Thursday, April 30, 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.
Deputy Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Deputy Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I rise in the House today to recognize that May is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. We may, in fact, Mr. Deputy Speaker, be here in the House until May 1.
The Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, in collaboration with the Women's Directorate, Kaushee's Place, Les EssentiElles, Mental Health Services, Yukon College Women's Studies, the Child and Youth Treatment Services, Kwanlin Dun Health Centre, the Red Cross Abuse Prevention Program and the RCMP have coordinated a series of events aimed at increasing awareness and providing protection skills to deal with sexual assault.
These events include workshops on sexual harassment and sexism in the media, a video presentation for youth, and panel discussions on the roles of women in the media and psychological profiles of offenders.
The Women's Directorate is sponsoring a self-defence workshop by a woman practitioner of Shotokan karate and, as part of its contribution agreement with the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, is sponsoring print advertisements and radio spots throughout the month to enhance awareness of this serious problem.
I invite all members to consider the facts. Some women are afraid on the street, in their home and at work. Let's all work together to eradicate this fear.
Mr. Phillips: I rise as well today to pay tribute to Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Mr. Speaker, sexual assault is a very serious problem in the Yukon today, and one of our roles is to make Yukoners more aware of this problem and this issue. Many people have rallied around the issue and we must have a zero tolerance for this particular behaviour, but we also must convince the public, the police, the legal fraternity, and the judiciary as well, that sexual assault and violence against women is absolutely unacceptable.
Mr. Speaker, the move to eliminate violence against women is being recognized nationally and internationally. A few years ago, the United Nations adopted the Canadian Status of Women minister's declaration on the elimination of violence against women and this endorsement sends a strong message to governments throughout the world that violence against women will not be tolerated.
I would like to join today with the minister and send our thanks to the individuals, many of whom the minister named today, who are working hard to help end sexual assault.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mrs. Edelman: I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to pay tribute to Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
Throughout the month of May, there will be a number of workshops and panel discussions taking place in Whitehorse at the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre. Some of the topics to be covered are sexism and harassment in the media, psychological profiles of offenders and self-defence. Mr. Speaker, the ideal is to prevent sexual assault in our society, but the reality is that many men, women and children in our society suffer as victims of sexual assault. There are costs to society for this type of violence.
Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, sexual assault has become a women's issue, probably because more women than men report and are victims of this type of violence. It is my hope that, in addition to supporting financially these excellent workshops that will be delivered at the Women's Centre, there will also be commitment from this government to adequately fund the training and implementation for the domestic violence act and there will be adequate funding given to Kaushee's Place, where victims of sexual assault go for safety and that there's enough money in legal aid to pay for child custody cases where women and children are being sexually assaulted by their violent spouses.
Deputy Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Mr. Speaker, I have for tabling the Yukon State of the Environment Interim Report for 1997.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I have for tabling the CRTC's submission.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have for a document for tabling.
Deputy Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Petition No. 7
Mr. Hardy: I present a petition on behalf of the Association des Franco-Yukonnais, with approximately 190 signatures:
"Whereas the territorial government recognizes the importance of French language services and the provision of health care since May 1998 under the Yukon Languages Act;
"Whereas no budget was identified for the delivery of French language services during the devolution of federal responsibilities over to the territorial government regarding the hospital, in spite of the request from the francophone community in effect since 1991;
"Whereas the Association Franco-Yukonnais has been trying in vain since 1992 to have a representative of the French official language community appointed to the board of trustees of the Yukon Hospital Corporation;
"Whereas French language services are almost non-existent at the hospital, despite constant requests made by the Association Franco-Yukonnais;
"We, the undersigned, urge the Yukon Government Leader, the Hon. Piers McDonald, and his Cabinet, to amend the Hospital Act to designate a seat for the francophone representative on the board of trustees of the Yukon Hospital Corporation;
"We ask that subsection 4.1 be changed to include the following paragraph:
"One must be chosen from persons nominated by the Association Franco-Yukonnais."
Deputy Speaker: Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
CRTC hearing on service to high-cost serving areas
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It is a policy of our government to help ensure that Yukon people will have access to affordable and reliable telecommunication services. In that context, I rise to inform the House of the Yukon government's active participation in the upcoming hearings of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission on service to high-cost areas.
As members are aware, the CRTC is allowing competition for long-distance service in Northwestel's service area as of July 1, 2000. The May 26 hearings in Whitehorse represent a further recognition of the particular telecommunications need of northern residents.
The results of the commission's hearings on matters considered in this proceeding are expected to have a significant impact on the future of telecommunications in the Yukon.
Our government recognizes that the Yukon has lagged behind the rest of Canada in the availability of affordable, quality, up-to-date telecommunications service.
While southern residents and industry have enjoyed the economic and social benefits of a modern, efficient telecommunications system, some Yukoners are still waiting for reasonable and affordable telephone service to be extended to rural areas.
The CRTC is mandated to render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality that are accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada.
By hearing directly from Yukon people about their telecommunication needs and the challenges they face in trying to fulfill those needs, the CRTC will be in a better position to implement the kinds of changes that will put Yukon consumers on the same footing as other Canadians.
The Yukon government's position at the hearing is clear: all Yukoners deserve affordable, reliable, up-to-date telecommunications service.
In partnership with other northerners, we strongly endorse the principle of a fund for high-cost serving areas that would cover all of Northwestel's operating area.
Our government believes a subsidy mechanism provided by national telecommunications service providers is needed. Such a fund would support the development and delivery of high quality telecommunications through the territory at prices comparable to those in southern Canada to achieve this objective.
We recognize the rapid advances being made by the telecommunications industry. Therefore, we also want to create a process in which continual upgrading of telecommunications technology will occur, ensuring that Yukoners keep in step with future advances in telecommunications.
The Yukon government has increasingly recognized the important role that telecommunications infrastructure and service plays in the territory's economic and social development.
By adopting the new rural telephone policy and guidelines, we have also addressed concerns regarding lack of accessible and affordable telecommunications for rural Yukon.
Our government will provide the CRTC with a better understanding of the Yukon's telecommunication needs by taking an active role in next month's hearings.
This will enable the CRTC to make better-informed decisions, so that telecommunications services in the Yukon can be brought in line with the rest of Canada.
Thank you very much Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Jenkins: We, in the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition rise in support of the Yukon government's active participation in the upcoming hearings of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission on providing service to high-cost areas.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, the tripod on which an economy is built is three-fold: the energy component, the transportation component and the communications component. Two of the legs of this tripod, energy and communication, operate in a regulated monopoly here in the Yukon. As a consequence of political bungling, the Yukon Energy Corporation is now looking for massive power rate increases and we have the highest cost telephone service provider, overall, in Canada.
All other jurisdictions in Canada are seeing significant reductions or have already experienced a considerable lowering of electrical rates and telephone charges overall.
Northwestel has had a monopoly in providing telecommunications to Yukoners for so long, and unfortunately, monopolies are not noted for introducing modern, new, affordable technologies. There is no question that the Yukon has lagged behind the rest of Canada in the availability of affordable, quality, up-to-date telecommunications services. This is especially true in rural Yukon. Just a threat of competition in the year 2000 is starting to produce some much-needed changes in the Yukon's telecommunications system.
While we, in the office of the official opposition, are supportive of a fund for high-cost service areas to cover Northwestel's operating area in the Yukon, we would seek some assurances that such a fund would be utilized to provide state-of-the-art technology that Northwestel has not been associated with purchasing in the past.
There is also the rate of return on the asset base. Why are they not similar between the electrical utility and the telephone company? Both of these areas need to be addressed. We're advocating lowering the rate of return in one area, so why not the other? This would lower costs to Yukoners.
The bottom line, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that Yukoners, both urban and rural, are entitled to receive affordable, quality, up-to-date telecommunications services.
Any CRTC process that leads to the achieving of these goals is welcomed by our caucus. I would urge all Yukoners to attend the upcoming CRTC hearings and voice their concerns.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to respond to the ministerial statement on the government's position to be given to the CRTC on service to high-cost serving areas.
Mr. Speaker, we have spoken in this House many times about this particular issue. Most of rural Yukon is a high-cost serving area for telephone service and for telecommunications. Bringing telephone infrastructure into remote areas is very expensive. This government apparently is still committed to ensuring that Yukon people will have access to affordable and reliable telecommunication service.
What is not clear from the statement given today, though, is at what cost and who will pay.
After reviewing the document that will be presented to the CRTC on behalf of Yukon people, it is still not clear what the financial commitments of this government are to bring phone service into remote Yukon areas. How many taxpayer dollars is this government willing to spend to bring phone service into the back areas of this territory? Is there a commitment to bring this phone service into rural Yukon at any cost? Does this government, then, expect the phone company to pay for phone service to rural Yukon?
Well, Mr. Speaker, that's not likely. Phone companies, after all, are in the private sector and are trying to make a profit for their shareholders. In the new competitive environment, it's not at all likely that Northwestel or any other phone company will spend money to bring high-cost infrastructure into unprofitable areas. There is no legal compulsion to do that, and there is certainly no business reason to bring phones to high-cost serving areas like rural Yukon.
Is this government's commitment to rural phone service based solely on the assumption that Northwestel or some other phone company will have to pay?
Mr. Speaker, is this government, then, committing to bring rural phone service into remote Yukon only at the phone company's expense? Does this government expect that the CRTC will force phone companies to put money into a pot that will help defray the cost of bringing phone service to remote Yukon?
And, Mr. Speaker, if the CRTC does not force the phone companies to put money into this pot that will pay for service to high-cost serving areas, then will this government renege on its promise to provide access to affordable and reliable telecommunication services in rural Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I will thank the opposition parties - both the official opposition and the third party - for their somewhat conditional support, but first of all, let me say that yes, I agree that government is to be heavily involved within the development of infrastructure, including energy, transportation, and communication, all in which we are doing a wonderful job.
I'd like to congratulate the Minister of Economic Development and the energy commission for looking at bringing in a new capacity and looking at new options.
Can I talk about the previous administration, how they added zero new capacity, how they added zero options to energy, how they only raised the residential power bill? So certainly, within energy, we're doing a good job. Within transportation, as is evident by the roadwork and working with the Shakwak people, we're doing a wonderful job, and certainly, in terms of communication and working with the CRTC, we are conveying the people's position.
At what cost, and who will do it? We are working within the process that is established. We're working within the CRTC. This government has gone out and established a rural electrification telephone program that will put up-front the capital costs for people to access affordable, quality communication systems wherever they may be within the Yukon.
So, with that, thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Yukon forest strategy (draft)
Mr. Fentie: I rise today to advise the House that our government has taken an important step forward in the development of a made-in-Yukon forest policy for the territory.
The Cabinet Commission on Forests has completed a draft forest strategy. This draft represents 15 months' worth of discussions, consultations and workshops with a range of governments and organizations, as well as Yukon people at large.
The forest commission developed an extensive process of working in partnership with the federal government and Yukon First Nations.
We will continue to work together to share information and ideas, as we work toward completion of a long-term, made-in-Yukon forest policy.
This draft strategy, which is being presented jointly by the commission and the regional office of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, will now go for further discussions with First Nations, as well as renewable resource councils, the Yukon Forest Advisory Committee, and the Yukon Land Use Planning Council.
The input we receive from these governments and key groups will be used to prepare the next draft, which will go out for public review later this spring.
Yukon First Nations have been working hard to define First Nation values and principles on forest lands. This draft strategy provides a framework for discussions among all governments on how best to bring our forest values and principles together to achieve the kind of forest management plan Yukon people want.
This strategy will enable us to address our immediate needs and tackle forest issues as they relate to the creation of jobs and other economic benefits. It also speaks to the importance of environmental integrity and economic sustainability and helps set the stage for the eventual management of Yukon forests by Yukon people.
The proposals in the draft strategy would ensure that governments will pursue an ecosystem-based approach to forest management. It also proposes that governments encourage investment and diversity in a sustainable forest economy.
Most important, perhaps, the draft strategy would ensure that governments will work with communities on forest management planning on a region-by-region basis.
I don't have to remind members of the importance the forest holds for Yukon people, as well as for visitors to the territory. Forests cover 57 percent of the Yukon's landscape and hold a great diversity of intrinsic values.
During 1997-98, a total of 88 commercial timber permits were issued, with over 300,000 cubic metres of timber harvested from the Yukon forests. At the same time, our forests support a variety of economic activities, including hunting, trapping and fishing, mushroom and berry picking, as well as growing opportunities in wilderness and adventure tourism.
The draft Yukon forest strategy reflects what has been heard over the last 15 months: Yukon people simply want a fully functioning forest ecosystem that benefits all living things, while providing for economically viable, socially acceptable forest-based activities.
I am very pleased with the progress made to date, through a lot of hard work by all the partners. I am sure all members will be equally pleased that we have taken this step toward achieving the goal of Yukon control over Yukon forests.
Mr. Ostashek: I will respond to the Minister of Economic Development on behalf of his commissioner, who has given a statement on his behalf in this House.
Mr. Speaker, if this wasn't such a serious situation, it would be almost laughable. A promise was made by this government that they were going to table, before this session was over, a draft forestry policy. That's the commitment that was given in this House time and time again this session. What do we get? Another strategy for more studies and more consultation, because, after two years, we're back at square one. We haven't accomplished anything except wasting a lot of taxpayers' dollars and time and effort of a lot of good civil servants.
Mr. Speaker, the administration today was very critical of my government when we were in for not developing a forestry policy. That criticism came despite a lot of hard work by the department and industry stakeholders and an all-encompassing workshop that was sponsored by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, which, in fact, came forward with the release of a forest management policy that was tabled August 2, 1996.
Now, we look today at what this government has accomplished after two years, with another draft Yukon forest strategy. Why did they have to resort to this? Because they can't get the First Nations to buy into it.
That's why they will have to come out with another strategy and no policy. They can't get the First Nations to buy into it.
And, Mr. Speaker, that is only one problem. When we look at this forestry strategy tabled by the commissioner on behalf of the minister today and we look at the forest management policy of August 2, 1996, they're almost identical.
You need only go to the titles of the various chapters, and there isn't a whole lot of difference between either document. One only has to review that table to see how close the similarities are.
While there are a few word changes and maybe a few more words in this one here, the principles are basically the same. Both have introductions outlining the draft strategy policy as well as a description of Yukon forests. Both have a section on vision, although the draft Yukon forestry policy tabled today refers to it as a new vision, whereas the management paper referred to it as a vision for Yukon forests.
Chapter 1 of the forestry policy is entitled "Ecosystem-based management," ESM for short; by comparison, part 3 of the previous policy paper entitled it "An ecosystem management approach," and the wording is very, very similar.
Chapter 2 of the forestry policy is entitled "Sustainable forest economy" whereas the previous paper refers to it as "Providing sustainable multiple benefits."
Chapter 3 of the forestry policy is entitled "Planning and public participation." In turn, the previous draft policy refers to that section as "Appropriate decision-making process." And on and on it goes, Mr. Speaker.
As I said, after reviewing the contents of the draft Yukon forest strategy, one will see a number of similarities and very few differences. In general, the draft before us today, Mr. Speaker, is really nothing new. So much for 15 months' worth of work and a waste of taxpayers' money to get back to square one.
Mr. Speaker, while I'm not totally disappointed that they finally came out and put a new political spin on the policy of 1996 and have at least got something out in the public to start work, after they're half way through their mandate, I am very disappointed that they haven't come forward with a comprehensive policy that they were so critical of when they were in opposition and said that we should have had out.
In fact -
Deputy Speaker: Ten seconds.
Mr. Ostashek: In the first discussion paper, the Member for Faro said that the policy was void of substance. Well, I say to the members opposite that theirs is a reprint of the same policy.
Ms. Duncan: I rise on behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus to respond to the commissioner's long-awaited draft Yukon forest strategy.
My previous responses to the commissioner's statements have been quite supportive, and I have taken the opportunity to be briefed by the forest commissioner and federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development staff as questions have arisen.
