congratulating the Yukon's most successful performance in recent history at the Arctic Winter Games.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I wish to also extend congratulations to our many athletes who took part in the Arctic Winter Games held in Yellowknife last week.
Our Yukon team won an impressive show of 80 ulus at the games, placing fourth overall. As Yukoners, we can be very proud of our athletes and their achievements. This success is a demonstration of one's commitment to athletic excellence and can be attributed to a lot of hard work and perseverance, both of which our athletes have shown in their performance over the past week.
Mr. Speaker, the Arctic Winter Games are an opportunity for northerners to come together to not only compete but to learn from each other and to share in their friendship and camaraderie, and that's what makes the participation in these games such a unique and special experience. Regardless if one reaches the podium, everyone who trains and participates in these games are winners.
The 350-plus Yukon athletes who competed in the Arctic Winter Games are truly an inspiration to their fellow Yukon athletes for which we all can be proud. In fact, Mr. Speaker, both our pages here in the House today competed in the Arctic Winter Games - one in speed skating and one in hockey. Congratulations to both of our pages.
I would also like to recognize the volunteers, coaches and cultural performers for their hard work and tireless effort in making these games such a success and helping to make the games a memorable experience for each and every athlete.
Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, the minister will comment at some convenient time as to the political direction being given the Arctic Winter Games committee to restrict games to youth only.
Once again, Mr. Speaker, our congratulations from all Yukoners to all Yukoners who participated for a job well done.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus. I say congratulations to all the participants of this year's Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife. The Yukon showed well in all sports and all performances, and I say to all the athletes, coaches and performers of this year's Arctic Winter Games: you are simply the best.
In remembrance of June Pollock
Ms. Duncan: I rise today to pay tribute to June Agnes Newsome Pollock, who passed away recently. Mr. Speaker, I could rise and give this House a listing of June's many links within our community - a member of the Guild of Needlearts, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Hospital and, closest to my heart, a member of the great sisterhood of guiding.
June's volunteer efforts in these organizations will be deeply missed.
These activities do not convey the real essence of June Pollock. Mr. Speaker, the lifelong partner of Jim and mother to Janet, Joanne and Judy, and grandmother to their children, was one of those individuals who was the essence and spirit of the Yukon.
A wonderful and fitting celebration of her life was shared with many Yukoners this past Saturday.
June's spirit would be touched by the thoughts and feelings of those present. She led us by her example and she made a difference in our community.
The Yukon and all of us are better for having known June Pollock and our hearts and prayers are with her family and friends.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to introduce somebody who is well-known in here, a former member of the Legislative Assembly, and the former representative of the riding that I now represent. I'd like everybody to acknowledge Margaret Commodore.
Deputy Speaker: Tabling of returns and documents.
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Deputy Speaker: Under tabling returns and documents, I have for tabling the report of the Chief Electoral Officer of the Yukon on contributions to political parties during 1997.
Are there any further returns or documents for tabling?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have for tabling a legislative return.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I have a document for tabling, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have for tabling a legislative return.
Deputy Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Petition No. 5
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition on the subject of the Crossroads treatment centre, signed by close to 3,000 Yukoners, and the petition reads:
"We, the undersigned, draw the attention of the Yukon Legislative Assembly to the following:
"that the Crossroads Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centre has provided recovery and healing of individuals experiencing alcohol- and/or drug-related problems since 1972;
"that this community-based, non-profit society has a proven record in the Yukon;
"that the Crossroads Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centre is committed to working in cooperation with the Yukon First Nation communities;
"that the Yukon government decision to stop funding to the Crossroads Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centre failed to include public consultations with Yukoners;
"that the Yukon government does not have the support of the majority of Yukoners in their decision to close Crossroads;
"and, therefore, that your petitioners call upon the Yukon Legislative Assembly to continue funding to the Crossroads Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centre to at least its current funding levels in the same location."
Deputy Speaker: Are there any other petitions to be presented?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Training strategy (Yukon) revision
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to rise today to announce an important government initiative, in keeping with our action agenda commitment to create jobs and economic opportunities.
Today, the draft revision of the Yukon training strategy is being released for public consultation. In last year's Budget Address, this government promised to work with community leaders, labour, youth, educators, First Nations governments, industry and the federal government to identify opportunities for upgrading, apprenticeship and training programs.
The draft revision of the Yukon training strategy reflects input from Yukon people during various consultation exercises. These included Yukon College's education forums in 1995, Tourism's arts policy consultations, Economic Development's consultation on the CDF fund, and the Yukon hire commission consultations.
Over the past months, the Department of Education has worked with Yukon College, the Yukon hire commission, and key departments such as the Public Service Commission, Economic Development, Health and Social Services, and Tourism. Government departments and corporations recommended principles and broad concepts to consider in revising the training strategy.
The training strategy will support our government's initiative on trade and investment diversification. While it is important to maintain and enhance major private sector resource industries, it is equally important to broaden the territory's economic base in order to create more jobs for Yukon people.
The shutdown of the Faro mine increases the need to enhance training in other areas of economic activity. The training strategy will help to ensure that Yukon people have the skills to take advantage of emerging job opportunities.
During public consultations, we will collaborate with people in all Yukon communities to ensure that everyone can express their views on training. Building partnerships with all sectors of Yukon society will strengthen and increase the resources available for training and development initiatives.
In a changing economy, it is essential that training strategies remain current. An updated Yukon training strategy will increase our government's ability to invest training trust funds in different economic sectors as effectively as possible.
Mr. Speaker, this government is collaborating with Yukon people to create an up-to-date and responsive Yukon training strategy that will yield practical skills and job training opportunities for Yukon workers.
Mr. Phillips: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and the office of the official opposition, I rise today to offer support, albeit it somewhat conditional, to the Yukon training strategy revision.
Unfortunately, we haven't had an opportunity to see the draft revision. I would make a friendly suggestion to the minister. This is the second time that ministers have risen in this House in this session to give a ministerial statement on a report that they tabled. It would be conducive to more cooperative work in this House if, when they gave us the ministerial statement, embargoed, they provided a copy of the report that they were talking about in the ministerial statement, so we at least can comment on the contents of the report.
In any event, we on this side of the House do support the concept of a long-term training strategy that will train Yukoners with the end goal of putting Yukoners to work. While we welcome every opportunity for Yukon people to develop new skills and knowledge to find work, as we've mentioned on many occasions, it's every bit as important that there are jobs waiting for Yukoners at the end of the road.
In light of tough economic times these days, and with record high unemployment, it's incumbent upon government to create a positive economic environment that encourages the private sector to invest and create jobs. We do this by building on our strengths, and those are in the mining, the tourism, small business, construction and forestry, rather than embarking upon a process that discourages investment from the territory, as we've seen from this government over the past year and a half.
I'm hoping the government will be sincere in its commitment to work with Yukoners in all communities to ensure that everyone is heard and their views will be acted upon in a revised training strategy.
I recall back in May of 1992, the government of the day had tabled its first Yukon training strategy, which outlined a number of priorities that the government wished to focus on with respect to training opportunities for Yukoners.
I believe it's important to review and revise training strategies as employment opportunities are ever evolving, as are the changing demands of the workplace. It's encouraging that a review is being held to improve training programs available for Yukoners. Perhaps the government might consider a review of its own economic policies, Mr. Speaker, so that Yukoners have a job to go to, once the training is complete.
I look forward to reviewing the draft revision that the minister tabled a few moments ago, which we haven't had an opportunity to look at yet, and to see what Yukoners will say about that, what they have to say about training and the creation of jobs and the economic opportunities in the territory.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: On behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus, I am pleased to rise to respond to this statement. I'd like to begin by saying that our caucus supports the notion that a trained workforce is essential for economic growth. One of the obstacles to starting a business or an industry is a lack of skilled workers. If a government can help to remove that obstacle, that's an appropriate and worthwhile objective.
In last year's budget, the NDP said they would set up a Yukon training strategy. Part of the strategy would include spending $1 million in training trust funds. This year's budget calls for an additional $1.5 million to be allocated to training trust funds. That's a total of $2.5 million. At the same time, the government's still out revising the overall strategy. It seems odd to me, and I'm sure to many Yukoners, that the money's being spent in the training trust fund model before the strategy's in place.
Can the minister provide, by legislative return, how much money has been spent under the various trust funds? I hope that part of the strategy would include a section on accountability of the success of the funds. The tourism training trust fund has been in place for some time. Are individuals getting the experience that they can use to find employment? Is the money spent wisely? Is the training trust fund model the appropriate one? Is the end result that more people are working? Perhaps the minister could elaborate on this when she responds.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to hear that the government is out consulting with Yukoners on developing the strategy and I look forward to reviewing the results.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'm happy to reply to the opposition's qualified support for this initiative.
First of all, just to correct the record, the Yukon training strategy was first introduced in 1986 in the territory and it was revised in 1992. We do, in fact, have a training strategy in effect and what we are doing this year is providing the opportunity for the public to be involved in a further revision. As changes to the economy and the increasing use of technology are occurring, it's important that our training strategy remain current as well.
I look forward to the opposition's participation, as well as members of the public, in looking at ways that the training strategy can be effective for the future and to ensure that the training trust fund model is working.
I would state, Mr. Speaker, that the training trust fund model is effective. The training trust funds that are in place have had a positive effect in a number of economic sectors and on a number of communities, and we will continue to build on that success.
Rate stabilization fund and proposed community consultation
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to inform the House and all Yukon people today that our government, through the energy commission and the MLA for Kluane, has developed a proposal to deliver on our major policy commitment of stable and affordable electricity rates. I am referring to a new rate stabilization fund that will address the bottom-line cost most Yukoners face in their home electricity bills.
Mr. Speaker, electrical ratepayers are tired of the ups and downs of electrical costs that occur with the opening and closing of the Faro mine. They want stable, affordable rates. They've also made it clear that they want the government to take a long-term approach to address many energy issues.
In recent months, Yukon people have been led to believe an increase of at least 30 percent is inevitable following the closure of the Anvil Range mine.
Mr. Speaker, our government will not tolerate an increase of this magnitude being imposed on Yukon people during difficult economic circumstances.
I am pleased to announce that the rate stabilization fund we propose will moderate any electrical rate increase as a result of the mine closure to no more than nine percent in the first year, zero percent in the second year, zero percent in the third year and zero percent in the fourth year. These figures are based on the 1996 price, when the mine was operating.
Mr. Speaker, this demonstrates without question that our government is delivering on its commitment to provide stable, affordable rates for Yukon people.
Mr. Speaker, the energy commission will bring this rate stabilization fund proposal to the public through community consultations on energy issues. Starting next week in Carcross, commercial customers, communities, interveners and the utilities and others will have a chance to express their views on the rate stabilization fund. We will listen closely to what people say about it.
Mr. Speaker, we anticipate a high degree of interest from both groups and individuals. Our consultations will include special technical meetings to collect input on how to construct and operate the rate stabilization fund.
We have been informed, Mr. Speaker, that the Yukon Energy Corporation is working to keep its rate increase application significantly below the increase experienced after last year's mine shutdown. Yukon Energy Corporation expects to file its application with the Yukon Utilities Board in mid-April.
The YUB is expected to review the application through its regulatory process, and we should be prepared for a double-digit rate increase approved by the Utilities Board. Our objective is to activate the rate stabilization fund in time to hold the increase to nine percent and stabilize bills for at least a four-year period.
The rate stabilization fund we are proposing would be self-financing and funded initially from dividends of the Yukon Development Corporation. It would be replenished as industrial customers come online. The RSF would draw funds normally earmarked for rate relief and still allow us to consider targeted relief to those who need it most.
Mr. Speaker, we are taking this approach now because we recognize that things are tight for many people. We must do what we can to moderate the effect of the Anvil Range Mine closure. Minimizing an electricity rate increase to nine percent will help meet that goal. It will ease the sting of electrical costs for most of those consumers who are currently receiving the benefit of the Yukon government's rate relief program.
Mr. Speaker, this concrete action on a long-term policy commitment is a clear response to a public concern. We promised stability and affordability, and we are delivering.
The consultations that start next week will allow Yukon people to become involved as individuals at the community level and in technical meetings designed to address complex energy matters in detail.
While the new rate stabilization fund promises to attract interest, the commission will also seek the opinions of Yukon people, including members of the public who serve on the Yukon Energy Corporation's board of directors, on a variety of important and topical energy issues. These include conservation initiatives, community energy management, and principles of energy supply options for this territory.
The commission will host technical meetings, including one on community energy management, with First Nations, municipalities, community representatives and other interested Yukon groups and individuals.
The concept of community energy management involves communities directly in managing their energy consumption. It also provides real benefits in terms of cost savings, energy conservation and local employment.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, the consultations will help produce recommendations on various matters that will soon lead to a made-in-the-Yukon comprehensive energy policy.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, prior to the last election, the NDP campaigned on stabilizing energy rates and keeping them affordable for Yukoners. That was the promise they made to Yukoners.
What Yukoners have experienced since then has been an ever-increasing price for energy. Now we're told by the minister today that they're going to face another nine-percent increase.
If that's what the NDP government calls stable and affordable energy pricing, I would like to let them know that Yukoners are sick to death of it.
Mr. Speaker, this government is half announcing today what they're going to do on public consultation. They have said they're going to stabilize the rates at nine percent in the first year, with no increases in the next three years after that. But, what the minister hasn't said - and I would like him, maybe when he gets up for his rebuttal, to reply to it - is that, from my interpretation of this, if a major commercial customer or industrial user comes on, then the rates will not go down. They will be stabilized at that higher level, with another nine-percent increase on top of it. That is my understanding of this ministerial statement today.
Mr. Speaker, I would also like the minister to tell Yukoners today how large the fund will be to start with and where the Energy Corporation is going to get their money for the capital works they are going to do if all of the money is going to be going into rate stabilization.
We still say, on this side of the House, that the only way one could stabilize energy in the territory and make it affordable is to find a lower cost source of energy in the Yukon.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Cable: The Liberal caucus feels that the rate stabilization fund is a viable option for what it's intended to do, and we support the concept in principle. There are some questions with respect to the fund that have been touched on by the leader of the official opposition. How much is to be transferred? How much is in the Yukon Development Corporation? Will the transfer affect the activities of the Yukon Development Corporation?
With respect to the administration of the fund, who is going to administer it? Is it going to be administered by trustees or by the Yukon Energy Corporation? What investments is it going to be entitled to invest in? Is it going to be investing in market securities, or is it going to be able to loan the money back to the government?
As well, a technical question: will the fund itself be part of the rate base for purposes of calculating return on equity and, if so, is there going to be any statutory or regulatory followup on the concept?
With respect to the nine percent that's talked about in the ministerial statement, it's not clear what the base is. Is it the present rate regime with the rate relief incorporated into it, or is it nine percent over the present regime, without the rate relief? That will make a fairly marked difference in some of the residential rates.
Now the ministerial statement is long on comments about stabilization, but it's short on comments on affordability and what it means. Is it the government's proposition - I put this to the minister - that, after the nine percent maximum increase over the present rates, that the rates are then affordable, and that the NDP election commitment has been met?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Let me first address the concerns raised by the leader of the official opposition. Mr. Speaker, since this government has come into office, we have had a very difficult situation in terms of managing the energy situation in this territory. In just 16 months in government, we have had the Faro mine shut down, which is a 40-percent customer of the output of the Yukon Energy Corporation. We have had to struggle with some very difficult issues, but ever since the day we took office, Mr. Speaker, we said we would tackle the tough issue of ending the roller-coaster ride for Yukoners on their power bills, that we would deal with stabilization issues and affordability issues in very tough times.
We have done that, Mr. Speaker. What we've brought forward today is an extensive proposal for doing just that.
The member opposite made the statement that there's been an ever-increasing cost in the price of power. That is a false statement.
Since we came into power, just recently a 5.5 percent appeal rider came off of the bills that are dated back to 1993 from when he was the minister. It is expected that in May or June there will be a further reduction of 3.3 percent when the diesel rider comes off.
As well, Mr. Speaker, the public of the Yukon clearly saw that when there was a 20 percent rate increase approved last year as a result of the first shutdown in our term with the Faro mine we took action to deal with that to bring the rate increase down to 7.5 percent. That whole amount came off when the mine fired back up again.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has completely, in his normal way, been negative to this. He's not happy with the so-called nine-percent solution we put forward. Mr. Speaker, that is the same member who's been running around in the public, on the radio, in the media telling people that there's a 30 percent rate hike coming.
He's raising fears and what we've done is we've responded that we had a thoughtful, deliberate approach to this situation, that we would come forward with some solutions for Yukoners - never mind the political partisan back and forthing in this Legislature. We put forward some concrete plans and that's what we've done today. So, Mr. Speaker, shame on that member for pooh-poohing this.
Mr. Speaker, the member opposite also talked about the fact that he doesn't know whether the rates would come down with this rate stabilization when the mine went back up. I would remind that member that when he was the minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation, the rates for residential customers went up dramatically - over 30 percent when the Faro mine went down in 1993. When the mine came back up again in 1996, the rates didn't go down one iota for Yukoners.
That did not happen under this administration.
This is a new plan to deal with the situation. It deals with ending the roller-coaster rider for Yukoners. It deals with providing capital for the maintenance and the consistent upgrade of our system, and it provides affordability and it provides that in very difficult circumstances for our utility which is owned by all Yukoners.
I say to the people of the Yukon that we are tackling the tough issues for you. We are bringing stability and a plan and ideas for the future of this territory.
Deputy Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Whitehorse community centre project
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister of Economic Development.
This is concerning the Whitehorse community centre project. Mr. Speaker, we've heard through the grapevine that the federal Minister of Heritage, Sheila Copps, is coming to the Yukon in the not-too-distant future to announce the $3-million funding for the construction of the community centre project being spearheaded by the Unity Foundation. On February 24, the minister fired off a letter to the federal government saying it was time to "fish or cut bait". Well, it would appear that the minister might have caught something here.
Can the minister advise the House when the federal Minister of Heritage will be coming to the Yukon to make the announcement? I know that she's going to be here in July for the music festival, but I'd like to know if the minister is aware if the minister's going to make the announcement then, or is she coming up sooner. Could the minister give us any update on his knowledge on that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, it appears that the member opposite has better contacts than we do. Perhaps he's been talking to his friends in the third party to his left. Certainly, I have received no confirmation formally of Minister Copps' visit nor of a $3-million cheque for the Unity Foundation, but certainly that would be quite a wonderful thing.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I can assure the minister, Mr. Speaker, that it is not the parties to our left, the Liberals, whom I have contacts with; it's people in the general public, with whom the government has lost contact with themselves, who are passing this information on to us.
