Wednesday, March 25, 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. In his absence, the Deputy Speaker shall take the Chair.
Deputy Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers. I would ask members to bow their heads in a moment of silent reflection.
Deputy Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Petition No. 5 - response
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity today to respond to the petition on the Crossroads treatment centre.
First of all, I would like to thank everyone who took the time to sign this petition. I recognize that, over the years, many people have been helped by Crossroads, and I respect their loyalty to the association. I am pleased to see that a number of Yukon people, as well as other people from other parts of the country, including Regina, Montreal and other points south, have exercised their democratic rights and signed this petition expressing their concerns about Crossroads.
I believe that the unfortunate part is that, at the time, they did so with little information about our plans for the future of alcohol and drug services in the territory.
I don't believe that was entirely the signatories fault. Somehow the information was not being distributed to people in a way that was accessible and somehow people were not getting the essential information.
First of all, I'd like to address the petition itself. It declares that Crossroads is committed to working in cooperation with Yukon First Nation communities. While that may very well be true, it has not happened in the years that Crossroads has offered the program, and our consultations indicate that First Nations are not convinced that it will happen. In fact, that was the basis of the issue addressed in the McLaughlin report on Crossroads, which was done as far back as 1984. So, you can appreciate that there is some skepticism about future possibilities for a good relationship in this regard.
The petition also implies the Yukon government did not consult on changes to alcohol and drug programming and, as I've indicated in this House, this is simply not the case. The decision about this new alcohol and drug treatment program was made after consultation with such people as NNADAP workers, community health representatives, social workers, community workers, First Nation healing councils, RCMP, nurses, transition home workers, prevention workers, after-care workers, Yukon College instructors, ministerial representatives, school counsellors and social development coordinators. We also held consultations in Carmacks, Pelly, Faro, Mayo, Ross River, Dawson, Watson, Teslin, Beaver Creek, Burwash Landing, Destruction Bay and Haines Junction, not to mention also in Whitehorse.
These consultations began at the end of September. We went out to get ideas on how to best serve all Yukon people. We went out to find out where there were gaps existing in our treatment programs. The communities told us that they want programs at home, that they need after care, relapse prevention and community integration components. I'm pleased with the consultations we did and I believe we'll continue to consult with communities on what meets their needs best.
I'm also pleased to report to this House that I've had a number of meetings over the last several weeks about Crossroads issues. I've met with the chair of the Crossroads board to discuss the future of that organization. It appears that the board is now looking at continuing in the capacity of providing some aspect of the drug and alcohol service. Their basic goal right now is to establish a halfway house, which incidentally was the origins of the Crossroads program.
To us this seems like a good match and one which complements the directions we're going and I'm happy to see that this organization is looking at future directions and I believe at present they're looking at a location for this new project.
I've also met with the union, which began recently representing the employees of Crossroads. We're trying to work cooperatively to help the employees in any way we can to help see them through this transition.
I should also say that I have received a large number of calls, letters, personal contacts supporting the changes that we are making. These contacts have been from First Nations and non-First Nations people. They have been from business people and individuals, medical professionals, former Crossroads clients and, even as late as last Friday, a couple of municipal leaders in the territory. They indicated that they are calling for a change, and I believe that we are following some of the direction.
So, what's this new program going to look like, Mr. Speaker? As I indicated in my ministerial statement, it will include a 14-day detoxification period followed by a pre-treatment program. If the clients are from out of town, there will be accommodations provided in the building for up to 42 nights, which is somewhat more than Crossroads was able to provide. There will be a 12-day program plus a one-week relapse prevention program, plus an additional 14-day community integration program support. As well, recovery will be viewed as a 24-month process.
This new program will meet the needs of a greater number of Yukon people. We believe it will be cost effective, and we believe it is reflective of our consultations with Yukon people and is more flexible. It is designed to accommodate clients such as single mothers who are unable to leave their children for extended periods. We're also sensitive to people who are uncomfortable with institutions. They will have the option to stay overnight if they need to, but otherwise can integrate their healing process with daily routines.
This new system also allows us to empower Yukon First Nations in their own healing programs.
Some of the money will be available for per diems for treatment centres in communities, and I have to say I'm very pleased to see that the Aishihik treatment centre is now in operation and we have begun to develop a relationship with this centre. In fact, I've met with a number of representatives from healing centres and we have discussed where the centres can fit into the overall treatment program.
Addictions workers from all Yukon communities will be invited to learn how to deliver our program at their home. We have provided this program to Kwanlin Dun members at Kwanlin Dun and we've already begun to provide it in the Sarah Steele Building at 6118 6th Avenue. If members opposite, or any member of the public, would like to receive more details, I would invite them to contact the alcohol and drug services branch at 667-5777.
And I would like to look forward to reporting about the success of this new program in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: Are there any petitions to be presented?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mrs. Edelman: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) this government should obtain from the federal government that parcel of land between the Alaska Highway and the Judas Creek subdivision at Marsh Lake bordered by the two access routes into the area; and
(2) this government should then designate this land as a Recreational Reserve as requested by the residents of Marsh Lake.
Deputy Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
European business trip
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I'm pleased to rise today and report to members of this House the results of my recent business trip through Europe.
I was extremely honoured to represent the Yukon in the key cities of Berlin and Zurich. This important travel is a vital part of our government's policy of broadening the territory's economic base by promoting the Yukon as a destination for tourists.
In Germany, I met with senior officials of the Fulda Reifen tire company to discuss their future plans in the Yukon. I am pleased to report a decision has been made that will see another major incentive trip here, in the fall of 1999. Fulda's incentive trip to the Yukon last month generated in excess of $4 million for our economy and, if I might add, at a very slow period of our economy, during the winter months.
The 1999 fall trip is expected to be even larger. It will be expanded to include not only Whitehorse but Dawson City and communities along the Alaska Highway.
Another exciting development is that Fulda has also committed to sponsoring an all-wheel rally of international calibre and appeal. It will include representation from many European countries. This event, which will be known as the Yukon Challenge, will incur significant economic spinoffs for the Yukon as this rally travels throughout the territory.
The Fulda Reifen incentive trip here this winter also generated over $10 million of television and media coverage. The company was so pleased with the success of the promotion that it intends to promote its Yukon marketing efforts in 1999 to include point-of-sale promotions in their 2,000 dealerships across Germany and other areas around Europe.
The increased exposure will give a major boost to our marketing efforts in other European markets, such as France, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy.
I also had an opportunity to meet with officials from Air Transat, the airline that will be offering direct flights from Frankfurt to Whitehorse this summer. Air Transat is extremely impressed by the demand Tourism Yukon has been able to create in the marketplace and is very pleased with the bookings for this year's flight.
The airline has advised us that its seats to Whitehorse have sold very well, with several flights during the peak season already sold out.
As members are aware, our government has already announced plans to examine options for expanding the runway facilities at the Whitehorse Airport to accommodate larger aircraft. This will be a significant incentive to future direct flights from overseas countries to the territory.
While in Berlin, I attended the ITB marketplace, the largest travel trade marketplace in the world. I had the opportunity to speak with many European wholesalers, officials from the Canadian Tourism Commission and other Canadian jurisdictions. It was obvious that the demand for the Yukon as a destination is both tangible and growing.
Also, while attending the ITB, I learned first hand about the efforts of other tourist destinations that are developing great facilities to allow visitors to participate in experiences designed with cultural, ecological and historical relevance. Those same experiences can be offered here in the Yukon.
This major marketing trip also allowed me to meet with officials of the Canadian Tourism Commission in Switzerland to finalize planning for the exhibition of Yukon First Nations arts and culture in Zurich this summer.
The exhibition will be hosted by Zurich's Indianermuseum and will feature works from the Yukon permanent art collection, the recently acquired Yukon Native Products collection, the Andrew Philipsen Law Centre collection, the Yukon College collection and the government collection at large.
Loans of other artifacts are being arranged with the Dawson City Museum, the George Johnston Museum in Teslin, the Kluane Museum in Burwash and the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse. Yukon Archives will assist with coordinating photographic materials and, Mr. Speaker, this will truly be a Yukon-wide effort.
Cultural tourism is one of the fastest growing segments in international tourism, and Yukon First Nations culture will feature prominently in our promotion of the territory in the coming years.
It is a pleasure to report that our efforts to bring the Yukon to the attention of the world are continuing to pay off and that the many outstanding features of this wonderful territory have a very receptive audience abroad.
As proof of this, Mr. Speaker, I'm very delighted to table the latest statistics concerning tourism inquiries of the Canadian Tourism Commission's offices in Germany. This chart, which I received just yesterday, shows that the total number of inquiries about the Yukon increased from 61 percent this January over the same month last year, and February inquiries are up a whopping 180 percent over last February.
These figures show that the Yukon is clearly leading other Canadian jurisdictions in tourism inquiries, and they demonstrate that our government's aggressive marketing approach is absolutely working.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Phillips: I'm very pleased to see that the minister's trip to Europe appears to have achieved some successes. As the minister knows, Mr. Speaker, we take a much different approach in opposition than his party did when they were in opposition, when they opposed such trips. We felt that they were worthwhile then, and we're glad to see the minister is carrying on the good work that was started by the Yukon Party with respect to increasing our presence in Europe.
Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of questions I have with respect to the ministerial statement that is before us here. One is on the question of the runway expansion. I know there's some money in the budget to study the issue. I wonder if the minister can tell us when he expects the study to be complete, and, if it recommends expansion of the runway, when does the minister expect that construction could start and finish, because there has to be some lead time in marketing the fact that our runway has the capability of attracting larger aircraft.
With respect to the money in the budget to develop experiences designed with cultural, ecological and historical reference, this particular budget that we see in front of us doesn't have a lot of money for that. There aren't a lot of changes in the Tourism budget with respect to promoting that, and there is a lot of infrastructure that has to be developed.
In fact, Mr. Speaker, this government has not done anything with the $1.5 million Tourism capital money that was in Economic Development's budget - the capital money for the City of Whitehorse - which is supposed to go directly to tourism product development. Unfortunately, the Minister of Economic Development, who has shown his lack of knowledge about tourism, is looking now at putting this money into a project that will have very little impact, it appears, with respect to tourism.
So, I would like to know if the minister has plans in the future to put some more money in the budget or encourage his colleagues to put more money in the budget so that we can hopefully see the development of product in the territory, because it doesn't do much good to go out and tell everybody that we have great things here and they arrive and they find that there isn't enough product to serve the market.
Mr. Speaker, I'd like to ask the minister a couple of questions about the exhibit that is going to be in Zurich. Are we sending any people over for the exhibit? Maybe the minister could let us know who will be going to participate in this exhibit if we're sending people over, and at what cost? I'd be interested in that. When is the exhibit taking place and is it a permanent-type exhibit or is just for a certain period of time in conjunction with a specific event? Maybe the minister could fill us in on that.
As well, Mr. Speaker, the chart that the minister gave us is rather impressive, and I congratulate the people in the marketing department in the Department of Tourism for their excellent job in getting the Yukon's message out there, but what I would like to know from the minister is if he could provide us with the actual numbers. What we're seeing here is percentages and so it's difficult to determine how much we've increased.
The minister said we've increased 180 percent and that could be achieved if we went from five to 15 or so. So, what I want to know from the minister is - I know the number is more than that - what are the numbers for all of the jurisdictions just so we can get an idea of what kind of inquiries we're generating in Europe about the Yukon product.
Again, I congratulate the minister on his efforts with Fulda and his efforts in Europe. I think it's a great marketplace for the Yukon, as is evident by the visitor exit survey - that these people are big spenders and they make Yukon a destination, they spend more time here, and Yukon benefits from that.
Mr. Speaker, I would suggest to the minister, though, that he has a discussion with his Minister of Economic Development, who has been dragging his feet in the last seven or eight months with respect to Yukon gas prices, as we're the only jurisdiction - we've lagged behind every other jurisdiction in the country. We've fixed our highways up. As the minister of highways knows, they're in very good condition, and what I'm concerned about, Mr. Speaker, is that visitors are going to reach Watson Lake, and if the gas prices are extremely high and they haven't moved at all and they're lower on either side of us, people are going to drive right through and -
Deputy Speaker: Order please. The member has 10 seconds to conclude.
Mr. Phillips: Nowadays, Mr. Speaker, you can get through the Yukon in one day. So, again, congratulations and job well done to the minister and the marketing department, and I look forward to the minister's response.
Ms. Duncan: I'm pleased to respond to the statement on behalf of the Liberal caucus. First of all, I'd like to welcome the minister back to the Legislature and to the Yukon. I'm sure he's glad to be back.
We in the Liberal caucus are generally supportive of the government's efforts to increase tourism from Europe, and Germany in particular. I am pleased to hear that Fulda will be returning to the Yukon in the coming years, although I must confess to being rather surprised by several mentions of Fulda in the ministerial statement and not a single mention of the Yukon Quest, and there has been a relationship established between that volunteer organization and Fulda.
The Fulda organization has given our winter tourism industry a huge boost, and their continued involvement will serve to increase the Yukon's profile in Europe. Perhaps the minister and I could compete against each other in that all-wheel drive car rally he mentioned.
Mr. Speaker, I'm concerned that the minister is putting too many eggs in one tourism basket. I have raised this concern before in Tourism general debate, and I'll raise it again here today. We should be putting time, money and effort into other places, as well. By focusing most of our attention on only one area, we are not serving others where there is potential for growth.