I was working in good faith, assuming that the commissioner had achieved a fairly unique situation of getting all parties to the table to discuss forestry policy, which concerns everyone, that the government was developing, like the much-heralded common regime for oil and gas, and that we were working toward a common regime for forestry. In fact, a February 6, 1997, Yukon government news release states: "The forest commission was created to develop a comprehensive and sustainable forest policy for the Yukon. It will provide leadership within the Yukon government and work in partnership with the federal and First Nations governments to create an approach for managing Yukon forests that is acceptable to all Yukon people."
Today's commissioner's statement is very carefully crafted indeed. It says that the draft strategy is being presented jointly by the commissioner and the regional office of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. What happened to the third partner at the table - First Nations governments? The February 6 media release says "forest committee now reporting to three governments." Why hasn't the third government signed off this draft strategy?
Apparently the forestry commissioner isn't releasing this draft with their approval. Instead, a draft strategy is going to First Nations for further discussions.
First Nations governments were a partner at the table, according to the Government Leader, the former Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Grand Chief on February 6. What has happened in the 14 months since then?
Wasn't the format for discussion made clear? Wasn't the forestry commissioner working with some form of a letter or memorandum of understanding, so that there was clear understanding at the table of the terms for the development of a made-in-Yukon forest strategy? If not, why not?
I know the members over there are very fond of saying that I'm wrong and I don't understand. It's not my media release that's on the public record. It's their media release that's in black and while.
In his response, I hope the commissioner will state when the reporting structure changed. How did they go from three partners at the table to two, and why? I hope there's a very good explanation why the format for discussion was not made clear and why the partnership made clear on February 6 is not clear today.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, the forestry commissioner was assigned one task in October 1996. Now, some 19 months later, we have a draft document that appears to be without the blessing of one Yukon partner. We've had some tremendous public education and some good public discussion but, in reality, we really aren't much further ahead than when we started - and at what price?
We had better have a detailed accounting of the cost of the forest commission to date. Yukoners have to judge for themselves - you know, you be the judge - as to whether or not we've received fair value for dollars expended.
In terms of the actual document, which the commissioner has only just provided to us - hours before his deadline - I will be reviewing this document closely. I am hopeful that there is some strong, solid work in the document to work with.
The commissioner's ability to meet time frames has been questioned. However, I would like, in his response, for the commissioner to outline: what now?
Where is the workplan and timetable of where we go with the commission from this point? How many more dollars are we going to spend? How much more time is going to go by before we have all the partners at the table agreeing on the future of a very important resource for Yukoners? What now, Mr. Commissioner?
Mr. Fentie: Let me assure the members of the Yukon Party that I understand how discouraging it must be for them - after all the criticism levelled at this government and the forest commission - to have us deliver a draft strategy on time as we committed to. We have done that but let me assure the members of the Yukon Party; there's still time. You still may participate. You still may become part of the solution.
Now, the leader of the official opposition has come up with this fabrication that somehow this draft strategy is the same as the draft strategy they produced but, for the moment, let's consider this fact: they never told Yukoners they had a forest policy. They told Yukoners there's nothing they could do; it's a federal problem. When did they develop this policy and why weren't Yukoners involved in this process?
Now, the member also makes mention again of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. Let me assure the members that what we've done is, to a large degree, based on the recommendations of that very Council on the Economy and Environment. So, don't lose hope, members of the Yukon Party; you still may participate.
Now, to the third party and the comments of where are the partners. Let me again assure the member that the partnership struck February 1997 was exactly that. What we've done today is provided our partners with the work to date for their comment or for their review and we will continue with the process that we have developed.
That process is one in which we intend to develop a forest policy that reflects the diversity of values and interests on Yukon forest lands and involves Yukoners.
We also must make the member of the third party aware that there is a distinct difference between co-management and common regimes.
Thirdly, I am hopeful that the member will review the strategy and come forward with constructive criticisms and her comments, but in the member's zeal to criticize this government, let me point out that what the member has actually done is criticize DIAND, criticize the First Nations, criticize the Yukon Forest Advisory Committee and, in effect, criticize Yukoners, because this strategy, to a great degree, is the result of the work done by Yukoners, and I would remind the member that we are here to represent Yukoners.
Mineral resources - Yukon geology program
Hon. Mr. Harding: A tough act for me to follow but I rise today to inform the House ...
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Let the member speak.
Hon. Mr. Harding: ... about increased efforts our government is undertaking to advance our policy of supporting the responsible development of Yukon's resources.
The 1998-99 budget sets aside $400,000 for a regional mineral potential study to conduct land and resource assessments associated with the identification of protected spaces and special management areas.
In addition to this new special funding, this year will see increased activity under the Yukon geology program, which is jointly funded by the territorial and federal governments. This program is used to identify and catalogue Yukon's mineral resources.
The information gathered is shared with the mining industry and the public to encourage investment and to create jobs. It is also provided to governments to ensure that they are aware of the area's mineral potential before making land use decisions.
The studies undertaken by the program are done in consultation with the mining industry. A technical liaison committee, which includes representatives of the Chamber of Mines, mining companies and the KPMA, provides important feedback and direction to the geologists.
I'm pleased to announce that a significant amount of new funding will be provided this year for mineral deposit studies and mapping, and to increase awareness of the Yukon's mineral resources.
This summer, over $275,000 will be spent to conduct mineral deposit studies in the Dawson range, southeast Yukon and Anvil district areas. The mineral potential in these areas is promising, and it is our hope that this work will lead to further exploration and development by mining companies.
The Dawson range alone contains eight mineral deposits with a contained metal value greater than $13 billion.
The information from these surveys is compiled and released to the public in open-file reports, as well as through presentations to the industry at the geoscience forum and other forums, such as the Cordilleran Roundup.
The program also maintains the Yukon minfile, which is the comprehensive database of known mineral occurrences and deposits. It's a first-rate tool for industry and all Yukon people who want a better understanding of our mineral resources.
Our government realizes that responsible land management and land use decisions require a full understanding of our natural resources, including mineral potential. This year, over $485,000 will be spent on the geological and surficial mapping of Yukon's mineral resources, including bedrock, and surficial mapping of the Anvil district and the southeast Yukon and Pelly Crossing areas.
In the past few years, the Yukon geology program has worked with the Geological Survey of Canada to provide quality regional geological mapping. GSC projects this year include a glacial limits map to better identify placer potential in the Dawson area.
I am pleased to announce that a major six-year cooperative program will begin this summer, which will see two new regional maps created, one in the area west of Dawson and one north of Teslin. This project will greatly enhance our understanding of the geology and mineral resources in these regions.
All of our geological information is now being integrated into a digital geological map, which will be released on CD-ROM to the mining industry and the public later this year.
The Yukon geology program continues to provide the mining industry and the public with maps containing an inventory of geological formations and terrain hazards. This information also assists in land use planning decisions.
Mr. Speaker, there is a clear recognition that the information collected is beneficial to the mining industry, to the public, and to all levels of government. The Yukon geology program is working to ensure that this information is accessible, practical and timely. Geological maps are now printed on demand, and the publications are produced in a digital format. Extensive information on Yukon geology and mineral resources is now also available on the Internet.
I'm pleased about the ongoing work of the Yukon geology program and our successful partnership with the federal government. I'll look forward to the continued discovery and responsible development of our mineral resources to provide jobs and other economic opportunities for Yukon people.
Mr. Ostashek: I rise to respond to this ministerial statement, and I must say it's very unfortunate that this minister and this government are so void of ideas of how to do something positive for the mining community that they have to have their spin doctors working overtime to try to say they're injecting new money into this sector of the economy when, in fact, they're not. It's just basically a reshuffling of the deck chairs, similar to the Titanic, and I imagine we'll end up with the same result, Mr. Speaker.
This government has done nothing for the mining community, and this minister is trying hard to put a positive spin on a bad situation.
Some of the things the minister said I can be supportive of, because they are ongoing programs that he's again reiterating and announcing. The mineral mapping was going on under a previous NDP government and under a Yukon Party government, even after the federal government cut the funding to it - we continued with the program, and this government's continuing. There's nothing new there. They're going to bring out some more maps - good. The mining community likes them.
But they're going to have to do more than that to create some activity in the Yukon. You yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will recall the comments you made in this House as a Member for Kluane on the Killermun Lake mining project, where exploration was bad, because, heaven forbid, they might find a mineral body, and then we'd have a mine on our hands. That is a terrible situation.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, this government is going to have to do something positive to have mining activity in the Yukon.
Furthermore, last night in this House, the Minister of Renewable Resources wouldn't give a commitment to limit the extent of the protected areas strategy, wouldn't tell us what percentage was going to be put into parks, knowing full well that this is a great concern to the mining industry and acts as a major disincentive to mining exploration and development in the Yukon. The Yukon Party government had accepted a limit of 12 percent. This NDP government has not indicated what their limit is.
Accordingly, I would urge the Minister of Economic Development, for the sake of the Yukon economy, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to lay down the law that his no-development NDP Cabinet and caucus colleagues move forward with mining in a responsible manner and do something positive to create a climate for investment in the Yukon.
What good will come of such programs such as geological mapping if, even after they're all done, we're not going to allow the people to go out there and explore and do work for fear that they might find some ore body that needs to be developed.
Mr. Speaker, the Member for Faro used to have a sticker on his truck that said, "If it can't be grown, it ought to be mined." Well, that old truck with its sticker is gone, and this minister sits isolated in the Cabinet of no development.
Mr. Cable: The Yukon Liberal caucus is pleased with the works of the Yukon geology program and is supportive of the regional mineral-potential study. An inventory of mineral resources is necessary to provide the baseline information required to deal with land management, in the same sense that an inventory of the forest resource is necessary information.
We have many competing uses for our lands, and several competing users with sometimes different interests. The information on mineral potential is part of the information that the land use decision-makers require to balance uses and balance the interests of those users.
The information is also useful to prospectors and mining companies who don't have to reinvent part of the exploration wheel. The geological information provided by the government is information that doesn't consume exploration budgets.
Now, I understand that there has been a significant gas discovery just over the southeast Yukon border, worth perhaps half a billion dollars, which will presumably make for greater competition for land use in the southeast Yukon. It would be useful to hear whether the petroleum resource will be part of the mineral potential study and, if not, what the minister's plans are in this area, the mapping of the petroleum resource inventory.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Let me start by responding to the Liberal response by saying that there is $200,000 of new money identified in this budget for oil and gas industry, for resource assessment in that particular area because we're gearing up for eventually developing that particular area of our resource economy.
Let me just say, in response to the Yukon Party, I was so pleased the member made the statements that he did because they were quite predictable and I was altogether ready for them.
First of all, this is new money. When the Yukon Party government made the commitment to protected spaces, this government came in and actually said we were going to honour the written signature on the commitment to protect spaces. We put new money into resource mineral assessment, so that we could actually know what the resource values in the ground are as we anticipate moving ahead on this agenda.
And I just want to say something more about that. The Yukon Party, for all of their talk and criticism of protected spaces, was the government that signed the Yukon government on to that commitment. And, Mr. Speaker, I think that was a good move.
Also, I want to say that the Whitehorse mining initiative, which was signed on to by industry and governments across this country, also committed industry to the protected spaces campaign, and it's very clear from that that the difference between our government and their government was that we actually want to do this responsibly as it was said that it would be done.
They signed the document but did not intend to move on it. It's not Protected Spaces 3000; it's Protected Spaces 2000. And Mr. Speaker, let me also say in response to the member opposite that we are involving industry from the ground up in the discussions. We've been tackling the tough policy issues that the members opposite had nothing to do with.
The development assessment process, left to the devices of the Yukon Party, would have been a document reigned upon us from Ottawa and Yukoners would have had no say about a very important development assessment process that'll affect major, major decisions for all time in this territory. I think their approach was wrong.
The issue of the programs for the mining industry - it was the Yukon New Democratic Party that brought in the Yukon mining incentives program. It was the Yukon New Democratic Party that signed the agreement for the geoscience office. All of these were initiatives by the Yukon government under an NDP administration. The Yukon Party did not bring in one new program, one new innovation, one new initiative - let alone tackle the tough policy issues on mining when they were the government.
Mr. Speaker, the mining industry in the world has been facing the fallout of the Asian stock market crisis, the Bre-X fiasco, and we've been seeing low metal prices, but we were rated third in the country by the Fraser Institute - not exactly known to be left-wing thinkers - as the best place for investment potential and for mining potential in Canada, and that was a survey done by the mining industry itself of their own people.
So, Mr. Speaker, the major concern identified by the mining industry in that survey was land claims, and that was done before the Delgamuukw decision came out. The Delgamuukw decision proves that we are, in fact, in a competitive advantage, not in an uncertain way, but in a certainty way, because we have brought in an umbrella final agreement that does advance us in terms of other jurisdictions and bring certainty to industry. So I think that we expect to see some more improvement there in terms of response on that particular issue.
I also want to say, Mr. Speaker, that we believe that the Yukon Party - even though they signed on to protected spaces - takes a very narrow view of the world. We do believe there are economic benefits in protected spaces. There are intrinsic values, but there are also economic benefits that Yukoners can have. I think that to say anything other than that, which is the constant theme of the Yukon Party, is short sighted and I think does a disservice to future generations of Yukoners.
We believe that we can have a strong and healthy mineral industry, we can have a strong and healthy resource economy, and we believe we can have protected spaces, but it's a difficult challenge and we will continue to work on it.
In terms of percentages that the member opposite talked about, we are not taking a percentage-based approach, because we are taking an ecosystem-based approach, and we intend to work with the industry and the conservation community, and regular Yukoners to work through the difficult issues surrounding this strategy, and try to deliver on it, as we said we would do. And we're going to do it in a thoughtful, responsible and deliberate manner.
Mr. Speaker, let me also say, as a last point, that they should wake up and smell the coffee. Take a look around. In Ontario, in Newfoundland, in Alberta and in Manitoba, protected spaces is an agenda that is happening all over this country.
Deputy Speaker: Ten seconds.
Hon. Mr. Harding: As to the question as to how we do it, Mr. Speaker, we are going to do it by involving Yukoners and doing it properly and doing it well.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I would stand on a point of order, or maybe a point of privilege, if I may. I would like to recognize people who are very, very dear to me in the audience. It's not at my doing, certainly. I was prompted by both the opposition parties, through notes, and one read that I should introduce that great lady in the visitors gallery, your mother, and the other says that my mother is there and that she looks like she wants to give us all a spanking.
Well, I would truly like to introduce my mother, Pearl Keenan, and I'd also like to introduce my son, Kyle Keenan. It's good to have family support.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Watson Lake doctors
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
The people of Watson Lake have undergone many trials and tribulations of late. Now, it appears that they are about to undergo another one in the loss of their long-time physicians. Dr. Secerbegovic, after 21 years, wants out, and has already spent some $8,000 of his own money trying to attract a replacement doctor, so far without any success. To make matters worse, the community's other doctor is leaving her practice next month.
Can the minister advise this House if he is prepared to help Watson Lake find new doctors?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, it's "Secerbegovic", who's a long-time physician in that community and who is a person for whom I have tremendous respect and, indeed, affection. He was our family physician for many years and, in fact, delivered my son. He's an individual who has given what I consider to be exemplary service to a community. Most of that time, he was on his own. He has the respect of everyone within the medical community for his efforts.
With regard to what we will do with Watson Lake, I have to remind the member that it is a private practice, but we will work with the community and we will work with the Physician Resource Planning Committee to assist the community in whatever we can do to help attract physicians.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, there's a much larger issue here, and that involves the provision of medical and dental services in rural Yukon communities. Other jurisdictions in Canada have policies to encourage doctors to set up practice in rural communities. I want to know why this minister's government does not have such a policy in place to attract, relocate and retain doctors in rural Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As a matter of fact, we have established the Physician Resource Planning Committee to work with the medical community in trying to attract and to assist doctors in coming to the rural areas and remaining in the rural areas. As a matter of fact, our most recent agreement with the Yukon Medical Association creates some additional availability in payment mechanisms to assist doctors willing to practice, particularly in rural Yukon. So, we will work with the community. Whatever we can do to assist them we will do.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, over the years, we've had this problem in Dawson City. We've had this problem in Faro, and now it's coming to a head in Watson Lake. The loss of physicians in Watson Lake will create a precarious situation in that community and will probably cause other Watson Lakers to leave.
