Thursday, April 9, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Tribute to Sarah Abel on her 102nd birthday
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to pay special tribute to a very respected elder of Old Crow, Sarah Abel. Tomorrow is Sarah's 102nd birthday, and I ask all members to join me in wishing her the very best on this momentous milestone.
Mr. Phillips: We too would like to join with the government on behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and also extend warm wishes to Sarah on her 102nd birthday. As many Yukoners know, Sarah is well-known and respected elder in Old Crow - in your community, Mr. Speaker - and over the years, Sarah has made significant and countless contributions to her community, to the Yukon and to the First Nations people.
Mr. Speaker, I've had an opportunity, as you know, to meet Sarah Abel on several occasions and I've always enjoyed her great sense of humour and her sharpness at this age. Some of us in this House could wish we were as sharp as Sarah Abel at 102 years old. She's a wonderful person and a great role model for the people of Old Crow and I wish her well on her 102nd birthday and may she have many more.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: On behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus, we would also like to extend our very best wishes to Sarah Abel on her 102nd birthday.
In remembrance of Mary Burian
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, while I'm on my feet, I would also like to pay tribute to the late Mary Burian. Mary was the beloved wife and partner of René Burian. René had his main home on the Stewart River, 26 miles below Mayo where he had the Stewart River area contract with White Pass to supply wood for the steamboats. When the steamboats quit running, René and Mary moved to Mayo where they had a garage business and later worked for United Keno Hill Mines.
They subsequently retired to Whitehorse. I met the Burians through long-time friends from Mayo and what I will remember most about Mary was her warmth and her kindness. Her smile spoke volumes about her as an individual and truly came from the heart. She will be missed by René and their many friends throughout the Yukon. Our sincere condolences to those whose lives she touched.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I rise today to also pay tribute to a long-time Yukoner, the late Mary Burian. I had the opportunity to meet Mary first in Mayo and on a number of other occasions in my subsequent travels into Whitehorse. Over the years, I recall Mary to be a very kind person with a great love for the Yukon.
Having touched the lives of many across the Yukon, Mary will be remembered fondly and missed by many, her husband René and son Harvey, who have our deepest sympathies.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Ms. Duncan: I'm very pleased to welcome to our Legislature today Ms. Nina Johal and Mr. Wes Sullivan's grade 11 classes from Porter Creek Secondary School. I'm sure all members will join me in welcoming them to the House today.
Speaker: Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Mr. McRobb: I have for tabling the energy options questionnaire, a discussion paper on community energy management, and another on the proposed rate stabilization fund, all of which are part of the Cabinet Commission on Energy's public consultation process that is occurring now and during the next month in Yukon communities.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Fentie: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that:
(a) the interests of Yukon people are not represented by an appointed and unaccountable Senate;
(b) an unelected Senate is neither useful nor suitable to the needs of a modern, parliamentary democracy; and
(c) neither the present Government of Canada nor any of its predecessors has demonstrated the necessary political will to abolish this undemocratic institution; and
THAT this House urges the Prime Minister of Canada to leave any present or future vacancies in the Red Chamber unfilled until such time as the Constitution Act can be amended to abolish the Senate of Canada.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
Home intravenous drug program
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I could barely hear you over the enthusiastic reception that that motion received.
Today I rise in keeping with our government's policy of fostering safe, healthy communities, to inform this House of a new initiative that will expand health care options for people in the Yukon. We are taking the important first step of development of a home intravenous therapy program. The pilot project offered through the home care program in partnership with Whitehorse General Hospital will be operating by this fall.
Through this initiative, patients will receive prescription drugs, supplies and careful teaching, so that they can continue their intravenous treatment at home. At present, Yukon residents who require intravenous drug therapy after being discharged from the hospital must often return as out-patients, sometimes as many as four times a day for up to 10 days.
In addition to the stress of illness that the patients already face, these repeat visits add the burdens of transportation to and from hospital, as well as the need to provide care for their dependants.
This program will help relieve those burdens.
Over the past year, Whitehorse General Hospital and the Department of Health and Social Services have established criteria to guide the pilot project based on a self-care model. The client and/or the care giver will be trained and supported in the administration of intravenous medication.
Selection criteria will screen appropriate patients into the program to reduce the associated risks and provide more assurance that patients will comply with the prescribed treatment. Where treatment at the hospital is required, it will still be available in the same way.
We have provided funds for a home care nurse to support this program. The nurse will establish program policies and guidelines, develop educational materials for nursing staff and clients, train staff and be part of the evaluation/advisory committee.
Mr. Speaker, this is a small-scale program that can have a huge impact on those who use it. By introducing the home intravenous therapy program, we will realize cost savings within the health care system, at minimal cost increase to home care.
But more importantly, Mr. Speaker, we believe that this approach can make a difference in patient recovery. Not only is it more convenient for the patient, but it gives them more control over their own health.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I'm pleased to respond to the minister's statement regarding the home intravenous drug program. We would like to offer our support for this initiative.
The introduction of the home intravenous drug program will certainly benefit many Yukoners, old and young alike. Not only will it prove to be more convenient for the patient, it will also prove to realize cost savings within our health care system.
From a rural perspective, I would like to ask the minister if the intravenous drug therapy is available in rural Yukon - or will it be? If so, could the minister tell me if there are any plans in the not-too-distant future to expand this program to include Dawson, Faro and Watson Lake. I would like to also know if other jurisdictions in Canada have adopted similar programs like this one.
The minister made reference to selection criteria to screen appropriate patients into the program. Perhaps the minister could tell us some of the background about what this criteria will be.
How much will this program cost? For example, the minister said that funds will be provided for a home care nurse to administer the program. Is this an existing position, or will this be a new position? How many of the staff are expected to be trained in this regard?
The minister also referred to an evaluation advisory committee. Is this an existing body that is going to oversee this new initiative or will a new committee be created solely to address the home intravenous drug program?
Perhaps the minister could tell members a bit more about this body and its makeup.
Mrs. Edelman: I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to respond to this ministerial statement on the new home intravenous program.
Mr. Speaker, this type of program has been in existence in other jurisdictions for quite some time. It is a money saver, and it is a more efficient and user-friendly way of dealing with a minor medical management issue.
This pilot program has been in the works for quite some time. As a matter of fact, a private sector company offered to deliver this service for Whitehorse over two years ago, though apparently the government wasn't interested in that approach at the time.
Mr. Speaker, coming up to Emergency every four to six hours to get IV drugs for everything from abscesses to pneumonia is an inconvenience. It is also a tremendous use of resources in what is really a department that should be dedicated to emergency care.
Of course, I too have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services about the program. Will the home care nurse assigned to this program be available on weekends or after hours? Are there plans to deliver a similar program in rural Yukon? Will this program also be used for chemo, which is poisonous? And, finally, will there be an assessment of this pilot project to determine whether it is indeed being used for what it was intended, whether it is over or under staffed and resourced, whether there is sufficient risk management built into the program, and whether it does, in fact, save money?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'd like to thank the members for their support for this initiative. Let me just identify some of the questions that were raised initially. The maximum anticipated cost of this program is about $52,000. The expectations are that it'll be about $45,000 for the pilot project. This will include about $22,000 for medications, which is very consistent with some of the out-patient costs that we're currently undergoing.
It's expected that the duration of this IV treatment will be in excess of 72 hours so, basically, if we're looking at something under that, it would be probably more efficient to administer it out of the hospital.
This is a new staff position. The program has been developed in partnership with the Whitehorse General Hospital, so there will be an ongoing evaluation between ourselves and the hospital, as well as through our home care services, to find out if this indeed does produce benefits.
As the Member for Riverdale South has indicated, this is a program that has been in place in other parts of Canada, and we feel that we are at a level now where, given our hospital intake and given the fact that many of our senior citizens need this kind of service, we can be delivering it.
With regard to the finalization of criteria selection, we'll be doing an evaluation based on people whose illnesses, we feel, can be managed, that the risks are acceptable, that they're not excessive. There are, for example, liability issues. The individual themselves or the support person would have to be willing to learn the concepts and skills necessary to practise this. Initially, what we are looking at is the Whitehorse area and I think what we would be doing is evaluating it after a period of time to see the effectiveness and probably discussing whether such a program could be delivered in outlying areas.
With regard to some issues such as chemotherapy, we will be maintaining the service central line for patients undergoing chemotherapy. Because of the toxicity of chemo, that may not be appropriate for such treatment, given the nature of the drugs. I hope this adds to the members' knowledge of this program.
Thank you once again for your support.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Job creation/unemployment statistics
Mr. Ostashek: My question is to the Minister of Economic Development on Yukon's unacceptable unemployment rate. Statistics Canada just released the unemployment figures for March and they don't paint a very pretty picture for the Yukon. The unemployment rate is 15.7 percent and would've been much higher if 300 Yukoners hadn't given up looking for work. Three hundred people have given up looking for work. There are 2,400 on the unemployment rolls, and at the same time, the government workforce has grown by 800 people. Something is out of sync here somewhere, Mr. Speaker.
Also, on the same topic, changes to the Employment Insurance Act have made it so the numbers of unemployed are now understated. So, in fact, the picture is much bleaker than what the numbers paint.
My question to the minister is this: does this government have any contingency plan to help Yukoners get back to work, because this 1998-99 budget certainly didn't have any plans?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have to emphatically rebuke the challenge or the allegation that our government workforce has grown by 800. That's completely false. Our O&M costs have flat-lined, with the exception of the phase 2 health transfer. That's the only growth in FTEs in this government. The numbers that the member was referring to was a wide swath of government workforce.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, I will say to the member opposite that, while we are concerned about the unemployment rate, I would remind the Yukon Party that in 1993 the unemployment rate when the Faro mine was lost hit in March 15.7 percent, in April 16.5 percent, in May of that year 17.3 percent; the following year, in 1994, it was over 14 percent. This is not acceptable but it is something that happens when you have such a huge major employer going down, and unfortunately those jobs are not going to be around for awhile.
So, Mr. Speaker, we do have a strategy. We've been targeting youth unemployment with Youth Works, with community development funding, with supporting programs for young entrepreneurs that Dana Naye Ventures is running. We've been putting hundreds of person weeks of employment in the communities and the community development fund: the capital works that are starting to take hold.
It looks good and there's even a possibility for some Shakwak funding this year. We hear that one of the major Yukon contractors may get a large road job. Metal prices have shown some increases.
Mr. Speaker, we're also looking at trying to work with the private sector on trade investment diversification initiatives. We're looking at all options.
We've recently learned that the Minto mine is not going to go ahead due to federal permitting problems this year. That was a blow. And it's becoming clear from the courts today in Toronto that we won't see a resumption of operations at Anvil for at least a few months.
So, we are looking at all options on the economy, Mr. Speaker, and we do have a contingency plan. The items are just too numerous to mention in Question Period.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister's had about six weeks to mention them and Yukoners are still waiting for something of any substance.
Mr. Speaker, the fact remains that this minister and this government blame everybody else for their problems. They're not prepared to accept responsibility for their actions - or inactions.
When we had those unemployment rates in 1993, the Yukon Party did something to put Yukoners back to work. Mr. Speaker, the now-Minister of Economic Development, in August 1996, when Yukon's unemployment had been reduced to 7.7 percent, severely criticized us because it was still too high and totally unacceptable to the NDP and Yukoners. Now we have a disgraceful 15.7 percent unemployment rate.
I will ask the minister once again: what action is he going to take to put Yukoners to work, other than building ball diamonds and giant chess sets in Faro?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, first of all, a lot of community development funding projects around this territory have been received very well. I don't what he's referring to about chess boards. I think that's a game he likes to play.
However, I would say to him that on this question it's checkmate, because we will not do what the Yukon Party did when the unemployment rate was high because, when he said he took action, all he did was raise Yukoners' taxes. He brought in massive tax hikes, when he said they were obscene to Yukon people. Then he took that money out of Yukoners' pockets and created an injection of an artificial economy, based entirely on the public sector. That's not what we're going to do.
The member opposite also, when he was in government, had the biggest spending budgets in Yukon history. What he did was use U.S. Congress money - the Shakwak money - to put people to work, and federal money - $50 million for the hospital transfer - to put people to work. We don't have those options right now. We're hopeful that the U.S. Congress comes through with some funding and we will use that, as well, as he did, to put people to work.
We will not raise taxes, as he did. We will not run an accumulated debt to respond in some knee-jerk fashion to this problem. I've outlined so many initiatives that we've been undertaking to try and get people to work.
I know the member opposite doesn't believe in investment in the community of Faro or any of the rural communities, because he believes that they should just dry up and go away. We don't support that in the NDP, thanks.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, we've told that minister and that government many, many times this session that if they felt that the tax increases weren't required, they have the ability to give them back. They have the ability to give the two percent back to the unions, if it isn't required. But, no, they just sit there and espouse political rhetoric. What they don't have is a vision for the future of the Yukon. That's what they don't have.
When the February statistics came out and stood at 13 percent, one union leader complained that there were 700 union members out of work as a result of the closure of the Faro mine and was quoted as saying, "There's absolutely no work in the Yukon."
