Monday, November 16, 1998 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with silent prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
National Addictions Awareness Week
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge in this House that today marks the beginning of National Addictions Awareness Week.
This week is dedicated to creating an awareness of the social and personal problems caused by addictions to alcohol and drugs. I was fortunate to be able to participate in the ceremony today at the Elijah Smith Building that officially launched the week.
This year, National Addictions Awareness Week is aimed at young school children. It is better to educate the very young and help them avoid the pitfalls of addictions than to have to help them as adults to wrest themselves from the addiction.
Mr. Speaker, I have here today a water bottle that will be given to all Yukon children in grades 3, 4 and 5. The bottle has the slogan: "It's your life, rule it". The logo and slogan were designed by Heather Cooper, who is here with us in the House.
Heather is a grade 10 student in the MAD program at F.H. Collins and her design was selected to grace this water bottle, which is being used to get the message across to the territory's young people.
We also have bottles available for the members, which we'll pass out at the break. So people who felt slighted will get theirs, and it does have a drip-proof top, in response to the request from the Member for Riverdale South.
This project has been undertaken by the Yukon College public health and safety branch, as well as the Yukon substance abuse, prevention and tobacco reduction strategy. I'd like today to applaud their efforts in this regard.
Mr. Speaker, I'd also like to acknowledge my colleagues and all Yukoners who have given a thought to the addictions workers here in the Yukon and elsewhere who help people fight those demons of addiction. It's important, as well, to give a thought to those who have fought the addictions battle and won, as well as those who are fighting it now. It's not an easy battle, but we hope that those who fight it will emerge victorious.
Mr. Jenkins: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and office of the official opposition, we're pleased to pay tribute to National Addictions Awareness Week. Whether it may be alcohol or drugs, addiction plays a significant role in the erosion of the quality of life for many.
In Yukon, alcohol and drug abuse is the major social problem confronting Yukoners.
The cost to Yukon and Canadian societies resulting from this alcohol and drug addiction runs into billions of dollars annually, Mr. Speaker. Eighty to 90 percent of all crime is directly related to the use of alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drugs figure loudly in spousal violence and family breakdown. Many highway accidents and fatalities are often the result of alcohol or drug impairment.
There is no question that the costs associated with addictions, both social and financial, are many and have an everlasting impact upon all of our lives. Despite these overwhelming facts, this government is not fully addressing its responsibility.
Communities such as Ross River, Liard and Watson Lake are all having to cope with substantial abuse prevention and after-care services as a result of government's recent decision to cut back funding for this program.
We can all pay all the tributes we want, Mr. Speaker, to the alcohol and drug abuse in Yukon. I do recognize those involved in assisting all of us in rehabilitation, but until such time as this minister is prepared to act with the full weight of his government to address this endemic problem, Yukoners will continue to suffer and pay the resulting price.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I stand today on behalf of the Yukon Liberal caucus to pay tribute to National Addictions Awareness Week.
As part of the celebrations this year, Yukon students in grades 3 to 5 will be receiving a water bottle labelled with the words, "It's your life, rule it." As a working member of this substance abuse prevention coalition, I was pleased to see this initiative come forward from the group. Addictions, whether they are to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling, overeating, or even to just coffee, can be overwhelming in their intensity, but we can overcome addictions.
So this week, it's my hope that Yukoners will try to quit smoking, try to quit drinking, try to quit smoking marijuana, or try to quit gambling, because even if they can't quit this week, if they keep trying, eventually they'll stop.
Speaker: Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I have for tabling the Government of Yukon youth strategy, Young Voices: the key to our future.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have for tabling a review of administration costs of the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board, done by an independent firm, Coles Hewitt. Conclusions can be found on page 7, for the members opposite.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I have for tabling the Yukon Advisory Council on Women's Issues annual report for 1997-98.
Speaker: Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Introduction of bills.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 53: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that Bill No. 53, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 53, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for the introduction and first reading of Bill No. 53 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any further bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
Yukon youth strategy
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I rise to draw the attention of the House to a major new policy development aimed at involving young people more fully in Yukon society.
As members are aware, our government has demonstrated its commitment to youth through many new programs such as Youth Works, the youth leadership program, changes to the business incentive program to encourage companies to hire young people, and other job creation initiatives made possible by the community development fund, to name just a few.
The Yukon youth strategy further reflects our desire to foster healthy communities by involving young people in the design and delivery of programs that affect them. This framework document will benefit young people to the age of 25 by helping us to improve overall services to young people; increase youth awareness of initiatives throughout the Yukon; develop and support processes to increase youth involvement in programs directed toward them; provide opportunities for youth to contribute to their communities in a positive manner; and improve the health of Yukon youth.
Mr. Speaker, the strength of the Yukon's future lies in the abilities, skills and talents of all its citizens, including youth. We need to change the focus of public debate about young people to the positive contributions of the majority rather than the negative behaviour of a small minority. Young people want to participate in shaping the Yukon. That is why one of the fundamental principles of the youth strategy is the direct involvement of young people in decision making.
One way to meet this principle is by giving young people a voice on the boards and committees that make decisions on social, political, cultural and economic activities in the territory.
I am pleased to announce that a key component of the youth strategy will be a youth-on-boards program. This will be phased in incrementally, after consultations to find out what boards young people feel they can contribute to and what barriers they face in participating on boards. A number of board chairs have indicated a willingness to participate in piloting this program.
In order to be successful in life, our young people also need access to recreational activities, positive role models, training and job opportunities, good health and a quality education.
Government is not alone in providing these things. We share that responsibility with many partners, such as First Nations, the federal government, municipalities, non-government organizations, service providers, families, and young people themselves. In fact, the whole community has a responsibility to help provide our young people with the tools they need to develop and grow.
I would especially like to thank two major partners for their help in developing this framework youth strategy. They are the Positive Action with Yukon Youth coalition and the City of Whitehorse. The consultations they conducted, together with information from various front-line groups, helped form the basis of this strategy.
Mr. Speaker, the youth strategy I tabled today is designed to be flexible and open to change. It will help coordinate our approach to youth initiatives, identify gaps in youth programming, reduce duplication, and enhance partnerships with other organizations. Most importantly, it recognizes that the perspectives our young people have to offer are an integral part of setting the course for Yukon society for the next millennium. It is a step forward for all of us, and I am pleased to present it to this House today.
Mr. Phillips: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus and the office of the official opposition, I'm pleased to take this opportunity to respond to the minister's statement regarding the youth strategy.
Youth are the key to our future, and we should welcome every opportunity to involve our young people in society, Mr. Speaker. One of the issues that has been repeatedly raised in this Legislature is the need to involve youth at all levels in developing programs that affect them.
Mr. Speaker, as adults, we have the responsibility to trust the youth and involve them in these decisions at every opportunity. While we on this side of the House are supportive of youth initiatives, I can't help but think that we'd be a lot further along if this government had taken time to listen to the youth involved in the Youth Empowerment and Success program.
As the minister is very much aware, YES served over 500 youth at risk in this territory. It was well-received because it was driven by youth, and it was a vehicle for those youth wishing to make positive changes in their lives.
Mr. Speaker, while many have written off the so-called bad kids, YES was a safe haven. It was a place where youth could receive assistance in resumé writing, job search techniques, make phone calls to potential employers, and receive calls back from those employers.
While making concerned bleatings about youth crime, violence, et cetera, this government, with the help of the federal Liberal government, essentially closed the doors of YES right in front of the faces of our youth.
Again, Mr. Speaker, if this government had actually listened to our youth and acted upon their concerns and what they felt was right to do, I believe we'd be much better off today than what we are.
What this statement does not address, I think Mr. Speaker, which is significant, is the employment concern of youth. It is all well and good to make announcements about involving our youth more, but it will do nothing to help our youth if our youth aren't given meaningful employment in our society.
Nationally and on a local level, youth unemployment is significant, and even more so in Yukon's economy today. What is needed is to provide more educational and employment opportunities for our young people, to enable them to stay in the territory and contribute to our society.
I, too, would like to offer our thanks to the Positive Action with Yukon Youth coalition, the City of Whitehorse, and would also at this time like to offer our thanks to the hard work and efforts of the Youth Empowerment Success organization, even though it's now disbanded, Mr. Speaker.
It's unfortunate that Yukon youth will no longer be able to draw upon the resources of YES.
When I read the ministerial statement that the minister brought before us today, and read the brochure that the minister provided us, I couldn't help but think that we were reinventing the wheel, or starting all over. We're starting up where YES left off over two years ago, and we'd be much further ahead today if we had listened to the youths then.
I can remember in 1996, in September, going to a conference out at the cadet camp, where all other parties were present, where the number one concern of youth was that programs should be driven by the youth, designed by the youth and run by the youth, and all the parties agreed, but it's taken two years, and governments have watched the YES program fail, before the governments made a move. I think this will be a positive initiative, but I have to think, Mr. Speaker, that the youth are beginning to lose faith in our commitment, when we go to them and listen to them and tell them we've listened, and then we don't act upon the commitments we made two years ago.
I would hope that the government will actually follow through on the commitment it made today, and I'll look forward to seeing what the government does with respect to this, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: On behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party caucus, I would like to express our thanks, publicly, to the City of Whitehorse, and the Positive Action with Yukon Youth group, for their contribution to the documents and information provided by the minister today.
I'm sure there are a number of individuals who have spent countless volunteer hours in this initiative, and I would like to publicly thank them, on behalf of our party, for their efforts.
Mr. Speaker, this summer the Yukon government sent out a questionnaire, called "Working toward a Government of Yukon Youth Strategy." I find it interesting that the questionnaire that was sent out included eight core strategies. The questionnaire also included a column of possible indicators of success or benchmarks. In other words, Mr. Speaker, there was an evaluation process built in.
For example, you could look at some of the strategies, and a year later, see if they were working. A good example is strategy number 2, which was to promote opportunities for youth, to develop leadership and entrepreneurship skills that would allow them to create a place for themselves in their own communities. The indicator of success would be an increase in the number of self-employed youth in the Yukon. There was clearly a strategy, and there was a benchmark. In this way, you'd know if the strategies were working.
These indicators, or benchmarks, have been left out of the final document, Mr. Speaker. Why? How does the government intend to evaluate the strategy?
Certainly this discussion would not go by - and response to the ministerial statement would not go by - without a mention by someone of the YES organization. I'm certain that the NDP government - the minister - will blame the federal Liberal government for YES, even though they failed to fund the program.
The NDP government just got $48 million from the federal government. Maybe they could find some money to fund a youth drop-in centre in Whitehorse.
It's interesting to note, Mr. Speaker, that in this youth strategy and the minister's statement today, there are no financial commitments to anything that the advisory groups came up with. It's not very reassuring on the part of the government's commitment to this youth strategy.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'm somewhat dismayed that the opposition members want to spend all of their energy in criticizing instead of recognizing that the youth strategy, which has as its subtitle "Young Voices: the key to our future", has involved youth and reflects what they have had to say.
Now, I've never heard such a load of bunk, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the criticism about employment for youth. I spoke earlier about the business incentive policy changes that have been made to ensure that where, on government construction projects, youth aged 24 or younger are hired there is an additional 15 percent rebate on wages and benefits and that the apprenticeship rebate was increased from 10 percent to 15 percent.
Mr. Speaker, this government has sponsored a number of youth employment initiatives. Just this past summer, the youth recreation leadership program was offered in five communities and was responsible for 23 jobs for youth, as well as recreation and constructive activities for hundreds of other youth.
We saw, in Pelly, elders taking youths out on the land for instruction. In Old Crow, there was computer training for youth with recreation. Kwanlin Dun had a wage subsidy program for three high-risk youth. In Ross River there was Internet training for youth and a computer camp in a number of communities, go-cart construction in Carmacks and Haines Junction. In Burwash, there was recreation for youth provided during a general assembly.
The youth employment statistics are 193 jobs created with 113 employers over the summer of 1998 for the Canada-Yukon summer career placement. There was also the student training and employment program with the 98 jobs offered.
Mr. Speaker, I didn't hear the Yukon Party standing up and supporting a budget that voted money for Youth Works for crime prevention, for Dana Naye Ventures, $200,000 for youth entrepreneurship programs. We've supported the entrepreneurship centre at the Wood Street building.
Mr. Speaker, the initiatives for youth are numerous and I think that the members opposite should recognize that that work has had a positive measure for youth employment and youth recreation activities and we're very pleased that the youth strategy will be considered by the youth conference that this government is supporting, which will be held February 4 and 5 in Whitehorse. I know that the youth are looking forward to it and I'm certainly looking forward to working with them, as this government will continue to do.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Government vehicle use
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services on his personal use of a government vehicle. Now, I have given the minister more than a week to respond to my question of November 5, asking him to table a list of the government business he attended to on each of the days he claimed to be on government travel status while using a government vehicle this summer.
To date, I have received no formal response from the minister. However, the minister did tell the media that this summer he was practically all over his riding attending to his "folks", as he calls his constituents. In a letter to the Yukon News, the minister admitted to having a government vehicle for a period of 18 days.
Does the minister believe that his constituency business as an MLA is the same as his government business as a minister, and that both services should enable him to use a government vehicle? Would the minister indicate when the car was signed out to him and the date of its return? My information is that he originally signed the vehicle out for two days to attend a First Nations event at Airport Lake.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Speaker, indeed I will be able to table paperwork, but certainly I would like it if the folks, if I may - folks wherever, in general - can talk to this government. We go out and listen to people. That's where we come with our unique economic activities. That's where we come with our trade and investment fund. That's where we come with our marketing funds, and we certainly come with those by going out and listening to people.
So yes, Mr. Speaker, I will table paperwork.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister didn't answer the question, Mr. Speaker. What we have before you is a Management Board directive. It's entitled, "Government Travel," and that's what I'm asking the minister about. It sets out the guidelines for the use of government vehicles. Does the minister believe that this directive applies to him?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker, government policy applies to all that's it applicable to, and certainly it is in that case, but again, I was out doing government business, and I am sure that the paperwork will prove it.
Mr. Jenkins: Does the minister realize that, according to the directive, he will have to reimburse the government for the money he spent while not on legitimate government business, or does he stick by his statement, which he originally said, that this whole issue is poppycock, as he called it?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I do call it poppycock. I can think of many other things I can call it, Mr. Speaker, but I will also call it listening to people and working with people so that we might be able to take our initiatives and formulate them to what the people actually want. Certainly I will table applicable paperwork.
Question re: Government vehicle use
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let's go to the Government Leader, Mr. Speaker. I have a question of the Government Leader. The Minister of the Department of Community and Transportation Services has branded the whole matter of his ministerial misuse of government vehicles as "poppycock". Well, since the Government Leader is the captain of the Good Ship Poppycock, can he advise the House if the Management Board directive on government travel applies to his Cabinet ministers or not?
Are NDP Cabinet ministers above the law?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: First of all, Mr. Speaker, I'll point out to the member that the member has not made any case at all that anyone has broken the law. Secondly, of course, everyone is subject to the laws. Thirdly, the information that this member has brought forward on a number of occasions in this very short sitting has been unreliable and, upon review, has been downright misleading.
So, as to the conclusions that the member has drawn, I would urge all other members in this House and everyone watching to be very, very suspicious of this member's accusations because, so far, his track record is very lousy.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, but the Minister of Community and Transportation Services admitted in this House, Mr. Speaker, that he did use the government vehicle for an extended period of time. From what he told the House, it was on constituency business. That's totally unheard of.
Is the Government Leader planning on rescinding the Management Board directive on government travel, as it applies to NDP Cabinet ministers, or is he just going to continue to allow his ministers to ignore this Management Board directive? Does he condone his minister using government vehicles in the manner that they are doing so?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, firstly it was the NDP who ended the Yukon Party's - and its predecessor, the Progressive Conservative Party - habit of not only using government vehicles but using government vehicles permanently.
Mr. Speaker, the minister has indicated that the work that he was doing was government business, in part, in his constituency. Now, that's what the minister has said. The member opposite has made many accusations, many allegations in the very short time that we've been here, and he has proven himself to be very unreliable when it comes to putting actual information - factual information - on the table. I could go through a number of them, but the point of the matter is, Mr. Speaker, if the minister is on government business in rural Yukon, including his constituency, he is entitled to use government vehicles. That is the case.
Mr. Jenkins: What we have here, Mr. Speaker, is one set of rules in the Management Board directive and another set of rules being applied to the ministers in that Government Leader's government. Two different sets of rules.
It is unprecedented that a government vehicle would be signed out and billed for almost a two-month period - I believe the billing period was a two-month one - when it started off as a two-day period, Mr. Speaker.
I am looking for a complete listing from the Government Leader of all of the ministerial use of government vehicles for each Cabinet minister for the period commencing June 1, 1998, ending October 1, 1998, indicating the government business that was attended to each time a government vehicle was used. And, out of kindness to the Government Leader, I will table the question also in written form, Mr. Speaker.
Can the Government Leader undertake to provide that information?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, whether the member can use information productively to support his bogus claims is irrelevant. I will still have the information tabled for the member.
A claim the member has made is that the activity or the use of the government vehicle on government business for a long period of time, for a number of days, a couple of weeks, is unprecedented. Well, Mr. Speaker, I want to tell the member right now that, if my ministers want to be out in rural Yukon for lengthy periods of time, that's a precedent I want to set.
The other thing, Mr. Speaker, is that ...
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Order.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: ... these ministers also work weekends and that is also a precedent that we would like to set. The leader of the official opposition says that he wants a car, too. Well, Mr. Speaker, the leader of the official opposition and his colleagues spend most of the summer relaxing, and they bragged to me about it privately. So, the chances of them getting a government car are zero.
Question re: FAS/FAE implementation plan
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, an official from the Department of Health and Social Services attended the Yukon Health and Social Services Council meeting on June 5 and June 6 of this year, and he went there to update the council on the government's FAS/FAE implementation plan.
Now, one of the items on the agenda was to work with the Yukon Medical Association to bring in a speaker on FAS, and it's a good idea, but it hasn't happened. Two more items were an education kit for schools and an unborn-baby kit, and those haven't happened either.
Now, five of the six FAS action items that the official presented to the council as already having happened don't exist. Now, who's kidding whom, Mr. Speaker. We know FAS is a big problem, and it's a complicated one, but another baby is going to be born this month in the Yukon with FAS or FAE, and we have to do something.
Why is so little being done?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I would dispute the member's allegation that nothing is being done. We've undertaken a considerable number of activities, including developing a community-based strategy. We've developed an ADS-prevention kit. We've developed a new FAS brief screening tool. We've developed the FAS education kit distributed by ADS. We've developed posters and pamphlets. We have an alcohol and unborn-baby kit that's due to be completed in January. We've been involved in the substance-abuse strategies and solutions, and we've taken on the role of addressing this problem in the communities.
I can go on and on, but if the member would like some further information, I can certainly provide it, and I'll wait for her next question.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, this is getting to be like fantasy island.
Now, another action item on the list is a prevalence study on FAS in our schools. This is the study that the minister told the House he had already started this spring. Now, this fall, the minister has changed his story and retreated saying that discussions are underway with a couple of departments. Then, on Thursday, he blamed First Nations and said that they were holding up this study.
When is the minister going to show some leadership, stop blaming others for his own inaction, and get the study underway?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I don't believe I blamed anyone. I merely raised the point that -Now, albeit we in Whitehorse are the keepers of all knowledge, and we know everything that's good for everyone else outside. However, we work - "we" being the Department of Health and Social Services - with communities. We work with our health partners, and I merely raised the point that on the question of a prevalent study - I've said it before and I'll say it again - there is some ambivalence in communities.
Now, I would suggest that it might be worthwhile for the member to perhaps raise this with some communities. There is some concern. As late as Friday we had some concerns voiced on this. I have written to CYFN trying to get a sense from them about their feelings on this issue. We'll be guided in our decisions by not only the needs but also by how we can work most effectively with our health partners.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, it's talk talk talk, and no action action action. It's becoming more and more confusing why any of these items to the Health and Social Services Council were included in the update of the FAS implementation plan.
An update means that some things have happened, that there has been some progress. A third item on the list of things that had been completed was, "developing FAS planning model." Now, the minister told this House this spring that this work was in progress. His officials told the Health and Social Services Council in June that the model was done.
Can the minister table that completed planning model, so that we can actually see it?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, we'd be happy to bring forward any plans, any programs that we developed, and be more than happy to present them to the member at our first opportunity.
But I have to also say that this is a very complex problem, and it's something that we are cognizant of and we are concerned with. But I should remind the member that this is one of many problems facing us in the territory, and we have put considerable resources - and are putting increasing resources - into the whole question of youth addictions. Part of our goal in that is to reduce problems with FAS/FAE in the future.
I should also point out that we're also moving ahead with the healthy families initiative - early identification, early addressing of problems. That's one of the ways that we hope to reduce the frequency of FAS/FAE in the territory.
But studies don't always make it. There are also things that we have to do as well.
Question re: FAS/FAE in schools
Ms. Duncan: My question's for the Minister of Education. It concerns the subject of FAS in our schools.
The minister's colleague in Health and Social Services has been stalling on setting up a prevalence study on FAS in our schools. Even if the project gets underway, the study will not identify children or assess their specific needs. So, at the end of the day, we might know - if the project ever even starts - how many FAS children are in our schools. We won't know who they are, and we won't be trying to help them deal with their problems.