I want to know if the minister will give an undertaking that he will do everything he can to ensure that Watson Lake has a resident doctor by bringing forward a policy to attract, relocate and retain doctors in rural Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As the member has said, this is a problem that permeates Canada, and it's something that has dominated a number of discussions with Health ministers. As a matter of fact, last September, that was the dominating theme at one Health ministers conference.
We're not alone in this regard. We will work with our Physician Resource Planning Committee. We will work with the Yukon Medical Association to see what kinds of things we can do to help attract and retain doctors. However, I think one thing that has to be recognized is that physicians are operating in a fee-for-service mode, and that does have some impact on such things as purchasing practices, and things of that nature. But we are willing to work with our medical community on this problem.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation billings
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question for the minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, several of my constituents are engaged in a war with the Yukon Energy Corporation's billing computers. I'm sure every member of this House has engaged in a battle with computers at one time or another, and has come to learn how hard it is to make a computer admit that it has made an error and is wrong - probably just like getting the minister over there to admit and apologize in this House for all the errors and wrong statements he's made here.
The problem is arising with constituents who utilize the year-round billing average system to pay their power bills. Ever since Yukon Energy Corporation assumed control of the billing, these constituents have been advised that the positive credits in their accounts are actually deficits, and if they do not pay what, in fact, they do not owe, their power is going to be cut off. So sayeth the mighty computer of the Yukon Energy Corporation.
What's the minister going to do about this, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is quite a change of position. People in the public, and I'm sure people in the gallery, will remember just two weeks ago how I was accused of interfering in the Energy Corporation, how awful and demonic that was. Now, today, I'm called upon to run in with my cape draped around my neck and interfere.
Mr. Speaker, it is a concern. The members opposite, the Yukon Party, adamantly supported the direct management of the utility by the Yukon Energy Corporation. They seem to be now backing away from that position. Perhaps they'd like some kind of a rejoining with the private utility, I'm not sure, but let me just say to them that I will pass their concerns on. It's not the first time I've heard them. I know the Energy Corporation has told me that they are trying to work through some of the difficulties with their billing system in the community of Faro, in the community of Mayo, and also in the community of Dawson. I think they are putting considerable resources into it, and so they should, and I'll pass on the concerns to the board chair.
Mr. Jenkins: Now, if the minister had acceded to the wishes, or the requests, of the opposition and brought the Energy Corporation into the House, we could have asked these questions. It could have been on a Tuesday evening and wouldn't have interrupted the business of the House.
But what we have is a statement on the bill - "a portion of your bill was outstanding when the bill was prepared; if this prior month's amount is not paid by the due date on the bill, you will be subject to disconnect." How nice, Mr. Speaker. Unfortunately, the computer - very much like the minister - has a one-track mind. It's magically turning credits into debits.
Will the minister guarantee that my constituents caught in this Monty Python situation won't have their power cut off for having a credit on their bill? I'm sure the minister can stand on his feet and give the House that assurance.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, as to the issue of them coming before the House, it was over a week ago that one of the people in the local media asked the leader of the official opposition when the session would wrap up, or if certain actions by his colleague, the Member for Riverdale North, when he got thrown out, would affect the debate. At that time, the leader of the official opposition said he'd already said everything he had to say in the House at that time. There was nothing more to say in the whole session.
So, Mr. Speaker, we said, if you're done within the 35 days, let's bring the Energy Corporation and the WCB in before the House. Unfortunately, the opposition refused that offer and continued on in the debate in the manner that they so chose. That was their choice. The offer was there.
Now, the members opposite were also free to ask questions of the board at any time that they would like, because I've offered them briefings with the board members.
Mr. Speaker, the members opposite have to get some consistency. There must be some accountability. Are they asking me to interfere in the Energy Corporation or not?
What I've told the members opposite is that I will pass on the concerns to the board of the Energy Corporation, which is dealing with the administration and the billing system, and the citizen board - some of whom were appointed by the Yukon Party - I'm sure will be up to the task of handling those concerns.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm sure after the press listens to this ranting they could produce a comic entitled, the Pharaoh of Faro. It's just ludicrous what the minister is saying - Super Trevor we can call it.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, the minister has acted, on a regular basis, and went to the energy commission, went to the energy board and interfered constantly with their operations. He was the undertaker of the residential rate relief program. I need the minister's commitment here today. Why can't the minister give an explanation -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Order please. Let the member speak.
Mr. Jenkins: - for this additional betrayal of Yukon electrical consumers.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member opposite should stick to reading his bought and read questions that are written out for him because when he goes off the script, it's worse.
Anyway, I won't respond to the initial lobby from the member opposite. There are some responses I could give but it would get me in trouble with the Deputy Speaker, and I don't intend to do that today. It might get me thrown out, and I think that would be disrespectful to the House.
Mr. Speaker, what I will say is that the concerns are concerns that have been raised with me in my own riding and in Mayo, where the Yukon Energy Corporation does the distribution of the systems. They're as a result of the delinking with Yukon Electrical.
These concerns are serious and I will pass them on to the citizen board and the administration that is responsible for overseeing this. The board has indicated to me their desire, because of direct management, to take a more arm's-length, independent role and I'm trying to work with them to that end.
I will pass that on and hopefully the problem can be cleared up as soon as is possible because I know it is affecting some people.
Question re: Transient shelter
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, it's going to be a very long day.
My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services, and it concerns the new transient shelter. Mr. Speaker, this government recently took over the running of a transient shelter for Whitehorse without letting an NGO deliver this service, probably more efficiently and for a cheaper price. They just went back to direct service delivery from the department, despite the fact that this is a 10-year step backward in public policy.
Mr. Speaker, the transient shelter was supposed to have opened its doors for business on April 24 for transient women and men. Are women and men now using the new government-run transient shelter?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Speaker, we probably would be using it if we had any transients. However, we haven't had that much of an uptake at this point. In my monitoring of it, the most recent number I had was just one, and that was an individual earlier this week.
The men's portion is open. We're still doing some work for the women's. We expect that to be open very shortly. There were a number of actual physical changes that had to go into the building, including some modifications with regard to security - things such as video cameras, alarms, and that kind of thing.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, could the minister tell us how many new staff have been hired to staff the transient shelter and how many other department staff will be used to run the government-run transient shelter?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We have arranged to hire, basically, two individuals that will be assigned to the transient shelter. That won't be their exclusive duty, because, as I said, it will depend on the flow. We knew earlier that sometimes there are times when the numbers are going to be very, very low.
As well, I also have to emphasize that we have kept a couple of other options available, notably an arrangement with the hotels that have served for women who require shelter in the interim, and we've also kept our arrangement with the hotels for families, because it is not appropriate to put families in that kind of transient shelter.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I've been informed by some referring agencies about some inconsistencies in the numbers. Could the minister please tell this House whether the transient shelter is going to be housing eight females and eight males, for a total of 16 transients, or whether there will be space for 10 males and eight females, for a total of 18 people who could be housed at the new transient shelter?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: My information is the latter, 10 and eight.
Question re: Adult guardianship act
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Justice on adult guardianship legislation.
Over the last decade, governments have looked at introducing adult guardianship legislation. This legislation would permit someone to be appointed to represent adult persons who can't look after their own affairs.
Now, there was a Health Canada focus group on adult population health that met recently, and one of the comments that came out of the focus group was, and I read, that people with mental disabilities are a priority and there is a need for a guardianship act in the Yukon.
Does the minister share this view that there is a need for a guardianship act in this jurisdiction?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I can advise the member that there is an internal working group of government officials formed to develop a proposal on adult guardianship legislation. The Department of Health and Social Services is the lead on that, and the Department of Justice is also participating.
Mr. Cable: Now, the issue was raised in this House as long ago as 1988, and the NDP Health minister at the time said there was a good possibility that a guardianship act could be introduced during that session, and it wasn't.
Now, there was a paper done in the early 1990s, I understand, during the last NDP regime, and I believe there were public consultations.
Could the minister tell us what the problem is? Why the long delay in bringing this legislation forward?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Although this is not a new issue, it is an issue that encompasses enduring power of attorney legislation, estate administration, and adult guardianship. The officials within government are developing recommendations on the process for policy development and community consultation. That work plan has not come forward yet to government.
Mr. Cable: Now, one of the groups that would most benefit from this legislation are FAS children reaching adult age, a group that is going to increase in size in the Yukon. Right now, these people who need some help with their affairs are left in a legal limbo. Before age 18, they have help; after that, they don't.
Is the minister prepared to make a commitment to bring forward a bill in the fall session?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That work is tied in with other work that government is doing, including the mental health review, and I'm not able to stand here today and give the member the legislative calendar as to whether or not this bill may be brought forward later this year.
Question re: Catch-and-release fishing
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister of Tourism. Wilderness tourism is a very important segment of our tourism product in the Yukon, and many of the wilderness tourism operators offer fishing as an important component of their product.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday in the House, the Minister of Renewable Resources stated, and I quote, "There's a lot of concern in regard to what catch-and-release really means. We don't like to see large numbers, as I said earlier, of people catching and releasing fish."
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: The hon. government House leader, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Renewable Resources and Tourism are both scheduled for debate this afternoon, and that would make the question, as I read the Standing Orders, out of order.
Deputy Speaker: The Member for Riverdale North, on the point of order.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, I am asking the Minister of Tourism a question about wilderness tourism operators and the concern about changes to legislation. I'm not addressing the question to the Minister of Renewable Resources. This is a tourism question. The Wilderness Tourism Association is very concerned about this and would like some answers.
Deputy Speaker's ruling
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Although it is anticipated by some of us that Tourism will be debated later today, I will leave it up to the minister as to whether or not a response is in order.
Mr. Phillips: I will begin again, Mr. Speaker.
The Wilderness Tourism Association is a very important segment of our tourism product and many of these operators offer fishing as a component of their product. Yesterday, in the House, the Minister of Renewable Resources stated: "There's a lot of concern in regard to what catch-and-release really means. We don't like to see a large number, as I said earlier, of people catching and releasing fish." He went on to say, Mr. Speaker, "Then, I think that anybody with common sense out there would say that they're not going to spend all day catching and releasing fish, because what you end up doing is killing fish for no reason."
Mr. Speaker, I spoke to several sports fishing tourism operators and they are shocked by these statements by the minister. Their tourism product is predicated on -
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Would the member please conclude his answer.
Mr. Phillips: I am, Mr. Speaker. It is predicated on catching large numbers and varieties of fish and, at the same time, practicing catch-and-release.
What will the Minister of Tourism do to ensure that there will not be any limits put on catch-and-release numbers in Yukon lakes in the future?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will answer a question that's more directly to do with Renewable Resources, but certainly, as I understand it, there are no plans for this type of legislation.
Mr. Phillips: Yesterday in the House, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Renewable Resources said: "Mr. Chair, we have said -
Hon. Mr. Harding: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: The hon. government House leader, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Point of order. This is quite ridiculous. Renewable Resources is scheduled for debate next. This is a question on the subject matter of Renewable Resources that's scheduled for debate next, and the question is being conveniently being bootlegged into Tourism, which is also scheduled for debate this afternoon. So, I would ask the member, if he's asking about Renewable Resources issues, to refrain from doing that. It's scheduled for debate.
Deputy Speaker: Member for Riverdale North, on the point of order.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, it is a Tourism issue. All of the brochures that these tourism operators put out promote catch-and-release. One member of the government has said that they don't support catch-and-release. I am asking the Minister of Tourism what he's going to do to ensure and protect the rights of the tourism operators.
Deputy Speaker's ruling
Deputy Speaker: Order please. As per the Chair's previous decision, it will be up to the minister whether to respond or not.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will carry on.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday in this House, one of the ministers in this House said, "Mr. Chair, we" - meaning the government - "have said that we" - meaning the government - "support catch-and-release, but we don't support catch-and-release in large numbers."
Mr. Speaker, all of the tourism operators in the Yukon - fishing operators and other wilderness operators - support catch-and-release and, in fact, their product sells catch-and-release in large numbers. That's why they sell their product.
I'd like to ask the Minister of Tourism: what is he going to do to protect the investment that these operators have in promoting catch-and-release as a viable conservation method in this territory and make sure that his colleague doesn't have a final say on this issue?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I've said previously, we have no desire to bring this forth and we're not going to.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I wonder what the Minister of Renewable Resources was talking about yesterday when he said "we". I wonder if he had a turtle in his pocket, or something. Who is "we"? I would have thought "we" meant the Government of the Yukon, unless he was standing here individually speaking on his own.
Mr. Speaker, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon needs to know what the true position of the government is on this issue. Can the minister stand on his feet today and tell this House that there will be absolutely no changes - no changes - no limits, on catch-and-release in the Yukon Territory in the foreseeable future in the term of this government?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Deputy Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It, indeed, does give me a great privilege and pleasure to be able to stand here and talk about what this government is doing on behalf of tourism for the Yukon Territory. We are going to be entering into debate later on and it just warms me to get pumped up for it, because it is such great things that we are doing for tourism.
What are we doing for tourism? We're expanding an airport. We're bringing how many people back to the Yukon Territory? Approximately 4,635 visitors. How much does that translate into in dollar terms? Two point nine million dollars for the Yukon community. What else are we doing? We're renovating the White Pass building, we're renovating the Taylor House, we're looking at the waterfront, we're doing funding for tourism strategy development, we're doing campground improvements. That's exactly what we're doing, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Phillips: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: The Member for Riverdale North, on a point of order.
Mr. Phillips: On a point of order, Mr. Chair, the minister is not answering the question. The question was, what is the position of the government on catch-and-release fishing in the territory? Are there going to be any changes? I'd like to ask the Minister of Tourism what the position is.
It's going to affect the tourism operators who are promoting that in their brochures.
Deputy Speaker: Official opposition House leader, on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: The Member for Riverdale North said he was asking tourism questions. When the minister starts talking about tourism, the Member for Riverdale North doesn't like it. It's ridiculous. The whole question should be out of order.
Deputy Speaker's ruling
Deputy Speaker: The Speaker sees there is no point of order; it was based strictly on anticipation.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: To continue, as the Tourism minister, on the wonderful things that we're doing, we're also putting forth $200,000 to look at the increased marketing, et cetera. I'd be more than willing to elaborate on that further this afternoon, but as far as I know and I can say, the government - of course this is a question that should be directed to the Minister of Renewable Resources - or maybe has skipped to me - but my assumption is that the government is planning no changes to the catch-and-release promotion or regulation program.
Question re: Education, teacher layoffs
Ms. Duncan: My question is for the Minister of Education and it concerns the upcoming teacher layoffs. The Minister of Education was asked at the Yukon Teachers Association annual meeting on Saturday whether there would be some teaching positions lost this year. The minister knew full well at the time that at least 15 teaching positions were being eliminated for next year.
Can the minister tell this House why she didn't answer that question at the meeting of the Yukon Teachers Association and waited instead until the next day to make the announcement that teachers' jobs were being cut?
Now before the minister stands on her feet and says that I'm wrong, I'll give her two choices to answer the question: does the minister's actions represent the hidden agenda for change that we were warned about in Education or is it the NDP breaking their promise to restore meaningful partnerships in Education?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I guess the member opposite needs to do a little bit of work on putting together her multiple-choice answers and her multiple-choice errors in her questions.
Our government has maintained our commitment to education. There are no cuts to the funding for education. There are always changes within the staffing levels in Yukon schools on an annual basis, based on a number of factors, including the student population. The fact that the Faro mine is shutting down is resulting in some positions being lost in Faro, and there are many other considerations that we look at when we look at how we allocate the teaching resources throughout the territory.
Ms. Duncan: At least the minister didn't stand on her feet and say I was wrong.
