Thursday, April 23, 1998 - 1:30 p.m.
Clerk: It is my duty, pursuant to the provisions of section 24 of the Legislative Assembly Act, to inform the Legislative Assembly of the absence of the Speaker. In his absence, the Deputy Speaker shall take the Chair.
Best wishes to Speaker for speedy recovery
Deputy Speaker: I will now call the House to order. Before we proceed to prayers, I regret to inform members of the House that our Speaker has been admitted to a hospital where he remains in intensive care, and I ask members to join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.
We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Deputy Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
In remembrance of Herbert K. (Bert) Law
Mr. Cable: Mr. Speaker, it saddens me to announce the passing on April 21 of Bert Law, a highly respected Yukoner who lived most of his adult life in the Yukon.
Originally from Ontario, Bert served with the U.S. military during World War II, at which time he married his wife Ellen. Not long after the war, he travelled up the Alaska Highway in a homemade camper, manufactured out of surplus U.S. trucks. He set up a business at the Silver Dollar Lodge, now long gone.
His years in the Yukon included several years operating the trading post at Ross River, where he became a partner of Al Kulan, and was a participant in the staking of the Ellen claims, which later became what today is known as the Anvil mine. Relocating to Whitehorse, Bert established the first real estate firm in the Yukon - Yukon Realty - and became very active in community activities, in particular, the Lion's club. He was one of the founders of the Whitehorse Toastmasters club.
Bert believed strongly in the ability of Yukoners to shape their own future and was one of the foremost proponents of provincial status for the Yukon.
Most people who remember Bert will remember him in his role of alderman of the City of Whitehorse, a duty he took very seriously and to which he devoted almost all his free time, at a time when aldermen received only token remuneration. His gentle persuasion frequently steered a better course for the city.
Bert was also known as the Yukon's administrator for several years, through the 1980s, in which capacity he appeared, on occasion, in this House to deal with our bills.
He and Ellen were renowned for their annual flower gardens, which surrounded their home on Sixth Avenue and drew admirers from everywhere as a sort of one-family tourist attraction, and it wasn't surprising, then, that Bert and Ellen chose to retire to Vancouver Island where they could pursue their gardening passion virtually year-round.
Bert is survived by his wife Ellen, his daughter Frances, who resides in Calgary, and his two sons, Tom and George, who reside in the Yukon.
The Yukon boasts of many people who have had a special impact on its evolution, and Bert Law was definitely one of them. Our condolences go out to his wife Ellen and his children.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to join other members in expressing condolences to Bert's family and sadness at his passing. I can honestly say that, while I knew him, both while he was the administrator for the Yukon and while he was on city council later in his life, he was a most gracious and courteous man.
He was an excellent member of city council and worked hard for the people of Whitehorse.
His memory will linger on in the minds of those of us who had the honour of knowing him.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I wish to join members in this House in paying tribute to a long-time Yukoner and an individual I knew well in the Yukon, Mr. Bert Law.
I first met Bert in my early days in Faro when he was located in Ross River and then went on to know him more fondly when he was a member of the Whitehorse city council.
I had the utmost respect for him and his abilities. He was a person dedicated to the well-being of the Yukon and he will be remembered and missed by many.
He certainly made a positive contribution to Yukon. Our sincere condolences go out to Bert's family and his many friends.
Deputy Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have for tabling two legislative returns for the Member for Riverdale South.
I also have for tabling a summary of the government response to the Yukon hire commission final report.
Deputy Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Petition No. 6
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Deputy Speaker, on behalf of the taxi drivers and operators in the Yukon, I'm presenting a petition with regard to minimum wage provisions for taxi drivers. The drivers and operators feel that it's not in the best economic interests of their industry to not be allowed to work the time they need and want to make a living, and they're asking that the Yukon Legislative Assembly urge the government to amend the OIC 1998-0-63 of the employment standards regulations.
Deputy Speaker: Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Yukon hire commission recommendations: implementation of
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, it's a particular honour to rise in the House today to report on our government's plan for implementing the recommendations of the Cabinet Commission on Yukon Hire.
As members are aware, a cornerstone of the commitment this government made during the last election campaign was the recognition that Yukon workers and Yukon businesses should be the first to benefit from jobs and other economic activity resulting from public spending.
This was reaffirmed in the Speech from the Throne on December 4, 1996.
Throughout the year that followed, the Cabinet Commission on Yukon Hire, headed by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, consulted extensively with a wide range of groups and individuals. This included representatives of labour, business and the professional community, and other levels of government throughout the territory.
Based on their input, the commission made a number of recommendations to Cabinet about the practical steps that the Yukon government could take to advance the goal of Yukon hire.
At Cabinet's direction, my department was given the task of coordinating a government-wide plan for implementing these recommendations. A summary of this plan was tabled with the Clerk just a few moments ago.
I would like to provide members with an overview of this plan. I would encourage members opposite to pursue the matter thoroughly in their responses, so that the Yukon people can receive a full picture of this critical government initiative.
The task for government departments was not to decide whether to implement the commission's recommendations, but to determine how and when to implement. As a result, I can report that three-quarters of the 40 recommendations are being put into effect right away.
These recommendations cover a wide variety of issues, such as defining a Yukon resident and a Yukon business, extending the business incentive program to other industries, reviewing the fair-wage schedule, fostering job opportunities for young people and ensuring that government hiring is at first limited to Yukon applicants.
Also scheduled for immediate implementation are recommendations requiring evaluation points in value-driven contracts to reflect Yukon preference criteria, development of three-year capital budgets and increased public information about contract regulations, appeal mechanisms and government tendering processes.
A second category of recommendations will be implemented soon, pending further consultation or development work. For example, defining employees in the Employment Standards Act to include labour contracts and setting fines for violations of the Employment Standards Act will both be done through amendments to that act this fall, following further consultations.
Hiring of certified trades people on government construction projects and the development of training modules to complement the apprenticeship system will be linked with the revision of the Yukon training strategy and implemented soon.
On the recommendation to apply Yukon hire practices to non-governmental organizations that receive conditional government funding, the Executive Council Office will lead further consultations with NGOs to explore appropriate ways to proceed.
One recommendation that received a considerable amount of public attention was the proposal to establish a hiring agency, which contractors on government construction projects would be required to use.
With respect to that recommendation, our intention is to identify a major pilot project and to examine options for implementing a hiring agency in that context. It will not be possible to do this within the current construction year.
On the recommendation to establish an authority for handling appeals, complaints and suggestions concerning contracting and hiring practices and decisions, the contracting provisions will be implemented right away. The hiring provisions will be implemented after consultation with the government employees' unions.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, the commission's final report contained two recommendations regarding the reorganization of government departments and consolidation of functions relating to contracting and labour.
Because the Yukon government is still in the process of negotiating the transfer of certain programs from the federal government to Yukon control, these two recommendations will be considered for implementation in the context of a final devolution agreement.
I would like to stress again that this response to the Yukon hire commission's recommendations is a government-wide commitment. The changes in policies and procedures will be made, the employees will be given training in the required administrative processes and the effects of these changes will be closely monitored.
The result will be greater accountability and better use of taxpayers' dollars, to the benefit of Yukon workers and Yukon businesses. This, in turn, will advance our government's commitment to strengthen and diversify the Yukon's economy.
In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the excellent work of the Yukon hire commission and the cooperation of all the departments in developing this implementation plan. I would especially like to thank the many Yukon groups and individuals who helped the commission design this comprehensive and balanced set of recommendations.
Mr. Jenkins: Normally when I rise in this House in response to a ministerial statement, I must say I'm pleased to respond on behalf of the Yukon Party and office of the official opposition. Today, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is one of those exceptions.
We've only had a very short time to peruse the 40 recommendations that are being responded to today, but I must state for the record that I'm alarmed by some of the things that I see.
After having seen this list of recommendations, my immediate reaction was a wish that the minister would have tabled this response on day one of this sitting, because 35 days would still be too short to deal with all the issues raised by the government's response to the local hire commission report. The Minister of Government Services would've been kept in the Question Period hot seat for most of this sitting.
This government is constantly patting itself on the back about how it goes out of its way to consult with Yukoners - and consult on Yukon hire this government did. It consulted it extensively.
The problem is that this government does not listen to the majority of Yukoners. It appears to have a predetermined agenda. Let me give you a prime example of this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I'll use the minister's own words, and I quote: "The task for government departments will not be to decide whether to implement the commission's recommendations, but how and when to implement them. As a result, I can report three-quarters of the 40 recommendations are being put into effect right away." All the commissioner's recommendations have been accepted, no matter how many Yukoners are opposed to some of the more blatant socialist agenda items.
One example, Mr. Speaker, is the NDP proposal to create a union hiring agency, which government construction projects would be required to use. How many Yukoners asked for this requirement for compulsory unionization to be imposed on them, other than probably the Member for Whitehorse Centre? The vast majority of Yukoners don't want this requirement, yet the minister has accepted it, and he's very cleverly trying to cloak the issue by saying that it is being utilized on a major project as a pilot project.
This is the proverbial foot-in-the-door, requiring Yukon contractors to unionize before they will be eligible to receive government contracts. We already have the fair-wage schedule, but that's not enough, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
How many non-governmental organizations that receive conditional government funding asked to have Yukon hire practices imposed on them? Many of them could be put out of operation entirely by this requirement.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Yukon has one of the highest educated populations in all of Canada. We have some of the most skilled people in this country, and our road contractors are some of the best in the world. Yukoners have shown, over and over again, that they are quite capable of competing and winning contracts and the resulting jobs. Local hire could be a good thing if it is implemented properly. It shouldn't be used as a guise or tool to implement the NDP's socialist agenda at the expense of the majority of Yukoners.
I had hopes that the minister would have accepted his ministerial responsibilities and only addressed and picked those recommendations that would have helped all Yukoners acquire jobs. This gives rise to this question: why does this government not practice what they're preaching? All of the hirings for senior government positions are coming out of British Columbia or have come out of British Columbia. Contracts that could have gone to Yukon suppliers for construction of insulation and floor joists have gone elsewhere.
This is my first reaction to this report. I will forewarn this minister right now that there will be more to come in the future. It is a sad day for this House when a minister of the Crown sacrifices the common good on the altar of partisan political agenda -
Deputy Speaker: Order please. The member has 10 seconds.
Mr. Jenkins: It's a day of shame, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: I would like to respond to this statement on behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus.
I would like to begin by complimenting the Minister of Government Services for living up to his commitment to deliver a response this session. His colleagues should take note, particularly the Member for Watson Lake, who has four scheduled sitting days to deliver on his forestry policy.
It has been 18 months since this government came to office, promising local hire - local hire. During that time we have had competitions to hire land claims negotiators from B.C., deputy ministers plucked from Glen Clark's B.C. government, ads for school teachers placed in the Vancouver Sun before being placed in local papers, architects from the Northwest Territories designing the Old Crow school, material from that school coming from Alberta, and the minister's very own favourite: NovaLIS, a Nova Scotia company doing half-a-million dollars' worth of computer work in the Yukon.
If ever there has been a broken campaign promise, this is it. In fact, if it wasn't for the NDP government, we wouldn't be doing too badly on local hire.
Eighteen months into their mandate is, I suppose, better late than never to try and live up to a campaign commitment.
That being said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there are a number of recommendations that we do not believe will do anything to increase local hire, and I have some real difficulty in understanding why they are in this report in the first place.
I'd like to begin with recommendation no. 39, which is basically a job description for the Member for Whitehorse Centre. This recommendation suggests that the Yukon create a new department of labour. This has been part of the hidden agenda of this commission from day one. Nowhere, at no time in the consultations did people come forward to recommend more government, bigger government and a permanent Cabinet post for the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I'm pleased that this recommendation has been put off until a final devolution agreement is achieved. I'd be even more pleased if it had been, more appropriately, dropped.
I'd like to move to recommendation no. 6, which advocates the creation of a hiring agency for government construction projects. Aside from adding another layer of bureaucracy, this recommendation does nothing to increase local hire. I am philosophically opposed to any agency of this government telling Yukon businesses who they can hire, how they can hire and when they can hire.
This brings us to recommendation no. 34, which will require NGOs and municipalities that receive conditional money from this government to follow local hire guidelines. If the government wants to use its own money to promote local hire, that's one thing. NGOs operate on extremely tight budgets. Being forced to implement expensive provisions will take away from what they do best, which is provide service.
Municipalities have already told the government they are opposed to this provision, but the government is forging ahead anyway.
So much for consultation and listening to what the communities and to what Yukoners are saying.
In a similar vein, recommendation 13 tells companies involved in natural resource development that they must follow Yukon hire if Yukon government funds are used to assist the project. If the Yukon government spends money on the Campbell Highway, will Cominco, for example, be told who to hire and who not to hire?
It's hard enough to operate a mine in the Yukon. This requirement makes it that much harder.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, there are recommendations that we can support. In fact, there are a number of recommendations, including recommendation 16, which says, "Sole sourcing to outside firms will only be allowed for contracts worth less than $1,000." This should mean that more Yukon companies will win contracts. It should stop another potential NovaLIS from happening.
Fostering more opportunities for young people, defining a Yukon resident and expanding the business incentive program are all initiatives we can support. When the local hire commission gave their final report, I applauded the work of the commissioner at the time and his volunteer committee, and I do so again today. Those are good recommendations.