Mr. Speaker, I think this approach is wrong, and I think this government is shortchanging these children by refusing to help them. Why have significant identification and assessment been left out of this much-talked-about project? Why is the NDP so reluctant to do what's right for children's education?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'll just take the opportunity to respond. The member is, once again, considerably off base when she talks about a prevalence study. I'm not sure if the member is really aware. Perhaps she hasn't had the advantage of working in education to be aware of the many things that are being done within education and within schools on FAS/FAE. I'm sure if she'd even paid a modicum of attention to some of the details that have been brought up by the Deputy Minister of Education recently, she would be considerably more versed on the subject.
The high-risk alcohol study is due to come out. It's going to be released very soon, once we have the availability of Dr. Kellner to come up and talk about it. I have to mention, however, that this study, in fact, was originally conceived of as an FAS/FAE study. However, because the research tools didn't exist at that time, my predecessor, the hon. Willard Phelps, chose to change the parameters so it would be a high-risk alcohol study.
Out of that have come some issues around FAS/FAE. The minister and I have sat down with our department. We've sat down with the stats branch. We've asked them what is realistic to do, what kinds of things can be done. But I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that if the member simply assumes that you simply look at people and identify them, she's way off base. There's a whole range of materials, a whole range of files, that would have to be looked at, a matrix will have to be developed to do an inventory of how many cases, and if, indeed, these cases, are FAS/FAE, the severity, and so forth.
So I think the member, unfortunately, is taking a rather simplistic approach to a very complex problem.
Ms. Duncan: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thanks to the Minister of Health and Social Services for the lecture.
Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Education, and it concerns the problem of FAS in our schools. We know the Minister of Education doesn't want to answer this question. She either ducks it to the Minister of Health and Social Services or to her officials. I would like the Minister of Education to answer the question. It's not her officials who have to answer in this House - it's her, and I'd like her answer.
The president of the Yukon Teachers Association has called for testing in our schools to determine if students have FAS. Is the government prepared to do this?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I think it's important for all members to realize that there are very significant differences between the Yukon and most other jurisdictions in Canada or, indeed, North America, in how we provide services for children with special needs in the school system. We do assessments and individual education plans in response to each child's needs. There isn't necessarily one quick easy answer for what the students' special needs are, whether it's FAS or any other difficulties, and so our individual education plan provides a model that, in fact, is the envy of other jurisdictions. We put a lot of resources into that for our students.
Ms. Duncan: Who is the Minister of Education trying to kid? She's hiding behind officials' answers. The NDP government is hiding its head in the sand on this issue, refusing to identify children for fear of labelling.
Mr. Speaker, again, the president of the YTA - and this is spoken on behalf of 700 professionals in the territory - said, and I quote, "If a political decision is made not to identify the kids, that is appallingly short-sighted." Why are the NDP playing politics with such an important issue? Who are they afraid of offending? When is the minister going to put helping children - instead of worrying about labelling - first?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, this government does put helping children and having a child-centred education system as its first priority, and that is a fact.
The Yukon provides for individualized education plans for every student who has individual needs. The IEPs are an extremely helpful model.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: We also know that FAS and FAE children benefit from early intervention and, as my colleague from Health and Social Services has been indicating, we are increasing early intervention models, both in the health care system and in the education system.
Question re: Government vehicle use
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
Earlier today, Mr. Speaker, we asked some questions about the minister's use of a government car. The previous NDP government criticized the Government of the Yukon severely for ministers using government vehicles for personal use, so I'd like to ask the minister a straightforward question and hopefully get a straightforward answer.
In the several weeks that the minister has booked out a government car, did he ever use that car for personal use?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: It seems that we have the inspector back at work and very cagily setting his very transparent traps.
Let me tell you about what I did this summer, Mr. Speaker. I worked, and I worked terribly hard. We listened to people, and sometimes you have to take extra time to listen to people, but what do we have, Mr. Speaker? Well, we have programming that the people of the Yukon Territory want. We've got tourism development happening. We've got film incentives. We've got marketing funds. We've got airplanes coming. Do those things just drop out of the sky? Absolutely not, Mr. Speaker. Those come about by concerted efforts of going out and listening to people and talking to the people.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm having some difficulty, as I would imagine most Yukoners will, with trying to figure out where that answer came from.
Mr. Speaker, I asked a pretty straightforward question of the minister. The minister had a car out - a taxpayers' car - that he used most of the summer. His own agency had booked the car out for over two months. I'm asking the minister a straightforward question. I don't need all the stuff that he mentioned before. I just want to know from the minister, did he ever, in the time he had that car out, use it for personal use? Because that is contrary to what his Government Leader agreed to in the past. Did he ever use that car in this last summer for personal use?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I used that car for government business.
Now, let me also say, Mr. Speaker, that there seems to be a magical backdrop or a time frame for the member opposite for when he's working and when he's not working.
Mr. Speaker, I did. I worked very hard this summer. I participated at different meetings, listened to people and heard their concerns, listened to the suggestions, and yes, Mr. Speaker, I have acted on ideas that have come about from that very trip.
So, Mr. Speaker, did I stop for a Popsicle or something to personally cool off? Absolutely, I very likely did that, and I will continue to do so, because I think that's what the Yukon people want - a government that listens to them and a government that works with them.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, I didn't ask if the minister stopped for a Popsicle. It's fine for him to use the car to get to and from meetings. That's fine. What I'm trying to get from the minister is this: did he ever use the car to get to and from work in this government building? Because most of us have to use our own vehicles to get to and from work, no matter what riding we come from.
Did he ever use it on weekends to visit friends and family? Did he ever use the car just to travel around and visit people, or every single time he hopped into that car, did he have a government project or job that he was working on, and that is the only time he used that car?
Maybe the minister can bring that back to the House and tell us if, in fact, he didn't use the car for personal use at all. He didn't say that in his previous answer, Mr. Speaker. He said he used it for government use. He didn't tell us that he didn't use it for personal use. I want the minister to answer that question.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I used the car for government business.
Mr. Speaker, I would also like to say that the member opposite who is asking the question from Riverdale North is famous - no, he's actually notorious - for throwing up how much money I make. Well, I'm paid this amount of money to do it for this year, and that's what you're going to have to do.
Well, yes, Mr. Speaker, I do earn my bucks. I'm not a nine-to-five type of person. Maybe that is the member opposite's style, where he can drive home and watch the swans go by or watch the birds go this way, but I'm out there, as the rest of this government is, hustling for the Yukon people and I will continue to hustle for the Yukon people. If it takes me 24 hours a day, I will continue to do my job in that manner, because I'm here for the people, not for myself as is the member opposite.
Question re: FAS/FAE in schools
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Justice on fetal alcohol syndrome. There was a news clip a couple of months ago that said the government is planning a survey of the inmates of Whitehorse Correctional Centre in order to come up with firm numbers on how many inmates suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects.
The question I have for the minister: what's the purpose of this study? Why are we counting prisoners who have FAS or FAE? What is it we want to do with these numbers?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: As the member opposite knows, the Department of Justice has had a long-standing interest and involvement on the issues that affect FAS individuals and their families. We work with doing assessments of offenders to find whether there are alternate ways that they can serve their sentences or whether we can offer other programs for them.
The Department of Justice is also involved in a community initiative called options for independent living, which is working toward having a conference this month for families living with FAS and FAE.
Mr. Cable: Well, this government apparently has found the courage to count inmates at the jail who have FAS or FAE. Why hasn't it found the courage to count the number of kids who have the same problem? Why are they lumping the kids together in a group with various learning disabilities?
I should point out to the minister that there was a conference up here a couple of weeks ago, called Stand Tall. There was a young lady who got up and spoke to the conference. She was suffering from FAS, and her mother was there also. They had the courage to talk about this child's FAS problem. Why doesn't this government have the courage to find out the number of people - the number of kids - who are suffering from FAS in the education system?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: First of all, let me tell the member that, as I mentioned, the conference he's just referred to, which was held earlier in November, the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the Women's Directorate all contributed financially toward that conference and worked with the people who were putting the conference on to ensure that government is working with the community.
I've already, as well, indicated that we are working on the options for independent living for FAS and FAE adults and, as the member for Health and Social Services indicated in response to questions from the Member for Riverdale South, our departments are working with the Bureau of Statistics on a followup to the high-risk alcohol behaviour in the Yukon study.
Mr. Cable: You can't solve a problem until you know the dimensions of it. Now, both the Minister of Health and Social Services and the Minister of Education have given us a bunch of bafflegab over the last two years.
Let me ask the minister this: how long is this study going on? How long is the survey of the jail population going to continue? How many of the prisoners are going to analyzed for FAS or FAE effects?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I think it's very important that I correct some of the false statements that the member has said in his various preambles here.
We do not lump FAS kids in a group. Now, the member has said, "Why are we lumping FAS and FAE kids in a group?" I think it's really important that we understand what a good initiative the individualized education plans are within our school system.
Teachers and specialists and parents sit down and do individualized assessment and education plans that are specific to the needs of the kid, whether they have an FAS or FAE problem or other special needs. We have in excess of 600 individualized education plans in effect to meet what the students themselves need in our schools.
We also work with the Department of Health and Social Services on providing family support outside of school. Those are good initiatives, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair, and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair, and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Motion re witnesses before Committee of the Whole
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move
THAT Ray Wells, Chairman of the Board of the Yukon Energy Corporation, and Rob McWilliam, president of the Yukon Development Corporation, appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m., on Monday, November 16, 1998, to discuss matters related to the Yukon Energy Corporation.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
Chair: Is it the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Committee is dealing with Bill No. 65, An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act.
Bill No. 65 - An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act - continued
Chair: Is there further debate?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, before we move on, I'd like to ask the courtesy of the House, if I may, to pose an amendment to Bill 65.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I move
THAT Bill 65, entitled An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, be amended in its title by adding, at the end, the phrase "(No. 2)."
This is being done because in the first session there has already been An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act.
Chair: Does the Committee wish to carry that now?
Amendment agreed to
On Clause 10 - previously stood over
Chair: Is there further debate?
Mr. Jenkins: When we left this section, we were dealing with the need to have two different categories for registration purposes, with a difference after 9,100 kilograms. When I cross-referenced the Motor Vehicles Act over to the various sections relating to operating authority, I really can't see the need to distinguish between them and have two separate sections in this area. The minister keeps referring to the folks that have asked for it and the need at the small owner/operator level, and I'm hopeful that the minister has more information before him today - he's had the weekend to pursue it - and he can elaborate on why there is a need for these two separate categories, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Yes, Mr. Chair, I will attempt to provide an example of how this would work.
It's under the current act that if an owner/operator wishes to haul for a transportation company under a lease arrangement, the owner/operator must go to the motor vehicles branch and register the vehicle in the name of that particular transportation company. Then, in the case that after a few weeks the owner/operator wishes to haul for a different transportation company, then the owner/operator must go again to the motor vehicles branch nd re-register the vehicle in the name of the second transportation company.
Now, in some cases, this is an exercise that is certainly unnecessary and requires unnecessary red tape and paperwork. The amendment before us permits greater flexibility to the owner/operator. Under the amendment, the owner/operator has a choice of registering the vehicle in his or her name or in the name of the transportation company.
No change in practice is being forced on the owner/operators or on the transportation companies. They can choose to stay within the existing practice or use the new provisions for registering motor vehicles, depending on their own business needs.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, when you cross-reference it to the regs under the Motor Vehicles Act, what would change on that side of the ledger? Let's say we have a vehicle, a tractor, that is owned by ABC Company, and it is operated under the operating authority of one of the main-line carriers here, so it is leased to them. It will still require them to carry a motor vehicle plate on the front and to lease their vehicle to that, and the copy of the lease would have to be provided and kept on hand.
So what would the benefit be of having the ability to register the motor vehicle this way? You'd still have to have the lease and everything on hand; you'd still have to have both the owner's name on the door of the vehicle; whoever has the operating authority, their name would also appear; and I'm sure if the vehicle was initially leased from a leasing company - say, GE Capital or GMAC - it would appear on the registration as "GMAC, leased to ABC Company", and then "operated by, or under the authority of whoever has the operating authority".
So you'd still require everything that is currently required. Where are you going to eliminate any paperwork, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Under the current Motor Transport Act, an owner/operator wanting to haul regulated commodities for hire needs Motor Transport Act operating authority and must meet the Motor Vehicles Act's registration, insurance and equipment safety requirements.
Now, the owner/operator can get or comply with the MTA operating authority in four ways. One, they could hold their own operating authority for all commodities, or they could hold operating authority ABC transport service, which allows them to use their truck to pull trailers of other authority holders. In essence, they use the trailers and operating authority of the company they're hauling the goods for; or they may work under a lease agreement with the transportation company, and use the trailers and operating authority of the company they're hauling goods for; or they could haul goods that do not require operating authority under the MTA.
Mr. Jenkins: I'm familiar with all of that area, Mr. Chair, but could the minister please advise where there's going to be a reduction in paperwork and a streamlining of the process? Because nothing will change.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: A requirement not to go in and have to do paperwork is certainly a reduction in itself right there. They will have the authority, then, to, say, travel from Whitehorse to Haines, and then, if there happened to be a backhaul or another load, then they'd certainly be able to take that, at this point in time, back. They would not have to go to the motor vehicles branch again and re-register and come back again. They would not have to do that.
So, certainly, that is a reduction in paperwork in itself right there and, of course, they do not require operating authorities for logs, gravel, snow, or something.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I've looked at this from a number of different angles, and I can't see where there is going to be any reduction in paperwork whatsoever going this way.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: No, currently you don't have to have operating authority to pack water. You know, all of these exemptions currently exist. Now, the issue before us is to streamline the procedure so that there's less of a paperwork requirement, but your Motor Transport Act and the regulations that flow from that require anyone who is hauling a number of commodities to have operating authority.
Now, what we're looking at is streamlining the processing for licensing of vehicles under the Motor Vehicles Act so that they can plug in and access their operating authority to the company that they're leasing their vehicle to. That's what I understand this whole change is for, but when you get right down to it, there's no reduction of paperwork, Mr. Chair, because they still require an operating authority if they're hauling a number of commodities other than those that are exempted, and you still require, according to the Motor Transport Act, that the vehicles be registered and shown as being leased to - who they're leased to.
Thus gives rise to my question, Mr. Chair: where is the saving in paperwork? Now, I know the deputy minister spent some time having a look at this issue, but you really have to get into both the Motor Vehicles Act and the Motor Transport Act and its flowing regulations, and you have to walk yourself through the process because, unless the minister has some specific examples outside of gravel, water and logs, I'm sure there's no saving in efforts on behalf of the owners of the vehicles and on behalf of those who have the operating authority and who are going to hire these vehicles to run under their operating authority. They'll still require the same amount of paperwork.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Certainly, Mr. Chair, when we did this in consultation with owner/operators and the transportation folk, they did feel that this would make it - maybe less paperwork is not the right word but it would certainly streamline and make their business just easier to run. So now, if that's a question of less paperwork or not, I won't argue with the member opposite over that. But certainly I wish to say that the industry is certainly desirous of this change and feels that it will help their businesses, and it certainly will, Mr. Chair.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Chair, 95 percent of the respondents - although let it be known that there are only 20 respondents, but certainly 95 percent of those respondents - were certainly desirous of the changes.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, was the Motor Transport Board consulted on this amendment, and did they concur with this change? Is the Motor Transport Board, which is empowered with issuing operating authorities and dovetailing it with the Motor Vehicles Act, familiar with this change? Are they supportive of this change, and do they feel it will streamline the process and reduce the paper burden?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Chair, I have been told that no, we have not talked to the Motor Transport Board, but certainly, we can consider the comments from the member opposite here during this and work from there.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that gives rise to a further question, Mr. Chair, as to whether we have looked at what is probably right around the corner for the Yukon, and that's full deregulation of the motor transport industry, and we'd become similar to what is occurring in the rest of Canada.
Has the department considered this section in light of full deregulation in the industry here in the Yukon, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, certainly, Mr. Chair, in light of the deregulation, we have spoken with them, and we are looking now to see what the effects would be with them. So, yes, Mr. Chair, we are doing it in conjunction with them regarding the deregulation.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, can the minister advise the House if, in light of the pending deregulation of the motor transport industry, it's going to require further amendments in this whole section to conform? Or are we going to be left out of step once again with the rest of Canada?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, certainly, Mr. Chair, we will continue to work with the boards and others concerned. Certainly, we will be looking at that, but that is within the Motor Transport Act and not within this act completely.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the Motor Transport Act and the Motor Vehicles Act are a hand-in-glove kind of situation. One act depends on the other, so they both should be looked at and kept in step with each other, and we're not providing good, responsible government if we're not following through on both acts simultaneously.
Mr. Chair, I don't agree with the position being advanced by the minister. I don't agree with his explanation that it's going to reduce paperwork. I think the paperwork load will remain very similar to what we currently have, and probably maintain a level of confusion in that area.
But I can see we're not going to go anywhere with a change. I thought, perhaps, the minister would give some consideration to changing it over the weekend, but I don't see anything forthcoming, and we might as well just clear it and go on, Mr. Chair.
Clause 10 agreed to
On Title, as amended
Title agreed to, as amended
Hon. Mr. Keenan: I move we report Bill No. 65 out of Committee, with amendment.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that Speaker resume the Chair.
Chair: It has been moved that the Speaker do resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May we have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: At 2:21 p.m., Committee of the Whole passed the following motion:
THAT Ray Wells, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Yukon Development Corporation, and Rob McWilliam, President of the Yukon Development Corporation, appear as witnesses before Committee of the Whole, from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. on Monday, November 16, 1998, to discuss matters related to the Yukon Energy Corporation.
Further, Committee has considered Bill No. 65, An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicles Act, and directed me to report it with amendment.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Bill No. 51: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 51, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Fairclough.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I move that Bill No. 51, entitled Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister for Renewable Resources, that Bill No. 51, entitled Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough:Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak to this bill today.
As members know, the Yukon is known all over the world for its wilderness and its physical beauty. Tourism has taken on an increasingly economic significance in the Yukon as thousands upon thousands of visitors travel here yearly to experience the magic and the mystery of the landscape and the cultures and the people who make their home here.
In response to increasing worldwide demand for wilderness tourism products, the number of Yukon-based commercial wilderness operators offering trips have grown from less than 50 in 1986 to almost 200 in 1998. Another 50 to 60 non-Yukon based operators also offer wilderness trips in the Yukon.
Over the last number of years, individual operators and organizations such as the Wilderness Tourism Association Yukon have come to recognize the need for a regulatory framework for their industry. As things stand now, resident or non-resident operators are not required to report or register. Since the Yukon Business and Licensing Act was repealed in April of 1997, most operators do not require any sort of licence unless they are operating in a federal park or are registered Yukon guide outfitters or are operating out of a municipality.
Operators booking trips with international visitors recognize that legal standards for insurance, safety and skills are important if Yukon is to maintain and improve the market's confidence in our products.
People guiding trips in the back country have also noted increasing congestions and accumulating garbage at campsites on heavily used rivers. They appreciate that standards aimed at minimizing wilderness tourism impacts to the environment are important not only for Yukoners but for our visitors as well. At present, a number of foreign wilderness adventure companies send tourists to the Yukon with their own guides because of their uncertainty about the quality of operators here. More opportunities for Yukon companies are expected once non-resident operators, agents and wholesalers realize that our operators are well qualified to guide and that they meet basic licensing requirements in order to operate.
All of these considerations have encouraged government and the wilderness tourism sector to work cooperatively to develop legislation for the industry. Bill No. 51 is a result of that work.
The Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act is an umbrella legislation that provides the authority to develop regulations for commercial wilderness tourism on a step-by-step basis as needed or called for by the different sectors of the wilderness tourism industry.
Initial regulations will require operators to obtain first aid training and have liability insurance coverage for their operation. In order to maintain a licence, the operator will be required to submit a trip or rental report and abide by low-impact camping and waste-disposal standards. The requirements of this act and regulations will help ensure that wilderness tourism operators continue to offer high quality, environmentally responsible and safe wilderness adventure experiences for Yukon visitors and residents.
As I have mentioned, the framework put in place by this act is designed to support sustainable growth of the sector and a step-by-step development of regulations, as needed, in partnership with the industry.
Essentially, the act and the base set of regulations will help limit environmental impacts from commercial wilderness tourism activities by setting out waste-disposal and low-impact camping provisions in the initial regulations. It will help ensure that commercial guides can handle medical emergencies by requiring operators to have basic first aid training and adequate liability insurance.
As time goes on, if there is a public need or a particular industry sector recognized a need to set standards for their kind of operations, regulations appropriate to that sector can be developed.
Mr. Speaker, the legislation is also aimed at giving us a better understanding of the impact and benefits of wilderness tourism. At the present time, the Yukon has no real handle on the volume of visitors using our wilderness. This bill will result in the collection of better information on commercial use to help determine the environmental and trip-quality impacts of commercial users, to help identify areas for future concern status and growth of this sector and to contribute to management planning, and to help support recognition of this sector as an important user of the Yukon wilderness resource.
In the face of a global tourism expectation of a higher quality wilderness experience, this bill will also maintain and improve tourists' market confidence in the Yukon's wilderness tourism products through the standards for safety and quality, and environmental protection. The act and regulations will only affect commercial wilderness tourism operators and guides. The licence will provide the authority for operators to conduct a wilderness tourism activity in the Yukon, but will not confer tenure or any right, historic or otherwise, to operate in a particular area.