Mr. Speaker, another issue raised at the YTA meeting was the issue of cuts to educational consultants seconded to the Department of Education. These people are also facing layoffs. With the problems this past year over the math curriculum, we know how important those positions are. These consultants are especially important in rural areas, where they are sometimes the only help available to teachers.
The minister did not know the answer to the question at the Yukon Teachers Association meeting. Will the minister tell this House today how many of these educational consultants are being laid off?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'd be happy to give the member an understanding of how the consultant positions operate. In addition, Mr. Speaker, I want to make it very clear, as I stated earlier, that we have made no cuts to education, that we are increasing funding for education.
Our staffing levels in the Yukon school system are extremely generous in comparison to other jurisdictions, and it's something that we can be proud of.
The curriculum division maintains consultant support for core subjects at the primary, intermediate and secondary levels. Those consultants will continue in place.
During the implementation of a new curriculum, such as the math and humanities curriculum, a subject-specific consultant will be seconded into the schools, and then returned to their work. That is a normal practice, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as much as I enjoy these condescending lectures for which the minister gets prompted by her colleagues, I still didn't get an answer.
The budget for the Department of Education remains essentially unchanged. The minister said nothing in the debate on that department about laying off teachers. She said nothing in that debate about changing the program for our very youngest students by changing kindergarten busing. What else is on the minister's hidden agenda for change? What other cuts are planned in the department that we haven't been told about?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Much as I am tempted to point out, as the Member for Faro is saying here, that the federal government has made significant cuts- millions of dollars of cuts - to education and health care spending that affect all jurisdictions in Canada, I am not going to go that route. The member knows that's true and has heard that before.
The Education budget has increased from the main estimates from last year. We continue to support the best education system in the country. We continue to have the best staffing levels and low pupil/teacher ratio and we will continue to make education a priority for spending in this government.
Deputy Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Motion to sit beyond normal hour of adjournment
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move
THAT Committee of the Whole and the Assembly be empowered to sit beyond 5:30 p.m., if necessary, for the purpose of completing consideration of Bill No. 9, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1998-99, in Committee of the Whole; for the House to consider Third Reading of Bill No. 9 and Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1998-99; and for receiving the Commissioner to grant Assent to Bill No. 9 and the Bill No. 11.
Deputy Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader
THAT Committee of the Whole and the assembly be empowered to sit beyond 5:30 p.m., if necessary, for the purpose of completing consideration of Bill No. 9, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1998-99, in Committee of the Whole; for the House to consider Third Reading of Bill No. 9 and of Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1998-99; and for receiving the Commissioner to grant Assent to Bill No. 9 and Bill No. 11.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'll be very brief. This is just a motion consistent with the practice in this House to respect the provisions of the 35-day sitting, and this motion allows us to conclude today on the 35th day, somewhat beyond the time entitlement but does allow for a level of debate in the departments that are left to proceed with.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, here we go again - the government wanting to use their big stick, their big majority to bully their way through the Legislature. The government House leader hides behind a 35-day agreement that they broke when they were still in opposition. They didn't even get through the first session, have not lived up to the spirit of the agreement since they've been in government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Well, the Government Leader says that I'm wrong, but in the time allotted me today, I'm going to lay out all the reasons why I'm not wrong, Mr. Speaker. I'm going to lay out all of the reasons why I'm not wrong, and I'm going to lay out many of the comments that were made by the now-Government Leader when he was leader of the official opposition and a signatory to this agreement.
Mr. Speaker, if the government was going to live by the intent of the agreement, then the House leader would be communicating with other House leaders instead of dictating.
We're going to waste an afternoon debating a very silly motion when we could be using that time to review the main estimates.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: And I'll be here for a long, long time, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, we will talk about the $1,000 an hour a little later in my presentation today, but the fact remains that we, in the Yukon Party, are sick and tired of being bullied by this government and the arrogance that this government displays to this Legislature and to the members in opposition.
Mr. Speaker, the intent of the 35 sitting days was based on cooperation - cooperation which has not been forthcoming from this government. In fact, it wasn't forthcoming from them when they were in opposition, in the only session that we had in government to work under the 35-day sitting.
I'm going to take the time this afternoon to go back through that debate and lay out for the members the comments that they made and what they felt of this 35-day agreement and the things that they thought would have to happen for it to work.
And I'm going to lay out for the members opposite all of the reasons that I believe, since they've been in government, that they are not living up to the spirit of this agreement - of the stonewalling that's been carried on by the ministers, of ministers coming into this House not being prepared to answer questions on their departments, not taking the time to be fully briefed on the issues that may arise in debate, and even going to the extent of not bringing in a person from the department to help them out - as was the case with at least one minister - and not being able to answer the questions, even the simplest of questions.
Now I know the minister from Faro is going to say you can't expect us to know that, you can't expect them to know that. Well, Mr. Speaker, we don't expect them to know all those fine details, but we do expect answers, just as the members opposite did when they were in opposition - and, in fact, said so quite clearly in the debate that took place on this motion when this agreement was brought into the House - some changes to the Standing Orders, and the attachment to it.
Further to that, Mr. Speaker, in the first time we had the opportunity to exercise the agreement, in the spring of 1996, under a Yukon Party government, we in fact moved a motion to extend sitting hours some one week before the end of the session. I have today in front of me that debate by the members opposite with all of the reasons why we were being unfair in bringing forth such a motion, and how we were bullying the opposition and trying to muscle the opposition.
Mr. Speaker, even though we sat one week with extended hours, we still ran over the 35 days and sat 36 days.
Now we have a government that doesn't want to cooperate under the spirit of the agreement, and feels that we should go home in 35 days, even though we still have Renewable Resources, Tourism, the Women's Directorate, the Yukon Energy Corporation, the Yukon Housing Corporation - all of these departments to do - plus we still need the third reading of the supplementary budget that was brought in by the Finance minister a few days ago.
So there's a lot of work to be done, and I think it's just unfortunate - unfortunate for this Legislature, and unfortunate for taxpayers - that we have to see such a display of arrogance that we don't even wait until the normal time to move such a motion, which used to be done just shortly before five o'clock, to see if there was any hope of having the debate continue after regular sitting hours and be able to complete it at a reasonable time.
We went through the spectacle of sitting until 6:00 a.m. in December. We went through the spectacle of sitting all night - two extra sitting days overtime. That doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense at all at, yes, more than $1,000 an hour.
Mr. Speaker, if we were to agree to this motion today and sit tonight, we would again be paying $1,000 an hour. But yet, it's not reasonable for anybody to assume that we could be finished analyzing these departments without going until 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning and doing the job.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Well, the Member for Faro says, "So what?"
Hon. Mr. Harding: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: Hon. government House leader, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I don't know why the member is wasting $1,000 an hour. Two weeks ago, he said that he had said everything he had to say in this legislative session. This just seems like a ridiculous exercise.
Deputy Speaker: Member for Riverdale North, on the point of order.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, I don't believe that there is a point of order. It was just a rude interruption.
Deputy Speaker's ruling
Deputy Speaker: The Chair sees this as a dispute among members and not a point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, those are just some of the tactics that have delayed getting the work of this House done. They constantly go on.
Mr. Speaker, I was speaking about the cost to the taxpayer. The idea of sitting until 6:00 a.m. and believing that we can do a good job is ridiculous. I'm going to point out here this afternoon some of the comments that were made by the Government Leader in situations like that - talking about legislation by exhaustion. I will point out some of the things that he believes should happen in the 35-day agreement that we made.
Mr. Speaker, we were prepared to go until 5:30 p.m. today and see where we're at. If we could finish at a reasonable hour at night, we would sit through and get it done. But no, the government has to display their huge majority and the position that they're going to run things they want and the opposition can like it or lump it - I think that's what the Member for Faro said a few days ago in this Legislature, "Ha, ha, ha. We're here 35 days. That's it. We're out. You tried it before. I proved to you you couldn't do it and I'm going to do it again." he said. I'll read those comments back to him later today.
Mr. Speaker, if we were to come back on Monday, it won't cost the taxpayer anything. Quite possibly it wouldn't cost them any more than it's going to cost them already, and the reason for that is that we have a contract with Hansard for 140 sitting days in the term of this contract and we won't know until we get to the end of the contract whether in fact there are any extra days to be paid for or not. But we do know that if we sit tonight, we will be, in fact, incurring a cost of $1,000 an hour for Hansard and other additional costs that go into extended sittings in this Legislature.
It's unfortunate, Mr. Speaker. I believe we could have used our time better today, rather than the Member for Faro just saying they're going to do it this way - "Whether you like it or not, we are going to do it and you can't do anything about it."
Well, he's right; there's not a lot we can do about it. The avenues that we have in this Legislature are small, and because our numbers in opposition are small, we have less power yet.
But, Mr. Speaker, we did have an agreement and we would have liked to have been able to live up to that agreement, but we haven't had the cooperation of the members opposite, not even from when the contract was first signed. From the very first time it was signed, the spirit of it was not abided by, by the members of the NDP caucus.
And, Mr. Speaker, the agreement was quite straightforward. It made various changes to the House Rules. As you are aware, we shortened oral Question Period, we replaced Standing Order 20 with new Standing Orders, we reduced the time that ministers could speak to motions and debates to 20 minutes, except for the first two speakers. We also allowed for 40 minutes' debate on estimates, because we felt it was important for people to be able to have a say on them. We even made changes to Committee of the Whole so that nobody would call quorum in Committee of the Whole - that, as long as the minister was here and the critic was here, ministers could go off and do their jobs, and there wouldn't be any surprise votes called, so as to expedite the business of the House.
And there were many, many meetings on this agreement and how the agreement would work. There were meetings between myself and the now-Government Leader and the lone Liberal in the House at the time, the Member for Riverside. I think we all agreed that there would need to be a lot of cooperation from all parties to make the agreement work.
And from my perspective, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as one who pushed hard for this agreement because of some of the antics that had taken place in this House with the 76-day sitting - that was totally ridiculous - we worked very hard to come to an agreement that all parties could support.
And, when we had the debate in the House and the motion was introduced, and we debated it in the House, I just want to refer to some of the comments that were made by some of the members that are now on the government benches, because I think they directly give an insight into what the agreement was all about. Then, I will refer to these comments that were made as to how they're acting now that they're in government.
Some of the comments that were made by the Government Leader, who was then the leader of the official opposition, stated that not everybody came away with everything they thought was desirable, from their perspective, but I think that people who were participants - admittedly, not everyone was essentially represented in those discussions, but a vast majority of the members of the Legislature were. And, it was a view to making the Legislature, as a whole, an institution that would work better for the people of the Yukon.
He was pleased, Mr. Speaker, to conclude, at least in some respects, that the basic principles that he had promoted, and that his caucus had promoted in the past, both in government and in opposition, as he stated at that time in the Legislature - February 15, 1996 - the principle that he and his caucus promoted, both in government and in opposition, "Being there should not be legislative action through exhaustion."
This was his first comment in the debate on the motion. He wanted to get away from legislative action through exhaustion. And there should be no actions taken by ambushing one side or the other, that being quorums called in Committee of the Whole when ministers were away on business and sometimes out of the building. We did have the agreement that that wouldn't happen.
He went on to say, "These principles I think are borne out in the memorandum of understanding, as well as the House rules, as amended." He believed that he got those things in the rules. I believe he did, too.
Now, he did go on, Mr. Speaker, and I have to comment on these things because of the statements made by the government House leader in this House of the types of questions that were being asked by this side of the ministers. The leader of the official opposition then - the now Government Leader - went on to say, "I would like to make it very clear from our perspective that, as the official opposition at this time, nothing in this agreement will prevent the opposition from asking tough questions." He hoped that, from time to time, that people would speak with passion in this House and would debate issues with their hearts and convictions. I believe that has continued to happen, yet we are being criticized for some of the questions we're asking the ministers today.
He went on to say that they would have to be more focused in their questions, but they would also expect clear answers and a government that is prepared to give information as freely as possible. These are the words of the now-Government Leader, from February 15, 1996, in relation to a 35-day sitting in this House.
He went on to say that there are some innovations, and that we may have to put a lot of good will into them to see that they work and provide a more informed House. He goes on to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he is making reference to the technical briefings that are being offered by the government to opposition members to talk about details of expenditures.
He believed that the innovation, if it worked, could be quite useful and that members over many years had expressed concern that the main estimates themselves did not provide enough information. I believe he was right in that assumption, that the technical briefings have been an asset, but, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the now-Government Leader did go on in his speaking about the technical briefings and said, "As I have indicated to the Government Leader, ministers should be cautioned not to expect that the availability of these technical briefings of an hour or an hour and one-half does not mean that ministers will not be responsible for answering questions of fact. There will still be that expectation."
He went on to say that the memorandum of understanding was an antiquated term for a gentlemen's agreement and it absolutely was dependent upon the good intentions of all members to see that it is respected. That memorandum, Mr. Deputy Speaker, went on in great detail about what government needed to do - I think moreso about what government needed to do than what the opposition needed to do. The opposition at the time was trying to find some comfort that the changes would not compromise them in their ability to do their job, and that's why the agreement was never put into the Standing Orders but was attached as an addendum because there were some people who weren't all that comfortable with it but we were prepared to give it a lion-hearted try.
It also included a commitment to provide for prior notice of bills to be introduced. I, as Government Leader, went as far as to say that I would try to table bills in the spring session, do first reading on them but not debate them until fall. That would give time to go out for public consultation and would give the opposition time to critique the bills and be ready to debate them when the fall session came.
I believe we did do that with the Oil and Gas Act. We left it on the Order Paper from the spring of 1996 and went out for summer consultation. Then, having lost the election, it was picked up by the now-government and brought back, not at the first sitting, but at a sitting later on.
This government now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, has gone - this will actually be the third sitting. The first one was very short. Well, no, it has been more than that. This is the fourth sitting, I guess. This is the second budget sitting, and there was one fall sitting.
We have not seen any legislation tabled in this spring sitting that is gong to be debated this fall. So, they're not living up to the commitment that I gave: that we would try to have some bills on the Order Paper and allow them to look at them over the summer and be able to debate them in a timely fashion in the fall. That hasn't happened, and we're down to nearly the end of this sitting, Mr. Deputy Speaker - and the spring sitting would be largely for main estimates, as is consistent with past practice.
But the Government Leader of the day now, then the opposition leader, went on to say that it will require good communication between, particularly, the House leaders regarding the conduct of House business. Well, we haven't seen that cooperation displayed by the government House leader. We haven't seen it displayed at all.
The Yukon Party caucus House leader comes back and says that he was told by the government House leader that this is what's going to happen. Here it is. There you have it. Thank you. Good bye.
What few requests were made were turned down by the government. When asked to move departments around, we were turned down. Even though they had committed to technical briefings, we were asked in this session to come in and debate Government Services' budget without any briefing at all.
It wouldn't have been necessary at all except for poor planning on the government's part. It is the government's responsibility to do that planning, not the opposition's. So, we have not received any cooperation from the government House leader.
The then-leader of the official opposition and the present Government Leader went on to say, "... if there is a commitment to continue discussions and work cooperatively, realizing that we have embraced the principles of no legislation by exhaustion or ambush. It applies equally to all members and there is an obligation on all of us. It will require continued discussion and goodwill," something I believe, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that have been sadly lacking in trying to expedite the debate of the main estimates in this spring session, and that's why we're at the stage today where we're at loggerheads once again over an issue that we need not to have been at loggerheads over had we only been given a bit of cooperation that we asked of the members opposite.
In debating that same motion, I'm on the public record stating, "The leader of the official opposition stated quite clearly and unequivocally that because we were given technical briefings that did not stop members from asking questions of fact of the ministers." And I wholeheartedly agreed with that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I didn't have any argument with it at all.
In fact, after weeks and months of negotiation, I didn't have any difficulty with any part of the agreement; I never did have. I thought it was good thing for this Legislature if we could expedite the business on behalf of Yukoners.
