Monday, March 29, 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 bills to be introduced?
Are there any notices of motion?
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Fentie: I rise to give notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) Yukon people want and deserve a justice system that is accountable to them and reflects their values as a society; and
(2) Yukon's justice system can be more open and accountable by community participation in crime prevention, meeting victims' needs and offender rehabilitation and correctional reform; and
THAT this House supports
Mr. McRobb: I rise to provide notice of the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the protected areas strategy is a positive initiative that will protect the territory's ecological diversity, provide certainty and long-term economic benefits for the Yukon;
(2) the Yukon will benefit from a balanced agenda that encourages both responsible economic development and environmental protection; and
THAT the implementation of the protected areas strategy should continue through the ongoing involvement of Yukon people.
Mr. Livingston: Mr. Speaker, I give rise to the following motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that
(1) the federal Liberal government has failed to live up to its obligation to provide stable and secure funding for post-secondary education;
(2) the federal Liberal government has caused financial hardship for many institutions like Yukon College through years of budget cuts;
(3) the impact has resulted in dramatic tuition increases at many other universities and colleges thereby denying access to many people while substantially expanding student debt loads;
(4) the federal Canada Millennium Scholarship Fund does not address the needs of post-secondary institutions, such as Yukon College; and
THAT this House urges the federal Liberal government to use part of its fiscal dividend to increase funding for post-secondary institutions.
Speaker: Are there any statements by ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Economy
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader's running of the government has been compared to the pilot of a super tanker.
The Government Leader with his hand on the rudder of the good ship of state makes short changes, hoping to see lighter, smaller changes - nothing too quick. These, Mr. Speaker, are the words of the Minister of Economic Development, and are somewhat prophetic.
I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, a more accurate description, or comparison, could be to compare the Government Leader's handling of the Yukon's economy to the actions of the pilot of the good ship Exxon Valdez, with a super tanker headed toward the economic rocks.
My question to the Government Leader: can he advise this House why, in his address to the NDP convention this weekend, he portrayed devolution and land claims as the major issues confronting Yukoners today, but he failed to emphasize the most important issue of all - jobs for all Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, I didn't see the member at the convention. I didn't see him on the convention floor. He will not know, of course, that I did raise the fact that the government was the most activist government ever in trying to rehabilitate the economy.
Mr. Speaker, the member will, of course, be ignorant of the fact that we broke with the precedent established by the Yukon Party and lowered taxes, instead of raising taxes. We initiated literally around 50 new initiatives in this budget alone that deal with our economic circumstances.
I mentioned the fact that we had built new partnerships with the business community in this territory, partnerships that had not existed before. We have carried on the dialogue in a partnership with them to develop new, concrete actions that can be taken to improve our economic fortunes. None of this will be known to the member because he wasn't at the convention.
Mr. Ostashek: Two thousand people have left the Yukon, Mr. Speaker.
The pilot of the Exxon Valdez had an excuse; he was inebriated. The only excuse this Government Leader has got is the incompetence of his government in dealing with the economic situation in the Yukon.
Mr. Speaker, the Government Leader appears to be more concerned about his place in the history books rather than the current economic plight of his fellow Yukoners, who are having a tough time making ends meet.
In commenting to the media, the Government Leader confessed that his government has made a number of mistakes.
Will the Government Leader now be willing to admit that his government's conflicting message in relationship to resource development and environmental protection, as witnessed by the failed DAP commission and the protected areas strategy, were also mistakes?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, as has been mentioned, we have embraced initiatives that were initiated by the Yukon Party, both in the initiation of the DAP as well as the protected areas strategy. But I've pointed out to the member that it would be a severe mistake for me to listen or for my government to listen to the members opposite in wanting us to move from a balanced agenda to a single agenda, an agenda that's not supported by the broad Yukon community, that is not good for the future of this territory, that would create incredible disharmony in this territory, and compromise our future.
Mr. Speaker, it is important to be focusing on such projects as land claims, devolution and new intergovernmental relations with First Nations. Any responsible government at this time in the Yukon's history would be doing precisely that. That's not to say that we shouldn't be doing things on the economy. We are doing more things on the economy than the Yukon Party could even dream of - real, practical things - not the fantasy projects that the members opposite had in mind, but real, practical solutions to improving our economic fortunes, in cooperation with the business community.
Many of those ideas that the member dismisses, incidentally, are ideas coming straight from the business community themselves, whether it be tax reform or trade and investment. Many of these ideas come straight from the business community. The member should be a little bit cautious in his effort to criticize the government side, to also attack dozens and dozens and dozens of citizens out there who have given good ideas to the operations of this territory.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Speaker, maybe we should ask the 2,000 Yukoners who have given up on this government in the territory whether they believe that their economic program and agenda is right. Maybe we should ask the 15 percent unemployed in the Yukon what they think of this government's economic track record.
Mr. Speaker, during the 1996 election campaign, the NDP took the Yukon Party slogan - building Yukon's future - and slapped the word "Alberta" across the word "Yukon". This, too, has proven to be prophetic in that 2,000 Yukoners have now left to find work in Alberta and elsewhere, where there aren't NDP governments.
My question to the Government Leader: how does he and his government intend to gain back these Yukoners, creating one job at a time?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Well, Mr. Speaker, we had to put an end to the practice that the Yukon Party adopted of preventing Yukon contractors on even bidding on government construction projects in this territory. We had to put an end to that. We did put an end to that.
Mr. Speaker, when the Faro mine shut down, it was an unfortunate event for this territory. It was a difficult event and was symptomatic of problems that were happening throughout the world, affecting the mining industry. We have been supporting the mining industry through such things as the exploration tax credit and many other things, such as increased work in geoscience and so on.
Also, we are taking concrete action to expand and diversify the economy, for the first time ever, and undertaking new tax initiatives to help expand the small business community, among others.
We are doing many things - things we can do - not fantasy projects that the Yukon Party has cornered the market on, but real, practical things, many of which come right out of the business community itself, and which are improving our economic fortunes - things we can do.
I am proud to be associated with a government that does good, practical things and makes good progress.
Question re: Shipyards residents, relocation to Hot Springs Road area
Mr. Jenkins: I have a question today for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. Last Friday, in media reports, the minister blamed the residents of the Hot Springs Road area for espousing the NIMBY principle - not in my back yard - when he was referring to the squatters moving into that area on land set aside for them. The minister said that this has got to stop. The minister is now blaming the Hot Springs Road residents for a problem that he has himself created.
What the Hot Springs Road residents are objecting to is the fact that squatters are being given preferential treatment. They are being given access to agricultural and country residential land that law-abiding Yukoners have been denied access.
My question for the minister: would the minister now stand up in this House, admit he is wrong, apologize to the Hot Springs Road residents, and make the squatters he's trying to relocate subject to the same land disposal policies as are any other Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity again to speak to this critical issue. I can say that the Member for Klondike, again, is absolutely wrong. The only one that will not admit that is the Member for Klondike himself. Even citizens from the member's riding are reiterating to me that he does not represent them. So, I definitely take that into consideration.
Mr. Jenkins: How that answers the question - I fail to understand what the minister was even suggesting. What we have here, Mr. Speaker, is a common NDP trait. They pit the various groups in our Yukon society against each other. They pit developers against environmentalists, labour against business, and now country residential land owners against squatters. This is the effect of NDP policies.
Will the minister agree to attend a public meeting with the Hot Springs Road residents, so he can preach his NIMBY sermon to them firsthand? Does the minister have the courage to do that?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'd again like to reiterate the answer that I gave last week, which is that I will go and speak with people. That is a part of my job - to reach out and to touch bases with people, and to explain the circumstances. Yes, Mr. Speaker, I'm going to do that wherever I am needed to do that.
Secondly, let me say that it is the opposition - the official opposition - who is simply the master of division in this territory. As this New Democrat government reaches out to consult with people, to take into consideration what people need to say and listen to them, and act upon those issues - that is a consulting government for the people.
So I would like to say that the masters of division on the opposite side of the road should keep doing the good work that they're doing, because they surely do not represent the people of the Yukon Territory.
Mr. Jenkins: Wow, Mr. Speaker, let the record reflect that once again the minister was out there somewhere responding to a question that he didn't even understand, I guess, Mr. Speaker.
Let's look at 1997, in January. There was a lottery, offering Yukoners approximately ten 20-acre parcels of agricultural land in the hot springs area. There were in excess of 100 applications for these lots.
Given the fact that agricultural lands are in high demand, why are the Whitehorse waterfront squatters being moved to the front of the line for this type of land? Why are they being given preference?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, again, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to answer the question.
Mr. Speaker, it's impossible, certainly, for the Member for Klondike and the rest of his opposition party to look at the big picture. They must focus on one little increment, and will refuse to look at the big picture. Because if they do look at the big picture, they will see therein where the answer lies.
This government is moving ahead with an economic agenda, of which the waterfront is a part. We are doing it with the people who are concerned - the waterfront residents - along with the rest of the Yukon people, where they would like to go into.
We are not trying to force people, or subjugate people, to principles that are not theirs. We are working with those people, and we will continue to work with those people, for the greater good.
Are we moving to the front of the line? Certainly, what we're doing in certain cases is giving them a preference.
Also, we are looking to develop land within the Yukon Territory, and as we develop that land in the Yukon Territory, more land will become available.
Question re: Community development fund, Porter Creek baseball field
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Economic Development.
Mr. Speaker, the pork barrel smell that surrounds the community development fund got really rancid last week. Yukoners will recall the community of Faro was granted CDF money worth $75,000 for what is, in fact, a second baseball field in that community, an outdoor chess set and a weenie wagon.
The government was criticized at the time for this money and now it seems it's payback time for that criticism. A request for CDF money for a baseball field in Porter Creek, which would be the only baseball field in the community of 4,000, was turned down last week.
Mr. Speaker, the bunch of boys in Cabinet reviewing the application turned thumbs down on money for Porter Creek because it's Porter Creek. Why did Faro get a baseball field and Porter Creek got a rejection notice?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, the member opposite's recollection of what was funded in Faro is wrong. What the member is criticizing now is what the people of the Town of Faro actually proposed. Once again, we see the Liberals attacking the priorities of that community.
The CDF was proud to participate in funding a ball field and a skateboard facility for youth in the community. We just recently also funded a ball field in Dawson City, something that that community has been asking for for a very long time.
With regard to this round of community development fund applications, there were a number of initiatives requested. Some $2 million worth of funding was available for some $8 million worth of projects. There was a lot of work put into other recreational proposals in the City of Whitehorse, including upgrading of the broomball facilities and some other initiatives, and it was decided that we couldn't fund everything.
We could fund the priority areas. There were some training components alongside of the broomball application within the City of Whitehorse.
That doesn't mean that this particular application wouldn't be given due consideration again in the future for some funding but unfortunately, not everything can be funded and the member shouldn't continue to attack the community of Faro and the small number of initiatives that they have been afforded as a community.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister says that they're not funding this particular project, because they're doing such great things and they can't afford to fund every project and that the CDF is oversubscribed.
Well, Mr. Speaker, that does not explain why they would fund one baseball field over another. They're both baseball fields, and the minister has mentioned that there's another one going in in Dawson. They're all for children and adults to make use of. The umbrella organization that submitted the Porter Creek application is called "Baseball Yukon." The baseball field project would be constructed by seven different Yukon companies employing 20 people for over 78 workweeks. Yukoners would be working on this project, too. The only difference seems to be that this project happens to be in Porter Creek.
