Wednesday, March 10, 1999 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Are there any tributes?
Introduction of visitors.
Are there any returns or documents for tabling?
Are there any reports of committees?
Are there any petitions?
Are there any bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Tombstone park
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Economic Development. Yesterday in this House, the minister refused to answer the question about if this NDP government would recognize the mining claims registered by Canadian United Minerals in the study area of the new proposed Tombstone park. He refused to answer this question, despite the fact that these claims were registered prior to the expansion of the park boundaries and the settlement of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in land claims settlement. The federal government, Mr. Speaker, has already recognized that these are legitimate claims, as has the Chamber of Mines yesterday.
Mr. Speaker, this NDP government is sending out very mixed messages to resource investors. It would not take a stand to support the application of Northern Cross to open up three wells in the Eagle Plains area. Now it won't support the validity of the claims filed by Canadian United Minerals.
My question to the minister: is he not aware that lack of support by this government for resource development is killing the confidence of investors in the Yukon Territory?
Hon. Mr. Harding: I think yesterday's announcement that we've just raised over $3 million in the immigrant investment fund in the Yukon runs contrary to the member's premise that he just made.
We have a balanced agenda, one that is very strongly supportive of mineral resource extraction, as well as oil and gas development. We've been miles ahead of what the Yukon Party could accomplish on that particular agenda. We have a balanced approach, and in this case, there is a process in place. For government to interject itself very strongly into that process, I think would do a disservice to the assessment process that has to be undertaken.
We support very strongly responsible mineral exploration, and resource development activities. That's evidenced by our increased budget in resource assessments by the mineral exploration tax credit that we made a commitment to, and we believe that our position is very, very strong in terms of supporting claims. We do believe that the mining companies that are doing work do make good efforts to make claims that are going to have some future value in terms of mineral -
Speaker: The member's time has expired.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, the question to this minister was very simple, and I pointed out to him that both the federal government and the Yukon Chamber of Mines recognize these claims as legitimate claims. I didn't ask the minister about interfering in the process. I didn't ask him anything of the sort. I asked him if his government recognized these as legitimate claims. That's four times now that he's refused to answer that question.
Mr. Speaker, if devolution goes ahead as planned, in April 2000, this government, under devolution, will take over the administration of mining in the territory and the administration of the Quartz Mining Act, yet we have a minister who stands in this House today and won't say whether his government supports these claims that were staked prior to the land being withdrawn, yet this is the very minister who is going to be responsible for the Quartz Mining Act after devolution.
What kind of confidence does the minister think that builds with investors in the Yukon Territory?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, the mining claims exist. They are a fact of life. Any development must go through due process. It would be irresponsible for any government inheriting devolution - which we are, and we're very proud of the fact that we've been able to negotiate that - to do anything other than to respect due process.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, we're getting a little bit closer. Now he's admitting that claims do exist. All I asked him is to put on the public record if he agrees that these are legitimate claims, that they were staked in a proper manner and that they ought to be recognized as a legitimate claim. I have not said anything about the minister interfering in the permitting process; that's another process.
This government needs to send a clear signal to investors that they support development in the Yukon as long as it goes through the regulatory processes. To sit there and not say that these claims are legitimate is wrong. He has to have a position - either they're legitimate claims or they're not.
I want to ask the minister once more to stand on his feet and tell Yukoners whether his government believes that these claims are legitimate claims.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the mining claims exist, they're a fact of life that we have to deal with; they will be respected in the process that the federal government is going to undertake; they will be respected in that process and we will ensure that that happens.
Mr. Speaker, I would also say to the member opposite that any government that is inheriting devolution must be respectful of due process. It's very important that we don't make decisions based on what are very difficult and sometimes polarized issues, but rather on a good assessment of the facts around the whole case and in this case, it's a land use decision.
Question re: Takhini Hot Springs prospectus
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, it's odd that this government won't recognize the validity of these claims, yet the federal government, which is doing the due process that this minister's so high on, has stated quite publicly that they are legitimate claims, and this minister won't.
Mr. Speaker, my question is again to the Minister of Economic Development, and this is on the fiasco of the Takhini Hot Springs prospectus.
I gave the minister plenty of opportunity to defend his position on this prospectus - this Cadillac prospectus that the government bought to help sell a private company -
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: The Member for Faro, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite started out making a preamble on a very different issue from the one he is now asking the question on.
I would ask him to ask the question based on the preamble and not switch up in mid question. That's consistent with the rules surrounding Question Period.
Speaker: The Member for Porter Creek North, on the point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, it was not the preamble to my question. The members opposite do it all the time when they get up to answer questions. They don't even refer to the question that we've been asking in this House.
I was just commenting on my last question. I was starting to proceed on the supplementary when the member rose on a point of order.
Speaker: I would ask all members to stay within their questions and not to move to another.
The member can continue.
Mr. Ostashek: My question is to the Minister of Economic Development about the Takhini Hot Springs prospectus. I have given this minister ample opportunity, Mr. Speaker, in this House to defend his government for their going ahead and putting together this Cadillac prospectus to help sell a private company. Once again, this minister has refused to answer questions in this area.
Mr. Speaker, the Yukon media has been attempting to get a copy of this prospectus, which was purchased with taxpayers' money, but has been told that this document is confidential. I, myself, tried yesterday to get a copy of this prospectus and was told by the minister's office that there were confidentiality issues involved in it. This is totally absurd. A prospectus is to sell a property. It's a public document. It's not a confidential document.
I want to ask the minister today: what is he trying to hide that he won't release this document to the public?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, I'm not trying to hide anything. We decided that the hot springs had potential, in a very large way, for developing the Yukon tourism industry, for more than just one particular developer, but for the benefit of a lot of Yukon businesses in the tourism industry, in creating economic growth.
The document was not - and is not - just specific to the hot springs. It is a visioning document because we want to do more product development work with some of the potential jewels that we have, economically, to develop in the territory. So we are going to continue to do that. The work that has been done will be used for this particular initiative - was used in this initiative, will be in the future. It'll be used in other product development areas in the very near future.
Mr. Ostashek: Here we have a visionary document that's confidential. That says a lot for the vision of this government. It says a lot for it.
Mr. Speaker, this document cost Yukon taxpayers in excess of $65,000, when everyone I talked to in the real estate industry says this is an atrocious amount of money to be paying for a prospectus - whether it's a visionary document or not. Most prospectuses are visionary documents, and lay out the potential of what's being sold.
In excess of $65,000, Mr. Speaker - $1,500 a day to an outside consultant that amounted to over $40,000. A document that Yukoners here could have prepared at half the cost - or less than half the cost, a third, a quarter of the cost, from what I'm told.
Could the minister tell me what expertise this outside consultant brought to the government, that they couldn't hire in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, first of all, our record on business contracts going to Yukon companies is that we've increased it from 59 percent of the total value to 89 percent - from that member's administration to ours - an obvious testimonial to the good work in terms of providing business opportunities for Yukoners.
The second thing I'd say to the member opposite is that this prospectus was not a real estate prospectus, but rather a product development prospectus for this site and others around the territory that present some significant opportunities to a large number of Yukoners, in terms of economic benefits.
The third thing I'll say is that some elements of this particular initiative will be available to the public. There is some confidential information that can't be made public, surrounding a private business, but a lot of the elements of it will be.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, I don't know what business the government has building prospectuses to sell private businesses. And here we have an open and accountable government. This is what they campaigned on to Yukoners. They're going to do government in a better way. They're going to be open and accountable. And then, every time you ask for a document, it's confidential - $65,000 of taxpayers' money.
Mr. Speaker, I'm going to ask the minister one more time if he will table that document and save us all a lot of trouble, because this morning I applied under the Access to Information Act to get that document. He could save us all a lot of time and a lot of trouble, if this government has nothing to hide in this document, and table it in the Legislature tomorrow. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, a large number of elements of this visioning document, that includes references to product development for this site and others, will be made available to the public. Some confidential business information will not be made available, so the member can save his access form. If he wants to go through with that, that's fine. It will be made available - a lot of the aspects of it. We have some confidentiality concerns that we have to deal with, in terms of business information, but beyond that, the product development is going to be something that this government will do because we think we have to take the next step, economically, to put together some investment packages, and that is going to involve the private sector and government. They can include land issues, taxation issues - all kinds of things that governments traditionally do, to try and spur on economic activity.
So, we're doing that. Of course, there will be some risks; there will be some naysayers, like the Yukon Party, but I've got to tell the member opposite that a lot of the people in the public have said that they want this type of initiative driven in partnership with the public and private sectors in the territory. I will also say to the member opposite that we are working with over 70 private businesses in the export, trade and investment initiative that we're doing in all aspects of business development, from helping them to market their products -
Speaker: The time has expired.
Question re: Internal trade agreement
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Government Leader and it concerns the social union agreement that was signed a few weeks ago.
The Government Leader signed the accord, which reads, "Governments are also committed to ensure by July 1, 2001, full compliance with the mobility provisions of the agreement on internal trade, including eliminating residency requirements for access to employment opportunities."
Mr. Speaker, the NDP's local hire policy, which was announced with great fanfare, requires individuals to be Yukon residents for Government of Yukon jobs. This clearly violates the social union deal and the agreement on internal trade.
In light of the Government Leader's signing of the social union agreement, is the government reconsidering the Yukon hire provisions for Government of Yukon jobs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'll respond to this, if I might, because I had taken part in the negotiations on the social union - in the framework agreement.
With regard to the issue of mobility, there was a tremendous amount of emphasis on this issue, not only from ourselves but from other jurisdictions, because there was a strong sense from the federal government that they wanted to do away with any restrictions on mobility whatsoever.
Our position, along with those of other jurisdictions, including the Northwest Territories - and we took a strong position on this - was that we needed to have certain reasonable limitations. So, for example, on issues not only regarding employment but also on issues such as delivery of medical services, provision of residency requirements to take part in certain of our social programs, we worked out what we thought was a compromise with the provision of the word "reasonable". We believe, and we have some legal opinion on this that would not interfere with Yukon hire provisions.
Ms. Duncan: Well, Mr. Speaker, the agreement on internal trade is clear, and the agreement on the social union is clear.
I have not seen any words in there that refer to "reasonable residency requirements" such as the Minister of Government Services has just said. There are no loopholes that the minister is referring to. The Government Leader signed the social union deal. The minister has talked about a legal opinion. Is the minister prepared to provide us with that legal opinion that says that the Yukon hire provisions are entirely compliant with both of these national agreements?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm somewhat surprised that the members of the Liberal Party have taken such a stance to exclude Yukoners from participating in the benefits of the economy. But, nonetheless, since they seem to interpret the social union agreement for their own interests, I can tell the member that we are of the opinion that the agreement on internal trade provides for exemptions such as the Yukon business incentive program and other Yukon hire provisions, and we believe that they will meet the test under the agreement on internal trade, and we believe as well, because this was raised, not only by us but by other jurisdictions, that the concept of mobility and the reasonable restrictions on mobility will suffice in this regard.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, would the minister provide me with what evidence he has to support his argument, legal or otherwise?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We can provide the member with the kinds of background documents that we have in this regard. I would say that this was a process that had gone on for quite a period of time. The whole question of mobility was one that the federal government pressed very hard on. A number of the provinces and territories did have concerns about this - for example, the Northwest Territories, which has a preferential-hire policy, us, and other jurisdictions. I guess maybe that the federal Liberals are trying to use their junior partners to try to get what they couldn't get at the social union table.
Question re: Nurses, retention of
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the Minister of Health and Social Services, concerning this government's lack of initiatives to retain our skilled nurses here in the Yukon.
Now, we've spoken in the Legislature about the recruitment of nurses but we haven't paid enough attention to the issue of retaining the nurses that we already have.
Let's look at one problem. Some of the new nurses that are being hired are receiving incentives like housing allowances while the nurses who are already on staff in the rural areas don't get these allowances.
Does this minister think that this is a respectful and equitable treatment of rural nurses, and does he think that this is a good way to retain nurses in the Yukon, by having one set of incentives for new nurses and fewer for the nurses who have stuck it out?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I regret to disabuse the member of that notion, because today a letter was sent out to all the nurses informing them that some of the proposed rent increases that would have gone into effect have, in fact, been deferred. So, we are trying to recognize the issue of housing and trying to make those adjustments.
Mrs. Edelman: That's good news, but there are other issues where new nurses are getting more than nurses who are already here, and this is an issue that the YRNA has brought forward to the minister on a couple of occasions. It's the issue of retaining the nurses that we already have.
We lost a lot of nurses between the transfer in 1997 and today. Now, this government's handling of the nursing shortage could have been described best as crisis management.
A long-term plan is needed to deal with the issue of nurse retention for both rural and urban nurses. The best way to deal with this is with all the stakeholders that are involved. Any worthwhile long-term strategy must involve the nurses themselves, the YRNA, the department, as well as the public and the private sector who hire the nurses - like the hospital and the doctors. However, none of this is going to happen unless there is a political will to develop the strategy.
Mr. Speaker, can the minister commit today to this House that there is a willingness on the part of this government to develop a long-term strategy on nurse retention and recruitment with all the stakeholders involved?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, not only can I say that we would commit to that, I can also say that we're already doing that. We just announced a $200,000 professional development fund. We announced a nursing bursary fund. I've met with the YRNA; I've met with the hospital. I've emphasized some of the things that we are doing. They seem to be quite pleased. Certainly, the YRNA was pleased with the concept of the professional development fund.
We're going to work with them on the development of that. We're going to work with them on the development of other initiatives to not only retain the nurses that we have, but also to recognize that it's an aging workforce. We not only have to retain the folks we have, but we also have to move ahead. We have to look ahead to bringing people into the profession. We have to look at making it an attractive profession. We have to look at allowing people in the profession to have those kind of professional growth opportunities. That's what we're already doing.
Mrs. Edelman: Recognition is what most of this is about. If you want to retain nurses in the Yukon, that's what we have to do first: recognize the good work that they do. The minister making a call here and a call there is not a strategy where all the stakeholders are involved. That's not a strategy.
Now, Mr. Speaker, this is the end of a long series of problems with the transfer of nurses from the federal government, and we're facing a much larger challenge in the very near future, and that's staffing a 64-bed continuing care facility.
Mr. Speaker, the time to plan is now. How are we going to staff this facility with nurses in the future?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I've just indicated to the member that we have already made professional development opportunities available. I've had some discussions with the health programs up at the college about where our needs are. We know, for example, that we're going to need individuals to do, sort of, nursing attendant kind of roles. We've had some discussion with them about our training needs.
I've discussed with the YRNA the whole question of nurse recruitment and nurse retention. We're committed to working with our partners in health, and I think we've done some very tangible things in this budget to demonstrate that we are committed to health: everything from the diabetes program to our hospital-to-home linkages, our nursing bursary for young people, our professional development fund. I think we're doing a tremendous amount to encourage people in the health professions.
Question re: Medevacs from Dawson City
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Minister of Health and Social Services, on the issue of physicians' on-call service in rural Yukon communities. Mr. Speaker, yesterday in response to one of my questions, the minister unintentionally misled the House. I want to give him the opportunity today to correct the record.
The minister stated that there were 19 medevacs out of Dawson City last year, when in fact today I'm sure the minister knows that figure is totally wrong.
Some Hon. Member: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Point of order
Speaker: On a point of order, the Member for Faro.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, the member has I think perhaps crossed a line by saying - either intentionally or unintentionally - he has stated that the minister has misled the House. So I think that would be considered unparliamentary, and he should consider withdrawing it.
Speaker: On the point of order.
Mr. Ostashek: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker. The member quite clearly said that the minister made a mistake - he unintentionally did it. He categorized that very clearly, and he's giving the minister an opportunity to correct the record. I don't believe he has crossed the line.
Speaker: The Chair did not hear the member state that it was intentional, so would the member please continue.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, for the record, Mr. Speaker, yesterday in response to one my questions, the minister unintentionally misled the House, and I want to give the minister the opportunity here today to correct the record.
The minister stated that there 19 medevacs out of Dawson City last year when, in fact, today I'm sure the minister knows that figure is totally wrong. So, I'd ask the minister to kindly provide the correct information.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, I take some exception to the term "misled". That implies a motive; there was no motive involved here. When I referred to "19", what I had meant to say was 19 after-hours and since we were talking about after-hour coverage, I assumed that's what the member wanted. In reality, I think there were 44 medevacs out of Dawson, but since we are talking about on-call coverage, after-hours coverage, which is what we were talking about, 19 was the number I was given.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'm sure if the minister keeps working at it, he'll get closer.
The 19 medevacs the minister referred to yesterday were the number of First Nation medevacs out of Dawson City, Mr. Speaker. I guess the welfare of the balance of the population doesn't count. In total last year, there were 51 medevacs out of Dawson City, and the minister has acknowledged there will be additional medevacs if the doctors do not provide on-call service. This could amount to an additional one-quarter of a million dollars a year and it also would not provide timely medical care for citizens.
Will the minister now sit down with the doctors, analyze the correct figures and put a reasonable offer on the table for their consideration?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: First of all, Mr. Speaker, I would ask the member to clarify his remarks. Is he implying that we have a racially based medical system? Is that what he's implying, because that's certainly the tenor I took from his remarks? Does he wish to drive a wedge in between people?
I would suggest, as well, that the member's calculation is rather somewhat self-serving. It is our calculation that if there was a withdrawal of services by the physicians on an on-call basis, it would amount to anywhere from five to 10 additional medevacs. That is our estimate. At $1,700 apiece, that would work out to about $17,000.
I would suggest that the member needs to go back and rework his figures, perhaps with a less creative math bent.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Speaker, I simply can't understand the minister's reluctance, as it only makes economic sense for the minister to meet the Dawson doctors' requests. You know, the $1,700 that the minister has stated is only the basic cost...
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please.
Mr. Jenkins: ... for the aircraft. It doesn't include the medevac team. This is not a money issue alone, Mr. Speaker. The doctors want some time off, and if they are oncall, they want to fairly compensated. Furthermore, if the Dawson doctors were paid the same amount as the doctor in Faro was already receiving, this would equal what they are looking for. How can the minister justify this double standard for the payment of doctors?
Now, will the minister sit down with the Dawson doctors and put a more realistic and reasonable offer on the table for them?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, I think the member needs to go back and talk with his friends in Dawson and really see what the financial scope of their proposal was. He made reference to the proposal in Faro. That's exactly one of the proposals that we have put on the table. That is exactly one of the proposals that we have put on the table - the same amount that we have put on the table. We have not heard back.
Mr. Speaker, the member says that this is not about money. H. L. Mencken once said that if somebody says it's not about money, it's about money. I would suggest that that member really needs to take a hard look at the figure that was brought forward, and he needs to really seriously consider if indeed the proposal that he's suggesting there, which is comparable to Faro, has not been put forward to those positions and has not been rejected.
Question re: Thomson Centre, new kitchen
Mrs. Edelman: My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services, and it's about the food services at the Thomson Centre.
Mr. Speaker, it's clear that in previous debates in this Legislature, the minister has referred, a number of times, to the fact that the food provided by Whitehorse General Hospital is not up to standards. It's not clear from the minister's statements as to what these standards might be. Do they refer to temperature, or taste, or presentation, time of delivery, or nutritional content? Do TV dinners meet the standard? What are these standards that the minister continually refers to when he speaks about the food that he is going to provide out of the new kitchen at the Thomson Centre, and can the minister provide a copy of the standards that he is referring to?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Speaker, what I'll do is provide some background information from the Thomson Centre staff about concerns they've had with the quality of food. But I can say that some of the issues we've had in the past have been issues of the type of food not being able to be consumed by some of our patients with particular dietary problems. We've had some difficulties with some foods for folks in the special care unit. As well, the proposal the hospital brought forward was a chill-and-serve kind of system, and we just didn't feel that that met the needs of the people in there.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, there actually aren't any standards for food service at the Thomson Centre; there isn't for the hospital, either. Now, in B.C., Alberta, and every other jurisdiction in Canada, intermediate care and hire must have some type of licensing for the facility, and part of this licensing is food safety, proper charting of meals, and auditing of food services. Now, we don't have any licensing here, but it might be a good idea to borrow some of that criteria from other provinces, to safeguard our long-term facility residents here in the Yukon. Is there a willingness to examine the licensing of intermediate care facilities here in Yukon, to ensure that continuing care residents are being properly and consistently cared for?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm sure that one of our concerns will be such things as food standards when we are looking at intermediate and long-term care.
I should mention that we don't have any problem with the nutrition aspect of the food at the hospital. It's nutritious and suitable for hospital purposes. The essential difference, I think, is that we are, in a sense, dealing with two very different institutions. I'm sure the member is aware that places like Thomson and Macaulay are the home of the residents, and there needs to be a somewhat different approach to how people are served and the kind of food that people have there.