And we still could. I think 35 days is plenty to debate a budget, but we need to remain focused, we need the cooperation of the government. The fact that the government has 11 members and the opposition in total, between both parties, only has six - and I'll not make the mistake I made last night of not including the Liberals in the opposition of six. I will state quite clearly that the opposition is three and three. I don't want to antagonize my colleague so early in the day, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
We don't need the bullying of the government; we need the cooperation of the government to make this legislation work, and we certainly haven't been getting it.
Mr. Speaker, I went on to say, as I just stated earlier, that I had even gone further than that, when we talked about bills being presented in a timely manner, and said that I would try to table as many bills as possible in the spring sitting that we intended to debate that fall so members would have some time to go over them. We haven't seen that happen with this government.
The leader of the official opposition at that time, when we made this agreement, made a specific request of us regarding the Historic Resources Act. Even though we were going to a 35-day sitting, he wanted a commitment that we would bring that act forward. Although the act had not yet gone to Cabinet, I did commit to the leader of the opposition at the time that I would go along with his wishes and bring forward the Historic Resources Act and, when we ran out of time at the end, he used it as a club against us, saying that the 35 days was only to debate the estimates; it had nothing to do with legislation, even though it was his request that we try to debate the Historic Resources Act.
Mr. Speaker, the agreement that was made I think was a good agreement. It did require a lot of cooperation and it would have worked if we had received that cooperation. But unfortunately we haven't.
Mr. Speaker, I did say in my opening comments that I wanted to get into reminding the members opposite what they said when we asked for extended hours one week prior to the end of the session in the spring of 1996, because we could see that we weren't going to get through in the 35 days if we didn't extend hours. And we had a long debate on it. What we wanted to do was sit from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. in the evening, this evening, and we wanted to continue to do that, to move the bill forward.
Well, some of the members who are on the government benches now, but were then in opposition, went off on a long tirade of how we were being bullies, of how we weren't responding to their questions, of how we were hiding behind the agreement, and we debated that motion for some time before it was passed. And even though it was passed and I think we did sit late, we still had to sit an extra day to get through.
So, the agreement didn't get off to a good start. The first time we tried it, we sat 36 days with extended hours. Well, for the Member for Faro to hide behind the agreement and say, "You signed it, you're obligated to live up to it," I think is using bullying tactics on the opposition.
The now-Minister of Education, the Member for Mount Lorne, said, "The technical briefings have worked well but we still have a number of policy issues to debate." She accused the minister of answering questions during the education debate with answers like, "Darned if I know. I'll have to ask the department about that," or, "I'll have the department give the member a briefing note. Ministers should be accountable," she said.
How many times have we heard those statements from the minister over there, now that they're in government: "I don't know; I'll have to get back to you."
We had the Minister of Community and Transportation Services sit here, day after day, without a deputy in the House. We had to wait until the next day until he brought back some legislative returns and then got back on the topic again. This is not expediting the business of the House. It's doing nothing to live up to the agreement of cooperation that we all signed.
These are some of the things that, especially, the government House leader is beating the opposition up with now that they would have no part of when they were in opposition.
The Member for Mount Lorne went on to say, "We have said that we will sit past 35 days if the public business is not complete." Now, what a change of position, now that they're in government.
The public business is not complete, and they want to curtail debate by exhaustion. It is the very thing that the now-Government Leader wanted to get away from. Now, they want to sit all night.
She went on to claim that they had been focused in expediting debate and the government had not responded well. She said they "... spent time on frivolous government-sponsored motions, more time this session than last." She accused the government of using two of their Wednesdays for backbencher motions and, for the balance of them, they had debated the budget in the previous session. "And in this session, we have used all of our Wednesdays to debate backbenchers' motions." She called them government motions, but they were backbencher motions.
Yet, we have watched this government, now in government - yesterday was their motion day - and they wouldn't let it go by.
They wouldn't defer it to get on with the main estimates budget debate so that we could try to get out of the House in 35 days. No, it's okay when they were in opposition, but it's not okay when they're in government. This is what they're telling us, "We have an 11-seat majority, and we're going to use it, and we don't care what the opposition says." So, so much for an agreement, Mr. Speaker.
We need to get the government's business done. We need to critique the main estimates, and we need to get some answers, and one needs only to refer to Hansard to see that we're not getting the answers time and time again. It is not just isolated cases that we're complaining about.
Mr. Speaker, they accuse us of being anxious to get out of the House. We were not trying to get out of the House. We were trying to expedite the government's business.
They said it was not in the agreement that we would sit late, and, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to show the members opposite and to remind them - the ones that were in government then, not the ones that got elected in the last election - we gave up our last Wednesday motion day to expedite the debate in that sitting. This government wouldn't do it. We also lived up to the commitment to bring in the Historic Resources Act, because the now-Government Leader, the leader of the opposition at the time, wanted it. He wanted it debated, and we did. Then they accused us, saying that the Taxpayer Protection Act wasn't a finance bill, that it was right-wing ideology that we just wanted to get through for our right-wing supporters.
What was even different though, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was that we brought the motion in to sit late a week ahead of time.
Now, if the government House leader would have come to our House leader last week and said that we're running a little late here, it doesn't look like we're going to be finished in the 35 days, what do you people think about sitting late? I believe he would have had our cooperation. I know he would have had ours and I'm sure he would have had our colleagues' cooperation.
We would like to live up to the spirit of the agreement; we would like to expedite the debate of the House, but we didn't get that opportunity. He didn't come to the House leaders and say, "Look, we're running behind schedule here. No matter whose fault it is, let's see if we can expedite the business of the House by sitting a few extra hours."
My God, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Member for Riverside came to me and asked me for my cooperation to ask the minister responsible for the Energy Corporation and the Workers' Compensation Board if he would bring his department officials in on a Tuesday or Thursday night so we wouldn't take away from the time in the House. So, what did he do? He used it as a big club and said, "Well, when we get the budget debated in 35 days, I'll bring them in the thirty-fifth day." That's not bargaining. That's not cooperation; that's intimidation.
Mr. Speaker, while the members were in opposition, they took a totally different view of the 35-day sitting than they do now that they're in government.
And I will go on with more comments from other members that were part of that caucus in the House. I will say, for the record, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Member for Riverside supported us on that motion. It was the only way we could have got it passed. The NDP and the Independent member voted against it.
They went on at great length in the debate on that motion to say that they had expedited the business of the House. For example - and who said this, this is great stuff; this was the now Government Leader - They had "expedited the debate in the House. For example, on Community and Transportation Services last year, we spent 10 out of 68 days. This year, we spent only four. I would regard that as focused debate," he said. Focused debate. "There was a fair amount accomplished." He didn't know whether the Minister of Community and Transportation Services agreed with him, but he went on to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, "We answered to our constituents and not to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services."
Now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the situation is the same except the players have changed and we now, on this side of the House, answer to our constituents and not to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
So, Mr. Speaker, we can see that there has been an about-face by the members opposite since they've got into government.
I want to touch on a few more comments here that the now-Government Leader made, because I think they are important, so that members who weren't in this House can be familiar with what transpired in this almighty agreement that the government House leader now tries to hide above.
The Government Leader today, the then-opposition leader, agreed with the Member for Mount Lorne that the technical briefings had worked, that they had resolved some of the issues, that they had provided some of the information that has allowed the debate to be better focused.
But then he went on to say that he felt it was a worthwhile innovation, given that the technical briefings "... were a first-time event, did not afford the members opportunity to ask the detailed questions," but he went on to say, "I was given assurance by the Government Leader that if members wanted to ask detailed questions in Committee, they could. I was under the impression that they were not going to be harangued or harassed for doing so, that in fact, because this was an innovation, we would expect the government to answer questions in as accurate and positive a manner as possible."
My, how times have changed.
Now when my members and members of the Liberal caucus and I are asking members and ministers in this House questions, along those very lines, too - of wanting more detailed information - we had the government House leader jumping up on a point of order and saying you can't expect the ministers to know that. Heaven forbid, though, he made some quotes about grader blades in Old Crow that weren't made by my members; they were questions that they asked when they were in opposition - how many grader blades were in Old Crow?
Well, that's how the debate goes on and on and on. Again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it's unfortunate that we have to go through this exercise again today when we could be debating the main estimates, with a little bit of cooperation - and quite possibly could have been done sometime tonight, or at least maybe even come back tomorrow, or come back Monday and be finished fairly early Monday. But no, there was no cooperation.
I will say, I believe, had we had cooperation from the start of the session, none of this would have been necessary. We probably would have been out of the House before the 35 days.
I'd like to make a point on that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If you remember the spring session last year, because ministers were new in their job, we didn't go into the intense detail that we've gone into in this session.
In fact, I think we were out of here in 31 days in the last spring session. We didn't sit the full 35 days. We gave the ministers the benefit of the doubt. We gave the ministers time to learn their departments. But, when they came back to this budget session, they didn't appear to be any better versed in their departments than they were in the last main estimates. In fact, maybe it was a little more difficult because they were a little more obstinate in answering questions this time than they were the first time around.
That's unfortunate, because I believe that we proved, in the first session, that if we had some cooperation, we could expedite this budget debate in less than 35 days. There's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't be able to. I know that the members opposite are going to accuse the opposition and blame the opposition for all of the delays, but let me say to them right here and now: I think all parties in this Legislature are to blame that we're in the position we're in now. We ought to get our act together for our own benefit and the benefit of all Yukoners, and sit down after this session's over and see what we can't do to reach some agreement that is going to be workable or to make a recommitment to the intent of the agreement that we have and not just blame each other, because it's not working. But, we do need cooperation.
In my opinion, and in my colleagues' opinion in the Yukon Party caucus, we are not getting that cooperation from the government House leader. What we're getting are displays of bullying tactics. Because they have a huge majority, they don't need to listen to what the opposition has to say. They've got a 35-day agreement that they're going to hide behind and it doesn't matter if they answer questions or not. It doesn't matter if they provide information or not. In 35 days, they're going to be out of here. Well, that wasn't what the agreement was all about. The agreement was predicated on best efforts and cooperation, and that isn't happening.
Mr. Speaker, in the debate on that motion on February 15, the Government Leader used some more excuses for why they weren't going to extend hours and why - because we had changed some ministers, and we had brought in legislation that wasn't part of the deal, when in fact, I believe, it was. I viewed, I think, one bill that we did debate at our request as part of the finance bill - that being the Taxpayer Protection Act - and we could have expedited the debate. We tried to sit extra hours, and we had real resistance from the members now, who are now trying to force and impose legislation by exhaustion. They were totally against it when they were in opposition, but now it's all right. I don't know how they could completely reverse their stand.
The now-Government Leader, then leader of the opposition, went on to some extent in the debate on that motion to extend hours on April 16. There was some news reporting of that. In fact, I think there was an editorial, which the now-Government Leader took exception to, because he commented on it in his debate on the motion that day. He said: "However, we did indicate in the news release that we did feel we were living up to the agreement, but we have" - and he sort of stopped - "and the opposition especially has" - which I find completely fascinating - "been singled out by the media for particular criticism, because we have allowed the Yukon Party to undertake this arrangement. Consequently, the rights of the public and the ability of the public to have its issues aired fully and exclusively falls exclusively and squarely on the shoulders of the official opposition in this Legislature."
So he felt the media was criticizing him, yet he felt the opposition had an obligation to the public that elected them to this Legislature to have their issues aired, that the problem of getting the issues out was the responsibly of the opposition and they ought not to have made an agreement with the government to lock themselves in. And, he said the opposition had broad shoulders to share all of that responsibility. Then he went on to talk about the Historic Resources Act that he wanted brought in.
Then we have the present-day House leader, and his comments are always of great interest to me. I like to go back and look at what he said on issues in a similar situation, only when he was on the opposite side of the House, he said he would certainly be remiss if he didn't speak on the government's motion, which, Mr. Deputy Speaker - now this is the present-day House leader who just introduced this motion some 45 minutes ago here - "... which I believe is another example of their willingness to abuse power." That's what the government House leader said on April 16, 1996, when he was in opposition.
Now, he just stood up and made a motion very similar to the one that was being debated, and he thought that that was abuse of power when the Yukon Party was doing it. Yet today he doesn't believe it's an abuse of power; that it's quite legitimate because he is in government, they have an 11-seat majority and they don't need to listen to the opposition.
It's no longer an abuse of power. And he went on to say that, today, we see a government, and he was speaking of my government then, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the same type of issue as we're facing in this Legislature today: today, we see a government that is prepared to bring in what I believe is very close to closure. He doesn't believe it now. He doesn't believe it now for one minute, but he believed it was very close to closure when the Yukon Party government brought in the same motion, with four or five sitting days left, not just hours left in the 35-day agreement, wanting to try to live up to the spirit of the agreement. And he said that that motion that we brought forward did not live up to the spirit of the agreement as he read it. That's what he said.
It's quite interesting when you go back and look at the comments and how positions change when you're standing on one side of the House or you're on the other side of the House. It's unfortunate.
Then he goes on to say that it is very, very disturbing to him, and he feels that it sends a very bad signal to the public, who we are all here to represent. This is the government House leader who just introduced this motion today, when he was in opposition.
Then he went on to say that the 35 days should apply just to the main estimates, nothing else. Well, we now in this sitting, this 35-day sitting, have the main estimates, and we have a supplementary budget that's been brought in by the government. We're not screaming and hollering that they should not have brought in a supplementary budget. The now-House leader, when he was in opposition, said we shouldn't have brought anything else in but the main estimates. That was the 35 days. Whatever time we wanted after that, we could extend the sitting days and we'd debate whatever else there was.
I wonder why his approach is not the same now.
Why didn't you say the 35 days was just to do the main estimates? We found out we had more money, we didn't put enough Yukoners to work in our first budget and that's why we're having so much criticism of it. We want to dispel some of that criticism. We want to bring in a supplementary budget. But opposition members, we won't hold you to 35 days on this. We'll take an extra couple of days on the end to debate that supplementary budget. That's what he thought was fair when I was in government. All of a sudden, it's not fair any more. It's not fair at all.
Has he had a change of heart, or is it just because he's in government? Is it because he was in opposition then, with five or six members, and he's now in government with 11 members?
I guess he will have to tell us that, because I certainly can't even begin to figure out what's going on in his mind because, from year to year, his views seem to be diametrically opposed to what he said a short time ago.
Then, on top of all that, Mr. Speaker, they went on to blame the lone Independent in the House, who wasn't part of the deal. We wouldn't include that. We only included the 35 days for the people who signed it: the Liberal Party, the Yukon Party and the New Democratic Party. They didn't want to even concern themselves about that. Did they leave that for an escape hatch? I don't know. Did they use that as their ace in the hole, if they couldn't live within the 35 days?
Let me say to you here now, Mr. Deputy Speaker - and I don't want to stay too long on what happened then - but the fact is that it wasn't the Member for Riverdale South's fault that the sitting went over the 35 days. I believe the fault fell squarely on the shoulders of the NDP official opposition.
Mr. Speaker, the Member for Faro went on and on and on.
He talked about the 68 days last year and 59 the year before and 44 before that - all of these when they were in opposition. It was contracted to the point that they've taken the Department of Community and Transportation Services from 10 days to four. This was the tag-team approach that was used by him and the now-Government Leader: take the script and come in 15 minutes later and put it all in the Legislature again, and then say that they weren't prolonging debate on the issues.
He says that we, as a government, didn't give him any kudos for focusing on the issue. Well, my God, we were running out of time and we were probably in a similar situation as we are right now. We probably had about the same number of departments to do, but we were prepared to sit extra days for a week to live by the agreement.
Today, this session, we don't even get that opportunity. We wait until the last hour, and then the House leader, with his bullying tactics, is going to bully us into going along with them and sit here and be muzzled because "We have an agreement that he is going to abide by, and we are going to abide by it, whether they like it or not."
Mr. Deputy Speaker, we watched some very, very different antics from those members when they were in opposition to what they are portraying now they are in government.
Here's another statement that was made that contrasts just perfectly with what I said a few minutes ago about the Member for Faro when he was in opposition. He was attacking my Minister of Tourism. This was in the same debate of extending the sitting hours in the spring of 1996.
