Wednesday, April 1, 1998 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Forestry training (Yukon) agreement
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Strengthening and diversifying the Yukon economy is a major policy commitment of our government. I am pleased to rise today to announce an important new trust fund agreement with the Canadian Institute of Forestry (Yukon).
The Yukon forestry training agreement designates $200,000 for training in the forestry industry as part of this government's overall commitment of $1.5 million for training trust funds in the 1998-99 budget.
Yukon's forests are a vital part of our natural heritage. Our government believes it is possible to develop a sustainable, community-based forest industry that provides jobs and economic opportunities for Yukon people while still maintaining the environmental integrity of our forests for the use and enjoyment of everyone.
The Yukon forest commission, which is headed by my colleague, the MLA for Watson Lake, has been extremely busy working with a wide variety of groups to develop a made-in-the-Yukon forest policy in preparation for the transfer of authority for natural resources from the federal government to Yukon control.
The forestry training agreement that was signed today will make a significant contribution toward providing a pool of well-trained workers to meet the needs of a sustainable forest industry in the territory.
Mr. Speaker, a sustainable forest industry requires a broad range of knowledge and skills, including engineering, grading, forest science and silviculture, to name just a few. With the Yukon forestry training agreement, workers in many Yukon communities will have an opportunity to acquire the skills they need to find good jobs in this important sector of the Yukon's economy. Advanced education, the Klondike chapter of the Canadian Institute of Forestry and the Yukon forest commission have been partners in finalizing this $200,000 training trust fund agreement.
A key objective in designing this agreement was to ensure that training would match the needs of individual Yukon communities. This agreement will enable the Klondike forestry chapter to work with local people to set the course for training in the industry. In the next six months, the forestry chapter will establish a training board with representatives of industry and rural communities, develop a training plan to address the industry's training needs, and establish a training fund and criteria for applications.
Mr. Speaker, this fund represents a significant investment in Yukon people and Yukon communities.
By helping prepare Yukon workers to take on new responsibilities in the forest industry, our government is creating jobs and economic opportunities now and building foundations for a stronger, more diversified economy in the future.
Mr. Phillips: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and the office of the official opposition, I rise to respond to the minister's statement regarding the Yukon forest training agreement. While we on this side of the House support training initiatives as a means to provide opportunities to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to find jobs, we believe that there must be jobs waiting for Yukoners once training is completed.
As Yukoners are aware, Yukon's forest industry has been suffering for some time as a result of not having a forest policy that's acceptable and suitable to all Yukoners. Consequently, communities such as the Town of Watson Lake have been particularly hard hit with high unemployment, no jobs and not much hope of things getting any better. This can be attributed directly to the forestry fiasco.
As outlined in A Better Way, the government made a commitment to produce a made-in-Yukon forest policy. What we have seen so far, however, is anything but that.
While in opposition, the members opposite were severely critical of the Yukon Party government for its forestry policy development process, and promised they could do better. Now that the members opposite are in government, it would appear that the only thing that's changed is their tune.
The government has been in office for over a year and a half and all we have seen is the creation of an expensive Cabinet commission that's done nothing but duplicate the work of the previous government and organized walks in the woods. Perhaps if this government would stop wandering through the woods studying bats and bugs and do something to help put Yukoners to work, maybe we could have some optimism and hope.
Again, I would like to make it clear that we, on this side of the House, are in support of training initiatives to help put Yukoners to work. But, to put Yukoners to work, we need jobs. In the forest sector, we need to create year-round jobs in the lumber manufacturing industry, as well as employ the loggers who are an integral part of the industry. In fact, just recently, this week or last week, we heard some of the loggers in the Watson Lake area expressing concern over recent federal changes, saying that they were selling their equipment and were going to have to leave, because there were going to be no opportunities for them.
To do this, we need a policy and regulation changes that will create a viable and sustainable forest industry that includes the reduction of raw log exports to keep the jobs in the Yukon, as well as an economic climate that's conducive to long-term growth.
So, while we support the minister's initiative to designate monies for training in the forest industry, we urge the Government of the Yukon to honour its election commitment to produce a comprehensive forest policy that is acceptable and suitable to all Yukoners and keeps Yukoners working.
Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions about the announcement that the minister made today. I would like to know from the minister how many workers they plan to train and what field are they going to be training these workers in? And will the $200,000 be solely directed to training initiatives or will the monies be directed to setting up a training board and a plan? It's important to know that because, if it has to be set up and the board has to put together the plan, $200,000 won't go very far in training very many people.
Perhaps the minister could provide some details about the Klondike chapter of the Canadian Institute of Forestry, members of the chapter, terms of reference, and how long they've been in existence.
Also, were there any discussions with the Southeast Yukon Lumberman's Association regarding this particular initiative, and what forest groups were consulted, if any?
Is the federal government providing any funds to kick in and supplement this particular training initiative or is this completely the Yukon government, and how does this initiative fit in with the Teslin alternative silviculture systems demonstration that provides training to selected First Nation members in the forestry work?
We'd like the minister, when she rises to respond, to try and answer the questions that I've posed.
Ms. Duncan: I rise to respond to today's ministerial statement on the Yukon forestry training agreement on behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus.
Our caucus is supportive of a trained, knowledgeable workforce. We are even more supportive of jobs for that workforce. The difficulty that we have with today's ministerial statement is that the government has put the cart before the horse. We would have far preferred to thoroughly review the made-in-Yukon forest policy that we understand is to be announced this month by the Yukon forest commissioner prior to announcing the training trust fund. In other words, it would be helpful to know exactly what we are training people for, other than in the broad terms of the announcement of a sustainable community-based forest industry that provides jobs and economic opportunities while maintaining the environmental integrity. In other words, it would have been far more helpful to have had the opportunity to review the Yukon forest commissioner's forthcoming statement prior to the announcement of this training trust.
Perhaps the minister, in her response, could indicate a more definitive date when we will be hearing from the Yukon forest commissioner.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I wish I could say that I was surprised to hear the comments from the members opposite, but I guess it's not very surprising that they are not being supportive of a significant initiative like this one, which will benefit Yukon communities, that will benefit people who are able to take advantage of training, and it will benefit the development of the industry in the territory.
I think the Member for Riverdale North is lost in the woods. They were in government for four years. They did not make developing a forestry policy a priority. They had no accomplishments to show at the end of their term in office, and we have significant work being done on a made-in-Yukon forest policy.
This particular agreement builds partnership with industry. Training is a good place to start. I will be very happy to provide for the members opposite a copy of the agreement itself, which will answer some of their technical questions.
The federal government has not, at this time, offered to supplement the forestry training trust fund. It would certainly be nice if they did. One of the real strengths of training trust funds, which this government has supported, both during its previous term in government and in our present term in government, is that they've been a wonderful opportunity to lever money from other agencies, including the federal government on occasion, foundations, and community groups.
The forestry industry is, in setting up their training plan, going to ensure that that work is done to try and help get funds from other agencies.
So, Mr. Speaker, I'm really happy to be announcing this forestry training agreement. I think it will be a really good initiative to create jobs and economic opportunities and to provide for training for a Yukon work force and a sound, sustainable forest industry development in the territory.
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The forest cabinet commissioner.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I would request unanimous consent to return to Tabling Returns and Documents, please.
Speaker: Is there unanimous consent?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: Unanimous consent has been granted.
The forest cabinet commissioner.
Mr. Fentie: I offer for tabling today a document on developing fire-safe communities.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Faro community development fund contribution
Mr. Ostashek: On March 24, my colleague, the Member for Klondike, asked the Minister of Health and Social Services about social assistance costs in Faro and about this government's contingency plan to reduce those costs and to help the unemployed workers in Faro find new jobs.
The Minister of Economic Development chose to answer the questions and, in view of the fact that he's responsible for the Faro contingency fund, I will direct my question to him.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister if he can confirm the fact that he has awarded $100,000 under the CDF to the Town of Faro, with a matching $127,000 contribution from the town, to provide for a ball field, skateboard park, a giant chess board, a shelter and a mobile "weenie wagon", as well as washrooms, access roads and parking facilities. Can the minister tell us if that's part of his contingency plan to put Faro workers back to work?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There were many projects handed out to many different Yukon communities - Dawson City, the community of Whitehorse, Watson Lake, Mayo, Faro, Ross River. I don't know the exact details of the contribution that was made to the community of Faro. I know a proposal was put forward by the Town of Faro for a significant contribution from them to improving recreational facilities. There was a desire by this government to create some short-term employment in the community of Faro and also to participate with the town's proposal and request. I believe the contribution was $100,000, and that was to be used for a ball field and, as well, for work to create a skateboard park, which was identified through a school survey by the kids of the community as their number-one recreational priority and request.
Mr. Ostashek: I appreciate that this NDP government has considerable expertise in the area of recreational facilities, such as we've seen in the Government Leader's former riding of Elsa, with construction of a $1-million curling rink that opened after all of the people had left the community, including himself.
Mr. Speaker, I want to make it very clear that members on this side of the House have absolutely the greatest support for recreation facilities in rural and all communities in the Yukon. But my question to the minister is this: does the minister really believe that this is the best way to spend $227,000 at this time in Faro? Does he not believe the money could have been better spent in helping unemployed Faro workers put food on the table and find employment and jobs elsewhere?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, it's pretty clear where the leader of the official opposition of the Yukon Party comes from with Faro. I want to tell that member something. The mine may be down, but the community of Faro is still there. There are still 167 kids in that school and this government will not abandon that community or those people. I don't care how many times the Yukon Party and the opposition wants us to do that, we will not succumb to their mean-spirited request.
We have people in that community who are on the food bank - 50 families. We're helping contribute to that. Some of my caucus members and myself are even going to chip in this weekend to support the Lions, who so graciously, with a number of Yukon businesses, are doing some food bank work to try to support the community. We're investing in training. We're investing in recreational opportunities.
The contribution of $100,000 for these long-standing concerns in the community was put forward by the Town of Faro. Most of the expenditure is being made by the municipal government. We're supporting their priorities, their directives to develop some things for the kids and for the people of the community.
And I haven't given up on the Faro mine either. The members opposite may have, but I certainly haven't, because there are a lot of jobs there for Yukoners.
Mr. Ostashek: I didn't realize the Member for Faro was so sensitive on this issue. It seems like it's because of lack of initiative by his government in being able to accomplish anything that he has to go on the defensive.
Mr. Speaker, we're not talking about whether there are people left in Faro at this time or not; we're talking about the best use of taxpayers' money to help these people. We can build all the recreational facilities we like. There may be 167 children there today, but if the mine doesn't go back in operation - and the Member for Faro can say that he has great confidence that it will, but that's not what he's saying in public. He's not saying that in public at all. In fact, he's rung the death knell for the mine.
Mr. Speaker, I would just like the minister to explain to Yukoners how he believes that building recreational facilities is going to help the 400 unemployed workers in the community today to find jobs. We've heard this minister chastising the federal government for no relocation money, yet this government is doing absolutely nothing to help.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I must take issue with the statement by the member opposite that I've rung the death knell for the mine. It's completely the opposite. I've expressed concern about the CCAA, the length of time that it's taking, the price of the metal, but certainly, Mr. Speaker, we're going to be there for the long haul. We know that mine has a future.
There are people in that community who have been there for 29 years. There are three generations in that community of people who are Faroites. Mr. Speaker, we are investing in recreation, we are investing in training, we have an industrial adjustment services committee, which is assisting with helping people find work, alternative employment, both here in the Yukon and abroad.
I've been to Ottawa to lobby for the mine reclamation trust monies. There is $14 million there that can start to be used on the mine site to do reclamation work that has to be done one way or the other. That would provide some employment for the community and for other Yukoners in the meantime as we wait for a return to a better pricing of the metals.
That is just one small outline of the many various activities that we are undertaking, improving and investing in the community. The businesses that are still in that community, who deserve and expect their government to treat it like a community, want no less of their government and we will give them our support.
Question re: Community development fund, Teslin
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, to the Minister of Economic Development on the community development fund, this time in the community of Teslin. On March 23, I wrote a letter to the minister raising concerns about the awarding of the $99,100 contract under the CDF to the Teslin Tlingit Council for a forestry management and timber harvesting demonstration project in the community. And, while the Teslin Tlingit Council received the money, a commercial operator, Yukon Timber, who I understand is wholly owned by the Teslin Tlingit First Nation, is actually undertaking the work.
I asked the minister for an explanation on how a commercial company became eligible for the funding in view of the CDF guideline restrictions on funding for non-commercial development companies.
I would ask the minister if he could answer that question for me now.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I can, Mr. Speaker. First of all, regarding the application from the Teslin Tlingit Council, the money hasn't flowed. We communicated directly to the First Nation that the money was approved in principle. There were still some issues about the timing of the training, given the federal permitting and the limitations that were placed on the First Nation in receipt of the permit.
The project was a good one, I think. It was generated by a federal government initiative, and we always know that CDF projects are often carried out by contractors, whether it's building projects for communities - whatever the case may be. However, we were not able to overcome the time constraints surrounding the training and, therefore, we did not flow the money to the project. But, I understand the federal government worked with the Teslin Tlingit Council to see it through.
Mr. Ostashek: I find that quite startling, Mr. Speaker, because the minister put out a press release and took credit for awarding the money to the Teslin Tlingit Council. I have not seen another press release coming out saying that the money wasn't awarded. He still was taking credit for it up until I asked the question in the Legislature.
It is my understanding that about 125 loads of logs will be harvested, yet none of the local loggers or truckers in the Teslin area have had any opportunity to participate in this project, and they remain idle while this work is going on. The logs were reportedly going to be hauled out by trucks from Watson Lake. Can the minister explain why local loggers and truckers in the Teslin area weren't afforded the opportunity to participate in this forestry demonstration?
Hon. Mr. Harding: First of all, Mr. Speaker, let me say that we know that the official opposition is very opposed to the initiative by the Teslin Tlingit Council. We know that they do not want to see the First Nation advance in these forestry harvesting techniques nor in training their people. I think that the people of the Teslin Tlingit Council understand that and we'll be certain to ensure that they understand exactly where the Yukon Party stands on this.
With regard to the specifics of the community development fund, I can only repeat again that there were some issues around the permit and the length of time of the training program which, when we approved it in principle, could not be overcome; therefore, we did not flow the money through the CDF. The federal government, to their credit, continued on with this fine project, and we'll see it through. I hope many Yukoners will benefit from it - not just the Teslin Tlingit Council. I understand that some people from Watson Lake, for example, have got jobs on the project. Hopefully, that's an economic benefit. I think it is.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, you can always tell when the members opposite are trying to hide something. You hear all the kibitzing from the back benches and how defensive they get.
Mr. Speaker, the minister has said today that the money has been flowing, but yet, I think the minister bears some responsibility in this in the fact that he approved the money in principle, and it was done so in a letter of support from the Village of Teslin, in which the support was very qualified, that the people in Teslin were put to work from this project.
Mr. Speaker, it's also our understanding that some of the logs are going to be utilized for the construction of the Teslin Tlingit Council First Nation heritage centre, a centennial anniversaries project. Can the minister advise this House if the Teslin Tlingit First Nation is being paid both to cut the logs and is again going to be paid for utilizing them in the heritage centre, irrespective of whether CDF money is used or not? The money is going to come from somewhere, and it's still coming from taxpayers. I'd like the minister to clarify this.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, let me just say that the member's question is a stretch. I hope that the Chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council can respond. There are some pretty significant sort of innuendoes and allegations being made here against the First Nation. I think the member should think twice about that before he does that on the floor of this Legislature.
I will say, Mr. Speaker, that I think the project was a good one. Unfortunately, it didn't meet the CDF criteria. We would have liked to have supported it. The federal government, I think, worked on a good initiative. I know some people from around the Yukon have worked on the project, and I think the agreement in principle we gave could not be overcome on the length of the time given the permitting and that type of issue, so we felt it was best to allow the proponents to proceed. The federal government worked that arrangement out with the Teslin Tlingit First Nation.
And insofar as who is being paid for what, that is not within the purview of my jurisdiction. We were not contributors or handlers of the project, and the member should perhaps call the First Nation themselves and try and get some answers rather than make some attempt at gaining some political mileage in this Legislature to their detriment.
Question re: Watson Lake multi-level care facility
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services, and it concerns the multi-level health care facility, or the lack thereof, in Watson Lake.
I understand the minister received a letter today from the Town of Watson Lake, and I'd like to file that letter with the Clerk. One of the points made in the letter was that health care is a territorial responsibility, not a municipal responsibility. Responsibility for funding something like Signpost Seniors, or a multi-level health care facility, lies with the territorial government.
Mr. Speaker, I know this government is fond of blaming others for their own failings. Can the minister tell this House when this government plans to begin work on a multi-level care facility for Watson Lake?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think, as I informed the member the other day, we're looking at all the seniors' needs throughout the territory, not the least of which is Watson Lake. We're looking at all seniors' needs, particularly in the realm of continuing care. We have done a bit of an assessment on what is available down there and what some of our opportunities are, and we're continuing with our community consultations to take a look at how we can best meet the needs.
Mrs. Edelman: The letter just recently filed also states that the minister's comments maligned the Town of Watson Lake and the people who are on the town council and misrepresented the municipality. After reading the letter, I'm sure the minister regrets the information that he provided to this House yesterday about the town trying to collect back taxes from the Signpost Seniors, because that information is wrong.
I hope he can correct that information for the public record today. Will the minister correct that information and make a public apology to the people of Watson Lake?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would say that if I misrepresented the information, I certainly do apologize for that. However, I would say that, having lived in the community for a sizeable length of time, knowing most of the players there, and having still many contacts with the community, I do think that, just from my own opinion, there are realms and areas in which the municipality could be assisting seniors more.
Mrs. Edelman: The final line of the letter asks the minister to work with the community to construct a multi-level care facility for Watson Lake. The real issue is making that happen, and the minister still has not answered the question. Is the minister prepared to do this? Is the territorial government prepared to do this, and is the minister content to personally attack anyone who raises these concerns?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: If it is a cheque, it certainly isn't from the federal Liberal government, which is one of the problems. I note that at the Liberal convention last weekend, they identified health as the number one priority. It's just unfortunate that they haven't put their money where their mouth is. If we had considerably more money in the Canada health and social transfer, perhaps we would have more latitude.
I think the member has alluded to the idea of building a multi-level facility, and that's an assumption she and some other individuals have made as being the only option that is available. I think that what we're committed to doing is working with the community and seeing what other options, if any, exist in the community and how we can maximize the benefit for the seniors of Watson Lake.
Question re: Tourism marketing tender
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Tourism, and it concerns the recent award of the multi-million dollar tourism marketing contract to the Calgary company, Parallel Strategies. Mr. Speaker, I want to make it clear to the minister and for the record that I understand this company has an emerging strong reputation in the advertising industry. The minister mentioned yesterday that he met with Mr. Miles Prodan on or about March 3. Would the minister confirm that Mr. Prodan is the executive who will now be in charge of the Yukon account for Parallel Strategies?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, Mr. Speaker, I cannot confirm that because I do not have that knowledge. That might be absolutely correct but, as I said yesterday, I will reiterate that I had absolutely no involvement in the selection process. I had tabled the tender process to the leader of the third party, and I would also like to reiterate for the record that Parallel was the agency of record at the time of my visit. Now who, in turn, is absolutely in charge of it there is not within my knowledge base.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it's my very clear understanding that Mr. Prodan is the account executive in charge of the Yukon account for Parallel Strategies.
Mr. Speaker, in the tourism industry, the desire for a full-service agency and for strong independent representation is very clear.
Is the minister aware that this individual in charge of the Yukon account for Parallel Strategies, Mr. Miles Prodan, is also a shareholder in Beringia Tours, a Whitehorse tour company?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, Mr. Speaker, that certainly again is not within my knowledge. I go back to the process. The process is a process that has been led - well, as the member opposite knows full well, it's not even led by anybody within the Tourism marketing department. Certainly we play the advisory role on it. I think it was done through, I must say, a squeaky-clean process.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister's department has awarded a contract worth about $1.5 million to advertise the Yukon as a tourism destination. The individual who is now in charge of directing that advertising is also in a position to be promoting his own private enterprise. The minister has said he's not aware of this information of a real or perceived conflict of interest. Why isn't the minister aware of this information and what steps does he intend to take to make himself aware of it?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, it will not be the first time that I've been accused of incompetence in the House; nor likely the last time. But certainly it is not incompetence; it is the development of a tender process that has been done with and for the industry. The industry has full involvement within the process.
I must, again, lay out the fact that Parallel Strategies, at the time of my visit, certainly was the agency in charge of our desires to move forward, supported by a full-service agency. I know not what more I could say to the member. Certainly we have a very good relationship with the Tourism Industry Association, with the association at large throughout the Yukon, and tend to work with them in as many cases as I can.
So, certainly we will check out the allegation that the leader of the third party has brought forth at this time.
Question re: Workers' Compensation Board, administration costs
Mr. Jenkins: My question is for the minister responsible for the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Last fall in the Legislature I raised the issue of the high administration cost of operating the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we have the highest administration costs in Canada, based on the number of workers served and total annual premiums.
Employers at that time were not at all pleased to pay these high premiums and, at the same time, injured workers were far from happy about the assistance they were receiving.
The one bright spot on the whole WCB picture is the workers' advocate. But other than that, all that appears to have changed is the person chairing the board.
I want to give the chair some time to implement changes but, in view of the fact injured workers and employers currently are not receiving value for their money, when can we expect some dramatic changes, what will these changes be, and would the minister elaborate with a timetable for these changes?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, in one Question Period I'm interfering in boards; then there's another Question Period and questions are asked, asking for me as a minister to do just that.
I will, Mr. Speaker, give the same answer I gave the member last year when he raised this question. The board has done an extensive comparison of boards across the country as to administrative costs. They are lower now, I believe, comparatively speaking, than when the Yukon Party administration was in power. They are going to be releasing that to the public and the stakeholders.
The board has undertaken numerous initiatives, such as having more appeal hearings to move people through the process, striking up advisory groups, working with stakeholders on a legislative review that should come forward in the fall of 1999. All of these things are being done to make the board a better place in terms of responding to injured workers and also to employers.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, workers' compensation premiums are continuing to escalate. The rebate program for employers has been cancelled. The number of workers in the territory continues to decrease. Because of the poor economic performance of this government in helping to create permanent jobs, we are paying more for less. The administration costs of WCB are still high while providing a service to fewer and fewer workers. Something is dreadfully wrong with this picture, and the minister who had all the answers in opposition has done nothing in a year and a half in office, other than politically interfere with the board.