Improving communications among the four levels of government and major utilities is a also a very good idea. We certainly will have more comments and questions in the remaining days of this session and over the summer months, as the government works to implement more of these. However, there's one fundamental question -
Deputy Speaker: Order please. The member has 10 seconds.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There's a fundamental question I have for the minister that I haven't seen addressed: have any of these proposals been costed out and what will the implementation of the recommendations cost?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I thank the members for their comments. Some have been extremely illuminating, though I'm afraid not illuminating enough for the Member for Klondike, because he appears to have laboured in the dark for the last few months. He's claiming that he's now suddenly become aware of this. I really wonder where he was in January when the initial report came out. Perhaps the light wasn't sufficient for him to see the report.
What we were charged with -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: So, what we're hearing now from the Member for Klondike is that he saw the report, but he just didn't expect it to be followed. That may be the Yukon Party manner, but we do tend to try to follow up on what we try to do.
There are a number of points, many of which I will no doubt be addressing in the next few days available. With regard to some of the reports, I'm afraid that the - it was predictable. It was rather knee-jerk. It was rather Pavlovian on some of them. For example, on recommendation 39, there seemed to be some sort of understanding that we were creating some kind of super ministry and that the Member for Whitehorse Centre was going to become the Tsar of labour.
What we have said in that, I think, is very clear. What we would do would be to consider future implementation in the context of final devolution. I think there's a large number of issues around that, and it may be that in some of these functions there may be a role for consolidation, perhaps in training functions or whatever. We can't predict that. We don't know what is going to flow out of devolution, but I think that what we have to be able to do is to consider what kinds of adaptations we can make in the future.
In no. 34, which the leader of the third party reacted to in terms of NGOs and funding, I think we were quite clear in saying that as far as no. 34 goes, what we want to do would be to have further discussions and further consultations, and that would be led by the Executive Council Office in that regard.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, the member says, "No means no." I think that's a rather dogmatic and somewhat Draconian view. I think what we're willing to do is that we're willing to have some discussions. We're willing to open up some dialogue between the Executive Council Office and non-governmental agencies.
I am pleased to see that we got some support on some of these recommendations. I look forward in the next number of days to addressing some of the issues surrounding this and no doubt engaging in some discussion over the next number of months about how we're going to implement this. I think the bottom line, though, has to be that we made a commitment to listen to people from the community. We went out, we did some extensive consultation, we came back, we took a look at following the commitment of the Yukon hire commission to bring these recommendations forward to see how they could be adapted, see how they could be implemented, see what kinds of structural changes, what kinds of adaptation, what kinds of resources we would have to commit to the implementation of these recommendations.
We were charged, in Government Services, with seriously looking at each of the 40 recommendations. Individual government departments were given the task of examining these recommendations and telling us how they could be implemented, if they could be implemented, the kinds of problems, the kinds of issues that they saw and this is the product of that discussion and we believe, certainly from the view of Government Services, that there are many things here that make apparent sense, that we believe can assist Yukon business, Yukon workers here. Certainly, from the Government Services point of view, we're going to attempt these in good faith.
Deputy Speaker: Order please. The member has 10 seconds.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you. I'm sure all other government departments are going to try their best as well.
"For the Sake of Our Children" (Yukon); Partners for Children (federal)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is the policy of our government to foster safe and healthy communities and to provide practical support to Yukon families with special needs.
I rise today to share with members a new initiative sponsored by our government, which is a pilot project called "For the Sake of Our Children." This project consists of a workshop that will be delivered four times this spring and fall by Partners for Children.
Partners for Children is a federally funded program that provides support, education and training for Yukon parents and care givers of at-risk children from birth to age six. It is administered in conjunction with the Department of Developmental Studies at Yukon College.
The pilot project, For the Sake of Our Children, will be funded through the collaborative efforts of the departments of Justice, Health and Social Services, Education and the Women's Directorate.
Mr. Speaker, the special vulnerability of children means that they experience divorce or separation differently than adults. When there is conflict between parents, in many cases children of divorce have a number of behavioural and emotional difficulties. They may continue to have problems adjusting well after divorce or separation.
By working together to offer support to parents, we can reduce the conflict experienced by a number of Yukon children. We realize that family structures change and, as a caring society, it is important to minimize the negative effects on children.
For the Sake of Our Children is a parent education program. The three-hour workshop provides information on children's reactions to separation and divorce, and how parental behaviours can affect the adjustment and well-being of their children.
The workshop stresses cooperative approaches to parenting, with an emphasis on mediation to reduce conflict between the parents. The topics covered in the workshop are the separation experience, parenting plans, alternatives to court, reorganization, self-care, ongoing parenting, positive communication, children's reactions and needs, and the benefits of cooperation.
Similar parent education programs have been offered in several provinces. In Manitoba, where these programs are offered on a regular basis, the results have been excellent. The evaluation of Manitoba's pilot program in 1995 indicated that 96 percent of participants found the program content relevant and assessed the program as well-organized and easy to understand by the separating parents.
Three months later, 85 percent of parents felt that they were dealing more effectively with their children. Fifty-four percent felt that they were dealing more cooperatively with their ex-partners.
Parents for Children and the Canadian Bar Association Law Day Committee introduced For the Sake of Our Children in Whitehorse last spring. Twenty-five people attended a three-hour workshop, facilitated by the dean of developmental studies at Yukon College, who was also a professional mediator.
Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to say that our government recognizes the value of programs that support families and works to foster healthy communities. We believe that this project, with two workshops this spring and two in the fall, will provide an opportunity to fill the gap identified by Yukon parents.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, I'm pleased to respond to the minister's statement regarding support initiatives to families with special needs, and I'm pleased to offer our support to this pilot project.
With regret, it would appear that more and more marriages are ending up in separation or divorce. While there has been a downward trend, although just, in the number of divorces among Canadians, there has been an upward trend here in the Yukon. In 1996, there were a total of 115 divorces as compared to 94 divorces in 1993. Given the rising cost of living in the Yukon, families are finding it more and more difficult trying to make ends meet and keeping their heads above water. As a single parent with children, these difficulties multiply, to say the least.
Aside from financial difficulties that are experienced by families who are separated or divorced, behaviour and emotional problems are also experienced by family members, of which children are most vulnerable.
Given these challenges before many of our families today, it is imperative that support be made available to help parents and children deal with the problems associated with divorce.
Programs such as For the Sake of Our Children will assist many of our parents and care givers with much-needed support, helping them cope more effectively with their children. What this statement does not address, though, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is what support will be provided directly to our children. More than often, it is the children who suffer the most from separation and divorce. It is therefore crucial that every effort be made to minimize the negative impacts on children and ensure stability, both financially and emotionally, is maintained within the family unit.
While we, on this side of the House, fully support initiatives to help families in need, there's much more work to be done. I'll refer to an example: this government's reluctance to recognize federal changes to child support payments and its unwillingness to alter its own policies to reflect these changes, such as Yukon Housing Corporation's policy to include support payments as total income when determining rent to be paid by a single parent. This is just one example. Another example of this is the maintenance enforcement orders. While this government talks tough about enforcing maintenance orders to help raise and support children, it just hasn't delivered. Just look at the issue of legal aid. This government stopped allowing access to legal aid by single parents who have to return to court. They stopped it completely.
I note that the For the Sake of Our Children project is a pilot project and will come to an end next fall. Again, we have another pilot project. I would like to ask the minister if an evaluation will be taken upon the completion of this project and, if so, what mechanisms will there be to undertake such an evaluation. I sincerely hope that some followup will occur, as I believe that this project has much potential to assist many of our families.
The minister made reference to a workshop held last spring in Whitehorse, of which 25 individuals took part. Perhaps the minister could tell us if there's been any followup done with respect to the individuals who participated in this workshop and if an evaluation has been completed to determine the degree of success of the program. Did parents find the program content relevant? Did it help parents deal better with their children? Will workshops be made available to families in rural Yukon? Are there any plans to expand similar support initiatives to Yukon communities?
The cost involved in delivering the pilot project is an unknown. Partners for Children is a federally funded program, but yet the project, For the Sake of Our Children, will be funded by the Government of the Yukon.
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to respond to the ministerial statement on the new information workshop for separated or divorced parents. Our caucus is generally supportive of this new federally/territorially funded program. It's hard not to be. Seventy percent of Yukoners are raising children, and 50 percent of Yukoners are getting divorced or separated.
I would presume that the program that we're going to be offering here is similar to the successful program in Manitoba, and it makes sense to borrow successful programs from other jurisdictions rather than reinvent the wheel.
Mr. Speaker, this announcement is one of a series of announcements from this government, all delivered under the title of "the policy of safe and healthy communities." What is that policy? Is there an actual plan to foster healthy and safe communities, or is this government once again announcing some quick-fix, ad hoc spending at pressure points in the system?
There is no plan, Mr. Speaker. These programs are just a series of nice programs that the government has lumped together under the heading.
I will guarantee you that the NDP will trot out these various small programs in the next election, and they're going to say, "Here, here's the plan." But this isn't a plan. A plan is where people agree that they want to reach a certain goal, and these are the ways that they can reach the goal, and these are the ways how the public can measure the success of the plan.
As usual, Mr. Speaker, although this is a good program, it does not address some of the bigger issues, the issues that this government seemed to be in touch with while they were in opposition.
Why do single parents only get help with their teenagers after the youth enters the justice system? Why are the waiting lists to get in and get help at family services so long? Why has this government refused to properly fund such great programs as the YES drop-in? What is this government doing to help adequately fund civil legal aid so that women can keep custody of their children permanently? And where is the anti-poverty strategy?
I'll sit down, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to let this minister blame the federal government and probably some boards and the previous administration and everyone else but this NDP government that does everything but take responsibility for creating real long-term solutions. And, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wait in breathless anticipation for the plan to help foster safe and healthy communities.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I thought the members opposite had the plan. They're certainly fond enough of quoting from A Better Way and asking us to provide regular updates on how we are accomplishing our platform and program, as I have just announced today and as we continue to work on.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is true that the number of single-parent families in the Yukon is increasing, and it is of fundamental importance to all of us that we recognize parents still have responsibilities to their children when their relationships with their partners break down. This is one of a number of measures to help support families, whether they are a one-parent or two-parent family.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, over the next little while, we will not only be offering this workshop on For the Sake of our Children, but we are taking action to follow up with amendments to the Family Property and Support Act and to the Maintenance Enforcement Act to improve the collection process and to improve the information available to the maintenance enforcement program. We will be working on legislative amendments over the spring and summer and the fall of 1998, as I have announced in this House before and am pleased to remind members of today.
The Minister of Health and Social Services is working on a number of healthy child initiatives that we will also keep the House regularly informed of, because, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we are meeting our plan. The members opposite know what it is. They seem to not enjoy having us provide progress reports on it, but we are making changes and we are acting.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: Before proceeding to Question Period, the Deputy Speaker would like to remind all members to keep their questions and answers short.
We will now proceed with Question Period.
Question re: Energy resource development by municipalities
Mr. Ostashek: Yesterday in this House, during Question Period, I informed the Government Leader on the issue that some municipalities and businesses were being forced to explore developing their own energy resources, rather than using Yukon Energy Corporation's power, because they believed it would be cheaper for them to do so.
During my questioning, the energy commissioner yelled out in this House, "Let them go." I found that statement quite alarming, Mr. Speaker, and my question to the Government Leader is, is it now the position of this government to encourage Yukon municipalities and businesses to develop their own energy resources and to let them go it alone, as the energy commission has stated, because this government has broken its election promise of affordable and stable power rates?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Excuse me if I'm a little slow in answering the question, Mr. Speaker. I'm still working my way through the opposition's press release on what they intend to conclude today from the remarks that they have not yet heard me say. So I'm just trying to find out whether or not they've quoted me yet, Mr. Speaker, so I'll try to be as close to the already predetermined press release as I can be.
Mr. Speaker, there is a policy - a policy promoted by the Yukon Party, I think initially, to encourage independent power production in the territory. Certainly, that policy remains in place. The situation as was described yesterday, Mr. Speaker, is simply that, right now, the Government of Yukon is making proposals for power rate increases that are the lowest that anybody has suggested in the aftermath of the closure of the Anvil Range mine.
Not only are we looking at the lowest possible increases, we're also looking at stable rates, which is something that is being pioneered by the government.
So, consequently, Mr. Speaker, one would say that the government is doing everything it can - and certainly the Energy Corporation is trying to cooperate - to ensure that the power rate increases are as low as possible so that people can feel satisfied that the public system, to the extent that it exists today, is as efficient as possible.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader did a great job of trying to twist it, but there's a big difference between independent power producers and the statement that was made about municipalities yesterday, and the very arrogant remarks that were made by his energy commissioner to "let them go".
Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader continues to stand there and say that these are the lowest increases ever. In fact, if you take the time to crunch the numbers, you find out that that's not the case at all. If you look at the rate increases brought in by the Yukon Party government, with a higher rate of return and amortized over a shorter period, you will find that the increases brought in by this NDP government, with a lower rate of return and a longer amortization period, is going to put more money in the coffers of the Energy Corporation. So, in fact, the increases are higher.
Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader failed to answer the question about whether they were asking municipalities to go it alone or to take a hike, as the Member for Kluane has said, and develop their own energy needs, which is a totally ridiculous position, especially coming from the energy commissioner, because if the municipalities were to do this there would be less money coming to the coffers of the Energy Corporation and we would be paying more for our power.
Is this the position that's being advocated by this government and this Government Leader?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, first of all, Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out to the member that his explanation of Yukon Party power rates and their relationship to the power rate proposals put forward by not only this government and the Energy Corporation, is pure gobbledegook. It makes no sense. It makes absolutely no sense at all, and, Mr. Speaker, the numbers have been crunched and the member is speaking pure, absolute nonsense.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the member yesterday spoke about his concerns about the amount of retained earnings the Energy Corporation would have, so that they could undertake some major capital works or at least put downpayments on some huge mortgages that the Energy Corporation would want to undertake to develop new power supply options - mortgages, I would point out to the member, that the poor, suffering ratepayer in this territory would have to pay.
