Thursday, April 2, 1998 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed with prayers at this time.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
In remembrance of Yolanda Burkhard
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to a long-time Yukoner and a friend of mine who passed away recently after a lengthy illness.
Yolanda Burkhard was born in 1930 in Switzerland. She was raised there and remained there until her father passed away. Her mother and she then travelled from Switzerland to Dawson City, Yukon, where her mother was to visit a school friend of hers, Mr. John Buss.
The family ended up settling in Dawson City and, just over a year later, Yolanda married Frank Burkhard. Together they placer mined on various creeks in and around the Klondike. They eventually settled at Flat Creek, and in 1954 began to operate a sawmill there.
I first met and came to know Yolanda in the early 1970s, when she was the city clerk for Dawson. After serving in this capacity for some eight years, there was a reorganization of the municipal office. Yolanda left her position, and she ran as Mayor of Dawson. She was successful.
During Yolanda's time as mayor, the City of Dawson celebrated its 75th anniversary. Yolanda played an integral role representing the City of Dawson at home and abroad. As a goodwill ambassador for Dawson City, she travelled extensively to such places as Australia and Newfoundland, enhancing and promoting relations between Dawson City and her sister cities. It can easily be said that Yolanda held a special place in her heart for the Yukon and always carried the voice of the Klondike with her.
Yolanda moved to Whitehorse in 1978 and joined the mining recorder's office. After that, she travelled extensively to Yukon communities filling in for mining recorders who were on vacation or on leave.
Yolanda was an outstanding individual and a woman who stood true to her word, a good person with a love of the Yukon and a heart of gold. Yolanda will be fondly remembered by Yukoners and missed by her children, Sylvia, Jenny, Debbie and Cathy, as well as their respective families, including nine grandchildren.
As a long-time Yukoner and a very special woman, it is appropriate, Mr. Speaker, that we pay tribute to Yolanda Burkhard today.
Speaker: Are there any introductions of visitors?
Are there any return 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 motions?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) there are service improvement programs that are operating successfully in most Canadian jurisdictions and that these programs save their respective governments millions of dollars a year in savings because of the good suggestions of civil servants; and
(2) taxpayers dollars should be used wisely; and
THAT this House urges the government to examine employee suggestion systems in other jurisdictions and find ways to implement such programs here in the Yukon government.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
Yukon Housing Corporation program enhancements
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to advise the House about two enhancements of the Yukon Housing Corporation programs. These initiatives deliver on our government's commitment to help provide affordable housing and to encourage repair and improvement of older homes.
Members will be aware that, for a number of years, the Yukon Housing Corporation has been delivering the home repair program. This program offers qualified applicants low-interest loans of up to $35,000 to upgrade their homes.
Yukon Housing Corporation inspectors helped clients to identify structural, mechanical, electrical and other deficiencies to determine what components needed to be improved to bring housing up to acceptable standards.
Unfortunately, guidelines effectively call for an all-or-nothing approach to renovation. People whose roof leaked could not simply borrow to repair it; they also had to look after any of the other identified deficiencies at the same time.
This sometimes had the practical effect of discouraging people who were worried about their debt load if they had to tackle everything at once.
Mr. Speaker, to address concerns of this kind, the corporation is now prepared to offer the partial upgrade program.
This program will allow homeowners to address existing or imminent health and safety risks, and threats to the integrity of their housing, on a priority basis. Qualified improvements might be structural, electrical, mechanical or safety oriented - the installation of smoke detectors, for example.
Once these mandatory issues have been dealt with under the program, clients can then borrow additional funds to address other deficiencies, according to their own priorities.
A senior could get a loan to install ramps and hand rails without having to replace old shingles which were not yet leaking. A person concerned about energy costs could add insulation and replace leaky windows and doors.
The program is flexible and will allow clients to re-enter the program to borrow added funds, up to a total of $35,000, to make additional repairs at a later date.
We believe that these changes will be welcomed by homeowners who will be able better to match their borrowing for home improvements to the level of debt they would be comfortable carrying.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Housing Corporation board of directors has also approved a rejuvenation program as a new component of the home ownership program group.
This program is designed specifically to address problems of people occupying older structures that require repairs so significant that they may require virtual reconstruction of the dwelling.
Until now, people in this situation have faced formidable obstacles because of the loans-to-value ratios set by the banks, the National Housing Act and the CMHC mortgage insurance complications.
Although up to $35,000 has been available under the Yukon Housing Corporation's home repair program, this falls short of the costs which can easily run between $50,000 and $60,000 for this kind of project.
Homeowners attempting to secure additional bank financing for improvements on this scale sometimes incur legal fees, interest penalties and CMHC application and underwriting fees. It frequently costs over $2,000 just to get approval.
Under the rejuvenation program, home owners will be able to access additional funds for this kind of project directly from the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that both of these program enhancements will go a long way toward improving the health, safety and quality of our older housing throughout the Yukon. I would like to commend the board of directors of the corporation for its commitment to improve housing in the territory.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, we welcome these initiatives on Yukon Housing Corporation program enhancements.
Mr. Speaker, according to the 1991 census, the Yukon had the second worst housing quality in Canada. At that time, 45 percent of Yukon homes, or 4,435 units, needed repairs beyond regular maintenance, and 17 percent of Yukon dwellings, or 1,665 units, required major repairs. That was seven years ago.
I would ask the minister, in his response, if he could provide me with the latest statistics in this area.
Making the home repair program, which is a very good program, more flexible through a partial upgrade program is very good news indeed. It has been my long experience in dealing with government that government programs are often too stringent, and the lack of flexibility discourages public participation in them. The all-or-nothing approach far too often leads to nothing.
Many Yukoners are afraid to go into debt to fix everything up at once. They do not want to carry a debt load they might not be able to handle. This new program will help them repair their homes without burdening them with an unmanageable debt load. Similarly, the program, as a component to the home owners program group, is also welcome news.
As the statistics demonstrate, a good number of homes are in major need of repairs beyond the $35,000 scope of the home repair program. This program will serve the needs of the owners of older homes throughout the Yukon. We thank the minister for bringing these initiatives forward, and the Yukon Housing Corporation Board for their good work.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to respond to the ministerial statement on the Yukon Housing Corporation's program enhancements. Mr. Speaker, these two programs go a long way to address the shortcomings of the previous programs for home repair and renovation offered by Yukon Housing. I'm sure that there were a great number of individuals who walked away from Yukon Housing's so-called help programs in the past because of the lack of flexibility in the program.
As a matter of fact, I know personally five people who did not take advantage of these low-interest loans for that very reason.
On the first program, which allows people to get the specific repairs that they need to their homes, without doing a lot of other unaffordable and unwanted projects, that makes a lot of sense.
On the second program, these major renovations probably most affect seniors living in the older subdivisions in the downtown of our towns and cities here in the Yukon. It makes sense to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible, particularly because there are not a lot of other options out there for seniors in the Yukon.
Waiting lists to get into Yukon Housing are lengthy, and there are no private seniors developments in the Yukon, and heaven help you if you are waiting to get into a seniors care facility in this territory.
All in all, the corporation has done a good job of addressing the shortcomings of their program. I would like to know what sort of advertising campaign is going to take place to promote these programs, and how much consultation took place before these changes were made, and who those consultations were with. I am most concerned about the advertising of these programs in particular, as the people who were stung by the inappropriateness of these programs in the past are going to be very reluctant to try again, and these are the people who most need this type of help.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I thank the members opposite for their comments. This statement is fairly explanatory. I feel that it's very good, I guess, for Yukoners to be able to see some flexibility in the programs that the Yukon Housing Corporation offers.
I think that people will be taking advantage of the new programs. While we don't expect a lot of people to be taking up the rejuvenation program, we feel that probably approximately five people may want to access this program. It's the other that is of interest to people, where they can go in and do repairs, whether it's insulation or improvements to their heating system, without doing all the other work that was required in the past.
These programs are going to be effective as of today and I encourage all members that have constituents who are interested in the program to contact the Yukon Housing Corporation to get more information.
In regard to the numbers of homes that are left in the Yukon that are in need of major repairs, I certainly can try to bring some of these numbers back to the Member for Klondike.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to invite members to join in welcoming Mr. Paul Deuling and a number of the grade 10 social studies students from F.H. Collins. As you can see, they're all sitting there with their pens poised and their pads out, and they've arrayed themselves with members of the media, so no doubt these young people are looking at the expanded opportunities with the new expanded Yukon News, so let's encourage them in the field of journalism.
So I'd like to invite all members to welcome them.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Travel expenses for government members, Member for Whitehorse Centre
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Government Leader on the Arctic Winter Games expenses of our currently holidaying Member for Whitehorse Centre.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre accused me from Ottawa of not doing my homework about the expenses he claimed while purportedly representing the Government of the Yukon at the Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife for eight days while watching his son play hockey.
The Government Leader, Mr. Speaker, has already admitted in this House that the member double-dipped by claiming both his meal allowance expenses and his per diem expenses. Upon further investigation, I've learned that the MLA for Whitehorse Centre had some of his meals at the athletes village and, as an accredited representative, he didn't have to pay for those meals. Yet, he has claimed the full per diem rate for those days without deducting those meals. Is the Government Leader prepared to admit that this is another mistake?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, I suspect that the Member for Whitehorse Centre wanted to make the point that the leader of the official opposition's claim that the expenses identified in the claim form were bar bills was, in fact, incorrect. The suggestion was made that somehow there were items in the claim form that had to do with alcohol. That was, of course, as the Member for Whitehorse Centre pointed out, incorrect.
With respect to the other concerns that the member has raised with respect to the claim form itself, they have all been rectified.
Mr. Ostashek: Is the Government Leader then telling this House today that there were further deductions made for meals that were taken at the athletes village that the per diem paid for? Is that what the Government Leader is telling me today?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, the claim form, as I understand it, has followed rigorously the government claim policy and that if the Member for Whitehorse Centre took meals during the period, then they would be deducted from his claim.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm concerned because the amount of money, while it may be small, the principle here is very large. The Government Leader himself stated in this House that it's against the law to claim for personal expenses and per diem as well, yet we have now found another instance of a bill that we reviewed where there was a double charge.
And we hear the Member for Faro kibitzing about a bar bill.
Mr. Speaker, these guys are missing the point. We're talking about political people double-dipping on travel expenses. It's little wonder that government travel for politicians for this government is exploding when there is no watch dog to control these expenditures.
I would like to ask the Government Leader, in light of my request that the ministerial travel and expenses of MLAs travelling on government business go to Public Accounts, and in light of the fact that he made light of that issue, would he now agree to having a full arm's-length audit of all MLA and ministerial travel so Yukoners can be assured that there hasn't been any double-dipping going on?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, Mr. Speaker, the member has raised the instance of one claim, and in the issues that the member has raised, some of the information that he provided was correct, and some was incorrect.
With respect to the concerns that he raised about the so-called double-dipping, the double claim, as I have already indicated, was an administrative error. That has been rectified.
With respect to the issue about public accounts and the proposal to bring them before the Public Accounts Committee, I didn't make light of the suggestion at all. I was a little surprised that the member who chairs the Public Accounts Committee was speaking for that committee, even though that committee has never met and has never given that member a mandate to speak for it at all. That's the only point I was making the other day. So I thought it was a little presumptuous.
But the fact of the matter is that claim forms are public, and if the member wants the government to do an audit of the claim forms, I can do an audit of the last 16 months. I can do an audit of the last four years - whatever that member likes.
Question re: Travel expenses for government members, Member for Whitehorse Centre
Mr. Ostashek: I hope that's a commitment that the Government Leader's going to have it done.
Once again, to the Government Leader, it's readily apparent that the Member for Whitehorse Centre is a strong family man who puts his family first and foremost, and we on this side of the House applaud that. As the Government Leader well knows and can personally attest to, every member of this House has had to sacrifice family commitments to serve their constituents. This is not an 8:30 to 5:00 job. It goes on seven days a week, 24 hours a day. When one becomes an MLA, meeting family commitments should not be done at taxpayers' expense. Watching a son play hockey or attending an 18th birthday party should not be at taxpayers' expense, nor should they take precedence over the MLA's duty to represent his or her constituents in this House, especially when this House only sits for 60 out of 365 days.
Does the Government Leader not agree with me that members should not be absent unless it's a case of an urgent nature?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member and I clearly have a very significant disagreement between us with respect to the role of the Member for Whitehorse Centre during the Arctic Winter Games. The member claims that the member was on holiday; I claim that he was not. The member claims that he had no government business; I claim that he did, both with the Arctic Winter Games and with the Government of the Northwest Territories.
So consequently, with respect to that particular trip, my view is that the member was on government business, and I know he was.
With respect to the absence this week, the member has indicated that he is absent for personal reasons. He's explained what those personal reasons are, and he will be accountable to everyone for those reasons. He has made his choice.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, he's also a member of the Government Leader's caucus. The leader of the caucus ought to have some control over his membership.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre stated that he made a personal promise to be in Ottawa for his son's 18th birthday, and he keeps his promises. It appears that he's forgotten his promises to the people who elected him - the people in Whitehorse Centre to whom he made a personal commitment to represent in this Legislature. That promise has been broken.
Will the Government Leader be making it clear to all members of the NDP caucus that they have a duty to be in this House when there is no urgent family matter or health reasons causing them to not be able to attend?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, in terms of absolute attendance in this House, I would suspect that the Member for Whitehorse Centre has spent a lot more time in that chair than the member opposite has in his chair.
In any case, the member certainly has been addressing the issues facing his constituency and he has brought many of those matters forward to this Legislature. Mr. Speaker, the member has made it very clear what his reasons are. He has been, in every respect, representing his constituents well.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, if the Government Leader wants to resort to low blows of naming members in this House, I could start from this side, too.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: I could start with him.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre has several children, like many members in this House do. If we all had to be away when they were having a birthday, we would have difficulty keeping a quorum. With the Easter break approaching, does the Government Leader not agree that delaying the birthday celebration for one week wouldn't have been too much to ask of the member in light of the commitment he's made to his constituents?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the Member for Whitehorse Centre has been responding well to a variety of needs expressed by his constituents and has been raising their issues often with the government caucus and in this Legislature.
He has probably introduced more motions than many of the Yukon Party private members ever did, in the short time that he has been here, and has raised many important issues, including the MAI and others, and conducted a full review of local hire, all in the space of the last 12 to 14 months. The member has been doing a stellar job in raising a lot of different issues.