And he said, "One of the Minister of Tourism's actions in this session is really starting to violate my sense of interest in the public's right to have responsible decisions made." Now, that's a statement by the Member for Faro.
The minister threatened - is threatening now - with some kind of a crass bargaining chip, after we have waited for three years for an act to amend the Historic Resources Act, and he's threatening that if the session does not end on Wednesday, April 24, when the government is apparently supposed to turn into a pumpkin and everything stops and freezes, then the government is not going to bring the bill forward. It's crass, political gamesmanship at its worst.
Does anybody not remember the comments just in Question Period today to the Member for Riverside, where the member who made those statements in opposition said several times in this House, and as lately as just a couple of hours ago, "I told you that if we had the business of the House done on the thirty-fourth day, and you guys had everything done, you cooperated with me, you had everything done, I would bring in YEC and YDC." It is crass, political gamesmanship at its worst, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
He forgets. What a short memory. Mr. Deputy Speaker, those are the words of the Member for Faro that I am repeating from Hansard in April of 1996: "It's crass, political gamesmanship at its worst." The same actions that he's taken now. The same tactics that he accused the then-Minister of Tourism of using. How times change.
He went on to say - and I find this so hard to understand from the comments that he has made in this session and the ridicule that he's heaped upon opposition members for asking questions of the ministers that he doesn't think the ministers should have any business answering. They can get that at the technical briefing. Yet, when he was in opposition, he said, "We also do not want the government to start saying that because we asked that question in a technical debate, we cannot ask the question in the main estimates and the supplementaries." The Member for Faro said that. We have seen them do that. They have stood up and said that we asked for that information in a technical briefing and therefore the minister should not be responsible for answering the question - unbelievable.
Now that he's in government, now that he's got the big stick and can beat up on the opposition, he takes every opportunity to do so. He said, certainly, we felt very clear and it's very serious about making sure that we hold the ministers, and not just the department officials, accountable for decisions that are made, sometimes of a technical nature, sometimes of a policy nature.
Now there we go. Yet a few days ago, he stood here chastising the Member for Riverdale North and other members on this side of the House for asking questions that he didn't believe we had any right to ask.
I say to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, who is he as the House leader on the government side to dictate to the opposition members in this Legislature what questions they have the right to ask on behalf of their constituents and all Yukoners? I don't think he has any right to dictate.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, had the ministers been forthcoming with the answers, we would not be in this long drawn-out debate today; we would've been moving to expedite the business of the House.
He went on at great length, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He also went on to say, "We also have to respect that there's a member in this Legislature who is not a party to the agreement," again blaming the Member for Riverdale South. Because they couldn't live up to the agreement, they had to find a scapegoat.
And, Mr. Speaker, that is so telling of this government. Every time we ask a minister something, it's not their fault, it's some committee's fault or it's some other group's fault and they will accept no responsibility for it. Absolutely none. The Member for Whitehorse West is notorious for that, notorious for it, blaming all of the problems that he has on somebody else or some other group. None of it's his fault. Absolutely none of it.
I hear the Member for Watson Lake, Mr. Deputy Speaker, kibitzing in the background. He wasn't part of that Legislature then. He should go back and review some of the Hansard to see what his colleagues were saying here. Then he will understand where I'm coming from when I'm standing here today in this debate. Go back and read them. Bring them in here and read them, and see what they said for four years in opposition.
He went on to say - and this is the Member for Faro in his closing remarks on that debate that day - "Quite frankly, I find this is somewhat unseemingly haste, almost indecent haste, to get out of here. It's really an insult to the people who put us here. We're here to do a job, to try to put through legislation, and to consider as best we can the bills that are in front of us." That was his philosophy when he was in opposition. It's not his philosophy any longer.
He chastises members on this side of the House, day in and day out, when in fact it's his colleagues and him himself, in his capacity as minister, who do everything they possibly can except answer the question.
Now I won't give that same criticism to the Government Leader. He does it at times, but at times he tries to answer the questions. I give credit where credit is due, but his ministers are notorious for those types of tactics - anything except tell the truth.
My God, I will get into some of the antics of the Community and Transportation Services minister and the philosophical debates we get into, where he's answering questions on his department. It's unbelievable.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to now go to another member who was in the opposition at the time of this debate on this very similar motion of extending hours and his thoughts on it, and that's the Member for Whitehorse West, who was just a new member in the Legislature then, but pretended, or tried to portray, that he was very well-versed in parliamentary procedure and that he knew how things should be done, and he was one to always lecture members opposite, whether he was in opposition or whether he's in government.
Let's see what he said on this same issue.
He said, "I would like to remind the members opposite that this sitting is considerably shorter than previous sittings." Yeah, it was, but prior to that sitting, there was no agreement on sitting days. So what was the big deal? All of these comments made by those members in opposition, when they were over here, was when we were getting down to the end of a 35-day sitting of a freshly signed agreement for cooperation.
And yet, they didn't think anything of it then. "So, we go a couple of days over; what difference does it make? We have to do the people's business."
They're right on that point; we have to do the people's business. But I ask the members opposite: what is so different now that they're in government and we're on this side of the House?
Is it that the people's business no longer matters? Do we not still have the same obligations to our constituents as we had when we were in opposite roles? Are they trying to tell Yukoners and us in this Legislature that they had responsible questions when they were in opposition and that they were doing the people's business, but we, in opposition, don't have any rights whatsoever to do the people's business?
That's what the government House leader on the other side is telling us by proposing this motion today: that we don't have any right to do the people's business and that we should legislate by exhaustion. That's what he is saying. These are not thoughts he had when he was in opposition, but they're sure thoughts that he has now.
The Member for Whitehorse West. I would also remind the member sitting opposite that he said that we were all trying the best we could to expedite the matters of the House.
If the Member for Whitehorse West gets a chance to speak today, I would hope that he would think about that statement he made there. I would ask him if he does not believe that we are now, all of us in this House, not trying our best to expedite the matters of this House.
Has his position changed, like his colleague from Faro? I would hope not.
He went on to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if we are all willing to work cooperatively together, I think we can achieve the goal that has been set. "But, at the same time, to lock ourselves to an arbitrary date, not to give rational, thoughtful consideration to legislation, is, I think, a veritable insult to the electorate, the people who put us here. I think these are important pieces of legislation."
Has his position changed, or is it still the same position? And if his position is still the same, why isn't he speaking to his caucus members about taking a different position from what they did when they were in opposition?
I just find it so irrational that people who, two years ago, stood on this side of the House, made these statements - some of them that are very good statements and very thoughtful statements, and principles that I agree with - but they do themselves a disservice when, now in government, they discard these principles for the sake of political expediency.
That's what they're going. "We are the government. We have 11 members, and you in the opposition are going to do as you're told." That's the attitude of that government, and I think that's a disgraceful attitude for any government, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I would like nothing better than to be able to get some cooperation from the members opposite. I would like nothing better than to be able to get some answers from ministers so that we didn't have to prolong debate. I would like nothing better than to have ministers who make statements in this House, as did the Minister of Renewable Resources in the last few days, have some evidence to back up the statements that they're making so that we didn't prolong the debate in this House.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, those are the kind of things that take up the time in this House. It's those kinds of tactics that really just portray the arrogance of a government that has a huge majority and is going to use the big stick and doesn't really give a darn what the opposition says. They really don't, really don't.
The Member for Faro is an exemplary example of that attitude since he has taken over a role in government. I believe that that member has a lot of growing-up to do yet, and maybe some day he will be a little more diplomatic in how he deals with people and how he deals with the opposition.
It's a sorry state of affairs that this Legislature has degenerated to, at great cost to the taxpayer, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
So, the Member for Whitehorse West, when he was in opposition, thought it was an insult to the electorate that we didn't give thorough and thoughtful consideration to the legislation in front of this House. It was a real insult to them.
I wonder what his position is today. Does he still think it's an insult, that we don't give thorough and thoughtful debate to legislation that's put in front of us or, as I said earlier, does he now agree with the Member for Faro who says things because he believes they're politically expedient? I would hope not. I had a higher opinion of the Member for Whitehorse West than that.
He also said that he thought we were moving with too much haste, that we were trying to move this along far too quickly. He said they had been trying to give it honest consideration. But, Mr. Deputy Speaker, one of the things I find most disconcerting about the statements of the Member for Whitehorse West is the statement that, "If we are willing to work cooperatively together, I think we can achieve the goal that has been set."
Well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I just ask you to think back to the fall session and how cooperative the Member for Whitehorse West was with the opposition on giving us copies of the contract registry. He was very cooperative. He stonewalled us day after day after day in this Legislature. I told him early in the session, it was an issue that he wasn't going to win. He didn't believe that. He continued to display the arrogance that that government has displayed in their time in office and he finally caved in on the morning of the twenty-fifth day, I believe, and gave us the contract registry. Is that what the Member for Whitehorse West considers to be willing to work cooperatively to achieve the goals that we have set?
Now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have said that there is no party in this Legislature that's not at fault to some extent, but I think the biggest responsibility for the extension of the debate in this session falls on the government's shoulders, and the government's alone, for their failure to cooperate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: That's fine. When he says he'll shut us down, that's fine. Let them bring in closure. We want them to bring in a closure motion. We want them to bring in a closure motion.
It's that type of arrogance that's being displayed, Mr. Speaker, that causes us not to be able to work with the members opposite: "We'll show you." Now that he feels that he's not going to have his way, now that he feels that we're not going to be out of here in 35 days because we can't do a darned thing about it, "We'll get even with you." That's what he just said: "We'll get even with you. I can't wait till the next session." That's cooperation.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is a prime example of why our agreement on how this Legislature is operating does not work.
If that type of attitude continues, it will not work in the next session. What we need is to all pull in our horns a little way, sit down, talk this over and come back with a solution that's going to be acceptable to all members of the public, and not make such a display of our ignorance as we are in this House by catcalling back and forth - not expediting the business of the House, but provoking each other to respond in a heated fashion so that we can continue to provoke each other. I don't think that's in anybody's best interest. And, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have been guilty of that at times myself.
We need a change of attitude from the government - a dramatic change of attitude - if we're going to have any cooperation in this House at all.
I want to go on now with some more of the comments that the Member for Whitehorse West made, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He also referred to the technical briefing. Now, this is great stuff. This is the minister who wouldn't even give us the technical briefing before we got to his department - Government Services. We're just supposed to come in and debate it without a technical briefing. I wonder if he recalls that; it was only a few short days ago.
This is what his opinion was on technical briefings when he was an opposition member.
He said, "Sometimes technical briefings do bring up questions. They prompt debate. They do make us consider other things by providing more information."
He believed at that time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that was a very legitimate function of the technical briefings. He thought they were extremely useful. Now he's not so sure, because they provoke debate. They provoke the asking of questions. It's unbelievable how we can have such an about-face when, all of a sudden, they have the power.
How we can change. How our principles change, or some people's principles change, anyhow. I shouldn't brand everybody in this Legislature that way, but we've seen a great display of it by members on the government side.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: I'm not worried about those statements. I'll stand behind any statement I've made, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Member for Faro will get his turn to speak. I'm not sure when it'll be, but he'll get his turn to speak. He gets to close debate on this motion at some point.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: The Member for Faro says I'm playing high-risk politics. Well, I suggest to him that it was he who played high-risk politics.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Yep, they're going to bring in closure. Here we go. There's again another example of why this Legislature doesn't work - threats, not cooperation, Mr. Speaker.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Speaker: Government House leader, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I'd like to make a point of order. There's a fundamental difference between closure and continuation of debate until the conclusion of the budget, and that's what our motion was about. It's not about closure, so the member's point is fundamentally flawed and incorrect, as are most of the statements he's making. He's the former Government Leader and used to say a deal's a deal's a deal.
Speaker: Leader of the official opposition, on the point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: On the point of order, I didn't refer to the motion today as closure. I didn't refer to it as closure at all. I referred to the member threatening to bring in closure in the next session. That's what I did. I was not speaking of closure in this motion at all, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Deputy Speaker's ruling
Deputy Speaker: The Chair sees no point of order. Please continue.
Mr. Ostashek: Thank you. Before I was so rudely interrupted by the Member for Faro, I was saying that the attitude that he is displaying in his heckling from his chair and his threatening gestures and comments do nothing to build cooperation in this Legislature.
Perhaps the Government Leader should consider removing him as House leader. Maybe we could get somewhere then.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Member for Whitehorse West, as I was saying when the Member for Faro interrupted me, believed that technical briefings were a good thing when he was in opposition. He felt that they were a very legitimate function and that they were extremely useful.
I would just suggest to the Member for Whitehorse West that in future budget debates he take more time to make sure that the technical briefings are scheduled prior to our being asked to debate his budget in this Legislature. It would be useful as well.
But he went on to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that while he believed that they were extremely useful and they are a very legitimate function, "However, they are not an excuse for discarding debate." That was his opinion when he was in opposition. I sincerely hope that his opinions haven't changed. I cannot understand how he is part of a government that's trying to curtail debate tonight and to legislate by exhaustion, something that his Government Leader said time and time again in the motion was not the way to operate this House - that we ought not to do it that way - and that was what the agreement was all about.
The Member for Whitehorse West also went on to say - however, all of these good things that he said, when he was in opposition, he was very concerned about setting this deadline without giving some thought or making some provision for extending the deadline, because by not doing so, we were doing a disservice to the electorate. I wonder if his opinions are still the same, if he still believes that we are doing a disservice to the electorate by not having some vehicle by which we could continue this debate in an honourable fashion rather than being bullied into sitting all night and legislating by exhaustion, which this Government Leader is against.
I wonder - I'd be very interested to hear from that member if, in fact, his principles have now changed since he's become the minister and now that he is no longer on the opposition benches.
He said he was really concerned about that. He went on to say, "I think that, when we lock ourselves in so inflexibly to a particular schedule, we do not have the flexibility to consider things as they come up or to consider contingencies such as those that we've seen in this House." And I'm so happy he said that, because I heard the Member for Faro refer to a comment I made to a reporter about asking all the questions we need to ask this session. But that was before some of these things that the Member for Faro said - that things might come up. Well, a lot of things have come up since I made that statement. There have been a lot of ministers who have refused to answer questions, and can't answer them in a lot of cases, and even if they do answer, they give some off-the-cuff reply that they can't substantiate.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, there are things that do happen but I still believe that, aside from everything I'm saying here today, I still do believe that 35 days is sufficient time for a main estimates budget debate. We proved that in the last budget debate, the first budget the members opposite brought in. We were 31 days. Go back and check the records. Thirty-one days. We didn't take 35 days.
We gave the ministers some breaks; gave them a chance to learn their departments. It's very unfortunate they never took that opportunity. It would have expedited the debate in the House this session.
So, then we went on to a member who is no longer in this House but who was very vocal when she was in this House, and that was the former Member for Whitehorse Centre. That member, Ms. Commodore, said, "Sometimes things don't work out the way we would like them to. I think the government has been very irresponsible in not doing the same thing we were doing. It knows what the schedule is and how much we have to deal with in the estimates. We scheduled 35 days for that." She said, "There have been a few changes." She said we brought in some motion days.
Mr. Speaker, I spoke to that earlier, but because it's mentioned again, I should speak to it again. The fact remains, the members opposite haven't given up one motion day; not even their last motion day yesterday would they give up. They wouldn't give it up. We did in that first 35-day session. We extended hours for a week, we gave up our motion day and we still sat 36 days because the members opposite, even when in opposition, were going to show us. That was the attitude. They weren't going to cooperate; they were going to show us. Well, what goes around, comes around, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What goes around, comes around.
So, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they used every excuse they could think of when they were on this side of the House why they should not support a motion almost identical to the motion that has now been brought in by the now-government House leader, but the exception was that we gave them some latitude of sitting for four or five nights and not to legislate by exhaustion but to get the business of the House expedited so we could live up to the agreement that we had made.