Yesterday, the member was talking about wanting the big projects and wanting to protect the retained earnings for the Energy Corporation. Now, he's pretending that the proposals put forward by the NDP government were designed to encourage the Energy Corporation to have money.
I don't know where this member is coming from. He's a mass of contradictions. I still haven't worked through his press release. I don't know what the heck he's going to be concluding today. He's already got it out. He's going to be asking for the energy commissioner's resignation - your resignation, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Would the member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: You can't shut it down, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
He's going to be asking for your resignation, but, based on the fact that he's made no coherent case and he speaks contradictions day after day, I'm afraid I will not be asking for your resignation as energy commissioner, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, let me ask the question myself anyhow, for the public record.
The energy commissioner has shown a real lack of respect for the people that he's supposed to be protecting. If this Government Leader doesn't ask for his resignation, then he is showing a lack of respect for the people for whom he's supposed to be providing affordable and stable power rates.
So, I'm going to ask the Government Leader: if the energy commissioner doesn't do the honourable thing and resign on his own, will he remove him from his post?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: When all else fails, Mr. Speaker, shout and read the question.
Well, the member, first of all, has failed to make the case. Number two, the member has spoken pure contradictions yesterday and today. He said one thing yesterday. He said a different thing today - he took a different position today. He has spoken a lot of gobbledegook about number crunching. He doesn't know anything about what he's talking about.
He's reading out the questions that were written for him by his researchers, and he thinks that that's an effective case, and he thinks that if he shouts dramatically, he'll get that sound bite on CBC. Well, maybe he will, but unfortunately for him, this government is going to act responsibly. We will act rationally, which is a concept that I know the member feels somewhat uncomfortable with, and we will be doing the right thing. We certainly do respect the public's opinion, and we will be continuing to seek it.
Question re: Old Crow school tender
Mr. Jenkins: It would appear that the Premier of British Columbia sent a case of his calculators up here, and they are working very well for the government of the day. I have a question for the Minister of Government Services on the Old Crow school tender.
Yesterday, in one of the local newspapers, there was a notice published by the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. The notice was to all businesses and interested people wishing to work on the Old Crow school. It was calling upon them to submit business profiles and/or résumés to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation by April 24, 1998.
The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has stated that it is very important, as the contractor who will be building the school, must hire from the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation services and skills, the inventory of which will be presented to the government and contractors at a meeting to be held in Whitehorse during the last week in April. Can the minister advise the House what the vetting process will be for the preparation of this inventory of skills and services? Will all those who apply be on the inventory, and will they all be accepted?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I believe that I mentioned the other day that, as part of our commitment under chapter 22 of the final agreement, we felt an obligation to work with the Vuntut Gwitchin in trying to maximize the economic benefits to the Vuntut Gwitchin individuals.
Part of the contract that was agreed to had set out some of those conditions. One of those conditions would be that any general contractor working on the Old Crow project would have to enter into an agreement to work with the Vuntut Gwitchin in maximizing employment and economic opportunities. That's very consistent with the entire chapter 22. As far as vetting, my presumption would be that we are not going to be vetting anyone.
In fact, what the Vuntut Gwitchin have done is they have invited contractors who are interested in this project to come forward, to work with them, and to try to enter into some sorts of understandings prior to bidding on the project.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's quite a stretch of chapter 22 of the umbrella final agreement, Mr. Speaker.
We in the Yukon Party caucus wish to see maximum employment opportunities being provided to the people of Old Crow themselves in the construction of this new school, but it's Yukon government money that is paying for the school, and I'd ask the minister to ensure that other Yukoners are given job opportunities as well, especially as this is the single largest construction project in the budget of this government and the unemployment rate in the Yukon is so high.
Will the minister give that undertaking?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I suppose the question would be, do the members opposite not agree with the First Nation final agreement? Because, after all, this was a provision.
I don't think that this is any kind of an exclusionary document at all. I think what it does do is it obliges us as a government to live up to chapter 22, which requires that government projects built in the traditional lands of the Vuntut Gwitchin be built in a manner that maximizes the economic benefits to the individuals of that First Nation.
And I don't think any of these kinds of agreements that we've reached with the Vuntut Gwitchin are exclusionary in any nature at all. If anything, I believe that chapter 22 is an inclusionary document. I believe that chapter 22 tries to bring the people of the First Nation into the economic mainstream, the economic life of this territory, and I'm stunned that the member opposite is interested in trying to drive these kinds of wedges...
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Would the member please conclude his answer?
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm not surprised that the minister is stunned. Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation notice is quite specific in that it states the contractor building the school must hire - and I emphasize the word "must," because it means that the contractor is obliged to hire from that list.
As the minister is all too well-aware, things can go wrong on construction projects, especially those undertaken by NDP governments. So, I'd like to know what flexibility there is in the skills or special services when these are required for the school's construction and the name of the contractor or that individual isn't on that list? What happens then? Who has the final say: the Vuntut Gwitchin or the government itself?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I find this absolutely astonishing. Yesterday, we received a letter from the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation outlining the benefits and their appreciation for the kind of benefits that flowed from the work that's gone on so far, particularly on the road - the kind of economic benefits, the kind of material benefits that have flown to that First Nation. Now, what I'm confronted with is someone trying to suggest that an economic agreement consistent with chapter 22 - consistent, I might say, with a meeting that was held with over 20 contractors to discuss how this would work in terms of what the requirements are of chapter 22 and what the expectations of contractors, the idea that there should be meetings between the Vuntut Gwitchin contractors during the tender period to sort of finalize the kinds of requirements that are there - we're not saying that a contractor has to hire everyone, but I think what is being presented is that there has to be an effort made on behalf of the contractor to hire appropriately people from the Vuntut Gwitchin who are qualified. If, for example, there are skilled trades which are not available in the Vuntut Gwitchin community, then I'm sure that the people of Vuntut Gwitchin would recognize that. But I think what they're seeking is ...
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Would the member please conclude?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: ... a very legitimate commitment from a company to try and maximize the economic benefits for their members.
Question re: Electrical rate increases to municipalities
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader on the electrical rate increases.
The Energy Corporation set up a rate stabilization plan in its rate application filed yesterday, and the government, through its commissioner, had previously issued a discussion paper on its own fund - that's the government's fund.
Now, neither fund provides any relief for Yukon municipalities, and the municipalities are going to be paying the whole 16-percent rate increase this June.
The question I have for the Government Leader is, why aren't the municipalities going to be protected from this rate shock?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I guess the question more appropriately is, why isn't government protected from the rate increases, and the answer is that the Yukon government's proposal is that people come first, governments come second. And the Government of Yukon's proposal is that the ratepayers' pockets, particularly the residential ratepayers' pockets, should be protected first, before government is protected.
So, that's primarily the reason. In the hierarchy of interest that we are proposing to protect in our proposals that we put forward, we believe that residential ratepayers, in the first instance, should be given the highest priority.
Now, if the member disagrees and thinks there should be alternatives, then I invite him to express his views. They'll be taken into account, too, especially if they're well-reasoned.
Mr. Cable: Well, thank you for the patronizing comments.
The fact is that the same people are going to be paying. The municipalities are going to be an involuntary contributor to the stabilization funds.
Now, the municipalities pay a total bill of around $2.5 million. The increase is a $400,000 whack at municipal budgets. Are municipal grants going to be increased to compensate for this extra expense or, as I mentioned, are the municipalities, in effect, going to be one of the involuntary contributors to these stabilization funds?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I'm hurt that the member thinks I'm being patronizing to him. I'm, in fact, not doing any such thing. I invite the member to make a comment and make his views known and the member thinks that that is somehow patronizing. Well, it's not.
The member wants to speak to the issue of wanting to have municipal governments pay less, that's fine. It's something that he should state publicly. The difference will be made up presumably through other ratepayers. That's generally the way the procedure works.
We have made our priorities clear. Residential ratepayers are the top priority. We've made that clear that that's what we think. If the member thinks differently, he can say so. I'm not being patronizing. I'm just saying that if that's what the member wants to say, he can say it.
Mr. Cable: Well, let me ask this question. Maybe we can get an answer.
The commissioner's pamphlet that he put out on the rate stabilization fund says as follows: "It is proposed that the rate stabilization fund be government controlled, so that government can respond to public demand without delay and ensure that the subsidization of electric power rates is accomplished outside the utility process." Is that still on? Just what is going on? Are we going to have two funds? Are they going to be rolled together? Is the government fund going to replace the Energy Corporation fund? Just what is happening?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member is asking for a level of detail that I think would be best answered by either the energy commissioner or the minister responsible for the Energy Corporation, because I think the member deserves a fair and full answer to that question.
I'm fearful that I would not do the answer justice. So, I will leave the others to answer his question.
Let me also say this, though, Mr. Speaker. The member makes the confrontational remark that I'm not answering the questions. I'm in fact directly answering the questions that the member is putting to me.
The member wants to know what the government's position is. The government has laid a proposal on the table.
The member wants to know what the impact might be for municipalities. He has obviously expressed a concern about one user of the system and suggests that perhaps the other users should get less of a benefit so that the municipal governments can have a greater benefit. That's an opinion that the member is perfectly entitled to express, and I'm certain that that information and that opinion will be worked into the mix. If there is a good, solid argument to justify changing the proposals that people may put on the table, based on that member's intervention, I'm absolutely certain that changes would be made.
Question re: School busing, kindergarten
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Education concerning the noon-hour busing of Whitehorse kindergarten students to seven Whitehorse schools.
The minister said on Tuesday that I was wrong, that the decision had not been made to save $100,000 on the backs of five year olds. The minister went on to say, "We are considering discontinuing the noon-hour kindergarten bus service for September 1998." The "we" isn't the busing committee. They haven't been consulted. The "we" isn't school council chairs, because the first opportunity to discuss this matter for them is Friday at noon; and the "we" isn't the parents who would be affected by this decision, because a good many of them haven't even had their first contact with the school.
Will the minister admit now that, really, the decision has already been made and that the "we" is the minister, and the only partner that she's really listening to are her officials in her department?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the member is wrong on all counts. The member is wrong. The decision has not been made about the provision of kindergarten busing service for the 1998-99 school year. The member is wrong that the busing committee has not been consulted. The member is wrong that the schools have not been consulted. There was a memorandum sent to the principals and schools on April 14.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is heckling here and saying it was sent on Wednesday. It was sent some two weeks ago.
The school administrators, together with the school councils, will make the decision on whether they offer full-day kindergarten or same-day kindergarten programming. The decision on the noon-hour kindergarten bus service has not been made.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether the minister will admit it or not, the decision appears to have been made - save $100,000 on the backs of five year olds.
Mr. Speaker, the fact is that, without the busing service, seven Whitehorse schools will have to switch from half-day kindergarten to full-day programming. This decision has not been motivated by what's right for children; it's been motivated by saving $100,000.
The minister, in making this decision, has not heard from parents who will have their first exposure to the school system this September. These parents have not been heard from, and many of them would like an opportunity to discuss what is right for their children, and to explore options with their school council.
How does the minister intend to hear from these parents?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, again, the member is completely wrong in her facts. There have been a number of school councils who have already had meetings with parents in attendance about the kindergarten program.
I have spoken to parents who have been at meetings. Mr. Deputy Speaker, the member opposite might want to name people in the House who do not have a voice here, but I do not.
Now, if I can just ignore the heckling for a moment, there are seven elementary schools involved in the Whitehorse area. Two of those schools have already made the decision to offer full-day kindergarten and have full-day kindergarten in place. The fact is that parents have an opportunity to provide input through their school councils. We are providing an opportunity for input from the schools and from the school councils, according to the Education Act.
Ms. Duncan: I was not for a moment suggesting the minister name names; I was suggesting she name consultation with school councils that I have spoken with and parents who I have spoken with.
This government promised open, accountable government to Yukoners. They promised partnerships in education. A decision to save $100,000 on the backs of five year olds entering school for the very first time has not been made in consultation with the busing committee. It has not been made in consultation with the school council chairs. Most importantly, it has not been made with those affected.
There has not been an opportunity for parents of kindergarten children going to these schools to discuss the options. That opportunity has not been made available. Where is the partnership in education in this decision? Is the minister prepared to rethink this matter until there has been an opportunity to consult with parents affected? Kindergarten registration is in two weeks. Is the minister prepared to hear from the partners in education on this issue - the parents?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I repeat for the member that we have not made a final decision on the school busing service for kindergarten for the next school year. I would also like to repeat for the member that we are looking for useful input from school council chairs, from the school busing committee, from the school administrations and from the parents.
That is exactly what we are doing. The dialogue with school councils and the education community is continuing.
Now, Mr. Speaker, if we hadn't seen a $20-million cut to health and education in the federal transfer payments, we wouldn't be facing difficult decisions with the financial pressures on the education system.
The fact is, Mr. Speaker, that the public is involved in the decision making. The school councils and the parents have an opportunity for input, as does the busing committee and the school council chairs. This matter has been and continues to be discussed at all of those places. The member opposite has her facts completely wrong.
Question re: Yukon Housing Corporation, Watson Lake office space
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation.
On July 14, 1996, Watson Lake suffered a horrendous loss. An early-morning fire destroyed its firehall, its ambulance services, its post office, the library, the building inspector's office, the probation services branch office, the municipal town office, Watson Lake Housing Association office, the court house and the courtroom, as well as the Outreach Employment Centre. This was a major tragedy by any standards.