We've tried on several occasions to resolve issues not only of cost but also of preparation, availability, timeliness, and things like that, and we've chosen to move in the pattern that we have.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Speaker, we are about to build our third continuing care facility here in Whitehorse and we still don't have any standards, so may I suggest in a friendly way that maybe that's something we need to spend some time on.
Part of the delivery of quality food service to continuing-care residents is to develop good standards and then stick to them. And the government can only hope to develop those standards with the help of a licensed dietician.
Mr. Speaker, licensed dieticians are like nurse practitioners in Canada. They are very rare. And the hospital advertised for eight months before they managed to hire one licensed dietician. Now, currently the department is trying to entice a licensed dietician to move to the Yukon for only six hours' work a week. Does the minister think that this is going to happen, and what does he expect to do while he waits for this mythical dietician to show up?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I wasn't aware that there were mythical dieticians and real dieticians. I thought that they were just all dieticians.
The member is right, we are seeking dietician services, not only for things such as the Thomson Centre and into the future but also for things such as our diabetes program there. We are concerned about the provision of dietary services. We are concerned about the nutrition of our residents, and we will make all effort, and I'll certainly take the member's suggestions under advisement.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. Before proceeding to Orders of the Day, the Chair will provide a ruling on the question of privilege raised on March 8, 1999, by the government House leader.
Speaker's ruling on question of privilege
Speaker: Standing Order 7(4) states that the Speaker must rule on (a), whether there appears, on the face of it, to be a case of breach of privilege, and (b), whether the matter has been raised at the earliest opportunity.
The normal practice of this House has been that, to meet the "earliest opportunity" requirement, a question of privilege must be raised at the time the event occurred or the next sitting day. In this matter, the event took place on Wednesday, March 3, 1999. The government House leader provided a communication to the Speaker's Office on Thursday, March 4, 1999, indicating that he was considering raising the "exchange which took place between the Member for Riverdale North and the Chair of Committee of the Whole" as a question of privilege. He wrote, however, that he wished to delay doing so for one sitting day in order for him to "provide a clear and proper description of the question."
On Monday, March 8, 1999, the government House leader, pursuant to Standing Order 7(1)(b), gave a written notice containing a brief statement of the question to the Speaker two hours before the opening of the sitting. This process, by which there is a delay in presenting a question of privilege, is unusual in this House. The Chair will accept it on this occasion and may allow it again at some future point. However, members should be aware that the Chair's determination will depend on the circumstances of the moment and the importance to the House of the issue being raised. To be clear on this point, the Chair will not guarantee that a delay will always be granted.
Since, in this case, the "earliest opportunity" requirement is being found to be satisfied, the question for the Chair to decide on is whether the government House leader has raised a question which, on the face of it, is a possible breach of privilege.
The Chair has reviewed the Hansard and has also taken the opportunity to listen to the Hansard tapes of the event in question.
From those, the Chair's understanding of what happened is as follows:
(1) The leader of the opposition had been recognized by the Chair and was speaking.
(2) During his speech, a member, identified as the Member for Lake Laberge by the leader of the official opposition, made a number of comments from his seat. Since the Member for Lake Laberge did not have the floor, those comments are shown in Hansard as "Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)".
(3) The leader of the official opposition, following several of those comments, identified the Member for Lake Laberge and made personal statements about that member.
(4) The Chair called for order and stated: "I would ask members to refrain from making personal remarks and concentrate on the budget."
(5) The Member for Riverdale North rose on a point of order, was recognized, and began to speak. The Member for Lake Laberge rose during the point of order being spoken to by the Member for Riverdale North and was recognized by the Chair on a point of order. Before the Member for Lake Laberge could speak, the Member for Klondike rose on a point of order and was recognized by the Chair. The Member for Klondike, the Member for Lake Laberge and the Member for Riverdale North spoke in turn.
(6) When he had the floor, the Member for Riverdale North said to the Chair, in part, "[W]hat I was criticizing is you criticized the opposition leader for what he said ... but you didn't say anything about the ... hooting and hollering ... of the member opposite."
(7) The Chair responded by saying, in part: "The Chair did not criticize anyone. The Chair is trying to maintain order. It does not appreciate being accused of criticizing anyone in this House."
(8) The leader of the official opposition was given the floor and began to speak when the Member for Riverdale North rose on a point of order and stated: "Mr. Chair, I want you to apologize to me for just cat-calling at me, as the Chair of Committee of the Whole, or else get out of the Chair and sit in the back, where everyone else is."
(9) The government House leader was then recognized and stated: "I would ask that members in this House respect that it is not appropriate to be addressing the Chair in such a manner. Everybody should just relax, including me, and let's just get on with this debate."
(10) The Chair did not provide a ruling on the point of order raised by the Member for Riverdale North. The Chair then recognized the leader of the official opposition who began speaking.
(11) While the leader of the official opposition was speaking, the Member for Riverdale North called out: "Point of order, Mr. Chair."
(12) The Hansard tape indicates that the Chair had not recognized the Member for Riverdale North but, while the Chair was calling for order, it is clear that the Member for Riverdale North said that the Chair had directed a vile obscenity at him.
(13) The Chair did not respond to the accusation made by the Member for Riverdale North and, according to the notation in Hansard, then vacated the Chair.
(14) The Deputy Chair then took the Chair, and the Committee of the Whole continued with the business before it.
Those are the events being referred to. The question to be addressed is whether they had lead to a conclusion that, on the face of it, there was a breach of privilege.
The government House leader, in his statement of the question of privilege, did not identify any specific privilege, which might have been violated. Instead, he said, "[C]ontinued abuse or disrespectful conduct and spurious accusations by any member disrupts House business, brings the entire Legislature into disrepute, and cannot go uncorrected. It indicates a serious lack of respect for the rules and decorum of this House and the people chosen to sit in neutral positions in the performance of public duties." Later on, the government House leader asked the Speaker to review the Hansard and the Hansard tapes and to rule whether, in reference to the Member for Riverdale North, "his comments and his behaviour violated the Chair's authority and his responsibilities, as contained in the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms." The government House leader concluded that such a ruling would "clarify whether a motion of censure should be brought forward against the Member for Riverdale North."
One of the standards by which the Chair determines whether there is, on the face of it, a question of privilege, is whether the matter in question can or could be properly dealt with under the practice or the Standing Orders of the House. Parliamentary authorities indicate that, when a matter is covered by the practice or rules of the House, it is very unlikely to involve a breach of the privileges of members.
A review of the incident in question shows the following:
(1) The question of whether the Member for Lake Laberge was unduly interfering with the leader of the official opposition when the leader of the official opposition had the floor could have been dealt with either by the Chair calling the member to order or by another member raising the interference as a point of order.
(2) The comments by the leader of the official opposition about the Member for Lake Laberge could have been and were dealt with by the Chair calling the member to order and advising members not to indulge in personal attacks.
(3) That ruling, under Standing Order 42(4), could have been appealed to the Speaker. Otherwise, under the same Standing Order, a challenge to the Chair is out of order because it states "No debate shall be permitted on any decision of the Chair."
(4) Points of order were subsequently raised by a number of members. The Chair would note that the practice of the Assembly is that, when one member is raising a point of order, that member may not be interrupted by another member on a point of order. The House or Committee must deal with a point of order being raised before proceeding on to another point of order.
(5) The Member for Riverdale North made the accusation that the Chair expressed a vile obscenity to him. This was done without that member having been recognized by the Chair and, therefore, does not appear in Hansard. However, it can be heard quite clearly on the Hansard tapes. This could have been dealt with by the rules in two ways. First, the member could have been called to order under Standing Order 19(1)(j) which states: "A member will be called to order by the Speaker if that member uses abusive or insulting language of a nature likely to create disorder." A second solution, if the Chair of Committee or the Committee itself so desired, would have been to report the matter to the Assembly. This is authorized by Standing Order 42(4) which states, in part, "Disorder in Committee of the Whole can be censured only by the Assembly, on receiving a report thereon." The Member for Riverdale North also has a solution under the rules, if he wishes to express a serious grievance about an impropriety of the Chair, and that is to do as he has already done - bring forward a substantive motion censuring the Chair.
(6) As has been noted, Hansard indicates that the Chair of Committee of the Whole vacated the Chair. There are no precedents of this House or, so far as can be determined, of the House of Commons for this action. However, there were options available under the rules including the reporting to the Assembly under Standing Order 42(4). There are also precedents of this House whereby the Chair has, of its own accord, declared a brief recess.
(7) The Standing Orders also provide a remedy if it is reported to the Speaker that a member is being disorderly. Standing Order 23 states that, if a member persists in offending a Standing Order, the member may be named by the Speaker and suspended from that day's sitting or a longer period if so decided by the House.
It is clear, then, that the events of March 3, 1999 are ones that could and should have been dealt with under the rules and practices of the House. They do not fall within the category of a breach of privilege.
On a final point, it should be understood that the Speaker's ruling in matters such as these is whether, on the face of it, there is a question of privilege. If the Speaker decides there is not, on the face of it, a question of privilege, the result is that a motion to deal with the matter will not be given priority of debate.
However, the House itself may decide, through a substantive motion moved in the normal way, that something is a matter of privilege. That is the House's choice.
Also, a decision by the Speaker that a matter is not, on the face of it, a question of privilege does not stop members from bringing forward motions of censure against each other if that is their desire. Members themselves must make decisions about whether such motions are necessary to assist in furthering the interests of the House, including its order and decorum.
This concludes the ruling. The House will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
GOVERNMENT PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
Motion No. 157
Clerk: Motion No. 157, standing in the name of Mr. Hardy.
Speaker: It is moved by the Member for Whitehorse Centre
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
THAT this House calls for the federal government to cease all plans to implement its proposed changes to the public service superannuation plan.
Mr. Hardy: Often, actions taken by one level of government - in this case, the federal government - have a profound effect upon other levels of government around Canada, especially in the Yukon, and it creates a chain reaction all the way through.
When the federal government is drafting changes in acts, such as the amendments they want to make to the public service pension plan, I believe they often overlook the impact it's going to have on the Yukon people and the Yukon government.
These amendments that they're planning to implement are going to have a profound effect upon the Yukon government's ability to deliver programs. I'll explain why.
The new Treasury Board is planning to make these changes, which changes the contribution formula, and may increase it to approximately 260 percent of the contributions that we make today, as an employer. This would increase the cost of approximately $10 million to $11 million per year. And of course that's going to have a profound effect upon our finances in the Yukon. When that happens, of course, it affects all the services that we deliver to date.
This could necessitate cutbacks in government services, in health care. It could actually precipitate public service layoffs. It could become a question of what services we cut. Ten million dollars or $11 million in the budget that we have is fairly substantial.
At this present time, we are struggling to meet the increased demands in health care, as well as the services to the communities. Our population is increasing; the demand for services is increasing; and this is a direct hit upon the monies we have to service the people of the Yukon.
It's my belief that the drafting of amendments often is very narrow, coming out of Ottawa. When they propose such changes in the contribution agreements from the employers, what they are not seeing is how it affects our finances here, and our ability to deliver programs in the Yukon.
And so the changes for the public service pension plan go beyond just the people it immediately affects.
It actually affects every person in the Yukon, and it also affects, of course, every person in Canada. It's not just the changes that they propose - and some of the changes, and I'll say it right now, some of the changes are actually long overdue and quite good, but the other changes that they are proposing are not. It affects all people in Canada and, most particularly, it's going to affect people in the Yukon with the small budget that we have to work with, and we can't really afford that.
The other area, I guess, when they're drafting it is that there is a pattern here, and the pattern we've seen was previously done by the changes that they did to the UI fund. There was a surplus - a large surplus - in the UI fund. The federal government, instead of looking at the surplus and saying, "How can we improve the delivery? How can we enable people to transfer into the workforce again, or carry them over a bridge when they are unemployed?", decided to go in the opposite direction. I think they see these billions of dollars and they see it as an opportunity to take that money, withdraw it from an insurance program - "employment insurance," it's called now - take it out and apply it to the deficit. Without any discussions, without any debates, they did this.
They also gutted the unemployment insurance program. It has become harder for people to access that plan. The percentage is dropping drastically for people to access it, so there are more and more funds, of course, building up there, which allows them to take more and more out to apply to the deficit. So, they made this decision. They applied it to the deficit. The working people, and a lot of small businesses, contributed to paying down the deficit: a mismanagement of our debt and deficit by governments in the first place. The working people had to come forward and pay it. This is exactly the same situation in many areas.
What we're seeing is a large surplus existing in the public service pension plan, and we're seeing a government that wants that money, and they want to be able to use it for their own purposes, and I would suspect that they would probably want to use it to start paying down the debt.
It begs the question of whose money this is in the first place - the pension plan. Was this money not put aside for people's retirement? Sure there is a surplus, but isn't it for the improvement of the pension plan?
I was an administrator of a pension plan. For seven years, I ran a pension plan, and it was our philosophy, the trustees and myself, that any surplus we had we would apply to improving the plan for the members who contributed. It wasn't to change the plan, to take the surplus out or to use it for other goals, other than what the money was collected for, but we're seeing a different philosophy here. We're seeing a philosophy where, if you see a surplus, take it away, and this is something that we can't accept.
Now, I'd like to touch on some points that have been raised by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and go over some of the areas that they've pointed out. Just to show you the philosophy that we're dealing with here, there's a quote I'd like to read, and the quote is by Alain Jolicoeur. "Employees and retirees have no proprietary interest in the surplus in a superannuation plan." So, he's already made a decision that they have no interest, though it is their money, though it was put aside for them. So, in other words, they have no say, and the Treasury Board will do as they see fit, which is, to me, fundamentally wrong.
Now, I'm going to talk a little bit about the workers and their pension money. Workers generate a lot of wealth for this country. Not only have the EI coffers, as I've already said, been expropriated to pay down our deficit, but it's also shifted over to the surplus in the public service pension plan.
Maybe I should mention the amounts that we're talking about, so everybody has a better understanding.
In one of the funds, we're talking about $12.4 billion. There are actually three funds, but the $12.4 billion is the one where the Public Servants Superannuation Act applies. The totals of the three funds - one applies to the RCMP fund, one applies to government workers and the other one is with the Canadian Forces - total over $30 billion. Now, this is very attractive, so we know what we're talking about. We're talking about a lot of money - a lot, a lot of money - and we have to talk about where the surplus comes from.
The surplus has built up over the last few years from massive job cuts, through direct public service layoffs, privatization and a seven-year wage freeze. The pension fund has naturally increased well beyond what the government paid out. The federal government's refusal to resolve the outstanding issues of pay equity - and obviously there is money there for it - has also contributed to the accumulated surplus. In simple terms, wages weren't allowed to grow as anticipated, so the pension money paid out to retired workers has been far less than what was planned for.
And who does this surplus really belong to? Who does the pension fund belong to? It belongs to the workers. It was put there for the workers. It's a deferred wage, and in every set of negotiations the pension is considered as part of total compensation.
Now, this is something that all negotiators, when they negotiate with employers, will recognize. And most employers recognize it as well.
When you sit down and negotiate on monetary issues, you're recognizing that the pension plan is a deferred wage. Instead of collecting it now, the full monetary package is being put aside for future - well, for down the road, when you're no longer in the workforce, and you can retire with some dignity.
That's part of the wage package. When you view it from that light, of course that money is the workers' money that's being deferred. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, it gets turned around. And in this case it's been turned around to be viewed as money that is surplus, and is no longer needed for the pension plan.
Now, amounts accrued in the pension fund belong to the workers, and not the government. And that's been said by Daryl Bean, of the union, in the negotiations.
But even so, whenever a public service employee resigns, and his or her superannuation is paid out, it consists of only the employee's contribution. The rest - which was essentially paid out in lieu of wages - goes back to the pension fund. The employee loses, and in more ways than one. CPP and the superannuation plan have never been properly integrated, and so workers who have paid into the CPP for years and years are subject to a formula. When they reach the age 65 they take back - not only what was paid into CPP - but the indexing paid for each month as well. And if they leave the federal public service before retirement, and cash out their pension, the cash-out is reduced to reflect the CPP reduction. Again it's another penalty. The money goes back in there.
So that not being bad enough, with the federal government giving with one hand, and taking away with the other, they decide to lay claim to public service employees' pension surplus. That money could be used to improve the pension plan, to provide - and these are suggestions out there, the same stuff that I worked with when I was an actuary for the pension plan - for early retirement packages, for lowering the retirement age and with less penalty to your pension. So you can retire at an earlier age, of course thereby allowing more people into the workforce at the other end. Sometimes to even reduce - or even eliminate - the superannuation contributions for a certain period of time.
This hasn't happened. After years of - I guess you could call it an attack against the public service employees with the freezing of wages, reductions in the workforce, with the struggle with the pay equity issues -
The federal government now wants to take the pension surplus money and still, at the same time, require employees to pay more for their post-retirement benefits. So, one of the other changes that they are also reflecting on is not only we, as an employer, paying more into it, but also increasing the employees' contribution, even though there is a large surplus. So, it doesn't jive with me. It doesn't make sense.
So, what do the employees get out of all of this? Well, we have to look at some of the recommended benefits and, like I said at the beginning, some of them are long overdue, they are good. Some employees will see a slightly improved benefit. A dental plan will be established for pensioners and dependants, but at a cost to them of $200 per year, and I'll go back to what the retirees have to say in a minute.
Most public service retirees have a difficult time with this - I'll mention it right now, since I'm right here - and adding the $200 a year is not going to help them at all, although they do need dental care still. With a surplus such as this, why not have it totally covered? That would be the question. That's the question that they have asked.
And there is talk of an increase to the supplementary death benefit, but this is not necessarily true. This is a different fund, a fund that is totally funded and is separate from the public service superannuation fund anyway. So, it would be funded out of a different fund anyway. So, I don't know ... they are kind of mixing apples and oranges here. The death benefit already has a separate accounting mechanism, and it has a surplus as well, so it's not really part of this, although they are putting it in there.
These improvements, though needed, are not enough, given the size of the pension surplus, and they definitely wouldn't have much of an impact on the surplus if they were just taken out of that and used accordingly, as they should have been.
The federal public service workers want to be treated fairly. They want to benefit from the growth in the pension fund - quite rightly, they say. They want a say, and that has been something that they have sat down at the bargaining table and tried to negotiate. There was an agreement that there would be a formation of a joint union-management board to look at investment and management of the fund. Unfortunately, the decision has been not to have that - no guarantee of union representation. I think they are proposing 12 directors, and the directors would be at the appointment of the government. So, it's not necessarily that the shareholders, the employees, the employers who contribute to the fund would have a say in this. They may bring forward names, but that doesn't mean that they would be recognized. And again, it would be at the discretion of the government to put whomever they want in those directorship positions.
We also would like to know what our role would be. What would we, as employers - what would our opportunity be to have input into the directorship? That hasn't been made clear, either. So, it's not just the employees, but also the employers, who are seen as being hit over the head with this.
Now, on March 8, an ad was put in the paper - fairly heavy, very to the point. Everybody can see it here - "Charges: assault, battery and robbery". This was put in by the Retirees Association of Canadian Union of Postal Workers, PSAC. It reads, "The Chrétien government started by stealing from the UI fund. Now, Chrétien, Martin and Massé want to appeal for public pension funds. It's not their pensions. It's the pensions of working men and women. The Liberal gang says it's for the good of the country. It's not. They're pilfering for themselves. If they get away with this, what's next?"
Now, that's true. What's next? This is just a follow-up of the UI - or the EI, as they call it now - into the pension funds. They'll look around; they will identify another one and go after that as well. That's the fear that many people have.
The Association of Public Service Alliance Retirees have come out with a statement for a press release. "Keep your sticky fingers off the federal government pension surplus," warns the retirees association. "The Public Service Alliance of Canada will be getting our full support in its campaign to fight the federal government's plan to rob the surplus in the public servants superannuation plans," says Jean Smith, national president of the Association of Public Service Alliance Retirees. Smith says, "It's time this government looked at ways of improving the pension for federal public service workers by integrating the Canadian pension plan, the Quebec pension plan, the public servants superannuation plan," and goes on to list some points and I'll just touch on those.
"The government's proposal for a dental plan for retirees is good but not good enough." Once again, if they keep their sticky fingers out of the surplus pot, it would mean they would not have to charge each pensioner who wanted to join some $200 per year. What happens if a pensioner can't pay the $200 per year when they've contributed to pension, many of them for most of their life? Does that mean they're out of it because they don't have the $200?