Would the minister stand in this House and tell children and adults who want to play baseball in this particular part of the Yukon community why their CDF application was rejected and the others were not?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'll point out the obvious. The Yukon Liberal Party is opposed to the CDF in the first place, so for them to be standing up here today arguing on behalf of the CDF project is ridiculous.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, they voted against this budget, which included so much in the way of capital works and job opportunities for Yukoners, so for them to be standing up today trying to defend a CDF project seems somewhat inconsistent with their position in this House.
This particular proposal is for a baseball field. The ball field in Faro, the one in Dawson are both softball diamonds. That's one of the differences. The other thing in terms of the decision making was that there were two other projects in Whitehorse for recreation. One was the upgrading of the broomball facilities, which hadn't been done in some time, and another one was ranked by the technical review committee to have some pretty significant priorities.
The member opposite is completely wrong in saying that it's because it was in Porter Creek. That has nothing to do with it. It's just a question of fact that not every particular project could be funded, and I'm sure that the CDF board and the technical review committee will take another look at that project when we sit down once again to look at all the different requests that come before the board.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister is right. I and this caucus voted against the community development fund. We voted against it exactly for the reasons I am outlining today - because the community development fund pits community against community in the Yukon. Who suffers? In this case, it's the children who want to play baseball in Porter Creek - children and adults. That's what happens. NDP Cabinet ministers make all the decisions and decide who and which community will receive this funding.
The point is, Mr. Speaker, that we can fund baseball fields in some parts of the Yukon and not others. Why is it that we can fund baseball fields in Faro - and now Dawson - and not Porter Creek? Why?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member is wrong. It doesn't pit communities against communities. Every community benefits from the community development fund. You just can't fund every project in every community. That is the problem. Mr. Speaker, that's part of having scarce resources with a number of community priorities.
What the community development fund does is respond to those community priorities. We have spread around the money throughout rural Yukon and Whitehorse. The member opposite, I guess, is saying that all of the money for the community development fund should go into the projects in Whitehorse. I've just told her that two recreation projects were funded in Whitehorse, but we couldn't fund everything, because it would have meant that rural Yukon would not have had the opportunity to benefit from the community development fund. It is important that we balance these things out.
I have said to the organization sponsoring this application that the board would be available to look at this again in the future. The project has a lot of merit. It would be the only baseball field, as opposed to the softball fields in Dawson, Faro, Pelly Crossing and around the Yukon that the community development fund has funded. It has nothing to do with where the ball field was to be located. It has to do with the fact that there was $2 million in funding for $8 million of projects, and two other recreation projects were funded in the City of Whitehorse.
Question re: Community development fund, Porter Creek baseball field
Ms. Duncan: I have some questions for the Minister of Economic Development, and they concern this rejection by the community development fund to build a baseball field in Porter Creek.
Baseball Yukon was prepared to provide material, and Lotteries Yukon and the city were prepared to provide funding for this project. There were letters of support from community groups, including the student school council, the RCMP and the City of Whitehorse fire department. This project met all the criteria. The only thing against it seems to be that it wasn't the minister's favourite. When is the government going to stop the pork-barrelling and let projects be funded on merit, instead of on political interference?
Hon. Mr. Harding: The member opposite, the Liberal leader, who promised to provide this territory the alternative to the politics of confrontation can't stand up and present one iota of evidence to back up that outrageous charge she just leveled. I just told her that two recreation priorities were funded in Whitehorse in the last round of CDF negotiations. The money was spread through the community development fund, responding to community priorities - not just in Whitehorse, but we also have to respond to the people in rural Yukon. Some of the unincorporated communities don't even benefit from block funding, so we try and help and support them, as well. Up in Beaver Creek, for example, we're working with the community there to build a new curling club, something they've long wanted. That's just one example, Mr. Speaker, of the good things the CDF does.
Now, the member's allegations of pork-barrelling are absolutely outrageous. The evidence doesn't bear that out. I challenge her to try and provide any evidence of that. What we have done is spread around scarce resources, in a balanced way, trying to respond to the recreation needs of the City of Whitehorse and the residents living here, along with rural Yukon and trying to help them out, as well.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, it's about a level playing field. A number of CDF applications receive less than what they applied for. You ask for $50,000, and sometimes the applicants receive $25,000. This project was rejected outright - not even an attempt to come to the table with some of the other partners that I've already mentioned.
The proposed baseball field is part of an overall outdoor recreation facility plan for all of Porter Creek. The plan calls for the development of an outdoor training circuit, beach volleyball courts, tennis courts and a baseball field. The baseball park was a key step because, without it, the outdoor circuit, which is funded by the City of Whitehorse and Whitehorse seniors old-time hockey, can't be completed. Instead, this project gets nothing. Why wasn't the government - the CDF - at least prepared to go partway and fund a portion of this project?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, it's not a fishes and loaves situation. It's not a magic formula. We have $2 million dollars of money; we have $8 million of requests. There are a number of recreation applications from the City of Whitehorse area. There are a number from rural Yukon.
What we do is, the technical review committee looks at the projects, looks at the amount of money, makes some recommendations. In this case, two projects were funded.
In the City of Whitehorse for recreation, I believe, there was the upgrading to the broomball facilities. There were also some contributions made to minor soccer. These were not insignificant.
As well, Mr. Speaker, I must remind the member that we can't put everything into Whitehorse. We have to respect the demands and the needs and the issues that are raised by rural Yukon.
Also, I would remind the member as well that in the first place, with regard to the Holy Family School, it was a New Democratic Party government that built that particular school.
I want also to say to the member opposite that I think the project has merit; it's something that I want to say is something that the CDF board could look at again in the future. But it's going to depend on the amount of resources, the amount of applications that come in and the ability to spread resources around the Yukon, so that all community's priorities are respected as much as they can be.
Ms. Duncan: Mr. Speaker, the minister doesn't understand that this isn't about one community versus another. It's about fairness.
Mr. Speaker, tier 1 and tier 2 projects in the CDF funding - in the minister's own brochure it says, and I quote: "Tier 1 and Tier 2 projects are funded on fairness in the distributions of funds between communities." That criteria doesn't seem to apply to tier 3. Tier 3, which is where the application is made, Mr. Speaker - the big ones; they're over $100,000 - that condition, criteria of fairness, is for some reason, left out in this brochure.
This project met all the criteria: support from community, volunteer commitment, funding from other sources. They didn't get offered the smallest portion of their funding.
Mr. Speaker, this is an obvious example of why this caucus has argued that cabinet ministers shouldn't be making these types of decisions.
Will the minister act upon suggestions from our caucus and get the cabinet minister out of this decision-making process so it cannot only be fair but perceived to be fair?
Hon. Mr. Harding: Well, Mr. Speaker, in one of her preambles, she said that the NDP way is pitting one community against another. Now in the last preamble, she said, "This isn't about one community against another." There is complete inconsistency; it's just like her voting record.
She's been against every CDF project we've funded, from the work we've done with the art centre up in Dawson City to the work we did on the soup kitchen and shelter here in Whitehorse to what we did with the ball fields in Dawson and Faro, and now, today, she stands up and pretends to advocate for these projects.
Mr. Speaker, the work that we've done with fire suppression around the communities has been well-balanced. We believe that, in this particular case, the City of Whitehorse and the citizens of Whitehorse were well-represented in terms of the applications and in terms of the funding received but we also had to respond to the needs in rural Yukon.
There was, Mr. Speaker, no more money to put other money to the project. The member opposite should understand that. She stands up, and the Liberal caucus asks this government to spend more money on a daily basis, and then turns around with their budget comments and says we're spending too much.
We have to be able to stay within the confines of the budget and respect the community priorities. The ideas for CDF projects come from the communities themselves. The member opposite is saying that the baseball diamond is a priority. Well, Mr. Speaker, let me tell the member opposite that we -
Speaker: The member's time has expired.
Question re: Shipyard residents, relocation to Hot Springs Road area
Mr. Phillips: I have a question for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services and it's regarding the relocation of the waterfront squatters.
Last week, the minister admitted publicly, Mr. Speaker, that his moves to put the squatters to the front of the line for Mary Lake property was wrong and he backed off. It looks, Mr. Speaker, like half of the minister's lights have come on and it's now time for the other half to come on - and I'm talking about the Hot Springs Road's concerns with the property out there.
The residents of that area are very concerned that the general public was not given any opportunity to at least even apply for any agricultural land that came mysteriously open in that area. I would like the minister to take the same approach that he's taken in Mary Lake with respect to moving people to the front of the line, and to take that same approach in the Hot Springs Road area.
I'd like to ask the minister if he would do that, and if he's going to put lots up for sale in any of those two areas, that he do it through the proper process. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to say that the decision regarding the Hot Springs Road is fundamentally different from the decision that was made regarding the Mary Lake subdivision.
I would also like to clean up some of the issues regarding the residents on the waterfront. There is absolutely no option for the waterfront residents. They are being evicted. They are not given the option of staying; therefore it is incumbent upon this government to look meaningfully and to reach out to other areas of the Yukon to find places where they might be able to locate.
Mr. Phillips: Well, Mr. Speaker, I think the minister said it all here today when he was asked a question about this matter, and he said that this government is going to give a preference to squatters. That's what he said in the House here today.
Mr. Speaker, there are over 200 lots out there in the territory right now that are open for people to purchase or to live on in the City of Whitehorse, and he could have offered those lots to the squatters instead of moving them to the front of the line.
Mr. Speaker, we have had dozens of phone calls from residents of the Hot Springs Road area who are very concerned about the hundred or so people who applied for lots in that area a couple of years ago, and only very few got an opportunity to have lots. And now the minister has moved a squatter to the front of the line - "preference," as the minister would say.
I'd like to ask the minister, Mr. Speaker, if he would go out to the hot springs area next week and hold a meeting in that area to discuss with the citizens of that area and let them know why, in the Yukon, under an NDP government, that squatters get preference for land and everyone else has to apply in the normal manner. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to also say and reiterate the answer from this afternoon and the answers from last week regarding the very same question. That is that I am a part of the team.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, as we go for meaningful land development throughout the Yukon Territory, I will be going out and speaking to the people in the Yukon Territory. I do have a schedule to keep up that is already scheduled, Mr. Speaker. So, yes, certainly, I will be consulting and talking with people of the Yukon Territory about land development.
Mr. Phillips: It's too bad the minister didn't talk to the people on the Hot Springs Road and in Mary Lake area prior to taking this bullying approach of just selecting some land for some squatters.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister again, because he hasn't answered the question: the issue is that the minister himself is giving preference to squatters and moving them out to the Hot Springs Road. I'm asking the minister, on behalf of those constituents in that area who are upset about this issue, if the minister will go out there, in the next week to 10 days, and hold a public meeting and meet with the residents of that area. Will the minister do that, so that the people on the Hot Springs Road can hear the minister's rationale for giving preference to squatters for land that everyone else has to go through a long process in order to apply for. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Keenan: Well, certainly, the official opposition is - I'm startled. Mr. Speaker, there was a planning meeting held last week in the hot springs area. I've committed to working with the people. I've committed to work with the people of the hot springs and we shall work with the people of the hot springs to plan land development around there. Thank you very much.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Harding: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Speaker now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the government House leader that the Speaker now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Do members wish to recess?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Chair: Fifteen minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 14 - First Appropriation Act, 1999-2000 - continued
Department of Health and Social Services - continued
Chair: Committee is on the main estimates, general debate on Health and Social Services.
Is there further general debate?
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, I was hoping the minister would have some responses to the many issues that were raised in debate last Wednesday and Thursday. Is the minister prepared to answer some of the questions that were raised at that time, that he did not have answers to?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, the member did ask for a comparison of services available to the residents of Dawson City and Watson Lake. I'll list through the following services, just to show which are available in Watson Lake and which are available in Dawson City.