The previous Yukon Party government committed itself to working with the Town of Watson Lake and the government departments and agencies on how best to replace the building. Unfortunately, this present NDP government doesn't have the same commitment as the previous government did to replace the facilities.
Can the minister confirm that, two years after this disastrous fire, Yukon Housing Corporation staff housing is being used to provide government office space in Watson Lake? And further, can the minister advise the house how many units are being utilized and by what departments or agencies?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As the member began on the whole question of replacement of the Watson Lake administration building, I thought it might be opportune for me to just address some of the issues there.
The member has indicated that the previous government was committed to doing something. They're not quite sure what it was, but they were committed to doing something. The fact is that they didn't do anything. But they were committed to a lot of good things, they just never quite got around to doing them. However, subsequent to the failure of the previous government to do anything, we actually did meet with the town council there and had some discussions with the previous mayor and council and, most recently, with the current mayor.
In some of the discussions that ensued and as some of the replacement possibilities, the option was put forward by a community group as to a joint project, with the idea of moving toward some kind of economic benefits for the community in terms of a joint civic centre, if you will. That was a project put forward by the Liard First Nation and the town. We have had a series of discussions moving toward that project and looking at how we could work with the community by perhaps becoming an anchor tenant in such a project. I'm pleased to say that we have been continuing on. We have been making some progress. We have been refining -
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Will the member please conclude.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: Once again, my question is to the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Two years is a long time to provide temporary government office space. It is my understanding that nothing is being done to replace the destroyed building until the year 2000. This is totally unacceptable. Can the minister advise the House where, in the mandate of the Yukon Housing Corporation, it states that it is responsible for providing government office space for a three- or four-year period?
Where is this in the mandate of the Yukon Housing Corporation, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I also have some responsibilities in the health field, I feel obliged, because, quite clearly, the Member for Klondike has a problem there in processing information. Perhaps he missed what I had said, because he's now claiming that nothing is in the works.
I believe I just got through saying that we have been working with the Liard First Nation and we have been working with the town as well on developing a joint project with them. There is a memorandum of understanding about community priorities in place. We're trying to work with the community here in becoming part of a project, which we feel will be sufficient for our needs and also generate some economic activity and some economic benefits for the community.
I guess I have to repeat it. The member is mistaken when he says that nothing is being done.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, nothing is happening in Watson Lake. It has been two years since the fire. It's going to be another two years before we're told that there will be a new structure in place. So, that's four years to undertake such a project, and there's an unemployment rate currently existing in Watson Lake that is one of the highest, if not the highest, in the Yukon, and it's because of lack of action by this government.
The need for social housing is also on the rise in Watson Lake. There is a waiting list for people to go into social housing units.
Now, if the Yukon Housing Corporation can utilize government staff housing for government office space, which I'm sure is contrary to its mandate, why can't it make changes to convert some of the staff housing into social housing units? That's more in keeping with the Yukon Housing Corporation's mandate.
Why doesn't the minister do this, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Just a couple of things. First of all, back in February 1997, the Town of Watson Lake formed a three-party committee involving the town, the First Nation and YTG, represented by Government Services, toward a cooperative social and economic plan for the community. One of the things that we've been doing is looking at a solution for one building for all three levels of government and some other issues around there, including trying to maximize economic benefits.
So, I think I've already explained to the member that we are part of a process, we are moving forward on this, and we are addressing the issue. He doesn't seem to want to recognize that. His somewhat simple-minded solution is build it, let's build it, let's build a bridge, let's do this. What he doesn't understand is that we prefer to work with communities, we prefer to actually do something with a community in a creative way. He can't get that.
Now, if he had even a modicum of understanding of social housing versus staff housing, he would realize that it is not because of CMHC rules. If I'm not mistaken, there cannot be a simple conversion of staff to social housing. It can't be done.
Deputy Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that the Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Deputy Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the Deputy Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the members' wish to have a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Chair: Twenty minutes.
Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Deputy Chair's notice re absence of Chair and Deputy Chair
Deputy Chair: Before proceeding, I would like to advise the Committee that, from time to time this afternoon, the Member for Lake Laberge will be taking the Chair in the absence of the Chair and the Deputy Chair.
Bill No. 9 - First Appropriation Act, 1998-99 - continued
Department of Health and Social Services - continued
Deputy Chair: We will now go to the estimates. We are on the Department of Health and Social Services. Is there any further debate?
Mr. Jenkins: I just have one follow-up question, Mr. Chair, with respect to the amounts due to the Government of the Yukon from DIAND. How is this reflected on the government balance sheet? Is it into our asset base as a receivable?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's fully set up as an account receivable.
Mr. Jenkins: So, it's actually an asset, in the government's opinion?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Deputy Chair: Continue, Mr. Jenkins.
Mr. Jenkins: It's actually an asset on the government's balance sheet, and that opinion has been confirmed in previous Auditor General opinions.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes.
Mr. Chair, yesterday, when we were talking a bit about the Children's Act and a requirement from the community - First Nations as well as others - for some changes or the need to at least look at and review the Children's Act, which is quite an elderly document, in terms of this fast-moving type of legislation in other jurisdictions.
Yesterday, we spoke about a request in a document about a Yukon First Nations child welfare conference, and this report is of conference that was held - the minister attended; and I did, as well - on April 30, May 1 and 2, 1997. In the document, there are 14 requests to look at the Children's Act, and they are for two reasons. The first one is to look at the issue of mandatory reporting of child abuse. The second issue is to look at the rights of the extended family.
There wasn't adequate time, last evening, to address the issue. The minister didn't have a chance to give a response. I'm wondering if the minister could speak about those issues now.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think it needs to be recognized that the conference report basically recorded the various recommendations of the many speakers. One of the things, I think, that has to be recognized is that the aim of the conference was not - at least in my opinion and certainly from reading the text - to reach a consensus. I think what it was was a chance for people to air views and to bring forward their own ideas.
Some of the recommendations I think I've had differing sorts of messages on, but I think overall we have to recognize that these are both useful for ourselves and useful for First Nations in terms of how the programs are going to be developing.
When we went back and looked at some of the recommendations, basically I think there were several that we found, from our point of view, were fairly useful, and some of them we've acted on. The idea of, for example, I believe it was Kwanlin Dun - and I forget what the other First Nation was - recommending interchanges and sort of exchanges of personnel, we've already begun, particularly up in Kwanlin Dun with the assignment of some of our staff up there.
Some speakers commented on the need to change social assistance rules that don't support extended-care families. What has happened is that sometimes children are being brought into care so that YTG will pay for foster rates. Basically, what we've encouraged is that First Nations that have control over their own social assistance programs review policies to ensure that children don't come into care for financial reasons at all.
Some of the recommendations were around how child welfare services are delivered, and some of these focus on the ideas of prevention, alternatives to an adversarial court system, protecting a child's contact with their culture and so on. We find those are useful, and I can tell the member that I've had some discussions around some of these recommendations with CYFN when I met with them to discuss social programs. I asked about these. I asked specifically about child welfare. I asked, you know, "What about these recommendations? Where are they going?"
I think the message that I got was that this is still very much in a state of flux, that First Nations are beginning to look at this, but we haven't reached the point yet where there's a consistent kind of approach about changing acts or adopting acts to reflect this.
I think that this is the kind of ongoing dialogue that we need. I haven't said that I'd be adverse to changing the Children's Act, and I think there's probably some utility to it.
We've had meetings with individual First Nations. We believe that the process needs to go a bit further. I think once First Nations have determined what they're looking at in terms of their own service needs and deliveries, and how they plan on doing this, that's the appropriate time to be looking at working together to revise the act.
Say, for example, Yukon First Nations decided to revise their own child protection law. Then the Yukon act would have to move to be in tandem, or to at least be not out of sync with that. For example, if a First Nation draws down child welfare, but we did not modify the act in such a way as to devolve the responsibility away from the director of family and children's services in such a case, quite clearly that would not be congruent with the whole idea of developing these things.
So, I think we're in the process. We're certainly hearing from the First Nations. We've got ongoing meetings with them. These are some issues that will be discussed with the leadership, between myself and the caucus. When we meet with the leaders, these are issues that I think we're going to have to be working out over the next number of years.
Our Children's Act, incidentally, is, I suppose, no older in many ways than other jurisdictions. It is older than some, but, for example, there are - and the member is shaking her head; chronologically, if we take a look at it, we are about average - there are seven jurisdictions with older statutes. So, it's not a case that ours is some kind of ancient, creaky kind of thing. We believe that, at future points, there will be a chance to revise the Children's Act. But, I think what we'd have to do is to work in concert with the other levels of government in this regard.
Mrs. Edelman: What an interesting argument, Mr. Chair. We are going to wait to review the Children's Act until we get a completely homogenous point of view from all 14 First Nations. We are going to wait to review the Children's Act until some of the First Nations draw down their powers. We are going to wait to review the Children's Act because, after all, we're about average. The people of the Yukon deserve average, because seven other jurisdictions in Canada have children's acts that are, apparently, as old as ours.
It's not just Yukon First Nations who are coming to the minister and repeating over and over and over again that this is an old act and that there are a couple of issues that need to be dealt with. It is time to at least review this legislation. If we want good legislation in the Yukon - and I think we deserve good legislation; not just average legislation for Yukoners - it has to be living legislation.
Now, GRAY has spoken to the minister. GRAY is the Grandparents' Rights Association of Yukon, and GRAY has said that they would like to have grandparents recognized as something other than "other persons with an interest in the child." They would like to have those rights recognized, and that makes an awful lot of sense.
Here in the Yukon, it's just this generation that's had more than one generation, if they weren't First Nations, that's living here. When I grew up here, there weren't any seniors, other than Yukon First Nation seniors, and we never saw them, quite frankly, in Whitehorse.
My concern is that we do have a larger senior population in the Yukon now than we did before. We should at least be acknowledging them in legislation to say that they have a point of view that needs to be taken into account.
Let's talk about the issue of child custody and placing children into foster homes. Now, when a child is taken into the custody of Health and Social Services, they are placed into the receiving home and from there they move to a foster home. Foster homes have had to have home studies done on them so that they are approved placement options for the department.
Now, home studies take three to six months to complete, and because of department policy, all foster homes have to be preapproved by the department by home study. That means immediate family members are rarely given the option to take over as foster homes for immediate relatives.
Now, home study takes three to six months to complete, but by that time most of these children have been moved back in with their parents.
Now, obviously there are major advantages to having children stay with their immediate relatives as foster homes. There is less disruption to their lives and reaffirmation of extended family support for children and for parents.
There are two possible options to make things better. Where a child is put repeatedly into the care of the department, a home study should be prepared ahead of time with an immediate family member who wants to be considered as a foster home. Or, two, a fast-track home study process for immediate family members; for example, two or three home visits with a criminal-record check and affidavits from others in the community about the suitability of the foster home be prepared.
You know, there are a number of very, very good reasons to open the Children's Act, and the best reason of all are the children of the Yukon. I'm not too sure how many more people have to come and speak to the minister about this issue. I'm not too sure how many more grandparents have to come and talk to the minister about this issue. I'm not too sure how many First Nations people have to come and talk to the minister about this issue until he at least thinks about reviewing the Children's Act. This is an act that's used daily in the Yukon and impacts the lives of children.
Will the minister consider reviewing the Children's Act?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I have to say, first of all, that this is an issue that I know some people feel very strongly about. However, I have not had overwhelming numbers of people come to me. I have had people who have raised this issue specifically on certain points, and we've brought these forward.
There are certain aspects - for example, the Children's Act is really made up of four parts. The parts that we, as Health and Social Services, deal with are parts 3 and 4, which actually deal with adoption and child protection.
There are parts - for example, with the establishment of parentage, custody, access and guardianship - which fall under the Department of Justice, because those are essentially private legal relationships.
Part 2, section 33, permits the parent of a child or any other person to apply for the custody and the access to a child. In general, what happens is that the court is directed to consider the best interests of the child in making any custody or access order. So, we can see the role of the courts there.
Section 30 of the act ensures that the child is the focus of the court's decision making.
We have suggested that the best interest test is written so broadly that the court could consider, among other relationships, placing the child with his or her grandparents. I mean, that's our interpretation of this act.
Generally, what we find is that grandparents who are interested in caring for children less commonly are the subject of proceedings involving the director of family and children's services. I have never said that there are not revisions that could be made. What I have suggested is that, if there are issues around some of the proposals that came forward at the conference, many of these don't need to be legislated. Many of them could be dealt with in terms of such things as foster care selection and training, consultation with the extended family - those kinds of things don't need a legislative authority. We can be looking at changing those, modifying those, in discussions and consultations with groups, and bringing those into place.
What I am suggesting is that to revise the Children's Act, to do a major review of the Children's Act - which I don't dismiss, not at all, I'm not suggesting that at all, and I'm not suggesting that we wait until everybody is in line, but what I am suggesting is that there are some issues out there as First Nations draw down powers. Some First Nations are further along with particular powers than others. Some have identified social issues. Some have identified health issues. I think what we really need is the culmination of a number of settlements, at least a critical mass of settlements, where we can begin - and I certainly haven't dismissed it. I've begun this dialogue already with CYFN on the feasibility of bringing such points forward. I've had these discussions with CYFN, and we are bringing them forward.
What our goal is - and I've asked this quite frankly - is if this is something we should be pressing individual First Nations harder on? What I've been told is that there are a number of issues that have yet to be resolved, even within the First Nations, and that the CYFN is trying to do that kind of identification of responsibilities and roles and concerns, and we're committed to working with the First Nations on this.