The proposed changes to the supplementary death benefit are totally separate from the public servants superannuation fund. For those employees who have taken annuity before age 55, you lose your death benefit. The proposed changes would allow a retiree who took an annuity to keep the coverage. Why not make it retroactive for those who are not allowed to keep the coverage? Again, with the whopping surplus in this fund, the cost would be minimal.
With respect to the government's appointed representatives on the investment board, which obviously will not include labour representation, the issue of consultation becomes a farce. History clearly shows that government appointees are sworn to secrecy and are generally non-controversial. In other words, they will not speak out on issues that they feel are not serving the public good.
Smith says her organization cannot and will not accept what the government is planning to do to current and retired federal public service workers. "We will be joining the alliance in its campaign to fight this legislation that will see the government take the money and run."
These are strong statements by the retirees. They're the ones who are the most affected at this present time.
I'd just like to close with a few statements, and I will go back to what I said at the beginning. This affects everybody in the Yukon. Any time there is a cost raise by the federal government with no foresight to see what they are doing in the small jurisdictions in places like the Yukon, with its limited government monetary resources, and they raise the cost by $10 million or $11 million, we're looking at a major impact and it's an impact that will affect everybody. It's not just the employees who are paying into the fund. This is something that affects everybody in the Yukon and we all have to be part of it. We all have to stand up and ensure that our voice is heard, that the federal government knows our needs, our concerns about this and listens and then, if they go ahead with amendments, they are amendments that we can live with in the Yukon Territory, they are amendments that the people who contribute to this fund can live with and we can go ahead in the future.
Mr. Phillips: We, in the Yukon Party, will be supporting the motion as put forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
Over the past year, Mr. Speaker, there has been considerable discussion and controversy regarding the $30-billion surplus in the federal government pension plans. The pension fund is considered, I understand, to be one of the largest in the world and it accounts for about one-fifth of Canada's national debt at the present time.
The plan now has $126 billion from years of contributions and interest payments but the government's own actuaries, however, estimate that only $98 billion is needed to pay the pension of all existing retired public servants.
And so it appears that the government in Ottawa is now eyeing that very large surplus and looking at it as a benefit, but the problem arises as to who really owns the surplus.
Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House believe clearly that the surplus belongs to the workers who have, for so many years, contributed to the pension plan. It's exactly that; it's the government pension plan, the workers' pension plan. The federal government claims that the surplus is theirs because it has been responsible for covering any shortfall over the years, and therefore it should be able to use the surplus to pay down the debt. The unions, on the other hand, say that it is deferred wages of workers, and therefore it belongs to them.
A $30-billion surplus is comprised of three separate pension plans - $14.9 billion of the public service, $2.4 billion of the RCMP, and $12.9 billion of the armed forces. The sum is big, and it can be attributed to a six-year freeze on salaries, massive layoffs and high interest on government bonds. While there is no cash surplus sitting in the government's bank account, the obligation to pay it out is part of the federal debt.
The government treats the money as if it invested it in 20-year bonds, but it's a paper transaction and no money changed hands. By not having to pay cash into the plan, the government frees up money that it would otherwise have to borrow for other spending, but in the government's books, the IOU to the pension plan is recorded as a debt of Canadians.
If the proposal forges ahead, the federal government would unilaterally control much of the $30-billion surplus, and it could be used to lower Canada's debt and interest payments over the next 15 years. While this move might help reduce the federal debt and leave more room for tax cuts, it would be another blow to public servants. With a six-year wage freeze and 55,000 public service jobs eliminated, public servants have helped reduce the deficit already and shouldn't have to pay any more.
The ownership and management of the plan has long been a controversial issue and, for years, unions have lobbied the government to turn the plan over to the market and give them joint control.
The move to a joint union/management pension board would be a good move, as it would mean that the government could not legislate changes without consulting the members of the plan. And contribution rates as well could not be unilaterally changed.
As the motion reads, it would indeed appear to be a gross breach of trust, and a serious attack on the rights and the well-being of the public servants of Canada.
Currently the pensions of Yukon government employees and the territory's teachers are controlled by the federal government. In the plan, YTG contributes exactly what each employee puts into it. Under proposed federal changes to the employee pension fund, all of the separate employees in the fund - YTG, RCMP, Armed Forces, and some Crown corporations - are expected to pay for the total cost of the fund, while also increasing the employers' contributions.
This could cost the Yukon government as much as $10 million to $11 million - 140-percent increase over the Yukon government's payroll. This could be avoided by the Yukon government and the local unions involved assuming control of Yukon's pension plan.
Discussions about taking control of its own pension plans have been ongoing over the past few years and, until recently, when the federal government came up with changes regarding administration of the federal plan.
Taking control of the pension plan would realize savings as the Government of Yukon would no longer have to pay the federal government for administering the fund. Yukon territorial government and its employees would have full control over the money, and how it would be invested.
With control, the Government of Yukon and its employees would have much more flexibility in making early retirement packages possible.
Mr. Speaker, we in the Yukon Party will be supporting this motion put forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, as we strongly believe that this money in these pension funds - the money and interest that's been earned in the pension funds - should be retained by the individuals who contributed over the years to the pension funds.
After all, Mr. Chair, when we invest in our own pensions - our own RRSPS - someone else doesn't glean the interest. It's interest that we gain, as investors. This is the same kind of investment that the public servants make when they contribute to their pension plan. And any interest, on any of these pension funds, should accrue to the people who have worked so hard for the federal and territorial governments, for so many years, and contributed to the fund.
So we'll be supporting the motion as put forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I, too, rise to speak in favour of the motion that has been put forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre today.
At the outset, let me say that I simply cannot express my delight, and indeed my surprise, at the comments of the Member for Riverdale North, who was espousing his new-found role of advocating for the rights of public sector workers. As the member stated, the federal public sector workers have had six years of wage freezes, massive job cuts through direct layoffs and privatization, and continuous delays on a pay equity settlement that should have been resolved over 14 years ago.
This is a straightforward matter: the public service pension plans are under attack. Employers and workers have paid into a pension plan, the public service superannuation plan, for a number of years. Over those years, it has accrued a surplus.
The fund belongs to the people. It belongs to the government, who is the employer and who contributes money, and to the public sector workers, who also contribute to their pension plan. The workers include members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, who are the bulk of the workers, as well as the RCMP and the Canadian forces. All Yukon government workers are affected by the federal legislation that Canada has proposed. Yukon government workers are contributing to the superannuation plan.
There has been concern over the years about this plan, but I believe that a simple resolution is possible. The federal government has to consider the effect of its legislation on all employers. As the motion states, this legislation has a potential impact on the Yukon government that could cost taxpayers more than $11 million per year in order to meet the requirements for paying a greater percentage of pension costs.
If the Government of Canada proceeds with a joint pension management and investment board, it must include representatives of the workers who contribute, including the PSAC, which represents most of the workers affected.
It's a simple principle, Mr. Speaker. It's a principle that I believe the federal government should support and I'm happy to support the motion.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Ms. Duncan: I am pleased to rise today to discuss this very important issue, not just to Yukoners but to all Canadians, and I'd really like to express to the Member for Whitehorse Centre that I'm really glad he raised the issue of pension reform.
As I said, it's a very, very important issue. It affects, at quick estimate, 345,000 contributing members, 325,000 pensioners and other beneficiaries. Over half a million Canadians, Mr. Speaker.
What's on the table? You know, Mr. Speaker, it's a fascinating thing about not just political life but life in general that there are always two sides to every story. Treasury Board has said that, in proposing changes to the federal - they are proposing legislative amendments to the Public Servants Superannuation Act, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act - their objective is to ensure self-sustainability of the pension plans and to be fair to employees and Canadian taxpayers. This is what the government says they are intending to do: to retire current pension plan surpluses over a period of 15 years, gradually bring back to 40 percent the federal employees' contributions to the costs of their plans, to invest future plan contributions in the marketplace, and to establish an arm's-length public sector pension investment board to direct market investment of pension funds.
The minister guaranteed that all pension benefits for which our employees have contributed through the years will be guaranteed.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada believed that these legislative changes propose that what the government is doing is unilaterally dealing with the $30-billion surplus in the plans, and that there is no provision for a joint union/management board, and the proposal for the makeup of the investment board does not include labour representation on it. Clearly and obviously, Mr. Speaker, the two sides do not agree. Equally as clearly, one of - and just one of - the most contentious points is the surplus.
My caucus and I do not disagree. Let me put that even more clearly, Mr. Speaker. We completely agree with the first point in the motion that the federal government's intention is to take control of the $30-billion surplus in the plan. We fully agree with what the Member for Whitehorse Centre has put forward.
I also have to say that I personally have a little trouble with the language in the motion. Mr. Speaker, we talked in this House - and we quite frequently talk in this House and in various other meetings - about trying to remove violence from our language, trying to use less antagonistic phrases, less pugilistic phrases. Words like "abuse" and "attack" are rather violent, Mr. Speaker, and not entirely in keeping with our spoken intent on violent language. However, it's not my motion. It wasn't my motion to word, and I don't dispute the motivation or the intent of the motion. I'm not taking issue with that. It's simply the style, and I just wanted to make a comment that I found that style somewhat troublesome. We all make different choices in our styles.
The second part of the motion deals with the Yukon's situation, and I'd really, really like to discuss this, Mr. Speaker. It's been a very important issue to our caucus. It's been one that I've raised in Question Period and it's one that I'm very, very concerned about. It's very real to a number of Yukoners.
On January 20 - last year, I believe it was - my colleague, the Member for Riverdale South, wrote to the federal minister asking about the federal position on handing over the Yukon portion of this plan we're discussing today to the Government of Yukon and the employees who contributed, including the teachers.
Marcel Massé replied on March 30 that the Yukon could withdraw, that the transfer would be based on "actuarial evaluation of the benefits accrued by plan members as provided by the present legislation."
This, Mr. Speaker, is where we seem - we, being the Government of Yukon, in particular - to have dropped the ball, and I suppose I could understand that. This isn't an entirely headline-grabbing issue. There are no big plane trips - except to Ottawa, which, forgive me, the Ottawa Convention Bureau, but it's not the friendliest or sunniest or warmest place in Canada to visit - and there are no big cheques, and so it's not as sexy an issue as some of the others - until the pension reform discussions came to the forefront.
Now, this is our understanding of the issue, the issue being the Yukon portion of the PSSA, or public sector pension plan, that we're discussing today, which is really what point two in this motion deals with, which is what the cost would be with the federal government's intentions to proceed with the legislative reform of this pension.
Our understanding is that on April 24 there was a letter from the federal minister to the territorial minister with a promise for consultation. Over the summer months, we know that there were numerous letters that went back and forth. We also know that federal representatives have made an oral commitment to the Government of the Yukon regarding the future transfer, and they are that the YTG will not be forced to stay in the new plan and the transfer amounts to the Yukon will be equal, or better, than the amount that was promised when I opened my comments on this particular section - that is, the actuarial amount.
Now, the Government of Yukon has consultants working on this issue. It cannot - absolutely cannot - proceed without the agreement of the Yukon Employees Union, the Yukon Teachers Association, the Government of Yukon. The three have to be at the table saying, all right, this is what we want to do. Everything I have had, read, been able to read, received from the minister, would indicate to me that there are three choices. We can, with our other partners, take the deal that was offered, if that's good enough for the Yukon. We can wait until after pension reform, and there are some really serious ramifications of the pension reform proposed, as outlined by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. Or, we can wait until after pension reform and, hopefully, get a better deal.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: No, they're not the same. The Member for Faro is saying that they're the same. I think there are three options open when it comes to the Yukon portion of this plan: we can take the deal that was offered on March 30, which is a transfer based on actuarial value of the benefits accrued by plan members, as provided by the legislation as it was then; we can live with pension reform, and the ramifications, as outlined by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, are rather untenable, to say the least; or three, we can wait until after the reform proceeds. Those seem to be the options open to the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, but I haven't heard him outline anything else, in spite of my questions in Question Period.
The point is, Mr. Speaker, this is an important issue to Yukoners. This is a really important issue, and it's one where we can't sit back and wait - we can't afford to lose it, for the reasons outlined by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. The federal initiatives are very serious to Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that this would be - if the members opposite would like to take one point away from what I've been trying to say in the last few minutes, the point being I would hope that they and their partners, the Yukon Teachers Association and the Yukon Employees Union, could come to an agreement and get to work on this issue.
And if they are at work, I'd be delighted to receive some more information that I've been asking for from the minister.
The third point of the motion deals with the federal government's decision not to institute a joint management board to oversee the pension fund and its surplus. My caucus and I would also agree with that point, that this does not appropriately serve the working Canadians who have contributed to this pension fund.
The final resolution of the motion - or action point of the motion - is that the House calls for the federal government to cease all plans to implement proposed changes. I'd like to make a suggestion that - and it comes, really, in light of what the mover of the motion has said. There are some good points about the proposed changes.
So, rather than completely throw everything out, I'd like to make a very friendly amendment to the motion. Really, Mr. Speaker, my amendment is that, as proposed in the Ottawa Citizen on February 16. The Ottawa Citizen - if I may digress for a moment, Mr. Speaker - said that a sane middle course would be to resume talks and reach an agreement to share the surplus, as the Ontario government has recently done with some of its employees. The article also notes that relations between the federal government and its employees have been strained in the 1990s. Both sides, however confident of their legal cases, should not seek a victory that has more devastating implications for morale.
I'd like to propose a friendly amendment.
Ms. Duncan: I move
THAT Motion No. 157 be amended by adding after the expression, "THAT this House calls for the federal government to", the following:
"return to negotiations with unions and pensioners to resolve outstanding issues and in the interim".
Speaker: Order please. It has been moved by the Member for Porter Creek South
THAT Motion 157 be amended by adding after the expression "THAT this House calls for the federal government to", the following:
"return to negotiations with unions and pensions to resolve outstanding issues and in the interim".
Ms. Duncan: I'm proposing this amendment because I believe it leaves the door open, as opposed to completely slamming it shut - that they cease and desist, as the motion was already proposed. We are supporting the motion. I am supporting the amendment to the motion, which I believe enhances the motion.
Mr. Livingston: On the amendment, Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to rise today and be able to support the amendment by the leader of the third party. I'm also pleased to note the support for the general spirit of the motion itself. I think that, as the member opposite points out, this does leave more than one option open, but in either case, whether it's a successful resolution of outstanding issues or the cessation of implementation of the proposed changes, it does address the issues that are outlined in the motion itself. So, I'm pleased to support the amendment.
Mr. Hardy: I just want a clarification. As it's written here, it doesn't necessarily show what follows after, and I would like to get clarified where it's inserted. It says "That this House calls for the federal government to" and then "return to negotiations with unions and pensioners to resolve outstanding issues and in the interim to seize" ... to cease all plans ... ." Okay?
Mr. Cable: So, there is ownership in the $30 billion by the employees and by the retirees. With respect to the investment board, all the discretion appears to be going to be placed in the federal government with no guaranteed employee participation or representation.
With respect to the other issue, of the $11 million, the member does his homework, so I'll accept his representations at face value. He has also indicated to us that there are some changes to the plan that are acceptable.
So, the general thrust of the mover's motion, if I feed back to him what I've heard, is that there is a lack of employee say in the issue and that he's disturbed by the unilateral action by the federal government.
So, we support his motion, but we would like to make sure that the conversions between the two governments and the employees and the employer don't come to a grinding halt - that the issue is eventually resolved. So, if that's the reason for the amendment, then we solicit their support.
Speaker: Is there question on the amendment? Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Amendment to Motion No. 157 agreed to
Speaker: Is there further debate on the motion?
Mr. Livingston: I'm pleased to be able to rise today and speak on the motion that calls for the federal government to return to negotiations with unions and pensioners to resolve outstanding issues and, in the interim, to cease its plans to implement the proposed changes to the public service superannuation plan.
I'm pleased to speak on this motion because we have what appears to be an all-party agreement on this motion, and that's going to help to send to Ottawa, I think, a strong message on behalf of all Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, a number of speakers before me have outlined some of the issues, so I'll be brief today.
The issue of the $30-billion surplus does recall, for one, the issue of the surplus in the unemployment insurance fund, as well - what I would describe as a clawback of those dollars into the general funds of the federal government.
I recall, only five or 10 years ago, hearing a great deal about how it seemed to be the public wisdom of the day that there wasn't going to be enough money in people's pension plans, and that people were going to have to resort to other means, in order to ensure that they would be able to retire with dignity and have secure futures. Now what we're hearing is that there is this tremendous surplus, but we know that it's a particular set of circumstances that have conspired, or come together, to create this surplus. It's ironic for us to be worrying, if you like, over this surplus, of all things. But the wage freeze, as the member opposite and the Member for Whitehorse Centre have talked about, has helped to keep the payments out of the superannuation plan lower than expected. The massive layoffs, the privatization of some of the services, and the lower inflation rate over the last number of years - all these particular matters have come together to result in a lower drawing down of the fund.
But, Mr. Speaker, we know how important a rainy-day fund is. We know how important it is to have that bit of a cushion. So, I think that's another reason to be reluctant to see, based on actuarial demand on today's circumstances, simply drawing out roughly 20 to 25 percent of this fund.
The issues about the rights of the public service employees to some of this surplus or, at least, to help to manage this surplus - to determine how this surplus will be used or reassigned - I think is fundamental. They were the people, after all, who took a portion of their savings. If they've over-contributed, Mr. Speaker, then maybe there should be some type of a refund to employees.
My simple point is that it's not appropriate for us to simply have the $30-billion surplus clawed back into the general federal funds. I think more importantly to the Yukon, though, Mr. Speaker, is the impact on the public servants who are retiring - or who have retired, who will retire in the future here - and on our government's revenues and our expenses, as well. Ten million dollars on a $450-million budget will have a significant impact, and will result in service reductions and staff layoffs. There's simply no question about it.
So, hopefully, Mr. Speaker, this unanimous representation to the federal government, on behalf of Yukoners, by their elected representatives, will result in some successful negotiations that will resolve the outstanding issues, or a cessation to implement this, what I believe is a wrong-headed plan.
I'm pleased to support the motion, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I just want to speak briefly, as the minister responsible for dealing with some of these issues. I want to thank the members on both sides of the House for their support. It's our intention to take a standing count so that it's very clear to the federal minister that the Yukon Legislature, for one, has some unanimity on this particular issue.
We'll support the motion as amended, brought forward by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. And I want to thank him for bringing it forward, because this issue is being brought to the fore more and more, and I think it's important, because it's something that people sometimes don't think about, until they need it. It's important that we as legislators bring about these concerns for people to address, and we have that responsibility - even if they're not thinking about it - to be minding the store, and that responsibility also lies with the bargaining agents for the YTA and the Yukon Employees Union, as well.
I want to say that there are a number of questions and statements that I want to make, because I want them on the record.
I'll go through them. The above benefit improvements will increase the long-term costs of the plan if put forward as we're considering or the federal government is considering. With the Treasury Board's recently announced changes in YTG's contributions for matching employee contributions to the full cost of pension benefits, any future benefit improvements will increase YTG's required contributions. Unlike a public comment from the president of YTA the other day, the Yukon government does, indeed, contribute to the pensions of both the teachers and the government employees.
The question we ask is what ability will the federal government have in future to revise plan benefits outside of YTG's control.
Mr. Speaker, currently under the pension plan, employees' contributions cover approximately 30 percent of the cost of benefits. YTG's required contribution formula to date has been at a level of 100 percent of employee contributions, and this matching contribution is not sufficient to pay for the pension benefits. Therefore, Treasury Board has announced, and that's in their view, that YTG's contribution formula may increase to approximately 260 percent of employee contributions.
In addition, the federal government has announced that the intended long-term cost sharing under the plan will be 40 percent employee and 60 percent employer. You can imagine, Mr. Speaker, the impact that this would have on collective bargaining in the territory. There could be no discussion, in my estimation, even of wage increases. You would be talking about the survival of the pension plan and continuing to keep it strong. You wouldn't be taking advance positions at the table because of the excessive costs of this.
As well, we could see impacts on services and possibly layoffs. So, the implications to all of our employees and to the taxpayer, and hence the government, are very, very large.
There are a couple of other key questions that have to be looked at, one being that a public sector pension investment board will be responsible for future investments in financial markets, according to the reform.
The board will be at arm's-length from the federal government and plan members, so you have to ask what safeguards are in place to ensure the arm's-length relationship. Directors, in the reform proposed, will be appointed by the Canadian government, with some input from plan members. You have to ask what involvement will separate employers, such as YTG, or employee groups - what they will have in that process. You have to ask the question, what are the transition arrangements for increasing YTG's contribution requirements from employee-matching to the full cost of benefits, from 100 percent to approximately 260 percent of employee contributions? You have to ask, what are YTG's and YTG's employees' rights to a portion of current surpluses, if YTG separates from the public service pension plan?