Mr. Speaker, I know the Unity Foundation is solidly behind the project, but I've heard concerns from other groups and associations about the potential impact the centre will have on facilities such as the Yukon Arts Centre and the Mount McIntyre Centre. As well, the Tourism Industry Association has expressed concerns about this project lacking tourism content. The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce is concerned about it, and I know that the Convention Bureau has had discussions about this type of facility.
Is the government fully supportive of the Yukon Unity Foundation proposal, and will it be committing the $1.5 million from the centennial anniversaries tourism money to the Whitehorse community centre project?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, as a government, we don't have a parochial view of general revenues. We try to respond to Yukoners where the greatest need is, and we believe that that's the appropriate way for government to operate in this territory - listening to Yukoners, identifying their priorities and trying to respond to them.
Mr. Speaker, I'm well-aware that the Yukon Party is opposed to this project. They've wanted to kill it dead since the day it was conceived. We have resisted that, because we do have some belief that the proponents in the Unity Foundation have got some good ideas. They put a lot of work into this project. We think it does have some utility for this territory, and we think it could have some important impetus in terms of bringing people together.
However, we've said, as a result of it being the CAP project, which was brought forward by the Yukon Party, that there was an outstanding commitment that we would try to see through. It has gotten now to the point though where it is solely dependent on whether the federal government comes through with the necessary dollars to see it become a reality.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, we in the official opposition are not opposed to the unity project. What we're opposed to is that it doesn't conform to the CAP guidelines with respect to tourism, and that the strongest tourism component - the First Nation component - is going to be moved out of the facility. It's not even going to be in it.
As the minister well knows, other Yukon communities had to abide by the CAP guidelines and build facilities that would add to Yukon's tourism infrastructure. Can the minister assure the House that the First Nations heritage village, which is the strongest tourism component of the Whitehorse community project, is still a part of the project? And will the minister insist that it be built at the site and indicate to us as well when the minister is on his feet, since there is no money in this budget, where the $1.5 million will come from when this project goes ahead?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite can stand up and split hairs all he wants. It's well-known to the proponents of the Unity Foundation - Kwanlin Dun First Nation, the Association des Franco-Yukonnais and the Downtown Community Association - that the official opposition, the Yukon Party, has wanted to deep-six this thing from the very beginning.
Mr. Speaker, we have resisted that. We've worked with the communities in Teslin, communities in Ross River and the community of Whitehorse to try and see whether or not their ideas and their creations that they put forward for the CAP project could become realities.
We've tried very hard to do that, to be accommodating, to listen and work with Yukoners. We're still doing that in Teslin, and we made the Ross River project a reality.
We are very proud of that, Mr. Speaker, because those communities need that kind of effort from that government.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, there is money in the budget. There's $400,000 identified in the budget. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, with the challenges of bringing this project together, we have significant money in the budget to bring these projects ahead and certainly complete the design and architectural work. Then, we would move in the capital budget to try and find the other commitment that we have made.
Question re: Gasoline prices
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. My question is for the Minister of Economic Development.
For the past six weeks, I've been raising the issue of Yukoners paying too much for gasoline. During that time, we've all heard a lot of gobbledegook about why the prices were too high, even some of it from the minister himself, who blamed the current high prices on the current Yukon Party government's tax on fuel, which, by the way, is not only the lowest in Canada, but continues to be the lowest in Canada.
Now we've heard from an independent expert from the University of Manitoba, confirming that Yukoners indeed are being hosed at the pumps by the refineries and the wholesalers, not by the local service station distributors.
Can I ask the minister when this government is finally going to take some action and do something about these ripoff gas prices? Is he favouring a price cap or a lobbying campaign to embarrass the big oil companies or what? Now that this government has woken up to the fact that there is indeed a problem, what is he going to do about it?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, if the member opposite would just bear with me, of course his colleagues in the Yukon Party had four years to deal with the situation and did absolutely nothing on it. We are concerned. We are concerned about what Yukoners are telling us about the issue. We've been doing an analysis of it.
I was on the radio talking to Yukoners this morning about the fact that there are a number of options for consideration. I find it somewhat ironic, though, to have the so-called defenders of free enterprise advocating for the government to step in and put price fixing in place and establish some caps. However, we have not ruled out even that option, even though it would be extremely difficult to do.
I've told the member opposite that we intend to bring forward an analysis document in the Legislature. I hope to have it this week. From that, we will spawn some discussion with Yukoners on a very quick and accelerated basis and develop a strategy.
We are more than happy to raise serious concerns with the major oil companies about the charging that their refineries are doing and how it's affecting Yukoners at the pumps. We don't like it either.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the minister has not got the luxury of time. Already today OPEC countries have indicated they're going to be reducing the supply in order to bring up the price of a barrel of oil. By the time the minister reacts, prices will be going up in the Yukon again.
Can the minister advise the House what immediate action he is going to take, and will he be giving a commitment here today that the high Yukon fuel prices will be reduced? Can he give the House and Yukoners that assurance today, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I could probably stand up today, Mr. Speaker, and give all kinds of assurances that I could wave my magic wand, and perhaps I could turn the member opposite into a toad. I wouldn't do that, Mr. Speaker, but I could promise all kinds of things. Perhaps it'll be like this: the weather will be like this for another two weeks, if I just wave my magic wand, and that will be so.
But Mr. Speaker, that's not the way things work. We have heard the concern of Yukoners. Mr. Speaker, I might remind the member opposite that just last week he was advocating for a public inquiry. Now, how long would that have taken for things to work? It would have taken months. The last public inquiry we had in this territory - the Hughes inquiry - took months. The last fuel inquiry took months. So we don't want to acquiesce to his initial suggestion. We don't want to do that. What we want to do is act in a quicker fashion. That's why we're doing the analysis. That's why we'll put that out to the public. That's why we'll develop a strategy. That's why we'll come forward to Yukoners with some solutions and try and see if we can do something about ensuring that there's some reduction in the fuel prices.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, from this toad to the big toad over there, we hope he's going to jump off his lilypad and start to do something for Yukoners, Mr. Speaker. Everyone knows that, in the past, when the price of a barrel of oil goes up, we are immediately impacted by higher gasoline prices at the pumps here in the Yukon. However, Mr. Speaker, the reverse is not true; that we know.
Now the minister can waltz all around and give us a song and dance, but what is he going to do? He can't just study this until the end of time, until the price of a barrel of oil doubles again, and he says it's a market condition - that's what's giving rise to the increase in prices.
Clearly, the government has missed the boat and the time frame around it this time, but I would ask the minister if he will put a contingency plan in place so that he will be able to deal with this issue again, should it ever arise.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I only wish that the Yukon Party government would have prepared that same contingency plan for me. I could have pulled it off the shelf and reacted immediately to this problem. However, we didn't anticipate that the price of crude oil would drop to $14 a barrel. However, recognizing the concern that Yukoners have raised with us, we are trying to deal with it.
There are many issues involved in this situation that affect the price at the pump - whether it's the lack of volume purchasing we have, whether it's the inventories that affect the price, whether it's the fact that refineries control the price to an extensive degree and the actual price of crude oil is only about 15 percent of the pump price, or whether it's the fact that we don't have a lot of competition in the Yukon.
I want the Yukon and Yukoners to know what the full extent of the picture is. We can do that fairly quickly. I've told the member I intend to table something ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: ... hopefully this week in the Legislature, and then we'll put together a plan and we'll act on it.
Question re: Electrical rate stabilization
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation. He got so carried away with his own rhetoric trying to bounce one off the leader of the official opposition that he didn't answer any questions, so I'll ask the questions again.
I wonder if the minister would tell us all about the stabilization fund, how much is going to be transferred into it, and who is going to control it, and what investments is it going to be permitted to make?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, we expect that the actual cost of the fund over the next four years will be roughly $9 million. There are some issues around whether or not the diesel contingency fund would be utilized to contribute to it. That would be a decision we would leave up to some consultations with the stakeholders.
With regard to the rate stabilization fund, we expect it to be administered by the Energy Corporation but, as always, we expect to hear from many Yukoners on the subject and we are open to consulting with them, to talking with them about the various issues. But the bottom-line premise that we're working under, Mr. Speaker, is ending the roller-coaster ride and providing some stability and affordability for Yukoners as they face their bills, as they pay their bills on a monthly basis, and we deal with the difficult situation surrounding the Faro mine coming on and off the grid over the last 16 months.
Mr. Cable: Well, let's talk about the stabilization then. The commissioner's statement talks about a nine-percent maximum increase. Could the minister tell us, what's the base for that nine-percent increase? Is it the present rate regime with the rate relief incorporated into it or is it after the rate relief has been removed so that we're looking at not only the nine percent but the rate relief percentage that we're now being subsidized on? Who is it going to apply to? Is it going to apply to all the customers?
Hon. Mr. Harding: With regard to rate relief, it's certainly still up for discussion through the commission's consultation - the targeted rate relief as well as the seasonal rate relief concept. The numbers are based presently on the existing rate structure.
Mr. Cable: I take it then that that's incorporating the rate relief into the existing rate structure. If that's not the case, maybe the minister can clarify that with me privately.
With respect to the ministerial statement, the ministerial statement's long on stabilization, as I mentioned, but is short on affordability. Now, is it the government's proposition - and I ask this question again - that after the nine-percent maximum increase over the present rates, rates will then be affordable and that the NDP election commitment has been met?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, our plan does not end with the rate stabilization fund. It is but one cog in that plan.
The energy commission has put forward a number of ideas that the public will be hearing about over the next little while, but one of the things we will continue to strive to do is to reduce rates for Yukoners, particularly for our residential customers wherever and whenever possible.
When we look at initiatives, such as extending the grid from British Columbia or at other alternatives that the Yukon Energy Corporation may be pursuing, whether the energy commission is analyzing supply options, we'll be intending to try and find vehicles to keep rates as affordable and as reduced as possible.
Under this plan that we have put forward, we have put forward an opportunity for Yukoners to end the roller-coaster ride on rates and we've put forward as affordable a solution as we possibly can, given the circumstances surrounding the Faro mine.
Question re: Marsh Lake ski trails, land reserve
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. Mr. Speaker, over a period of 11 years, the Marsh Lake Community Association has been asking that an area between the Alaska Highway and the Judas Creek subdivision at Marsh Lake be set aside as a parcel of land for a community recreation reserve or a park.
This land is the Marsh Lake ski trail area, where the Marsh Lake ski loppet is held every year. This is a request that has been made by local residents. Why has this government failed to set aside this land for recreational use?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Speaker, this government has not failed in initiating or working with the Marsh Lake community. This government is going to be, and will be, continuing to work with the communities in the Yukon to look after their needs.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I'd have to say that actually this government is ignoring the residents, because we're learning that they're working against resident requests. Somehow, despite land claims and a variety of other impediments, there are now two land applications for agricultural use being finalized in this area at the request of YTG.
Now Mr. Speaker, somehow these two parcels of land are being taken out of the area that residents have asked to be set aside for a recreational reserve. Can the minister tell this House why he is not listening to the residents who, for 11 years, have asked that this land be set aside as a recreational area?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: As people are well-aware in the House, this application has been around for many, many years, and it has just crossed my desk again as recently as last week. Mr. Speaker, it is in the process now, and we'll accept it into the process. The people do have the opportunity to bring their concerns forward, and I would certainly encourage them to do so.
Mrs. Edelman: It's interesting that the minister is talking about people having an opportunity for their input. Now, Mr. Speaker, here's a really good example of NDP consultations. On November 5, 1997, the NDP sent a letter to the Marsh Lake Community Association, asking for their input on a proposed agricultural land transfer in the middle of an area that residents have asked to be set aside for recreation.
The NDP wanted input back no later than November 6, the very next day. Does the minister think that the Marsh Lake Community Association is on the psychic hotline, and can just transmit their views instantly? Is this the better way, and is this the way this government intends to consult?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Absolutely not. Mr. Speaker, we will take the time, and we do take the time, to encourage people to bring their thoughts forward. As I've said, this is an issue that's been around for many, many years. This government is committed to working with people and we'll work with people in a very deliberate and a very thoughtful manner.
If there's a typo or if there's a problem with that, well, that certainly happens within the system, but I can assure the member opposite that we'll be taking the time to listen to the people and I encourage the people to work within the system.
Question re: Fuel prices, impact on tourism
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister of Tourism. It's on the issue of high Yukon gas prices impacting on tourism visitation.
The minister knows well that the so-called moccasin telegraph for RVs travels faster than the speed of light. The minister also knows full well that, in the recent visitor exit survey that we did several years ago, many of our visitors complained about our high fuel prices and continue to do so almost every year at our visitor centres.
With fuel prices in B.C. and Alaska - our neighbours - much lower than the Yukon by well over 10 cents a litre in many cases, there's going to be tremendous incentive this summer for tourists destined for Alaska to fill up before they hit the Yukon border and not to stop until they've passed the Alaskan border. They can now do that in a day because of our improved highways.
Does the minister have any contingency plan in place, other than hoping for a highway washout, to slow our visitors down this upcoming tourism season?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, perhaps all members of this House could throw ourselves across the road and form a human barricade. Perhaps I'll participate and volunteer to go with the Member for Klondike to start the chain.
I know that the Tourism department has many ideas, but the question was referring to the issue of gas pricing in the Yukon. I've explained to members of this House that we do have an analysis coming forward on the situation regarding gas prices in the Yukon. It is not an issue that has just arisen in the Yukon. You would think, Mr. Speaker, from hearing the Yukon Party, that the prices have just shot up from 40 cents to where they are now. They, in part, contributed to the prices we have today with their gasoline tax increases.
However, having said that, we intend to come forward with suggestions to deal with the price of gasoline. It is not something that is uncommon to the north. Our brothers and sisters in the Northwest Territories are also facing considerably higher gasoline prices, as are many northern and rural communities in both jurisdictions.
So, we will come forward with an analysis and, from that, will emanate a plan to deal with the situation as best we can for Yukoners.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Economic Development might think this is a laughing matter, but there are a lot of people on the highways in this territory that own and operate businesses who are not laughing about this at all. In fact, they're quite concerned about what may happen this summer when our visitors fill up south of Watson Lake and go right on through to Beaver Creek without stopping because of the high gas prices.
Mr. Speaker, some statistics that we have show that gas prices in Prince George on March 10 were 51.9 cents per litre. They're over 69 cents in the Yukon at the present time, and we know that they're higher in rural communities, and the gas prices traditionally have gone up in the spring.
Can the Minister of Tourism advise the House, Mr. Speaker, what he is going to do to encourage Yukon's rubber-tire tourist traffic to stick around the territory and travel to some of our rural tourist attractions where the prices are even higher? What is the minister going to do if they can't get these prices down to where they're realistic to convince these visitors to spend some time in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite referred to us making a laughing matter out of this, but we certainly aren't. We're taking the issue seriously. However, when the member engages in fear-mongering, in trying to promote the idea that somehow our Cabinet has declared war on Iraq, and that's the reason that the prices in the Yukon have gone up, or somehow we are responsible for what's happening here - we are taking our responsibility very seriously as a government in dealing with a situation that we did not create, and I've explained that to the member over and over again.
The member refers to Prince George. The reality in Prince George is that there is a gas war going on in Prince George right now, because of the high levels of competition there in that community. So, to try to separate out somehow a city where there is a gas war and ignore what's happening in the Northwest Territories is like comparing apples and grapefruits.
Mr. Speaker, we have a plan for dealing with it. We don't think it's appropriate or productive for the member to continue to engage in fear-mongering. We have a strategy. We'll bring it forward. We'll bring forward some analysis, and perhaps the member opposite has some concrete, productive suggestions for a change.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, Yukoners are frustrated. Since August of last year, they've watched gas prices go down in this country, in every jurisdiction but the Yukon. And it seems that the only individuals who haven't noticed that in the Yukon are the ministers on the side opposite, and that's probably because they haven't been here long enough. They've been travelling all over the country and buying their gas elsewhere.
Mr. Speaker, it's a shame that...
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Would the member please get to the question.
Mr. Phillips: ... they're not aware of how it impacts Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, I'd like to ask the Minister of Tourism this question: is he doing any analysis at all to determine the impact that these extremely high gas prices in the Yukon will have on our RV traffic, which is coming mostly from the U.S., that is destined for Alaska. The good chances are, Mr. Speaker, that these people will drive right through when they learn about our high gas prices in the territory.
Was the minister planning to do any analyzing of that type of situation, and what is he going to do about it to slow our visitors down so they spend some of their money in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite piously decries his views about the situation of gas prices in the Yukon, I ask him to just take a look at the history. Take a look at the prices today, the prices where they were. Take a look at his own record in terms of taxing Yukoners at the gas pumps. I think he will clearly see that there is a long-standing issue here. It is heightened, albeit, right now because the price of crude oil in the world has just recently dropped.
Mr. Speaker, the member opposite said that everywhere else in the country the prices have dropped. That's completely false. Take a look at what's happening in the north. The reason the NWT is similar to us is because they have the same problems with a lack of volume discounts. They have the same problem with the refineries. They have a lower level of competition than, say, Prince George, where there's a gas war going on right now.
Mr. Speaker, we are hearing the concerns of Yukoners loudly and clearly. We are doing analyses. I hope to table some this week in the House. We will not ignore the problem. We will take responsibility on behalf of Yukoners for dealing with it as best we can. We will deal with the suggestions by the Yukon Party to establish caps on the price of fuel. We will deal with all those things, and perhaps we'll have some good debate and some good suggestions in this House.
Question re: Air Transat
Ms. Duncan: My question's for the Minister of Tourism. There's been some discussion in this House regarding increased air access to the Yukon this summer; namely, the Air Transat flight scheduled to begin on May 19. The minister has indicated, in previous discussions about this, that the flights were selling well in Europe. Now the minister has just returned from Europe, via the Arctic Winter Games, and I wonder if he could indicate this: is this still his understanding, that the Air Transat flights are selling well?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Finally, a real question for Tourism. Yes, Mr. Speaker, I must say that I had met with the Air Transat folks when I was in Europe, and have been discussing the possibilities of how their marketing is going. I understand that it is up to 80-percent occupancy sold now.
Ms. Duncan: Each Air Transat L1011 aircraft scheduled to land in Whitehorse is capable of holding about 300 passengers. The charter flights are actually leaving Germany, stopping in Whitehorse and going on to Vancouver. The concern that I have heard from industry is that many passengers do not plan to get off when the plane stops in Whitehorse. They intend, Mr. Speaker, to use the flight as a cheap charter to Vancouver.