I think that's the appropriate time to look at an overall revision of the Children's Act. We believe that, within our powers, there are things that we can do that don't necessarily require legislation. We also believe that, within the existing powers, particularly - and I made reference to it earlier - section 30, which identifies the question of best interest. We think that if the courts followed that interpretation, there would be many things that could be done to redress, for example, the needs. I mean, I certainly understand the human desires of grandparents to bond and to keep contact with their grandchildren. I'm as sympathetic as anyone in that regard, but I don't think we need to do it, at this point, with a revision of the Children's Act.
I think there are some things that we could be doing within the existing act itself.
Mrs. Edelman: I'm glad to hear that the minister is sympathetic with people who want to have their grandparents around. That's good. Certainly, I would have liked to have my grandparents here - I never did - and it would have been very useful to have them around, to have that sort of non-critical, non-judgmental ear.
What I haven't heard from the minister is any commitment to at least look at some of these issues. I've heard that, oh, maybe we'll look at things around that aren't particularly legislatively based.
I've heard that we have to wait for some sort of critical mass of First Nations to have made some decisions about drawing down powers, which they may never, ever do. Some First Nations are not going to draw down the large majority of powers that are available to them.
There are 30,000 people in the Yukon. How many Yukoners have to tell the minister that they need to look at some of the issues around children in the Yukon, particularly issues around the custody of children while they are in the department's care?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's not a case of how many people have to ask, but the member did say something interesting. She said some First Nations may choose not to draw down these powers. I think that's a very valid point.
I, for example, in some of my discussions with some of the First Nations around this issue, have suggested, as I believe CYFN has suggested, perhaps alternative models for child welfare. Some have suggested moving on some of the models of the groups of First Nations in the western provinces, where you have such things as, perhaps, a number of First Nations together who share, perhaps, a common language or common heritage setting up a central agency. That's been an idea that's been floated among various First Nations.
I don't want to prejudge which group chooses to draw down and which group doesn't. What we've said is that we're willing to look at these. What we believe is that there are provisions within the existing act that can address many of the needs of individuals.
We're not adverse to some kind of future examination or some kind of future revision, but, what I can say is - I guess I would ask: are there issues specific to the Department of Health and Social Services within the Children's Act that the member feels are lacking? I would remind her that, within the Children's Act, our specific responsibilities surround adoption and surround the whole question of child protection.
Are there areas there that she could feel are lacking or would compel us to open up the Children's Act or some things within these parts 3 and 4 that would compel us to look at a major revision - within those particular aspects?
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, there is one other very large piece of legislation that deals with children in the Yukon and that is the Education Act. The Education Act has a mandatory review every 10 years, and that makes an awful lot of sense because legislation to do with children across Canada changes at an absolutely unbelievable speed. And what is and what isn't acceptable in our society, to do with children, also changes at a very, very fast pace.
I don't think it's unreasonable to take a look at this particular piece of legislation. I'm not saying trash the whole thing and start again. What I am saying to the minister is that, at least on the issues of mandatory reporting of child abuse and recognition of the rights of grandparents, those are two very, very good reasons to open up the act.
The other issue that the department doesn't necessarily have to open the act up for but which I will identify for the minister again, because obviously I'm not getting my point across well, is the issue around the home studies, so that children who are taken into care can be placed with their grandparents, usually.
Now, the two things that can be done is that a home study can be prepared ahead of time. There is a total reluctance on the part of the department to do that. Home studies can be prepared ahead of time where there is a particular case where kids are repeatedly taken into custody. And there can also be a fast-track home study process for family members that can be instituted.
I don't think that's really that unreasonable, and it's something that, certainly, the legal community has been asking for for a number of years. It is very, very disruptive for children to come into another town, usually, into a totally different living situation, when there are perfectly good places available for them to stay with their family in their own home communities - safe places.
And there are other issues, of course, around the home study process. Typically, people of an older generation don't have the same financial resources as people who are younger, and some people believe that grandparents aren't getting the same shake as foster parents - as other people.
I'm not too sure that I know that to be true. Is that the minister's understanding as well - that grandparents are not being dealt with on the same playing field as people who are younger and who perhaps have a bit more money?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, with regard to this - for example, the fast-track home study for relatives - those are things that we believe could be done administratively, and those are certainly some things that we would be willing to look into.
With regard to the latter one about grandparents and placing children with grandparents, those are decisions that are often made by the courts and not by us. Quite frankly, I don't know if courts decree that there may be economic restrictions on grandparents when placing the children.
I would find that, I guess, difficult to see, because, a parent or a grandparent would presumably be a person who is somewhat older, who has probably their own home and would have possibly fewer personal costs that, you know, a person who is raising a family and all those kinds of things would have. I would find it difficult to see economics playing into a decision of a court to dismiss a grandparent under the section of the best interests of the children. I would find that difficult to see why a court would do that.
Certainly, with regard to such things as fast-track home studies, those are things I could have the department look into from the point of view of administrative changes because we believe that that is within our purview right now under the Children's Act.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Deputy Chair, the fast tracking of the home study is one thing, but preparing a home study well in advance, particularly if you know that these children have been taken into custody over and over and over again, makes a lot of sense, too. If you're in court and a home study has already been prepared, then the court will know that that is a good place and an option for those children and that it has already been well studied by the home study program through the department. That's another area that needs to be looked at quite clearly by the department.
And I suppose that when I'm speaking about the options for grandparents and if you have two foster homes, one with someone who doesn't have as much money and there is another foster home where there is more money, then the department usually will go for the one that has more money when, in fact, the greater need is usually with the grandparent for some sort of continuity. Well, if a home study is prepared ahead of time, a lot of that is dealt with. I'm wondering if the minister would also consider the idea of preparing those home studies ahead of time.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I've taken note of the member's comments and I will certainly bring them forward to the department for consideration.
Mrs. Edelman: I'm almost content with my half loaf. The Deputy Chair already knows I never really do give up on anything until I get to the point. The issue around the Children's Act and the review of the Children's Act, if we're reviewing other legislation that has to do with children - and only children - such as with the Partners in Education Act, every 10 years, it makes sense that, for this type of legislation, there be a mandatory review. Indeed, in other jurisdictions across Canada - and the minister knows this; he's a legislator who's familiar with what they do in other jurisdictions - they do have living legislation. Part of living legislation is built-in reviews on a very regular basis.
Those reviews are because things change. If this government is interested in being open and accessible, and being responsive to the needs of the people in the communities, then there has to be a willingness to look at legislation on a regular basis and to review to see if it still meets the needs of this community - this is the Yukon community, in this case, and the children of this community.
I'm wondering if the minister will, at least at some point - I think we've got but two years to the next election - consider opening up the Children's Act, at least doing some sort of review to see if perhaps the legislation we have is just fine, perhaps it's perfect, maybe there are some minor changes that could be made. But we won't know that unless we go out there and ask people, "Do you think there should be changes?"
There already have been a number of groups that have identified a clear need for changes in two areas - those are grandparents' rights and mandatory reporting of child abuse. Certainly, recreation groups and the Red Cross have all identified these issues as well, particularly the mandatory reporting of child abuse.
It behoves the minister to at least consider the idea.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I mean, I would always consider things, but I do have to suggest that something as large as a review, or perhaps a rewriting, of the Children's Act is a huge undertaking. It's just a massive undertaking, and there's a fair amount of legislation that is going to have to be covered in the next while. Right now, it's not in our plan.
Does that mean that I don't think it should ever be done? I think that there will be a time at which the Children's Act would have to be looked at. I mean, I fully anticipate that there will be changes that will flow from self-government issues, where we will have to make that response - it won't be a matter of choice. We will have to open up the act; we will have to take a look at the act, and there may be other issues, as well, that will compel us to do that.
I believe that, at a future point, the act will be opened up. I believe that, at a future point, the act will be reviewed. My suggestion, and what I fully feel, is that there probably, in any future act, should be some provisions for mandatory review.
I think the Education Act, in particular, was a good model in that regard, and most of the legislation that is now coming into place has that provision in it. I think that would be a feature of any future act or any future modification of the Children's Act, that there would have to be some kind of reporting period or review period built in.
There will be a time at which, I believe, the Children's Act will be subject to some review. I don't dispute that and our department doesn't dispute that. But, right now, given the kinds of issues that we're dealing with, it's not in our plan.
Mrs. Edelman: Once again, we're waiting for Desiderata - for all things to unfold as they should. Then, perhaps, we'll look at the Children's Act. I'm not going to belabour this. We're not getting anywhere.
Mr. Deputy Chair, the minister's noting that I'm getting older. Once again, that seems to be at a great rate, especially today. I will move on to the next issue.
The next issue is social assistance. This was briefly dealt with by the Member for Klondike. But, I didn't hear a response from the minister about the issue of changing the mandatory job search age from when the youngest child is two years of age back up to five years of age, which is where it was previously.
Now, that change happened under the previous administration, and I know that it hasn't impacted a great number of people, but it has still been a dramatic change in policy. We have heard from a number of groups that there is concern about that, the anti-poverty group in particular.
I'm wondering if the minister is looking at it. He did say that he was at least looking at the issue in the last budget session. He was looking at bringing that age back up to the youngest child being five years of age before there's a mandatory job search. Part of this, of course, is the recognition of the value of having a parent at home and the value of taking care of children in your home.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, the member is right. And this is something that has been of interest to me and it is something that we have looked at. As a matter of fact, it's a matter of some discussion between myself and the anti-poverty group.
I've also been fairly frank, and I think I'll continue to be frank, in saying that, while it isn't a large monetary issue, it is something that, given the present pressures of SA, it's very difficult to deal with at this point.
That being said, I have asked a local anti-poverty coalition to participate with me in some discussions around social priorities, and I have asked questions like should we be targeting our social assistance better. And I'm perfectly interested into entering into dialogues with them.
But I've also been very frank. I've been very upfront saying that, given the kinds of pressures that we have in SA - and the member can see for herself what those kinds of pressures are - and since we do have a finite amount of money, inevitably, monies directed in one area will have to come from another area. It's a matter of setting priorities.
Would I like to be able to change it? Yes, I'll be very frank; I'd like to be able to change it, but, given the kinds of SA pressures we have right now, it's not available to me, unless there was a general consensus that we want to look at perhaps reprofiling or reprioritizing some of our social expenditures.
That's the kind of dialogue I've invited the people who are interested in issues surrounding poverty and SA to engage with me on, and I'm hoping to accelerate that process in the next couple of months.
I've put out the invitation to the anti-poverty coalition and I've since reminded them a couple of times that I'd like to begin this dialogue, and we're hoping to accelerate the process.
I've also done some consultations with the Health and Social Services Council on how we can look at issues around this.
So, I am open to it, but I've also been very frank about the kinds of pressures that we in Health and Social Services are facing.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the other issue here, of course, is the issue of recognition for parents who do stay at home and that they do valuable work in our society, and that's certainly not recognized by anybody. There are lots of tax benefits for people who put their children into day care, and there are subsidies for people who put their children into day care. There are clothing allowances and food allowances and a number of things for people who put their children into day care, and they aren't making a substantial enough wage to support that family. But there is no recognition or support economically or socially for parents who elect to stay at home with their children.
The long-term benefits are not as apparent, and although you are talking about moving money from one pocket to another, in the long run,we save money as a society if we recognize the valuable work that goes on in the home by staying home with our children and taking part in their lives. When they're at the preschool age, there is the most dramatic and most possible chance to make an impact on their lives and what they do in the future. Before the age of six is where we can do the most good for our children.
Mr. Speaker, I know that the minister is sympathetic to this, and he tries to make an economic argument for not doing it, but if you send somebody out to get a job for $7 an hour, you are no further ahead. You are paying subsidies at day care. You are paying subsidies for rent. You are paying subsidies for clothing and for food and for electricity and for housing, and it just never ends. There is almost no economic argument for that.
I'm sorry that I cannot accept that from the minister, and I'm actually quite surprised that he's making it, because I know that in the past, that was his argument: that there is no economic argument.
I would just like to ask the minister again if he'll review this with the anti-poverty coalition and to not just look at their point of view, but to think of other groups that have an interest in this area. Because, certainly, recognition for those of us who do stay at home with our children is non-existent in our society, and it's something that we need to look at over, and over, and over again.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think I've been fairly clear that it's something that I've discussed with people within the anti-poverty coalition, and some of those individuals who are within the anti-poverty coalition also represent, for example, single parents who have children in day care, and things like that.
I'm not making this just solely on an economic argument. What I'm saying is that, all things being equal, we'd certainly like to be able to do this, but when we're faced with increasing SA, any changes to the SA regulations can push those figures up and can sometimes have a major effect. Some provinces have chosen to do this, and some provinces have chosen to do this with sometimes disastrous results.
I'm very reluctant to begin to pit one group against another. I'm certainly amenable to looking at this, but I'm also seeking some guidance, some advice, some cooperation, from people who are in the field and people who have some awareness of this.
Incidentally, just on the whole question of parents who choose to stay at home with their children, I don't think that can be disputed at all.
Certainly, that's something that is encouraged. However, interestingly enough, I don't know if the member's familiar with a study that just came out from the national child care, which also tended to point out many of the benefits of children being in structured early experiences. I think that's interesting enough. I think back to Bruno Bettleheim's Children of the Dream and things like that - some of the positive aspects of early socialization, early interaction and early education experiences.
I'm certainly amenable to it. It's something I'll be discussing with the anti-poverty groups in the future.