As I have already noted, Yukon wilderness operators - through the Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon - first took the initiative to become more responsible and accountable by identifying the need for rules to address environmental, safety, skill and business opportunity issues. Since then, there has been considerable public and industry discussion to help guide development of these sets of ground rules for a wilderness tourism sector.
The Yukon government departments of Renewable Resources and Tourism have been in regular discussion with operators and have consulted with First Nations, federal government agencies and the conservation and outdoor recreation groups about the act and the general set of regulations.
As some members opposite who were involved at the early stages will appreciate, this process has involved many steps, including a wilderness adventures workshop, a review of the wilderness tourism legislation and a workshop on water-based wilderness travel. These all helped to identify issues and form the approach that we have adopted. At each step there has been general support to continue investigating licensing of this sector.
These steps and others involve industry through the Wilderness Tourism Association, the Yukon First Nations Tourism Association, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, the regional tourism associations involved in the Council of Yukon First Nations, First Nations, the territorial and federal government agencies, and conservation and recreation organizations.
A Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act discussion paper was developed, and that proposed the legislative framework for licensing the wilderness tourism sector.
Industry, government agencies and conservation and outdoor recreation groups responded positively to the discussion paper in the fall of 1996. The approach was endorsed by the Wilderness Tourism Association of Yukon and Tourism Industry Association Yukon. With direction from the Council for Yukon First Nations, the Yukon First Nation Tourism Association facilitated a meeting with First Nation representatives to review the discussion paper. There, too, was general support to proceed with the draft legislation and regulations, and a request that consultation take place in the Yukon First Nation communities. That request was honoured.
The first draft of the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act and regulations was prepared and widely distributed to key stakeholders. Extensive consultation of the draft act and regulations continued last winter and spring with those who had reviewed the discussion paper. Broader public consultation occurred this fall.
The bill before you has been revised to incorporate comments and deal with the issues raised during stakeholder and public consultation.
Mr. Speaker, many people have been constructively involved with the development of this bill, including some members of the opposition when they were in government. I look forward to the support of all members for its passage.
Mr. Ostashek: Before I speak to the bill in front of us, I want to register my displeasure with the government and the manner they're proceeding with legislation and the work that's in front of us in this Legislature. I think it's totally inappropriate to be notified during Question Period that we're going to go to second reading of a bill that we just got completely briefed on at 12 o'clock.
The government is using their majority to proceed with legislation regardless of what the opposition says, and there is no consideration given to the opposition in making this House work better. That is totally uncalled for and I would hope that the members opposite take note of it and try to work in a more cooperative manner to expedite the business of this House.
Mr. Speaker, in the limited time that I've had to review this bill, I'm going to speak to the principles of the bill on second reading and I'm going to go on record now as saying that I'm going to have many, many, many questions during Committee debate. I hope the minister will be in a position to be able to answer them so that I can feel comfortable and support this bill on third reading.
I believe we need a licensing act in the Yukon, but at the same time as I believe we need an act in the Yukon, I believe the government has engaged in overkill with the act that they've tabled in the Legislature today.
This act, in my limited review of it, Mr. Speaker, would be the type of act that I would expect in a jurisdiction of 30 million people, not 30,000 people. There are many sections under this act that are going to be very, very costly for the government to police. I'm going to need some assurances from the minister opposite as to how that's going to be accomplished.
I guess one of the biggest problems I have with the act, in my limited review of it, is the amount of red tape this act is creating when we have a government who went on record this summer as saying they were going to consult with businesses to get rid of red tape. And I will point out some of the fallacies that I see in the principles of this act as we go through it.
But I guess my biggest concern, Mr. Speaker, is what's not in the act and which we don't have the ability to say yea or nay to, and that's the regulations that will be used as the tool to administer this act. And those could either be very good or they could be very, very bad.
I hope the minister, in his closing arguments, can tell me why the act and the draft regulations that I've seen so far were not enacted in a manner that would address the problem of waste disposal and low-impact camping in areas that require it. Why would we bring in a blanket policy for the entire Yukon to deal with a small problem on a few of our waterways, mainly, of damage to the environment, both visual and otherwise? There is some merit for low-impact camping in those areas. All people are practising low-impact camping now anyhow, but to put this all in regulations and then to try and enforce it is a monumental task in an area the size of the Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, just in general, before I go through the bill clause by clause on principle matters, not on explanations that I want right now, there seems to be, in this act - and from what I got out of the briefing this morning - a real duplication in a couple of key areas. One of them is in licensing.
From my understanding of the clause in this act pertaining to licensing, and the briefing that we had from the minister's officials this morning, two areas really concern me: one is the big game outfitter; the other, the lodge owner on the highway.
From my understanding of the briefing I received and the interpretation of the act, a lodge owner who rents out a charter fishing boat for four or five hours a day and sends a boat operator - or guide - with it is going to have to have a wilderness outfitting licence. That doesn't make sense to me at all. The person that he's renting that boat to for a few hours of enjoyment on one of our lakes or along one of our highways - his or her trip may not have been specifically to the Yukon to fish.
They may be travelling through and enjoying the scenery, stop at a lodge overnight and decide to go fishing for four or five hours.
Lodge owners have, in the past, taken on the responsibility of providing this service to their guests. If we're going to layer them with another licence for an activity that's very questionable as to whether it's a wilderness activity and make them abide by the rules and regulations of this act, we may in fact be asking them not to participate in that type of activity, and that would be a loss to the Yukon of some people being able to enjoy it.
The same holds true for the big game outfitter. From my briefing this morning, if a big game hunter who books with a big game outfitter comes to the Yukon and goes hunting and decides to go fishing for a day or a half a day or a couple of hours, and the outfitter sends a guide with him, then that outfitting concession must also buy a wilderness tourism licence. That, again, I see as a duplication, and I was told that that was exactly what the act meant. For the life of me, I can't understand why the government would want to embark on that type of duplication.
There's no doubt that almost every hunter who comes up buys a fishing licence. There's no doubt, knowing from actual experience, that the outfitter is very reluctant to allow the hunter to go fishing by himself for various reasons. Safety, namely, is one of them. Yet if he sends a guide with him, he's engaged in a wilderness activity that requires a licence under this act. I've got some difficulty with that.
Mr. Speaker, prior to this act even coming out, we've had several letters from operators who have raised some real concerns with the act and the proposed regulations under the act.
I think one lodge owner hit it right on the head, when he said this act may in fact curtail his business, because his company engages mostly in easy day trips, or half-day trips. Under his interpretation of this act and the regulations, in order to accommodate his guests, he would have to fill out more than 500 forms a summer. That sounds like overkill to me, if his assessment of this act is true.
If, in fact, he rented out canoes and boats and ATVs and mountain bikes, he would have another 1,200 forms for rent agreements to fill out. That, again, sounds like overkill to me, and I don't believe it's necessary to accomplish what this act started out to accomplish.
My understanding is that the industry asked for a regulatory framework under which wilderness tour operators would operate. What they got, in my opinion, is a very cumbersome act with a mountain of regulations, which will only grow, and we're going to need qualified people to enforce it.
So I've got some real difficulties in those areas, and I hope that the minister can alleviate some of my fears and the fears of people who have been contacting our office with their criticism of this act, before it receives final passage in this Chamber. . . I just want to go through some of the clauses in the act that I'm going to have some real difficulty with, so we can put the minister on notice.
In the preamble it says that the government recognizes "that the wilderness tourism sector, governments, other affected stakeholders and the public should be consulted on this Act and pursuant regulations." I know that the officials from the minister's department said this morning that many, many people were consulted on it.
My concern is about the people out there who never thought this act would affect them, such as the lodge owner who rents a boat out for four or five hours a day to a tourist.
He doesn't consider himself a wilderness tourism guide and probably didn't have any input into the conferences that were held. That's one of my concerns.
My concern is about the inspectors and how they're going to be appointed. My concern is about vehicles, and vehicles being inspected by unqualified people because this act gives the powers to people who are going to be, say, conservation officers or park guides who are going to be enforcing this act, who probably have very little knowledge of what condition a vehicle should be in.
One of my biggest concerns with this act is the powers that are given to these inspectors to suspend licences or to draft new - what does it say here - "In issuing a licence under this section, the registrar may attach any terms and conditions authorized by regulations." Those are very broad powers under this act - that they can attach any terms. There doesn't seem to be a clear,chronological order in here to qualify what conditions would have to be met. They're very general as to what needs to be met, and then there is a clause that the registrar can impose any terms and conditions that he or she so chooses.
The other one is the operator who wants to undertake an additional wilderness tourism activity and has to specifically list that one and apply for an endorsement on his licence. This again, as I said, appears to be a type of legislation that would be brought into effect in a jurisdiction of 30 million people in a wilderness that was overrun with operators.
I know we do have some problems and I know we have to protect our environment, but I don't think we need to blanket the whole Yukon to accomplish what the operators wanted accomplished and what I believe the government would want to accomplish.
Another concern that I have is in the suspension of the operators' licences that appears to be able to be done for almost any reason, and the refusal to issue a new operator's licence until the operator has corrected any previous operating deficiencies as identified by the registrar. There needs to be tighter regulations as to what constitutes a breach of the operations of the licence.
I don't think anybody has any problem with the requirement of a first aid certificate by the person in charge of the party. I'm going to be asking the minister, because I can't clarify it in the act: is the minister saying that every guide has to have a first aid certificate or is it only the guide in charge of the party that needs a first aid certificate? Those are the kind of questions that we're going to need answered.
Under this act, we have a whole lot of terms and conditions that apply to wilderness tourism guiding and outfitting that will be overlapping - or along with - terms and conditions in other areas, such as navigable waterways, where the operators are already under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard for regulations for their equipment and that. And it appears that there could be another layer under this. There's nothing here saying that the Coast Guard regulations will be adopted as satisfactory for the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act.
As I said earlier, Mr. Speaker, the powers of the inspectors cause me great problems, and I'll just refer to an example of that for the minister, in section 10: "An inspector shall for each and every wilderness tourism activity whose standards or certifications are specifically covered under this act or the regulations, (a) enforce safety-related standards and carry out vehicle and equipment inspections, ...".
Well, Mr. Speaker, I want to know what qualifications these inspectors are going to have to carry out these inspections, because if they have that type of experience, these people are going to be very, very expensive to hire, along with their other duties. If they're going to be able to inspect motor vehicles to see if the road is safe, to inspect boats to see if they come up to Coast Guard standards or whatever standards they say, this seems to me like we're going to have to do a lot of training of the inspectors that are going to enforce this act. If we're not going to enforce it, why put these clauses in?
Mr. Speaker, as I said, I haven't had time to go through this act in great detail. I'm going to have a lot of questions in Committee debate on it. I will reluctantly support the bill at second reading, in principle, even though I haven't had time to go through it in detail, because I hope I can get the answers in Committee debate. Although I have some concerns about the act, we in the official opposition believe we need licensing and a regulatory procedure for our wilderness guides and outfitters.
But another concern I have with it is that the responsibilities under this act, I fear, are going to put some of our small outfitters out of business. This is fine for the big outfits, but some of the smaller ones that take one or two trips a year that have to follow the same criteria to be licensed as somebody who has 15 or 20 guides working for him seems to me to be a monumental challenge and really not necessary to be able to have a viable wilderness tourism industry in the Yukon.
So, with those comments, Mr. Speaker, I will be looking forward to Committee debate and hoping I can get the answers that I'm looking for.
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, it's not with reluctance but with a great deal of thought that I stand to speak toward the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act, Bill No. 51.
The Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act represents a milestone in the development of one of our most significant tourism sectors: wilderness travel or adventure travel. Licensing is likely the best way to help ensure that the Yukon retains its reputation as a safe and environmentally attractive wilderness tourism destination.
The number of Yukon-based commercial wilderness operators offering trips has grown from less than 50 in 1986 to almost 200 in 1998. Another 50 to 60 non-resident operators offer wilderness trips within the Yukon.
Increasing consumer protection laws emerging in Europe also made this legislation timely and relevant, so that all operators should benefit from having recognized industry standards they can market internationally to consumers.
This bill results from two years of intensive discussion and consultation with the Wilderness Tourism Industry Association of Yukon, First Nations governments, other industry stakeholders, and the public at large.
This act is truly industry led. I commend the Wilderness Tourism Industry Association and their regulation committee for their dedication, time and considerable input into the drafting of this act. Special mention, Mr. Speaker, should be made to Neil Hartling, Nahanni Adventures, and president of the Wilderness Tourism Association of Yukon; Blaine Walden, from Walden's Guiding; Derek Endress, from Cloudberry Adventures, Bob Daffe from Tatshenshini Expediting, Jill Pangman from Sila Sojourns, Hector MacKenzie, Yukon Mountain and Rivers; Scott McDougall, Kanoe People; Michael Simon from Log Cabin Adventures; Ed Festel, Riverview Hotel; and literally dozens of other wilderness tourism operators for their comments.
As well, the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon, Yukon First Nations Tourism Association, regional tourism organizations, conservation and recreation groups, and virtually all Yukon First Nations contributed sound advice and recommendations during the consultation.
As far back as 1990, wilderness operators and the departments of Tourism and Renewable Resources began discussing issues that were facing wilderness adventure travel and options for dealing with them.
The process of review, discussion and consultation involve many steps, including workshops in 1993, and a legislative review. In a 1995 workshop, licensing was clearly identified as an option and supported by industry. Every what-if scenario was looked at and debated. Careful consideration of wording and legal language was reviewed and drafts were redrafted. The result is the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act which is before us today. The wilderness tourism industry has shown leadership in helping develop a regime to regulate this sector, set clear operating skill and safety standards, and recognize protection of Yukon's unique wilderness environment.
In fact, this is one of the first pieces of legislation of this type in Canada, and Yukon is once again demonstrating leadership in this area.
The act provides a level playing field for all operators, whether big or small. The regulations will provide basic licensing requirements, including first aid, basic liability insurance, and a minimum of red tape and reporting. The act and regulations will also help limit environmental impacts from commercial wilderness tourism activity through waste disposal and low-impact camping provisions.
The act is deliberately established as umbrella legislation that provides authority to develop regulations for commercial tourism wilderness.
Regulations can be adopted or developed depending on the needs of the industry and operators for any particular activity. The act specifically provides for future regulation to be developed on the basis of consultation with industry operators, First Nations and the public.
Reporting will be designed to be simple, basic and submitted at the end of the summer or the winter season, whichever is applicable. Industry operators, through the Wilderness Tourism Association of Yukon, will have direct input into the style and content of the report forms.
Over the past two years, operators and Tourism and Renewable staff have been diligent in looking at insurance. This included a well-attended liability insurance workshop held last year, which was hosted by the First Nation Tourism Association. Our research indicates that affordable insurance is available, depending on the activity, and at least one local insurance agent now offers a wilderness tourism package.
The act will be administered and enforced by Renewable Resources. Tourism staff will continue to play an active role in ensuring the success of the future implementation of this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in support of my colleague, the Minister of Renewable Resources, in the introduction of this act.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to rise today to discuss the second reading of the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act. I would like to note for the record that I share the leader of the official opposition's reservations regarding the timelines with which this particular agenda has been presented to us, and I would urge the government benches to perhaps return to first principles. Let's get back to doing what's right for Yukoners in cooperation and deal with this legislation in a timely, constructive manner, and that means giving everyone the proper notice in order to debate it thoroughly.
The legislation that we're dealing with today is the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act, and I had the opportunity to spend some time with a number of individuals as this legislation was being developed. I am pleased that their comments have been reflected in the legislation and that their input is quite clearly visible, although I still have a few questions with regard to their input.
As the other members have noted, the briefing on this particular legislation only finished at noon today, so there are a few outstanding questions.
I do believe that the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act reflects the Yukon as it exists today. We are a young, vibrant society that is highly conscious of the wilderness. There is also a tremendous understanding that we Yukoners are custodians of an invaluable and irreplaceable resource, that it's ours to use very wisely with care and caution, that it is only on loan to us, and that we must ensure that our children and seven generations hence will also have this wilderness to appreciate and enjoy.
Licensing is particularly timely and appropriate. I do not disagree with the concept of licensing this industry; in fact I wholeheartedly support it. I do not see this as some sort of heavy-handed action by big-brother government. It's setting the standards - we do that for driving a car, and we license people. We license those who practice law in our territory. We have legislation - in fact, we dealt with it earlier this session - for optometrists, accountants and the Dental Profession Act. It makes sense that we would also license those who are professing to use Yukon's wilderness, and to share it with others, from throughout the world.
I was particularly concerned in the briefing this morning to learn that the number of non-Yukon operators who may be taking wilderness tourism trips might be as high as 200, and that the number of Yukoners - year-round resident Yukoners - making a living from Yukon wilderness tours is somewhat smaller. I would hope that one of the by-products, or end results of this legislation, is that we see more Yukoners, and a stronger Yukon industry.
It makes sense to put some rules in place. The consultation, as has been noted, on this particular act has been extensive; 227 packages were mailed out, 14 First Nations, as well as CYFN, federal government departments, Yukon government departments, almost 200 resident operators, as well as the community and recreation associations - Yukon Conservation Society and Yukon Fish and Game Association - and individual meetings.
This level of consultation is extensive, and I look forward to going through the debate in detail to ensure that some of those concerns that were raised by some of those individuals have indeed been incorporated in the legislation.
I would like to compliment the officials involved, in that, contrary to some other pieces of legislation, this particular act is very clear and is very straightforward to understand when going through it.
In an ever-increasing litigious society which we live in worldwide, the issue of insurance also makes sense. The Minister of Tourism noted that there is one Yukon agent that is offering this liability insurance to the operators at a reasonable cost, and I've had many discussions with that individual. Their efforts were industry- riven and driven by their desire, as a company, to provide Yukoners with a service, based here in the Yukon, that they could obtain at a reasonable price. That company has made extraordinary efforts to work with industry and I would like to compliment them on it and to note the fact that this response and this work on their part was industry driven by both the insurance industry as well as the wilderness tourism industry.
Another member who spoke referenced that they had no difficulty with low-impact camping because, well, all Yukoners are doing that and didn't we know that? Well, I disagree. I don't believe, unfortunately, that everyone understands what low-impact camping is versus no-trace camping, and I am pleased to see that in the regulations it was clearly spelled out what would be required of the operator.
I firmly believe that it would not be appropriate for us to say that low impact only applies in certain areas of the Yukon because if we don't apply it throughout the Yukon, pretty soon, it's not going to be wilderness any more. That isn't legislation that's designed for a great number of people. This is a growing industry. We need to protect it now and deal with it now. We don't do it 20 years from now when it's too late.
As someone who has been involved with an organization that promotes stewardship of the environment for most of my life, I wholeheartedly support the minister's agreement and that particular initiative. I feel very strongly that it's appropriate.
The part I have a concern with is that this legislation doesn't address those who are likely the worst offenders. Just like the campground fees that aren't paid by the majority of Yukoners, I'm afraid it's Yukoners, not necessarily the operators, who are out there and not conscious of what they're doing in terms of low-impact camping. That is not saying that I'm criticizing Yukoners. It's an education issue that has to be dealt with in terms of our resources.
The trip reporting seems to me to have undergone, from my reading, quite a lengthy discussion with the Wilderness Tourism Association, and there has been a great deal of concern that it is onerous and that this trip reporting must be developed in consultation with the industry.
One of the points I'd like to make to the House in support of trip reporting is that when I had an opportunity to deal with a number of visitors in the Whitehorse visitor information centre, we would have individuals come in who were off taking a canoe trip here or there, and the first recommendation we always made to them was to make sure they check in with the RCMP when they leave, and report in when they get back and safely off the river. I always wondered how many of them actually did that. Throughout the summer we'd hear reports of individuals who had been found or who had failed to report when they didn't return, or some other difficulty, and trip reporting can have a beneficial effect.
The trip reporting in terms of the wilderness tourism operator could be very beneficial in terms of our future development of this industry.
It will be an official. At the same time, we cannot bury businesses under a paper burden, so it has to be well-thought-out trip reporting and easy to do.
One of the biggest concerns I have with this legislation, and one of the things I'd like to address to the ministers and have them take into serious consideration, is this whole development of a registrar and development of the industry.
Yukon lawyers pay their annual fee to the Yukon Law Society, and the Law Society, as a result of the collection of these fees, also deals with things like discipline and discipline issues, and it deals with the structure of the board for the review of licensing. The particular act I'm referencing spells out very clearly what the responsibilities are of that organization.
I'd like to commend to the minister that we seriously examine, as opposed to having an official who is a public servant, who has no vested interest in the future development of the industry and the future of the industry, collecting these fees, and the fees simply disappearing into Government of Yukon general revenue, that they be used for the future of wilderness tourism.
There's a $150 fee set out in regulation, and the minister has talked about 200 some-odd operators. That's enough money to set aside a certain portion for future education and, for example, first-aid training by the industry. Also, a portion could be used for future marketing, to research, in terms of the industry.
The way the registrar is set up in the act now, there's nothing to prevent the ministers working with the Wilderness Tourism Association to set up the registrar in this way. I know it was very briefly discussed at the beginning of the legislation, and it has kind of died on the order paper, so to speak, because there were some concerns that one body might have more authority over another body.
I'd like to ask the minister to really seriously sit down with the organizations, look at the way something like the Law Society works and to really reconsider that idea, as opposed to just burying us in the Department of Renewable Resources - not that I have anything against any of those officials. I simply think the job could be done better if there were opportunity to use these registrars and licensing fees to a greater advantage to the industry, and we can do that if it's outside of government. And that doesn't involve an amendment to this legislation; it doesn't involve a change in regulations. It's within the minister's ability to do that, as I understand, in terms of reading the legislation.
