Monday, April 20, 1998 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have a document to table.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 11: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1998-99, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1998-99, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 11 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills for introduction?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I give notice of the following motion:
THAT the Yukon Legislative Assembly, pursuant to section 21 of the Human Rights Act:
(1) appoint Lee Francoeur to the Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication; and
(2) designate Lee Francoeur as Chief Adjudicator.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
Home care: day programming
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, in keeping with our government's policy of providing home care options as a way to foster healthy communities, I rise to inform the House of a new continuing care initiative that the Department of Health and Social Services will have in operation this fall.
Recruitment is underway for a recreational therapist who will, during the summer months, develop a day program pilot project that will run out of the Thomson Centre.
There is a need for three different levels of day program services: a dementia day program, a social day program and a medical day program. The first task will be to determine where the greatest need lies and how we can best support individuals and care givers.
The department will work with other stakeholders, including home care, the Whitehorse General Hospital, physicians and the facility committees to best decide how to meet the need.
The introduction of this pilot project will support continued community living and client independence. Such a program will help prevent or delay admission to continuing care or acute care facilities.
At the same time, it will help families and other informal care givers as they care for persons who might otherwise be institutionalized.
It is our belief that a day program can improve and maintain physical, social, mental and emotional functioning of patients, which in turn will help maintain or even increase the level of independence.
This support will enable individuals to live in the community for as long as possible, maximizing the use of home care and other community services.
With the program beginning in the fall, services will include health monitoring, personal care, and supervised individual and group activities. Individuals will be able to participate in the program on a long-term basis.
Mr. Speaker, it requires a special kind of person to work in continuing care. The Yukon is fortunate in having many of these special people working for residents in continuing care facilities as well as for those who are living independently but require assistance. There are also care givers who make myriads of sacrifices to keep their loved ones safe and happy. The introduction of this day program will give them some respite, allowing them to provide that care longer and keep their loved ones at home.
Though this pilot project is still in its early planning stages, it has caught the imagination of many staff members. They are already looking into doing something different with this program, including the possibility of providing night-time services for clients with dementia, to support care givers who find the nights long with family members who often don't sleep.
Mr. Speaker, we are committed to fostering healthy communities in the Yukon. The health care and support system continues to change and grow, meeting the needs of people in ways that were never thought of a decade ago.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I am pleased to respond to the minister's statements regarding day programming and I'm pleased to offer our full support to this important initiative.
With an ageing population, with people living longer and with the fact that the size of our families are decreasing, there is a growing concern about meeting the future health care needs of our population. Starting in the year 2011, it is expected that the number of retired people will more than double. It is no surprise, then, that we will be facing a big challenge in the coming decades with increasing numbers of people requiring long-term care and a declining number of people to care for them.
With an increased demand for health care services and limited dollars, Yukon, like other jurisdictions in Canada, is having to look at ways at how best to meet the range of seniors' needs, ensure that families are not overburdened and, at the same time, ensure that services are delivered in a cost-effective manner.
Today there is an increasing emphasis on keeping seniors in their homes, in their communities and with their families and friends. Seniors play an integral role in all of our lives and need the assurances that we will support them in their efforts to remain independent and contributing members of our communities.
What is needed are more initiatives that will assist seniors to continue to play an active role in our communities, that will enable seniors to retire in our communities and that will enable seniors to remain in their homes as long as they are physically able and willing to do so.
The introduction of the day program pilot project will certainly benefit many of our seniors as it will help prevent and delay admission to continuing care facilities.
In view of the fact that approximately 80 percent of care for seniors in Canada is provided informally by family and friends, day programs such as these will be of great benefit to our care givers. Elsewhere in Canada, as the minister may or may not be aware, are some six models for continuing care sites designed to enable Albertans to live more independently, by avoiding or delaying the move into a formal institution. Services available include adult family living, dementia care, integrated community care programs, assisted living, native heritage enrichment and transitional care programs. Initiatives such as these are an innovative way of providing short-term and cost-effective alternatives to continuing care facilities for seniors who require more services than home care can provide but do not require formal hospital services.
Has the minister looked at these or similar models that are being used elsewhere in Canada? If so, has the minister or his department had discussions with Health Canada, as this particular project is part of a Health Canada initiative.
While we on this side of the House fully support the continuing care programs that the minister has just announced, there remain long-standing issues in our rural communities of the needs to address the long-term health care needs of our seniors outside of Whitehorse.
As is currently the case, seniors residing in rural communities who require extended care have no choice but to leave their homes, to leave their community, their families and their friends, move to Whitehorse to receive the appropriate level of care they need. The day care programs that will be made available this fall will primarily be used by Whitehorse individuals, as programming will be run out of the Thomson Centre here in Whitehorse.
I'd like to ask the minister if any thought has been given to day programming being made available in rural Yukon. Providing similar programs would be of great benefit as services would enable many of our seniors to remain in their homes and in their communities much longer.
At the same time, family members and friends who often act as informal care givers in the outlying communities would also benefit from having alternate support made available. I am pleased to hear that consideration is being given to the provision of a night-time service for clients with dementia as a means to support care givers.
As I mentioned, many of our care givers are members of our families or close friends who often have full-time jobs and families of their own to raise. While most are pleased to help out in any way they can, care givers may experience fatigue and may feel overwhelmed at times with all of their responsibilities. This added stress can place family care givers at risk of jeopardizing their own health as well as their ability to provide ongoing care to their loved ones.
With day programs as well as night-time service in place, care givers would be able to seek some reprieve and enable them to continue their roles as care givers.
Again, services such as these would be of great benefit to our communities and I would urge the minister to give consideration to expanding these services to the rest of the Yukon, so affectionately known as TROY.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to speak about the minister's statement on day programming. I gather that it's going to come out of the Thomson Centre.
Mr. Speaker, this type of programming is extremely common in other jurisdictions in Canada, and actually there has been day programming like this in some of rural Yukon in past years, and it's very, very effective.
It says that it delays admission to continuing care or acute-care facilities, but it doesn't address the issue of the fact that we do need those facilities. Regardless of how much programming you put in place, we're still going to need those facilities. There are seven unstaffed beds at the Thomson Centre. There's a waiting list of 18 people at Macaulay Lodge. There are people in the acute-care facility of Whitehorse General Hospital waiting to get into facilities. Regardless of how many programs you put on, we're still going to need those facilities and that need is not being met now.
Fifty percent of our population are baby-boomers. The oldest baby-boomer is now 52 years of age.
Mr. Speaker, we have to look at that issue and we have to do it now. We should have done it 10 years ago.
Mr. Speaker, this program is again another pilot project. The hot lunch program and the diabetes program were both considered pilot projects as well. I wonder, what is the commitment? If we are continually bringing forward pilot projects, what is the commitment? People who are putting on these programs want to know. They want to know that this government is committed to this type of programming. Is there a problem with finances, or is there a problem with a lack of structure for this type of programming? Why are these always pilot projects?
The other issue, of course, is, is this available to people of other ages? There are many, many people in our community who suffer from multiple sclerosis and a variety of debilitating diseases. Are we talking just about seniors here, or about other age groups?
The problem also speaks about respite for families of those who take care of people within our communities, but not everybody has a family. There are a lot of people out there who don't, and what do we do for them? What services are we going to give those rugged individualists, in particular the single man between the ages of 50 and 60? What are we going to be doing about them?
These programs are great for your typical middle-class sort of family that, obviously, is suffering from a lack of resources and a tremendous amount of responsibility. Is the minister going to be looking at this in a more holistic fashion? How does this fit in to the way we are going to be dealing with people in our community who don't fit the norm and who have extended health care needs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: There were quite a few issues raised there. First of all, I would like to thank the members for their support of this.
I guess we can start by addressing some of the issues around this - for example, issues surrounding the pilot nature of the program. I think that the pilot nature of the program is less of a lack of commitment and more of a sense of trying to find out what the uptake will be. Are we adequately resourcing it? Are there areas we should be targeting more than others? Should we be focusing on dementia programming as opposed to social programming, et cetera?
Some of the other programs, such as the hot lunch program or the nutritional program, we began those as pilots with a certain amount of money to see if, indeed, that was adequate and to see what kind of an uptake resulted. That's not an issue of commitment. It's just an issue of trying to resolve are we adequately resourcing, are we directing our needs in the correct way, very much the same thing as with the diabetes program - what will be the uptake, are there ways we can adapt it for, for example, rural individuals. It's not a lack of commitment.
I can tell the member that one of the things I take very, very strong exception to is the federal tendency to bring in what I like to refer to, and what are referred to, as "boutique" kinds of programs where they bring in something for two or three years, then step back from it and leave other jurisdictions holding the bag, so to speak, on it.
With regard to rural Yukon, as we said, this is initially going to be in the Whitehorse area. We are going to try and see what the uptake is. I should let the Member for Klondike know that, in Watson Lake, we have one community group, the Signpost Seniors, who largely do this kind of day programming for many of the seniors there. There's an example of where we've managed to use a community group successfully to deliver this kind of programming.
With regard to such things as the continuing care demand, we're very cognizant of that. We're very cognizant of what the needs are there. We're very cognizant of where the pressures are.
We are looking at various ways in which services can be delivered in the most efficient way possible. We're not saying that this is a substitute. It certainly isn't a substitute for continuing care needs. But we are trying to find ways in which we can assist families, and we're also looking at it from a longer viewpoint as to what we can do in terms of continuing care needs.
With regard to programming in other areas, we are looking at programming in other areas. We are looking at different kinds of models of continuing care delivery in various jurisdictions. We're taking a look at borrowing the best ideas we can.
I should tell the members that, as I was at the ministerial meeting on social policy renewal, the whole question of home care/continuing care dominated that meeting. It was almost universal, from every jurisdiction. All jurisdictions are facing the same kinds of pressures and many are responding in different ways.
There was a tremendous amount of cynicism, to be fair, around Mr. Rock's recent announcements on home care, without some kind of commitment from the federal government to ensure that home care/continuing care be part of future discussions, particularly in terms of federal funding.
So, I can tell the members that this is an issue that is dominating national discussions on social and health care.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Finlayson caribou, regulations
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, last fall, the Department of Renewable Resources asked the Fish and Wildlife Management Board to take some regulation changes out for public review. I had the good fortune to be able to sit in on a meeting, Mr. Speaker, that the Management Board heard to get public input into the regulation changes last December. Their recommendations are now going back to the minister on what he should do with them.
But, at that meeting, the majority - and I want to speak mainly about the changes to the Finlayson harvesting and moving toward a restricted hunt there - of the presentations that went to the Management Board were overwhelmingly against this recommendation of a permit hunt for residents by the minister's department. I understand that, of the written submissions received by the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, of some 90 or 100 submissions, over 85 of them were against a permit hunt.
Mr. Speaker, most people, including the minister's own department, said that it was a cow calf problem and a calf mortality problem, and not a lack of mature bulls that was causing the depletion in the population.
Nevertheless, in light of that information, Mr. Speaker, the Management Board has recommended a permit hunt, and it's also recommending that the number of permits be decided after the department has met with the Ross River Dena Council.
My question to the Minister of Renewable Resources: is he going to have his department follow the recommendation of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board and meet with the Ross River Dena Council prior to them setting the number of permits that will be available for this hunt?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we are going to be implementing the recommendations that came from the Fish and Wildlife Management Board in regard to permits. We will be meeting with the Ross River Dena Council to discuss the number of permits. There has not been a number put on so far. What we wanted to do was make sure that hunters who do go into the area, and who are taking caribou out from the area, are registering it with us so we have a little clearer numbers to work from.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, it appears to me that we already have a good handle on the number of bulls that are being harvested by resident hunters. What we don't have a handle on is the number of animals being taken by First Nations, which make up cows, calves and bulls, and not just strictly bulls.
Mr. Speaker, prior to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board meeting last fall, the minister put out a public press release saying that predator control was out of the question, and he wouldn't accept that as a recommendation, thus tying the hands of the board in coming to a decision based on the presentations that were made to them by the general public. Many of the public felt that there ought to be some sort of predator control program, because there was an issue of calf mortality.
Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, this amounts to political interference into how the board handles their business, when the minister is going to make a statement prior to the meeting that he won't accept a recommendation for predator control. The minister has said that he's going to meet with the Ross River Dena Council in regard to the number of permits. I can ask him also, is he going to make sure that there's a level playing field, and will he meet with representation of the fish and wildlife organization, which represents the resident hunters? Will he also give them a chance for input before he decides on the permits?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we will be meeting with all those that are affected in the local area in making these decisions. Before we jump to conclusions to say that the herd is in trouble, I think that it's only wise to make sure that we do find out and do a count.
We said that we were going to be doing a count on the herd in 1999 and, in the meantime, gather more information as to who is taking caribou out of the area, and work with the First Nation. They are willing to come forward with solutions in possibly harvesting from other herds. So, at this point in time, we would like to continue that process and work toward a successful conclusion.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister is working backwards on this issue. We know how many bulls are being harvested by resident hunters - 57 last season. The minister wants to reduce that to 20 and have only voluntary compliance by First Nations people. That's not a level playing field.
Mr. Speaker, we also know how many caribou are in the herd. His own department said that it wasn't a harvesting problem of bulls. It was a calf mortality problem. We know that there are 4,000 caribou in the herd. The minister has even said that in a press release that he put out.
Mr. Speaker, in light of the overwhelming evidence that has come forward that it's not the resident hunter that's causing the problem with the herd, is the minister prepared to reconsider his rash statement - irrational statement, actually - of not accepting a predator control recommendation from the Management Board? Is he willing to reconsider that?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, Mr. Speaker, we continue to believe that it's not necessary to have wolf control or aerial hunting of wolves. It's not accepted by community people. They have asked that possibly they themselves could look into this matter in a different way, and they asked that the department come up and work with them on different methods in trapping, and we've said that we will provide that assistance.
I know the member has supported the wolf conservation management plan, and we will continue to work within those boundaries of the management plan. We're not going to reconsider or change our minds about predator control within the Finlayson herd or in any other place in the Yukon at this point.
Question re: Seniors, audio tests for
Mr. Jenkins: My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services regarding a number of issues relevant to seniors.
Last week our caucus received a call from a constituent expressing concern about the length of time required to have a hearing test done. The constituent I refer to is a long-time Yukon senior who had developed hearing problems over the past year. On calling to make an appointment to have a hearing test, the constituent was informed that it would be at least six months before they could schedule his test. Needless to say, the individual was not happy and could not understand why it had to take half a year to get an appointment.
Perhaps the minister could tell me if he is aware of such lengthy delays being experienced by Yukoners and what he intends to do to alleviate this problem.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, we are aware that there have been some issues around hearing tests. Right now, the current list for hearing clinics is based on the idea of preschoolers being given priority, and there are some delays in terms of even this. Hearing services conducts monthly middle-ear screenings at the Child Development Centre to monitor high-risk children. We have a particular problem here with middle-ear impedance. So, that has been the focus.
Priority is also given to cases with current medical conditions and these are generally booked within two to four weeks and clients are also referred to the specialist who comes up periodically at the specialist clinic.
Basically, we have one audiologist and 1.5 technicians and the workload is such that waiting lists will be inevitable.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, six months is inexcusable as far as a time frame to have any test done.
That's just the tip of the iceberg, Mr. Speaker. On Friday, the Yukon Council on Ageing held its annual general meeting of which a number of important issues were raised by the members of the council, including the pioneer utility grant and senior housing.
As the minister is aware, I raised some questions in this Legislature last week regarding the pioneer utility grant and the need to address the health care needs of our seniors in rural Yukon, on both of which the minister was unable to provide any commitments despite this government's pledge to listen and act upon what is being said by Yukoners.
A particular concern that was expressed at the meeting was a lack of beds for continuing-care patients and the long waiting lists of people wishing to get into Macauley Lodge and the Thomson Centre.
As time is of the essence for those waiting for care, can the minister tell me when we can expect to hear how this government plans to address another outstanding issue: a long time frame to get any treatment? When can we expect to have some answers on this area, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The Member for Klondike is, as usual, all over the map, using the Question Period to parrot his usual speeches.
I can tell the member that I just got finished reporting on one initiative that we've taken: day programming for seniors. We are very cognizant of the problem of wait lists. We are working on options for reducing those wait lists. However, if the member believes that we're simply going to rush out and build some facility without some careful thought as to what kind of facility we need, what kind of care, what kinds of specialty care we're going to bring in, then he's quite badly mistaken.
I should also indicate to the member that we probably wouldn't be in this dilemma had not the previous Yukon government decided to do a slice and dice on the hospital, which did have a 20-bed unit attached. When the previous government got through wielding the axe to the hospital project, that aspect was long gone.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, you're the government, you had all the answers in opposition, now you don't have any answers or any solutions.
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, the waiting lists -
Speaker: Order please.
Mr. Jenkins: The waiting lists are growing. Now it's hearing tests; now it's waiting time to get into Macaulay Lodge and the Thomson Centre. And it's not just in Whitehorse; it's rampant, throughout the whole Yukon, and, it's growing. This government is doing nothing to address those areas, Mr. Speaker.
Probably one of the other issues raised by the seniors that the minister can probably answer very quickly is that they're looking for surplus computers from the government, so that they can send email messages. The seniors would like to have one of these in their centres. Can the minister supply them with a couple of surplus government computers that have email capacities? Can he provide the seniors with some tokenism on behalf of his government?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I've rarely heard such utter nonsense. Here we have a government that did nothing for seniors. If anything, the inaction by that previous government compounded the problem we have now.
I just got through announcing day programming. We have $300,000-odd that we put into home care, which the previous government did not do. We are addressing seniors' needs. We have brought in an intravenous drug program that is going to deal primarily with seniors. The previous government did absolutely nothing. Now, they cry the crocodile tears: "Oh, our poor seniors." They did nothing. Now, they come back with crocodile tears with regard to the computers. We provide computers on a regular basis through our surplus stock. If this organization has a desire, we can certainly see what we can do to accommodate them, and we would be more than happy to do that.
Question re: School busing contract
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Education, concerning the cost of school busing.
Either during the tender process or subsequently, the question has been asked how much various parts of the busing contract costs. This information has been provided to the government. Would the minister tell this House how much it costs to operate the kindergarten bus in the Whitehorse area. That's the bus that's used to pick up children at about 11:30 a.m. from the schools in the morning and drop them off at about 12:30 p.m. for the afternoon session.
How much does this busing cost?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member is correct. We did ask, with the recent tender for the Whitehorse school busing contract, for the bidders to break out the cost of kindergarten busing service as a separate cost. The successful bidder's price was in excess of $100,000.