We would have loved to have been able to do that this time and not to be held ransom by the Member for Faro, and threatened. Finish in 34 days, and I'll bring in YDC, I'll bring in Workers' Compensation Board. He thought that that was terrible when he accused the Minister of Tourism of doing it with the Historic Resources Act. Now that he's in government, he has a totally different opinion of how things should be done.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: So, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Whitehorse Centre at the time, Ms. Commodore, went on to say that we would like to have been able to talk about issues on behalf of our constituents. Well, what are we asking here? Are we asking something different than just the opportunity and ability to speak on behalf of our constituents? Is it offensive to the government to answer questions for the opposition? That's the way they act, as if the opposition doesn't have any right to ask these questions.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Deputy Speaker, we hear the right-wing of the NDP kibitzing from the background there. He ought to take my suggestion and go back and read Hansard and see what we're talking about.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Let me just say this for the record. If one of my ministers would have pulled the antics that have been pulled by the Minister of Community and Transportation Services in budget debate and the Minister of Renewable Resources in budget debate, they would have harassed them for days and days and days when they were in opposition, and they would not have let up.
And they went on personal attacks against the minister, something that we have avoided. Personal attacks, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Now that they're in government, things are totally different.
The Member for Whitehorse Centre went on in that debate to say they wanted us to extend hours every single day. That might have been possible three weeks ago, but lots of things have happened in this House since then. A lot of things have taken up time, things that we're dealing with, that were so unexpected by this side of the House, they said - every reason in the book as to why they wouldn't go along with us, and wouldn't try to make the agreement work.
The irony in this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that they criticized that agreement before we even gave it a chance to work. They broke it in the first sitting of the Legislature by forcing us to stay in here 36 days. And now we have the now-government House leader saying, "A deal's a deal, is a deal. You're allowed 35 days and you're out of here. You can thump your chest, you can rap your knuckles on the ground, but in 35 days we're out of here. We won the last time. We're out of here. We'll show you" - that is what the Member for Faro calls working together. He'll show us.
Mr. Speaker, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes then made some comments and slapped the opposition around a little bit and got them back on track, but they certainly went on and on and on that day as to how they should conduct themselves in opposition, and now they're in government, they should act totally different and beat up on the opposition every chance they get.
They shouldn't answer any questions to the opposition, because they don't have to answer questions. They are the government. They are the ministers. Heaven forbid, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why should they answer the opposition? They don't even return phone calls to their constituents.
Numerous constituents have come to our office saying that they can't get through the stone wall up around the ministers' offices. They won't even return our calls.
Why should they answer our questions in this House? They don't believe in answering questions to anybody. They don't believe that they should be questioned. They know what's best for Yukoners, and why should anybody have the right to question them?
Mr. Deputy Speaker, in opposition they wanted to say that the agreement could be broken. It didn't have to be lived by. What was more important to them at that time, when they were in opposition, was that if we didn't finish in 35 days, it wasn't a big deal, it wasn't a big deal at all, and that we should give thoughtful consideration for the legislation in front of us and we should take whatever time is necessary to debate the issues in front of us. That was their position.
I have read into the record the comments made by the Member for Faro, who has now entered a motion that he spoke so vocally and passionately against when he was in opposition. Have his principles changed? Does he think it's no longer important for the opposition to ask questions of the government?
Well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I suggest to you that it is important that we ask questions as the opposition, and we're going to continue to do so, and we're going to continue to do so until we get answers.
I have a few more things that I'd like to go over here, just to clearly state where those members were when they were in opposition and the comments that they made, and how, now that they're in government, carrying the big stick of 11 members, nothing matters any more. We should not go back and pull out the old Hansard; we should not go out and pull out the old news clippings; we should not do that, because that didn't matter. When they were in opposition, they were right; when they're in government, they are right. They know best, and that's the philosophy of the NDP: Big Brother knows best. The ordinary citizen ought not to question us, because we act with integrity all of the time. We wouldn't do anything to misplace your trust in us. We will live up to our election commitments.
Well, they can't even live up to an agreement they made in this Legislature, let alone their election commitments, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
As far back as December of 1993, there was a news release of the cost of the Hansard debate. I believe it emanated from the Liberal member of the day from Riverside. He asked for information in regard to Hansard, and he released the written response that he got back from the government of the day - my government, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He wanted to know the cost of the Hansard service and the temporary staff hired during the sitting per day.
Mr. Cable has publicly objected to what he describes - now this is the Member for Riverside, who's still in this House today, Mr. Deputy Speaker - what he describes as needless filibustering by the NDP opposition.
That was how the Liberal Member for Riverside viewed the NDP opposition: not as a constructive opposition, but as an obstructive opposition, that the party was wasting public money and had resorted to old-style political tactics like name-calling and insults in the House. Now, it's not only I saying they had no respect for the government members; it was their own opposition colleagues who were saying it.
Mr. Speaker, he went on to say that this week Margaret Commodore, NDP, Whitehorse Centre, filibustered for five hours on the government's plan to repeal the changes to the Employment Standards Act, that the NDP government had failed to proclaim. That was how they were viewed by one of their opposition colleagues when they were in opposition.
And Mr. Deputy Speaker, I suggest to you, they haven't changed in government. They haven't learned anything. While they speak a lot about consensus governing, they don't know anything about consensus. They can't even make an agreement among 17 of us in this Legislature. They continue to be obstructive in government as they were in opposition. They continue to refuse to cooperate with members in this Legislature and with parties in this Legislature.
The now-government House leader believes that the House leaders' meetings are a forum for dictatorship with him as the dictator and the other House leaders just walk away and he says, "This is it. This is how it'll be done." I don't know why he even bothers to have House leaders' meetings; he could relay his desires to us on the telephone. He might as well because we don't get anything out of them. We had absolutely no say and so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it's unfortunate but that's the way it is. It is totally unreal.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to move now into another area. I want to move into this sitting and a little bit of last sitting and point out to the members opposite so that maybe, just maybe, they will go away and think about this debate this afternoon and have a little change of attitude and try to demonstrate a little cooperation so that we can expedite the business in this House. Is that too much for the opposition to ask? I don't think it is.
This foolish motion today, to extend sitting hours tonight just because the Member for Faro threatened us in this House - and I'll read his comments back into the record again, that "that's the way it was going to be"; he's going to beat up on us; we don't have any rights; and "that's the agreement", he says. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I'll point out to him that's the agreement he broke the first sitting of the Legislature -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Oh, there we are again. Here we go again, here we go again. "Bea Firth never signed it."
Same old NDP tactics. Don't blame us just because we're ministers and we make $67,000 a year. We shouldn't have to take responsibility for anything. Don't blame us. Don't blame us if there are no jobs in the Yukon. It's not our responsibility. Don't blame us if we want to throw all mining out of the Yukon. Don't blame us if we won't allow exploration because they might find a mineral body and create some jobs in the Yukon.
Unbelievable. But, Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about why the debate has been extended and why we believe that the government is being obstructive and not cooperative.
On March 31 of this year in this Legislature, when the Member for Riverdale North was asking some questions of the minister, he went on to say that the minister - I think it was Mr. Keenan, when he got into the debate on the Community and Transportation Services, and the member didn't have any help in the Legislature. He was afraid - he said it publicly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in this Legislature - to bring in his deputy minister and give us information because it would provoke more debate. That's what he said: "I did that once before, and you guys beat up on me." My God, he's the minister of the Crown. He's supposed to answer questions of the opposition, not stonewall the opposition. He said that. He said that the Member for Riverdale North chastised him and said that the minister owes the members of the opposition and other members of the House to come in here prepared with information and that it is required, and he should not defer everything for several months down the road. His tactic was that he'd do it all with legislative returns, and then he wouldn't have to answer any questions. That's not allowing the opposition to do their job. That's not part of the agreement that the Member for Faro waves around so defensively and hides behind.
The agreement states quite clearly that the government would provide information in a timely manner. Providing information in a timely manner also refers to ministers coming into this House prepared to answer questions on their department, and if they can't answer all of the technical questions - and I don't believe any minister can no matter how long he's been in the job. The opposition is always looking for something that they can dig into, that the minister can't answer, and the members, when they were in opposition, didn't act any differently at all. They know it, but now they feel it's unfair that the opposition does it to them. They harangued ministers day after day after day after day.
My God, how many days did we go on about the streetlights in MacRae? Days and days and days.
But, it's an insult to them now when the opposition asks questions. They have no right to ask them, because they got them at the technical briefing. That's what the technical briefings are all about. The minister doesn't have to answer any questions. He doesn't have to answer them or come to the House prepared.
I think that, at one point, there were 27 outstanding legislative returns from a couple of hours of debate. Not only did the Minister of Community and Transportation Services not bring a deputy down, but he couldn't answer the simplest of questions on his department. On virtually every question that was asked, he would stand up and say, "Mr. Chair, I'll bring a legislative return back."
That went on and on and on. Now, is that expediting the business of the House? Is it the opposition's fault, because the minister is scared that he's going to get beat up? He's a big boy. If he can't stand the heat, he ought to get out of the fire.
Members opposite - two of them sitting on the front benches right now - when in opposition, thought nothing of haranguing the minister day after day after day. Thought absolutely nothing of it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: I'm getting to the Member for Faro. He doesn't like it. He didn't win this one.
I see here that the Member for Riverdale North said, "We did a rough total, and I think there were 40 to 45 instances where the member said, "a legislative return." Now, is that expediting the business of the House? That's what I ask the members opposite. That's not expediting the business of the House.
I believe, as the Member for Riverdale North believed, it was a stalling tactic. I can just hear him sitting up in the caucus, and the Member for Faro, the expert on parliamentary procedure - "Forget it, forget it, don't worry about answering any questions; 35 days and we're out of here, we're gone."
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: I'm going to get to that yet, Mr. Speaker - bragging about it in a local restaurant, "Ha ha ha, we'll show them."
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: It is up to the ministers to do their job, and if they don't want to bring their deputy in, then they should be prepared to answer the questions. That's what we have Committee debates for, to allow the deputy to be there.
I heard the Member for Faro stand here and chastise the Member for Riverdale North, saying that his ministers and his colleagues ought not to answer technical questions, they shouldn't be expected to know that information, that if we wanted to have a policy debate, we could have a policy debate.
My God, we just went through three days of that with the Minister of Renewable Resources. We ask him a policy question, and he'd turn to the deputy minister.
At least he brought in the deputy minister. At least he did that. I will give him credit for that, that he brought the deputy minister in. He didn't try to wing it alone.
So, Mr. Speaker, that was part of the debate on the Community and Transportation Services budget, where the minister would not bring in any help. How many days was it? Three or four days, before he finally brought a deputy in. He wouldn't do it while we were in general debate. I think he brought a deputy in when we got into the lines.
Then, after all that, when we had a real set-to in this Legislature, we had the Member for Faro get into the debate.
And giving his great statesmanship opinion, saying things like, "Oh, listen to them, Mr. Chair. More whining, more snivelling." My God. Now - and this is where he said it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I just was looking for it - "Now, if the members opposite want to engage in a policy debate, then they should do so. If the members opposite want more questions of detail, sometimes our resources, you know, those resources are paid for by that evil O&M, are used to provide information that the members are asking for, and sometimes it takes a bit of time." Well, my God - it takes a bit of time.
Then he goes on and tries to make some ridiculous statements about something that happened in the fall that we were embarrassed about. I'm not sure where he was coming from but then he went on to say this, Mr. Speaker, and I want to read this into the record because it is this type of attitude that is causing the problems in this Legislature, "Now I will just say to the members opposite that the ministers are prepared to answer policy questions. If the members want details, it's going to take some time but we'll provide it. If they think we're going to go back into general debate on any legislative return, they're dreaming. You want to stand up till the cows come home. They have 35 days. You can slice it, you can dice it, you can julienne it, you can fry it any way you want it, we could not care less on this side." That's the attitude.
He went on to say, "It's 35 days for the opposition, that's all there is, there ain't no more, and I can promise the members opposite, I proved it to them last time and I'll prove it to them again. If they want to do it this way and play their little games, they can do that." It's that type of attitude, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that has killed cooperation in this House and has caused us to waste another afternoon in foolish debate.
The Member for Faro wants to continue to beat us up and we've had enough. We've had enough. We don't have many vehicles available to us in opposition, but we do have some and I just want to tell the member that we don't want to get into this again and I hope that we can sit down after this debate and live up to the spirit of the agreement and expedite the debate on behalf of Yukoners and get on with it and get out of this House. That's all that we're asking for and I don't think that that's too much for the opposition to ask for.
Mr. Speaker, that member went on at some length and this was one month ago on March 31 and we've made very little progress in debating the supplementary budget since then, and only because members opposite won't cooperate. And, Mr. Speaker, the member got up later in the debate and he said, "They all come in to engage in the debate because we're trying to make some sort of point." He says, "The point I see is that they're wasting about $1,000 an hour of taxpayers' money to make this point that really doesn't need to be made and doesn't exist because the members opposite spend 10 to 12 days in Committee debate with the minister responsible for the department, with the deputy in the other chair, accusing the minister of the very same thing they're accusing them of now."
Then he goes on to say, "They can thump their chests and drag their knuckles around on the ground all they want, but this session ain't going any longer than 35 days." That's the attitude of the Member for Faro. That's the attitude. I suggest to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that's a very poor attitude, a very poor attitude and certainly not the attitude of a House leader who needs to work in cooperation with the other parties in this Legislature to expedite the debate in the House.
Mr. Speaker, he goes on to say that the members opposite could continue to waste $1,000 an hour trying to prove some point. "You know, there's only one way to handle a bully, and I was taught that by my mother when I was very young. So, if they want to play this game, we'll fight back, but I would say to the members opposite that 35 days is 35 days. They can slice it. They can dice it. They can do whatever they want. That's their choice, but this session will be 35 days. Mark my words."
I think that he was a little offbeat when he was starting to talk about handling a bully. Those kinds of statements portray the actions of a bully, not how you handle a bully. It pertains to the actions of a bully and somebody who has more power than the person that they are unloading on. I think that's what they call a bully, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
But, Mr. Deputy Speaker, those are the kinds of tactics that have taken up time in this House and, as I said earlier, if we sat on tonight, and if we were to do our job, as those members, when they were in opposition were so adamant that the opposition had to do, we would be here long into tomorrow at $1,000 an hour. We would have been doing exactly what their party leader, their leader of the official opposition when the agreement was made, said that he wanted to avoid, and that was legislation by exhaustion. All of a sudden, legislation by exhaustion is okay, "... as long as I am on the side that's carrying the big stick," says the Member for Faro. "It doesn't matter then. They're just the opposition. They don't count. They don't count at all."
Mr. Deputy Speaker, we lost one evening because of the lack of a quorum in the House. Now, they've got 11 members on that side, and they couldn't keep enough members in here to make a quorum.
We asked for that two hours back; they wouldn't give it to us.
Ministers refusing to answer questions - we've seen that even with the Minister of Education. She sat in her chair and refused to get up and answer the questions, something she criticized us for when we were in the government, when we got totally frustrated by the repetitiveness of the questions, day after day after day - and it was only a matter of a few hours when she was sitting there and refusing to get up and answer the questions. That is cooperation? That is a free exchange of information?
So, members opposite, I urge them to go to their next caucus meeting, come back with some resolutions, and maybe replace their House leader. Maybe there's a conflict of personalities that doesn't work.
Their House leader has displayed that he doesn't want to cooperate with the opposition. He's displayed that time and time again. Maybe the Government Leader ought to try somebody else. He's got lots of members there. Maybe the chemistry would work better with somebody else.
I'll make an offer to the Government Leader and to the leader of the Liberal Party, here on my feet today. It hasn't worked up until now, so let's all three parties change House leaders. Let's give it a fresh start.