Twenty-four-hour emergency services, Watson Lake and Dawson; emergency air medical evacuation, Watson Lake and Dawson; outpatient treatment, Watson Lake and Dawson; patient referral services through a nurse or physician, Watson Lake and Dawson; X-ray services, Watson Lake and Dawson; lab services, Watson Lake and Dawson; outpatient pharmacy services, Watson Lake and Dawson; acute care admissions, Watson Lake and Dawson.
On long-term care facilities - in Watson Lake, we are looking at pending available space, the same with respite care. In Dawson City, McDonald Lodge is available for long-term care and pending available space on respite. Maternal child health, including prenatal/postnatal and newborn infant surveillance programs, is available in both communities. On preschool health, the continuation of maternal/child health program is available in both communities. School health, including immunization counselling and help, lifestyle education and support to teachers, is available in both communities. Geriatric assistance to seniors, including maintaining health and preventing deterioration of their health status, is available in both communities. Chronic surveillance, follow-up of those with chronic and/or risk conditions are available in both communities. Health education promotion is available in both communities. Community development involvement and community liaison with local council groups, First Nations and allied agencies are available in both communities.
A general review of admissions to the Whitehorse General Hospital from Dawson City was conducted for the period April 1995 through March 1996. The intent of the review was to see if any of the admissions to Whitehorse General Hospital could have been managed in Dawson City if the facility were operated at a cottage hospital level.
Conditions that were not amenable to treatment at a cottage hospital were excluded. These include cardiology, pediatric medicine, general and orthopedic surgery, at-risk or referred obstetrics, abortion, gynecology, psychiatry, ophthalmology and general medicine admissions over 14 days.
Of the total of 90 admissions, possibly three could have been managed at the cottage hospital level. In the opinion of this review, the cottage hospital would have provided no better in-patient service than the nursing station did in the year reviewed.
Mr. Jenkins: I'd like to thank the minister for the information and the comparison between Watson Lake and Dawson City. What I hear the minister trying to justify and trying to say is that the level of care provided in Watson Lake and Dawson City is virtually the same. They're offering the same type of services and there are very few, if any, services that could have been performed in a cottage hospital situation, had Dawson had that type of facility, that would have been done in that way.
Out of the total number of referrals to Whitehorse, there were only three cases.
That leads to another question, Mr. Chair: what is the difference between a cottage hospital and a nursing station? Now, I've had this explained to me quite some time ago, but obviously the minister has come to a different conclusion as to what the level of service is provided under both of these facilities because, under a cottage hospital scenario, there are certainly a lot more that is available to the general population than would be provided through a nursing station.
I guess the biggest issue - and what I see this government pushing today - in rural Yukon is they want the nurse practitioners to become the first reviewer of an individual seeking medical attention and downgrade the practice of a primary-care practice to one of referral from the nurse practitioner. I have a great deal of difficulty with that kind of a change, Mr. Chair.
The other situation that the minister compared both communities to having is a similar situation with medevacs. The minister knows full well that it is the same aircraft, but the airport situation is considerably different from Watson Lake to Dawson. In Watson Lake, the airport is open and available 95 percent of the time. In Dawson City, it's strictly a daytime VFR airport. It's only available 60 percent of the time.
We have a lot of weather conditions in Dawson City that do not occur in the Watson Lake region. Plus, the airport in Dawson has a considerably lower level of service than the one in Watson Lake. So, trying to say that the medevac situation is the same for both is like trying to say that the cottage hospital is the same as a nursing station. Everyone knows full well that there's a much higher level of care and a higher level of offerings at a cottage hospital vis-à-vis a nursing station.
So, could the minister kindly set the record straight and explain what the difference is between those two types of facilities?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The member has gone on in quite a bit of a ramble here, but I can just tell him, just by way of introduction, that the primary difference is that this is a system of nomenclature that we inherited from the federal government.
With respect to the differences in the operations of both, I think the chief difference the member has alluded to, in a way, and that is that the nursing station in Dawson is one staffed by nurse practitioners. The cottage hospital in Watson Lake is staffed by registered nurses, and they depend on the support of a physician.
The nurse practitioners in Dawson have a much more independent type of operating system, are not only qualified, but trained and authorized to do different kinds of procedures, use different kinds of medication and so on and so forth.
The hospital in Watson Lake was established with the idea of having registered nurse support for a physician. Consequently, it tends to operate more, I suppose, in the sense of a southern-type mode, whereas the nursing station in Dawson is well-staffed with nurse practitioners.
That is not to say, however, that - the member is extrapolating from that that it is our intention to somehow downgrade the medical practice. Not at all. We have never suggested that. I don't regard our nursing stations as downgrading at all. I think our nurses, and our nurse practitioners, in rural communities do an excellent job of primary health care.
In the one community where we have nurse practitioners and a physician on contract - that is Faro - there is an excellent working relationship. I don't think that either party in that case feels that their role has been diminished in any way.
The member seems to be extrapolating that we have some kind of nefarious plan to get rid of physicians as the primary role. We're not suggesting that at all.
The member makes an allusion to this. The Dobbin report, which some in the medical community are fond of quoting as a blueprint for increased compensation for physicians, also indicates that the nurse practitioner role should be expanded in British Columbia, and suggests exactly the kind of model that we have in many of our rural health centres.
So I think the member is sort of extrapolating from that, and going on.
introduction of visitors
Hon. Mr. Sloan: What I would like to do, however, if I might, is take a moment of liberty and introduce a well-known Yukoner, former MLA, former administrator of the territory who is in the gallery, Ms. Flo Whyard.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister still hasn't outlined the differences to any extent. What we have is that the doctors run a primary-care medical practice in both areas. What we are seeing the minister wanting to change to is to just have salaried doctors in rural Yukon. That's the only offer on the table - salaried doctors, with the primary care provided by nurse practitioners. Is that the way that the minister and his department are taking the Yukon and changing over the system? There is no change in Watson Lake. Watson Lake is probably grandfathered, and it's probably a NDP riding today, so we probably won't see any changes there, but in the other ridings that could have considerable changes.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It's interesting that the member should take that tack. First of all, we have never suggested salaried physicians. That's never been the issue. What we have offered is that we've offered a contract, which is considerably different. A contract is basically a fixed amount of money for a particular kind of service with parameters on there.
We're not suggesting that doctors go on a weekly salary or a monthly salary in the same way that government workers are. We're suggesting that we would deliver a contract with a specific amount in the contract in return for a number of weeks of service and various other and sundry things.
What I've suggested is that that may be one avenue. We have suggested that we will take the entire issue of rural physician compensation - and the member is talking specifically about on-call compensation - to the YMA for our negotiations. That's the correct avenue to go. That is what we have suggested. We've also suggested that at the table there may be other opportunities.
Now, the member makes an allusion to the situation in Faro. I should remind him that that was an arrangement that was made under the Yukon Party administration, so apparently the Yukon Party didn't find it overly objectionable at the time. Now, I fail to see what his rationale is for opposing it.
We've never said "salaried physicians." We've said "contract physicians."
He well knows that I have also suggested that at the bargaining table we would be willing to look at other options - certainly, options that are well within our financial parameters, and well within our needs, as we see the delivery of medical services in rural Yukon. We've suggested that there could be several options there, and we haven't confined anything whatsoever. So, I would suggest that the member is going somewhat out on a bit of a limb when he is trying to read things into things that I have suggested.
What we have said is that we think that this is a workable arrangement. And since, ostensibly, the goal of the physicians in Dawson was to get more personal time, we thought this would be a way to not only give security of income but also provide some guarantees, in terms of locums and things of that nature. We've said that we are willing to put a certain sum out there in return for a certain number of hours of work during the year. I don't think that's particularly onerous. I don't think that's particularly strange. That would be the same way we would enter into a contract with many professionals.
Mr. Jenkins: The minister is missing the whole point, probably deliberately so. A contract position for a doctor or a salaried position - it amounts to the same thing. They would change from a fee-for-service basis to one of coming second to the nurse practitioners. The nurse practitioners would refer the patients to them, as is the case in Faro.
The reason for the Faro doctor being on a salaried or contract basis is that it was very, very hard, with the population base, to attract a fee-for-service doctor to that area. That's why the doctor was attracted and retained on a contract, or salaried, basis and subsequently the other doctor returned. But that's another issue.
But that is where the minister and his department appear to be taking rural Yukon - a considerable change in the way the medical services are delivered.
Now, on-call service, the minister doesn't understand the issues surrounding it. Well, if the minister doesn't understand why the rural doctors have been rejecting the offer since 1997 - the proposal for an all-inclusive contract being the only option being offered by the minister and his department - and if the minister doesn't understand why their all-inclusive contract doesn't solve the rural on-call problems and if the minister doesn't understand how on-call reimbursement doesn't solve the rural on-call problems in our community, then perhaps the minister should go back to the correspondence he has had, over many, many months, from the rural doctors, and go over that correspondence with his deputy minister and his assistant deputy minister. It explains, over and over again, the issues and a resolution. Will the minister undertake to do that, or is he just determined that the only option is the option he's proposed?
I haven't heard any explanation as to why this is the only offer on the table or why this is the only way to resolve it, when there are many ways that this situation can be resolved.
I still haven't received from the minister the breakdown of the on-call service for the rest of Canada that the minister promised me. I would have thought that could have been delivered last Friday, but the minister has still failed to provide that information. I would ask him once again to table that information on the cost of on-call services in the rest of Canada. He just cherry-picked little bits of information from that report. He didn't table the information fully. He just cherry-picked, and that doesn't fully explain the total cost or the total implications of on-call service.
All I'm looking for is a resolution to this matter; a resolution that is mutually beneficial and will allow the doctors in rural Yukon to continue to practice and continue to provide the high level of care that they have been providing. The minister could assist in that process, rather than being stubborn and rather than resorting to this one avenue and this one avenue alone that he has tabled - this one proposal. Can the minister undertake to provide the information requested in a timely fashion, to look at other options and to look at the correspondence from the rural doctors, which fully explains, in a great deal of detail, why it won't work as it is stated?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think I've already indicated to the member that we are proposing to look at a variety of options. We're proposing to start Wednesday evening, when we sit down with the YMA to look at this entire issue. This is an issue that we've identified as being our key point to have resolved at the table.
With respect to the information in other areas of Canada, I don't think I cherry picked at all. I think read through every province and explained what their rural on-call coverage was, what their rural stipend was.
He notes northern Quebec. We are striving to get that information for him since that was the one that he chose to do. I can tell him that in northern Quebec it appears, just at first blush - and I don't have the details - that most of their physicians are on salary, which seems to be kind of an odious thing for the member - that evil "S" word.
I can tell him that we are striving to get that. We didn't cherry pick at all. I believe we ran through all the provinces and territories in my response. Perhaps he didn't hear me. I could cheerfully dig it out of the pile here and read through it again, but it might be a bit tedious.
We have not ruled out any options, but I think it's fair to say that I have reviewed the correspondence in detail from the physicians in Dawson. If I understand it correctly, the entire question comes down to time off or compensation for being on-call. That's what the argument is. Had that been the issue and had the proposal been within a parameter that we could work with, we probably wouldn't be discussing this. I should, however, say that for us to look at any different kind of system, we would have to go back to the YMA anyhow, because the alternate payment structure is one that we discussed with the YMA. That was discussed.
So, that's now what we're going to do. We're going to go to the YMA negotiations. We're open to look at alternatives. We're open to look at other kinds of fee mechanisms, whether they be some kind of stipend, as long as that stipend might be reasonable. We can maybe even look at such things as alternate fee schedules, or something of that nature.