I still have a number of questions about the government's deal with Air Transat, and the minister has not exactly been forthcoming with information about this deal. I have unanswered questions about the marketing agreement and with respect to passengers who are flying to Whitehorse and actually getting off and staying here. I discussed these with the minister and I look forward to further discussions in this regard.
It's very difficult, as a member of the third party and the opposition in this House, to endorse or reject this type of government initiative when we're not given all the information.
I do have concerns about the cost of the minister's trip. As others have mentioned, in information provided to our caucus, the cost of the trip has been pegged around $1,500. It's obviously much higher than that and I hope that the minister can table a legislative return that indicates the full cost of the trip and what department and what branch the money came from. In this regard, I'm particularly interested in knowing the cost of the minister's business-class airline ticket from Vancouver to Calgary or if that was simply an airline upgrade offered by the airline.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, pardon me for being slow to get to my feet. There are just many, many questions that have to be answered and maybe I'll start with the beginning of my notation here.
I thank the official opposition for their credit and their good words of moving forward. I would also like to say, though, that it was not the Yukon Party that had started tourism within the Yukon, but it was done with a government-led initiative. I can remember as far back as Mr. David Porter being the Tourism minister and participating in the ITB and looking for, clamouring for ways to find and bring on good marketing people, which he was very successful at. So, it's not who's doing it, it's how it's being done, and, more importantly again, if it's not being done properly, who could do it properly, of which I take my department's much credit and ado for that.
So, I thank you for the words that come from the member opposite.
As far as the runway expansion, yes, we are looking to start that as soon as the weather will allow us to in the next fiscal year. We are looking to take the results of the tests and to move forward with construction as soon as we possibly can move forward with it. Of course, that is a caucus decision, and caucus will have every input into doing that.
The eco-historical tourism question that came from across the floor is something that is a very good and relevant question. As the member opposite knows, we've done focus test results across the country. People want to see, in this order: nature of Yukon, people of the Yukon, Beringia and the gold rush. Therein comes the opportunity to start to identify and look at the opportunities of the cultural, eco and historical opportunities that are there. As I've said, I've seen, in displays at the ITB, such as in Dubai, wonderful movements based on cultural, economics and the eco and historical relevance.
Infrastructure development - I was working with my colleague to my far left, the Minister of Economic Development. We've had many brainstorming sessions, sitting down together, to see how we might be able to jointly further the infrastructure development and tourism development in the Yukon. So, it is certainly good and a pleasure to work with a good member of our caucus, the Member for Faro.
There are more dollars in the Tourism budget and the capital budget - again working with the Economic Development people, so that we might be able to do things in, certainly, a very thoughtful and deliberate manner, as we are known to do, and not to be jerking our knees and saying, "This is the way", but to follow through. Our commitments have been established in our election platform to move forward, and we will continue to move forward.
The exhibits in Zurich - yes. We are currently working with the Indianermuseum folks. We are looking to send some folks across, and I will certainly let the members opposite know who will be going, what their expertise is, and at what cost they'll be going. This is predominantly at the request of the Indianermuseum. The Indianermuseum is handling and orchestrating this. My department is certainly working with them, but we are not the lead on this.
As to the actual numbers and the percentage, I will certainly get that back to the members opposite. I do not have that at my fingertips, but I will get that to them.
Welcome home. Well, thank you very much. It's indeed a pleasure to be home. I very much missed my home, the Yukon Territory, but in order to do good work, I was elected to do good work and will continue to do good work, so it's important that we say fruitful good-byes, and it's also good to be congratulated home. So it is indeed a pleasure to be here, and I certainly do look forward to competing in the all-wheel rally against the leader of the third party opposite, although I would suggest that we take some dust screen with yourself - not maybe bug screen, but dust screen - because I anticipate that we will be where we are at this point in time.
You mentioned that there's no Quest mentioned in this ministerial statement. Certainly the department is only working to foster relationships between the Quest board and with the Fulda Reifen people. That is all. We are working to help, if we can, but it is certainly a business arrangement as between the two and, as you know, folks from Dawson City over there - not Quest folks, but certainly other folks are over there - and there is communication happening between Fulda Reifen and the Quest as to their aspirations, and that is going on right now.
So I think we should be - well indeed, there is an answer.
Let me ...
Deputy Speaker: Order please. The member has 10 seconds.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Ten seconds. Yes, sir, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Focus test results are done across North America, and focus test results are not done sporadically, from my thought. They are done from focus test results which are done predominantly in the United States, based on the rubber tire market, which comes up with -
Deputy Speaker: Thank you very much.
Land claims implementation: temporary assignments between governments
Hon. Mr. Harding: I rise to outline the second of three components in our strategy to support land claims and self-government implementation and employment equity.
Yesterday I outlined the first component, dealing with land claims training. The second component addresses the exchange of personnel between the Yukon government and First Nations governments to enhance cooperation, share expertise and improve relations between governments.
Using a cooperative planning process, the Public Service Commission and a group of First Nations representatives have developed a protocol containing terms of reference to facilitate temporary assignments between the Yukon government and First Nations governments.
Management board has approved this as a model for bilateral protocols to be established between the Yukon government and individual First Nation governments.
The protocol for temporary assignments has been tabled with the leadership of the Council of First Nations. It is scheduled for discussion at their next meeting. The protocol is also being extended to other Yukon First Nations that are not members of the CYFN at present.
Following these leadership discussions, the Public Service Commission will begin working with individual First Nations governments to establish bilateral protocols.
We currently have four temporary assignments in place between the Yukon and First Nations governments.
The Public Service Commission will be the coordinating department for YTG in promoting and arranging temporary assignments. This will ensure that logistical problems that might prevent temporary assignments from being finalized can be avoided.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, the benefits of sharing personnel through such assignments should also be viewed in the context of the relationships built through the representative Public Service joint planning process and the land claims training initiative.
Together, these initiatives are creating positive, collegial and respectful relationships between the Yukon government and First Nations governments.
Our government believes that this will benefit all Yukon people by laying the foundation today for positive government-to-government relations throughout the territory in the future.
Mr. Phillips: Without having an opportunity to see the model protocol, which contains the terms of reference to facilitate the temporary assignments between the Yukon government and First Nations governments, it's difficult to make a real balanced assessment. But perhaps I could ask the minister if he could make copies of it available to the opposition members for their review.
As the minister mentioned, the protocol has been tabled with the leadership for the Council of Yukon First Nations, and I'd ask that the same courtesy be extended to the members of this Legislature. I'd also ask the minister when he envisions the protocol to be adopted and negotiations to begin with individual First Nations to establish the bilateral protocols.
The minister made reference to four temporary assignments already in place through the Yukon government and First Nations. Perhaps the minister could elaborate further on which First Nation the government has assignments in place, how long have they been in place and explain to the members what the assignments are about.
I find it interesting that temporary assignments have already been struck without the protocol having been approved by CYFN and the Yukon government.
Maybe the minister could tell us what kind of protocol is used, if any, to establish the assignments that are already in effect. As part of the government's initiative to foster better relations and enhance cooperation between governments, could the minister tell us if any discussions have taken place with the Association of Yukon Communities and whether any thought has been given to expanding land claims training to the communities, as well as municipal governments, because municipal governments are often in regular contact with First Nation governments and many of them will be working in partnerships in the future?
As I mentioned yesterday, Mr. Speaker, I wish the government well in its initiatives, and look forward to receiving more information about this strategy to support the land claims and self-government implementation and employment equity.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to respond on behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus to the minister's statement.
We support the government in their efforts to formalize the process for seconding employees to First Nations and we support the notion of seconding these workers. I have a couple of questions for the minister. When employees are seconded to First Nations, are their positions within the Yukon government back-filled? For example, the minister said that there are currently four temporary assignments. Are these positions, then, filled?
I would also like to know how these employees are chosen to fill these positions. Is it a volunteer basis or a competition? Can an employee refuse an assignment? How are the job descriptions mutually agreed upon and are there outstanding liability issues with respect to decisions taken while these employees are on a temporary assignment?
Could the minister tell the House what sort of time line has been established for the completion of the model protocols? In other words, how long before the process is completed and we actually have a system in place to coordinate temporary assignments between governments. I look forward to the minister's response.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I will provide the protocol as soon as I possibly can to the members opposite. It should be ratified as soon as the leadership of Yukon First Nations meet. I can provide more detail on the existing arrangements. They were struck through bilateral accords before we reached the overall agreement. Some of them are quite unique in their design.
So, I can provide more details to the members opposite.
With regard to the question about municipal governments participating in the expansion of the training, obviously, there would be some merit in that, but there is also a cost attached to it. So, if there is some indication expressed by municipalities that they'd like to participate, I would be more than open to trying to find a vehicle that's cost-effective and to try and include them in the training, but the main priority and the main focus is to get our own government and its culture and its knowledge base improved with regard to the umbrella final agreement and the aspects of that that are going to be so important to the future of the Yukon in terms of our future government-to-government relationships.
With regard to back-fills, the question from the leader of the Liberal Party, normally what we try and do in these exchanges is have just that - an exchange - so that there's a transfer of employees in similar positions between the two governments, which does not necessitate a back-fill and an added cost.
With regard to the other questions that the member asked in more detail, the protocol will answer most of those, and when I can make it available to the critics, I will do so.
Deputy Speaker's statement
Deputy Speaker: Before proceeding to Question Period, I would like to remind members that questions should be to the point and remind ministers and commissioners that answers should be short.
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Yukon Employees Union negotiations
Mr. Phillips: My question is to the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. Well, Mr. Speaker, another NDP election promise has come back to haunt this government with the Yukon Employees Union negotiators leaving the contract talks. The Yukon union president has stated publicly that it was insulting for this government to renege on its commitment to totally rescind the wage rollback legislation, which means returning the two-percent wage rollback.
Can the minister explain to the House why this government, which inherited a $46-million surplus, according to the Auditor General, from the Yukon Party government, isn't willing to return the two-percent wage rollback, which this minister and his colleagues promised to do in the election campaign? What's the reason for this betrayal?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The betrayal occurred when the Yukon Party ended the process of collective bargaining in this territory and unilaterally rolled back wages in this territory and killed collective bargaining at a time when there was a surplus in government. It was an unprecedented action by any government in this country. Mr. Speaker, that was the true betrayal.
With regard to the issue that the member speaks of, there was an absolute commitment by this government to return to collective bargaining. It was crystal clear that we intended to do that when we were asked in the election campaign whether the two percent would be immediately restored, and I can table quotes to that effect, which I will in a minute. We were crystal clear that that did not mean an immediate restoration of the two percent.
Mr. Speaker, it's also interesting to note that the final settlement with the YTA ordered by the arbitrator did include a raise of more than two percent, factoring in all the costs of increment restoration as well as the wage increases that were part of the settlement.
So, Mr. Speaker, we hope to get back to respectful negotiations and discussions with the union through conciliation. We will proceed in that vein. We hope to conclude a collective agreement. That is our desire, that is our wish, that is our aim, and that's what we'll work to.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, the scrap heap of broken NDP election promises grows larger every time this minister opens his mouth, whether it be on wolf control, rate relief, local hire, management of the Energy Commission by southern interests, stabilized affordable power rates, and now the statement they made during the election about the two percent being unnecessary.
Mr. Speaker, can the minister tell us why they said it was unnecessary in 1993 when there was a $64-million deficit and now, when there's a $46-million surplus, they've changed their mind 180 degrees?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, there are so many false statements in the member's preamble, it's really difficult. You don't have a lot of time, given your initial ruling, to beat them all down, but I'll try and deal with at least some of the half-truths the member put forward - and non-truths.
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the election commitments made by this government, every election commitment we have made we have honoured. When we said we would return to collective bargaining at the earliest possible opportunity, we did just that. When we said that we would immediately do that, we were serious about it. When we told people in the election campaign that we would not be immediately restoring the two percent, we meant that. We hope to conclude in a respectful way through conciliation negotiations.
With regard to the fiscal position of the government, we are interested in sustainable spending. We have made that clear. Mr. Speaker, it's ironic the members could stand up and criticize our budget for what they call "taking the surplus down to $15 million" and then talk about $46-million surplus figures that do not exist at the present time, and then stand up and say that they, after they killed collective bargaining, are strong advocates of it. I just don't think it washes.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that, last year, April 1, there was $46 million that this government had to spend. It was a matter of priorities. It was a matter of this government honouring its commitments to its union members when it was in an election campaign and trying to get their vote. That's what it was all about. Now that they're in this position, they've chosen to reverse that decision by 180 degrees.
There is a $110-million difference between what the Yukon Party had to deal with back in the early days and what the NDP government had to do. I'd like to ask the minister, why is he not prepared to state that negotiating and working with its workers and reinstating the two percent is as important now as he said it was before the election, to gain their votes?
Hon. Mr. Harding: First of all, the member's statements are false, patently false. We were perfectly consistent.
Mr. Speaker, I'll read from an article on Friday, September 27, during the election campaign, where all the leaders of the political parties were asked, "Are you going to reinstate the loss of teachers' salaries", referring to collective bargaining - to the so-called two percent? Said the leader of our party, "We believe in collective bargaining." When asked yes or no, the answer was, "I guess it'll have to be no."
So, Mr. Speaker, I think we were pretty clear about our intentions. We believe in collective bargaining. We reinstated it, as we said we would. We have done that.
The member opposite talked about $46 million. It's completely wrong. Most of that money, or a large portion of it, was revoted capital, and that had to be injected into this economy so that we could build the infrastructure we need and keep people working.