Can the minister advise the House when the 50 recommendations outlined in the Gladish report will be fully implemented? Will it be within this current century, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'm so pleased to answer the last of the big time spenders opposite. Mr. Speaker, I've got to take issue with a couple of statements that he made. First of all, he said that premiums continue to escalate. The only increase in premiums was the one that was delivered by the former chair, which was under the Yukon Party administration. It was first announced to the public through the stakeholders. I'm not saying that as a criticism; I'm just pointing out the facts.
Secondly, the member opposite talks about the poor economic performance. I would say to the member that the economy could be performing better; there's no doubt about it. However, if you look comparatively at our government's record, unemployment rates and all the statistics, we are weathering the storm better than when the Yukon Party administration was in and they had similar circumstances when the Faro mine went off the grid and no longer was producing and we lost those very important jobs.
So, the facts bear that out. We have a very strong economic agenda, which I have outlined in this House many times over. And in Question Period, it's difficult to hit all of the highlights, but I just want to say that the board is working very diligently. I'll certainly pass on the member's concerns to the representatives of the employer and employees on the board and to the chair as well.
Mr. Jenkins: The opposition has already offered to sit on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, in order to not impede the business of the Legislature, and to have the chair of the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board appear before this Legislature. Will the minister now have his official appear before this Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, we have an agreement on House sitting. It is a 35-day sitting. There's nothing in the agreement about Tuesday and Thursday nights. There are 17 days left, I believe.
I want to say to the members opposite that if they want to be briefed by the board, I will make it available. They can phone them up. It is interesting to note the reversal in the position of the member opposite. At the annual information session, he just stayed in the room long enough to count the people in the room and then he ran out the back door. There was lots of information provided and lots of exchange between the stakeholders and the board members, but obviously the member wasn't too interested. It's only on the floor of this Legislature, for obvious political gamesmanship, that he tries to ask these questions. He's not interested in the real information. If he wanted it, he could get it. I will make it available and I'll make the board available.
Question re: Human Rights Act, amendments re hate literature
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Justice on the Human Rights Act. Three years ago, the Human Rights Commission appeared before the House and urged us to consider changes to the Human Rights Act. They had three areas of concern, where they thought amendments to the act would be appropriate. One of these areas was the area of hate literature. The commission took the position that the Criminal Code had a gap in it in relation to hate literature. The commission then provided to us a number of examples of that sort of literature, where they were having trouble dealing with the people who were putting this material out.
Does this minister share the commissioner's and commission's concerns about hate literature circulating in the territory and the commission's inability to deal with the hate literature circulating in the territory?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The short answer to the member's question is yes, that I do share concerns about having protection of human rights in the Yukon Territory. That's one of the reasons that the New Democratic government previously brought forward the Yukon Human Rights Act, which was passed in 1987.
Mr. Cable: One of the other concerns the Yukon Human Rights Commission put out was the need to revise the act to prohibit discrimination based on source of income. That's where a landlord, for example, would refuse to rent an apartment to somebody on social assistance. Now there's a motion on the Order Paper by the minister's colleague urging the government to amend the Human Rights Act to provide protection from discrimination based on source of income.
Does this minister and does this government agree with the motion, as put forward by her colleague?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I would point out for the member opposite that we have not had a chance to debate that motion yet, but he can certainly anticipate, as I indicated in response to his first question, that we are strongly in support of human rights for all Yukon residents and are open to considering amendments to the legislation to look at the question of source of income as a prohibited ground for discrimination, as was brought forward in the motion by my colleague, the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
Mr. Cable: The question isn't now, then, whether the minister's interested. The question is how interested is she? Is she interested enough to bring in legislation?
I went through the Hansard from the evening when the Human Rights Commission appeared before us, and this minister expressed considerable umbrage against hateful comments that were made against a female member of the Whitehorse City Council, and I have the impression that this minister and her party were very receptive to the proposed amendments to the Human Rights Act.
Will this minister today make a commitment to review the act and to bring forth formal amendments in the fall session?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'd like to state for the benefit of the member opposite that I have met with the Yukon Human Rights Commission to discuss any topics they wanted to bring forth, including the topics of possible changes to the act. We are interested in continuing to work with the Yukon Human Rights Commission on possible amendments to the act to respond to the concerns they bring forward, based on their experience of working with community members.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed, and we will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Motion No. 112
Clerk: Motion No. 112, standing in the name of Mr. Ostashek.
Speaker: It is moved by the leader of the official opposition that Robert Bruce, Member for Vuntut Gwitchin, cease to be the Speaker of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, let me start by saying that I believe that this is a very sad day for the Yukon Legislature. It is a day that I tried hard to avoid having to face. Mr. Speaker, you and I met on several occasions. I'm not going to be long in laying out my argument today, but I think there are important things that need to be said for the record. What I intend to cover today is a brief history of what transpired to get us to the position where I felt that I had no choice but to put this motion on the floor. I want to review some precedents in other legislatures of other Speakers, who were caught in similar circumstances, with personal problems. Lastly, I want to say why I believe that you should step down as Speaker of this Legislature.
Mr. Speaker, when you didn't show up for work last week, I and the leader of the third party, the Liberal Party, took it upon ourselves to meet with the Government Leader. We did that, Mr. Speaker, because we don't believe that this Legislature belongs to any political party. Regardless of the number of seats that are in this Legislature, I believe all political parties are equal.
We tried to avoid the spectacle of having to go through this debate today, by asking the Government Leader to speak with you, and we indicated to him that we felt the honourable thing would be for you to step aside at this time.
It appears that the Government Leader has chosen not to go that route and you, Mr. Speaker, have chosen not to go that route, so we felt that we had no alternative but to bring this motion forward.
You did approach me, Mr. Speaker, and I thank you for it, seeking my advice. I gave you my advice. And I want to say it for the record, because you know that I did not mislead you. I told you at the time that we could not support you staying in the Chair and I told you that we felt the honourable thing would be for you to step aside at this time.
When you chose not to do that, I also informed you that, if you decided to stay in the Chair, I would have no alternative but to come forward with this motion that we are debating this afternoon.
So, we've been very upfront with this situation from day one.
Your personal problems are very unfortunate, Mr. Speaker, and we sympathize with you. But having said that, you are the Speaker of the Legislature and it is a position that's respected highly in the general public. Not only your capabilities of keeping order in this Legislature are your responsibility, but also your actions and your code of conduct in the general public.
That may be unfortunate, but you are held to a higher standard of conduct than most citizens in this country. In fact, Mr. Speaker, your position as Speaker of this Legislature is held in the same esteem as the Government Leader and the Commissioner of the Yukon. I believe, Mr. Speaker, being elevated to that position, you are to set an example, not only for us in the Legislature, but for all Yukoners. Yukoners expect and deserve that their elected representatives conduct themselves in a manner that will bring honour to this Legislature, to this House.
Mr. Speaker, the Legislative Assembly is an institution in a democratic society and as the Speaker, you are a representative not only of this institution but of all members in it. What you do in your private life, unfortunately, reflects on the institution and on all members in it. That is what the public tells us and they expect a very high standard of a code of conduct.
Mr. Speaker, in order for any Speaker to function as a Speaker in a legislature in Canada, and for the Legislature to function fairly and properly, the Speaker must enjoy support of both sides of the House. Mr. Speaker, you know that when you were elected, you were nominated by the Government Leader and your nomination was seconded by me. The Government Leader and I, and the leader of the third party at the time, walked you to your chair, showing the public that you had support of all parties in this Legislature.
Mr. Speaker, when you ran into personal difficulties a year ago, we continued to support you. We continued to support you, but unfortunately, such conduct cannot continue to be sanctioned by my party.
Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House ought not to be put in a position of setting a limit on the number of transgressions of a code of conduct that this House should permit. We ought not to be put in that position, but unfortunately we have been. Your position, as I've said, is a very important position.
Now, Mr. Speaker, we know that you have full support of the NDP caucus, and let me tell you here today that I would not have expected otherwise. But I also believe that the decision to stay or leave that chair should not be the decision of the NDP caucus, but it ought to be your decision and your decision alone.
Mr. Speaker, when I say that you are elevated to a higher stature than other Yukoners - when I was doing some research this morning and looking in Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, where it comes to the Speaker as presiding officer of the House of Commons, a position that's similar to the one you're in in the Yukon - it says in here that the essential ingredient of Speakership is found in the status of the Speaker as a servant of the House. The presiding officer, while but a servant of the House, is entitled on all occasions to be treated with the greatest attention and respect by the individual members because the office embodies the power, dignity and the honour of the House itself.
Mr. Speaker, that is what I was referring to when I said that there's a higher code of conduct that's expected from you than ordinary citizens - and from us as legislators.
Mr. Speaker, had you chosen to step down, you wouldn't have been the first Speaker in Canadian history to do that. There have been several precedents - probably many more - but I was able to find two this morning. One was very recent, in the Ontario Legislature, in 1996. I'm talking about a Speaker stepping down because of personal problems; nothing to do with how they conducted themselves in the Legislature. In 1996, the Speaker voluntarily stepped down on the morning that the motion was to be debated, rather than face the debate of a personal problem.
One of our own people in history, during the 1930s - and I'm speaking of the hon. George Black, who was made Speaker by Prime Minister R.B. Bennett in 1930, became the first person west of the Manitoba border to hold that office. Unfortunately, he had some personal problems and his Speakership was marred by personal and financial problems. In 1935, he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Prime Minister Bennett, at the time, drafted a letter of resignation on behalf of his Speaker, dispatched it by his private secretary to find Mr. Black. Mr. Black signed it, and no mention was made of the illnesses or the problems that were facing him. That's the way I would have preferred things to have happened here, rather than going through this debate today, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, as I said, I felt it was important when I talked to you and I told you that we could not go on without speaking out about this. As I said, we supported you when you admitted to your personal problem a year ago. It appears you've had a relapse. That's unfortunate. You did not advise the Legislature that you would not be here on the two days last week. The Government Leader, when asked, could not even acknowledge that he had been in touch with you, and I believe, Mr. Speaker, that we do have to set examples for all Yukoners. We have many government employees who work and are listening to this debate today, and they're wondering if they would be given special treatment if, in fact, they happened to fall into the same circumstances that you are in. I think not, Mr. Speaker, and I believe, in the fairness of our democratic society, all people should be treated equally.
Mr. Speaker, as I said, if they win the vote today - there's no doubt that you will win the vote - but I don't believe that that's the end of the story. It is you who will still have to make the decision as to whether you can reside over a House when you know you do not have the confidence of the entire House. That is a decision that you're still going to have to make, regardless of the vote.
As I said, this Legislature does not belong to any one political party, regardless of the numbers of members who sit in it. Mr. Speaker, I'm sorry this debate had to take place today, but we felt it was the only solution that was left to us.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I know it is difficult for you to preside over this discussion this afternoon, which is exclusively about you but for which you have no voice. Let me briefly outline our thoughts for all members on the proposition put forward by the Member for Porter Creek North, leader of the official opposition.
Mr. Speaker, you have admitted, publicly and honestly, that you have a personal problem, a personal health problem that caused you to miss two sitting days last week. You, like many Yukoners, have struggled with alcohol-related problems and will likely have to keep up the struggle for the rest of your life. On that, our hearts and our sympathy are with you on your personal journey.
You and I have spoken in the last few days and you indicated to me deep regret for the inconvenience and the public notice your short absence has caused. However, you have also said that you wish to not only continue serving your constituents well but also to continue serving this Legislature, an institution for which you and we have the greatest respect. Furthermore, you indicated to me that you will commit to all members that you will faithfully attend to your duties in the Legislature as Speaker, if given the opportunity to continue.
My colleagues and I believe that you are sincere. We believe in your fundamental integrity. You have been honest with us and the public at every turn. I am sure the temptation to be less forthcoming would, at times, have been overwhelming.
Your commitment to your constituents, to your colleagues and to this Legislature, as well as your honesty about this situation, will be rewarded by our support for you as a man, as a member and as the Speaker.
The proposition has been put forward that your recent absence has brought the Legislature to disrepute. Well, I think you have personally lost some esteem in the minds of some. You've retained the support of many others. I do not believe the reputation of the institution of this Legislature has suffered from recent events.
I draw the members' attention to Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, which says, in part, "The chief characteristics attached to the office of Speaker in the House of Commons are authority and impartiality." It goes on to say that "confidence in the impartiality of the Speaker is an indispensable condition of the successful working of the procedure and many conventions exist which have, as their object, not only to ensure the impartiality of the Speaker, but also to ensure that his impartiality is generally recognized."
There is no question that you, Mr. Speaker, have conducted yourself in a fair and impartial manner. You've not been partisan in any statement either inside or outside the House. Your rulings and occasional admonishments have been fair and even-handed. You are obviously performing your duties in the Chair very well and, by any objective standards, your actions have not called into question the most important and vital role for which you were elected to perform. If there were such actions made or questions raised, there could possibly be a case for a substantive motion to have the Speaker step down. This clearly is not the case and no such case has been made this afternoon.
As for the reasons for the leader of the official opposition bringing forth this motion, let me remind all members that the leader of the official opposition resisted your appointment, Mr. Speaker, in the first place.
He made it very clear that he wanted someone else - anyone else - and tried to direct the government caucus as to who the candidate should be. He clearly would like to use this opportunity to meet his original aim, and he is correct that he has been consistent on this point from the beginning of this legislative session, after the election took place.
Mr. Speaker, I know that you wish that this Legislature could be debating any other matter this afternoon than this one at this time, and I can tell you I share that view. As you have made solemn commitments to us and to this Legislature, we will stand with you. Consequently, we in the government caucus will not support this motion.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Yukon Liberal party caucus to address the motion before us.
Mr. Speaker, we believe that it would be most appropriate for the Speaker to have voluntarily resigned from this position. I have personally communicated this position to the Speaker. We would hope that any individual reaching a personal, soul-searching decision would have the ability to reach that decision on their own, without the noise and arguments of others' voices. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and it is not the case in this instance.
The Speaker has had time to reflect on the conversations that I and others have had with him and has chosen to remain in the Chair. It then falls to us, as legislators, to express publicly our views on what is the best course of action.
It must be absolutely clear that our focus is not the individual, who must reach that decision on their own. Rather, we must decide what is right for the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
We, as members of this House, elect an individual to represent us as the Speaker, and we act as employers of that individual. The Speaker was elected with the backing and confidence of all members of this House.
The question, then, is what procedure should be used when dealing with an employee experiencing personal difficulties. The Government of Yukon, as an employer, advises supervisory staff that every case must be examined individually. In general terms, however, notice is served by the employer that personal issues are interfering with one's work. In this case, as I have already mentioned, this step has been taken. Once an employee has concurred that a problem exists, every effort is made to be supportive, to suggest options, treatment, counselling, medical care, whatever is necessary and most appropriate. If the situation persists, one then suggests that one take leave from additional responsibilities until such time as the situation has been resolved.
Clearly, the Yukon Legislative Assembly, if one were to view the Speaker as an employee of this House, has followed this recommended course of action. I, along with the leader of the official opposition, have met with the Government Leader to discuss this situation and with the Speaker. Unfortunately, it is now time to recommend that a leave occur until such time as there has been a clear demonstration that the additional duties can be resumed. That is what this motion before us today recommends.
I have described this situation in terms of an employer-employee relationship, and we in the Liberal Party caucus feel satisfied that we have fully met all requirements of a professional relationship. This relationship between the Speaker and the Yukon Legislative Assembly is far, far more than this. We, as elected representatives of the Yukon people, must follow standards that are acceptable to our constituents. It reflects poorly on every one of us if we do not.
The role of Speaker, as defined by Beauchesne and as mentioned by others, is the representative of the House itself in its powers, proceedings and dignities. Indeed, further in Beauchesne, one will find that one is not out of order if one refers to the Speaker as "Your Honour." What standard, then, does one expect from the Speaker's Chair and how does it reflect on everyone in this House, in the Yukon and on elected individuals generally. One expects the highest possible standard of impartiality, fairness and personal behaviour.
Mr. Speaker exhibited all of these qualities until personal difficulties overcame him. As colleagues, we offer him our personal sympathies and our wholehearted support in his recovery. However, we also, for the good of the institution that we serve, must respectfully request that he step aside from his duties until the struggle has subsided and his personal difficulties have eased.
Our institution, that belongs to all Yukoners, must not be called into question. We, as members in the service of the public, must hold ourselves to the highest possible standards. In the case of the current Speaker, we feel that these standards have not been met, and we have lost confidence in the Speaker's ability to carry out his duties. We will, regretfully, be supporting this motion.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I realize how uncomfortable this is for you. I will not be very long in my wrap-up, but there are a few things that I do need to say.
I'm a little disappointed in our Government Leader, who is trying to turn this debate today into a personal agenda of mine, Mr. Speaker, that I didn't support you. While I may have had thoughts at the start of somebody different for the Chair, Mr. Speaker, I did second your nomination. I have supported you and continue to do so. And I take exception to the Government Leader trying to turn this into a personal vendetta.
Mr. Speaker, you know, and every Yukoner who has been following this debate knows, that the reason for this debate and the responsibility for it can only fall on your shoulders and your actions, not on something that the leader of the official opposition has done.
Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed in our Government Leader in the lack of leadership that he has shown in this situation. It appears that he feels, because he has a majority in this House, that he can just dictate, and I believe that he's provided a lack of leadership in encouraging you to stay in your position because he has that majority.
Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader, too, sets an example for Yukoners and for all government employees whether they're in this Legislature or working for the civil service. And it appears to me, Mr. Speaker, that he doesn't have much respect for the elevation of your position when he thinks all you need to do is show up for work, as it's quoted in the paper. I am very disappointed in that. There were options that we gave the Government Leader so he wouldn't come to this debate today, but he didn't take them.
Mr. Speaker, every day when you open this Assembly, you appeal to the Divine Spirit to be with us and to guide us in our deliberations. Mr. Speaker, I appeal to that Divine Spirit today to be with you when you're making your decision because, as I said earlier, regardless of the vote in this House today, it's still a decision that you're going to have to make, and it is a decision that is so important to all the people of the Yukon and to our fundamental beliefs in democracy and in our fundamental respect for this institution.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Member: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Mr. Clerk, would you kindly poll the House.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Disagree.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Disagree.
Mr. McRobb: Disagree.
Mr. Fentie: Disagree.
Mr. Livingston: Disagree.
Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Edelman: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are six yea, nine nay.
Speaker: The nays have it. I declare the motion defeated.
Privileged Motion No. 112 negatived
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Motion No. 103
Clerk: Motion No. 103, standing in the name of Mr. Fentie.
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Watson Lake that this House recognizes that
(a) fire safety around Yukon communities is a significant concern; and
(b) there are opportunities to lessen the fire risk around communities while creating jobs and accessing fibre for Yukon's forest industry;
THAT it is the opinion of this House that a community fire safety program could reduce the fire risk around our communities and create jobs by helping to address the allocation needs of the forest industry; and
THAT the federal, Yukon, First Nation and municipal governments should work together to achieve these goals.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to speak to this motion today. The issues within this motion are inherent to every community in the Yukon Territory. And also, Mr. Speaker, given the animosity in this Legislature over the last couple of days, it's also an opportunity for the opposite side of the House to get back to reality and become more of a constructive opposition instead of playing party politics and lobbing grenades over here trying to see if they can come up with some wounded. It gives them an opportunity to work with the government and Yukoners on issues that are extremely important and of a great concern to every Yukon community in this territory.
Mr. Speaker, "fire-safe communities" is more than just a catch-phrase. It's about planning and managing the forest and fuels around the communities in the territory to lessen the risk of wildfire and the obvious results that would happen should that reach any of the communities here.
There are a number of factors involved in fire risk today in the Yukon. One of the major factors is that every community here is built within the boreal forest and that forest is a very combustible type of fuel, should the right conditions prevail and a fire spark start a fire.
One of the biggest worries right now and one of the major concerns, Mr. Speaker, is that as our forests age, the risk of wildfire increases in conjunction with that age.
Let's take, for example, my community, Watson Lake. The forests around Watson Lake are of an even age - somewhere in the neighbourhood of 80 to 100 years old. And we are reaching the peak of the cycle - and the cycle, Mr. Speaker, is one in which every so often - periodically - a fire will burn virtually in the same areas. This is a major component of our upland forests in the Yukon and is one of the influences that our environment not only endures, but it is necessary for the rejuvenation and the sustainability of our forests.
So, when we speak of risk factors, we must also look at the need to develop plans and methods to lessen those risks. In the past, Mr. Speaker, fire suppression and developing methods of lessening risks around communities was to build fire breaks - the fire break being merely a cut-line or a sizeable amount of forest taken out and usually ringing the community. However, one could understsand fully that a fire break of 20 metres wide, for instance, is hardly an instrument to protect communities, given the fact that wildfires, if the right conditions prevail, jump rivers. So, we have to come up with different methods, much more comprehensive plans of managing wildfire in the Yukon as it relates to the risk in our communities. That type of approach is called fuel management.
So, when we speak to this motion, Mr. Speaker, the idea of increasing safety and lessening risk in our communities in the Yukon Territory is to take a fuel-management approach and to then lessen the fuels around our communities by a number of methods.
One of the most important features of this concept is that, in the old style of fire breaks, we would take out all vegetation. The idea of fuel management is to take out the coniferous, or combustible, forests and leave deciduous; for example, aspen, birch or willow, which are very low risk, very low-spark combustible material.
So, this idea or this concept of managing fuels to lessen risk in communities becomes a very important component of forest management planning. It's a phase of forest management planning that is derived in an area in close proximity to communities, and includes subdivisions like Whitehorse peripheral buildings, residences and so on.
When we speak of fuel risk, there's an important factor to remember here, that the only thing we can do by way of solid fire suppression is manipulating and managing the fuels. W
e should ask ourselves why this is so important today. As I alluded to earlier, as our forests age, our risks increase.
So, the time is now. The time is now to get beyond the talking and to the doing. That is what this motion speaks to. It's about getting on with the plan. It's about lessening the fire risk in Yukon communities today.
It also factors in another very important issue here in Yukon communities. It's about partnerships. The report we just tabled today in the Legislature was derived and developed by partnerships: the Department of Community and Transportation Services, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Yukon forest commission.