We're open to a variety of options, but we would have to do this in concert with the YMA. Now, the member is in his self-appointed role as the principal negotiator for the Dawson doctors -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The lady with the lamp, indeed.
He has taken it upon himself to negotiate here in the Legislature for a group of physicians. I would suggest that, probably, quite frankly, is inappropriate - just as if another member were to suggest that this is the place to conduct negotiations with another group, be it the Teachers Association or the Public Service Alliance of Canada or the government Yukon Employees' Union or any other labour group. I just don't think this is the appropriate place to do it.
But the member persists, and I guess he's going to try to get the deal here on the floor. We have said that we've made an offer to the physicians. The physicians there have countered that they're not interested. We've made an offer to try this sort of payment mechanism on a trial basis with an avenue for some community feedback, and so on. That has been rejected.
We've said, okay, then let's go to the YMA and look at what other alternatives we have. That's the appropriate place to do it. That's what we've proposed; that's what we begin on Wednesday.
I would also remind him that one of the rural physicians in Dawson is on that negotiation team. And when you consider that there are three members of the YMA on the negotiation team, one of which is from Dawson City, I would say that they have a chance to have their views brought forward and expressed in a very clear way. So, perhaps he doesn't believe in the process of collective bargaining. We've seen that, certainly, from the Yukon Party before. But that's what we intend to do.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if we look at the situation across Canada, on-call reimbursements are offered in every province except Newfoundland, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. For rural communities similar to Dawson and Watson Lake, they offer 24-hour emergency coverage, equivalent out-patient volumes to Watson Lake and Dawson. They have in-patient care. They do low-risk obstetrics. The doctors take calls from their home. The after-hour calls are screened by the nurses. The on-call reimbursement packages, Mr. Chair, are all in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they range from $20,000 or $30,000 on the low end to $200,000 to $400,000. So, there is a considerable range in what is being offered.
There are two different on-call reimbursement systems in existence, one which is an after-hours premium for availability only, and one which is an after-hour premium for both availability and for services provided during that period. So, there are two different types of arrangements.
And the minister calls it a stipend. He only got into the $20,000 to $30,000 scenario, which the minister referred to as a token amount of money, which, incidentally, doesn't solve the on-call problems for communities to which it applies. For those communities, they do not offer all those kinds of services. That's the difference. And a lot of these areas that have the $20,000 to $30,000 range of on-call are within 45 minutes or an hour's drive or a ferry ride to a larger medical centre, where all those cares are provided and offered. That's the difference, Mr. Chair.
So, the minister has cherry-picked the low-end volume and compared it to the Yukon, but when you start looking across Canada and use the comparison numbers, it applies to a situation that is in very close proximity to a major medical centre.
Our major medical centre is 271 air miles from Dawson, or just over 200 from Watson Lake. That is a considerable difference. Because the plane is based in Whitehorse, it has to originate in Whitehorse, travel to the outlying community, pick up the patient and take them back. So, it's the same difference both ways for the minister's overview, and it's virtually the same time to travel in each direction. So, we are talking about a significant difference, Mr. Chair, in what we're comparing.
So, the minister has the ability to stand up in the House and compare the medical services provided in Watson Lake and Dawson and suggest to this House that they're both almost identical, when most people know that they're not. He also has the ability to cherry-pick the on-call services in parts of rural Canada and compare them to the Yukon, when it's not a fair comparison. And then he suggests that the doctors can negotiate with the YMA.
What happens if the YMA bounces it back to the minister's table and says, "It's been bounced back twice. We don't want to deal with it. Can you deal directly with the rural doctors on this situation?" What is the minister's position going to be then?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, first of all, I need to do a little bit of a reality check here with the member. I went through the list of provinces in Canada. Now, I'd be very interested in seeing some communities where the person gets $220,000, $250,000 or $400,000 for being on call. I'd be quite interested in seeing this.
The example most often used has been British Columbia. Now, in British Columbia, there is an on-call remuneration, which is a premium, plus a usual fee for service for visitor procedure. I've already explained that we have a call-out premium, which ranges, depending on the time of day, from $31.30 during the day, plus the visit or procedure fee to the evening, from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., when it becomes $92.90 plus the visit or procedure fee. The night fee, which is 11:00 p.m. to 7:59 a.m., goes to $107.80 plus the procedure or visit fee.
Now, in British Columbia, there is a $30,000 bonus, and that is based on one or two physicians, no hospital. I would suggest that there are places in northern British Columbia where very similar situations are indicated, such as Telegraph Creek or Dease Lake. I also went through and identified places such as Saskatchewan. Physicians providing first call in small facilities, which service a small population and offer acute services, receive an annual stipend of $20,000.
Let's take a look here. There's also Ontario. In communities without hospitals, there is $30,000 annually for providing 24-hour emergency coverage. In Alberta, that mecca of all good conservatives, there is $27,565 per year, in addition to fee-for-service billings. Well, that looks fairly straightforward. And so on and so forth.
The member is suggesting that we are cherry-picking. I'm not cherry-picking. I'm giving him a list of some of those areas. I could go through it in even greater detail - even more painful detail. I would love to see where these numbers come from.
I should also remind the member, because I think I have to do this again and again and again - and I believe I quoted from the Journal of Rural Medicine, though I don't have it here, but I can certainly get it for him - that, in looking at the entire question in the Journal of Rural Medicine, the journal identified ourselves as offsetting part of the demand for on-call by physician fees that range 40 to 60 percent higher. Moreover, if one takes a look at the 10 most commonly performed procedures, the difference ranges from 43-percent higher to, I believe, 124-percent higher. So, on many of our very common procedures, our base rate is that much higher.
I would suggest as well that when we take a look at the on-call premiums, they are considerably higher than some other jurisdictions. Now, the member is - if we talk about cherry-picking, I have given him what our facts are.
Now, he's obviously got some doctor someplace who's making $400,000 for on-call - exclusively on-call. That's what the member's alleging: between $200,000 and $400,000 is out there and some doctor is getting that on top of the fee for service.
We haven't run across examples of that kind. I'm sure if there was a jurisdiction where doctors routinely got $200,000 to $400,000 for being on call, we'd have a mass exodus there. What we've basically said is that this is the range that we've seen and that seems eminently fair.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister is probably going to start noticing the mass exodus with respect to nurse practitioners and rural doctors and all he has to do is compare the dollars being paid in other jurisdictions and the working conditions to what is offered here in the Yukon.
It leads me back to my question, Mr. Chair: would the minister please table the information regarding the on-call situation across Canada? Could the minister agree to provide that information? There were three pages of notes that the minister read from, and I'd like to see what information he has in front of him in total because, obviously, the minister hasn't spent the time researching - his department officials have.
What I'm suggesting is that the minister is cherry-picking that information. So, I'm just looking for the minister to table, completely, all the information that he has read from here today. Can he do that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I will provide the member a copy. I have to caution that we don't have, as yet, northern Quebec, though it's our understanding that most of the physicians in northern Quebec are on salary. So, we can provide that for the member. He obviously doesn't believe us so I guess we have to show him in black and white. Now, probably what he'll do is he'll go out on a mad scramble to find a physician someplace and try to extrapolate from that that you could actually make about $400,000. That, I don't think, is indeed the case.
But the member continually tries to make these comparisons. I would suggest that, in fact, our physicians are reasonably well compensated up here. He talked about an exodus of physicians out of the territory; well, in reality, I believe we have the best physician/patient ratio in Canada.
We are well resourced in physicians. Would we like to have more physicians in rural areas? Of course we would. And we believe that some of the things that we can do in that regard can assist that.
Nurse practitioners - I've gone through in some detail what we are doing in terms of the nurse practitioner issue and the ways that we've attempted to try to resolve this, but he seems to be utterly devoid of the realization that there's a nurse practitioner shortage in Canada.
I should, actually, remind the member that there are a number of jurisdictions where medical schools have graduated people who have, in some cases, entire classes where that entire class has left Canada to practice elsewhere. So I don't think it's exclusively an issue of our situation up here. I think southern Canada also has an issue of doctors being attracted to - in some cases higher salaries, in some cases a different mode of practice.
But I'm not sure what the member is actually suggesting. Is he suggesting that we abandon the idea of a state-supported medical system? I suppose he'd like to return to the good old bad days of people in this country not being covered for their basic medical service, since he seems to be so bound, bent and determined to turn back the clock.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister is right about one thing, and that is that the ratio of doctors in Whitehorse is great in relation to our population, and Whitehorse is a very lucrative place to practice. The same does not hold true, Mr. Chair, for rural Yukon, and that's the issue that I'm trying to get to the minister, but he just can't seem to grasp the fundamentals of his portfolio when it applies to rural Yukon. The minister has the ability to stand up in this House, compare the delivery of health care in Watson Lake to Dawson and say that they are the same, when anyone knows full well that they are not.
But let's move on to another issue. Let's move on to the issue of seniors. We have 83 seniors in Watson Lake. We have 84 in Dawson City. Dawson is afforded a wonderful facility - McDonald Lodge. There isn't a similar facility in Watson Lake. Why not?
Then when we look at the recent initiative from this government, it's a $14.2-million expenditure for an additional 74 beds on a continuing care facility in Whitehorse. Well, if the numbers of individuals over 65 residing in a specific area do not drive the need for these types of facilities and if the numbers of people in need of continuing care do not drive the numbers, what does? How did the government justify the capital expenditure of $14.2 million for another continuing care facility here in Whitehorse? Where is that analysis done? How was it done? Would the minister kindly table a copy of the analysis that justified that facility?
If we can't do an analysis in a community like Watson Lake in three years, how can we do an analysis in Whitehorse, of a much greater magnitude, in a matter of virtual months? That's what we're looking at. We've been studying, studying and studying Watson Lake. Nothing is happening in that community. But Whitehorse - we didn't hear anything about the need for a continuing care facility. We saw the need for expanding the existing facilities, opening the additional beds in the Thomson Centre, yet all of a sudden there is an analysis concluded that justifies 74 more beds. Would the minister kindly table that analysis to show how that was justified?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We certainly can provide an analysis. It's interesting to hear this member here - who wept crocodile tears about the lack of facilities at the Thomson Centre, who beat his breast about the need to provide palliative care, and why people can't get in - is the guy who's turning around now and questioning why we need an extended care facility.
The reason we need an extended care facility is very simple. It's need - it's based on people's needs. The member there clearly doesn't understand what the nature of extended care is. He doesn't understand it. He sits there and rolls his eyes, but all he does is speak out of one side of the mouth and then talk through the other side.
We have done an in-depth analysis of the demographics, the needs, the projections, and that has formed the fundamental basis for looking at where the needs are in building a new extended care facility. We've also taken a look at the options we had with our existing extended care facilities and, quite frankly, the costs, disruption, all of the factors that went into the conceptualizing of this facility here were based on needs. They were based on the wait-list that we currently have to get into the Thomson Centre. They were based on the wait list to get into Macaulay Lodge. There was an attempt to move the process ahead.
I'm really quite interested, because the previous government did nothing on this issue. They did nothing - nada, zero. They did nothing on that one particular issue. Now, all of a sudden, they can't make up their minds whether they're fish or fowl. They can't decide whether they're for extended care or they're against extended care, or whether they're for extended care here or not in favour of extended care here.
We also have done community consultations on home care and continuing care needs in rural communities. I gave the member the basic analysis that we had done - and I believe I read it into the record - of the services that were felt to be available and the services that were felt to be required in rural communities.
The fact of the matter is that, also on extended care, what the member seems to be neglecting is that, frequently, given our association with the major hospital here and the fact that there are individuals who, for one reason or another, cannot be handled properly on an acute-care basis, what is needed is some other type of arrangement. Just the last session, this member was standing there bemoaning the fact that we had bed-blocking. He was bemoaning the fact that we had extended care patients or continuing care patients in an acute-care facility. He was demanding that we do something about this terrible, terrible problem. Now he is suggesting that that problem doesn't exist any longer. So, we have this selective amnesia here from the member.