Does the minister have any idea how many passengers intend to actually get off in Whitehorse and begin their vacation here and how many are just using this as a stop on the way to Vancouver?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, I must say, Mr. Speaker, that I have to take offence to that comment, because certainly we have been working for many, many years - for the last 15 years - to make Yukon a destination, and Yukon is a destination. If the member opposite would open his eyes to see that it is a destination, then would not be fear-mongering. I have had many, many meetings with the Tourism Industry Association and operators and they assure me that we are doing a good job, and they have not expressed that fear-mongering to me at all.
Ms. Duncan: The last time I checked with half a dozen hotels in Whitehorse, none of them had any guests getting off the Air Transat flights. It could be that the passengers intend to get off the plane and rent a camper. A hundred campers at the Whitehorse airport is going to take planning.
This information is important. The airport has to be staffed with the appropriate number of Customs officials, and hotel reservations and camper reservations have to be made, so that people aren't getting off the plane and finding too few campers, too few hotel rooms, and long Customs lineups.
The first flight is going to arrive in about seven weeks. Will the minister find out how many passengers plan to get off and make the Yukon their destination - which all of us understand it to be - and how many are going on to Vancouver?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I will repeat that. What we have done here and what we have been working on in conjunction with the Tourism Industry Association is to encourage and to get more people here with the creation of the Destination Yukon as a world-class marketplace; this is happening. I know people in Whitehorse who are constructing hotels and adding on additions to hotels and who are putting into their brochures the German language so that the people might be able to expand and enjoy their stay in the Yukon. I cannot see people doing that for people who are going on to Vancouver.
So, I really must say that I express dissatisfaction with the calibre of the questions.
Deputy Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into the Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: Committee will recess for 15 minutes.
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Committee is dealing with the main estimates. We are on the Department of Education.
Bill No. 9 - First Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Department of Education - continued
Deputy Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, since we last spoke in the House about this, there have been a couple of revelations, so to speak, that have come up in Education and I do have some questions for the minister.
I, too, received a copy of the Department of Education public schools branch action plan that our Liberal colleague released to the general public. I received it on the Monday of spring break, I guess in a similar fashion that the other party did. I have since expressed some concerns over not only the report but the way in which it was handled by our opposition colleagues.
I guess my concern is that I think that the exercise that was undertaken by the Department of Education was a very useful one. I think it's one, as I mentioned before, that should be done on a continuous basis, so my first question to the minister is this: despite the release of this document, which obviously is a working paper document, I assume, of some discussions that took place with department officials, and despite the political rhetoric that surrounds the document, is it the intention of the minister to continue with this kind of discussion within the department, first of all, and, secondly, will the way that this document was presented create any difficulties in terms of frank and open discussions in the future, in the minister's view? Does she feel that this may cause some people to have concern because the document ended up in a public forum? What is the minister doing to deal with that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: In response to the member's questions about the minutes of the February 24 and 25 meeting of a couple of dozen of public schools branch employees being made public by the Liberal caucus, I have to say that I do expect that there will be employees who will be reluctant to participate openly in similar sessions in the future when what they had to say at a meeting, where they were looking at how to meet challenges and respond to them, could pose a difficulty. Nonetheless, it's a very good employment practice to involve people at the working level in helping to make changes for the future.
The employees who participated in this team-building exercise sat down, looked at some changes that have been made, and made a number of recommendations about future changes. That is part of how the Department of Education does business.
It's a good thing to have evaluations and to follow up when changes are initiated, considering how effective those changes were and what the future needs might be. I hope that departmental employees will continue to participate in forums like this. I know that the public schools branch intends to continue looking to come up with a good long-range plan to improve the support that they offer to the schools.
I'd also like to mention that I recently attended a Friday afternoon communication session at the Department of Education, and these issues were not raised at that time by the very staff who were present - and did not ask those questions of me. I do know that the management in the department are supportive of personnel expressing their views, and also make a forum for communication among departmental employees on a regular basis to improve communications.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, I don't think the minister should sit back and think that everything's okay, because it's clear. I mean, I have a great deal of difficulty with the way in which this information was released, and I say that primarily because my concern is about what it will do for future meetings like this and whether people will be honest and open and frank in discussing improvements that they'd like to see to the department.
But having said that, the minister has even caused me more concern today when the minister said she met on Friday - or last week - Friday, I believe? Two weeks ago? Oh, the minister met a few weeks ago with officials from the department and some of these people were there but they never raised these issues with them.
My concern is that I don't think people would have raised these issues in a private meeting with Education officials just to be malicious or maybe to stir things up. The type of concerns we have expressed here are real concerns about the way some people think things are working - or not working.
And so, my concern is now that the report is public, there is not much we can do about that. My concern is to ensure that, in the future, the department can still have these kinds of exercises and somehow give confidence to the individuals who were there - and some are named in this report - that they can actually speak their minds freely, recommend changes and point out problems within the department without the feeling of being named publicly or even being named from within the department from one official to another. That's a concern I have.
My other concern, Mr. Chair, is the approach that was taken by the minister. My concern there was that there seemed to be more of a focus by the minister on the Liberals releasing this document than there was from the minister on admitting or accepting that there are serious concerns that have arisen in the department. I mean, to downplay it by saying it's a small group, it's not the whole works - my recommendation to the minister is maybe she should do this kind of an exercise with all of the groups in the Department of Education.
And, in fact, I've had calls from parents and school councils who have suggested that it should be an exercise that might be carried out in all schools in the territory, because I've received letters - as I'm sure the minister has - recently from the Vuntut Gwitchin riding - the Old Crow school - from the Haines Junction school, and from other areas where there are problems. So, is the minister prepared to expand this kind of an exercise to other areas within her department, as well as to suggest to the school councils and others that within each individual school they should sit down and do this kind of planning exercise - where they're at and where they're going, what are their concerns, what are their problems, how do they solve them? Is the minister prepared to do that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, the member starts out by saying that he would like to respect the employees and wants to ensure that they will feel willing to participate, in the future, in a team-building exercise such as the one that occurred in February of last year. I would like to see that continue into the future, too. There is no intent on the part of anyone within the Department of Education to punish anybody for participating in this exercise, for expressing their opinions or, indeed, for providing a copy of the draft version of the minutes to the opposition caucuses.
Having said that, it is our responsibility to look at the goals and priorities for the education system and how we're meeting them. It is my responsibility to be accountable for what the public schools branch, as well as all departments in government, are doing, and for ensuring that they are making improvements. That is a serious responsibility that I am doing to the best of my ability.
I will continue to support this kind of initiative within the department. Individual managers have the right and the ability to manage, and I'm not intending to dictate to them how they manage their departments. I am certainly supportive, since I think that was the member's question, of having small and large groups within the public schools branch, and other sections of the department, look at ways that they can be more effective as a team.
The public schools branch provides support to school-based teams for program delivery and for meeting the needs of students with special needs. I think they have put forward some good recommendations on how to make improvements there, and I look forward to them continuing to do so.
Mr. Phillips: My concern was that the minister's initial response was more one of an attack on the Liberal colleague for releasing the document, and seemed to steer away quite a bit from any discussion or concerns about the information that was laid out in the document. My concern is that the people who spoke and raised these issues had some very strong feelings about what was right and what was wrong, and these people may now feel somewhat let down by the minister, because the minister - and her officials, the senior officials; maybe the deputy minister, and I don't know who else - seemed to be more intent on focusing on the leak of the document rather than the contents of the document.
And my concern is that I heard there was very low morale in the Department of Education, not just in one small unit but in many of the areas of the Department of Education; that there are a lot of frustrated employees over there at the junior level, and I think some of that is reflected in the comments on the current reality assessment.
So, what I'd like to know from the minister is, how serious is the minister going to treat this current reality assessment? The problems seem quite widespread. This was the public schools branch. Well, that's the biggest branch of the Department of Education, and that's the one that has more of a direct effect on most of our students in the territory. So, how is the minister going to deal with the concerns that have been expressed by the individuals who took part in this particular assessment?
I think what's going to have to happen, Mr. Chair, is that the minister is going to have to react quite quickly to some of these recommendations and give some direction to the department on making changes, or the morale that is already low is going to sink lower if the minister brushes it under the table. I would hope that the minister is not going to do that. The minister has got some real problems on her hands and the minister should be treating this as a very serious issue.
Maybe the minister can tell us what action plan - has she met with the group of individuals since this document was released and given them some kind of assurances that, despite the release process, which I believe to be somewhat damaging to this overall type of assessment - has the minister met with those officials to give them assurances that we will be doing something about the recommendations that are in this report?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member's statement that I'm trying to sweep something under the rug is simply not true. I am intent on protecting the confidentiality of employees who participated in a team-building exercise within their staffing unit where the very first ground rule was that what they had to say was confidential. This document is 26 pages in length. It includes the names of several individuals who work within that particular unit of the public schools branch and speaks directly about the different responsibilities that they have. That confidentiality must be protected.
Putting that aside, we can stand here for as many days as you like discussing the directions that have been given to the Department of Education and what we're doing to ensure that that direction is being met.
The followup plan after that planning session includes a number of things. The superintendent organized a meeting with the public schools branch management team to present and review the document. I understand that a number of employees were concerned about the document being made available to the opposition and then released publicly while many of them were out of town, whether they were with Arctic Winter Games or taking family vacations because their children were out of school.
The assistant deputy minister will be making arrangements to meet with the public schools consultants in the next two weeks to kind of debrief on the events that occurred and plan for where we go from here, and to ensure that everyone is aware that management does not intend to identify the informant.
The goal is to reassure staff that the motivation and the outcomes of the workshop are taken seriously by management and by myself. The process of providing a facilitator to work with the larger group of consultants was developed to foster a positive team approach to move forward and to serve students, their families and the school staff as best as they could.
That was the goal that these professional employees brought to bear when they sat down to look at ways of improving their service and of meeting challenges that they faced, and it will continue to be supported as they move toward making improvements. We will continue to listen to what the employees have to say.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, you can't fault me for trying to find out if the minister is planning to do anything about this because, over a year ago, we raised in this House concerns over math marks, and we raised them a year ago, we raised them in November, we raised them in January, we raised them again this spring in this session, and the minister kept saying that everything is under control, don't worry about it, everything's okay. I mean, the first excuse was, this is just the first term mark and not the final mark. Then, this is just the first final mark and not the second one where there's an opportunity to bring these kids back up to standard.
Well, those excuses were rather shallow, and now we're hearing out there from all kinds of parents, school councils and others that there is a real problem with the math, and specifically the new math curriculum for kindergarten to grade seven, and the other things that are going on. This minister has been very, very reluctant to deal with problems until after we've wasted six months or a year of raising them in the House, and this has been at the expense of our students. That's the unfortunate thing. The stubborn attitude of the minister from time to time is costing our students dearly.
I mean, I'm not raising these issues and I didn't raise the issues a year ago to necessarily criticize the minister; I raised them to set off alarm bells. Of course, it seems in these things, Mr. Chair, that everyone runs for cover, everyone gets defensive, and instead of looking at the problem, they try and make up a couple of hundred excuses for the minister to use in the House or publicly that say there isn't a problem at all. Until the building's almost burned to the ground, the minister refuses to say it caught fire.
And I think that's the problem we're in here, and that's why I'm concerned about the action plan as a result of these concerns. There are some employees who are upset with the way this was released, and I share those concerns, because I think it will do damage to this process in the future. But, having that happen and that said, my concern now turns to the issues raised by those employees. And, other than the senior department officials that are fairly severely criticized in this document and being the only ones who are maybe going to meet with the officials who raised the concerns, it seems to me to be a bit of putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop.
I wanted to hear from the minister that the minister feels this is pretty serious and that she would make some public statement that can go through her department which will say that the minister treats each and every one of these comments very seriously, and that the minister maybe will appoint someone independent to look at the problems in the Department of Education, because, by reading this document, it doesn't seem to me, Mr. Chair, that some of the comments made reflect a lot of confidence in the senior officials. I'm talking now about the deputy minister and the very senior officials, and that's why I'm trying to find out from the minister what they are going to do.
Is it just the minister's intention to have just the senior officials in the department, the ones who are mostly criticized in this document, meet with the officials who made the criticisms, and they are going to listen to their concerns and see if they can make changes, or does the minister plan, at any time in the future, to do some kind of an independent evaluation of these concerns?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I think it's important that we don't take an alarmist approach to the concerns that have been expressed. Yes, I take every statement that has been made by these employees seriously. Yes, I encourage departmental employees and government employees to speak their minds and to bring forward problems to be resolved.
There are a number of mechanisms for resolving problems within the work place. The Yukon government employees are represented by a union. They have a grievance process in place under their collective agreement. As well, within departments, managers attempt to ensure there's a good working relationship among employees by such things as supporting a team-building exercise within the public schools branch. All of those systems and all of that work can and should continue, and I will continue to support it.
I'm also willing to meet with employees individually and as a group, with or without senior managers present, if they request that. I've also attended communication sessions at the department in order to make myself available to respond to questions from employees, and I'm willing to continue with that.
So, Mr. Chair, I think we have in place a good working model to encourage staff to present any concerns they have and to have them acted upon. The public schools branch itself will continue with its exercise of looking at ways to improve the services that they deliver to schools and to students.
I think it's really important that we keep in mind that what the public schools branch was wanting to engage in was an exercise to improve the service delivery model available to students in our schools. We need to keep focused on the goals of improving the education system. The employees were focused on that goal, and we're focused on that goal, and I think that we can do some good collaborative work. I know that they will continue to bring forward their recommendations on where we go from here. We do need to respond to all of the criticisms that have been levied, and we will do so.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I do respect the process that the minister's department has undertaken, and share the minister's concerns about the public release of the document, but I do have very strong concerns about some of the comments.
Now, some of the comments in the document, granted, are just the kind of thing that you hear on a day-to-day basis about improving the system, but some of the recommendations are quite profound. Some of the statements are quite profound.
Maybe the minister could take this suggestion as one that might solve some of the problems. Unfortunately, this has become very much a political issue now, because of the release of the document, but maybe what the minister has to do is take it back out of the political forum and also maybe give it some independence. I wonder if the minister would be prepared to continue with this type of process but appoint someone other than existing officials in the department to coordinate this kind of an exercise, and then possibly provide the written recommendations or whatever just to the minister? Then the minister herself, Mr. Chair, would be obligated to give some political direction on improvements to the system. Like I said, many of the criticisms were against the senior management and, in fact, some of the comments were even that our leaders are not here today and yet the leaders are the ones that, it sounds like, are going to have to make changes to these kinds of things, and maybe in some ways it meant that what they were doing at the present time is not working, and some people sometimes are reluctant to do that.
So, would the minister consider moving this into more of an independent process where an individual who has some background in education would be appointed to work with the consultant in carrying on these various kinds of assessments with the employees and seeing whether or not we could get some good recommendations that would flow to the minister?
I can tell the minister that, like I said, we received this document the Monday of the week it was released and appreciated right away that it was a working document and that it named people and that it was the type of process that had to go on not only just in government. Any corporation or business should be doing this kind of thing from time to time as well, to assess where they're going.
As the minister says, probably the first thing that was reiterated to all those employees at that meeting was, "You can say whatever you want, because everything you say is going to stay in this room." The employees felt that they had the confidence of whoever said that, whoever was the team leader at that meeting that that would happen. And, of course, it didn't. Now that it is public knowledge, it's important for the minister to react to the issues.
Even more important, since the public confidence has been betrayed for some of those individuals who thought they were speaking in confidence, the minister has to show them in a much stronger way that she is concerned about these issues, that she takes this process very seriously and that the minister wants to ensure impartiality and maybe take it away from the superiors who were going to be involved in it and move it into an independent realm. Will the minister consider doing something like that to give it a little more strength and to provide for some of the independence that some of these people might want to see now?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, the member opposite can stop politicizing the departmental staff the minute that he stops quoting specific, negative comments made by specific individual employees as printed in that document, taking them out of context and quoting them in this House. That is politicizing the employees.
The member has made a suggestion that I consider having this process go to some independent, outside arbiter. That's an interesting suggestion and I am prepared to consider it. What I have to say for the benefit of the member opposite is that the employees themselves are the ones who have been lost in all of this. They have not made any request for their "how can we be a better team and provide a better service to students and school teams" and the process they were engaged in to enhance that or asked for ministerial intervention in that process. They have not done that. They may make that comment among themselves when they go back to work, and I'm certainly prepared to consider any options that are brought forward either by the member opposite or by the employees within the department.
I do have to respond, however, to the member's statements that there's no direction and we need to be talking about what the direction is so that Education employees know what they're doing. We have a direction for education in this territory. The Department of Education knows what the direction of the Yukon government is when it comes to providing an education system that meets the needs in our schools and in our communities.
First and foremost, we are back on track with implementing the goals and objectives of the Education Act. We are restoring and rebuilding partnerships with the school communities, with school councils, with parents, with teachers, with First Nations.
We are ensuring that the principle of a child-centred education system, where you educate the whole child, is one that people understand we're committed to. We continue to support the integration of students with special needs in the schools. We want to provide a safe and respectful learning environment in all of our schools around the territory. We want to improve gender equity and to provide equal opportunity for all the students.
We are working with youth. We established, for instance, the Youth Works trust fund so that youth themselves can make decisions on how to best spend monies on youth training programs and work and lifeskills programs.
We are supporting the school improvement program, which is an internal model where the school communities work with departmental officials and plan for a five-year period over how they can improve learning for students and enhance the school environment.
So, we have a focus on positive change. We support the school-based team approach that was one of the specific changes that public schools branch employees wanted to assess and evaluate.
Assessing and evaluating what we do is critically important, particularly for the Department of Education. Curriculum doesn't stay the same; curriculum changes over time. We're not teaching the same things that we taught 20 years ago or 50 years ago. That wouldn't make any sense. It's a different world; it's a different economy.
We evaluate the curriculum changes that we made. And similarly, as a department, the professionals who support the overall direction of the education system evaluate the work that they do and look for ways of improving it. We will continue to support them in that process, and I think we need to make sure that the focus is on the issues, not on individual employees.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, it's quite discouraging to hear this minister. She just went on for probably five minutes and talked about how great our education system is in the territory and how good this government is doing to get everyone on track. And yet that's not what I'm hearing out there from the people, from the people in the math departments to the people at various schools, from the letters we're receiving from Old Crow and Haines Junction and Dawson City - the problems in Porter Creek - and now from her own department. One after the other, they're lining up saying that there are real problems in this system under this minister, and the minister keeps saying, "Everything is nice. Everything is rosy. Everything is great."
Mr. Chair, everything isn't great, and I think what the general public wants to hear from the minister is that there are some real problems in the schools, in the Department of Education and in some other areas of education, that the minister is prepared to deal with, and not prepared to just stand up and say, "Don't worry. Be happy. Everything is okay." That's what the minister is saying.