You have to ask how future surpluses and deficits in the public service pension plan will affect YTG's contribution requirements, if YTG remains in the plan. You have to ask, how will the existing surplus impact YTG's contribution requirements if YTG remains in the plan? And you have to ask, will YTG have any control over their future contributions, or will contribution rates be set by federal Treasury Board?
With respect, the one area that I do disagree with the Liberal leader today is that there are three options. I don't think any of the three options she proposed - which is to take the deal offered on March 30, with the actuarial values - is a good one for our employees, and they've expressed concern about it, because the problem is the whole question of surpluses is not resolved, and we think the employees are entitled to that.
When it has been rumoured that we were interested in taking over responsibility for the pension plan without the surpluses, it was very negatively received by our employees.
The other option she put forward was to live with the federal government's pension reform. Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm not prepared to do that, and I don't think we should compromise on that. I think the statement today is very clear to the federal government.
Thirdly, we can wait until after the reform proceeds, and I think that option, too, is a passive one. I think what we're doing today is another option. Frankly, I think it's a fourth option. We're saying that we believe that by working with the YTA and working with our employees in government we could patriate the benefits, and that we should be entitled to the surpluses and reasonable funding arrangements so that we can have those benefits brought home. We'd be willing to set up legislation to have boards that are controlled, half-and-half, by employees and so that the employer doesn't control it. We'd be willing to ensure that all decisions are made jointly with the employees. We believe that all of those things would better serve our employees.
I think that before we, you know, take any sub-par deal, we just have to tell the federal government that we do not want to do that, that we believe that they should listen to our employees and the taxpayers and the Government of the Yukon, and heed the unanimity in this Legislature today, and I'm hopeful that if we put that position forward - I'm hopeful; I'm not sure - that the federal minister will respect that.
I think we can handle, in an appropriate manner, the patriation of benefits, and I can understand the caution and concern of the employees. Our government, I must state unequivocally today, has no intention of pursuing this agenda of patriation without their full agreement. It's something we would do with them and for them, not something that we would do on our own.
We will do it because we think there is benefit for them. We think there is benefit in terms of pursuing things like early retirement, which we have been asked about, options like that. The more control we have, the more we can do in that respect, so I commend the House for showing unanimity, and we will support the motion as amended, and I think we've sent a good message to the federal government that we do have a lot of questions and major, major concerns, and they have to be addressed.
Speaker: If the member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Hardy: I'd like to thank the Yukon Party and the Liberal Party for their comments and support, and the Liberal Party for their amendment. As an old - I shouldn't call myself old; that's not fair to myself, anyway - I'm just reading something about age, anyway - but as a long-time negotiator, I'm always quite willing to see language that says, "Well, we can still work at it, we can still talk, we can still find a resolution to the problems," so the amendment doesn't bother me at all and, actually, I welcome it.
The Liberal leader mentioned that there are two sides to every story, and that's true. The problem as politicians is, we spend so much time trying to spin our side that we often overlook and not hear the other side, and that's why we have so many spin doctors working in Canada. They help us get our message across.
I think this could be reduced down to - and I've heard it already - a couple of questions: really, whose money is this anyway? I know the Member for Riverdale North had identified who's the money was and that was very good to hear.
I think everybody recognizes whose money this really is. It belongs to the people who have contributed to it, who have worked for many, many years on behalf of Canada. It's their money.
The second question is: who should have a say in it? Those are really the two questions, and from that, if we take those two questions, we can base our response on the changes, on the amendments, on the actions of the federal government and send a message back to them, as the Member for Faro has said.
I think this motion does that. It is another option and, hopefully, they will read it and see that all parties were in agreement with the wording. Even though "abuse" and "attack" might not be the most acceptable words, they're words that we used and, hopefully, they'll recognize that we are very concerned about the changes and want to see those concerns addressed down there.
I'd like to thank everybody for their support in this and, hopefully, this will have the results we want to see back in Ottawa.
Speaker: Are you prepared for question on the motion?
Speaker: Division has been called.
Mr. Clerk, would you poll the House?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Harding: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Fairclough: Agree.
Mr. McRobb: Agree.
Mr. Fentie: Agree.
Mr. Hardy: Agree.
Mr. Livingston: Agree.
Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Mr. Jenkins: Agree.
Ms. Duncan: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Edelman: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 15 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: The yeas have it, I declare the motion carried.
Motion No. 157 agreed to as amended
Bill No. 16: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 16, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I move that Bill No. 16, Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 1999-2000, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 16, entitled Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 1999-2000, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, this appropriation will provide us with interim spending authority for the month of April, until such time as the main estimates become law. As is customary, the sum being appropriated here is well in excess of one/twelfth of the sum contained in the main estimates. As members will know, many of our grant and contribution expenditures are made in upfront fashion, in April.
In addition, departments commit large sums in April for project expenditures that will be made later in the year, and these commitments cannot be made without appropriation authority.
In the result, an inordinate amount of appropriation room is required at the beginning of the year, and hence the sums are being requested in this bill.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 16 agreed to
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: 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 that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the members' wish to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Yes.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee will be dealing with Bill No. 16.
Bill No. 16 - Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 1999-2000
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, special spending and the commitment authority is required by the government for the month of April, because the main estimates for the 1999-2000 fiscal year will not have been passed by the House at March 31. The bill will provide that authority.
I spoke on second reading about the reasons why the sums being appropriated in the bill exceed one-twelfth of the main estimates, and certain members are well -ware of them, in any event.
The exceptionally large sums being appropriated are notably accounted for by $11.6 million in Community and Transportation Services O&M for municipal grants; $10.3 million in Education O&M for the college contribution and $750,000 in capital; $17.9 million in Health and Social Services O&M for the hospital contribution; and $13 million in Community and Transportation Services capital for commitments on highway construction contracts; and $4.1 million for airport projects.
These are all the sums that are paid up front in April, or for which commitment authority is required in April, even though the expenditure will be made later in the year.
Mr. Chair, I'm willing to take questions.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, this bill is a formality that we go through every year to allow the government to have money to spend until the budget is passed.
I am prepared to go line by line at any time.
On Schedule A
Schedule A agreed to
On Schedule B
Schedule B agreed to
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Chair, I move that you report Bill No. 16 out of Committee without amendment.
Motion agreed to
Chair: Committee will now return to Bill No. 14.
Bill No. 14 - First Appropriation Act, 1999-2000 - continued
Department of Education - continued
Chair: Is there further general debate?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I have some information in response to questions the Member for Porter Creek South asked about the Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon.
During the past year, advanced education supported four LDAY projects. There was a $4,400 grant for a five-day tutor training project in Dawson City, where the LDAY staff delivered instruction for tutoring people with learning disabilities to members of the community in Dawson. In November 1998, advanced education provided LDAY with an additional contribution of $3,700 for educational software and a follow-up training session in Dawson. In January, there was a contribution of $1,750 for LDAY to visit the communities of Pelly Crossing and Mayo to meet with local residents on learning disabilities.
In March 1999, advanced education will provide LDAY with a contribution of $16,600 to plan and deliver literacy training in the community of Pelly Crossing, as a follow-up to the meeting that was held in January. This project is a strong partnership between LDAY and the community of Pelly Crossing and Pelly Crossing's college campus.
In the summer of 1998, there were two Canada summer career placement positions available for LDAY. Two students were hired to be camp counselors at LDAY summer camp for children with disabilities. The contribution from advanced education for that was $5,030.
So, during the past year, the total sum that has been provided to the Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon from advanced education is $31,480. LDAY, advanced education and Yukon College's community services department meet on a regular basis to discuss potential training initiatives in rural Yukon for people with disabilities. LDAY has acknowledged the work that the advanced education branch of the Department of Education has done with them by presenting a certificate of appreciation. I think we all need to continue to help people with learning disabilities reach their full potential, and the advanced education branch is actively doing that.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I have a few questions, mostly in capital.
I guess I'll start with the new school in Old Crow. The new school in Old Crow is about to open, I understand, sometime in mid-July. My understanding is that we've switched from the old method of wood heat to an oil furnace or an oil heating system in Old Crow. I'd like to ask the minister what we're planning to do with respect to the training needs of the custodians who, in the past, used to work at the school, keep the wood in the boiler and keep it going.
Now they won't have to do that. It's a much more sophisticated system than an old wood system, so what kind of training are we offering the custodians at the school so that we won't have any problems in the future?
We've lost three schools in Old Crow as a result of fires. This is a whole new system, so I would expect that there would have to be a fairly extensive training program with respect to the custodians at the school who normally carry out that function.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, Mr. Chair, there is a requirement for training for the custodial staff to operate the new oil heating system that will be in the new school. The engineers who have been on site installing the system have been providing training to the custodial workers in Old Crow all the way along. We will ensure that they have received adequate training before the new school is operating and the heating system is turned on. They have been receiving training to date.
Mr. Phillips: That's not the information that I have. The concern I have is that I heard that the chief custodian is being trained, but I'm not sure whether others are taking the training as well.
The other issue that has been raised in general that I'd like to raise with the minister is that the custodians who are at the school may not always be at the school. They may leave the employment or whatever, and if we're going to offer a training program in Old Crow for the facilities, it might be useful to offer it to any resident of Old Crow to avail themselves of the training. If it's going to be offered in the school, I'm sure that maybe some of the teachers might want to do it. Some other people in Old Crow may want to do it, Mr. Chair, and it might be useful because, somewhere down the road, if someone left the employment of the government and had the training, there might be someone there who had a certificate saying that they took the course. And so if you just allowed others to take it, it might be a useful exercise, so that we would have more people than just the existing custodial staff who would know how the facility operates.
Would the minister consider that?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I'll thank the member for his suggestion. That's something that we'll look into as we proceed with offering further training.
Mr. Phillips: I want to get assurances, first of all, from the minister that all custodial staff will be given extensive training in operating the new heating plant in Old Crow - the heating plant for the school.
Can I get the assurance that all staff will be adequately trained, that it won't just be the chief custodian?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Phillips: Another area I want to go back to that we talked about a bit yesterday, and that was Grey Mountain Primary - a favourite topic of mine, and the minister's, and others over a period of years.
I want to try and get on the record from the minister the reason for the change in heart from the NDP and the minister with respect to Grey Mountain Primary. And I don't disagree, Mr. Chair, with the approach the minister's now taking - looking at a Riverdale capacity review. I don't disagree with that. In fact, when I was the Minister of Education, we did a review in Riverdale of the number of students and the projected number of students, and that was one of the reasons at the time that we decided to defer building the school at the present time - because of numbers.
Back a few years ago, when the minister was a member of the opposition, she supported a motion put forward by Mrs. Firth, the Member for Riverdale South, of removing $4.5 million out of highways and putting it into the Education budget, primarily to start the construction of a Grey Mountain school and start some preliminary work on the Mayo school.
I would just kind of like to get on the record from the minister why the minister thought that was a good idea at that time and voted for Mrs. Firth's motion, but today is taking the line that it's important to know the numbers first.
Why did the minister flip around? Is it because she had an opportunity to see the whole picture? Or was it because it was politically expedient at that time to vote for Mrs. Firth? What were the reasons the ministers chose to not worry about the numbers back in the mid-1990s with respect to Grey Mountain school?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Thank you, Mr. Chair. My argument is that the previous government and the Yukon Party administration were the ones who did not see the whole picture. Governments have to meet a range of needs, and there needs to be a good balance between competing needs. We argued, when the Yukon Party budget was before the House, that there was too much of a priority placed on road construction and not enough on building construction, and there needed to be a balance.
Now, the member has asked me to present this government's position and my position as Minister of Education on capital project planning, and I'm happy to do that. We have to make responsible decisions. The Yukon Party government was responsible for significant changes in the education system. They brought in a grade reorganization structure, where Whitehorse schools moved from having elementary, junior high schools and high schools, to having a two-tiered system, and expanding the elementary schools from K to six to K to seven, and expanding the high schools from grades 8 to 12. That cost millions and millions of dollars, and there were a number of capital construction renovations undertaken, primarily to elementary schools and to Porter Creek Junior Secondary School, which became Porter Creek Secondary School, and had some grades added to it.
We believe that it is important to involve the community in the decisions. The parents and the school councils and the Yukon Teachers Association and First Nations all have interests in the education system, because it affects all our children. It affects virtually all families in the Yukon.
We have made a commitment as a government to making responsible decisions by involving the school councils and laying out long-range plans for capital construction projects. I'm not going to repeat again how we have done that with increasing the numbers of school council chairs meetings to two per year, and how they have come up with a consensus position for long-range planning.
They have helped us do some long-range planning for school construction. We cannot advance any one project, regardless of the merits of the project, whether it's in Riverdale or Dawson or Teslin or anywhere else, without considering the entire needs.
The Riverdale capacity review will mean that the Department of Education works with the school councils, looks at enrollment and looks at facilities, and can come forward with future recommendations.
Mr. Phillips: I don't have a great deal of argument with what the minister just said. Where I have a problem is the minister said we cannot advance any one project without considering our overall needs. That was my argument as the Minister of Education back in 1992-93, but the minister, who was then an opposition member, supported a motion put forward by the Member for Riverdale South that said to just take the money out of highways, irrespective of the needs in the schools, and build Grey Mountain. That's what the minister supported. It was clear from the Member for Riverdale South, Mrs. Firth, that she wanted to build that Riverdale school, and she said clearly in her speech that's what she wanted to do and that was her intention. And that member, that minister, Mr. Chair, supported it, and the whole party supported it.
So I'm just trying to find out what happened. What happened to the minister and her colleagues? When they were on this side of the House, they took one position that the numbers didn't matter and any other changes didn't matter. All that mattered was we were taking money out of highways and were going to build Grey Mountain. But now the minister is on the other side, and the minister is using some of the exact same arguments that I used, the exact same arguments. Where numbers warrant, we'll do a survey, we'll look at this, the numbers are down at the time. That's where I have a problem with the minister's point.
I agree with what the minister is actually doing. I support the idea of going out there and doing a Riverdale capacity review to determine what we need. We can't just build schools because we want to build schools.
We have to build schools where they're needed most, so I just want to try and get on the record from the minister why the minister, back then, when she was over on this side of the House, felt what she just said here, that we cannot advance any one project without considering the overall needs, was not important back then and why is it so important now? What changed the minister's mind to make it more important today?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, the argument that we made in 1993 was that the Yukon Party budget did not consider the overall needs. The arguments that we made were that the Yukon Party did not build schools, did not place the priority on construction of schools. We have had three major capital construction projects for schools in the Yukon during the three years since we were elected in 1996. We want to bring forward responsible budgets that meet a variety of needs, and we have done that.
Enrollment has to be a factor. There are a lot of differences between 1993 and 1998. There is now a third elementary school located in Riverdale. The Yukon Party grade reorganization project saw the relocation of Christ the King Elementary School from downtown to Riverdale.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, the argument I made back in 1993 - and I tabled the numbers for the member - is that the numbers in 1993, whether there was a third school or not, were declining. The numbers in 1993 indicated there was room in Selkirk Street School without a third school in Riverdale. The numbers all indicated that there wasn't a need for another school at that time in Riverdale. That's what the numbers indicated and that was my argument at the time.
My point is that that didn't matter to the member when she was in opposition.
The motion by Member for Riverdale South, Mrs. Firth, clearly talked about two schools - Grey Mountain Primary and Mayo - and Mrs. Firth's intention, obvious to every single person who was in this House at the time, was that that's where the money would go, and in fact the NDP backed that motion and so did the minister when she was on the opposite side of the House.
I mean, if the minister just stands up and says, "Look, it's all about politics. I was just going along with Mrs. Firth at the time, and it just was a good thing to bash the government with, and that's why I took the position then, but now that I'm in the position I'm in, I have a heavier responsibility; I have to sit down and look at the needs of all Yukon schools; I have to do what you were doing when you were the minister and look at all the needs in Yukon schools and make some rational and sound decisions" - I'll accept that. But don't give me a bunch of guff, Mr. Chair, that things have changed. Things have changed, but the fact of the matter is that there still was no need back in 1993 to build Grey Mountain Primary, based on all the numbers and all the facts and all the figures from the department.
I ask the minister to go back to her department and sit down and talk to the senior officials and ask them to pull out the information they gave me as the Education minister at the time, and the minister will find that it's very similar. The numbers may be a little bit different, but it's very similar, and the recommendation from the department was that there was lots of room in some of the other schools in Riverdale, and the Grey Mountain numbers were declining.
But that didn't mean anything to the minister at that time. It was all about a political move to try and embarrass the government or hurt somebody in the riding in Riverdale. I just want to find out if that was the reason, or is there some other factor - because it's not the numbers; the numbers warranted not building it then; the numbers warrant not building it now. The minister said she's going to check the numbers, but she doesn't feel it's a priority, because it obviously is not in her three-year plan, so it's not a priority right now with this government.
It seemed to be a priority when they were debating the issue on the floor of the House, and they were supporting building the school. My point is that the minister can't have it both ways.
Now, if the minister just wants to stand up and say that it was politics, I'll accept that. But don't try to fool us all in here and tell us that there is some other reason, because there isn't. The minister, like I said before, I think, Mr. Chair, is doing the right thing by looking at the numbers, looking at where the changes have taken place. I support that. That's what the minister is supposed to do.
But what I'm trying to point out is that the minister played politics with the issue and played politics with the Grey Mountain students back in 1993. I don't think I'm ever going to let her forget that, and I don't think the new Member for Riverdale South will let her forget that, either.
It's unfair to the MLAs for the area. It's especially unfair to the parents of Grey Mountain students, and it's unfair to the students and teachers in the school to take one position then and one position now and not have any grounds for the change, other than it was a politically expedient thing to do at the time - to beat up on the government of the day. That's what it all boiled down to.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The Member for Riverdale North is skating on some pretty thin ice. It's the Member for Riverdale North who made a commitment in his campaign literature that he would build a Grey Mountain Primary School if he were elected into government. What happened? The Member for Riverdale North was elected into government and he did not fulfill his commitment to build a school in Riverdale and to replace Grey Mountain Primary.
Now, Mr. Chair, in 1996, unlike the Member for Riverdale North, the New Democrats did not campaign with a commitment to build a school, whether it was in Riverdale, Mayo, Teslin, or anywhere.
We did not engage in a bidding war, and make millions of dollars' worth of campaign commitments for capital construction - whether it was schools, or nursing stations, or any other facility.
We indicated that we would make responsible decisions, based on meeting the needs and based on involving the partners in education. That's what we're doing, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, the person who's skating on pretty thin political ice here is the minister herself. The minister knows I made a commitment - absolutely. I have never denied that, never denied that.
But when you get in the position that the minister's in, now - and the position I was in - you have a responsibility to look at all of the needs, as the minister is doing. I didn't pass a motion in the House, Mr. Chair, as the minister did - to move $5 million randomly from one budget to another - and agree it was the right thing to do. The minister did that, Mr. Chair.
I just think it's unfair to try and justify what the minister did as being okay. Because I don't think it's okay, and I think the residents of Riverdale North and South will see through that. I met with them many, many times and talked about Grey Mountain Primary. The minister never met with anybody, just decided it was politically expedient to go on a political tirade with Mrs. Firth - the Member for Riverdale South - and try to do some damage to the government of the day, and didn't care about whether there was a need for the school, or whatever.
So I think that the minister can't have it both ways, Mr. Chair, and I would hope that in the future the minister would be more careful with what motions she supports in the House, knowing that one day it might come back and bite her.
Mr. Chair, another capital project I want to talk about is the Vanier high school. The Vanier high school, as we all know, is now a grade 12 Catholic school.
I just wonder if the minister is aware of the problems that are arising with respect to the gym floor and the type of surface the gym floor has. The complaint I've heard, Mr. Chair, so the minister is aware of it, is that it wasn't noticed so much when it was a junior high because the kids were a little smaller, but now that it goes K to 12, there are basketball teams that play in the gym, and some of the basketball players in grades 10 to 12 who are playing in the gym are starting to suffer injuries as a result of the floor. I guess it's a concrete floor covered with a type of a rubber surface, and it's doing physical damage to some of the students. In fact, the basketball team has chosen now to practice at F.H. Collins and other schools because the kids are getting hurt.
I would like to ask the minister if there are any plans in the very near future to address the issue by redoing the gym floor in Vanier so that the kids can practice in their own gym, or the Vanier students can practice in their own gym, because several students have gone to the doctor. The coach actually moves the practices to other school gyms when he can get them, and some of the students refuse to practice, or have not gone in and practised on the rubber floor, because it has created knee injuries, shin splints and pains in the legs from the unforgiving cement floor in that gym.