Those are my initial comments in terms of this Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act. I'm very conscious of the smaller tourism operators, many of whom are personal friends and neighbours, and it seems to me that those individuals subscribe to the higher standards in doing business anyway and they are not seeing this as an onerous piece of legislation. They are seeing it as setting the standard for industry, and it is very important that we set that standard, that we have these standards in place for the future of this particular industry and for the future use and enjoyment by all Yukoners of the wilderness that we all appreciate. It's one of the reasons we live here.
I look forward to debating this particular legislation clause by clause, and I say to the minister that my support for this legislation is not without question. I do have some serious questions that will be dealt with. However, I hope the government will give serious consideration to those general comments and will perhaps be able to address them in general debate. I look forward to that.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Livingston: I want to just speak briefly on the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act. I'm pleased to rise and support it - both the act and the minister.
The act does, I think, a number of good things. First of all, it sets a standard of safety and of service in the whole wilderness tourism area.
That, I think, worked well for the industry. It worked well for those that use the services of the industry, both Yukon residents as well as those from other places around the world.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, it protects Yukon wildlands, and I think that that's a very commendable part of the act as well. It, once again, sets some standards. The member opposite talked about low-impact versus no-trace, and having those kinds of things outlined certainly helps to provide guidance for those that love to get out in the wildlands and experience them.
Mr. Speaker, the licensing part of the act, I think, avoids red tape by allowing the development of regulations as required. The act does not - and it's stated there quite explicitly, and the minister stated it - set out regulations in every conceivable area of wilderness tourism, but rather in those where the industry itself has asked for it and where there has been some pressure and some support to see the development of regulations in order to set those safety standards, provide a certain level of service, protect Yukon wilderness and so on.
So, I think that what the act and the regulations can do is to help ensure that wilderness tourism operators continue to offer the high quality, environmentally responsible and safe wilderness adventure experiences for Yukon's visitors and residents.
More specifically, Mr. Speaker, it addresses the waste disposal of low-impact aspects. The act addresses the matter of medical emergencies and ensures that commercial guides have some training and are able to cope with them. It also provides that operators will carry adequate liability insurance, and I note that the liability levels are - well, certainly, the category of risk is somewhat different. The amount of liability insurance is no more than what most of us would carry with our own automobiles.
Mr. Speaker, I don't need to take a great deal of time today to simply say that I support the act, I think it's going to help to maintain and improve the tourist market confidence in Yukon's wilderness tourism products. I note that it has been developed over quite some number of years, starting in the early 1990s, so I think that the necessary homework has gone into providing a good, solid plan, as far as implementing it is concerned.
I'm pleased to support the act.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, I rise today in discussion of this bill before us, the Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act.
In terms of principle, I certainly support the act. In fact, Mr. Speaker, I think the minister said so himself, that it was back in 1994-95, when initial discussions took place with respect to coming up with a draft for an act. In fact, it was upon our initiative, specifically in Tourism at the time, that we would work with the Wilderness Tourism Association. I think one of the first meetings that I attended to discuss the issue was up at Yukon College, where we started the discussions on drafting such a bill.
Having said that, I do have some concerns with the legislation that is before us. My biggest concern about this particular piece of legislation is that it's kind of a "trust me" bill. When you read through the clauses in the act, for the most part, almost every clause refers back to the government making regulations. There are some general terms in the act, but for the most part, what we're going to see in the final analysis - what the outfitters are going to have to live with - is going to be done through regulation.
My concern with that is what type of consultation will take place with the industry, prior to the implementation of the regulations.
It would have been nice, Mr. Chair, since it's been almost four years in the making, if we could have had before us here today a more comprehensive draft of regulations, so one could get a picture of what it would look like and so it would be a little easier to explain to individuals out there in the business how this act is going to affect them.
We're giving an awful lot of power and authority to people in government to come up with some regulations. Now, I would hope that the minister would continue with the fairly extensive consultations that took place in coming up with a draft of this bill, that he would follow the same format for the draft of the regulations, and that he would involve everyone in the industry and get approval on them.
Now, again, having said that, I would suggest to the minister - and the minister must have received the same kind of letters I have from some fairly prominent operators in the territory who were concerned about the last round of consultation and, for one reason or another, may not have been heavily involved with the Wilderness Tourism Association, but are still wilderness tourism operators - that there would be an extra effort made by the minister and the minister's staff to make sure that, in the drafting of the regulations, these people are included or brought into the loop in some way.
I have a bit of a problem, as the leader of the official opposition said, with the red tape in the bill. We have one member of the government talking about removing red tape, then we have the possibility here, in the views of some wilderness operators, of establishing a whole new level of red tape. I would hope that, in consultation that takes place with these operators, that any requirements that need to be done with respect to filling out trip reports and that kind of thing be kept to a minimum, for the most part, so that we're not tying these people up forever and ever in filling out reports.
The other issue that I would ask the minister to come back to me on: who's going to monitor the regulations? My understanding is it'll be conservation officers and such who are out there now but, from having talked to several people who are out in the field - conservation officers and such - they tell me that their plate is full already, and that they are already dealing with the wildlife issues under the Wildlife Act, the Parks Act, the Environment Act - and now this act.
When you couple that with the issue that they sometimes have to bring charges against somebody and appear in court and do all of the reports that they're required to do, unless there's a fairly significant increase in the staff, we may be putting an onerous burden on some of these individuals with respect to paperwork. So, maybe the minister could clarify who is going to do all this extra work to compile it, to monitor it and to ensure that the regulations of the act are carried out.
I also share the same concerns with the leader of the opposition with respect to inspections of equipment, because I know a little bit about the wilderness and the outdoors, but I don't think I'm qualified to do a full-fledged equipment check on some individual who's whitewater rafting or kayaking. I'm sure there's a specific program or course one would have to take to be knowledgeable of that. I'm not a mechanic. I can fix the odd car and I've had to when I've been back in the bush from time to time, but again, one would have to be fairly knowledgeable in the use of the type of equipment and the safety features on the equipment. So, what I'm leading to is that I want the minister to provide me with some information with respect to what kind of training is going to be available for whoever is going to monitor this act. Will he be asking the wilderness operators themselves to police the act? I have those kinds of questions.
Another area I think that provides me some concern - and I'll give the minister the example that I use now so that he can come back to me, maybe in Committee of the Whole, and allay my fears. In section 7, "The registrar may alter, suspend or cancel a licence where the person knowingly gives false information on his or her application for a licence or where an operator fails to comply with a term or condition attached to it." So, I would assume that that means that if an operator were running a rafting tour in the Yukon and was in violation of the environmental side of it or a safety factor, the government official could cancel the individual's licence.
When you look at the appeal period, there seems to be a rather lengthy appeal period for the individual to come back and say what happened was an accident or it was a guide who wasn't fully informed or whatever. My concern, Mr. Chair, and I'll put this to the minister, is that many of these trips that operators run have seven-day to 10-day turnaround. So, if an operator had a problem in the bush on a specific trip and the person in authority decided that it was significant enough to suspend the person's licence, what the minister's department has to realize is that there are probably several people already en route to the territory for the next trip to begin in the next seven days or 10 days.
So, a commitment's been made by the operator to deliver a service and I would think that there would have to be some means by which the government could respond very quickly if the operator gave reasons for why something went wrong and that he was going to fix it. There would have to be an immediate response, because it could happen on day five or six of a seven-day trip and the operator could be having 20 more people arrive two days later. His licence is suspended. What does he do?
So, I would think there has to be some common sense enter into it. I mean, I'm sure if somebody had continually violated the act and had been continuous in doing these kind of things, there might be reason to cancel his licence, but I think we have to be extremely cautious in some cases because most of these people who come on these kinds of trips book months in advance and have purchased their tickets, can't get refunds, and you could cause a fairly significant disruption, even for a significant reason, if you cancelled company A's licence to operate and didn't renew it for 30 days, if he had turnaround trips every seven days. He'd have a lot of really angry tourists and probably a lot of really angry wholesalers or operators in the industry who were selling the product.
I think we have to make sure that if there is a suspension of a licence or a cancellation of a licence, there's a much quicker turnaround than what we see and hear.
Maybe the minister can take my example back to the department and when we get into Committee of the Whole he can come forward with how they will deal with such a scenario. You know, you do your best in the beginning of the year to hire the best guides you can for your trips, but sometimes it doesn't always work out, and someone could mess up and be in violation of this act. If the operator is running two or three different trips on two or three different rivers in the territory, and he loses his licence on a specific river or even his licence to operate completely because of one guide's actions, it would cause - and, in fact, the operator might be at the time out on another trip on another river and unable to respond. A lot of these types of companies are ma-and-pa types of operations, so how do you get hold of people to contact them if there's a problem that they have to deal with immediately, and at the same time make sure that you're not doing damage to the tourism industry because someone's licence has been cancelled, and there are 30, 40 or 50 people who are scheduled to arrive in the next week or 10 days and don't necessarily have an operator to go out with. So, maybe the minister could bring that back and let me know how the department sees that working out.
I'd also like to know from the minister when he expects to have these regulations in place. Will we see them for this operating year? It's a little late already for tourism operators to inform their clients. The products that are being bought for next summer are already being sold on the market, so it's almost too late to inform people this year, but I wonder if the minister plans to implement these regulations for this upcoming summer in the summer case. Is he planning the winter ones for next year, or are they even going to try to get the winter ones for this year? Maybe he could let me know how they are coming with the regulations and when they expect that to be done.
From my experience as the former Minister of Tourism, I see the need for this kind of legislation. There is certainly a trend throughout the world now about issues of safety, about product and providing the product you say you're going to provide.
Consumer protection is paramount in Europe, especially, and will become moreso as more and more people get into the industry.
I would hope, again, that the minister would provide us with sort of an outlook of how he sees the consultations taking place with respect to the regulations and how he's going to involve the industry. I know many of them, right now - although it's their off season; they're not in the bush, at least the summer operators - many of them are gone in the next month or two to trade shows and promotions to try and sell their product for next year. I know it's always been a problem trying to get together with them because many of them are pretty busy trying to market their products.
So, I will follow with interest the comments the minister will make, and certainly have some questions in Committee of the Whole.
In closing, though, Mr. Speaker, I'm becoming increasingly concerned about legislation that comes in front of us - like this - which may very well turn out to be very good legislation, but it comes in front of us, and most of the clauses in this act refer to regulations that will be made later.
So I somewhat feel like I'm giving the minister a book of blank cheques, to go out there and hopefully consult with the industry and hopefully come up with something that the industry will agree with. Whatever they do come up with, unfortunately, Mr. Chair, because of our system, probably won't end up back here in this Legislature in any way that I can debate it, unless it's an industry individual who is very upset with some poor regulations that were made and we have to raise it on the floor of the House in Question Period and in general debate.
It would have been much better if the minister, in the time he had, had some draft regulations that were fairly comprehensive, that the industry could have been involved in and everyone could have seen. It would maybe have given more comfort to all of us with respect to the bill that we're about to deal with in the House.
Mr. Cable: I had written to the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Renewable Resources some weeks ago, asking whether, at the time the original bill was put forward, whether motorship Schwatka-type operations were covered by this bill.
I see that, in the bill as tabled the other day, under the definition of wilderness tourism activity, there's an addition, talking about "motorized boat tours," and I assume that's put in there to catch a Schwatka-type operation. It would be useful to have that confirmed, or negated, because it talks about the operation being in conjunction with a wilderness area, or a part of a wilderness area. I'd like to hear from the minister what his officials' view is on whether the Yukon River, around and in the City of Whitehorse, would be deemed to be a wilderness area. There are other operators that would come under the same sort of rubric.
One of the complaints that I've had made to me - and it's been talked about in the House earlier - is that the regulations could go very smoothly for the operators, or they could be a lot of busywork for the operators, depending on how they come down the chute. I note, in particular, the regulatory power at section 14(1)(a), on the garnering of information. That could be very straightforward, or that could be extremely onerous, depending on how the regulation is set up, particularly in relation to people who may rent dozens and dozens of canoe trips over the summer.
If they have to run to the minister's officials every time a canoe is rented, then that could be very onerous, and it would be useful to have that negated. I know that a draft of the regulations has been circulated, but it would be useful to get on the record what the minister's intentions are - whether it's his intention to make sure his officials ensure that these people are not given a lot of busywork, that they are given only that amount of work that's useful to the department in the collection of information on tourism.
The reason I ask that is that the consultation clause, 14(2), talks about "substantive regulations will be developed or amended in consultation with tourism industry. It's not clear whether forms and that sort of thing are what are deemed to be substantive regulations.
Subject to answers to those questions, the Liberal caucus, I believe, will be supporting the bill.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Speaker, I rise in general support of this act that we have before us but must point out this trend that we are increasingly seeing, in that more and more we're having regulations take precedent over the legislation. Very little legislation is required, in this case, from which the regulations will flow, and this House does not have an opportunity to see very much of those regulations at this juncture. It is very much like providing the minister and his department with a blank chequebook.
When the wilderness guides originally came forward, they were asking for regulations to protect Yukon operators from unqualified individuals here in the Yukon and unqualified outsiders coming into the Yukon and going through the wilderness area and providing a wilderness experience.
I guess what we're charged with here if we want to ensure success is the delivery of a quality product in a safe manner, recognizing and safeguarding our environment. Given that we are trying to, and we are being very successful at, attracting more and more primarily German-speaking Europeans to enjoy a wilderness experience here in the Yukon, in their respective countries they have legislation in place that anyone providing them with or selling them this product must deliver on that product.
That flows through to having a recognition of the abilities of our wilderness guides to provide, in a safe manner, that experience, to rent equipment that is safe. When I look at the amount of detail we're getting into, Mr. Chair, I'm very, very concerned that we are going to micromanage this right into oblivion. This industry is not going to last, given the amount of paperwork that we are going to put on the backs of a lot of the operators providing this experience.
Over the past years, I've been involved in wilderness experiences, wintertime wilderness experiences, dog excursions, canoeing, in a number of these areas and have dealt with European contacts. The biggest factor that they required was a safe product - safety was of paramount importance - and liability insurance. We had to show proof of liability insurance being in place for the clients that they sent us, and we had to have their companies named on our policy as an additionally named insured covered by our policy in order for these firms in Germany and Switzerland and Austria to send us clients.
It's interesting to note - I'm in the hospitality industry and the hotel business also - that nowhere in the innkeepers act and nowhere in the Yukon Liquor Act does it require that I carry insurance for my clients - nowhere. The Liquor Act is very all-encompassing and more court cases are arising out of liquor offences and more and more hoteliers or liquor providers are being sued, but the Liquor Act does not require that establishments carry house liquor liability insurance.
Nowhere does the innkeepers act require that liability insurance be in place to protect the guests. These are very similar types of industries, Mr. Speaker. They're all catering to the same market.
In speaking with a number of my constituents who provide services, it's given rise to another number of questions. We have a number of operators - we've had two over the past decade who've provided a tour services between Dawson City and Eagle, Alaska. The Yukon River, Mr. Speaker, is an international waterway, and it comes under the auspices of a joint international waterway board somewhere, which has Canadian and U.S. representation on it.
The Canadian Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard regulate the areas that we're looking at regulating also, according to my interpretation of what I've read in this proposed act. Yet, the Yukon River is an international waterway. So I was wondering to what extent the minister's officials have explored this area.
Also, Mr. Speaker, I'm aware of a number of wilderness operators who originate in Alaska - start off with their tours in Alaska - and they start off by climbing the Chilkoot and taking the entire route all the way, starting in Skagway, Alaska, right through to Dawson, and actually on down the Yukon River. Some of them come out in Fort Yukon.
Now, their guests arrive in the U.S. They have regulations in the U.S. covering this. Just what additional regulations are these individuals going to conform to, if indeed we're going to allow them to come into the Yukon, because most of them come in totally unannounced.
I'd suggest to the minister that we don't even know we're there nine times out of 10. We also have a number of inbound operators originating out of Europe who get off the plane, rent canoes and bring parties of 10 and 12 down the Yukon River, and take out at Dawson. This is a wonderful experience. Nine times out of 10, no one knows these operators are there. In fact, for the past few years, if you were travelling the Yukon River, you'd better know how to speak German if you want to speak to anyone on it, because not too many English-speaking individuals were en route.
So, I guess it gives rise to the concerns, Mr. Speaker, as to just how far we are going to go to regulate this one sector of our economy. We're going to have to be very, very cautious. We're going to have to protect those operators who are here presently. I'm not suggesting that they be granted a monopoly, but there has to be some way to protect our turf and ensure that Yukon operators have some sort of a precedent in delivering these services. There has to be some way that we ensure that it's done in a safe manner.
We start looking at what is being proposed as far as safety and -aid certificates. For virtually all the other industries, Mr. Chair, that area is covered off in the Workers' Compensation regulations. I know for those industries I'm involved in, it tells me how many people I can have on staff before I have to have a safety plan, before I have to have certified first-aid attendants, and to what degree. The same goes for a construction site. The same goes for virtually any place where employees are together.
My insurance carrier on the hotel ensures that I have in place a whole safety plan for the entire hotel, but that's not covered in any act overseeing that facet. That's covered by my insurance carrier.
Mr. Speaker, in general principle I am in support, as the other members of my party are, of this Wilderness Tourism Licensing Act, but let's do it in a manner that is not going to see the demise of a lot of these individuals providing this service. Let's do it in a safe, effective manner that is going to allow for the profitability of this sector of our economy, because it can grow, it can continue to grow, and it can provide a wonderful opportunity to Yukoners for employment. But these regulations have to be carefully reviewed in all aspects before we implement them.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: I'll be brief in my remarks. I thank the members for their input into and their comments on this bill. I believe that this act is a friendly one. As I've said earlier, it's an umbrella act that gives us the ability to create regulations for each sector of the tourism businesses that fall under this act. Also, as I said earlier, this act is very much industry driven and will continue to be as regulations are being developed. A lot of how the words are put into the act has come straight from industry and I feel that this is a tremendous, I guess, improvement for them and for the future use of the area in the Yukon.
I also believe that this is very good news for business, unlike what some people might feel, even for a small business. I think it's good news for Yukoners and I also think it's good news for the environment.
Mr. Chair, as more and more wilderness tourists come up to see the Yukon and the demand for a wilderness tourism product in the Yukon grows, I'm sure after passage of this bill and the creation of regulations that the Yukon will be recognized as a place to go for wilderness tourism adventures.
I think that as we go through the act clause by clause, a lot of the questions that came forward from both the Yukon Party and the Liberal Party would be answered quite clearly without going into too much of a debate.
In regard to regulations, and so on, that were brought up and the timing of this act and when the regulations will be developed, we feel that as of April 1, when the act does kick in, we will have a set of regulations that will be drafted and approved at that time so that both the act and the set of regulations can be put forward.
If we look at the common understanding of how the act would work, we would have the act and a draft set of regulations in regard to safety and first-aid training, and so on, and those would apply to all those who hold a licence. Throughout the years, we would be developing regulations for each different sector of tourism. For example, if there were wilderness tourism heli-skiing, there could be stronger regulations on first-aid training.
So, those could come later, once we continue to develop regulations for each of the sectors, whether it's dog mushing or river rafting, and so on, but once this act is approved and in place - we feel April 1 - and a set of regulations is completed, all licencees will be subject to that set of common regulations.
I know the Yukon Liberal Party supports this. I know that we will be going into some of the questions as we go through the bill clause by clause, and I've also mentioned that I know some of the opposition has been involved in the earlier drafts of this bill. Today, after years of consultation with stakeholders, we have before us some product.
The official opposition leader - I don't exactly know where he's coming from. He says at times he does support this in principle, and other times, in regard to protected areas, and so on, their opposition to that is very clear, although we'll see when it comes down to debate on the protected areas strategy.
I will read out a section, Mr. Speaker. Some people may not even think that the member has written this, but it is from the official opposition leader in a book that he wrote on outfitting. It's in regard to the environment. It says - it's a quote - "I've got a great problem with the wilderness aspect of outfitting. I figure that it takes at least 20 wilderness clients to give you the revenue of one hunting client. You're doing 20 times the damage to the environment that one hunter is doing, and I can argue that with anybody, and if you've got 20 people in an area, then you're going to do 20 times more damage than one person is." It also goes on to say, "With the fragile environment you've got here, if you start using it 12 months a year, then pretty soon you're going to have nothing." Mr. Speaker, that's incredible from the member opposite.
I know that this particular bill addresses a lot of environmental issues, and safety that people would have to take with their wilderness tourism businesses. This is strictly and strongly driven by the industry. They've created it, they've wanted regulations put in place, they've wanted the first-aid training - they want to compete with tourism around the world, they want Yukon to be a place to go. They want liability insurance. This is what has been coming forward from them.
The result is this draft bill to give us the authority to create regulations. They will be - the industry will be, and the community people will be - involved in the drafting of the regulations, and will go through that process that's been laid out before us.
I feel that this is a very good act, very friendly for Yukon, and it's not costly to small business people - it costs $100 to buy a licence, Mr. Speaker - and the reporting process, I think, is quite minimal. You do it twice a year, after your winter business, or after your fall and summer business. It is to create data so that we can make decisions on, for example, the river - how many people are taking trips down the river - to minimize the impact. It's all going to be useful information that we do gather as a result of this bill.