These are the minister's own constituents, Mr. Speaker. I would like him to tell them here today what he's going to do to help put them back to work.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, the members opposite, when they were on this side, used to stand up and say that they didn't like Bob Rae's approach to the economy. Now it seems like they've adopted that wholeheartedly, and they feel that the only way that you can work on an economic situation as a government is to inject government spending or taxation into an economy.
We believe that we have a vision for the economy that outlines numerous initiatives, from targeting youth unemployment to community development investment to the CDF. And yes, Mr. Speaker, my constituents will be working on the ball field and other CDF projects that we've approved in the area, as will communities who've benefited from the CDF: Ross River, Teslin, Watson Lake - and the list goes on and on - Dawson City. They have projects that were community priorities that we approved.
That's not where we stopped in the community of Faro. We're also investing in training and many other things.
But, Mr. Speaker, we are investing millions and millions in capital works. We have a trade investment diversification strategy. In May, I'll be going to Calgary to unveil before the oil and gas industry the Yukon Oil and Gas Act. There's a lot of interest from industry in the Yukon, which should be good for the Yukon in terms of creating jobs. We have a vision that includes protected spaces, which is going to create tourism opportunities for the Yukon, which is going to make us a world-class destination for ecotourism. That will be helpful to the economy.
Mr. Speaker, we are doing so much, and we will not take the approach of the Yukon Party to tax and spend our way out of a difficult situation.
Question re: Anvil Range, receivership
Mr. Ostashek: That's going to give much comfort to the unemployed workers in my riding and in other Yukon constituencies. Mr. Speaker, it's this government's role to create optimism in the workforce, not pessimism, and that's going to be quite a ball diamond in Faro with 700 unemployed workers working on it.
Mr. Speaker, my question to the Minister of Economic Development: today, the fate of the Faro mine is being determined in an Ontario courtroom, and it is no secret that some of Anvil Range's major creditors are asking the court to put the mine into receivership. We've all seen the open letter by Anvil Range that appeared in Tuesday's paper. The company claims that the Yukon government is one of the creditors trying to force the company into receivership.
Can the minister clarify the Yukon government's position? Is the government one of the creditors that is seeking to put the mine into receivership?
Hon. Mr. Harding: First of all, the pessimism on the economy is coming from the Henny-Penny viewpoints of the members opposite in the Yukon Party. I think that there are some bright lights on the Yukon economic scene, and I think we're going to be working toward them with a vision, not just knee-jerk responses to the next few months, Mr. Speaker. We're looking at all options. We're trying to identify areas where we can participate in the economy that make sense within the parameters we've committed to Yukoners to work within; namely, we're not going to raise their taxes, and we're not going to run a deficit.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the ever-changing, ongoing court situation in Toronto, let me just say that we put the interests of the Yukon and Yukon workers ahead of the interests of any particular company in the discussions, and our bottom lines have been, number one, that the mine must be kept intact and not sold off piecemeal - it's got to be a going - and, secondly, that if there is to be any receivership, or if Anvil is to look to sell, that there's got to be a competitive process for that. The equation has changed quite dramatically. Anvil has put forward a new plan. Their original plan on March 25 called for no resumption of operation for more than two years, a move away from the Grum ore body to the Grizzly, which was an underground project, no explanation for capitalization. These were some of the problems with the plan that led to us taking our position, along with DIAND.
Subsequent to that, they've revised their position. There was a new one put in the courts today, which we thought was worth merit. There was an extension granted that we asked for as a government for 10 days. Hopefully, other creditors will be supportive of it.
Mr. Ostashek: It would appear to me that there would be more chance of the assets not being sold off piecemeal if the company was given a chance to restructure.
Mr. Speaker, can the minister advise this House if there is any other party, such as the white knight from Alberta that the minister referred to earlier, who may be prepared to take over the mine as an operating entity?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I couldn't agree with the member more. He said that the mine should be given a chance to restructure. That's exactly what I just said. It was our motion in the courts today for an extension to evaluate the plan that was only tabled yesterday by Anvil Range before the creditors. There are still some issues that some of the creditors have expressed concern about that have to be worked through.
Their March 25th plan that they tabled - which we could not support - involved their discussion around the plan, and it could've even involved the possible sell-off of major Faro mill assets, a move away from the Grum ore body to Grizzly. Out of concern for the workers and for the Yukon economy, this government could not support it. However, there has been a change in plans and we've made it very clear that we will work toward an acceptable solution and we hope that Anvil Range can proceed with some form of plan. They've made some changes to their management structure over the last couple of days and it is my sincere hope that something can be put together over the next 45 days that would give a plan to lead to the earliest possible resumption of operations when there is some solid rebound in the metal prices. Many of my constituents are out of work. Many Yukoners don't want to see the situation return where the mine gets back up again and four or five months later, it's down. They want to make sure there's some stability.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, there seems to be some discrepancy with what the minister has just said. I thought I heard him say in his previous reply that they'd be giving a 10-day extension; now he's talking about 45 days. Maybe he could clarify that when he gets to his feet.
One of the major impediments to any new company taking over is the potential environmental liability that's estimated as high as $130 million. Now, I know the minister has been trying to get the federal government to let loose some of that money so that we could put some Yukoners to work but, nevertheless, the outstanding environmental liability is a real obstacle to anybody taking over the mine. Can the minister advise this House if he's had discussions with the federal government and if they're prepared to swallow some of that potential environmental liability? That would not be the cause of a new company taking over, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, the member is quite right; I did go to Ottawa and lobby to see some of the $14 million in the trust fund utilized to put Faroites and other Yukoners to work. That work has got to be done anyway. The Van Gorder pit and the Faro pit are both exhausted. Some of the berming work has to be done on the dam and that is whether the mine goes again in the near future or not. That just has to be done. I think that it would be prudent to do that now while we don't have Shakwak funding this year. It would give the construction industry and a lot of people some work in the territory.
Secondly, with regard to the discrepancy about the 10 days versus the 45, our motion was for a 10-day extension. Anvil Range's proposal, or plan, was for a 45-day extension. That was not accepted by the majority of the creditors; therefore we proposed a compromise solution, so there was a discrepancy.
With regard to the issue of the environmental situation around the liability, we have expressed a concern to the federal government that the situation, as it is envisioned right now, prevents, in large part, companies that are very stable and large and able to run a very stable operation from accepting that liability. They may want to be prepared, if it was in the interests of Yukon and Yukon's workforce, to consider some kind of a flexible arrangement with the property. What has happened in the past is that only single-asset companies have come forward to take over the liability because they're not connected to other assets, and if they have problems with CCAA or bankruptcy, they can essentially walk away and the liability remains with the taxpayer of Canada and the Yukon.
Question re: Anvil Range, receivership
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the same minister on the same subject.
On Monday, the minister told the House that the government originally supported the motion for the receivership because there was nothing in writing about the potential investor and there was no definitive time line for the restart of the Grizzly underground project. Now, it's not clear from what the minister said today as to whether the government took the position in court today that they supported the restructuring or they simply supported the application to move the time line on for 10 days.
Did the government support the restructuring plan that was put forward, and were those two requirements met that the minister told the House about on Monday?
Hon. Mr. Harding: It didn't get to that position. The motion was put forward to get an extension because Anvil only put their revised plan to the creditors yesterday. With the time lag, there was barely time for the lawyers involved to talk to the principals involved.
With regard to the issues that I identified before, the new plan from Anvil is dramatically different from the March 25 plan. It involves wholesale management changes; it involves a serious look at assets that Anvil had earlier proposed to sell, and it proposes to freeze that sale of assets until there could be a proper cost-benefit analysis done on what impact that may or may not have on the future restart of the mine, which I think is a very prudent course of action and one of the things that gave me grave concern with the March 25 plan that Anvil had put forward.
The issue surrounding Grum versus Grizzly have essentially been put on the back burner and a more objective look has been desired by a new management team.
Mr. Cable: Okay. There are a number of people sitting out there as unsecured creditors that are looking for some money. Does this minister know, at the present time, or have some assessment with what went on in court this morning, as to whether these people are going to be seeing any dollars at the end of the road?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, it's obviously my hope and my sincere desire to see that happen. The question is whether that aim would be better suited under a new plan by Anvil or through an immediate moving of the process into receivership.
The position we took today is that, given the changes Anvil made, we would be able to support an extension and an examination of the issues that they put forward in their plan yesterday. This would not have been our position had they not come forward with a new plan yesterday. We would have continued on in the same vein with the same concerns we had with the March 25 plan.
I do believe that if the creditors work together and establish a proper process, such as a creditor committee, and they have a credible management team from Anvil take a look at the situation, they will be in a better position to receive some money they are owed, whether the process is in an interim receivership or Anvil continues.
Mr. Cable: We heard earlier that the unemployment rate is 15.7 percent. Could the minister tell the House whether the unemployment that we expect from the mine closure - that's attributable to the closure of the Anvil Range mine - has worked itself through the system, or can we expect a higher unemployment rate? Does he have a projection as to what we're going to be looking at a couple of months from now.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I can go by history and give some historical reference to it. When the Yukon Party government was in, in 1993, the mine went down around the same time. The unemployment rate in March of that year was 15.7. The following month it was 16.5. The May numbers were 17.3. Even into the following spring, the numbers in March were over 14 percent unemployment. So, it does have a dramatic impact.
I'm hopeful that with the government action that we're taking - I think we've taken a prudent approach to the economy - that most of the effect of the loss of these jobs, at least hopefully in a temporary sense, has been borne out. It will remain to be seen. It is sincerely my hope, and I think our efforts have been prudent to try to do whatever we can as a government in terms of our expenditures and our support for the economy with the private sector to ensure that it does not go up any further.
Question re: Public Utilities Board, meeting with energy commissioner
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Energy Commissioner.
I understand that the commissioner met with the Public Utilities Board a few days ago. Could I get the commissioner to tell us who asked for the meeting. Was it the board, or was it the commissioner?
Mr. McRobb: The meeting was requested by the commissioner and responded to by the Yukon Utilities Board, inviting me for the opportunity, which was to discuss the rules of procedure for the Yukon Utilities Board, which plugged into the preliminary recommendations for the Yukon utilities process, which is part of the Cabinet Commission on Energy's workplan.
Mr. Cable: The reason I'm asking the question is I had a gentleman in the office who was greatly incensed that the commissioner would be meeting with this quasi-judicial board. Would the commissioner assure this House that he gave no instructions to the board, either on its rules of practice or how it should conduct its business, and that no application by the utilities was discussed?
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, I feel like I'm on the witness stand, undergoing stern cross-examination by some lawyer. I can assure the member opposite that we investigated any allegation of wrongdoing ahead of time. I have a letter from the conflicts commissioner, Ted Hughes, that I can provide to the member, which clears the way for the meeting I had with the board.
Mr. Cable: I'd like to see that letter, and if the commissioner's going to table it, that would be appreciated.
Could the commissioner also table the minutes of the meeting, so that we can draw our own observations?
Mr. McRobb: Well, tabling the minutes of the meeting and tabling the letter from Mr. Hughes, is certainly no problem. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss with the Yukon Utilities Board some of the recommendations.
Based on the responses from the board members, Mr. Speaker, I can also tell you they were pleased to have the opportunity to finally discuss some of these issues with government, so we can both head in the same direction, to not only improve the regulatory process on behalf of consumers, but try to decrease the cost and improve the efficiency of the process as well.
Question re: Historic resources centre
Mr. Phillips: My question is to the Minister of Tourism concerning the government's commitment to heritage. The historic resources centre was an integral part of the Beringia Interpretive Centre complex as planned by the previous Yukon Party government. In opposition, the NDP Tourism critic, now the Minister of Health and Social Services, made a commitment that, if elected, an NDP government would build the historic resources centre. Well, Mr. Speaker, the money for the centre that was supposed to be in the 1997-98 budget wasn't there, but the minister, in questioning, promised that financing for the project would be looked at last summer or in early fall in the new budget process. Now, we have the 1998-99 budget in front of us, and the money still isn't there.
Mr. Speaker, is the minister now prepared to admit that the historic resources centre is yet another NDP broken election promise and that it's been added to the ever-growing scrap heap of NDP election promises?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Wrong, wrong, wrong. My God, I keep singing that song, and I guess I'll have to continue singing that song.
No, I'm not prepared to admit anything of the fact, because it is nothing close to a fact.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, maybe the member just didn't have much to say back there last year when he told us that he was working to get it in the budget, or maybe the minister doesn't have any clout in Cabinet to get this kind of thing in the budget.
Mr. Speaker, the minister's own personal promise to give the historic centre prominence - in fact, his "due diligence", as he calls it - in the budgeting process ended up being a bust, as we can see with this budget. The historic resources centre isn't even included in the multi-year capital projects of this government.
Can the minister state categorically here today that funding for the historic resources centre will be included in the 1999-2000 year budget? Can he make the commitment that he made last year that he didn't meet - can he make the same commitment this year and promise that he will meet the commitment this year?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I feel like standing on the mount and giving a sermon, because certainly that is what is needed on the opposite side of the floor - to listen with ears that are open. This isn't a matter of clout. This isn't a matter of bullying among anything. This is a matter of prioritization and going to the people and talking to the people of the Yukon Territory. My Finance minister has done that. My Finance minister has gone and selected - not selected, pardon me - but has gone out and listened to the people and got informed about what would be there.