Mr. Speaker, this is the same group that has been carrying a budget line of O&M bad, capital good. Now they're standing up, trying to pretend they're defenders of collective bargaining - after they killed it - and wage increases that they say are bad.
So, our revenues are declining in this territory. We believe in respectful negotiations, but we have other challenges. We have to deal with health care needs, education needs, social services needs, the need for road building, capital schools, all those things. We're trying to balance that out. We hope to conclude an agreement through conciliation.
Question re: Yukon Employees Union negotiations
Mr. Phillips: Well, unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, priorities change. Before the election, when they needed the votes, it was important to say one thing. Now, they've changed their priorities. Their own travel seems to be more important than the wages of their public servants.
Once again, to the Public Service Commission minister, who sometimes doubles as the minister responsible for the sorry state of our Yukon economy - one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that the Yukon economy is in a major slump, thanks in a large measure to the actions and lack of action of this government and of this minister, in particular. The last thing Yukoners need is a public sector strike. I would like to ask the minister if he's aware that retail, food and housing prices, and the like, were higher in the Yukon in 1996 and 1997, as compared to both Alberta and B.C., and did the Public Service Commissioner consider these increased living costs before he instructed his negotiators to not return the two percent to the government workers that he promised prior to the election?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have to say again that the member is alleging something that is false. We promised to return to collective bargaining. We were perfectly consistent. I just read the member opposite proof positive of that. There's much more evidence of that, Mr. Speaker.
The important thing here is that we have kept our commitment to returning to collective bargaining. We do believe that we can conclude a respectful collective agreement. That was accomplished through binding arbitration with the teachers. The end settlement ended up being more than two percent, as a result of the arbitrator's award. We think that we can conclude that agreement.
It's interesting to note the member's preamble. After just standing up and saying, "travel good; business travel good," when our Minister of Tourism goes over, gets inquiries about tourism in the Yukon from Europe up 180 percent, he stands up in his preamble and criticizes business travel. Could the member make his mind up, please?
Mr. Phillips: You bet I can make my mind up, Mr. Speaker. I think the Tourism minister going to Europe is a great trip. I think the Minister of Economic Development trotting around South America is not a very good idea. I'd be surprised if we see one benefit out of that particular trip for this government or Yukoners with respect to jobs, other than exporting them.
The minister has claimed in this House that he gave the two percent back to the teachers. Did the government make the same offer to the YEU of returning the two percent to the other employees?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Once again, a reversal in position. The Yukon Party, I thought, given their press releases - their leader stating commitments to the Team Canada approach, trying to go out and hustle to create jobs and improve our export potential, to get more investment in the territory - and the fact that they wanted ministers of government to go out and hustle and do those things, that this was part of what they were supporting. It appears today, Mr. Speaker, that they've taken a complete role reversal and a shift in their position as a result of a little bit of heated debate in Question Period. I would say to them that they become a bit more consistent on that point.
With regard to collective bargaining, we were entirely consistent from day one. We said we would return to collective bargaining. We said that that did not include an immediate restoration of the two percent. The binding arbitration with the teachers ended up with a settlement of more than two percent, through the process. We hope that we can conclude a respectful collective agreement with the government employees through conciliation. That's still our aim. We hope to do that.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, the last thing that our Yukon economy needs at the present time in the state it's in is a public sector strike. That's the last thing we need, unless this minister intends to completely devastate the Yukon economy. He's on that track.
I would like to ask the minister if he would consider going back to the table, reconsidering what he's doing with the union and sitting down and talking constructively, in light of what's happening in the Yukon economy and what's happening with the Yukon cost of living, and the commitments that his government made to garner the votes of the union employees prior to the election. Will the minister go back and sit down with the union to discuss further negotiations?
Hon. Mr. Harding: What a ridiculous question. I just told the member opposite that we're going to conciliation. Those discussions will take place.
Secondly, the member stands up and says that the last thing we need is a strike. This is the Yukon Party that legislated the workers' so-called settlement.
They legislated their collective agreement. They did it to the teachers after congratulating them a few months earlier about their willingness to conclude agreements at the table.
Mr. Speaker, apparently the Yukon Party's advocating that we legislate an agreement. We will not do that. We will not end the collective bargaining process no matter how many times they ask us. We are going to continue on through the process. Hopefully, we will end up in an appropriate settlement. That's our aim. We will work very hard to do that. We have to balance interests in this territory. We have commitments on health care, on education, on social services, on road building and on school construction. There are a lot of needs in this territory and it's important that governments reflect those when they have their discussions.
Question re: Yukon Employees Union negotiations
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Public Service Commissioner. As has been noted this morning, contract talks between the government and the union representing the Government of Yukon employees broke off again. One of the main issues at the table is money, specifically the two-percent wage rollback brought in by the Yukon Party.
The union leader said in a newspaper article last week that he was insulted that the NDP has not lived up to their commitment to totally rescind the wage rollback legislation. The union believes that includes returning the lost two percent. Now, Mr. Speaker, clearly this group was left with the impression that they were getting their two percent back.
For the record, did the NDP give any assurance to the Yukon government union, verbally or in writing, publicly or privately, in the lead up to the last election that the two percent would be restored?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I think I've answered that question six times already in this Question Period. The answer to the question is no. We didn't go so far as the Liberal Party that said the two percent was water under the bridge, but we did make an unequivocal statement that we would proceed to collective bargaining and that would not necessarily mean that the two percent would be immediately restored.
Ms. Duncan: I'd just remind the Public Service Commissioner that the issue is not the Yukon Liberal Party record in the last election. It's their promises in the last election.
For the record, the minister has stated that the case is going to the conciliation board. For the record, is the government prepared to let the collective bargaining and this process go the entire route? If we reach the unfortunate situation that agreement can't be reached, is the government prepared to let the employees strike without bringing in back-to-work legislation?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Here we go, Mr. Speaker. Now I'm starting to figure out the Liberal agenda. They're already advocating for back-to-work legislation. We haven't even got conciliation yet. Now I understand why that Liberal member voted for the budget that contained the wage restraint legislation when the Yukon Party brought it in. Now I understand what their thinking was. Their true agenda is now starting to come out. Mr. Speaker, that's why they bashed the Yukon Federation of Labour.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Order please.
Hon. Mr. Harding: That's why anything that referenced unions in the Yukon hire commission report had the dander of the Liberal leader up, Mr. Speaker. We intend to bargain collectively with our employees. Our hope and our aim will be to negotiate and conclude a respectful collective agreement through the conciliation process. And, Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is already asking - let it be duly noted for the record - us to legislate them back to work. That's amazing.
Ms. Duncan: Let it be correctly stated what was asked. I asked for the minister's and the government's position to be on the record, and for the record, I wasn't yet in the House when that budget was debated.
Mr. Speaker, my final question for the minister: the negotiators for the Yukon government have been quoted as saying that the union demands would add up to $15 million per year to the territorial budget. Would the minister - perhaps he wishes to consult with his colleague - tell this House how much restoring the two-percent rollback would cost per year?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, it didn't take the Liberal leader long to cut loose from the Member for Riverside who voted for the wage restraint budget.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's hard to speak with the heckling.
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Would the members please let the minister conclude his answer?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's hard to speak with the non-confrontational heckling from the Liberal benches. But, Mr. Speaker, let me just say that that was one of the fastest cutting-looses of people I've seen.
Mr. Speaker, the actual cost of an increase of one percent to the overall government payroll is roughly $1.5 million in increased wages. That is the actual cost, so the member can do the math and figure out exactly what the numbers are.
Mr. Speaker, I find these questions from the Liberal Party quite interesting. It's hard to tell whether they're actually supporting collective bargaining or back-to-work legislation. It's hard to tell, given their record on voting for the wage restraint legislation, whether they're really prepared to see collective bargaining work through to its ultimate end, which is hopefully a collective agreement. With the record of their cousins in Ottawa, after slashing tens of thousands of civil servant jobs and freezing wages for years and years, it's quite indicative that they're reflective of that approach.
Question re: Psychiatric day program at Whitehorse General Hospital
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, to set the record straight, the NDP voted for four budgets that condoned the rollback.
Anyway, Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services, and very appropriately it's about mental health.
Mr. Speaker, in 1994, the director of YTG health programs indicated that there may be money for a psychiatric day program at Whitehorse General Hospital in the next budget. It is now four years later and the program still does not exist. I have met recently with staff at the Yukon Hospital Corporation and they have expressed a great deal of interest in setting up this type of program.
Can the minister commit to this House today that there is a will to establish a psychiatric day program at Whitehorse General Hospital and that that program can be set up within the next year?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Not only can I confirm that, but I would also say that, if the member takes a look at the budget, we've added some additional resources to the hospital, in the terms of mental health resources - albeit it's on a two-year pilot. But one of the concerns that we have is to try to address some of the day needs of individuals who are experiencing psychiatric difficulties, and also to try to provide an opportunity for some of those individuals to stay out of the clinical setting as much as possible.
Mrs. Edelman: That's very interesting, and I'm sure it'll be total news to the people at Whitehorse General Hospital because, as of Friday, they in no way had any knowledge of the fact that you were starting up a psychiatric day program up at Whitehorse General Hospital.
It's also interesting to note that the money that's been allocated in the budget has been put toward two positions in mental health services. The money that's left over after those two positions are filled is about $12,000. I'm a little bit curious as to how you can possibly set up a psychiatric day program for two years for $12,000.
In 1995, YTG held a meeting to begin the planning of a comprehensive, integrated mental health system for the Yukon. Though this planning exercise started under the previous Yukon Party regime, it was still a very good idea. Now, nothing happened after the first meeting, and there's been no attempt to restart this process. The time to start planning for tomorrow was yesterday.
Can the minister tell this House why this planning exercise has not been completed?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, I'd like to sort of confirm the funding of our two positions at the outpatient mental health clinic. We believe that it will provide greater services for people with severe and persistent mental illness. We've had discussions with the Whitehorse General Hospital on the coordination of the hospital base and community health programs. So, I'm somewhat surprised that the member would say that this is not going on.
Under phase 2 of the health transfer, we saw a repatriation of community mental health services to the Government of the Yukon. At the same time, the funding for such things as the YFSA, SOS and Mental Health Review Board were consolidated under the director of mental health.
So I believe that we are working toward trying to deliver a comprehensive program. We are trying to address what we see as obvious gaps - such things as after-hours crisis service, emergency shelter as an alternative to hospitalization, day programming and expanded counselling services to communities.
Mrs. Edelman: I suppose that's what my last question is about: how is the minister working with the Yukon First Nations in developing out-of-Whitehorse mental health services?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: One of the things that we have, over the last year or so - I've had a number of discussions with First Nation communities on the need to deliver more counselling services. As a matter of fact, in a couple of communities that have approached us directly on this, we have worked with YFSA to increase the frequency of visits and to increase the length of visits. We'll also be working with Yukon First Nations on designing the appropriate programming for our new positions at the outpatient mental health clinic.
Question re: Carcross caribou recovery audit
Mr. Ostashek: My question is for the minister responsible for Renewable Resources. It's on the Carcross caribou recovery audit.
Last November, I raised the issue of an alleged misappropriation of funds in relation to the Carcross caribou recovery program. Six members of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation made the allegation that $25,000 had been used to purchase a pickup truck, rather than monitor the herd. The minister undertook to have an independent audit of the program. On February 9, I received a letter from the minister stating that the terms of reference for the audit had been drafted and the request for bids had then been issued, with the closing on February 11. The audit was to be completed by March 12.
Then, on March 16, I received another letter from the minister that the audit had just been awarded and that the final report wasn't expected for another two months. Can the minister explain to me the reason for the very different views of the February 9 letter, saying that we would have an audit by March 12, and the March 16 letter, saying that we have to wait another two months for this?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: As the member knows, MacKay and Partners were hired to do the audit. We've had an additional update on the progress of the audit. It was to be completed by March 19 and I just inquired about it and they say that it should be done by the end of this month, not in the two months that was indicated in the last letter that was written to the member.
We've asked that the audit take in more than just the inquiry about the misappropriation of funds. There have been concerns raised by the opposition. It is a concern to us that contracts that are put out in small amounts of dollars sometimes are not written as clearly as we would like. We asked that audit to make recommendations on how we best go about putting together these smaller contracts.
Mr. Ostashek: I would expect that the audit would make those recommendations even if the minister hadn't asked for them.
My concern, Mr. Speaker, is that the minister was aware of this allegation last July and did absolutely nothing about it until it was raised on the floor of the Legislature in November. Then he ducked the issue by saying he would hold an audit and now he's ducking the issue again by saying he was going to have a report for the House by March 12. Then he writes me a letter on March 16 that gives him two more months to complete it. Now today, he comes back and he says it'll be done by March 31. When can we expect that audit in this Legislature? Can the minister stand on his feet and tell us today?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I just told the member that we had further updates to that. We were told that by the end of this month they would have a report for us and a complete audit. At that point in time we can bring that information forward to the member.
Mr. Ostashek: I would suggest to the minister that, if the allegations are true and the $25,000 was used to buy a pickup truck, that pickup truck will be worn out before this minister gets the results of the audit.
I believe this minister's been dragging his feet on this issue. He doesn't really want to go ahead with it. So, I'm going to ask the minister here and now: will he table that audit in the report as soon as he gets it, and hopefully by April 1? If not, I will be asking more questions in this House.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I am quite surprised that the member is already coming to conclusions about what's in the audit. The whole purpose was to find this information out and bring it back to this House. I told the member that by the end of this month we should have an audit done. I can bring that information to them. I don't know what part of that he doesn't understand.