I thank the members for their comments. I look forward to the clause-by-clause debate.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 51 agreed to
Bill No. 57: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 57, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Moorcroft.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I move that Bill No. 57, entitled the Estate Administration Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 57, entitled Estate Administration Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Unlike other jurisdictions in Canada, there is presently no estate administration act in the Yukon. As a result, the legal community, the public administrator and anyone who is involved in the settlement of estates must do so without the benefit of a clear and well-defined legislative framework. For example, Mr. Speaker, when someone dies intestate, which means without leaving a will, the rules governing the settlement of these estates are currently outlined in the Intestate Succession Act. The legal responsibilities of the Public Administrator, who works in the Department of Justice, are set out in the Judicature Act. To make things even more confusing, if someone dies leaving only a minor child as their next of kin, we would have to rely on the inherent jurisdiction of the court to appoint someone to settle the estate. There is no statutory direction for lawyers, family members or the Public Administrator to follow.
This left a complicated, confusing and inefficient method by which to settle estates in the Yukon Territory.
The new Estate Administration Act will simplify the legal process for administering estates in the Yukon. It will offer a clear process for the resolution of what is often a difficult and emotional experience for family and friends of the deceased.
The act is modelled on British Columbia's legislation. It modernizes existing provisions and incorporates them into one law, and sets out clearly what sorts of decisions must be determined by the courts in the event of a dispute. As a result, the Intestate Succession Act will be repealed, as well as some sections of the Judicature Act.
This government, Mr. Speaker, is also aware of the legal uncertainties and inequities that have existed in the past concerning the settlement of estates involving common-law relationships. This act recognizes and acknowledges this shortcoming and will apply to all common-law relationships, including same-sex relationships. These changes recognize the reality of modern family relationships and are consistent with the definition of common-law spouse used in many other recent Yukon laws.
Although this act is modeled on British Columbia legislation, we have reduced the period of cohabitation in our bill from 24 months to 12 months. Cohabitation is the amount of time couples spend living together in order to have their relationship legally recognized. The 12-month period is consistent with the death benefit and survivor benefit provisions of the Canada Pension Plan.
The Estate Administration Act clarifies how all estates are to be settled, whether or not a will is in place when someone dies. It will benefit Yukon people by providing an efficient, streamlined legal means to administer estates in the territory.
This bill is supported by the local wills, trusts and estates subsection of the Canadian Bar Association. The act you have before you has also been reviewed by the senior Justice of the Supreme Court of the Yukon Territory.
The Yukon's public administrator works closely with families and plays an important role in helping people by providing the information they need following the death of a family member or friend.
To conclude, Mr. Speaker, the new Estate Administration Act will simplify the legal procedures needed to settle people's estates and thus benefit the Yukon public.
Mr. Phillips: We, in the Yukon Party, will be supporting the bill that's before us here today. I believe it is a necessary piece of legislation that I know has been discussed for some period of time. I am pleased to see that we are finally getting a piece of legislation like this. I think the minister said we were about the last jurisdiction, if not the last, in the country to do this.
The minister noted that it was modeled after B.C. legislation, but I have to tell the minister that I took a few hours to review the bill and I think this could be described as a real lawyers' bill because it's an extremely difficult one, unlike the bill we had previously, which was more in laypersons' terms.
I guess, just because of the nature of it, it's an extremely difficult bill to read and understand unless you've been in this part of the practice of law for some time and have a good understanding of what is out there. But having said that, we certainly will be supporting the bill.
I heard the minister tell us today that the bill is supported by the Yukon subsection of the Yukon Bar Association. The lawyers that I consulted have been part of those discussions and are certainly in support of the bill, but they do have some questions about it.
I will be asking the minister if she has a letter from the Bar Association in support of the bill. The one that I have, I believe, is from them making some suggestions, and I don't believe I have a copy of a letter that says, "We're happy with the changes." So, if there is such a letter, I'd appreciate seeing that. I know the minister is going to provide the same kind of thing in the Family Property and Support Act.
Section 17 in the bill talks about security bonds: "No security bonds are required if there are no debts in the estate." Is there anyone in the territory right now who provides bonding for that kind of thing? Maybe the minister can inform us of that, and will this be more costly if we do it in the way that they are proposing to change this act? Will this be more costly to the individual?
In section 20 - "There is no need to formally administer an estate worth $10,000 or less" - maybe the minister can elaborate in Committee of the Whole on how this will work, and is that an additional burden on either the government or maybe the lawyers that may be involved, and will that cost be passed on to an individual?
The other concern that was raised to me on this particular bill is, now that if a person dies intestate, I understand it will take almost a year before the final payments will be made, and that is a much longer time than is the case at the present time. So it may cause some concern for individuals who are hoping to clear a matter like this up fairly quickly. Maybe the minister can elaborate on that, as well.
In general, Mr. Speaker, we are in support of this piece of legislation. My understanding is that it basically is a clone of the B.C. bill, Yukonizing it in a few spots, so it's one that we will be offering our support to.
Mr. Cable: The Yukon Liberal Party also will be supporting the bill. I understand that that section of the local bar that deals with estates, as indicated by the minister, is supportive of the bill, and I'm told that it is, generally speaking, good, though there are some drafting suggestions in some areas, and we can deal with those as we go along.
The law tidies up an area in the law where there were some legal voids, and it's to be supported. It simplifies the law and draws a road map for lawyers. It is a lot easier than the road map we have now, before the passing of this bill.
There was a technical question put to me in relation to safety deposit boxes, and I'll put it to the minister, if she could come up with an answer to increase the comfort margin on the bill. It relates to the opening of safety deposit boxes, and it appears to put obligations on the banks. I'd like to hear from the minister's advisors as to whether there's power under the Yukon act to do that, or whether the Bank Act has exclusive jurisdiction in ordering banks to disclose the contents of safety deposit boxes.
In that same area, I'm told that it could pose some problems if there is automatic disclosure in the area where there is joint tenancy, because a joint tenant, of course, gets everything in the safety deposit box, and in areas where a will is not, in fact, probated, many estates I think pass along - small estates anyway where there is no probate granted or applied for, because of the cost of doing so.
I think also, by way of general comment to the minister, we need to come up with some method, some system where the government and the opposition can together examine these complex bills, because I know the minister gets advice and, of course, her draftspeople draft the bills, and then we take them and we get advice, and we're doing a big catch-up game all the time in these complicated bills. It would be useful for the minister to consider some system like they have in other legislatures, and I think in particular the federal legislature, where complex bills are put out to committees to permit the getting of information from sources. The sources speak to all the members on the committee, and they represent both the opposition and the government. I think that would make for a lot of streamlining and a lot of less to-ing and fro-ing here in the House. We could deal with many of the issues before the bill actually hits the House for Committee.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: To respond first to some comments that the official opposition critic made about why the bill has not been written in plain language, let me tell him that we looked at similar legislation across Canada when this bill was prepared. British Columbia had the most recent amendments and had the most current bill, but we also looked at the laws in Alberta and Ontario and some of the M/aritime provinces. All estate legislation uses similar language. In many cases, the language used is historical legal description that has served for many years and has been tested in court. If we were to substitute other words and descriptions, we would run the risk of missing some important legal nuance.
This is language that judges and lawyers who work with wills and estates understand well and has served well in the past and, hopefully, will continue to serve in the present. I do recognize that there is a need to provide information to the public on the process, and we can certainly look at a layperson's guide to wills, trusts and estates that might result after the final passage of this bill.
The members also referred to various specific sections of the bill. I was keeping notes while they were speaking, but what I will do is review the record and provide answers during Committee debate to them.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 57 agreed to
Bill No. 67: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 67, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Moorcroft.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 67, entitled An Act to Amend the Private Investigators and Security Guards Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 67, entitled An Act to Amend the Private Investigators and Security Guards Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the Private Investigators and Security Guards Act was passed in 1988 and has not been changed since that time. These amendments have come about as a result of concerns raised by the security industry. They've asked for changes that will allow them to operate more efficiently and will improve their ability to provide security services to Yukon residents.
The amendments that we are proposing in Bill No. 67 will resolve issues that have been brought to us by the industry, and improve the registration and licensing system without, in any way, compromising public safety.
A recent issue relating to the use of volunteers was also considered when making these changes. There is nothing in either the present act or in the proposed changes that will prevent a society or a charitable organization from using volunteers to provide security services at a function or an event that they are holding.
The key in the use of volunteers is to ensure that they are just that - volunteers.
An individual who wants to work as a security guard, or an organization that intends to carry on business as a security agency, must be licensed under this act. A security agency can only use licensed security guards to perform security services.
The amendments we are proposing today have been reviewed by the security industry, and they support these changes. The amendments address questions from the industry about licensing requirements and establish administrative penalties that can be assessed by the registrar.
Under the current act, a security guard must be employed by a licensed security guard agency before the person can be licensed. This means that if there is a major event, such as the trade show, agencies often do not have enough licensed security guards on staff to cover the event. We have amended the licensing provision to allow for a pool of licensed security guards by repealing the requirement for a security guard to be employed by an agency.
The administrative penalties will allow the registrar to take prompt and decisive action to protect the public interest, should there be violations of the act. We are also creating a review board to handle appeals of any decision of the registrar, whether it relates to licensing, application of administrative penalties or other disputes arising from the legislation.
Currently, leave for appeal of a decision of the registrar is to the Supreme Court. At the industry's request, we have established an administrative tribunal similar to those in other regulated industries. The mandate of the new Private Investigators and Security Agencies Review Board will be to hear matters brought before it and to give full opportunity for the parties to present evidence. In addition to hearing appeals, the board will also serve in an advisory capacity to the registrar on matters relating to administration of the legislation.
Mr. Speaker, the current act states that a security guard cannot carry a firearm. Since then, changes have been made to the Criminal Code of Canada that expand the prohibited weapon section. For example, pepper spray and mace are now considered prohibited weapons.
Rather than adding specific weapons to the list, prohibited under this act, we have added a provision that will restrict security guards from carrying any weapon, which is prohibited under the Criminal Code. This means that the prohibition against security guards carrying firearms continues, and they are also not allowed to carry or use any other prohibited weapons, such as pepper spray and mace.
To lessen the burden on the courts, and encourage compliance with the act, we have included amendments that allow administrative penalties to be imposed by the registrar for certain violations of the law, such as failing to wear a uniform, or to comply with the licensing provisions.
Any disputes related to these penalties can be appealed to the board. There continues to be a common-law right to appeal a decision of the board to the courts, if there has been a breach of natural justice.
Lastly, we have made housekeeping amendments, such as updating the definitions to include reference to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Canada) in all sections currently referring to the former Narcotic Control Act (Canada). We have also replaced the heading of "Firearms" under section 28, with the heading "Weapons", to conform with the term used in the Criminal Code.
Mr. Speaker, these amendments are the direct result of a cooperative process that addresses the changes requested by the private investigator and security guard industry, without placing public protection in jeopardy.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Speaker, in general terms we are not opposed to this bill. One comment I will make, though, to the minister is that we had no idea until 1:30 this afternoon that we were going to be dealing with this bill here today. Because of the fact that we've been in the House, and many of the issues that I personally have had to deal with as a critic have been in the House today and the topic of discussion, I haven't had an opportunity to call people who I talked to initially about the bill, to get some comments back from them.
So, again it just reflects back on the way we're doing business here, where changes were made at the last minute this afternoon to deal with this particular piece of legislation, and there was no reason given why the government chose to pull the property act off the agenda today, other than say we weren't doing it and we're going to go this route.
So, it's been a bit unfair to make more comprehensive comments on issues within this act. I've read it but I haven't had a chance to hear full comments back from the industry that it's going to affect.
The minister has told us that the private investigators and security companies approve of it, but the minister also told us that with respect to the property act, that's not the case. We now find out that what the minister said in the House the other day wasn't a reflection of the facts, when the minister claimed there was a bill tabled in the House and everybody had a year to look at it and they were generally supportive of it. Now we find out that there wasn't a bill; they weren't given a copy of the bill.
So I, for one, to feel a little more comfortable now as a result of the first episode, would like to have the opportunity to at least have a discussion with some of the security companies with respect to this bill. I think it's important that we hear from them rather than from the minister who says everyone agrees, because we know from experience, from what the minister said in the House, that everyone doesn't agree with what the minister said.
The other issue, I think, that the minister raised is the issue of volunteers. Maybe the minister could give us a clear definition of what she calls a volunteer. She said, "Clearly, a volunteer is a volunteer." Well, my concept of a volunteer is that a volunteer doesn't get paid anything for doing a service. They volunteer their labour and their efforts and they provide a service to whomever.
There is some sense out there from some that some volunteers get paid. What is the minister's definition of a volunteer? Is she saying that one can't be a security guard under the existing legislation if they volunteer? Can they be a security guard if they volunteered and they aren't paid, and they can't be a security guard if they are volunteered and they are paid? I'd like to know from the minister which one it is so we're clear on that issue.
In general terms, Mr. Speaker, we will support the bill at second reading, but I do want to reserve further comments to Committee of the Whole so I can hear back from individuals that I've spoken to in the security business, who the minister says have requested these changes and, in the minister's words, they are pleased with what they got. So, I'd like to hear that from them as well before I go any further.
If the minister has a letter from the security companies that they consulted, saying that they are supportive of these changes, maybe the minister could provide us with that letter right away as well, much before we get into Committee. I don't want a surprise attack like we had with this one, but I'd like to have it in advance so we can at least have a chance to read it and compare it with the minister's comments.
Mr. Cable: The Liberal caucus will be supporting the bill in principle, and also, as mentioned by the previous member, it would be useful for the minister to tell us whether the bill, as tabled, has been run by the industry - not the various thoughts and items that went into it, but the actual bill itself - and whether there's some reply from the industry saying, "Shucks, that meets what we've asked you to do, and the drafting's all right."
I wonder if the minister could tell us, at some juncture, just how many people are involved in this industry so we're satisfied that the review board mechanism is a most efficient way of dealing with complaints as opposed to the present way of doing business.
The minister indicated that the review board was asked for by the industry. I'm pleased to see that she's responded to the industry, but I'd like to have some comfort that we're not creating a board to administer to maybe four or five people.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
As I understood the House business for today, it was intended to proceed with second reading on four bills after Committee work and I know that this particular bill was introduced in the House on November 10.
Certainly when I served as an opposition critic, we did not have briefings on bills, and I believe that members should be able to review bills and be expected to respond to second reading speeches after such time as they've been tabled in the House.
The Member for Riverdale North came close to calling me a liar, Mr. Speaker, which is not parliamentary and is also not the case. We work in good faith. We worked in good faith with the industry on the amendments to the Private Investigators and Security Guards Act. We do not necessarily have a letter on file indicating that they're in support of the amendments, but if any member doubts my word on that, they can make calls. I can assure the members that we have worked with the industry and that these changes are being made at their request and generally do meet their needs.
The Member for Riverside also made comments that we might need to look at a different way of approaching major bills, in particular. I would be happy to sit with the Justice critics and discuss if there is a way that we can work more cooperatively on bills, Mr. Speaker.
Plus, I believe that this bill is straightforward and worthy of support, and commend it to the House.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 67 agreed to
Bill No. 66: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 66, standing in the name of the hon. Ms. Moorcroft.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill No. 66, entitled Auxiliary Police Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 66, entitled Auxiliary Police Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the Auxiliary Police Act recognizes the desire of the Government of Yukon to introduce and actively encourage increased public participation and involvement in the development and delivery of police services within the territory.
Mr. Speaker, I'd like to provide a short overview of the history of the auxiliary police program. The RCMP auxiliary police service has been a pilot project for approximately four years in the City of Whitehorse. Members have taken part in a number of community events and performed a variety of duties in the area of crime prevention and community education. The involvement of these volunteers who dedicate themselves to the community have served the City of Whitehorse well.
Mr. Speaker, I also wish to acknowledge the close working relationship between the Department of Justice and the RCMP. The auxiliary police program is one way of recognizing this relationship. The police advisory board that will manage the auxiliary police program will be made up of representatives of the RCMP, Yukon Justice and the auxiliaries. In the past, the RCMP and the Department of Justice have demonstrated that working relationship through the development of a shared leadership vision statement jointly developed each year between the RCMP and Yukon Justice.
Mr. Speaker, these vision statements have continually advanced the philosophy and principle of community policing as its model of service delivery. Community policing involves partnerships between the community and the RCMP to identify and address problems.
These partnerships allow for solutions that are community specific and that directly increase the community involvement in the delivery of the policing service. We have taken a further step, because together we will be managing the auxiliary police program.
This act, Mr. Speaker, provides an opportunity for members of the public to work closely with their community and the RCMP to build safer neighbourhoods. This act also recognizes the importance of volunteerism in our communities. I would particularly like to commend those volunteer auxiliary police who are working to prevent crime and educate the community about police services.
Mr. Speaker, we recognize that community-based policing is a major element in restorative justice programs. Community policing is a key element in crime prevention, and forms in part the basis for the Auxiliary Police Act. The auxiliary officers represent an opportunity to encourage further community involvement in the delivery of public safety services, and at the same time support the work of the RCMP.
The Auxiliary Police Act addresses a number of issues, such as indemnification of the officers that have been identified by the RCMP and auxiliary members. In the legislation, these issues have been dealt with in order to improve the quality and effectiveness of the program.
Another issue that has arisen in the past was the appointment of auxiliary officers. I am pleased to say that the auxiliary police officers will be appointed both under this act and under the RCMP Act. As part of the act, an advisory committee will be established to provide overall management support for the program. As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Speaker, this committee will develop training standards and guide the program as it continues to grow within our communities.
Let me outline some of the duties of these officers that we are introducing in this act. We see auxiliary members focusing their duties on a variety of crime prevention activities that may include coordinating Neighbourhood Watch programs, helping with youth-oriented crime prevention programs, such as initiating a venture scout program, working with crime prevention committees, and justice committees in communities, including rural communities, to develop crime prevention plans.
They may also include the promotion of community education on crime prevention - for example, snowmobile or auto-theft programs - or programs to help business to protect their stores, and the public their homes, and help with maintaining a police presence at special events in communities - for example, such events as the Dawson City Music Festival.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my sincere appreciation of the effort, time and commitment of the women and men who have volunteered over the years to participate as RCMP auxiliary members. I am honoured today to acknowledge the current auxiliary police members: Fred Koschzeck, Ted Triggs, Paul Bubiak, Donna Jones, Jim Kenyan and Rolly Williams. These men and women have participated in the program since the very beginning. They are truly remarkable people, and I thank them for the time and energy they have invested in strengthening their community.
Mr. Speaker, this act is one of a number of steps that must be taken to address crime within our communities. We must not lose sight of the fact that in order to truly tackle crime, we must also continue to work on deeper issues related to crime that include poverty, substance abuse, employment, adequate recreation and the prevention of family violence.
Investment in children and families, encouraging positive lifestyle choices and opportunities for youth, promoting women's and children's personal safety, and investing in community initiatives, continue to be areas that we will focus on in preventing crime.
These auxiliary officers, Mr. Speaker, will help us in this work. The Auxiliary Police Act will enable the program to expand from Whitehorse to other Yukon communities, and will encourage the public to help the RCMP in providing community and public safety programs that reflect the expectations of each community.
Auxiliary police officers have in the past, and will continue in the future, to make our communities healthier and stronger. This kind of program will make for happier, safer places to raise our families.
To conclude, Mr. Speaker, the Auxiliary Police Act is a step in the development of a Yukon policing strategy and represents a cornerstone for community policing, as the territory prepares to meet the policing need we will confront in the new millennium.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, I rise today in full support of the act that is before us. I am very pleased to see that finally, finally we see this act -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: Well, the minister on the side opposite said, "Why didn't you do it?" Well, let me tell the minister why it wasn't done. It's because the issue arose in 1996 out of the concern over indemnification and other issues revolving around the auxiliary police officers, so it became an issue only in 1996. I have raised it in the House, I think, at least four times, in every budget debate since we've been here, about when the minister is going to make some changes.
In fact, Mr. Speaker, part of the delay has, in part, created some more problems and that is that when the program started a couple of years ago, there were quite a few members in the auxiliary police force and I think right now there are - one, two, three, four, five, six, maybe seven. Several individuals have dropped out because of the frustration they felt. Because of the various areas that they weren't covered in, they were doing less and less and less with respect to what they started to do in the beginning. It was mainly because of the issue of liability and those kind of things.
We all knew that that had to change. It's just unfortunate that it took this long to do, but having said that, I'm very pleased to see it's before the House today.
I have a couple of questions for the minister with respect to the Auxiliary Police Act. Is there an intention - from what the minister says, there appears to be an intention to increase activity with respect to auxiliary police officers in the territory - to plan to expand the program to some of the outlying communities? Having said that, I know that the budget is somewhat limited. Is there an intention to increase the budget for the auxiliary police officers? Maybe the minister could answer that in her reply as well.
I know, from speaking to several members of the auxiliary police force in the last couple of days and weeks, that they were very concerned about whether or not this was going to happen and I'm sure they're pleased today to know that it's here. I did talk to one member of the auxiliary police force who is very pleased with the act and feels that it covers all the areas they were concerned about.
One area that I'd like the minister to elaborate on is where she talks about using them for community crime prevention initiatives and also special events and those kind of things. I'd like to ask the minister this: before, they used to go out on some ride-alongs with the regular officers, and will they continue to do that? I imagine that might be part of their training but will they do that on an ongoing basis and as part of their duties?