That is why we have such a smart budget and that is why we're right behind our budget at this point in time.
I can say that the historic resource centre is definitely subject to that process, to the exact budget process. It's not driven through a knee-jerking project. It's driven through a process of consultation, which this government is known for.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, the last person that stood on the mount and gave a sermon actually kept his promises. It's too bad that this minister couldn't do that.
There is very little road construction work this year because of the lack of action of this minister, and there's now minimal building construction, also because of the broken promises.
I'd like to ask the minister, in light of the high unemployment rates in the territory, will he approach his colleagues and urge his colleagues to fast track the resources centre planning and bring the resources centre on stream, as a commitment was made by the tourism critic several years ago that it would be built during the NDP's term. Will he make that commitment here today?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, certainly some people have the privilege of standing on the mount and other people have the privilege of walking in the dark for 20 years, and we certainly know who's walking in the dark.
What I can say to the member opposite is that we will be continuing with our budget process as it's laid out, because it is a consultative process. It's a process that goes to the people, to the priorities of the people. It's a process that allows us to budget for where we are much needed, and that is in terms of spending smart, spending resourcefully, protecting the services of health and education, enhancing youth projects for ourselves through our trust funds, and I can go on, but there is no need to because the Member for Faro just did that through three questions.
So, thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Question re: Midwifery, white paper
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
Mr. Speaker, I have heard a rather persistent rumour that there has been a white paper produced on midwifery.
Can the minister give the status on the consultations around midwifery and tell this House whether, in fact, there will be a white paper on the topic of midwifery delivered in the near future?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The Member for Riverdale South does use those frequent pregnant moments in our discussion to pursue the midwifery question. I can assure her that this will come to term. That's all I can say.
A discussion paper has been -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I won't respond to that, Mr. Speaker. A discussion paper has been drafted to address the legislative and financial issues relevant to midwifery. Once this is finalized and approved, it will the basis of discussion with interested individuals and groups.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, of course I wonder if the minister, when next he gets to his feet, can share with us the due date on that paper?
Mr. Speaker, I have recently been copied a letter from the Yukon Medical Association. This is too easy. In the letter, there is reference to the updating of the Yukon Medical Professions Act that is supposedly coming up on our fall agenda. Can the minister give us an indication as to the status of the consultation on this bill?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: A workplan has been prepared to set out the steps and time line for proceeding. Cabinet will be asked to approve the discussion paper, the workplan and consultation process, prior to the release of the paper. Then, areas specific in this regard would need to be covered by legislation. We have worked to include such things as qualification, registration process, keeping of register and scope of practice. I think it's fair to say that, on that particular aspect, there has been some considerable controversy on the whole midwifery issue in British Columbia, particularly with the amount that midwives are being paid versus physicians. Issues such as standard of practice, complaint inquiry and discipline and so on will be coming forward and we will be discussing it with all our medical partners.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I hope that that means that there's going to be a discussion around all the issues around midwifery, and that that's going to be coming up in the near future, because I still haven't actually gotten a date as to when the white paper on midwifery's coming out for consultations, but maybe we can hear that next time.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I have been corresponding with the Minister of Health over the past year and a half about the updating of the Yukon Optometrists Act. The minister has assured one of my constituents that this act will be on the fall legislative agenda. Can the minister confirm that promise today?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I don't believe I promised that it would be on, and you'll notice, Mr. Speaker, I've removed my glasses, which is an indication of a lengthy answer.
No, I'm being facetious.
With regard to the Optometrists Act, as I indicated before, all professional acts come under Justice. We will have some consultation. There are some issues around the Optometrists Act but, at this point, I can't confirm whether it will be on the fall legislative agenda or not.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now lapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is it the 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. We are ready to start general debate on Advanced Education in capital estimates.
Bill No. 9 - First Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Department of Education - continued
On Capital Expenditures - continued
On Advanced Education
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Advanced education consists of Yukon College capital, Yukon College system upgrades, the training trust funds and adult education capital support line items. There is total for the division of $2,275,000 in capital.
Ms. Duncan: In the technical briefing, I was advised, I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, that the way the capital funds have been allocated at Yukon College between capital and the system upgrade was at the request of Yukon College and that, in fact, they're not suffering much of a decrease in budget. It's a reallocation and it was at their request - is that correct?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That's correct, Mr. Chair. The college requested that we help them support a system upgrade, which was a two-year commitment for a total of $450,000.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I believe I've asked for this in general debate on Education, if not elsewhere. There are a variety of these pots of money everywhere under these training trust funds, and others are referred to as investment funds - youth investment fund, health investment fund. Could I have, by legislative return, an accounting from the minister of what training trust funds are available in the department and a summary sheet, if we could, of the various funds, what their aims and objectives are? I'm also interested in the Financial Administration Act references to these funds, how they're being administered and how expenditures are determined.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I do have some information present, Mr. Chair, that I will provide for the member now, and as well, we will be coming back with additional information, which we have been working on but it isn't completely compiled as of yet.
Advanced education has been quite active in working with industry sectors to establish training trusts to meet their needs. All training trust fund allocations are made to organizations that are legal entities. Some organizations form subcommittees within their structure and charge them with the responsibility of administering the trust fund. Some examples of that would be the Tourism Industry Association and the Association of Yukon Communities, both of which have training trust funds.
All new organizations are required to have an administrative structure in place and this is done annually through the requirements of the Societies Act. Each trust fund organization submits a report annually to the Department of Education, identifying the funds spent and training initiatives. I'm sure the member realizes it takes organizations some time to finalize these reports, especially the financial information. When we have a report available, we'll provide it for the members. They're still working on it.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
On Yukon College Capital
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: This project represents the capital funding for Yukon College. The college Board of Governors determines the allocation of the funds.
Yukon College Capital in the amount of $500,000 agreed to
On Yukon College System Upgrade
Yukon College System Upgrade in the amount of $250,000 agreed to
On Training Trust Funds
Training Trust Funds in the amount of $1,500,000 agreed to
On Adult Education Capital Support
Adult Education Capital Support in the amount of $25,000 agreed to
Advanced Education in the amount of $2,275,000 agreed to
On Libraries and Archives
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Libraries and archives promotes public library and archival programs throughout Yukon. There are two line items in this branch: community library development projects and archives development projects. The total funding in capital this year is $226,000. Community library projects include such things as library renovations and computer access systems in the community libraries. Archives development projects includes licences, archives equipment, display preparation and film-to-video transfers.
On Community Library Development Projects
Community Library Development Projects in the amount of $126,000 agreed to
On Archives Development Projects
Archives Development Projects in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
Libraries and Archives in the amount of $226,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Education in the amount of $12,211,000 agreed to
Department of Education agreed to
Department of Finance
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, members will note a substantial reduction in the department's budgeted O&M spending for the new fiscal year. This doesn't imply any changes in operation or mandate of the Department of Finance; instead, it's a reflection of the collection of a portion of the sum of money remaining outstanding as a result of the collapse of Curragh Resources, some years ago.
The company had established a trust fund for the directors of the firm. These monies have become available for distribution to Curragh's creditors. By agreement among these creditors, the Yukon government's portion is approximately $2.2 million.
These funds are reflected as a negative bad debt expense in the department, because the original write-off of the Curragh bad debt was covered by the department in past years. The net result of the recovery or the negative expense is to reduce the overall operations and maintenance spending in Finance for the year by $2.2 million, which it would otherwise have been.
Were it not for this item, the O&M budget for the department would be $3.884 million, an increase of $7,000 over the forecast for 1997-98, and $50,000 less than last year's main estimates.
The capital budget is $21,000 this year, which is up $6,000 from last year's figure. It covers the cost of some replacement workstations and a tabletop copier.
If members have specific questions, I would be happy to answer them.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I don't have a lot of questions in this department because I think we've given it extensive scrutiny when we had general debate on the budget. I would like to ask the Finance minister a couple of questions, though.
Could I start off by asking the Finance minister, as it is now the ninth of April, we're past the year-end, and I'm sure that he must have a bit of a grasp on what we would have for lapsed funds and if he's prepared to tell the House today how much the surplus would be increased by the lapsed funds that he's expecting at the end of the year? I won't hold the Finance minister accountable for the figure because I know it's very early after the year-end, but he ought to have some idea of what's going to be lapsed and what kind of financial benefit he will have from it.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, in anticipation of that question, Finance has done the latest review. The projection right now, as per the period 11 variance, is that the estimated accumulated surplus for March 31, 1998 will be approximately $36 million - or precisely $35,908,000. That is obviously higher than the estimated accumulated surplus that was listed in the supplementary no. 1 of $23.8 million. I suspect - and the member will bear me up on this, I'm certain - that that will increase somewhat. So, if I were to ballpark the figure, I would say it would be between $36 million and $40 million, probably, in terms of the accumulated surplus for the year.
Of course, there will be some revotes out of that, that will be drawn down, as we generally do, and we still intend to maintain a $15 million basement reserve account.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Finance Minister for that. Could the Finance minister give us a bit of a preview of what he believes the revotes will amount to?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, we put out a call letter for revotes and I haven't personally seen what the revotes requested are, but the anticipated revote would be in the neighbourhood of $6 million, maybe more. We haven't done the final calculation, but certainly there will be some revotes. I would suspect it might be a little higher but we'll have to see.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Finance Minister for that and I know that these are very preliminary figures and that they do keep constantly changing, but it certainly gives us some idea of what we're faced with. Just a rough calculation would suggest to the Finance minister that he can quite comfortably assume that his surplus will be somewhere between $30 million and $35 million after everything is counted up, which will give him a little bit of latitude to make some movement in.
I know the Finance minister is the Government Leader also, and this question is probably better put to the Government Leader, but I'll ask the Finance minister and he can answer it if he likes. If not, we'll save it for Question Period.
Having had a glimpse of what his financial position is going to be, is the government considering bumping ahead any capital projects to help with the high unemployment figures that we've seen today?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I can refer that question to the Government Leader, Mr. Chair.
As the Government Leader, I can answer the member by saying yes. I indicated to the member and the leader of the Liberal Party that there was some concern that this year may be a little drier in terms of spending than what we now know to be the expenditures next year. We're very confident that the Shakwak project will proceed next year and for the following five years. That will be a very large injection of capital sums into the economy.
Knowing that, knowing a number of other factors, and knowing the state of the surplus, there may well be an opportunity for us, as we discussed outside of these Chambers, to advance some capital works and still not cause the government's financial picture to shudder too much.
I'm well-aware that there are some needs - I think I may have listed them - of possible works for the member. I would be intending to have the government draw conclusions on the matter by Tuesday of next week and have the government make an announcement shortly thereafter. I would be happy, prior to that announcement, if the member wants to discuss those works, to do it outside of Chamber.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I thank the Government Leader for that, and the government has their own priorities. As long as the government is prepared to inject some more money into capital works to advance some projects, I'm not really concerned which projects the government is going to decide on. I know they have their own priorities. I may have some suggestions if the Government Leader asks me.
The principal thing here is to keep as many of our trades people here for when things do turn around so that they don't leave the territory, and that's something that we've been constantly voicing our concerns about. So, I thank the minister for that, and we'll look forward to his announcements in the near future about what projects are going to be advanced.
I just want to explore with the Finance minister for a few minutes the changes in our formula in relation to the cuts in taxes being made in other jurisdictions. These are having an impact on the amount of money that we're getting from Ottawa, and it's having a positive impact on the amount of money that we're getting, because we are getting bumped closer to the national average with every tax cut that's implemented in some other jurisdiction in Canada.
While I know the Government Leader and his government have been adamant they're not going to raise taxes, the fact remains we are getting a bigger percentage of tax dollars, and our taxpayers are getting moved closer to the national average, not because of increases in the Yukon, but because of cuts in other jurisdictions.
I know, shortly before I left office, I had Finance do some calculations for us. I know those are changing constantly, and there have been numerous tax cuts announced since I've left office. Can the Government Leader share with us - if not today, could he do it by way of return, or just even a letter to both opposition parties - as to the favourable impact that we're receiving in millions of dollars from the federal government on the formula because of tax cuts in other jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We can do that, Mr. Chair. I don't have the numbers with me, and certainly I will take the opportunity to provide something in writing to the member.
I will tell the member that the impacts that are being made in recent times will take a little bit of time to work their way through the system and work their way to the point they actually have an impact on our formula calculation.
One of the things that is slowing down the potential of positive impact toward us is the fact that some of the jurisdictions, while they're cutting taxes, are boosting user fees - in some instances, quite substantially - and that would be part of the calculation as well, so that slows it down somewhat.
I've asked the technicians to provide some analysis and give the member as accurate a picture as we can.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I would certainly appreciate that. I thank the minister for that, and there's no rush for it, as long as we get it sometime before we get into the supplementary budget debate this fall. I'd be quite satisfied with that.