Ms. Duncan: It's my understanding that, in an effort to save costs, the minister has suggested that this particular bus service - kindergarten bus service - be eliminated. This suggestion has been made without consultation with the busing committee, her partner in education. This question was asked at school council chairs meeting this weekend, and no clear answer was given.
Is the kindergarten busing service - at a cost of about $100,000 - being cancelled for September 1998?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: No, Mr. Speaker, there has not been a decision made regarding the kindergarten noon-hour busing for the next school year. As part of the consultation with the seven schools in the Whitehorse area that offer kindergarten, the principals and school council chairs were sent a memo by the department about the kindergarten busing and the all-day kindergarten program that some schools have chosen to go with.
The department is going to be meeting again, after discussing this with school council chairs at their conference on the weekend, with the affected schools, their school council and administration, later this week.
Ms. Duncan: Well, this decision has huge ramifications for each school, and the decision - it's like grade reorganization. What seems like a small change has ramifications throughout our community.
If the busing is eliminated, each school has to decide on full-day or half-day kindergarten. It's almost May, and kindergarten registration is in two weeks.
Is it the minister's intention that this consultation process with school councils and principals will be finished in two weeks and that a decision will be announced? Whitehorse schools have to make decisions, transportation decisions have to be made, day care decisions have to be made, staff decisions have to be made. When is the decision being made?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, it's precisely because the school administrations and school councils need to have an opportunity for input that this subject has been raised with them previously. We are now taking the time to consider all of the ramifications and to provide an opportunity for input from the school communities.
Question re: Electrical rate stabilization fund
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Economic Development on the rate stabilization fund.
Last month, the minister announced his government's rate stabilization fund, and as part of that announcement, the minister said that rate increases for non-government and residential consumers will be limited to nine percent in the first year and zero percent in the next three years.
Now, following that ministerial statement, the energy commissioner issued a booklet on the fund. It set out that rate increases proposed for June 1998 are anticipated to be within an affordable range for the commercial and municipal government classes. Could the minister stand today and tell us what rate increases small business and municipal governments are looking at later this year?
Mr. McRobb: I'll take that question because this is a matter for public consultation by the energy commission.
Mr. Speaker, the discussion paper that the member refers to is only that. It's a discussion paper. It is meant to stimulate public debate on these types of issues. There are no predetermined solutions to these issues. We will wait until we hear from the public first. If the member would care to make a presentation during our public consultation, I'm sure we would consider it.
In response to his specific concern, the rates for business and municipal customers must be taken in the context of rate history. I can tell the member that in 1993 both of those classes of customers saw a significant decrease in our electricity rates, due to the cost of service balancing. In 1996, those same customer classes also saw significant reductions in their rates. In the meantime, rates to residential customers went up, and that's why we're primarily focusing on the residential customers.
Mr. Cable: Let me read what the energy commissioner's booklet says. "The rate increase proposed for June 1998 is anticipated to be within an affordable range for these customer classes." That's the commercial and municipal governments. When that booklet was written, what was meant by "affordable"? Whatever comes down the line will be affordable or the government is going to make it affordable?
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, once again, the rates for those customer classes were taken in the context of previous rate history.
Mr. Cable: The commissioner isn't saying anything. What are those rates that are anticipated? We're talking about anticipated rates and they're going to be affordable. What are those rates?
Mr. McRobb: Well, Mr. Speaker, last week, he objected to me meeting with the Yukon Utilities Board and this week he expects me to be the Yukon Utilities Board and tell him what these rates are. I want to remind that member that the utilities haven't even filed their application yet. The application isn't even before this independent board. The board will make its decision.
I know the member is somewhat paranoid about the Yukon Utilities Board based on his own previous history, resigning on the eve of the 19-percent rate increase in November 1991.
Question re: Haines Junction school, policy changes
Mr. Phillips: My question is the Minister of Education.
There appears to be some trouble brewing at the St. Elias School in Haines Junction and it's been going on for quite some time. The minister will recall this is the school previously run by the current Deputy Minister of Education, who was a previous NDP candidate and appointed as a deputy minister of this department.
As I understand this situation, the new principal of the school is trying to introduce some new and different approaches which have considerable community support, but are being opposed by some of the old friends of the previous principal.
Can the minister advise the House if she is aware of the turmoil and what is she planning to do about it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I really have to take exception with the tone of the member's comments in his preamble. This member is really stooping to low ground here.
Mr. Speaker, I think if the member can pose a question and pose a question in a manner that's in keeping with the principles of parliamentary debate and not sinking to personal attacks, I'd be very happy to respond to his question. Perhaps he might try rephrasing that or reformatting his question.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, I think the Deputy Minister of Education is fair game. He's a former political candidate of the NDP and appointed by the NDP to a bureaucratic position, politicizing the Department of Education - without competition, I might add.
I've heard reports that the evaluation of the St. Elias School is going to be undertaken by a close associate of the former principal, who is now the Deputy Minister of Education, and this amounts, I think, Mr. Speaker, to a concern by some in the community of a conflict-of-interest situation.
Will the minister ensure that any evaluation of the new school to be done will be done in full consultation with the school council and will be conducted independently, Mr. Speaker?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member opposite that any evaluations of any principals at all schools in the Yukon will be done in accordance with the practices that are set out in the Education Act and that are endorsed in the agreement with the Yukon Teachers Association.
The member's allegations of conflict of interest and political interference are wrong. They're completely and absolutely wrong, and there is no basis for them, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, it appears in this situation that it's the Minister of Education who is out of touch with that school and that school area. It's the parents of that area who have contacted our office and are extremely concerned.
It appears that the turmoil may be spilling over into the community, and there's an emergency meeting scheduled to be held tomorrow night in Haines Junction to discuss the situation.
Can the minister advise the House if she's going to now learn a little more about the situation and travel to Haines Junction to consult with the school council and the parents first hand and try to help solve this problem? Will the minister go to Haines Junction tomorrow night for the meeting?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, let me assure the member opposite that there will not be political interference in the Haines Junction community or in the school communities. Personnel matters at the school are being dealt with according to the practices set out in the Education Act and according to the agreement with the Yukon Teachers Association. The department has been involved closely, working with the school council to resolve concerns in the Haines Junction community.
The member opposite is really stooping to - I don't know what to call it, Mr. Speaker - he's being unparliamentary, he's making false allegations, and I can assure him that we will continue -
Mr. Phillips: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: Member for Riverdale North, on a point of order.
Mr. Phillips: Point of order, Mr. Speaker. The member said that my comments were unparliamentary, and they're not, and she should withdraw it.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, there is no point of order.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Speaker: When a member rises to speak to a point of order, I would remind them that the Chair will be looking for advice as to which rule has or has not been broken. It does not help the Chair when members simly state that there is no point of order. When that is done, it sounds like members are giving the Chair direction rather than advice.
Finally, in reference to the point of order raised by the Member for Riverdale North, I find that this is another case of a dispute about facts between members. Would the minister please continue.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I had concluded my answer by making the point that the Education Act practices are being followed, and that the department is dealing with the community of Haines Junction as it does with all communities, and that's according to the principles in the act and in the agreement with the Yukon Teachers Association.
Question re: Electrical rate stabilization
Mr. Cable: I have some further questions for the energy commissioner. I think he misunderstood my questions, because he didn't actually answer them.
When he issued this booklet on the rate stabilization fund, and he said, "The rate increase proposed for June 1998 is anticipated to be within an affordable range for these customer classes." That's small business and municipal governments.
What did he actually mean? And I don't want a dissertation on his consultation and all that sort of stuff and on the fact that there were rate reductions before. What did he actually mean? What is an affordable rate increase? Is it three percent, 30 percent or 50 percent?
Mr. McRobb: Once again, the member is making allegations that I didn't answer the question, when, in fact, I did. These projected rate increases aren't even increases at this point, because there is, as of yet, at this point in time, no application before this independent board. We don't know what the board is going to rule.
It is expected that the rate increase, however, will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15 percent, or slightly more than the rate decreases experienced this year. In addition, rates for those customer classes went down, as I mentioned, in 1996 and 1993.
So, I'm sure that after this general rate application with these rate increases for those classes, they will probably be paying less than they were in 1993. So, my opinion is that less is affordable.
Mr. Cable: Well, it really wasn't that hard to say a 15-percent rate increase now, was it?
With respect to the nine percent that is projected as a maximum for non-government residential consumers, where did that nine percent come from? Is that the largest single-digit number that the government thought it could get away with, and then work backwards, or was there some other reason for the nine percent?
Mr. McRobb: I would encourage the member to actually read the discussion paper, which clearly points out that it is not government who is raising the power bills. It is the government who is lowering the power bills, which are anticipated to increase as a result of this upcoming YUB process. The government is limiting that increase to a maximum of nine percent, which happens to be about the amount of rate decreases this year for residents or customers. There will be no further increase due to the demise of the Faro mine as a customer on the system. That is a heck of a bonus for customers on the system. Anyone who cares to understand it will appreciate this news, instead of the fear-mongering tactics of the members of the opposition.
As I look across the floor, the Yukon Party claim they had a rate stabilization fund before, Mr. Speaker. It was not a rate stabilization fund; it was a diesel contingency fund, which is far different. They laugh. That's the best response they can have, because they don't understand how power rates work.
I encourage the member opposite, once again, to read the material that we so laboriously put together, which is a fine product on behalf of this commission. So far, the public is very appreciative of this information. There are several energy booklets. If the member would like copies of them, I will deliver them myself.
Mr. Cable: I think the commissioner should read the rules. He has to restrict his invective to the questioner.
Now, the commissioner has mentioned targeted rate relief over the last few months. Where does targeted rate relief sit in relation to the stabilization fund? Is it rolled into the nine-percent maximum, or is it in addition to the money that we put against rates as a result of the creation of the fund?
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, I think the member opposite has his governments mixed up. We're a government that believes in public consultation. We do not predetermine these ideas. The previous government did. They decided all this in the back room without consultation. We operate differently. That's why we have the discussion papers and we have the ongoing public consultation process. These issues are undecided.
We're waiting to hear from Yukoners before any determinations are made. Despite the coaxing from the member opposite, I will not answer those questions, because we are open to suggestion. That's what public consultation is all about.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Speaker's ruling regarding laptop computers
Speaker: Before proceeding to Orders of the Day, I will provide the House with my ruling on the point of order raised by the leader of the third party on April 16, 1998.
The leader of the third party stated that it had come to her attention that a member had brought a laptop computer into the Chamber during Committee of the Whole on April 15, 1998. She pointed out that neither the Standing Orders nor the documents entitled Decorum in the Chamber - Rules and Practices address the issue of whether laptop computers or other electronic devices should be permitted in the House. She then asked that the Speaker provide a ruling in respect to this issue.
The Member for Lake Laberge was the only other member to speak to the point of order. He spoke in favour of allowing laptop computers in the House.
The Member for Lake Laberge expanded on his remarks in the House in a memorandum addressed to the Speaker, which was dated and received on April 17, 1998. It is unusual for the Speaker to receive uninvited oral or written submissions from members once points of order are taken under consideration.
This is like a judge receiving a communication from a client's lawyer after the trial has been concluded and before the judge gives his decision.
Members should be careful to provide their advice on points of order in the House where all members can hear that advice and, if necessary, respond. To ensure that there are no concerns about the content of the written advice provided by the Member for Lake Laberge, I will now table a copy of his memorandum.
A quick survey across Canada reveals that, in the eight provinces that responded, there are four which allow laptops in the Chamber and four which do not.
Decisions on whether to allow laptops have been made in a variety of ways including referring the matter to a committee of the House, as was done in Saskatchewan and Ontario.
The result, in Ontario, was a decision not to allow the use of laptops in the House at any time. In Saskatchewan, the committee recommended a practice which was adopted and which reads as follows:
"That the use of laptop computers be allowed in the Legislative Chamber subject to the following restrictions as interpreted by the Chair:
"(a) they are permitted for use in the Committee of the Whole and Committee of Finance only;
"(b) they must be programmed to operate silently; and
"(c) they must not be used by a member who has the floor or is involved in the exchange of remarks."
The Chair favours the direction taken in Ontario and Saskatchewan where the matter was decided upon by the House itself and where, in Saskatchewan, when it was decided to allow laptops, the guidelines respecting their use was also decided by the House. Therefore, the Chair would ask that this House find some method to review and make decisions on this matter.
That could be done by referring the matter to the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges, or by a motion brought to the House following discussion between the House leaders, or in any other way the House determines.
The direction could be provided by the contents of a committee report adopted by the House, by changes to the Standing Orders, by substantive motion, or by additions to the document entitled Decorum in the Chamber - Rules and Practices.
As the Chair has said, those are decisions for the House to make. Until the House has expressed its view on this issue, the Chair would ask that members respect the past practice of not bringing laptop computers into the Chamber.
We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Unanimous consent requested
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I would request the unanimous consent of the House to waive the provisions of Standing Order 27(1) with regard to notice, in order to call Motion No. 123 for debate at this time.
Speaker: Is there unanimous consent?
All Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: Unanimous consent has been granted.
Motion No. 123
Clerk: Motion No. 123, standing in the name of the Hon. Ms. Moorcroft.
Speaker: It is moved by the hon. Minister of Justice
THAT the Yukon Legislative Assembly, pursuant to section 21 of the Human Rights Act:
(1) appoint Lee Francoeur to the Yukon Human Rights Board of Adjudication; and
(2) designate Lee Francoeur as Chief Adjudicator.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Francoeur is a Tlingit First Nation lawyer who has returned to his home to work and is now practising law in Whitehorse. I'm pleased he has agreed to accept this appointment.
Motion No. 123 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move 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.
Bill No. 9 - First Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Yukon Liquor Corporation - continued
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Ms. Duncan: I'd just like to pick up where the Member for Klondike entered into the debate - the Liquor Act. Would the minister please clarify: "During the term of this government, will the government, or will the government not, be undertaking a review of the Yukon Liquor Act?"
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, it is not in our government's plan to do a review of the Liquor Act in this term, although we will be having the Liquor Corporation board and the president go to the communities to get information. I believe a lot of that information would be giving direction to the review of the act.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could the minister indicate if there has been information provided, such as a questionnaire, to guide the discussions in the communities. Has there been anything developed or is this simply the annual tour by the Liquor Corporation board?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, there are no papers provided to guide discussions with the public. The visits that the corporation board will be making to the communities are more than the tours that they normally go on - or, not a tour but the visits that they make to communities. It's more than that. We want feedback from the general public.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, I think there has been substantial feedback already to the department, in that last year during the debates the minister indicated that there were concerns being represented by the communities, that they had heard concerns in a number of communities. There was also quite a lengthy debate in this House around alcohol, and the minister will recall I referenced the Liquor Corporation in that as well.
It just seems to me that the minister is not taking any action. He's not ignoring the issue but the minister and the corporation aren't being particularly proactive on this issue.
The Liquor Act has needed to be overhauled and revisited for a long period of time and we seem to be putting it off again.
I'm wondering when we're going to deal with this issue.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, certainly I believe that we'll be getting a lot of direction back from the community people. The member is right. There are a lot of issues that need to be discussed within the act, and direction for the board of directors to tour communities I think is a good one. We've asked them to visit - or representatives of the corporation - to visit communities over the past year, and they have visited several communities. There's a lot of interest out there on how we can possibly improve the system, or look at possible ways of dealing with the problem of alcohol in the communities.
The directors themselves, as a board, along with their president, have not toured communities on an annual basis. Although representatives from the corporation have gone out to communities, the board of directors themselves have not gone to the communities for approximately nine years, and
I think it would be helpful for them to get first-hand feedback and direction from people in the communities.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, will these meetings be advertised and will they be open to the public?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, these will be public meetings in each of the communities and I do believe that for us to get good participation in these meetings it would be wise to do some sort of advertising.
Ms. Duncan: It's going to be a very busy summer for all Yukoners, so I would hope that the advertising would give communities plenty of notice that the meetings will be taking place and will be speaking with communities. Can we on this side of the House get a copy of the itinerary for these meetings or a schedule of these meetings so that we might also, where possible, participate?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We don't have a schedule completed. We don't have one put together, but we do have the board of directors first scheduled trip to go to Dawson in June. At that time, there'll be a public meeting, and it will be the first of the community trips that the board of directors make.
Ms. Duncan: I did not have the opportunity of the technical briefing that I was able to have last year on the Yukon Liquor Corporation; however, the staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty and provided me with a budget summary and some information. I would like to publicly thank them for their efforts.
I would like to ask the minister a couple of questions regarding the more detailed operating expenses of the Liquor Corporation.
The rentals, utilities and maintenance show an increase from an actual in 1996-97 of $686,000 to $735,000. Is this an increase budgeted for an anticipated increase in utility costs?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: This is basically just ongoing maintenance in the warehouse. It's not anticipated that it will go up or down or what not. It's a number we put forward for basic maintenance that we do annually.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, just to clarify then, is the minister responsible telling me that the Yukon Liquor Corporation hasn't budgeted for an increase in utility costs?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, we have not budgeted for increases in utility costs. The departments have been given direction to absorb these costs.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, we've just spent some time discussing the travel by the Liquor Corporation Board over the coming summer. However, there is only an increase of $34,000 budgeted for this summer tour. There is a total of $140,000 budgeted for travel and communications. That's up from $106,000 in the 1996-97 actual.
So, the minister has said that this is the first time in nine years that the board is doing some travelling, but there is only an additional $34,000 budgeted for the board to tour the Yukon this summer. Is the entire $140,000 going to be used toward this tour, and other communications by the corporation cut? Or is the tour being funded from something else?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Some of the additional dollars for the tour would come out of the board's honoraria and expenses. If you look in the paper that we've provided for you, you'll see an increase there. With the additional meetings and so on that they will be having in the communities, those costs go up.
Ms. Duncan: That still only totals about an additional $39,000. That still seems fairly inexpensive to take a board to different communities throughout the Yukon over the summer, so I would remind the minister that I'd like to see, at some point, a detailed breakdown of what tours they intend to do.
The other interesting note in the operating expenses is the social responsibility program. The dollars in this area haven't gone up significantly. There is $40,000 being spent this year.
Could the minister give an indication of how that $40,000 is spent?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: It would be no different than previous years. We have advertising in the papers and on bags that come from the liquor store. It's not any different than previous years; we're not going to be doing anything new or different in this year's budget.