So, the leader of the official opposition obviously carefully prepared for maximum advantage in reading out his question today and tried to degrade the Member for Whitehorse Centre's reputation. I can tell him that the Member for Whitehorse Centre has done more to advance the issues facing his constituents, particularly around local hire, than the Yukon Party did in four years.
Question re: Tourism marketing tender
Ms. Duncan: I have a question for the Minister of Government Services regarding the recent awarding of a $1 million contract to Calgary-based Parallel Strategies.
Yesterday in the House, the Minister of Tourism stated, "At the time of my visit, Parallel Strategies was the agency of record."
Mr. Speaker, the last standing offer agreement was held by BBDO of Vancouver. Parallel Strategies was not the agency of record, nor have they ever been. They were simply one of the bidders on this contract, and the minister visited them in the middle of the tender process.
My question for the Minister of Government Services is, would other bidders think it fair for the minister responsible to be visiting one bidder in the middle of a tender process?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, quite clearly, Mr. Speaker, this is a question that should be more properly referred to the Minister of Tourism.
As I understand it, and I don't have familiarity with the contract, BBDO was the agency of record and I believe Parallel Strategies was one of the partners in that. But I don't have the details on that. Tourism contracts do not fall under my purview.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the contract request for proposal and the review were conducted with the assistance of the Department of Government Services, so these questions are entirely appropriately addressed to that minister.
The Minister of Tourism and the director of marketing, at the time of a tender, visited one of the bidders on a major Yukon project in the middle of the tendering process. The general terms and conditions for tender documents supplied by supply and services state: "In order to maintain fairness, consistency and predictability, bidders are not to contact any individual in the Government of Yukon other than that noted in the tender document, whether during the tender or the evaluation process, without the prior approval of supply services."
Yesterday, when asked about this section of the contract process by a reporter, the minister indicated that he had not received prior approval and that he had made an error. Will the Minister of Government Services follow the process required in the tender regulations and revoke the bid from Calgary-based Parallel Strategies?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, the question surrounding this, I think - it has to be made very clear that the section that the member referred to was actually an internal directive that was designed for employees who are dealing with contracts, specifically, in that regard, with supply services contracts.
With regard to the process itself, I know something of the selection process, and I can tell the member that from my understanding of this process it was a selection process that involved, to a great degree, the tourism industry, and it was scrupulous in its removal from the political process. I can tell the member that this is probably one of the most scrupulously watched selection processes that I have seen.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the question related directly to the general terms and conditions for tender that are issued by the Department of Government Services. They are issued to people bidding on standing offer agreements and they say, "In order to maintain fairness, consistency and predictability, bidders are not to contact any individual in the Government of the Yukon other than that noted in the tender document." They go on to say, "Failure to comply will result in revoking the bid."
The minister has stated in this House that he visited one of the proponents, one of the bidders bidding on this tender during the tender process. Will the Minister of Government Services live up to the general terms and conditions for tender and revoke the bid?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I can tell you this: the minister, in this case, had absolutely no involvement in the selection process. The selection process was done by an industry/government committee that reviewed the proponents in this case. I am convinced, having looked at the process, that it was scrupulous in its cleanliness. I can see absolutely nothing wrong with the selection process.
Question re: Tourism marketing tender
Ms. Duncan: My question is again for the Minister of Government Services.
The individual in charge of the account for Parallel Strategies, Mr. Miles Prodan, also owns shares in Beringia Tours, a local tourism operation.
Mr. Speaker, we have a situation where there is a real and/or perceived conflict of interest. The original request for proposal was prepared with the advice of contract administration. What steps are normally taken to ensure that no real or perceived conflict of interest by a potential bidder exists?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Very clearly, the department, of course, depending on the circumstance, goes to great length to ensure that there isn't any improper contact.
I can tell the member this: at the time the Minister of Tourism visited Parallel, they were currently holding a contract on the anniversaries enhancement program and, as this is a very important year, I believe he merely wanted to familiarize himself with the kinds of services that they were providing.
With regard to the selection process, the selection process was independent from the marketing branch, it was independent from the minister, it was largely an industry-driven process, and I have every confidence that this process was squeaky clean.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Government Services have continually referred to this process as "squeaky clean." In fact, there are a number of questions about this process.
The minister visited one of the bidders during the tendering process, against the contract rules. There is a real or perceived conflict of interest from one of the tenderers.
The minister said the process is squeaky clean. In fact, the independent committee that reviewed this was not given the same information on scoring that the two finalists were given prior to their presentation. The independent committee was not given that information.
Mr. Speaker, in any ballgame, three strikes and you're out. Now, will the minister review this contract?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, the member is making some very strong allegations there, and I would suggest that those allegations may not be based, indeed, on fact. Despite that, it's one of those situations where the member is trying to portray some impropriety here. I would suggest that if she is suggesting impropriety she should be candid and make her allegation very clearly.
I can tell the member this: this process was independent from the marketing branch and independent from the minister. My only understanding of it was to basically look at how this process was arrived at, and I am convinced that they were scrupulous - absolutely scrupulous - in making sure that this was an independent decision and that it was removed from any kind of politicization.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, everything I have stated is true. Every single point I have made is the absolute truth. The minister visited one of the bidders during the tender process. That's fact. The minister said it himself on more than one occasion in this House. There is a real or perceived conflict of interest from one of the firms bidding on this tender.
The third point, that the technical advisory committee was not given the same information that the two finalists were given, is fact. It was verified at the Bid Challenge Committee this morning.
Now, those are three points. Will the minister reconsider this contract and go through it again? It's not scrupulously clean.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I can tell the member that she just hit the nail on the head about what is the correct process, and that correct process is the Bid Challenge Committee, and I would suggest that that is the appropriate avenue for it to go through. If the member has other allegations to make, I suggest that she make them in the correct forum, and I suggest that group that is alleging some kind of impropriety make that allegation in the appropriate manner. I would also suggest that there will probably be considerable dismay among those individuals who work within the tourism community and work particularly on this contract with the member's allegations.
Question re: Community development fund
Mr. Ostashek: My question is for the Minister of Economic Development on the CDF fund. There was a press release on March 31, in which the minister announced the first projects under the CDF tier-3 category - projects over $100,000. One of the projects that was approved was $100,000 for the Help and Hope for Families Society in Watson Lake to build an addition to allow for the expansion of community programming.
Mr. Speaker, it's my understanding that the society invited three contractors to bid on the contract, and awarded the contract to one of them.
Following that, an official from within the Economic Development department then telephoned the Help and Hope for Families Society and advised them that the contract would have to be retendered territory-wide and that the low bidder must be awarded the contract.
Could the minister inform this House today as to the rules or criteria that apply to recipients of the CDF funding and the mechanisms for tendering or awarding contracts?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I would suggest the question is out of order, Mr. Speaker, seeing as how Economic Development is scheduled for Committee debate this afternoon, but I will say that, with regard to the allegations by the member opposite, I will check into them.
I must say that the member's attempts and the Liberal Party's attempts in this Legislature to vote against and to try and kill a program and projects that have been put forward by people like the Help and Hope for Families Society in Watson Lake, by the Chamber of Mines that was recently a recipient of community development fund money, the Sacred Heart Cathedral that received money for one of their priorities, $100,000 for soup kitchen improvements, the Humane Society, which was just a beneficiary, and Mount Sima. These are good organizations of hard-working volunteers, and for that member to continually stand up and attack their projects, I think is wrong.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, first of all for the record, it wasn't our idea to go into Economic Development after the break today; it was the government's, and we're trying to accommodate them. For the member to stand there and rant and rave - I don't know why he's so sensitive over something like this. This is a complaint that's been received from constituents and we have a duty to ask those questions in this Legislature, whether the Member for Faro likes them or not.
Mr. Speaker, time is of the essence here. This could very well end up in a lawsuit. In view of the fact that the society has verbally awarded the contract in a unanimous decision by the board and then being faced with the intervention of an official of the minister's department - whom I presume would also be liable - this would undoubtedly delay the project.
I will ask the minister if he would investigate this matter very quickly and find if there was any specific criteria by which CDF recipients are to tender contracts and why the society was not made aware of that criteria before they put the tender out.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, we'll have to check into the member's allegation, as I said, but his credibility is not very high. After all, that was the member who was running around telling Yukoners, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Power rates are going to go up 45 percent." In actual fact, the government responded with a rate stabilization plan to limit an increase to nine percent.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Leader of the official opposition on a point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: Point of order. The member knows I never said "45 percent" to anybody.
Hon. Mr. Harding: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The Member for Faro on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the member has no point of order. I know he's a little defensive about his errors, but that's too bad.
Speaker: There's no point of order. Would the member continue.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So, his credibility is not that high, but we will investigate the allegation by the member opposite. But I've got to say that, when the member attacks the projects of the Signpost Seniors in Watson Lake, when he goes after the First Nation in Teslin, as he did yesterday, when he demeans the projects put forward by people in Ross River, when he goes after the Sacred Heart Cathedral, we express disdain in his approach. Mr. Speaker, we're proud of the community development fund and the good work that it is doing in the communities, on community priorities for Yukoners, and we will do it over the objections of the Liberals and Tories.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, we must be on to something here, because the minister is getting very defensive and ranting on with political rhetoric when he knows full well that the majority of those projects he mentioned I have said nothing about in this Legislature - absolutely nothing. And as far as the one in Teslin goes, he withdrew it, because he had no business giving them money in the first place. The only thing he didn't do was tell the public he withdrew it.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask the minister to undertake to determine what advertising requirements there are for the recipients of CDF-approved projects, in view of the fact that a number of projects have been approved while, to my knowledge, I have not seen any of them being advertised territorial-wide, as has been requested from the Help and Hope Society.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, let me just say that I am defensive because I am reacting very negatively to the attacks by this member on the organizations around this territory, whether it's the Carcross Day Care Association or people in Watson Lake, the Signpost Seniors, the Help and Hope Society. Someone has to speak out for these people and for these projects and defend them.
And that's precisely what I'm going to do. We feel that organizations like the Chamber of Mines, who just benefited from the CDF, are doing good work in this community, and we don't think it's appropriate or right for the member opposite to continue to attack the priorities that they put forward. We will continue to work with these community projects. We will continue to -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: I would ask the members to stop their heckling, please.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It's hard to hear over the opposition benches sometimes, when you know you're striking a nerve.
The Great Northern Ski Society of Mt. Sima I know are appreciative of the short-term employment we're creating in the territory. We feel very good about what we're doing, listening to community priorities, and the members on the Liberal and Tory benches should stop attacking these community organizations that are benefiting from this community development fund.
Question re: RCMP headquarters, prospective expansion
Mr. Cable: That was quite a spin, actually.
I have some questions for another minister, the Minister of Justice, on the plans for expansion of the RCMP headquarters building.
A month ago, the minister said she was going to meet with the RCMP to discuss any capital plans the police may have in the works. Would the minister tell the House today what she learned about the proposed expansion of the RCMP headquarters building? Has it received Treasury Board approval? What's the dollar value of the expansion? When's the construction to start?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I can provide some information to the member on the proposed project that the RCMP have for their facility in Whitehorse. The RCMP has applied, through Public Works Canada, for Treasury Board approval on a project. This project has not, to date, been approved.
Mr. Cable: I assume the minister had a look at the plans or had some discussion about what the building would look like. Does the proposed expansion have a remand facility attached to it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As I just indicated to the member opposite, final approval on this project has not gone ahead and there are no plans that have been developed. So, there are no plans for construction in the near future.
When I met with officials from the RCMP, we had a discussion about some of the needs that they see and other needs in the community. There have been no plans to date on whether a remand facility might be part of such a project, if indeed the federal Liberal government would distribute some largesse toward supporting an expansion of the RCMP facility in Whitehorse.
Mr. Cable: What was the minister's position when she was talking to the RCM Police? Was she lobbying for a remand facility in the new expansion - the expansion that she thinks still requires Treasury Board approval?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, the member is stating that I think the project still requires Treasury Board approval. Perhaps he has some insider information on whether the federal government has, in fact, already approved it.
As far as we're aware, the project has not been approved. The plans have not been drawn up, and we had an initial discussion about what the RCMP were looking at. No final decisions have been made.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
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. It is the Chair's understanding that, after the recess, Committee will be dealing with the Department of Economic Development. Is it members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 9 - First Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Department of Economic Development
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, I'm pleased to begin today by introducing the 1998-99 capital and O&M main estimates for the Department of Economic Development.
Economic Development is launching some major initiatives this year, and it's reflected in both the O&M and capital budgets. First of all, the CDF has been funded at $3.5 million, which has been increased over last year. This is a major contribution to development in the communities. I'm sure we'll have lots of fun with this one.
The resource assessments program has been increased to $400,000 this year, up from $150,000, reflecting our commitment to the protected areas strategy and the settlement of land claims.
We continue to support the geological surveys program, which is cost shared with the federal government. The total budget of this program is $1,391,000, of which the Yukon share is $680,000.
In this budget, $550,000 is allocated to the centennial anniversaries and centennial events program, which is in the fourth year of these programs.
In O&M, the department is focusing its efforts to enhance external trade and promote investment in the Yukon. We're investing an additional $565,000 in trade and investment in this budget.
The department is also expanding its oil and gas unit, as it needs to establish a Yukon oil and gas management regime pursuant to the devolution of oil and gas.
Finally, the department has reorganized to focus more attention on the promotion of trade and investment in the territory. The trade and investment branch includes an export and trade facilitator, which was created last year - the mining facilitator and the newly created position of oil and gas facilitator. These positions will concentrate on promoting the trade and investment opportunities in the Yukon within their respective fields. As well, a departmental marketing unit has been strengthened and will provide support to these facilitators.
I want to begin by saying that I will have some officials present if technical questions come to light. They are currently occupied in other endeavours, but they are available to me; however, I think I should be able to answer most questions that the members pose to me, and I look forward to answering their questions in general debate.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I may be somewhat disjointed today, because I was not expecting to get into this debate until next week. Nevertheless, we can move ahead with it.
The minister's overview was somewhat short. I had expected a little longer presentation from him, in light of the fact that we have an economy that's very fragile at this point, and may get a lot more fragile before the fiscal year is over. As the member opposite knows, opposition members have been very critical that this government is not doing enough on the economic front to try to keep our trained personnel in the Yukon and not have them all leave, so that when things do pick up, we do have people here to fill the jobs.
The government is spending a lot of money on training trust funds, so much though that constituents are starting to phone and ask me what we're training all these people for. We have all this money going into training, but people don't seem to think there's much optimism for jobs out there.