I just want to ask a question of finance on the banking contract. I believe that's coming up for renegotiation very shortly - is it not?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The banking contract concludes in November of 1999. Any retendering would probably take place in the spring of 1999, which means basically a year from now. Prior to that tender, I've already indicated publicly that we would have a bit of a public consultation in the communities first, particularly those using banking services, to see whether or not the terms of the tender are appropriate for the communities. Then by spring of next year, we will tender the service again.
Mr. Ostashek: Have there been any complaints from the communities as to the quality of services being provided by our banker now?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: If there have been any - and I don't discount that there may have been some - they haven't been transmitted to me. I don't know of them.
Chair: Does it clear?
Mr. Ostashek: No, not quite, Mr. Chair. I do have a few more questions. It's not quite clear yet.
Mr. Chair, I would just suggest to the Finance minister that this is a substantial banking contract. In order to get the best mileage out of our dollar, and given the fact that the last time that we put it out for tender, we only had two banks respond because I don't think any other banks thought we were serious about really looking for some savings on the contract - s
eeing how the CIBC had had the contract since time immemorial - I believe this time that there'll be many financial institutions that would be interested in providing the service to us. While the TD has provided us with very good service, in my opinion, I don't believe that we owe any corporation a real big obligation and that all of them should have an equal opportunity to provide a bid.
So, I would urge the Finance minister to consider bumping his schedule ahead a little bit. Because it is a big contract, I think that given enough time we could probably get a very good deal from the banks. We have saved a substantial amount of money on this last contract over what it was costing Yukon taxpayers in the past and I still believe the TD is doing very, very well on it. As competitive as banking services are getting now in Canada, I think the opportunity is there for the government to maybe save a few more dollars. Could I just ask the Finance minister to give that serious consideration?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the member and I are on a similar wavelength here, Mr. Chair. Certainly, I'll take his suggestion. If increased time will encourage reputable institutions to bid and provide effective service, we should be encouraging as much competition as possible. I will take the question as advice and think it through a little bit. There's no question that we'd like to get this banking contract on the best possible terms for the Yukon taxpayer.
Mr. Ostashek: I just have one other question and then I'll let my colleague get in for awhile.
During my tenure as Finance minister, there was fairly serious consideration being given by the Finance department to outsource our payroll. Has that gone by the wayside? We were looking at a cost-benefit analysis of it, and I believe we had some very good offers from companies who do nothing but put up payrolls. Is that still under review or has it been abandoned?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Basically, I guess, to put it bluntly, the review and the possibility was abandoned, largely when the decision was made to do the HRIS system. The decision was made to do this in house.
Mr. Cable: I have a followup on a couple of points that the leader of the official opposition brought up on the perversity factor. I think that, since we first brought this up early in March in general debate on the budget, the Saskatchewan and, I believe, the federal governments, brought in tax decreases. In the response that the department's working up, could the Finance minister indicate what a percentage point on the perversity factor is worth in dollars?
In the general debate, it was indicated that the perversity factor was expected to be $1.10. If that goes down, as is possible, I assume, from the comments earlier, it will be useful to find out what the dollar value of each percentage point is.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, we can do that, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Cable: On the questions the leader of the official opposition asked on the projections for the accumulated surplus, which I think we guesstimated at around $30 million, looking at the main estimates, I think that translates into a deficit of around $15 million. Is that the anticipated deficit for the just-finished fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The annual deficit for the year, period 11, would be about $10 million. Of course, I want to make the member very aware that, when I'm talking about these numbers, I'm talking about them in very general terms. We're looking at $36 million-plus. I indicated there might be $6 million worth of revotes. That's possible, which means that the balance is available for other things. We, of course, have to reserve a certain measure of money in order to maintain the spending levels of the current year, and that would be something that we would love to do as well. But these are preliminary numbers - I stress "preliminary numbers" - and I would hope members would give us an opportunity, before drawing conclusions, to get firmer figures.
Mr. Cable: I think at this juncture we're garnering information.
I wonder if I could ask the Government Leader to flip over to page S-2 and walk me through the numbers here, so I understand them.
We have an accumulated surplus at the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, 1997, of $46,519,000. Then there's a projected annual deficit for 1997-98 of $22,638,000, leaving a forecasted accumulated surplus as at March 31, 1998, that's the end of last month, of $23,881,000.
Now, I think what I heard today was that we anticipate the accumulated surplus to be $30 million, so I assume that would reduce the annual deficit by the difference, which would be about $7 million, making it about $15 million. Have I done the mathematics correctly?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The figure that I gave the leader of the official opposition was $36 million, not $30 million. The further calculation that the leader of the official opposition made subtracted revotes, because those are essentially projects already approved but just running through the system and being, essentially, counted again. So, the accumulated surplus that we would show for March 31, 1998, would be $36 million, and we would presumably subtract from that, in terms of next year's budget, presumably, the revotes, and we would subtract from that any annual deficit we would have in order to maintain the level of spending that we said we were intending to maintain. And I think we're on track in being able to do that and maintain our floor of $15 million.
Mr. Cable: Okay then, ignoring the revotes for the moment, just so we're talking apples and apples, if in fact the accumulated surplus is going to wind up at $36 million, as at the end of last month, I take it that the anticipated deficit for the last fiscal year then would be around $10 million - or $12 million, I guess. Are we in the ball park on that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, generally.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions on trust funds. The issue was raised by my colleague in the Education debate and I'd just like to walk through the Financial Administration Act very briefly.
Section 11 of the act sort of charges the deputy minister with looking after these trust funds. These are training trust funds, and I think the Canada Winter Games has been set up as trust also.
I wonder if the minister could tell us: how does that money escape from the deputy minister's hands and comply with the Financial Administration Act when it's transferred to third parties?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We are actually not setting up the trust ourselves. We vote these monies as expenditures. The expenditure is made to those outside of government who are charged with handling a trust, according to the terms that we mutually agree on, and they are responsible for the trust. So, it's not a trust that the Government of Yukon and the deputy ministers are responsible for. This is an expenditure we make to a trust outside of government.
Mr. Cable: Okay, so when the money is disbursed, it's not actually trust money - it becomes a trust after the fact. Is this what the ...?
The minister's nodding his head.
What after care is done on these trust monies? Is there any audit provisions put in the agreements, any followup, to make sure that the expenditures meet government policy?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, typically, Mr. Chair, there's always an audit function for all the funds that we disburse in this way - at least, there has been in the past, and I presume in the future. The training trust, for example, had disclosure provisions, control provisions, audit provisions, in some cases, as I understand it, and I would presume, as well, that any trusts that the government may contemplate setting up in the future would have similar control mechanisms. I'm certain that if the member asked the ministers responsible - or he can ask me, I can provide him some examples.
Mr. Cable: There's a fairly substantial amount of money being put in this Canada Winter Games trust fund - $7 million, I think, eventually, according to the press release of yesterday. Has that deal been negotiated?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Not at the present time. The terms of the trust have not been established yet. The discussions, I presume, are underway with officials from Community and Transportation Services.
It was essentially our way of setting up a savings account for the provision of infrastructure for the Canada Winter Games and the savings account will accumulate interest, which will also be put toward the prime objective. I would suspect that the $7 million will probably translate into $8.1 million or $8.2 million if the savings account is allowed to accumulate to term.
Mr. Cable: I would like a copy of an example of the training trust fund agreements if they haven't already been produced in the House. I don't have a recollection of that having happened. And, I wonder if the minister would commit to providing our caucus with a copy of the trust agreement relating to the games trust.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: When it is struck, the member is perfectly entitled to have one. Yes.
Mr. Cable: In the budget speech, the minister talked about the creation of a special savings account for the Dawson sewage project. It's not termed a trust. Just what is it under the Financial Administration Act? Is it anything other than ordinary revenue?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We have not made a decision to set up a trust arrangement with the City of Dawson. At this point, the decision is that we would set up an account within the consolidated revenue fund. We would expend some money, and it would be sort of a subset of our surplus and, as we vote it every year, keep it aside waiting for the day that the expenditure would be made or the funding would be released.
There may be some change to that. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services may, at some point in the future, advocate that a trust account be established outside of government for that, but, at the present time, it is a segregated account within the consolidated revenue fund.
Mr. Cable: On another point, a month ago, we talked about the possible bad debt or write-off of the Anvil Range Mining indebtedness and the minister indicated that later this spring - these were his words at the beginning of March - the government would be looking at those debts - both the Yukon Energy Corporation debt and the government debt - and making a decision. I think we got into a discussion of standard accounting principles. Have we reached the point where we are prepared to write off those debts from Anvil Range Mining?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, as the member would have gathered from Question Period, the situation is still very much in a matter of flux. However, within the figures that I have given the member for the estimated surplus this year, the $1.5 million debt has been taken into account.
Mr. Cable: This isn't the minister's responsibility, but is he aware of whether the Yukon Energy Corporation has followed the same practice? Have they set up the money owing as a bad debt or made an allowance for bad debts?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I don't know what they have done, frankly. Their year-end is different from ours. They may be doing something else. Certainly I can ask the minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation to let the member know, if he wishes.
Mr. Cable: On another matter, there was a press release today on the Yukon Unity Foundation project. It appears that the $1.5 million that was set aside has been taken out of its original envelope. Where is that money sitting now?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: A portion of that money is sitting in the Department of Economic Development. The balance of the funds remains a commitment to the project by the government. What essentially has happened is that the project is no longer considered to be a project under the centennial anniversaries program, but there is still a continuing commitment to this particular capital work with those particular proponents, and that commitment will remain until such time as we know what the federal commitment will be to this project. And if the federal commitment is realized - if the $4.5 million is realized - then we will live up to our end of the bargain and commit the balance of the funding, and it will show up in a supplementary, or in the main estimates, either this year, next year or in whatever year the project happens.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, the debate has caused me some concern and I think it requires further debate. This is on the comments that were made on the two funds, the Arctic Winter Games fund and the $1 million a year for Dawson City.
I believe I heard the Finance minister say they haven't made any decision on the $1 million a year for Dawson City as to how it would be accounted for and it may be just accounted for in the consolidated revenue statements. If that's the case, then it would show up as surplus in the unconsolidated. Am I not right? Am I not correct in that assumption?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, because it's a brand-new concept, it would be considered as part of the surplus. It would be a separate part of the surplus, though, and would be shown as a separate part of the surplus because we have made the appropriation for this project in the various years toward the delivery date of the project itself. So, we wouldn't factor it into some calculation of the surplus itself as available funds, but it would be in our account.
Now, there may be, through negotiations with the City of Dawson, an opportunity to think of some trust arrangement outside of government. That's a possibility, too, but those discussions have not taken place and, at this point, it's going to be held in the consolidated revenue fund.
Mr. Ostashek: Let me just assure the Finance minister, a trust outside of government doesn't give me much comfort either, and I'll get to that with the Arctic Winter Games one right away.
I think we're embarking on a different way of funding things in the Yukon here, and we have to be very, very careful how we do it. I've got grave concerns about what's happening here.
Let's just deal with the Dawson City one, and I'd like not to refer to it as Dawson City, but any municipality. I think we're setting some dangerous precedents here, where we have a territorial government that said, we're going to commit to a million dollars a year for the next five, six, seven or 10 years to whatever project this municipality wants, when in fact the municipalities are getting block funding to provide services to their people.
The territorial government is called upon in extraordinary situations to come up with extra money, such as the Whitehorse sewage, which was funded under extraordinary funding under, I believe, the Municipal Act, or wherever the extraordinary funding falls, where we contributed 85 percent of the cost.
I've got grave concerns of us setting up a target for a municipality to look at and say, "Well, they're putting away a million dollars a year for us, and we can just decide whatever we're going to do with it down the road." I'm concerned about the fairness to other municipalities, Mr. Chair.
Why just Dawson? I mean, every municipality would like to have new recreational facilities - and I'm glad my colleague from Dawson isn't here, because he'd probably cuff me right now. But the fact remains that it's our obligation and our duty to talk about fairness between different areas of the Yukon.
I see the government getting themselves in a position where they may be called upon by other municipalities that say, "Well, why not us? Why shouldn't we have a fund like that?"
Pretty soon we're going to be in a very serious situation of not only being called upon as a senior level of government to provide municipal block funding - which is supposed to cover a lot of their capital costs - and at the same time setting up a savings account for them to draw on for some major project in the future.
Is the Finance minister not concerned about that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, generally speaking, Mr. Chair, I am concerned about unrealistic expectations in any municipality or among any group on drawing down the Yukon government's treasury. Clearly, the expectations always outstrip the ability to provide support for the various projects.
It is the case, however, that whether we set up a savings account or whether we simply fund one project now and again through some extraordinary means, such as the Whitehorse sewage treatment system, or, in the past, other sewer work in the Dawson City area - and there have been other extraordinary grants from time to time - other municipalities will come up with some grand and perhaps necessary schemes, in their view, that would seek public support from the Yukon government.
Now, the question is - and it is always a matter of choice - which ones is the Yukon government prepared to help finance? Choices ultimately always have to be made.
What I've been very anxious about is that there have been a number of projects, which we know are coming and which we suspect the public will want us to support, and we'll be ill-prepared to support those projects because seven or eight years down the road, there will be somebody sitting in this chair, somebody sitting in the member's chair, and they will be faced with precisely the same dilemma that we are faced with today - major requests for $8 million or $10 million and a capital budget which probably won't be dissimilar from the one we have right now. So, in deference to those future generations, the proposal here is to set up savings accounts to prepare for the projects which we feel, at least at this stage, we are prepared to support.