I think the people are rather discouraged, and I think today the people that were involved in this current reality assessment will be even more discouraged by the minister.
The minister said that I shouldn't quote things out of context. My point was, Mr. Chair, that we didn't release any names. We didn't release this document. We received the document and kept it confidential. It was released by the Liberal Party for whatever reasons they felt, but there are some things in this document that, after it does become public, need some serious consideration.
The minister just seems bound and determined to focus on the release of the document as one attack, and the other deflection is, "Eeverything's just fine; we're working with the new Education Act, and we're getting back on track, and everybody's quite happy." Well, I don't think they are quite happy at all, Mr. Chair.
I received a letter today from several concerned parents in Old Crow. I think that the minister has a copy of that letter as well. Some very serious accusations are made. One of the concerns is there are a lot of field trips - 40 to 55 days on field trips a year, from January to June. Does the minister feel that that's an average amount of field trips? Does the minister support that approach, in light of the concerns that were raised by this group of parents from Old Crow?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member opposite is not being accurate in his reflection of what I've been saying. The member stood here and indicated that he felt there was no direction being provided, and so I responded, as is my obligation, to tell him what the direction is. I think that that's an important thing to put on the public record.
For the last half an hour or so, we have been talking about some issues that were raised in the released document, and how we as a department, and how I as a minister, propose to deal with them in the future. We are taking them seriously, as I keep repeating, and we will continue to strive for improvement.
The member asked questions, as well, about a letter received from some parents in Old Crow. He asked specifically about the number of field trips. First of all, I do not know if the number, as reported, is accurate.
I also have spoken with the chief and council of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation about education in their community. Understandably, this year, while students are housed in temporary classrooms and a new school is being constructed, the facilities are not as good as we would like to have available. I think that people are doing their best with the facilities that are there. I understand that, at the present time, the school council is holding a meeting to talk with chief and council and with concerned parents about their concerns and about how to respond to them. Some of the comments that have been made do relate to personnel. The superintendent and the assistant deputy minister will be in Old Crow this week and will meet with parents and with the school council to respond to their concerns.
Mr. Phillips: Sorry, Mr. Chair, I missed that last part. The minister said officials were going to Old Crow?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The superintendent for the area and the assistant deputy minister will be in Old Crow later this week and will meet with parents as well as with the school council and the chief and council or other members who have expressed an interest in talking to them.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, this is a question, I guess, primarily about the Education Act. One of the issues raised by the people of Old Crow is that there have been no school elections since October 24, 1996. Is there a requirement to hold mandatory elections annually? I can't recall. It says here that the minister normally appoints them, and I can remember that happening quite often, where names were put forward and you appointed them. But is there a requirement to hold an election, and appointment only happens after, say, no one is nominated to the school council?
Maybe the minister could get back to me on that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: School council elections, according to the Education Act, are held every three years. If there are not enough candidates to hold an election, then the candidates who have submitted their names are appointed; they are acclaimed into the position if there are not enough candidates to conduct an election.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I imagine that the officials going to Old Crow are going to meet with the teachers, the principal and others. Are they going to call a public meeting in Old Crow and meet with concerned parents, as well? What is their intent? There's a list of a dozen families, which would comprise, if everyone in those families was supportive, a significant portion of the residents in Old Crow. I just wonder whether or not it is the minister's intention to call a meeting with the group that wrote this letter. What is the minister's intent for the officials when they go to Old Crow?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Their intent was to meet with the chief and council, since the chief and council contacted us with some concerns and requested a meeting. As well, they will meet with the school council and with the school staff. I will have to come back with an answer as to whether they're holding a public meeting while they're there.
Mr. Phillips: If this spokesperson for this group contacts the minister, would they consider meeting with the group, as a group, if that's what they wish to do? I'm not sure what the protocol is for that kind of thing, but they have expressed some strong concerns here. Does the minister feel that the school council, and/or the band that they're going to meet with, will express and carry forward the concerns of this group?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, it's very important for the school council to be involved, since they do have responsibilities under the act, and since we think it's important to ensure there's school council input on decisions related to education within individual school communities. Of course, the Education officials who are going to Old Crow would be happy to meet with these parents as a group, if they wanted to have a separate meeting - if they didn't want to come to the meeting with the school council.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, I would hope that the minister will deal with this issue fairly quickly, and hopefully solve some of the concerns that are expressed in Old Crow about the system, that it doesn't appear to be - from some people's views - working very satisfactorily.
While we're on Old Crow and I see we have the Government Services minister present, maybe in a very short, brief and concise report that minister might tell us where we're at with the Old Crow road and the materials going to Old Crow.
Actually, Mr. Chair, if the Minister of Education knows the details, I'd prefer that that minister answer. Other than that, if there's more that the Government Services minister can offer us, I'd even listen to him for a few brief moments.
Maybe the minister could bring us up to speed.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Deputy Chair: Ms. Moorcroft.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister of Government Services ...
Deputy Chair: Ms. Moorcroft.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: ... and -
Deputy Chair: Order for a second. Order please. Try to stay seated while the member's still speaking, please. Don't be standing up, so impatient. It makes my job a little easier and keeps some decorum. Okay, you can begin. Okay, Mr. Sloan.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I can see the rampant enthusiasm for me responding to this, so I'll be quite brief. The road is still there. We've been monitoring it quite a bit last week because we were concerned about the weather.
The latest report that I had -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yeah, starting at kilometre zero. No, actually, the road conditions have held. We're monitoring it on a daily basis; it's running at night. Basically, we believe that we will make the 28th date. Wednesday will be kind of a crunch point for us, because DIA is going to be doing a review of it. All going well, if it holds to the 28th, we would start decomissioning on the 29th and the subsequent three days.
A good deal of material has arrived. We had some delay, believe it or not, by a snowstorm in southern Canada. One of the shipments that had yet to leave was the prestained siding, and that left on Monday, so we're expecting that it will be here Wednesday, and hopefully in Old Crow by Thursday.
The reports that I have from truckers travelling the road indicate that they're travelling somewhat faster than what we had planned on - that they're doing the round trip in about 24 hours. We had originally thought it would be 30 hours plus. But the road seems to be holding. As a matter of fact, in some ways the thaw is actually helping us by the compaction of the snow. So that's just an update.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, I know this might be a painful experience for the minister, but if he could cast his mind back to the discussion about the trusses for the Old Crow school, one of the reasons given at the time was that it was timing and that these other trusses would be here and would be on site. Are the trusses going to make the opening of the road, or are we going to have to fly these trusses in to Old Crow?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, we're anticipating that the trusses will make it in. Our primary concern right now is the siding, because that was completed on the weekend, and hopefully we can get that in by Thursday. But no, we expect that the trusses and the glulams will be shipped in. We also have the hollow, steel supports that are being fabricated here in Whitehorse. They are being picked up, and they will be picked up this week and brought up there.
Mr. Phillips: I don't have any further questions of this minister at this time, so that's probably all we'll need to hear from him, Mr. Chair, and I thank him for his response.
Mr. Chair, we also received a copy of a letter that went to the principal and the staff of the St. Elias Community School. There are some concerns about goings-on at the school and the approach that some are taking in the school with respect to some of the residents and, I believe, the new principal of the school. Can the minister bring us up to speed on what's happening there? Are these problems solved? This letter that I've seen is dated February 5. Have the minister's officials gone to Haines Junction to look into the matter and made a report to the minister?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, the officials have travelled to Haines Junction and are working with the Haines Junction community. I cannot make a lot of comments about what is essentially a personnel issue at the school. I can say that we are diligently observing both the collective agreement that is in place and the Education Act, which sets out procedures to deal with personnel matters. The school council is fully involved and the department is working with the school and the school council.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, the minister sent us over a copy of the answers to the technical briefing and I have a couple of questions resulting from that.
I seem to recall that in the last election campaign the New Democratic Party committed to expanding the school in Old Crow to accommodate grade 12. In a document that we received from the minister, signed by an assistant deputy minister, it says, "We would anticipate that, if grade expansion in Old Crow were to proceed, we would phase it in at the beginning of grade 10 in September 1999."
Is it now an "if" rather than an absolute, for sure? Because I thought initially that the government announced that it would happen in their A Better Way. And in their documents in the last election, I'm sure they talked about grade 12 going into Old Crow. In fact, I think there were even some statements in the budget about grade 12 going into Old Crow - in some of the statements in the House.
So, I'm just asking the minister if this is something that we're going to discuss with the school council at Old Crow or if it's a commitment that has already been made. What's happening with it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I've met with people in Old Crow about their desire to see an expansion of the senior grades in the Old Crow community. We are willing to work toward that, although I do not recall there being an election commitment dealing with the specific grade offerings in Old Crow or any other communities. Nonetheless, where we have senior grade offerings being expanded in rural communities, it often helps with student retention.
We have money in the budget to begin developing a rural programming model that can be used to address the unique needs of Old Crow. We know that there are small enrollments in that community, as in many of the rural communities, and we will need a model for offering the senior grades that's different from what we use in larger communities. We cannot offer the same program for a group of half a dozen students as we can offer for several students, where we have several teachers teaching several different courses.
We will work with the community of Old Crow on grade expansion and have money in the budget for developing a rural programming model that can meet those needs.
Mr. Phillips: That's not a problem that's just associated with Old Crow. I think it's a problem that's associated with every rural school - the numbers issues and whether you can afford to have a biology teacher, a chemistry teacher, a math teacher and those kinds of skills in a small community, teaching anywhere from two to 20 students. I know it's a problem in all areas.
Maybe I'll suggest to the minister then that one area they might look at is with the new technology. I am not sure of the cost of this kind of thing, but you are offering programs at the two new high schools, of course, for full-class complements in grades 10, 11 and 12. Maybe there's some way, in the near future, for some type of a satellite linkup, as they do at Yukon College.
With some of our more remote communities, although we possibly wouldn't have to have a teacher of each one of these subjects in the community, we could offer some satellite uplinks with the students though either Yukon College at Old Crow or through the new school itself. So, maybe the minister could consider something like that. Has the minister given that any kind of consideration?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, Mr. Chair, and as the member may be aware, there is money in the capital budget for distance education. We presently have Internet links in most, if not all, of the public schools in the Yukon school system. I believe there are a few more that have yet to be connected to the Internet, but they will be soon, and that does enhance the ability to increase the programs that are offered in rural communities. Using technology to best advantage within the education system is an important part of the goals we have for the education system. It is possible to increase distance education capabilities in Old Crow, and we're working on exactly that.
Mr. Phillips: I'm talking about a little more sophisticated, I suppose, linkup with a classroom-type instructional linkup that happens. So, that's the kind of idea that I was thinking about.
Mr. Chair, I want to move over to my riding for a second. There's an organization in Riverdale called the Riverdale Community Association, which is working very hard on all kinds of projects. One of the projects is beautifying Riverdale and I think it's called Riverdale Blooms. I know each year the Government of Yukon spends a significant amount of money on landscaping around our schools and our existing buildings, and my suggestion to the minister is that this year they contact the individuals in Riverdale Blooms - I believe Jenny Trapnell is one of the individuals involved in the Riverdale Community Association - and work with them with respect to any landscaping dollars that are spent there so they tie it in with the type of landscaping plans and that kind of thing they're doing in Riverdale. I think it would be a useful exercise to do that.
Can the minister give us those assurances that her department, in landscaping, will work with those types of small community organizations and groups?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I'd like to thank the departmental officials who are listening and making a note of that, and I'll get back to the member.
Mr. Phillips: I hope that was a positive response from the minister. I'm not sure.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: The minister said, "Absolutely. You betcha." So, we'll look forward to the next Riverdale Community Association meeting where they tell us that they've just received a call from the Department of Education and they are going to work hand in hand with that great organization to help beautify one of the nicest parts of our fair city.
Mr. Chair, I want to go now into the new math curriculum K to 7.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: We'll get onto that later.
There has been a lot of difficulty in implementing the new course of studies, especially in split grades. This is the language-based program where students have varied language skills. Is there any consideration being given to hiring some more teachers or aides to help with the implementation of the new program?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, first of all, Mr. Chair, I think I need to make the obvious point that implementing a new curriculum is not new; it's something that's done on a regular basis. When the previous government was in office, curriculum changes were made. The new math curriculum that has been introduced is being phased in in the way that all curriculum is being phased in, where it takes a full three years for the curriculum to be fully in place. During the first year that the new curriculum is offered, the existing resource material is still available.
The new math curriculum was implemented as part of the work of the western Canadian protocol on curriculum, and there is increased work on harmonization of the curriculum across the western provinces for math, as well as for science, language arts and social studies.
Given the level of criticism that there has been about the new curriculum, I do want to make sure the member is aware of some of the support that has been offered to teachers and to schools and students, in implementing this new curriculum.
There have been inservices offered for teachers, there has been extra help available on the lunch hours and after schools for students, and there has been work with departmental employees coming to help teachers in implementing that new curriculum. We will continue to do that, and to make the curriculum consultants available to help teachers in implementing the new math curriculum.
We don't have plans, at this stage, to hire additional staff for that, but we can continue to allocate, as a priority, the departmental resources for math teachers to aid them in implementing that new curriculum.
Mr. Phillips: The minister says we implement new curriculum all the time, and we do have support for the implementation of that curriculum, but it appears to me that there seems to be a lot more growing pains this time with this curriculum than there has been with other implementation of curriculum.
So, how would the minister rate this? Does she figure this is what's happening now, and all the rumblings and grumblings we're hearing from parents, teachers, YTA and others, is normal with the implementation of new curriculum, or does she feel that this one seems to be a little more complicated than some of the others, and maybe requires a little more effort on behalf of the department to assist the teachers and individuals working on the implementation? Does the minister feel that what we're seeing now is just normal? Is that the impression the minister has?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member's not asking one short, specific question, because it's not just the implementation of the new math curriculum that has been raised by the member opposite as a concern. The member also has asked a number of questions about the math results at F.H. Collins High School and the concerns that he had with that. When we look at the SAIP testings, which give a more complete picture of the Yukon math students, we do see an improvement over the last time those tests were done three years ago.
It's important, too, that we continue to evaluate and improve the reliability and the validity of the territorial examinations, so we have had a look at the math tests that have been provided and we've looked to students and have evaluated the test instrument as part of looking at how Yukon students were doing in math. Two test designers from Alberta were brought to the territory to work with Yukon teachers on test design and question development, and the information that we gathered from that will be used in developing the exam for 1998-99. Both the difficulty level and the design of the test, as it presently stands, were questioned. The school mark should, according to the assessment officials and the departmental professionals, be five to 10 percent higher than the territorial examination mark, and the Department of Education made that recommendation also in consultation with other jurisdictions.
The existing guidelines, in relation to the acceptable range of differences between school-awarded marks and the territorial examination marks, will be reviewed by the departmental assessment committee. This is consistent with the guidelines that B.C. and Alberta have established for achievement tests and for provincial exams. So, there is work needed to improve the evaluation in looking at the high school math.
The implementation of the math curriculum, following the framework developed by the western provinces and two territories, began during the 1997-98 school year. We do have a two-tiered academic math program offered, as well as a consumer math option that sets out learning outcomes for different difficulty levels of the math curriculum. We will continue to look at the best assessment models to use and to also ensure that we're providing support to the teachers who are implementing this new curriculum.
I think that one reason that it has been difficult is that the new math curriculum is problem-based. It requires language skills, as well as math skills. Now, language skills are fundamental to learning. That's one of the reasons why we think it's important that we support early intervention programs, like the reading recovery program, because if you can read well, you can also do math well. You do require language skills in order to do well in math.
I think that we'll get over this hump. As we continue to offer inservices and professional support and resource materials to the teaching profession, as well as extra help for students in the schools, that we'll see the new curriculum being implemented more smoothly next year, as we move into the second year.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I asked the question as to whether the minister felt it was normal or abnormal or whatever and I never really got an answer to that, other than the minister laid out what they're doing, but it sounds to me, though, that the minister is not prepared to commit any more resources to it at the present time than what is already there. So, I guess we'll see.
My fear, Mr. Chair, is that elementary teachers are now being overloaded with work as a result of trying to implement the new curriculum, which requires students to have a good handle on the English language. I think that points to what many students don't have at the present time and that points to another problem in our schools that we haven't dealt with.
Has the minister met with YTA and the school councils to discuss these immediate concerns in the last few weeks and can the minister bring us up to speed on what she has heard from the YTA or school councils if she has met with them?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I have a meeting with school councils coming up soon. I have also previously discussed this issue with the YTA. I think it's fair to say that the YTA does not have the same view of matters as the official opposition critic does. There are concerns about the education system performing well and that's understandable. That's the role of the Yukon Teachers Association to look after the interests of their members who are the teaching force in the Yukon. Nonetheless, it seems to me that there was a recognition that the department was providing the support that it could and that we were working on improving that support so that the curriculum could be implemented well with the appropriate support measures in place from the department.
Mr. Phillips: The minister wasn't really specific on YTA not sharing my view. Maybe the minister can tell us what YTA's view was, as expressed to the minister, with respect to this problem. What did they tell the minister?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I don't have with me my notes from the meeting that I had with the YTA, and I don't want to put words in other people's mouths and quote comments when I don't have notes to refer back to, so I'm just going to take the member's question under advisement.
Mr. Phillips: I don't have a problem with that, but the minister shouldn't say that they don't share my views, if she's not prepared to tell us what views they do share, or to share their views with us. I mean, I'd like to know where the difference is, or where the minister thinks the difference is, at least.
I want to move on to another area, and that's YNTEP. Has the minister had any discussions with the YNTEP steering committee, and has the YNTEP steering committee given any additional thought and passed it on to the minister, about the future of the program, where the program is at the present time, whether it's been successful or not?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft:
I want to be fair to the member opposite, and he's right. I indicated that YTA did not share his views. I guess when I said that, what I was referring to was the fact that the YTA do not allege, as the opposition critic has, that there is a crisis in math teaching and math marks in the Yukon.
Now, the Yukon native teacher education program negotiations - the Yukon government has an agreement with the University of Regina for the delivery of the YNTEP program at Yukon College. There is a steering committee in place, which includes the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Kaska and Yukon College. They are working on an agreement to bring forward for approval and for formal signature.
I have not been part of those negotiations, directly. With the collaboration of Yukon First Nations, we believe that new arrangements can be developed with Yukon College and the University of Regina that can be satisfactory to everyone concerned and ensure that First Nations continue to have strong representation in the school system.
Our government remains committed to the goals and objectives of the Yukon native teacher education program, and we're supporting this process of negotiating a new agreement with participation from the academic institutions and from First Nations directly.