I'd like to just start by asking the minister if he could just give us his view of what's going to happen in the Yukon in this fiscal year, and if he sees any light at the end of the tunnel that we're not aware of. Is there anything that Yukoners should be focusing on or could use to create some optimism?
I'm sure the member opposite has people talking to him and he knows that it's not very good out there in the private sector right now. We have very little heavy construction going on and not that much building either. People are starting to get very, very concerned.
We know that, so far, retail trade has stayed up, and it seems to be something abnormal in our system, that regardless of what's happening in the economy, retail trade continues to grow. I know that inflation numbers have jumped up quite dramatically over the last year compared to what they've been running at and that's going to have an impact.
So, I would just ask the minister if he could give us a brief overview of what his vision is of the Yukon 12 months from now?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the member started out by saying the economy is fragile right now, and I'd be loathe to say that I don't think we have some serious challenges economically. Unemployment is too high. I don't subscribe to the member's Henny-Penny statements that it's extremely high. I've seen numbers when he was Government Leader that topped out at 18 percent, I think, at one point.
I think it's now around 13, which is obviously too high, but we're paying a price, not just for the economic downturn in the world markets for metals, but we're paying a price for the permitting process. The member knows full well I had a bright light. I was very much hoping Minto Explorations was going to begin development this year. I've been dutifully and diligently lobbying the federal government on Water Board permitting processes since I've been the minister, very vocally, working with contractors locally on those issues trying to get positive change there.
However, my view is that that decision and that delay cost Yukoners 100 jobs, at a time when I would have thought it would have been an extensive bright light for the economy.
Last September, all things were "go". Faro was going back up, the price of zinc was over 60 cents, Sa Dena Hes was all set to go, Cominco spent $3.5 million, we were bringing in our Oil and Gas Act; it was very well-received. We now essentially have control of the resource, but we weren't stopping at just the traditional resource sectors. Our forestry policy work is very comprehensive.
We have a protected areas strategy, which I think, although it's often looked at as an economic loss by the Yukon Party, is going to present some long-term sustainable economic opportunities as well.
I do think the oil and gas is a bright light. I'll be heading down to Alberta in the beginning of May for a major kick-off, hopefully with some First Nations representation, to talk about the common regime. There is a lot of anticipation for that in the industry. We're pretty pleased about that.
Mining is not going to stay where it is right now; 1992 was the lowest year for exploration expenditures in Canada in about 30 years. We have, all politics aside, been decimated by Bre-X, and that is a fact. If you go anywhere - to one of the prospectors and developers or the Geoscience Forum here in the Yukon or Cordilleran - I get the same message: it's brutal out there to try and raise money. And those exploration dollars are very important. The fact that Bre-X hit and the permitting problems we've had have hurt this territory in terms of a place for investment.
Now, whether the member likes it or not, politically, I don't get the messages he gets. Obviously, the mining industry is very uncomfortable with the situation in B.C. However, they have not identified that to us. The one survey that the Fraser Institute did identified protected spaces and land claims uncertainty as major concerns, but with our mineral values and potential opportunities, we still placed third in Canada. And since the Delgamuukw decision has come out, I've used that Delgamuukw decision as a positive not a negative. When I spoke at the Cordilleran to 1,000 geologists and mining people, they understand now, given Delgamuukw, the importance of the UFA. Now that actually is a competitive advantage and not a concern.
I've met with numerous mining companies, many doing business in the Yukon and I've only had one person - two negative conversations - out of the many numerous companies doing business here. One was subsequently resolved through dialogue. There was a real lack of understanding. The second one was an issue that is not resolved at this point. I've worked very hard to be open and accessible as a minister and as a government to deal with their issues. I've put extensive pressure on the federal minister. I've used honey where I can to try and get the federal government to play ball on infrastructure, on energy, on diversification funding for infrastructure and on the permitting problems - all of those things. I see a rebound in the mineral industry.
We have fared, if you look at the comparative numbers, better than most jurisdictions in Canada, through Bre-X. The response I got at the Cordilleran was actually quite a bit of optimism. You might have heard the Chamber of Mines president on the radio. He also heard the same thing.
We have some policy concerns. I will admit that the protected spaces does give some angst to the mining community. There's no doubt about it. The member knew that when he signed the accord to enter into that when he was the Government Leader. It's how the process is handled that is going to be where the rubber hits the road. I'm committed to trying to show that there's balance taken through the process.
So, I see the protected spaces as giving some angst to particular industry, but not insurmountable angst. If we continue to have good dialogue and show by our actions that we are committed to balance, they will respond well.
Secondly, the land claims agenda is moving forward. We've settled White River. There's advanced stages and there's a UFA. There are advanced stages in many negotiations, so I see those as bright spots. I see economic opportunities spawning out of the land claims as bright spots. I see the oil and gas as bright spots.
I see what's happening in the business community.
I see what's happening on export trade and investment as bright spots. The business community has been very supportive of our efforts, regardless of the opposition critique of us basking in the sun. The four businesses that went with us on Team Canada South America - which, admittedly, is a tough market - all felt they got value for the money that they paid, and they paid a lot of money. I haven't heard anything different, publicly or privately. I have met probably 10 times with the business community, and they've told me every time they want to move this agenda ahead. They like it; they want to work on reciprocal investment.
Now, the member opposite asked for bright spots. I see that as a bright spot. The results are going to be slow in coming. There are some successes now. The government and the partners are hosting an after-hours tonight, and the Team Canada will be the subject of export trade and investment. I'm happy to report that one of the people who came on Team Canada can't be there. The reason they can't be there is because they're following up on leads and contracts they're looking at signing as a result of Team Canada.
So that's very positive, and I'll be telling people that tonight. I know that Total Point is actually still working on the advancements they made on Team Canada. It was a very tough trip and, as Joe Muff said, it was like being a Roman galley slave, the pace the trip moved along. But, nonetheless, he felt it was worth their investment, and they don't want to be part of some Team Canada alumnae fan club, and that's it. They want to see this progress.
It's not just Team Canada. I think we have to be more focused, as well. Team Canada presents a good opportunity. It's fairly cost effective for the Yukon to participate, so we do, but we're doing a lot of other things, as I announced a couple of weeks ago, in trade and investment that relate a lot to education, the formation of opportunities, liaising with other governments to try and ensure appropriate information is made available. We're working on investment vehicles and the immigrant investor fund.
We are looking at a number of ideas, which I hope to have ready for the first part of next year, to discuss a whole range of issues, from investment tax credits of different types to access to capital questions, and my department has been working and talking to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment on those issues. I see that as a potential bright spot. Whether the members opposite like it or not, the community development fund is responding to some community priorities and putting some people to work in those communities.
We don't have the option of U.S. Congress Shakwak money that the member opposite had. We don't have the option of the hospital, which has gone, which was $50 million.
We may get that money. We may get some of it even this year, but we will only spend the money we can spend. We are not going to risk running an accumulated deficit. We are not going to raise taxes. And we maintained and made a public commitment to protect services for Yukoners in important areas like health care, education and social services.
So, we feel that we have to be more creative about how we approach the economy.
The members opposite have been very critical of business travel and I would say to the members opposite - and they can try and cut that any way they want in terms of saying that they, on one hand, like travel on the economy but don't like anything else - the reality is the Tourism minister and I have been the major architects of business travel costs, and I make no apologies for that, and it'll probably keep going up because I'm going to get out there and I'm going to hustle and I'm going to try and make sure that every opportunity is followed up on and that we try and make some things happen economically.
I don't think we have any other choice, as Yukoners, but to think a little bit more broadly in terms of our approach. We've been a small jurisdiction for the 13 years I've been here. We've been a small jurisdiction for a long time before that. But I don't think we can be small in terms of our approach, economically. I think government has a responsibility to try, because we are a developing regional economy, to make the best bang for the buck occur here in the Yukon - with some sanity involved in it.
Obviously, we have to have some protection from being overcharged out of the market here locally, but we have to try to be creative with our dollars here. In reciprocity to that, we have to get out there and hustle as businesses and as a government with the businesses to try and improve things economically.
Now I met with the Chamber of Mines many times. They're extremely supportive - and they've told me and they've said it publicly and say they will - of our agenda to try and promote investment in the Yukon. They'll want the words, obviously, followed up with action. I think in some areas we've been able to deliver on that for them.
The member opposite asked for other bright spots. I think our approach to the development assessment process is a bright spot. The industry doesn't want a deal unless it's a good deal for the Yukon, so, we're holding fast. We have been concentrating on improving the Canada Environmental Assessment Act and the Water Board process while we hold fast on the position in DAP. I know that the commissioner can talk about that, but we're not going to accept the deal. I met with the presidents of the Klondike Placer Miners Association and the Chamber of Mines yesterday and they were very clear that they don't want a deal unless it's a good one for Yukoners. So, I take comfort in that message and I think it's important.
I met with the representatives of all the different and various forestry groups last week with the Government Leader and the forestry commissioner and the Minister of Renewable Resources. They are having some tough times. We're assisting them. We're supporting them to try to ensure that they can survive, that they can enhance their work. I know the commission is very close to being able to release some meat and potatoes on policy that I think will help. Obviously we need devolution to really make things roll in forestry and in mining, I think, because, quite frankly, I'm a firm believer that a lack of political accountability is one of the problems in our economy right now as it pertains to DIAND. I know that if, for example, politicians here were under the kind of scrutiny that people here have, there would be constant pressure on the processes to be tight and to be effective.
When you have a minister who's so busy in Ottawa with a northern affairs and aboriginal affairs portfolio, how much attention does the economy of the Yukon get politically - especially when they have so much control over it? That's very frustrating for me. I'm hoping that the federal government will devolve, with a fair deal to us, responsibility in those key areas, particularly in resource. I think that's a key element.
I say the Yukon government, generically - I don't care what political party is in government - will be better off - this territory - with devolution, because you will have that political accountability. These questions will be bounced off everyone's head in this Legislature as they involve mine permitting, as they involve good processes, and that's what we need. We need that debate and we need that focus here locally.
I went to meet with the federal minister and I couldn't get a meeting with the federal minister at a time when our economy is in very desperate shape. I don't get, for example, when I meet with Ralph Goodale, who is the Energy and Mines minister nationally - natural resources - to raise the issues that other mines ministers get to raise, simply because Ralph Goodale is not the person I have to talk to in many cases. It's the federal minister, Jane Stewart.
So, I find that very difficult. It's nothing new for ministers of this portfolio in any way, shape or form. It's a frustration. The agenda's being worked on. It's a difficult one. We need some impetus from the federal government to move it ahead. We hope that they want to do it. We've been very cooperative. People will note that the Government Leader has been extremely cooperative and has not resorted to partisan political pressure to try and exact the agenda. He's been trying to move it through by working together. That's a good approach, and we hope it pays dividends.
The economy, as I see it, is at its lowest ebb. The bright spots that I've pointed out are not going to be quick fixes. There is no massive government spending program that is going to bail everyone out.
In some ways, the Shakwak U.S. Congress money and the hospital actually helped to exacerbate our boom-bust economy, because you had all of this - a high point in national mining that's been now affected by Bre-X and the Asian market crisis to bring things down - and in the Yukon, you have the hospital ending and a lag of one year, perhaps, in Shakwak funding. Well, I mean, it's no secret when I go talk to the contractors -they're hurting. They've got all that material that they've purchased to meet a certain level of demand for contracts, and the money isn't there. So we as a government have been struggling to try and meet their needs while not exacerbating the boom-bust economies, because they employ Yukoners and we respect that, and we will work with them where we can.
So, I do believe the Faro mine has a future. I do not intend to put all the economic eggs of the Yukon in that basket, as I've been accused of by the Yukon Party. I think that it is a ridiculous move to ignore what it can generate for the territory, but it's going to depend largely on a function of the price and what kind of a mine plan they can come up with - whether it involves the Grizzly underground or the Grum deposit.
I don't put all my eggs in the basket of Sa Dena Hes, either. Cominco made it very clear that it's 60-cent property and the price is 50 cents, and if Faro came back on, the price would drop.
So, we have a pretty multi-faceted approach to dealing with the economy. The member opposite has identified training as a concern. Well, I would beg to differ with him on training. I think a $1.5-million investment in training trust funds in the budget is a positive. I think you have to have an eye on the horizon, not just the here and now, and we want to have people ready and trained when we do reap the benefits of economic recovery as a result of a moderate program by government, good works by the private sector, and hopefully some improvement in the world scene as it pertains to metal prices - and crude oil, for that matter - and wood products, which are also in the tank right now on the world market.
So, these are not all my doing. All politics aside, it's probably kind of funny to heap the blame on me, but I take responsibility for trying to deal with it. Absolutely, totally.
I think we've set a pretty good course for working our way through it. I see bright spots, but I don't see, quite frankly, anything that's going to replace 700 jobs in Faro overnight, and I'm not willing to recommend to the Government Leader that we raise taxes, or that we do anything to run an accumulated debt so that I can try and jury-rig some economy. I just don't think that's prudent fiscal management.
That's my general overview economically - bright spots, hot spots and all the spots that I'm sure the members are going to want to talk about.
Mr. Ostashek: Well.
I thought, when I sat down here 25 minutes ago, I had asked the Minister of Economic Development to give me his outlook for the next 12 months. If there are any unemployed Yukoners sitting at home listening to this debate, they're going to be packing their bags in a hurry, because he certainly didn't give them any hope of anything in the next 12 months, and that's unfortunate.
We're lacking in economic leadership by this government. We're lacking in ideas and initiatives to keep Yukoners working.
Now, the minister's gone on at great length about all these great things he's doing, and a lot of them I support. A lot of them are laudable things, but each and every one of them is a long-range project that I don't believe is going to have any impact on the Yukon economy in the next 12 months, and that's the question I asked. It appears that this minister and this government have washed their hands of the economy in the next 12 months, and we're going to plan for the future. Well, I don't know who they're planning for, because there's going to be nobody here to plan for if they keep that approach.
Mr. Chair, the Oil and Gas Act - let's get realistic. It's a good thing and we don't condemn it on this side. How many jobs is it going to produce in the next 12 months? Trade and investment strategy - how many jobs is it going to produce in the next 12 months? Protected spaces strategy - how many jobs is it going to produce in the next 12 months? This is what Yukoners are looking for answers to.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Give me something, he says. He won't listen to any suggestions from this side of this House. We've been giving them to him for 18 months and he won't listen to them.