Is the minister aware of that, and are they doing anything about it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I am aware that the school council has identified the gym floor as a concern, and we are monitoring the incidence of injuries that are being reported.
The replacement of the gym floor is a major expense that has not been budgeted for this year, but we will continue to monitor the needs for the future.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, that causes me a little bit of concern, because I don't like the idea that we're going to monitor the injuries - like wait until we get another one and then put it down on the list as it being the fourth one or the fifth one or the sixth one. Shouldn't we be doing something a little more proactive than monitoring the injuries?
I think, from my understanding, that there's been enough complaints already and that it warrants doing something about it. Certainly, as the minister says, the school council has raised the issue, and so I wonder why we're going to just monitor it and why would we not take some action?
I mean, I don't know what you would do other than reduce some activities on the floor. I guess you don't have a lot of options because you can't replace the floor tomorrow, but it is something fairly serious. It is a high school. It does need a gym where the kids can actively participate in recreational activities and it would have to become a priority, I suppose, to get it fixed before it causes any more injuries.
Is that what it is the intent of the minister to do? Are we looking at possibly doing something this year, moving some money around if we have to or even coming in with a supplementary to fix that gym floor, because I don't think we can go the whole next fiscal year without doing anything about it. We have to address the problem, other than just monitoring the injuries of the children. I don't think that's an acceptable solution to the parents, and certainly there has to be a little more of a proactive approach to it than that.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, the member has indicated some of the accommodation that has been made as a result of the concerns. We recognize that safety concerns are serious.
The replacement of the gym floor would be a huge expense that we have not budgeted for this year. We can look at whether it might be possible to add that, but it is a significant expense and we have not been able to budget it in this year's budget.
Mr. Phillips: Is the minister telling me that there's no discretionary funding at all around in the department that can be moved from one project to another this year? I mean, every single dollar is accounted for, and there's no room to move any money to this project? What does the minister anticipate the cost might be to replace that gym floor?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: All the major capital monies have been committed. I believe that the replacement of the gym floor would be in excess of $200,000. It would not simply be a matter of moving a little bit of money from one project to another. It would be a very expensive gym floor replacement.
Mr. Phillips: Well, they could have saved a little bit of money on that prospectus that cost them $60,000. They could have found the money there. Most people can get those kinds of things done for about a quarter or a third of that cost.
Mr. Chair, my concern here now is that the budget we're dealing with today is for this next fiscal year, and if the minister's not going to do anything this year, then we're looking at a full year of activity this spring, and a full year next year in the school year, where nothing's going to be done to that gym floor. That's quite a long time for a high school to go without a proper gym for the students to carry out their activities.
I mean, we're not even sure what other damage it might be causing during some of the other activities that are taking place in the gym as well. I understand that, because the students were maybe a little smaller in the past, these things didn't crop up as much, but the larger high school students - mainly just because of their size - are experiencing some of these physical problems as a result of the type of floor.
I would just urge the minister to maybe work a little harder to find some creative solution to do something this year. I mean, you could redo the floor this summer so it would be ready for next year.
That might be something that might have to be put on a bit of a priority list; otherwise, the alternative is to possibly reduce the use of the gym for the Vanier students, which again makes it rather complicated because of busing issues and other, extracurricular activities. It makes it rather difficult for the school to operate its extracurricular sports programs if they can't utilize their gym. So, I ask the minister to put a higher priority on it and try to do what she can do to find some money to try and rectify the problem and not let it go a full year before anyone deals with the issue.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, as the member said, the problem has arisen because there are larger students using it now that the elementary school has been converted into a high school. Those are some of the considerations that the previous government might have considered if they hadn't been so hasty in implementing their decision for grade reorganization. They implemented that decision without consultation with school councils and parents, and these kinds of problems might have been evident if some more time had been spent on the planning for the entire grade reorganization project, Mr. Chair.
I can make a commitment to the member that we will make every effort to consider if there are funds available from other projects that don't occur to look at the feasibility of doing some design work this year so that the construction could be done in a future year. At the present time, as I have indicated, the funds are not available for the replacement of the floor. We can see if we can find funds to start work on it sooner.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, is the minister being silly? She's saying that the Yukon Party government could have foreseen this problem. I'm not sure how one could do that, unless you took a bunch of bigger students over to the school and made them run around for a few days to see if it caused any injuries.
The gym floor was supposed to be a gym floor that would handle gym activities. We have found out since then that it's creating some problems with the older and larger students. No one could have foreseen that this could have caused a student problem.
I would have thought that the officials in the Department of Education - or anybody out there - was under the understanding that the floors we're putting in our gyms could be used for everybody and they were safe and there would be no high risk of any kind of injury. I would have thought that that would have been the criteria when we put gym floors in, in the first place.
So I would think that it was probably assumed by other governments in the past, when the school was built, that the floor was adequate. If you went back in the record, you'd probably find that that floor was replaced at one time, and it was probably an NDP government that was in power that replaced it with the floor it is now.
So we could get into that debate, but the point of the matter is, kids are getting hurt. Kids are getting hurt on that gym floor, Mr. Chair, and all I'm asking the minister to do is to do something before September of this year that will solve the issue of children getting hurt on that gym floor - with the normal use of the gym. That's all I'm asking. And I would hope that the minister - planning money, I don't think, is going to help those kids if they're still running around on the gym floor. You're still going to get incidents of injuries, and I hope we're not just going to, as the minister said, just keep track of the numbers. Because that's not good enough for the parents who are faced with a child who may - as a result of that floor, if they're playing on it - receive some permanent damage that might rule out their opportunity for sports scholarships in the future, because they could be permanently injured, carrying out a normal activity on that floor.
All I'm saying to the minister - I brought it to the minister's attention, she's aware of it as well. I'm not happy with the fact that the minister's not going to do anything this year, just says, "There isn't any money", because there's going to be a $60-million surplus the end of this month - 60 million bucks.
And we're talking about $200,000 that the minister could bring forward in a supplementary this summer to fix the floor so the kids could have a healthy gym to play in. The minister can't cry poverty. There's lots of money in the bank, so I would hope that the minister's priority would be the children's safety, as opposed to not having enough money to do the job.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I've indicated to the member that the safety of the students is a concern, and that we will see if we are able to identify funds to try and solve this problem, sooner rather than later. I've also indicated to the member that we don't have the funds available in the budget at the present time. It represents a major expense that has not been budgeted. I will see what we can do.
Mr. Phillips: Just in closing on this issue, Mr. Chair, I want to remind the minister and get it on the record again that money is not the issue. There is $60 million at the end of this month that the Government Leader, the Finance minister, admitted is going to be surplus - $60 million. It's a normal practice in this House for governments to come in with a supplementary budget to cover emergencies or some cost overruns, and that kind of thing. All I'm saying to the minister is that I think this is enough of a priority to give this strong consideration to bring some money in and fix the gym floor.
The priority has to be the safety of the children in the school. That's all I'm asking the minister to do. The minister has the money. Precedents have been set, time and time again, almost every single year in this House, where we bring in the supplementary budget and add money to the budget when we've left things out or a problem crops up.
I mean, for example, Mr. Chair, we had a problem with the septic system in the Ross River school, and the minister brought in a supplementary to cover the cost of that. And this is an issue of health and safety, as well, for the children, so I would think that the minister could convince her colleagues that it is important enough that they would give strong consideration to upgrading or improving the floor of the gym so that at least it would be safe for all normal school recreational activities.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I thank the member for his representation, and I have said that we'll see what we are able to do.
Ms. Duncan: I'd like to follow up, first of all, on the minister's response to me today. She indicated the support and outlined the department's support and work with the Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon. I had also asked her the specific question of whether or not she reviewed the editorial respecting the title of the editorial, "Why can't Dick and Jane read?" The editorial expressed a great deal of concern about a number of issues, and I wondered if she had read it and if there was any follow-up by the department on those particular comments, which I thought were very fair and balanced and asked some questions we should all ask when we're reviewing how we dedicate our resources.
I wonder if the minister has read it and if she or her officials have followed up on it.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the positions and statements that were made in the editorial are not surprising. Literacy is extremely important. We continue to look at the curriculum that we offer and the services that we provide for students in the classrooms to ensure that literacy is effective and that students come out of the system with literacy skills. Obviously, there are supports needed for children with learning disabilities. LDAY does significant and good work with people with learning disabilities, and that's one of the reasons why we continue to support them.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I thank the minister for that response. Unfortunately, it didn't answer the question.
I would also like, while I'm on my feet, to correct the record. The editorial was actually subtitled, "Can Dick and Jane read? If not, why not?" The editorial said, "Dare we be bold enough to ask why is it that a 16-year old student cannot read when he or she has average intelligence, a good family that provides love and support, caring teachers who are trained and want to help them, friends who share common goals, dreams and aspirations, and a Department of Education that has firmly entrenched their right to an appropriate education in their governing legislation?"
My question for the minister: did departmental officials or she as minister review that editorial, take those comments to heart, and was there any action taken? Was there any consideration of the questions asked in the editorial? If she didn't see it, I'd be happy to provide a copy for her. I'm not trying to be difficult, Mr. Chair, or - whatever that word is.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Thank you - obstreperous. I'm asking - this is a public comment - if the minister took it to heart and if she reviewed it. That's all I'm asking.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I thank the member for reading from the editorial. I had read it, but I do not have it in front of me at the present time. If the member would like to have the page make a photocopy of it, I can review it again.
But I would like to reiterate that literacy is an extremely important part of the education system. We must encourage students to read. Students have good literacy skills where their parents read to them from a young age and where they grow up in a household that's full of books. We need to foster that in society, in general, as well as ensuring that we have a good public education system that fosters literacy skills for all Yukon students.
Ms. Duncan: I agree with what the minister has said.
The minister also neglected to mention that the Department of Health and Social Services also, in cooperation with, I think, the libraries, provides every new baby with a book, as well, encouraging that whole reading. There are also issues around illiteracy, Mr. Chair, which I think need to be dealt with, and I just thank the minister for taking the time to discuss it.
I'd like to ask the minister a follow-up question with respect to the driver education program. I had an opportunity to briefly review the Blues for March 9, yesterday.
There is a lot of concern being expressed in this House about starting programs and then our ability to follow through with them. I'd like to ask if she's had representation from school councils respecting the amount allocated to individual schools, and if she could outline what the future intentions are for this program.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: For a moment there, I was confused that the member had come over to this side of the House, and I was very pleased to hear her complimenting the work of the Department of Health and Social Services, which provides a book to all new students.
I also want to mention a couple of other initiatives that indicate our strong commitment to helping students have good literacy skills. We have supported the reading recovery program for young students, and we continue to expand the reading recovery program and are having a number of teachers trained in that so that they can deliver reading recovery programs in Yukon schools.
We also have early intervention through the healthy family initiative that focuses on a number of skills, and have supported the Child Development Centre with increased funding in this budget, as well as adult literacy.
The member has referred to the Blues from yesterday about the driver education program. I want to explain to her that we haven't had a chance to go back and review the Blues and provide an update for all the questions that I committed to come back to, and we will do that.
There have been school councils that have indicated an interest in offering driver education, since they've been made aware that there is $20,000 in the budget for a pilot program for driver education.
I have not received any representations asking for more funding than what is presently available. There has been interest from some rural schools. We have put $20,000 in the 1999-2000 estimates that we're debating now to support driver education, and we believe that will be adequate, based on the model that we've come up with in the interest that we've heard.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I wasn't expecting that there would be an answer to all the questions in the Blues - not at all. I appreciate how hard the public servants work while we are debating the budget. I fully appreciate that. I wasn't expecting the answers to all of the questions.
What I was trying to say was that I had an opportunity to look back at that specific part of the debate and still had more questions on it. I'm concerned, for example, that there has been a $500 fund for - the minister's words were that we're going to set the drivers education fund at $500 for rural schools and $1,000 for Whitehorse schools. Well, I appreciate that there are members of the school councils and members of the parents and the student body - some who are going to be supportive of this, and some who are not, not because they're not supportive of safe drivers on the road, but because of the outline of the program.
Essentially, in Whitehorse, we're dealing with the four Whitehorse high schools, because those are the students who would be eligible to drive. We have vastly, vastly, vastly different populations in those schools. Vanier has 429 students, and F.H. Collins has 882, yet the minister's program, in the way she's outlined it in this House, has $1,000 per school. So, if you're dividing that equally among students, you have quite a difference there in the ability of school councils to fund some students and not others. I would like the minister to explain that element of the program and how these funds are being fairly distributed.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Let me explain for the member that the rationale for different sums, in total, for rural schools and Whitehorse schools is to acknowledge that there are very different populations. It's based on allowing a subsidy to a maximum of $50 per student, up to $500 in a rural school, and $50 per student up to $1000 for an urban school, where there is a large population.
Now, this is a pilot program. We're certainly willing to consider different ways of meeting the need. There have been suggestions made by some school councils that driver education could be offered at Wood Street for high school students or perhaps students who are still first-time drivers who are young drivers but who aren't presently in school, who might want to sign up for driver education.
We want to accommodate that interest, and we're working with the school councils as they express interest in offering the program.
Ms. Duncan: To borrow the words of my colleague, I'd just like to feed back to the minister what I heard her explain - this outline of the program.
So Robert Service School in Dawson is a rural school. It would get $500 to offer a driver education program.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: It would be $50 per student to a maximum of $500. Whitehorse would get $50 per student, to a maximum of $1000. Well, even among the Whitehorse schools there's quite a difference in the populations. Like, Vanier is half - less than half - of F.H. Collins, and Émilie Tremblay is substantially lower.
I'm curious whether or not we have the instruction available in French. It seems to me, overall, Mr. Chair, that there are still a lot of bugs in this program. There are a lot of anomalies that need to be worked out. I'm concerned that the minister, or the minister's department, haven't taken the time to fully flesh out this program and some of these problems before it's, "Here you are" to the school councils. It seems to me that it puts the F.H. Collins School Council in a rather untenable situation if half of their students are eligible - even 250 students. How do they decide who gets the funding and who doesn't? Will there be assurances that we will be able to offer driver education at E.E.T. in one of Canada's official languages? I'd like reassurances from the minister that we have worked out some of these problems before we've announced this program.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I think it's important to acknowledge that students and parents will pay the bulk of the fees and that school councils are going to be taking the lead in offering this program if they're interested. We're not going to force school councils to take on the project if they're not interested.
School councils can get contributions in the rural areas for a training fund to offset the cost of bringing a driver instructor from Whitehorse to the communities.
Service clubs, First Nations, village councils and school councils may be interested in helping to reduce the cost for the students by doing some fundraising. What we have attempted to do - and it is a pilot program and it is a first-time offering and we're working on ironing out problems that may arise - is offer some support for school councils that are interested in facilitating driver education for their students.
We have set aside some funds to offset the costs for rural schools and to help with a little bit of the funding that might make the difference so that a school council would be able to have driver education offered. We've also prepared some information for school councils so that they can look at whether it's achievable for them to offer driver education.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I had the privilege last night of attending the F.H. Collins School Council meeting and, indeed, the subject of driver education was very much on the agenda. The council was trying to decide whether or not to accept the $1,000 that the department had offered to them for driver education, and they were stuck with a real problem because they were going to end up looking like the bad guy because what had happened was that they are going to have more than 20 students to take driver education and they have to decide what to tell the twenty-first student who can't have the $50. Now, there are other schools, of course, that have far fewer children and the councils are going to say, "Here's the $50." That's great and everybody's happy, but the school council at F.H. Collins is going to be put in the rather untenable position of saying that, "Some of you can have the $50 but the rest of you can't." That's not a pleasant position to be in as a school council.
Once again, we have to remember that school councils are volunteers and that they quickly hear from other parents the repercussions of any decisions that they make.
Surely there must be a better way of dealing with this. Obviously there are more kids at F.H. Collins than there are at other schools and there has to be some recognition of that in the $1,000.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, we haven't seen any interest expressed yet to date on the part of the F.H. Collins School Council to offer driver education. There would be options available.
The tuition for students would be the rate that is set by the driver education instructor. The approximate price would be $550 for the fee. The amount available from the Department of Education would be a very small contribution to that.
The school council would have the ability to use that contribution and to divide it by the number of students who were taking the program if it were in excess of the first 20 students, as the member's theory had it. We haven't seen the school council canvassed to see what the level of interest is yet because the school council itself has not yet decided whether they want to proceed in offering the program.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Chair, like I say, I was at the meeting last night and the council is going to be indicating to the department in a letter that they aren't going to turn down the $1,000, but they're still in this very difficult situation where there are more than 20 kids who took drivers education in the last year and so, they're going to have to choose who gets it and who doesn't.
Now, at Émilie Tremblay, I don't think it's possible that they have more than 20 kids who would be taking drivers education because they don't have that many kids in those grades. So, why is the minister putting the school councils into the position where they have to pick who gets it and who doesn't without recognizing the fact that some schools obviously have far greater numbers in that particular age who will be taking driver education?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, what we're doing is allowing the school councils to make decisions here. I have said that I would consider options. I know that the Whitehorse school councils talk to each other. I've already indicated that I've had at least some Whitehorse school representatives suggesting that they might offer driver education for students from different high schools than one place. We will consider options. If school councils want to present a different approach, then we would consider that.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I think that I am not making my point well enough, because the decision has already been made, apparently, that it's going to be $1,000 for the urban Whitehorse schools, to a maximum of $50 per youth. That means 20 kids for the $1,000. Now, some schools have got more kids than others, and there is no recognition in the decision for $1,000 that the government has already made that that's the case. What about doing it on a per capita basis? If you've got more kids in the school, then you get more money, and if you've got less, you get less money. It seems to make a bit more sense than this across-the-board approach that puts these school councils in such a difficult position.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I thank the minister for her suggestions. We have suggested a model to school councils. We have heard back with interest from some. We've not heard back from others. The fact that the program is a pilot program means that we are able to make changes. The member's suggestions may be good, or the school councils may have other suggestions to make. We have funding available, and we want to work with school councils to allow them to offer driver education for their students with some support from the government. If they have suggestions about the nature of that support, I'm certainly prepared to consider them.
Ms. Duncan: I'd just like to remind the minister that I had asked about the future of this particular program. We've heard, in many different arenas, passionate arguments from the members on that side of the House about starting pilots and then not fulfilling them - creating an expectation that there would be a program, an ongoing program, and in the future not having the funding for it.
The members opposite make passionate arguments, heap all kinds of criticism upon other governments that do things like this, and I'm curious. I asked the minister about the future of the program. Obviously the government wouldn't criticize other governments for doing this without a plan themselves, so what's the future plan for this program? Are we going to see $20,000 allocated in the 2000-2001 budget? What's the plan for the project? Is it a five-year pilot? Is it a two-year pilot? Is it a one-year pilot? One year, subject to review? What's the plan for the driver education program?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, as I've indicated, it is a pilot program. That means that it is subject to change. It means that it's subject to evaluation. We will consider what the level of interest is. We will look at what the uptake has been and, for now, we've put money only in the present budget.
The members opposite had some concerns that they were bringing forward to the floor. They are saying that there's not universal support for it. It may be that it will continue; it may be that it won't. It is a program that we're offering as a new program because some students and parents have indicated an interest in it. We'll see how it goes.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'd also like to touch upon another area of concern to the government - not simply in the future of education, but also in the future of health care. There's been concerns expressed about the ever-diminishing pool of professionals available to come and work in the Yukon, and there's lots of talk about recruitment programs for nurses, and recruitment programs for teachers, and what the government can do to attract individuals to come and teach and nurse and work in the Yukon.
The government has, at its fingertips, a list of individuals who are out of this territory, at this moment, and what they are studying. That's a requirement on your student financial assistance form. You fill out what you're studying.
Has any thought - any effort - been given to assemble the numbers of how many people are out studying nursing, or how many people are out studying teaching, and where they're at?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I'll come back with a written response for the member on that. I know that when the students complete their student financial assistance form, they indicate which institution they're attending, and I also know that we have hired Yukon teachers who have graduated with a bachelor of education from institutions outside the Yukon, and have come back here to teach.
So I believe that there is good follow-up and flow of information, but I'll just double-check and come back with a written response.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm aware that we've hired Yukon grads to come back and teach. I went to school with many of them. I'm also flagging, for the minister, that there's a real problem - and a real opportunity that I don't believe the department is taking advantage of.
In both cases of those professionals, both require individuals to come back and do practicums. I know of at least three nursing grads who had to jump through incredible hoops to do any practicums here. I know that there are four individuals right now who are studying teaching who haven't had word one from the department about coming back to the Yukon to teach or about coming up here to do their practicum.