The theory, I suppose, is that if we set up a savings account, each installment toward the ultimate goal will be less of a burden on the government's treasury in any given year than trying to fit the entire expenditure into one or two years. So, essentially what we're doing is bequeathing something to the next generation or to a couple of generations of legislators ahead of us.
Would it be desirable to sort of spend the money now? If we spent the $2 million now, we would probably be putting people to work with $2 million worth of expenditure. But, what we're essentially doing is passing on to another generation an opportunity, not an expense. I think this is a responsible way of meeting a commitment for infrastructure that we know now will be in existence and will have to be supported for some time in the future.
In the case of Dawson City, we're fairly certain that, whether it's 2000 or 2005, there's going to be a need for improved sewage-handling infrastructure.
What we've said, essentially, to Dawson and publicly is that we're not saying that we cannot fund both the community centre and the sewage system, we just can't fund them both at the same time. We've also made a determination, based on clearly stated community priorities, that if it's not going to be the sewage system in Dawson, we should support the community recreation project, because that has been clearly communicated to us as the priority after sewage disposal.
Now, there are, obviously, priorities around the territory, and we're trying to meet many of those priorities, too. One of the priorities that we feel cannot be avoided and for which we're prepared to start saving toward, is the Canada Winter Games. There are some very high expectations in Whitehorse, clearly, and around the territory, presumably, that the infrastructure should be improved here. I think - and this is my own personal opinion - that $32 million or $35 million is a very large expenditure for this town and, paying a lion's share of that, in my view, is beyond the capacity of this government to do. But, what we have said is that we are prepared to contribute up to $7 million or $8 million, with interest, toward these facilities. That is, in my view, a respectable and sizeable contribution.
But again, rather than making the decision now that we're going to go ahead with the games and sort of lining everybody up to have to provide for services at some point in the future - because we made the commitment actually back in 1991 and we confirmed the commitment in 1993-94 - clearly, we've set a train of events that is going to result in costs of the year 2007.
If we're going to be making the commitment, it's this generation that should also be saving to fulfill the commitment and, consequently, in that particular case again, I believe there should be some contribution made now of our generation of legislators toward the commitment that we have made that impacts on the future.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I want to just keep the two items separate, because there's a big difference between the two items that we're talking about, in my mind. I want to talk about first the one with the municipality of Dawson City. I have more questions on the Arctic Winter Games.
If the Government Leader wants to finance projects that way, I don't have any difficulty with the Finance minister. I have great difficulty with him or his government earmarking that money for specific projects and binding future governments. It might be his own government. It might be a government of a different political stripe. If the Government Leader wants to set up a savings account for that and that's the way he wants to do it, that's entirely up to the Finance minister.
I'm sorry, Mr. Chair, all these different portfolios with the same person who's holding them - it's hard to keep track sometimes.
I would prefer that he would set it up as an extraordinary fund for whatever project comes ahead - not one specific project - and doesn't bind future governments to spend that money in that place regardless of what other emergencies come up. We already have municipal block funding for every municipality. I have nothing against Dawson City. I know Dawson's going to need more money, just as the Finance minister does, but I'm a little bit hesitant about earmarking taxpayers' dollars for one specific project on a multi-year savings account that's going to bind future governments, whether it's an NDP government, a Yukon Party government or a Liberal government.
I'm also concerned about causing confrontation between municipalities saying, "We hear Dawson's got this savings account for this project." Haines Junction says, "I want a savings account." Watson Lake says, "I want a savings account."
The Finance minister knows that we can't satisfy all of those desires, but if we're going to set a precedent by doing it for one municipality, government's argument is going to be very, very weak not to do it for another municipality.
So, I just would like the Finance minister's thoughts on that. Set up the fund, if that's what he so desires, but I'm very hesitant about setting it up specifically for one community.
I'd just like his thoughts on that.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, in terms of keeping the funds aside in a consolidated revenue fund, I want to assure the member that it does not bind the future government to spend the funds in those ways. They can reverse the decision and decide for themselves that they want to do something differently.
I mean, I realize it would be a difficult thing for them to do but it is no less difficult, in fact it's more difficult, for the government, for example our government - and this is just an example - if we had decided that we did not want to proceed with the South Access Road, there would have been even less opportunity for us to reverse that decision because we not only had to make a commitment to follow the previous government's commitment to fund the road, but we also had a contractual commitment to provide the funding. Last year we had to provide $4 million to the City of Whitehorse, and this year we have to provide $800,000 to the City of Whitehorse for the purposes of landscaping the road.
We're almost two years into the mandate and we're still making very sizeable expenditures that were committed before we took office. So, I can understand the concern the member raises because, obviously, we're living it. But I would argue that we're not making a contractual commitment here with the City of Dawson. We're making a political commitment and making an expenditure that, if a government three years from now wants to do something else with, they can do something else, because there's no contractual commitment and, in fact, the project, if all goes to plan, won't even have been started.
So there is an opportunity. They'll say, "Well, we now have $3 million in the account saved up. We believe that something in another community is more important. We're going to either continue the savings plan, or we're going to spend that money right now. It'll just be added to the expenditure of the year 2001."
So I would argue that this offers even more flexibility for governments in the future, because we're not binding the governments, in the case of this mechanism.
In the case of the trust account, there would be a binding of the government to the expenditures that were already made, not necessarily to future expenditures into the trust account, but certainly to the expenditures already made toward that particular purpose.
I want to make the point, though, that if we were to set up a savings account that was not project specific, one might argue that it would be seen to be very unfair for Dawson to have a special account - or for any community to have a special account - for just any project, and other communities not to have similar accounts for any old project. What we're talking about here is where we've made a very conscious decision as a government that sewer treatment facilities in a particular community are a priority for the government, for the territory, and we're saving toward that specific project.
If another community comes along and says that it wants a savings account too, then basically the debate will not be around whether or not they should have a savings account, but whether or not the target project is of a sufficient priority that warrants either a savings account, or an expenditure, or something else.
So while I understand the member's concerns, I think that this mechanism - it's a new mechanism - is a better way to field the impacts of relatively large expenditures for the Government of Yukon, to anticipate them. It forces generations that make commitments, or see something coming, to prepare for that, and not just simply allow it to be sprung on them, or the need for a solution to be sprung on another generation.
I was thinking about this only a few months ago, that if. when I first came to the Legislature, somebody had set aside even half a million dollars a year for so many years, now we would have a very sizeable sum of money.
It would not have been an onerous thing for each Legislature to do each year over the last - well, I've been here now for 17 years. There are a number of projects that I am certain the economy would appreciate right now if this kind of savings fund had been established.
In any case, I think that, while innovative and new, it does meet some of the concerns the member has raised, because I do agree with the basic concern.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, the member may not think he's binding future governments, but he is politically binding them to a specific project.
I would much sooner see this government set up their account, if that's the way they want to budget for it - I don't have much difficulty with that - and say that this government's priority now is to spend this money in Dawson City. That doesn't bind a future government. The money is there and the political commitment is there by that government.
While the Finance minister can say it's not going to impact on future generations, it is, because we don't know what the future revenues are going to be in the territory. We don't know what the future demands on a future government are going to be. Everything we do, whether we pay for it now or postpone paying for it, is going to impact on future legislators in here.
Mr. Chair, his example of the South Access doesn't wash. The South Access was a trade-off for the maintenance of roads throughout the City of Whitehorse, where the government is saving between $750,000 and $1 million a year. After 10 years, the territorial government has got its money back out of that project, because we're no longer maintaining roads that the city has assumed responsibility for, and the Finance minister is aware of that. So, that is a little bit different from what we're doing in Dawson.
That is my concern with that, so I will just leave that with the Finance minister.
My concern is not that he's setting up a fund; I don't have any difficulty with that. If that's the way he wants to budget, it is certainly his prerogative during the term of their mandate. But, I would just like it to be on the public record that it be a fund - call it a rainy day fund or whatever kind of a fund he likes - and say, "My government's priority is for this specific project."
Then, when the next government comes along, they can say, "Well, maybe that project is the one that we should pursue." And there would still be a political price to pay, no matter what.
I just have that concern, and I also have the concern that as this fund starts to grow, other municipalities - I'm sure they can all find projects that are worthwhile. The Finance minister is aware of that. So, I will leave that anyhow. I've had my say on that.
I'm concerned about the Canada Winter Games trust fund. I'm not concerned about committing the money to it, and I want to be very, very clear on that for the Yukon public. It's a good idea to commit $1 million to it. I am concerned about the government putting it out in a trust fund where they lose control of the money, because it's not even going to be until the year 2000 or 2001 before we know whether Whitehorse has got the games or not.
What's going to happen to that trust fund if we have several millions of dollars in there? The Finance minister can be almost certain that the City of Whitehorse isn't going to want to let go of it. They are still going to want to put up some facilities.
So, I'm concerned that we're going to put this out into a trust fund for the 2007 Canada Winter Games. Is there going to be a clause in that agreement - the Finance minister said it wasn't agreed to yet - that in the event the city doesn't get the 2007 Canada Winter Games, this money will revert to general revenues of the territorial government? If I have that assurance, I will feel much better about it.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I'll answer the last member's question first. Yes, Mr. Chair. There will be terms of the trust which will ensure that the money is put toward the purpose to which it was directed. If the games don't go ahead, or if the city, for example, decides that they're not going to provide new facilities - even if the games do go ahead - then there will be terms to ensure that these are capital funds to be directed at facilities for the games. And certainly the expectation then would be that the funds would revert to the government.
Now, the city may try to make an argument, et cetera, et cetera, but it'll be a decision for the government of the day to make, and I would make that argument now with respect to the first item, that there will be opportunities for governments, not just in the year 2001, 2004, when there will be new governments coming into the Legislature but even as circumstances may change. If, for example, God forbid, there are further cuts to Health and Social Services and our revenue is completely collapsed, there may be a rejigging of priorities and the government's going to have to come in and defend the rejigging of those priorities. But there's nothing that will keep the government in the year 2001 from changing direction if they wish and direct the funds away from water and sewer services in a particular community to something else. That's perfectly possible and all the government has to do is justify it. And if the majority of members in the Legislature buy the justification, then that's the way it is.
I've got a crib note here that I can't quite read, in response to a point the member made. Oh, the South Access Road. I'm not arguing whether or not the deal was a good deal or whether or not it's a reasonable expenditure. What I am saying is that this government had to spend $4 million last year, and it has to spend $800,000 this year. Whether that's a good deal, bad deal, mediocre deal, that's an absolute commitment. It's a contractual commitment. We've got to make it.
So, I understand about the concerns about binding future governments, and I am a strong believer that we should not be binding governments in a way that limits options. I think governments should be able to react to changing circumstances, both at election time and in a mandate. As long as they can come in and justify it through debate on the floor of this Legislature, we should not be too restrictive as a general proposition.
I think that the savings accounts concept allows us to save without being unreasonable in binding governments to a particular project years from now that may not end up being a priority 10 years from now. Maybe for some reason or other, there is no need for improved sewage treatment in Dawson in 10 years from now. Maybe somebody changes their mind, new standards, something. So, the Legislature should not feel bound to put the savings into an account for something that is not even required. So, I just make the point and I think it is flexible.
Mr. Ostashek: As I said, no matter what governments do, they do, to a certain extent, bind future governments with their decisions, no matter how they're funded.
I'll just speak to the Canada Winter Games, Mr. Chair. The Finance minister said he would give us a copy of the agreement when it is drafted. I just urge the Finance minister and his government that in the wording of the agreement it be very, very clear that the money is for that one specific purpose. If the city is unsuccessful in obtaining the games, the money reverts back to general revenues. Then the political battle can go on with whatever council is there and whatever government is there as to whether they want to fund something else with the money or not, but no future government will then be bound to fund it if the Canada Winter Games do not go ahead.
I don't have any difficulties setting money aside. I think it's a good endeavour, a good way to put forward some projects, and we certainly can't afford $32 million or $36 million for facilities that it's going to take for the Canada Winter Games, but I do believe that the setting aside of $1 million a year will be a tremendous lever for whatever government is in power, if and when Whitehorse gets the games, to exact some pressure on the federal government to kick in their share. So, I think it's probably good that way.
I just have one further comment on the savings account, in this case for Dawson City. My concern is that when we earmark it for a specific project, like this government is doing, we let the Dawson City council, which is responsible for the municipal government in Dawson, sidestep their responsibilities to provide sewer and water to their residents and also to get out of the funding of recreational facilities.
I think we're setting ourselves up as a great big target. That's why I was hoping that I could convince the Finance minister that we ought to set up a fund, if that's what he wants to do, and his government's commitment may be for that and that's fine, but it would not bind future governments and would not have the big political battle of having to change it afterwards.