He says that the mining community is happy with what he's doing. Well, he'd better listen a little more closely because that's not what we're hearing, and we've seen one scathing letter that went to the Government Leader about six months ago, from a mining company, about what they thought of the program. It was copied to many, many people and did severe damage to investment in this territory.
I suggest that the minister go back and read the Fraser Institute report again, because he says that we're rated number three in Canada. I believe he's wrong. We're rated number three as far as mineral potential goes but we're not rated number three as far as investment goes. When you add them all together, we're way down the list and we should be at the top.
The protected spaces strategy is having an impact on mining investment in the community and the minister can stick his head in the sand if he likes. The fact remains that there's great nervousness in the investment community about it. The nervousness is not about the protected spaces themselves at the end of the road. It's worrying about how much land is going to be withdrawn in interim protection. And this government is being silent on that.
They need to send some positive signals out there. Oil and gas development in the territory will have an impact in years to come. It may have an impact in the next couple of years. But, the minister is aware. He's talked to the same oil companies that I talked to when I sat in that chair. They don't just go and explore all over the wilderness any more. They explore close to infrastructure. I believe that the first exploration you're going to see is going to be down in the Kotaneelee area. You're not going to see it in Eagle Plains, Laberge basin and all over, because there's no infrastructure to get that product to market. Let's be realistic about what we're saying here.
There are many things the government could be doing to provide optimism in the investment community in the Yukon. High power rates isn't one of them. One hundred thousand dollars to hook up to the B.C. hydro grid study, when they pooh-poohed it when they were in opposition, isn't one of them.
Team Canada. Certainly it's going to have some spinoff results, but how many jobs are going to be created in the next 12 months? Thirteen percent of Yukoners are on unemployment insurance. That's not the unemployed in the Yukon. If we had the actual number, it's probably closer to 25 percent, and the minister is aware of that.
All the minister can do is come back and say, "Well, it's not nearly as high as when you were in power." Well, give us time. The mine only shut down last month. We haven't even had the full effect of it. I suspect that the numbers that come out next week will be substantially higher. Just to sit there and say that they're not as high as when we were in power is not going to help to put Yukoners to work. That's not going to help create any optimism in the investment community in the Yukon.
I had a constituent phone me this morning, who's going to be contacting the Government Leader and the Minister of Economic Development, and was very irate because he's unemployed and, yet, the Northern Cross went into the Eagle Plains area and hired people from Fort McPherson. He says, where's the NDP government's local hire policy? What are they doing to promote local hire?
The minister's laughing. He can laugh. These are constituents phoning me. I'm not making this up on my feet. I got a call at quarter to 12 today.
People are worried out there. They want to be working, and they want to see a light at the end of the tunnel. They certainly don't see one now.
Mr. Chair, government travel is up. It's up dramatically, and it's pretty hard for Yukoners to take when they're not working. That's not the minister's department, so I'm not going to belabour him with it. The fact is it's up, and it's obscenely high, especially when they say they took the same number of trips that we did, and then try to say that airline tickets are up 49 percent. I suggest to you, Mr. Chair, that airline tickets are no higher now than they were three years ago, unless they're buying them at the last minute and not buying excursion tickets, like the previous government did.
Mr. Chair, the protected areas strategy will, in the long term, create a few jobs, but if they're trying to sell to the Yukon public that this is going to replace the mining industry in the Yukon, wake up guys, wake up. There are not that many jobs. We've seen Kluane National Park, which has been there for 20-some years. How many jobs has it created? Not very many.
So while these are all good things, while they're all laudable approaches, these are all long-term strategies that every government should be working on - and has been working on long before that minister took that chair.
But that is going to do nothing to provide optimism to the unemployed workers in the Yukon today. It's going to do absolutely nothing to keep the talented workforce that we have here.
Mr. Chair, could the minister tell me, is he going to have any of his staff in this afternoon? Could he just tell me that before I go on?
Hon. Mr. Harding: What a hollow lecture from the member opposite. What a hollow lecture; not one idea, except the vision he's continuously espoused: spend, spend, spend. The government's the only answer. I didn't know the member opposite was such a socialist. You'd think the government is the only answer to anything. More government spending, more government hiring - that's the only answer to the economy. That is at the same time when the member opposite is saying budgets are too big.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: No, when I was sitting over there, I was talking about the private sector jobs like the Faro mine, which creates 700 private sector jobs.
It's no wonder the member opposite has no vision. It goes out here at 12 months. There is absolutely no vision beyond that in government spending. It's no wonder we inherited a bust economy. It is no wonder, with four years of a Yukon Party government, based on nothing but the resource sector, which is subject to world market factors and which is subject to government spending. The member talks about the lowest unemployment rate ever hit for one month and that was at a time when the hospital was steaming along. I think there was $60 million of U.S. Congress money for highway work - all government money, all an artificial economy, completely exacerbating the boom and bust.
Come on, Mr. Chair, the member has got to get a grip. He's got to look a little further than 12 months. We're doing a ton of things to deal with the short term, but that's not the answer for the Yukon for the long term.
The member opposite is a great spokesperson for the unemployed. I don't remember much from that member when the unemployment rate in the territory was 17 percent. At that time, he basically was making statements that most Yukon communities probably shouldn't even be around in a few years and that they shouldn't exist.
I remember the speech he gave at the AYC. I actually got a copy of it today. What did he say? Here's what he said about Yukon communities on May 4, 1996: "Nobody needs to be a rocket scientist to look around the Yukon today and see which communities are going to prosper and that are not going to prosper. Some of them are basically set up as highway maintenance camps. As highways improve, there is less need for those types of communities."
So, Mr. Chair, the member opposite feels that many Yukon communities don't deserve the type of investment that our government has been making in them. His vision is limited to the next 12 months for this economy. His vision is limited to government expenditures which we don't have.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: We're not going to raise taxes like the Yukon Party did to create some artificial government-spending program. It took $12 million out of Yukoners' pockets in tax increases annually and then, Mr. Chair, put them to work to exacerbate a boom-bust economy. In particular, we saw massive O&M budget increases from the member opposite from 1993-94 to 1994-95.
So, Mr. Chair, I'm not going to stand here and give Yukoners false hope that somehow I'm the candy man and I can just spend money I don't have - their money - and create a bunch of artificial jobs. I can't do that. I won't do that. We will not run an accumulated deficit to do that.
This government laid out a whole myriad of new ideas and new initiatives that we're undertaking. I laid out a whole myriad of initiatives that are underway right now that are helping to put people back to work and are training people in the Yukon.
So, Mr. Chair, I would say to the member opposite that the problem with this economy is largely as a result of four years of a vision that he espoused that had nothing but a 12-month window. That is unfortunate for Yukoners, and I'll have to deal with it as the minister responsible now.
The member opposite talked about a "scathing letter" that went to the paper. Well, there was a scathing letter and the person who wrote it later apologized because the person who wrote it wasn't aware of all the factors and the surrounding land claims in this territory, nor was he aware of protected spaces. I've had, I think, four subsequent meetings with that particular person who sent that letter, and actually that person is doing a bunch of work in the Yukon again this year. So, so much for that argument.
With regard to protected spaces, he tries to make some claim that somehow we're promoting it as a replacement for the mining community. That is completely ludicrous and ridiculous. It doesn't even really deserve a response, so I won't say any more about it.
What we will say about protected spaces is, quite frankly, that it is a commitment that his government made but, as I said a couple of times in this Legislature, it wasn't a protected spaces 3000 campaign, it was a protected spaces 2000 campaign. So, the fact that he progressed nowhere with it for four years left us in the predicament of having to make some advancements over the next couple of years.
Now, we won't accomplish it all, and we don't intend to, because we don't want to scare our resource sector. However, we are committed and will work through this agenda and I do believe it will present economic opportunities for Yukon - very strongly, absolutely.
The member opposite talks about high power rates. How dare he? There was not one megawatt of power put on the grid under his administration, nothing but diesel added to the grid. There were no reductions for industrial customers. As a matter of fact, there was nothing but increases. There were increases for residential customers.
Mr. Chair, the member opposite, when he lectures me, is going to get something back. Now, if he wants to talk about the ideas in a non-partisan, constructive way, then we could have a constructive debate. But what he's trying to do today is to put a bunch of hog-wash on the table, with no ideas, no initiatives, and give me these hollow lectures. It's ridiculous.
Does he have one solid idea that doesn't involve spending money we don't have and government being the only saviour of the economy? I'd rather work with the private sector, the private sector that creates a lot of jobs in this territory. I've been working with them steadily. I've signed some partnership agreements with them.
Fire suppression - there was a motion tabled in this House by the Member for Watson Lake. You want to talk about a short-term initiative? That's one. Fire suppression. That's going to put people to work around Yukon communities and it's going to make them safer. That's an initiative.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Oh, the Liberal member says, "When?" I hope when the federal government writes a cheque for it. That's when. The Liberal member just asked "When?" I can't wait to have that debate with the member opposite, because the federal government has the responsibility for forestry. Let's hope that they come with a cheque to get some fire prevention going in the next 12 months. How about that?
Now, Mr. Chair, I also want to say that the member opposite raised the issue of a constituent who phoned today about the local hire policy. He said that Northern Cross hired people from McPherson. Well, the member opposite, I'm sure, if someone phoned him up who is unemployed and disgruntled and wants a job, he could say, "Yeah, where's that NDP local hire policy?" The reality is that he knows that the local hire policy pertains to government contracts and government work and government getting the best bang for its buck when it spends money. Northern Cross is a private company. It isn't receiving government assistance. It is working on a flow test up on Eagle Plains. As far as I'm aware, they've tried to hire some people locally and have not been very successful, particularly because the Vuntut Gwitchin expressed concerns about their project.
I can understand the frustration of the constituent who phoned the member opposite. I think the member opposite's argument is somewhat less than sincere, because he knows full well what the local hire policy is all about, but he's going to use it to try and gain favour with those who are unemployed, and that's his right.
The member opposite ought to know, when he talks about business travel by the government, that he's completely false in his numbers - completely overstated and completely ridiculous, that the number of trips that we've taken are the same. Let me also say that we will take more. We can't do things with the sort of myopic, 12-month vision that the members opposite had when they were in charge of the economy.
That's why we're in this mess. We've got to be more aggressive. We've got to look a little bit harder. We've got to look a little bit broader, and we're going to do that, and if the travel costs go up, right on, because that's going to be work for Yukoners. I look forward to that debate with Yukoners.
So Mr. Chair, does the member have something other than hollow ideas? I mean, I can go back across the floor with the member all afternoon. Sure, no problem, I don't mind it, but does he have any ideas? Does he have anything other than his criticisms, that basically he feels the government and massive government spending's the only answer to the economy? Does he have anything? Please bring it to the debate.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair. Did you ever hear so much political rhetoric and utter nonsense in all your life?
There's the minister. There's the member who had all the answers, sitting on the opposition side of the House. Now that he's in government, he doesn't have anything. Zip. Nothing, and Yukoners are suffering, Mr. Chair.
We'll get into the power debate when we get to that department. We look forward to that.
Mr. Chair, I want to further pursue with the Minister of Economic Development the question I had in Question Period today, because it's a very serious situation. I'm not sure if the minister's aware of it or not, but the fact remains that a contract was verbally awarded by the Help and Hope Society to a Watson Lake contractor. Then later, the contractor was phoned and told that they'd been called by an official in the minister's department, who said they would have to retender the contract territory-wide, and that the low bidder must be awarded the contract.
Can the minister tell me, is that in fact the criteria for CDF money?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I have to check into the specifics of the member's allegation. Since Question Period, we've been doing that. However, there are criteria that have been provided in the community development fund applications around tendering procedures and the member opposite has copies of all of that. He should know the answer to his question.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, if I knew the answer, I wouldn't be asking the member. We've checked the information that we have. We've checked the information we have and we don't find anything that specifically says that. That's why I'm asking the member.
The member can get defensive on this or he can get chippy about it, but the fact is, this is very serious and there are people who are dependent on this. If that is the criteria, I want to know so I can tell them. If that is the criteria, I want to know if that applies to all CDF projects. Does that apply when a First Nation government or municipal government is involved? Does that apply there because I haven't seen any - and I could've missed them; I don't read the paper from cover to cover everyday - and I don't recall and neither do any of my staff. We don't have any knowledge of CDF projects being advertised Yukon-wide for the tender calls.
So, can I ask the minister to try to get me an answer back before 5:30 today because, all politics aside, this is going to end up in a lawsuit. The contract was verbally awarded so I think the contractor probably has a very legitimate claim. Could the minister get me an answer by 5:30?
Mr. Fentie: Well, Mr. Chair, it looks like the member opposite has gone fishing. He's cast his net into the waters to come up with a controversial fish and has actually latched on to a tiny little red herring.
There's nothing factual about what he's saying. You should check your source, review the facts with your source. The minister has stated that he'll be looking at the specifics and get back to you. And I think it's well-served in this Legislature that we get on with general debate on this department and let the process bring to us the answer of this particular, specific incident that the member opposite is speaking of.
Chair: Order. I would just remind members to not speak directly to members opposite but rather direct their remarks to the Chair.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I am not prepared to let this go now that the Member for Watson Lake has jumped in and been defensive, because he knows that this thing stinks. He knows it stinks, and I will tell him that my source is a very reliable source.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Well, if he did get it, he must have got it this morning, because he didn't have it when he called me yesterday afternoon.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: So. Well, I mean, the member should be able to answer.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Well, listen to this. That's the kind of answers we get in this House - the arrogance of an NDP government.
I still want to know what the criteria is for the tendering of CDF contracts, and I believe I have a right to ask that question. I believe I have a right to get an answer to that question.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the member opposite will get an answer. I haven't denied him that. He just essentially got one yelled across the floor at him, and I thank my colleague, the Member for Watson Lake.
The member opposite should go back to his source, check with his source. I will make the criteria for the CDF available. I'm sure he already has it in his office, though. I do think, however, that the specific allegation he makes about the department is probably not correct, but I will investigate that, and I'll give him that answer, too. And if he doesn't like it, he can ask me in Question Period again on Monday.
Mr. Ostashek: That's if I get the answer by Monday, Mr. Chair. Is the minister making a commitment he'll get the answer for me today, then?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member asked about it in Question Period today, when economic debate was scheduled, so I don't see any difference.