Mr. Phillips: Can the minister tell me if she thinks the YNTEP program now is working fine? Is she happy with the program the way it is?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, that's not a simple question to answer. The Yukon native teacher education program, like the inequities it seeks to redress, has challenges to face. At the present time, we do not have a strong representation in the Yukon teaching force of First Nations people. That's one of the reasons that the YNTEP program was established.
The enrollment is not as strong as we would like to see it and people involved in the program - teaching the program, taking the program, and First Nations leadership - are working to increase the level of recruitment within the communities so that we can see more First Nation teachers in Yukon classrooms.
The member is also aware of the First Nations education review that was done and some of the recommendations that it made about improvements to a whole range of programs that serve the interests of First Nations. We are in support of making those improvements and are working with First Nations on how to respond to that.
Mr. Phillips: I thought I asked for this before in the technical briefing, but maybe I didn't.
Maybe the minister could provide us with a complete breakdown of the number of students that are in the program now. I thought I asked for that and I don't see it here, but I might be overlooking it. Anyway, if I could get that, what I really want to know is how many students have enrolled since it started, how many students have completed and how many of those students are now teaching in Yukon schools.
I have to tell the minister I've heard some pretty strong complaints about the program. One of the complaints that I heard most recently was that the program is a First Nations-only, of course, program, but it's not just Yukon First Nations only, and what I'm hearing is that there are a few people coming from other jurisdictions, enrolling in our program, which ends up costing the Yukon taxpayer a significant amount of money, because we virtually subsidize the program, completing the program and then going to work in other provinces - not moving into Yukon schools but going into other provinces and territories. So, we end up doing the training, subsidizing the training, and then we don't really do what we want to do with respect to Yukon schools, and that is to increase the number of First Nations teachers in the classrooms, because some of them leave.
Maybe the minister could also tell me at the same time how many of the graduates that have graduated from this program are still teaching in our Yukon schools, and maybe a breakdown of the schools in the Yukon and the numbers of YNTEP graduates that have gone to them. Have they gone to primarily rural schools? Maybe just a breakdown of the 28 or so schools in the territory and which one of them have YNTEP graduates currently in them? That kind of thing.
Then, Mr. Chair, I also raised with the minister an issue, which was a personnel issue. In relation to that, I discussed an evaluation of the overall program. It's been in place now for many years. Where are we going? How successful has the program been? Are we meeting our goals? Are the various schools out there that have YNTEP graduates in their program satisfied with the calibre of graduate? That kind of thing. I just ask the minister for her thoughts on that for the public record, if the minister could let us know how she feels.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I believe that the information that the member requested has been prepared, because I believe that I have also seen a breakdown of the numbers of graduates that have been in the program and where they're presently employed; however, we cannot find that piece of paper right now, so we will locate it and get it to the member.
To respond to his question about the value of the program overall and what school principals have to say about YNTEP graduates who come up and teach in their schools after they've completed their program, I think for the most part those teachers have been very successful in the schools where they are teaching.
The First Nation education review was, in part, an evaluation of that program, in that YNTEP was one of a number of programs that it looked at. They made a number of recommendations for possible changes. We're still working through those recommendations with First Nations and meeting with them to look at how we respond overall to recommendations that were made about improvements in First Nations education, both in the Yukon native teacher education program, in language instruction and in other areas.
The member raises a very good point, that it is important to evaluate programs and to ensure their success, and we will in the future be looking for ways to make improvements to that program.
Mr. Phillips: My suggestion to the minister, again, is that it be an independent evaluation, so that it's not done by the government or done by First Nations - it's done by somebody independent who makes the report available to the First Nations and the government on the successes or failures of the program.
But even more broad than that, is there any opportunity for existing teachers in our system - whether they be YNTEP grads or any other grads from any other jurisdiction - if there's concerns about their teaching methods, or just concerns - say they get an evaluation; we evaluate teachers all the time - is there a program where we offer the teachers an opportunity to go back and bone up, so to speak, on some of the things that they think they're lacking? I mean, do we have that kind of thing when we do an evaluation, or do we just do an evaluation, give them the evaluation, and if it's good or bad - is there any retraining offered, is what I'm asking, for those teachers who are involved?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: When a student teacher is evaluated, when they're paired with a classroom instructor for their placements as part of their education, that evaluation may - and often does - include a recommendation that the student teacher go back and work on a particular skill or a particular area.
The agreement between the Yukon Teachers Association and the government also provides for a number of professional development opportunities for all the teaching staff, whether they're YNTEP graduates or not. Professional development is a very important component of teaching, because the education system does change. When you're teaching students, you want to be current and be giving them an education, so that they can be current when they go out into the workforce, or into society.
I indicated previously that the First Nations education review provided recommendations that both the government and First Nations were looking at, and that was an independent review. It was conducted by a consultant and, in fact, it was the previous government who put out that tender, which was awarded to a local contractor. The report was completed after the change in government.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, the minister and I have talked about an example, and my concern is that what I'm hearing now is that the process that's involved in evaluation takes some time. You just don't go in and evaluate once and make a decision. There's a series of evaluations to determine whether or not things are fine.
So, my concern is, in the case where there is strong representation made by school councils, principals and others about these kinds of things, is there a mechanism by which we can accelerate the process and offer assistance - re-training assistance or anything - to an individual who may request it or may need it, or whatever? Is there any way we can accelerate it, or does it just run the normal course of events that sometimes can take a year or more?
My concern again then is, if there are concerns being expressed by principals or school councils, that there's a bunch of students who are involved in this as well, and we want to make sure that not only do we get a quick handle on the problem and offer assistance to the individual teaching, but also at the same time make sure that the students are not left out of the equation. So, that's my concern. I'm hearing that the process is a little long and that in some cases there needs to be - not all cases, but in most average cases, I think the process probably handles it, but there may be some cases where we have to react a little quicker, and I just wonder if there's any mechanism under the Education Act or any other processes by which the department can react to deal with a problem.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, the member's trying to skirt around identifying a specific concern in a specific school with a specific teacher, and I do want him to know that I understand what he's saying and that the personnel matters have been dealt with satisfactorily, I believe, and I'm not going to go into that any further.
The member referred to the process being long. We have in place a number of documents that govern how the process works. We have an Education Act. We have a collective agreement between the Yukon Teachers Association and the government. Superintendents work with school administrators and with teachers to resolve problems as quickly and easily as possible. However, we do observe the process that is in place according to the act and the agreement.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, let me give the minister a hypothetical example. There is an issue that arises out there where there's a concern by school councils or principals or others that there are some skills that are lacking, and they want to deal with the issue.
What I'm concerned about is that there's some mechanism where, if an individual took a leave of absence or an individual took a year off or something, and came back into the system, that the problems would be addressed rather than the individual just going to another school or going to another area - that we'd offer assistance to that individual, or retraining or whatever. I mean, is there a process at all?
Say if someone decided that the hassles or the trouble they were getting was too much and they wanted to take a year off, and they took a year off. What's preventing them, after taking the year off - which they're entitled to - from just coming back and moving into another school without any upgrading, retraining, anything at all, just moving into another school and picking up where they left off? And then we find out six or eight months down the road that we haven't solved the problem; we've just relocated it to another school. That's my concern: that we offer some kind of assistance to an individual or individuals who are out there who are having some difficulties, and we make sure that people who go into our classrooms have the best of qualifications. That's all I'm looking for, is some assurance from the minister that there is a process out there that you won't just be shifted from school A to school B.
That solves the problem in school A, but it doesn't solve the problem in school B. All I want is assurance from the minister that it will be taken care of.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: If a teacher requires some additional instruction in an area or if there are weaknesses identified during the performance, the superintendent may recommend summer courses in certain areas. Through the evaluation process, we have a mechanism where recommendations can be made on how to improve a teacher's performance. We don't see teachers being transferred to one school because they were unable to perform satisfactorily at another school. If there is a performance problem, that is addressed through the normal employee evaluation process and followed up on.
I don't know if that's the assurance that the member was looking for, but I can tell him that we do strive to ensure that teachers have the qualifications that they require. That sometimes comes down to specific recommendations of a teacher taking certain summer courses in order to improve.
Mr. Phillips: That gets me most of the way there, but my concern would be that the evaluation process wasn't quite complete. Maybe the minister could give me assurances that if a teacher took some time off and then came back into the system we would sort of continue from where we left off, and that the superintendent would move into the school and complete the evaluation process before the teacher would be given free room to move again, as they do when they're fully qualified and they come into a classroom. That's my concern: that they wouldn't just fall back into the line of evaluations, because I know that those don't get done that often, and that it might be two or three years before that teacher was re-evaluated. That would be my concern, because if there was a problem and we had it partially identified previously and then the person took some time off and then they came back and we didn't do anything about it for three years, we might find out three years from now that the problem is as big as ever and we didn't deal with it.
All I want from the minister are assurances that if we make preliminary findings that a teacher needs some assistance we react fairly quickly, and before we put the teacher in another classroom setting we make sure that we are assured that that individual is up to speed with the teaching qualifications. That's all I'm asking.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, that's done. Furthermore, in order to take a leave for a year, a teacher must submit an application for leave, and there is an approval process in place. You can't simply apply for a leave in order to leave a problem behind you. It's still dealt with when a person comes back from leave if, indeed, their leave application is approved.
Deputy Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a 10-minute recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: Carried.
Deputy Chair: I will call Committee back to order.
We're on the estimates for the Department of Education. Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Phillips: Violence in the schools is an issue that has risen again. In fact, it was reported about a week and a half ago now that a number of parents and teachers got together in Dawson City to discuss the behaviour of some students at the Robert Service School in Dawson. The meeting came in response to a recent incident when the school principal's home was vandalized with graffiti. There also seems to be a general consensus that a number of problem students aren't being dealt with properly and that there's a lack of discipline and the destructive incidents were harming other students in the community at large.
Mr. Chair, whether this is senseless teasing or as serious as an assault, it appeared that the City of Dawson and the residents of Dawson have had just about enough. One of the radio stations interviewed a woman who said that she had given up totally on the school and would rather see her children be educated elsewhere.
It's also my understanding that the school administration has agreed to review its discipline procedures, and a questionnaire has been sent out to parents to determine the number of students who have complained about the problems. I think that's a good idea and a positive step forward in trying to resolve the serious issue.
But violence in the schools is not isolated to one school. I just draw the members back to last fall, when two young women were severely beaten by four female students in a planned attack that took place at F.H. Collins Secondary School. This incident prompted calls from concerned parents, as well as a number of questions on the actions that were taken by school officials. I know the minister was on the radio today, on the phone-in show. I believe there were some parents who called in and were concerned about violence in our schools.
My colleague for Porter Creek North wrote a letter to the minister at that time, asking if the department was working on a policy and what measures the government was taking in the meantime. The minister wrote back that a more detailed procedure for detailing the student confrontations was being developed by school staff and administration. I wonder if the minister could take some time here today to relate to us what measures have been adopted by the F.H. Collins Secondary School, as well as other schools in the territory, to address the problem.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, as the member knows, there are a number of things that are being done and I will get to that in a minute and speak about some of them.
The member started out with referring to a meeting in Dawson City. I had an interesting discussion with the school council members in Dawson City, as well as with citizens who had some comments to make about the media reports.
First of all, as the member is probably aware, the chair of the school council thought that the articles in the paper had been written about a different meeting, because the meeting that she was at did not address the comments that were appearing in the media. That may be because one person who was interviewed by the media had not been present at a school council meeting.
Nonetheless, one of the things that is happening is that schools themselves, who have the responsibility for discipline plans, are working with communities to ensure that the discipline plan is one that is acceptable to parents and meets community needs.
If a child doesn't learn respect in the home, they have a hard time being respectful to other students on the playground or to people in the school. So, this is not just a school problem; it's a community problem. We're working with the Department of Education and individual school councils being part of community action plans on how to reduce violence in schools and outside of schools.
What are some of the measures that we have in place? We offer a non-violent crisis intervention training workshop, and that's provided to help teaching staff, or even school volunteers, use basic crisis intervention techniques to try and avoid violent confrontation. There are three qualified instructors in the Department of Education available to provide this training to all schools.
To date, 16 Yukon schools have at least one staff person trained. Six schools have provided the non-violent crisis intervention training for the entire school staff and the training has also been provided to office staff at the department.
The RCMP school resource officer program is in place at F.H. Collins, Porter Creek and Vanier secondary schools where RCMP officers are in the school for a half day a week to meet with students and teachers as necessary. They're not there to fulfill an enforcement role. The RCMP are in the school so that they have some exposure to students and vice versa. The space that they have within the school has become an informal community police station. I think it's important to recognize that building good relationships between youth and the RCMP is a positive step.
The second step program is another one that I should give the member an update on. All Yukon school councillors attended a three-day training workshop for the second step program, which is a child abuse awareness and violence prevention program covering the age range from kindergarten to grade 9.
Recently, a number of school council members and school staff attended a gender-equity training session. We've also had a Red Cross abuse-prevention program begin. A number of community members have taken training for this program, and we're now looking at expanding it beyond Whitehorse and into the communities. We also have in place a comprehensive guidance and counselling program, as well as a bully-prevention program.
So, safe schools initiatives are underway throughout the Yukon. We have a contact person in the department who liaises with the schools directly, and we are continuing to work because it is not a problem that will be solved in one day by one action; it's something that needs the investment of a lot of energy, both at this level and at the family level and at the community and the school level.
Mr. Phillips: I'm assuming that the programs that the minister just laid out are new initiatives as a result of the safe-schools initiative, that she didn't just list ongoing programs that were there previously. Because what I was hoping to hear from the minister - and what I hope I did hear it - is that these programs the minister laid out are some new initiatives to prevent violence in the school.
Can the minister tell me if these new procedures and these new actions have been communicated to the parents whose children have been the victims of violence in the schools over the past couple of years? I have a couple of residents in my riding whose children have been victims of violence. I wonder, other than communication from their own school council, has the minister sought to communicate with the complainants or the victims of the various school violent actions that have taken place that we're aware of. Have we tried to do that or have we just left it up to the school councils to pass on that information?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As far as I am aware, any parents who have written, either to me or to the department, about their concerns with violence have been responded to and have been informed of the work that has been undertaken.
As well, I know that many of the school council newsletters that I have seen refer to these programs and inform parents and the school community when these programs are offered or when there is new training provided to the teaching staff in a particular school.
I think that there's been a serious effort to ensure that the public and the parents are informed of what's happening in the schools to deal with violence prevention programs and with positive actions for Yukon youth.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I'm sure we'll all check with our constituents that have contacted us in the past to find out whether or not they have been informed, and if they haven't I'll certainly get back to the minister and pass on that message to the minister.
During the Yukon Party term in office, a discipline policy was drafted and sent out to each of the student councils with regard to a framework for disciplining students in the schools. It was developed partly because in some schools, in particular rural schools, there were situations where kids were just kicked out of school and were seen wandering the streets without having any steps in place to involve parents or the kid to take on their own responsibility.
Within the framework, there needs to be a certain amount of flexibility to deal with different kinds of discipline and the steps that ought to be taken in a discipline situation, ensuring that the autonomy of each school council is not undermined.
Each of these steps included first steps that you take with the student, to getting the principal involved, to getting the parents involved, to removing the child from class, and eventually expulsion.
There were different procedures for different kinds of discipline problems in schools. Has the minister thought of adopting a similar set of procedures for various schools, like a standard of some type? Do we have that developed now, or are we working on it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I believe that the framework is still in effect where departmental policies include a draft discipline policy that individual school councils can then take and tailor to meet their needs. There are obviously going to be differences between an elementary school and a secondary school, for instance. There might be community variables - if you look at Ross River or Pelly Crossing.
That's one of the reasons why the school council model is in place. It allows individual school councils to tailor a policy to meet their own school needs. There is still a draft version of a policy available for school councils and administrators to work with and to tailor to suit their own environment.
Mr. Phillips: The minister mentioned early intervention and discipline begins at home, and we know nowadays how that seems to be lacking in some cases. The minister says they're working in that direction, so I'd like to ask the minister: have they established a policy and a working plan as to how to address working with the families? Have we developed something where there's a strategy on how we actually deal with these families with respect to that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, first of all, the Department of Health and Social Services works with families through the social services avenue, and Health and Social Services also has the lead when it comes to working with families of children before the age of five - before they come into the school system. When you have students who may have a learning disability or may have some other special need that requires accommodation within the school, often Social Services may be involved as part of the school-based team that's put in place to help the student overcome their difficulties.
So, yes, we do have work underway. In some cases, the lead would be Health and Social Services. Once a student is in the education system, it's often a lead with the school system directly.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I just have one question while we're on this item of discipline in the schools. As the minister is aware, there have been a couple of very serious attacks that have occurred in the schools and I was just wondering if the minister could relate to me - she spoke a lot about early prevention and prevention as to how we talk about, in some cases, a lack of discipline at home, but unfortunately some of the kids who are being attacked are kids who have good discipline at home and yet they are the brunt of the attacks. Has the department - in light of a couple of very serious incidents where students were hurt quite badly - put together a plan on how they will deal with those incidences if and when they occur in the future? Let's hope they won't, but I'd like to know if the department has put something in place to deal with these incidences when they do occur?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, Mr. Chair. In response in part to the incident that the member opposite is describing and some of the concerns that were raised at the time, the department sat down and looked at developing a protocol for how parents were notified, whom parents were notified by, and how the school would deal with these incidents when they occurred.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'm speaking about more than one incident. There was another incident at F.H. Collins where representation was made to me that it was hours after the incident took place that the parents had not yet been notified, and, in fact, they hadn't been notified until their child came home from school, which I thought was very unfortunate. So, has there been stuff put in place so that we don't run into that problem again, where parents aren't even aware that their child has been taken to the hospital or something?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, those concerns were raised directly with the school and with the Department of Education. The way we responded was to develop a formal response plan to make sure that a mistake like that wouldn't occur in the future.
Mr. Ostashek: I would like to ask the minister if she could give us a copy of that response plan - if she could table it or make sure it is delivered to our offices.
Just one other question that I have to ask at this point is that, as the member is aware, there is one case - it boils back to the case in Porter Creek North - that is now before the courts, and it's my understanding that it's been delayed several times at the department's request. I wonder if the minister can tell me, when is this issue going to get to court? When are these people going to have their day in court to be able to get this issue behind them and move on with their lives?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'll have to come back with a written response to the member's question.