We have a line item of $40,000, but some of it - the way it has been working - is that those dollars are reflected back into travel and communications. It will always be run up through the travel and communications and that's why you see a zero amount in the previous years.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, then I can take it from the minister's response that there are no new initiatives planned by this particular corporation in the area of social responsibility; there's nothing new, it's the same programs.
The fees, permits and licences - the fees charged for individual establishments' liquor licences - there is no significant increase. I would take it, then, we're not anticipating or reviewing any fee increases.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No. Yes, Mr. Chair, the member's correct. There will not be any increases in the fees and permits.
Just to go back to the travel a second here, in regard to the amount the member had put forward. At times, when we do the community tours, we would not have the full board going. Quite often there are people who just cannot make it, but we do want to get all representatives of the board into the communities. At times there may be only 70 percent of them who go, or what not, so cost does come down a bit and, of course, people do travel together. We feel it's actually quite a significant amount for these community visits.
Mr. Jenkins: With respect to the review of the Liquor Act that is contemplated, there are a number of sections in the act that deserve attention. Would the minister consider bringing forth amendments to this act for this fall session to address the areas that are giving rise to concern, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, if we started to get into the issues of where we would like to see amendments in the Liquor Act, I think we would be filling up the agenda quite full in looking at all the different sections of the Liquor Act. I know that there are some in there that the general public right now would like to see changed, but I think we should go through a process and have it done collectively, and have it done all at the same time, so that all the issues could be put together, and the general public knows what they're deciding on.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister must certainly agree that there are a couple of sections in the act that are giving rise to concern across Yukon, and his officials, I'm sure, are very much aware of those sections. Wouldn't it be in the best interest of Yukoners if those sections were dealt with immediately? I recognize that there are a lot of sections that a number of individuals would like to see addressed, Mr. Chair, but there are certain sections that are being abused and are giving rise to concern, and they could be addressed with simple amendments this fall.
Will the minister entertain that kind of an approach to fix the immediate problems and, then, go on to a full review?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I know that the general public out there has voiced a lot of concern about what's in the Liquor Act and whether we should come forth with one because we've heard that in the media recently. I don't think it's quite fair to the general public. I think what we could do is start getting some real feedback from them. I know there are a lot of concerns with the act and with the fact that there are problems in the communities with alcoholism. I think the general public would like to give some direction on how the corporation could maybe deal with that and help resolve some of these issues.
Mr. Jenkins: While I respect what the minister is saying, I'm sure his licensing and development department is well-aware of a number of areas that should be addressed immediately and not wait for a full review of the act. That's what I'm hoping the minister could focus on at this juncture - those areas that are giving rise to concern.
You know, to take a shotgun approach at this time - we're going to be several years in the process of reviewing this act before it would be brought before this Legislature and any amendments made. But there are some sections that could be addressed immediately to the advantage of all Yukoners, and I'm hopeful that the minister will see his way clear to ask his officials to bring forward the concerns that are well-documented in these areas and let's address them. I'm sure they can be done with just a number of very basic amendments, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I can't give a different answer from what I previously said. We have a process that we would like to see followed and we would like to have input from the general public. I know there are people out there who are raising issues at this point and they're good ones, and I think that we should be putting them in a list of things that we can address when we do an amendment to the act. At this point in time, it's not in the plans of this government to do a review of the act.
Mr. Jenkins: I will just focus on another area; that is, the hours of operation of the liquor outlets in rural Yukon. I would like to extend thanks to the Liquor Corporation for staying open to 7:00 p.m. in a number of the rural liquor stores that have a high number of visitors. But, could we look at extending to six days a week at some of the stores - just seasonally I'm suggesting - in our visitor season, from mid-May to the end of August or the beginning of September. Has that been analyzed or looked at?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: That is something that I think we can look at - looking at the extension of the stores to be open another day. Although, I must say that, in the visits that we've had to communities, they are looking at - the one I recall is the community of Carmacks - not having a liquor store or asking that the establishments cut back their hours during the slower winter months. The community establishments have responded by complying with the request.
It's more and more of a concern to communities to see the establishments not open so late. I know this is a bit different than liquor stores themselves, but that is the kind of direction that is coming out of the communities.
With regard to this, I guess we can have this as one of the questions put forward in our community tours, and we'll consider it.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm not looking for an answer next year. I'm looking for it to be addressed for this forthcoming visitor season, Mr. Chair, and it's an area that we could explore.
It certainly doesn't have to do with the profitability, because I think, if anything, it might increase the profitability of the outlets. The staffing levels appear to be somewhat on the high side in a number of the rural stores - the total staff complement - when you look at the volumes, and there has been a decrease in volumes in this last little while.
While we're on the topic of volumes and reflections on the bottom line, I look at the Liquor Corporation as being one of the few departments that accurately forecasts the economic downturn in the Yukon with the resulting downturn in their profitability. I throw out my compliments for their ability to forecast where they are actually going.
That doesn't seem to be the case with a lot of other government agencies and departments. We have a downturn and a reduction in population, and other department budgets seem to increase, but the Liquor Corporation appears to have a handle on what they're going to derive.
So, I look at the Liquor Corporation as more closely being aligned to the way the private sector swings and the economy swings. In order to enhance the Liquor Corporation, there is a question remaining about being open Monday to Saturday in a number of the rural communities, like we do in Whitehorse, especially during our summer visitor season.
I really haven't had a good explanation from the minister as to why this isn't being entertained. We've recently extended the hours of the liquor stores in rural Yukon to 7 p.m. at night from 6 p.m. That has served a purpose, but that sixth day may be more advantageous than another hour each day.
I don't know who did the cost-benefit analysis to review this, but I would ask that that certainly be entertained by the corporation, Mr. Chair, and that that could come into place for this forthcoming visitor season.
Would the minister indicate whether he's in favour of this approach, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, this hasn't been a big demand out there. We have had this concern and issue come forward in the past, and there have been a lot of complaints by local establishments that do sell offsales, complaining about the fact that they would be losing business. So, the decision was to remain with the present schedules of openings.
Just to comment on the forecast of sales in 1998-99, this decrease is due to closure of Faro mine. What has brought the numbers back up closer to what they have been in this past year would be the increase in tourism this year, due to the anniversary.
Mr. Jenkins: We still haven't got a respectable answer with respect to adding another hour on five days a week versus staying open an extra day. Now, we're not talking very much in the way of a dissimilar number of hours of operation. Five days a week adding an extra hour is five hours, vis-ŕ-vis, say, an eight-hour opening. Now, has this cost-benefit analysis been explored as to which way would be the most advantageous and where the corporation could derive the most benefits?
The minister threw out the suggestion that the offsales from the licensed establishments would dispute that kind of an approach, and I'm sure they're going to dispute anything that might cut into their bottom line. When cold beer was installed in liquor outlets, they certainly raised the concern. And when the corporation got more aggressive in marketing, there were some concerns raised. But the bottom line is the Yukon Liquor Corporation is a service-oriented facility and it's selling a product. You've got a monopoly that a lot of us would wish to have, but the service is being provided in a dissimilar manner in rural Yukon versus Whitehorse. Why?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, the difference, I guess, in the liquor stores in Whitehorse versus the communities is the communities also have some additional responsibilities as the territorial agent. These are in the collective agreement. It makes, I guess, for us having to do a lot more changes in regard to hiring of people and giving people days off, and so on. But it's in the collective agreement. They do have additional responsibilities of duties of a territorial agent and, at this point in time, there hasn't been a demand to have those changes out there.
I know where the member's coming from. It seems like it's not a big deal, but when you sit down and deal with the issue of personnel, and so on, a lot of other things come into play.
Mr. Jenkins: Which brings us back - has a cost-benefit analysis been conducted by the corporation with respect to one additional day opening versus the hour opening each day of the week that they're open? Has that financial analysis been conducted?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, that hasn't been done in the last couple of years, although we could look into the request that the member has made, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Certainly, there must have been a cost-benefit analysis undertaken to stay open one additional hour each day. Is that available, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, there hasn't been an analysis done on the additional hour. This is basically a routine thing, going from summer hours to winter hours, and back and forth.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what drove the change to stay open an additional hour each day? This is a new initiative that's only been in place for - this'll be the third year, I believe, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Basically, it's just been the demand by the public to have the stores open between that time, between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. It's just a matter of, I think, convenience on behalf of the customer.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I certainly hope the banks take notice of this wonderful initiative that the Liquor Corporation has undertaken, because maybe we'll get a higher level of service out of those institutions.
But bear in mind, Mr. Chair, something must have driven that request. I can't for the life of me begin to understand that it was the general population. It was the potential to serve a growing need and it was specifically aligned with our visitor industry. That's what I was given to understand a couple of years ago, Mr. Chair, when this initiative was undertaken.
So, there must be some documentation and some study there. Would the minister kindly send it over by way of legislative return, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I can give direction to the board to dig out this information and have it forwarded to him.
Mr. Jenkins: I thank the minister for that initiative.
Let's just go back a little bit to the six days a week versus Whitehorse versus rural Yukon. The indication is that the staffing level to act as the territorial agents in the various liquor stores is responsible for staffing.
It's my understanding that the territorial agent is only available five days a week in Whitehorse and five days a week in rural Yukon. Now, what would the difference be in rural Yukon if we had territorial agents available Monday to Friday or Tuesday to Saturday and not be available one day of the week? Now, what concern is that going to raise, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I guess one of the problems that could arise is that the territorial agent and the person working in the liquor store are often the same person, so we can't necessarily split that up.
Mr. Jenkins: They are the same person - that I'm aware of. They have been the same person for a long time - for as long back as I can recall. In fact, the advantage of piggybacking the territorial agent on the liquor store was a cost-saving measure that was initiated many, many years ago.
It's been maintained. It's advantageous for the Yukon to maintain that situation. But, if we expand to a six-day a week opening of our liquor store in rural Yukon, the minister is suggesting that that would place an undue strain on the staff because the territorial agent would have to be provided six days a week. That's not necessarily the case.
Why would you have to expand the territorial agent's role to six days a week if you expanded the hours of operation of the liquor store to six days a week?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The requirement that we have would be that should we expand we would have to give these people two consecutive days off. Should we go this route, we would have to look at hiring additional people.
Mr. Jenkins: Now we're zeroing in. Could the minister ask the board to send over the information where this analysis is all sketched out? So, obviously, some background work must have been done, if the minister's able to provide that information. Will he provide it?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, we can provide that information.
Ms. Duncan: I just have a couple more issues. I'd like to ask the minister briefly about staffing issues, and how staffing issues are handled.
As I understand it from last year's Liquor Corporation organizational chart, there are 73 employees, and the number of full-time equivalents is about 57. Is that number still correct?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: There hasn't been much change to those numbers. We have a slight increase in FTEs to 58.5.
Ms. Duncan: Could I have an elaboration as to why there was an increase in FTEs? Are there additional duties? Where did the increase come from?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: There has been an increase in orders in the warehouse, and we had to pick up and hire additional people to fill those orders. It's the increase in orders; it's not that there's an increase in volume.
Ms. Duncan: It's my understanding that staffing issues and so on go through the Public Service Commission, as any other department. Is that correct? So any staffing that has to be done, the corporation does the advertising, and so on. What's that relationship? Could the minister just explain that to me?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Yes, you are correct. It does go through the Public Service Commission. It's no different from any other department in picking up staff.
Ms. Duncan: So, one could assume then that staffing issues - if a staff member had a particular issue, for example, or if there were any particular concerns - would go through the Public Service Commission standard procedures. Is that correct as well?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I guess there are several ways that they can deal with issues. Basically, the normal process in any department is to go through management and discuss problems that they might be facing and have it resolved there before it goes any higher, or they can go through the Public Service Commission or their union to have these issues resolved.
Ms. Duncan: Last Christmas or the Christmas before, there was a safety issue and a concern raised by employees at the Yukon Liquor Corporation's Whitehorse store. In some instances, one could consider the environment quite stressful in some locations. Are there any extra training sessions offered for staff on alcohol issues or on particular issues? Is there any training offered? What's the rate of incidence of complaints or issues brought to management on issues surrounding stress or alcohol?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Other than the normal training that staff people go through, we've had four incidents with regard to safety of the staff at the Whitehorse store: two were regarding the tire slashing that took place and two were with intoxicated people in the store and having to call the police to escort them out.
Ms. Duncan: What has been the rate of incidents at other Yukon locations? Have there been any?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'm not aware of any incidents that took place in other stores, but we could have that checked and, if problems come up, we can send that information to you.
Ms. Duncan: Could the minister responsible indicate how the incidents were resolved with respect to the employees? Were they resolved to the satisfaction of employees or was the issue taken to grievance? How are the safety issues dealt with?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We've had the issues dealt with management. It hasn't gone beyond that. It was resolved, I believe, to the employees' satisfaction in regard to the tire incidents and, with the other two, it was dealt with by the RCMP.
Ms. Duncan: Overall, in comparison with other departments or Crown corporations in a size similar to the Liquor Corporation, what's the rate of issues taken to grievance or dealt with by management? Is it higher than other similar-sized departments in the Government of Yukon or is it lower?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I think that the Public Service Commission would be the best place to have that question answered. We have not done a comparison within the corporation as to how it compares to other corporations within government. I think the Public Service Commission can give you a more accurate and better answer.
Ms. Duncan: I'll leave that for another minister, then.
Is there any work undertaken by the Yukon Liquor Corporation - any research or investigative work on issues? For example, are there any research papers prepared or gathered by the department on issues such as privatization in other jurisdictions, or any other issues of concern - any awareness or research into other trends by other liquor outlets in other jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: No, we have not done any investigations on how the other jurisdictions operate and do their business, although when there are changes within other provinces' liquor corporations, we do have the benefit of having information passed on to us.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, it used to be fairly common practice in the days before the ready access to the Internet that, when a department was examining a review of its act, it would gather the legislation from other jurisdictions. Have we gathered the liquor acts from other jurisdictions in Canada?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: We have copies of all their legislation in our libraries.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd just like to explore with the minister the issue of FTEs and the increase that's been indicated.
We've had a reduction in the gross sales of the Liquor Corporation. We've had a reduction in liquor volume, and the minister indicated the increase in FTEs is directly attributable to the increase in the number of orders received, and it appears to be warehouse staff. But if you look at the offsetting factor, and that's in the Whitehorse liquor store, there's also been a reduction in the recycling component that used to be undertaken by the liquor store in Whitehorse. That's now been moved over to Raven Recycling here.
So there would appear to be a lessening of the burden on the warehouse staff in that regard, so it gives rise to the question as to how we justify the additional FTEs, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: The increases, as I said earlier, are due to the increase in orders. We have had to hire an additional person to handle those. We still handle the empties that come in from the licensees, so we're still handling empties, but we're not handling them in the liquor store in Whitehorse here from people who are off the street, basically bringing their empties in. So we still have those people working and handling empties.
So that portion of it has not changed. It is the increase in orders that has basically put the corporation into hiring an additional person.
Well, when we examine the recycling, if a licensee brings back his empties, they're all palletized, counted, stacked in the appropriate order - or they're supposed to be, Mr. Chair. When we look at the time-consuming component of recycling, it is when an individual brings back a dozen beer bottles and one or two wine bottles. That takes virtually the same amount of time for a clerk to pack those over and put those on a pallet, whereas the licensee has just offloaded a whole pallet load in the warehouse.
Now that that has been offset to Raven Recycling from the Whitehorse liquor store. The individuals can't return them to the liquor store. So, there should be a resulting decreasing in the warehousing staffing level there.
Could the minister give some indication as to the number of orders that we previously processed to the number of orders that we're currently processing that would give rise to the increase in FTEs, from some 53 to 58, that he indicated?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I believe the member has the numbers wrong. We've had a number of 55.3 to an increase of 59 - I believe is what we've had this year. I thought it was only an additional person, but we do have casuals that do come in.
In regard to sales in the warehouse, that has increased by approximately $500,000 last year, so it is a bit of an increase in the warehouse sales.
Mr. Jenkins: If you look at the increase in liquor prices from year to year and you look at the gross sales, the volume of liquor could remain the same and could increase by some $500,000 quite easily, but the minister indicated that it was the number of orders that gave rise to the increase in FTEs. What has been the increase in the number of orders from one year to the next to give rise to the increase in FTEs?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Well, I don't have those numbers in front of me, but, basically, there is an increase in the frequencies of orders, not so much the volume or what not. There is an increase in orders and frequencies of orders that the corporation has to deal with. In regard to the numbers, we don't have them with us. I can have that information forwarded to the member.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm just looking at the total staffing complement of the Liquor Corporation and the volume of business that it does and comparing it to the private sector. On that basis, we appear to be somewhat top-heavy, number one; and number two, we appear to be very, very generous with staffing levels throughout the outlets.
So, I was just wondering if some review is undertaken on a regular basis by the president or by his senior staff to analyze the staffing levels. Is it commensurate with industry standards, or is it just the number of people that we want to hire? It's not another NDP government make-work project, is it, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: In regard to vacancies, when there is a vacancy - they do arise - there is a review by the corporation on whether or not they need to fill the position. At that point in time, that's where a lot of their reviews of the need, I guess, for the work to be done on time and properly comes from.
There hasn't been a major review of looking at the employees and whether or not to restructure or what not. That work hasn't been done at this point in time. With the type of business that the corporation is in, we feel that it does not need any major reconstruction of the organization at all. Although, again, when vacancies do arise, we look at whether or not the position needs to be filled or redirected or what not at that point in time.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Gross Advances
Gross Advances in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Yukon Liquor Corporation in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Liquor Corporation agreed to
Chair: We'll go to Government Services.
Department of Government Services - continued
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.
Committee will return to the Department of Government Services. Is there further general debate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I was just wondering if the members, considering the length of time, would like me to go over my opening comments.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan:
Okay, if that's acceptable to the Member for Klondike.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan:
The operation and maintenance budget proposed for Government Services for 1998-99 forecasts $19,948,000, a one-percent increase in the current fiscal year forecast.
Two of the departments and four branches anticipate decreased spending. The corporate services' estimate is $40,000 in the current year forecast, due to a decrease in the requirement for casual help and reduced departmental training costs.
The supply services is $33,000 less than the current-year forecast, due primarily to the deletion of a forms clerk position because of the 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 partially to full-year costs for space acquired midway through the current year for health devolution and partly to the centralization of incremental lease costs from program departments to property management.
Estimates for information services remain virtually unchanged. The costs 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, the 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, at $5,170,000, are 34 percent less than last year's forecast.