Let me just tell the member opposite that the department - I'm just in the preliminary stages of my investigation right now, but I'm getting more and more comfortable at telling the member that his information is not as it occurred. I still want to provide concrete information for the member in fairly short order. Perhaps he could check back with his source and straighten this out. Maybe it's not quite as serious as he thinks it is.
Mr. Ostashek: I will check with my source today. My source phoned me at 5:30 last night and gave me this information, so if something's happened since then that that department's corrected, I'm pleased to hear that it's been corrected. But I still want the criteria because there's something not right here.
Mr. Cable: The minister's department -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: Are we finished? The minister's department provided a briefing yesterday and there were a number of documents requested. It would be useful to get these before we conclude general debate.
The first was a list of policy initiatives.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: The minister is saying it will take a couple of weeks. Well, maybe over the weekend and the next couple of days, before debate resumes on Monday rather, the department could start. Surely the policy people in the department have a rough idea of what's going on and can provide some sort of -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Cable: Oh, they're too busy to write it down, the minister says. Too busy to tell the House what they're doing. Well, maybe the minister should take it back to them and ask them to get moving on it.
This document that I asked for was a yearly report on the Loki contract. I gather the covenants in the Loki contract are looked at from time to time and Loki has to make an annual report. I would like to get a copy of that. Is the minister in a position to provide that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I was only joking with the member opposite. We can provide that list of policy initiatives. I didn't realize he wanted me to go on longer in my initial debate with the leader of the official opposition. I could have rattled them all off - all the policy initiatives that were underway - and he could have written each one down studiously. But, we will try and provide him with that information as soon as possible. I'm sure the department, which is listening, is pulling that together as we speak - perhaps even before we were speaking.
With regard to Loki Gold, there is an investigation into the agreement that formed the industrial assistance there. I believe that I provided that to the member opposite, at least the report. I will stick with the precedent of the House in terms of providing that information.
Mr. Cable: I gather that what's done is that there's an annual report on whether Loki has complied with the covenants. I think we're on the same wavelength. I'm glad to hear that the minister was joking. I'm certainly not going to sit here and write down all his verbiage, if that's what he has in mind. I would like it on a piece of paper, condensed by several hundred times.
There's one other thing I asked for yesterday, and that was - on the contract lists, there's a contract shown to a law firm for a business law reform report. I would like a copy of that contract and I would like a copy of that report. Is the minister prepared to produce those?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I hope that's not a problem. I should be able to table an accord for the president of the House.
Mr. Cable: During the investment tax credit debate, the minister went on - I was going to say "at length." One of the things he said was, "I intend to bring forward a package for the people of the Yukon in the next calendar year, early on, on access to capital and investment vehicles."
Now, are there some terms of reference for that package that he's given to his officials in the Economic Development department?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes. I want it to be a very good one - no, I'm just kidding.
The issues that I have discussed in that debate with the member opposite are very complex in nature. I don't propose to be an expert on that so, in some sense, I guess I have told them I want a good package.
I've spoken of the needs more than the vehicles to address the needs, because that takes contracts expertise. For example, I have identified as a politician, through discussing it with other jurisdictions and with my counterparts in the NWT, the immigrant investment fund as a good vehicle for, at least in part, dealing with finding access to capital for Yukoners and finding new investment and infrastructure, but the details of that particular program are not well-known by me.
I know some of the pitfalls, because I've talked to Premier Morin, and I know that they're in a very bad situation in the NWT, where they've oversubscribed their fund, and now have no products to spend it on, and they're returning money to investors.
So, I have to have good - well, they should return some over here, yeah - but we need to make sure we have the projects too, so that we don't end up in the same situation. And we're identifying those projects.
So the nuts and bolts, the terms of reference I gave the department, are to utilize the vehicles that they need, whether they be internally or the YCEE, to take the access to capital forum recommendations, take the initiatives undertaken by their jurisdictions - they're numerous out there. In rural Manitoba, for example, they have some programs that are very exciting and I think would be helpful - take a look at them, ensure that they meet the Yukon needs, the gaps that were identified in the access to capital forum, and meet this basic criteria that I have, which is I don't want the government to get extensively into the lending business, but I want to find some vehicle to deal with some of the issues that have been identified through the access to capital forum - in that vein.
They'll also be looking at the venture capital loan guarantee program and probably make some extensive changes to it. They will be looking at investment tax credit, labour-sponsored investment tax credits. They will be looking at the immigrant investor fund. They'll be looking at things that have been done to encourage mineral activity tax credits. All of those things will be incorporated in the review.
Not being an expert, I cannot speak too much to the technical nature of them. As a politician, I have said here is a need. I've heard it from the people. You're paid the big bucks; respond to that need in these areas and come up with a package that I could take to the people that has some consensus built around it through whatever vehicle the department chooses, whether it's the YCEE or internally, and deliver for me and for the people.
Mr. Cable: Well, let me say this in a friendly, non-confrontational sort of way. The minister likes to talk and he's quick, but I think we need some focus. What has he given to his department in the way of written terms of reference on this package that he talked about in the investment tax credit debate? Is there some terms of reference, some correspondence, that he gave to his department officials, or does he just wander over there every day with a new idea and they sort of pick up on it and take notes?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Sometimes that happens, in all honesty, and much to their chagrin, but this particular issue - in normal ways, I do not communicate through written decrees. I have briefings with the deputy minister and officials and I explain the agenda. The agenda is clear. For example, the member opposite talks about terms of reference. I'm interested. Perhaps he can tell me more about what he's suggesting for terms of reference, because I just told him that I'm not an expert on these vehicles.
There are a number of ideas that have been put out. There are a number of ideas that I've heard. I have said that I want a package that responds to the problems of Yukoners. It's not my job to read up on, for example, the immigrant investor programs, do a thesis on it and give that to my department. That's their job. That's why they're paid.
Mr. Cable: Okay, well, that's one style of management that might work, but one has to identify the questions. If, in fact, he's not giving them detailed terms of reference, just what are the questions that he's posing to them? It appears from this package he was talking about, during the investment tax credit debate, that he's talking about problems with access to capital and, I assume, problems with investment vehicles. What are those problems that he's asked them to solve?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We have no forum, other than the banks locally. We have no credit unions. We are working on that particular issue to see if there's some way we could encourage some activity in that area. We have rural Yukon that's largely ignored in many cases by the banks in the territory. That's a problem that I need to deal with. We have to look at the problems that occurred with the venture loan guarantee program, which has been picked up by one person since it's been implemented, two and a half years ago. We've had the business development fund, which has had lots of problems. That is a concern. So, we have a whole plethora of problems.
What I have said is that we need some answers. And they've been using, in large part, the focus of the access to capital forum. That's why I brought those people together to come up with ideas and start churning them out - you know, to listen to them - to come up with a package that responds to some of those needs.
I've heard people talk about the need for micro loans, small business startup capital. I've seen models proposed to me in discussions with the department and officials about establishing trust funds from which interest is used to write off bad debts, so you can take a higher level of risk. I've seen any number of models.
I've had numerous discussions with officials about issues like this. I've set wide parameters. I think it is now up to the officials and the people who are paid very well, sometimes utilizing contract services, to come up with a plan. Then I will look at that plan and I will ask, "Does it meet the criteria and the range of objectives that I set initially?" If it does, then I will be sold on it and I will take it out to Yukoners as a proposal. If not, then I have to send them back to the drawing board.
If they have questions, then I ask them, "Do you have questions? Do you understand?" If they do not, then they are clear on the instructions.
So, that's the access to capital.
On the investment side, the problem is we don't have enough investment, frankly. We have no vehicles whatsoever, none have been created, to try and stimulate either local investment or internal. I think we need them. I think we have to take some decisive and some risky steps there. Everyone here in the Legislature now has responded with criticism to immigrant investment fund vehicles, but let me tell you, it doesn't have a 100 percent approval rating out there in the public. There's still some controversy around it, but we decided that we would have to undertake to move the agenda ahead.
Now, I know the Yukon Party, for example, did some work on immigrant investor funds and decided not to do it. I don't know what the reason was. Maybe they thought it wouldn't work or they were worried about the political ramifications. Maybe they thought I would oppose it in opposition. I don't know.
But these are the directives that I give to the department. It's not often, you know, that I put that in written decree, but I certainly have expectations of my deputy minister and, if he is not understanding the direction or if it is not getting down to the department, then I deal with it.
Mr. Cable: Where I'm coming from - and the minister talked about this a moment ago - is that the minister said he was going to test the response the department comes up with against his original objectives. Just what are his original objectives and have those objectives been transmitted? Is he asking his department to get into job creation and stabilization? Are those the terms of reference against which these programs are going to be tested?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I thought I outlined my objectives. My objectives are to respond to the needs that have been identified in the area of access to capital. The ultimate objective has got to be promoting, improving and stabilizing local business, dealing with the issues to some extent - we're not going to deal with them all - in rural Yukon with regard to investment access to capital.
Take the forestry industry, for example. It is a fledgling industry in the territory. What did they need from their government in terms of response? These are the questions that I've asked them.
The objective is clearly job creation. That's the ultimate reason why I would undertake any economic initiative - to try and improve the economic climate, try and improve the gross domestic product of the territory and to try and generate jobs. Sometimes in small business they come one at a time or two at a time, but that's what we try and do.
Mr. Cable: Okay, well, let's talk about job creation. The minister and the leader of the official opposition were talking about this a few moments ago. With respect to this investment tax credit we talked about a week ago, I gather the minister wants to put off decisions on that until this so-called package is available. Is that his thinking?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Excuse me. Could you say that again?
Mr. Cable: Just let me repeat the question. Is the minister in a receiving mode? Okay, well, I'm in a transmission mode, so let's get something going here.
Is the minister prepared to look at the investment tax credit program prior to this package that he's going to bring forward to the people some time in the next calendar year?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'd want to review it in the context of that package. That review is going to be, and is underway right now. So it is part of our agenda, and it's already in the mix.
Mr. Cable: Let me make a point, or an observation, to the minister. His confrères down in British Columbia are desperately trying to restore business confidence that they shattered. Now the business community here is looking for some signal that this government is business friendly, that it knows more than just to have conferences and to talk about issues, that they have some positive programs going, and investment tax credit is just one such program.
The business community desperately needs some positive signal so they can get out and create jobs. Is the minister telling us that he's going to sit around on this academic exercise for a whole year before he starts giving the business community some signals?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Frankly the member opposite doesn't speak for the business community. Not the one that I talk to on a regular basis. I think he's sadly out of touch with them.
Certainly, the Government Leader and I have had regular meetings with the representatives of the major business organizations, and not once have they ever mentioned the member's specific idea. They've identified other needs more comprehensively, but not once.
So that's not to say it's not a good idea, but I just want to tell the member that I must take issue with his preamble to his question. I have not heard that, and I have another meeting on, I think, Monday morning, with all the representatives of the major organizations, and I'll talk to them again about it - with the Government Leader.
With regard to being business friendly, this sign that the business community's desperate, that we are business friendly, again, I don't hear that. I talk to them on a regular basis. I'll ask them that question.
I'm not opposed to hearing that message. I'd love to have that debate. I think we've done many things. The member talks about a program. Well, we've got some programs that are so-called business friendly. We've told the member opposite that we're working on numerous objectives with the business community. To say that we're not showing him any signs, I would take issue with. I don't think that's true.
With regard to B.C., I can't speak for that, although it's very easy to fall in the political trap. The member opposite is a Liberal and I'm sure he's touting Gordon Campbell as the next successor to Premier Clark. However, it's very easy to fall in the trap of looking at the situation in B.C. and getting political about it, but any sane or rational person would have to at least concede, if they were in a non-partisan debate, that B.C. is one of the most resource-dependent provinces in Canada, that they are suffering from the woes of a significant amount of downward pressure in both the forestry, oil and gas, and mining sectors, and that's a problem.
With regard to their other policy issues, I can't speak to that. I didn't agree with the Windy Craggy decision, either.
Mr. Cable: I don't think we're on the same wavelength here. The minister says he hasn't heard from business about the investment tax credit program, yet his department issued a press release on January 7, 1998, talking about the forum that I think he instigated and had Mr. Graham make a report on. The participants - those are, to some extent business persons - identified gaps in education and financing for new and expanding businesses. Accordingly, the major recommendations included, and there were five of them, and one of them was, "Investigating the possibility of investment incentives such as tax credits."
Now, at the forum, the representative from the Yukon Federation of Labour brought up one of the labour options under the tax credit program, so surely the minister has heard the request for a look at the investment tax credit from business. Is he still saying he hasn't heard that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, the member has put it in the context of the business community is crying for a signal that the government is business friendly. That's how he characterizes his question. Well, they're not crying to me that the thing that's going to help them, first and foremost and must be implemented immediately, is the investment tax credit. I have said to them what I am proposing to do about that recommendation and that, from their lips, has been acceptable in terms of a time line, in terms of a working process to deliver on it. So, the member opposite should understand that what I object to is not the premise that I've heard of that before because it's been part of our agenda.
The premise I object to, which he is putting into his statement, is that somehow this idea is being cried for by the business community and held up as some apostle as a signal to the business community that somehow this government is business friendly. I have not heard, in that context, that particular statement made. So, that's where we are disagreeing; not on the merits of investigating, as the recommendation says, the investment tax credit vehicle. We fully intend to do that.
There are business representatives on the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. The leader of the official opposition snorts at that, but I don't think that the business representatives on the Council on the Economy and the Environment are as bad a bunch as he thinks. I think they're fairly credible. I think Mr. Carroll and Mr. Austin and some of these people are going to provide some good advice for government on these types of issues. So, I don't differ with the substance. I differ with the premise of the questioner.
Mr. Cable: Look, I don't think there's any argument about the fact that we have some economic problems right now, and I don't think we're trying to blame them on the Economic Development minister, but he'll have to wear them if he doesn't do something during the term of his office. He has to give business some confidence. Business creates jobs and if he sits around with these ethereal exercises, going back and forth in consultation and forums and what not without bringing forth some positive packages, then he's not going to give business confidence and they're going to create jobs.
The business community is worried right now. If he hasn't picked that up, he just hasn't been listening. So, could I encourage him to move up his schedule on this package that he's talking about?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I can't believe the member opposite would just stand up and say "consultation and forums," as if those are some sort of ridiculous way to talk to Yukoners about the economy and take some steps of action. I just had a press release from one company that just attended my export forum, and they just signed a contract to distribute their product in Australia as a result of that export forum. Well, that's too bad for the member opposite that he can't understand that there's value in that. I think we had 125 participants in that export forum, and I think that the feedback - we did surveys - was tremendously good.