This was the member that, a few weeks ago, was slamming us because of the lack of facilities for palliative care. Well, we have indicated that, in this facility, we are moving to create a facility that not only meets the extended care needs of seniors, it also meets the extended care needs of children with major disabilities and the extended care needs of some young adults who find themselves in very dire circumstances. It also meets the extended needs of people with situations such as special care or dementia.
We are also planning this facility to have respite. We are planning this facility to have palliative.
Now the member's got to make up his mind. Does he want extended care or doesn't he want extended care? Can he make up his mind?
Now, we've indicated why we feel that there are other options, in terms of Watson Lake, and part of that has to do with the nature of the facility down there - the nature of the hospital. The real need seems to lie in terms of respite and palliative, and that's what we're going to be moving to do - to make some modifications on the hospital. But also there are issues in terms of seniors housing.
Now, the member here is going back and forth - he can't decide if he's in favour of this or not.
What I want to ask the member is: does he oppose the idea - and let's see if he has the courage to say this - of building an extended care facility in Whitehorse? Does he feel that there is no need? Does he feel that the people that we service do not need the kind of facility that we are proposing? Does he feel that? Let's get him on record. Let's see if he has the courage to say what his convictions are. If he says that there's no need, good. We'll deal with that.
Mr. Jenkins: Mr. Chair, the minister's posed a whole series of hypothetical questions of me. And I don't have a -
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Chair: Order please.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I don't have a quarrel with building an extended care facility if there's a demonstrated need. But Mr. Chair, why does it have to be the government that builds the extended care facility? Why can't the government look at asking for all sorts of proposals from the private sector to build an extended care facility to offer those services? Why hasn't that area been explored, Mr. Chair?
The private sector does it in other areas of Canada, and it does it at a somewhat lower cost than government has been able to do, in a lot of areas, and, in most cases, to a higher level of service.
So why is that area not being explored? Or is it just we're on the NDP tirade of building more and more government, creating more and more government - it's the only major employer.
What I'd like to know of the minister - and it's the minister here today, Mr. Chair, who's supposed to be answering the questions - is who was consulted with respect to the additional need for this continuing care facility; when were the consultations held and how was the decision arrived at? Because I see a very streamlined process used here, Mr. Chair, that hasn't been used with any other decision within the Department of Health and Social Services.
I don't have a quarrel with the decision to go ahead and construct that facility if there is a demonstrated need, but why is the government doing it? Why can't it be looked at being done by the private sector? Does the minister have any answers to that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Once again, we're beginning to see where this is going. There seems to be a blueprint here for the dismantling of the public health care system.
We actually have had some discussions with the private sector. However, I should point out that what the member is addressing is there is clearly a misapprehension between, say, supplying something like a level 1, 2 facility or a facility like level 3, 4, 5. I can tell the member that when you get into that level of care, the rates that would be charged would make the entire project somewhat prohibitive for the average person. We have comparisons that indicate what our rates are compared to other jurisdictions in Canada and if the member would like to contest that, I would suggest our rates - what we charge back to our residents - are the lowest in Canada. He appears to be wrong. He appears to be, once again, wrong.
We have had some discussions with the private sector but, quite frankly, the provision of level 3, 4, 5 is not the kind of area that the private sector is particularly interested in going into.
There has been some interest. I understand that there is some interest in providing lower level - level 1 and 2 care. And I understand that there is a group of service clubs that are interested in getting into that kind of service delivery for some of their members. I understand that there are a couple of people who are interested in such things as seniors housing, but I have to indicate that when we talk about the kind of care that we're looking at, it's much higher level and much heavier demand.
Now, the member has suggested that there is no rationale for this process. He suggested that somehow the wait-lists that we've got at the Thomson Centre and Macaulay Lodge are fictitious. He's suggesting that the need that we have to develop meaningful placement for people from an acute care facility into a continuing care facility is somehow wrong. We have a wait-list at the Thomson Centre of 33 level 3 and 4 clients. That includes 11 from the communities and 22 from Macaulay, people who are at a point where they need to move into a higher level of care. The Macaulay wait-list has 10 individuals wait-listed with an anticipated wait for an available bed of two to three years. This wait-list is primarily due to an urgent need for more high-level care.
Now, the member has suggested that somehow we could turn this over to the private sector. I would suggest that the private sector, if they were to build a facility, would have to charge considerably more than what our rates are to make such a project work and, as I have indicated, we have had some discussions with private sector providers but, at certain levels, interest wanes, and I think for very clear reason.
The member is suggesting - and this is going to be a really interesting one because when I provide this for all those folks on the wait-list for Thomson Centre and Macaulay Lodge, that the Member for Klondike has gone on the record as saying that there's no justification for building an extended care facility in this territory, that's going to make really interesting reading for all those folks that may have a person in their family suffering from a debilitating illness or disease who is waiting to get into the Thomson Centre. That's going to be very, very interesting.
It's going to be very interesting for people who are seeking respite because of the demands of caring for an infirm relative. That's going to be very interesting.
It's going to be very interesting for the physicians and nurses at Whitehorse General Hospital who have raised the issue of trying to move continuing care patients out of acute-care beds. That's going to be interesting for them.
So, I have it here today, on record, that the Member for Klondike does not believe that there is any rationale whatsoever for the building of an extended care facility. I'll copy that off to the folks in the Yukon Council on Aging and a few other groups I meet with on a regular basis.
Mr. Jenkins: Let the record reflect that the minister is attempting to put words in my mouth, and the words he just spewed forward are a very inaccurate reflection of what my position is, and totally misleading - as the minister is, on a continuing basis - with respect to the interpretation of what is said.
Now, let's have a look, Mr. Chair, at what the minister is saying. The minister is saying that government must do it all and it all must be based in Whitehorse. That's what the minister is stating here - number one, the government must do it all, and it all has to be based here in Whitehorse.
The minister made some outlandish statements here in the House today about how it's going to cost more if it goes out to the private sector. Well, Mr. Chair, how does the minister know that? Has he gone out with an expression of interest to the private sector to see what is out there and what kind of costs would be incurred with the private sector building a continuing care facility and providing the service, like it's done in other jurisdictions? How does he know if it's going to cost more? That's the statement that the minister made - it's going to cost more. How does he know that?
If he starts looking at the provision of seniors housing, in many areas of Canada, it's done by the private sector. But, in the Yukon, the only people who can provide seniors housing is an agency of the government - Yukon Housing Corporation. I guess we're going to be told that government has to do it all and that it has to be virtually based in Whitehorse, because that's the way we do it. This is the NDP policy and this is the NDP position. It deserves a review with a critical eye, as to where this government is taking the Yukon. More and more into the hands of government. Government is the only area of the economy that's growing. Why is that the case, Mr. Chair? That is the case because this minister has been given his walking instructions, and they are that we have to do it all, and it all has to be based in Whitehorse.
Mr. Chair, our party advocated the opening of the additional beds at the Thomson Centre. This year - the minister has been in power for two years. He has held this portfolio for over two years. The minister had a chance to react. He had a chance to open the seven beds.
It's just going to happen. We're told it's going to cost $645,000 to open those additional seven extended care beds. Now, if they're needed, let's do it. I don't have a quarrel with it. And it's been needed for awhile, and the minister's failed to do it - failed to do it. Now he's going to go and build another continuing care facility.
Now, has the concept been looked at by the government, of taking the existing Thomson Centre, putting it into an overall management plan of the Whitehorse General Hospital operating this facility, streamlining the Macaulay Lodge, Thomson Centre, and the new continuing care facility, to the various levels of care? Or could the new facility be operated and built by the private sector? Has that rationalization been done internally by the minister and his officials?
Chair: Order please. Before continuing debate, the Chair would like to remind members not to suggest in any way that other members may not be telling the truth. Words such as "misleading", used in an accusatory way, or phrases such as "speaking out of both sides of his mouth", are phrases that are really not parliamentary, and I would ask all members to be a little more careful.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I'll keep in mind your point.
With respect to the idea of amalgamating the Thomson under an overall management, I believe that was reviewed by the previous government and rejected as not being cost-effective. I believe, as well, there were a number of issues there that related to union issues, which would have resulted in there being a no-cost savings, in terms of labour costs.
The member seems to be suggesting that - I guess there's a bit of a contradiction that I see. The member's suggesting that there is no rationale for developing an extended care facility. Then, he's just gone through and said that the beds need to be opened. Now, I should point out that those beds have existed for a long period of time. The previous government's use of them was to make them into offices. We have chosen to move those beds back into the active force.
The member has said that he doesn't see a rationale or he doesn't see a need for developing an extended care facility, but then he turns around and he tells us, "if the beds are needed". Well, I can tell him that the beds are needed. The beds are clearly needed. We have begun the process of recruiting for the beds; we've done the renovations over there and the beds will be open.
I guess what the member is suggesting is that there was no wait-lists at Macaulay or Thomson during the Yukon Party's period of administration. That's what the suggestion is because, quite clearly, if this is something that they've suddenly discovered, then he would be suggesting that during the previous years there was no need whatsoever so they felt no obligation to do anything on the entire question of either a long-term plan for extended care in this territory or the idea of doing anything in the short term.
So, the member seems to have discovered this issue. There seems to be some contradictory arguments coming: in one case that it is needed, and in the other case that it isn't needed. He asks why, for example, this is Whitehorse-based. Well, very clearly, the drive for these needs is coming out of Whitehorse, primarily, and not only that, there are economies of scale that we can realize within Whitehorse which make such a facility much more viable. There are also issues around staffing. There are issues around medical support, and so on and so forth. The need is very clearly here. This is where the greatest demand is. This is where the greatest provision of services is.
The member seems to be suggesting that the private sector undertake this. Well, I can tell the member - and we will provide it after the break when I get a chance; I will read into the record - what some of the comparative rates are for ourselves and what they are in other jurisdictions in Canada.
I can tell him right now that, for our level of extended care here, people pay the least amount in Canada. People pay the least amount in Canada. If one compares what, say, a level 3 or 4 in Ontario is, you'll see a massive difference. In Newfoundland, for example, the charges are premised not only on what the daily rate is, but they also include the capitalization of such a facility.
So, we'll provide that kind of information. I'll be happy to read it into the record after the break here. I've got it upstairs, and I'll bring it down.
I'm really at a loss as to what the member's position is. I noticed that he still hasn't answered the question. He has clearly evaded and not provided a position of his party on the question of extended care. Is extended care needed, in their opinion? I would assert that they have not stated their position very clearly, and I would ask him: do they favour the building of an extended care facility or not?
Mr. Jenkins: I can give the minister assurances that, after the next election, he'll have a wonderful opportunity to ask questions here in the House. That is if he wins his seat in the next election, but as I understand it, he's here to answer questions, which the record will reflect, Mr. Chair, this minister has failed to do - completely failed. He's avoiding the question here today. He's avoiding the question here today, and we have an issue that this government pays lip service to. This NDP government says, "We support the private sector." Then when we start to look at what they're doing about it, they're doing absolutely nothing.
The minister says that his government has gone out and looked at what it costs in other areas. But, has this government gone out asking for an expression of interest from a firm to construct and operate a continuing care facility here in the Yukon? Have they done that? I'm willing to wager that if the minister stands up and answers the question, it will be, "No, we have not."