Question re: Air Transat
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions are for the Minister of Tourism. I have some questions regarding the Department of Tourism efforts regarding Air Transat. The issue is how well-prepared we are. From what I'm hearing, we're not very well-prepared. We're assuming from previous discussions and some comments in the ministerial statement today that an L1011 aircraft is landing in Whitehorse once a week this summer. We're hoping that about 240 people are getting off each plane.
There are some on-ground logistical issues that have to be dealt with. The issues of on-ground equipment to handle the aircraft have not been resolved. However, the Government of Yukon has placed deposits on new equipment. Industry sources have told me that the price of the equipment to service the aircraft is about $900,000. Can the minister confirm that number and provide me with a list of the equipment purchased to service this private aircraft?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It is indeed a pleasure to be able to stand on my feet and talk about the Air Transat service to the Yukon, because it's such a good and beneficial thing. I think everyone in the territory recognizes that, except the member opposite.
Yes, we do have to incorporate a little additional infrastructure, of which, I've been told, the only thing we need is an air-start.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister has wrongly assumed that I am not supportive of this. I am simply asking, as it is my role to do, for additional information. There are issues regarding the handling of the equipment, which the minister believes is only an air-start - I don't know what briefing note he's referring to - purchased by the Government of Yukon for unloading a private plane. Is it the government's intention to hire staff to operate the equipment, and have they consulted with the local union at the airport - namely the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers - about this initiative?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my department has been working with due diligence with the folks. We've approached and talked with Canadian International. We have it on record that the vice-president was supportive and is now certainly not upset with the endeavours that we are doing to ensure that we are going to continue to increase air access and customer spending and tourists to the Yukon - and we'll do what it takes. And certainly we'll do that with the endorsement, hopefully, of all Yukon.
As to what briefing note I'm reading from, certainly she should not have access to my briefing notes, and does not have such. That's quite relevant from the questions.
Ms. Duncan: Let's try this once more for the Minister of Tourism. Would the minister confirm the list of equipment being purchased and the purchase costs to service a private charter aircraft landing in Whitehorse this summer? Will the minister also provide information as to what arrangements are being made by the Department of Tourism in consultation with others regarding loading and unloading private aircraft. Would the minister provide that information?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as we proceed with the conclusion of this deal, then we will certainly be able to provide the information.
Deputy Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Clerk: Motion No. 98, standing in the name of Mr. Cable.
Motion No. 98
Deputy Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Riverside
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(a) to encourage new investment in the Yukon economy;
(b) to create new jobs in Yukon businesses associated with that new investment; and
(c) to diversify and stabilize the Yukon economy;
the government should immediately review the experiences of other jurisdictions with investment tax credit programs, and to meet the above goals, introduce an investment tax credit system.
Speaker: The hon. Member for Riverside.
Mr. Cable: I wasn't "honourable" a few moments ago, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The stats branch statistical review, which I think all of us look at from time to time, shows the Yukon unemployment rate now standing, in January of 1998, at 11.3 percent, and I'm sure we are all aware that it's rising.
We've seen these rates rise and fall regularly over the years. They've gone up and down with the cycles of our economy. In my view, this is a function of having many of our economic eggs in a primary industry basket.
Now, it's been said in this House by the Economic Development minister that he can't control the price of zinc and that he can't control the price of gold, and I'll have to agree with him on that. He can't control the price of zinc and he can't control the price of gold, and we can't, as Yukoners, control the price of zinc and we can't, as Yukoners, control the price of gold.
He can't and we can't control the price of lumber, and we can't control the price of fish.
The economic problems associated with a primary industry economy have been recognized for years. The dollar costs and the human costs of dealing with cycles have long been recognized. Social assistance costs escalate, electricity rates escalate and, eventually, government revenues are threatened when we go to the bottom of the cycle.
The need to diversify the economy as a means of stabilization has long been talked about. Now diversification and stabilization of the economy, and stabilization through diversification, was a recurring theme of the Yukon 2000 discussions. There were a number of documents produced from that exercise.
The Yukon economic strategy document, for example, at page 60, when talking about the economic environment, says, "Developing other industries that now play a relatively minor role will strengthen the economy and make it less vulnerable to boom-and-bust swings." That's some 10 or 11 years ago. That theory's been recognized by many Yukoners and by many government officials.
In the Yukon economic strategy, steps toward stabilization were discussed, and the roadblocks to diversification were discussed. In the strategy, at pages 13 and 14, when we talk about the financial and business services, there's an interesting paragraph that reflects the thoughts of many people. I attended some of the discussions, and they were quite useful:
"Business people throughout the Yukon have been frustrated for some time by limited access to capital, especially for small and rural businesses. Some groups, such as Indian people and women, find it particularly hard to obtain credit and equity financing, and there is not much money available in the Yukon to invest in expensive projects, however vital to the territory's economic future."
Turning the page, we see the then NDP government of the day outlining what they will do. It says, "To meet the goals of the strategy, the Yukon government will" - this is amongst other things - "maintain the leading role of the private financial sector in providing capital and financial services." Then it goes on to say, "Use the government to complement and back-up the work of private financial institutions."
A little later on in the document - this is the document entitled "Yukon Economic Strategy: Yukon 2000 - Building the Future." This was the master document, as I recollect it. The authors talk about strengthening our industries. At page 33 it says, "This Yukon economic strategy encompasses the common needs of industry, training people, getting money to start or expand businesses, sound marketing plans, access to land and water resources, and reduced operating costs, such as energy and transportation."
The problem of access to capital and the role of the government and the role of the private sector are continuing themes of the public discussion that goes on about our economy. The access to capital issue was recently discussed in this House, on a motion brought by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. He identified problems for small business and reinforced the need to smooth access to capital for small business.
He talked about our boom-and-bust cycles. The member said - I'll quote from his words - at page 2134 of Hansard, "We need to diversify. We need to explore a whole range of opportunities within a wide variety of economic areas." He went on to say, "To support us in this endeavour, we need a range of financial services and options." And he finished up the one paragraph by saying, "So, acquisitions, small loans for business startups is in big demand, but so also was access to operating capital for existing businesses that wish to expand." Then he talked about the number of small businesses. He gave some examples where access to capital was important.
Then recently there was a forum conducted by the Department of Economic Development. It was run by Graham & Associates. The report was filed with the government, dated December 1997, and it was entitled "Filling the Gaps: A Forum to Examine Yukon Business Financing, Final Report". There were a number of participants who were encouraged to participate in this exercise, including a number of business people, some First Nations people and some government people.
The background is outlined in the initial page of the report, and it emphasizes, "Financing has long been an important issue in the field of Yukon business development. Perhaps more than any other factor, the availability of capital dictates the pace and scale of business development in the territory."
On the next page, there is a paragraph entitled, "Financing Gaps". It identifies four gaps: startup and venture capital, particularly in the amounts of $50,000 to $250,000; it identifies a need for working capital in virtually all business sectors and phases; it talks about a preparation gap in assessing a venture's feasibility and preparing a business plan that will support the needed financing; it talks about local access to virtually any source of capital, other than the banks, friends and relatives; and then it talks about what can be done.
Then, it talks about what can be done. It talks about the past programs that the government has operated on - EDA and what not.
It says that one school of thought suggests that government should move to fill financing gaps by providing direct financial assistance programming to business. Such programs have generally been available over the past 20 years, but they have recently been curtailed because - two reasons are given: federal funds in the area have dried up, and secondly - and this, I think, was emphasized in this House recently in the debate on the motion by the Member for Whitehorse Centre - "Political leaders of all persuasions appear increasingly reluctant to venture into business program areas that are not widely supported and generally produce mediocre results, as indicated by the 1991-1996 EDA evaluation."
So, what can be done? I think we're all in general agreement that government by itself is not the answer. I think we're all in agreement that there is a role for government. The Graham report on page 4 says: "There is evidence to suggest that ample capital is available in Canada and elsewhere for good business projects, including projects located in the Yukon. The nature of the financing challenge, therefore, is one of accessing this capital for business ventures that are small, remote and risky, relative to those in southern areas. One example of potentially accessible funds is Yukoners' savings, which annually total about $150 million. Securing 10 to 20 percent of this amount for business capital would be a significant step." Then it goes on to talk about the matter that's the subject of this motion.
It says, "Areas that warrant further investigation and/or implementation over the longer term include, among other things, using tax and other incentives to encourage broad-based business investment."
In the body of the report, there's a recapitulation of the comments of the various participants who took part in the forum, in the workshops, and there's an interesting comment made by the president of the Yukon Federation of Labour, talking about the use of labour funds and recommending that these be looked at. And these, of course, are one of the facets of the investment tax credit programs.
The recommendations were reinforced by the government press release of January 7, 1998, put out by the Department of Economic Development, in that it said, "The participants identified gaps in education and financing for new and expanding businesses. Accordingly, the major recommendations included ..." and there were five recommendations. One of those was, "investigating the possibility of investment incentives, such as tax credits."
Now, in the economic strategy and the workshops that took place in the lead-up to the Yukon 2000 economic strategy, there are other recurring themes that took place. There has been much talk about the reduction of leakage from the Yukon economy, the leakage of our Yukon wealth to the outside - such things as investments in RRSPs, where the money leaves the territory.
Leakage also could relate to the passing of dividends from Yukon corporations to people that are resident outside the Yukon, as it often relates to the purchase of some raw materials, such as imported fossil fuels to burn in the diesels.
So the issue of leakage has been before us for many years. I think it's generally agreed that dollars that leave the Yukon aren't going to be circulating in the Yukon and, therefore, are not job creators in the Yukon and are not capital creators in the Yukon.
In the Yukon economic strategy, there were several goals that were identified. There were four goals, and one of them related to the control. It said, "Control of the future. Yukoners want more control over the economic future of the territory. The keys to greater control are more regional and local decision making, increased authority for communities and a higher level of Yukon ownership."
I think the corollary of that, of course, is that, internally generated capital for use in Yukon businesses makes for more local control.
I think it's probably well-recognized that the small and medium enterprises - the SMEs, as they are called, the acronym - make for more local control than large corporations controlled or owned out of Toronto. I think it's also recognized that the small and medium enterprises are the main Canadian job creators and, of course, would be the main Yukon job creators.
Jobs are not created by the monster corporations. As a matter of fact, in many instances, with the merger mania that's going on now, we are losing jobs in the large industrial sectors.
Where does this take us? I have to say that if we believe - and I think we do - that the Yukon Territory economy, in its present form, is inherently unstable; and if we believe - and I think we do - that diversification is desirable as a means of stabilizing our economy; and if we accept that the most useful tool for diversification, job creation and local control are small- and perhaps medium-size businesses; and if we accept that there are access to capital problems for small- and medium-size businesses; then I say that we should examine an investment tax credit program as a tool to meeting the various goals.
Now, what's going on around the country in this area? The federal government and most of the provinces have investment tax credit programs. At present, I believe only the Northwest Territories and Alberta do not. But the Northwest Territories is in the process of introducing an investment tax credit program. It was announced in their budget speech earlier this year, and we're led to believe that the legislation will be introduced when their House resumes sitting, some time in May. The program will be called the Northwest Territories investment tax credit program.
Under the program, investors will be able to choose from a menu of investment vehicles. There are four of them: labour-sponsored venture capital funds is the first one; the second one is employee labour-sponsored venture capital funds; the third one is community-endorsed venture capital funds; and the fourth one is the sector of private new common shares sales.
An interesting aspect of the proposed Northwest Territories plan is a sunset clause. It's set up as a five-year program, and the maximum Northwest Territories equity tax credit available in any tax year would be set through regulation. And the proposal set out in the budget speech, I believe, is $1 million in 1998, $2.5 million in 1999, and $5 million per annum until the year 2003, for a total dedication of funds of $23.5 million over the five-year program.
The question is: how will it work? Their proposal - and one which I assume would work equally well here - is that there will be two program administrators: one for the western Arctic and one for Nunavut. And the programs will be administered on behalf of the Northwest Territories by Revenue Canada. Investors will submit receipts with their tax returns and receive tax credits to a maximum of $30,000 or their Northwest Territories income tax payable.
The eligible investments - of course, this relates to the public policy issues associated with the program. One quarter of the equity raised must be invested in eligible businesses that have less than $4 million of assets at the time of the investment, recognizing the role of medium and small businesses.
No more than 25 percent may be held as reserves and the balance may be invested in eligible businesses with less than 500 employees.
Then there are a number of excluded investments: purchase of land, payment of liability. So, the money must be used for one of two purposes, and it's to encourage either the Northwest Territories private sector to market newly issued shares of Northwest Territories businesses for sale to Northwest Territories taxpayers and Northwest Territories investors to purchase shares of Northwest Territories businesses that are planning startups or expansions.
I'm told, from one of our conversations with the Northwest Territories people, that the plan will reduce the amount of tax collected by the Northwest Territories government, of course. This was emphasized to us: this will not result in a reduction in the formula financing grant. So, assumedly, at least some approval has been received from the federal government so that the formula financing grant will not be threatened.
There is also another facet to the investment vehicles and that is the use of RRSP funds and RRSP eligibility, and I gather those negotiations are also going on with the federal government. As at the time that we received the information a few weeks ago, I understand those negotiations had not been completed, but I gather that across the country there are similar RRSP eligibility criterion for some of these funds.
In B.C. there are a number of tax incentive programs. Under their small business venture capital act, they support activities for venture capital investments in manufacturing, research and development, and tourism and agriculture and films and publishing. They have an employee investment tax credit, which relates to employee investments and shares of small- and medium-size businesses. They have an international financial business tax refund, which relates to international financial services in Vancouver.