Now, that's not all we're doing, and I agree, the economy is in bad shape. I agree, it could be a lot better. The question is how we deal with it. Do we take the 12-month approach of the Yukon Party? Do we have a vision that's nothing but government spending in the economy? Or do we work with the business community to try and work on some real private sector solutions?
I agree that we have to give some signals to the business community, and we have been giving signals to the business community. Start with a pay-as-you-go budget. Start with no tax increases. Start with investments all over the place in the economy and in training. Start with community development funding in the communities, providing short-term employment, providing projects that are their priorities, dealing with issues.
The members opposite, on one hand, say that the Oil and Gas Act is a great thing, and on the other hand they say that it's going to take Herculean efforts to receive any benefit from it. Well, time will tell. I think that we will see.
But let me just tell the member opposite that I'm doing more than consulting. I am doing more than talking about theories, but I'm also explaining through hard dialogue and discussion and debate with the business community what the limitations are that we face. And, so far, they still want to talk, and actually, the business community is pushing an agenda of talking and meeting and working together. I don't want to do anything to disrupt that, and I think it's a good thing.
If at some point they say to us, "Talk is cheap, we want you to do this, this and this, or we're not going to participate, we don't think you're credible, we don't think you're going to deliver on any of this", then I think I'll have to take another look at this, and I'll have to weigh it out against, you know, the whole thing, depending on how close we are to an election, and the partisan politics that get involved sometimes. I think I'll have to re-examine the relationship. But I tell you, I've taken a very non-partisan approach with business organizations. I've been very impressed with the way that many of the members have worked openly with us. We have good dialogue. They've put forward some good ideas. We're acting on a lot of them, and I want to continue that.
So, I won't stop consulting and I will not stop having forums, even if the Liberal Party doesn't want me to.
Mr. Cable: Well, the minister of spins has been at it again. I didn't say "forums and consultation, bad; action, good". What I said was forums and consultation are good, and action is good, and the business community wants some signals, and they need some signals now. They don't need them a year from now. They need to get a shot of optimism that this government is a friendly face to business.
Now despite the minister's friendly face at a lot of meetings - in Chamber of Commerce meetings - there's an underlying suspicion that this government is not business friendly, so he has to do something. He can't just sit around and talk.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the member's been well-trained by the pied piper to his right, and he's coming up with the same hollow lectures. "The member has to do something," he yells out.
Well, I want to tell the member I'm doing lots of things. I probably listed 50 things today that I'm doing on the economy.
You can't deliver everything at once. You know, we've been in 16 months now. You can't deliver everything all at once. You just can't do it. It doesn't work that way. If the member opposite were ever to get in government - which is not going to happen - he would know that.
I was always very respectful and mindful of that when I was in opposite, the member will full well know. I took a calm, thoughtful, measured, deliberate approach. So, rather than shouting out across to me and criticizing forums and consultation, which is a new one - I thought we were supposed to consult. Don't they always give us criticism for not consulting? I thought we were supposed to do that.
There are not a lot of quick fixes for the economy. Some of the ideas that we put forward are going to help in the short term. Some of the things we've put forward are going to help in the next 12 to 16 months. And, we're going to continue to work with the business community.
I can't believe that the member opposite would work under the premise that, if I announced an investment tax credit, that would somehow be the spark that drives the economy and that the business community is going to jump up and down and sing the praises of our New Democrat government because we did it. Somehow, that premise doesn't really strike a chord, particularly when I'm working on it right now to deliver it. So, the member opposite is barking up the wrong tree.
Mr. Cable: Well, if the member reads the newspapers, he will see his buddy to the south, Mr. Glen Clark, walking into Chamber of Commerce meetings hugging the business community, his arm around them. Of course, he's down about three percent in the polls, so maybe we should have a look at that proposition.
Everybody needs encouragement, the business community included. Let me suggest to the minister that we need some hard action; we need some hard programs. We can keep talking while we're developing the rest of his agenda, but he needs to put something on the table that the business community can get their teeth into.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member opposite's buddy to the south, Mr. Gordon Campbell, is going around bashing First Nations with his anti-land claims agenda and bashing working people and unions. Of course, we know about the cuts he's going to make to health care and education. I'm not asking that member to respond to Gordon Campbell's anti-democratic approach here - I might do it as we get closer to the election campaign.
Even the Liberal leader went down to get closer to this anti-land claims agenda when she was down in Vancouver at the Cordilleran. She set up some meetings with their brethren down south, so we'll have some fun with that in another couple of years, but let's just debate economic development in the Yukon for today, shall we?
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I think that it's important for us all to remember what the economy really means to people in the Yukon. Kaushee's is filled. There's a woman who was just killed in Faro. There are a lot of costs to having a very slow economy and a high unemployment rate, and I think it's important that the minister listens to good ideas, wherever they come from.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I do take that as a bit of a low blow from the member. Somehow, the situation of the economy has been related to the death in Faro and I think that that kind of comment is not helpful. I won't say much more about it.
It is true that the economy is not where I would like it to be, nor is it for many other Yukoners. I will say that that does have an impact on many people in the Yukon and I take that very seriously. This debate is about how we respond to that need and what the limitations are and what the opportunities are. I have heard, not just from the Liberal Party but from business people and citizens, about ideas like the investment tax credit and I am going to deliver on some of those vehicles for the economy.
What more can I say on that issue? I am not not listening. I am doing precisely the opposite. I am acting. There is no more I can say.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, it appears that this minister believes that, if someone in the business community buys him a drink at a cocktail party or doesn't get into a vigorous debate with him as we do in this Legislature, they are supportive of his policies.
I suggest he better sit back and take a little notice of what's going on around him.
Mr. Chair, I want to get back on this CDF issue in Watson Lake, because something doesn't seem to be going right here somewhere. For the record, I want to review for the minister - and I just did talk to my source who is the contractor who has been talking to Help and Hope - that on March 31 at 8:00, he received a call from a representative of the Help and Hope Society saying that he had been awarded the contract. The next day, at 2:30 to 3:00 in the afternoon, he received another call from a representative of the Help and Hope Society telling him that the contract had been rescinded, that they had received a call or had been in discussions with somebody in the minister's department and were told that the tender had to be advertised for 10 days territory-wide.
Now, the minister tried to make light of it when I raised it here before and said, "Well, I suggest that you go back and check with your source." The Member for Watson Lake jumped to his defence and said, "Go back and check with your source." Well, Mr. Chair, I did go back and check with my source. I went back to talk to that same contractor who called me yesterday, and he has not heard any more officially. The Member for Watson Lake has just talked to him and told him that he has the contract, but he hasn't been officially told that he has the contract. So, I'm asking this minister to thoroughly investigate this and get back to me as quickly as possible, because there is something not entirely right here.
I did take the opportunity to review the regulations that the minister's department gave us, and I see no stipulation in those regulations that says the contract has to be advertised territory-wide for 10 days. So, I'd like the minister to clear this up before it gets any more complicated and any more serious.
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Chair, the member opposite has just basically answered his own question. He said that there is nothing in the criteria for CDF that requires this particular bid or tender to be posted territory-wide.
So again, this is a non-issue. Why don't we get on with general debate on the Economic Development department and do some good works around here. This is a non-issue.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, this may be a non-issue for the Member for Watson Lake, who's going to get his $48,000 a year. It is a real issue for the contractor who's being told different stories by different people, and if the Member for Watson Lake is now representing the Minister of Economic Development and says that I answered my own question and that there is nothing in the regulation that says it has to be advertised territory-wide, then why was somebody at Help and Hope told that by a member of this minister's department? We need some answers to this.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, the member opposite is so full of dramatics, it's kind of hard to take, but anyway, I'll bear with him.
In terms of answers, the member opposite - and I welcome the Member for Watson Lake in this debate. It's his riding.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member opposite heckles over that I need some help. There's so much I could say in response to that, but I'll rise above it.
Mr. Chair, I want to say that the member opposite has not established that the Help and Hope demanded that there be a territory-wide tendering. He's not established that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: He thinks he's established it because he said it. Well, he says a lot of things that aren't true - all the time in this House.
Point of order
Mr. Ostashek: Point of order.
The member is using unparliamentary language.
Chair: I ask the member to withdraw the remark.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Mr. Harding: I will, Mr. Chair, and in future I'll be quick to jump up when he says it. So, I'll happily withdraw it and I'll say that he's often less than factual in this Legislature. Again, in this case, I believe he is as well.
I have received some information from my department. The matter was discussed, but there was no directive that they undertake territory-wide tendering. There's a board involved here for the Help and Hope, a very fine board that's discussing it and will handle the issue. It will be handled, and I'm sure it'll be handled in a positive way and that people will go to work in Watson Lake on the job. I'm also hopeful that the Help and Hope can really utilize the facilities that will be built. Unfortunately, they'll have to utilize them, because I'd like it if that shelter was empty, but it doesn't appear that that's the case.
Mr. Ostashek: I don't believe the minister's getting the point here. I've been talking to the contractor, who was directly told by representatives of the Help and Hope Society what they said they had been told by his department. Now, if there's something breaking down in the transmission of that message, then I suggest to the minister that he try to correct it.
The fact remains that this has caused a lot of anxiety for people who have a lot at stake - that's whether they get this contract or not. All that I'm interested in is that there's fairness in the process and that everybody is treated equal, and that misinformation is not being put out by the member's department. That's what my concern is now.
I suggest to the minister that it's in his best interest, and the best interest of all Yukoners, to make certain that the same message has been given to everybody who qualifies for these funds to put up projects. That's what I'm asking the minister to do.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Fair enough. I've told the member that I will investigate it. If there's been a miscommunication by my department that's outside the criteria, we will establish that. If there's a need for an apology, then certainly someone can make that apology to anybody who has been inconvenienced.
However, when there are so many projects around the territory being undertaken - we have lots of people involved, lots of different players in the communities - oftentimes there are transmission wires that get crossed, and these things happen, unfortunately.
I will certainly commit to doing what we can to ensure they happen as little as possible. I don't understand what more the member would want me to do. I don't want anybody to have anxiety over this. This is a positive initiative. It's going to put some people to work. It's going to be a good addition to the community, so I'll deal with any fallout that might have occurred and deal with any problems, and I'm sure the department, which is listening, is concerned, and I will make sure that it's handled properly.
Ms. Duncan: I'd just like to follow up on some comments made earlier by the Minister of Economic Development in the debate.
The minister indicated that he had been dutifully and diligently lobbying the federal minister, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, with regard to mining issues, and I'd just like to state for the record that he's not the only one that's been lobbying in that regard. I, too, offered to buy the minister a pen.
In part, the minister got the message and she instructed senior officials to meet with industry and go through a list of their concerns. That meeting took place on March 26 in Vancouver. I don't know, although I would like some information from the minister, whether or not that meeting, which has a very real impact, of course, on the Yukon, was also attended by the Government of Yukon, either the Deputy Minister of Economic Development or the mining facilitator. Did they attend that meeting?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Absolutely, and we've been extensive players in this debate and acting, providing action - for the Member for Riverside - on this. The member talks about signals to the business community. I've sent lots of signals with my action on this particular issue and I've actually received letters confirming that - which I'll give the member if she's interested; I'm sure she is - congratulating us and our government for that action.
Hopefully, the minister has got the message. I would have liked to have delivered it personally. I want to work with this minister, I really do, in partnership on this economy, but my frustration levels have hit an all-time - actually, I've never spoken out as a minister on permitting issues or really on the federal government at all because I was interested in forwarding an agenda and working with them.
But I can only take that for so long when I don't see the results. I'm pleased about the meeting in Vancouver. We are part of setting that up and pushing that agenda, and I'm pleased the minister is getting the message. I understand it was a very good meeting, from talking to the Chamber of Mines and KPMA yesterday, and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and let's hope we get something happening. Unfortunately, we've already lost a year of Minto, but we will continue to be active and productive players in this discussion.
Ms. Duncan: Well, it's interesting - the minister's response. Let's leave it at that.
One of the key recommended solutions in the meeting that was held in Vancouver was to establish a senior management oversight committee consisting of a number of individuals, including the YTG Deputy Minister of Economic Development.
Now, has the minister been fully briefed on the results of this meeting? And skip the rhetoric about the "Yeah, we're going gung-ho." Have you been fully briefed? Is this senior management committee taking place, and where are we at?
Hon. Mr. Harding: No.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you. I appreciate that.
There's a mines ministers meeting, I believe, tentatively scheduled in May. Is this penciled in in his calendar? Does he have any details on what topics might be on the agenda, and what's on the Government of Yukon's wish list?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I know the Government Leader is meeting the federal minister on April 21. Part of our mining agenda will be brought up then. If the member is talking about a meeting with the minister at the Gold Show, I don't think that is on. Pardon me?
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I was not referring to the Gold Show. As the mining industry is considered, there's hard rock and there's placer mining. I'm talking about hard rock.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I support their position. The Gold Show is the KPMA's show. It's placer mining and bringing all those hard rock miners up. To essentially put a dent in that I don't think would be conducive, in that the time slot was two hours and we have a lot to talk about.
Will we be active in that mine ministers' meeting? We hope actually to take the lead in setting it up, and there have been discussions among my officials and the KPMA and the chambers already. I'm really looking forward to getting an opportunity to participate in these types of issues directly with the federal minister because, as I said earlier, it doesn't happen with the natural resources minister, because, ultimately, he's not responsible for many of the things that affect the Yukon like he is with regard to the provinces.
Ms. Duncan: What I heard the minister say is that there was an initial suggestion that the mines ministers meeting be a two-hour meeting during the Gold Show, and that's not on. I support that position and agree with him. What the minister is saying now is that officials are actively working to set up a separate mines minister meeting for the hard rock industry between the minister, the federal minister and other interested bodies for a date in May, prior to the Gold Show. Is that what the position is now?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We are trying.
Ms. Duncan: And, could the minister provide any details as to specifically what might be on the Government of Yukon's agenda?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, devolution, the land use regulations, the quartz and placer mining acts, federal permitting, cooperation with the Water Board, the development assessment process, how we'll move from those processes to the DAP that is currently in existence, and how the Water Board will be a part, because they're both mandated in the UFA of the development assessment process. We are obviously going to have to prioritize these issues. The Chamber of Mines has developed a list of suggestions to deal with the permitting problems.