Mr. Phillips: I will move on to another area for a few minutes, and that is the growth in Copper Ridge. In the 1998-99 budget, there's an investment of $3 million for urban residential lots in phase 2 of Copper Ridge subdivision. Can the minister bring us up to speed on what the enrollment is in the Elijah Smith School? Last April, I think it was around 300 and I think the ceiling was about 350. Has there been any thought given to school planning in the area of expansion or new schools that might be required in the area with the expansion?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The enrollment at Elijah Smith School for September 1997 was 260 students. That is 40 students less than the previous September, when the enrollment was 300 students. I can also bring back for the member what the current enrollment is, if he is interested in that.
As for the long-term planning for meeting the needs in the Whitehorse area for elementary schools, we are not planning construction of a new school in that area at that time, but we are aware of the development in lots being put on the market and are monitoring the uptake of those lots - to what extent they are being built on and families moving on to them.
As the member knows, there was an addition recently completed to the Elijah Smith School, which provides for four additional classrooms.
Mr. Phillips: That's quite a significant drop from around 300 students to 260. Was that an anticipated drop by the department, by just people moving through the system, or was it kind of unexpected? Did these students move to other schools in other areas of Whitehorse, or did they move out of the territory completely?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That's hard to determine. I can't answer that question right at the moment, although there was a fairly significant increase in the enrollment from 1996-97, and it's now back down closer to previous levels. There may have been a blip there for one reason or another, for the one school year. I will see what answers we may be able to provide.
Mr. Phillips: Well, it just seems kind of unusual, because it's a significantly large number in a residential area. Forty students out of 300 is a fairly significant number. Usually, that kind of number fluctuating five or six or 10 might be okay, but when it's 40, it's like quite a few families either moved in or out of the riding.
I wonder if the minister could provide for the House, in the very near future, while we're in this debate hopefully, any other growth areas within the school system in Whitehorse, as well as rural areas. What's happening, for example, in Riverdale? I'm now finding in my riding that there's more younger families moving in that area. So what's happening with Selkirk and Grey Mountain, and those kinds of areas? Are they anticipating more growth? Are they maxed out? Maybe we could have a report on where we're at and what we're anticipating the enrollment will be. Can the minister do that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'll be happy to see what we have available to provide for the member.
Mr. Phillips: And if the minister could produce that tomorrow, that would be fine, because we'll still be debating this budget then, I would think.
The professional development fund - was the fund sustained at the same level as it was the previous year, or was it increased at all in the recent round of negotiations with YTA?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The information that the member requested may not be available tomorrow. We will get it to the member as soon as we are able to provide it, but I did want to state for the record that I did not commit to providing it tomorrow because I'm not certain that it can be provided that quickly.
The professional development fund remains the same in the present YTA agreement.
Mr. Phillips: When the minister was in opposition, Mr. Chair, you will recall that - actually, it wasn't this minister; it was the education critic, Mr. Sloan, on April 10, 1996, who said, "Restoring the professional development fund to a more reasonable level was a priority." Can the minister tell us why, if it was a priority from the previous critic of education, it wasn't reflected in the budget? Why isn't the professional development fund restored to a more reasonable level, as was said by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini - no, Whitehorse West, the one that didn't change?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As the member knows, the amount of funding for the professional development fund is negotiated at the bargaining table with the Yukon Teachers Association. I'm pleased that we were able to maintain the fund at its present level, given the declining revenues of the government.
Mr. Phillips: I caution the minister - don't get talking about us not having any money when they took over government or we'll go back there in a hurry and we'll be here for a while again. We'll have all the white knights in shining armour rushing in to save the day.
Mr. Chair, I guess the problem I have is did the YTA ask for an increase in the professional development fund in discussions at the negotiations? Was that one of their concerns?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member will have to ask the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission about the details of the YTA negotiations when we get into the Public Service Commission budget. I don't have that information available.
Mr. Phillips: Yes, but the point is that the money's in this budget. Maybe the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission can just stand up and say, no, they didn't ask for any more money or, yes, they did ask for more money, or they said it was fine the way it was. What did they do? Did they request more money in the professional development fund?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That's a question that relates to the collective bargaining between the Yukon Teachers Association and the government. As I've indicated, the Public Service Commission is the lead for those negotiations. I do not have the detailed information with me about those negotiations and I expect neither does the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, since we're in the Education debate.
We can have that question looked up and a response provided, either in writing or in Public Service Commission debate.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Well, I'll check myself, as well. I guess my point is that, when in opposition, they said, "Restoring the professional development fund to a more reasonable level was a priority." Now, that was said by Mr. Sloan, a wannabe Education minister, on April 10, 1996, in Hansard.
And so, Mr. Chair, what I'm concerned about is that they said it was a priority to restore the fund, and if the union asked for a small increase in the professional development fund, and the government said, "No way," at the table, that seems to be inconsistent to what they said when they were in opposition. I mean, they had money. They had $46 million, as we've already determined, and so they had some money to top up that fund a bit. So, I just want to determine whether or not restoring the professional development fund to a more reasonable level is a priority.
So, let me put it this way. Let me ask the Minister of Education, the real Minister of Education - not the pretend-folks over there. I want the real folks. I'd like to know from the real Minister of Education if she believes that restoring the professional development fund to a more reasonable level is a priority of her government.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, it does beg the question of what is the priority of the YTA when they present their proposals to government for collective bargaining.
Mr. Chair, in all seriousness, professional development is a very important aspect of the teaching profession and for the entire education system. We support professional development in a number of ways, not only by the professional development fund in the YTA collective agreement, but in other measures and other inservices, in the support that's provided to teaching staff and school assistants by the department's professional employees. We are committed to a good professional development environment, and we'll continue to support it.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I didn't get an answer from the minister, so we're going to go at this again.
Her colleague, a wannabe Minister of Education, said, "Restoring the professional development fund to a more reasonable level was a priority." Now, that was when that member was in opposition - April 10, 1996, just a few months prior to the election. I want to know today if restoring the professional development fund - not all the other good things the minister says that they are doing with respect to professional training, that's fine. The member who spoke on April 10, 1996 was talking about the professional development fund - that's that amount of money in the budget for the fund. Does the current Minister of Education agree that the professional development fund should be restored to a more reasonable level?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The professional development fund was a bargaining matter. It was negotiated at the table. There was an arbitrator's report that came down with a final decision to conclude those particular negotiations. I've told the member that we support professional development for teachers and for the education system and that we'll continue to do that.
Mr. Phillips: Okay. Well, we'll try this another way. Does the minister feel then, that back on April 10, 1996, prior to the election, that the professional development fund was at an unreasonable level, that it should have been higher? Does the minister feel, as her colleague said at that time, that it should've been higher? Does she feel it was unreasonable at that time?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I know that the member is taking her advice from the Member for Faro who just says, "Don't say anything; sit there and ignore the question" and then hollers clear and it might go away. It's not going to happen that way. The member's been here long enough to know that.
I would like to know from the minister. I asked a question, and here's my question: does she feel that the statement made by Mr. Sloan on April 10, 1996, was true or false, when he said restoring the professional development fund to a more reasonable level was a priority? Is that true or false?
Mr. Chair, let the record show that the minister's refusing to answer. One of her colleagues made a statement about an item, Mr. Chair, that we're talking about in this very budget - the professional development fund. At that time, he said it had to be restored to reasonable levels, and that was a priority. I'm just asking the minister if she shared that view, that it was unreasonable at that time, that it should have been higher.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, let the record show that the minister again refused to answer the question.
Is the minister refusing to answer the question because she knows that if she answers the question she puts herself on the spot, and that her wannabe minister of education, Mr. Sloan, compromised this government by the statement he made then, and that this government didn't mean what they said in 1996 - Mr. Sloan wasn't speaking for the government, or anyone else other than Mr. Sloan? When he said that restoring the professional development fund to a more reasonable level was a priority, it meant nothing then, prior to the election, because it means nothing today - is it true, that it really meant nothing when the member said that back a couple of years ago?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, as the member has made reference to me, I feel a bit of liberty to answer.
I commented on that as a private member and a person who was still a teacher at the time - albeit at that time I was on leave - and as a person who had been part of the negotiations with the previous government. I would say that if the YTA felt that PD needed a higher priority that was something they could deal with in collective bargaining.
Mr. Phillips: Sorry, that excuse doesn't fly.
When the member rose in the House here as an opposition member, Mr. Chair, he was speaking on behalf of the official opposition at the time. He was speaking in a debate. Surely to goodness he's not suggesting that we all come in here and just express our own personal views and that anything we say in here, unless we qualify it as our personal view, doesn't mean anything with respect to a party position.
I think the general public felt that that statement made back then was a position of the New Democratic Party, that the New Democratic Party, if they were elected to government, would treat the professional development as a priority in terms of restoring it to a more reasonable level.
All I'm asking the minister is if they still have that same priority. Does the minister share that issue, that restoring the professional development fund to a more reasonable level is a priority? Is it a priority today to restore it to a more reasonable level?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, as I have said in response to this question three times now - but I'm happy to get up and respond to the question again, since the member doesn't want to move on - this government does support professional development for our teaching staff and for all members of the education system.
As the budget book shows, there is an increase in professional development in program support within the departmental estimates. That is support for professional development outside of - over and above - the agreement that we have with the Yukon Teachers Association. The YTA agreement provides for a professional development fund. That fund covers full-time leave for up to four members of the teaching profession to go away for a year and engage in full-time studies as a professional development activity. There are other professional development initiatives that are funded through that fund, which we pay for and which the YTA administers.
We do support professional development activities for our teaching staff, and we will continue to support that. I have responded to the member's question, and I hope that he has some other questions that he would like to ask in Education general debate.
Mr. Phillips: I'm not disputing the minister's arguments or points that there are other programs outside of the professional development fund. There always have been; there always probably will be other programs - other programs that have increased. In other years they've increased as well.
But what I'm talking about is what a former member of that party said, representing his party, when he said that the levels were too low, that they were unreasonable. So what I'm trying to determine is whether it was the union in negotiations that said, "We're happy with what we got," or it was the Government of the Yukon, who thought they were unreasonable before - that they were low before - did the government offer more money? Did the government offer no more money?
I mean, you would think that if the government made a statement months prior to the election that the professional development fund - not any other program - was too low before and should be restored to a higher level that would have been one of the first things they did. They had a surplus.
They had the opportunity to do that. Maybe the minister can tell us, did the Department of Education, in the negotiations, offer more money in the professional development fund and it was something that was traded away in negotiations? Did the government, in light of the position they took prior to the election, come in and be consistent and offer more money to bring the fund back up to what they would call a reasonable level?
Chair: Mr. Phillips, just for the record, could you, instead of using "former member" or member that referred to the riding, use the name of the riding?
Mr. Phillips: Certainly, Mr. Chair.
Let the record show the minister didn't answer the question. I'm trying to determine, Mr. Chair, a serious question. You can't stand up in this House or in the public while in opposition and say that what you think is a wrong has to be righted and then after getting elected, you're asked the question why you didn't right it, and you refuse to answer. All I want the minister to do is tell me why the government didn't take the approach, in the negotiations with the teachers, that they took on April 10, 1996, that the teacher development fund was at an unreasonable level.
Why didn't they take that approach in the negotiations? They said that. Did they really mean it? Can the minister tell me: did they mean what the Member for Whitehorse West said in 1996?
Mr. Chair, the minister is refusing to answer again. I guess we'll have to deal with this in Question Period and then the general public can see the minister sitting there trying to get her advice from the noisy little Member for Faro who likes to -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: The minister who's in charge of our economy for a couple of years - heaven forbid.
Anyway, why won't the minister answer the question? What's the problem? Does the minister not share the view of her colleague, the Member for Whitehorse West, that the professional development fund is - Let me put it this way and word the question this way: does the minister feel that the professional development fund today is at a reasonable level?
Mr. Chair, the minister didn't answer again, and I'm going to ask this question if I have to sit here all night. Does the minister feel that the professional development fund today - that's in this budget - is at a reasonable level? Does she feel it's at a reasonable level today?
Chair: Is there any more general debate?
Mr. Phillips: The minister is refusing to answer again. Why is the minister refusing to answer the question?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, the minister quipped from the corner, "Why is the member refusing to listen to the answers?" But if the minister wants to read Hansard tomorrow, she'll see that she didn't give any answers.
She didn't give any answer. She's on the spot. She's got one of her colleagues making a statement that the fund was too low. When she came into government, Mr. Chair, she didn't do anything about it, and she won't even tell us if she offered more money at the table because her government thought it was too low.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: Does the minister think that the professional development fund today, as laid out in this budget, is reasonable? That's all I want her to answer, yes or no, it's not reasonable, or yes it is. That's all I want from the minister - to give me an answer.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, let the record show that the minister again is sitting there staring off into space and refusing to answer the question.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to ask the minister if she supports the idea of the professional development fund, and if she thinks it should be raised to a more reasonable level, or does she feel that the fund is adequate the way it is today?
Let the record show that the minister didn't answer the question, so I can only assume, Mr. Chair, that the minister's lack of response is a strong indication that the minister feels that the professional development fund is just fine the way it is and the way this minister presented it in the budget, and the amount that's in the budget the minister feels is adequate and at a reasonable level, and that the minister is happy with the professional development fund - although we should be reminded that, when they were in opposition, they felt it was inadequate at that level and, in fact, one of her colleagues, the Member for Whitehorse West, even suggested, as I said, on April 10, 1996, that it should be restored to a previously higher level.
So, obviously, all that we heard in 1996 when they were in opposition was nothing but political rhetoric and didn't mean diddly-squat to the teachers, and they didn't really care. They didn't really care, Mr. Chair, about the professional development fund. At the time, they were just trying to make some brownie points, and that's unfortunate.
Deputy Chair: As it is now 5:30 p.m., we will take a break until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Phillips: If I recall, I think we left off with asking the minister some questions about the professional development fund, and I just wonder if, over the dinner hour, the minister has had an opportunity to reflect on some of the questions I asked and whether the minister feels that the professional development fund today is at a reasonable level.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, as I recall, we spent about a half an hour on this question prior to the break, and I responded to the member's questions. I can do that again.
The professional development fund that the member is referring to is only that portion of the professional development fund that is covered in the Yukon Teachers Association collective agreement with their employer, the Yukon government. The YTA negotiates with the government, and the level of funding for professional development is established during that process.
It seems that the member still doesn't understand the principles of collective bargaining, where the parties are responsible for their positions and engage in bargaining. We don't bargain here in the Legislature.
The level of the professional development fund, and it could be that the member is somewhat sensitive on this point since his government dramatically reduced the level of that fund when they were in office, is not as high as it has been in the past and it does remain at the same level in this contract as in the previous contract.
The member asked some questions about what the position of the parties had been at the table. I do not have the details of the negotiations with me. As I explained previously to the member, the Public Service Commission is responsible for negotiations for collective bargaining, and I indicated that he would be able to raise those questions and ask for further details on the negotiations when we come to debate on the public service estimates later in the budget.
As to the principle of whether professional development is important to teachers and to the education system, I can tell the member again - I can repeat for the member - that we see a really strong value in having good professional development opportunities available. We support professional development both with the funding in the contract and with funding of professional development for employees of the Department of Education who are employed by the government directly and who are not part of the YTA collective agreement.
There is professional development funding available within the budget estimates for other employees of the Yukon government.
Mr. Phillips: The minister, I think, just expressed some contradictory views. She said in one statement that she didn't think that I understood the professional development fund because it was discussed at negotiations, but then she went on to say - that's fine, if that's the position you take - that it was the Yukon Party that decreased it. My point is, Mr. Chair, that her party, in opposition at that time, said it was too low. What I was asking the minister today was, then, if she thinks we can decrease it, why doesn't she think that the minister's party could increase it now that they're in government. Since they thought it was too low, why didn't they increase it at negotiations? They had the opportunity to do that. If she feels we had the ability to decrease it, as she just said, then why didn't her party have the ability to increase it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As I have just stated, and I hope the member heard me, the parties at the table negotiated an agreement - or had an arbitrator's decision come down which produced an agreement. The level of funding to the professional development fund was negotiated at the table. I do not have for the member whether either party had increases that they brought forward or decreases that they brought forward or what the details were in relation to the professional development fund in the present collective agreement.
The member can pursue the matter with the Public Service Commission minister who is responsible for collective bargaining and who has the detailed information about the negotiations.
Mr. Phillips: Okay, that's fine. I will do that. And I'll ask the minister to be prepared to tell me what the government position was when they went into bargaining. The minister knows that it's all about bargaining. The government could have taken a position irrespective of any other monetary issues. She could have taken the position that the Member for Whitehorse West took back on April 10, 1996, that the professional development fund was unreasonable and should be a higher priority and, consequently, one would deduce, should be higher. That is what he was saying. So, regardless of all other monetary issues, if the government really felt that way then and really felt that way now - regardless of any other negotiations - it could have said, "We want to see the professional development fund at a higher level."
If the teachers union looked at that offer of a higher level and said they wanted it in some other monetary way, that's a different story. I'll get that from the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.
What I was trying to determine today is whether the government went into negotiations - whether the Minister of Education gave direction to the Public Service Commission, which would go into negotiations with the teachers, that this was one area that they wanted to see enhanced. Did they do that prior to negotiations, or did they just let the Public Service Commission handle the whole thing and not even talk to them about the professional development fund, which is really under the mandate of the Minister of Education?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Again, I didn't hear a question there. Let me tell the member again that we do not negotiate items for collective bargaining in the Legislature. The member wants detailed information about the position that we took at the table about one item out of a whole, huge number of items that are discussed and negotiated at the table. We are not here, being paid to be negotiators; we are legislators. I'm not going to be negotiating with the member opposite in relation to collective bargaining issues that have been dealt with at the bargaining table.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I'm not asking about the final outcome. We know what the final outcome was. What I'm asking the Minister of Education - and surely the minister had some involvement in this - is if the Minister of Education is telling us here today, standing on her feet here today defending her education budget, that she didn't know then and doesn't know now what position her department took with respect to the professional development fund before they went into the negotiations? She doesn't have any idea what position they took? She didn't give them any direction? She just let somebody else do it. Is that what the minister is telling us - that it was a hands-off approach - and the minister has no idea from her Education ministerial responsibility side of what position we took?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: No, Mr. Chair, that's not what I'm telling the member. What I'm telling the member is that I am going to be respectful of the bargaining process, and I'm not going to go through in this House on a blow-by-blow account of what the positions were of the parties and how a final agreement was reached. The member knows what the final agreement was. The member knows that we have a strong commitment to supporting professional development for teachers. I don't know what more the member is looking for from me.
Mr. Phillips: We're not talking about the bargaining at all. The bargaining is done. What I want to know is what the position of the minister was prior to the bargaining. Did we go in there with a position that we were happy with the level of the professional development fund, that we would like to see the professional development fund increase or the professional development fund decrease? What was our position? We were happy with the level or we were - I mean that's what I'm trying to find out from the minister.