In Nova Scotia, the eligible businesses must meet the following criteria - this appears to be a tighter program than some of the other jurisdictions: the businesses must be involved in active business or investing in other eligible businesses; they must have less than $25 million in assets; at least 25 percent of the salaries and wages must be paid in Nova Scotia; the corporations must have authorized capital consisting of shares without par value; the cooperatives must be marketing, producing or employee cooperatives; and corporations must have at least three eligible investors taking part in the specified issue.
In Saskatchewan, for their labour-sponsored venture capital program, the eligible businesses must employ no more than 300 employees in Saskatchewan and not less than five, and pay at least 25 percent of their salaries and wages to Saskatchewan residents.
The theme is that, in each of these jurisdictions, the government policy is directed toward employment in their jurisdiction, the creation of jobs in the jurisdiction and, of course, the creation of capital in the jurisdiction.
What are the records of these funds to date? They've been around for awhile. There's an interesting paper that we picked up off the Internet, entitled "Labour-Sponsored Investment Funds in Canada" by Sherman Kreiner, the chief executive officer of the Crocus Fund. It's a fairly detailed paper; it's not a long one. At page 8 of the document, it says, "What makes these funds so popular among governments is that, despite the tax expenditures to individuals that invest in the fund, studies show that the new revenue generated by the new employment pays back the tax credits to the provincial and federal governments in less than four years. Shareholders who make the independent decision to invest in the labour-sponsored funds are also satisfied with the funds. A 1992 survey of solidarity fund shareholders found that 87 percent are satisfied with the rate of return they received."
Under the summary in this paper, the second conclusion reads "Tax incentives offered by the provincial and federal governments provide a total of 40 percent tax credit to fund investors. Studies show that these are paid back within three years through various channels, including social assistance payments foregone, payroll taxes associated with new job creation, sales taxes, employer contributions to health plans, and tax payments associated with increased business activities."
Now, the plans are not without their critics. We have one of the regular contributors to the Globe and Mail, Terence Corcoran - I think he's out of the NDP government - writing in the Globe and Mail on Saturday, February 7, 1998.
He talks about the Working Ventures fund that's been around for, I think, at least a decade: "A major sign of trouble to come is Working Ventures, the largest of the labour funds. It's now so big, it can't meet it's required 70-percent investment targets. With more than $800 million in assets, the fund has managed to invest only 34 percent of its assets, or $286 million, in small companies. The rest is sitting in bonds and short-term bills." This chap usually has a knee-jerk, negative attitude toward most government initiatives, so one should -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: Leader of the official opposition, on a point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I suggest you poll the House. I believe we're lacking a quorum.
Deputy Speaker: A request for a quorum count has been called. I will now ring the bells.
Deputy Speaker: The Chair sees that there is a quorum.
The Member for Riverside.
Mr. Cable: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I would hate to think my pearls were falling upon not enough ears.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: Well, I was thinking about it.
I had referred to Terence Corcoran's article in the Globe and Mail and some of the cautions that he had talked about in relation to some of the funds. There were also some cautions provided to us by one of the local investment dealers who had said that any programs introduced must not simply be tax driven, but they must have sound business principles, and I don't think anyone would disagree with that.
He also indicated that the tax advantages of the proposed investment should be an additional incentive for individuals to invest and not merely a direct offset of the inherent risk, so that we have, in addition to the jobs that would be created anyway, additional jobs that are due to the tax incentive, and I think that should be axiomatic.
There have been some reservations expressed about the lack of the capital market here in the Yukon. We don't have any stock exchange and we don't have a sophisticated regulatory regime with relation to the issuance of securities. But I think those are more cautions than show-stoppers. They certainly haven't stopped the show from going on in the Northwest Territories.
So in summary, I have to say that we talked about diversification for years. You can hear it at Chamber of Commerce meetings. You can hear the words rotating around this Chamber. We hear it at Yukon 2000 meetings. We all nod, knowledgeably, about how good diversification is going to be, but over the last 10, 11 or 12 years, there has been precious little diversification take place in this territory.
We've also talked about the leakage of dollars from the Yukon Territory's economy for many years and we've talked many years about local control of our economy. We realize that there are a few large businesses which have an unusually large economic sway.
We've talked about access to capital problems for many years. And we, for a long time, have recognized that small and medium businesses owned by Yukoners are the best stabilizers for our economy. The people who have to stay and attend their businesses when things go up and down are much more useful to stabilize the economy than corporate directors and shareholders who reside in Toronto.
I think it's been most recently recognized right across the country that small and medium enterprises are the best job creators.
We, in the Liberal caucus, say it's time for action. We've talked and pontificated about diversification and leakage and all these other concepts for years, and we, in the Liberal caucus, say that an investment tax credit program, similar in principle anyway to the Northwest Territories program, with a sunset clause, is a viable vehicle. We say that the Canadian experience is sufficiently positive to move ahead with the program, and I say to the Minister of Economic Development that it's time for him to sit down with his friends in the federal Liberal Party and with Revenue Canada to arrange for a vehicle that is RRSP eligible.
I would like to see whether we have the political will in this Legislature to have this role for governmen: that the government bring in an investment tax credit program.
I put it to you members of this Legislative Assembly: are we prepared to look at what the Northwest Territories is looking at? Are we prepared to bring in this investment tax credit program? Are we prepared to assist small business in their capital financing programs? Are we prepared to diversify our economy? Are we prepared to help us get through the boom-and-bust cycle that the Yukon economy has gone through for the last many decades?
I put it to you. I urge you to support the motion.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'll be brief today in my comments. I'm feeling a little under the weather today. I've got a bit of that Asian flu. But, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to say to the member opposite that I think that the Liberal Party and what they're trying to propose today is something that our government has been onto since before the last election and immediately upon taking government over, and that is that the Yukon has to think differently about how we approach things.
I think that we still, as a government and in this Legislature and on the street, end up quibbling about officials who attend important business trips abroad, whether they be in Canada or anywhere else, and the same thing occurs for politicians.
We've been quite parochial in terms of our view of the world, and I think that's as a result of the comfort we've had in terms of the transfers we've had from Ottawa for so many years. I think, ultimately, that has changed in the realization that we can't do things the old way. It has come as a result of the fact that we have had that transfer cut. We've lost the U.S. Congress money that was contributing to the Shakwak, at least temporarily, which, I might add, creates a bit of an artificial economy and actually exacerbates the boom and bust, because our local contractors gear up with the metal for those jobs. If the money doesn't come, it's not available, unless, of course, you want, as a government, to cut dramatically into services to Yukoners and health care, education and social services - the big-cost item areas of providing services to government.
Of course, you can also try it through rolling back wages and that kind of thing; however, our government isn't interested in that approach. So, we also see that the economy, without the big projects like the $50 million for the Whitehorse hospital, suffers in this territory.
I've been a proponent, since day one, of pushing a new approach. Some of it is controversial. Obviously, for example, with business travel, I expect the Yukon Party to be critical of that. They sort of go back and forth on it when they're in Question Period. They want to try and score a little cheapie shot. They'll take a shot at the Team Canada trade mission to South America. That's after, of course, they support it in press releases and say it's good. We have four businesses that are paying their own way down there, spending over $10,000 each, who think it's good. We have partnership agreements with a number of business organizations in the territory, and they think it's good.
But I guess when you're in desperate need of some kind of a point to make, you fire back in Question Period. The same thing is occurring in Tourism right now with the Minister of Tourism, who's being very aggressive in terms of his marketing approach.
The reason for this new approach in the territory - and the added cost of business travel, albeit - is because we feel we have to be less parochial. We have to find new vehicles for gaining opportunities for Yukon businesses to export, as well as gaining new opportunities for reciprocal investment into this territory, because it ain't coming from Ottawa.
We've been so dependent on the resource sector in this territory, that when that is suffering - as it is now, from the effects of the Asian market crisis, which is having a reverberating effect throughout the country in the mining industry; as it's having its effect on crude oil prices in the oil and gas industry; as it's having its effect on so many workers in this country - we see that the resource sector is what this country was built on. But, it's not without its faults, and the faults are that it's cyclical.
I'm still a very strong supporter of it. I always say to people who say they don't like the boom and bust, I'd rather have some boom than just all bust, and certainly it's been a major contributor to this economy.
Of course, we also have other areas, like forestry, that we'd like to promote. We're developing forestry policy, developing a forest strategy and trying to be ready for devolution - pushing that agenda along. We think we can sustain a small, but very viable and effective, Yukon forestry industry that provides a number of jobs in this territory, and that is an important goal and something that we're working toward.
But we don't want to stop there with just the traditional resource sector. We've gone beyond that in mining, and we've gone beyond the tourism focus that we've traditionally had in this territory. I've spoken at length in this Legislature about oil and gas opportunities and forestry opportunities. We want to enhance and nurture those, but we have to look further. When we look further, we have to think about new vehicles for stimulating investment.
I promoted very heavily the immigrant investment fund program - something that's been fairly successful for the Northwest Territories and every other jurisdiction of this country, but never undertaken by a Yukon government, apparently because of some controversy. I don't know.
I've certainly had some people express different opinions to me. I do feel that it's something that has to happen for us, if we are going to find opportunities to create jobs and garner investment. We don't have the big investment opportunities. One of the problems that the NWT has is that their funds are fully subscribed, but they don't have the areas to invest the money. They haven't developed them. So, they're in a bit of a bind right now because they have these funds that are fully subscribed, but they don't have the projects to put the money into. So, we want to make sure that we watch that carefully as we develop this, so that we don't end up in the same boat, so to speak. However, we are pushing ahead on that particular agenda.
We have been very active in terms of trying to do outreach with the Far East. We believe that we take a long-term approach with those economies. Yes, they're in crisis now, but we believe that if we develop long-term relationships now, when they are on their backs, that they will respect the fact that we haven't flown the coop, like so many. And when they rebound - I firmly believe the fundamentals of our economy will rebound - we will be in a good position to capitalize for Yukoners and Yukon businesses. So, we've done things, like establishing strong contacts with the Japanese Businessmen's Association, Chamber of Commerce and the Consul General. We've done it with the Taiwanese, as well. We've also worked very hard on the Team Canada trip to South America to establish good, solid governmental contacts and contacts for our businesses that were represented on that trip - who are still following up, by the way, Mr. Speaker, in case the Member for Riverdale North cares about that. They are also working on obtaining more information about possible contracts they may enter into in the countries that we went to. Hopefully, they'll be supportive, at least, if not of the initiative that delivered it, the end result.
Mr. Speaker, these are ways that we feel that we can help the economy. We don't have the big-spend, quick-fix any more. We don't necessarily think that taking the line of the Yukon Party and the Liberals - O&M bad, capital good - is necessarily the vehicle, either, because again, you have dependency on capital and government expenditure. Clearly, that's what you have. I have only witnessed, in this last budget, the stark reality, ever so glaringly, hitting me between the eyes.
When the hospital's done and the Shakwak doesn't come through from the U.S. Congress, people are hurting. The discretionary capital budget we have this year is about the same as it's been for many years. You can see so quickly how people have made a living off the government in this territory.
There's nothing wrong with the government contracts contributing to the economy and government spending having a good impact on the economy. That's what our Yukon hire commission is all about, but when it's limited to that, then we have economic problems; we exacerbate the boom and bust. That, Mr. Speaker, I think is something that government should not be contributing to overly.
We have a regional economy in this territory, despite what we say. On one hand, opposition politicians talk about being big free traders, then they clobber the government over the head for not hiring Yukon.
Well, Mr. Speaker, we intend to further the agenda on Yukon hire to get the maximum bang for our buck. We think under the internal trade agreements that the agreements in principle we have, we'll be able to develop our regional economy, essentially get some easement to develop locally our service sector, our Yukon businesses, and ultimately become more in terms of fair and freer traders.
Right now, we believe we have to exacerbate and move on our export opportunities. We've got to get the best bang for our buck here locally as well and we're working on responding to the report from the Yukon hire commission. We think there'll be some substantive changes there that will help.
All of this strategy is designed to do what the Member for Riverside is talking about - or what I believe he was talking about - which is trying to find different vehicles and different ways to benefit our economy to think a little bit differently, perhaps a little less parochial, and be a little bit more aggressive in terms of how we approach questions of export and investment.
So we, in our last territorial budget, added some more money to our export trade and investment diversification strategy to cover some of these many vehicles.
I undertook an access to capital workshop that tried to start to gel some of the ideas in our business community about how the government can fill the gaps in terms of a response to their needs.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I feel that we are getting to the point where those ideas are well crystallized. I think we have some more work to do, and I'm considering creating a new initiative to try and bring those recommendations through to, essentially, a formalized position for this government, as they relate to the whole bailiwick of access to capital and investment-stimulating vehicles, whether it be mineral exploration or investment tax credits like the member opposite was talking about - as I've talked about. The only commitment that we've made is we're very firm on the immigrant investment program and we intend to follow that one through.
But all of the other items that have been discussed and thrown around are things that this government has been working on, that we intend to put forward in a bit of a package for adoption on access to capital and on areas such as the investor tax credit.
But I don't think we should stop with that idea. That's just one small cog. There are labour-sponsored vehicles for investment. There are other ways in terms of approaching people with capital outside of the Yukon to attempt to get them interested in investing in the territory, and we've started, as I said earlier, a lot of that work and we intend to do more of it.