The main factors accounting for the significant decrease are fewer projects identified for the business incentive rebates in the forthcoming year; less funding is required for computer systems; the integrated building information system and property management resulted in higher-than-average expenditures in each of the last two years - this completion returned spending to more normal levels; and reduced spending for the three large corporate systems funded through information services branch - the human resource information system, the financial management information system and the land interest management system.
Most of the operating system upgrades to meet year 2000 requirements were completed in 1997-98. The life cycles of workstations, equipment and software in the information services branch will be increased, resulting in fewer purchases this year and ensuing years.
Decreases in property management's estimates are due to the completion of two major projects this year: the upgrading of the heat and ventilation systems in the main administration building, and the construction of the winter road to Old Crow.
Funds earmarked for the energy conservation projects in property management have more than doubled from the 1997-98 forecast. Three hundred thousand dollars will be used for such things as lighting upgrades, heating conversions, and automatic operating controls in several government-owned buildings. The payback of these initiatives varies from two and a half to five years.
As members know, we have met our commitment to make the contract registry publicly available on the government's Internet. Funds have been allocated in this budget for 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 to make 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.
An amount of $40,000 is identified in the budget for the 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 community and other local interests, will pursue an agreement with Industry Canada to upgrade the communication link within the territory and the rest of Canada. A pilot project will be undertaken to establish a telecentre in one of the rural communities. A telecentre is 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 the members may have.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, I'd just like to start by thanking the minister for the briefing that his department gave me and the member from the third party. It was quite informative, and responses to a number of issues that were raised were provided. I'd like to thank the minister and his department for those responses.
I'd like to just explore with the minister one of my gravest concerns, and it's the issue of the Y2K, the computer systems, and just where we're at in the various departments. Government Services is the lead department. The only information that came back that had any dates attached to it was the final attachment, BU Year 2000 Assessment. The major exposure, as I understand it, is in Community and Transportation Services, Finance, and Health and Social Services. That's where we, as a government, have the largest exposure.
Finance is the one that has the date of April 1999 as to where we're at. So, could the minister just elaborate? There must be some indication of where we're at in the various departments. Are we starting? Are we 10 percent through, or 20 percent, or 50 percent? Just where are we in the various departments, and where is Government Services at overall? How much of the final conversion is completed?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, thank you, Mr. Chair -
Chair: Order please. Would members please wait to be introduced.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Certainly. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I can speak with some authority on Government Services because we have the responsibility for the technology infrastructure and common applications used. That's primarily the mainframe computer and the network, as well as the core financial and human resource systems. Those are the ones that I can speak to with more authority than in other individual departments. There are departments that are at different points in their development.
We have initially completed the upgrades on the main operating systems and, in particular, the mainframe. We have been working with our vendors for third-party software and we've been installing them and testing them. We are currently upgrading our operating systems. The AS-400 will be completed by July 1998. The client-server hardware, which is the UNIX, the LIMS, the HRIS dataware house, the operating system is currently underway. In terms of completion, we are expecting August 1998.
The corporate client-server database, the Oracle, version 7.3, is compliant now. The hardware for the telephones and voice mail are currently being reviewed. I don't have a date on that one. Network systems are currently being reviewed.
Most of the PCs that we bought through bulk buys in 1996 are compliant. Departments have been given manufacture information dates for any changes that have to be undergone there. I can give a sense of where some of our other departments are, particularly with regard to Health.
Within Health, there are contractors currently working on changes to the LISA system. That's expected to be completed by September 1998. The health claims are planning to be replaced as part of the CMAS project. There's a contingency plan looking at costs to fix that. Health registrations: that's also part of the CMAS system. And the client index, that's all part of the CMAS system, and we're looking at a completion date on that one for December 1998.
What we'll have to do is decommission our health premiums before the year 2000.
With regard to Community and Transportation Services, the date that I have on that is March 31, 1999, and that's all I can really say at this point. My notes are not as detailed in the various departments because, as I say, our focus is primarily on corporate responsibilities, the main server and the main information systems.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm concerned to the point of being alarmed about this issue, Mr. Chair, given that there appears to be no one with a handle on where all of the departments are at on a continuing basis. I would be of the opinion that, somewhere, there must be a group that meets on a continuing basis to update the information from the various departments and provide that in some sort of an overview for management. And if not, why not?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I said, our responsibility in information systems has been primarily for our corporate responsibilities. However, individual departments have their own computer systems and they are responsible for determining and dealing with how they're going to meet this.
However, Government Services has been providing technical assistance, and what we've done is help departments assess their information systems and determine what kinds of capital investments would be necessary to ensure that the current applications can go on.
But, for example, if we look at just taking, as an example, perhaps Education, Education has a whole variety of systems. Some are old computers existing in schools, and so on. Many of those systems, the department itself would have to go through, with the assistance of Government Services, and probably do an assessment of systems that need to be upgraded or replaced, or whatever. That becomes the responsibility of the individual department to undertake those. What we can do is provide technical assistance - costing out, et cetera - but our responsibility has been primarily for the corporate issues.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister's department is the lead department and has the overall responsibility for this transition and for this project. Is there a group within all of the departments that is constantly monitoring the situation across the board? Do they compile a monthly or a weekly report? What is this group called? What is its makeup? Who does it report to ultimately, and how is it functioning? Are there reports available from this group?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I misunderstood what the member's intention was - like, did Government Services have the responsibility for doing that?
There is a year 2000 problem-tracking project, and this is a project steering committee that consists of senior departmental representatives. They meet monthly, provide advice and direction for the project. Part of this is to communicate, create a sense of awareness of what the impact will be of the year 2000 issue.
As part of this, ISB is currently meeting with the departments to get an updated assessment of the departmental readiness. So what we're doing is we're going through with each department, and we're finding out where each individual department is, what kinds of things have yet to be done, what kinds of time lines they're working to.
So what we'll have from that is a sense of what has yet to be completed and how ready individual departments will be. But there is a project steering committee, and that's underway.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister has elaborated on where C&TS is at and where Health and Social Services is at with respect to YK2. Finance is the other major department and we didn't hear where that department is in the overall picture. Is it at the beginning? Is at 10 percent, 20 percent? At what stage are they at in the transition?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The deadline, or the target date, for the completion of this, I believe, is December 1998. The MSA, for example, will be replaced with the HRIS system, and that is in final testing. The department's SAS applications are under review and fixes will be done with the internal staff. Those are the two major ones under Finance. So, they look like they're both underway. Then, of course, the major, which was the FMIS - financial management information system - was being made with the year 2000 compliance. So, we're underway there and we're tracking to schedule on that one. So, we're expected to be completed with FMIS in April 1999. This new upgrade will replace the current AP, which is accounts payable, CS, commitment accounting, and FG, or the general ledger and Auditor General systems, and that's targeted for April 1999.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that information was provided to the side opposite, but I thank the minister for repeating it, but my question is more specific, Mr. Chair. What stage are we at in the process? Are we just beginning? Are we 20 percent complete, 50 percent complete?
I understand we have a target date of completing for Finance of April 1999. That's a year away and we're 20 months away to the changeover to the next millennium. So, just where are we? Are we beginning, halfway through or are we almost there?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I can't speak with any authority in percentage terms for individual departments, but what I will try to do is try to get some additional figures on that. But as I said, it's individual departments, and that may be somewhat difficult to do. Hopefully, when we get a report back from the project steering committee, we'll have a better sense of where individual departments are, and I can provide that for the member.
Mr. Jenkins: How often are these project reports from this steering committee produced? And are they available, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The team meets once a month, and I imagine that it's a fairly informal update. What we're currently doing is meeting with each department to find out at what state they are. So, maybe from that I'll have a better sense of where individual departments are, and I can relay the information on to the member.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to return to an issue that I discussed at some length with the minister in the 19 months, or whatever, that we've been speaking to each other across the floor of the House - NovaLIS. The briefing note or letter that was provided from the department today is a followup to the briefing - which I would also like to express my thanks to the department for - and indicates that the government will enter into a contract with NovaLIS at the expiration of the first-year warranty period for the work done by NovaLIS. That agreement is to cover support and will cost about $19,000 a year. Does the department have an estimate of how long we're going to enter into this? Is it for five years that we're going to be spending this?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That will be on an annual renewal basis, so we'll do it for one year and then renew it, unless we get a better offer, I suppose.
Ms. Duncan: The minister's choice of words is quite interesting. I understand that NovaLIS is working with a local systems contractor. Is it anticipated that, perhaps, a local individual could be providing that technical support on NovaLIS' behalf?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, I think that would be likely. Of course, one of the things that we have to keep in mind as part of that $19,000 is, indeed, licence fees for using that software.
But, the member is right. We asked NovaLIS to partner with someone locally to provide long-term technical support - or local support - and we provided them with a list of local information systems support vendors. They have subcontracted with, I believe, Sorrento Systems, to perform the consulting and development support work. We are interested in trying to encourage anyone that we deal with to try to partner, as much as possible, with local vendors.
As a matter of fact, if the member can recall back on some of the original discussions on this, when I said that we would see what we could do with the local GIS industry, one of the things that I said at that time was that I would encourage them to look beyond just GIS technology - local information systems. I wanted the department to kind of cast a wider net, and one of the things that they did was encourage NovaLIS to look at a local vendor.
Ms. Duncan: I understand that the LIMS application software is working in the land titles office. There was also, prior to the government contracting NovaLIS, I understand, a system working in the city.
The whole emphasis on this previous discussion was that the work could have been done locally. The minister has indicated that he has encouraged officials to cast a wider net and work with local industry.
The minister had committed himself to working with industry in this regard. My last update on this was on March 9. The minister indicated that there was supposed to be an exchange of correspondence and perhaps a meeting. Would the minister update me on what has happened since the initial discussion, when the minister and, I understand, the local hire commissioner at the time, sat down with industry and there was a discussion. Could he give me the sequence of events that followed that, please?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I undertook with the industry - I said, "Do you know, we'd certainly be interested in meeting with you, trying to discuss some options here."
We have had a couple of contacts since then through our department. We've had also a couple of contacts from the industry itself to us. Basically, a couple of companies have said yes, they're interested in participating, and so on. But to date, we haven't had anything overly formal with regard to this.
If I just go back to my notes, which are on, I believe, March 12 on this particular issue, if the member can bear with me for a second. We've had a discussion with one local firm about the future GIS. We also made an offer to have further discussions with another spokesman for the engineering/surveying industry but, to date, that offer hadn't been taken up. We will be following up, again, with any industry representatives before any future major tenders are put out. I mean, this is a commitment I made, and this is something we will follow through on.
Ms. Duncan: I appreciate that undertaking by the minister. The tender for the balance of the work - some $400,000 for digitizing maps, and so on - is being anxiously awaited by industry. I understood from the briefing that the money is in the budget, although they couldn't point to a specific line item, as I recall from the discussions.
Can the minister tell me when that work will be tendered?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm informed that the work leading up to the contract is substantially done, so it should be in the very near future. I was just informed that we're actually at the point of sort of finalizing what that work will be.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, can I ask the minister to be just a little bit more forthcoming? Are we looking at six weeks, one $400,000 tender, are we hoping to have the work divided up so that you could end up with two or three companies with a little bit of work, or - what are we looking at in terms of this process?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm afraid I can't be too much more specific on that, but I can find out for the member in what manner we're looking at it. There's about $400,000 worth of work related to converting maps and documents into electronic form, and we're hoping that the local companies will be undertaking this. As I said, that aspect is pretty close to completion at this point, and certainly when we have those things sort of resolved, we will be trying to get it out in the most expeditious manner possible. I'm not sure if it can be broken up. I'm not sure if we can do one or two tenders, but I can go back and ask the department to see what we're anticipating there and provide the information for the member.
Ms. Duncan: The minister has undertaken to meet with industry, then, on this, to discuss this issue with them before the tender process. Is there a date scheduled for that meeting?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, there isn't at this point, and I doubt if it would be me meeting them; it would be my officials. As this work is sort of being wound up before we go out on a tender, we probably would meet with the industry representatives to take a look at how this can be handled, in a similar manner as we did with the Old Crow contract. We met with contractors there to try and inform them of how we were proceeding and get some advice from them.
It may be that we are restricted; I'm not sure, because I don't have the level of technical expertise. It may be that there are some impediments to breaking up the tender. There may be some aspects I'm not aware of, but it is something that we'll try to follow up on and make sure there is a commitment to this.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the minister for that. I will be watching for the tender, and let's hope that it's sooner rather than later.
We have also been anxiously awaiting any sort of response by the government on the local hire report. The final report has been out for some time, and we're waiting and waiting and waiting. There are some very straightforward recommendations that were made by the local hire commissioner - excellent recommendations that could have been implemented months ago by the Department of Government Services. Where are we at with the local hire recommendations?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, we're anticipating having it out very soon. We ran out of the really nice coloured covers because of the energy commissioner's consumption of them. No, I'm being facetious.
We are waiting with bated breath. It will come in the fullness of time. I can tell that the member is beside herself with excitement. It won't be very long. It will be the most anticipated event since -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: - well, since Santa Claus. Thank you.
No, it is coming momentarily; within days.
The member is right. There are some excellent recommendations there, and, as a matter of fact, Government Services, on a number of those things that can be implemented very quickly, has already begun the process of doing the necessary internal changes.
So, there are some things that we can do, and there will be some things that we will be doing, and then, of course, there will be some things that will take a longer scope of time.
Maybe what we'll do is ensure that the first copies that roll off are signed by the local hire commissioner - kind of like a first edition.
So, it is anticipated. It's being done. We've looked at it. We've discussed it in some detail, and I can tell that the excitement is just rampant, and we'll have it for you in days.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, the end of this session is coming, too, and I would like a very straightforward yes or no. Will we get this local hire report before the end of the session or not?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would anticipate, before the end of the week.
Mr. Jenkins: While we're on the issue of Yukon hire - that was my next area that I wished to explore with the minister - on the Old Crow school contract, it would appear that many provisions of Yukon hire that were outlined in the discussion paper are going to be provisions of the contract for the Old Crow school. Just giving the press release on the contract that was coming out and giving our understanding of the Yukon hire paper, can the minister tell me how we're going to make provisions of the Yukon hire provisions of the contract for the Old Crow school when we haven't even adopted the Yukon hire position paper.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We have a number of points within the Old Crow project itself, which I think would lend themselves very much to some of the recommendations in the Yukon hire position paper. However, I think one of the things that we have to be very cognizant of is that there's also an additional issue here on the Old Crow project, and that's the chapter 22 requirements, which require us to maximize any economic opportunities, specifically for the Vuntut Gwitchin people of Old Crow.
I think that if the member takes a look at the Old Crow tender, he can see the kinds of things that were built into that particular project on the Old Crow tender that really do lend itself very much to that kind of, not only local, in terms of Yukon hire, but local in terms of, specifically, the Vuntut Gwitchin.
We feel that we're meeting our obligations there, and we feel that there will be opportunities for local companies.
Incidentally, the tender went out on Friday. There were 40 packages published. All 40 have been picked up. We ran an additional 60 copies that are now available. Many of those were picked up by subtrades - people who were interested in the specific project and specific components of the project.
So there's a good deal of local interest, and I'm pleased about that. We've had at least two local general contractors pick up packages, and we're hoping for more. But I think 40 tender packages in one day is quite a good uptake.
Mr. Jenkins: That probably should indicate to the minister the level of economic activity around here. There's very little going on, and this is a welcome addition to the economic well-being of Yukoners - the government tendering this contract. It's the single largest contract that will be put in place this year.
Just going back to this tender, the UFA is a legally binding document, and section 22 of that UFA is quite explicit as to what is required of the government of the day and what is required of the First Nation, so that's a given. But I'm interested with other areas that do not fall under the UFA, that are more under the Yukon hire initiatives that are incorporated in the tender documents of the tender for the Old Crow school.
The Yukon hire's position are still recommendations to this government. They haven't been formally adopted.
Don't get me wrong, Mr. Chair. I subscribe to a lot of the components of this Yukon hire and the recommendations. But they're still recommendations; they haven't been adopted. Yet, this contract appears to have incorporated a lot of these into this contract, this contract for the Old Crow school.
Is this something that the minister took upon himself to do after the fiasco with the floor joists and the insulation, or is it just that some common sense prevailed within the minister's wonderful little world?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Common sense always prevails.
No, we were anticipating - to answer the member's question - that this tender would be coming forward at almost the same time as the recommendations of the Yukon hire commission would be adopted. However, we've been continually working on this particular project with the idea of the major recommendations for Yukon hire being incorporated in this.
Certainly, that was the direction that I gave the department - to try and make sure that we encompass those kinds of things. It would be very silly for us, for example, had we come out with the Yukon hire report last week, to have a major contract like this at substantial variance, so we've always been trying to work with the idea of the Yukon hire coming out at approximately the same time.
So, there isn't any incompatibility there. We've taken a number of concerns into designing the contract. I think that when the member sees the Yukon hire report, he'll see that, in fact, many of these recommendations have been incorporated in the Old Crow contract. We have always been cognizant, ever since the initial report came from the commission, of trying to work toward that.
We know, for example, that there will be some aspects of Yukon hire that will be developed very, very rapidly. Some will take longer. Some will actually take considerable resources. Some will take reorganizations. Some may take maybe, in fact, longer term aspects. But, we know that there are a large number of these recommendations that we can incorporate and we should be incorporating in our projects that are forthcoming. For us to simply hold back on contracts until this was a public release document, I don't think would have served the local business community well.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if you can do it now, why couldn't you have done it before, when the contract was let for the supply of materials? We're taking credit for an initiative at this juncture, Mr. Chair, but there were a lot of jobs that went south as a consequence of decisions made by this department with respect to tendering the supplies for the Old Crow school, as a consequence of the decision to hire an architect that was more familiar with trusses and joists that were available in southern Canada than were available here.
So, you can't have it both ways, Mr. Chair. Now we're taking credit and standing up for doing something that I applaud the government for incorporating into this last contract, but why couldn't they have done it before? What's the reasoning for that, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, first of all, I think there are a couple of issues. One, with reference to the architects themselves, I believe there was a contract for about $241,000 and, if we go back and look at the project, on the next local bid on the architecture, I think, there was some 35 percent difference. While we can certainly incorporate some differentials, I think we have to also be cognizant that this is taxpayers' money.
With regard to the trusses, some of these issues came forward. Part of the problem was the accelerated project itself. This was different from other projects we've done. We actually had to order in the materials, working from supply lists and so on. With regard to the trusses, that was a decision that was made based on the recommendation of the architect. Just with respect to that, I think, if the member has an opportunity to take a look at the plans of how the school was configured, he'll see that those trusses lend themselves to the type of construction that we did.