Mr. Chair, the previous member of the New Democratic Party in this House said the fund was too low; he said it was unreasonable. The minister said here today that the Yukon Party lowered it. All I'm trying to determine is if this government was consistent with that idea that it was too low and that it should be increased, and that it took that position to the bargaining table. That's all I want to know. Or did it just forget what it said back in April of 1996 and not bother with it?
Maybe the minister can tell us what the position is? I didn't make the statement in 1996 that it was unreasonably low and should be elevated. The NDP did. The wannabe Education minister did, Mr. Chair?
I would like to know, clearly, from the minister what position she takes with respect to the current - forget the negotiations - professional development fund. Is the professional development fund, the current fund, adequate? Does she consider it reasonable?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, as I indicated to the member when we were discussing this item before the supper break, we have increased the funding of departmental professional development. Whether the professional development fund is increased in the agreement between the government and the Yukon Teachers Association is a subject for negotiations, as I keep saying to the member. Certainly, I would be pleased to see that fund increase; however, it is the responsibility of the Yukon Teachers Association itself to negotiate what benefits and wages and professional development funds and other matters it would like to see addressed as its priorities.
I'm not prepared to sit here and debate the negotiations of the collective agreement, for good reason - employers and workers agree to a collective bargaining process where they can sit down at the negotiating table and come to a resolution on issues such as the level of funding for a professional development fund.
I told the member that I do not have the details of the positions to provide to him. I indicated he could pursue that further with the Public Service Commission minister. I've indicated that I'm strongly in support of professional development, both for teachers and for Education employees who are outside of the Yukon Teachers Association and that, in fact, we have increased the monies available for professional development for Education employees who are not members of the YTA.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, I guess what I have to deduct from what the minister is saying is that she supports professional development, and she doesn't want to tie herself too closely to the statements made by the Member for Whitehorse West who said he thinks that the fund was too low. Actually, what I am a bit confused with is she feels that - and she even said it here tonight; it wasn't just the Member for Whitehorse West that said it - the Yukon Party that lowered the level a few years ago, but in this case, with her negotiations, it's the union that set the level.
But you can't have it both ways. If it was our fault back in 1996 for the lower level, then it's the NDP's fault this time for the level being at the same level and not raising it to the level that the previous member advocated.
Mr. Chair, it's interesting the minister wants to have it both ways, but I don't believe the minister can. We'll be speaking with YTA.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: The minister's getting advice now from the wannabe Education minister who said the levels were too low, but seems to have no influence whatsoever now on this government and on raising the levels back up to an acceptable level.
Mr. Chair, it seems that he makes a lot of noise, but doesn't get a lot of action. Now he's stomping his feet.
I want to move on to another area of special programs. In opposition, there was much concern expressed about special programs and the need to provide more staff. Having been in office for a year and a half, if one looks at the budget, it's clear that there hasn't been a change in funding for the special programs. This, again, is another inconsistency. When the Minister of Education was the critic on this side, she advocated more effort in this area. Now that she's the minister responsible for it, there doesn't appear to be that wish reflected at all in the budget.
Last April, the minister explained the reason for the decrease in the funding area from the line item over the previous year as being because of a vacant position - a psychologist position - as well as a reduction in administrative support of one FTE.
In our briefing, there was mention that the department was still having difficulty in replacing the child psychologist. I wonder if the minister could give us a progress report on that. Is the position being advertised or filled? Is there hope of filling it? What are the minister's expectations of that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Just to give the member opposite an update, the Department of Education has renegotiated an extension with the replacement school psychologist through until August 1998. The department continued to search informally for other qualified candidates. We have had other psychologists move to Whitehorse, but they do not have the necessary qualifications for this position. So, to our knowledge, the school psychologist on contract remains the only qualified candidate for the position living in the Whitehorse area. We do have a contract in place until August 1998.
Mr. Phillips: That's not very distant - not too far in the future. Is there an opportunity to extend that contract, or what are the plans with respect to child psychologists? Are we going to let the contract run out in August, and then that's going to be it, or are we going to advertise and try to fill the position on a permanent basis?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As the member knows from his previous questions, there had been ongoing recruitment. I'll get an answer and come back to the member with that.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Chair. There was also some discussion that the teacher for the visually impaired was also in place until the end of June. We asked for information about the current workload of the individual, and we received that. I understand from the briefing we got that work is going to be transferred to the teacher for the sensory impaired. So, one other individual is going to take over the responsibilities.
I don't believe there was money in the budget to cover that position in this next fiscal year. That is why the budget was a little less - am I correct? What I am concerned about is this: are we satisfied with this other individual taking on the extra workload, or are we going to be looking for someone to replace this individual? If we do that in September, of course, then we'll probably be dealing with a supplementary in December because there isn't enough money in the budget. Would that be a fair analysis of the situation?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, Mr. Chair, it would. We will continue to meet those needs with the existing staff that are available, and we're going to monitor how effective that is. We can look at local recruitment, or even at the possibility of a Yukon teacher taking educational leave to be trained for that position, as was the case for reading recovery.
In the meantime, we will have the teacher providing the service.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, maybe the minister can tell us why, in the last two budgets of her government in this particular area, we have seen very little or no increase - in fact, this year a decrease - in the budget allotment for this area, but when in opposition, the member was extremely critical of our government's spending in this area and, in fact, was encouraging us all the time that it was very much a special needs area, that more money should be spent in this area and that more of these types of people should be hired. And now we see, when the minister has got control over it, that none of these issues that were raised by the minister at that time about increasing the budget in this area have happened. Why is that? Why has the minister not lived up to, I guess, a promise or a commitment she made when she was in opposition - or a criticism - that there wasn't enough money in this area?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, first of all, the positions in the special programs area are sometimes difficult to fill because of the specialized qualifications that are required in order to fill them. We do have the ability, if we find qualified candidates, whether it's for the school psychologist or the visual-impaired consultant, to fill those positions and to find monies in other areas of the budget if there have been some underexpenditures.
Special programs are important to the education system. They enable us to follow the child-centred approach to education, and we do continue to support it, and we do continue to vote monies for it. The special programs budget allocation is not the only funding that goes into supporting students with special needs. Much of the public schools budget does apply to all of the students in the education system, and that includes students with special needs.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, I really wish that that member had bought into that statement when she was the critic for Education, because I can remember sitting across the floor and reading that very statement: that the programs for these children weren't always included in the special programs; it was the other programs in the Department of Education that benefited as well. And I can remember that member criticizing me for saying that doesn't address the problem, that doesn't address the issue.
So, what I want to know from the minister is this: where does the minister see this special programs area going? Does she see an increase in it, and what areas does she see increasing, in light of her comments in the past about more of a need there and that more emphasis should be put on there? What areas does the minister see - although there is nothing in this budget, in fact a decrease - in maybe future budgets that will see funding allocated in this area with respect to the strong feelings expressed by the minister when she was in opposition?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: To some extent, you cannot completely predict what needs there will be in the school system in a given year. The number of students who have a visual impairment or a hearing impairment may be greater in one year than in another year. We have a variety of positions available to support special programs, including coordinators, school psychologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, and they provide professional support to the school-based staff: the education assistants, the learning assistants and remedial tutors. So we continue to have departmental employees available to provide professional support and assistance to the school-based teams who work with the individual students.
What I see happening is the education system continuing to support a child-centred approach to education, which draws on various levels of support and resources for the delivery of education to each child. That may mean in some years more of an emphasis on speech and language services or, conversely, on occupational therapy.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, I used some of those very similar arguments when I was the Minister of Education and they didn't go down at all with the present minister. They weren't acceptable then, but I guess it's a different story when you're on the other side of the House. I got the same advice from, in some cases, the same officials about what we were doing and passed it on to the present minister and the minister said, "It's unacceptable. There's a lot of demand in this area, a lot of need and your government isn't doing enough and you should put more emphasis in this area."
So, my point is that the minister has now had two budgets, two opportunities to put her money where her mouth was, and obviously isn't any more, because the budgets have shown us that the minister feels everything is fine and dandy in that department because she has not increased the budget, she has actually decreased the budget. So, I'll leave it at that because I think I've made a point and I know there are a whole bunch of other issues or topics like that where the minister said one thing when she was in opposition and another thing now that she is in government. So, we'll see where that goes.
The minister tabled a copy of the territorial examination results for the 1996-97 school year. Could the minister give us a better breakdown of that with respect to each individual school's results on the various subjects so we know what is happening. I think it's important for the parents to know. It sometimes clouds the issue a bit when the rural schools are included in the total package with the Whitehorse schools. I think the people in those rural areas need to know whether their students are doing better, worse or how they can improve their marks in the future. Could the minister provide that information for us?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'm not sure if we are able to break that down, Mr. Chair, so I will look into it and see if we can. If it is possible to provide that, then I don't see any problem with it.
One comment, though, is that if we're breaking down the results by schools - and there are only one or two students at a grade level - then you're essentially identifying the mark that those individual students may have received. So, as I've said, I'll look and see what further information might be available and what we can provide for the member.
Mr. Phillips: Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair. I respect the confidentiality when we get down to those small numbers, but I want just a little better picture.
I'm sure the results are available. I'm almost positive that the Watson Lake school doesn't phone up the Department of Education anonymously or send them an anonymous letter with no signature on it telling them what the students' marks were. I'm sure it's there in the department. They must have it laid out for each school what their scores were, because I'm sure they're not accepting anonymous phone calls or anonymous letters from the schools, so the information is available.
I don't have a lot more in general debate, but I will have some more questions as we go along. I'm prepared to turn it over to the Liberal colleague. I will reserve the opportunity to jump in down the road when we get the opportunity again, because I have some more issues that I would like to explore with the minister before we leave general debate.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a real pleasure to finally be allowed into this debate.
I would like to begin by addressing some comments about the grade reorganization and to express a very serious concern I have with the presentation of this year's budget.
The public schools capital budget has a line item - Whitehorse grade reorganization - and identifies Christ the King Elementary School. Whitehorse grade reorganization is not complete. This year, Porter Creek Secondary School will receive about 175 new students. Now, I understand that Porter Creek school has had some $400,000 identified under site improvement and recreation development for that school. However, it has been relabelled and Porter Creek is not identified. I find that troubling.
Would the minister indicate why Porter Creek Secondary School - a second new high school in Whitehorse - has not been identified as just that: as a high school worthy of recognition for the capital funding being put into it. Why has it not been identified as such in this budget?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member asked a question about this during the technical briefing. I'd like to go over, for the member, what some of the changes are. The department inserted a line item, entitled "site development" to cover bus stops, recreation, and so forth, territory-wide, so that there is an equity in urban and rural allocations.
Grade reorganization led to the requirement for site upgrading projects at several Whitehorse schools, including Porter Creek Senior Secondary, and therefore they were all grouped together. However, as the member knows, the amount available for Porter Creek Secondary has been broken down. I can look up the budget detail of that amount in the book for the member. The 1998-99 work on site improvement and recreational development is being allocated mainly to Porter Creek Secondary School. The new student and public parking, staff parking, bus drop-off, pedestrian controls, sidewalks and paved basketball courts work will be undertaken. There is $400,000 budgeted for that. As well, $200,000 is budgeted for improvements of the same nature at Christ the King Elementary School.
It is a normal practice to group budget items together, if they are for site improvement, grounds maintenance, or several others that appear in the budget book. It doesn't mean that we're going to be paying any less attention to the needs at Porter Creek Secondary School. We do have $400,000 in the budget for site improvement and recreational development at Porter Creek Secondary School. So, I can assure the member that there was no nefarious scheme to take the needs at Porter Creek Secondary School and bury them in the budget somehow.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister has missed the point. I heard the briefing from the department. I understood what they said. I'm fully acquainted with the idea of generally-accepted accounting principles - that you group items together. However, it's not clear in this budget document - anyone reading it 10 years from now - that there was any commitment by this government to the Porter Creek Secondary School, and it's a brand-new high school in Whitehorse.
The minister may state that there was no nefarious scheme, but it certainly doesn't demonstrate a commitment by the government to a brand-new high school in Whitehorse.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: "Nefarious scheme" were not my words; they were the minister's words.
I'd like to know if the minister will consider amending this page so it more accurately reflects the resources that are being dedicated to Porter Creek Secondary School, so it can't then be changed, so that when we review the document next year, we can see that indeed the money has been spent, that there's not an increase, that site improvement next year might list two or three other schools. Will they consider having that page amended to accurately reflect that, indeed, $400,000 is committed to Porter Creek Secondary School? You can identify it as a separate line under site improvement, but I want to see that funding committed to that school.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, for the member's information, that funding has been committed to that school. That commitment has been made here in the Legislative Assembly. It was explained to the member at the budget briefing.
I will consider her request that we amend the budget book to list the Porter Creek school. However, I would like to again reassure the member that we do have a commitment to supporting Porter Creek Secondary School. We do have a commitment of $400,000 in the budget for site improvement and recreation and development. That's a firm commitment, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister has indicated that she will consider amending that page so that it more accurately reflects that commitment. I'd like her to seriously consider that.
The reason that I'm asking that it reflect that is that, unfortunately, with this school's construction, it's been a bit of a moving target and a fluid description, so to speak, of this government's commitment to that school.
In the statement of how the $400,000 would be allocated, some of those requirements are requirements from the City of Whitehorse in order that there be a building permit; some of them are safety requirements. As I understand it from the technical briefing, none of those are commitments to the outdoor recreation facility plan that was developed subsequent to the completion of the building committee's work.
There was extensive committee work done on outdoor recreation. None of that $400,000 is going to go to addressing any of their issues. Is that correct?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Some of the money that has been budgeted for recreation development will cover basketball courts at Porter Creek school. So, it isn't all for the requirements on the part of the City of Whitehorse for a bus turn-around or a flashing pedestrian crosswalk. I think that the amount of money that covers work required by the City of Whitehorse is approximately $230,000, and the Government Services minister has further detail on Porter Creek school expansions and renovations that he can provide in Government Services debate.
But just to respond to the point of supporting the recreation plan, we do have some sum in the budget this year to provide for basketball courts, as one component of that plan. And I can come back and provide an answer for the member as to what other specific recreation work will be done as a result of the $400,000 expenditures.
Ms. Duncan: The short answer is not much of that $400,000 is toward the outdoor recreation plan that has been developed by the community and by the school and by the school council. The future work on that outdoor recreation plan hinges a good portion on the commitment by the Department of Education, morally and financially.
Has the minister offered the school council a letter indicating how much the Department of Education is committing this year so that the committee can then take to the community development fund, the Economic Development minister, service clubs and other organizations within Whitehorse that they are approaching for funding? Has the minister offered that to the school council and the group working on the outdoor recreation plan?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I have written to the Porter Creek school council on the subject of the recreation plan. I do not have a copy of the letter in front of me just now and so I'll have to come back with some information for the member on what exactly and precisely has been communicated to the school council.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, perhaps the minister could provide me with a copy of that letter.
I'd like to also ask the minister before we leave the topic of this school to verify for me, with her officials, that Porter Creek Secondary School will have all the required resources to accommodate the 175 new students next year.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, it's certainly our intention to support the school in having normal course offerings available to it. I'm not sure if the member has a specific concern or if she just wants to be assured that the department supports Porter Creek Secondary School becoming a fully functioning high school. Indeed, we do.
Ms. Duncan: What I heard the minister indicate to me was that, under her leadership and as minister, she commits to me that the department and she are fully committed to Porter Creek Secondary as a fully functioning, fully equipped second high school in Whitehorse. Is that correct?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'm not sure what the member means by saying "fully functioning" and "fully equipped". Porter Creek Secondary School will become, effective in September, a high school with full course offerings up to grade 12. The member is nodding. I'll sit down and see if she has a followup.
Ms. Duncan: So, the minister is saying we're not going to have physics classes that don't have texts, we're not going to have computer labs that have expensive equipment but can't use the printer, we're not going to have shop classes that are using makeshift buildings and we're not going to have students that are only offered specific courses at F.H. Collins and other specific courses at Porter Creek, that Porter Creek will be a fully functioning high school in Whitehorse?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, let me point out for the member that, effective next year, there will be four high schools in Whitehorse offering programs. It is not possible to offer the same, identical programming options in each and every high school. There will be differences between what programs are at Porter Creek Secondary, F.H. Collins, Vanier Secondary and L'École Émilie Tremblay. There may be some programs that are only available at Porter Creek and there may be other programs that are only available at Vanier or at F.H. Collins.
I can certainly commit to the member that we will support all schools in the Yukon school system to provide a valuable education to the students. We will have funding available for Porter Creek Secondary to be a grade 8 to 12 high school and to offer a full range of programs. As for each and every individual program, I can't stand here today and tell the member which programs may be available at Porter Creek and not at L'École Émilie Tremblay, or vice versa.
Ms. Duncan: The minister is indicating that if, for example, Wood Street Annex only has one year left, and were to cease offering the MAD and experiential sciences programs - if those were only to be offered through F.H. Collins. Is the minister saying that that's acceptable - that, for example, we might have the arts and sciences courses offered out of F.H. Collins and Porter Creek Secondary would not have offerings like that, and they would be busing students? Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member is trying to raise hypothetical questions and be critical of some future injustice that Porter Creek may face. If the member has a specific concern about a specific program, I would really like to have her put the question on the record, and I will do my best to answer it.
As I've stated, we will support Porter Creek Secondary School. It will become a fully functioning 8-12 high school next year. There will be some differences in programs. The member was just talking about the MAD program and the ACES program, which are programs that are recruited from all schools. There are not sufficient numbers to offer those programs in three different schools. Now, the member is nodding her head, so perhaps she has a further question.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, it's early in the debate to have the righteous indignation at such a fine level. The point I'm raising, and it has been raised with me by teachers, by parents and by school council members, is that they have asked that the minister state, clearly for the record, the commitment by this government to Porter Creek as a fully functioning second high school in Whitehorse. That's what I'm asking for. And that is a request directly from parents, teachers and members of the school council. They want to know that there's not going to be vast differences between courses offered at different schools in Whitehorse; that Porter Creek will be considered a fully functioning second high school.
It's a very simple question, and I'm raising it on behalf of constituents.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, I have responded to that question several times now, after the member has asked it several times.
We are supporting Porter Creek Secondary School.
The member asked a question about the MAD program. I spoke about that separately.
The member raised a question about computer labs. As she knows, the department is supporting the installation of a computer lab at Porter Creek Secondary. There are two computer labs in that high school.