There are more partners to involve in this process: First Nations, municipalities, industry and, indeed, the Yukon public, can all become partners in an initiative that would result in fire-safe communities and would also derive for us economic benefits from the extraction of the resource.
So when we look at the idea of fuel management lessening fire risk, it also brings to bear a number of opportunities. Through the planning process, we can do fuel inventories around communities. We can develop the plan that ensures that the job we do will give the personnel, should the fire occur, should the situation arise, enough time to have every opportunity to make sure that there is no damage or loss of life in communities here in the Yukon today.
When we look at the economic benefits, Mr. Speaker, there are a number of areas where Yukon people can become involved. The first step through the planning process in doing the inventories puts people to work in this territory today who not only are involved in the forest industry, but have the knowledge of the surrounding forest in each particular community, and they also have the knowledge of how to do these inventories and do the initial stages of planning.
From that process, we then can put more Yukoners to work extracting what may be merchantable timber. There's the opportunity for fuel woods, for fire woods, for communities; there are a number of areas of site preparation that would take place after extraction.
An example that comes to mind would be scarifying any particular cut block to ensure that cones from coniferous growth would be turned underground and we would enhance the growth of deciduous plants and vegetation.
There's also another important factor when we consider this issue, Mr. Speaker, and it is that this type of approach would give to the Yukon industry of the day - sawmills, loggers, and so on - access to fibre, access to fibre that most certainly does not compromise the future but enhances the future by creating economic benefits and fire-safe communities, and it also assists in lessening the pressure and demand on resource as we work toward and finalize forest management planning in the Yukon Territory.
So, I think this is a motion, Mr. Speaker, that, firstly, will bring unanimous support in this Legislature, support throughout the Yukon in communities, support from all levels of government, all orders of government, and I really, truly believe that this is a very important approach. And this approach for fire-safe communities in the Yukon must begin today, and it is our duty in this Legislature to begin that process.
I look forward, Mr. Speaker, to hearing from my colleagues and the members opposite, to help enhance this concept, to bring forward their ideas to make this something that all Yukoners will firstly find comfort in and be proud of and that will help us in the area of jobs and economic benefit in the short term here in the Yukon.
One view that could be taken to ensure that we start and commence this plan in the right way would be to choose a particular community in the Yukon, develop the plan and, using the concept of a template, then apply what we have developed throughout communities in the Yukon Territory.
Every community is at risk, so this is something that all of us here today can come to terms with in how best to approach that concept.
One of the things we must do is focus our attention, and where do we focus that first? I think that has to be within communities. We have to go out and focus the attention in communities on where to start and what their views are, how far the perimeter should be, and what the size of the areas that we extract fuels from should be.
Another question we should answer is, who needs to be involved? That means, Mr. Speaker, in this instance, all orders of government, First Nations and Yukon people in general should be involved in this process.
The idea of starting is one of the most important steps that, for decades, we have talked about, year by year, safety from forest fire, safety from wildfire. Through the research that the federal government has done, that the Yukon government has done, and many other agencies, it has become quite evident that we cannot stop fire, it is with us, no matter what we do. But it has also become evident that there are a number of things we can do in the area of being proactive that will most certainly help the situation, should the right conditions arise and a fire begin in close proximity to any community here in the territory.
So, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak to this motion. Again, I say I look forward to hearing from my colleagues and the members opposite, so that we may come up with a thoughtful, deliberate approach to fire-safe communities here in the Yukon Territory today.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise and speak to this motion today in this Legislature.
I must take exception, though, to the Member for Watson Lake being presumptuous in thinking he has unanimous support of the House prior to anyone having a chance to speak, but nevertheless, Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to see this type of motion, one that I can support without any difficulty, and hopefully the end result will be that we will accomplish something constructive for our citizens as well as provide a measure of safety.
I'll not be long in my debate today. I have a few comments to make. I thank the Member for Watson Lake for handing out this summary of the workshops that they had on developing fire-safe communities in the Yukon.
I believe it's a good exercise to undertake, both from a point of safety, which should be our first concern, and also the opportunity to create a few local jobs for a short period of time.
I'm a little skeptical as to how much fibre we will actually salvage. When I look at communities in the Yukon, there are some that we'll probably salvage a lot. I guess it will depend on how wide this fire-guard is going to be. I know that in the book here, and I just happened to glance through it, Mr. Speaker, it says, "A jump-fire can reach a house more than a kilometre away." Well, I've had some experience fighting forest fires - quite a lot in my younger days - and I've seen fires jump five miles.
So, I certainly don't think it was the intention of the Member for Watson Lake to put a fire-break around the community that was that large. I think he's talking about putting a fire-break that would give time to mobilize crews to be able to stave off a wildfire, and so that we could save the communities at a lot lower cost than it's costing us today when the fire goes on.
I think one of the reasons that I'm very supportive of this motion today is that, having had the experience of the Pelly Crossing fire and having reviewed the history of the Old Crow fire a few years back with the evacuation of the communities - and where we all know, in the territory, that forestry is clearly a responsibility of the federal Liberal government - my understanding is that we're still trying to collect from them for the evacuation of those communities. Another case of downloading. So, anything we can do to reduce the cost - and especially if we can get a few bucks out of the feds to help us - would certainly be a tremendous benefit to all people of the Yukon.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: The member opposite said, "Good luck." I agree with him. Good luck. But the fact remains that there is a substantial amount of money outstanding that the federal government owes the territorial government in areas that were clearly their responsibility. Mind you, these are not the only areas. We can just look at the Minister of Health and Social Services' department and see the outstanding bills that are there from the federal government, and it does make it very difficult when the Liberals won't break open their purses and pay the bills that are owing and honour their commitments. That's what it is.
Mr. Speaker, as I spoke earlier, I believe that this is a very good idea. I will be interested in hearing the Member for Watson Lake's closing comments as to how much fibre - even has any idea - can be salvaged in such an undertaking as a fire suppression plan for each of the communities.
One needs only look at a community like Destruction Bay. I don't think you're going to get a lot of fibre. There are quite a few communities in the Yukon like that. But, in his own home community, I could see a substantial amount of fibre being salvaged and giving great protection to the community of Watson Lake - and other communities in the Yukon.
I think the plan has merit in the fact that we're talking only of taking the fuel and not taking the trees that actually act like a fire break - the aspen, the poplar and the willow. They act like a natural fire-break.
The Member for Watson Lake made a comment that we cannot stop wildfires. I just want to expand that and say nor do I think that we should stop all wildfires. But, that has been one of the mistakes in the past in the Yukon, where we spent millions and millions of taxpayers' dollars trying to suppress fires, and then end up in a situation where now we're having to build fire-guards, because the fuel has built up to such a level in our forests that when we have a fire, it's not just a normal fire; it's a very hot fire. As a result, it causes severe damage.
Nevertheless, having been in the outfitting business for many years and having lived in the woods all my life and knowing the value of wildfires to the enhancement of wildlife populations in the territory, there are a lot of areas where there is no fibre that is worthy of mention, as far as harvesting for our sawmills and our domestic use. I believe these areas would be better burned, so that we could create new growth and enhance wildlife populations in the Yukon.
In fact, many jurisdictions in North America today use fire as a wildlife management tool to burn off old growth where there is no marketable timber in order to expand the range for wildlife populations.
So I agree with the member opposite. I don't think for a minute - I'm not trying to get into a hostile debate here - I don't believe he's trying to say that all wildfires are bad, because I certainly don't believe that all wildfires are bad, but we certainly don't want them creating a hazard for our communities and our citizens. Regardless of whether the federal government pays the bill or not, we certainly still don't want to have that. So this is one way that we can do this, and I want to thank the Member for Watson Lake for bringing a motion of this type forward that has a lot of common sense behind it. It's a motion that most members in this House should be able to support without much hesitation.
The motion itself says it recognizes the significance of the fire safety problem, it recognizes the opportunities to lessen that fire risk and create safer communities and create jobs, and that a community's fire safety program could reduce the fire risk around the communities, create jobs, be helpful to allocation needs, and that the federal, Yukon, First Nation and municipal governments should work together to achieve these goals.
I don't have any problem at all supporting the member and supporting this government in embarking on that process. I see the DIAND book that's been handed out here says we're looking at a target date of the year 2005, I believe it is. I can appreciate that it would take that long - have a short-term plan in place by the year 2000 or 2001, and have all Yukon communities fire safe by the year 2005. It's a long-range plan. There are going to be many meetings and many controversial positions taken by many different interest groups in the territory, but that's nothing new to us here.
It's "save our economy and our civilization" around the world, but a lot of controversy and different interest groups who have different ideas, and we need to come up with a resolution.
However, I believe when we're embarking on an initiative of protection, it may be a lot easier to sell than some other initiatives that governments or private industry may want to undertake.
As I said, Mr. Speaker, I have had a substantial amount of experience and have been involved in living in communities that were threatened by fire for many, many years, not only in the Yukon but when I was in Alberta and lived in the mining communities that only had enough of the vegetation carved out to put up the houses, with the trees right to our back door. Every time there was a fire, there was a tremendous risk of losing a community. Not much thought was given in those days to spending money to protect the community. Times have changed, and we are doing that now.
So, Mr. Speaker, as I said, I don't have much to say to this motion. I don't have any difficulty with it. I don't even have a lot of questions on it. I just want to thank the Member for Watson Lake once more for bringing it forward, and he has my support on it.
Mr. Livingston: I rise in support of the motion as well, and was pleased to note the support of the member opposite for this motion. He spent some time talking about wildfires, and I think most people of the Yukon would recognize that fire is an important part of the forest cycle.
This motion, though, is about safe communities and about the kind of preventive measures that can be taken by people, particularly during a dry year that it looks like we may be in for, to ensure that we have safer communities, that we are taking some measures to ensure that we're putting up the best defence against wildfires and in protecting our homes and our families and our communities.
Of course, a considerable side benefit can be work for Yukon people, and that's another good reason, I believe, to support this particular motion.
The actions taken through this kind of initiative can be one component of a thoughtful forest management initiative. I believe the Yukon's Department of Community and Transportation Services, along with the Yukon forest commission, can work with DIAND, communities and First Nations in developing an action plan to develop fire-safe communities in the Yukon - I know that some work has already been done on that in their January workshops - working with fire experts, community planners and fire departments, as well as people from the various orders of government.
Fire safety around Yukon communities is a significant concern. In 1991, on June 20, the Haeckel Hill fire was started. It burned within three miles of Crestview, in my constituency, Mr. Speaker, and would have kept going if it had not been for the excellent work done by the Yukon forest service and, just as importantly, because of a change of wind - a pretty chance occurrence that, in the end, probably saved a part of our community. The situation was extremely volatile, and we got lucky that time.
In 1946, one end of the Carmacks community burned, including some buildings. In 1958, Whitehorse was spared, but not without total devastation between Kusawa, right to the outskirts of town. There was some considerable loss of buildings, and I know that today my home sits on land that was burned in that 1958 fire. In 1969, the new town of Faro was gutted by fire. Pelly was spared that year, but had a close brush with fire that time around, as well. Of course, in 1995, Pelly was again spared, but not without many cabins and countless square kilometers of forest being destroyed.
Mr. Speaker, there's a possibility every year that fire-storm conditions can occur in the Yukon, usually for a total of about two weeks. That's when the relative humidity is extremely low, ground moisture is extremely low, temperatures are high and the wind speed is high. When you add potential carelessness or lightning to that mix, you have a possible disaster just waiting to happen.
There have been a number of years where I was able to do a little bit of a survey and I counted eight years since the Second World War, since 1946, where these conditions have produced some devastating results. While the conditions are natural, the impact on communities to the potential fire zone, of course, is not and that's what this kind of an initiative can serve to protect.
Work involving reducing the risk of wildfires around communities can help create some short-term employment and also provide some access to timber for use by local processors.
Who needs to be involved, Mr. Speaker? I would anticipate that all orders of government need to be involved. The federal government, the Yukon government, First Nations and the municipal governments working on behalf of the people in their various jurisdictions can work together to improve the safety of Yukon people.
Communication will be critical - I think, for this kind of an initiative to be successful - between the forest industry operators, including loggers and millers and DIAND in terms of what timber will be allocated and what timber will be available.
And I note that today in the House the Yukon government announced a $200,000 training trust fund, and certainly there is some potential at least for funds available through that trust fund to support this kind of an initiative.
Risk assessment clearly needs to be carried out in order to identify areas to begin with and, as my colleague from Watson Lake talked about the potential of doing a pilot, Mr. Speaker, I would certainly encourage and support work to begin on this kind of an initiative just as quickly as possible.
We do anticipate that the moisture levels in the soil will be lower this year - less snowfall than usual. We anticipate that it could be quite a hot, dry summer, or at least if El Niño sticks around. And I think, for that reason alone, we need to be taking some extra cautions this year to ensure that our communities are going to be reasonably well protected.
I note from the workshop that was carried out in January a couple of interesting items. In 1995, a well site near Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories was left entirely unburned after a wildfire went through burning everything outside of its perimeter. Why was that particular block of land left? Because after the site was cleared, the regeneration around this well site was poplar and other deciduous bushes, and that deciduous forest, Mr. Speaker, can act as a buffer around homes and communities, protecting them from wildfire.
Of course, there are a number of types of work that might be included under this kind of an initiative that can lessen the chances for disaster, and that includes things like thinning of the forest by creating fire-breaks, and by removing some of the existing fuel within the forests. That's one of the best solutions. The fire-breaks, of course, also help, because typically we get deciduous trees. Particularly when we're paying attention to that, we get deciduous trees growing back up.
So, the answer has to be to involve individual communities, the Yukon government, the federal government and First Nation governments to work together to help plan the safety of these communities and to give us an opportunity to manage these resources.
Through such things as education awareness and these kinds of active programs in the woods, we can expect to see safer communities - communities that are protected.
I hope that we're able to take some action on this initiative, because I know that people in my riding will be well-served by it. We have a number of areas, such as Crestview, MacPherson and Hidden Valley - its always the rural parts of the riding that are at risk because of their close proximity to conifers, the coniferous forests. This would be a significant step toward ensuring a safer environment for everyone this summer.
Mrs. Edelman: This is a good topic for debate today and certainly the Yukon Liberal caucus will be supporting the motion as presented today. Obviously, it makes sense to do something to try to prevent our territory from burning down. And this, as a solution, has been looked at by quite a number of different groups and it's been around for a very long time. The important elements here are jobs for Yukoners and, primarily, the most important issue, of course, is safety and what's good for our forests.
In a very micro kind of way, there was a project around my riding. One was a clearcut and one was the type of cut that the Member for Watson Lake is speaking about today. The clearcut went right down the power line behind Riverdale. It was a sight to behold. You could see quite a ways, because it was quite a large clear cut.
One of the things the company said was that one of the reasons for doing the clearcut, apparently, was to prevent fire from getting into Riverdale.
And, of course, as we all know, fire jumps. It goes down roots, it goes up tops, it goes everywhere, and the little tiny cut, defensive as it was, would have done nothing to protect Riverdale.
At the same time, there was a micro project that took place by some students from the college, and it was the type of cut that the Member for Watson Lake speaks of today. They got rid of a coniferous forest just beside the trail going into Grey Mountain Primary School from the greenbelt. This has actually become quite a lovely trail system for a number of the residents in the area. It is very hard to find, and I think that is what's most interesting about the whole issue.
I suppose that that's the thing. If we can protect our communities without having these very bad aesthetic impacts on our communities, then that's probably the best.
Here in the Yukon in the past, we have had a number of firebreaks. There was a huge fire-break that the Member for Laberge might be interested in that was actually built around Crestview when the military was here in the '40s and, indeed, that fire-break did absolutely nothing to protect Crestview in the Haeckel Hill fire. But it was quite a large fire-break that was built.
And there are people, in the federal government in particular, who have said that this approach is the only one that makes sense. I know one particular federal employee who has been saying this for as long as I can remember, and it makes a lot of sense. It's a proactive approach. It lessens the fuels around communities. It gets rid of coniferous and leaves the deciduous.
And, as we were mentioning before, there are three steps: the first is inventory of the production, extraction of the fibre, and clean up afterwards. All of these bring jobs and bring money into communities. All of these increase safety for those communities and all of these things are good for our forest.
There have been comments made in the House about previous fires, and of course there have been a number - there is a fire every year. Besides floods, forest fires are a most common occurrence here in the Yukon Territory.
The fire in 1969 that threatened Whitehorse stopped only because of a change in the wind, much like the fire out on Haeckel Hill that was also only stopped by a change in the wind. And indeed, there is a problem with this every year.
In the Minto and Pelly and as well as in the Old Crow fire, Emergency Measures was completely mobilized and there were people who were sent out to these communities. Indeed, the work in Old Crow in particular continued for, I think, almost two months. There were very few federal dollars that have been given back because of that. The cost to people was quite phenomenal. I mean, you're talking about uprooting people out of their community and moving them somewhere else. In this case, from Old Crow, they moved over to Inuvik, which was a whole different territory. That's the sort of thing we'd like to avoid in the future.
I'm not saying that this approach is going to stop forest fires in the Yukon, because it's not. I'm not going to say that this approach is going to save communities, because it may or may not do that, but I am saying it is a proactive approach. It's a supportable approach and our caucus certainly supports this approach. If there is something that we can do that's within our power, we would be more than happy to help in this process.
Of course, the important thing to remember, too, is that this is all being done in partnership with municipalities, with the federal government and with First Nations. These are important issues and the only way we're ever going to get anything done properly in the Yukon is if we keep those partnerships. Once again, we support that type of approach.
Mr. McRobb: I rise today to speak in support of Motion No. 103, brought forward by my colleague, the MLA for Watson Lake.
As you know, many communities in the territory are surrounded by boreal forests, making them particularly vulnerable to wildfires, which are a common occurrence throughout the summer months.
Over the years, many of our communities have been threatened by fire. In 1958, the City of Whitehorse was threatened, and some areas had to be evacuated. In 1969, a 200-hectare fire threatened local residences in the Crestview subdivision, and an evacuation was carried out. In that same year, a forest fire swept through and destroyed buildings and vehicles in Faro. In 1982, Stewart Crossing was threatened by fire. Recent fires resulted in evacuations at Old Crow, Pelly Crossing and the Whitehorse area. In the summer of 1997, a fire in the Haines Junction area burned a total of six hectares, and was controlled and extinguished only as a result of an extensive fire suppression operation.
I recall that fire, in particular, Mr. Speaker, as I joined with many concerned residents from the community atop Crocus Hill, it's called, and we watched the fire that was spreading near some houses in the area. This fire could have easily been a disaster and spread into the townsite of Haines Junction. We were very fortunate to bring it under control, given the dry circumstances and the fact that it happened to occur on a day that wasn't too windy. I think we all deserve to recognize the hard work and diligent efforts of the firefighters in the area to bring this fire under control, including the job well done by the helicopter pilots.
Mr. Speaker, this is to name just a few of the occurrences of life-threatening fires over the years. Astronomical amounts of human and financial resources are expended trying to put out fires that are burning out of control and threatening homes and communities. Much of this can be prevented if we all take responsibility for reducing the risk of forest fires in populated areas.
In the MacIntosh subdivision near Haines Junction, area residents expressed fear of the potential loss of lives and homes.
This concern was with the driving force behind the MacIntosh project, which was implemented in this past year. The MacIntosh project was arrived at through public consultation. The Alsek Renewable Resource Council debated the matter with public input and came to the determination of the plan, which met community approval. The resource council also took into consideration suggestions from the community about how the project should be established.
Mr. Speaker, although the concern about fire-breaks is very legitimate and necessary for the safety of our citizens, we mustn't use them as a tool to go logging in the absence of a sustainable forest management plan. And many people continue to hold that view, and I certainly support it and support the work of the Yukon forest commission in working toward the goal of a sustainable Yukon forest management plan.
The MacIntosh project was to establish a fire-break in the fuels between the MacIntosh subdivision and the large block of beetle-killed timber to the south. The long-term goal is to replace the spruce with willow and poplar, which is much more fire resistant than spruce. With the completion of this project, the Haines Junction community will be a much safer place to live in the short and long term, due to the reduced threat of fire.
In January of this year, a multi-government workshop, involving the Yukon forest commission, the Yukon Department of Community and Transportation Services and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, convened to discuss an action plan for fire-safe communities. A common theme was forwarded by First Nations and other representatives at this workshop - insistence that the process must remain community driven, and cooperation with the communities is necessary in developing coordination from the four levels of government.
I can recall, in attending the Association of Yukon Communities' annual general assembly last, I believe it was, May 2 in Watson Lake, officials from Alaska showed a video on wildfires that certainly had a significant impact upon those who viewed it. It was very startling and drove home the reality and the risk of forest fires to people living next to the boreal forest.
Initiatives like this will help us move toward developing fire-safe communities and a Yukon forest strategy. I commend the efforts of my colleague, Dennis Fentie, who continues to play a strong role in regional forest management and keeping our communities safe.
Last summer, the Mendenhall Community Association expressed concerns regarding the potential for a forest fire in this area. Mendenhall residents became increasingly concerned for their safety, given the volatile susceptibility to fire to wipe out their community. I also attended their pre-annual general meeting, Mr. Speaker, a week ago last Sunday, and this concern is still there in the community, and they'll be trying to establish a fire-break to protect them before the fire season gets too far along this year.
I wrote to the acting director general of DIAND and encouraged the development of improved fire protection measures and their implementation as soon as possible to prevent the loss of lives and homes. DIAND indicated that they are looking at strategies that are applicable to address these concerns.
Mr. Speaker, we have to do more than look at strategies. We need to act now to make our communities safe. That is exactly what the Mendenhall Community Association intends to do. At a recent meeting of the association that I attended, as I said, it was clear that fire protection is a high priority among the residents there. The association has begun planning for a fire-break and, while this is still in the preliminary stages, their intention is to develop a proposal, in consultation with DIAND and other forestry officials, to ensure sound forest management and to provide maximum opportunity for the community.
Mr. Speaker, I fully support the efforts of the Mendenhall Community Association and, as in the MacIntosh project, will do what I can to assist in seeing this project is completed to the satisfaction of the community. I'm sure, once the project is completed, the Mendenhall residents will sleep better at night.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I urge all members of this House to support this motion in an effort to make our communities a safer place to live.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this motion. It's a good initiative. It will do a lot of service toward protecting our respective communities here in Yukon.