I also have to say that there were a number of local companies that benefited from this particular way of doing it. I think that there were some 17 local contractors who benefited in one way or the other.
Would we have liked to have done all of the manufacturing here locally? Of course we would. But I think we also have to be realistic, and we have to understand that we had certain limitations on there. Some of those limitations were necessitated by the nature of the construction. Some of them were necessitated by the climatic and technical demands of the building.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I agree with the minister, Mr. Chair. It's the nature of the construction. The nature of the construction is dictated by the architectural firm, and yes, we've saved almost $80,000 on the original design; $241,000 was the low price. We saved $80,000 there, but when we look at the resulting benefits and cost to the Yukon's economy as a consequence of that savings, then we get to the true figure, Mr. Chair.
We purchased almost $1 million worth of supplies to ship into Old Crow, and when you look at the insulation and when you look at the joists and the trusses that were purchased - specifically at the joists - and you look at the jobs that were created and would have been created here in the Yukon in, manufacturing them locally, and when you look at the insulation and using foamed-in-place insulation and doing that with local labour and local material and the resulting savings to the Yukon as a consequence of that work going locally and injecting more into our economy, it takes that $80,000 and makes it look very, very small and insignificant.
So, did we in fact have a saving? The minister would like to stand up and say yes, but it's not the case, Mr. Chair. It is going to cost the Yukon economy considerably more money than what we saved by using that architectural firm. Simple logic would tell the minister that, and I would like to know why we can apply Yukon hire to the main contract for the Old Crow school but we couldn't apply it to the purchase of the materials for it.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is something that we could probably go around and argue relative merits of going with a floor joist with open-web trusses, which could be made locally and the amount of additional square cubic footage of insulation, the kind of construction using batt and rigid foam insulation being more labour-intensive, et cetera, et cetera. We could go around this one considerably. Suffice it to say, that we've been working on a couple of deadlines here. We've been working on the deadline imposed by the road. We've been working on a compressed schedule. We've also been very cognizant of the report on Yukon hire coming forward. We had a sense of what some of those recommendations were, but I think the final product didn't come available until probably the last month or so and we've gone through some various and sundry changes on that, but I think ever since this project has been underway, we've always been looking at ways we can maximize. But I think this is a point where we'll have to agree to disagree. I believe that we can make a contention that there were a variety of reasons, as I referred to, the amount of extra insulation that would be required using open-web trusses, the amount of cutting of insulation adding to the cost.
One of the interesting things would have been the addition of a one- to three-foot height to the building itself and that would've necessitated an additional 2,000 square feet of framing and insulation. So, we could go all around with this. We could weigh the various merits, but I don't know if it would get us too far. Suffice it to say that we've begun a process. We've been working toward it. I believe that some of the things that we're trying to do now will work for the benefit of the local contracting industry, and that's our goal.
Mr. Jenkins: I guess we can leave this alone if the minister's prepared to admit that he had an error in judgment on this issue, and we can move on, and we won't make this error in judgment again, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I'm not prepared to acknowledge that there's an error in judgment. What I am prepared to say is that we always try to work to the best of our ability for the local companies.
In terms of error of judgment, I mean, how far back can we push errors of judgment. I don't believe it was an error of judgment. I believe we were operating with the best technical advice we could get, and I believe that we were trying to meet the deadline imposed by the issues surrounding the road.
This is not a kind of a macho thing, where one person has to win by another person losing. We were trying to work to the best of our ability for Yukon companies, and that's what we'll undertake to do.
Ms. Duncan: The Old Crow school - let me just ask the minister to go back and refresh my memory. Why did we not go with a design-build contract for the Old Crow school? Why did we go with the design only?
Sorry, Mr. Chair, just to clarify for the minister. Could he refresh my memory, and the memory of the House, why he went with the design, like an architectural design request, as opposed to a design-build combination? Why was that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It was largely to maximize local content in the project itself. But what had happened was that the Minister of Education and I met several times with the building advisory committee for the Vuntut Gwitchin. During some of their trips down here, they had taken a look at some local school designs, specifically the Hidden Valley/Holy Family design, and they liked the overall design. They liked the footprint of the building. From the point of view of a school, it's a well - it works as a school.
For anyone from an educational point of view, there is the flow of it, et cetera. They like that. That was what they undertook - some kind of modification or some kind of design very similar to that.
The plans, as they're reflected, use some of the basic components. There are some major changes, as well, such as relocations of certain facilities and so on and so forth; not to mention the physical problems of having to have, for example, potable water tanks, sewage holding tanks, sprinkler tanks and so on. There are physical modifications that had to be done. But, this was the design that the community liked and we thought could be adapted to the particular locale.
Ms. Duncan: I have to confess that that answer absolutely amazes me. This community really liked the footprint and design of two schools in Whitehorse, which were designed locally. So, we ended up with an outside firm designing this school. To maximize local hire, it has done everything but maximize local hire.
We've got trusses that could have been built here manufactured outside. We have insulation trucked in from outside. We also, in this design, I understand, have glulam beams. How is it proposed that we're going to get the crane into Old Crow to move the beams?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, it's not merely a case of taking the design and plopping it down in Old Crow. The whole configuration of the building required some major modifications. Take a look, for example, at the Hidden Valley School. It is in a very different configuration. If you take a look at the basic support underneath, you can sprinkler that school underneath. There are things that you can do.
On a permafrost basis, we couldn't do that in Old Crow, so there were a whole variety - the member is shaking his head, but our technical advice was that that would provide some substantial problems.
With regard to the glulam beams, the member has asked an interesting question. How are we going to get them up? Well, the way we're going to get them up is just sheer labour. We are not planning on bringing in a crane. We will get them up by means of, probably, a block-and-tackle pulley system. I'm not quite familiar with how the contractor plans on doing it, but it is something that has to be done and we will be able to do it.
Ms. Duncan: The Old Crow school is - to date, the whole story of the Old Crow school is something out of a - I don't know. It baffles me as to how it got to this point, but there's no point in us going on and on about a he-said-she-said debate.
Can the minister just give the commitment that we are going to learn from the mistakes we've made in this particular project?
Now, the minister is going to stand on his feet and say, "Well, we haven't made any mistakes, it's just your perception". Well, it's not just my perception. It's the perception of the business community that this has not been done in the best possible manner. At some point, are we going to sit down and say, "Well, we could have done this better", and do an evaluation?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Hopefully, we will not be in the position - in the very near future - of having to build another school in Old Crow. This is a somewhat infrequent occurrence, thankfully, and hopefully as we move through the process, perhaps with better fire management systems and things like that, we can avoid this particular situation.
Yes, the Old Crow project has had a number of issues, not the least of which is the locale, not the least of which has been the transportation of materials, and things of that nature.
However, I think there are some issues that we've had to contend with, and there are some issues that I think, in all fairness - we made a commitment to the people of Old Crow, as we make commitments to all of our First Nations under chapter 22, that we will try to maximize the benefits for the community.
The decision to go with the road was not exclusively for the purpose of transportation of school materials. Yes, that was a major goal, but we also recognized that going with the road project would have substantial economic benefits for the Vuntut Gwitchin people. I can tell the member that there has been a number of benefits flowing to that community.
I think we have to be cognizant of the fact that we have to provide economic opportunities in some remote areas, and the very locale provides some issues.
Will did we learn from this project? Yes, we will learn from this project. The Ross River project is coming up. Will we take some of the things that we've gained from the Old Crow experience in terms of how we work with chapter 22, how we work with local contractors to maximize those? Yes, I hope we do, and then I hope we can apply the lessons we learn on that to the Mayo school, and on and on.
I think there are always opportunities. Will we gain some things from the Yukon hire? Yes, we will. Do we think we can apply those? Always.
That's something we hope to do. We go back. We look at what we did well and what we can do better. That's something we're always aspiring to.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm glad the minister mentioned the building of the other schools, because this isn't about just building the Old Crow school. It's about the way that this particular project was handled.
Yes, the fact that it was in Old Crow presented a number of challenges. No one is denying that, but there are issues in the way that the project was handled, where the business community is saying, "Hey, government, you could have done this better." What I want to know is that at some point in time, the minister - and I think it has to be the minister, because this calls for political leadership - has to sit down with, say, two or three people from the contracting community and listen to them about how the Old Crow school could have been handled better.
And I'm not standing on my feet criticizing any particular staff individual, and I'm not criticizing the First Nations government in Old Crow. What I'm saying is that we could have done this particular job better. We could have maximized more local hire, and mistakes were made. Now, what I want the minister to ensure me is that we're going to learn from these and he's going to make a particular point of learning from these mistakes.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, hopefully we all learn from mistakes, or we all learn from experience. I've already spoken with one of the contractors who was a participant on the project, and he's given me some of his perspectives on some of the issues around there, and I think they're valuable.
The member says, will we learn from the experience? To some degree, we already have. We had our meeting with the contractors. We had set what we thought was a do-able target date on this project. We met with the contractors, and they came back and said, "Well, really, you know, if you're thinking about trying to plan this out in the best way and bringing in crews - perhaps a crew to do wiring, and a crew to do this, and so on - you might want to stage this out because the community has a finite capacity in terms of sustaining just work crews."
They also, I thought, made a very wise suggestion that we would try for April and move like crazy to try and hit that date, then basically the kids would go through a whole kind of moving-in experience, which largely shoots two weeks completely, and to what point? Because then you've only got a week and a half or two weeks of school. So, we listened to them and we said, okay, those are wise kinds of things. I would hope that, as we move through the process, we can gain from it.
We're hoping, for example, when the Vuntut Gwitchin meet with some of the people who are tendering on this, that there will be some valuable experiences coming out of there that we can transfer on.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, while we're on the topic of the Old Crow school, I'd like to take exception to a number of the statements that the minister has made, Mr. Chair. When we look at experience building schools in Old Crow, and how we don't have that experience very often, well, since I've been in the Yukon, this'll be the fourth school that we've had occasion to construct there.
When we look at our population base, and look at how many schools have been constructed in the last 25 years, this government should have the expertise constructing schools. There have been quite a number of them constructed all over, and it would appear that the minister is certainly endeavouring to honour chapter 22 of the UFA, but what about the rest of the Yukoners? Don't we deserve to derive some benefits from major construction projects? That's the point that the minister is missing completely.
There could have been a lot more work, had the minister and his officials taken the time to carefully plan this project from the onset. That's what the general public is saying; that we are being treated unfairly by this government. We're not deriving the benefits of construction projects like this. We could have derived the benefits of constructing a lot of the floor joists. We could have derived the benefits of putting in the insulation, and we could have done a much better job of putting in that insulation than taking hardboard insulation up there, trucking 10 truckloads of it from Edmonton.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
We're hearing from the Member for Whitehorse South Centre, who's probably got a bone of contention in his backside, with the Yukon hire provisions not being honoured and respected by the Department of Government Services.
So, I hear the Member for Whitehorse Centre and I certainly have to sympathize with the way this project was handled in the initial stages. I hope that we are going to be much more successful with this project.
But, I don't want to hear the minister stand up and say that we do not have much experience building schools in Old Crow, because that's certainly not the case. And I don't want to hear that we don't have much experience building schools, because that's not the case either. We have a lot of experience, based on the number of people in the Yukon, at constructing schools, Mr. Chair, and the minister should be well-aware of that.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, there's a couple of points here. Yes, we do have experience building schools, but I think if one takes a look at the schools that have been completed in the last number of years - I'm thinking, for example, that there's been Hidden Valley, which is a Whitehorse school, Holy Family, which is a Whitehorse school, Elijah Smith, which is a Whitehorse school and Porter Creek, which is a Whitehorse school.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, the member says it's not done; it's substantively done. The rural school that springs to mind as being completed in the last few years, I suppose, is Watson Lake Secondary. All of those projects had particular dynamics and particular issues around them.
The member makes reference to the fact that Old Crow has a particularly disconcerting habit of losing a school periodically. I might remind the member that the last time the Old Crow school burned down, the units that were brought in were modular units. It was made abundantly clear to the Minister of Education and me that this was not an option for the people of Old Crow. They had had it with that and they were looking for a stick-built school.
There were considerable discussions around such things as should we be looking at, for example, a log-built structure? That was one of the options that was considered. But, there were all kinds of issues around the availability of wood, and so on and so forth.
So, what we've tried to do in working with the people of Old Crow is try to come to some sort of sense about what kinds of things they want to see in the school. There is a real sense in rural communities, particularly rural communities with not a large number of amenities, that schools have a larger function than mere education. They act as community centres. It's very clear that the people of Vuntut Gwitchin wanted to see that in this project.
As well, there were considerable discussions around the concept of the fuel system. We had assumed, initially, that the people of Old Crow would go for a solid fuel - basically, a wood system. However, they themselves gave us the sense that, given the depletion over the years of the forest stock around there, that would actually impose a hardship on the people of Old Crow and that they were looking at going for a fuel system where they could realize some additional economic benefits.
So, we tried to work with the community.
Every school project brings to mind its own issues. Even if we take a look at the schools which are essentially mirror images - Hidden Valley and Holy Family - they're both examples of, while the essential footprint and essential design of the school are the same, the Hidden Valley School, because of where it is and because of some of the problems of drawing on the water system, the local well system there, and also some issues around the septic field, presented their own design problems.
So, at that, I'll just leave this point.
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to provide some information on the Bid Challenge Committee?
When the contract regulations were reviewed, I think three reviews ago - because they get reviewed by every government, it seems - there was a very clear suggestion put forward in one Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce discussion that the Bid Challenge Committee should have more teeth than what the government proposed.
As I understand it, the Bid Challenge Committee now has the capability to review bids; it can't overturn them; the most that can be done is that an award can be made to an unsuccessful contractor covering the costs of the bid preparation and the recommendation put forward to do it better next time.
Now, what I'm looking for from the minister is information with respect to how many reviews have been conducted by the Bid Challenge Committee, what sort of reviews were they, how many dollar awards have been made, and has there been an examination of the effectiveness of the committee.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can provide that information in written form to the member on some of the statistics. With regard to the Bid Challenge Committee, yes, we have looked at the Bid Challenge Committee, and as a matter of fact, we have had some thoughts around, perhaps, how we could use the Bid Challenge Committee in terms of some of the provisions on local hire to perhaps give them more of a position, more of a higher profile, and perhaps, as the member has said, more teeth. But I can provide some information for the member with regard to the statistics. I don't have them available at this point.
Ms. Duncan: I'll wait for some more information on that. Perhaps the minister could give a little more indication of the review that has been conducted by the department - I would assume by the department. The minister said that the Bid Challenge Committee has been looked at in light of the local hire report. What about looking at the Bid Challenge Committee in light of suggestions in this House for greater use of mediation?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That did tweak a bit of a reminder there. The contract administration has been looking at some alternative kinds of dispute mechanisms and trying to look at some alternative ways to resolve some issues. I can get some further information on that for the member, if the member could just stay with me for a moment.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I knew I had this here.
We're consulting with departments and contractors to find some quick, easily accessible and low-cost process to resolve disputes arising from government contracts. The intent is to give the contracts away to be heard without compromising the project manager's mandate to get the contract done on time. So, we've begun a project of consultations with the departments and contractors to develop a faster, more accessible process to review contract disputes, and that would probably involve such things as trying to look at other ways of dispute resolution in that regard.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could I ask the minister to put some time frame and detail on the information that he's just provided? He indicated that contract admin has begun this process. So, we've initiated it. Do we have a time frame of when it might be complete? When might we have a situation where there is an alternative for disputes, other than phoning politicians or going to the bid challenge review? When is this going to be in place?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I'm surprised. You mean to say that people who are unhappy with their contracts call politicians? I'm flabbergasted. I had no idea that that took place.
However, what I can do with regard to the other additional information before, I can give the member perhaps just a brief précis of when we're expecting to have this in place, and it may depend on the individual departments. As I said, we're working with departments.
One thing that we have, I think, on this, however, is, interestingly enough, some requests from people within the business community to try to get our contract admin people more involved in, I suppose, kind of an education process with other departments.
I've heard this from people dealing with other departments, who have to go through, sometimes, contracts with individual departments. What they have said to me is, could we get your contract admin people to give lessons on how you write a contract, how you put it out, and so on and so forth.
Interestingly enough, one of the things that came to me was the fact - and this was from a local businessman, who said that he finds that Government Services contract administration does really make an attempt to try to find local sources, where perhaps that hasn't always been the norm with other government departments.
So I think maybe one of the roles that we should be undertaking is, in a sense, a bit educational for other departments.
Ms. Duncan: I wanted to follow up. Indeed, that is the case, that there's some real concern about overall knowledge. I would also remind the minister that I believe there's some very extensive knowledge within our community. I'm thinking of expertise located at the college, within the RCMP - there's expertise in our community about contracting and working with governments. I just would encourage him to explore that as well.
There's been quite an exchange of correspondence between the minister and me regarding the 1-800 telephone number to the government. There's been so much paper, I feel like I should phone for the answer at this point.
There is difficulty experienced by various communities in reaching the appropriate offices when they call the 1-800 number. Has this situation been resolved?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I understand that we've got some comments at the back. I think many of these folks use the 1-900 numbers. We haven't had a great deal of concern voiced about the 1-800 number from communities, but, certainly, I can go back and take a look and see. I'm just taking a look at our telecommunications infrastructure here and seeing if that is covered at all. I have had very few concerns with that.
The main complaints that I've had from rural communities has not been so much with the telephone system as with the information networking. Those are some issues that have emerged, particularly Internet access in the communities and things of that nature.
I can find out if we've had some further areas of concern with the 1-800 number. I would suggest that the member call our 1-800 number to see if we can - no, that was uncalled for.
Mr. Jenkins: I would just like to explore with the minister the area of FTEs in the capital program. When you look at the reduced level of spending that is being undertaken by this government, why are we still maintaining the same level of staffing in that department, Mr. Chair. If you look at the other departments that have had a reduction in their capital, specifically Community and Transportation Services, they've seconded a number of their people that used to be involved with highway projects to other areas and they've seconded some of their engineers to the federal government. But, we still appear to be maintaining the same staffing levels in spite of a considerable reduction in the capital expenditures being undertaken.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Could the member be more specific with regard to what he is meaning by the number of FTEs with regard to capital? Is he referring to, for example, within contract administration - things of that nature?