They just pay lip service. This NDP government - their initiatives - feels that the government must do it all and it all must be done in Whitehorse. Why has the minister not come clean and make the position of his NDP government abundantly clear?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, Mr. Chair, I wonder what the member is suggesting. Is he suggesting that $14 million or so going into the economy of this territory is nothing? Is he suggesting that when we build this there will be no net economic benefits realized? Is he suggesting that that will not improve the situation of the private sector? Is that what he's suggesting?
Because, aren't these the last of the big time spenders over there? Aren't these the guys who criticized us continually for not pumping more money into the private sector by not doing more capital works? Fourteen million dollars is money into the private sector. I would suggest that there's going to be a lot of people employed in that, and I would suggest that probably, if we take a look at that, it will be a good boost for this economy.
The member says that we aren't interested in dealing with the private sector. Well, my colleague, the Minister of Economic Development, has just announced today an agreement today with a British Columbia company to cost-share a feasibility study on wood pellets. I mean, that's a public/private sector partnership.
So, the members there feel that unless it's one of their famous railroads to Carmacks, it doesn't really matter. What I would suggest is that they have very little to stand up on, on this. Since they're so devoted to the idea of privatization of the entire continuing care system, then it would stand to reason that if a private company wants to come in and build a different level of care facility - if they want to come in and build a level 1 or 2 facility, we don't have any problem with that. If they want to come in and build a level 3 or 4 facility, we wouldn't have any problem with that.
What we've said is that we, as a government, need to take an initiative. We need to move ahead. A level 3, 4 or 5 is not an area where people are clambering to get involved in the building of. We have a responsibility to people to move ahead on this, and that's what we're going to do.
Now, I guess if we followed the same rationale, the Yukon Party, the previous government, would have privatized those services - I didn't see them doing that - since they are so bound and determined to privatize everything. We have no problem. If somebody wants to come in and build a seniors facility or a seniors lodge, we don't have a problem with that. If they want to build it as a for-profit facility, we don't have a problem with that.
What we do have are some concerns about standards. That would be something that we would have a concern about. We do have concerns about the nature of accessibility for people. We would have concerns about that. We would have concerns, I think, as well, about the rates that are being charged. And I can tell the member that that is a major issue for us - the question of comparative rates being charged to Yukoners.
Now, he doesn't care about that. I guess if he's that focused on the idea of just creating a free market kind of thing, where we can charge seniors or we can charge disabled folks whatever the market will bear - well, that indicates very clearly to us where they're going on the privatization of health care. That indicates it very clearly to us. But we've said that we have a responsibility to provide quality care at a reasonable rate, with the kinds of standards that we've come to expect, and that's what we're going to do.
Mr. Jenkins: I have a simple yes-or-no question for the minister. Has the minister gone out and asked for an expression of interest from the private sector to construct and operate a continuing care facility in the Yukon?
Has the minister gone out and asked for an expression of the interest? Did he do that? Yes or no.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We have not done a formal expression of interest, but we have had some private firms approach us about this and we've had discussions with them. I've had discussions as well with a group that's interested in seniors housing - supported independent living, I guess - for the members of service organizations. Apparently there are three or four service organizations that have investigated this.
We've indicated that we would see that as being complementary to what we're doing.
Mr. Jenkins: So, now we're finally cutting to the chase. It took over an hour for the minister to admit what should rightfully have been admitted at the onset, Mr. Chair - that he hasn't gone out to the private sector and asked for an expression of interest.
Now, is the minister prepared to go out for an expression of interest for the construction and operation of such a facility? Is he prepared to do that or is he prepared to support his NDP government's position of, "We support the private sector, but we're not doing anything to help them, and we must do it all, our government, and we must do it all in Whitehorse"?
I'm sure that when you analyze one, two and three, this NDP government's track record and position, that spells it out and spells it out very succinctly. Now, is the minister prepared to go out for an expression of interest for the construction and operation of such a facility?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, well, we'll certainly be taking out the construction to the private sector. That is very clear. We've just closed the tenders for design. That's going to go to the private sector. When the construction comes about, that will go to the private sector. But I guess what the member is really sort of suggesting is that we throw out those residents of ours - those people who depend on us for care in their latter years or the years when they need that level of service - onto the tender mercies of folks for whom private profit is the major motive.
We have said that we have a clear responsibility to people. We're willing to do that. You're not.
Mr. Jenkins: But could the minister correct the record? The group homes in the Yukon are run privately and have been that way for quite some time, so the private sector is quite capable of providing the service, and is probably more capable of providing the service than the government is. Now, that's been clearly demonstrated in other areas of Canada. Now, what's wrong with the Yukon? I'd suggest to the minister, Mr. Chair, that this government's position is that government must do it all, government must do it all in Whitehorse, and there are no other alternatives and no other ways to do it. Bigger government, bigger costs, and I'm sure when the minister gets his NDP calculator out there, he'll have figures that will make black appear to be white.
Now, what I'm looking for is a commitment from the minister that he will go out to the private sector with an expression of interest for the ownership, operation, construction - the whole package - for a continuing care facility. Will the minister do that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: What I suggest is that the member has asked me to privatize the continuing care in this territory and no, I will not do that. If he is suggesting that we privatize the entire continuum of care - because that's what it would mean - then I will tell him no. If he is suggesting that, by doing that, we basically put the entire operation of continuing care on a for-profit basis - no, we will not do that, no more than I would suggest that the entire health care system be placed on a for-profit system. We have a responsibility to people; we're undertaking that responsibility.
He has asked me here to privatize the continuing care system in this territory, and I will not do that. We have a responsibility to people and we will follow through. We believe that there are issues around for-profit. I'm not saying that there aren't issues where we can't partner with the private sector, but, in this one, we feel that this is part of our ongoing health care system and I will not rise to their bait. I will not agree to their desire to privatize the health care system, because we're just on to this sort of agenda that they have where they want to take the health care system back to pre-medicare days and we're not going to do that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that's quite the spin that the minister is putting on this debate, and it's an inaccurate reflection of where our party would see the provision of continuing health care going. The minister has got a whole bunch of catchwords there that his party uses on a continuing basis that are totally meaningless - totally meaningless, Mr. Chair.
"We support the private sector." Well, how do they support the private sector?
By eliminating it? That appears to be the only area where they're supporting the private sector - eliminate it, get rid of it. What about the catchwords of a few years ago and last year and which continues today - "public/private partnership"? There's another key word.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Jenkins: So, there are some key words. They are only the text of ministerial statements. They are only the text of nice press releases from this government. But the bottom line is that in very few cases is it ever used by this government. They haven't put their money where their mouths are. They continue to fail at providing the incentives for the private sector to drive the economy, like they should.
Start looking at the minister's answers today. They are totally, totally without substance. The minister has an agenda where "profit" is a dirty word in his vocabulary.
Now, continuing care facilities have been constructed in other areas of Canada. They have been constructed by the private sector and operated by the private sector. They have been providing excellent levels of continuing care. Now, why is the minister so reluctant to go out into the private sector here in the Yukon for an expression of interest? Is he afraid that, after setting the standards, the private sector will meet them and probably exceed them? And probably do them at a lower cost than the minister's internal cost review has demonstrated? Is that what he's afraid of, and that they might very well have to give this project over to the private sector? Or, does he just not have any confidence in his own ability to manage a program out in the private sector?
I don't know what it is, but there is clearly a voice in the wilderness from this NDP saying, "We support the private sector, but we'll do nothing about it. They can't do this job; they can't do this other job." Well, what jobs are they allowed to do? Just build more buildings and temples to this government?
Now, what the minister is saying here in the House today doesn't wash. I want to know, Mr. Chair, why this minister is so reluctant to go out into the private sector for an expression of interest in the ownership, construction and operation of a continuing care facility.
Now, the rhetoric that he's come forward with here in the House today is that we're not going backwards to pre-medicare days. No one is even beginning to suggest that. No one is even beginning to suggest it, and for the minister to hang his hat on that, well, he might as well go walk in the woods with the Member for Watson Lake and have a look at the trees out there.
You know, there's no backbone to the substance that the minister is bringing into the House, Mr. Chair, and I would urge him to reconsider his position. Is the minister prepared to go out into the private sector and ask for an expression of interest in the ownership, construction and operation of a continuing care facility?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think I've already made my point clear. I've said that we won't privatize the health care system. I've said that we won't do it on a piecemeal basis.
I guess my question for the members would be, since they're so hot to trot on this, where were they? They had the opportunity to do this. They chose to do nothing, but, of course, that was their response on everything.
I should also say that I think that they're making an analogy that they think that this can be done here in the same way that it can be done in other parts of Canada. I would suggest that, in reality, the one thing that we don't have here is a critical mass in the same way that they might have in, say, Edmonton or Vancouver, where you would have that kind of critical mass in order to be able to foster some of these projects.
The members there, once again, called on us to privatize the continuing care basis system, and we have basically suggested that we're not going to privatize continuing care. I guess the members think that people should have to pay the market rent, whatever it is, and that we should open it up, and if a person can't afford it, that's just going to be tough luck.
I would suggest that that's a stance that's probably more popular among the HMO system in the United States, but we're not willing to go that route.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, I have a couple of questions for the minister on the proposed extended care facility. And I'd like to start by asking the minister, has there been a site selected for this facility yet?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, Mr. Chair. We've identified a number of sites around the city. They range from some very large sites to some sites that are smaller, and some that have some problems in terms of not only size, but in terms of limitations, as to how they could be built and so on.
There are some sites where the range is small, from about three and a half acres, while others range up to 35.
There are also a couple that, after the first cut, we eliminated because of topography problems. The sites just didn't lend themselves very well to building, or it would have meant major levelling out of an area.
So at this point we've narrowed it down, I think, to probably about six sites that have some potential. But once again, we're going to have to go back and look at it, in terms of the functional plan, and see which site would lend itself to the location of this facility.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, this causes me some concern, because I understand that the department has already hired an architect, who's working on the conceptual plan. How can we do that, when we haven't got a site selected?
Could the minister maybe elaborate a little more? My understanding is that there's been an architect hired, and that they are working on a conceptual plan. Am I correct in that understanding?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, the first stage that we have done is a functional plan - in other words, looking at the kind of programs that we would be offering, looking at the kinds of services that we would have available, giving some approximations of space requirements, and that kind of thing.
As far as an architect - no. The tender for the architect closed, I believe, on Friday, and we would expect it will be about another week or so before the evaluation of the plant.
Basically, there are a couple of issues around this. One is the - and to some degree, the site will determine the kind of configuration of the building. Obviously, the greater amount of space available, the greater flexibility you have in a building, but we have put on some minimum parameters that we think we would need.
There are some sites that, in their identification, would meet the needs of the project itself, but then there are other issues to be concerned with, such as proximity to other institutions, proximity to traffic, proximity to schools. There are issues around bus routes and, as I said, in some cases, some of the sites that could be used, in terms of topography, would lend themselves in a very difficult way. There is one site that was being considered in Porter Creek, where the site slopes away in such a way that we think it would actually increase the cost fairly dramatically.
So, we've done the functional plans and have a sense of what we need. The next stage is doing the architectural plans. By that time, we will have selected an appropriate site.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, putting past practices aside, the government has been, prior to going to tender for an architect, going first for an expression of interest, based on some parameters before they go for the architect. Was there an expression of interest done this time before we put the tender out for the architect?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We did an expression of interest for the functional plan and then, subsequent to receiving the functional plan, we had, based on that, put out the idea of a design based on the parameters of our functional plan for the architect to work with. We expect that we will have a site selected within the next two weeks.
There are a couple of things that we would like to do with this. There are some consultations that we need to do, particularly with the residents council over at the Thomson Centre, for example, to get a sense from them about how they feel about such issues as location. There are some issues, as well, identified in terms of problems that would impact on communities so we want to take those into consideration as well.