This program, I believe, is one of the more successful programs we had in the territory and know there's an opportunity to redevelop it into a very successful program. It takes a lot of pressure off the existing police force, the members of the RCMP, when these individuals, who are absolutely dedicated to making their community better, give their time to help out in community crime prevention measures.
I take my hat off to the individuals in the auxiliary police force, the existing ones and any people who wish to put their name forward in the future. I think it's a great way for individuals to put back a little something into their community to make it safer and better for all of us to live in.
So I commend the auxiliary police force for their efforts. I commend the RCMP for their cooperation in putting in this act and I commend the minister for bringing the act forward in the House here today. Hopefully it will receive speedy passage, and the auxiliary police force will be, again, reactivated and doing what they should be doing in the territory, and helping to make the Yukon a better place to live.
Mr. Cable: I, too, would like to thank the members of the RCMP auxiliary who give of their time on community service as volunteers. I know that some of these members will be assisting the RCM Police in protecting our community in law enforcement long after most of us have gone to bed at night. So thanks is due to these people who serve without pay.
There are a number of questions we have on the bill. We will be supporting the bill, but there are a number of questions. Under section 9, it's not clear what the role of the RCMP complaints commission is, whether the committee that's referred to in the bill is going to supplant the RCMP complaints commission or whether that is just one step or whether the committee will eventually refer complaints to the complaints commission.
Also, with respect to training, section 7 is not clear as to whether that's the sole or primary responsibility of the committee, or whether the training standards are going to be set by the RCMP itself under the RCMP Act.
I'd like also, at some juncture, some further explanation of section 11, which deals with the assistance to officers when they're being charged with an offence under the laws of the Yukon, Canada or a municipality. Just what is the scope of that clause? Does it deal with Criminal Code offences? Does the assistance happen after they're charged or, in the event they're found guilty, is there assistance at that time too?
Would it go so far as to assisting an officer in the circumstance where they're infringing, say, a parking bylaw of a municipality? Just what is intended under that indemnity clause? If the minister could also inform us whether the department or the police - whoever is responsible for recruiting - is actively recruiting now to enlarge what I gather is a six-member auxiliary?
And I'd like to hear from the minister what the intended budget is, whether section 2(4) could include a uniform allowance. I think that is the intention of the minister, but it would be useful to confirm that.
And finally, I'd like to hear from the minister what her view is on firearms. We just dealt with a bill on security guards where the use of firearms and the carrying of firearms was spelled out in the legislation. Is it her intention that the RCMP auxiliary carry weapons of any sort?
Ms. Duncan: I, too, would like to rise and speak at second reading on this particular piece of legislation. I would like to pay particular recognition to the volunteers involved with the auxiliary policing efforts. Many of the individuals have been mentioned by the Minister of Justice, and many of them are residents of my particular riding, and we have discussed this issue many times, and I, too, am very pleased that the legislation has come forward and that we have recognized their efforts by meeting this very clear need in legislation.
I am concerned as to how these volunteers were involved in the development of legislation. At any point in time have they been called in for consultation and seen the final act? We have undertaken that as part of our role in terms of working with these people, but has the department? Has the Minister of Justice?
I'm also concerned with the legislation - has the minister had any discussions as to whether or not it could act as a blueprint for other communities? Is it written in such a way that an RCMP member in Pelly would feel comfortable with it, in working with the auxiliary staff there, or are there particular needs that need to be addressed in that respect, in terms of some form of an amendment?
Again, I would like to - my colleague has addressed the specific questions with regard to the legislation, and I'm looking forward to the minister's response, and to the line-by-line debate in Committee - however, I do concur with my colleague, and support and commend this legislation to the House, with particular commendation to the volunteers who have been involved in this program.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, she will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: First of all, I would like to thank the opposition parties for their support of the Auxiliary Police Act.
As I said in my second reading speech, Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the volunteer work of the auxiliaries presently with the auxiliary police program, and I know that they're very keen on the job that they do.
We would like to encourage the development of auxiliary police work in the rural communities. That requires a core of volunteers, so what may happen in the future in various rural places is a matter of individual choice and community responsibility.
The committee that the members opposite refer to is an advisory committee that will include members of the RCMP, the auxiliaries themselves and the Department of Justice. They will look at such issues as training.
The establishment of this committee does not in any way reduce the ability of the public complaints commission to hear complaints from the RCMP. That remains a separate commission with the same powers and duties that it has under federal legislation.
Members also spoke about various clauses of the bill, with some specific questions that I'll be happy to deal with in Committee.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 66 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair's notification re absence of Deputy Chair
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. I wish to advise members that, in the absence of the Deputy Chair, I will, pursuant to subsection 902(3) of Beauchesne, be calling upon Mr. Livingston, Member for Lake Laberge, to take the Chair of Committee of the Whole from time to time.
Is the members' wish to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Deputy Deputy Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. I'd like to welcome our witnesses for this evening: Ray Wells, the chair of the board of the Yukon Development Corporation, and Rob McWilliam is president of the Yukon Development Corporation.
We would like to ask members and the witnesses to address all of their remarks to the Chair.
Do the witnesses wish to make any opening remarks?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, just before they get into their opening remarks, I'd just like to welcome president Rob McWilliam and the chair of the board, Mr. Ray Wells, whose full-time job is with Northwestel, the territory in the north. They have done, in my estimation, a very good job in the last couple of years. Ray has been on as chair now for well over a year.
There have been a couple of significant issues with direct management of the utility, which has posed extensive challenges. It's something new for the territory. There have been two shutdowns of the Faro mine and, as well, a fire that burned down the office building and a lot of the utilities. So, there have been a lot of challenges for the gentlemen here to deal with, but I think they've managed through some difficult times very well.
I'd just like to thank them for coming. I understand they have some comments to make and will give a brief overview, and then we can open it up to the floor. Presumably, we'll start with the leader of the official opposition and the critic, and then move on to the third party.
I would just ask all members to direct their questions to the chair of the board.
Mr. Wells: When preparing for our appearance tonight, I reviewed the Hansard to see what issues had been discussed when Mr. McWilliam appeared here as a witness on April 9, 1997. I was struck by how many things the corporation has had to deal with in the 18 months since that night. At that time, members were raising questions about the viability of the corporation, given the closure of the Faro mine. Since my appointment to the board last fall, we have experienced a further start-up and closure of the Faro mine, with repeated Yukon Utilities Board applications to deal with the loss of a customer who represented 40 percent of our revenues. We had a devastating fire that seriously damaged the Whitehorse hydro facilities and destroyed the corporation's offices and system control centre - all of this during the transition to direct management which, on July 1, 1998, meant essentially building an entire company within six months from the termination of the operating agreement with Alberta Power in June.
Throughout all of this, the Yukon men and women working at the YDC have managed to keep the lights on and we are now beginning to look forward to the future. You recently received a 1997 annual report for the Yukon Energy and Yukon Development Corporations. It provides details of the turbulent times that we experienced in 1997.
This board of directors understands and accepts its increased accountability for directing a fully operational company. To this end, all shareholder direction will now be reported in the annual report. The board is taking its challenges and responsibility very seriously, and I welcome the opportunity to speak to you tonight.
The primary objectives of the board of directors, management and the staff of the Yukon Development Corporation and our subsidiary corporation, Yukon Energy, is a commitment to provide Yukoners with safe, reliable, cost-effective and environmentally sound electricity.
I am speaking to you tonight in my capacity as chair of the board of directors of the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation. I am accompanied by Mr. McWilliam, who is a president and CEO of both of those corporations. As chair of the board, I want to briefly review the role of the board of directors.
It is our responsibility to address high-level policy issues; provide general direction for strategic planning and goal-setting; ensure that there's high-quality management; and ensure that management has developed and is maintaining the integrity of corporate processes and procedures. Beyond that, it is the responsibility of management to direct the operation of the corporation, and Mr. McWilliam can speak to the operational issues that you may wish to raise this evening.
Mr. Chair, the problems that the corporation must grapple with in providing electricity to Yukoners are obvious, and they have been cited repeatedly. Most recently, the Energy Commission final report summed up the situation, and I quote: "The Yukon's electrical system suffers from relatively high levels of unpredictability in both supply and demand. The supply and demand imbalances, combined with low population and customer densities and the isolation of the grid from neighbouring jurisdictions, has resulted in a history of unstable electricity rates. The problems are clear. The solutions, especially in a complicated regulatory system, are far from clear.
"However, the corporation does believe that we have something to learn from history. We are working to get out of the box that relying on the Faro mine has created for the electrical system in Yukon. We are aggressively looking for ways to broaden our customer base, as well as to reduce our operating costs.
"However, making fundamental changes in the electrical system will take time. The government's new energy initiatives will provide the critical breathing room that will ensure all non-government ratepayers will have rate stability while the corporation addresses fundamental issues, such as the infrastructure required to ensure reliability, reduce costs and access additional customers and revenues.
"The government is also providing the type of resources for green power and energy efficiency that it would be impossible for a regulated utility like Yukon Energy to provide when it could impact directly on rates.
The government's commitment of $16 million toward the resolution of electricity issues demonstrates to the board of directors and the corporation more than just the government's concern with energy issues. What these funds mean is that the corporation will be able to utilize the dividends that it has generated for critical infrastructure. We are very conscious of the fact that it is now time for the corporation to demonstrate that it can deliver cost reductions and new revenues which will help reduce the need for increased rates in the future.
While it would be inappropriate to raise expectations before we are certain that specific projects will go forward, feasibility work on various infrastructure projects is underway and the corporation will be providing further details when appropriate.
In closing, the Energy Corporation's objective is to provide safe, reliable, cost-effective and environmentally sound electrical energy. The employees at YEC are dedicated to this objective.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Deputy Deputy Chair: Mr. McWilliam, did you wish to make any remarks at this time?
Mr. McWilliam: No, thank you, Mr. Chair.
Deputy Deputy Chair: Are there questions of the witnesses?
Mr. Ostashek: On behalf of the Yukon Party caucus, I'd like to thank the president and chair of the board for coming forward this evening and allowing us to ask some questions directly without them being filtered through the minister and the politics that go on in this Legislature from time to time.
I have numerous questions that I'm going to pose to the president and the chair this evening, and I hope that, after two hours of questioning by me and my colleagues, we will have a better understanding of where the Energy Corporation is going and at what cost to the ratepayers in the Yukon.
I just want to make a couple of comments - one comment in particular, on the presentation made by the chair of the board saying that their objective is to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective energy to consumers. I would say to the chair that they are probably doing a pretty good job of fulfilling the first two - the safe and reliable power - but I think we're lacking on the third principle of cost-effective power, and we hope to get to the bottom of that tonight, as to why we can't provide cost-effective power to consumers.
I'm not going to give big speeches because I want to gather information from the gentlemen, Mr. Chair, who are here, so I'm going to limit my comments basically to questions. To start with, I'm very curious about a statement that I heard made by the president in a media interview a couple of weeks ago now, I believe. I understood the president to say that we would have to use diesel to meet our power requirements on the grid this winter. I would just like to start out by asking the president if I interpreted his comments correctly?
Mr. McWilliam: Yes, Mr. Chair, as with most things in the media, they take portions of what you say. When I was speaking to the reporter, I provided him with information that related to the fact that how much energy we would need to use this winter was a combination of things, including what type of weather conditions we were having this winter. What I was speaking to was the fact that, based on the projections we have of water flow this winter and recognizing that we've had the second lowest intake this year since records were being kept for Aishihik, we were projecting that we would require some diesel.
One of the reasons that I also went on to explain to the reporter was that we had to use water out of Aishihik this summer, when we wouldn't normally have used water out of Aishihik because of the unavailability of the Whitehorse units, so we were using some of our winter storage for generating power this summer.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the president for that, but that causes me great concern, because, Mr. Chair, as we all know, we don't have the Faro mine on the grid, and if we are using diesel this winter to supply the needs of our consumers without a major customer, what is going to happen when a major customer comes to the corporation looking for power?
I'm going to go back to the previous closure of the Faro mine, when the Yukon Party government was in power. I don't believe we had to use diesel during that period to supply the needs of the ratepayers in the Yukon without the major draw by Faro.
My question to the president is this: is the fact that we're going to be using diesel fuel this winter to supply power part of the ramifications of the decision that was made by the government not to draw down the bottom two feet of Aishihik Lake?
Mr. McWilliam: Well, if the water had been drawn down last year, it wouldn't be there, and we probably wouldn't be having this discussion. What you're seeing is the result of continued dry conditions. We've had several years of extremely dry conditions in that area that have reduced the amount of water. Mr. Ostashek is quite correct that when the Curragh operations went down, we were able to run without using diesel over the winter. That was also when we were having wet years. It's a combination of the climatic conditions and the fact that we had to use some of the water that we would have ideally stored this summer at Aishihik and then used in the winter. We had to use that this summer because of the problems with the unavailability of the Whitehorse units. Now, that is an insurance cost, and that is part of the extra expense claims that we have in with the insurance company.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, let me be more specific, Mr. Chair. Is the Energy Corporation, in fact, using the full licensing range, as given to them by the Water Board, or are we in the mode of the policy directive that was set by this government not to draw down the bottom two feet of the licensing range on Aishihik Lake?
Mr. McWilliam: We are complying with the order-in-council, which was printed in our annual report, which basically restricts the use of the bottom two feet.
Mr. Ostashek: And that, from my interpretation of it, is causing a direct impact on the cost of power to Yukoners. Am I correct in that?
Mr. McWilliam: I tried to answer that question earlier, when I indicated that if we had used the water previously, when YDC funds were reduced by the $4.3 million to offset the lack of those two feet, the water wouldn't be there to use now. It's a question of how many times do we charge for the same water?
Mr. Ostashek: Well, sir, I appreciate the water wouldn't be there now, but the fact remains that we have the bottom two feet of a licence that we're not utilizing. That's a substantial amount of power, so quite clearly my interpretation is that has to have an impact on the cost of power to the ratepayers. Am I correct in that assumption?
Mr. McWilliam: As I pointed out, one of the main reasons why we weren't able to store as much water as we would have liked at Aishihik this summer is because of the fact we had to use water instead of generating hydro power through the Whitehorse turbines, which were out for reconditioning as a result of the fire. That we are attempting to recover through insurance. That is an extra expense, which is part of our insurance coverage.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I would like to ask the president of the corporation about some of the premises that they're operating on now. Is the premise that the corporation is operating on now based on the unlikelihood of the opening of the Faro mine in 1999?
Mr. McWilliam: The premise that we took in to the YUB with our application this spring was that the mine would not be coming back on short term. When we were asked about what "short term" was, we were saying, "within the next two to three years."
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I want to get back to the fact that we are using diesel fuel this winter without any major consumer on the grid. If one comes on - because hopefully one will have to come on if we're going to have any economic relief in the territory - the power corporation's going to have difficulty supplying power without burning expensive diesel fuel.
My question to the president is this: the last time the president appeared in front of the House here, there had been an infrastructure fund in the Development Corporation which, I believe, when this government came to power had some $9 million in it. Some of that money was used - I believe, for the decision to not draw down the last two feet of Aishihik Lake - to buy extra diesel fuel.
Can the president tell me how much money - or is there such a fund still in the Development Corporation, and how much is it?
Mr. McWilliam: Yes, I would have to check the exact figures, but I believe at the time that I came into the corporation, which was shortly after the government changed, there was approximately $8 million in the fund. There was $4.3 million taken out of the Yukon Development Corporation funds for the Aishihik OIC implications to protect ratepayers against the impact of not using the bottom two feet. Since then, based on dividends out of YEC to YDC, the corporation has approximately $8 million in YDC for use for infrastructure. What the corporation was pointing out during the energy commission consultations around rate stabilization was that we felt that money was essential to retain in the Development Corporation so it could be used on infrastructure.
Mr. Ostashek: My next question to the president is this: could the president inform the House as to how much is left in the diesel contingency fund? I believe the minister said earlier that it will be used up at some time in the near future. Could he tell us when he expects that fund to be depleted completely. I'd like to know the amount in it now, Mr. Chair, and when the president expects the fund will be depleted?
Mr. McWilliam: I couldn't give you an exact figure at this point in time. If he wished, I could make an undertaking to provide that information. However, the diesel contingency fund, based on the order that came out from the Yukon Utilities Board, is being used to fully offset the 15-percent rate rider that was approved by the board last summer for all except government customers. That money, we expect, will run out in April, at which time the rate stabilization fund that the government has now announced would take up the slack.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'll ask the president to inform the House of how much money is coming from the Receiver of Anvil Range currently - what's on the books that's owing to the Energy Corporation - and what are the prospects of collecting any or all of this money and over what time period?
Mr. McWilliam: There's approximately $3.2 million on the books as arrears for Anvil Range. We certainly do expect to recover a portion of that money through the bankruptcy proceedings or by another operator going in there. That would have to be paid off as a precondition to any start-up activity. The amount that we would recover, I would only be speculating. We are involved with the other creditors in terms of protecting our interests through the court process in dealing with the bankruptcy situation. When will it come? That will be speculation as well. It depends on when the court makes certain decisions to dispose of assets and how many assets they decide to dispose of.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I'm very curious about the statement that was just made by the president that they hope to recover some of the money. I accept that, but his statement that they hope to recover some of it from a new purchaser of the facility - does the president really believe that a new company coming in and taking over those assets would be liable for that outstanding liability of a previous corporation that's gone bankrupt?
Mr. McWilliam: No, I don't believe it would be under that scenario. I was basically trying to outline all the options that we saw, one of which being that there would be some kind of arrangement for a start-up where Anvil Range or sort of its successor were somehow involved. Basically, if it goes through the full bankruptcy proceeding, we'll be dealing with it that way. We will be endeavouring to recover all the money, as was the case with the Curragh bankruptcy. In the end, we were able to recover all of the outstanding debt. That will certainly be our position, but we're just one of the creditors.
Mr. Ostashek: Okay, if we're going to speculate, I would just like to ask the president's thoughts on this: if we are successful in collecting any or all of the $3.3 million that's outstanding, where will this money go? Will it go to reduce rates, or will it be earmarked for some other situation?
Mr. McWilliam: That really will depend on what happens with the action that we have before the court of appeal now. We proposed to deal with the Anvil Range arrears in the same way that the Curragh arrears were dealt with, in which case any of that money that was recovered would become money for the benefit of ratepayers. If the court decides that the YUB was correct in disallowing that as an expenditure, then any money we recover would go to offset our lost revenues.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I would like to ask the president or the chair of the corporation - either one. I am very, very concerned about the fact that we are going to be using diesel fuel even without a major customer out there who, it's been said - I believe by the chair himself - used 40 percent of our supply, and that we can't supply power to the rest of our ratepayers without using diesel fuel. I'm curious, as I'm sure many Yukoners are, about how they are planning to supply any new demand. Let's suppose that the Faro mine starts up. Is it the position of the corporation, either through the president or the board, that the new customer is going to be responsible for all costs up front? I know that there was a proposition by the boar d to collect revenues in advance for the power being used, or a certain amount of it, at a higher rate in the wintertime than in the summertime, and all of these things so that the corporation wouldn't be subjected to these losses.
I am very, very curious as to how we're going to supply the power. As a utility that has a monopoly in the territory, how are we going to supply power to industrial users, and I'm sure all Yukoners know that we're going to have to have some major industrial users, if we're going to get our economy back on track again. How is it going to be accomplished?
Mr. McWilliam: We have a number of supply options we've been looking at. Actually, some of the work that was commenced under the Yukon Party government identified a number of supply opportunities that were available. The green power program, for example, is one area where we expect there will be a number of new supply sources that come forward.
The issue at the present time is not our ability to supply power. We have the diesels sitting there. The question is whether there are other alternative forms of cheaper power that could be made available, and that's part of the infrastructure work we're doing now to review what opportunities are there.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, from what little I know about power, green power is not very cheap power. It's very expensive power. It does nothing to bring the cost of power down. The president said that they're exploring other supply options. I would ask the president if he could elaborate a little bit.
Mr. McWilliam: One of the concerns that we would have would be that people not leap to conclusions around the various options that are out there before the feasibility work has been done. We haven't made decisions on any specific project right now. We are looking at a number of projects. For example, with the Aishihik re-licensing, we will be looking at the third wheel as a potential project there. That's a situation where you don't use more water; you use it more efficiently. So, that will be part of the application that will shortly be before the Water Board. That's an example of the type of thing we're looking at.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, one of the proposals that the Yukon Party government was looking at was connecting the Mayo dam into the grid. As all Yukoners know, the party in power today didn't think that was a very good idea. We understand that the Energy Corporation has been doing some preliminary work on reviving the old thesis of a grid from Mayo to Dawson. Is there any basis to that discussion that's going on in the general public? Is, in fact, the Energy Corporation looking at the feasibility of expanding the grid from Mayo to Dawson?