Those will be part of the agenda. This is not finalized, obviously, but my officials and the chamber are working on it. This has really only spun out of a meeting that we had yesterday with KPMA and the chamber. Prior to this meeting, some of my officials were meeting with these groups and stakeholders, but we formalized yesterday that yes, indeed, we would work to a greater degree with them and take a larger role, and do whatever, essentially, we need to do as Yukoners to deal with these issues and work very closely with them and the chambers.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to, just for a moment, follow up on the mines minister meeting idea with the Gold Show in Dawson City. The minister will be well-aware that the Yukon placer authorization is due up in the not-too-distant future, and that, of course, requires the cooperation of three federal ministers.
Now, is it his intention to also attend the Gold Show, and is there any suggestion that other ministers might be present at that, for example, the environment or the fisheries minister?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the Government Leader went with me last year, and I don't know if the Government Leader's available this year. I plan to attend. Hopefully the Government Leader can. I haven't discussed it with the environment minister, and we don't have responsibility, obviously, for fisheries. I don't know what his schedule is, but I'm sure he's looking at it.
I committed yesterday to the KPMA that they should talk to my officials about what they need, in terms of governmental position, to help them achieve what their objective is with regard to this authorization.
The committee is experiencing some difficulties right now and that is unfortunate because when they were created, they were a fairly effective body. But the frustration levels have created some burn out and that is not a good thing.
So, I'm interested in solving the problem and working with industry to try and find a way we can support their positions and help them develop them where we can give them some clout and support, and solve the problem.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I think the minister missed the question. What I was getting at was - let me be more direct - is the minister lobbying, or has a request gone in, to have the federal Minister of Fisheries or the federal Minister of the Environment attend the Gold Show? It's often far more productive if federal ministers hear first hand what the problems are. The Yukon has never been in a better position than we are right now with this federal Minister of Fisheries who worked on the very original technical advisory committee on the placer authorization. It often is really helpful if the request goes minister to minister.
Now, what I'm asking is, in terms of the assistance to the placer mining industry, is the minister prepared to make a phone call to the federal Minister of Fisheries and the federal Minister of the Environment and ask them to attend the Gold Show?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I don't think it's a bad idea. I'll tell the member this: we were developing a strategy to deal with this, and part of that might have included the federal minister. There are some meetings to take place with the KPMA and my officials very shortly, maybe even today. I'll have my officials communicate with them to see if they want that, if they can handle it, because they don't want to bring the person here and not be prepared and deliver an off-the-wall message or something that doesn't quite work. You only get limited opportunities. If they're prepared and think it's a good idea, then I'd be more than happy to extend an invitation to the fisheries minister to attend.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I would submit to the minister that not only is KPMA prepared but this particular federal minister would be very well prepared in terms of the discussion. He knows what he's talking about, and he's one of the few individuals ever in that portfolio who understands the placer mining industry.
Earlier, the minister mentioned working with the banks. A number of years ago, in the early 1990s, there was work with and a presentation made by - and I'm not certain I've got the title correct - the Canadian Western Development Bank. They seem to have disappeared between changes of government and changes of ministers and so on. What has ever happened to their proposal of working with the Yukon? Just for the minister's background, I remember them working with a number of Yukon companies, and they were particularly supportive of smaller industries.
I just wonder if there are any discussions ongoing at this point with them.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Not to my knowledge, but I'll have the department get back to the member as soon as we can.
Ms. Duncan: I just have one last question in general debate. It has to do with the corporate tax act, and, again, I'm not sure that I have that title correct. Again, in the change of government in 1992, there were suggestions regarding the corporate tax act and the taxation rate. I don't want to get into a discussion about the taxation rate; what I want to do is talk about an industry that exists in the Yukon. There are a number of law firms, accounting firms, bookkeeping and bank staff that are directly employed as a result of people who locate their corporate headquarters, at least on paper, in the Yukon.
When I was discussing this last with a member of the legal community, I was told that our act in the Yukon was second only to New Brunswick. We had a thriving industry here as a result of this progressive legislation and it was recognized throughout the country and elsewhere, what excellent legislation we have.
However, the person also mentioned making a presentation to the Economic Development minister, as there are a number of points that could be fine tuned in that legislation that would enhance this activity that goes on. Has the minister received any presentations from the legal community in this regard? Is there any talk of enhancing this?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I believe that I received one or two letters. I've certainly at events had discussions raised with me - not to pour cold water on their argument, because I think it has some merit. There's a debate about whether the legislation is second to none.
The member will be aware that there is some resentment about the concept of shell companies being set up here for taxation purposes as opposed to, you know, actually conducting their operations here and employing more than just setting up the offices that a shell does.
So, it's a bit of an issue, but again, I want to incorporate that in terms of a packaged response to stimulating that industry. I think it has to be rolled into the question of investment and how you want to encourage investment in the territory. If you want to target that type of economic activity, that's a policy decision that the government has got to make, and I don't want to sound too negative about it. I think it does have some merit. I'd want it discussed by, say, the Council on the Economy and the Environment. I'd like to see it endorsed by a broader public, because it is a big policy question, and I'm not wedded to one side or the other, nor did we campaign on a commitment to do that. So, I'd like to get some feedback before I stick my head in the lion's mouth.
It is progressive in some senses - I mean, in some people's minds - because there are fewer limitations on citizenship and for boards of directors and all kinds of things that occur in our act. So, I've gone back and forth. I've given on the one hand. On the other hand, I've answered the member opposite, but let me show her that we are looking at it in the context of our investment package.
Ms. Duncan: I can't help but smile at the minister's answer, "on the one hand" and "on the other hand". He's starting to sound like a Liberal.
Just one final comment. I happened to have an opportunity to accept an invitation to attend a luncheon with an, in effect, new supplier in the Yukon, Coneco, who have bought Guaranteed Rentals and have opened a new office here. It was interesting that, in the introductions, they noted that their sales are in excess of $200 million a year and they've opened a branch office, if you will, in the Yukon, and this is a first. I would just like to encourage the minister to offer them his congratulations and welcome them to the Yukon business community, and secondly to pass on the comment that was made repeatedly to me at this particular luncheon, that the Yukon construction industry, mining community, sales of heavy equipment, need some positive signals from the government. They'd really like to see some roads built.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, just before the break, let me say that we will build some roads, and when we get the money from the U.S. Congress, we will build a lot of roads and we will do what we can, balancing demands for roads off with...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the member opposite says, "Use some of your own money." I can't believe this is the same member who benefited economically for years from the NDP negotiated agreement on the Shakwak and who built no schools in four years. In four years, they built no schools. Unfortunately, the request backlogged and now we have to build three schools in four years - and then, of course, we had to deal with the grade reorganization mess left by the Yukon Party. But anyway, we're not complaining; we're not crying.
I think the member makes a good point on road building. We want to. We will. And we will balance out all the needs.
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We are dealing with the estimates, Economic Development. Is there further general debate?
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I have a couple of disjointed questions here that shouldn't take too much debate, but I'm seeking information on them.
One of them is the - what does the minister call that position? - trade and commerce or trade and export facilitator that he has hired? I believe that is a contract position.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Oh, it's a term position. The person is, then, on the government payroll.
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's a term position and therefore they would presumedly be considered on the payroll.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, yes, I was just trying to establish that because there are some constituents asking questions whether he was working on contract or whether he was a government employee or what the actual arrangement was.
The term, I believe, is going to expire in 1999 - or 2000?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It was a two-year term position. That was my understanding. I will provide details for the member as soon as I can.
Mr. Ostashek: In the interim, has the minister any desire or any thoughts about what he's going to do at the end of the two years? Is he going to terminate the term, or is he looking to analyze what's happening and see whether it's going to be created as a permanent position within his department?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, we're investing a lot of money in export trade and investment. The trade facilitator is handling mostly export trade issues. Obviously, we've got to see some product over the next couple of years, and there are many different ways to measure that, but I want to feel comfortable that we're progressing properly.
I do believe that this particular component of the Department of Economic Development is very important. Every other jurisdiction in the country is doing this type of thing, and for us not to have any emphasis on improving our ability to export and create value-added here would be a problem for us. So, I'm hoping we can produce, but I haven't made any formal determination or decision there yet.
Mr. Ostashek: I appreciate that. I can understand the minister wanting to see some results, because we are a small jurisdiction. We do have some things that we can export, but we don't have vast volumes of product that we can export, so it is a very tricky and difficult task.
Could the minister give me some rundown on the history and the qualifications of Mr. Cheng?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I can actually provide an extensive brief for the member opposite, that I have read on his résumé. If he'd like that, I'll do that.
Mr. Cheng, when we announced export trade diversification strategy, expressed some interest to me. He had had discussions with the Yukon government generically many years back about immigrant investor program funding. He was interested in, once again, pursuing that agenda, to some degree. He has some fairly extensive contacts in the far east, and was willing to do some work for us, essentially on an expenses basis, while he was conducting some of his own business, at our request, to identify some opportunities.
So, we decided that we would take some risk in terms of pursuing this new approach with a citizen of the Yukon, and try and realize on some of those opportunities that a local business person here has and bring them home.
So, I can provide the member with Mr. Cheng's résumé. I've explained the rationale for the agreement we've made with Mr. Cheng.
Mr. Ostashek: I don't want the minister to get me wrong. I'm not criticizing him for entering into this agreement. In fact, it may have some merit. I'm just trying to get my head wrapped around why Mr. Cheng. Is he a Yukon resident?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, he has family here in the Yukon. Absolutely. He operates a business. Actually, I think he has a couple of businesses. He has a family here. I don't want to bring them all up on the floor of the Legislature. I know his family. He's a resident of the Yukon, as far as I'm aware. I certainly know that members of his family are. The answer is yes.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm not looking for personal information. What is his field of expertise?
Hon. Mr. Harding: He operates businesses here locally. I don't really want to bring his personal businesses into this unless it's demanded in some forum. Obviously, I would have to if the member opposite pushed me in Question Period or whatever - I probably would have to. I don't necessarily want to put him through that kind of public scrutiny if I can help it.
I don't know how I can respond to that other than to say he has a number of businesses here - a restaurant most notably. He has had some experience in exporting various products in the Yukon and abroad. He was involved in financial institutions in his native country and all of that will be part of the résumé that I provide to the member opposite.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I appreciate the résumé. The résumé is one thing, but I need to get a little more in-depth. I'm trying to get a better understanding of why Mr. Cheng, other than the fact that he put a proposal in front of the minister? How long has he been in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'll provide that information to the member. Mr. Cheng is a - in terms of why Mr. Cheng? Mr. Cheng did put a proposal - actually, not essentially to the minister at first but started talking to the department about what we wanted to do, what we wanted to accomplish.
In terms of trying to open up contacts for the Yukon, depending on the costs, we would not be limited to utilizing Mr. Cheng. As I said publicly, if there are other people in the Yukon who do business elsewhere and can possibly benefit the Yukon, we'd be prepared to take a look at utilizing those opportunities as well. To me, it's cost effective. There is some risk but I feel fairly confident in Mr. Cheng. His credentials are fairly tight and he's a Yukoner.
Mr. Ostashek: That could well be, but I guess I just need to get a little more in-depth information. The best way to get it is by asking the minister questions.
We were very successful in working through the Canadian consulates in different jurisdictions to make contacts with business communities, and that's not the be-all and end-all to making contacts overseas. That's why I was trying to get my head wrapped around what kind of expertise Mr. Cheng had, his familiarity with the Yukon, and what type of contacts he had and where his contacts are. Does this gentleman do extensive business travel abroad? What kind of a working arrangement does the minister's department have with Mr. Cheng?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, they have a lot of contact. The trade facilitator has regular discussions and meetings. Information is provided as a result of the trips that this particular business person takes. He does travel abroad fairly often, and sometimes he does business for the government, sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes we request it, sometimes he suggests it.
Essentially, all we do is pay, in most cases, costs that he might incur as a result of a request of ours to attend a particular meeting or to visit a particular place where we are interested in a particular subject.
Sometimes he makes those suggestions, and we have to decide whether we want to accept them or not. So, the type of contacts that he has are in the field of work that he has undertaken, and in dealing with products for export, obviously, coming from financial institutions, he knows people who have investment capital, knows people who are interested in products. There has been an expression of interest in minerals, for example, like gold and those types of products - First Nations culture. There have been expressions of interest in tourism and all of those kinds of areas that are obvious opportunities for Yukoners.
We also use Canadian consulates, quite frankly. They're helpful, but they're very busy, and we're not always able to get the direct relationships generated out of that forum.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that. One of the initiatives that was undertaken by my government when we travelled abroad was to spend some time at the Canadian consulates and to make contact with a specific person within the Canadian consulate so that if we needed anything in that area, we knew exactly who to get to. And I can tell the minister that that worked very successfully for us when we needed to contact people over there after we had come back. Because we were on a first-name basis with a person in the consulate, it worked very well.
Now, I appreciate that they don't stay in those consulates forever. They do move to other consulates, but we still have that arrangement. I know that one person that I worked with in Korea very early in my mandate ended up being in China, and I ran into him again when I was over there.
My understanding with trade, especially in the Asia-Pacific regions, is that most of the imports into those countries, which would be exports from our area, go through trading houses. Is the minister confident that Mr. Cheng has a good repertoire of trading houses that he has good contacts into?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I wouldn't want to go into too much detail on that at this point for the reason that there are some subtleties that have to be discussed with various players, particularly our partners in the common regime, so we have to work things through with them. I wouldn't want to start playing a speculation game on the floor of the Legislature and have that end up blowing up, so to speak, or have a blow-out over that.
Mr. Ostashek: Is the oil and gas sector of the minister's department now fully staffed? Are all positions filled? Is everything running on all cylinders?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We have added some resources to them. Obviously, as activity is generated, it will not be big enough - depending the level of activity - to handle it all. We've added resources this year in the budget. They would probably argue they need more. They're working very hard and they're a really good group of people there. They're pretty dedicated to seeing this through. So, no, it's not up to the number of staff that I hope it will need to support the industry we're going to have.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, before our act can take effect, the act has to be rescinded at the federal level, as is my understanding. This is now April. The federal House usually adjourns in early June. What assurances has the minister got that the federal government will live up to its commitment to rescind their Oil and Gas Act in this sitting of their Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Harding: We have strong assurances, as the member knows. The bill went through third reading already and we want to see the agenda completed.
Mr. Cable: I asked earlier for a list of policy initiatives and the minister indicated he would produce it.