When I think back over the years, Mr. Speaker, I know, when I first arrived in Yukon, the second community I lived in was the Town of Faro, and it had just gone through a major fire, a major fire that devastated that townsite and burned to the ground a whole lot of homes that were under construction. In fact, there was a move afoot at that time to even not complete the Town of Faro but to go with a camp and rotate people in and out of Whitehorse. But that didn't come to pass.
I've gone through a history of many, many fires throughout the Yukon and Alaska, most recently the Old Crow fire and the Minto-Pelly fire and the fire around Tok, Alaska. The last two had quite an adverse effect on business, as they occurred in the summer and blocked the highways, impeded the flow of visitors and impeded the movement of goods and services that were needed in our respective communities.
So, anything we can do to protect our communities, such as what is being suggested with these fire-breaks, would be most welcome.
When I think back a couple of years to the fire-break that was located around our community, it was a big swath on the hillside that - well, the appearance was horrible and, from what I was told, if a fire did occur, it would jump that fire-break very, very quickly.
Having flown over the Minto-Pelly fire just a couple of years back and watching it go back and forth across the Yukon River, I can see that Mother Nature is a very, very powerful individual and can move tremendously. It was interesting to see how the fire would jump, and there'd be areas in its path that were left unscathed by that fire.
It was also interesting to go up into the Old Crow area a few years after the major fire. Previous to that, there'd been other fires on the tundra up there that were not fought. They are wildfires, yes, and there is not a need to contain them, but during the course of the winter, one would think that they would go out, but they just somehow go down into the ground and reappear the next spring. It's just an amazing phenomenon that took me very much by surprise.
I guess most of the criticism that has been offered the last few years has been the fire suppression that has been undertaken by the senior level of government here in the Yukon and supported by the Government of Yukon and the First Nations in the respective communities. One learns, when one gets into fire suppression, that the initial attack is the most formidable way of addressing any fire.
This is probably an area, though not the subject of this motion, that should be dealt with very, very quickly, and the lines of communication set and firmed up, so that we do not have a repeat of the Pelly-Minto situation that occurred a few years ago, where the fire was reported and no attack took place for a considerable length of time. I think a lot of the outcome and a lot of these subsequent workshops that came about are going to prove to be very, very beneficial, as they point out the need, not for just fire-breaks around communities, but a need for a cohesive approach to firefighting from all levels of government.
One has a different approach to firefighting when it's one's home in the approaching path of the fire. It is a scary, scary place to be in, having been through a number of fires, and one major flood - mind you, if I had my choice, I'd take the fire before the flood, but I don't want to see anyone blessed by either, or tainted or hurt by either one of these occurrences. They are both dramatic.
The other issue that the government is going to have to look at is to come to some undertaking as to the level of fire protection in the various areas, so that the insurance companies can come to some rationale for the rates they charge in rural Yukon for fire protection.
And, to a large part, they are considered unprotected areas, from a firefighting viewpoint, and one pays the highest rating of all for fire insurance in these areas - if indeed you can obtain it. So, perhaps the member in charge of the forestry commission can review these areas and come back with some further motion on these areas that I'm sure will be supported fully by both sides of this House.
The fire-guards or breaks that we have seen in the past around a number of communities don't appear to be worthy of the role that they were envisioned for, and I guess one has to look at the historical value of some of these fire-breaks and to look at the role that removing all the coniferous trees from the areas of the fire-breaks and adjacent to them would have. There appears to be a lot of benefit that would accrue to a fire-break of this nature. It wouldn't be a big, barren swath carved through the hillsides, like so many of the fire-breaks in the past have been, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I don't have much further to say, other than that this is a very good initiative and that I will be in support of this motion.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I'll be brief in my comments to this motion. I speak in support of this motion and thank the Member for Watson Lake for raising this issue.
We have noticed the weather outside, having an early spring, and the snow is going fast, and this raises a number of concerns about fires. The last year's fires in Alaska had major impacts and, Mr. Speaker, fires in my riding a few years ago certainly have affected my constituents. The years before that, I had worked as a firefighter for a number of years, so I'm quite aware of the impact and the magnitude of what forest fire brings and how scary it is. When a person is out there with a water hose, trying to make a fire-break with a water hose, and a fire comes up that has flames over 200 feet high, it's quite scary. Nothing stands in their way. No water bombers or fire-breaks are going to be stopping fires of that magnitude.
Now, the fire that was at Minto destroyed some buildings when it first started - some older buildings that were along the creek there - and that particular fire was very scary for people watching it. They had fireballs rolling across the road and the highway and, as the weather continued to be dry and windy, the fire moved quite quickly toward the Town of Pelly Crossing. That town had experienced fires nearby and throughout the community a few times before that, and they also know what the effects of a fire can be and how scary it can be.
As people are well-aware, the community was evacuated. During that time, it would have been smoke that did damage, rather than the flames themselves.
People in Pelly were describing the fire, as it was a very bright day - one a bit brighter than this, with the sun very high - and how once the smoke rolled into the communities it was pitch black out. Street lights came on, it was so dark there. It gives a person a very weird feeling of insecurity in terms of where they go from there, as people left - both north and south of the community - and the community was abandoned. What steps would they have taken to try to protect the community?
I know that some of the people in the community, including the former MLA for the Mayo-Tatchun area, Danny Joe, lost a cabin in the burn. There's no chance at all to go out there and try to cut a fire-break around the cabin, even though it was beside a lake and a swampy area. He felt a lot of loss in personal belongings. If you can think, I guess, on a bigger scale, about what can happen to a community, it can be fairly devastating.
My own community - the community of Carmacks - through stories I have heard about the 1969 or earlier fires, they have come right up to the top of the hill. You know how the town is situated. It came right up to the top of the hill and the people in the community could see the flames on the top of the hill.
There are some communities, I know, in the Yukon, that do have fire-breaks. Carmacks is one of them. It gives the people in the community a bit of a sense of security that there is something that they could use to fight the forest fires that are coming toward the community.
I just want to say that when there is a forest fire that is wild coming toward a community and it can be destroyed, of course the fire departments are put on full alert and that is their number-one priority: to make sure that the safety of the people in the community is their number-one priority. They'll work their hardest to bring that safety forward.
A fire-break is not just about having a fire come up to it and whether it jumps across it or not, it could be used in the way firefighters attack fires. They could use the fire-breaks as a point to back-burn. As you back-burn, you light the fire. The bigger head of the fire that's coming forward will suck the smaller one in and burn the fuels ahead of it. In theory, it should slow down the fire or stop it. Those are small types of ways firefighters use to combat fire in fighting fire with fire.
I know that we do appreciate the risk and threat to public safety. This is what this motion is all about: keeping communities safe. I think that in putting fire-breaks around communities, some may have to change, especially those that have boundary changes that are coming forward.
We could also do some inventory work while we make the fire-breaks. It will give the local people a little better understanding as to what exactly is out there.
Mr. Speaker, I know that what fires do and the effects of them, it's certainly - as some members have said - a natural part of our ecosystem.
It does provide back to the land, and it's not unusual to set forest fires. I know aboriginal people have burned off points in land, just so that it could be rejuvenated with new material, and so on, for the animals. In years after, it does attract a lot of moose, and so on, like the young willows that are out there. So, it's certainly a big part of the ecosystem and part of the circle of life in creating new habitat, and so on, for wildlife and freeing up nutrients for the soil. Living in the north, I think we should be prepared to accept this reality.
One of the things we need to think about and experience in dry seasons in the Yukon is the future and what the future has to hold. I believe that what we have been going through and what we have brought up, through the department and as a government in the past, is climate change. We believe that it's truly here and has showed signs of it many times. The projections indicate, of course, increased forest fires in the Yukon, along with other things.
With this in mind, and not knowing exactly what nature holds for us out there, in having drier weather and increased forest fires, a lot of our timber is burned in forest fires. Sometimes we don't realize how much of it, even, for example, the Minto fire, which took up a lot of the Selkirk First Nation traditional territory. They had 1,800 square miles of selected land, and that fire alone burned approximately 25 percent of their land selection.
There's value beyond the timber there, and that's why the land has been selected.
It makes sense, given the known and future risk, to take steps now that might improve the public safety around human settlements. I certainly support the need for the involvement of all levels of governments, and also it's important to inform and hear from the people that will be affected.
Some property in the highest demand around a community is heavily forested, and even though we do have firefighting equipment in the communities where there are settlements, it's good to know that we do and can have fuel-breaks around communities, and it would be nice to see us expand this down the road to settlements.
The one fire that we had a couple of years before the 1995 fire in Minto did burn some fairly significant settlements - and there's the Big Salmon village, for example. I know firefighters moved in, cleared out the brush around the cabins and actually saved the cabins by putting sprinklers on top of them, but the fire was so close that it did burn in and through the graveyard and a lot of the old wooden stakes that were among the graves.
There was another one just across the Yukon River from that. I'm not sure of the exact name, but I think it was Police Point, where there were cabins that were used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police years back, which not many people knew about at all, and those buildings are gone and never to be seen again, and we don't know what they even looked like.
We have a lot of settlements around the Yukon that are in that same situation. It would be nice in the future to go in there and clean these places up.
We have, as a government, put a lot of money into some of the settlements, like Fort Selkirk, for example. It would be a shame to see a settlement like that, with only a couple of people living there, destroyed by a wildfire, after putting all that money and effort into rebuilding and renovating buildings that are there.
Mr. Speaker, it's important that people living in these areas appreciate the support and this kind of initiative that has been brought forward, and to have information they need to take steps for themselves to protect their own properties. I think that they would best be able to make informed decisions about community initiatives. I appreciate the opportunities for employment, of course, that might be created by such initiatives, and also the information gathered by doing a resource inventory at the same time.
I know that some community mills would appreciate this type of timber, if it's large enough that they can use it and make products out of it, and would appreciate this initiative as brought forward by the forest commission.
If consensus can be reached on these kinds of projects, the confusion about the availability of timber supplies and all that, we know that it may allow an opportunity for better identification of timber resources.
Mr. Speaker, to conclude, I think that the work done by the forest commission and DIAND toward an action plan on this issue is good work. I'd just note the involvement of Community and Transportation Services in that work, as well. I particularly appreciate the emphasis on public education and the cooperative approach, and I believe that this could be a positive initiative, and I encourage all members to support this motion.
Mr. Cable: I would like to reiterate the last speaker's comments. It is a positive motion and I'm certain that all members will, in fact, be supporting it.
I had occasion to be driving down the Alaska Highway a few years ago on a hot summer day when Haeckel Hill was on fire. I have to say that the blues and purples and colour that came off that hill were beautiful in an awe-inspiring sort of way. I witnessed the power of nature and its awesome beauty. I witnessed also the fear in people who were living near the fire. That fear was palpable and could be tasted.
I had conversations with some of them later - some that lived up in the Crestview area - about what they thought about the fire. This was after the fire, and they told me about their fear and awe when they saw this evidence of nature's power moving down toward their houses.
We have to remember that, for most of our citizens, their home is their castle. It's their major investment in life. While we may be able to devise plans to evacuate people and make them safe and deal with personal safety, we cannot easily protect people's possessions and their homes without taking some steps before the fires strike. In a territory such as ours, which is sparsely populated, and with many, if not all, of our municipalities surrounded with considerable forest fuel, we need to be constantly concerned about the fire threat to our homes, our institutional buildings and our commercial buildings.
Whether it's Pelly Crossing a couple of summers ago, Crestview in 1991, Porter Creek about 30 years ago or Faro in 1969, we all have to be concerned with the easy threat that our environment poses to us in a hot and dry summer.
There's also a job creation aspect to the motion, and I commend the member for bringing the motion forward. I don't think it's any secret that, at this time, unemployment in the Yukon is high and it's likely to remain high in the near future. There's probably not a better time to get this type of initiative moving, and from a job creation standpoint, now is probably the time for the greatest return on public investment, more now that three or four years from now.
If the mover of the motion intends to close the motion later on and speak again, it would be useful to hear from him whether he thinks the time line or the agenda that has been struck and suggested in the publication that he provided to us may be moved up.
It would be useful also to hear from the member about the cost of making all our communities fire safe. Now, I don't pretend to think that he has got a dollar figure on the cost of the fire-breaks in all communities, but it would be useful to hear from him whether he has any ballpark costs - whether we're talking about $500,000 or $5 million or $10 million to construct the fire-breaks and cut down the timber and the brush and the wood fuel that surrounds our communities.
It would be useful to hear from him how far his thinking has advanced on the sale of the timber and the wood that would be taken out of the fire-break areas and whether that would balance a significant portion of the cost of cutting the firebreaks, or if in fact whether the whole exercise would be revenue-neutral.
I guess it's no secret that the forestry resource is a tangle up here of jurisdictional rights. Some trees and brush belonged to the federal Crown. Some were under the administration of the territorial government, in and around the municipalities. Some belong to the First Nations, under their settlement arrangements. Some belong to private individuals. Some of the wood is on institutional land. I think it's safe to say that members of this House aren't going to pack chainsaws on our back this afternoon and go out and start cutting down trees.
It would be useful for the member to tell us in response whether he has some sense of whether all the players - all the owners - of this resource are on side, and whether he knows of any opposition that may be in the wings to cutting down trees around the various municipalities. I take it from the fact that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada appears to have, not spearheaded, but worked with the territorial government in the development of a strategy, in a summary of a workshop, and that they're fully on side. Confirmation of that would be useful.
As I say, I look forward to the mover of the motion's comments, and I would say that the motion he has presented is fully supportable.
Mr. Phillips: I thought we'd be alternating, government and opposition, but I'm prepared to go at this time.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: The Member for Faro said they're finished. That's one other thing I could agree with today, as well - that they are finished.
I want to thank the Member for Watson Lake for bringing this motion forward here today. I think it's a timely motion. I certainly support the motion as presented by the member. I had a friendly amendment I was going to make to the motion, but I was talked out of it by the member, who convinced me that this motion was just fine the way it was and that we were all getting along so well I shouldn't upset the apple cart. So, I'm not going to do that.
I'm going to support the motion as presented by the member.
Mr. Speaker, I was just thinking about this motion, and I've lived in this territory - I think, sometime next week it will be 50 years. I came here in April of 1948, and I've lived in Whitehorse and the Yukon ever since. I'm probably dating myself. I'd like to think of myself as a tree, because a tree is considered young at 50 years, and that's what we're talking about here today - trees.
Mr. Speaker, I can remember many of the fires that were here in the territory, and I can remember what we used to do about a lot of them and, years ago, fire-breaks were kind of a norm. When we built a community, they used to cut fire-breaks around the communities. Sometimes the military did it. Sometimes the government did it, but I can remember when I was a kid that we used to play in a lot of the fire-breaks, because it was a place where you could make a trail and ride your bike and hike or whatever. So, it used to be kind of the standard, and in the last few years, we've kind of got away from that a little bit.
I was here as well, Mr. Speaker, in 1958. I lived on Strickland Street, where I spent many of my years in our family home, and I can recall coming home from school in June 1958, and my mother getting my brother and me to go out and take the sprinkler and hose, and we were - actually, we didn't have sprinklers then. We just had a hose, and we hosed down the roof of the hose, because all the big cinders were floating around and it was quite smoky, and we'd had about three weeks of really warm weather and the fire hazard was high. And the fire that, I believe, started in the ground at Braeburn and worked its way over to the north Alaska Highway and worked its way- it eventually stopped, I think, at the Takhini River Bridge. That's where it really ended up stopping, but Whitehorse was cloaked in this sort of orange, hazy glow for days on end. There was not any clear air.
I know that there was quite a fear. I think a couple of times they had the Canadian military on standby with Hercules aircraft, and they were going to evacuate women and children from the City of Whitehorse. And it was quite - I suppose, not so much for us as kids, because we thought it was kind of fun to water the house, because you used to get heck for doing it when we just grabbed the hose and would hose down the house.
It must have been kind of trying and difficult for our parents, who were worried about what was going to happen to their community and their lives and jobs if the fire got out of hand and burned the community down.
Mr. Speaker, we've seen a few other things happen in the last few years in my life in the Yukon, and one of them is that our climate has changed somewhat, specifically in the last five or 10 years. It appears that we're getting drier years, less snowfall and rainfall. We've done a very good job of suppressing fires. We have spent a lot of effort, time and money in putting out every fire that's started. We've sort of added, I guess, without thinking, to the problem by building a huge supply of wood to burn when we do get a big fire.
Another thing I noticed that I didn't notice when I was a youngster in the Yukon was that we seem to be getting a lot more lightning fires than we did before. I can recall, as a kid, rarely hearing thunder and rarely seeing lightning happening; yet it is quite a common occurrence now in the summer. There are dozens - hundreds and thousands - of lightning strikes throughout the Yukon every year.
The other thing that happens from time to time, and seems to be happening more now because of our growing population, is that our local fire departments in our communities appear to be busier each spring putting our fires that are started by some people or kids out there playing with matches or building little fires, or even someone trying to burn some rubbish or dried grass in their backyard.
These fires have created a hazard, as well. In fact, I am very much aware of a fire that almost got out of hand last summer that would have been catastrophic if it had. It was out at March Lake at Judas Creek. Mid-week, there were a couple of kids playing with matches. They started a fire. Fortunately, it was noticed in time and put out. It was put out just as the winds were coming up. Within a half an hour of the fire being extinguished by the very quick action of many of the residents in Judas Creek, we had 60- and 70-mile-an-hour winds that would have taken that fire right through that whole community.
There would have been no hope of saving many of the houses, and we probably would have lost half of Judas Creek last summer in the fire. I think, if you spoke to the people on Emergency Measures in that area and other people who came out to fight the fire, they would tell you that they got by by the skin of their teeth that day and they know that it could happen again.
I would make a comment about the report. I think it's a very good report. It's useful to have. I made this comment before about some of the other reports that ministers have tabled in the House: if we're going to be discussing a certain issue and there's a report relating to it, maybe the government side could make an effort to provide the information to us at an earlier date. Then we could have some of the information that's provided in the report used for research as well. It would be useful that way, if we're going to be commenting on a document, as we are here today.
The strategy is a good one, but I share some of the problems that the last speaker had about this particular strategy, and that is that we're not going to see final results, I guess, until about 2005. The concern I have is, is any kind of contingency that going to be put in place ahead of that to look at some of the areas that right now I think are in fairly serious circumstances, where there is a large buildup of fuel around the communities?
We know it now. We don't have to make a lot of effort to study it. And my concern, Mr. Speaker, is that we've had several dry summers. We've had several dry winters. In fact, this winter in particular, in some areas of the Yukon we've seen very little snowfall, and if we get a mild or a warm and early spring - most of the snow at the Marsh Lake area is just about gone. Bare spots are showing up all over, and there's going to be very little moisture in the ground in the spring. And if it gets warm real fast and stays warm for a while this spring, 2005 or a strategy won't help us much at all in some of these areas.
So, that's the concern I have. This is a good idea, but in my view, it's almost five or six years behind. So, what I want to know from the member is if there are any plans at all to try to accelerate this kind of process where we can get a handle fairly quickly and get support of people in various communities and start to work on some of these fire-breaks now.
I also share the concern that my Liberal colleague mentioned with respect to unemployment. If we follow this forest strategy of developing fire-safe communities in the Yukon and we don't start on any of the work until a year or two from now, this isn't going to help our extremely high unemployment at the present time. So, there may be a way to look at some communities and providing some short-term employment in the near future, which might reduce the unemployment rate in general and help out some of these people who are in dire need of jobs.
The other question I have for the member is the use of wood. I think that was asked by others as well. There are existing woodcutters who are out there now and there are a lot of people out there now who are cutting firewood to sell. How is this going to work? Are we going to cut this wood and use it in sawmills? Will some of it be sold as firewood? Is the intention to tender it out so people can bid on it, bid on a section of a mile or two of this fire-break - or whatever - a kilometre or two. I'm dating myself again, I guess, with the mile.
How is it going to work, because I can see that some of the existing woodcutters will be in there very quickly wanting to bid on the jobs. Will it create any more work or will it just create some extra work for some of the woodcutters who are normally - if we do some of this work this summer, a lot of the woodcutters are not in the bush in the summer all the time, so maybe this might provide some employment for some of those people.
So, I'd like to know from the member what is planned in that regard.
The other thing I think that's important here, although I said I think we should go a little faster in this process and try and get this in place, is that we do have full consultation with the communities. I know that in my riding, Riverdale North, and in the riding of Riverdale South, there were many people who were very upset over the Yukon Electrical's clearing of their power line right-of-way, and felt like there wasn't enough consultation on that. Not everybody's going to agree with cutting a 20-metre, 60-metre or 80-metre fire-break around some of these communities, but I think that we have to sit down with the people very quickly in some of these areas and point out the pros and cons of not doing it.
I certainly think the communities involved - the people involved in the communities that are going to be affected - should be consulted and listened to when it comes to cutting new fire-breaks around the communities. After all, many of these communities now have recreational ski trails and recreational activities that take place around their communities. We know that it's going to be almost impossible not to have some overlap here, where a fire-break might cut across a trail that is heading up on to a hill, or might even have to follow an existing trail on a ridge or in a certain area for a ways.
So, I think consultation is extremely important.
Mr. Speaker, I don't have a lot more to say about this motion. I think it's a positive motion. I think it's something that the federal forestry people should have been possibly looking at a few years ago and didn't. Actually, I don't think they looked at too much with respect to forestry in the territory and, as a result, we've got a pretty sorry mess at the present time.
It is something that everyone - even in the federal forestry branch, as well as the forestry officials in the Government of Yukon, the member who proposed the motion, and members here who have supported it - realize that it is becoming a serious problem. My concern, again, is the timing of it. It's a good idea. It looks to me, though, that it is going to take too long to implement it, and my worry is that there may be a community, in the meantime, that is put in serious jeopardy. So, maybe there is a way to prioritize some of the communities that are maybe in the heavier forest belts that have the problems, and dealing with those first, and maybe having a quick look at trying to solve that problem. That would solve two problems: one, that it would deal with the forest fire hazard around that community and two, that it would provide some much-needed employment, which we need now, rather than three, four or five years from now.
Mr. Chair, I strongly support this motion, and I'm pleased that the Member for Watson Lake has brought it forward. I look forward to the speedy passage of the motion and some action from the government on the motion that we, hopefully, will pass here today.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to begin my remarks here this afternoon by commending the Member for Watson Lake - the Yukon forest commissioner - for bringing the motion forward. Our caucus believes this motion to be positive and very useful, and we are pleased to express our support for it. In fact, I think novice members in this House can't help but be thinking, "Isn't this the sort of discussion of good ideas that we were meant to be having and what we were elected to do?"