So, I think it's a mistake to limit this debate to one particular idea or item, not to dispute the fact that there is merit in the idea. It is not a new one but it is only one piece of the puzzle. And I do not intend to get bogged down trying to come up with a perfect plan for stimulating investment in this territory, for dealing with access to capital problems, but I do intend to come up with a plan and it has to be somewhat comprehensive of all of the things that we should be considering, going beyond just the investment tax credit.
I think there's lots of room to manoeuvre, and I hope, and it's my expectation, that I'll be able in the next fiscal year or early in the next calendar year to deliver on a package to deal with both of the issues of access to capital and of investment-stimulating vehicles.
My time line for the immigrant investment program is, hopefully, accelerated from that, because I believe that's one that has been sorely missing in the territory. We have quite a bit of knowledge and experience from other jurisdictions that we can use to develop that.
We have to, obviously, identify the capital projects that we're going to invest in, and that's some of the work that my department is undertaking right now: to try to identify exactly what it is we have for people to invest in that they are going to find intriguing and interesting, because you have to remember that we are competing for these dollars. And so, as much as people thinking that the Yukon is great place, as I do, we are going to have to go out and earn that investment. And we don't want to get into a situation like the Northwest Territories, where we're so well-subscribed to that we don't have the places to put the money.
So, we've been working at it in many conversations with Premier Morin about his experiences with the immigrant investment program and other investment tax vehicles, and he has given me a lot of good advice - potential pitfalls that he's seen and things that he feels we could do to ensure that we end up in a good position.
Some of the things that we have in the Yukon that I think are very important in terms of the investment climate are as follows: we have stable spending in the territory; we have no accumulated debt - we intend to keep it that way; we have very stable tax rates - we intend to keep it that way; we have the second lowest corporate tax rate in Canada, and obviously, that's a major criteria in terms of investment decisions that companies make. So, on the fiscal side, we have some very enticing opportunities for people as they look at the balance sheet of the government.
We have areas that do raise the spectrum of investment - and I've talked about many of them - whether it be in the energy or the forestry sector, or whether it be in oil and gas or mining or the businesses that support those industries, or the tourism sector, for that matter, and perhaps the infrastructure we have here locally, in terms of accommodation and those types of things. Perhaps there are different niche markets that haven't been entirely explored that perhaps could present some opportunities for investment.
It's interesting to have discussions with the Japanese businessmen's association - their questions on tourism and on infrastructure investment and their desire to know more, which we're also working on to try and present them with some more crystallized information and hopefully to follow up on that lead and get them more interested.
But it's a question always with government, when you're dealing with so many things, to focus on particular areas and bring some comprehensive approach to dealing with them, and that's why I think I have to come to this territory with a package to respond to various issues of access to capital and investment that have been raised, and take that approach forward to Yukoners on a more comprehensive-package basis, rather than just limiting it to one particular idea.
I'd like to do that in the context of the trade investment diversification strategy, because we feel that that is the appropriate vehicle for delivery of this kind of an initiative.
I want to talk a bit about our economy and where I see the gaps and where I see the opportunities. Obviously, the economy is not in good shape in the territory right now. We know the reasons for it. The politics can fly back across the floor of this Legislature. I think if you looked at yourself in the mirror and you asked yourself the question, if we were responsible for Bre-X and the Asian market crisis, I think you'd have a rough time coming up with the answer yes, and that's certainly put a damper on metal prices and wood, fibre, oil and gas - all of those resource sectors that Canada depends so heavily on.
We feel that we have to respond to that, but we can't just respond in the traditional way. We can't just say, "More mining, more tourism." We have to think differently, and that's why I welcome encouragement to find other investment vehicles for the Yukon from the members opposite and from within my own ranks.
We will be doing that. We are working on those initiatives, and I hope to be able to bring forward a package in the new year.
As well, it's going to take me some time, because I also want to talk to Yukoners, obviously, about the different vehicles we may use, and the access to capital forum was just the start, or the kick off, of that particular initiative.
I'd also like to say that, in terms of our economy, in terms of where I see opportunities, I really believe that the Oil and Gas Act is going to be fairly significant to this territory. I'm hoping that we have a land sale next year and I'll certainly be shooting for that. I'm going down to Calgary in May to kick off a very extensive promotion of our new legislation and regulations with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and others in the industry. I'll be meeting with many executives, explaining the common regime and what we hope to accomplish in the territory, explaining our impact benefits agreements with the local communities - all of these very significant and important issues that I think these companies are going to be interested in. They are interested in the Yukon and they have expressed that to me many times over.
And it doesn't take much, when you see that the Kotaneelee produces almost half the price of a new school a year or that the royalties that could generate new road construction or investment in health care and education. These types of royalties can be well-invested by government to benefit Yukoners, and certainly we are proceeding to try and leverage some of the potential we have in that industry. I think we will be in a position next year, through the common regime, to deliver on that exciting opportunity.
One of the things that I've always been struck by is the fact that we have so many good business people in this territory, a lot of entrepreneurial spirit, and a lot of people, though, who, because of our logistics, have been fairly limited in terms of their opportunity to meet outside investors, to find new ways of expanding their businesses and finding new places to conduct business. Some of them have been more successful than others in that. You can think of companies like Pelly Construction who have done work in Antarctica, or Golden Hill who have done construction work in Belize. I think that is an example of some of the things that can be done.
Now, some people argue that that's exporting jobs. I say that many Yukon workers worked on those jobs, and I also say that that makes the base of those Yukon companies stronger back home, so that they can do more to try and encourage work here, make themselves stronger, establish their base, be more flexible, be able to roll through the down times.
I'm a supporter of that kind of an approach. We have to make sure that our entrepreneurs get in contact with the right people, and I view part of my job as bringing our local business people together with other opportunities.
On Team Canada, I was amazed at how well-received our business people were. It was quite exhilarating to watch the goodbyes of all of the high-profile business people across Canada - that they made when the mission was over. They obviously have established some tremendous ground work and are still working on opportunities that they encountered on that Team Canada mission - both abroad, in the places we travelled to, but not just there, with some of the over 400-500 businesses that were on the trade mission. These were some pretty big players in the Canadian economy.
Everybody is the same on those trade missions. The business people all travel coach - Canadian class on Canadian. You have presidents and CEOs of companies squashed, side by side, in those little seats on 14-hour flights, and quite strong bonds develop among the different people who get to know each other very well. The aisles are completely packed the whole way up and down the plane as people are networking, building relationships, finding out what others do.
There were contracts signed, just as a result of people sitting next to each other by happenstance on the plane. I saw that with our Yukon businesses. It was quite amazing to watch the people they developed relationships with, that I know, from discussions in the last week, are still being followed up on. Those things will last for a long time.
If you talk to any of the four businesses who went - I think they paid over $10,000 each, of their own money - it was worth it. So, I hope that we can do good followup.
If you talk to the President of Total Point, who attended the trade mission the year before to the Far East, he will tell you that it was an impressive and useful vehicle. But they will also tell you that they want to follow up, learn from it and build on it. I agree completely.
I've always said that it's going to take three to five years to see solid opportunities come as a result of the work we're doing. However, we will get some successes along the way. I was really pleased to see that Lost Moose catalogues have an arrangement in Australia now for distribution as a result of what came out of the export conference that our government organized. I think that part of what we can do as a government is give them the information about the available opportunities to them.
When we brought people up to help on trade issues from the federal government and abroad and the territory to speak to the local business community, the feedback we got from the businesses was tremendous. I had very high-profile business people tell me it was the best thing that they'd seen the Yukon government generically do to support small business since they'd been in business. I thought that that was quite reassuring and it's convinced me that despite what the opposition may say, I'm going to push ahead with this agenda because I know that people want it. We'll do it against their cries of foul, but, Mr. Speaker, that comes with the territory.
A number of things that we've also done in terms of trying to garner overall investment could also be related to the appointment we made of Mr. Danny Cheng as our international trade ambassador to the Pacific Rim. That's something that we took as a risk because we felt it was one that was legitimate, that we felt would help us enhance, at a very low cost to government, our business relationships abroad. There is not a significant dollar figure attached to this - essentially no payment - but it's taking a local business person with connections abroad and trying to make them benefit Yukoners, finding opportunities for investment. I think that we will see how it works. I'm hopeful that it will yield some benefit for Yukoners.
We also, as a government, will be trying to find a new investment, new contacts, new opportunities if we join the Pacific Northwest Economic Region. It is interesting to note that that organization, which comprises people from the State of Washington, Oregon and Alaska, B.C. and Alberta - that we were able through our lobbying efforts there to obtain a resolution from this important organization, some of them Americans, to support the Shakwak funding.
Certainly that was of great benefit to the territory to ensure that these particular states, and Montana and Idaho, as well, were supportive of our efforts in lobbying for that funding.
So, we want to be able, as a small jurisdiction, to try and partner with some of these larger jurisdictions. We've done it on trade. We obtained commitments from B.C. and from Alaska to work on trade missions. There may be opportunities. These jurisdictions are always doing things abroad. There are a number of businesses in the Yukon who have expressed to me a desire to know about this. If they could actually go with these other jurisdictions, they would appreciate the opportunity and the access that develops as a result of it.
So, we have some agreements with these jurisdictions to partner on some of those initiatives. We think that will benefit Yukon businesses. Even if our government cannot attend, there may be some opportunity created for others. We think that is an important element to what we are doing.
We've recently sponsored an international standards organization workshop to develop the world-class certification of quality for Yukon organizations to compete globally. This kind of program creates some accreditation for these companies, so it gives a rubber stamp of approval, if you will, so that when they are trying to do work abroad and increase their export base, they can do so with some level of credibility, beyond what they get on a trade mission, partnering with the public sector.
We are going to be holding a bunch of export readiness workshops just this spring and a number of export Internet workshops to show companies how to electronically market themselves in a better way abroad.
We continue to be committed to trade missions and the Team Canada concept. We don't want to limit ourselves there, but we are already preparing for the next Team Canada trade mission and contacting businesses and meeting with other governments to talk about opportunities that there may be. This particular trip will be somewhat different. I believe that the next one will be in Russia, the Ukraine and Poland. There's a lot of question about the risk of those jurisdictions but, again, we feel that we should be a player and that we have opportunities in areas like housing that could be examined. We'll be working to try and make that trip a success, doing what we can to forward that.
We've worked hard, as well, on the economy to try to promote the mining industry. The reason we do it is because we believe it is such a key player to this territory in job creation. It has been difficult for every jurisdiction over the last year. It started with Bre-X and it snowballed from there. The Vancouver Stock Exchange lost 50 percent of its value right now. They will tell you that raising capital for mining projects right now is extremely difficult, no matter where you are. The only place that I know that is hot right now in the world - that is extremely hot - is Mexico, as a result of a couple of very large finds. But the ground work for recovery should be sowed now, so that we can capitalize when there is a rebound. Our numbers are actually faring quite well on the exploration side, all things considered, compared to other jurisdictions.
I have met literally hundreds of mining companies and executives, to talk about the Yukon, our fiscal environment, our environment, our approach to the mining and minerals industry, and I have received a lot of support. Actually, when I spoke at the Cordilleran Roundup to a room that was completely packed to open the event, the comments I got from the facilitator, in front of everybody, were very impressive and encouraging.
The Fraser Institute, if you can believe it, recently rated our government as very high in terms of Canadian investment potential. They believe we're third. The areas ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: The Member for Riverdale North heckles over our "protected areas strategy". He forgets that it was the Yukon Party who committed the Yukon government to the protected areas strategy. They just didn't do anything about it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: He's now heckling over "It's your strategy". Well, of course it's our strategy. The members opposite signed a commitment and didn't do anything about it. So, of course we have to try and forward the agenda because, after all, it's protected spaces 2000, and not 3000, and you can only wait so long to realize on some of the commitments that you made. But we're going to do it in a way that is reassuring - no sudden surprises - to industry. The support for it, Mr. Speaker, from a number of companies has actually been encouraging. It was identified in the Fraser Institute survey as a concern. We've been very busily addressing it. We went down to Cordilleran. The Government Leader spoke to a number of companies doing business in the Yukon and not doing business in the Yukon, to speak about protected spaces and all the other things we're doing to support the mining industry.
I think it was a very positive exercise.
The other thing the Fraser Institute identified as a negative that probably put us at third as opposed to first or second was the land claims uncertainty, and that one, Mr. Speaker, I'm sure will change now given the post-Delgamuukw era and the fact that we have an umbrella final agreement in this territory. We feel that we have a major advantage and much more certainty than jurisdictions that do not have or are not covered by some sort of an umbrella agreement with First Nation governments.
So, I view their assessment in the survey, with respect, as a wrong assessment and I stated that in so many words to a very large group of miners, and they were - or the ones that I talked to, anyway - certainly unaware of the level of certainty we had in the Yukon. We know that, in negotiations, things are going to happen between First Nations and our government that would rock that boat to exact leverage on government. That has happened in this territory. We've seen evidence of that. However, we've worked very hard to get the broader message out to the companies affected and to the overall mining industry that we have land claims certainty, we have an umbrella final agreement, we have an advantage, not a disadvantage, on the protected areas. We've been very clear: no sudden moves, you'll be involved from the beginning to the end; we will consult with you; we will put money in mineral assessment; we will avoid, if at all possible, the very highly mineralized areas. And we proved that when we made amendments in the study area for Tombstone Park around some significant mineral potential.