Mrs. Edelman: It's interesting that the minister should mention that particular study, which I'm quite familiar with, as well, because we did receive it from the same source after we went to the Yukon Child Care Association AGM just recently.
At that meeting, it was quite interesting, because I've been to a number of meetings where the minister has appeared. He speaks at each one of the meetings about the national child benefit. It's actually been promised in a number of different areas, and that was one of them - the Child Care Association.
He seemed to be of the opinion - and, after listening to the minister's remarks, I, too, was of that opinion as well - that there may be some thought given by that minister to putting some of that money either toward the direct operating grant or for subsidies - to prop up the subsidies that we give to parents who are in need.
The subsidies, in particular, have been frozen for, I think, the last three or four years, so that, even though day care costs have gone up, the day care subsidy has been frozen. People are less and less able to pay for the day care that they do receive.
The minister also, at another meeting - I got the distinct impression - had sort of promised the national child benefit to the Child Development Centre and to CATS, the child abuse treatment services. That was one of the possibilities, as well.
I suppose that I would sure like to get an indication from the minister as to where this money is going, whether there's a lot more money than I thought was coming, because it's been promised out in so many different areas.
What is the priority? Are we talking about the Child Development Centre? Are we talking about the Child Care Association? Are we talking about the hot lunch program? Where do we envision the child benefit dollars going?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think we've already committed the first stage of that. Even though we didn't have the money, we did begin the program in full expectation that we would be receiving the money. The first allocations of money we've put toward the school nutrition program and the programs around the opticals and pharmaceuticals for children.
Subsequent to that, we've had some indication from Pierre Pettigrew that an additional amount of money will be coming. I have to acknowledge his efforts in this regard - Liberal minister that he is - but I do have to acknowledge him because I think Mr. Pettigrew has worked quite well on this. He said very early on that he considered the first allocation of money to be a down payment, and I think, subsequent to that, there will be additional amounts of money put in, which will give us some liberty to look at some other things.
One of the things that I've been very frank about is - less with CATS; I mean we've added an extra worker to CATS - certainly in issues surrounding early intervention. I've been considering looking at ways in which we can do some early intervention and I've been thinking in terms of perhaps some early educational intervention.
So, in terms of commitments, I can't commit at this point to any particular group, but certainly the member has been quite close in terms of saying that these are some areas that I'm thinking of, particularly around early intervention with children. I think there are some things we need to be doing in rural Yukon where we have a number of, I think, children in pre-school years where we have to address their needs.
In terms of money, I believe we're looking at around $200,000 that would flow to us additionally, beyond the initial allocations. Our uptake on the children's opticals I think has been sort of slow to start, but we believe that as people become more familiar with it, the uptake will be greater.
So, yes, we are looking at future investment. My commitment and the commitment of all provinces was that money that is recovered from the national child benefit will be put into programs to assist children. That's what the commitment is and that's what I'll do.
Mrs. Edelman: So, Mr. Chair, I think what I've heard is that it doesn't sound like it's likely that this money is going to be going toward any of the Child Care Association initiatives.
Now, I'm reading from the Child Development Centre's last newsletter, and it says, "The demand for early childhood services in the communities continues to increase, and as a result we've now had to establish a wait-list in order to stay within our budget. The problem the board faces is the increasing demand for services while the funding has not changed in six years. For the past three years, we've had to run a deficit budget and we can only afford to do this for one more year."
Now, the minister is very, very much aware of the fact that the demand for rural services, in particular, out of the Child Development Centre in their early intervention programs and their diagnosis programs and their programming to do with the education of other parents as well as the child, uptake is unbelievable, and the wait-list - I mean, there's a wait-list established but, once you get through the wait-list, there will be another wait list. There is a definite need in the community, and this is early intervention at its finest in the Yukon. It's a wonderful program and over the years the demand for it has only increased.
I would assume that the minister, when he is contemplating early intervention programs, is speaking about the work of the Child Development Centre, and I wonder if I'm correct in that assumption.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'd be the first to commend the work of the Child Development Centre and I think they are the kind of interventions that you can do with children. Anyone who has been involved in, particularly, elementary education knows the value of early intervention, particularly for children entering kindergarten with just the whole variety of skills that they need. Certainly, as I travel around the communities, one of the most consistent rounds of kudos I hear is from community health nurses and groups like that for the work of the CDC.
As a matter of fact, I'm meeting with them tomorrow afternoon, and we're going to be discussing some areas of pressures. They're a group that we support; they're a group whose efforts we support, and certainly they would feature well in my thoughts in this area.
Mrs. Edelman: It's always good to be a feature presentation in the Minister of Health's thoughts, particularly because he's the one with the money.
One of the other issues that comes up, particularly in my riding - although it's common in many, many river valleys in the Yukon - is the issue of air quality and public health to do with woodsmoke.
Now, there is a letter about the draft air emissions that recently went to Renewable Resources, and it came from the Yukon Medical Association. I'm just wondering if the minister is doing anything to study the issue, or to support study on the issue, or to be looking at the issue of woodsmoke and the health problem that it is.
Woodsmoke costs us money every year. There's nothing wrong with burning wood - you just have to do it right, and not everybody knows how to do that.
You're talking about decreased levels of lung function in children, increased respiratory symptoms in children and adults, increased school absenteeism, restricted activity days, increased physician and emergency visits for asthma - as we all know, that costs quite a bit of money - increased respiratory hospitalizations - that costs the most amount of money - and mortalities.
Now, the Department of Health, as a policy, typically hasn't dealt with this issue in the past, and I'm wondering whether there's been any move - because you're talking about preventive health care here, and you're talking about saving all of us dollars and an awful lot of grief. Is the department looking at this issue?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, quite frankly, Mr. Chair, our environmental health officers don't have any role in enforcing Whitehorse bylaws, but what we can do is encourage the city to regulate and enforce woodsmoke.
However, our medical officer of health can order the city to regulate in a worst case scenario. So, for example, if our medical officer of health determined that the particulate level was such that it was causing severe respiratory problems, particularly in select groups, he could order the city. However, like other jurisdictions in Canada, this has been a municipal responsibility. I think the city's bylaw enforcement manager has stated very clearly that they'll be the people to enforce regulations of this kind.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the whole issue about woodsmoke and the responsibilities, or lack of responsibilities about this issue is very interesting, but this is an air quality issue. This is a federal responsibility, and that's why the municipality of Whitehorse - and this is not the only community in the Yukon that has this problem. Every community in the Yukon is in some sort of river valley and has areas that suffer from woodsmoke inversions.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Edelman: Yes, it's cold air that holds the woodsmoke in a valley.
This problem is in Dawson. It's in Carmacks. It's in Whitehorse. It's in parts of Watson Lake. It's all over the Yukon. What happened is that this is air quality, which is a federal responsibility, and somehow or another it ended up at the municipal level, but funding came from the territorial government for almost five years, I think, because they did acknowledge some of their responsibility to pay for a woodsmoke bylaw inspector. That funding ran out, and it was never given back. What happened is that the municipality, of course, because they've had their blockfunding cut - or it has stayed the same for the last 12 years - can no longer afford to go out and regulate and to look at the nepholometer and to examine whether it's a good time to call a no-burn.
So, it is not a municipal responsibility. It's one of these things that they sort of got by default, and they do not have the legislation to protect them. Apparently they've got the responsibility, but they don't have the legislative authority to regulate, and if anyone had ever taken the city to court over the years, they probably would have won.
It's not just the City of Whitehorse; it's every other municipality in the Yukon. I think it's an issue that we need to take a look at. It is a health care issue, because it costs us money.
Is the department at least talking to Renewable Resources about what their concerns are about woodsmoke and how it impacts our health care costs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The member has raised the issue of air quality and things like that. I have some statistical data here that shows that the air quality in Riverdale has been improving over the last few years. Oh, by golly, it's coincidental with the Member for Riverdale South moving out to Marsh Lake.
I'm certainly cognizant of this and, while it is an health issue, our role has been to work with the health services branch and environmental health service to assist them. We have a role, in terms of our environmental health officers, to encourage the city to regulate and to enforce. As I said, the only legal sanction, the only legal thing that we can do at this point is, by virtue of our medical officer of health, order the city to regulate. Regrettably, we don't have that power to change the air quality regulations. That isn't within our scope, like I said, unless it would be in a worst case scenario.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Deputy Chair, to set the record straight, it's the Member for Riverdale North who moved out to Marsh Lake.
The issue here is the fact that woodsmoke is an issue right across the Yukon. It's not just an issue in Riverdale South or in Riverdale North or in parts of Porter Creek or in parts of Crestview or in parts of Watson Lake; it is everywhere in the Yukon. It's definitely in Carmacks. It's one of the worst communities for that.
The government is now looking at air quality regulations and they're not even too sure they won't even look at woodsmoke. Well, woodsmoke costs the Department of Health money, and they're now in the process of looking at air quality emissions regulations through the Department of Renewable Resources.
I know that it's not common practice for one department to talk to another, but in this particular case does it not make sense for the Department of Health, who pays a lot of money every year whenever there is an awful lot of woodsmoke in Riverdale, in particular, or in Carmacks or in Porter Creek, to at least mention to the Department of Renewable Resources that, yes, it does cost us money?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We have had some discussions in this regard with the Department of Renewable Resources and we have given some of our views on this. However, I guess, at this point, the air emissions regulations haven't addressed the whole question of woodsmoke and it is, as the member has said, under Renewable Resources rather than Health.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I'm going to leave that alone because I'm getting nowhere again.
The issue of funding the YES drop-in centre - this was a very useful and a very well utilized drop-in centre, and it's since disappeared from lack of funding.
Are there any plans in this year's budget, somewhere in these programming lines, to put any money toward the YES group, and is any of that money going to be going toward the drop-in centre?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Not in this budget. I have had some discussions. I met with the chair of the YES group. We talked about some ways where we could be assisting. Some of the things we've done are that we've undertaken to try to find some appropriate space where they could be running a drop-in centre. Our focus has been asking to look at programming and we've had some discussions around the kind of programming that they could be delivering, where we could be assisting and so on.
They have a somewhat different mandate. We've also given them some assistance in terms of trying to set up some contacts with the Youth Works program, because we feel that that is a pretty good opportunity for them to get some funding in that area, because of the nature of some of the things that they've been doing.
Mrs. Edelman: Certainly, the Liberal caucus was supportive of that application, as well, and we did write letters of support. However, I don't know if there was any money in there for the drop-in centre. I think that would be the greatest loss for this particular program, because it was very, very effective.
I have a burning issue for the minister; that is the issue of the crematorium. Where do we sit with that? That was supposed to come up at the Yukon Council on Ageing. There wasn't sufficient information available for it to get on to the agenda. Can the minister shed some light on this issue? Where do we sit with a crematorium for the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm loathe to say that the member was raising the issue of smoke earlier and then moving on to a crematorium.
The issues around burials and things of that nature have not been sort of front and centre in our discussions. I think that this was discussed in terms of some of the changes around last year's health regulations. A crematorium, burials and things like that would be an area of concern, but primarily in terms of the disposal of people being buried in relation to water courses and things of that nature.
I believe crematoriums, if I'm not mistaken, fall under Justice. The member's shaking her head. I don't recall me being responsible for crematoriums, but it really hasn't emerged as an issue. It was raised with us earlier.
A past director of the Yukon Council on Ageing did raise it with me, but it hasn't been an issue that has emerged to any great degree. Certainly there are issues surrounding, for example, how would this impact on private funeral homes, and things of that nature. It would be something that I think would have to be discussed. I don't think the member's suggesting that we get into the crematorium business, but if it's a matter of facilitating regulations, and things like that, we could probably take a look at that aspect.
I won't say it's a burning issue, nor is it an issue that's gone up in smoke, but it continues to be with us, I suppose, and will be with us for awhile.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, indeed this issue has been around for a very, very long time. When I served at the municipal level, this came up repeatedly for some reason, and it's still an issue. It's an issue that we certainly hear from the Yukon Council on Ageing about. The minister just said that he had started a dialogue with the former chair of the Yukon Council on Ageing.
Now, I'm wondering if the minister will at least go back and continue that dialogue with the Yukon Council on Ageing - with the new president - and look at regulations in that area.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Certainly, one of the things I regret is that last week's meetings in Toronto prevented me from attending the Yukon Council on Ageing meeting, and what I'm hoping for is to have an opportunity to meet with the chair in the near future to discuss some of the proceedings from there. I would suggest that, if the crematorium issue is high on the profile, it's something that will probably form part of our discussions.
I'm certainly interested in trying to discuss this issue again in the future.
Mrs. Edelman: I'll take that as a commitment from the minister to discuss this with the proponents, who have been the Yukon Council on Ageing, but there are also a number of other private individuals who have wanted to examine this issue for a number of years.
Another issue, of course, is the numbers of children and adults with developmental disabilities, and this ranges from fetal alcohol syndrome through to autism. There are a number of different severe developmental disabilities and we have no numbers in the Yukon. Has there been any move on the part of this government to start to identify those numbers so that we can look at some true budgeting figures?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think we've established that we're trying to get at least a benchmark on them. For example, FAS/FAE developmental difficulties is an issue that we've been working on and I have a note here some place in terms of this.
That has been one of the things that the Health and Social Services Council brought forward to us as a task to be undertaken by ADS, and ADS has begun that process, working with the statistics branch and some others to try and get a handle on some of the numbers.
I'm just looking. I had some points here on trying to get some benchmarks.