I'm concerned, because we do provide municipal block funding to municipalities to provide sewer, water and recreational services for their constituents. That's not to say that the territorial government ought not to kick in more money, if necessary. But, I'm very concerned about us setting aside a fund that allows the municipalities to sidestep their responsibilities.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I agree with the member to a point. I think the size of a block fund to municipalities is a substantial investment by the government to the wellbeing of the municipalities. I think in the case of this particular projects, and other similar projects that have been supported, the concern, particularly in Dawson, is obviously that the community feels that a very large portion, over time, of their block funding has been directed to water and sewer works - perhaps unreasonably so - and, consequently, they are deserving of some assistance.
The size of this project is clearly in the realm of the special capital project size. It is well over two and a half times the size of the block fund for the city. Consequently, it is a project that we should be thinking about supporting every bit as much as the Legislature supported the project for the City of Whitehorse, which is equally big for them. Or, in fact, it's bigger for Dawson than the project for Whitehorse was for Whitehorse.
So, I think we have to be ready and prepared. I suspect that there will be further discussion and debate if this project has to succeed, not only about the capital costs of this project, but also by the operations costs, because I'm certain that the City of Dawson will make some eloquent comments about the cost of water and sewer services per individual user and we'll have to talk about that, too, I am sure.
In any case, I agree with the member that we should not be letting municipalities off the hook. We should be encouraging them to save up for some projects and to anticipate. We should not be inserting ourselves into their planning process, and we should be encouraging the municipalities to, as we do, plan ahead.
I'm hoping that we're not sending any wrong signals by responding to a major capital work in any particular community. I don't think we are, frankly, because in most communities, the municipal infrastructure expectations are not that significant.
Mr. Ostashek: I don't have much more to say, but I just will say that the member mentioned the Whitehorse sewage project. The member opposite, the Finance minister, will recall that, at the same time we funded that, we funded the Dawson one on the same formula as well - $6.8 million or something, or $5-point-something million, which is funded by the territorial government.
The Finance minister's right. The sewer and water falls clearly under extraordinary funding, but I guess my concern is the signals that are being sent to the community of Dawson, or the understanding that they have, is if they don't need the sewer and water project, they can use this money for a recreational facility.
Does the Finance minister believe that it's an obligation of the territorial government, under extraordinary funding, to fund recreational facilities, as well as sewer and water?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the priorities will be different from community to community. Certainly there have been extraordinary grants provided to municipalities for things other than water and sewer, other than roads. So there is a potential, to be sure, for other projects. The City of Dawson, through the mayor, has made it very clear on I don't know how many occasions - more occasions than I care to remember - that, for them, the community centre is the top priority. We've said that we'll respect that as a top priority, we see the need and respect the need, but we are unable to provide for two major projects in the same community at the same time, and we see, obviously, the looming decision with respect to a sewage treatment system.
So we've indicated that if there can be some reliable information that would suggest that the sewage treatment system is not required for a number of years, then we could meet the need in the community for the community centre or contribute toward a community centre.
I'm presuming that, if the Water Board cooperates with the view expressed by the mayor, then we'll be into discussions around a community centre by the end of the year, and we'll have to start deciding what the terms for that might be.
Deputy Chair: Seeing no more general debate, we'll move to treasury. Is there any general debate in treasury? That's on page 6-6.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Chair, there's not a lot to indicate to members. This page in the budget is basically the budget for the Department of Finance.
As I've indicated, we're actually $59,000 less than last year's main estimates when all is taken into account overall for the department in the treasury program.
The mandate of the department hasn't changed. The basic programming hasn't changed. Members will see, in banking services, an expectation that there may be some costs for banking services. There's not really any way of knowing that at this point, but it's just a prudent or a cautious move to put some funds into that line item.
Mr. Ostashek: Yes, I just have one question for the Finance minister on this. Could the Finance minister advise how we came up with the 17-percent savings in administration?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Basically, this is simply a transfer to other activities in terms of supplies and sundry costs. Rather than have them all come out of administration, these sundry costs are now absorbed by each division.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, we're not talking about a lot of money here. I'm not going to get hung up on it and nit-pick forever, but I don't see any increase in any of the other divisions either. We see a 17-percent drop in administration costs, and the only increase we have is in banking services, where we've set some money aside. Other than that, the only other increase is three percent in other under allotments.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, it's interesting, Mr. Chair. Apart from the transfers to other divisions of the department, this department, like others, took a cut in expenditures last year. As I have indicated, the overall is down around $60,000 from last year. In the supplementary no. 1 last fall, the cut was 1.5 percent on the operations side. This department was no exception, so there will be some give in the department overall, and most of it in this particular case is in administration.
Mr. Cable: A few years back, there was a litany of complaints from the private sector on late payments to the private sector on goods and services rendered to the government. Has that problem been resolved, or does the government still receive complaints in that area?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I haven't received any complaints and the deputy doesn't know of any complaints within the last year. The government, of course, pays interest on overdue accounts. That has presumably helped to allay any complaints. I would hope that the government has also, through its accounting systems, been improving - at least this claim has been made by our predecessors - the payment of the claims and speeding up their payment. I suspect that that is the reason why we haven't heard any complaints.
Deputy Chair: Seeing no more general debate, we will move into the line items.
Administration in the amount of $329,000 agreed to
On Financial Operations and Revenue Services
Financial Operations and Revenue Services in the amount of $1,669,000 agreed to
On Fiscal Relations and Management Board Secretariat
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I don't know what kind of explanation members want. All the accounting functions in the department are carried out... Oh, sorry. Well, there's no change in activity. There's no change.
Did somebody ask a question?
Mr. Cable: The leader of the official opposition and the Government Leader have both been there, but I haven't. What is this item? Is it primarily or exclusively payroll? What is it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, it's 15 full-time people. They provide Management Board support. They negotiate the arrangements with the federal government on formula financing - the fiscal relations side.
It is primarily salaries.
Fiscal Relations and Management Board Secretariat in the amount of $1,152,000 agreed to
On Banking Services
Banking Services in the amount of $60,000 agreed to
On Public Utilities Income Tax Transfer
Public Utilities Income Tax Transfer in the amount of $218,000 agreed to
Deputy Chair: Are there any questions on statistics? Hearing no questions, does the total treasury of $3,428,000 carry?
Treasury in the amount of $3,428,000 agreed to
Deputy Chair: Page 6-8 of Finance - is there any general debate on Workers' Compensation Supplementary Benefits? Hearing no general debate, we'll move to line items.
On Workers' Compensation Supplementary Benefits
On Supplementary Pensions
Supplementary Pensions in the amount of $382,000 agreed to
Workers' Compensation Supplementary Benefits in the amount of $382,000 agreed to
Deputy Chair: Is there any general debate on bad debts expense? Hearing no general debate, we'll move to line items.
On Bad Debts Expense
On Allowance for Bad Debts
Allowance for Bad Debts in the amount of an underexpenditure of $2,126,000 agreed to
Bad Debts Expense in the amount of an underexpenditure of $2,126,000 agreed to
Deputy Chair: On page 6-10, is there any general debate under prior period adjustments? Hearing no general debate, we'll move to line items.
On Prior Period Adjustments
Prior Period Adjustments in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Deputy Chair: Is there any discussion on recoveries and revenue?
Mr. Ostashek: I just have one question. I'm just looking at the recoveries. On the banking investment, $470,000, which has dropped from $420,000 last year and $1,683,000 for 1996-97, is this because of the lower cash balances that we've been carrying at the bank? Is that the reason for it?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, and the fact that the rates went down last year and remain down.
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Finance in the amount of $1,684,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Deputy Chair: Is there any general debate?
Seeing no general debate, we will go to treasury.
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $21,000 agreed to
Treasury in the amount of $21,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Finance in the amount of $21,000 agreed to
Department of Finance agreed to
Loan Capital and Loan Amortization
Deputy Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Just briefly, the one question that's usually asked in this line item is how much do the various municipalities still owe, and the answer is that Whitehorse owes $9.2 million, Dawson City owes $1.2 million, and Faro owes $504,000.
On Loan Capital
On Loans to Third Parties
Loans to Third Parties in the amount of $5,000,000 agreed to
On Loan Amortization
Interest in the amount of $429,000 agreed to
Principal in the amount of $331,000 agreed to
Loan Amortization in the amount of $760,000 agreed to
Loan Capital and Loan Amortization agreed to
Department of Government Services
Chair: Is there general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: We're into Government Services at this juncture and this side hasn't even had the courtesy of a briefing from the department, despite it having been scheduled for this week, Mr. Chair. The briefing was arranged for early this week for both departments that the minister represents: Government Services and Health. Both were cancelled at the government's request. Both have been rescheduled. In fact, it took considerable time, Mr. Chair, for this side to get them rescheduled to Tuesday and Wednesday of this forthcoming week. The dates we were given were up to the 20th that it would be convenient for the department to offer these briefings.
Mr. Chair, I refer you to the Standing Orders of this Legislature. I refer you to the memorandum of understanding, addendum 2. The government House leader is constantly touting this section; constantly berating the opposition about wasting the time of the House - "You only have so many sitting days, you can only do so much; now, get busy and get on with it."
And, for the record, this addendum no. 2 of this memorandum of understanding deals with the time and length of sitting. The second paragraph under that heading reads as follows, Mr. Chair: "The spring sitting will be up to 35 sitting days, with the concluding date to be no later than April 30." That section is constantly being thrown out by the government House Leader - constantly.
Just look to the next section, Mr. Chair. Proceedings and bills - and the second paragraph in that section, which has the same weight in this memorandum of understanding as the previous section, reads as follows: "Members of the opposition will be offered detailed, technical briefings on finance bills by department officials, prior to debate and department votes in the House." That clause has the same weight as that which the government House leader is constantly throwing in the face of the opposition saying, "This is the way it is."
Here today, Mr. Chair, we have the minister who has once again impeded the orderly flow of conduct of this House by not having his department provide that timely briefing - a technical briefing. They won't occur until next week. They won't occur until next Tuesday and Wednesday for the two departments. In fact, it's quite interesting that this morning, the technical briefing occurred, Mr. Chair, for the Department of Justice.
We looked at going into the Department of Justice this afternoon. The Minister of Justice phoned over to the Justice building to see if there was anyone there to attend to her. Everyone's gone for the long weekend. Well, Mr. Chair, what kind of a government are you people over there running? I'm sure that if we pulled the fire alarm today in this building, we would hardly see anyone leave this building, because everyone appears to be gone.
Well, the Minister of Government Services is here but, like the previous sitting of this Legislature, which he held up and impeded by not providing timely information, once again, the Minister of Government Services is impeding the orderly flow of business in this House by not meeting his obligations in this regard.
When is this government going to respect the memorandum of understanding and this section? We are here to conduct business in a timely and orderly fashion. We would appreciate the opportunity to avail ourselves of these technical briefings. Why can't the minister of the government arrange with his department to have these briefings in a more timely manner? Why?
The Minister of Community and Transportation Services can do so. Those briefings were scheduled for quite some time. In fact, it was suggested that all of the briefings be undertaken and completed within the first week of the sitting of the Legislature. Yet, we have the Minister of Government Services, the Minister of Health and Social Services - his officials are suggesting that some of these briefings take place as late as the 20th of the month.
I am looking for a commitment from this minister to honour and respect the memorandum of understanding attached to the Standing Orders of this Legislature.
Could the minister give his undertaking here today to honour and respect this memorandum of understanding, which forms part of the Standing Orders? Or are you going to go on and berate the opposition for not dealing with these matters in a timely fashion, when you're not providing information. Last session, it was contracts. The minister procrastinated and procrastinated and procrastinated, and went on and on and on procrastinating. We get them right at the end of the session and, due to this minister's incompetence in this regard, we ended up sitting all night so that we could clear the debate. That's a disservice to not only members of this Legislature, but to the entire staff that has to sit by because this minister can't address his responsibilities, Mr. Chair. He can't provide information in a timely manner, and can't deal with scheduling technical briefings prior to entering debate in the House.
Now, I don't know what it's going to take, Mr. Chair, to get this minister to live up to his responsibilities and obligations. I'm sure when he stands on his feet, we're going to be preached down to by this minister, but the bottom line, Mr. Chair, is there is an obligation, there is a memorandum of understanding that is being ignored by this minister, ignored to the detriment of the operation of this House.
Now, I'd ask the minister to stand on his feet and give a commitment that he's going to provide information in a timely manner, and we are going to receive - the opposition is going to receive - technical briefings well in advance of getting into that department in the House. Can the minister undertake to do that, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, one of the difficulties that we have is the entire question of when should such briefings be scheduled. I would suggest that the member is being somewhat histrionic in his suggestion that we are ignoring the agreement. We have been trying to work with the opposition in terms of scheduling technical briefings. However, I should point out that it's very, very erratic in here to try to schedule how the progress of this House will go when we spend hours on mosquito control and the price of a bag of larvicide and various and sundry minutiae.
What we've tried to do, or what our intention was, was to try to provide the briefings as close to the scheduled debate as possible, to allow us to address the maximum number of issues that people would have that arise, and also so that the material would be fresh in the minds of the opposition.
There was no attempt to do a disservice to any of the opposition. We were trying to determine what the most appropriate date would be, but we have been trying to work toward a schedule. Unfortunately, that schedule has been thrown off considerably, not the least of which was with the Member for Klondike's obsession with mosquitoes and various and sundry other minutiae in C&TS.