So, where we scored low, we feel comfortable in proceeding with the agenda both in land claims and in protected spaces, and we think, through time, people will understand it can be done, we can have a strong economy and we can do it right. It's not good enough to stick your head in the sand like the Yukon Party did and sign on to a protected areas strategy and then do nothing about it. It's now 1998 and they keep saying, "Slow down, slow down." Well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have no idea how you could actually deliver on a strategy of at least coming up with a few protected spaces by the year 2000 if we didn't move ahead.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's hard to hear over the deputy dog over there.
Mr. Speaker, we feel very confident about the work we've done with the mining industry. At the prospectors and developers conference, I met with a slough of companies from Noranda to companies that are doing business in the Yukon right now to companies that are interested. I met with Belidan, a new company on the TSE 300, Swedish-based, and talked to them about this government's approach to the mineral industry, our desire to encourage responsible mining activity and our bottom lines on the environment. The response we got was overwhelmingly positive in both the case of Noranda and the Belidan. We felt that that frank discussion was fruitful and certainly worth the price of the trip, if you want to measure it on that basis.
In terms of also supporting industry, we have just put $300,000 into a mining training trust fund, because we believe that we want to ensure that the industry identifies areas and gaps in training so that we don't miss the boat on training like the Yukon Party did. So, when there's an increase in - well, the leader of the official opposition laughs, but that's what the president of the Chamber of Mines said on the radio. I could produce the transcript, because he said that the Yukon government missed the boat on training, and the Yukon Party was the government, and they can try and hide from that fact, but unfortunately, it's a stark reality that they're going to have to face.
So, we have tried to encourage that promotion of training and having our workers ready to take these jobs as they come on stream and as the fallout dissipates from Bre-X and the Asian market crisis. We've been working very hard to support geoscience, and at the mines ministers conference I have consistently promoted geoscience and the need to partner with the jurisdictions in the federal and territorial governments to produce good geoscience. And we've got some programs underway that are fairly new that I think will be helpful for the Yukon, for our industry.
We've also worked very hard in the development assessment process.
Now I know the Liberal opposition is pushing us to conclude an agreement, even though the federal government is a player to this. They're also cousins to the south and the Liberal government in Ottawa, and they're another one of the major players to this strategy. They're pushing us to conclude ahead of the others.
But, Mr. Speaker, we have told the mining industry and Yukoners that we will accept no less than the best solution to issues surrounding the development assessment process than a good agreement and a good process. We will accept no less. So, we would rather stand up for Yukoners and push for a good one-window process for development assessment than try and do something quickly and poorly. We are one party to these negotiations. We intend to see it through, and to meet the commitments we made to Yukoners that we would involve them in the process.
Mr. Speaker, when we took over government, the legislation was ready in Ottawa. The DIAND minister had it all ready to go. The Yukon Party government was just lying supine, waiting to have that roll over Yukoners, designed solely by bureaucrats in Ottawa.
Mr. Speaker, we would not allow that to happen to Yukoners. We said there had to be a funnel for Yukoners to speak to their government about what they wanted in the development assessment process. We created the commission so that Yukoners would have, for the first time, a voice in the construction of the development assessment process, and that when we went to the table with the CYFN, and when we went to the table with the federal government, we would put forward the position that Yukoners wanted, not just allow the legislation to be rammed down our throats, as the Yukon Party government would have had, with disastrous results for our economy.
I also want to say that one of the things that we're also doing is in terms of diversification, because I think we have to look at this comprehensively, in that we have invested a significant amount of money, although, relatively speaking, not that much, in the development of an abattoir - a controversial move, I will accept. But I think it's indicative of our attempt to take some risks, to see if we can't help to diversify the economy.
We know that, with risks, there will be failures, but we believe that we have no other choice but to be aggressive in terms of trying to find opportunities to diversify.
The Minister of Government Services is doing a review of the code of regulatory conduct to ensure that regulations that are put forward by government are consistent and fair, and that there's rigid criteria before they are developed; that the business community has some input into those regulations, among others in labour, and people who have environmental concerns. So, that is something we're doing to support small business, and that has received quite a bit of success from others.
Mr. Speaker, we've taken the measure of urging the federal government to establish a northern economic development fund. We believe that we've been left out of western diversification and Atlantic Canada opportunities funding. We do believe that there is a place for the federal government to participate in the economy in the north, and our Government Leader and the Premier of the Northwest Territories are jointly pushing the federal government to try and develop a program for the north, to invest in infrastructure and invest in people in the north, to try and encourage our economy to grow. We think that.
On my last trip to Ottawa, I put forward to the parliamentary secretary to the federal minister that this fund has to happen and it has to be operated and developed quickly, so it can help invest in a down period for our economy.
That's another initiative - one of the hundreds that our government is undertaking economically to try and support the Yukon small business community - as well as what we're doing with regard to the flex-term notes on the assets of the Energy Corporation. We've asked for some availability to sell secondary power without penalty. Excuse me, we've asked for some ability to have some flexibility on the notes to also encourage reduced power costs in the territory.
There is so much that we are doing to create a good investment climate. There is so much that we're doing to support the development of a new vision in tourism, for example, that goes beyond the anniversaries and that continues to enhance and encourage the strengths we have. One has only to look at the work of the Minister of Tourism to see that the inquiries have gone up 180 percent in Europe since he's been the minister, to show that his efforts are providing benefits for Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, I think that is important. We are supporting, through the community development fund, economic and training initiatives in communities, so that they may be better able to move forward, to take on new challenges and create opportunities in their communities.
The leader of the official opposition calls it a slush fund. I would say to him that the Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake know that the Yukon Party voted against their project under the CDF and the people who put forward the application for the new soup kitchen that we are constructing know that the Yukon Party and the Liberals voted against their project under the CDF - because I made sure of it. I will continue to do that, because when they criticize the CDF, they ought to realize that if it wasn't for the CDF, the projects that are the priorities of the people would not get funded by government. They would be tangled up in a maze of bureaucratic priorities. That's why the communities so vehemently supported the community development fund, and that's why the people respect and appreciate investment in their communities.
The member opposite calls it pork barrelling. I say hog wash. It is far from that. The member is alluding that somehow the many CDF projects I've already approved in the riding of the Member for Klondike is pork barrelling. He should think twice about that. I just believe that that community has some major benefit to the territory and deserves some investment in their community. I make no apologies for that.
The Member for Klondike asked about the school. Perhaps he should turn to his right and ask the leader of the official opposition of the Yukon Party, who cancelled the school, why he cancelled the school. Perhaps he'll understand the reason for the Yukon Party bailing on the school. I know the member opposite promised a bridge, a health centre, a rec centre, a school - what else did he promise? It was about $70 million in the first week in the Legislature.
I think he's not going to be able to deliver. He can't deliver on those promises in opposition and he sure as heck wouldn't be able to deliver in government.
I guess there are many people in the community who would like to see a lot of these things come forward. We prefer to be more pragmatic and honest with the people about the expectations, and that's why we set up funds building for the future for both the Arctic Winter Games and for dealing with the issues that Dawson faces, with the trust fund that we've set up for them to deal with either their need for future water and sewer improvements or whether they need to continue to push the agenda of their recreation centre.
So, we have been building for the future. Of course, the members opposite are heckling over it. They're obviously upset when any investment in the community of Faro - I mean, I don't have to tell my constituents that. That's why they couldn't get a candidate there in the last two election campaigns. I welcome their jeers about investing in the community of Faro. I love it, so keep it up. Maybe you won't get a candidate in the next election either.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: The leader of the official opposition just said that there won't be a constituency come the next election. I will make him eat those words, Mr. Speaker. I will make the people in Faro very aware of his comment and his confidence in that community.
So, Mr. Speaker, I urge him to keep talking.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, he says he's scared. Obviously he's not scared. He hasn't had a candidate in that riding in the last two elections. That's fine by me. He obviously isn't interested in his electoral futures in that riding and I urge him to keep it up. So, if he's not scared, great.
So, Mr. Speaker, as he writes off my community, I say to him that we will continue to invest in the community of Faro; we will continue to believe in the community of Faro and we will continue to treat the people in that community as a community, first and foremost. There is a difference between the community and the mine, and I don't care what Liberals say in their surveys about nobody wanting to do anything to help the community or what the Yukon Party says about the fact that, in their view, there won't be a community there come the next election.
Mr. Speaker, our government will take a different and, I think, a more humane and a more respectful approach toward the people in that community, particularly now when we're going through an extensive period of suffering and it is extremely tough in that community. I think, Mr. Speaker, the comments that I hear being heckled from the members opposite is indicative of the lack of respect for the people who are in that community.
They know it. They feel it. And I guess it's been clearly showing up in the inability of the members opposite to get anything off the ground there.
Mr. Speaker, there's so much that our government is doing to promote investment in this territory. There's so much that we are doing to try and present more export opportunities. We know that the numbers now are going to reflect the closure of the Faro mine, the lack of the Shakwak and the hospital project that has come to a close, but we know that they, too, will rebound. We are 16 months into our term. We have a solid strategy for the development of our economy. We don't knee-jerk, as the previous administration did, to decisions that haunted them for the rest of their mandate and ultimately resulted in their being turfed out of office. We have a thoughtful and a deliberate and a more long-term approach, and we have a plan. We are implementing that plan.
It's interesting to note, as we've gone over the last 16 months, the items that we've been accused of breaking our promises on and, as one by one we knock them off, as we resist the interim cat-calls from the opposition to act, as we keep our eye on the horizon and we deliver on what we said we were going to do, we love the way those issues fall away. They just fall away and the opposition no longer has them to talk about and, after usually a couple of very reluctant comments of congratulation - if we get them at all - they move on to their next allegation of broken promises, which we then deliver on and then that falls away.
So, Mr. Speaker, we are very proud of the approach we have to the economy. We are resisting the calls from the opposition to spend, spend, spend our way out of economic doldrums. We believe that we have to spend sustainably. We are not going to raise taxes, as the Yukon Party did. We will not cut health care and education budgets, like the Yukon Party and the Liberals would have us do, to free up more money for some propping up of a further government expenditure-driven economy.
We will, Mr. Speaker, spend sustainably. We will try and find areas to stimulate the economy where we can, at every turn, and if new opportunities present themselves we will do that, as well, for Yukoners. But we have to have our eye on the horizon. We can't just respond at a very unthoughtful level.
I just want to say something, Mr. Speaker. The leader of the official opposition today said that there won't be a community of Faro come the next election.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member opposite is trying to backpedal now. He's saying that there wouldn't be a constituency in Faro come the next election. I think he's splitting hairs, Mr. Speaker, and I trust ... well, I'll just leave it to my constituents to decide.
I want to read something about that community in the Yukon News. It says, "Number one, Faro. It pains me to say this, but you beat us fair and square in the great northern community challenge at Rendezvous so, true to my word, I, Glen Everitt, Mayor of Dawson City, do hereby declare that Faro is the best community in the Yukon. Thanks to all the communities that participated. We had a great time. Just wait until next year."
I give tribute to the Mayor of Dawson for sticking by his word. I also want to say that the community of Faro is a great community and is number one in the Yukon.
So, let me just say that I am quite proud of our community, and I have confidence that there will be a constituency and a community there in the next election. They're one and the same.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: What was that? You're going to say more? Come on, give me some more ammo.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: My mainspring. Come on. Can't you be more insulting than that? I really like it when you throw out those tidbits for me.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Let me also say that, at this time, I feel that I have to table an amendment to this motion. I want my friend and colleague, the Member for Riverside, not to be too hurt by this, because it's essentially a friendly amendment. I want to say that I hear his idea. It is not new. I'm sure the Liberals will try and hang their hat on the investment tax credit, as if it was invented by them. I want to say that -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: The Member for Riverside just heckled over that I invented it. Well, I want to assure him, in the spirit of kindness and cooperativeness, I will not claim that I invented the investment tax credit, but I will say that our government has been pursuing that agenda since before we got elected in the last election.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member opposite said, "Get on with it." I told the member opposite today that I intend to move on the immigrant investment fund prior to the new year, and I intend to bring forward a package for the people of the Yukon in the next calendar year, early on, on access to capital and investment vehicles.
I'm not going to just knee-jerk a response. I've just spent an hour telling people how we've got to keep an eye on the horizon. We've got to think things through. We've got to be deliberate about what we do. There are no quick fixes to the economy. You've got to think about things. It's indicative of a bad approach to try and ensure that you -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: I think it's a bad approach that the Liberals have taken. They would have me just knee-jerk out an investment tax credit as a vehicle.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's interesting to know that what the Liberal leader is heckling over, that's 1986.
Well, Mr. Speaker, we have been in government for 16 months. I am moving on the immigrant investment fund. You can only do so much. I have a process for dealing with access to capital. I have a process for dealing with the investment questions. I will come forward with some proposals. I will deliver on those, Mr. Speaker. That's the process. That's the plan, and we will do that. And investment tax credits are one way, but they're not the only way. I'm not going to respond with just one way. I want to put forward a comprehensive package, and I want to hear from Yukoners on it.
The members opposite would seem to think that some consultation in 1986 was good enough. Well, I want to talk to Yukoners again over the next couple of months or few months to find out if they are indeed supportive of such an agenda, because we didn't promise it to people in the last election campaign, and it's important to discuss these issues with Yukoners.
So, Mr. Speaker, I advocate for a more comprehensive approach. I advocate for one that falls within the trade, investment and diversification strategy.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I would move
THAT Motion No. 98 be amended by deleting all the words after "should" and replacing them with the following words: "investigate vehicles for stimulating investment in the economy through the government's trade, investment and diversification strategy to achieve the objective of sustainable development for the Yukon."