When it comes to forest fires in the Yukon, everyone in this House, and indeed in the Yukon, seems to have a story.
I remember myself being admonished and instructed quite strictly that we absolutely had to stay in the yard when I was a young child in Takhini, and the long-term residents that the Member for Faro mentioned today earlier in Question Period will remember that fire in 1969.
Perhaps my most vivid forest fire memory in the Yukon is the Crestview fire, when I was looking after someone else's home and their belongings during that fire, and I can remember sitting on the roof watching that fire and thinking, "Well, if we have to go, what do I take? What is that person's most prized possession?"
And that was a really difficult thought. I mean, the house was not a large one. What do you take first? It was interesting. Another friend of that individual had joined me, and we were discussing this. Afterwards, we met with them, and of course the choice we had made was not that person's choice, but it certainly brought home to me that the quote my colleague from Riverside used - "A person's home is their castle" - is certainly true and irreplaceable in their hearts and in their minds.
Of course, two summers ago I was a victim of a forest fire started by young children playing with matches in our own backyard, which could have been quite devastating. So, certainly, as I said, everyone has their story of a forest fire and its effects.
The Member for Mayo-Tatchun, I believe it was, noted that fire is part of the circle of life, and indeed we've seen positive effects of fire as well.
Definitely, we don't want forest fires burning our homes or our communities, and the member's motion addresses that very issue, that fire safety around Yukon communities is a concern, and I applaud the point that there are opportunities to lessen the fire risk around communities while creating jobs and accessing fibre. As I mentioned at the outset, this seems to be the sort of good idea we were intended to discuss in the first place.
The safety issue is important. The job creation issue is equally as important.
The Member for Riverside, the Member for Riverdale South and the Member for Riverdale North have raised a number of questions, and I'm certain that the member responsible for the Yukon forest commission has some thoughtful answers for us in this regard, and I look forward to them.
This seems to me to be part of an overall strategy that I've witnessed from this particular commission of bringing people to the table, and I have applauded that initiative in the past and the commissioner's success at bringing people to the table to discuss the Yukon forests.
The motion also recognizes that. It speaks to consultation and working together between Canada, Yukon, First Nations governments and municipal governments, and working together is the way to achieve safety and jobs in our communities and, indeed, throughout the Yukon. I believe this sort of working together can be witnessed by our support for the motion today. I look forward to the motion coming to a vote and to the response from the Yukon forest commissioner. I am sure he has some thoughtful remarks on the suggestions that have been put forward today.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Mr. Fentie: I'd first like to sincerely thank all the members in this House for their support of this motion. I think it's fair to say that what we've done today, though it may be in a small part, is that we have taken the steps toward a direction that, hopefully one day soon, will result in fire-safe communities in the Yukon.
Just to comment on some of the questions and comments coming from members opposite, I think one of the important factors here, when you go out about commencing with the plan, is this must start in the highest risk areas, and then move down to the lower risk areas.
I think one of the ways that that most certainly can be defined is through age of forest. It's highly unlikely, unless a number of other factors are at play, that a young forest will burn. The trajectory of forest fires through history, dating back 50-some years in the Yukon, shows us that most wildfires in the territory burn in patterns, and they usually commence in areas of older growth, areas of high-intensity of fuels, and areas where fuels are very consistent.
The leader of the official opposition brought up an extremely important point in this whole concept, and that's the fact that we are not stopping fires. The purpose is not to stop fires. Fire is an extremely important part of our environment here in this territory. It is the trigger that renews life throughout. What we are trying to do here is manipulate to some degree the consistency of fuels around communities, to give us all a better chance to ensure the safety of life and limb and of property.
When we look at cost, I cannot stand in this House today and even guess at what the cost would be, but there's something that we have to keep in mind. There's also a tremendous cost should we come to a situation where an all-out attack on a fire that is threatening a community must take place.
We must understand that also should that initial attack and the firefight that ensues fail, there is going to be a tremendous cost in loss of property and, God forbid, loss of life. So, I cannot today in this House bring forward any cost, nor would I even venture a guess. I think that would come out as we move through the planning process.
Time lines: this, I would just like to remind members, is the result of a workshop. These are not written in stone. Of course there are obvious needs and there are methods of speeding up the process when we look at the time lines.
It also must be remembered that, throughout this whole process, there is going to be a changing view of governments in their approach to wildfire as they change their observation and attack zones. It's another important factor in this whole issue because attack zones are basically something that's derived at by man and it has no other triggering factor other than the fact that it may be too close of a proximity to a community or some other natural factor.
The recent review of forest fires and how we fight them in the Yukon has brought to bear the fact that observations in attack zones must be rethought. When we look at managing the fuels and the consistency of fuels around communities, that is an important factor in that whole equation.
As far as the jobs and the economic benefits, I would suggest that these would be completely related to the community with which the plan is being implemented and where the work is underway. Therefore, the maximum benefits in job creation should be directed toward that specific community, and I think that is an attainable goal in the utilization of fibre.
Well, obviously if it's merchantable timber, that would have to go to the timber industry here in the Yukon Territory to a great degree, and it would also generate revenues. There are a number of ways that can happen - through salvage bidding, through direct allocation, and then having it turned into a product. But whatever the case may be, there is going to be revenue involved. The dollar amounts will vary. However, this will not be, as the Member for Riverside pointed out, a cost-neutral situation.
I think in closing, just to bring to focus exactly the situation we're dealing with so that we know that we're not the be-all and end-all here, we're merely beginning a process. In a recent study in the communities in the Yukon on a computer program that was developed by the federal government to be able to analyze and bring out answers on what would happen in a case of wildfire-given conditions, a distance of eight miles from a community, with an attack-base less than seven miles away, if the right winds prevailed, if the right time line of no moisture was involved, and the fire started in a westerly direction, they would have less than five minutes to attack this fire and get it under control before it arrived in the community. So, I think this brings to focus what we're dealing with here. We have no way of predetermining what is going to happen out there, so this is something that we must start and do our best as we go through the process.
So again, I'd like to thank all members. This has been a positive experience in this Legislature, and I do look forward to working with all of you on this initiative.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Motion No. 103 agreed to
Motion No. 111
Clerk: Motion No. 111, standing in the name of Mr. Livingston.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Lake Laberge
THAT this House recognizes that
(1) workers who are unemployed due to the closure of the Faro mine may have job prospects in other jurisdictions;
(2) these workers have insufficient funds and resources to locate alternative employment in other jurisdictions due to the short operation of the Faro mine;
(3) that the federal Liberal government's failure to provide relocation assistance, despite continued requests, is forcing workers on employment insurance and social assistance; and
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal government to use a portion of the surplus in the Employment Insurance fund to immediately provide relocation, job search and interview assistance to workers who are unemployed as a result of the Faro mine closure.
Mr. Livingston: This motion is about workers who are out of work, an employment insurance scheme that is not working, and a federal Liberal government that has so far refused to work to address these problems.
The workers at the Faro mine are out of work through no fault of their own. The mine has been up a short time, and we've had a mine closure. It's thrown many workers and many families into disarray as they contemplate their future and look for other opportunities for their families.
Mr. Speaker, this is despite an employment insurance scheme in Canada that has been around for decades, a self-funded insurance scheme that workers and employers paid into. It's fully funded by those workers and employers - not government-funded.
Yet, it does not offer the kind of support that's needed by workers who are out of work, and particularly by workers who have been thrown out of work after having been at work in a resource town for a short time, and for whom relocation would mean some considerable expense for families that have not had great opportunity to get back on their feet after having recently relocated themselves.
Mr. Speaker, the federal Liberal government has, so far, cut benefits to workers under the employment insurance scheme, despite a $5-billion surplus in that insurance account. I would urge all members of this House to call on the federal government to immediately reinstate relocation, job search and interview assistance to workers unemployed as a result of the Faro mine closure.
This is an issue for all workers, not just workers who worked in the mine, but for teamsters, truck drivers and workers across this territory.
Mr. Cable: Point of order.
Speaker: Mr. Cable, on a point of order.
Mr. Cable: I don't believe we have a quorum.
Speaker: According to Standing Order 3(2), if at any time during the sitting of the Assembly, the Speaker's attention is drawn to the fact that there does not appear to be a quorum, the Speaker will cause the bells to ring for four minutes and then do a count.
Speaker: I have shut off the bells and I will do a count. There are 10 members present. A quorum is present and we will now continue debate.
Mr. Livingston: As I said, we've got workers out of work, an employment insurance scheme that is not working, and a federal Liberal government that has so far refused to work on this problem. And this is an issue for all workers, Mr. Speaker, not just mine workers, but for teamsters, for truck drivers, for workers across the Yukon.
The changes to the employment insurance scheme - an employment insurance scheme, as I said, that has been in existence for quite a number of decades - recent changes and cuts have had some significant impacts in terms of eligibility: who is eligible to receive benefits, the amount of benefits received and, indeed, on the programs that are even offered by the employment insurance scheme.
The eligibility has been restricted by recent changes. We are now restricting it to workers who have - the restrictions now apply to workers who have been working for over 20 weeks, compared to eight weeks in 1975. Part-time workers are effectively screened out today, and that's different from only four years ago.
In terms of the benefits received, that's fallen from 75 percent of the income, with a cap, to only 55 percent of the employment dollars, and that's what workers are eligible to receive today.
It's gone from 58 weeks in 1975 to 45 weeks today.
We've seen a continual decline in terms of the benefits received for workers. Programs have been cut, Mr. Speaker. The relocation assistance, helping workers to get to new jobs that may be half-way or all the way across the country, are depending upon availability and where those jobs might be. Programs have also been cut that help people looking for work, who are working on their resumés, trying to do job searches, preparing for interviews and getting to interviews.
Prior to the recent recession, the vast majority of workers who became unemployed went from unemployment insurance to finding another job, and that's clearly an indication, Mr. Speaker, that Canadians want to work. Ironically, the business lobbies, the banks, the Business Council on National Issues have supported these changes, the changes that have restricted eligibility, have cut benefits and cut programs. They've supported these changes, partly in the name of labour mobility. How ironic that programs like relocation assistance have been cut and gutted from this program, from the employment insurance scheme.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the federal Liberal government can't get off easy on this. Anti-poverty organizations have contributed little in the way of campaign donations to governments over the years. Businesses, on the other hand, have contributed millions to the current Liberal government. In 1994 alone, for example, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives identified nearly 7,000 businesses that contributed money to the Liberal Party of Canada. Of those, more than 200 contributed $5,000, roughly 100 contributed $10,000. Those 100 contributions by themselves totalled over $2 million and included Canada's major banks, John Labatt Limited, Defasco, Inco, Air Canada, insurance companies, Unitel, Imperial Oil.
Mr. Speaker, the reason I raise that is that it seems that who pays the piper does call the tune, and unfortunately, that's meant a gutted employment insurance program that does not provide the encouragement and make the setting for workers to be able to move on to new positions.
The percentage of the unemployed who are in receipt of unemployment insurance has dropped from almost 90 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 1997 and is now down to 43 percent today. So, Mr. Speaker, it's dropped from about nine out of 10 unemployed workers being able to receive unemployment insurance to only four out of 10 today.
Mr. Speaker, in Faro we have a unique situation. Let's take a look at some of the circumstances surrounding the mine closure in Faro. It's been in operation just a short time. In other words, we've had workers - and many did remain in Faro and kudos to those people who remained in the community - and many additional people who had relocated to Faro and didn't have sufficient time really to get back on to their feet and be prepared for another relocation this short of a time after being relocated there.
We know, Mr. Speaker, that the distance from Faro to other employment opportunities, other prospects, is considerable. It's a considerable distance and it's a considerable cost for people to be now looking at relocating to other parts of the nation, other parts of the territory.
Frankly, Mr. Speaker, the impact on the Yukon economy from the closure of the Faro mine is significant. We all know that. The ability of the Yukon economy to absorb and to cushion that shock is a significant challenge to this territory, both in terms of the dollars that it takes to support what is now quite an additional number of people that the unemployment insurance scheme no longer supports, so Social Services must now come in and support those people who no longer qualify and also for us to be able to cushion the impact on jobs.
So, Mr. Speaker, a variety of workers have been displaced as a result of the Faro mine closure. They're out of work. The changes to the employment insurance scheme are not satisfactory. They're not supporting the workers as they search for new employment prospects, try to set themselves and their families up for a good future, a future that they can feel proud of and that they're a part of making.
You know, Mr. Speaker, it's ironic that the insurance funds that workers and employers have deposited in this insurance fund, which now has a $5-billion surplus, are not able to support these kinds of initiatives, these kinds of programs that would benefit directly these workers, rather than punishing them. That seems to be the kind of attitude; we're going to punish these workers. Mr. Speaker, we need to support them as they search for new opportunities.
I want to take this opportunity to applaud the Minister of Economic Development and the Member for Faro for his numerous letters this new year to Mr. Pettigrew, the federal minister, urging him to reinstate relocation assistance for Faro workers. It's unfortunate that Mr. Pettigrew has not taken this opportunity to look at the situation closely, understand that this may be a unique situation but indeed is a program that would benefit many Canadians, but in particular, I think, the workers in Faro.
I would once again urge all members of this House to call on the federal Liberal government to reinstate the relocation assistance, the support for both job search and interview programs, résumé writing and so on. I would urge all members to support this motion, and to support the workers as they try to get back on their feet and back into the economy.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Ostashek: I rise to speak to the motion presented by the Member for Laberge that is dealing with a very serious situation in our community. Our heart certainly goes out to the people in Faro. A lot of them are up against the wall, don't have the resources to relocate, are not very optimistic about the future of the community, and, as a result, are sort of trapped.
While we can generally support the motion, I think there are some things that need to be said in response to this motion and the responsibilities of the territorial government in the situation at hand.
There is no doubt that, because of the wording in the legislation, I suspect, a lot of these employees who returned to the mine to work found, within a few months, that they were out of a job again, and didn't get in enough time to qualify for unemployment insurance.
As a result of that, they're not eligible for relocation funding. That's my understanding of the situation.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: The program was killed, the member opposite said. Fine. But I believe we have a responsibility to the people of Faro, as well, and we ought not to just blame the federal government.
As I said earlier, we have a situation here, where people are trapped. Their own MLA is on the public record advising them, if they have a job somewhere else, to go. Then he says today in the House that he has a lot of optimism for the mine opening.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: The hon. Member for Faro, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member is making false statements as to the interpretation of my comments, and I would ask him to withdraw them.
Speaker: Leader of the official opposition, on the point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, I'm not making false interpretations. I am only relaying what was said in the newspapers.
Speaker: I don't see a point of order. Continue.
Mr. Ostashek: I know that the Member for Faro is very, very sensitive about this issue. I would just ask him to bear with me and let me speak. At some point, he will get his turn for his rebuttal, Mr. Speaker. The sad reality of it is that this is a member who thinks he can have it both ways. But I think the time has come to pay the piper. This minister will now be held accountable for how he deals with these situations.
Mr. Speaker, we witnessed today in Question Period, when I asked the Member for Faro, who is responsible for economic development, about the CDF and about whether it was a wise use of taxpayers' money to be building recreational facilities in a community whose future is tenuous, at best, the member becoming fairly irate and saying, "The mine might be gone, but the community is there."
I wish that I could have that much confidence in the community being able to survive without the mine. The reality of it is, Mr. Speaker, that community was built because of the mine. Various governments over the years have tried and tried and tried to diversify the economy at Faro and they haven't had much success.
The reality of it is that without the mine and without a source of employment, what are the people of Faro going to do? Maybe if another mine was going to start up, they could use Faro as a centre, but we have watched people who have worked at the Faro mine and who have gone to work at other mines. Some have stayed in Faro. Not very many. Most relocated to another centre - and this was the advice that was given to them by their MLA when the mine went under a couple of months ago.
We question the validity of spending taxpayers' dollars, no matter what program it's under - CDF or whatever - to continue to build recreation facilities in a community whose future, at this time, does not look very good. I think maybe that the government has put the cart before the horse here. The money, I believe, could be better used, and would probably be effective as a springboard and a position of argument to get the federal government to contribute to help these workers to relocate.
The other point I would like to make on that is that the government can stick their heads in the sand; they can wash their hands of this responsibility completely and say that it's a federal responsibility; we can continue to leave the people of Faro trapped in a community; but what is that going to accomplish, Mr. Speaker?
What I see happening with that approach is our social assistance rolls starting to grow, which are going to be paid for by the territorial taxpayer. So, is that a wise game plan?
I spoke today of $100,000. There was another initiative that I see of $150,000-some from the CDF going into the community of Faro. I think these taxpayer dollars could be put to a better use right now.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: It's not a matter of shipping them out, Mr. Speaker. It's about allowing people to move where they have some employment and not trapping them, not forcing them onto our social assistance rolls. This is about caring for people. And this is about not just blaming another level of government for all of our problems.
Mr. Speaker, there are things that this government could do to help the people of Faro, and I know that most people in Faro would love to be able to have another job somewhere and to be able to relocate if necessary.
Some of them will stay in the Town of Faro, but let's be realistic. If some of them do stay in the Town of Faro, if the mine does not go back to work, the population is going to be very, very small, and they do have, as most Yukon communities do, a substantial amount of recreational facilities now. Do we really need more at this time? That's the question I'm asking. I'm not begrudging any community recreation facilities. I just don't believe that it's a prudent expenditure of taxpayers' dollars at this time.
And yet here this government is forever crying, "We haven't got the money. We can't do this. We can't be all things to all people." But yet they will continue to spend money in what I believe to be a very unwise manner.
Mr. Speaker, I believe this government needs to provide some leadership on this issue, and they could provide leadership by allocating some funds to help those workers relocate.
Let me give an option to the members opposite. Maybe they could go half way and say to the federal government, "We have X hundreds of thousands of dollars that we will put into a fund to relocate the workers of Faro to other Yukon communities if they have a job, if the federal government will pay the relocation costs if they get a job outside of the territory." That, I think, might be a sound approach to use with the federal government, and they may be able to reach an agreement.
I don't believe the answer is to keep people in Faro that could be employed somewhere else and force them to be living on social assistance. Some of them will have to; there is no doubt in my mind.
And let me say for the record, Mr. Speaker, that I hope that the community of Faro does survive, but it's going to need a reason to survive, and that reason isn't there right now. That reason isn't there no matter how much we wish, no matter how hard we try. Without something happening to create some employment for these people, all we can do with the position that we're taking now is to prolong their agony.
I don't think that's being very humanitarian, or providing much leadership.
I do not intend to speak forever on this motion. I can see the Member for Faro just chomping at the bit to get up there and refute everything I said, and tell Yukoners all the great things he's doing for his community of Faro and all Yukoners, but before I do sit down, I would like to propose a friendly amendment to this motion, an amendment that I believe will make the motion much stronger and go a lot further toward accomplishing what the Member for Lake Laberge wanted to do.
Mr. Ostashek: The amendment I'm proposing, Mr. Speaker, is
THAT Motion No. 111 be amended by deleting all the words after the word "urges", and substituting for them the following:
"the Yukon NDP government to work with the federal Liberal government to better use territorial and federal funding sources, such as the community development fund and the surplus in the employment insurance fund, to immediately provide relocation, job search and interview assistance to workers who are unemployed as a result of the Faro mine closure."
Speaker: It has been moved by the leader of the official opposition
THAT Motion No. 111 be amended by deleting all the words after the word "urges", and by substituting for them the following:
"the Yukon NDP government to work with the federal Liberal government to better use territorial and federal funding sources, such as the community development fund and the surplus in the employment insurance fund, to immediately provide relocation, job search and interview assistance to workers who are unemployed as a result of the Faro mine closure."
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the amendment is very straightforward. I don't think it takes away from the member's motion at all; in fact, it adds to it. I would hope that the members opposite see it as a friendly amendment in trying to find a solution to a very serious problem.
Mr. Speaker, I just truly believe that if this government wants to present a credible argument to the federal government about relocation assistance for the people in Faro, they need to provide some leadership on this issue and not just go to the federal government, cap in hand, and ask them - even if they are responsible for it. Let's forget about that. Let's talk about what we need to do for the people in Faro. Let's talk about what additional costs are going to be incurred by the Yukon taxpayer if the people don't have the ability to relocate and don't have the ability to find employment in their community.
There is going to be a cost to the taxpayer of the Yukon, a social assistance cost. I believe that rather than spend that money keeping people trapped in their community - a community where, as of today, there is no employment- with a little bit of help, they may be able to find employment and to relocate and, as a result, not end up being an expense to the government on the social assistance rolls, which doesn't do anything for them other than give them a bare survival, and it certainly doesn't do anything for the Yukon as a whole.
Mr. Speaker, if the territorial government were to come forward with a program and say that we can put a few dollars into this, I think that they would have a tremendous lever in dealing with the federal government.
We spend money in many, many areas where there will not be any return for many years. Some of it's well-spent and some of it's not well-spent, but this is an area that I strongly feel needs to have some territorial dollars attached to it, simply because the people who are caught there are caught there through no fault of their own. They took the job under the best of intentions. They felt that they would be able to work long enough - I'm sure that most of them thought that they would work at least long enough to build up their employment insurance credits again. I don't think anyone would have gone back there had they known that the job was going to be short lived.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: The Member for Faro says that the program was killed. Well, fine, the program was killed, but we can't do anything about that right now. Does the Member for Faro not think that it's up to the government to provide some leadership? He talks about being ahead - the lead dog, one could say - in all of the things that are happening in Faro. I'm saying that in a friendly way, Mr. Speaker, not in a derogatory manner at all.
I believe that we need to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. The federal government has killed the program. Okay, so the federal government has killed it. Does that mean we just wash our hands of it, that we just bring forward a motion in this Legislature and beat up on the federal government? I don't mind doing that. I enjoy beating up on the federal government, the federal Liberal government, especially, but I also believe that there are times when we have to provide some leadership on our own - leadership that will be to the benefit to all Yukon taxpayers. It would certainly be something that the people of Faro would be very supportive of and very thankful to receive, if they could see their own government providing some funding and then beating on the federal government for matching dollars or maybe even more dollars. I think that we would go a lot further in that respect.