Mr. Jenkins: In our briefing, we were told that there are 85 FTEs included in the O&M budget and 26.6 FTEs in the capital budget. That's what I'm referring to.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Some of the individuals involved in capital really are with information services, and a number of the individuals we have in our building development program really work, not only for us, for our government buildings, but also in terms of other government agencies, other government departments - things like the Liquor Corporation, and so on and so forth. But I'm sure we can get into this in further detail as we move into capital and numbers.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, there has to be something overall that looks from on high on the department, or otherwise the department looks up. I don't know how it works, but usually the workload is dictated by the amount of capital dollars that are being expended, and this doesn't appear to be the case.
In a number of departments within government, the capital undertakings are significantly reduced this year, Mr. Chair, and yet the level of staffing is being maintained at the same level.
Now, is there not a policy that would allow for a reduction in staffing to kind of track the level of capital expenditures?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, of course, yes. I mean, we do have fewer capital projects, but we also have requirements to maintain levels of services. I suppose that the member is suggesting that we do layoffs. We have a number of people that - for example, we haven't renewed certain positions. There have been some positions that have been changed around, and things of this nature. But we're not suggesting that we're going to be doing a major cutback on staff at this point.
Mr. Jenkins: So, what the minister is saying is that irrespective of the capital expenditures of this government, the department is going to exist in its current format and that no recognition is going to be made of the workload. Really, there has to be a considerable reduction in the workload of the people overseeing capital projects; there is less capital being expended, Mr. Chair, so why do we need that staffing level to oversee less? That's the question.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, within our various branches, if we find reductions in the overall demand for capital services, many of those people can switch around into different functions, whether those functions are future planning or, in some cases, being assigned to further duties.
If the member takes a look through the budget, he will notice that there are some positions that are not filled. Some positions are switched around into other areas within Government Services.
But I should remind him that, in terms of capital, there is - for example, let's take a look at YSB. While we're winding up some major projects, we still have a demand for people to deliver services around government information services.
Just because we're perhaps gearing down on HRIS, that doesn't mean that those people are necessarily gone. Those people who were working on the HRIS project returned to other functions within Government Services.
In a similar way, people who've been assigned to particular projects move into other areas in Government Services. So, it's not a simple case of going up and going down because a capital project may not be continuing. I think a good example was the fact that much of the initial work on the Taylor House was undertaken - at least the initial work in preparing the building - by our own staff, who were moved from some duties within property management over there in a period when there was perhaps not the demand. But, it was still a task that had to be done, so we were able to re-deploy those people.
I think that, within government, there are always opportunities for us to re-deploy individuals at periods when the capital may not be as high. There may be periods next year where the capital, particularly on the building construction side, may be higher, so we don't want to lose that kind of expertise and that kind of corporate knowledge and abilities.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, what initially comes to mind is a fat chance of that happening under an NDP government, but let's not explore that.
It still gives rise to the - Well, if we did explore it, we'd be here for the rest of the evening.
If we just look at the reasons that the minister has given, Mr. Chair, when he says a lot of the people on the capital side are providing services, and yet we have 85 FTEs included on the O&M side of the department's budget. So, we have 85 people providing services, such as the minister has been suggesting, by some of the people who are not needed or are seconded to that side. Now, just how do we determine the level of staffing that's necessary when the capital side of our budget is decreasing and it's continually decreasing? It's decreased the last two years, Mr. Chair. So, there's a trend there that is rather evident.
Now, how can the minister justify maintaining those kinds of staffing levels in light of the reduced spending on the capital side? There's not the need.
Now, we can run around and look for all these other little projects, like the minister has suggested, but sooner or later, we're going to exhaust those; I mean, there's only one Taylor House. Mind you, we can examine that, time and time again. There's only so many of these projects. So, what drives the staffing level?
Normally in business and in government, it's the workload, and the workload on the capital side is determined by the amount of capital dollars and projects that are undertaken and they have been significantly reduced these last two years. It gives rise to the question that the minister has failed to answer: the staffing levels. Why are they maintained at that high a level?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I realize that the member is calling for layoffs in government and we'll certainly take note of that, but if we take a look, for example, under capital, and we take a look at property management - floating development overhead - this is an area that provides management function for capital projects undertaken.
Now, there are 19.5 individuals there, which includes director, senior project manager and project managers. We have project managers that are assigned, for example, to Old Crow. We have project managers that will be assigned for the future development of Ross River, and so on and so forth. At the same time, we have had a reduction in our casuals and auxiliaries in that department, but there is also the question that we've had some increases in terms of classifications and merit increases.
Some of these individuals, as I go through and take a look - for example, we have an architect and we have an Autocad technician. Some of these individuals, if we were to lose them, we might have some very substantial difficulties in trying to replace them, and certainly in trying to replace people with that level of technical expertise. And, I think we know that, at different times, the capital budget will be up and down and there will be fluctuations.
At different times, the capital budget will reflect priorities of government, whether it's in terms of roads or buildings, and so on and so forth. I don't think that means that, necessarily, we have to dispense with people by the vagaries of the marketplace. Many of these people have made long-term commitments to the territory and long-term commitments to this department. I would suggest that these people can be very efficiently deployed in a whole variety of functions within government. There may be some cases in which we can provide technical expertise to other departments. We have done it in the past, and we're perfectly capable of doing it again.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I certainly agree with the minister that there is a wealth of information and knowledge within these individuals, and that they can be utilized in a number of different functions. Is it the minister's intention to second them to other departments, in light of the downturn in the capital budget being undertaken by this government? Is that the minister's intentions? If so, it should be clearly outlined as to how these individuals are being seconded and those costs borne by the respective department. Is that where the minister is heading, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That may be an option, but I'm also suggesting that we have a number of projects underway - whether those projects are planning for future developments or planning for renovations, or whatever - and these people can be employed very efffectively within Government Services.
Now, it may come to a point at which our individuals are requested. Perhaps the services of someone who is working on energy efficiency may be requested by a particular department to do an assessment of a particular department's energy costs, and we accommodate them. We have, for example, provided a person from our department who has gone around and worked with the schools in trying to reduce energy consumption there.
So, I think there are all kinds of ways. We don't simply take a look at something, based on the number of capital projects and use that as the determinant. We have got people who deliver a service for the government, deliver a service well, and we can be as flexible as need be.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, once again, the minister's confusing the O&M side of the budget and the capital side of the budget. I'm referring specifically to the capital side. What is the point where we look at seconding individuals to other departments or downsizing, or using these FTEs more effectively in other departments? Is there some overall policy that is developed or in place within this department to ensure that we're ...
Well, it just gives the appearance of overstaffing, in light of the current trends of this government to downsize in their capital projects and capital undertakings. We're doing less and less, but staffing levels are being maintained at the same level on the capital side, Mr. Chair. The capital side is shrinking, and it's shrinking considerably. I don't see that trend reversing itself probably until such time as this government changes.
So, yes, it probably is a good move to keep these individuals in place and that we'll probably need them when the government changes, but can we afford to carry these FTEs in the capital side of Government Services?
Now that there are fewer projects and less capital being spent, why aren't these individuals being seconded to other departments?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I'm not confusing at all. The member made reference to the capital figures, and what I did at this point was to take a look at the property management, particularly the building development overhead figures, because he made reference to the number of individuals there, or that the number of individuals in that represents the largest group.
Do we have ideas for secondments? Of course we have ideas for secondments. Do we have opportunities to work with other levels of government, other departments? Of course we do. But what I'm contending right now is that, despite a temporary downturn in the number of capital projects, that does not diminish the role of these individuals. These individuals are still working on projects within government, be it designing for the future or be it reviewing ongoing projects, and we do have projects that are underway.
So, we can deploy these people quite successfully within our own department.
Chair: Order please. The time being about 5:30, this House will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there further general debate on the Department of Government Services?
Mr. Cable: I have a question for the minister that I had asked his predecessor, and I asked the minister himself after he took office. The department - or when the Queen's Printer, I guess more correctly - puts out a contract tender call for photocopy expense - and I use this as an example, because I think it's happened - and projects a certain volume, and then the responders to the tender call come back with a price, it's based on a certain premise, the premise being that the volume referred to in the tender call will be the approximate volume that's used. And then what happens - or what has happened, at least in one instance - is that the volume actually called for is markedly different, so that the provider of the service is left with a low price that's based on a large volume, but running off small volumes at this low price.
Now, I asked the minister about that, and I asked his predecessor about that, and his predecessor had sort of acknowledged the unfairness of that but, beyond scratching his head, hadn't done anything about it.
Has the minister actually looked into the situation to see whether that's fair and equitable to the people providing tenders?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm aware of the case that the member has raised. Generally, the figure that is given tends to be on the high side; it tends to be upper estimate and sometimes that can't be met. I agree that it's sometimes very difficult for a small print firm to deal with that particular issue, but beyond acknowledging it, I don't think we've really thought a great deal on it.
What we have tried to do, however, with the Queen's Printer is we're very cognizant of the fact that should we use our ability with the Queen's Printer to its maximum, we could probably do some serious damage to the local printing industry, so we have made a commitment to try and keep our impressions down, our copies down to - I believe the number is nine million.
We've also agreed to try to - we haven't agreed to try to - we have committed to do only black and white copying and only to use a thermal kind of binding, so we don't make too much of an impact on local industry. I agree that it's sometimes very difficult for smaller companies, when they do premise their amount on an estimated volume, but we have no guarantees of what we'll be using. That varies from department to department.
Mr. Cable: I'm not making the proposition that the government is not entitled to do what it is doing. The proposition I'm making is that it's unfair to do what it is doing. People bid on a certain volume and, you know, buy machinery or hire people, and then if the suggestion that a certain volume is there doesn't happen and there is a much lower volume, of course, the long production run costs are not there to be absorbed over the long production run.
My suggestion to the minister is that this way of tendering in this area needs review, either by way of a segmented tender call, where the volumes have different prices on them, or it has a floater up of some fashion, so that the people that respond to the tender call are not - I was going to use the words "being oppressed", but that would be a bit strong.
The government is obviously in the driver's seat and is doing what I think, in my view anyway, is a bit unfair. Could I invite the minister to review that process to see if he could come up with something that is more fair to the tender responders?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Certainly we could undertake to do that for the member. We could take a look into some ways that we could perhaps make it a bit more equitable and a bit more balanced.
I agree that, sometimes, people do make business decisions premised on an expectation to receive a certain amount of business and that sometimes, for one reason or another, that doesn't happen. I can understand the plight that that puts some business people in. We'll take a look at that and see if there's some way that we can perhaps remedy the situation.
Mr. Jenkins: Could we explore with the minister, Mr. Chair, the issue of risk management? I'm sure the level of deductible on the major policies carried by this government are determined by an actuarial review. Just how often is this review undertaken?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We had a risk-management specialist come in initially to assist us with determining the deductible; however, that hasn't been reviewed at this point. I suppose there may be some opportune times for us to go through and to review our risk-management levels and what's an appropriate level of, I suppose, exposure on these. It may be that, at various times, we would want to go through and do revisions on some of our properties.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm just wondering how often we go through an assessment process. What's the frequency? Is it biannually, every three years, five years? Obviously it's not every year, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I'm informed that the first major review was done about two years ago, and no doubt as we work our way through building stocks and assets, certainly that may be changed considerably with devolution. We would go back and do a review of our insurance and risk management needs and our deductible needs periodically, and, certainly, as new structures come onto the scene, we revise our figures accordingly. I don't believe that there is an actual schedule for this, but it's done on a periodic basis.
Mr. Jenkins: Does the minister not believe that it's necessary to conduct a review on a regular basis in this regard?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think there may be some merit in conducting reviews of our risk management. However, as the member is aware, we're probably going to undergo a major change in what comes into our building stock, particularly with devolution, within the next year or so. We have an initial assessment of the conditions of some of those buildings.
So, as these structures come under our guidance, we'll probably want to go through and do an assessment of what we really need in terms of buildings within our stock and the levels of insurance and the levels of deductible, given the age of the buildings and whatever.
Unfortunately, probably the newest buildings that we would like to inherit are also the ones that we're not likely to get, and so what we'll have to do is determine that at the time.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, it's not just the issue of deductibility on each policy; it's the issue of whether it's viable to be self-insured in regard to a lot of these areas. Is this another area that is under annual or semi-annual review by the department?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, in terms of the risk management aspect of the department, I think it has been acknowledged for a long time within this government that self-insurance has been the way that this government has gone, with the exception of certain facilities: schools being one, the main administration building being another.
But we have adopted, just for economy sake, the question of self-insurance, and this has been the policy of the previous government and it has been the policy of governments before that. I think, unless there is a major decision that we want to invest very large amounts of money in ongoing insurance premiums, that would probably continue on.
Mr. Jenkins: Just to explore the issue of the deductible on each of the policies, Mr. Chair, and the resulting premium saving, is that set aside in any loss fund, is it invested or is that component just funded out of general revenues?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That would be funded out of general revenues.
Mr. Jenkins: It would seem to be prudent at this juncture, Mr. Chair, in light of the expanding cost to government of insurance, that we conduct an actuarial review of our risks and ascertain whether we should be self-insuring in a lot of these areas and whether we should set up a resulting investment fund to offset any potential losses in this area. Has the minister given any consideration to this and will he be exploring this kind of an initiative within his department?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Probably, at some future juncture, we'll investigate the question of self-insurance. The member has made a suggestion with regard to setting up a deductible account. Those are issues that would probably fall more readily under the question of finance. To date, however, the deductibles have been largely under what premiums for insuring public structures would be. So, at this point, we really don't see too much merit in it. But, of course, things can change as we go along.
Mr. Jenkins: It probably would have been worthwhile if the minister had attended the technical briefing and ascertained the cost per $100. Let's just use, for example, fire insurance.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: Yes. What would be the cost for the $1-million deductible to carry that? That's an easy calculation. I'm sure that even the minister can do that calculation, Mr. Chair.
How is that $1 million determined, other than by an outside individual coming in and saying that it's to your advantage to carry $1 million deductible on those policies? There has to be some method of determining that level. Why not half a million? Why not $2 million?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I could simply deduce on that one that probably those are discussions that go on between ourselves and the potential insurer. Likely there are adequate reasons. As the member is aware, when you drag down the deductible, your premiums go that much higher. So, there are probably very valid, actuarial reasons for going with this. I can provide the member with some further detail in that regard, but I have little desire to make the insurance companies, which are, after all, one of the largest sources of uncontrolled capital in this country, any richer.
Mr. Jenkins: In the technical briefings and the information subsequently provided to me and the member of the third party by the government, it says, under "insurance" that, on average, government pays six cents per $100 of insured value for both property and third-party liability coverage. Now, while that appears to be a reasonably good rate on insured property for fire loss or other types of loss, for a third-party liability it appears to be on the high side.
Is it a blended premium, or how is that premium arrived at?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That would be a blended premium. We would pay more, for example, on school-related insurance because of the inherent risks with such things as school trips, sports activities, things like that. Some activities would be higher and what we've gone for is a blended, if the member wants to use that term, or an averaged premium.
Mr. Jenkins: Our broker of record is Marsh & McLennan, and the minister was very kind to provide me with a copy of that contract, after extensive debate last year in this House and extensive procrastination on the minister's part in following through with the provision of contracts. But I'd like to thank him very much for following through and, right at the end of the session, providing us with a copy of that contract.
What I have been able to ascertain after reviewing that area is that we have a reasonably good arrangement with our insurance brokers. But the area that I'm concerned about, Mr. Chair, is that deductible component and our ultimate cost here. I asked the minister to come forward and set up a firm policy as to how frequently this area is reviewed and its ultimate cost to government. Will the minister undertake to provide that assurance?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We can certainly provide the information, if it's available, in terms of what our schedule is for reviewing such things, as well as the total amount of deductibles from our policies. I suppose, if necessary, I can go through our list of insurance policies and do a quick calculation on what our deductibles are, as opposed to our policy limits, but I don't think it would really add to the debate at this point.
Mr. Jenkins: I have that information, but the area that I said I was concerned with, Mr. Chair, is the area of the deductibles, the associated risk and the annual review of that risk. What I'm looking for is a firm policy from this government to review on an annual or biannual basis that component of the risk to ascertain if we are receiving value for money and to find a method of conducting this review on a continuing basis, so that it is constantly being monitored. Will the minister provide that assurance? I'm not looking for an assurance if there's any information there that he'll provide it to me. I'm looking for assurance from the minister, Mr. Chair, that he'll undertake such a review.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, some time ago, the member was claiming that we don't have enough to do in Government Services and we have all these redundant people. So, what we can do is that we can take a look at that and see what would be an appropriate schedule to be reviewing the whole question of risk management, since the Member for Klondike feels that we have a plethora of time and staff available.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister has obviously very, very little understanding of this area and how to conduct it. It's not an in-house review. Your broker of record, Marsh & McLennan, would be most happy to conduct this review on an annual basis for the government, probably within the terms of reference of their existing contract.
Now, I'm asking that that be asked of Marsh & McLennan, the government's broker. It could be done in a simple one-page letter, which I'd be happy to draft for the minister, if he doesn't have the necessary staff surrounding him, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm always amused by the condescending tone of that member. Certainly if it's something that we can do in a ready form, we can do it.
However, I would suggest that if we are going to accelerate this debate and we are going to come to any kind of fruition on this particular department, then perhaps we could treat each other with a modicum of respect.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, respect is earned, and if the minister wants to show respect, he'll be granted respect in return.
So, I'll take that as a yes, he will ask his insurance broker of record to conduct this review.
If I could just explore another area with the minister, it's with respect to CDF grants that are provided by the Economic Development department of the Government of the Yukon. We're given to understand that the contract regulations that are administered by Government Services oversee the flow of CDF funding. Is that the case, or is that not the case?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I don't administer CDF grants, so I'm not really sure what the member is getting at in terms of do we require that individuals follow government contracting policies. Is that what the member is seeking?
Mr. Jenkins: The issue is whether CDF funds, when they're granted to, let's say, a municipal government, whether they must conform to the YTG contract regs.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: To be quite frank, I think that's a question of Economic Development as to whether they want to put any conditions on the nature of the contract or not. We, ourselves, do not have any role in imposing particular government requirements on a municipality.
Mr. Jenkins: Is the minister aware of any CDF funds that fall under Government Services and are administered through the contract regs in that department?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Once again, I'm not that familiar with the CDF program. Our department is not aware of anything that would fall under our contract regs in that regard. So, I'm not as conversant with the CDF requirements as perhaps my colleague, the Minister of Economic Development is.