I'll have to find that note. I thought I had it here, but it may be in my other file. I'll try to get that information back to the member as soon as possible.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, quite frankly, I was very concerned, because I heard that vital statistics had dropped that as part of that project and that they were not identifying the numbers, particularly for the fetal alcohol syndrome. Is that a misunderstanding on my part?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, it's part of a study that we've asked ADS to undertake with stats. It's not part of the study that I mentioned yesterday that's being undertaken by stats on high-risk alcohol effects that we're working on with the individual from Carleton University, Miss Andrews.
So, it's not part of that study, but it is an undertaking, because that was a request of the Health and Social Services Council - is it something we can get a better handle on.
So, on the FAS/FAE, we've directed ADS to work with the stats branch to try and get a better handle on the numbers that we're facing.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, only then can we get some planning - when we get some good numbers. I know that other jurisdictions have certainly been able to get those numbers, so I'll be pleased to see what we're looking at, although I have a horrible feeling that we're going to be finding that numbers are far greater than what we had anticipated.
The midwifery committee that's putting together the white paper and is doing the consultations - has there been any thought about getting a member from the Health Action Network on that particular committee?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm just waiting for my midwifery notes here. I can tell the member that we are looking at some draft legislation in that regard - if the member can bear with me for a second.
What we've done is we've drafted a discussion paper basically looking at some of the legislative and financial issues. That'll form the basis of our consultation with interested individuals and groups, and I would imagine that anyone who has an interest in that area will participate.
Then what we've done is we've tried to address some of the key issues specific to midwifery that would need to be looked at in terms of what any future legislation would cover. Those include such things as qualifications, registration, keeping of a register, scope of practice, standards of practice, complaint, injury and discipline process.
So, those are some of the key issues that any future legislation would have to do and, as part of this discussion paper, we would also want to identify some issues that are of particular relevance to ourselves here.
Mrs. Edelman: I hope that, as part of that discussion, the Health Action Network is notified, as is the rest of the community, that those consultations are going on, and that they're not held in the summer.
Can I also hope, Mr. Chair, that there is some sort of recognition that there's an awful lot more to midwifery than the delivery of a baby.
Most of the work of a midwife is done prior to and after the delivery of a child, and I think that there needs to be recognition, too, that midwifery has nothing to do with home births. On occasion, midwives have delivered babies at home, but midwifery is not the same as home birthing.
Mr. Chair, I know that that is my understanding of midwifery, after doing a great deal of research and study in this area, and I wonder if that's also the understanding of the minister?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, by all means. I think too often the concept of midwifery is associated with a home birth and, in fact, in a number of jurisdictions, midwives are practising within medical situations - hospitals, if you will.
One of the things that I hear, and I'm going off the field of obstetrics for the moment, probably most consistently about the hospital, if I hear one positive thing consistently, has to do with the obstetrics - the birthing rooms.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I won't ask the Member for Klondike what his particular expertise is in that regard, but just along that, such facilities would seem to lend themselves to midwives working in. Certainly it's a friendly kind of environment, I think, and an environment where midwives could work in future, perhaps in a future obstetrics setting.
Mrs. Edelman: Just to be clear - as I was on the same hospital tour as the Member for Klondike - we did look at the birthing rooms. I need to have the minister confirm this. Their multi-year funding for NGOs is something that this government has committed to, and there are indeed a large number of NGOs that regularly do business with the government and have multi-year contracts with the government, and they are in place. I need the minister to confirm again - and this is common sense and it's logic, but I need to have it confirmed; and I know that this is written on the bottom of most of the contracts - that this multi-year funding is subject to an annual budget restriction. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's subject to annual approval by the Legislature. It's a budgetary requirement. It's not meant as a caveat but, for example, if there was some kind of huge impact overall on the finances of the government, then obviously that would impact on our overall budgetary requirements. I'm pleased to say, however, that in this year's case, none of the NGOs suffered any budgetary impact, so we're able to maintain that funding.
What we've moved to, I guess, is more of a multi-year contract. I believe we have some 13 NGOs that we'll be entering into such an agreement with - if we haven't; I believe we have already.
Mrs. Edelman: Every once in awhile, you do have to say that somebody gets it right. Multi-year funding, though it is subject to a yearly review by the Legislature during the budget process, has certainly helped in the planning process for many of the non-governmental organizations in the Yukon, and that's something that's been done well here.
The wait for counselling at Yukon Family Services is quite long. Is there anything being done by this government to help bring that waiting list down? I know that even if a person is quite depressed, it takes an awfully long time to get in and see a counsellor. What is the government doing to help alleviate that problem?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I've had a number of discussions with YFS on counselling and counselling needs. They have determined their own sorts of priorities in terms of who they have to act on initially, and I think we have to follow their lead in this regard.
Some of the experience has been that they've tried to make some initial contacts, and what they've found, I think, is that many individuals, after an initial, sort of, session, decide that they want to carry on or not carry on. I think what they try to do is address very immediate needs right away and then determine with the individual if, in fact, the family or the individual wants to carry on.
The reports that I've had have been that there tends to be two or three sessions, sort of thing, and then people decide that this is not for them or they choose to go another route. There are also avenues in terms of indivuidals going to private counsellors, in some cases. Some of the things that we're trying to do are changes in mental health to help people in severe crisis, and some ways that we're trying to address some of these needs for counselling and issues around emotional problems.
But we've had some ongoing discussion with Yukon Family Services, and we will continue to work with them in trying to deliver the best quality of services that they can.
Deputy Deputy Chair: Is it the wish of the Committee to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Deputy Chair: Committee will recess for 10 minutes.
Deputy Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee to order.
Is there any further general debate?
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, it's interesting. We were talking about the doctor in Watson Lake during the break. There was a conversation about some of the health care in Watson Lake, and apparently the doctor who's there is having a great deal of difficulty attracting a doctor to Watson Lake.
I know this is an issue that has been identified with the minister. What is he doing to help the community of Watson Lake bring in a doctor?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Our ADM of Health has been in contact with the physician down there; however, we haven't received any specific requests for assistance in this regard. Most physicians advertise in a variety of family practice magazines and have their own sort of networks of physicians that they can make references with.
We are aware of the situation. We are working with the physician, and I suppose if there was a request for some kind of specific assistance in areas where we could provide, we'd be happy to do it.
Mrs. Edelman: That was a good response to a community issue.
There was a health care conference in Nova Scotia - and this is the largest health care conference ever held in Canada, I believe. The Yukon was not represented at this conference on March 9 to 13.
Was the Yukon not represented or was it a smaller contingent than what was originally planned? Was it staff who went to this? Were there political people at this home care conference or was there no representation?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: From a political participation, we were simply not able to do it. The Legislature being in session, and so on, precluded my attending there.
What we sometimes do is that we trade off with the N.W.T. in terms of coverage. For example, in the most recent meeting in Toronto, Kelvin Ng, my counterpart in the N.W.T., was not present, so we made contact and I brought forward issues there that we knew that Kelvin would want to cover.
As well, I don't want to appear overly negative about it, but, once again, I have to return to the issue of the federal government and the whole question of home care. I don't feel that there was much substance that came out of that, and certainly not in terms of the report that I received. Basically, it was a lot of talk about home care. There were nice statements made about home care but, substantively, we have yet to hear if, indeed, the federal government wants to take this further; if, for example, the federal minister wants this included within the framework of the Canada health and social transfer; and if, indeed, there are going to be funding issues around this. If I'm convinced that we get to the point that these kinds of issues are going to be debated and come forward, I would be happy to participate and send officials - if that's relevant.
But, quite frankly, at this point, I have yet to be convinced that beyond saying that home care is important and home care should be part of our health care system - unless I see some tangible efforts in that regard, I frankly can't see too much point in it. Furthermore, I suppose the issue that is repeated more frequently than anything is that when provinces and territories are asked about such things, the general response is, "If our funds are returned on the Canada health and social transfer, then we'd be interested in engaging in some of these dialogues."
But, no, we were not present.
Mrs. Edelman: It's an interesting dialogue from the minister.
I think that the minister should also be aware that when he was referring to the way that the federal government treats the territorial government, it is the same way that the territorial government treats municipalities.
Mr. Chair, I'm still not clear from the minister what the policies are about. Who goes to conferences? Which conferences do we go to? Which ones do we not go to? My understanding is that for this particular conference there were Yukon representatives registered, and at the last minute the registration was cancelled due to a lack of funds.
Now, I realize that the minister feels, afterwards, when he got the report, that there wasn't much point in going in the first place but, of course, you never do know, prior to the meeting, what's going to happen. Sometimes the most amazing things do happen at these conferences, and certainly there's always information that's shared that's useful, even if it's done in an informal way.
The bigger issue here is, what is the policy on who goes to conferences, what conferences do we go to, which ones do we not go to, what level of personnel goes? Do we send nurses from the hospital, do we send senior directors? Who do we send to these conferences, how often, and what's the general policy?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, with regard to the reference from the Member for Klondike about how long it took me to say no, I'm really trying in that regard, because I've been advised by the table that I have up to 30 minutes on each response, so I feel an obligation to try to fill that 30 minutes.
With regard to this specific conference, we were never registered at that. I know that, because every out-of-territory travel request comes across for my signature - I never signed it off. So, that's something there.
Who goes to which conference really depends very much on the nature of the role of the individual within the department, the nature of the conference. For example, there may be a conference that relates to environmental health, or something like that, and it would be appropriate for our individual who works in that area to go.
There may be a conference or some training in areas of mental health, where people from our mental health staff may go. There may be issues that require the presence of the deputy minister or an ADM of Social Services. For example, very recently our ADM of Social Services attended meetings, that I believe were in Victoria, that looked at funding arrangements under the Young Offenders Act. So, it really depends on the role of the individual.
As for ministerial attendance, those things, generally one goes if your duties don't preclude it and there's a general sense that something can be accomplished out of it. The most recent meeting that I attended was not something that had been in my agenda to do; however, as this particular meeting was one that was, in a sense, mandated by some decisions by first ministers, it was felt that we should be there.
Now, coming out of that there were a number of unresolved issues that I think carry a certain amount of weight, so that may influence my decision to go on a future one.
Sometimes, around a particular issue, there will be a large number of meetings. The NCB was a case in point. The NCB would get to a particular point and there'd have to be some decisions by the feds or some decisions by the provinces, and we'd go - very similarly around the establishment of a national blood agency.
They kind of cluster around specific issues.
Mrs. Edelman: I think that I can gather from those short remarks that there is no policy. I do note, however, that the minister does make an effort to be in this House whenever it's possible and that he is always in this House. It's very, very rare that the minister travels when the Legislature is in session and actually, that's much appreciated.
The next issue that I'd like to explore with the minister is the issue of the medical detox over at the old Crossroads facility at the Sarah Steele Building. I'm just wondering, medical detox means a lot of things to a lot of people. There are a number of different models. What is the model that we are going to be using?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, that would be a level of technical detail that, I mean, I couldn't get into the full model there, but what I can do is that I can certainly make the director of ADS available to describe how we would plan to do this. The goal in going toward a medical detox model was partly because we were finding people who were reappearing within the detox issue, but many people also had health-related issues. We were finding people who were coming in with numerous health-related issues and we felt that we needed to look at people in a more comprehensive manner and to also treat some of the medical symptoms that people bring along with their addictions. I think that's something that we've recognized is a need that is there and that's something we're hoping to do.
Mrs. Edelman: I wonder if I could get an awful lot more detail than that from the minister. Are we talking about 24-hour care, supervision by a doctor, 24-hour on call? Are we talking about 24-hour medical RNs, CNAs? If I could get a little bit more detail from the minister in written form, I would greatly appreciate that.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We can certainly provide that information, but I can tell the member that one of the things we have done is that we've reassigned one of our nurses on a half-time basis there. We've also entered into contracts with two Whitehorse physicians to both attend and be on call for the detox facility. So, we're trying to address some of those medical needs.
We can provide the member with a more complete and comprehensive description of how we plan on doing this in written form.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, if it could include the use of pharmaceuticals in that report, I would greatly appreciate it.
On the group home review, the date of completion is flexible, apparently. Is the group coming back up? I'm wondering if there is a date now for completion. What sort of a report are we going to be getting, and who are the recommendations going to be going to?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm advised that there will be a preliminary report available by the end of May. The member is right when she says that the two individuals involved, Mr. Lorne Weir from Manitoba and Sandra Scarfe from B.C., are coming up again to do yet another round of interviews. Hopefully, they will take a look and report back to us.
We are anticipating that we will be making the information available, certainly in some form of public manner, but we do feel it would be a bit of an obligation on our part to share some of the results, initially, with CYFN.
So, we'll be making the results available, and those results will influence decisions we make in regard to the provision of services, and things of that nature.
Mrs. Edelman: Will the department also be sharing those recommendations with the Workers' Compensation Board or the Human Rights Commission?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, the results would be public, so if the Human Rights Commission or the WCB, or whoever, wants access to them, they can certainly get them. They will be in a public manner.
We don't have any desire to conceal. We've tried to be, if anything, as arm's length from the process as possible, in terms of not trying to influence, and we've tried to be somewhat scrupulous in that regard. Besides making the arrangements and besides accommodating and besides making different people available, we haven't tried to influence any decisions at all.
Mrs. Edelman: The minister brings up an interesting point - the issue of trying to get information into the process. A great deal of information is available from the people who work in the department. The people who work in the department would have to book their appointments with another staff person. There is no way that some of the people who work in the department will do that, because they feel that that information is not going to be held privately - the fact that they even booked an appointment.