So, Mr. Speaker, as I said, I'm not going to speak long on this. I know there are lots of other members who want to speak to it. It is a friendly amendment. It does not take away from any of the points being made by the Member for Lake Laberge. All it does is strengthen the motion.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I want to say to the member opposite that his comments came as somewhat of a shock to me. I'd been told that the members opposite were fully in support of our position. However, I'm used to this kind of tactic from the members opposite.
I will say, however, that we will not support the amendment. It's not a friendly amendment, and it's not a friendly amendment for this reason.-We have concentrated consistently our support for the situation of Faro on the community of Faro. The trans-jurisdictional relocation of Yukoners to other jurisdictions is ultimately, and obviously, a federal responsibility. The member opposite talked about social services providing some relocation to go to other Yukon communities. That's already available.
For the leader of the official opposition to stand up and piously cry that we should show some leadership is laughable, given the fact that his government, when there was a shutdown in 1992, saw people in Faro benefit from $1.6 million in this program of job search, relocation, interviewing skills, and he didn't have to spend a penny.
What we did, as a government, was we said that we would make our investment in training, we would make our investment in community support, we would make our investment in economic diversification and recreation. And where we could justify some expenditure in relocation, we would do so. But we put more money in one program during the last shutdown, Class I driving, than the federal government did throughout the entire shutdown. So, for the member opposite to make the accusation that we haven't shown leadership is ridiculous.
Secondly, the member opposite stated that my advice to the community was to move out. That's completely false. I actually resent the statement. They know it, that's why they say it, because they like to poke me. But that's okay. The people in my community know how I feel. It's a very important life decision for people - what they decide to do.
There are three groups of people in Faro. There are those who are not going to leave, no matter what. There are those who are waiting to see what will happen with the mine, and there are those who are leaving, regardless, and they often say they don't intend to return.
Well, what I say to people is, the facts surrounding the mine are this: it's in CCAA, low metal prices, the Asian market crisis is still underway, it's putting downward pressure, it is a very difficult situation. I went and stared 200 people in one meeting right in the eye and I told them the facts a month and a half ago. I didn't have a lot of good news for them.
I didn't say "leave." I said this is the situation; you have to determine what you want to do. Here is what I am doing. Here is what our government is doing to deal with it, in all of the various areas, whether it's trying to deal with power or infrastructure costs for the mine or whether it's dealing with the many training concerns that have been identified through our industrial adjustment committee to put on courses in the college. Or whether it's recreation, whether it's short-term employment. Those are the areas that I will work on, but I cannot promise the mine is going to open tomorrow.
And I went so far as to say I didn't think it would open for at least three months, and maybe a lot longer.
Now, this has been an incredibly difficult time for me as MLA. I was sworn into office of minister, and a month later the mine shuts down, or notice was given. The same thing happened when I initially got elected as MLA. Within about two months of being sworn in as MLA in '92, Curragh shut down - or announced a big massive layoff.
But just after getting the mine going again and working very hard to be a cooperative and constructive player in that, we lost the mine again.
And this situation now is more devastating to the people than I've ever seen. The people there are more depressed, they are bitter, they are angry, and it is tough for them, very tough for them.
And it's not just the people of Faro. I know teamsters, ore-truck drivers, who have also had to face serious, difficult life decisions. They also need assistance.
So, what we're saying is, while we focus on major expenditures for training, for recreation, for all those things I mentioned, we need some help from the federal government. They should not have cancelled that program in its entirety. I've written three letters to the federal minister. The union in Faro and the teamsters' union here in Whitehorse have expressed grave concern about the cancellation in entirety of the relocation, job search, interview program. We need some help from the federal government. They have set up the industrial adjustment services committee. They used to fund it, but now they don't fund it. So, it's a bit of a shell, and the responsibility for the funding goes to us.
Now, we don't have a problem trying to identify some relocation programs. One already exists for people. It's in the existing social assistance regulations, but it is a very controversial - to say the least - program for Yukoners to spend taxpayers' money to ship out of the jurisdiction. That, I believe, is more of a federal responsibility - it is a federal responsibility - when you have massive industrial adjustment, and that's the problem we have here. And to have a program that was deemed to be recognized and needed for all those years, and then to just cut it out as one of the many Liberal cuts, I don't think is right. There was a need for the program before, and the industrial adjustment is still the same. We better deal with the problem. And they haven't.
So I'm trying very hard, Mr. Speaker, to deal with the community, which is going through a lot. That is a difficult thing to do at this time. There's a lot of concern in the community. I know myself, I take criticism from people. They like to see me in the community more, but I'm very, very busy in the Legislature, working on economic issues for them, travelling to places like Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto, meeting with Anvil, with Cominco, with the federal government - always on their issues.
I find it very frustrating. I try to get back home very two or three weeks, talk to them, keep them in the loop, make sure they're informed, be as up front as possible, explain the action we're taking, and I really feel for the people as they go through what they are going through right now.
It's really no joke. We have over 50 families on the food bank, using those services. We still have a community. My answer is not like the leader of the opposition's, where, in his view, the only humane treatment for Faro is to basically ship them out. We don't support that.
You know, I lobbied very hard when they were the government, in the shutdown in 1992, for community developing funding projects. There were a couple done. I gave them credit for that, and I did that because there's a separation. There's Faro, the town, the community, and then there's the Faro mine. Everybody in Faro has no illusions that if the mine isn't running, it's going to have an impact on the population. But believe you me, there are a lot of people there who want to have a community, and are striving to have a community.
That's why the CDF board made the decision to support the Town of Faro's application for building recreational facilities. I made it clear that our contribution was to go into the ball field and the skateboard park, which had been identified as priorities for the community for a long time, because we have faith in the community as a community, and it will create some short-term employment as this work is being undertaken.
The other CDF project that has been approved is an eco-tourism project, and it's involving the sheep, of which the work was done by the previous government in terms of enhancement. We think we have a potential for the Yukon - not just for Faro - for a very important wilderness tourism destination for people to view very unique wildlife, Fannin sheep, and we want to work on that and the people of the community want to work on that. I'm not going to snuff out their hopes for generating a more diverse local economic base because of resistance for that from the opposition.
We still have businesses in that community: Sally's Roadhouse, the Redmond's Restaurant, Mel and Donna Smith, who own the Discovery store. They just built a hardware store, completely stocked with inventory. It's amazing. They want their government and their Legislature to believe in the community, because they invested in the community.
So, rather than write their epitaph, I will work to try and get the mine going again, if I can, which is obviously not that easy, but I will do everything I can, responsibly. But, I want to deal with the situation in the community.
I went to Ottawa recently to meet with the federal minister. She did not make herself available, so I met with her Member of Parliament, the parliamentary secretary, Bernard Patry. I had a meeting and I raised four issues that I think are important - northern diversification funding. The federal government has left the north out, since the cancellation in the economic development agreement, of any substantive funding for economic diversification. In Atlantic Canada, they have an Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, they have the package in Newfoundland for the cod fishery. On the west coast, they have the western diversification fund. The Northwest Territories and the Yukon feel there's a need for the direct injection of some form of a program. We're hoping that we get some response on that.
The second issue I raised was permitting. There are a lot of people in Faro who are working for BYG and living in Faro. There are a lot of people working at the Viceroy mine in Dawson and living in Faro. I am sure there are a lot of people in Faro, because they told me, who had very good leads on jobs at the Minto property, working for Minto Explorations.
However, due to federal permitting problems and the length of time, we lost that project. That development would have been underway this year. There would have been 70 to 80 direct jobs and possibly another 30 or 40 spin-off jobs. I know that a lot of my constituents probably would have worked there.
So, I raised that issue with the parliamentary secretary. I understand there's been some good progress since then. There was a meeting with the ADM, and it was well-received by the industry in Vancouver. But I need a focused commitment from the federal government to deal with the economic woes of this territory. We will show leadership; we will do what we can. But we have a federal government that must realize, with our small population base, with the cuts we have sustained to both the EDA and the formula, it becomes challenging and even more difficult.
The third issue I raised was the assets of the Energy Corporation. I put to the parliamentary secretary that if there is a concerted effort to deal with secondary sales and with the assets of the Energy Corporation and their write-down, that we would be at the threshold for determining when we don't have to pay on the note if the Faro mine is down, we'll be in a good position to lower power rates in this territory. That can benefit industrial customers, it could be a setup for the quicker reopening of the mine, and can also benefit all other ratepayers.
The other thing I wanted to do in addressing the short-term needs in Faro is that there is $14 million in the mine reclamation trust right now. There are areas of the mine that have to be reclaimed. The Van Gorda pit and the Faro pit are both mined-out. Everybody knows that. There is work at the tailings dam that has to be done. That can be done regardless of whether the mine operates again or not. I think that would be a wonderful opportunity, even if you use $7 million, $10 million or $5 million of it to put a significant number of people in Faro and other Yukoners to work. Obviously, some preference has got to be given to the people in Faro who are massively affected by the industrial strife there, but I think, certainly, that would be a major economic stimulus to the Yukon and to Faro.
So, I'm trying to deal with the problem in the short term and in the long term in terms of getting the mine back together, and dealing with work issues, like through the CDF contributions. We're trying to make sure that if there are road contracts, which there will be on the Campbell or if there's firefighting, that all of these opportunities for employment are piped into the industrial adjustment services office and we can get that information out to the people, so they can stay in the Yukon where they want to be and they can continue to work.
But there are those who do want to go and do feel trapped. While we could look at some modest contribution in circumstances that absolutely require it, as a territory, it is a federal responsibility to help the people that have to move elsewhere.
It was when the Yukon Party government was in. They benefited as a government, territorially, from a program from the feds of $1.8 million, and we think the reason then was fundamentally as sound as it is now - that that is a federal responsibility.
Now, we have indicated that we might be willing to participate. I know the Minister of Health and Social Services has been looking at it, but so far we've had no conditional offer from the feds. I've had three responses from the federal government. They are all completely no; that program does not exist any more; it's cancelled; it's gone, finished.
I say you've got a $5-million surplus in the EI fund. Surely this can be used to help situations like this.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Billion. If I said million, I meant to say $5 billion.
Now, the Liberal Party has done their surveys, and I read them. They feel that there should be nothing done to help the Faro mine. I continue to get calls from the Liberal Party saying, "Do something about power rates. Do something about the unemployment rate, but don't do anything to help Faro."
Well, Mr. Speaker, the reason we have increased power rates, the reason we have increased unemployment, is largely - and I don't think anybody can seriously argue this point - as a result of losing those 700 jobs that the Faro mine creates.
The members opposite can slice and dice it any way they want, but whenever we make a move to support the community of Faro, or the mine, there's a criticism - extensive, massive criticism. The Yukon Party for example, like to say that, when the Energy Corporation moved to try to tighten up the billing procedure for Anvil Range so that they couldn't leave arrears, they were being too hard on Anvil and they couldn't pay the bill. Now that that could not be completed by the Energy Corporation, and before the CCAA occurred, they were saying that there was not enough action taken by the government to deal with that issue. It's a complete reversal.
I want to say that the issue of the community has to be dealt with on the floor of this Legislature. I believe the community does have a future. I know the community was built to support the mine, but I do believe the community has a future. We have 167 children in that school, students still learning, still expecting to receive the same services as other Yukon students. All those families where those students come from deserve and expect their government to treat them with respect.
So I think that we have to support recreation; we have to support training; we have to support economic diversification attempts by the people of Faro.
Some of them are going to be risky - obviously. I know that the Yukon Party has expressed a desire to see other Yukon communities dry up because they don't think that they could support an economic base. The former Government Leader stated that - I believe, when he was up in Mayo - most communities shouldn't really exist in the Yukon.
But we don't take that approach, Mr. Speaker. We believe that the youth of the community of Faro and the families do deserve our support, do deserve a multi-faceted approach in dealing with this situation - their immediate needs, their employment needs, their short-term needs, dealing with the mine situation, trying to make it more of an incentive for the mine to reopen as soon possible.
I'm trying to steer things to CCAA process so that if the mine is sold, it's sold as a going concern, or if Anvil restructures we get some commitments from them or any new potential buyer to start the place and not just to end up having some large conglomerate buy and be able to sit on it as a pawn in world zinc pricing maneuvering.
We've been very diligent. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort from myself and from my officials, but we certainly appreciate the support of the community.
Speaker: The member has two minutes.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'll just say in closing, Mr. Speaker, that I have always supported and appreciated the people of Faro and the support they've given me. It's my sincere hope that unless something drastic changes in my life I can move to try and represent them again in another couple of years or so when we go back to the polls. I feel very strong loyalty to the community and for the people there.
I think they are Yukoners, first and foremost, and I hope that they will continue to favour me with their support. I will work hard to continue to ensure that I earn it.
I take nothing for granted. I will continue to balance my responsibilities as their MLA and as a minister and keep in touch with them - getting back to the community on a regular basis, attending those important events that I have to and working with them to deal with their problems and their concerns in the short term and, as well, in the long term.
I think we need a comprehensive approach, and I think we need the federal government in this one area to help us, to support us. If they look at the Yukon economically, if they can deal with the issues that I put before the federal minister, I hope they can get back to me shortly. I'm expecting them to get back to me shortly with a comprehensive response.
I hope it will be successful, because the Yukon needs it, the people of Faro need it, the teamsters, the ore truck drivers - they need it; they need their government to continue to play this leadership role in the economy and in dealing with the many issues that they face in a time of very, very tough circumstances for a lot of people who I think deserve the respect of this Legislature.
Speaker: The time being 5:30 p.m., the Speaker will now leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Debate on Motion No. 111 and the amendment accordingly adjourned
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Before proceeding to debate on the estimates, the Chair will make a ruling on a point of order raised yesterday during general debate on the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins rose on a point of order to say that he had not, as he had perceived the hon. Mr. Keenan to have alleged, offered any sort of racial slur against the minister. As the Deputy Chair, who was in the Chair at the time, did not hear the minister accuse the member of such a slur, he undertook, at the member's request, to review the Blues.
On reviewing the Blues, the Chair can understand how the member might have construed the remarks made by the minister.
However, the minister said, after the point of order was raised, that he had not intended to imply such a thing. Based on established practice and all parliamentary institutions, the word of a member must be accepted by the House. Following that practice, the Chair and this Committee must accept the statement by the minister respecting the intent of his remarks.
In conclusion, the Chair would appeal to all members to take some care in debate when making statements which could perceived by other members to be personally offensive.
Committee is dealing with the estimates of the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
Bill No. 9 - First Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I will endeavour to try my best to follow by your ruling, and certainly apologize for anything that might have been misconstrued. Certainly, it's not the way I meant and not the way this House should act, so sincerely, I will work with your ruling.
I am very pleased, though, to be able say, Mr. Chair, that of the outstanding questions, we have three left unanswered. There were 41 questions over the previous three days, and I'm providing responses to 38, in total.
The three outstanding questions, if I could let the members of the House know, are the street lighting on the bridges, that was raised by the Member for Klondike; the pedestrian crosswalks on the bridges, that was also raised by the Member for Klondike, I believe; and the Member for Riverdale South, on the secondments assignments from the Community and Transportation Services to the other departments. If they would bear with us, we will certainly provide the information in a timely manner. But I certainly will now read into the record other outstanding responses. And I would like to bring these forth for distribution, so that the members will not have to write their hands off into cramps this evening. I do have a paper provided for the members.
I would also like to be able to read into the record, though, what is outstanding, if I may have the concurrence of the House.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Keenan: On the question that was raised by the Member for Klondike on the proposals for a new municipal act for investing municipal funds, the question was, how does the minister envision broadening the investment opportunities for municipal governments, such that the funds of the municipal governments are not subjected to any investment opportunities that have a high degree of risk associated with them?
Two proposals for changing the financial investment authority for municipalities are currently being considered. The first proposal is to authorize municipalities to invest in the same financial instruments as is authorized through the Yukon government to invest in through the Financial Administration Act. This proposal respects municipalities' requirements for greater investment flexibility and also provides restrictions which the Yukon Legislative Assembly have deemed appropriate for government investments.
It would increase municipalities' investment opportunities by allowing for funds not immediately required for payments to be invested in a commercial paper issued by a company incorporated under the laws of Canada or a province, the securities of which are rated in the highest rating category by at least two recognized rating institutions.
The second proposal would authorize municipalities to invest in pooled funds where municipalities might be able to join together to realize greater returns through the investment of larger amounts of funds which have been pooled from various municipalities. The pooled investments would be restricted to those financial instruments which are authorized for Yukon government investments.
This pooled fund provision is modeled after the authority which has been given to Alberta municipalities through their Municipal Government Act. It is also noteworthy that the proposal for investment in the new Yukon Municipal Act was substantially more secure than is currently authorized for Alberta municipalities.
I had another question raised by the Member for Klondike: How does the minister envision broadening the investment opportunities?
On the Ibex Valley, there was a question raised by Ms. Edelman. Who initiated the process for land use planning in the Ibex Valley, and is there any move to restart the regional planning out in the Marsh Lake area?
In the Ibex Valley, the idea to undertake a local area plan for the Hamlet of Ibex Valley was originally initiated by the hamlet council in October of '93. The planning study was deferred in early '94 to facilitate First Nation land selections. On October 12, 1995, the minister responded to a request from the hamlet council and indicated that his department supports the Ibex Valley hamlet's planning exercise. The planning study was subsequently deferred by hamlet council in March '96, pending the outcome of a survey to determine if area residents still wanted to proceed with the planning study. The survey results were favourable and, in December '96, hamlet council decided to proceed with the planning study.
There is currently a planning study underway for the Hamlet of Ibex Valley. The planning study commenced on July 7, 1997, at a public meeting held at the Ibex firehall, and a contract for $54,467 was awarded to UMA Engineering Limited. The planning study is proceeding on schedule and is anticipated to be completed by July 1998. The plans will identify areas of suitability for residential and other land uses.
In the Marsh Lake planning, a local area plan for Marsh Lake has not been initiated. On June 20, 1996, my department was invited to meet with concerned citizens to discuss the value of land use planning for the Marsh Lake area. In anticipation of a planning exercise being requested by the community, staff from the community services branch will be attending a meeting of concerned residents at Marsh Lake on April 2 this year to discuss the formation of a representative body to work with planners in developing a local area plan for the Marsh Lake community. The department is working within its fiscal constraints to allocate funds in the five-year capital plan for local area planning in the Marsh Lake area.
Once the funds are allocated, my department will provide the Marsh Lake community with the assistance required to get a local area planning exercise underway. Assistance from my department will come in the form of developing a terms of reference for a plan that meets the needs of the Marsh Lake community, engage a planning consultant to provide planning services to administer the contract and provide assistance to this community-driven process.
In response to a question raised by the Member for Klondike on the number of licenses issued to Yukon residents, the issue was: "One of the other areas that I've asked in the House previously and haven't received an answer from the minister or his department about is the number of drivers' licences issued in the Yukon and the 1996 actuals quite specifically." There are 27,300. In 1996-97, there were 27,300 active drivers' licences in the drivers records system. This number refers to an accumulation of all licences issued during 1996-97 and would include licences issued to individuals who take up temporary residency in the Yukon for seasonal work, as well as those individuals who travel here looking for other opportunities.
All individuals holding a driver's licence and residing in the Yukon longer than 30 days are required under law to obtain a Yukon driver's licence. Once issued, the licence is usually valid for a period of three years. This number would also include licences issued to Yukon snowbirds who travel south each winter, but retain Yukon as their base of residency. Once a licence is issued, it remains active on the driver record system. At the present time, there is no requirement for individuals leaving the territory to notify the motor vehicle branch of their departure. Motor vehicles does get notification when a driver applies for a licence in another jurisdiction. At that time, the Yukon driver record of that individual is closed, and the individual no longer appears on the active record list.
Many individuals will wait until a licence has expired before reporting to a motor vehicles office to apply for a licence in that jurisdiction, especially in jurisdictions where registration and insurance fees are higher than in the Yukon. Many retired senior citizens also retain their Yukon licences, even though, on the move, they retain their Yukon licence and use Yukon as their base of residency. The licences held by these individuals report as active licences in our system. At the present time, the Yukon Motor Vehicles Act requires that any driver who resides in the Yukon more than 30 days again must apply for a Yukon driver's licence.
In response to a question raised by the Member for Riverdale North on the mosquito control program, can a private citizen purchase larvicide from the Department of Community and Transportation Services? And, if the material is not available from the department, how and where can it be obtained? Handling and sale of pesticides are controlled by the Environmental Protection Act and supporting regulations. These regulations require a permit to buy or to sell pesticides.
The department has a permit to purchase, store and apply the larvicide, but not to sell it. The manufacturer, Vectobac, has set up an exclusive distributorship through D.G. Reagan and Associates in western Canada. The manufacturer approves sale of the larvicide to approved and licensed applicators only. They will not distribute the larvicide to individuals who do not have licences. The larvicide is intended for use to control mosquitoes at the larva stage. The general public usually requires adult mosquito control when they become a nuisance. Adulticide is available in various forms from many local outlets.
Another question that was raised by the Member for Klondike on the interprovincial records exchange: what benefits is the Yukon government getting from the interprovincial records exchange? There was some $35,000 being used for upgrades. How often is it used to access driver's licence records in other jurisdictions? When we look at the total capital cost of this infrastructure and the cost of upgrading of it, do the ends justify the means?
The IRE provides the Yukon with instant information on the driving habits of a driver new to the Yukon. It is used many times each day for inquiries on individuals wishing to obtain a Yukon driver's licence. In fact, during the month of February 1998, 1,718 inquiries were processed through the IRE by Yukon motor vehicles staff.
The information we receive via the IRE allows the department to ensure that the individual seeking a licence to drive here is not currently prohibited from obtaining a licence in Canada, is not suspended in their home jurisdiction or any other jurisdiction in Canada. It ensures that at any given time, an individual holds only one licence to drive in Canada, thus supporting the national single-driver licence concept.
The $35,000 identified in the 1998-99 capital budget represents a total capital funding required for the transport services branch system and includes funding to upgrade the driver records systems, the vehicle registration system, the national safety code/carrier profile system, as well as the IRE. Only $4,000 has been allocated to the IRE.
In response to the question raised by the Member for Riverdale South on the size and standard of lots developed by the C&TS in the Copper Ridge and elsewhere in Whitehorse: Are special measures being taken to encourage the sale of lots in the Copper Ridge subdivision? Is the department considering constructing larger lots in Whitehorse? Is planning underway for larger lots? Is there an intention to use above-ground electrical distribution for the mobile home strata-title development on Range Road?