We have moved up those schedules to try to provide this in as timely a manner a possible, close to when we anticipate those debates. So, if the member there is suggesting that he wants these in a more forthright manner, or a more speedy manner, I would suggest that he make a commitment as well in this House not to waste this Chamber's time in rather absurd and esoteric arguments.
So, I will make an undertaking to try and get these future briefings in a very timely manner if he can give me an undertaking that he will try to use the time wisely in this Chamber.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'd like to enter into this, as the minister has just termed it, "absurd and esoteric argument." For the record, on February 27, and two phone calls prior, I asked the government House leader to schedule all technical briefings within two weeks, well prior to the budget, so we would not end up in the same fiasco we ended up in last year and see history repeat itself.
I used to have on my desk a sign that said, "Nothing's ever lost by courtesy." It is not only common courtesy to provide these technical briefings. As the government House leader continually reminds us, these are simply a courtesy being offered to the opposition in order to do our job. It's more than a courtesy. It's part of a memorandum of understanding. It's part of an agreement.
Now, if the government benches have some issue with regard to the debate being offered by any member of this House on any particular department, that's a separate issue. But to not schedule these briefings when there are very well-paid staff who were asked to arrange them, is not only wrong, it does a fundamental disservice to me as a member of this House.
I cannot believe the disrespect that is being shown to us as members. I have made myself available for a month and a half for the Government Services' briefing. It has been rescheduled three times, not once at my request. The minister expects me to come in the House and offer thoughtful, constructive debate without the technical briefing as is outlined in the memorandum of understanding. Had the situation been reversed, Mr. Chair, I can only imagine the outrage. In an attempt to resolve this, and in light of the two hours we will be short, I offered to the House leader to sit an extra hour on Tuesday or Thursday to accommodate this.
That was refused. It wasn't even considered by the government House leader. This arrogance and lack of accountability and lack of courtesy to people is absolutely fundamentally wrong, and the minister has to be on notice, as do all the government benches.
How dare he treat people like this? We're asked here. We are here and we worked hard in the election to represent people. We work hard every day. I was in my office every day of spring break and could have had this free. I asked three times - by phone, in person - with the government House leader and with staff to arrange these briefings and it wasn't done.
Now I hope the minister and the staff and the government benches will do us the courtesy of not only an apology, but getting these briefings arranged on time. As far as I'm concerned, this memorandum of understanding has been breached, not only in its spirit but its intent.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: On this same topic, the minister has the amazing ability to confuse apples with oranges. If he's not satisfied with the debate in another department in this House, that's one issue. But the obligations of the minister for his department and his obligations to this House are to provide timely briefings. That's one.
That's not occurring. That is an insult to this side of the House.
He is supposed to provide information in a timely manner, Mr. Chair. That was clearly abused last time by this minister and resulted in a considerable cost to this government to address this minister's arrogance in this regard - total arrogance, total disrespect for this House.
Technical briefings were requested well in advance, right at the onset of the sitting of this Legislature. We've come to some understanding of the time constraints, Mr. Chair.
Now, the minister's given a quasi type of, "Yes, I will do it, if this member promises this." That's not the issue. The issue is that this minister should be prepared to stand on his feet, apologize for his behaviour, and tell this House that he is going to honour his obligations and provide that type of information to this House in a timely manner - information that's requested, like government contracts - and to undertake to have technical briefings scheduled well in advance of the department coming into this House. Now, that's the obligation I'm looking for from this minister.
Now, if he can stand on his feet and make that commitment, we can move on, but it's going to be a long, agonizing debate without the necessary background information flowing our way before we sit. In fact, the House leaders suggested to the government House leader that, perhaps, we can tag on a couple of hours next week and adjourn early, like it would appear a lot of the other government departments have done today, and that was unacceptable to the government House leader. It was just a big joke. This whole thing is a big joke to the government House leader, yet I'm sure, as we get down the road, Mr. Chair, the government House leader will be the first one to say, "You've got to April 30; there are X more days to go, and if you don't do it, we're out of here; we're out of here. You'll be breaching this memorandum of understanding, ha ha ha."
Well, Mr. Chair, you can't have it both ways. I guess, in one regard, they can, the government of the day. They can be arrogant in both regards, and that's what the appearances are, clearly demonstrating an arrogance in both of these areas by both of these ministers, with a total disrespect for this House.
Let's get back on track. If the minister is prepared to stand up, offer an apology and indicate that he's going to provide the information to us in a timely manner and schedule these technical briefings well in advance of the department coming up for debate in this House, we can move on - if the minister can give that assurance and not qualify it in any respect.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: My understanding was that the briefing should be as close to the projected date as possible for any department. If it is the members' wish to actually have these earlier, we can certainly arrange that.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Good heavens. I believe I have the opportunity to respond on this.
If the members require that, then we can certainly arrange that in future sessions.
We had thought that we were doing a service to try and put this close to the projected dates. It's a very difficult thing to predict.
If that's the members' wish, we can certainly see what we can do to accommodate them in future debate.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, then what the Minister of Government Services has just said is that the issue is with the House leader, because he was asked twice verbally by me. I telephoned staff on two separate occasions. I've also mentioned that - I discussed it with my caucus beforehand - we asked that all the briefings be scheduled two weeks immediately prior to the House being called or as soon as the budget was tabled. As soon as the budget was tabled, we asked that we start the technical briefings. We suggested that they be held every morning between 10:00 and 11:00, and we'd go by department alphabetically.
It was discussed at least twice with staff by me and at least twice with the House leader. And now the minister, in his oh-so-condescending manner, has just stood up and said, "Well, we'll see what we can do."
Well, what does it take to get the request? I made the request. As a House leader, as a leader of the third party, I made that request to your House leader. Now the minister is saying, "Well, we'll consider it and see what we can do."
That is typical - so typical - of the way that that minister and this government treats other members of this House. We're all elected members. We deserve some courtesy and some respect, and I cannot believe the minister is now saying, "Oh, well, we'll see what we can do." I find that extremely discourteous.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: There was no discourtesy intended. I certainly didn't suggest any discourtesy, and I was asked by the Member for Klondike if we could undertake this. I will certainly go back and see what I can do with my departments, but there was certainly no discourtesy intended nor, I hope, was that conveyed in any of my discussions with the member opposite. We had thought that to put them as close to when there was scheduled debate might be of assistance.
As the member is aware, we jumped around a considerable amount here due to various and sundry commitments. It was very difficult to project when we would be in debate. We had actually thought that, given the pace, given the way some things were occurring, we would not be in Government Services until sometime in the latter part of next week, and so what we would do, I guess, is that we would try to see if we could accommodate the needs of the members in the future. And certainly there was no discourtesy intended, and I hope we can move on with this.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I certainly haven't got any sort of an indication from the minister, other than very couched words, "We can see what we can do." I asked the minister to stand on his feet and give three undertakings to this House, Mr. Chair. One, was apologize for his inability to address his responsibility; number two, provide, in a timely manner, information in this House; and number three, provide technical briefings at the time requested, well in advance of the department coming up for debate in the House and in a timely manner as decided by House leaders.
Now, at the present time, when the House leaders get together, there are three members there - three members - but the direction appears to be dictated by the government House leader, much to the detriment of the smooth flowing and timely operation of this House.
Mr. Chair, this minister is procrastinating. He has a history of procrastinating on providing information. I don't know if this is just another ploy to irritate the opposition and try and get them off balance, but it's not doing the government of the day, or this Legislature, any good.
So my request to the minister was three-fold: an apology, and assurances that we'll get the technical briefing well-ahead of when the department sits. I am not aware of any time where it was requested that the technical briefings occur right before the department came up for debate in the House. I'm not aware of any request. That has never been an issue. That's more of an excuse being offered by this minister for his incompetence.
The third component was to provide information to this side in a timely manner. Now, can the minister undertake those three requests?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think when we talk about discourtesy, I think the Member for Klondike might choose to review his own words.
I have said that if this has caused any inconvenience, I regret that. I had not intended to cause any inconvenience, nor did I intend to impede the members opposite. I'm perfectly capable of going into debate at any given time.
The indications from the members are that they want the briefings scheduled very early. We will see, when we come to our next budgetary session, what we can do to facilitate that to ensure that members have the information.
When we go into budgets, I had assumed that the members would want an opportunity, at least, to do this in reasonable proximity to the actual debate. However, that is not indeed the case. So, we will see what we can do to assist the members. I will give that undertaking.
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with Government Services. Is there further general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, we did hear the minister give some sort of assurances that he was going to see what he can do to accommodate technical briefings ahead of the department debate in the House. But at this point in time, it is abundantly clear that this government has broken this memorandum of understanding by not providing technical briefings on the finance bill by department officials prior to debate on departmental votes in the House. That is equally as wrong as extending the sitting past the time that we have agreed to sit.
And the government House leader is constantly berating this side, the official opposition and the third party, for wasting the time of the House, and constantly advancing the case that "You only have so many sitting days, Mr. Chair, and you can only be here this long. You can divide it up any way you want it, but this is it because this is the memorandum of understanding and this is the way the rules read."
That's the agreement, Mr. Chair. And the record must reflect that it is this NDP government that has broken this memorandum of understanding addendum that is attached to the Standing Orders as to how this House sits and how this House conducts business.
So, rather than waste any further time in this House, I think it's appropriate, Mr. Chair, that we add another hour on sometime later this next week to conclude with our deliberations after the technical briefing, and move progress at this juncture.
I move we report progress, Mr. Chair.
Chair: Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Chair: Division has been called.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
The question before Committee is that the Chair report progress on Bill No. 9.
All those in favour, please rise.
Chair: All those opposed, please rise.
Chair: I declare that the nays have it. I declare the motion defeated.
Motion to report progress on Bill No. 9 negatived
Chair: Is there any further general debate on Government Services?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I will put on my glasses for brevity.
It certainly is a pleasure to be debating Government Services during the daylight hours, although I was somewhat concerned there for a moment.
The 1998-99 main estimates of the Department of Government Services - the operation and maintenance budget proposed for Government Services for 1998-99 totals $19,948,000, a one-percent increase from the current fiscal year forecast.
Two of the department's four branches anticipate decreased spending. Corporate Services' estimate is $40,000 less than the current year forecast due to a decrease in the requirement for casual help and reduced departmental training costs.
Supply Services is $33,000 less than the current year forecast due primarily to the deletion of a forms clerk position because of a decline in service requests. There is a one-percent increase in the O&M estimates for property management due to increased lease costs for commercial office space rented from the private sector. The increase is attributable partly to fill full-year costs for space acquired midway through the current year for Health devolution and partly due to the centralization of incremental lease costs from the program departments in property management.
Estimates for information services are virtually unchanged. The cost of merit increases and the filling of numerous position vacancies have been offset by reduced contracted services and recruitment costs.
Financial information for the property management agency, fleet vehicle agency and the Queen's Printer agency may be found in the respective 1998-99 business plans, which have been tabled this session.
This brings me to the capital estimates for Government Services, which are $5,170,000 - 34 percent less than the current year forecast.
The main factors that account for this significant decrease are as follows: one, fewer projects eligible for business incentive rebates in the coming year have been identified; two, less funding is required for computer systems - the integrated building information system in property management has resulted in higher-than-average expenditures in the last two years, and its completion returns spending to more normal levels; three, reduced spending for the three large corporate systems funded through information services, the first of these being the human resource information system, the second, the financial management information system, and the third, the land interest management system.
Most of the operating system upgrades were year 2000 requirements and were completed in 1997-98.
The lifecycles for workstations, equipment and software for the information services branch will be increased, resulting in fewer purchases this year and ensuing years.
Decreases in property management estimates are due to the completion of two major projects this year - the first being the upgrading of the heating and ventilation systems in the main administration building, and the construction of the winter road to Old Crow. Funds earmarked for energy conservation projects in property management have more than doubled from the 1997-98 forecast. There will be $300,000 used for such things as lighting upgrades, heating conversions, automatic operating controls in several government-owned buildings. The payback for these initiatives varies from two and a half to five years.
As members know, we've met our commitment to making the contract registry publicly available on the government's Internet website. Funds have been allocated in this budget for an additional website development projects that are being considered, such as putting the source list and tendering forecasts on the Internet; putting government forms online, which can be filled in and transmitted electronically; putting a list of surplus assets online; putting business plans, annual reports, newsletters and manuals online.
The government's public website offers a means of making information more accessible to the public. Until now, the focus has been on posting static information. However, there are opportunities to build applications which allow the public more dynamic interaction and transaction-based access to government information.
Forty thousand dollars is identified in the budget for information services branch, in partnership with other departments, to explore and implement opportunities for using information technology to improve the delivery of services to the public.
The department, in partnership with communities and local interests, will pursue an agreement with Industry Canada to upgrade the communication links within the territory and to the rest of Canada. A pilot project will be undertaken to establish a tele centre in one of the rural communities. A tele centre is basically an office equipped with state-of-the-art technology that can be shared by community users to conduct business electronically.