This is not confrontational criticism. It's an opportunity that I think - and what I'm hearing from these students is that the department is missing in areas where we're going to need these Yukoners to come back. I'm not saying we're going to want to hire, right away, every Yukoner who goes out and studies either of these professions. Maybe we will; maybe we won't.
There's an opportunity there for the minister to take advantage of opportunities that we foresee and that members opposite have talked about being in the Yukon. There's a real opportunity to contact these students and say, "We believe there's a future in the Yukon. What can we do to facilitate working with your institution to do your practicum up here? What can we do to work with you to see that you at least get an application in on time to apply for future positions in the Yukon?" There's an opportunity there, and I'd really, really like to encourage the minister to take advantage of it.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, I certainly have had discussions with my officials on the subject of teacher recruitment in general and on encouraging Yukon students to go into teacher education, and to hire them, if that's what they're doing. I'll follow up with that and check into it.
Mr. Livingston: Just before we entirely move away from the debate on the driver education, as many members of the House will be aware, it's a program that I have advocated for for some time, and I think the merits - there has been some question about the merits of the program. The merits, in my view, are that, by having more students receive driver training, we are going to have more students, more young people, who are trained to drive safely on the roads, and we will have safer roads as a result.
Clearly, the insurance companies are convinced of this. That's why insurance companies offer significant discounts for students who have driver training.
It's been interesting to listen to the discussion today on some of the issues and questions and so on that have been raised. I, myself, have provided some advice in this matter, and I expect that the minister will be listening to the advice and monitoring the program so that these concerns are addressed.
My wish, my hope is that we'll see an equitable program that will lay the groundwork for future work in this area in the schools, that's going to see an expanded program, see more students taking it. It's simply going to be good news in terms of safer roads and well-trained students.
Chair: Is there further debate? Seeing none, we'll go to the estimates book, education support services. Is there any general debate?
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I found it very helpful the other evening when you also, when you open the debate, reference page numbers. Could I ask you to do that again, please?
Chair: I don't know if that's in the job description, but I'll try to help the members along. We're on page 5-6, on education support services. Is there any debate?
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Education Support Services
Ms. Duncan: Could I ask the minister to, as she put it, get her exercise and provide us with the line explanation, please?
Chair: Since there is no general debate, we'll go line by line then, if members wish.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the administration O&M budget of $449,000 supports the salaries and wages in the deputy minister and the ADM office.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'm just recalling my briefing on this. My understanding is there was no additional staff, no reassignment - or is there? Could I just ask the minister to elaborate.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: This administration item in the O&M budget covers five full-time equivalents. The First Nations educational liaison position that was discussed at the briefing is located in this program area.
Administration in the amount of $449,000 agreed to
On Support Services
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, this line item is mainly to cover 100.6 FTEs. This includes the allotment for custodian salaries. It also covers expenses for the transportation of public school children and for facility repairs and maintenance associated with the facility management agreement.
Support Services in the amount of $11,201,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the statistics?
Education Support Services in the amount of $11,650,000 agreed to
On Public Schools
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I know that we'll get to this later, but it is on the numbers that the department has provided this year for students. They seem to show an increase over last year - 4,713 students last year and 4,731 this year.
What I'm hearing from many school councils and many schools is that a lot of people have left the territory for jobs elsewhere because of the economy, and there are also a lot of students in schools who are going to be leaving in June because one of the parents is outside and the other spouse is taking care of the children here and keeping them in school until the year is finished. So, I'm just wondering why we show an increase when even the short-term economic outlook points to an exodus of some 700-odd people here in the next year. How does that collate?
Why do we show an increase in students? Unless parents are abandoning their children and leaving them in the school for us to take care of, I'm not sure why we would show an increase when the short-term economic outlook shows that people are leaving.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the member was quoting from the bottom chart, which shows the breakdown between urban and rural students. The chart shows a small decrease in rural students and a small increase in urban students.
The way the formula is calculated is, we take the total number of grade 12 students and - assuming that they all graduate - then subtract them, and look at the kindergarten enrollment, and put that into the formula. The actual difference - if the member looks at the totals of 6,106 and 6,118 - shows an increase of 12 students, which is not a significant increase.
Mr. Phillips: I guess that's my point. What the minister's telling us is that the statistics are based on a formula of students-in, students-out, and that's easy to predict - I guess students-out is easier to predict than students-in, sometimes.
My concern is that there's no economic factor plugged in here, and the budget estimates in this department are based on the government's statistics. I would be willing to bet that we're not going to see an increase of 12 students this year, that we're going to probably see a significant decrease of students this year.
I just wonder if we should be looking at plugging in some kind of economic factor to the statistics we have, to try and get a more accurate picture of - I mean, I'm sure when the minister does, for instance, the Riverdale study, the minister is going to find that some people are leaving this year. And I'm sure if the minister did a study in Faro - I believe Faro this year has probably the highest graduating class of any year ever in Faro.
I understand that many of the students in that class have one of their parents working elsewhere, and the students are finishing off grade 11 or grade 12, in the case of the graduates, and the family will probably be leaving at the end of the year, in the case of the grade 12 students. But even if they have students in the lower grades, they'll be leaving, as well. So, do we have any idea? I guess we don't know until enrollment takes place in - I guess initial enrollment takes place in June for next year, when people sign up, but we have no way of knowing.
I just wonder why we don't - since we get the short-term economic outlook - start factoring that in. I know we do in other places in the budget. In fact, we factor in other things that are coming down the road, like the collective agreement. We don't put anything in the budget for the collective agreement. There are other things we do allow for, and take out, and don't include - and include, in some cases, when we know that something is not going to be there.
I think, last year, a good example was Anvil. We had some money in with respect to the mine, and it was included in the budget and removed. I'm just wondering why we can't find some way to factor in an economic factor in the numbers, so we're a little more accurate, because I would be really surprised if our numbers actually increase next year. Like I said before, I think if they stayed the same or increased, we'd probably have a lot more problems than students in our schools, because we'd probably have a lot of abandoned children, because I think a lot of parents are leaving, and are going to be leaving this spring.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, if we start speculating, we can come up with any number of permutations. It is probably better to estimate to have the staff in place to meet the needs of the enrollment at the full end than to estimate low.
The way we accommodate differences between projections and what the actual enrollment is is that we make adjustments on September 30, so that we have projections for what the enrollment may look like in the next school year and then, on September 30, when most of the kids have finalized which school they're going to be in, we know what the actual numbers are going to be, and complete the work that may need to be done.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'd just like to express some concerns in this particular area. It seems to me that September 30 was a difficult time frame and an issue at the bargaining table, and the whole issue around class sizes as of September 30 was an issue that was discussed in bargaining with teachers.
In May, do principals not give a commitment to the department as to an estimate in the number of students that they anticipate for the year? I mean, staffing levels - the last thing in the world we would want to have is someone with an expectation of a task and not enough students. No one would want to place anyone in that situation. So, surely there's an earlier time frame and a quicker turnaround than September 30 for the number of students?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Numbers are provided from the schools to the department at the end of May. There are also a lot of changes. Historically, in September, it's a pretty busy month for schools. There are students who will start and who will then move. There are students that you didn't know were going to be there who are registering for school. The September 30 date is used because, historically, it's been found that, by September 30, most of the transitions have been completed and the numbers are firmed up.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I understand that and September 30 is also in the act, if I'm not mistaken. To me, there is opportunity for some turnaround as well. We're going to have a good sense by May. The schools in my riding - Jack Hulland, for instance - are going to be able to tell you within half a dozen students, at most, how many kindergarten kids they've got and how many students are leaving. I know there are an awful lot of homes for -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Exactly, and they do. There are a lot of homes for sale in my riding, so I'm anticipating that the numbers - not that I like it; I don't like it - are going to be a lot less than what the minister's projecting. I think the Member for Riverdale North has raised a good point.
My question is, if the department has this sense in May also, what are the budget implications and what are they going to turn around? What options are there going to be? Is there a discussion? In June, are we going to have a meeting of superintendents? Will there be a meeting of the department and the minister saying, "Okay, look, we've got a lot fewer students here. There might be some cost savings."
Is there any sort of evaluation planned or anticipated because, as I said, the Member for Riverdale North has raised a good point. Those numbers look high in light of the short-term economic outlook tabled by the Minister of Economic Development, the Member for Faro. In light of what we all know to be going on in the Yukon economy, my question is, is the department prepared for this and are they going to be able to do something to deal with the ramifications of this information?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I feel confident that the department will be able to deal with the enrollment that results in September. The principals and the superintendents do work together quite closely, particularly in May and in September. The major effect of the enrollment numbers is the staffing. So, if there is less enrollment there may be less staffing requirements.
Mr. Phillips: What the minister said, then, is if there is less staffing requirement there will be a savings, of course, because there will be layoffs.
Maybe the minister can tell me, first of all, how that's handled. I imagine it's within the collective agreement how that would be dealt with, but if there are savings achieved, with respect to lower students - which we all hope really doesn't happen; I mean we hope the economy turns around and things pick up - and there are savings achieved, I'd make a recommendation to the minister that that's where she could start looking for the $200,000 for the new floor for Vanier.
I know it's O&M - the light went on and the minister said, "It's O&M", but there has been an opportunity to move O&M to capital, and vice versa; it's been done before. And so, you know, if there's a reduction in Faro of a number of teachers and a reduction in any other school, it would only take a reduction of possibly three or four teachers through the whole territory and the minister would have her $200,000 to provide a proper floor for the Vanier school, and she wouldn't have to seek any extra funds from another area.
Maybe the minister could just tell us: is there any kind of a contingency plan, or how do you deal with the issue of layoffs in spring? Because like the Member for Porter Creek South said, by the sound of things, it's going to be almost the last minute before we know.
As well, the indications are that teachers are going to be hard to find. The minister says she has a whole file drawer full of applications but, probably by September 1, many of these teachers will be employed if there is a shortage, either here or elsewhere.
So maybe the minister can tell us what contingency plans she might have to address this. I mean, the Member for Porter Creek South said that there are a few constituents in her riding who have left, and lots of homes for sale, and I've got exactly the same thing in my riding, and everybody I have talked to in some classrooms - I know in Golden Horn, the classes are a lot smaller. So, there have been a lot of students leaving, and there are rumours that a lot more are leaving after this school year, and so maybe the minister can tell us what contingency plans are in place to move quickly to make sure that we don't inconvenience people - the teachers in particular, who might think they have a job in May and find out that they don't have a job in September.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: First of all, there was a considerable amount of time spent during general debate on the subject of vacancies and whether we were going to be able to fill all the vacancies, because of a shortage of teachers. So I don't anticipate that we will have layoffs. Historically, in May, the teachers who may want to move or change their jobs notify the department that they would be leaving their position, and that would create a vacancy.
Last year, we recruited 70 teachers. I am confident that we'll be able to deal with the staffing actions.
I also want to respond to another comment that the member made. I don't have a drawer full of applications for teachers. This Minister of Education doesn't hire teachers or get involved in personnel. We have staff in the department who do that.
Chair: The time being close to 5:30, Committee will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Committee is dealing with the main estimates. We are on the Department of Education. Is there any further debate on public schools? Seeing none, we will go to O&M expenditures, activities, administration, $2,071,000.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The administration line item of $2,071,000 covers the assistant deputy minister for public schools and the support staff operation costs, as well as such things as student accommodation at Gadzoosdaa Residence, teacher recruitment, and reallocation.
There is an increase in the transfer payments pertaining to contributions in support of the Canadian interchange studies.
Administration in the amount of $2,071,000 agreed to
On Program Delivery
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The program delivery line item in the branch budget is the largest single component in the Department of Education budget. An amount of $41,442,000, or approximately 91 percent, of this budget is for wages and benefits.
All school-based staff except for school custodians' salaries and benefits are budgeted in this activity.
The transfer payments to the Native Language Centre are included. The categories of staff budgeted for in this activity include teachers, remedial tutors, educational assistants, school secretaries, and the superintendent's office.
Program Delivery in the amount of $45,389,000 agreed to
On Program Support
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The program support line item includes salaries and benefits. The different elements of this activity include such things as administration, the operation of the Learning Resource Centre, purchase of textbooks and library books for the schools, curriculum support and development.
There is a program materials increase to cover new curriculum materials, as well as transfer payments for the young authors conference.
Program Support in the amount of $2,474,000 agreed to
On French Language Program
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The French language program expenditure of $750,000 supports the French monitor program, the administration associated with the francophone school board, support for students and adult education.
French Language Program in the amount of $750,000 agreed to
On Special Programs
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The special programs division line item consists of funding for school support and psychological services, speech language programs, occupational therapy and sensory impairments.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, when the Yukon Party was in government, the minister, who was the critic, was critical of our commitment to special programs and there hasn't been any increase in the special programs, I think, since the minister has been taking care of this department. I just wonder if she feels that the special programs budget is adequate and if she sees that there is no need to increase it.
I can remember all kinds of debate in the past that the budget needed to be increased. There was a special demand or a higher demand for that and she used to chastise us quite a bit for not increasing the budget, so I'm just wondering why the minister has chosen to see a budget decrease here in this particular program in light of her comments in the past about it being of a higher priority for her government.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, the slight decrease that is shown in this line item does not reflect a decrease in service. It is that there was a change in funding method for the sight-impairment services provided to schools. The duties of a sight-impaired position, after the incumbent resigned last year, have been assigned to another sensory-impaired teacher and, to some extent, to the EAs in the schools who have students requiring services. We also have a contract employee who provides support to the teachers and to the EAs.
I believe that we offer good services through the special programs. I know that - in the technical briefing it was outlined for the opposition members - there are duties and positions encompassed in the special programs division. There are school psychologists, educational consultants, speech language pathologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, as well as other support services. The special programs branch provides good support to schools and to teachers. There are other activities and other line items that cover providing service for special needs students.
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, I think the minister missed my point. I'm not criticizing that it went down. I know the reason that it went down. We had a technical briefing, and I realize it was a bit of a staffing change. My point is that the minister was quite critical when she was in opposition about this line item needing more attention. This is, I think, the third budget from the minister, and we haven't seen the attention that the minister expressed when she was in opposition showing up in the budget area. Now, the minister says that everything seems to be fine in that department and that people do good work. There is no doubt about that. I know they do very good work in that department and they are a great bunch of dedicated people.
But my question is: why isn't there a higher priority here? Has the minister not given direction for a higher priority in this area, or is it just sort of the status quo? I'm trying to find out why, in light of the minister's comments in the past, we haven't seen any real change in the line item.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, meeting the needs of students with special needs means that duties are assigned to many of the staff in the special programs area, and this is a priority. There are significant increases in this budget to support the reading recovery program. We have 16 teachers who have now been trained to deliver this early intervention model of education for young students, and we are budgeting for eight more teachers to be trained in 1999-2000.
I don't accept the member's premise that we're not giving attention to meeting the needs of students with special needs. The special programs line item is not the only area that supports services for students with special needs.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Chair, that was the same as before. It wasn't the only line item then that supported special needs as well. There were other line items that supported special needs, but the minister was quite critical of us when we were in government about this particular line item and asked why there wasn't a higher priority here, as there's a need. And I'm just trying to find out from the minister that, if that was the case then and there haven't been any other major changes anywhere in the budget - I mean, there were other programs that covered special needs as well, but they were there before. There haven't been any significant changes, so my concern is that I would have thought, in light of the minister's comments when she was in opposition, that there would be some reflection of an increase in this area, because she always insisted that it was an area, Mr. Chair, that needed more attention.
So, I'll just leave it there. I don't want to go on and on and on about it, but I'll just point out to the minister that it's inconsist with comments the minister has made in the past and what we have seen in the last two or three budgets from the minister.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, the member has asserted that there haven't been any significant changes, and I would say the opposite. We have a significant change in bringing in the reading recovery program, which is a highly specialized reading program for six-year-old students who are experiencing difficulty reading. We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in training teachers for the reading recovery program, and that is a significant, new, early intervention model that helps students read and helps them to do better in the long term.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'd just like to ask the minister to elaborate on a question that I've asked previously in this section.
The waiting list for assessment for students would be covered off by the staff, and the response I've received in the past from the department indicated that this symptom, if you will, of a waiting list for an assessment is a cyclical type of activity, and that there will be periods of time where there is a waiting list for someone to be assessed and there will be periods when there will not.
Can the minister provide some more information to me on the current status? Is there a waiting list at any particular school for an assessment? Or, are we relatively on track and able to see students quite quickly? Is there a need for additional staffing?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I was reviewing that information earlier this afternoon, but I don't have it at my fingertips right at the moment. Can I come back to the member with an answer?
Special Programs in the amount of $1,111,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the statistics?
Public Schools in the amount of $51,79,000 agreed to
On Advanced Education
Chair: Is there general debate?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The advanced education program objectives are cited in the budget. There are three areas here: administration, labour market development and training program. I have details for the line items on this subject.
The largest amount in the administration line item is the base grant that goes to Yukon College. The total advanced education budget is $16,573,000.
Administration in the amount of $11,395,000 agreed to
On Labour Market Development
Labour Market Development in the amount of $3,115,000 agreed to
On Training Programs
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the briefing indicated that the training programs include the government apprenticeship program and $400,000 for youth initiatives, including the new $200,000 for youth recreation funding. Could I ask the minister to elaborate on what the $200,000 for youth recreation funding is?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The youth initiatives to be funded include a broad range of activities, and I'm glad the member asked me to elaborate on them and to provide some information to the House. We have supported the youth recreation leadership program, which has been offered in rural communities. We are also supporting leadership through recreation in a number of communities.
I believe that yesterday afternoon, I spoke about various activities including fish camps and theatre camps and youth exploring trades and computer camps that were offered in virtually all Yukon communities last summer. We met with communities and canvassed them for their needs and will be able to offer more of those programs that have been quite successful in rural communities with the funding in this line item.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I appreciate the minister's response. I'd just like to ask her to elaborate on how this is coordinated with the Department of Community and Transportation Services recreation, the City of Whitehorse recreation branch and then each of the recreation people in the communities. Is there a committee that oversees it then and they evaluate and determine who can fund and afford what programs? Is that how it works?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, I would refer the member to the youth strategy and the implementation plan that's contained in that. It's really important to have a coordinated approach to youth programs. We know that we offer over 400 programs for youth throughout the Yukon. A large majority of those programs are offered by the Yukon government. There are also some that are offered by First Nations and by municipalities, as well as service groups.
Under the implementation plan of the youth strategy, we have created an interdepartmental committee on youth initiatives that includes Community and Transportation Services, Health and Social Services, the Women's Directorate, Justice and Education. We are developing a comprehensive and centrally located list of all youth initiatives that are offered by the Government of Yukon.
We also have been meeting with youth. The recent youth conference was a huge success. They had some ideas there, and there will be follow-up on the kinds of programs they enjoyed or didn't enjoy or wanted to see more of.
So, we are putting a very concerted effort into improving the programs that we offer to youth, coordinating our approach to youth initiatives, as well as identifying gaps in programming and being able to offer new programs. That's why we've made it a priority and put some funds in the budget to support youth activities.
Training Programs in the amount of $2,063,000 agreed to
Chair: Any questions on the statistics?
Mr. Phillips: The Northern Research Institute - what association does it have with the college? There's a line item, I think, in Government Services - that $200,000 of the fund be administered by the Northern Research Institute and support research and innovative projects using technology. What's the relationship between the college and the institute?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Northern Research Institute is affiliated with, and located at, Yukon College. They began with a contribution of funds to be able to support northern research projects. They have conducted a number of northern research projects for the Government of Yukon, but also with academic institutions outside of the Yukon.
Mr. Phillips: What projects is the minister talking about?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, I could bring back a report of the projects that the Northern Research Institute has supported. They do research on climate change, and they've recently done a research project program on women in apprenticeship.
The funds that the member has referred to, which are in the Government Services line item, are to support the technology innovation centre. I'm sure the member will want to ask the Minister of Government Services for some details on that when he comes to that line item.
Generally, though, the Northern Research Institute conducts research in a broad range of subject areas. For that reason, Government Services has funding to support the technology innovation centre, through the Northern Research Institute.
Mr. Phillips: It would be useful if the minister could provide that list.
Advanced Education in the amount of $16,573,000 agreed to
On Libraries and Archives
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Administration in the amount of $267,000 agreed to
On Public Library Services
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, when we had our briefing, we had a discussion about the Watson Lake library and, as I understood it, the department was waiting to hear from Watson Lake as to what they desired. This is the O&M. The minister may want to wait until the capital for that discussion.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: Yes, she does. Okay, I'll wait for capital for that discussion.