So, we expect to have a site identified within the next two weeks. The architect will then be given the parameters of dealing with the site, dealing with the functional plan, dealing with what our needs are and going from there.
Mr. Ostashek: Well, Mr. Chair, the more the minister answers these questions, the more concerns he raises. It appears to me that we're getting into a very expensive process without really thinking out what we have done. I'm amazed that he hasn't gone out for an expression of interest on the whole functional plan, the design and the architectural plan.
What are we doing here? Are we doing it in bits and pieces, and nobody seems to know what's going on? We don't even have a site selected yet. We're going directly to a tender for an architect, and I see that a whole lot of extra costs are going to be involved in this project. Why wasn't this done in the normal manner?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, actually, in the method that we're working on, we've done some consultation with a number of people in the entire realm of continuing care. We drew on the expertise of some groups in British Columbia that work within this concept of a continuum of care, and this was their recommendation. It was done with a local firm, and they brought in a consultant on this, and we worked on the idea of developing, first of all, the parameters of the project - what do we want this centre to accomplish, and what programming do we want it to serve - for example, issues such as day programming and other things. Those all factor into what the functional plan is.
Working from the functional plan, the architect - we put out a tender for an architect - will then take our functional plan and work out the design. At that point, there is going to be consultation with the groups that are involved, be it the Evergreen Respite or Hospice, the residents council and so on. So, we want people to have input into this, in the very same way that when we work on the design of a school, we have the whole community involved, the building committees. It's not that unclear.
As I have said, we have a number of sites that we feel would lend themselves to the project, but one of the things that we'll have to do is do some consultation with some of the people that are involved - the residents council and some others. As well, we have to take into account some neighbourhood issues, and because of that, we're going to be making that site selection within the next couple of weeks and going from there.
As a matter of fact, one of the issues that we are concerned about is the idea of identifying all the sites that might be available to us. There are one or two sites that we have in question that weren't included in the survey, and we've gone back and asked why not. Why were these sites written off, because they might lend themselves to this particular project?
Mr. Ostashek: My concern is not the fact of consultation. Consultation should be done. It should be done well in advance of a conceptual design and the architect being hired. What we're doing here is moving the process ahead and then we're going to go back and say to the people, "Well, we've already picked this out, but we need your approval."
We don't even have a site selected yet and we're hiring an architect. We haven't gone for an expression of interest before we've put out a tender for the architect.
What I see the department and minister doing is getting themselves involved in a whole lot of additional costs that are going to be add-ons to the contract after it's issued because these things weren't taken into consideration before the tendering went ahead for the architect. Why wasn't all the consultation work done? Why wasn't the site selected before we moved ahead and hired the architect?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Actually, the functional plan that was designed or that we came up with was actually done in consultation with all the groups that we are involved with. It was done in concert with the hospital. It was done in concert with many of the groups that we've identified as being involved in this whole area.
What we're looking at doing now is simply taking the functional plan. That will form, if you will, kind of a framework for an architect to work with.
We have put out the tender for an architect. The architect will work with the site that has been selected. We will work with the functional plan to meet the needs that we have identified and the budget that we've identified, and will go from there.
We are looking at having a site selection very shortly, at the same time as we have the architects selected.
There has been a fair amount of consultation already done on this to identify what the key areas are and the key needs that this centre would serve. Where we plan on going from there is involving groups in the consultation in the way that the extended care facility should develop - the kinds of amenities, if you will, or the kinds of suggestions that they have for this facility. For example, there may be some issues around the provision of separate space for young adults and children, and so on. Because one of the things that we've heard is that the nature of the Thomson Centre right now, with our youth ward, doesn't really lend itself very well to young people.
So those are the kinds of things that we will want to do. We'll want to do them in concert with groups that represent various interests - respite, people involved in the hospice, and so on.
So we feel that we're working on this project. We're going to take the appropriate amount of time. We're not looking at starting construction this year. We're looking at taking probably about somewhere around an eight-month period to actually do the planning and design for this. At the end of that period the tenders will go out and, hopefully, we can begin construction early next year.
Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Chair, the fact is, that we've gone out to tender for an architect. We don't know where it's going; we haven't got the site selected yet; the architect's going to get his 10 percent or seven percent, whatever they get, and the government's going to pay the bill. It doesn't sound right to me. It doesn't sound right to some citizens who are aware of what the government's doing, and have raised this matter with me.
It appears that the government for some reason is trying to fast-track this process, possibly because there's an election coming up, and they're not using the proper procedures that have been used in the past for a multi-million dollar project that's going ahead like that.
I've raised the concerns with the minister now, and I can assure him that I'll be asking him more questions about this before this session is over, because there are some people out there very disgruntled over the manner in which this minister is proceeding with this project.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I don't know to whom the member is talking. All I know is that when I've talked with groups involved with this, there is a general level of satisfaction that the government is moving on with this because people are concerned. People are concerned about the demographics in this territory, and people are concerned about the impact of an aging population. People are concerned about the proper provision of respite facilities for individuals. People are concerned about the needs of young people. So, I can tell him, quite frankly, that the communications I've had with people who have followed this issue, and have been concerned about it, have all been very positive. I've had some people actually approach me with a level of satisfaction. People have been concerned about this. Maybe the member has some different folks. I would encourage them that, if they do have some view on this, they should probably communicate with me, and we can certainly talk and perhaps clarify some of the concerns that they might have.
We feel that we are moving in the proper way. The member is perfectly free, over the next period of time, to raise these issues, as we move toward things, such as the selection of the architect, and so on. So, I would encourage him to keep the dialogue going. It's something that we feel we are doing in the best interests of people in this territory. I can just tell him that my communications have all been to the contrary. The level of satisfaction with this has been good.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister is suggesting that we keep the dialogue going. Keep the dialogue going - when this minister has gone out and made all the decisions. We don't know how the decision was arrived at, who was consulted, and when the consultations took place. We don't know where the building is going to be placed. We know it's in the Whitehorse area. Perhaps that's the reason they're clearing the Whitehorse waterfront. Who knows? But we don't know where the building is going to be constructed.
We're told it's estimated at $14.2 million at this juncture. And then we look at the costs of constructing similar facilities in other areas of Canada, and they come in at less than half that cost.
This gives rise to the question: have we explored the design, the construction and operation of these facilities in other parts of Canada to take a look and see how they operate? Has that been undertaken by this government?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Actually the people who came in to do the functional planning have given us comparative costs, based on their experience elsewhere and based on what the general track record is in other jurisdictions.
We are looking, however, at this centre not being just exclusively a residential issue but also being a facility where we can offer such things as day programming and things of that nature. So, we are looking at it being more than merely a residential centre. We would like to be able to offer a variety of services out of this type of facility.
The numbers that have been given us have been given to us by people who've come in and looked at the comparative costs, looked at the construction costs, looked at the operational costs, and have made some suggestions in terms of the kind of scope we should be looking at in terms of the size of the programming. We feel that we're in the right ballpark. I guess they've made some suggestions in terms of things we should have in there. It depends, of course, on if that meets our budget targets of what we can do and where we want to go with this project, but I can tell you it's very, very comparative to other jurisdictions in Canada.
Mr. Jenkins: Thank you very much, but this minister's track record indicates that he's extremely good with the bafflegab, but when it comes to designing and operating and running a business, which is what the minister's department is, there's a lack of skills and management knowledge and understanding of what it takes. We seem to have this lip service that's paid to the private sector, and it's used usually on a sole-source basis for information that the minister wants in order to substantiate his position.
The reality of it is that we usually pay a premium for everything that the minister, his officials and his department undertake here in the Yukon.
Why are we going back? It seems to be an initiative that takes place under NDP governments that we go right back to square one and work right from the ground up with respect to construction of any government building. Why is it the case with this government when a lot of background and knowledge of other, similar facilities of the same type and same type of operation exist elsewhere, and we could take an existing plan and just improve on it somewhat? Why is it always the initiative by NDP governments to go right back to the beginning and start with a clean piece of paper? Is it only when it suits them? What's the reason, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think if we talk about going back and redesigning, I believe it was the previous government that chose to scrap the plans for the hospital and redesign it.
With respect to the Thomson Centre, one of the things that we have learned through experience through the years is that, with the Thomson Centre, while well-intentioned at the start, some concerns have evolved, because the type of population has shifted very dramatically over the years.
The original conception of the Thomson Centre saw a level 1 and 2. What's happened is that a number of things have changed over the years. The demographics have changed. People are staying longer. People are living longer. The types of illnesses that we have here have manifested themselves. The growth, for example, in the number of young people who need this kind of service has far outstripped that project.
With respect to the kind of design, we have engaged Charles McLaren Architect, along with a company, Options Consulting, who have experience in this area, and they, in partnership with Charles McLaren, were the ones that selected the functional plan.
Their programming and their recommendations to us are premised on where the entire area of continuing care is going, in terms of the kinds of programming that are being offered elsewhere in Canada and the kinds of programming that we need to be looking at to meet our needs up here.
So, I don't think it's starting at square one at all. I think that what we've done is that we've taken a look at a changing population, at a changing need, and we've made that choice to go ahead to get a design that we think will meet those needs.
The problem, quite frankly, is that the Thomson Centre, when it was built, I don't think really envisaged the kind of population that we have today, and we have to not only build for today but I also think we have to build into the future, and that's one of our goals with this facility.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, wouldn't it appear to be reasonable, Mr. Chair, at this juncture, to analyze the types of care we're providing in the various facilities and use the facilities for the purpose they were originally designed and intended for, rather than to change their purpose? Because obviously, with the change in direction and the change in purpose, we're incurring much additional cost.
Now, it would seem to be reasonable at this juncture, if we're going to be looking at another 74-bed facility, that we focus on specific areas, and rationalize the usage of the other Whitehorse facilities to accommodate the needs they were originally intended for. Or is that too much of a fundamental of business for the minister to grasp?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, actually, Mr. Chair, what the member's referring to is what was actually done. I mean, there's obviously going to be some reconfiguration as we move toward a true extended care facility. We're looking at building a facility that meets extended care, level 3, 4 and 5 types of needs. At that point, what we would have to do is take a look at - and this is part of our idea, to take a look at the Thomson Centre returning to a lower level care and returning the McDonald Lodge to more of a true lodge kind of facility, as it was originally envisaged. And that's part of the overall plan that we're looking at.
But I can tell the member that all it really takes is to take a look at the comparative costs in opening up a seven-bed unit at the Thomson Centre. Part of the costs in that is, essentially, you have to go for an entire, separate nursing unit, because of the configuration of that facility.
Now, that is based on the presumption that the kind of service that we're delivering there is a much higher level of care than you would normally have, say, at a level 1 or 2, where you might have a centralized facility.
But if we open up those seven beds, that means that you have an entire nursing station there. So, the staffing costs are much higher, and that is essentially what is driving the cost - the cost of furnishing the rooms. The rooms can be reconfigured, and we've done some work there to create a bit of a dining space, and so on and so forth. The real cost comes in the programming. The real cost comes in staff, and that's what we've said that we're willing to bear, and we're going to be adapting our existing facilities accordingly.
So, presumably, when the extended care facility opens up, there would be a reassignment of staff - there would be a redeployment of some of our staff within there to better meet our needs and, very likely, a diminution of the level of care that we require currently at, say, the Thomson Centre and Macaulay. They will be returned to a different level of care.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, the Thomson Centre was designed and built under a previous NDP government. The Whitehorse General Hospital was initially designed under an NDP government, but because of the design being of the 1950s or 1960s era, it was upgraded by the Yukon Party. Its proximity to the Thomson Centre was in order to effect some cost savings in the operation and the O&M costs of both these facilities. Now, what I see this minister doing more and more is segregating those facilities that can be operated and those functions that can be utilized jointly and establishing different facilities - like the food service, currently.