This concludes my overview of the 1998-99 main estimates for Government Services. At this time, I would be pleased to address any questions that the members may have.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, in light of the fact that we haven't had an opportunity to review that or have a technical briefing from the department, could I ask the minister to repeat that please?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Would the member like it in total?
Are there segments that the member would like?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The petulance in this Legislature is unbelievable from the members opposite.
I was a critic in this Legislature for four years. I'm not going to go into the segments of our House leaders' discussions. I heard that they were broadcast on the floor here today. I usually try to respect those discussions and I don't broadcast them. There were some amazing things said in those meetings that, if they were put out to the public, would be laughed at immensely on the street.
I want to say to the members opposite that I was a critic for four years. Technical briefings were things that were only ever provided in the last year of the Yukon Party's mandate. Sometimes we went and sometimes we didn't. There was never any problem for me as a critic in asking for two hours of general debate in a department, particularly when I've been in a legislative session for 25 or so days and we are charged with knowing what is in the departments.
The members opposite obviously have not been doing their homework or their jobs on the department. They have obviously been out enjoying the sun instead of doing their work. I think what they should do is roll up their sleeves and get real. They're wasting $1,000 an hour of time today at the taxpayers' expense. They should stop whining about the fact that they also cancelled briefings.
They cancelled briefings; I checked on that. There were dates proposed. They were rejected by the opposition. Mr. Chair, they are as much a part of the reason why the briefings were not provided as the government. That is for sure. That is a fact.
Secondly, they have a responsibility to do their homework and to be ready. We know that the Liberal leader doesn't do her homework very well. She's been called on that by the Tourism Industry Association, but she should get her homework done, come into this House after 25 days and be ready to debate these budgets and stop whining about it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, the government House leader knows that what he just said is pure, unadulterated bunk and he knows full well that there's an obligation by the government to provide technical briefings well in advance of the time that we sit here in this Legislature and debate that department.
Now the Member for Faro is going for the Standing Orders. I refer him to addendum 2. The section that the Member for Faro, the government House leader, always touts is under "Times and Lengths of Sittings of this Legislature. The spring sitting will be up to 35 sitting days with the concluding date to be no later than April 30." That's the section that the government House leader constantly throws out, constantly flaunts with a degree of arrogance that I've not seen demonstrated by virtually anybody in the Yukon, Mr. Chair.
The opposition is only looking to have technical briefings provided by the respective departments in a timely manner prior to the time that we get into this Legislature to debate that department. The dates that were originally advanced were constantly moved at the department's request and other dates were offered. There was one date specifically that, because we had other obligations at that time, we couldn't meet.
The next date that was offered was the 20th. Now the Member for Faro is sitting in the House, whining away, and doing his usual thing - disrupting the orderly conduct of this House. If the Member for Faro attended to his responsibilities in the manner that Yukoners have entrusted him with, perhaps he could attend to doing something to the economy to ensure that the Yukon has jobs for Yukoners, never mind disrupting the House and trying to disrupt the House.
The government of the day has thrown out every trick in the bag to disrupt the opposition, not providing information in a timely manner, not providing legislative returns, coming in at the last moment with a whole stack of verbal responses to respective questions, trying to get by without a deputy minister or assistant deputy minister. You know, that does nothing to advance the cause of the House, Mr. Chair. It just impedes the progress.
After we've gone through all this rhetoric of today, the suggestion that was advanced by the opposition was that we're going to further waste the time of the House this afternoon if we continue. Can we not add another hour on next week to one of the sittings and deal with this after we've had an opportunity to go through a technical briefing? And the usual arrogance displayed by the Member for Faro came to the forefront, and it was a big joke, ha ha, we're not going to go there, we're not going to do that.
Well, so much for progress, so much for getting through the budget, but I'm sure the Member for Faro is going to go back to that one section, and that one clause, and say, "You still have this many days to get through this, and we are going to force closure. We will do it. We have the majority. We are all-powerful."
It's a very, very foolish move on the government's part, and I wonder why. Why are they trying to take this tact of not providing information to the side opposite, not allowing for an orderly flow of debate, not providing timely legislative returns? I guess what they are trying to do is deflect their total incompetence in managing the economy of the Yukon and managing the government to other issues - deflect it to another side-issue.
But the record still stands, Mr. Chair, that this government has broken the terms of this memorandum of understanding and broken a component of this memorandum of understanding that is equal in the rules of this Legislature as the number of the sitting days. The section that has been broken is of equal weight, and I'm very hopeful that this government will see its way clear to recognize the errors of their judgment and to apply common sense.
Now, it might be difficult for the Member for Faro, but I'm sure his whole caucus can convince him that we are not getting anywhere in this manner. We are not doing anything, in the way the issues are being addressed, that's going to encourage orderly and timely debate.
Indeed, Mr. Chair, the way that the government House leader is conducting himself - and I'm sure he's going to be the next up on his feet to say a few words, political rhetoric, spewing out his political rhetoric that I'm sure he must practice at home in front of the mirror in his bathroom at night - it's going to be quite interesting to see what the government House leader has to say.
The offer was on the table, Mr. Chair, that we adjourn a little early today, add the time on to another evening next week, so that the government could meet their obligations under the terms of this memorandum of understanding and provide a technical briefing to the opposition, so that they wouldn't be in breach of this agreement. But the record stands that the government House leader wouldn't accept this very intelligent, very courteous approach to dealing with the House business.
I'm extremely disappointed in the approach taken by the government House leader, and I'm very hopeful that his caucus will convince him - although I have my doubts. I'm sure he's going to be capable of convincing his caucus to go along with his rhetoric.
So, we can sit down, we can move on, but that technical briefing, Mr. Chair, is of key importance to the opposition.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Chair, the member opposite - I find it so hilarious coming from him, he who spent hours on the floor of the Legislature asking about bags of chemicals for mosquito control of a minister in general debate and didn't even ask the question at the technical briefing would stand up and say this now.
Let me just look at the agreement here. The agreement says, "Members of the opposition will be offered detailed technical briefings." Members of the opposition will be offered detailed technical briefings. The truth is that the opposition was offered technical briefings but, quote, the Member for Klondike said, "We weren't available." We weren't available.
Maybe there was a meeting at the Edgewater -
Chair: Order please.
Ms. Duncan: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Ms. Duncan, on a point of order.
Ms. Duncan: On a point of order, that is not the truth. The minister is stating that the truth is that members were offered. Members were not offered. The technical briefing was cancelled, not at our request. What the member is stating as fact is not, in fact, the case.
Chair: Order please. Members should not accuse other members of not telling the truth.
Mr. Harding, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Yes, I would say that she just accused me of not telling the truth. That's unparliamentary. Secondly, she has no point of order, because the member opposite is just expressing a difference of opinion.
Chair: Mr. Jenkins, on the point of order.
Mr. Jenkins: On the point of order, the government House leader is completely misrepresenting what transpired with respect to the issue. It's a very, very misleading statement about the overall complexity -
Chair: Order please. I would like to remind members that the word "misleading" is also unparliamentary.
The Chair further rules that this is a dispute between members. I would like to remind all members that we are on general debate for the Department of Government Services.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's nice to have the floor back after the rude interruptions from the members opposite. I know it's painful for them. The quote - the tell-all - was that when they were offered - note addendum 2 of the agreement - the technical briefing, they were not available. Maybe they had a meeting at the Edgewater. Maybe they were out for a stroll. I don't know. But, Mr. Chair, what they said was that they weren't available. They were offered, but they weren't available.
So, Mr. Chair, we have met our commitments. Unfortunately, the opposition believes that they have some other things to do during the legislative session other than to do their job.
Now, I want to say to the members opposite that this session will be 35 days. Every session we go through this. They go through the macho threats that they're going to extend the sitting and we're going to be here through the summer and what happened last time was we were here 35 days. We'll be here 35 days again. They'll put out their closure statements. It'll have no resonance on the public because nobody wants to hear the whining. If they want to waste $1,000 an hour, I suggest to them that they really think about the disservice they're doing to the Yukon public.
You know, I want to say also that when I hear the comments from the Member for Klondike and his version of the events, I've got to say that the record must be corrected. When I was brought this concern, I heard one side of the story: that they weren't offered the briefings. That, indeed, was not the case. I went and checked on it and it was not the case. They were offered the briefings, but they weren't available.
So, Mr. Chair, we met our commitments. Unfortunately, they weren't doing their homework.
Now, I said, "Okay, well maybe we could look at doing a different department, the Justice department." Now, what I was told then was that the five-year critic of Justice - this is good; this is excellent - if you can believe this, Mr. Chair, even though he had the Justice briefing this morning, wasn't ready to debate Justice. Unbelievable.
We'll just clear it, Dave; just clear the department.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Now that we have some ears all eager to listen, the five-year Justice critic - of Justice, if you can believe it - had a briefing this morning and said today he wasn't ready to debate Justice this afternoon.
That's an outrage. Surely they must do their homework. Surely 25 days into a sitting, the critic must be prepared to ask questions about the debate in the departments that we've been discussing for months in Question Period.
I can't believe the members opposite and the ridiculous statements that they're making about not being able to debate in general debate in Government Services - or Justice, for that matter - for two hours. It's absolutely preposterous, and if they try making the case in the public, they should fly at it, because they will not succeed.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the government House leader has stood up in this House and said that I was offered a briefing by the Department of Government Services that I refused because I was unavailable. That is absolutely not the case. I have been available since February 27th. I was available for the first offer by the Department of Government Services, the second, the third and the fourth. It was not ever, ever, ever at my suggestion that that briefing be rescheduled.
The Minister of Economic Development, the government House leader, has gutted a memorandum of understanding that was made in good faith. He has shown complete lack of respect for everyone in this House, particularly on this side.
If the government House leader has an issue on the manner in which some portion of the debate has been conducted, that issue is between him and another member. That issue is not with me, and I am deeply angered and disturbed that the minister would stand here, state what is not in fact the case about me or our caucus refusing the briefing, and stand there and state that I would say something in House leaders meetings that was not the case.
To stand there and make remarks about another member is not only not the intent of this House; it is not appropriate.
If the acting government House leader wants me to stand here and talk the clock out, I'd be more than happy to do that, but that's not what we're here for. We are here ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The government House leader, the members opposite, find this tremendously humorous. The government House leader has referred to me as petulant in this House. It is ridiculous that I, as a member of this House, should not be given a technical briefing before going into a debate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: I was not offered the briefing in time for this debate. Never, ever, ever have I said I was unavailable or at a meeting at the Edgewater, as the government House leader likes to state. I have been available since February 27, when I asked four times - four times - for briefings.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: The Liberal caucus was offered the briefing, and it was subsequently cancelled at the department's request and rescheduled for April 20. I was not offered a briefing in time for the debate in this House, and the government House leader knows that, and his discourteous, disrespectful behaviour not only is unfortunate for me ...
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Mr. Fentie, on a point of order.
Mr. Fentie: Now that we're dealing with the Standing Orders, there are a couple in this Standing Order booklet that state, "uses abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder."
Now, we've listened to the members opposite accusing us of being disrespectful, discourteous, arrogant, any number of things, which most certainly fit in this category. Secondly, there's another Standing Order that says, "persists in needless repetition."
Okay, we have had a vote in this House. We're not adjourning. We are ready to debate the Department of Government Services. The members opposite were offered a briefing.
And that's the extent of it. So, let us continue with general debate on the Department of Government Services.
Chair: The Chair sees no point of order.
Is there further general debate?
Mr. Cable: I just have to correct some comments made by the minister of spin on the Justice briefing. The Justice briefing was, in fact, this morning, and some documents were requested that, of course, would assist in the questions that would be put to the minister.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Chair: Member for Faro, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I hear some dissatisfaction from the table. I believe in this Legislature. I have the right to raise points of order. We are debating general debate in the Department of Government Services. I do not know what the Member for Riverside is speaking of and how it reflects on general debate in the Department of Government Services.
I would ask that the Chair would direct the debate back to the topic at hand, please. Thank you.
Chair: Mr. Cable, on the point of order.
Mr. Cable: If the member believed that that was true, then he wouldn't have raised the point in the first place. In that he has raised the point, I am entitled to respond.
Chair: The Chair sees this as a dispute between members. Is there further general debate on Government Services?
Mr. Cable: I'd like to finish that point. I don't want to dignify the member's comments by responding too long. They certainly don't warrant a lot of response.
But if, in fact, we are going to have a briefing, I don't think we can expect to run out of the briefing meeting with papers dangling and flying out of our pockets into the Legislature. There is some time needed for reflection. So, I think the member's comments about my refusal to go ahead with the Justice debate today were rather foolish.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I had asked the Minister of Government Services to repeat his opening remarks, as I have not had the opportunity for a technical briefing. I was unable to write them all down, and I'd like that opportunity.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, the time being 5:25 p.m. by my watch, I move you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, First Appropriation Act, 1998-99, and 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., Tuesday, April 14, 1998.
The House adjourned at 5:25 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 9, 1998:
Energy options for the Yukon questionnaire: Cabinet Commission on Energy (McRobb)
Opportunities for community energy management in the Yukon (dated April 1998): Cabinet Commission on Energy (McRobb)
Rate stabilization fund (dated April 1998): Cabinet Commission on Energy (McRobb)