Mrs. Edelman: We spoke earlier about the issue of the 1-800 line that people from the outer communities use to phone in to the territorial government. That 1-800 line - the one the minister referred to so quaintly as the 1-800-help line - has a problem associated with it. What's happened? When I've talked to people I know in rural communities, and particularly those who serve at the municipal level, they say that they've given up trying to get through on that 1-800 line after 22 rings or getting the answering machine or answering line. They end up just phoning the lines direct, because they have the directory. That ends up costing the municipalities across the Yukon quite a bit of extra money per year - into the thousands and thousands of dollars.
I know that the point of the 1-800 line was to be able to get in toll free so that all Yukoners had access to this government, and indeed that's part of the NDP platform: open and accountable government. Now, this issue has never been dealt with well and our caucus has had considerable back and forth with correspondence in two or three different departments, finally landing with the Minister of Government Services. What is he going to do about this issue?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We've been made aware of it twice today, and I'm certain that my officials will be undertaking to see what they can do in this regard. It may be a function of the technology; it may be a function of our staffing levels; it may be a function of a whole variety of issues, but we can certainly take a look into it. I'm not sure if it's a case of needing some refinement on it, or perhaps it's an equipment issue, but we can certainly take a look into it.
Mrs. Edelman: Quite frankly, I've heard this before, Mr. Chair. At what point will the minister feel that he has dealt with this issue well - or completely? Are we going to be looking at resolving this issue sometime within the next couple of months or this year?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, the member has raised the issue. I'll talk it over with my department. Certainly, it's emerged, so I'll raise it again tomorrow. Hopefully, we'll get some progress on this. In the meantime, just keep dialing and sometime we'll get through.
Ms. Duncan: We just had visions of a shoe phone on the side of the House - self-destructing momentarily.
I'd like to raise a couple of contracting issues with the Minister of Government Services, the first of which is the relationship between the department and the professional community, namely the architects and engineers. The relationship between some members of these groups and the governments, the previous one and this one - well, certainly the previous one - was not particularly successful. And certainly the Old Crow school wouldn't be an example of a successful relationship with the architectural community.
The issues here, Mr. Chair, are that if we want to have a strong professional community in this regard, we need to work with them. We need to use them, we need to have them design our schools, we need to have engineers work on our bridges, and so on.
Now, I know that the engineers, most especially, raised the issue of raising the sole-source contracting limit for that professional group. The architects I've spoken with talk about options other than the two-envelope system: a fee schedule. Has the minister met with either of these professional groups and what sort of talks has he undertaken with them?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I did meet with the engineers, and I have met with architects as well.
With regard to the engineers, I think they were fairly articulate and made a fairly clear case of the sole-source limits. They pointed out, for example, that the costs involved in putting in a proposal were often much higher than what they'd get on the sole-source, so the decision on that one was that that would probably not be appropriate. Many of these things are contained in the local hire proposals.
With regard to some of the concerns of the architects with regard to the two-envelope system, there have been some suggestions to go to what's called a true two-envelope system. These are some things that we have been considering.
One of the things that we have found relatively effective, particularly in maximizing, I suppose, local input on the Ross River project, was we began, for the first time, to ask the architect and to give points specifically to knowledge of local subcontractors, asking them to list subcontractors, asking them to list knowledge of the local building conditions, the local building requirements, and we found that one of the things about doing that was that it did provide an advantage to our local architects who have a knowledge of who could do CAD work or who could do engineering specifications and things of that nature.
So, I think there are some things that we can be doing in this regard to maximize local input, but, as I said, I've had a couple of meetings with architects, and I've had, certainly, some meetings with engineers.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I heard the minister say that there were a number of things that the government could be doing to improve the relationship with these two professional groups. Is the government doing them? The minister mentioned the Ross River school, but the Old Crow school - that wasn't a stellar example of use of local architects. Are there changes? The minister mentioned that there were other options, other than for a true two-envelope system. Are these ideas being considered, or are they just talked about? Was it just a friendly, "Hi. How are you," have-a-cup-of-coffee meeting? Or, did anything actually happen? Were there commitments made, and will we see some changes?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Once again, Mr. Chair, I would say that the anticipated Yukon hire report, which is coming out this week, will give us some comfort in that regard. There are some suggestions in there that we can work with. I think we're always interested in trying to refine and trying to improve the system.
With regard to the Ross River project, we decided, based on some of the very initial recommendations that came out of the Yukon hire report, to apply those to the Ross River project by giving greater weight for knowledge of local subcontractors, and things of that nature. It did prove out to be of benefit to our local companies. So, certainly, that was something that came out of the very first cut that we decided to try, and it did bear some fruit.
Ms. Duncan: I thank the minister for the answer, and we'll continue to wait for the local hire report - sleeplessly waiting for the local hire report.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Well, we're anxious to see it. I think a good number of the business community are anxious to see the local hire report.
Technology, of course, is improving as we speak, and as we occupy our seats in this Legislature. There was quite an issue early this year around the sole-sourcing access to the Internet and the Internet issue. There was quite a discussion and correspondence between the minister and computer companies, and so on. Could we have an update on that issue?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think that, first of all, we need to just correct one misapprehension about this. This was not sole-sourced; we entered into a partnership with a group to share communication lines to communities outside Whitehorse. Basically, what we've done is rent communication lines from Northwestel. We gain some benefit in terms of lower costs, as did the other parties. We don't directly subsidize the group, YKNet, nor do we provide Internet services, and so we're not buying anything. There isn't a contract, per se. We're a partner in this.
Originally, the reason that we entered into this was because there wasn't any Internet services to communities outside Whitehorse, and the intent of the arrangement was to bring Internet services to as many Yukon communities as possible, and we have 11 right now. So, the original arrangement was made with a non-profit society, which was the Yukon Net Operating Society. We were interested in seeing as many communities as we could working with the service.
I believe I made reference earlier, in my opening comments, to the fact that we're currently working with Industry Canada on trying to expand information services to some other communities, some communities that aren't as well serviced. We're hoping to work out that arrangement with Industry Canada in very short order. What this will allow us to do is, I think, add three additional rural communities to our information lines and sort of upgrade our technology.
Ms. Duncan: Well, when the government entered into this original partnership, that was some time ago, and we talk about technology, and so on, changing. The problem is that while they may have, as I understood it anyway, attempted to meet a need and provide service to underserved areas, this was a misapprehension on the part of the government in some communities. I understand that some of those communities were served by a business.
That's where some of the difficulty has arisen. Now, the minister had a letter back in January from the president of one of the local businesses. Was there further correspondence? Did the minister respond? Where do the discussions with the other businesses sit at this point?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, yes, I did respond. We were approached by one of the companies about the possibility of sharing data lines. Because we're a partner in this, we couldn't make the arrangement unilaterally. However, we set up a meeting between ourselves and YKNet and the other partner to discuss some possible sharing. We were interested in trying to work out an agreement.
We also facilitated another meeting among large net users. I emphasize "facilitated". In this case, it was the government and Yukon College and all the Yukon Internet service providers. This was to see if a collaborative arrangement could be reached to expand Internet access outside. We're still continuing to work on this particular issue.
They are emphasizing sharing Internet access service and trying to do an upgrade; in other words, high-speed lines.
One of the partners in this group that was initially interested, I believe, withdrew from the consortium. Basically, they have decided to lease a larger link to the south and they are seeking partners now to finance it. So, we are always continuing to try and upgrade our service and provide as many opportunities for our local communities to get on the net as possible.
Ms. Duncan: First of all, can I have copies of the response and any sort of public information, such as minutes of these facilitated meetings and so on? Could I have that information?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: By all means.
Ms. Duncan: The other issue I wanted to get into with the minister on this subject is that we are a major purchaser of communications and communications equipment through the Department of Government Services in terms of contracting and computers and technology, let's say for the sake of argument. Is there any sort of game plan as to where we're headed with all of this? Does anybody sit down and say, "Well, you know we're going to need a new phone system in so many years and we can tie it in with computers." Does anybody sit down and go through this? Is there any sort of a planning exercise or is it simply an ad hoc response, slowly in the way of government?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, ISB does have a role and has been taking, increasingly, a role in the leadership on, particularly, information technology and information services, and we've been working with Northwestel on a number of fronts.
I think one thing that is quite apparent, however, is, as we were discussing with the year 2000, very often the individual departments make decisions of their own, and sometimes those decisions, for one reason or another, may not be those recommendations that ISB may make.
I can tell the member that one of the more problematic things that has recurred - and I think anyone who is in education or administration can attest to this - sometimes the recommendations that would be made by, for example, Queen's Printer on copiers, or perhaps our communications unit on telephone systems, and things like that, even though you can give the best technical advice, people still have their own particular orientation. We've seen this, for example, in computers in particular.
However, ISB does, I think, provide a good level of technical advice and technical expertise, but we can't overall dictate to, for example, Education or Justice or whatever, the system or whatever technology they would prefer. We can facilitate, for example, bulk buying of particular systems, and things like that, that might encourage this, but individual departments often make communications and technology decisions on their own, and our role is primarily corporate, overall governmental technological decisions.
Ms. Duncan: Does it not make sense to the minister that, as the minister just said himself, Government Services could facilitate an issue by doing a bulk buy. For example, say, for the sake of argument, we decided that everybody in the Government of Yukon was going to have a cellular phone, it makes a whole lot more sense to buy x-thousand of them than it does to have each department buy one.
So, what I was getting at with this discussion is that, after all of this technology similar to the IBM and Apple debate, we eventually got Windows. Now there's computer technology, there are cellular phones, there are pagers - there's all of this technology that's out there. How are we coordinating overall government's use of this technology, as well as the purchasing of the technology? It seems to me that both come under the Department of Government Services.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The IRMC, Information Resource Management Committee, does have an overall coordinating role. However, I can assure the member that laptops are not being considered at this point. But we do have a role and very often what we will try to do is, if, for example, we know that particular departments are going to be looking at replacements of units, we will try to do a bulk buy, and we have done bulk buys on occasions, because we can't sometimes get economies of scale.
Also, for such things as major pieces of technological hardware, such as service and things of that nature, we will recommend the purchase of servers and actually facilitate it for departments that do require it. As well, we will also facilitate within government the movement of a piece of technological equipment. For example, a server was bought for ECO that, when they returned here, they no longer needed because it wasn't a remote server, but then that piece of equipment would devolve to another department that would need it.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister should have prefaced his remarks with respect to the purchase of laptops that we only purchase them in the event that we're sending you out to Queen's for a Master's degree, and then we purchase them - we could bulk buy. Be that as it may, that's a done deal.
If we could just look at one of the other areas that the minister's department spends a great deal of funds on, and that's communications - Northwestel and purchase of services from that firm. What efforts are being made by the department to upgrade the speed throughout the Yukon? In the south we're well-served. We have a T-1 line. It's all digital. Northbound, we're still analogue, and transmission rates are very, very slow. It's impeding the growth of the net in the north, as well as impeding all data transmission. As it gets colder - believe it or not, Mr. Chair - it actually slows the transmission rate down further. At certain times of the year, we do have some cold to contend with. So, what efforts are being made by the department to encourage - if not encourage, to demand that Northwestel get everything up to digital, north?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We've had ongoing discussions with Northwestel. They're fully aware of the needs, for this government particularly, in terms of the information technology aspect. I can tell the member about one of the things we've begun this past December. The CANARIE - please don't ask me what it stands for - announced that the health and education networking funding program would come into play.
We have come forward with a proposal between Government Services and the Department of Health, which would address issues, such as trying to deliver improved clinical services to communities. Since the project was dependent on Northwestel facilities, Northwestel was asked to be a contributing partner. We have sent a letter of intent to the federal program that outlines the pilot project.
One of our intentions, actually, was to try to get the speed of the lines upgraded. That's one of our concerns. As a matter of fact, I just received a letter today from an individual in the north Yukon, who was complaining about the speed of the Internet access.
Right now, our problem is really limited by the lack of high-speed lines. Our participation in this project is that it's one way to try and get that issue resolved, because it really will mean trying to upgrade the hardware that we have available. That's why we've decided to partner with Northwestel.
Mr. Jenkins: But, Mr. Chair, if we just go back a couple of years, there was a definite commitment made by Northwestel to extend a link all up the Dempster Highway, right through to Inuvik, and it would all be digital, right the way through. The link is yet to be completed up the Dempster. In fact, there are still a number of towers or sites to be installed so that that could be completed. That whole system - all of the towers on the Dempster - about the only function they're serving is the government MDMRS system.
Stewart Crossing, and branching east and west from that microwave site, were still virtually all analogued transmission, which is at a very, very slow speed. Northwestel has shown no initiative to upgrade that to digital. In fact, any approaches being made to them at this juncture are kind of just left up in the air - they are revising their plans and re-doing this or looking at that.
What it means is that we have one provider that has a monopoly, works in a regulated environment, and won't upgrade and provide the service that is required today. And, the government is the biggest user of those services. The government has the biggest stick, so as to not just encourage them but demand that they provide that level of service that they originally indicated that they would and are not yet providing.
So, rather than just casual meetings, I would be looking to the minister and his department to be the lead agency to insist that something take place and take place in the very, very near future. This transmission rate and this analogue is a dodo bird. We know what the dodo bird is today - it's extinct.
Now, we need those kinds of transmission speeds and we need them very quickly. It's impeding a lot of businesses. It's impeding access to all of the facilities that are taken so much for granted in the rest of the Yukon.
So, could I ask the minister to undertake a more concerted effort in this regard than what he's presently doing?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: With regard to the dodo bird, the member may not be aware that Mauritius, a charming island in the Indian Ocean that I visited, was indeed the home of the dodo bird, and between 1650, which was the discovery of the island by the Dutch, and some 15 years later, the entire dodo population was extinct. That came about largely because of the propensity of the Dutch sailors to go ashore, club the helpless dodo, which had no natural enemies at that point, and take them on board for food, as the ships would make their way to what was known as the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. So, that's just an interesting historical sidelight.
I also have a charming statue of the dodo that was presented to me by the speaker of the Mauritius legislature, and if the members would like, I can bring it in. However -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Okay.
With regard to comparing Northwestel to the dodo, I would be loathe at this point to make that kind of comparison. I would say that Northwestel is very cognizant of the fact that, in the next few years, they're going to be facing some fairly substantial competition. However, their current position as the only CRTC-sanctioned telephone company has made them the obvious legal and logical choice as our private sector partner.
I'm less inclined probably than the Member for Klondike to bludgeon a private company into making changes.
I again tell the member that we have had some frequent meetings with Northwestel. We are pushing them in this regard, and I think their willingness to participate in the CANARIE project, or what we're referring to as the health education network, or HEN, is an indication that they are willing to adapt and change. So at this point, I'm not willing to write off Northwestel as a dodo. I think like any good company they will try to adapt to changing conditions, and if the member would like, I can take a quick break and run up and get my dodo statue.
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is there further debate on Government Services?
Ms. Duncan: I'm speechless. All right, I'll be quick. One last quick question for the minister.
Unfortunate as it is, there are occasions when there is a major task, such as the hospital, and of course there are a number of subcontracts that are issued under that, and the subcontracts may or may not be issued locally, the main contractor may or may not be local. Does Government Services have any dealings when there are issues that arise, such as the non-payment to subcontractors or sub-subcontractors?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, Mr. Chair. While it's not formally part of our process, we have intervened on behalf of, as the member has indicated, sub-subcontracts. Basically, we've actually gone to bat for a couple of local companies that did not get paid as they were supposed to and we actually went to bat and managed to obtain some payment for a couple of these companies, particularly on the hospital project.
We had one small company, and one of the subs was an Alberta firm that did not pay the local subcontractor. So, we intervened with PCL, the general contractor, and also leaned, if you will, on the subcontractor. We did manage to get the local company paid on two occasions. The first payment was - this sounds kind of odd - right before Christmas. This subcontractor had not been able to pay his workers because it hadn't been forthcoming. The fellow actually did receive, I believe, about $13,000, on Christmas Eve day. That was really from a concerted effort of leaning on these people.
There was a second payment of $10,000, which also was not paid on the day it was supposed to be, and we went back on this and put some pressure on. Sometimes we have to and, while it's not part of our obligation, certainly we feel that there is a bit of a moral obligation, if you will.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you. I appreciate that information from the minister and that the department does treat this as part of its corporate, if you will, responsibility.
I wonder, then, if we develop any kind of corporate history. There's, of course, turnover between staff and departments and people. One year to the next, some of that corporate history, such as a difficulty collecting payment, might be lost to the department and to the general public. I don't want to go down the road of a black list on a company - that's not what I'm saying - but if there's a problem and it's repetitive is there any way to track this or any sort of information that's kept?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think that, internally there's certainly a knowledge of it. I think we would probably have some legal restrictions on indexing ongoing problems. Certainly, the idea of problems with the previous contract would not preclude a person from bidding on a contract.
We know, for example, of one local firm here that has had - well, not a local firm, but a particular firm - that has had a somewhat chequered history in design projects for the government. Of course, the logical question at that point is why are we even letting them bid on it, but the reality is that legally you can't restrict someone.
But I think it's fair to say that with some companies, certainly signal flags might go up, and that tender might receive a somewhat closer scrutiny if indeed the company can deliver and so on. But I think in a formal sense, no, there isn't. I think we would be in real legal difficulties trying to do it.
Mr. Jenkins: Before the break, we were discussing Northwestel. I'd like to thank the minister for bringing into the House the mascot for the NDP, the dodo bird. It looks very, very plump and large sitting there in front of the minister, Mr. Chair. But let's move back to reality.
The minister did make a statement that he was loathe to go to task on a private company, referring specifically to Northwestel. I'm uncomfortable with the minister's statement in that regard, Mr. Chair, in that this might be a private, investor-owned company, but it does have a monopoly, and it does operate currently in a regulated environment for the most part. So, it does have an obligation.
I'm looking for more assurances from the minister than what he just gave that he will make a concerted effort to ensure that they live up to their original commitment - they, meaning Northwestel - to upgrade transmission lines north of Whitehorse to digital in the very, very near future. Their current time frame is not till after the turn of the century and that is too late, Mr. Chair.
What with the advent of competition, it's going to be very, very difficult to get this company to upgrade any of their hard infrastructure when competition comes. The only thing that we can look forward to is the new series of satellites that are going up, and that everyone will be on cell systems throughout the Yukon, and that type of situation is imminent.
I'm looking for assurances from the minister that he will approach Northwestel with a view to more than just encouraging them, but insisting that the transmission lines north to Stewart and west and east to both Dawson and Mayo be upgraded to digital from their current analogue. Can I get that assurance from the minister?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I should remind the member that it is CRTC that actually regulates Northwestel's operations and not I. I suppose if there was some question about a commitment that had been made by Northwestel and its followup, the CRTC would be the most appropriate group to do that.