Is there going to be any opportunity for staff at the department to book appointments to see the reviewers in any other way but through the department?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, provision has been made for confidential access to the reviewers by any person wanting to speak with them. The reviewers have been given an office. There is also a phone equipped with voice mail that's accessible only by the reviewers.
So, what we've tried to do is ensure that anyone who tries to contact them has that in confidence. For example, if there was someone from the department who wanted to contact these individuals, they could do that through voice mail and probably set up some kind of a further contact, if they wanted to do that, in complete confidence.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, it was my understanding that, in the previous go-around, initially, it was a staff person who was making the appointments and that was what the big barrier was.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: That staff person was attached for purposes of people who wanted to do it in a public manner, for group home operators establishing times for visits and things of that nature. Anybody who wanted to speak with the individuals could by contacting a number, and the number was 667-5044. There were also some ads that ran in the paper, giving that number and giving information when these individuals could be contacted.
But there was not an attempt to set up interviews per se that would conflict at all with a person's ability to access this service confidentially. That just wasn't part of the deal.
Naturally, the two people that came up had to have some staff support while they were here in terms of interviewing individuals within the department themselves or they wanted to interview operators or they wanted to interview people who wanted to do it in, I suppose, a more public fashion. But there was an avenue by which confidential contact could be made.
Mrs. Edelman: I saw those ads, and nowhere on the ad did it say that the information that was received would be kept confidential.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I believe that I was very forthcoming to the member, both here and publicly, that any information people chose to share would be confidential with, of course, the exception of that kind of information that people have chosen to make public. Information that is made public I have no control over. If a person chooses to make something public in either written form or by their own statements, I've no control over that. But if, for example, a person had an issue that they wanted to raise in a confidential manner, we've provided that.
The two individuals that we have were both satisfied with those arrangements. They didn't raise any concerns. I should say that these individuals are both people who have had long histories in the area of child welfare, child safety, group homes, foster homes, et cetera.
Mrs. Edelman: The reviewers that did come were extremely qualified. The issue, I think, is that not everybody hangs on our every word here in the Legislature. I know that's hard for us to understand and to believe, but I don't believe that the information about the fact that that information was going to be kept confidential has gotten out into the community, and in particular to the people who were at the group homes in the past.
I don't know whether there's going to be another set of ads running the next time the reviewers come up, next month, but I wonder if that information about how the information that is given to the reviewers will be kept confidential can be included in the ads, if there are going to be ads the next time they come up.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I am advised that the interviewers have not really been established. If they're - and I'll check with the department on this - also planning on some opportunity for public input, we could certainly ensure that any ads reflect the nature of the confidentiality - it would be the inclusion of a line, or something like that.
But to date, most of the interviews that they're coming up for have already been sort of pre-booked in the previous visit.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I'll take that as an undertaking of the minister - if there is an ad program that goes out, there will be a line to talk about the confidentiality. Because it was actually my understanding that there was going to be that line last time there was advertising done, and I know that there were an awful lot more people that were speaking to reviewers than I think the reviewers thought they were going to be speaking to. I think that's wonderful, because it means that the process is responding to a need.
The date of completion then for the report would, I assume, be the end of May. I need to have that confirmed again by the minister.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The preliminary report will be by May 28.
Mrs. Edelman: I wonder if the Liberal caucus could have a copy of that report when it comes out.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: If that is in the public element, then certainly we can make that available. In terms of the preliminary report, I'm not sure at this point how that will proceed. I'm not sure if, for example, they'll come up to advise us of some findings. Normally, within some kind of a process, there is usually some kind of a review process. There is usually a preliminary contact at least with those groups that are most affected - in other words, the operators, the people who have brought forward the complaints, the department itself. So, they may have some things that they want to discuss with those individuals, and then shortly following that, there's usually a public release of some kind. But we can check into that, and we can certainly ensure that the Liberal caucus gets a copy as soon as it becomes available.
Mrs. Edelman: The Northern Network of Services, or the NNS group, has been taken over by the Department of Health and Social Services. Is this going to continue or are we looking for another non-profit group to take over? What's the plan?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: NNS was one of the groups that was reviewed by this review committee. We're going to wait to see what recommendations come out of the review. We don't know what they'll suggest. We don't know what will be determined in that regard. So, we're going to wait and see and that will guide our decisions. We've taken it over and we're anticipating that we would carry through at least probably until the fall, until we determine what would happen there.
It's one of the more challenging groups to work with. Most of these young people are young people who have had a very chequered family background and many of them are carrying a lot of emotional issues. It's not an easy group to deal with at all. The board that was running NNS, I think, found that the challenges were very, very considerable. What we'll want to do is review what is being suggested by this group. Perhaps they'll give us some indicators, some ideas and that will guide our future actions with regard to NNS.
In the meantime, we're carrying through and we're working with our staff and things seem to be going reasonably well at this point. There were some initial bumps. There were naturally, with some of these young people, some issues around the change in staff and the change in operators and things like that. There were some bumps initially, but things seem to be levelling out. The most recent report I've had indicates that the three young people who are there currently seem to be complying with the various requirements of the people who are running it.
And issues such as going AWOL and things like that seemed to kind of resolve, but we'll be guided, I think, in our future decisions by some recommendations from this group, because they have looked into it.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I actually spoke to the reviewers when they were here, and it's been their experience in other jurisdictions, and it does make sense, of course, that you can write a review and you can put in a series of recommendations and the government can completely ignore your recommendations. And in some jurisdictions, indeed, they have completely ignored the recommendations that were made.
My concern with going through this exercise is that there needs to be a result whereby people can quantify the level of interest this government has had on the input that was given. If we have a report that has a series of recommendations and then those recommendations are not implemented, or if they're cherry-picked and only one or two of them are implemented, then one wonders why one goes through the exercise.
Is there a commitment on the part of this government to seriously look at the recommendations from this report and to look at implementing at least a majority of the recommendations from this report?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Of course, Mr. Chair, that's the intent of it. I guess maybe one of the reasons why we extended it to include all our child care facilities was because we felt we needed some guidance and advice in terms of issues such as standards and things like that - policies that we would need to refine ourselves.
So, our intention in this was not only to gain some insights into the situation, to find out if, indeed, the service was meeting the needs that we had, but also to get some direction in terms of future areas where we could go.
That was the intention. I'm committed to trying to implement the recommendations. If the recommendations come out and say, well, you know, you need to build a $30 million child care centre, that's going to give me some pause.
There may be some issues that, for example, would require me to get into budgetary issues for the future, or whatever, but we will try to implement as many as we possibly can, given the constraints of such things as resources, et cetera.
If, for example - and I'm just speculating - the result was that they're recommending that we take over NNS, or the therapeutic group home aspect - say that was their recommendation - well, that has implications to us in terms of staffing because, at that point, we'd have to look at probably some kind of additional psychological provisions, so I would have to, at that point, go back and say, okay, we're going to have to, based on this, look at some kind of supplemental budget, or whatever. So, there may be some things we can implement right away; there may be some things we have to look at what our present resources are and whether we need to get some further resources.
Mrs. Edelman: We're not talking about a $30 million multi-level care facility for Watson Lake. We are talking about probably a lot of policy recommendations that are going to be coming out of this report. I'm glad to hear that the minister's willing to review those with a serious eye to future change.
The Province of British Columbia and the Province of Alberta, and a number of other jurisdictions, have a child advocate. The child advocate serves two purposes, one of which we already have here in the Yukon. The first one is to guide children through the system, and we often will appoint lawyers to help children through the system here in the Yukon.
The other purpose of the child advocate in Alberta is that she serves as a catalyst for change and for regular review of policy. In that respect, she has been very, very successful at renewing a structure, mainly because she has been part of that structure in the past and she is aware of the pressures that are coming internally as well as externally.
A child advocate is an idea that has been explored and has been implemented in many, many jurisdictions, because it's felt that you need to have someone who is unbiased in the system that can help, not only the children in the system, but the services that supply future children coming into the system.
Has the department looked at the issue or the idea of a child advocate for the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, we haven't explored it in terms of a policy option per se. I guess one of the things that we have to keep in mind is the scale - our scale compared to that of the Province of Alberta. We do employ lawyers in particular issues, and lawyers are appointed by the court to act in the best interests of the child.
On the whole question of a child advocate, that's something we haven't explored. In a jurisdiction of 30,000, it may not be practical. There may be some opportunities - I'm just speculating - to look at, perhaps, roles of ombudsmen or something of that nature, but it's not something that we've looked at seriously in terms of policy.
Mrs. Edelman: Part of the group home review - obviously there will be some recommendations about policy change and ways that we can improve the systems around children that are in care. The idea of a child advocate - and I guess what I'm doing is trying to support this idea with the minister - means that there always is that watchdog continually in the system and a person who is very, very much aware of the way we do things here in the Yukon. I will leave the subject for now, but once again mention that the idea of a child advocate in the Yukon is probably not an unreasonable one.
One of the issues that we've talked about in the past is hepatitis C. I know that the minister has a great deal of information on this issue, so maybe he can answer a few questions. Is there a protocol with Yukon physicians to go back and review their files for patients who have possibly contracted hepatitis C?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes. Dr. Timmerman, who is our medical officer of health, has developed a protocol for Yukon physicians to determine when patients should be sent for treatment. This largely revolves around the history of an individual, diagnosis and so on.
One of the problems that we've had has been, I guess, in terms of our transient population, when do people receive transfusions and so on and so forth. We've done advisories and they have been reasonably successful in getting people to come forward in some regard.
We're looking at people according to risk factors, you know, people who've received blood transfusions prior to 1992 or people who have perhaps been involved in using needles and syringes, skin penetration, tattooing, body piercing, that kind of thing. Individuals who would be at a high exposure, particularly people who work around blood and individuals such as kidney dialysis patients, hemophiliacs and individuals with inter-nasal cocaine use, I suppose, would be high on the list of people that we would try to advise to get themselves tested.
Mrs. Edelman: Another mercifully short answer.
Mr. Deputy Chair, I don't think that I'm communicating well here. What I'm wondering about is whether there is any program where doctors in the Yukon go back and review all their patient files to see if there are people in that patient group who may be at risk for having contracted hepatitis C.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We haven't done a full look back. B.C., as you know, is our principal source of many medical procedures, and B.C. is currently doing a review of individuals who have received blood, and that kind of information will be shared with us and no doubt passed on to physicians up here.
But, as I indicated before, one of our problems is the fact that much of our population is transient here and it's sometimes difficult to follow people.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, so what I'm hearing from the minister, then, is that we don't have a look-back program going. Now, I know at the hospital, if someone does receive a transfusion, that record is kept for - well, all the records are still at the hospital, and there is the patient number and the hospital insurance number with the record of the transfusion.
Has there been any effort made to at least look back at those records?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I believe our medical officer of health has had some discussions in that regard with the hospital. I think there are some, if I recall - and I'm thinking back to when we issued a press release in this regard - sort of at about the same time that B.C. decided to launch theirs.
I believe our medical officer of health identified some structural problems. I'd have to go back and take a look at the notes in that regard, but I do know that there have been some contacts with the hospital.
Mrs. Edelman: What does happen with Yukoners, most often, is if there is a very serious operation or an accident, is that the Yukoner is medevac'd out to either Alberta or B.C., so therefore the majority of transfusions are not taking place here in the Yukon.
So, if we do have people who went to B.C., would they have been part of the look-back program in B.C.?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, as I indicated earlier, part of B.C.'s information in that regard will be shared with us.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, what about Alberta?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Alberta, at this point, has not done a look-back, as far as I know.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I suppose that I am concerned because I do know of at least one person who is here in the Yukon and is one of the four who are likely going to be getting compensation. This person had been with the same doctor for almost all of her life and had the same doctor and the same health care number, and nobody looked back in her files to see whether she had perhaps contacted hepatitis C. She went on her own and had that testing done.
It is really important that we start to identify the people that probably have hepatitis C and are at least at risk of having contact with that disease. Is there any move on the part of this government to encourage physicians in the Yukon to look back in their records to see if they have some people who may be at risk of having contracted hepatitis C?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: What we have done is develop a protocol with Yukon physicians to encourage them to look back at individuals who fall within certain risk categories, primarily categories such as receiving blood for any kind of procedure, and we would encourage physicians in that regard, especially if they know of people who have gone out for surgery and things of that nature.
We have also tried to identify publicly people who we think should be receiving blood. As a matter of fact, I was talking with a fellow just the other day who made a decision to be tested and found that he was, indeed, positive for hep C, because of the public release that our Medical Officer of Health had done. This guy had no idea, and he said, "Gee, I remember I had some surgery", and in this case he wasn't resident here. He had been resident, I believe, in Ontario or Manitoba.
He went because of the, sort of, public alert and saw his physician. Now, I asked him, I said, you know, did your doctor have any idea? He said no. He said I haven't gone to this guy so he would have no knowledge of what I'd had done before. So, I think part of it is raising the public profile, raising public awareness.
Mr. Deputy Chair, I move you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that the Deputy Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker resumes the Chair
Deputy Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Hardy: Mr. Deputy Speaker, Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 9, First Appropriation Act, 1998-99, and directed me to report progress on it.
Deputy Speaker: You have heard the report from the Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Deputy Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Deputy Speaker: It has been moved by the acting government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Deputy Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. next Monday.
The House adjourned at 5:28 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled April 23, 1998:
Yukon hire commission final report: government response (summary dated April 23, 1998) (Sloan)
The following Legislative Return was tabled April 23, 1998:
Transient shelter: status of new shelter in the former Crossroads building (Sloan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2882
Alcohol and drug treatment program: explanation of the new program (Sloan)
Oral, Hansard, p. 2882