The next question I have for the minister: are there any legislative initiatives underway? Is the minister seeking to amend the Economic Development Act, for example? Are there any other pieces of legislation that he has his officials working on?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There are regulations. For example, in the Oil and Gas Act, there is extensive regulation work, but nothing extensive in legislation. There may be some minor bills we bring forward but no major pieces. The Oil and Gas Act was one, but until we get hold of the mining industry and forestry, it's going to be difficult. I know that the forestry commission is making some suggestions for legislation that Economic Development have a large role in, but not right now.
Mr. Cable: I've asked questions of the minister before on the community development fund and whether he was prepared to put some legislative cloth around that fund - that program. My understanding was that he didn't put a definite "no" on the table. What is his position today?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It's working just fine, Mr. Chair, and I wouldn't want to fix something that ain't broke.
Mr. Cable: Well, there are different views on that. One of the problems that we have here - and I know the minister likes to put a spin on us being against everything that's good in the world, because we oppose the way he is allocating funds - is that there's some concern with the process of the allocation of funds under the community development fund.
Now, the old business development fund, of course, had a statute around it and it had a board that dealt with applications.
Why does the minister express such reservation about that approach? There is a history of that approach to government programs.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The beauty of the CDF is it responds quickly and non-bureaucratically to the communities and priorities that are put forward.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: The members opposite, in the Yukon Party, can cackle about it but I've approved a number of projects in ridings that this government certainly doesn't represent, and we do it because we respond to community priorities and community needs.
I don't think it's needed, and I think the community development fund is working very well. Certainly, that's the feedback we're getting. People who aren't successful often complain that they don't like the process or the decision, but that's part of the things you have to deal with.
Mr. Cable: Well, there's also a perceptual problem, of course, that the minister has this pail of gold here that he sort of digs into with his shovel and shovels it out, rather than through some objective terms of reference.
I think other programs have either boards or groups that look at the various applications and process them and have some rigid terms of reference.
Is the minister saying that the business development fund, when it was operational, did not respond quickly enough to people's needs? Is it a time problem? Is that his problem with taking it out of his office and putting it into the hands of an independent board?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I don't think that we have any perception problem. The criticisms I hear come mainly from the Liberals and Tories.
Let's look at the product of what has happened so far with the community development fund. Let's look at the projects that we've handed out contributions for and on which we've worked with these communities' priorities. Rather than have an artificial debate about something that isn't broken, I would rather we focused on what the actual projects are.
There are so many good ones and so many worthy ones that I just don't think that the member opposite has made the case that the fund, in the way it's administered, is improper. I haven't examined thoroughly the pros and cons of the business development fund, so I'm not in a position to say whether it was effective in entirety or not. I do know that the CDF board, as it's envisioned right now, and the way the fund is working, is.
Mr. Cable: Well, I think there are any number of worthy causes that are worthy of government assistance. That's not the issue. I'm sure the minister can put that list in front of us and we'll all nod our heads in agreement. But, there are probably a number of other people in organizations that would like some funding. As long as it's run out of the minister's office, in effect, there's a suspicion that there's a bit of pork barrelling attached to it. That's the problem that we have, on this side of the House.
I'm surprised the minister hasn't appreciated that fact. Has he turned thumbs down completely on putting some statutory terms of reference around this fund?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Au contraire. We can keep this discussion going for the next couple of years. I have no problem with that. There's no need to turn the suggestion down out of hand, but I think that, ultimately, we'll be accountable.
The members opposite can raise concerns about pork-barrelling. I don't know what my objective would be to approve the four or five projects we've approved in Dawson City, for example, for pork barrelling, when we don't even represent that riding. However, I will say to the member opposite that we will be accountable for our decisions in the minds of the public.
Mr. Cable: Well let's talk about something we might agree on. The minister was down beating on the federal DIAND minister's door, and I guess she didn't answer. One of the topics he wanted to talk about was the flexible-term note between the Government of Canada and this government in relation to the purchase of the NCPC assets.
Now I gather in that agreement there are two terms that reflect the fact that the demand may drop off precipitously with the Faro mine off the system, and one of them operates at a certain level, at a certain threshold, to postpone payment, and another one operates so as to forgive payment. Is my understanding of the terms of that note correct?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The deferral is the issue we discussed mainly. I'm not entirely sure about the outright forgiveness of the agreement. Let me just say that I didn't beat on the federal minister's door. I was eminently polite and started asking for meetings weeks before the eventual meeting with the parliamentary secretary took place.
The meeting was polite and respectful, and I put forward our points. However, I had hoped that there would be more of a response and more of an exchange about the points at the meeting. That did not take place. However, all is not lost. We will see what the results are.
Mr. Cable: I was told by the leader of the official opposition that the forgiveness clause has been negotiated. One note was taken to the bank and paid off.
But in any event, what I hear the minister saying is that he is working on the deferment provision when he is trying to get the Government of Canada to accommodate the seasonal use of power. As I understand it, the Energy Corporation wants to provide power either off-season or off-peak, and to do so would trigger the note with Canada, and there are some problems with the note. If we bump the load up, then the deferment clause won't kick in. Have I understood the mechanics of the problem?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There are a couple of problems. There are two issues I raised. One was the issue of secondary sales - the fact that we're penalized in the formula when we sell essentially surplus power over a certain level. The Energy Corporation ends up losing. The second issue is with regard to the deferral. The threshold that was estimated for when the Faro mine was off the grid was essentially too high, and what we found - given the experience of three shutdowns since the note has been negotiated - is that the threshold does not meet what are the actual occurrence of power generation.
So, the proposal is that there be some reduction of that threshold. And this would be a cost item to the federal government, in terms of finances, mind. Because they're expecting certain revenues as a result of it, they've essentially figured out that no matter whether the mine is up or down, there's a payment expected. That helps them, but it doesn't really help us.
Mr. Cable: Just to be clear, what is the minister after with the federal minister? Is he after deferment or forgiveness?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I'm asking for forgiveness.
Mr. Cable: I take it, then, he wants to renegotiate the note itself and he wants to change the threshold levels. Is that basically what he's saying?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, I'd like to change the threshold level. One way or t'other, it's got to be made more effective, and I think the original intent of the agreement is clear. Finance and the feds take a different approach. However, we have an economic problem here. If they want to characterize a solution as something additional, I couldn't care less. They could put a red ribbon around it, I don't care. Whatever way they want to box it or sell it is fine with me. I'll tell Yukoners it's a good thing that they did if they do something.
Mr. Cable: Okay, just so we understand where the minister's coming from. When he talks about these secondary sales, is he talking about seasonal sales or off-peak sales?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The issue of secondary sales, because I didn't bring my Energy Corp. briefing book down to this debate, is fairly complex. The way I understand it, we're not talking seasonal, we're talking surplus.
Mr. Cable: And that surplus would, at this particular time, be generated by hydro or would that be fossil-fuel generated electricity?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It could be either, depending on the season. I think we probably have some surplus hydro even now.
Mr. Cable: Is there any displacement of carbon dioxide fuels anticipated in these secondary sales, something that we could have the federal government bite on in the way of carbon dioxide reduction? I've run this up the flagpole with the Energy Corporation and I think I've got the answer. I think the answer is "no" but maybe the minister could let me know.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I think it's possible, but I don't know where you'd find the displacement mechanism. You'd only get credit for it if you, as a result of some action you took, were burning less fossil fuels, and that would not necessarily occur in this case.
Mr. Cable: So basically what the minister wants to tell the federal government is: give us some more money, because the economy is not doing well. Here's one way that it can be done: it can be done through the terms of the note that relates to the NCPC assets purchase. Is that basically what he's saying?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, he may want to characterize it that way, but I think that would be detrimental to the interests of Yukoners.
I think that what we have is a situation where the federal government has some responsibility to the economy. We have concerns about energy costs in the territory. There was an agreement struck in 1987, when the factors surrounding this territory were much different. We've since seen the mine in Faro go down three times. The threshold levels that were established were too high. We've not seen the easement that would help our rates and, secondly, the issue around secondary sales is quite punitive.
So, we're asking for some addressing of those issues. There will be a cost item - in Finance's mind - associated with that, because if it's budgeted in, obviously it might come out of other programs. That is going to have to be a push from the federal minister.
So, we are asking for some action on these issues with a cost item. I think it's more than just going to Ottawa and saying, give us a blank cheque. I think it's dealing with long-standing issues of concern and a process that led to a negotiation that probably didn't deal with the issues, given all of the information we now have, that it possibly could have.
Mr. Cable: I wasn't suggesting that the minister didn't have a good idea. I'm just wondering whether he has a global problem - that's a problem of securing some more funds from DIAND - or whether it's simply an energy problem. Perhaps his terms of reference are too narrow.
In any event, on the mining front, it's my understanding that the forecast for exploration is down. Is that the minister's information?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Relatively speaking to the rest of the country, no; to look at the Yukon alone, yes.
Mr. Cable: Have we got the figures? Has his department forecast numbers that we can get our teeth into?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The numbers usually come from two sources. The feds do an estimate, and the chamber does an estimate. I don't think all the chamber's information is in yet. When I last talked to the executive director, they were sending out their surveys and getting the information compiled, so I don't think it's complete yet.
Mr. Cable: Do we have some sense of the relative order of reduction? Does the minister expect it to come in at 10 percent, or 25 percent, or 50 percent, or 100 percent? What's he expecting for exploration in the summer of 1998.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I think it'll be very close to the vicinity it was in last year. I guess it was about $36 million.
Mr. Cable: I have another issue that I would like to get the minister's thoughts on. I raised it in the Executive Council Office debate, and that is the freedom of information as it relates to money that is granted by the government. There seems to be a fair amount of secrecy surrounding government loans and what not to people that get government money under various programs.
I think, if I remember correctly, everything was on the table with respect to the Loki loan. It was a one-shot loan, under the YISP. What are this minister's feelings? Should all information relating to government loans and government guarantees, where the government has exposure, be available to the public, or is there some reason for secrecy?
Hon. Mr. Harding: There could be. I remember listening to part of this debate and I remember the frustration the Government Leader expressed. As a general proposition, I would like to see a good level of disclosure about issues that pertain to taxpayer expenditures.
Sometimes there are reasons that preclude that. As a general objective, whenever agreements are entered into, we try and push for as much disclosure as possible, but often compelling arguments are made that support a notion to the contrary. So, that's the answer.
Mr. Cable: Well, let me suggest that it's not a very good answer. Let me suggest to the minister that the onus should be on someone, when they're borrowing money, to provide a really, really good reason why the information should not be published, and we should start with a baseline saying that the information will be public, so that when people apply for government handouts or government loans or government guarantees, they know that their relationship with the government is going to be spelled out if people want to find out about it. What's wrong with that proposition?
Hon. Mr. Harding: You know, it's funny. I hear "Hear, hear," coming from the leader of the official opposition, yet I remember the former Member for Riverdale South slamming away for weeks on end to get the information about economic development loans and BDFs.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I'm actually going to be re-evaluating that policy. Let me just say that there are some compelling reasons to make more of that public.
Mr. Cable: Well, I can remember the minister waving around a certain document in the House here, for political purposes, and what I suggest to him is that it's in everybody's interests that, for money that is given by his department, the terms of reference should be known and the security document should be known and the loan agreement should be known so that the efficacy of the programs can be judged. It isn't just a matter of whistling a document out here when it's politically astute to do so.
I'll just leave the minister to think about that.
I have some questions for the minister. I put a written question on the Order Paper that related to his rate stabilization fund. These were put on on March 24 - what's that, a little over a week, about 10 days ago. Are we going to get answers on those in some timely fashion so that we can use them for purposes of debate on Monday?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I don't know if they'll be answered by Monday. I welcome you to discuss the issue with the energy commissioner who is handling the consultations surrounding it.
Mr. Cable: Well, I'm told that written questions have to be put to ministers, not commissioners, and that's the reason the questions were put to the minister.
They're fairly straightforward questions. I think they can be answered very, very quickly and allow us to ask questions on just what this rate stabilization fund is about. So, could I encourage the minister to have a little more hands-on in relation to that written question? It is directed to him.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I will try to get that response as soon as possible. If there are areas of the fund he'd like to discuss, I'd invite him to ask me or the commissioner in debate and I'll try to answer the questions as soon as I can.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: I'd just like to explore with the minister the issue of Northern Cross and the test program that they had originally in place with the Energy Corporation to utilize their petroleum product to burn in their diesel generators. Does the minister envision that this program is going to come to fruition or has it been cancelled?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I have a meeting with Northern Cross tomorrow morning. I intend to get more details. The Energy Corporation, as I understand it from talking to the board and the president, has made some overtures - and Northern Cross has to the community of Dawson. There was some concern expressed by the mayor, as the member well knows, about the generating facilities for energy, and there was some concern that there would be a negative reaction from the mayor and council because they were expressing, at least in a preliminary sense, some worry about harm to the generating system as well as emissions.
The Town of Faro, conversely, which is another area where there's an appropriate setup for the burn, has aggressively pursued Northern Cross' fuel for a test.
So, it's certainly my hope that the test gets concluded, one way or the other.
Mr. Jenkins: For the minister's information, the concern raised in Dawson was the location of the storage tank and the scrubbing equipment, and whether any emissions were going to be emitted from the storage facility in Callison.
Could the minister provide some time lines as to when he envisions this project might get underway?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I didn't give an extensive list of the concerns raised by the City of Dawson. Certainly there were concerns raised about the generating facility and the health of them. I also knew about the issue of the storage tanks.
With regard to time lines, it's going to depend on getting the appropriate facilities and the appropriate communities to agree with Northern Cross and the Energy Corporation to proceed. We'd like to do it as soon as possible. We'd like to do it as quickly as it could be done, but we don't want to alienate or end up in a dispute with the communities that could possibly do this test, because I think it's a positive thing. I want to keep it that way.
Mr. Jenkins: Has the minister got any indication, Mr. Chair, as to the quality of the product being extracted from the field by Northern Cross?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'm not a technician by any means, but I have heard from Northern Cross that they're pleased with the work they did accomplish. They didn't get as much work done as they wanted to. They actually need a 100-day window to do the appropriate float test that they were interested in, but I'll be fleshing this out more with them tomorrow and getting some more indication from them about how serious they are and how happy they are with their results.
Mr. Jenkins: After the minister's meeting with Northern Cross tomorrow, would he be prepared to bring back a report as to just exactly where we are on this project?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, yes, I think obviously we will probably be back in general debate on Monday. So, I welcome some questions in Committee.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress at this time.
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 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. next Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:26 p.m.