I don't know how many times I need to say the same thing, but let me assure the member that we support Porter Creek Secondary School being a fully functional high school with course offerings for students from grades 8 to 12.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, shop classes at F.H. Collins are offered within the school. When Porter Creek was constructed as a second high school, shop classes were to be conducted at Yukon College. Unfortunately, there were difficulties with that. The service agreement didn't work out - in short, without getting into any further details, so we don't have shop classes. They are now offered out of the old Grove Street portables. So, the standards of equipment between F.H. Collins and Porter Creek are different.
Yes, the minister has stated that there are computer labs at Porter Creek. The department has paid for $1,200 programs on a printer that doesn't work - programs that the students are unable to use and instructors are unable to use. I'm asking if the standards are to be the same between the two schools.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, I think the member knows from her tour of the Porter Creek school and her attendance at the grand opening that the school is well-equipped with facilities. The problem the member raised about the printer in the computer lab is being worked on by the department, and we hope to have that problem fixed.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, the minister hasn't addressed the shop issue, but we'll leave that for the moment.
I'd like to discuss with the minister the Old Crow school. Would the minister indicate when the decision will be made as to whether or not to expand that school to offer high school programming and who would make that decision.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, let me go back for a moment to the member's question about the shop classes. The member talked about the agreement for joint use of college facilities and that that hadn't worked. We are working at the department with Yukon College to provide for the use of college facilities by the public school system. We hope to have an agreement that would come into effect for the 1998-99 school year in order to accommodate, where possible, the public school needs within the college facility.
The member has also asked about the Old Crow school and about the expansion of programming within the Old Crow community. We will make that decision in consultation with the community of Old Crow. Education officials regularly meet with the school and, as I indicated earlier today in response to questions from the other member, the superintendent will be in Old Crow later this week.
We are aware that Old Crow would like to move toward having the senior secondary grades available in their community. We have money in the budget this year to provide for rural programming and to look at an incremental increase to the grade level at the Old Crow school. That decision will be taken in consultation with the school council and with the community.
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is there further general debate?
Ms. Duncan: The minister, prior to the break, indicated that the decision to increase the grades offered at the Old Crow school would be made with the community. However, she went on to say that there were monies provided for rural programming and an incremental increase in grades. I believe "incremental" was the word the minister used in her response to me.
Could I ask the minister to clarify then, is it the intention of the department that, in the beginning, in September 1998, the Old Crow school will be a K to -. I'm leaving the end blank. What grades will be offered at the Old Crow school beginning September 1998?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps I can clarify this for the member. The monies that I referred to for rural programming are monies that have been put in the budget in order to do some work to develop increased programming in rural schools for higher grade levels.
As the program development work is done to expand the offering in rural communities because, as the member appreciates, Old Crow is a very unique community with unique educational needs and a very small student population - but, as that work is done, the intention would be to add grade levels, on an incremental basis. I do not know yet, since we're voting funds for development work to be done with new money starting April 1 in next year's budget, whether there will be an additional grade level available by the beginning of the next school year. It may be longer than that, but we do have money in place in order to work toward the development of rural programming to expand the grade levels in Old Crow and rural schools.
Ms. Duncan: Perhaps the minister could elaborate a bit further. Is this development work, for example, exploring options such as video-conferencing for a Chemistry 12 class, or something? The reason I ask this is that an acquaintance recently defended a thesis via a video-conference. I wonder if we are exploring that option for, say, offering Chemistry 12 or Chemistry 11 to students in Dawson, Old Crow, Mayo, Carmacks, Pelly, Ross River or Faro. Is that an option? Exactly what is this development work that the minister has indicated?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Certainly, the increased use of technology is a possibility that may be of value right here in the City of Whitehorse as well as in rural communities. The department does have a commitment to our education system making good use of technologies. That's one of the reasons we've invested in computer labs, in Internet access and in supporting distance education. Using a teleconferencing model may be part of the rural programming as it's developed and expanded. This money in the budget - and I'm just looking for the page with the detail on that line item for the member - will be used to expand program offerings in rural schools.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, I still don't have a sense of quite how that will be done; however, I'll leave that issue for the moment.
The design of the Old Crow school - and perhaps the Minister of Government Services, given that he's available, may wish to answer these questions, as he's most familiar with the plans, I believe - is the design a K-to-12 design for the Old Crow school? If there was an increased use of technology, for example, there may have to be additional supports for satellite dishes, there may have to be additional wiring for technology. Is the design a K-to-12 design and does it incorporate any technology needs that may be foreseen in the future for the Old Crow school?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we worked with the community of Old Crow and they did have a building advisory committee in place. As I've indicated to the member previously, the community is interested in seeing the school offer senior-level course work to their students. The school was designed to be large enough to accommodate a student population that could include up to grade 12. There are library facilities. There are shop facilities. There are computer facilities available, so it is our belief that the school could accommodate up to grade 12 students when the new school construction is completed.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the Minister of Education for that answer.
The Minister of Government Services has indicated in the House that the Department of Government Services is working to a December 1998 completion date. During the technical briefing, the department indicated that they were looking at occupancy around April 1. Could I have a commitment from the minister as to what date we are looking at the students being in the new school and are we looking at the resumption of school in January 1999, or are we looking at spring 1999, say April?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No one can really predict the vagaries and some of the issues that may come up in terms of construction, but our goal is to try to get the kids in as soon as possible, and that's what we're aiming toward.
Presently, we've been fairly lucky with some of the weather and we're hoping that it still holds and that we can achieve everything in a timely fashion. We are looking at a tender date of April 8 - in around there - and hopefully we'll be able to get this project completed as soon as possible.
Ms. Duncan: The benefits of NDP wriggle room. The minister previously said December 1998 for completion of this school. He's now saying, "As soon as possible." Would the minister provide a calendar date that may be included.
The minister has indicated that they're looking at a general tender call for April 8, which is a schedule he previously committed to, and I'm glad to hear that that tender is on time at this point. Would the minister indicate what completion date is anticipated in that tender?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I can go through the chronology in some almost painful and excruciating detail, but as the member is fully aware, the dates that one predicts, particularly on a building project, and the dates that one completes are often two different things. We only have to witness some of the difficulties that we ran into with the Porter Creek Secondary School, and this project is of equal if not greater complexity. I can just tell the member that our target is still the end of the year. Whether or not we can hit that is something that can only be seen. We are aiming for it. That's what we're aspiring to, and that's what we'll push our contractors and our workers toward. But can we make that? Can I guarantee a particular date? No, I can't. And the member knows that.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I didn't ask the minister to guarantee a date. I asked what date would be included in the tender.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I would venture, though I'm not at the point right now of writing up the tender, that we're still aspiring toward our end-of-the-year date, just as we were on the Porter Creek school but, as one can tell, there are always issues that arise during any construction project.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'd like to refocus the discussion to the Minister of Education and the issue of discipline in our schools. The minister and I touched on this discussion briefly earlier today outside of this House. The discipline policy that's in place in one school is different and may, in all likelihood, be different from the discipline policy in another school. For example, a level-three infraction in Porter Creek may be a level one at F.H. Collins. Is there a discussion scheduled for the spring school council chair conference on achieving a consistent discipline policy throughout Yukon schools?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I can't confirm that at the moment, Mr. Chair. I would have to check on the agenda. Certainly, I can tell the member that when I have discussions with school councils or school council chairs, the discipline policy often does come up as an issue. When the previous government sent out a draft discipline policy to be used at individual schools, the response that they got from school councils was that school councils wanted to be involved in tailoring the discipline plans to meet the specific needs in their school communities. I think that most school councils do have a similar view of the importance of a responsible discipline plan and that there are some common threads in those plans in the different schools.
I will come back with an answer for the member as to whether that particular item is up for discussion at the spring conference of the school council chairs.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could I ask the minister to outline for me her view on having a common discipline policy? Understanding, of course, that different schools would want some differences - but she has indicated that there is a common thread, and common threads, in many of the school discipline policies - what is her view on whether or not there should be a common discipline policy?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I think that it's very important to respect the decision-making ability of the school councils. That's why that principle was enumerated so clearly in the Education Act. I think that having a common framework available and looking at what the common goals are for a discipline plan is of value. That kind of work has been done, and continues to be done, by Education officials, school administrations and school councils. Nonetheless, school councils want to be able to tailor their own discipline plans for their unique community needs, and I support them in that.
Ms. Duncan: I think the minister would be hard-pressed to find anyone in this House who doesn't support the idea of school councils having the ability to tailor-make the discipline policy to meet their school needs. However, the minister has already identified that there are common threads among a number of school discipline policies, and it does become an issue.
You can have - I'm using the word "three" because it seems to be a common number - a level-three transferring from one school to another. If a student is consistently at a level-three infraction and then transfers to another school, they are starting over. Does the minister intend to further this work among schools, particularly where you have a number of schools in the same city, to have a common discipline policy?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'm not exactly certain what problem the member is trying to get me to respond to. If the member thinks that, as the Minister of Education, I should set out a set of rules, and a level-one infraction should be a detention, and a level-two infraction should be three detentions, and a level-three should be a one-day suspension, and all schools should follow that particular route - that's not something that I see as being my role.
We have a responsibility to help school councils and school administrations in their decision making. We have provided a draft discipline policy that school councils can use. School council members run for office in order to be involved in exactly that kind of decision making, in looking at what the discipline plan should accomplish and how severe it should be and for what particular infractions it should carry certain penalties.
If the member would like me to present to school councils the possibility of having all of the high schools work toward a more compatible discipline policy, I can discuss that with school council chairs, and would be happy to do so.
I have spoken to school council chairs about the importance of providing a safe, respectful learning environment for all students and about furthering the work to increase the number of effective violence prevention programs within the school. Those may vary from a course that is taught by a teacher to the students to working with students to increase their ability to have peer mediation and conflict resolution skills. Some schools have done that already and are working to increase it.
All of those are good initiatives that I support and that many of the school communities do support. I know the member was listening when I provided an update to the other critic on some of the course offerings on safe schools, so I won't repeat those for the member, but we are working at enhancing school safety, both at the individual schools, at the department level and in our discussions with school councils.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister provided a commitment in her response to discuss the idea of a more compatible discipline policy between the high schools in Whitehorse. I would hope the minister would act upon that suggestion at the school council chair conference this spring. Perhaps she could respond to me as to whether or not there's an opportunity to put this on the agenda. I think that would be a worthwhile discussion.
The minister indicated that there were a number of initiatives to improve the environment within our schools. I did not hear her elaborate on three new initiatives that were identified at a meeting at Jack Hulland school. I haven't heard any elaboration on the justice circle, the behaviour check-in program, or the three-pronged approach to bullying. Those are three program initiatives to enhance safety in our schools. Could I ask the minister to elaborate on those three programs?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, Mr. Chair. What I will do is come back and provide the member with an answer on that, since I don't have my notes with me about those particular programs at Jack Hulland school.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, perhaps the minister could provide me, via a written response, with a sense of which programs are offered at which schools in the Yukon, as well, in terms of this initiative? For example, is justice circle offered at six of 29 schools or is it offered at 29 of 29 schools - that sort of information?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'll bring a written response for that question.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to address the issue of counselling in our schools with the minister.
The minister, last year, established the Youth Works fund and groups, renamed the Association for Community Initiatives. In the report, Youth Needs - The Views of the Steering Committee, just a quote from that report: "There's a strong need for personal counselling services in elementary and secondary schools. Counselling must be provided by trained and supportive counsellors who are known by students, can be easily accessed by students, and who are located in the schools."
That is a clearly identified need by the minister's partners in education- the minister's committee. The Youth Works fund committee identified this need and stated it clearly. How is the minister responding to this need in this year's budget?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, there are a number of components of the school counselling program that work to help students' growth and development. We have in place a comprehensive guidance and counselling program with four main components of developmental guidance instruction, individual student instruction, responsive services and school community support. The school staff member who's responsible for those duties may depend on the ages of the students.
The comprehensive counselling model in place fits well with, and provides support for, the career and personal planning program - the curriculum that we have in place - and counsellors also work not just with the students, but with parents, teachers and administrators to provide services to the students.
We do want to ensure that the students get the support that they need, both as far as their future employment counselling is concerned and in order to reach their full potential. In taking steps to improve the value of counsellors, all Yukon school counsellors attended a two-day workshop at the end of September 1997. The focus of that was the second step program, which is a child abuse awareness and prevention program covering the age range from kindergarten to grade 9.
So, there are different plans in place to improve the level of counselling that can be offered for students.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the minister has identified career and personal programming, future employment, words like a "staff member responsible for" and the "child abuse prevention model." What the Youth Works trust fund clearly identified was a strong need for personal counselling. I'm referring to an adult figure, a supportive counsellor who is trained and easily accessed by students, which means that an individual has to be available - they can't be responsible for half a dozen classes - and available when you can catch them in the hallway. These are people who can offer personal counselling within the schools, and I haven't heard the minister indicate how that need is being addressed in the schools - the need for an individual to be available.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: There are counsellors available in the schools. The program delivery line item in the budget, which is in excess of $45 million, is where the allocations are made for the counsellors who do counsel students within the school system. I don't have a breakdown of how many counsellors there are in each school. I can provide that for the member if she would like it. I do know that students can approach the counsellors within their schools for counselling. They are also able to approach their teachers directly and to bring their problems to them, and many students do.
Ms. Duncan: I would like that information from the minister - how many counsellors are available in each school and their responsibilities. As I understand them, they are more focused toward future employment, school credits, ensuring that students graduate, as opposed to help with individual problems outside of the school.
Perhaps the minister could think about this from this direction: how are family needs met in terms of the school's relationship with family services? For example, there are individuals who have expressed concern about trying to get on the list for counselling through family services. Has there been any consideration ever to developing a hotline for students?
Right now, I realize it's not dial Yukon Family Services, and press nine if you're in this crisis, and two if you're in this one or whatever, but has any thought ever been given to developing a hot line for students in conjunction with Yukon Family Services?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'm not aware of any considerations for a hot line being made available to students. I can tell the member, in response to the first point she was making, that the counsellors within the school system, both at the elementary and secondary levels, do provide counselling services to students for dealing with personal problems, as well as for dealing with career moves and what kinds of courses they might want to take for any future employment they're looking for.
It's hard to separate what is personal counselling from overall school-related issues. Usually, they are intertwined. The counsellors who work with students in the school system do have professional training and are able to deal with students and their problems, whether they're related to a personal or family problem, or whether they're more related to an academic problem.
Ms. Duncan: Is there a guideline issued to these counsellors about when and how to involve the family, or to work with the family and the student?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The counsellors would use their professional development.
There are protocols in place to govern certain problems. For instance, where there is child abuse disclosed by a child to a counsellor, a teacher, or to any member of the teaching profession, they're obligated to report that to family and children's services.
Similarly, a counsellor would want to have discussions with a family where a student is bringing forward serious problems that relate to their family life and that are outside of what is happening at school.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm fully familiar with the child abuse protection protocol and the requirements under it. I was trying to come at this issue from another perspective - from the perspective of those families that are trying to work with the student and the school to sort out relationship issues. It seems, to quote a concerned parent who came to me, that there are little pots of money everywhere and there are band-aids and there are interesting proposals, but there doesn't seem to be any kind of place for or resources available for families that are at the very beginning of the spectrum of starting to experience difficulties in how they work with the school, how they work with the child. It was expressed to me by this parent that the counselling services available in the schools were inadequate in this regard.
We cannot educate students on an empty stomach. We have the breakfast-for-living program. We can't educate students who are having troubles at home. How do we offer them and their families assistance through the school system? Maybe the minister wants to say no, we should offer it through a different avenue, through Health and Social Services, through Yukon Family Services, for example. Maybe this is new to the minister. She doesn't see that counselling is an issue in our schools. It was expressed to me and I have seen it for myself with not just this one individual, but with many individuals who have said that if only we'd had help earlier or worked with the school earlier. Children will sometimes exhibit behaviours at school that they may not at home where another objective individual may be able to offer assistance. I'm wondering if that individual should be at the school and if our counselling should be more dedicated to counselling and working with the family.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, to the best of my knowledge, the teachers and the principals within the Yukon school system, and the counsellors - but particularly the teachers and the principals who have regular daily contact with students - become aware if there is a problem in a child's life. If there is a family problem or if they're not having breakfast and they need to take advantage of the breakfast program that may be offered at their school, the teachers will know it. And the school staff are very conscientious about reaching out to invite parents to the school and to have the parents become part of solving any problems that that student may have which is hampering their ability to learn well in that education system.
We're always interested in working to make improvements to the school system. I'm interested in seeing improvements made in my role as minister. Individual teachers and school counsellors and administrators strive to make improvements within the system.
If the member would like to elaborate on what kinds of counselling models she thinks would be better or how we could have better outreach to families, then I'd be very interested in hearing her representations and bringing them forward.
I do believe, however, that we work very hard at providing a good support to the students, including meeting what their personal needs are and dealing with any family problems that they may have, as well as with their educational difficulties.
Ms. Duncan: Let me state at the outset, for the record, and to be perfectly clear with the minister, I am not inferring, in any remote sense, that I'm questioning the professionalism or dedication of our professionals within the education system or their commitment to our Yukon students. I am not questioning that. I am questioning the allocation of resources.
The minister said she was interested in hearing representations on this issue and on counselling and how we work with students. One of those suggestions has been the five-stage intervention program and the intervention model. Could the minister indicate how the development of that model is coming along and how the department is supporting this work and supporting this model?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I did attend a meeting with some folks in Porter Creek about the five-stage development model, and I know that there is work proceeding on that within the departments - departments plural because Health and Social Services as well as Education are involved in working with the school community on that. I would have to come back to the member with the more specific update, because I don't have the information in front of me.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would appreciate that additional information. I'm just looking at my notes with regard to this model. As I understand it, there is some feeling that if there were additional counselling resources available in the schools, a student might, say, move between different stages in the intervention model, that greater counselling would enable earlier success in this program.
If the minister could get back to me as to where the department's response is with the development of the five-stage intervention model, I'd appreciate more detail on that. Perhaps I'll come back to it after I've reviewed my notes as well.
Could the minister indicate the department's long-term view with regard to the Wood Street Annex?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Deputy Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 9.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Deputy Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker resumes the Chair
Deputy Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, First Appropriation Act, 1998-99, and directed me to report progress on it.
Deputy Speaker: You have heard the report from the Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I move that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:26 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled March 23, 1998:
Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of the Yukon on contributions to political parties during 1997 (dated March 1998) (Deputy Speaker McRobb)
Training strategy (Yukon) (dated March 1998) (Moorcroft)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled March 23, 1998:
Land claims implementation: 1998-99 capital budget (McDonald)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2437
Chronic disease self-management program: training leaders (Sloan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2403 to 2405