Let's give it a fresh start.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I don't think I want to go that far, but I will make the commitment on the floor of the Legislature today. Let's get an agreement among all three parties, let's change all three House leaders, let's give it a fresh shot. Let's see if we can make this agreement work, in the interests of this Legislature and the interests of the people of Yukon. What we're looking for is some cooperation from the members opposite - and maybe it'll work. Maybe it won't, but what do we have to lose? I'm sure my House leader would be agreeable to that, and I'd ask the other caucuses to give it serious -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, we may be joking and laughing, but I think this is a very serious matter. I don't relish going through another day of this at some point, whether it's in the near future or in the distant future.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: Hon. government House leader, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I appeal to the member. Does he understand the implications of what he's doing by not allowing the government to have vote authority into May? The people of the Yukon will suffer, and he should not take them hostage. He should rise above the partisan politics -
Deputy Speaker: The Member for Riverdale North, on the point of order.
Mr. Phillips: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, he's making a speech about the leader of the opposition's speech. He's not making a point about the rules in our Legislature.
Deputy Speaker's ruling
Deputy Speaker: The Chair sees this as a point outside his jurisdiction, and therefore there is no point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: Point of order, hon. government House leader.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I urge the member to sit down and allow the vote to proceed. What he's doing has very big implications and he should understand that.
Deputy Speaker: Please continue, leader of the official opposition.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have thought about what I'm doing. The government ought to have thought about what they were doing. This, again, is displaying the arrogance of that government - threatening, threatening, threatening. It would have been better to have had cooperation.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to continue because there are more things I have to say in this debate yet today. I have no intention of sitting down until I'm finished, whether the Member for Faro wants me to or not.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, we have pleaded with members opposite that scheduling of briefings of departments be done in a timely fashion, and we have asked for answers but we don't get them. That puts us in a position where we cannot do our job as opposition. And this is a democratic society and, as opposition members, we have a very legitimate role to play in this Legislature and in government.
I think we have a far greater role to play, in light of the numbers on the government benches, and if we're going to be continually muzzled from doing our job, and then be bribed at the last minute by the Member for Faro that there are serious ramifications because the government didn't do their job, is hogwash. Yukoners won't suffer with this at all. This is a ploy by the House leader.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: We're going over the weekend. Mr. Deputy Speaker, he says that he told us this motion was coming. Well, I say to the House leader that he ought not to have been so arrogant. He ought not have been so sure that he was going to get his own way.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: There's no deal, and the minister knows that. Yukoners will not be hurt. They will not be hurt if we do not sit all night. We'll give you unanimous consent to pass the vote of authority on Monday, as long as we get something in return: no more of these tactics.
You want to come in tomorrow and pass the vote authority? We might even do that, but we want something in return. I said that we don't have very many vehicles available to us to get our message out and to stand up to a government that's continually bullying the opposition.
We don't have very many, and the arrogance of that House leader, as displayed in this Legislature by continuing to bully us and threaten us, does nothing for our parliamentary system. They should have thought of the ramifications before they took on this attack to, once again, force us to sit all night, because they believe that it's their right, and we in opposition don't have any rights.
Arrangements can be made but we need cooperation, not confrontation. And here comes a point, after almost two years of being constantly faced with confrontation and non-cooperation that we have to take a stand and that's what we're doing here today to show the Member for Faro that we do have a little bit of a say - however small it might be, we do have a little bit of a say.
But for him to operate in a manner he has done, does absolutely nothing to expedite the business of this House, and I'm hoping that this debate today will change the tone in this House, will change the manner in which we deal with each other and how we structure the business of this Legislature and that the opposition will be allowed to do their job.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Threatening again, threatening again. I am sorry. Well, Mr. Speaker, they're the government; they're the government. They could've brought interim supply in last Monday. They could've taken the actions necessary. It's not the opposition's job to schedule the stuff for the Legislature; it's not the opposition's job at all. That's the government's job and it's up to the government to do it. So, the government can handle it in whatever manner they want. We're here to cooperate with them but we need some cooperation from the members opposite, not continued threats that we're not going to get any cooperation.
We've seen enough of the stonewalling that has gone on with this government and these ministers and we've seen ministers - quite a few of them - who are not well-versed in their departments even though they've been in charge of them for two years. They have a responsibility to be able to answer questions in this House and we have a right to ask questions and we have a right to get some answers to those questions.
All we're asking for is not a very big ticket, not very big at all. If we can get over the obstacle of personalities and the aggressiveness of the Member for Faro, and the lack of cooperation that he has displayed with other House leaders to expedite the business of this House, then we would be moving yardsticks ahead - quite a long ways.
But we haven't seen that at all.
Mr. Speaker, there are numerous examples of it, but what I find the most disheartening is that I never expected it. In opposition, they were using the same basic arguments that I'm using here today. I never expected that when they got into government they would pull those kinds of tactics.
We said at the start of this Legislature that we wanted to try to work together to expedite the business of the House. That's what that agreement was all about.
We have had some very frustrating debate in this Legislature trying to get information. We've been, what, three days in Renewable Resources now? We haven't moved the yardstick ahead.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Four days, three questions, he says. Three questions, and we can't get any answers.
We might be done by Christmas at that rate.
The ball is in the government's court. It's unfortunate that we had to resort to these tactics today, but we felt they were necessary. I hope the members opposite take me seriously when I talked about getting a fresh start. Let's all come forward with new House leaders and see if we can't make this thing work.
And I would ask those ministers to go back and think about the way they handled the questions from the opposition. I would ask them to think about how they scheduled the briefings. I would ask them to consider if they really believe that they were providing information to the members of the opposition in a timely manner, because I don't believe they were. I don't believe they were at all. And as I said earlier, all of us are to blame to a certain extent.
But the ministers - and that government has 11 members over there. Eleven members in that caucus, and we have six here. We have multiple critic departments. Some of them have multiple portfolios, but not near the multiple portfolios that we have as critics. Three for 16 departments. We have a heavy workload, too, and it's frustrating, totally frustrating, when we can't get information.
We expedited the business of the House on the first budget the members opposite brought in, in 31 days. We gave the benefit of the doubt to the ministers who were new in their job; they'd only been there six months. We didn't harangue them too much. We let a lot of things go by. Thirty-one days and we were out of here. We could have been out in 35 days, and we aren't. We aren't out, we're still here, and we're going to be here longer to get the business of the House expedited.
So, Mr. Chair, I know that my caucus is prepared to cooperate fully with the government on how they go about the business of the House, how we revive the agreement and where we go.
But we do need the cooperation of the members opposite.
Mr. Chair, I believe other people want to speak to this motion today, so I'm going to sit down at this point.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I gather from what the member has just said, that he understands completely what he has just done. He indicated that he felt it was unfortunate that he needed to pull this stunt, but Mr. Speaker, I hope the member is fully aware of what he has done and how he has hurt Yukoners. The member has, by the procedural rules in this House, talked beyond 5:00, so that we will not have a vote on this motion today, and we will not be extending sitting hours.
We do not have vote authority beyond April 30 - beyond today. The Government of Yukon is not able to spend monies because we have no vote authority.
Now, the member has been completely dishonest in saying that he would -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order.
Point of order
Deputy Speaker: Leader of the official opposition, on a point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: That is unparliamentary, and I ask that the member withdraw it.
Deputy Speaker: I ask the member to withdraw the comment.
Withdrawal of remark
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will withdraw that remark, and I will point out the facts. The facts are that the leader of the official opposition said that he would honour the deal that represents the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. The member said that he would honour that deal. The member is, in fact, a signator to the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, which include the memorandum of understanding on the timing of a spring sitting being 35 days, with the concluding date to be no later than April 30.
The member said in an article of the Whitehorse Star on April 15, 1996, that he expects the opposition to live up to the agreement. He said on CBC radio that he expected that he would live up to the agreement. In House leaders meetings, they indicated that they would honour the agreement for a 35-day session closing on April 30.
They have now failed to do that. It is very sad that they have broken their word, particularly when they said that they would honour their word.
Now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the member was also speaking about the government giving up motions and allowing extra time for the completion of the budget debate. Yesterday, we did give up a motion. We called one motion. We had one speaker each on the motion, by agreement with the House leaders. We scheduled an extra couple of hours for budget debate.
Mr. Speaker, at House leaders meetings last week, the House leader for the Yukon Party indicated that they felt that they would be completing the budget early this week and having extra time, and asked if we would be prepared to bring in representatives from the Workers' Compensation Board and the Yukon Energy Corporation board to appear before the House.
I was acting House leader. The House leader for the Yukon Party made the request that, since our House leader had indicated that the only obstacle to having the board members appear before the House was the fact that we had a 35-day session agreement to complete the business of debating the budget, if they were done the budget early, as it looked like we would be, then would we be prepared to bring those board members in.
And Mr. Speaker, I indicated that I would discuss that with my caucus and we'd provide an answer to the member and we did. We've answered that question both in the House leaders' meeting and on the floor of this Legislature in response to questions from the members opposite. We were entirely prepared to complete the budget and bring in the representatives from the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board and from the Yukon Energy Corporation Board so that members could ask them any questions that they had.
Now, Mr. Speaker, let's just think for a minute. Let's ask the question: why we did we not finish budget debate on Monday as the Yukon Party House leader thought that we might? Well, Mr. Speaker, there are a number of reasons for that. The Member for Klondike is over there chirping away and saying, "No briefings, no answers." He's wrong on both counts. Briefings were scheduled, which members attended and answers have been given. We've been three days - I've been listening to the Renewable Resources debate in this House over the last three days and the members have asked three questions. The members have had those questions answered repeatedly and the members have just not been prepared to move on because they enjoy beating up on the minister and repeating the same question. They think they're making good ground by attacking the minister and so they proceed to do it with the same question over and over and over again. They've done that and many of their critics have done it in many of the departments.
Now, what else was it that took us more than 35 days to debate in the budget? Well, there is the infamous mosquito-kill questions that the Member for Klondike just could not let go: how many bags of larvicide were used? What kind of larvicide was used? What kind of plane was being flown when the larvicide was being dropped to kill the mosquitoes so that we didn't have as many mosquito bites in the summertime? How about the colour of the Jello served at the Whitehorse General Hospital?
Mr. Speaker, much of the time that was spent in debate in this House during the budget discussions was not on substantial policy matters. It was needless repetition and it was technical trivia.
I'd like to talk for a moment about respect for the House. The members opposite stand up and want to talk about respecting the House. The Member for Riverdale North refused to withdraw an unparliamentary remark, and was ordered to leave the House after refusing three times to withdraw an unparliamentary remark on a day when one of the departments that he is the critic for was scheduled for debate.
Mr. Speaker, I think that that shows marked disrespect for this House.
Mr. Speaker, while I'm on the subject of being respectful, let me quote the leader of the Yukon Party in the Whitehorse Star of April 19, 1996, on the subject of the memorandum of understanding regarding the length of sessions, saying, "A deal is a deal is a deal." The Liberal, Jack Cable, said, "We're going to have to learn to respect the fact that a deal is a deal is a deal."
Mr. Speaker, I'm left today wondering how anyone can trust the word of those members when they sign a deal, when they publicly make statements that they believe a deal is a deal, when they then refuse to respect that deal. Not only did they refuse to respect that deal, they refused even the courtesy of informing the government caucus, through the House leader, that they were not prepared to sit late and conclude debate today. After they have publicly stated that they would respect the deal and end the session within 35 days, they did not inform the government that they were going to talk out the clock this afternoon and refuse to respect the memorandum of understanding that the spring sitting would conclude within 35 days, no later than April 30.
We have therefore lost vote spending authority.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is heckling there and saying that we should have thought of that. They are the ones who have pulled this unprecedented, unwarranted violation of an agreement without even saying, "Oops, sorry, we've changed our minds. We were going to respect that deal. I know we told you, and I know we told the press, and I know we told the public that we were going to respect that deal, but we've changed our mind. We're not going to do it."
Mr. Speaker, when the Yukon Party's Justice critic was suspended for a day for refusing to withdraw an unparliamentary remark in this House, he missed budget debate on that department. Asked whether that was going to hurt his party's efforts that day, the leader of the official opposition said, "No."
I have a quote here. I quote from the Yukon News, "It don't matter," he said. "We've said everything we wanted to say this session, anyhow." Now, Mr. Speaker, that was two weeks ago. What happened? Two weeks ago, the leader of the official opposition "said everything we wanted to say this session, anyhow." One week ago, the Yukon Party House leader told me that it looked like we were going to be finishing the budget debate earlier and would have a couple of extra days and could we bring in the members of the Workers' Compensation Board and the Yukon Energy Corporation board to appear before the House for questioning.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the members opposite there are heckling, saying "Oh, well, that was because we got into Renewable Resources debate, and we got a minister who couldn't answer the questions." Now, let's just review the record on that because I've been listening to the Renewable Resources debate and finding it quite interesting to observe the bullying tactics of the members opposite.
The members had questions for the minister on the catch-and-release program, on the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, on their interaction with the public, and the Minister of Renewable Resources stood and answered those questions time after time after time.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the members are over there heckling and saying "Read Hansard". Mr. Speaker, I heard the debate. I sat here in the House and I listened to the repetitive questions from the members opposite, over and over and over again. Then they would sort of spell each other off, and when the leader of the official opposition wanted somebody else to have a chance, then the Member for Riverdale North would get up, and he'd go on a rant, and he'd ask the same questions, and he'd say that we were going to be killing the tourism industry in the Yukon, and killing all the sports shops in the Yukon - absolute and utter nonsense.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Let the member speak.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The member opposite is standing there, making false statements, misrepresenting what it was that the minister ...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Deputy Speaker: Order please. Let the member speak.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: ... said, when he was answering the questions that were being put to him.
Mr. Speaker, these members are not only breaking their word and not giving honest answers to the House leader, they're not being consistent with the practices they've had in the past.
"There's an agreement and people should stick to it," said government House leader Mickey Fisher in April of 1996. I don't know what it is about April that gets members wanting to go beyond the agreed-upon 35 days, but it is truly unfortunate, because the cost of a long session cannot be ignored.
Leaving the Government of Yukon without vote authority to spend monies is a problem for the Yukon public and the Yukon government that cannot be ignored.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the members are heckling and saying why didn't we think about that yesterday. Well, yesterday we didn't have advance notice that they would be breaking their word today. We took them at their word. Now it seems that we can't trust that.
Mr. Speaker, it seems that the members do not want to support the motion to extend sitting hours simply to prove that they've got the power to not do that. They want to prove that they've got the power to do it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the members are heckling about being clever. I don't think it's the least bit clever to break your word. I don't think it's the least bit clever to pull stunts like this and to leave the Yukon public and the Yukon taxpayer in a position where the government has no vote authority to continue to operate the business of government after the end of today.
This is April 30. This is the thirty-fifth day of the session. We will not be able to conclude debate today. The members have refused that. They've talked past 5:00 on the motion. We may need their motion to extend the sitting hours moved earlier in the session, if that's what we need, because it's clear that we cannot trust the word of the members opposite.
I think that's very sad, Mr. Speaker, and I sincerely regret that it has come to this today.
Mr. Speaker, if the members chose to engage in a constructive criticism to ask questions of policy, to bring forward substantial issues, we would not be standing here debating this today. We could have concluded this session a week ago.
Mr. Speaker, every party is a signatory to this agreement. We do not have independent members sitting in this House who are not signatory to the agreement, which was the case previously, to even throw any interference in our agreement. This agreement -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Riverdale North is standing there and heckling on this. The former government House leader, Doug Phillips, in a CHON news report from April 1996 that member who is heckling now says that he sees nothing on the Order Paper that could not be dealt with in 35 days, but he expects that first we'll keep the House sitting longer.
Deputy Speaker: Ten seconds.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That's the member who used the presence of an Independent to say that there might need to be some reason not to conclude in the 35-day session.
Mr. Speaker -
Deputy Speaker: Order please. The time being about 5:30 p.m., this House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Proceedings on the motion to extend sitting hours accordingly concluded
The House adjourned at 5:30 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled on April 30, 1998:
State of the Yukon environment (interim report 1997): air quality and climate change (Fairclough)
CRTC hearing on service to high-cost areas: submission of the Government of Yukon (May 1, 1998) (Keenan)
The following Legislative Return was tabled April 30, 1998:
Rate stabilization fund: public consultation (Harding on behalf of McRobb)
Oral, Hansard, p. 3053