Deputy Speaker: It has been moved
THAT Motion No. 98 be amended by deleting all the words after "should" and replacing them with the following words: "investigate vehicles for stimulating investment in the economy through the government's trade, investment and diversification strategy to achieve the objective of sustainable development for the Yukon."
Hon. Mr. Harding: I won't speak long to this motion. I was wondering if they'd be a little slower on the uptake or a little groggy, but they were right there - my Liberal colleagues and friends on the other side of the House.
The motion that we put forward should not be taken as discounting the contribution the Liberal party has put forward today in the House. Our government has been working on that issue, and we intend to deliver on some vehicles for stimulating investment.
The mistake, I think, would be to view that particular initiative in isolation of other initiatives that pertain to access to capital issues and other investment-stimulating vehicles. That's why I'm advocating a change to the motion, to incorporate a more holistic approach to those two very important issues. I'd also like to focus it and funnel it through the vehicle that our government is using to respond to those two very important issues: the trade investment and diversification strategy. The idea has merit. I believe that we have to think less parochially in the territory. We have to be more courageous and take more risks on how we stimulate investment and economic opportunities. This particular idea, and this particular approach, is one way.
But it is not the only way and it is not necessarily the best way, and we must be cognizant of that as we move the agenda ahead to try and do more for Yukoners to create more export opportunities and create more investment opportunities to create good, long-standing Yukon jobs.
So, I won't speak longer to this amendment. I know it will pain my opposition colleagues to hear that. But I just want to say that I have outlined today many of the numerous initiatives that our government has undertaken to develop the economy, to create investment opportunities.
I have outlined a plan for delivering on the immigrant investment fund as well as our time lines for delivering on access to capital and on other investment vehicle initiatives that we might be able to undertake.
There are probably going to be some announcements shortly as to some creative ways that our government will undertake that work with the people in the community. I don't want to announce it all now, but I think the members opposite will be pleased and stand up and express great kudos for the Yukon NDP government. I'm sure that will happen, and they will rejoice in our visioning as we proceed into the next millennium for the greater good of mankind and all Yukoners.
Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, I was getting a little carried away there.
Mr. Speaker, I want to say that I truly believe that, if we take this comprehensive approach, if we don't limit our vision to one particular vehicle and get lost in the debate about that, then we will provide more productivity, more opportunities for Yukoners, and that's really what this is all about - not a political, who-gets-the-credit-for-what fight across the floor of this Legislature, but determining a vehicle for doing what's right for Yukoners, for taking an approach that has an eye on the horizon, and that is more comprehensive.
So, with that, I would thank the Liberal members for bringing their motion forward and I would hope that they will accept our proposal for incorporating their views, as well as ours - we share them in many areas on this subject - into our strategy and our plans and, ultimately, gain their support when we deliver on them in the coming months.
Ms. Duncan: On the amendment, Mr. Speaker, thank you.
We, in the Yukon Liberal Party, believe that we must build and renew our economic structure, which is inadequate for the demands that are about to be made on it. We must find ways for development to proceed while protecting our natural resources for the generations that will follow us, ensuring that our children will benefit from the use of our resources and a protected environment. We must clearly establish that the role for government in economic development is to foster the appropriate fiscal and regulatory environment that ensures that economic activity advances the prosperity of all Yukoners.
We cannot forget, in our desires to protect the Earth for future generations, that we also have a need to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and that our self-respect demands that we must earn a living using our resources, our talents and our labour.
One of the resources that we have is the hard-earned dollars that Yukoners invest in RSPs. Yukoners invest millions of dollars every year in retirement plans, and that money is working outside of the Yukon. That money should be used here to build the future of the Yukon.
My colleague from Riverside said it's time to sit down with Revenue Canada to arrange a tax investment vehicle that is RSP eligible. The Member for Faro said that we shouldn't restrict the debate to only one vehicle and has indicated in the amendment that we should investigate vehicles in the plural for stimulating investment.
I concur that there are a variety of vehicles for stimulating investment. Our caucus, through the Member for Riverside, suggested in the motion that the investment tax credit should be examined sufficiently in order to meet the objectives outlined.
The very real difficulty I have with the Member for Faro's remarks, and with the amendment that deletes the word "immediately", is that the member's trying to indicate that what the government is doing is new. He responded when I made the comment across the floor, "Look back to 1986"; well, there was a need to consult with Yukoners again. I'm not certain that the Member for Faro realized what I was talking about.
The initiatives the government is undertaking are not the least bit new or innovative. I happened to review the Economic Development catalogue of reports, as the Member for Faro has suggested I do last session, and subsequently requested the export and investment strategy for the Yukon Territory. The report is dated December 1986. The export and investment strategy for the Yukon Territory, phase 2, is dated April 1987 - 11 years ago.
The report in the executive summary says, "The Yukon Territory has suffered through the decline of world commodity markets." How often have we heard the member say that? The report says a venture capital fund should be established. It says the Yukon should participate in the attraction of foreign expertise and capital. It says we should provide increased marketing assistance and export assistance.
Well, Yukoners could certainly be forgiven if they have a sense of déjà vu. The Yukon's first NDP government was elected in May, 1985. At the time, efforts were being made to ensure that the Faro mine was reopened. There was no Bre-X; however the Yukon's first NDP government had the Yukon's first ever formula finance funding arrangement to work with.
Eighteen months into their very first mandate, the NDP was recommending exactly what 18 months into this mandate, the NDP government is recommending again.
One thing new from 1985 is the Team Canada trade missions, which build upon some of the points that were recommended back then. The Yukon Party government and the NDP government have participated in the Team Canada trade missions, and I think it's incumbent when we're discussing stimulating investment and initiatives, such as Team Canada, that credit be given where credit is due. I have heard from people who have participated on both trade missions that not only were they productive, useful, important exercises, but also that the Yukon delegation was the hardest-working delegation there. I think it's important that credit be given to the people and the governments who have participated and encouraged this.
Another important vehicle for stimulating investment and for meeting the needs of establishing hope and opportunity for Yukoners is the whole issue around this investment tax credit. The government also held a forum recently to examine Yukon business financing. There was little question in 1986 and 1987, and there's little question in 1997-98, that Yukon small and medium business enterprises face a number of gaps in business financing. That's not new. It wasn't news to the NDP government in the mid-1980s; it's not news to the NDP government in the mid-1990s. What we need desperately is some action, and there are vehicles out there with which the government could take some leadership and demonstrate some action and take some action.
The investment tax credit, labour-sponsored venture capital corporations are a decade old and account for more than one-third of all institutional venture capital in Canada. The vast majority of the funds, more than $3.1 billion in assets, come from small investments made by average working people. The funds have identified a previously untapped source of capital, and the funds provide capital for certain types of enterprises that otherwise have difficulty raising capital - what better description of a lot of Yukon enterprises? Government tax expenditures are repaid in three to four years - a term of government. The focus on labour relations enhances productivity and quality of life for employees.
The Northwest Territories has an investment tax credit. The legislation is being drafted for introduction a month from now. This government has had information that is more than 10 years old. Why can't there be some action?
The Member for Faro said, "Well, we must talk to Yukoners again." I don't think the message has changed in the last 10 years. It hasn't changed in the last 10 years that anyone who has been listening has heard.
The Northwest Territories introduced the Northwest Territories investment tax credit program. Under the program, investors are able to choose from a menu of investment vehicles: labour-sponsored venture capital funds, employee labour-sponsored capital funds, community-endorsed venture capital funds, and private new common shares - very similar to what Nova Scotia has done.
Eligible investors receive a credit against Northwest Territories income tax payable, equal to up to 30 percent, for a maximum of $100,000 of eligible shares in any year. As well, northern investors may be eligible for RSP tax deductions, which is exactly what we have suggested. All funds raised will be used in assist in financing the startup or expansion of Northwest Territories' businesses.
The program allows for a maximum of $1 million in credits to be granted in 1998, rising to $5 million in the year 2000.
The plan will reduce the amount of tax collected by the Northwest Territories government. It does not reduce the formula finance funding arrangement.
In Ontario, there have been some problems with some funds. The funds collect money but can't find suitable investments.
The Northwest Territories has taken steps to make sure this doesn't happen with their initiatives.
In Nova Scotia, the equity tax credit was introduced in 1993 and revised in the 1995 budget. In the 1995 taxation year, the tax credit is calculated at 30 percent. Fifteen percent of that credit is federal and 15 percent is provincial on the investment made by the individual, to a maximum annual investment of $30,000. Investment may be made within the calendar year of the 60 days at the end of the taxation year.
Labour-sponsored venture capital corporations and community economic development corporations are the vehicles for the investment. To be eligible for tax credit, 25 percent of the salaries and wages of the company must be paid in that jurisdiction, which in this case is Nova Scotia.
It's difficult to see a downside from this information. It baffles me as to why the NDP government can't act and doesn't seem to act. They go on and on and on about the wonderful things that they've done since they've taken over government. The Minister of Economic Development went on at great length to explain what the government was doing, saying that it was a new initiative. It's not a new initiative. It absolutely is not new. It's information that this government - the last time an NDP government took office in the Yukon, that's the very same strategy they used then and it's the same strategy they're using now.
What we're saying and bringing forward in this motion is this: why can't we see some action? Why can't the government act on these suggestions and move this issue forward as opposed to continuing to discuss a number of excellent ideas?
The problem we have - I should correct that, Mr. Speaker. It's not a problem. What we're witnessing is the fact that, as the government reviews these ideas and discusses them and tries to infer that they're new ideas, the ideas are getting better. That's one advantage and we're seeing improvements to the investment vehicles.
It should be noted that there are a number of key criteria for any investment vehicle. Programs introduced can't be simply tax-driven. They must have some sound business principles. The tax advantages of proposed investments should be an additional incentive for individuals to invest and not merely a direct offset of the risk.
The important point that must be made about bringing this motion forward and the point that's in the motion is, what is the objective of this exercise? The objective is to encourage new investment in the Yukon economy and to create new jobs in Yukon businesses. The commissioner responsible for the local hire report has done a very good job in terms of his work on consultation and defining the Yukon business. That was, I believe, a consensus-reached decision. It's a good definition.
To diversify and stabilize the Yukon economy - it's something we've been talking about since 1986. The very important word in this motion that was originally put forward is "immediately," and it's most unfortunate that the Member for Faro's amendment removes that word, "immediately," because the time for action is now. Businesses need hope. They need opportunity. They need to know that the Government of Yukon is investigating every opportunity and working with them - First Nation governments, municipalities, businesses. Yukoners need to work together.
Some of the comments that were made when I began my research on this particular subject - a local business person suggested to me that absolutely, we should look to these investment funds and strategies and that we should refer to them as the pioneer funds. That was a suggestion that came forward from the business community that I think is worthy of consideration. The Member for Faro's amendment - I have difficulty with the words in the amendment, in the fact that the member has deleted the word, "immediately," and the other difficulty with the motion is that it doesn't really call for an action. It just says "will investigate through the government's trade, investment and diversification strategy to achieve the objective of sustainable development for the Yukon."
The Member for Riverside's motion says that the government should "review the experiences to meet the above goals", and the amendment seems to lose that heart of the motion, which is to act upon these various investment tax credits and investment vehicles.
To summarize the points that I have tried to convey to members in the Legislature this afternoon, I think there are a number of points that I'd just like to emphasize.
First of all, I'd like to point out that these investment tax credits and investment vehicles are important options that should be considered, and not simply considered and set aside, but considered and acted upon.
We've heard some individuals in the House go on and on about various options, but we haven't seen any action: that's the second point that I wanted to make, that we need the action now. Everyone in this House has said at various points in time that our economy is suffering and that businesses need to look to the future.
I should mention, the Member for Faro referred to the business investment and the corporate tax rate, and I remember these discussions that occurred at great length when I was otherwise occupied than as a member of this House.
Deputy Speaker: Order please. The member has two minutes to conclude her remarks.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The business investment tax act that the Yukon has is second to only one other in the country, which is New Brunswick. It's an important, very under-rated vehicle for investment. Yukon enjoys a great deal of investment because of that, and we also enjoy a strong legal community and accounting community, and others, because we have that progressive legislation and because of our corporate tax rate.
We are interested in a further debate on this particular discussion but, more importantly, we're interested in seeing the government take some action, to move forward. If I could make one recommendation in my remarks this afternoon, it would be a strong suggestion to the Member for Faro, the Minister of Economic Development, to go back in the department's library and read these documents. They're exactly the same recommendations. Now, let's see some action.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Livingston: We heard a great deal from the leader of the third party, the Liberal leader. We heard the A-word, again and again, the action word - a call for action to get to action, "How come we haven't done it already?", "There are reports that are 10 years old, and we should simply proceed with it." In the next words she says, "Well, but in some jurisdictions, they've identified some problems with the tax credit incentive, maybe could have done it a little bit differently, and it looks like maybe the Northwest Territories and the new program they're developing may be addressing some of those problems - but don't take any more time; just go ahead and do it.
Mr. Speaker, I have some problem with that kind of an approach. I think what our government wants to ensure is the kinds of steps we take, and we're taking many steps -
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: The leader of the official opposition, on a point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I suggest you poll the House. I don't believe we have a quorum.
Deputy Speaker: I will ring the bells and call for quorum.
Adjournment due to lack of quorum
Speaker: The bells having been rung for four minutes and there not being a quorum, this House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
Debate on Motion No. 98 and on the amendment accordingly adjourned
The House adjourned at 4:46 p.m. due to a lack of quorum