Public Library Services in the amount of $1,254,000 agreed to
On Yukon Archives
Yukon Archives in the amount of $659,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on the statistics?
Libraries and Archives in the amount of $2,180,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Education in the amount of $82,198,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
Chair: Is it the members' wish to have all general debate up front?
Is there any general debate?
On Education Support Services
On Staff Support, Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space
Staff Support, Office Furniture, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $309,000 agreed to
Education Support Services in the amount of $309,000 agreed to
On Public Schools
On Facility Construction and Maintenance
On F.H. Collins School Upgrading
F.H. Collins School Upgrading in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
On Mayo Community School
Mayo Community School in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
On Modular Classrooms
Modular Classrooms in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Special Needs Infrastructure
Special Needs Infrastructure in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Site Improvement and Recreation Development
Site Improvement and Recreation Development in the amount of $300,000 agreed to
On Various School Facilities Alterations
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I just want to state for the record, when the department reviews the Blues, that we are going to get the details on that line.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I've made a note of that, Mr. Chair, and we'll bring the information back for the member.
Various School Facilities Alterations in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
On Computer Labs Upgrading
Computer Labs Upgrading in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Air Quality/Energy Management Projects
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, do we have a location for that, or is it just in there for possible air upgrading in one of the schools?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, this line item is for both energy-savings measures, as recommended in the recent energy management plan, and upgrading ventilation systems in schools. We're going to do airborne contaminants evaluations in various schools, as well as ventilation rebalancing in l'École Émilie Tremblay.
Mr. Phillips: I don't know if this is the right place to ask this, but we have an energy-saving program within the schools. Could we get an update on that for this last year of what schools, how much they saved and that kind of thing? I don't need it right away. Just out of curiosity. I know some of the schools have been really doing a fine job in reducing their energy costs and have actually benefited from it. The program, I think, was set up under the Yukon Party government and it's something that the schools bought into big-time and, in fact, have saved quite a bit of money, and the schools have benefited with some of the savings.
So, could the minister bring that list back to us?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I'll be happy to bring back an update for the member.
Air Quality/Energy Management Projects in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Capital Maintenance Renovations
Ms. Duncan: This is a reduction of eight percent, and I notice that also, further down on the line items, there are some reductions of, for example, school-initiated renovations, and school painting program.
Is this because the department re-titled and reassigned money, or is it an overall reduction in the amount of money being spent? And why has it been reduced?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, the capital budget is not put together in the same way that the operations and maintenance budget is. Line items may have a significant change, and they sometimes will emerge as new line items, or something may be reduced to zero.
In the capital maintenance renovations, it's a little of both. There are funds available in various school facilities, alterations, as well as the coverage for the facility management agreement, which is the next line item that we get to.
The capital maintenance renovations line item is for repairing facilities so that we can help avoid replacement. The items for the current year include locker replacement at Vanier, some roof upgrading, some door and window replacements, and various projects to upgrade and repair mechanical and electrical systems.
Capital Maintenance Renovations in the amount of $401,000 agreed to
On Facility Management Agreement
Ms. Duncan: Could I have the minister's explanation as to why this increase?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The funding for this line item has been increased to address the existing shortfall for lease space and for services to schools. Government Services provides a lot of maintenance work for schools under the facility management agreement.
The line item has been increased to reflect the actual cost of the facility management agreement.
Mr. Phillips: Is there a corresponding decrease in the Government Services budget? I mean, somebody had to pay for this before. How did that work?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The Department of Education had to pay for it. The public schools branch - we've had the facilities management agreement in place for three years now. I believe this is the third year and we're adjusting to the actuals. What has been happening is that where there has been a shortfall in the facility management agreement costs, we had to find the funds within other areas of the Education budget.
Facility Management Agreement in the amount of $1,175,000 agreed to
On Chief Zzeh Gittlit School Replacement
Chief Zzeh Gittlit School Replacement in the amount of $400,000 agreed to
On Ross River School Replacement
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, the models that we occasionally see displayed in the foyer of this building, for example, I believe had pictures of the construction of the Chief Zzeh Gittlit School up by the information desk. If there is an architectural model, I wonder if there is going to be an opportunity to have it in this building at some point in time.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I believe we will be getting drawings similar to what we had for Old Crow, and I'll certainly be happy to make them available for the member to view.
Ross River School Replacement in the amount of $5,100,000 agreed to
On Jack Hulland Roof Upgrade
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I will be directing some questions in the Government Services debate - and I have already directed them to the Government Services minister - on the handling of this contract. The additional budget money - is there an assurance that this work will be done over the summer months, that this is the balance to pay for what was the final cost of the fire?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Duncan: It's not the fire. This is for more repairs, is it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: This line item is being used to complete the roofing project for Jack Hulland Elementary. This is the final phase of the project.
Ms. Duncan: And, as the minister said, hopefully - touch wood - there are no further difficulties. Has the minister had assurances, and so on, that the work will be complete prior to school beginning?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: That is certainly what we're aiming for.
Jack Hulland Roof Upgrade in the amount of $300,000 agreed to
On Grade Reorganization - Vanier
Grade Reorganization - Vanier in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On School Initiated Renovations
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, there is quite a substantial decrease in this line item in the budget, and I know the requests haven't gone down. We heard representations about yet another request today, and I'm wondering why the amount the department has seen fit to budget for this has decreased so substantially - 44 percent is not a small amount.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we have been able to reinstate most of the money from 1997-98 and bring forward revotes, so there are a number of projects that are being completed. There is also funding in the various school facilities alterations to cover school renovations.
School Initiated Renovations in the amount of $150,000 agreed to
On School Painting Program
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, on the school painting program, what is the schedule for this summer? Which schools are we planning to paint - interior, exterior, that kind of thing?
And, Mr. Chair, I would also like the estimated date of issuing the contracts, especially for the exterior painting - and the interior painting, of course, having to be done, I guess, by the time school goes back. It has been a problem in some years. I know it got better in the last few years, but I just want to make sure that we're going to get the contracts out in a timely fashion.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, there is a painting schedule that is prepared. Both the Government Services minister and I have made a commitment to work harder at making sure that the tenders are let early so that the painting, particularly on the exterior of schools, can begin as soon as the students are out of the schools.
The school painting program over the present year - I thought the members had received this information in the technical briefing. There are lists, and we're putting the list together to give them in response, so we'll get it back to you.
School Painting Program in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
On Prior Years' Projects
Prior Years' Projects in the amount of nil agreed to
On Instructional Programs
On Distance Education
Distance Education in the amount of $65,000 agreed to
On School-based Equipment Purchase
Mr. Phillips: Does the minister have a list for that, or is it just sort of a demand list that shows up from time to time?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: These funds are distributed by formula to schools for the purchase of replacement office equipment and audiovisual equipment for program delivery support.
Mr. Phillips: How come it's gone down, then? I believe in 1997-98 it was $589,000; it went down to $350,000 and back up to $500,000. What drives it? What drives it up or down? Is it just a guesstimate of the needs, or is it -?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Well, Mr. Chair, certainly overall budget availability is a factor. The school-based equipment purchase, as I've said, covers replacement office equipment and AV equipment. It doesn't necessarily wear out over a same period of time. It depends on how much they're used, so equipment might last a year or two longer in one school versus another. We put funds in the budget to try and accommodate all the needs for program delivery support.
Mr. Phillips: I might also suggest to the minister that she might search here later on in the year for some money for that gym floor at Vanier.
School-based Equipment Purchase in the amount of $500,000 agreed to
On Special Education Equipment
Special Education Equipment in the amount of $20,000 agreed to
On School-based Information Technology
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, I'd just like to restate my concerns for the minister that it's well and good for us to purchase the computers, purchase the technology and equipment, but we also have to follow through with ensuring that the professional development and the support is there. There's no point in buying a Ferrari if nobody can drive it. We need to have the support for these purchases.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: I was really looking for an opportunity to enter into this debate about the merits of various cars, but other members of the House seem to have that one under control.
The school-based information technology doesn't cover just computer replacement. It includes software licences and student information systems and library conversion and computer maintenance.
There are goods and services available for teachers. It is important to ensure that there are resources available for the information technology. We have an information technology consultant at the department who works with the various schools and the teachers to ensure that there is follow-up so that the computers are not simply in the classrooms but are being effectively used.
School-Based Information Technology in the amount of $394,000 agreed to
On School Replacement Furniture - Local Manufacture
Mr. Phillips: Does the minister know how many local manufacturers are currently going to be bidding this type of project or this type of work? Have we let contracts? I heard Old Crow the other day talking about some local manufactured furniture that's going up there for the school.
How many people bid from the Yukon on this local manufacturer? Do we have two or three or four companies that are taking the opportunity to bid it?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, I believe it is three local manufacturers that have bid. I know I was reviewing a note on that subject earlier today, and I can bring an answer back in writing with that information for the member.
Mr. Phillips: I'd also like to get some idea of cost comparisons, and that kind of thing, with the type of furniture we've been buying in the past. I know there's some value added by buying it locally, but I just want to get an idea of the difference, and what the amount of the value added would be.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we can provide that kind of information. It's not strictly the value of having local manufacturers supported, but the quality of product of the locally manufactured furniture is excellent. We find they do last well in the schools.
It also gives us the ability to design what we need for the schools.
School Replacement Furniture - Local Manufacture in the amount of $70,000 agreed to
Public Schools in the amount of $9,525,000 agreed to
On Advanced Education
On Yukon College Capital
Yukon College Capital in the amount of $750,000 agreed to
On Training Trust Funds
Training Trust Funds in the amount of $1,500,000 agreed to
On Youth Strategy
Youth Strategy in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
On Special Investment Fund
Special Investment Fund in the amount of $55,000 agreed to
On Yukon College Access Road
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, what is the final work to be undertaken for this $100,000?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: The city established requirements for installation of new light standards along the access road. This funding will be used to provide the lighting.
Yukon College Access Road in the amount of $100,000 agreed to
On Prior Years' Projects
Prior Years' Projects in the amount of nil agreed to
Advanced Education in the amount of $2,455,000 agreed to
On Libraries and Archives
On Community Library Development Projects
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Chair, this is the Watson Lake library question. Where are we at with the Watson Lake library?
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, we are waiting for responses from the community of Watson Lake. The Minister of Government Services also has some information that he can provide in the Government Services debate. We have been talking to the school council and the municipal council. The library will be located in the new administration building. The Government Services minister has the details for later.
Community Library Development Projects in the amount of $120,000 agreed to
On Archives Development Projects
Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, last year we had a significant amount of money in that, and I think it was partly as a result of the Gold Rush Centennial. A lot of research was done with respect to that. I wonder if the minister could bring us back some statistics on how active it was. There may be some in here that I missed. I just want to get an idea of how well it was used last year. I would have thought that just the fact that we piqued a lot of people's interest with respect to the Gold Rush that a lot of inquiries would still be flowing. I was a bit surprised to see it decrease a bit because I would have thought there would be still be a lot of activities there. Maybe the minister could let us know exactly what's happening with the archives projects.
Hon. Ms. Moorcroft: Mr. Chair, a large display was created last year. That display is still in circulation. As the member is aware, the archives creates a number of displays - they might do two or three in a year - and they remain in use and are circulated around the Yukon and are put up in libraries or archives or other public buildings, where there's an interest.
There are two projects that the archives is working on in cooperation with the City of Whitehorse and White Pass and Yukon Route in this budget year. They will be circulated to the communities. I will also bring back a written response. I'll review the Blues and see what other information I may need to provide for the member.
Archives Development Projects in the amount of $50,000 agreed to
Chair: Are there questions on the recoveries or transfer payments or multi-year capital projects?
Libraries and Archives in the amount of $170,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Education in the amount of $12,459,000 agreed to
Department of Education agreed to
Department of Finance
Chair: Committee will now go to the Department of Finance. Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The activities of the Department of Finance haven't changed significantly from the 1998-99 budget and as a consequence there is not much change in this budget. The department requires $4,630,000 in operation and maintenance funds for the 1999-2000 fiscal year. This a nominal $19,000 increase over the forecast of the previous fiscal year.
Capital spending is expected to decrease from $21,000 in 1998-99 to $13,000 in the new year. The change in O&M can be attributed to the salary increase granted employees. Salaries account for over 74 percent of the department's budget, so even a modest rate increase will be noticeable in the estimates. The capital funds are required for the normal replacement of obsolete or unserviceable computers and office equipment.
As for the department's operations, the new financial management information system is up and running, and the government's centralized accounting system is therefore year 2000 compliant.
The projections for income tax revenues shown in the estimates have been provided by the federal government and then adjusted by us for the expected impact of the tax measures we are undertaking in this budget. Federal estimates of these taxes can vary significantly over time, as members will know, but due to the fail-safe provisions from financing these variations, it will have a fairly minimal impact upon our bottom line. We are projecting declines in commodity taxes, based upon expecting population changes.
Investment income for 1998-99 may be forecast a bit on the low side and we should be able to maintain a three-quarter of a million dollar figure for the new year, based on anticipated cash flows.
In any event, of course, these revenues are failsafed on a dollar-for-dollar basis on the formula.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I don't have a lot to go over in Finance. Most of the questions I had, the minister answered in general debate on the budget. I don't think there is any need to go back over and rehash what we already went over. I don't think either one of us is going to change our position, and I'm not into going back over the ground that we've already covered.
I do have one question that I would like the minister to respond to, and that's the banking contract. Where are we at with it? What's happening? Maybe he could bring us up to date.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, firstly, the member will be aware that the contract with the TD Bank ends at the end of October this year. We promised the banking community that we would have preliminary discussions on the banking contract last year, and I hosted a half-day conference with all bank managers in the Yukon to go over banking issues. With the banking community, I have subsequently committed to a pre-tender meeting with all banks to go over the expected terms of the banking tender. That will happen in the next month or two.
I also indicated last year that we would be undertaking consultations on banking services in rural Yukon, and the Department of Finance conducted those consultations and reported back in time, actually, for the meeting with the banking community.
I have also committed to having a round-table discussion with the banking and financial services sector in the next month and a half to discuss banking services and access to capital in general.
That conference/workshop is being organized now.
So, we will likely go to tender in the next couple of months, after these discussions are held, and seek a new contract with someone to provide banking services in rural Yukon.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that.
I wonder if the minister could tell me, are there going to be any additions to banking services in rural communities? Is there anticipation of any more outlets being put out there?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, at this time there is some attempt to find a location in Burwash for a banking agent. We are having a lot of difficulty finding such a willing partner. But the main tenor of the discussions we've had with the banking industry and with communities is what kind of banking services they want and what kind of banking services can we realistically expect to get through a new banking arrangement with a successful bank.
The banking community has suggested that the nature of banking is changing, and we should be forward-thinking. The use of cash is less noticeable and we should be thinking about promoting other ways of providing these services.
So, that is what we are in the process of mulling over now and discussing with communities, to start, and also with others in the form of a workshop, as I mentioned, coming up.
But all will be done before we let the tender.
Mr. Ostashek: That's exactly my point. Banking services are changing very quickly with the Internet and the banks doing more and more business without actually facing people. And I know the communities, in a lot of instances, see this as another job in the community. That's basically what the argument is. They want another paycheque in the community.
The reality of it is - and I think we've got some pretty good examples of it; I think Beaver Creek is one - where I don't think we really get what we're paying for. People aren't utilizing it, especially because banking services are changing so dramatically these days.
So I'm glad to hear that the department is taking this into consideration when they're out there. Sometimes what the communities want isn't always going to provide better service for the people in the community, and I think that's something that has to be taken into consideration.
Can the minister tell me if there is more interest in the contract this time than last time around? We only had two bidders on it last time. Does he believe we're going to get a bid from all of the major banks that are established in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, that's a good question. All I can tell the member, in direct answer to the question, is that there's no shortage of enthusiasm to participate in our discussions by the existing bankers. Whether that translates into a bid at some point is not known.
But we've certainly primed the pump, and we've talked about a level playing field for the banking community. Some are more prominent in rural Yukon now than others. This has lead to some discussions about whether or not the playing field is level, and all that sort of thing.
I would point out, too, that in general terms around the Yukon there was a general satisfaction with the level of banking service. I think it's probably fair to say that people thought that, you know, if we could put a banking machine into every corner store, that'd be great. But they're expensive to operate and maintain, and there are clear limitations to doing that.
So we have to ensure that expectations are realistic and do what we can to anticipate changes in the banking industry.
Mr. Ostashek: I thank the minister for that. Can the minister tell me if there are any unforeseen pools of revenue that may be forthcoming in this budget that aren't identified in the budget now - anything outstanding from Faro, or anything like that, that we may get in this next fiscal year that stand a reasonable possibility of being finalized this year? I know we still have some monies outstanding in different areas. Another one that I see are the outstanding bills with DIAND on native health billings, and the fire suppression monies that are outstanding from Old Crow and Pelly Crossing. I just want to know if there's anything that might be coming into this budget that has not been identified at this time because the department isn't sure it's going to come forward.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, I'm generally fairly cautious at the best of times when it comes to anticipating revenue, but I can tell the member I don't really believe we can expect very much. Obviously, we're still seeking the $4.5 million from the Faro mine court case, and there is certainly a lot of aggressive manoeuvering by lawyers and others to try to secure as much as we can, and there may be some opportunity there. I wouldn't bank on it, and we're not preparing for it. But if there is, all the power to us, I guess, for getting the money recovered. The money from DIAND, of course, was booked in the year that we think it should have been paid to us. So, as the member knows, it just affects our cash position more than anything else. In answer to the general question, I don't detect any pots of money. There's nothing like that. It appears fairly straightforward.
Mr. Ostashek: I just have one final question in general debate. Could the minister enlighten me as to what the perversity factor is now?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The figure at this point is $1.06 to $1.07, with the economic development incentive factored in.
Mr. Cable: We asked the minister in general debate whether he was going to give us a sneak preview of the various financial bills that are going to be tabled. Can we get a progress report? How are we coming along on them? Are they just about ready to be tabled?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, Mr. Chair, we're getting very close now. I have just received the first sets of bills. There are two bills associated with the mineral exploration tax credit, and the other bill was the reclamation trust, which was essentially a long-standing project. I think it was two or three years old. Those bills are almost ready for tabling.
The bills associated with the low-income family tax credit and the bills associated with personal income tax should be ready within the next week - or, at least, out of Finance and into my hands by that time. The only bill that is outstanding at this point is the small business tax credit, and I'm told that that's a fairly simple bill and should be ready shortly after the spring break. So, I think they can certainly be into my hands in the next week or two and into the members' hands shortly after that - probably a month before the end of the sitting is expected to happen.
Mr. Cable: Does the minister have a global figure, like the total take-up of these various tax credit initiatives that we've been talking about over the last couple of weeks?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yes, on some of the tax measures we've made a best guess. For example, the mineral exploration tax credit is not capped. We expect that to be $2.5 million.
The low-income and the child benefit will total $1 million.
The small business tax credit totals $1 million.
So we're expecting about $4.5 million in revenue change.
The property taxes are very, very small. For seniors, it's a tax deferral program, so we would not actually book a decrease in our revenues because we expect to give the revenues back at some point.
The heritage tax forgiveness is very, very small. Right now, we don't have designated heritage properties. The purpose of the tax incentive is to encourage people to seek heritage property status, so the actual financial implications of that are very small at this time.
Chair: Do the members want to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Yes.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We're in the Department of Finance general debate. Is there further general debate?
Mr. Cable: I was asking the minister about what he anticipated to be the take-up of the various tax credits. I think we got up to about $4.5 million plus some small additional items.
I was looking at the total tax revenue, which is about $58 million. What's the base that the transfer agreement operates on? What do you call it, the tax effort factor? Have I got the right terminology?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, if I understand the member correctly - is he asking whether or not this reduction in taxes is going to have an effect on the tax effort? It will have an effect on the tax effort.
As I understand it, there's no absolute base, but there is a tax effort - the perversity factor, which I was already questioned about - and certainly the amount to which we tax affects it.
Mr. Cable: I think the figure that the minister discussed before the break was $1.06. If all these tax credits were in fact taken up to the total sum of $4.5 million, what would be the effect on the perversity factor? Would it be significant or slight or what?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, let's put it this way. Right now there won't be any impact. When there is, it'll be very slight. The federal government, in calculating the impact, will, however, impute the effect of the reduction and that will affect our tax effort. It will, very slightly.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
I'll ask Committee to turn page 6-6 on Treasury, O&M expenditures.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Administration in the amount of $331,000 agreed to
On Financial Operations and Revenue Services
Financial Operations and Revenue Services in the amount of $1,840,000 agreed to
On Fiscal Relations and Management Board Secretariat
Fiscal Relations and Management Board Secretariat in the amount of $1,158,000 agreed to
On Banking Services
Banking Services in the amount of $60,000 agreed to
On Public Utilities Income Tax Transfer
Mr. Ostashek: The public utilities income tax transfer - from where do we get the $218,000? I thought the feds quit doing that.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This funding is what we receive from Yukon Electrical. Yes, the federal government dropped theirs, and we give it back in.