Mr. McWilliam: Yes, in fact we are looking at that very seriously. That's one of the projects we have under active consideration. We've also looked at the Mayo-Carmacks connection as an alternative. One of the things that excites us now about the Mayo-Dawson project, which is very different from the scenario of 10 years ago, was we've had 10 years of growth in Dawson where demand has increased by an average of six percent a year. This year the demand has increased by over 10 percent and it's projected to be over 10 percent again next year. With that kind of load growth in the Dawson area, the economics around the Dawson-Mayo line are a lot different from what they were 10 years ago.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, one of the arguments that was put forward by the opponents to the grid expansion from Carmacks to Mayo was that it wasn't viable and feasible because, if something happened in the Mayo area, there wouldn't be enough power to supply whatever happened there. I am wondering if, in the studies that the Energy Corporation is doing, a cost-benefit analysis is being done on a grid from Mayo to Dawson where, in fact, I believe we would have the same scenario, based on the comments made by the president, whereby we've had a tremendous growth in Dawson and yet would not have the ability to put power both ways through the line, which we would have had, had the line gone ahead from Carmacks to Mayo. So, my question to the president is, is the cost-benefit analysis a part of the study that's being done now on the Mayo-Dawson extension?
Mr. McWilliam: Yes, we've looked at a variety of scenarios that factor in all of the different sort of options in the Mayo area - the Dublin Gulch, UKHM coming back, UKHM sort of putting the mill in - as well as scenarios around what would happen with load growth in Dawson: whether it would flatten out, whether it would continue to grow. All of that's been factored into our analysis right now.
One of the other things that we're certainly looking at is that the transmission line, if that is the decision, opens up a number of other supply opportunities. The Mayo hydro would certainly be adequate for the current demand and that would include continuing to supply the primary power for UKHM if they went back in, but as system growth continued, the fact there was a transmission line there would provide other opportunities, such as the North Fork project. There is the possibility of a gas-turbine operation using gas off the Eagle Plains wells. There are other opportunities that are opened up once you've got a transmission corridor there.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm going to just ask a question or two more and let some of my colleagues get to it, but would we not have those same sort of supply options available on the Carmacks-Mayo extension, as well as taking two more communities off diesel fuel, and also have the ability to put the power both ways through the line rather than just one way?
Mr. McWilliam: Well, part of the feasibility planning is also looking at the Carmacks-Mayo option. Right now, because of the distances involved, the lack of any significant load between Carmacks and Mayo is not economic. The load, the demand, is in Dawson.
Mr. Cable: On behalf of the Liberal caucus, I'd like to welcome the chair and the president. The chair, in his opening remarks, made an interesting comment, and I hope I heard it right. I'll read it back.
What I thought the chair said was that, "All shareholder direction would be in the annual report." That's direction from the government.
What precipitated that? What brought on that initiative?
Mr. Wells: The board had discussion this year about the annual report. It was at my recommendation - in part because of some of the discussion that has gone on through various political parties about perceived political interference - that we, in fact, state clearly in the annual report what directives the corporation has been given by government in the form of orders-in-council. So that's why that was included in the annual report, and will be in the future.
Deputy Deputy Chair:Mr. Wells, if you can just move that mic a little bit closer, that may help us.
Mr. Cable: So what we're saying then is that the orders-in-council - which are all published of course, and public knowledge - are the only shareholder directions we're talking about. If in fact that's the case, has the corporation received any other sort of direction?
Mr. Wells:Any direction that has been received from the government has been in the form of order-in-council, and again that's being published in the annual report.
Mr. Cable: Now, there was a risk analysis made on the tripartite agreement between Anvil Range and the government and the utility, judging from the testimony that was given at the Yukon Utilities Board.
I wonder if either the president or the chair would tell us what this risk analysis was based on. What were the variables looked at, who fed the information into the system, and was it obtained by the utility? Did the utility make the decision, and if not, was it the government driving the risk analysis?
Mr. McWilliam: This was, as you say, an issue that was dealt with at some length at the YUB hearing, and I would certainly refer members who wanted to pursue that in more detail to the transcript for the hearing. There was risk analysis done. The Yukon Energy Corporation, the government and Anvil Range were partners in a tripartite agreement. Part of that involved Anvil Range opening their books to both the government and YEC so that we could have a look at their financial situation.
The government was undertaking certain assessments of the mine's financial situation, and that information was being fed back in terms of their analysis whether or not Anvil Range did have deeper pockets than they were leading us to believe. So they contributed that information.
We were looking at it from the point of view of both YEC and ratepayers. From ratepayers' point of view, they were paying a 20-percent interim rider. From the corporation's point of view, if we could get them back on as a customer while they were involved in the stripping program, we would be generating the demand payment on a monthly basis, which amounts to about $450,000 a month before they take any energy, plus the energy that they would require for the stripping program and just sort of housekeeping operations. The estimate that we had for how much we could generate in revenue from the corporation while they were in that start-up phase was about $650,000 a month, and that was at a time when we had surplus hydro power.
One of our understandings - and I believe both the government and the Energy Corporation had the same undertaking from Anvil Range - was that they would require additional equity financing before they would start up the mill and go into full-scale production. Based on the information we had at the time, from the corporation's point of view, we had our own staff and inter-group consultants that were reviewing information and recommending it was a good deal for the corporation, and we were a willing signatory to the agreement.
Mr. Cable: The question I want to get to, Mr. Chair - the important variables, such as the price of zinc and the ability of the corporation to get financing - where did that information come from? Was that fed from the government or was an independent analysis made of those important variables?
Mr. McWilliam: As best as I can recall, and it's not something I claim to have clear recollection of, the information that we were getting about metal prices and where they were likely to head was primarily from the Department of Economic Development. We were looking at the standard metal price indexes, but the forecast information was essentially coming through the Department of Economic Development.
Mr. Cable: So, the analysis of what, I guess, would be the major risk factor - the price of zinc - was done by the government, and not by the corporation. What actually did the corporation do, in terms of risk analysis? What opinion did it form on the risk? Was the risk greater than 50 percent or less than 50 percent, or was that particular issue dealt with in those terms?
Mr. McWilliam: I don't think it was dealt with in the terms that Mr. Cable has referred to, in terms of, you know, percentage of risk. What we were doing was looking at the opportunity for the corporation to generate revenue to remove the 20-percent rate rider from other customers, and the risk assessment we were doing was based on whether or not the mine was going to go back into full production. When you look at the situation we were in, where there was $2.5 million in arrears on the books, and the government was prepared to lend Anvil Range $1.5 million to offset part of that, for us the risk, while we had surplus hydro there, was not considered that high. The understanding that we had was that Anvil Range would have to come up with new equity before they went into a full-scale milling operation.
That we expected around the same time that we would be into using diesel for power in November. What we discovered in November was that Anvil Range had gone out, and because they were unsuccessful in generating more equity, they had come up with this new way to sell their concentrates forward. As soon as we were made aware of that, we became concerned. It was an issue that was dealt with by the board and we moved as fast as we could on it.
Mr. Cable: Now, I attended the Utilities Board hearing. One of the questions that was put to the president, Mr. Chair, was - this was by the Utilities Board solicitor: "Did the corporation receive any pressure from government to enter into this tripartite agreement?" Mr. McWilliam answered: "We were receiving pressure from everybody."
Was the corporation receiving pressure from the government?
Mr. McWilliam: Certainly, as Mr. Cable was aware from my testimony before the YUB, I indicated we were quite clear that the government would like to see Anvil Range, as a major generator of economic activity, back up and running. The issue around pressure, as it was being discussed at the YUB, was whether we were under instruction to enter into the tripartite agreement and my response then and now is no, we weren't.
Mr. Cable: Where was the pressure coming from that was referred to in the president's testimony?
Mr. McWilliam: I was just at a meeting down at the plant this morning with my staff who were talking about how, when the rates were going up, their own parents and their wives and the people who were paying the bills were applying pressure. There was no great source of satisfaction for us in the fact that we had to apply a 20-percent rate rider to other customers to deal with the loss of Anvil, but in terms of instructions, which is what I interpreted in the question about pressure to be, we were under no instructions from the government. This was an issue that management and the board of directors at the corporation dealt with. Perhaps Mr. Wells would like to speak to the board's position on it?
Mr. Wells: I was, of course, not on the board at the time the decision was made. However, when the decision was made by the board of directors to, in fact, take legal recourse on the decision of the Utilities Board, I asked the members of the board at that time if they had felt that there was direction or pressure from the government on this, and my colleagues on the board indicated to me that, in fact, no, there was not. So I think that, at that level, is a clear indication that this was a business decision that was made both by the utility and supported by the board of directors.
Mr. Cable: I think the president mentioned a few moments ago that it was the corporation's estimation that the mine would continue in production. What was that based on? That wasn't the exact verbiage that was used, but I think the risk analysis was framed around the assumption that the mine would continue in production. What was that based on?
Mr. McWilliam: Actually what I said was that our understanding was that before the mine went into full production - i.e. the mill was operating on more than just a sort of a test period - that Anvil Range was going to have to generate additional equity. The loan that they had from Cominco was to get them through the stripping period and to a point where they could go into full production. They were attempting to generate additional equity that would carry them beyond that. It was our understanding that that would happen before they went into full production when they were able to, essentially, sell forward their concentrates. That changed in November and, as soon as we became aware of that, we took action.
Mr. Cable: Okay, I'm not quite clear, Mr. Chair. When was the opinion formed - if it was at all - that Anvil Range would continue in production on a regular, full-scale basis?
Mr. McWilliam: We were, throughout the fall, going sort of almost on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis with Anvil Range in terms of communication with them around their various trips to seek equity in the financial capitals. The understanding that we had in mid-October was that they were going through the equity fundraising process, that they were going to start up the mill for a week to do the fine tuning and necessary prep work, and if they didn't have the equity together by the time they were finished bringing the mill back into a sort of operating state, that they would shut down. This was the end of October. They ran for a week and then the president of Anvil Range indicated he was coming up here in early November and the mill continued to run during that period through the first week of November. When he came, he was briefing both me and government representatives on the new arrangements that they had put in place for selling the concentrate in advance. It was at that point where we discovered that they were proposing to stay in operation without having generated the new equity that we, first of all, tried to get the mining company to deal with, such as advance payment on bills.
When they indicated that they were unable to do that, we took action immediately and applied to the YUB. That application was filed with the YUB, I believe, the first week of December.
Mr. Cable: I think what that shows to me is that the whole deal was viewed as being very risky, right from the beginning. Let me ask the chair this question: the chair wrote to the Yukon News in September in relation to an editorial that was in that newspaper. At the end of it, in the last paragraph, the chair said, "It is essential a mechanism be found that will better protect the ratepayers from the swings that the opening and closing of the Faro mine create." The question I have for the chair is: in a perfect world - if I can use that phrase - how would the chair like to see that play out? How would you like to see that risk removed from the corporation?
Mr. Wells: Ideally, I believe if there was a method of investment in infrastructure and gains in productivity and cost reduction in the corporation, in a way that we could bring rates in line without the mine being on, I think that would be an ideal approach. In other words, to take a look out four or five years and determine what sort of rates we would require if the mine did not come back on after the government's initiative of the nine-zero-zero-zero runs out and see how we can close that gap through prudent investments to reduce costs and generate new revenues. Beyond that, I don't think I've speculated to any ideal outcome to resolve that issue. I think I clearly stated in my opening remarks that the challenges that we have with such a sparse base of population, high swings in supply, and also high swings in demand, may, in fact, be the nature of the beast that we're dealing with.
Mr. Cable: The reason I asked the question is that I'm just wondering - and the chair can answer this question if he would, Mr. Chair - if the corporation can deal with that risk, or does it have to be handled by the government, in the chair's view?
Mr. Wells: I just need some clarification on the question. Are you asking about the risk of the mine itself in leaving the debt behind after closure, or are you talking - I'm not sure if I understand your question clearly.
Mr. Cable: I'm talking about the risk associated with a customer that draws approximately 40 percent of the power off the grid going off and on the grid on a regular basis. Does the corporation feel that it can absorb that risk by itself, or does there have to be a helping hand from the government?
Mr. Wells: In all fairness to the issue, I don't think that I've wrestled that totally. I don't believe that I have an answer that, one way or another, we can deal with that. I think there is a continuum of options there, everything from perhaps not decreasing rates as significantly when a major customer like that comes on, to mitigate the rate fluctuations, through to perhaps some of that risk being borne through government, through economic development perhaps. But I believe that is something that would need some very thorough investigation. To my knowledge, the corporation has not spent time looking at that.
Mr. Cable: Mr. Chair, it was one of the issues identified by the energy commissioner, I believe, as requiring a short-term solution, and hopefully the utility, as a stakeholder, will be inputting the government on that fairly quickly.
I just have a few questions on renewable energy that I'd like to get on the record. The Minister of Economic Development, in a ministerial statement, recently indicated that there would be $2 million coming to the Development Corporation for the exploration of wind energy. What's envisaged? Are we looking at turbines, and, if so, how big, and exactly where are they going to be placed?
Mr. McWilliam: Yes, the $2 million, interestingly enough, is about exactly the price of a new commercial-sized wind turbine. We're looking at a 600 to 750 kV wind turbine that would be located on Haeckel Hill adjacent to the research one we have there now, but we're talking sort of a jump up to a full commercial-scale wind generator. It's still being done as a research project because there are a lot of unanswered questions related to how a turbine that size will respond to our northern climate. We had a number of problems which we had to sort out with the existing, smaller wind turbine. We hope we've got them beat. Well, we know we've got them beat on the smaller turbine. We would expect that that information would flow through to the larger one, but there is some risk there and that's why we're doing it as a research project.
Mr. Cable: The chair - no, it was the president, was good enough to give me a letter outlining the costs associated with wind energy. Now, I know in southern Alberta they're delivering wind energy around a nickel a kilowatt hour, and I think there is a monster installation of 100 megawatts being built on the Gaspé Peninsula, which I think is going to be sold to Hydro Quebec for about five cents a kilowatt hour. Yet the literature put out by the Energy Corporation I think talks about 12 to 15 cents a kilowatt hour. Where does that information come from? And is it based on the capital costs that are in this letter of October 14 that the president gave me, indicating a cost per kilowatt-hour of capacity of $2,500? Has there been some recent information on the feasibility of the wind project, or are we basing our information on speculation from two or three years ago?
Mr. McWilliam: We're basing our information on our experience with the current turbine, plus information that we've got from companies in the wind industry, in terms of their prices, and by keeping in touch with the various wind proponents. We are actively involved with the wind industry in Canada, exchanging information with them, including the folks that are running the turbines down at Pincher Creek.
You're basically looking at very high initial capital costs with commercial-sized wind generators.
Mr. Cable: The reason I ask the question is the Gaspé project is being mooted around. For 100 megawatts, they're talking about $160 million in financing. I assume that's the total financing, which is about $1,600 a kilowatt, rather than the figure that was quoted to me of $2,500.
Let me encourage the corporation - once it gets fully moved into its building and takes over the management contract and whatever else it's doing - to get updated on the capital costs that are associated with the wind turbines, because the technology seems to be moving forward rather rapidly.
Just one last question on independent power producers. I know there's a reluctance in most utilities to have these people bother them by hooking up to the lines. Where does the corporation sit on independent power producers policy? Is there one in the mill or are you working with the government to produce one? What do we see for the future for some of these smaller operators?
Mr. McWilliam: If I could perhaps just respond to the preamble before the question. We certainly will be following up with the folks in Gaspé to get more information. We are aware of some of the circumstances there now. One of the issues that we have to deal with is economies of scale and locational issues. It's a lot easier to get wind turbines into the Gaspé than it is to bring them into the Yukon and locate them here.
We have difficulty, for example, getting a lot of the companies to be very interested in bidding to us, when we're talking about a one-off type situation. You know, if we're talking about a dozen turbines, they would get excited. If we only want one, they're really hesitant, so there are some economies of scale.
The other thing, I think - I'm sure Mr. Cable is aware of this but, you know, one of the things that Hydro Quebec are concerned about is their export sales into the United States. The United States market is increasingly demanding green power. The wind project on Gaspé is Hydro Quebec's opportunity to be able to show a greener face on their project so, in some ways, it's a loss leader. There are a number of things like that that factored into their decision.
To speak to the question itself - if I can recall the question - we do have an independent power producer policy, which basically says, you know, we commit to purchase power from independent power producers at the displaced diesel cost. We are quite prepared to sit down and work with any proponent that's interested in an independent power project.
Generally, where the sticking point comes is that for those projects to be viable, they need what's called a taker-pay, long-term contract, which basically means we pay for the energy whether we can sell it or not. That, for many of them, has been the sticking point in dealing with a regulated utility.
Deputy Deputy Chair: Committee will take a short break for 10 minutes.
Deputy Deputy Chair: I will call Committee of the Whole to order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I have a couple of brief questions on redirect, if you will. There are a couple of things on which I could see where the opposition was going, and I just wanted to clarify for the benefit of the public and for the record. I'm going to direct this question to the chair, and, of course, if he feels that he wants to ask the president to answer, that's fine, too. I just want to ask the chair if there has ever been direction from YTG not to pursue looking at the feasibility of capital options, like the Carmacks-Mayo grid extension, or any other for that matter. Has there ever been direction from YTG?
Mr. Wells: No.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Another question for the president or the chair - if the chair is available to answer that's fine - did the decision that was made to reconnect Anvil Range to the grid in 1997 provide a net benefit to ratepayers, even when factoring in any outstanding arrears, let alone the fact that some of it may come back in the future?
Mr. Wells: From the information that I have from the data from the management team, ratepayers were in fact further ahead because the mine was put back on the system for the period of time that it was on.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Chair, another question I have with regard to Aishihik Lake and the decision that we made as a government to buy the bottom two feet of the lake - the allotted licence - a couple of years ago, the president said, in testifying as a witness, that the two feet that the Leader of the Official Opposition was asking about today would not even be there if the government hadn't made that decision. Perhaps the chair or the president could elaborate on that.
I'll explain my understanding of that statement and that is that it wouldn't even be an issue. There would be no discussion about it because had the government not made the decision to protect the bottom two feet, there would not be that bottom two feet to even think about drawing down this year. Is that correct?
Mr. McWilliam: I believe I did say that earlier. I also pointed out that there are a lot of variables involved here, including how cold it's going to be this winter, whether we are able to encourage Yukoners to practise some energy conservation. There are a number of things that can reduce the amount of diesel that we'll need.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I just have a quick question for the chair. There was some mention of the move that was made to reduce risk around the Anvil Range mine and having them on as a customer. Specifically, after they had reconnected to the grid, there was a proposal, as I understand it, made to the YUB to shorten the billing collection period and to ask for upfront deposits. Was there ever direction or pressure from YTG to not do this, to reduce this risk?
Mr. Wells: No.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I hope the minister feels better now. We will pursue those questions further in Question Period, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I want to move to the rates that we're facing today and the new rate relief fund that was introduced by the minister in the House the other day. I've taken some time to calculate the rates and I just want to verify them with the president and the chair.
My understanding now, as of today, is that a non-government residential customer who is using 1,000 kilowatts of power is paying $115.81. Am I correct in that?
Mr. McWilliam: I would have to go back and look at those figures. I don't have them immediately in front of me.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, what I'm trying to do is confirm the figure that was given to us by the minister in the House when he brought in the rate relief program. I would have thought that the members from the corporation would have had it with them. If they don't, I will just continue because I think it's important that this is on the public record, and I would hope that if the president is not able to respond he will come back by way of letter to us to verify whether my calculations are correct or not.
That, I believe, is the figure that was given to us in the House by the minister - that the current rate is $115.81, and with the rate relief program that's going to take effect in December of this year, it will drop to $105.87. What I'm trying to get at here is that, while I realize that's going to be a substantial reduction, the rhetoric that has gone on over rates in here, as to whether they're low or high or what, by my calculations in September of 1996, prior to this government taking office, that same 1,000 kilowatts of power would have cost the consumer $97.12.
That's why I'm asking the president if he can confirm for me if my calculations are accurate.
Mr. McWilliam: Yes, we were able to find our figures, and yes, I can confirm those.
Mr. Ostashek: Therefore, even with the rate relief program that this government is bringing in, the rates are higher than what they were in September 1996, when you consider the rate relief program and everything was in place then under a Yukon Party government.
Mr. McWilliam: I can confirm that. I can also confirm that Anvil Range was on the system and paying their share back at that time.
Mr. Ostashek: I'm going to get to that right now. I just wanted to get this issue cleared up. The fact remains, Mr. Chair - and I want to take the president back now, because this is very important - that when Anvil Range first came back on the system in 1995 - the first time they came back, the new corporation came back on the system - if the president will recall, the rates were not reduced to the consumers. There was no reduction in rates for the consumers when Anvil Range came back on line. That was to level out power rates for residential consumers. In fact, even the monies that were collected from the receiver did not go back to the consumers. They went into the diesel stabilization fund - they started that with $4 million.
My question to the president is this: why, when the rates did not go down when the Faro mine started up, did they have to go up again when the Faro mine went down the second time?
Mr. McWilliam: This is something that I've been living with for two years. The mantra that's out there on the street about you: "mine down, power up; mine up, power up".
The fact was that there were a number of things that were being dealt with at the same time. Mr. Ostashek points out that when Anvil Range came back on the system in 1995, we went into a GRA. There were a number of things which the Yukon Utilities Board was attempting to accomplish through that process. One was to start to deal with the issue of, you know, cross-subsidization within rates.
Rates for commercial and municipal customers went down dramatically as a result of the 1996 GRA. Rates did not go down for residential customers because there was an effort to try and rebalance them so that people were paying closer to the full cost of service. That had the effect of creating in the public mind this "mine up, rates up; mine down, rates up". The YUB was attempting to serve several different objectives at the same time, and I think we got some mixed messages out of it.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the president for that, but just remember that the rates went up, and they didn't come back down when the mine opened. They stayed up, and then they went up higher again when the mine closed down again.