The government has made a commitment to maintain a two-year supply of urban residential lots in Whitehorse. Through discussions between the department, the city, the Yukon Real Estate Association, housebuilders and other stakeholders, this was calculated to mean that a minimum of about 200 urban residential lots would be available at any time. At the moment in Copper Ridge, we have 75 lots for sale and are getting ready to release another 131 lots.
Although real estate demand is currently soft, our inventory is at about the level we agreed to hold. It does not appear to be necessary to take special measures to encourage purchases at this time.
A municipality such as Whitehorse has the responsibility and authority for planning within its boundaries; however, the department works cooperatively with the city in order to plan and develop lots to meet demand. The city, in cooperation with the department, is in the final stages of an area development scheme which is expected to result in a country residential subdivision with unserviced lots approximately 0.5 to 1.0 hectare in size.
Although some individuals have expressed concerns about the size of urban residential lots in Copper Ridge being small, lot sale statistics indicate that the smaller lots sell somewhat faster than the larger lots. This indicates that the smaller lots are in demand, likely because they are more affordable. Providing affordable lots is one of the government's objectives.
The Range Road strata-title mobile home development is being built to provide good-quality accommodation for mobile home owners. In order to reduce costs, standards have been modified where this can occur without compromising the suitability of the development. Such things as underground power will be installed, similar to traditional development in Whitehorse.
In response to a question raised by the Member for Klondike on the Burwash firehall: could the minister advise if he is anticipating any cost overruns on the project and is there anything in the budget to cover cost overruns that might occur this fiscal period?
A capital funding agreement of $235,000 was signed with the Kluane First Nation to build the firehall in Burwash. Except for some final electrical work yet to be done, the firehall in Burwash is complete. This delay has been due to the late delivery of electrical fixtures. There is no new money in the 1998-99 budget to cover cost overruns at the Burwash firehall, and at the present time we are aware that cost overruns may be up to $5,000. Final claims from the Kluane First Nation have not yet been submitted. The Kluane First Nation is well-aware of the requirement for them to comply with the capital funding agreement, and may have to absorb any other overexpenditures.
In answer to a question, again raised by the Member for Klondike on bridge painting: how does the minister justify costs of bridge painting as a capital expenditure?
In general, the normal practice of expenditure treatment is that costs incurred in a particular year, the benefits from which extend beyond that year, are treated as capital. The average life of bridge painting is estimated at approximately 20 years. Expenditures for this undertaking are therefore funded out of capital, reflecting that the benefits are realized over multi years.
The level of funding requirement is based on a bridge-by-bridge assessment and is dependent upon findings as to condition of paint in any given year.
Funding for bridge painting may not be required in some years as opposed to routine annual maintenance activities, which attract the O&M budget annually.
In response to a question that was raised by the leader of the third party on the Air Transat flights and related issues, the issues were purchase of equipment, operation of equipment, the environmental considerations and the emergency services.
Equipment that has been purchased, such as a reconditioned pallet or container loader and $16,000 for baggage handling can be used by other wide-bodied aircraft. The dollies have been received at the Whitehorse Airport and the container loader will be shipped shortly. The container equipment purchased by the government will be leased to permit Air Transat's ground handling contract to use it for servicing Air Transat. The lease will be non-exclusive, permitting other carriers to have access to the equipment if necessary.
Ground handling services - for example, baggage handling, garbage disposal, water delivery, lavatory services and cabin preparation - will be contracted by Air Transat to companies that can provide the service locally. Air Transat has held discussions with Canadian Airlines and Air North regarding provision of the services by the respective companies. However, a final decision has not yet been made. Air Transat's ground service contractor will be required to comply with applicable standards and regulations respecting the handling of international waste. The main concern is the handling of galley waste.
The Whitehorse Airport has developed a waste-disposal plan that has been improved by Agriculture Canada. Air Transat and its contractor will have two options for waste disposal: incineration using the Whitehorse Hospital facility or ferrying the waste to Vancouver for disposal. Non-galley wastes - for example, newspapers, pop cans, et cetera - can be recycled here locally.
Under the existing regulations and proposed amendments, the emergency response servers are not required at the Whitehorse Airport. However, the Yukon government provides category 5 ERS. As a participating airport, it is in full compliance with the requirements for the ERS at designated airports.
During Air Transat arrivals and departures, a second firefighter will be scheduled for duty to provide additional emergency support.
In response to a question raised by the Member for Klondike on the cost of capital projects, our pre-engineering and other similar expenditures for special capital projects are picked up at the time that the capital project comes to fruition or they are just expensed.
All expenditures associated with any specific capital project are recorded and reported on as the cost of that project from the time we start incurring the cost. These include feasibility studies, pre-engineering designs, et cetera.
Except for recoverable capital projects, incurred under such programs as land development through RET and rural electrification and telephone, other capital expenditures of the department are recorded and reported as expenses.
In the year they are incurred, costs of recoverable capital expenditures referred to before are reported as assets of the government at year-end. When costs incurred for projects that get reported as assets of the government are not recoverable because projects cannot be carried to fruition, they get written off only by approval of Management Board. These costs are reported as expenses in the year they are written off.
In a response to a question raised by the Member for Riverdale South on the consultation process for Community and Transportation Services: what sort of costs are covered in consultation by the department?
There are a number of items that the government pays for while conducting consultation with Yukon residents and other stakeholders. The list of items depends on the exact type and length of consultation being undertaken. This list includes the production, translation and distribution of materials, such as pamphlets and booklets. Production and printing of advertisements in newspapers and radio and television are also often common costs related to consultation, as are hall rentals and provisions of refreshments.
When consultation must take place outside of Whitehorse, and the process must go on to other community, the costs of travel, hall rentals, hotel bills, per diems and vehicle rental are also common.
Again, in response to a question raised by the Member for Klondike on electrical statistics: has there been some change in policy as to how the electrical inspections are recorded?
Well, there has not been any change in policy with regard to the electrical inspections, and I must apologize to the member opposite that there has been a clerical error on the part of staff in the public safety branch. The number of estimated electrical inspections should read 1,500 and not 2,500. My apologies. Accepted?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Keenan: On behalf of my department, I will accept that. Thank you very much.
In response to a question raised by the Member for Riverside on the Teslin sewage system: have there been any studies done on the relative cost between a piped sewage system and the eduction and truck haul system currently used?
A study was carried out by Stanley and Associates in 1979, and the results of the study indicated that it was considerably less costly to use the eduction and truck haul system currently employed than to build and operate a pipe system.
The issue of sewage handling is now a municipal matter, but the department is supportive of examining any new initiatives that the village may have.
In response to a question raised by the Member for Klondike on policy changes: could the minister undertake to provide the information on policies that have been changed or have been added or deleted since we last debated the budget?
The Department of Community and Transportation Services has completed the following policy initiatives during the 1997-98 fiscal year: one, is the changes and additions to recreation funding for unincorporated communities; two, was the funding to Yukon sport and recreation groups; three, the property tax rates in 1997; four, the bulk-commodity haul regulations; five, the gas-burning device regulation; six, a memorandum of understanding with B.C. in interjurisdictional issues; seven, the rural electrification policy and rural telecommunication policy; eight, the Motor Vehicle Act's amendments; nine, the government-wide emergency plan; 10, the MOU respecting the federal-provincial-territorial agreement on vehicle weights and dimensions; and, 11, the Yukon response to positions to the CRTC.
We've also done work with substantial policy initiatives, such as the rural services policy, the Municipal Act review, the Motor Vehicle Act review and subdivision regulations during the 1997-98 fiscal year, and we plan to continue on these projects during the 1998-99 fiscal year.
In response to a question from the Member for Riverdale South: on the policy for consultation of Whitehorse waterfront residents, what is the policy for consultation, and how much is budgeted for this and the Whitehorse waterfront residents?
The Community and Transportation Services policy for consultation with Whitehorse waterfront residents is to ensure that each resident's individual needs and requirements are addressed with dignity and respect. There is ample time through this process for all opinions to be heard and discussed. In order to ensure that this objective can be adhered to, I personally met on an individual basis during March 21 and March 22 with many of the residents. They are aware that we have appointed an existing employee to work directly with each resident to seek opinions and to discuss individual needs. This individual consultation will take place during early April and conclude in June of 1998.
The department estimates the cost of an existing employee to do this work as approximately $12,000. As I indicated previously, consultation will also be undertaken by existing staff. The capital budget amount provides for assisting residents with the physical cost of relocating elsewhere in the Whitehorse area.
Conditions of relocation and sites to be relocated to will be determined by following individual discussions with each resident. Also, there is no set formula that the government uses to determine the cost or level of consultation. The level of consultation is determined on a project-by-project specific basis, meeting, of course, the government's objective in ensuring that all interests are addressed.
I thank the House for its concurrence in allowing me to read those into the record.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd like to start by thanking the department officials for working so diligently in providing the answers and just point out to the minister that if he had his deputy minister beside him, probably the majority of the answers that he has had his department spend considerable time and effort on providing, could have been answered in a quicker and more forthright manner. But I certainly know the background effort that the department has gone to, in order to provide those answers, and I thank them.
There are a number of areas that I have some questions about, arising out of the answers provided. But I'd like to start with, Mr. Chair, the one other area, shown on my checklist, that the minister agreed to provide an answer to and, at the present time, I don't recall him saying it was forthcoming. I'd refer the minister to the Blues, page 2635, and it's with respect to the Cabinet commissions. Are there any costs incurred within the minister's department with respect to providing services to any of the Cabinet commissioners or any assignments or secondments? What I'm looking for is the cost to C&TS of providing information or working alongside the Cabinet commissions. The minister indicated in his response, verbatim, "I will get back to the member as to any cost that is incurred by the Department of Community and Transportation Services regarding any of the commissions." So, if the minister could add that to his list, as to the costs that are being incurred, I would appreciate it, Mr. Chair. The minister has indicated he could tell us right now, so perhaps I'll just sit down and let the minister respond.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, by oversight I was given the information in a break the previous session that we had, and I've been informed that there is absolutely no cost from my department regarding Cabinet commissions or their commissioners.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess the department was on their coffee breaks when they were doing all the work for the Cabinet commissions.
One of the other areas that we have explored with the minister, Mr. Chair, was the mosquito control program, as undertaken, and I've had an opportunity to follow up on what the minister has stated in response to questions that were asked at a previous budget debate. The minister tabled, or provided me with, a letter dated May 16, 1997, indicating that 200 bags of Vectobac were ordered for the 1997 program. He reported that they anticipated using 90 percent of it. For the minister's benefit I'll table a copy of his letter that he provided to me, so that he can follow along.
What we have is a statement from the minister or his department indicating that taking the program in house has resulted in a saving of some $17,000, overall. On the surface, that appears to be what has transpired, but when you start asking questions of the minister and he starts providing all the information and you put it together, we find out that, of the 200 bags that were ordered, 103 bags of Vectobac were applied during the 1997 control program, for $54,600.
If you look at the cost per bag applied, it's some $530.09 per bag. When you look at the previous year, when it was contracted out, the cost per bag applied in the 1996 contract - the contractor-operated control program - it worked out to $249.14. So, in reality, what we see, Mr. Chair, is that we don't have a $17,000 saving. What we have, in fact, by taking this program in house, is more than a doubling of the cost for the program for the area covered. We are doing less and less, but it's costing us more and more.
When one looks at the area reported as treated by the minister, it doesn't appear to be correct. I would ask the minister to check with his officials. If you start looking at usage at 4 hectares per bag and the usage of 103 bags, it would give a total area treated of 412 hectares. It's quite ironic that this program, after it's taken in house, appears to be doing less and less for more and more cost. It's probably something similar to the Minister of Health and Social Services taking the Crossroads program in house and saving $100,000.
Could the minister provide a comment on these observations with respect to the mosquito control program, or does he wish to go back, consult with his officials and crunch the numbers again? I believe I am very accurate in my assessment of the situation.
It goes back to the question as to taking the program in house. Is it cost effective? Are we in fact saving money? When one looks on the capital side of the program, one has another expenditure of $10,000. The minister should like to take a trip down Quartz Road to the compound where the government keeps all the mosquito control application stuff - the backpacks and what not - to see what is there.
I don't know why we're spending another $10,000 when we can contract the responsibilities out, get the job done and probably save the taxpayers a good deal of money - and get the job done more effectively. The numbers just don't add up, Mr. Chair, when one does an assessment on it.
How would the minister like to proceed? Does he want to go back to his department and consult with his officials and bring back a legislative return on this? Or does he have a response now, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, the member opposite is well-known for his calculator and, in some quarters, well-respected for his calculator skills. Certainly the department does things through standard accounting processes. My briefing book certainly tells me that the cost-savings comparison of in house versus using the GRG were apparent earlier in the program, and the costs also to the participants were lower in 1997-98 than in the previous years. But as the member has quite categorically stated, there might be a discrepancy. I will certainly take it up with the department and get back to the member opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, while the minister is at it, perhaps he can follow up on some of the other questions that I have concerning the program as outlined in some of the previous responses. The minister indicated that the personnel supervising the larvicide application use their vehicle to transport the product around. Well, based on the 1997 program, that's some two tonnes of larvicide. Just how was this done?
The other area of concern is that in order to apply this type of larvicide, one has to be certified. Just who is doing the certification program for the Government of the Yukon? Who is actually certified to undertake this type of application?
When we start looking at the contractor doing the work, he's allowed a five-percent variance, according to the contracts I have. There is a five-percent variance on the quantities of larvicide and if there's some left over, that goes back and the government doesn't pay for it and yet, based on the numbers that the minister provided to the House, last year they purchased 200 bags and used 103 bags. That's almost half, a little bit more than half, Mr. Chair, and the government carries the cost of that to the next fiscal year. There seems to be one set of rules for contractors and, when it's taken over in house, we seem to have a different set of rules.
Perhaps, while the minister is at it, could he provide me with a breakdown of the budget for the in-house mosquito control program for this forthcoming season and we'll start comparing apples to apples.
The other area of concern, and it was spoken about yesterday by my colleague, is the adult mosquito control program. Who undertook this last year? Many of the communities have individuals certified by the previous contractor. Certifications usually run anywhere from a one-year to a five-year period. I know I was quite involved with it in my community, Mr. Chair, and got extensively involved in it for a couple of years. So, we have to have people qualified and certified. Who are they in the government and how are we certifying other people? Even when you get into the aerial application of the larvicide when it's done with a helicopter, the pilot is supposed to be certified. How are we handling this area now, Mr. Chair?
Those are some of the questions I have on the mosquito control program and, as they are quite extensive, I'd appreciate a legislative return on this so that we can move along, Mr. Chair, if the minister can provide that undertaking. I don't intend on bringing it up further in debate, but if I can have the minister's assurances on that, we can probably deal with it in the next budget period when we have a chance to compare apples to apples.
Can the minister provide that undertaking, please?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I'll be more than willing to compare Macintosh with Spartan in further debate with the gentleman opposite because, even with the apples, there are many varieties of apples but certainly I'm willing to do that. So, we will get the level of detail the member is asking for. He is asking for a huge amount of work that will be required to gather the information, but certainly the department will endeavour to get the information for the member.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister didn't indicate that that was by way of legislative return. I'd certainly appreciate a written confirmation, to save going back into Hansard, Mr. Chair. Could the minister just confirm that that's a legislative return?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, we will provide it in written format.
Mr. Jenkins: The driver record system - it's very interesting to note - could the minister just confirm, based on the information that he's provided, which is quite extensive and I appreciate it, that anyone who renews a driver's licence is checked through the system? Is that what this is saying? It looks like that is the case because, if you have most people in the Yukon with a three-year licence and in the month of February those licences expire - that would be the individuals who have birthdays in the month of February - they all come up for renewal. That would appear to be the case, judging by the number of checks that were done.
Is that the way it is? That anyone's driver's licence that is renewed is checked through the driver record system?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, that is my information, as it is, and certainly, as it's outlined by the member opposite, it is staggered over the course of the year.
Mr. Jenkins: Could we just deal with the issue of the bridge repainting and it becoming a capital cost? Is there a schedule for repainting the bridges of the Yukon, or do we just let the chips fall where they may and bring them into the House, and set our priorities accordingly, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, we are going to be continuing the work that we have done in the past - periodic checks - and certainly we will be working on that with due diligence. Is it every six months, or anything? No, but certainly the department will, and is, at this time, monitoring it very closely and carefully and putting it in, subject to the budgeting process.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm just looking to the time when we will have to paint another bridge in the Yukon, and that's right in front of Dawson, Mr. Chair. It's crossing the Yukon River, and I'm hoping that will occur just after the turn of the century.
With respect to the policy changes, I'm familiar with the majority of them. Changes in addition to recreational funding for unincorporated communities - were these the changes that were done the last period, and the new formula was phased in? Is that the policy, or has another policy been brought forward for rec funding for unincorporated communities?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, Mr. Chair, the background on this is the Towards 2000 Yukon report that was completed in 1996. It certainly followed a couple of years of intensive consultation with the Yukon sport and recreation clients, and amendments to the regulations dealing with the unincorporated communities to allow just that to happen, so that you might get it out into more local hands.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister just table a copy of the MOU with British Columbia on inter-jurisdictional issues and the MOU respecting a federal/provincial/territorial agreement on vehicle weights and dimensions? These are two areas that I'm not familiar with.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: The first one was the B.C. MOU and the other one was the MOU respecting the federal/provincial/territorial agreement on vehicle weights. Yes, I will certainly be able to do that.
Mr. Jenkins: The other issue arising out of the policy changes is the work that is being done on subdivision regulations. Is there a background paper there that we could peruse at our convenience and come to an understanding of where we're heading with respect to subdivision regulations?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, I will be able to provide some type of information for the member opposite. I would like to say, though, that we're preparing additional regulations to support the Subdivision Act and it's focusing mainly on the technical standards.
In the summer of 1996, the department completed an initial round of consultation with the stakeholders and the general public. That response resulted in modifications to the existing administrative regulations and substantive changes to the draft technical regulations.
Cabinet did approve a second round of consultation and, on December 15 of the last year - 1997 - the department completed a consultation with the stakeholders and the public on the proposed revisions to both the administrative and the technical regulations.
The process now is to compile and review the input received and work with the Department of Justice to finalize and send the regulations to Cabinet shortly. Certainly, when that has happened, I will make absolutely certain that a copy is sent to both members opposite.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister consider providing us with a copy of where we're at today? I'm familiar with the regulations as far as they are in Whitehorse. Just what stage of development are we at with respect to the subdivision regulations at this time? I'd just like to see where we're going and where we're heading if there's any major variance from where we were at, Mr. Chair. I'm just looking for information on the policies that this government is bringing down.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, as I have said, the department has reviewed the input received in working with the Department of Justice to finalize it and we're going to be sending it to Cabinet shortly. Certainly, as I've said, it's in two stages, focusing on the technical standards and the comparison of them to the old and response to the new regulations that have substantive changes to the draft technical regulations. So, certainly I will check with the department and see if we can provide it at this stage as it is going to Cabinet. To tell you the truth, I'm not so terribly sure if I can do that, but if I can do that I will certainly do that.
Mr. Jenkins: I don't have any further questions in general debate, Mr. Chair, but there are a couple of questions that remain unanswered that the minister has agreed to provide information on. I was hoping that the minister could give his assurances that those responses would be forthcoming before we hit those issues in the line-by-line debate in his budget. Could he provide an undertaking to that effect? We're talking about three questions, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Would we agree that the three questions are, one, street lighting on the bridges; two, pedestrian crosswalks on the bridges, and the third question, I believe from the Member for Riverdale South, on the secondments and assignments from the C&TS to the other departments? Yes, I will certainly endeavour to get those to him in a very timely manner and in fashion and I will certainly be willing to be answer questions in some arena, although I must say that I'm very, very reluctant to open general debate because of past experiences.
I do not wish to be going on for another three days or three hours or whatever it is, but certainly in the feeling of honour and camaraderie, I will certainly provide the information in a very timely manner and I will give it best efforts, and I think the department, as the Member for Klondike has said, has done very, very fine and exceptional work in bringing forth the questions and answers as they have. So, certainly in that spirit, I will endeavour to answer questions as I may.
Mr. Jenkins: We're not looking at opening general debate again. We're just looking at having a window of opportunity to deal with the specific questions that remained unanswered and, as we get into the line by line in his budget, that would be fine, Mr. Chair. That's all we're looking for.
There's got to be a better way that the minister can handle questions in the House than the way he's handled it this session and the last session. There are questions that require answers and the minister has the staff there that know the answers. There are briefing books and I'd highly recommend that the minister bring his deputy minister into the House so that we can move a lot quicker through his department than what we have to date.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Those almost sound like fighting words but I certainly won't take them as such.
Certainly, we do know that we have the opportunity to ask questions, to provide answers, whether the answers are in written form or in a legislative return form or whether they are in oral form. Certainly, we will endeavour to do that.
I must say that I'm here to discuss the policy. At times, the level of detail that has been coming back has been, I think, unwarranted. But, certainly, in the thought that I might provide adequate answers for the member opposite, we will endeavour to continue working in the manner that we are working.
I would definitely say, though, it's absolutely ironic in my mind that, when we do have a person, I am called down because I am weak, and then when there is not a person here, I am called in the same manner. So, really, I'm not sure where the effect comes or where it will lie in the future, but certainly I will endeavour to continue to provide good, timely information, as has been proven.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, this is my last question before I hope we move on to line by line, and it's a very simple question. It's about the notes we received today about questions we asked yesterday, and this is about the planning exercise - or the lack thereof - at Marsh Lake. It says that the community services branch will be attending a meeting of concerned residents at Marsh Lake on April 2 to discuss the formation of a representative body to work with planners in developing a local area plan for the Marsh Lake community. That meeting hasn't been advertised. As far as I know, it's not an open meeting. I'm wondering if there is a plan to meet with residents in an open, well-advertised - well in advance - meeting at some point in the very near future?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair. During the break, I will endeavour to ask the question of the staff that I have available, but I would like to say that there is no sense in having a meeting if you don't have people show up. Certainly, we're very desirous of having folks come out to the meetings.
I have just been informed, though, that the meeting is at the request of the residents. I'm not sure which specific residents, but certainly that could be the seed that will flourish into a very good communication network for the area. So, I will certainly take into thought and keep in mind the practice which the Member for Riverdale South has been talking about, and make sure that the meetings are informed, so that we get complete input from all folks in the area that want to and are required to have input into the process.