Public Utilities Income Tax Transfer in the amount of $218,000 agreed to
Chair: Any questions on the statistics?
Treasury in the amount of $3,607,000 agreed to
Chair: Committee will turn to Workers' Compensation supplementary benefits.
On Workers' Compensation Supplementary Benefits
Chair: Is there general debate?
Mr. Cable: I have just a small point. I was trying to turn up this Workers Compensation Supplementary Benefits Ordinance and couldn't find it indexed in the statutes. Where is a guy to find that act?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Why don't I get a copy. The deputy is indicating that he'll find at least some old brown copy of this act, but apparently it exists.
On Supplementary Pensions
Supplementary Pensions in the amount of $382,000 agreed to
Workers' Compensation Supplementary Benefits in the amount of $382,000 agreed to
On Bad Debts Expense
Chair: Is there general debate?
Mr. Ostashek: I know this is providing allowance for write-offs. Is this just a figure that's injected in there, or are there some debts that the Department of Finance feels will not be paid this year and will have to be written off?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: This is purely a guess. There is no magic to this number at all.
On Allowance for Bad Debts
Allowance for Bad Debts in the amount of $74,000 agreed to
Bad Debts in the amount of $74,000 agreed to
On Prior Period Adjustments
Prior Period Adjustments in the amount of one dollar agreed to
Chair: Are there any questions on recoveries and revenue?
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I just have one question, and the Finance minister may have responded to it in budget debate but I can't recollect now. We are calculating a $2-million increase in personal income tax, yet we all know the population of the Yukon has dropped considerably. Can the minister give us some explanation for that?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As the member knows, the estimates here are taken from federal Finance. The estimates that they provided were, in fact, higher than these and we have anticipated that they will be more suppressed, so we've actually lowered them from what federal Finance was projecting.
In any case, of course, as the member knows, whether the amount goes up or down, it's still made up in the formula.
Mr. Ostashek: No, I understand that. I'm not questioning that. Why was the figure of $34 million picked, when we have a population drop? Quite clearly, unless something dramatic happens during this year, our income taxes will probably be lower than in the 1998-99 fiscal year. I just want to know what the rationale is behind putting in the figure of $34.5 million.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I guess what the Department of Finance effectively has done - has done consistently for awhile - is to simply accept whatever federal Finance projects and has put that in. They project national averages; they don't do an in-depth analysis of what is actually happening here. We put down what they have, because it's apparently more objective than if we were to try to do it ourselves.
Even in that case, though, where there has been some effort by the Department of Finance - and these are projections from the department - that even what the federal Finance had projected was higher than what is here.
So they're just basically saying, "Look, we're taking federal estimates, putting them in, reducing them somewhat, because we don't think that in the end they'll be as accurate, but we're basically taking their lead for the time being."
Mr. Ostashek: Okay, Mr. Chair, I can accept that. Would the Finance minister care to share with us what the federal estimate was?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, the deputy will find it, if he doesn't have it right now.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Yeah, they basically have reduced it by the amount that we're going to be reducing the personal income tax through the Income Tax Act.
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures for the Department of Finance in the amount of $4,063,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Capital Expenditures, Equipment, Systems and Space
Capital Expenditures, Equipment, Systems and Space in the amount of $13,000 agreed to
Treasury in the amount of $13,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures for the Department of Finance in the amount of $13,000 agreed to
Department of Finance agreed to
Department of Government Services
Chair: Committee will now turn to the Department of Government Services. Is there general debate?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As I understand, members were provided with information from the department budget briefings. I will keep my comments short.
The operation and maintenance budget proposed for Government Services for 1999-2000 totals $2,246,000, a one-percent decrease from the current fiscal year forecast.
This $176,000 decrease is due primarily to a revote of funding in 1998-99 for Yukon hire implementation and the government's participation in the CRTC hearings. These revotes total at $81,000 and the remaining decrease of $95,000 is a reduction in cost for heating and maintenance of buildings.
Overall, there is no difference the 85.9 FTEs. However, funding for one personnel position has been transferred from the property management agency to the corporate services branch. Further information on departmental activity and expenditure forecasts were included in the 1999-2000 business plans for property management agency and fleet vehicle agency and the Queen's Printer agency. These budget plans will be distributed to members.
The capital expenditures proposed for Government Services for 1999-2000 total $6,018,000. Of this amount, $1,100,000 consists of recoverable projects; $100,000 for the project management of federal government construction projects and $1,000,000 for a community access program funding by Industry Canada. The capital estimates include 24.2 FTEs.
Overall, the 1999-2000 capital estimates decreased by $3,763,000 or 38 percent over the 1998-99 forecast. This is a 39-percent reduction in spending on furniture, equipment and systems throughout the department.
In addition, there is a reduction in capital maintenance and energy projects and supplemental funding in the 1998-99 of large, one-time projects such as Chateau Jomini and heritage projects.
Specific projects contained included in the 1999-2000 fiscal year are: $200,000 for the establishment of a technology innovation centre that will help foster economic and social development in high-tech industry sectors. The centre will bring together business, community, education and other government interests, so that they can explore opportunities for developing new information technology applications, and create a bridge for those who can benefit from the technology applications and those who can develop applications. There is $50,000 for a district heating study in Haines Junction and Watson Lake. The Watson Lake project is intended to capture waste heat from the YECL generators to heat the new recreation centre and adjacent school. Other buildings will eventually be added. There is $229,000 for energy conservation projects and $271,000 for various capital upgrades to YTG buildings. There is a $500,000 contribution to the City of Whitehorse for waterfront landscaping. This is the first of a two-year contribution, providing the city with $1 million in total.
This concludes my overview of the 1999-2000 estimates for Government Services. At this time, I'd be happy to address any questions the members may have.
Mr. Jenkins: Let's start right at the beginning with Government Services, Mr. Chair. The departmental objectives - if we look back over the last three years, the departmental objectives have remained constant. They were changed this year. What has changed in the scope and undertakings of the department to necessitate and effect this change?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm not exactly sure what the member is referring to, in terms of what he means by "scope" or "specific changes".
Mr. Jenkins: Right in the Department of Government Services, page 7-2, it spells out the departmental objectives. If you look back over the previous three years, Mr. Chair, the departmental objectives remained constant. This year, they have been changed. Now, what has altered or changed in the scope or operation of the department to necessitate this change?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I think it's fairly self-explanatory - provide procurement and management services in partnership with departments and agencies that support and enhance the work of government programs.
Mr. Jenkins: But that is a change from the departmental objective that was stated in the previous three budget periods. Why?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: To be more succinct.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, could the minister please help me and spell out the areas that have changed or necessitated this change in the departmental objective in the preamble to the Department of Government Services?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, I'm not really sure what the member is getting at. Is he suggesting that the objectives are not clear or they are somehow lacking? I think it's fairly clear.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it would appear, Mr. Chair, that the minister doesn't know what I am speaking about with respect to the departmental objectives statement. Is there a mission statement from the department for the department that leads to this departmental objective statement, which has changed from the previous budget periods?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, the basic role of Government Services is to support government programs and to support the government objectives. We do that through a variety of manners. We do that through the management of government buildings, the management of government programs, assisting other departments. We're essentially a service department for all other government agencies, and I think the objective in this case is fairly self-explanatory. If we want to get into verbiage, I guess I can go back and do some comparisons, but I think this is fairly clear. What we've tried to do is economize in terms of basically getting our objectives down to some fairly manageable terms.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the departmental objective statement has actually been expanded on from previous periods. Now, is there a mission statement? What is the mission statement for the Department of Government Services that leads to this departmental objective statement, and why has it changed from prior years' budgets to this current year's budget?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We always try to spice up things and try to maintain a certain degree of freshness. I'll go back and do some comparisons with this, but I think this is quite succinct; it's quite clear, and I can't really see what the member is getting at. Does he object to this objective? Is it not complete enough? Is it too complete? It's a wording change. What's the problem?
Mr. Jenkins: Let's go back to the beginning, Mr. Chair. Does the department have a mission statement?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, I thought I was fairly clear. I basically said that our view or our goal was to support other government departments and support government objectives in an overall corporate fashion. That's what we do.
Mr. Jenkins: Most corporate departments have mission statements. Is that, in fact, the mission statement that has been adopted by the Department of Government Services?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We will send the member a mission statement, if he wishes.
Mr. Jenkins: Flowing from the mission statement is the departmental objective statement and, as I pointed out to the minister, the current statement differs from the statement that has been utilized for the past three budget periods.
Now, the past two were consistent. What has precipitated that change? What has altered? The departmental objective has been consistent for two fiscal periods and now it is altered. Why?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, the member seems to be sort of held up in semantics. I can deliver a comparison of the previous statements with this one. I think this statement is quite succinct and quite economical and basically outlines what the departmental objectives are.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I thank the minister for offering to provide an overview and a comparison of the departmental objectives for the past budget periods that he's been responsible for.
When I look down into Government Services and the objectives of the various departments, and if we look at supply and services, we see its objectives are "to deliver logical support to the Government of Yukon in contracting, asset management, materials management, publishing and transportation services by providing an accessible, fair, competitive and predictable contracting environment."
Now, Mr. Chair, is that a fair and accurate statement of the environment that has been created this past little while by this minister?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We believe so.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, there would be a lot of individuals who would contend that the playing field is not level, that the contracting environment has certainly been disrupted, and has been altered considerably by the addition of Yukon hire and how it's interpreted.
I don't think anyone on this side has any objections with the way it was originally stated by the Member for Whitehorse Centre. But as it got into the process, it was altered and changed.
Now, why was that change necessary, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Perhaps the member could give me some specifics. He's speaking in rather generalized terms. I'd like him to give me some specifics as to how he sees the contracting environment having changed. I'm presuming that he's suggesting a negative change in that regard.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, there's been some long-standing Yukon manufacturing representatives who, because of the change in definition, are excluded from bidding on contracts. They're not considered any longer to be a Yukon firm.
Those are the specifics that I'm referring to. Could the minister provide some sort of response as to what definition was adopted? It didn't concur with the thoughts of all. It was developed in concert with the Whitehorse Chamber but certainly wasn't a definition that all concurred with, Mr. Chair.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, the member is speaking in rather sweeping generalities. I presume what he's suggesting is that certain Yukon companies were removed from what was the definition of a Yukon business.
When we sat down with the Chamber of Commerce, they had some very strong suggestions as to what the definition of a Yukon business should involve, and one of the groups that they felt should be excluded were the agents. They did not want the definition amended in order that agents qualified as Yukon businesses. And by agents, what we mean are companies or firms which essentially operate for outside firms. However, the outside firms can't be considered to be Yukon businesses according to Yukon hire policy.
Essentially, what was clear was that contracts arranged through the agent are really contracts with only one or another outside companies. The outside company ships the materials or the goods here to the final destination, invoices the government, receives payment from the government and accepts responsibility for the goods.
Basically, what has happened is, in one or two of these companies, we have suggested that there would be ways that such a company could be defined as a Yukon business. However, it would require some adjustments by the company - an agent in this case, for some of their business practices - which I don't think were particularly onerous. The chamber agreed with us, and, as a matter of fact, they were quite specific in this regard. What we tried to do was work in cooperation with the business community, and for that reason we have accepted that definition.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, using the premise that we accept the definition that the minister has advanced here tonight in the House and given that it is being applied to manufacturer representatives, what has the minister's department done with the wholesale food industry that services many government institutions and facilities?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, in the case of a wholesale food agency - be it, say, a company like Kelly Douglas or whatever - if we put it to a purchase order, they would actually have the material shipped and distributed from their warehouse. They have facilities, from which they would store and distribute goods. A company that would handle wholesale foods in that case would meet the definition of a Yukon business.
The issue in this case was one of the companies that is simply an agent for an outside firm. So, in other words, I establish myself as the XYZ Company and I put in a bid on a government contract. Basically, the bid is filled by an outside company, which invoices and processes the order and ships directly. My only role is to act as the local agent in that regard. Basically, I do not meet the criteria that were determined to be the definition of a Yukon business.
I should remind the member that we have attempted at all points along here to address the needs and wishes of the business community, and we worked very closely with the Whitehorse Chamber in this regard.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, I'd remind the minister that what we're looking for is a consistent application of definitions and a fairness in the treatment of suppliers. Let's get specific. Let's specifically deal with what the minister mentioned, the company, Kelly Douglas, which no longer exists. The successor is Sunspun. They only have a manufacturer's representative here in Whitehorse, the same as Yukon Sales, owned by Mr. Armstrong, and the same with Cousins Limited. Now, why is Sunspun food accorded a whole different set of operating guidelines and privileges that the other manufacturer representatives are not? All the representative here in the Yukon does is take the order. Sunspun ships direct out of Edmonton, direct to the end user. It bills from their Edmonton office, and their accounts receivable is all operated out of, I believe, their Calgary office.
But it's the same principle and, if you want to look at the various institutions that use Sunspun, you only have to look to Whitehorse Correctional Centre. That's one example, and there are a lot of other government agencies and institutions that use Sunspun. Now, why are we instituting two different sets of rules for the same types of companies?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I appreciate the member's diligence in bringing that to my attention. Perhaps we've been errant with that particular company. I'll refer to my department. Perhaps we haven't been applying the definition of a Yukon business as appropriate in the case of this company, and I'll certainly look into it.
Mr. Jenkins: Now, that's just one company. How many others, that are not as visible as the ones that we've just mentioned here this evening, Mr. Chair, does the government do business with that are not on a level playing field, such as the example I've just advanced?
Will the minister undertake to do a review of all these types of contracts to see if, in fact, all of them conform to the specific guidelines that they now have in place for Yukon purchase and acquisition of goods through a Yukon company or firm?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I believe already that what is occurring is that, as companies are coming up for a source list and applications, they're being asked to identify themselves on the criteria of a Yukon business. What I will do is ask the department to take a look and see if we've got any others in that regard.
Basically, two companies that the member mentioned have come to our attention.
I should mention that the goal of this has always been, right from the start, to try to provide the best possible business environment and the best possible encouragement for our Yukon businesses. When the Chamber of Commerce brought to my attention a couple of concerns that they had, we took a look at their issues. We took a look at the definition. We concluded that perhaps we could be revising it to adjust to our own Yukon circumstances, and that's what we have done. And I can tell the member that, in our discussions with the chamber, they've been more than supportive of these changes.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, can I ask the minister to explain, just in general terms, how much more of a premium is the government willing to pay to source items here in the Yukon rather than going out Canada-wide, in some cases, for bids?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, I think we have to realize that the operations of a company in the territory are going to be higher. They are going to be higher for a variety of reasons - labour costs, such things as transportation costs and so on. I think that as long as we can understand that there needs to be a reasonable premium for local companies ...
But at the same time, I have to also tell the member that I think that Yukon companies can compete, and I think they compete quite well. We are cognizant of the business environment here and having to support the business environment, and we are willing to accept some additional costs. That's always been something that we've accepted throughout the entire principle of Yukon hire, and as long as that cost doesn't become outrageous, we can bear it.
I think, particularly with some of our fledgling industries, we have to accept the fact that there will be a premium cost. There will be a premium cost for some of the businesses that are just getting going in this territory, perhaps some of the value-added companies. We've been primarily a resource-based economy up until now, and I think we hope to move into the manufacturing and service areas. We will have to accept some additional costs. There isn't a magic number, but we can say that we will accept some reasonable costs for doing business up here.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's what I'm trying to get at. How much of a premium is this minister prepared to pay to do business locally? If we look at the most basic of all industries, it's the food industry, and if we go back just a few years in the Yukon, when Kelly Douglas was the main food wholesaler and warehouser here in Whitehorse, that was a profitable operation as it stood. It was a very profitable operation, and the parents and owners of that firm re-engineered their whole firm to make it much more profitable, and centralized their warehouses in strategic locations across Canada, eliminated a whole series of warehouses and reduced the costs somewhat to the end consumer - you and me - and streamlined it. More and more, industry is going that way. There is less warehousing. It's from the manufacturer right through to the end consumer as fast as possible.
And we're seeing that in virtually every industry - every manufacturing industry - and the food industry is basically another manufacturing industry. And the profitability in the food industry is very, very marginal. And yet if you compare our food costs here in Whitehorse to food costs in other northern centres, we're actually higher than Yellowknife, Mr. Chair. We're higher than Yellowknife, on average.
So it leads back to the question of the minister. The direction that most of the industries are taking is to centralize, in major centres - Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Toronto, I believe there are a couple in Ontario, a couple in Quebec - and ship from those central points, and just have representatives in the field.
So just how much of a premium are we prepared to pay for purchasing locally? The minister said, "We'll look at it, and if it's not outrageous, we'll purchase locally." But just how much of that premium are we prepared to pay?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, there are no magic figures, as I told the member. What I would suggest, however, is that if he's suggesting that we simply eliminate local companies - am I to take from the tenor of his remarks that he would like to see us exclude, say, a local supplier of computers? I know, probably, if we chose to go with one of the large wholesalers in Toronto - and on the kind of purchases that a government might be able to do - we could probably purchase a computer unit at considerably less cost.
However, I would suggest that if we do that, we would largely condemn some of our local businesses to poverty, because they would not have the ability to compete in that kind of manner. The goal behind Yukon hire and Yukon purchase is to try to support some of our local businesses. We realize that government is a major engine of the economy, and it seems somewhat - a little bit at odds, because the member's party was arguing for greater government expenditure, and now he seems to be suggesting that we exclude the local business community and just go to central purchasing.
I had understood that one of our goals up here was to support local business, support local industry, and I'm quite surprised that the member to suggests that we just simply ignore that local business and go with purchasing from the big-box outfits in other parts of Canada. That doesn't bode very well.
I suppose we could apply the same logic and suggest that if we had a need for a supply of a particular service, say, in Dawson and the local manufacturer was of a somewhat higher cost in that community because of such things as transportation costs and so on and so forth, we should exclude that local business because a manufacturer or a supplier in Whitehorse could provide it at a cheaper rate. I don't think that would be particularly productive for the member's community or for any rural community.
Our goal is to try to provide a good use of taxpayers' money, and at the same time support our local businesses.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, this side is not suggesting that we exclude local businesses. This side is not suggesting that we bulk purchase from one central location. This side is not suggesting anything other than if we're going to level the playing field, it be the same virtually for all manufacturer representatives. That's what this side is suggesting; that everyone be given a fair and reasonable kick at the cat.
The minister's use of the computers as an example is a very poor one because, if he would check, he'd find that the companies that sell that type of equipment in the Yukon are extremely competitive. In fact, to the point where it's less expensive to purchase here in the Yukon than it is in virtually any other location, especially when you're going for a larger number of units.
So, that's a very poor example.
But I go back to the food area, which is of paramount importance and the playing field is not level. Because on one hand you're insisting that one manufacturer's rep set up a whole separate billing procedure for food goods he sells to the Government of Yukon. For the larger company, you are not. That is not fair, Mr. Chair.
So I would urge the minister to conduct a review of those areas. It just goes back to the end question of just how much of a premium are we prepared to pay? Is it on a case-by-case basis, or is there an upper limit to what we're prepared to pay as a premium?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think the member has addressed the idea that there has to be a certain consideration for some local factors. For example, if we take a look at, say, a product that we may require, say, FOB to Old Crow, obviously we're going to bear cost there and we'll bear some additional expenses. There is no magic sort of premium.
But, I guess, I would put another question to him. Two companies exist side by side. One is an agent that has no real facilities - perhaps just an office, computer, telephone line - and they act as an agent for an outside firm. They're supplying particular products - say, cookware - that is bought by the government for some of its kitchen facilities, be they correctional, or whatever. At the same time, we've got a company that would supply cookware, maintain a selection of that cookware, have it on hand, are maintaining a building, are maintaining staff, and are maintaining an office, which would really meet the definition, as requested by the chambers, of a Yukon business.
I would suggest it would be the latter one, and I would suggest that we have to give at least some provision for consideration of companies that do take the time and do make the effort to expand, to maintain offices, to maintain staff and to add a good deal of value for our local economy.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of the Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 16, Interim Supply Appropriation Act, 1999-2000, and directed me to report it without amendment.
Committee considered Bill No. 14, First Appropriation Act, 1999-2000, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Harding: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:27 p.m.