The president is absolutely right about tying the adjustment to the different rate classes, but I guess my concern now is that with the announcement by the minister that the rates are frozen for the next four years, what impact is that going to have on the operations of the Energy Corporation in the year 2002, when the freeze is removed. Are we going to be faced with the corporation looking for massive increases under, maybe, a new NDP government or a Yukon Party government or a Liberal government? Are we just delaying the -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, this is a very serious situation, because I want to know and my constituents want to know if we are just not delaying the problem and pushing it off for some other government to handle and some other members of a corporation.
Mr. McWilliam: I think that is something that the corporation is concerned about. The reality, as we've learned painfully over the last few gyrations with the mine at Faro, is that, with that mine off the system, rates have to be upped between 15 and 20 percent. Now, that is with the mine sort of being a customer that takes 40 percent of our energy. One of the things that Mr. Wells referred to in his opening remarks is the fact that we need to look at areas where, through infrastructure, we can perhaps access additional customers or we can reduce our costs to try and lessen that gap. If we are unsuccessful in closing that gap, there certainly will be implications at the end of the four-year period. That, as I understand it, is one of the reasons why the energy commission's recommendations speak to a review of the rate stabilization fund in year 3, which would address precisely that question: where do we go from here? And that would have to factor in what new information was available about new customers and current costs. Perhaps Mr. Wells would like to add something.
Mr. Wells: The point I'd like to make - and perhaps not in addition to this as much as just amplifying a point here - is that I want the corporation to do a gap analysis to see what impact this will have in the year after the rate stabilization comes off and to give ourselves an objective to close that gap through prudent management of the corporation and investments. So, just to echo Mr. McWilliam's words, there is that risk at the end, but it also gives us a very clear target to look at ways of meeting the objective of closing that gap over the next four years.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, that is a major concern of mine and my colleagues because all of the rationale for not reducing the rates to the consumers in 1995 was, in fact, the very exercise that the corporation has embarked on now: to get a rate stabilization fund. It started out with a $4-million diesel contingency fund from the receivership of Curragh Resources to be topped up with the extra revenues that were coming from not reducing the rates when the Anvil Range mine came back on. The goal was to build a $10-million fund, which would be turned over from the diesel contingency fund to a rate stabilization fund. Now, because, in part, of change of government, that got thrown out the window and we're starting over at square one again. It's little wonder that consumers are upset.
My question to the president is this: unless we can find some cheaper sources of energy - not green power, not wind power because I understand that's coming in at 15 cents a kilowatt, not counting capital costs, but some cheaper source of power - is it not going to be very difficult to not be faced with a massive shortfall in revenues for the Energy Corporation or massive rate increases to the consumers in the year 2002?
Mr. McWilliam: That's precisely why the corporation thought that the infrastructure money that was available through YDC was so critical. That was what we needed to use to make some fundamental changes in our system, whether it be finding ways to access other customers or to reduce our costs. That's precisely what we're pursuing and that is our priority over the next few years.
Ms. Duncan: I just have a couple of questions. In your opening remarks, you made a couple of key points that struck home with me. You talked about how you see shareholder accountability and you talked about direct management of the utility, and you also mentioned that we have something to learn from history. We had 10 years with the Yukon Electrical Company Limited as the contract manager for YEC, and in January that relationship was severed, characterized, I would say by 90 percent of the people I've spoken with as the messiest, ugliest divorce in Yukon history. How would you answer to Yukoners and how is the severing of this relationship discussed now?
Mr. Wells: I guess I'd preface these comments with "I was not on the board, of course, at the time that that decision was made." I haven't had conversation along those marital lines with the people you have. I think it's fair to suggest that any time a supplier/customer relationship, especially one that's been long term, is terminated, usually one of the parties is not necessarily happy with that split.
But, again, it was a decision that was made by the board and I believe, but I may be wrong, that at the time it was supported by all political parties. I think we have to look forward and continue to build relationships with YECL, both as a customer and as a potential partner in sharing some operational synergies in rationalizing the businesses.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to thank the chair for that full and frank answer. I appreciate that.
You mentioned looking forward, and I wonder if you can give some kind of indication of what you see as a future scenario, in terms of relationship with this company.
Mr. Wells: Without speculating too much, the board of directors has had discussions. One of the areas we feel is critical for us to consider is rationalization, which can take many forms, and we're not proposing any form. But we do know that there are always opportunities, both from an operational and an asset perspective, to consider how you may rationalize the operation of two utilities in such a small market. I would say, as a minimum, we need to look at ways of reducing both corporations' costs by working together, at least at the operational level. So, I would suggest that that is a fair and reasonable starting point: to share operations and reduce costs to ratepayers - both corporations.
Ms. Duncan: And are those discussions underway? We're six months from January 1, when YEC took over. So, are we back speaking, so to speak, at the table? And I should qualify for the chair that my reference to this split, in marital terms - I've seen divisions between long-time friends, I've seen an acrimonious situation that I'm not certain, as a politician, I would have said that I, personally, was in favour of. We're six months down the road, nonetheless, and the relationship now - where are we at, in terms of discussing this rationalization?
Mr. McWilliam: Actually, we're almost a year into it, and it's been a very long year, I think, for all of us. There certainly have been issues dealing with, you know, starting up. One of the issues was the fact that we had so little time to prepare because the process that we would have normally gone through on transition wasn't available to us. Normally, there would have been a year's notice.
At the time that the operations ceased, we were trying to negotiate an operating agreement. We simply could not come to acceptable terms. You know, I'm going to say acceptable terms - it was the board of directors of Yukon Energy who said, "No, this is not an acceptable deal." We, on an operational basis, I believe, are doing what we can to work together to meet the objectives that Mr. Wells talked about. We, for example, share the services of a safety coordinator. We have sort of operational arrangements where we are prepared to support them in their communities, and vice versa.
It's a different relationship that's evolving, but once the basic decision was made, we're getting on with life.
Ms. Duncan: Thanks, Mr. Chair, and thanks for that correction about the time - it just flies when you're quite involved with life.
The cost - I was quite interested to note, on your balance sheet in the consolidated statement of earnings and retained earnings that we paid $807,000 for a management fee, and our transition costs are $880,000.
Could I have the breakdown, perhaps in written form, of exactly how that $880,000 has been spent?
Mr. McWilliam: I can make that undertaking, but I can certainly provide a little bit of general information as well.
When we looked at going to transition, one of the things that the board was concerned about would be that we not impact ratepayers. The YDC Board of Directors indicated that they were prepared to put $850,000 to $950,000 into operations plus up to an addition $1 million in capital to fund one-time-only transition costs, such as acquiring new office space, new vehicles, new computers, as well as staffing up positions.
We'll provide the breakdown, but I think the point that the member should recognize is that $800,000 a year fee was an ongoing fee; we're talking about the money that's being spent on transition as one time only.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I understand from the president that that has been clearly understood to be one time only.
When this decision was made, there must have been a discussion or some breakdown somewhere in terms of savings. There are arguments on both sides I understand, but there is some argument with the larger corporation in terms of expertise, savings on insurance and that kind of argument. Are the details of the differences, and what it costs YEC to do something that YECL, a public document, or is that simply a board minute and a board discussion?
Mr. McWilliam: There was a document that was prepared for the board of directors with our estimate of what it would cost to go to management versus maintaining the management agreement. That information was submitted to the board. It's a confidential document.
On the costs of actual operation, I think we're still discovering areas where we're learning about how things can be done more cheaply in many cases - a metering program, for example.
So, you know, we're about 11 months into transition. We haven't dealt with all of the issues that come up in a normal cycle - GRA preparation and a number of these things.
So, for us to tell you what it costs for us to run our own corporation versus what we were paying for, it's a little bit premature for us to give you all of the information.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, if I could just make a formal request on the record for the information that is available then, please, from the corporation.
One of the questions in terms of this expertise and so on that's available from a larger corporation is coping with Y2K. Are we dealing with this in terms of working with YECL, or is Yukon Energy dealing with it in terms of dealing with the Government of the Yukon? How are we coping for the new millennium?
Mr. McWilliam: Actually, we're working with YECL. We're working with the government. We're working with Northwestel. We're working with N.W.T. Power Corporation. We're working with B.C. Hydro. We're working directly with Alberta Power. This is an issue that involves us all. We're taking it seriously. We have, for example, entered into a memorandum of understanding with the N.W.T. Power Corporation, where we will share information. Since we both come from an NCPC background, we have a number of pieces of equipment in common to our operations.
We're agreeing who will do the necessary testing on which equipment and exchanging the information, so I think it's something that we all recognize as an issue, one we're all trying to grapple with.
Ms. Duncan: So, then, what you're telling us is that the lights are staying on on January 1, 2000. I'm pleased to hear it, and I'm sure all Yukoners are.
One last question with regard to the rate stabilization fund - I've written to the minister responsible but perhaps I could get a direct answer. The ministerial statement wasn't clear in terms of the application of the fund to non-profit organizations and also whether there's a special anticipation for seniors in our community, particularly as we make every effort. Can either of the gentlemen present answer the question? If not, I will await an answer from the minister.
Mr. McWilliam: I can try, and I'm sure that if I can't answer it sufficiently you will get an answer from the minister. In terms of the non-profit organizations, they are general customers. They will be covered by the rate stabilization fund. In terms of seniors, that's the first time we've heard that issue raised; however, there is the seniors grant, which does include electricity.
Mr. Jenkins: I would like to explore with the Energy Corporation the issue of the Mayo-Dawson interconnect. Was this review and initiative undertaken at the shareholders' direction?
Mr. McWilliam: No, Mr. Chair. This was something that the board of directors was looking at as part of strategic planning, in terms of what options do we want to prioritize. The Mayo-Dawson, the Mayo-Carmacks and a number of other options were identified and discussed, and the board instructed the staff to do the necessary detailed analysis so that it could come back to the board for decisions.
Mr. Jenkins: What kind of capital cost are we looking at for the Mayo-Dawson interconnect at this juncture?
Mr. McWilliam: As Mr. Wells indicated in his opening remarks, we aren't at the point where decisions have been made. We are still doing the feasibility work. A lot of that involves going back and reviewing the information that was produced back in 1991 when the preliminary engineering was first done. There are still issues that need to be addressed before we take it back to the board, but we're in the ballpark - and we emphasize "in the ballpark" - of $21 million.
I was just saying that is the same as the 1991 figure.
Mr. Jenkins: Would normal utility accounting practices apply to this addition to the asset base?
Mr. McWilliam: I believe I'm being asked to speculate because that's one of the things that the board of directors is going to have to address. Obviously, there would be a concern whether there be a rate impact in terms of a short-term spike in rates on ratepayers. The board is going to have to address that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, in the past - let's back up a little bit, Mr. Chair - when $21 million worth of assets were acquired by the Energy Corporation, was it not capitalized in the asset base of the Energy Corporation?
Mr. McWilliam: Yes - well, I hesitate to answer that quite so quickly because this is a very large project for the corporation. I'm trying to think of a project of this size that the corporation has dealt with in its 10 years. In terms of the transfer of the assets of NCPC, those were dealt with quite uniquely through the flex-term note and other arrangements with the Government of Canada. So, what are we comparing to, I guess would be my question.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, we're spending some $21 million on this interconnect, in putting in this grid. Now, the question is very straightforward: will that be included in the asset base and will normal utility accounting practices apply to the addition or the expenditure of this sum of money?
Mr. Wells: From the board's perspective, there are two basic criteria. First, let me start with this point: there is no decision to spend $21 million. One, is that this has to be economic, that this has to reduce cost, it has to have a positive economic outlook for us and, secondly, I believe the board will be looking at mitigating any short-term impact on ratepayers. So, to that extent, there may have to be some adjustment in what is considered to be normal regulatory accounting.
This project is far from a "go" decision.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm very, very concerned with what I'm hearing, Mr. Chair. We have the Energy Corporation that's charged with this responsibility. On its own initiative, it's exploring an interconnect. It's exploring the Mayo-Dawson interconnect, and the suggestion that $21 million not be treated - or we don't know how to treat it, as far as the assets of the Energy Corporation - is very alarming. Now, given the normal rate of return, if it's treated in a standard fashion, we'd be looking at $2 million a year. At $21 million, we'd be looking at a $2-million return on the investment for the Energy Corporation. That's just a return on their asset base. Now, even if the energy at the Mayo end was supplied free of charge, given the tremendous return on the investment that the Energy Corporation has allowed, would you not conclude this is not a profitable undertaking?
Mr. Wells: I guess, to repeat, this project will not get board approval - and it also has to be approved by Cabinet, I understand. This project will not get board approval if it's not an economic project. So, you can rest assured with that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, is the Energy Corporation aware that the City of Dawson is opposed to this initiative, and that the Dawson City First Nation is opposed? Viceroy has looked at it and has numbers from the Energy Corporation as to what you can supply energy to them for, and what it's currently costing them to generate their own power in house. All three have concluded the same thing - that it's not a viable alternative. Does their suggestion to you that that is, in fact, the case not bear any weight?
Mr. Wells: I'll make a couple of comments and then turn it over to Mr. McWilliam, who has been up in the area.
Are you suggesting that the City of Dawson has done an economic analysis on this project?
Three groups that have done an analysis on this project that show that it's not feasible - I think the City of Dawson you suggested, and First Nations, and Viceroy - they've all done detailed economic analysis, and it proves that this project is not viable.
Is that what you're saying?
Mr. Jenkins: If you just back up a little bit in history, Mr. Chair, before Viceroy went into production, they did come to the Energy Corporation and seek a price for energy delivered at the mine site. The price given to them at that juncture was predicated on a number of factors, and it was very much more economical for the mine to generate its own energy rather than tie into any potential grid extension.
The City of Dawson has done an analysis, and is supported in this initiative in being in opposition at this time, given the impact it will have on the base rate, in the community.
Mr. McWilliam: Well, as Mr. Wells has indicated, this project is not at the stage where we've done approvals. However, we have been out to consult with communities and First Nations on several occasions. One of the things that we were hearing from the communities and the First Nations was that they wanted as much lead time as possible, so they wanted us to get out and talk to them, essentially as soon as we started looking at the project.
I was in both Dawson and Mayo a week ago, met with the mayor and city manager, the chief and council of Tr'ondek Hwech'in; and I met with Mayo Village council and the chief and council of Nacho Nyak Dun.
In none of those meetings did we get an indication that they were opposed to the project. They were asking questions, very valid questions - everything from sort of reliability of power to who gets the opportunities - the business opportunities and employment, that is.
For example, when I met with the Mayor of Dawson, his indication was that if the outcome of the project was that we could demonstrate we could reduce costs through this - long-term- and get the diesel plant out of downtown Dawson - long term - they would be quite supportive of the project.
So, we're trying to involve all of these groups as much as we can as we go through the exercise. Based on your comments, I will certainly be following up with both the First Nation and the municipality to find out what's happened in the last week.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it would probably be easier just to speak with the Government Leader, who was at one meeting with his worship from Dawson, and his worship clearly indicated to the Government Leader that the city was opposed, based on all of the numbers they had presented to them to date, and there were some numbers bandied about at that juncture.
So, it is a concern. It is a concern for the area. With the numbers given here today, although they are preliminary, if normal utility accounting practices are applied, this provides no benefit to the community of Dawson for a reduction in energy costs. Plus, there is the other factor, the reliability of the energy source that's not even factored in - the number of power outages that would be experienced on the grid. There is a whole series of factors that are not being addressed, and I would ask the Energy Corporation to give serious consideration to a full review and a full understanding of this area before they even contemplate it, Mr. Chair.
Mr. McRobb: I appreciate the opportunity to ask a few questions of the representatives of the utilities. This is the first time I've done so in the Legislature. Usually, when I do so, it's standing in front of a microphone looking across at a bunch of lawyers, engineers and consultants, but it's quite a pleasant change to look across here tonight, and it's less intimidating for sure.
The first area I'd like to explore is the history of rate relief and the diesel contingency fund. I would like to ask you to confirm that the purpose of the diesel contingency fund was to balance hydro shortfalls and surpluses on the system.
Mr. McWilliam: I was not party to the negotiated settlement that occurred in 1996, which is what the diesel contingency fund came out of. The effect of the fund basically worked based on the amount of diesel that was input versus the amount of water that was available. I don't know if I can add much more than that.
Mr. McRobb: That's fine, Mr. Chair. I was a part of that process and I was just asking for affirmation on it.
Another question on the diesel contingency fund would be, how was it funded? I saw in the recent 1997 annual report that it identified the sources of the funds as being completely related to revenue requirements such as a Curragh shortfall and so on, and there was no government funds involved at all. Can you confirm that, please?
Mr. McWilliam: There were essentially three sources of funds. There was the money that was left in the low-water reserve at the time the diesel contingency fund was set up. There was money that came from the start-up of Anvil Range from the period when they came back into production in 1996 through to when the GRA was dealt with. That went into it. And the bulk of the funds came from the money that was recovered on the Curragh bad debt. That had been amortized, was recovered from ratepayers and, when the money was recovered, it was available for ratepayers' use. The use was to put in a diesel contingency fund.
Mr. McRobb: I would concur with that explanation, Mr. Chair, that certainly there were no government funds put into the diesel contingency fund and certainly it was not the rate stabilization fund and it certainly did not have a $10-million limit.
The question now goes to the history of rate relief. I believe he mentioned that at the March 1996 hearing there was a rate decrease to the commercial customer class and the municipal customer class. Did, in effect, that nullify rate relief to those customer classes?
Mr. McWilliam: Yes, my understanding was that, after the 1996 GRAs, rate relief was eliminated for commercial customers because of the reduction in rates for commercial customers.
Mr. McRobb: I would concur with that explanation as well, Mr. Chair. In effect, the cost of the rate relief program was reduced by about half at that time - is that correct?
Mr. McWilliam: It went from a high of about $3 million down to $1.8 million.
Mr. McRobb: I concur there as well, Mr. Chair. One of the concerns to myself, as a consumer advocate at the time, was about the longevity of the rate relief program. We had heard rumours it was going to be cancelled and terminated, and certainly there was discussion on the floor of the Legislature to that effect. Shortly after coming to government, we learned that, in fact, it was going to be terminated and it was viewed as a very short-term, stop-gap measure. Can you confirm that for me as well, please?
Mr. McWilliam: Well, I think all I can say is that the program, when it was set up back in 1993, was set up as an interim program. That was supposed to run, I believe, until the end of 1994, but it was then subsequently extended by an OIC on an annual basis. So, there was an annual OIC that was being passed to keep the program alive.
Mr. McRobb: We're running short on time, Mr. Chair, so I'll limit it just to a couple more questions. In the energy commission's review, we identified several sources of subsidies that apply now to power rates in the Yukon Territory, and also did a comparison of bills here with similar jurisdictions in Alaska and B.C., and even in southern Canada, in places like Ontario. Can you give a comment, please, on how we compare with these other jurisdictions, as far as electricity rates are concerned?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Deputy Deputy Chair: Order please.
Mr. McWilliam: I think that, as Mr. McRobb has indicated, the Cabinet Commission on Energy issued a technical paper on electrical rates and relief. The comparisons to other jurisdictions and the history of rate relief is included in there, and I would refer people to that, rather than my, sort of, misstating anything around it.
Mr. McRobb: I'll have to forego the questions on the coal plant and the myth of the six-cent power and the big rate decreases that would result for next year, Mr. Chair, and I'd like to close on a question that is of concern to several of my constituents, and it's the wind monitoring station at Crocus Hill near Mackintosh Lodge, west of Haines Junction. Can you give some comments about what this particular tower is doing and what the potential is for wind generation in that area?
Mr. McWilliam: I'm afraid I can't give very up-to-date information on that. I could undertake to submit that information to the Legislature.
We have entered into some monitoring out there along with Boreal and the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, basically to assess the economic potential for wind in that area. It's similar to the wind-monitoring work we've done in the Destruction Bay-Burwash area and that we're currently doing in Old Crow. It's part of an ongoing program we have to try and identify where there is potential for wind energy in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Harding: That pretty much concludes the time. I have one more question I want to leave with the chair. I want to first thank them for coming before the House. The president and the chair have put themselves in the hot seat. I guess it goes to the whole question of governance and the autonomy of the board. There was a heckling earlier when I asked them questions under redirect that I was given answers because I was Mr. Boss Man.
Mr. Chair, you were appointed as a citizen of the territory to this position and I'd like to ask a very serious question. Would you come before this House and say anything that was misleading or untruthful or allow your president to do so ...
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Deputy Deputy Chair: Order please. Order please.
Hon. Mr. Harding: ... just in order to keep your position as chair and take the prestige of this job?
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Deputy Deputy Chair: Order please. The time being 9:30, I would like to thank the witnesses and do now excuse them. I will rise and report at this time.
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Deputy Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Livingston: Mr. Speaker, Ray Wells, the chair of the board of the Yukon Development Corporation, and Rob McWilliam, president and chief executive officer of the Yukon Development Corporation, appeared as witnesses from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. before Committee, pursuant to Committee of the Whole Motion No. 1, passed earlier this day.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Deputy Deputy Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Speaker: This House does now stand adjourned until tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.
The House adjourned at 9:31 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 16, 1998:
Youth Strategy - Young Voices: the key to our future (dated November 1998) (Moorcroft)
Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board: review of administration costs, prepared by Coles Hewitt (dated November 9, 1998) (Harding)
Yukon Advisory Council on Women's Issues 1997-98 Annual Report (Moorcroft)