What I can say is that, in our discussions with Northwestel, particularly around some of our information technology issues and some of our networking capabilities, they have shown themselves willing to try to resolve some of these problems. I think they're very cognizant of it. The member has made reference to the question of competition. I think, ultimately, the marketplace will be probably the biggest determiner of action by Northwestel because, quite clearly, one of the things that any company would be wanting to do is to seize on the increasing information technology market. I would say this would be something that Northwestel would want to do and I can just tell the member that they have shown a willingness to work with us on a number of these.
But I'm not in a position to dictate to them that they shall upgrade their lines. I simply don't have that power.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm not suggesting that the minister dictate, but as the largest customer of this firm, I would feel it is imperative that this minister take it upon himself to make more than just an approach - not dictate to Northwestel but to insist that they honour their commitment and upgrade the transmission media to digital from their current analogue state. This would better serve the government and all of their departments and all of their transmissions going north. It would certainly improve Internet access for all of us and all forms of data transmission, which the whole world is becoming more and more accustomed to.
Rural Yukon is living in a backwater and unless government, which is the major user of these services, takes the initiative and goes to our telephone company and insists that this be upgraded to digital, we're not going to get anywhere.
The minister, in this regard, has more power than he gives himself. Don't sell yourself short in this regard. You can do more than what you're doing right now. I'm just asking the minister to make a commitment to go back to Northwestel and explore further with them, and insist on, this upgrade to digital transmission, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Actually, we have been working actively on this, in terms of such things as submissions to CRTC - things of that nature.
As I mentioned earlier, we have the proposal for the joint funding on the clinical health application project. As well, discussions are taking place with CANet, along with Northwestel, for an upgrade on the data networking services into the Yukon.
On the federal front, Minister Manley has appointed the federal assistant deputy minister to work with the Yukon government on some of the challenges of developing information highway services and facilities throughout the Yukon.
So, we are working on this. We're working on trying to partner. We're trying to look at such things as developing our information infrastructure. We are taking a lead in that regard. Certainly, such things as Internet service delivery are issues.
The member is right in saying that we do have some economic clout, and I think probably, because of the economic clout and because Northwestel is cognizant of the need to keep us on side and the need to work with us as a major customer, they have shown a willingness to work with us on some of these issues.
Mr. Jenkins: Earlier in debate, Mr. Chair, we explored the FTEs associated with the capital side of the department. At dinner time, I had a chance to go through my notes again. The minister indicated that a number of vacancies have been created.
I'd refer the minister to page 9 of the technical budget briefing, information services branch, the fourth paragraph down. It would appear that what is happening within the department is that the FTEs haven't been filled. Vacancies have been created, but we're contracting out the work. It looks like there is a $510,000 increase over 1996-97 actuals, and is due to an increase in contracted service resulting from position vacancies.
Now, on the surface, what it appears is that, although there's a resulting saving for not filling the position, we are going outside of government and contracting the work instead of seconding people from within the department to carry out this work. I'm just wondering why we're taking this approach, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: In reality, a good deal of this really flows in the nature of the kinds of positions. They are not the kinds of positions that are readily transferable within government. Many of them are highly technical in nature. So, we do contract out services when we need to. We have had some vacancies that we are subsequently filling; for example, the director of information services and others. Some of those positions have been filled.
We are working with the private sector to supply some of those services that we do need.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
We will proceed to corporate services.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Corporate Services
Chair: Is there general debate?
Ms. Duncan: Excuse me, Mr. Chair. Could we have an explanation from the minister, please?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I was going to raise that. Would the members like me to go through it initially? The total of corporate services, $1,957,000. This is a two-percent decrease or, a difference of $40,000. This two-percent decrease is due primarily to a $20,000 reduction in personnel costs due to a decrease in the requirement for casual help, a $25,000 reduction in departmental training costs, a $5,000 increase in supplies and program materials and miscellaneous.
On Finance and Administration
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The amount is $1,448,000, which is a three-percent decrease. This is a decrease from the 1997-98 forecast, due to a $16,000 reduction in the use of casual personnel, a $25,000 reduction in the departmental training budget, and a $2,000 increase in miscellaneous program costs, such as flaws in communications.
Finance and Administration in the amount of $1,448,000 agreed to
On Policy and Planning
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is a one-percent increase from the 1997-98 forecast, due to a $2,000 increase in program materials due to the cost of printing annual reports, strategic plans, et cetera, and a $1,000 increase in personnel costs.
Policy and Planning in the amount of $243,000 agreed to
On Contract Administration
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This one-percent or $4,000 decrease, is due to a $5,000 decrease in the use of casual personnel during 1998-99, and a $1,000 increase in contract services.
Contract Administration in the amount of $266,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the statistics?
Corporate Services in the amount of $1,957,000 agreed to
On Information Services
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The total for information services is $4,525,000. This is actually a one-percent increase, an $18,000 increase from 1997-98, which is due to a $176,000 increase in numerous position vacancies, a $10,000 increase due to merit increases, a $27,000 increase in training publication references, a $125,000 decrease in contract services expected when position vacancies are filled, and a $70,000 decrease in recruitment costs incurred in 1997-98.
On Communications and Administration
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is a five percent, or a $33,000, decrease, and it's due to a $20,000 decrease in recruitment costs incurred in 1997-98, a $16,000 decrease in branch-wide training, a $2,000 decrease in miscellaneous contracts and supplies, offset by a $5,000 increase due to merit increases.
Communications and Administration in the amount of $651,000 agreed to
On Production and Network Services
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This one-percent or a $24,000 decrease is due to a $165,000 decrease in the use of technical contractors for problem determination maintenance once position vacancies are being filled, old workstations have been removed and the maintenance contract and required response time has been increased. This is offset by a $141,000 increase and the result of position vacancies in 1997-98. This includes a systems support supervisor, $40,000; a systems programmer, $26,000; network administrators, $30,000; data base administrators, $45,000. All positions are expected to be filled by 1998-99.
Production and Network Services in the amount of $3,149,000 agreed to
On Client Services
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is a 22 percent, or a $64,000, increase. This is due to a $35,000 increase, due to a program position vacancy in 1997-98, which is a business and systems analyst; a $6,000 increase in contract support for businesses and systems analyst to assist the unit in periods of irregular peak workloads; a $10,000 increase in the business process improvement training and a $13,000 increase in technical and network support manuals.
Client Services in the amount of $352,000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is a three percent, or an $11,000, increase. A $5,000 increase is due to merit increases; a $6,000 increase in volumes and the cost of IT publications - an increase in cost due primarily to higher U.S. exchange rates.
Planning in the amount of $373,000 agreed to
Chair: Any questions on the statistics?
Mr. Jenkins: The number of help-desk calls - could the minister just elaborate on what those consist of? Just given the number of working days and the increasing calls, it looks quite significant.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We're projecting a 4,000 call increase, and this is largely due to an increase in the number of workstations, servers and printers, as well as an increase in the number of more complex applications, especially with common systems such as HRIS, FMIS and LIMS-ware. As people become more familiar with them, they'll probably get calls that come from this.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, given the number of working days in the calendar year that we have, how many people are actually in this department, because that breaks down into the number of hours. How many people would actually respond to a help call in this regard?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: There are four people who would be attached, not exclusively, to handling those duties and they may respond to a variety of calls during a given day. For example, I'm not sure if the member was aware, but there were some issues around email recently that necessitated the folks from the help desk coming up and actually going through and spending a few minutes on every computer just to make sure it was cued in properly.
Information Services in the amount of $4,525,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The one-percent or $33,000 decrease is due primarily to a $31,000 deletion of a forms clerk position and this is due to a decreased demand in forms design service; a $22,000 realignment of a .6 FTE stores clerk to the fleet vehicle agency; a $21,000 decrease due to the realignment of the transportation clerk's duties, now dedicated to and paid by fleet vehicles for .65 of the FTE; a $9,000 decrease due to the use of casuals and overtime, which occurred in 1997-98 to fill vacant positions; a $35,000 increase in postage costs due to an anticipated increase in volume.
Also, there is a $10,000 increase to host the Queen's Printer conference; a $10,000 increase in the miscellaneous supplies and program-specific materials costs, and a $5,000 decrease in travel costs.
Ms. Duncan: Could the minister advise if we got the issue around the use of the credit card for travel bookings resolved?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, we did, Mr. Chair. We're currently using Diner's Club.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, I am serious. We entered into an agreement with Diner's Club for our corporate use. My understanding is that it's working out well, to the advantage of the travel industry. I think we have to be fairly cognizant of the fact that some of these companies can't carry a large accounts receivable, so it was our attempt to help them.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could the minister just advise when it finally went in - when we started using it? Was it April 1? Are any other details available on the program? Just a short answer.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I believe it was in February, if I'm not mistaken. You're in luck, I do have a rather extensive note. Yes, the tenders for that closed and were effective on January 28. Diner's Club International is handling the billing. Instead of receiving invoices from each travel agency, each department will receive one monthly statement from Diner's Club.
Mr. Jenkins: On the issue of the credit card use, I was wondering if that determination was made to go to Diner's Club after exploring all other avenues. The merchant fee is one of the highest with Diner's Club and American Express. It usually runs 3.5-percent commission up for the merchant taking that card, whereas with Master Card and VISA, you're looking at 1.78 or 1.75, if you get on the low end of the scale. So, there's quite a gap there for the merchant, and I was wondering if that area was even considered in the analysis conducted by the department, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Actually, in regard to this, Government Services did take the lead in this initially, but we did direct it over to the Department of Finance as the lead agency for dealing with the various companies. There was a public tender for such an agreement. My assumption would be that it must have been the most attractive, financially, for Finance to go with it.
We had initially been approached by a number of the travel agencies in the territory, because they had been seeking, for a long period of time, some way to be paid more expeditiously. For example, some of these companies could have been carrying accounts from the government for quite a long time. I had a meeting with a representative of the travel industry, in which they emphasized that this had been something that they had previously talked with my predecessor about. We felt an obligation to try and follow it through. It came to Management Board. Management Board directed Finance to take the lead on this. We have been happy to accomplish this.
Mr. Jenkins: Does this go for a review on a semi-annual or annual basis? How often will this agreement be reviewed? How long is the agreement for?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That's something that would more properly be raised with Finance, but I can probably find out and relay that information on to the member. I'm not sure what the terms of the agreement are, because, as I said, the Department of Finance was the lead agency, after being directed to do this by Management Board.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is a seven-percent or $17,000 decrease, and it's due to a $19,000 decrease resulting from the transfer of funding for a .4 FTE, a finance/administration clerk from administration/purchasing; a $4,000 increase in the cost of supplies and; a $2,000 decrease in communications costs.
Administration in the amount of $238,000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is a nine-percent or $33,000 increase, due to a $19,000 transfer of funding for a .4 FTE administration clerk to administration, a $6,000 increase due to a position vacancy as purchasing officer in 1997-98, a $3,000 increase in funding to conduct purchasing seminars in the communities, and a $5,000 increase for purchase order forms. The form order was not required in 1997-98.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, could I ask the minister to just, perhaps by legislative return - he just mentioned purchasing seminars in the communities. Yukon College is working with communities in terms of purchasing and contracting as well. Is there any effort made to link the two services?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Basically, what we've been doing is targeting communities for the purchasing of goods for the government. So, we've been working on our own. I can find out if there is any kind of ability for us to work together on this and provide it, as the member has said, maybe through a legislative return or some written form with some further detail.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I understand that the college is using its expertise to work with communities, First Nations governments and communities in going through contract law and contract purchasing, and so on, and sharing expertise. It would make sense to me for Government Services to be included in that loop as well, and I would just like the minister's assurances that he will undertake an investigation of that and get back to me perhaps later this year.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Certainly, we can take a look to see if there is some way that we can complement each other in this regard.
Purchasing in the amount of $392,000 agreed to
On Queen's Printer
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is an eight-percent or $26,000 decrease, and this is due to a $31,000 decrease due to the deletion of a forms clerk position - reduced demand for forms design services, a $10,000 increase to host a 1998 Queen's Printer conference and a $5,000 decrease in travel costs.
Queen's Printer in the amount of $315,000 agreed to
On Asset Control
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is an eight percent, or a $15,000, decrease, due to the increased use of casuals and overtime in 1997-98 because of position vacancies.
Asset Control in the amount of $169,000 agreed to
On Transportation and Communication
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This a two percent, or a $14,000, increase, due to the increase in the volume of mail - hence, postage costs - offset by a $21,000 decrease due to the realignment of transportation clerk duties - hence more time will be dedicated to and paid by the fleet vehicle agency.
Transportation and Communication in the amount of $904,000 agreed to
On Central Stores
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This a 10-percent, or a $22,000, decrease, due to a $22,000 realignment of the .6 FTE stores clerk position from central stores to fleet vehicles.
Central Stores in the amount of $188,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there questions on the statistics?
Supply Services in the amount of $2,206,000 agreed to
On Property Management
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This a two-percent increase and that is reflected in a one-percent, or $273,000 increase, due to a $123,000 in full-year lease costs for space acquired mid-year - and this is primarily due to Health devolution; a $129,000 increase is due to the centralization of incremental lease costs; and a $21,000 increase to operating costs. This is offset by a $82,000 decrease, which is due to a $20,000 increase in utilities costs and a $17,000 increase in the program materials due to charge-backs from the Queen's Printer; a $172,000 decrease in repairs/maintenance and telecommunications costs; a $211,000 decrease in personnel costs due to vacancies; and $264,000 increase in lease costs.
Mr. Jenkins: Could the minister just elaborate somewhat on the utility cost increase? What is that specifically attributable to?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I don't have a further breakdown on that, but I would presume that it would likely be electrical costs.
Mr. Jenkins: Was that an increase or a decrease, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: An increase.
On Realty Services
Realty Services in the amount of $11,260,000 agreed to
Chair: Any questions on the stats?
Any questions on the recoveries?
Property Management in the amount of $11,260,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Government Services in the amount of $19,948,000 agreed to
Chair: We'll go to capital.
On Capital Expenditures
Chair: Is there general debate?
On Corporate Services
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Under corporate services, we have a 17-percent decrease, and this is represented by the business incentives policy of 17 percent and this is due to a reduction of fewer projects available for business incentive rebates being identified in 1998-99. That works out to about $53,000.
Mr. Jenkins: I don't know if we're reading from the same page, but under corporate services, we show a 23-percent decrease, and the minister indicated a 17-percent decrease - why the variance, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. That was my mistake. I was reading from the business incentive policy component of that. The member is right. There was a total 23-percent decrease in total corporate services.
On Business Incentive Policy
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, that's what I referred to earlier - a $53,000 decrease, which is due to fewer projects being eligible for the business incentive rebates.
Business Incentive Policy in the amount of $255,000 agreed to
On Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This represents a 29-percent decrease, primarily due to a variety of fewer expenditures - fewer systems development projects have been identified - and 1997-98 was the final year for implementation of such things as the integrated building information system, et cetera.
Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $200,000 agreed to
Corporate Services in the amount of $455,000 agreed to
On Information Services
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is a 40-percent decrease, which represents a 40-percent decrease in corporate computer equipment and systems, and this is largely attributable to a $1,525,000 reduction in common systems being near completion: the HRIS system, financial and management information system, land interest management system. Most of the operating system upgrades to meet yar 2000 were undertaken in 1997-98, and the workstation equipment and material buying cycles have been increased, resulting in fewer purchases each year.
On Corporate Computer Equipment and Systems
Corporate Computer Equipment and Systems in the amount of $2,273,000 agreed to
Information Services in the amount of $2,273,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This represents a substantial increase of 153 percent in this area. This is primarily due to a variety of changes in supply services, including acquisition of used assets, Queen's Printer equipment, special operating agency for Queen's Printer and special operating agency for fleet vehicles.
On Acquisition of Used Assets
Hon. Mr. Sloan: A decrease in $3,000 is anticipated for 1998-99, which more closely reflects the prior year's actuals.
Acquisition of Used Assets in the amount of $2,000 agreed to
On Queen's Printer Equipment
Queen's Printer Equipment in the amount of $35,000 agreed to
On Special Operation Agency: Queen's Printer Agency
Special Operation Agency: Queen's Printer Agency in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Special Operation Agency: Fleet Vehicle Agency
Special Operation Agency: Fleet Vehicle Agency in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
Supply Services in the amount of $187,000 agreed to
On Property Management
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is a 33-percent decrease representing some minor increases in building development overhead, some substantial decreases in capital maintenance and upgrade, an increase of 122 percent in energy conservation retrofits, a decrease in common facilities, and a decrease in prior year projects of 100 percent.
Ms. Duncan: Would the minister provide, by written return, the details of which buildings the money for the energy conservation retrofits is being spent on and what's being done, please?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can actually give the member some details on that at this point, in written form. If the member wishes it in written form, we can certainly send that.
On Building Development Overhead
Building Development Overhead in the amount of $1,545,000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I thought it was clear. Just a moment, if the member will just bear with me.
For pre-engineering, there are essentially no changes anticipated in the level of expenditure for 1997-98. The pre-engineering component was established to provide departments with winter planning funds for smaller projects.
Pre-Engineering in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Capital Maintenance and Upgrade
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is a 47-percent decrease, or $222,000 in revotes, consisting primarily of the Whitehorse administration building HVAC upgrades, which were approved in 1997-98. These projects began when the funding was first approved in 1996-97, a decrease in $333,000 from the 1996-97 actuals and the 1997-98 forecasts.
Capital Maintenance and Upgrade in the amount of $250,000 agreed to
On Energy Conservation Retrofits
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is an increase of 122 percent or $165,000, and I can provide the members with specific projects and related paybacks as a result of the energy conservation planning.
Energy Conservation Retrofits in the amount of $300,000 agreed to
On Common Facilities
Common Facilities in the amount of $60,000 agreed to
On Property Management Equipment
Property Management Equipment in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there questions on the recoveries?
Property Management in the amount of $2,255,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Government Services in the amount of $5,170,000 agreed to
Department of Government Services agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that you report progress, Mr. Chair.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, First Appropriation Act, 1998-99, and has directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:27 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled April 20, 1998:
Laptops in the House: letter dated April 17, 1998, to the Speaker from Doug Livingston, Member for Lake Laberge (Speaker Bruce during ruling laptop computers)
The following Legislative Return was tabled April 20, 1998:
Rate stabilization fund: information pertaining to (Harding)
Written Question No. 5, dated March 24, 1998, by Mr. Cable