Chair: The Chair would like to remind members that there is opportunity for general debate as we enter each program.
Would members like to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is there any further general debate?
On Office of the Deputy Minister
We will proceed to Office of the Deputy Minister. Is there general debate?
On Deputy Minister's Office
Hon. Mr. Keenan: The highlights of the O&M budget for 1998-99 include a total of $260,000, consisting of $251,000 for personnel, which includes salaries, wages and benefits for the deputy minister, a secretary and an administrative support assistant; $9,000 for other, which is primarily deputy minister travel of $1,000 within the Yukon and $4,000 outside of Yukon, $2,000 for communication and $2,000 for other program materials.
Deputy Minister's Office in the amount of $260,000 agreed to
On Emergency Measures
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, the 1998-99 O&M budget of $252,000 consists of $126,000 for the personnel, which includes the salaries, wages and benefits for a director and an administrative assistant; $126,000 for other, which is $38,000 for travel, which is $36,000 in the Yukon and $2,000 outside of the Yukon; $13,000 honorarium for the volunteer duty officers; $39,000 for various contract-related services; $4,000 for repair and maintenance of equipment; $5,000 for rental of a government fleet vehicle; $6,000 for the supplies and program materials; $15,000 for communication; and $6,000 for other program requirements.
Emergency Measures in the amount of $252,000 agreed to
Mr. Jenkins: The trend in communications is that costs are going down. Could the minister give us some indication why there's a slight increase in this department? I know our telephone charges have come down. Our MDMRS, we're locked into a contract there. We don't appear to be extending anywhere. Is there some reason why we're just seeing an overall increase in costs in communications?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, the O&M comparison with the previous year is an increase of $8,000 in '97-98 and '98-99 and that's mainly due to the merit increases of $5,000 and a decrease in the internal recoveries.
Communications in the amount of $372,000 agreed to
Office of the Deputy Minister in the amount of $881,000 agreed to
Chair: The Chair would like to have all members aware of what the practice in budget debate will be. Once we enter each program, I'll be asking for general debate on that program. Once general debate on that program clears, we'll go line by line.
We will now proceed to corporate services division. Is there general debate?
On Corporate Services Division
Mr. Jenkins: Perhaps, Mr. Chair, if the minister wouldn't mind providing a brief overview at the beginning of each item, that would speed the process, and if there isn't any general debate, we can move from there.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, I can read the highlights, if that's what the member wants. Certainly; absolutely.
Yes, the 1998-99 O&M budget of $329,000 consists of $309,000 for personnel, which includes the salaries, wages and benefits for a director, two personnel assistants, one full-time and one half-time personnel officers and an administrative assistant; $20,000 for other, which includes $6,000 for travel within the Yukon; $6,000 for communications; $3,000 for other, which includes reference materials and various departmental initiatives, and $5,000 for other program needs.
Mr. Jenkins: If the minister doesn't have any general comments on the whole department, we can go line by line - like he has just done the first line.
On Human Resources
Human Resources in the amount of $329,000 agreed to
On Finance, Systems and Administration
Finance, Systems and Administration in the amount of $777,000 agreed to
On Policy, Planning and Evaluation
Mrs. Edelman: Could I have some more detail on this line, please? There's been an increase of nine percent. Is it an increase or decrease? Yes, an increase.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly. The increase of $30,000 from 1997-98 to 1998-99 is mainly due to one policy analyst position that was vacant for a portion of the 1997-98 fiscal year and the surplus funding was reduced in the supplementary budget.
Policy, Planning and Evaluation in the amount of $350,000 agreed to
Corporate Services Division in the amount of $1,456,000 agreed to
On Transportation Division
Mr. Phillips: I don't really have a question; I just have a comment. As the minister knows, I live out at Marsh Lake and travel the highways a little more now than I used to. I just want to make a comment about the maintenance of the roads in that area. I think the department has done a very good job this winter. There hasn't been a lot of snow, but every time there has been something, the department has been there fairly quickly to make sure the roads are clear.
More than anything else, a bouquet to the department for the speedy work they do when we do have snow, even though this year wasn't as bad as other years.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, I thank the member very much for that, because I do know that the member travels early in the morning and sometimes late at night. And I've had requests from others saying that maybe we do it too much, and certainly I kind of wondered where we draw the line, so that goes a long way and it would be providing good information, and I thank the Member for Riverdale North.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on the topic of highways and the maintenance program, I have to concur with my colleague that it is extremely well done, by and large, throughout the Yukon. I was just wondering when the posted speed limits were going to be raised on a lot of the Yukon highways, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, certainly there is no plan in the near future to do such. I believe they were just raised a year and a half or two years ago on the Alaska Highway. However, we have the authority through the devolution process to do so. In that particular case - the Alaska Highway and the standards of the Alaska Highway being built - it could accommodate the traffic load that was there. I'm not so sure if that is the case with the Campbell Highway or the Klondike Highway, but certainly it is something I could provide information to the member opposite on if the member opposite chooses.
Mr. Jenkins: It's an area I'm looking for some change in, Mr. Chair, and I'd certainly appreciate any information the minister could provide. For years, in the Yukon, we had gravel roads that were posted at 60 miles an hour, and we paved them and widened them and improved them, and we've decreased the speed limit to under 60 miles an hour, at 90 kilometres per hour. So, it doesn't appear to be justification for where they're at. I'm sure the engineers will beat up on the minister, as to liability, when he suggests it, but we might want to look at increasing from 90 to 100 kilometres a lot of the highway posted in Yukon. Whitehorse to Carmacks, especially, should be up at that level, or probably even somewhat higher, like the route south of Whitehorse.
So, if the minister could consult with his department and see what he can do for those of us who live in rural Yukon, like he does, and has to travel back and forth in his riding quite extensively. Perhaps the Member for Kluane doesn't envision any increase because he travels so infrequently to the west that he doesn't need that kind of encouragement. But the Member for Faro, I and members from a lot of the rural areas, who are back and forth on a regular basis, would certainly appreciate an increase in the posted speed limit. The Member for Faro probably wouldn't gain so many points on his driver's licence if that were the case, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, I will have a discussion with the department, although I have had somewhat of an ongoing discussion, but I will certainly carry it on and report back.
On Maintenance and Engineering Administration
Maintenance and Engineering Administration in the amount of $1,500,000 agreed to
On Highway Maintenance
Mrs. Edelman: I did have a concern, when I spoke to the minister about that earlier in the year, about the section around Champagne, which has been very, very difficult for the majority of this year, probably because of all the freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw. I'm wondering what sort of ongoing work is going to happen this year around Champagne.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes. With the direction received and with other members of the public talking, especially this year, about the effects of the El Niño, et cetera, it became quite apparent that we might have to do more patrols.
So, certainly, we've gotten in touch with the foremen at the foremen's conferences and have spread the message that we'd like them to interact with the community on a much more regular basis, if they could, just to become aware, as you do in small communities, of bingo games or potlatches or tutored events that are outside. So, they're doing that and monitoring more carefully and working much closer with the community at large to ensure that safe standards and driver practices on highways are adhered to.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I had a specific concern about the area just outside Champagne on the way to Whitehorse. That road has always been scary. It's quite a dangerous section of road. It twists and turns, and needs to be straightened out and widened. Are there any plans to do anything about that particular section of road?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I assume that the member is talking about the Champagne cutoff? The Alaska Highway west, yes. The Champagne area.
Yes, that certainly is subject to the budgeting process and it is certainly something that we will be supporting in the future. It is not quite apparent in this year's budget that we are debating here but it's certainly still in the plan and certainly will continue to be so.
Mr. Jenkins: Just looking at the numbers, Mr. Chair, does this budget anticipate that the Anvil Range mine or the Faro mine, whatever it's going to be called in the near future, will be in operation? A lot of highway maintenance on the North Campbell, on the Klondike and on the South Klondike is dependent on whether the ore haul is in place. Now, does this budget anticipate that the mine is going to be up and running and trucks are going to be running?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, I've just conferred with my colleague and I can say that no, the budget was put together with the mine not being open.
Mr. Jenkins: Is the resulting saving because the mine site is not running and the trucks aren't hauling less than $1 million a year? Is that the saving, because that's what it appears to be by the budget and the comparison to last year. Perhaps the minister could read out his notes on that line item, Mr. Chair, because it hasn't gone down enough to justify the mine not being in operation based on what we've been told in the House previously as to what it costs to maintain the highways with the ore trucks hauling.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: There seems to be a percentage change on the Campbell Highway of six percent and it is as the member says. I will read out the notes on the highway portion of the Campbell Highway. It's $505,400 increase in the BST program. It's offset by the following reductions of $64,000 for surface blading; $32,000 to clean and reshape ditches; $43,700 on the brush and weed control; $40,000 on snow removal; $32,000 on the sanding and $62,000 on the glacier control on ore-haul routes.
Mr. Phillips: Does this maintenance budget include any increase on maintenance of the Atlin Road in light of the Redfern announcement? I know they're not going to be doing an awful lot this year, but there may be some construction starting later in the year on the new road, so there will be heavy equipment going down the road and maybe more traffic going down the road. So, the Atlin Road, as the minister knows, is a very narrow and windy road, and we will eventually be called upon, I suppose, to do some upgrading and maintenance of that road. And I just wonder, if there is any extra included in this budget, if he could give us the number possibly for that Atlin Road.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, there is an increase of $38,800, and that's for a brush and weed program. That is the only increase on that road in the maintenance. Certainly, as we have stated in the House earlier, we are working toward three options, but the report is not finished at this point in time, but when the report is finished, I will forward it to the proper critics in both the official opposition and the third party.
Mr. Jenkins: Based on the information that's been provided by the minister's department previously about the cost of maintaining the roads, when the ore trucks are hauling from Faro and what we are seeing as a reduction now, the costs do not appear to have been reduced significantly. We are seeing a three-percent reduction - the actual in 1996-97 was $31 million down to the forecast for 1997-98 of $28 million down to an estimate for this forthcoming fiscal period of $27.9 million.
Does the minister envision lapsing a great deal of funds in this area of his department for the last fiscal period?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, certainly not. If the member likes, I could certainly read out the information on the comparison by highway - whether it's an increase or a decrease. Would that be helpful?
There's one, two, three, four, five. I started off with the Campbell Highway and that's done. So, if I could just go back to the Alaska Highway then, there is an increase of $320,000. There's a $704,000 increase in the crushing program, which is offset by the following reductions: $65,000 in the surface blading, Beaver Creek, Destruction Bay, Watson Lake and Swift River; $69,500 on crack sealing; $117,500 for patching with pre-mix; $38,500 with the brush and weed control; $18,000 for blading the gravel shoulders; $54,200 on glacier control; $21,500 for other, smaller maintenance reductions. If the member would like, I can whip those figures out really quickly again to reiterate, if you like. Go on?
On the Klondike Highway, there is an increase of $96,500; $253,900 increase in the crushing program, which is offset by the following reductions: again, $67,000 for patching with pre-mix; $26,000 with the brush and weed control; $48,400 for the snow removal on the ore haul route; $15,000 for snow removal from the other camps.
On the Haines Road, it is an $197,500 increase in the BST program. The Campbell Highway, I've already done. There are no offsets on the Haines Road. On the Dempster Highway, it's $35,000.
Mr. Jenkins: What I'm hoping to focus on, Mr. Chair, is the ore haul route - the south Klondike and the Klondike as far as Carmacks. There's very little Alaska Highway. There's from the turnoff south to Skagway to the turnoff north to Carmacks. That's the only section of the Alaska Highway we would envision. I'm looking at those arterial routes that the ore trucks would follow. We were told previously how much it costs additionally to maintain those routes when the ore trucks were hauling on them.
Now, we haven't had the ore trucks hauling for quite some time. Yet, when I look at the subsequent reduction in the budget, it just doesn't add up. I'm just looking for an explanation from the minister as to why the reduction isn't significant. Or, does he envision lapsing a lot of funds from last year's forecast, in light of the trucks not operating on this route. That's the information. I'm not looking for the whole highway system. I'm specifically focusing on those few highways.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I will narrow it right down to just those areas then, if you like. We've done the Klondike. The Haines Road we don't need. On the Campbell - did the member get the figures? The total Campbell figures?
Mr. Jenkins: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It's only broken down, certainly, in terms of the Campbell Highway, but I can check with the department and, if the department's listening, as I know they are at this time, I would ask them to see if that could be provided from the breakdown, just from the Faro portion to there. I would ask that of the department.
I could carry on here with the rest of it that is pertinent.
It says here that on the other roads there is a $103,000 reduction, of which $28,000 is attributed to the ore haul funds, and again, $12,000 surface blading, $18,000 dust control, and $44,000 for the drainage culverts.
Now, on the overhead, which I am sure would be applicable also in there because it has the facility agreements and what not, there's a $198,000 reduction in miscellaneous summer projects, $185,000 in field supervision, $67,000 on facility maintenance agreements and $3,000 under smaller maintenance reductions.
But, as I have said, I will get that narrowed very focusedly for the member, and the department has the instruction now.
Mr. Jenkins: What I'd like to focus in on is what the actual cost to the Government of the Yukon is for maintaining the highways where the ore haul takes place. There are routine costs, or normal costs, but when the trucks are running there are costs above and beyond because of the frequency in which snow is removed, the sanding - I just want to target in. If the department officials are listening in, which I'm sure they are, if they could provide that information - I'm not going to dwell on it but I just want to find out what it's costing to maintain those roads when the ore trucks are hauling and what it costs when they're not hauling. There is a resulting saving. We've been told what it cost previously, to some degree, for maintenance on these routes when the trucks were hauling.
So, that's the information I'm looking for. Otherwise, we can clear that line item, Mr. Chair.
Mrs. Edelman: I wonder if I could have detail on the Canol Road, the Tagish Road, the Top of the World Highway, Silver Trail and the Cassiar Road. The reason I'd like detail on those particular roads is that there have been significant changes from the previous year.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly. I'm starting off with the Canol Highway. There's a $286,500 reduction, which is attributed to $84,000 from the crushing program; $34,000 from the BST program; $22,000 from bridge repairs; $56,000 from ferry maintenance; $41,300 from drainage; $11,000 from surface repair; and $22,000 for other various, smaller maintenance reductions. Again, that's a total of $286,500 on the Canol.
The Tagish Road, I believe, was next. It's a reduction of $177,000, consisting of $150,000 from the crushing program; $13,000 from a brush and weed program; $14,000 for road surface activities, such as road surface activities, such as surface repairs, dust control and patching with pre-mix, for a total, again, of $177,000.
Did the member want the detail, or did the member just want the totals?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Detail.
On the Top of the World Highway, there's a $366,200 reduction, consisting of $250,000 from a crushing program; $20,000 from BST patching; $72,000 from surface blading; $25,000 from dust control, again, for a total of $366,200.
I believe the Silver Trail was another, with a total of $216,500 reduction, consisting of $120,000 attributed to drainage, culverts, wash-out repairs; $90,000 to the crushing program; $6,500 for other, smaller maintenance reductions.
The Cassiar is a $2,600 reduction, with $1,400 on the brush and weed control and $1,200 on surface activities.
Are there any others that I've missed?
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, on quite a few of these highways, one of the most significant and consistent reduction seems to be in brush and weed control. Has there been a change in policy in this area?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: No, there does not seem to be a change in policy. I would say that it is sporadic at best, and it is not done on an annual basis. I know that. Certainly, it is done more on a need basis and certainly the need is not as great in those areas. It is not at the compromise of public health or safety or visibility, though.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on the Cassiar Highway, last year the Province of British Columbia tore up a lot of pavement along Highway 37 and indicated that it was easier to maintain if it was gravel and there was not enough traffic to warrant maintaining the pavement that could have been chipsealed, Mr. Chair. Has the Government of Yukon made representation to the Province of British Columbia and asked them why they did this, because it certainly has been mentioned to me by a lot of our visitors who come into the Yukon using this route. It's a very scenic route, but why did the government down there tear it up? We're looking at coming up alternate routes now rather than the Stewart-Cassiar Highway.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, the provincial government didn't talk with us regarding this, but certainly I will provide, as I've said, a copy of the memorandum of understanding.
In our provisions to talk with each other concerning these issues, I do believe I've stated that I'm looking for a meeting with the minister in British Columbia. The deputy minister is actually out at an deputy ministers' meeting as we speak now and he is going to be raising the issue of the B.C. memorandum of understanding and other provisions of the B.C. memorandum of understanding with the provincial government's deputy minister there, and I will be down there after the Rendezvous Canada in Quebec City from the Tourism side of things. So, I'll be on my way back and I'll be stopping in Victoria to save the taxpayer a buck and also to talk to the folks there regarding these issues, and I would certainly be more than willing to bring that issue up because certainly the infrastructure program that we have and in relation to our close northern British Columbian neighbours, we should be working together.
Therein lies the - well, not necessarily the answer, but therein lies the reason for the B.C. memorandum of understanding. So, I will bring it up at those two levels.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister advise the House if this memorandum of understanding he is speaking of with the Province of British Columbia covers the Stewart-Cassiar Highway - Highway 37 - in British Columbia?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, as I recall. I can't recall that specifically, but it certainly calls to working together within all of the transportation issues, so that we might be able to work cooperatively and have easy interchanges, as the member knows, between the respective jurisdictions. That is ongoing.
I can say this also to the member that we, on the Yukon side of things, have certainly done our work and put it all into the Government of British Columbia arena at this point in time, and they've been just a tad slower - quite a bit slower actually - than what we would like to see. So, certainly before my deputy minister left, we had a good, detailed discussion as to how we could move them along to get this memorandum working. And, it is working at this point in time. This is certainly the avenue - avenue is a better word to say, I guess than arena - that we would work in.
Specifically, though, I will have to check it out. We'll get the member opposite the understanding. We'll get it to both the third party critic and the official opposition critic, and I hope that they will take comfort in the fact that we are working proactively to ensure that we do have good northern neighbours and a good northern infrastructure to keep the people coming in a safe manner.
Mr. Jenkins: Is this MOU at the point that we're not going to have our Yukon truckers harassed along those sections of the Alaska Highway that dip into British Columbia south of Whitehorse? Is it at that stage that we won't have the B.C. enforcement people up in Yukon this forthcoming season harassing our Yukon truckers in these sections of the Alaska Highway or are we just at the stage where we're dealing with fishing licences that are interjurisdictional, so that the Member for Faro can go fishing in Teslin Lake legally?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, in the memorandum of understanding, certainly that is all anticipated. Everything the member from the official opposition said is correct. That is all anticipated within the memorandum of understanding. I will reiterate that we have done our share of the work on all of the fronts here in the Yukon territorial government and have put it over to the British Columbia government. As I've said, the deputy minister is raising the applicable initiatives from Community and Transportation Services with his counterpart and I've certainly been following up with the minister in terms of letters and following up with physical meetings to ensure that we can hopefully get this said and done for this year.
So, that is certainly the territorial government's aspiration.
Mr. Jenkins: I believe that's all our aspirations, Mr. Chair, but as it presently stands, the MOU between the Government of British Columbia and Yukon - has it been signed and agreed to so that Yukon truckers will not be harassed by enforcement officers from British Columbia along the Alaska Highway sections of the highway south of Whitehorse that dip into British Columbia? There are a couple of areas there.
Are we at that stage? Has it been agreed to by British Columbia and signed off, or are we going to see B.C. enforcement officers up here this summer?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: In a very short answer, no, it hasn't been agreed to by British Columbia but, as I've said, we've put our initiatives forward, we're putting the pressure on them to do that, but, no, specifically not. But I do have hopes that it will be. I do have those hopes.
Highway Maintenance in the amount of $27,952 agreed to
Mrs. Edelman: I wonder if we could have some detail on this line, please?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, the 1998-99 O&M budget of $4,918,000 consists of $2,037,000 for personnel, which includes salaries, wages and benefits for nine staff and the general administration and operations, of which 16 are at the Whitehorse airport, one at the Watson Lake airport and the three observer/communicators in Old Crow. The personnel budget also includes $462,000 for internal labour charges from other program areas, such as highway maintenance that supports maintenance works on the aerodrome runways; $2,881,000 for other, which includes $89,000 for travel, which includes $54,000 in the Yukon and $35,000 outside of the Yukon, including for community aerodrome radio station and CARS training; $985,000 for contract services, of which $862,000 is for the CARS contracts; $477,000 in repairs and maintenance for maintenance of airport buildings by Government Services; $24,000 for rental expenses; $223,000, mainly for runway maintenance supplies; $25,000 for snow removal equipment fuel; $523,000 for utilities; $56,000 for communications; $409,000 in internal charges for equipment usage in grounds and runway maintenance and $70,000 for various other items.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, does the Government of the Yukon have a contract with NavCanada for a certain period of time to ensure the flow of funding to fund the CAR stations, because I notice the Government of the Yukon contracts with a lot of the CAR station operators are for various periods of time, some as long as five years? I refer specifically to the contract in place for Mayo airport. That is for quite an extensive period of time.
How do we know that the funds are going to flow from NavCanada to the Government of the Yukon, when I understand that that agreement is negotiated on a regular basis? I believe it's on an annual basis, and we're signing contracts for three- and five-year periods with the CAR station operators. How is this done, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, they are done on a contractual basis, of course, except for the Old Crow airport, as we know, where they are YTG term employees.
The total funding for 1997-98 I know is not the question, but that was $945,000. And, if I recall from a briefing with my deputy minister, negotiations are now taking place and I can certainly, at the conclusion of negotiations, get the details back to the member opposite.
Of course, I could also add that the air navigation system is protected, as I'm sure that both members opposite know, under Bill C-20. The process is evolving from there. But certainly it is looking good as I've been told by the deputy minister. When it concludes, we'll get the details to the members.
Airports in the amount of $4,918,000 agreed to
On Transport Services
Transport Services in the amount of $2,442,000 agreed to
Transportation Division in the amount of $36,812,000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report of from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, First Appropriation Act, 1998-99, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:27 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled April 1, 1998:
Forest strategy (Yukon): developing fire-safe communities in the Yukon (summary of a multi-government workshop held January 22 to 23, 1998, to develop an action plan) (Fentie)
The following Document was filed April 1, 1998:
Signpost Seniors (Watson Lake) - funding for multi-level care facility: letter dated April 1, 1998, from Isaac Wood, Deputy Mayor of Watson Lake, to the Hon. Dave Sloan, Minister of Health and Social Services, re minister's comment made on March 31, 1998, in the Legislature (Edelman)