Now, I'd like the minister to table the food costs breakdown and see if we're actually comparing apples to apples, because the Whitehorse General Hospital would have amortization, depreciation and replacement costs in their food service. Now, if the minister doesn't have those kind of costs breakdown in his food and is only looking at the labour costs and the food costs, he's certainly going to come up and conclude that there's going to be a cost saving.
Are we using the same method of cost accounting for both of these facilities in order to determine the cost of the food? What is the net saving to the taxpayers of the Yukon going to be? Because, Mr. Chair, when you start looking at operating two separate facilities that are adjoined to each other, there has to be a heck of an increase in cost operating two separate food services - there has to be.
For the minister to suggest, in previous questionings in this Legislature, that the kitchen and the food service outlet in the Whitehorse General Hospital couldn't provide different meals - well, that's just pure bunk because anyone who has any background or experience in food services knows that the same kitchen can produce two separate and very different meals and two different menus, and the Whitehorse General Hospital is doing it all the time on a continuing basis. Surely they have the ability to put in place another menu. I just don't think that the minister made enough effort on his part or on his officials' part to streamline these two operations, to look at dovetailing these two operations so that the benefits would be there for the residents of both facilities and the O&M costs could be streamlined and perhaps lowered in both facilities. Now, why wasn't that kind of a review undertaken, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I can tell the member that we have been endeavouring, for the past four years, to try and reach an accord with the hospital on this. The 1997-98 contribution agreement with the Whitehorse General Hospital was $240,000. We had raised issues around food quality and guarantee of service provision, and I should say that these were not questions just raised by us. I mean, we have some fairly substantial documentation from the residents at the Thomson Centre outlining concerns that they had with food and so we've attempted to resolve those kinds of issues.
In February 1998, we confirmed what the budgeted amount would be for the Thomson Centre. We submitted contracts to the Whitehorse General Hospital for review and signature. On April 21, 1998, Whitehorse General Hospital advised that it could not provide the food services for the contract amount, which was the previous amount of $240,000. Their calculated cost was $472,720, plus the extra for unit food supplies, dietician and supervisor hours. We didn't agree with the costing method. It was not been calculated as an incremental cost to already-funded service, but rather as a cost sharing on total Whitehorse General Hospital food services.
We advised that we could work out an arrangement when we countered with an offer of $290,000, recognizing, of course, that there would be some issues in terms of incremental costs. We held meetings on April 24, May 26, June 3, June 15, June 17, September 8, October 13. We could not agree on an accord. Whitehorse General Hospital suggested that costs could be reduced by a tray service and a cook-and-chill service. We didn't feel that this was acceptable to our long-term resident needs, and we have continued to try to discuss this. We have said $290,000, and essentially, that's where we are. We then proceeded to make arrangements to bring in our own food services there, and we believe that we will be able to coordinate and offer more of a homestyle kind of cooking and food delivery system.
The member seems to be of the opinion that what we're trying to do is cut the Whitehorse General Hospital out of anything. In reality, there hasn't been that intention at all.
The amalgamation of the Thomson Centre and Whitehorse General Hospital had been considered by the previous government.
It was determined that it would not be appropriate or cost-effective for the following reasons: there was no identified major savings in administrative or overhead costs. Transferring YTG employees would have been costly because, one, severance pay packages would have had to have been paid out and, two, the salary levels at the hospital are generally higher than the YTG salary levels. The hospital would have sought the difference in an increased grant.
The current YTG collective agreement, in the opinion of the union, would have made such a transfer a contracting-out situation. It would have required that those FTEs remain within YTG in the form of other positions. In reality, there would be no financial savings to YTG. This would have been seen as contracting out.
We currently share services, where it is cost-effective, and will continue to do so where it is mutually beneficial. This includes laundry, custodial, security, therapy services and pharmaceuticals. But, I think, fundamentally, we have to recognize that a long-term care facility has a different kind of delivery. There is a different kind of philosophical basis. An acute-care facility has, as its very nature, the amelioration of disease, to move people into the system and out as effectively as possible in order to create space for other individuals. A long-term care facility is precisely that. It is a place where, in some cases, people live out their remaining years or people need a different level of care. They may need a more personalized level of care. They may need a different kind of attention. They may need very special attention because of the nature of, perhaps, such conditions as dementia.
There are a couple of differences in this. I think I have referred before to those kinds of differences. Hopefully the member can see that.
When we take a look at just doing some comparative costs on this, Macaulay Lodge, which should be a comparative kind of facility to the hospital, and we take a look at the personnel, food supplies and the total, based on 50 beds, we average out to $21.48 a day. The hospital's cost is some $33.00 a day.
I should also mention that the Macaulay Lodge costs also involve such things as volunteer and family meals, special events, and Meals on Wheels. So, based on that kind of track record, we think that we can offer a service in a comparative manner at the Thomson Centre.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister still failed to answer the fundamental question. Is the method for cost accounting for the provision of meal services in the Whitehorse General Hospital the same as for the provision of food services in McDonald Lodge or Macaulay Lodge, as he referred to? He comes up with a figure of $21.40 and $33.00.
Now, are all the cost centres the same? Does it include amortization, depreciation, equipment replacement and a fixed cost for administration? Or is it just the labour, food costs and utility costs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Since we already pay for the services at Whitehorse General Hospital, I would suggest that if we roll in the amortization and capital costs, we'd be paying for it twice, if we accepted the Whitehorse General Hospital's provision that we're actually paying for our share of this, when we are already doing it through our contribution agreement with the hospital.
Why would we pay for it twice? What rationale does the member have in that? I don't know - that's an unusual accounting method, where you actually pay for something one way and then pay for it twice. But I can't see why we would do that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, for the record, could the minister state that both areas - the Whitehorse General Hospital and the Macaulay Lodge - use the same method of cost accounting to determine their food costs? Yes or no?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We haven't been able to get the full costing from the hospital on how they reach their methods. I'm advised that Options Consulting tried to do that and was unsuccessful, so I guess it's a matter of how one splits the pie.
I guess our question is, why does it go from $240 to $414, instantaneously?
We just feel that, given that we need to work at something that meets our needs better and provides us with reasonable costs for the kind of service that we need for our clients at Thomson Centre.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, let the record reflect that the answer to the question is no. There appear to be different accounting scenarios for the Whitehorse General Hospital and for Macaulay Lodge. I'd suggest to the minister that that's the crux of the whole situation. The Whitehorse General Hospital is working on a cost-recoverable accounting base, whereas all the minister's department is doing, with respect to meal services, is accounting for the cost of labour and accounting for the cost of the food product - nothing else. So, you'd have a tremendous difference because food costs are usually 28 to 30 percent of your total menu price, or your total food amount. Your labour cost usually runs about 30 percent also. So, what I see here is that there's about a third missing. That would explain virtually all of your top costs that have to be identified and that have to be addressed.
Now, the minister can run around any way he wants, but the bottom line is that the Whitehorse General Hospital probably has a better handle on what they're doing and what they're doing it for than the minister's other departments. That's the situation - which leads me to a couple of final questions on this provision of food service.
We're told that the number-one issue was quality, and the second issue was costs. Now, we've gone ahead in the Thomson Centre and installed our own kitchen. I'd like to ask the minister who he's going to blame if there are further complaints about the quality of food delivered in the Thomson Centre. Who's he going to pass the buck on to next?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We're not planning on passing the buck on to anyone. We've said that we think that we can deliver the type of service that is needed with the kind of service that our residents have told us they hope to get and we're not trying to pass the buck on to anyone. What we're trying to do is respond to some needs that have. These are issues that we have raised on an ongoing basis with the hospital. We haven't been able to come to a resolution. The options suggested by the hospital did not meet the needs for the folks that we have over at the Thomson Centre. We have said, "Okay, we will undertake to provide the service that the individuals there have asked us for."
I should tell the member that one of the significant differences between the Whitehorse General Hospital and the Thomson Centre is that their labour unit cost, as well as their food costs, are actually higher than what we have at our other institutions, so that's part of the difference and we feel that we're moving ahead to act in a responsible manner for the residents there.
Now, I've said it before and I'll say it again: an extended care facility is, by definition, more of a home. It's not a place where we warehouse people. It's not a place where we shove them in pigeon holes and leave them to their own devices. It is a home, and we have a responsibility to try to deliver the kind of service that people want when they're in the facility for a long period of time and that's what we're going to attempt to do in working with this service.
We have made a number of attempts to try to resolve this situation. I've outlined what those attempts have been. This is not a sudden thing; this is an ongoing issue we've had with the hospital, and we're going to move on what we feel is meaningful for the residents there.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister is comparing apples to oranges with respect to the financial part of this equation. The cost centres are different. The evaluations of the cost centres are different, and I think the first thing that the member should do is get a handle on the breakdown of the $33 for the meals per day from the Whitehorse General Hospital.
That's where you start. You start right at the beginning, at the basis, because the $21.40 would appear to be - and I'd like to ask the minister if his department officials can confirm it - just the incremental cost of food and labour.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, and we have attempted to get a breakdown of the costs from the hospital and have been unsuccessful - as has the consultant that was involved in the extended care functional plan.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, if the normal formula for food service holds true - and it's a one-third, one-third, one-third breakdown: one-third being labour, one-third being food costs, and one-third all your other associated costs - then the Whitehorse General Hospital; and your costs are not very far apart, Mr. Chair. In fact, there is hardly any difference in them, which leads to the other suggestion that it's more of an issue of quality. Now, why would that be the issue that would justify a change when the provision of food service is one of the hardest areas to address?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, we are advised that the type of service was also an issue there - the idea of the cook and chill. As well, there would have been costs for the additional beds and so on and so forth. So, we have made this decision.
The estimation of the costs for the seven beds, plus the day programming, would have been an additional $131,000, so we felt that, given the costs that were being quoted to us, we could not simply bear that cost. We've chosen, instead, to move in our regard.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that defies the fundamentals of mathematics. If you take one-third, one-third and one-third, the total cost to the department for providing meal service in house, with their own kitchen, is $32.10. The total cost in providing a meal service from the Whitehorse General Hospital is $33. We're 90 cents apart, per day, per person.
I can understand that that would be a significant amount of money over a period of time, but how is the minister going to amortize an entire kitchen and run an entire department with those incremental cost increases? That's what we're talking about when we start to analyze the minister's own figures.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I think there are issues around quality, service delivery, and so on, that we brought forward. I think the issue is, quite frankly, that when we attempted to keep our costs within restraint, we were advised that the costs were going to rise quite dramatically. When we attempted to reach resolution on this, as well as issues, such as service and guarantees of service, as well as questions around additional costs for additional programming, and things like that, we just made a conclusion that the cost was too high for what we were getting.
That's the decision we've made. I can tell the member that the decision to move in this regard has been welcomed by our residents council because those people have been raising issues of this kind for quite a while. We feel that we have a responsibility to these folks, and that's what we're going to do.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the minister, in his previous department portfolio, said that the government was buying from Sunspun Shopping Service, versus Sunspun Food Service. There is about a nine- to eleven-point spread in the acquisition of product from the different facilities. All of your dairy is considerably higher this year than last year, as is all of your produce. Now, you just take those two factors and throw them in to this equation, it skews all the numbers the minister has brought forward, because they're based on looking backwards. They're not based on looking ahead as to what the marketplace is doing today and tomorrow. Food and food service is extremely volatile in cost.
The other issue surrounds the issue of quality. Now, I'm not saying that it's going to happen here today, but the same issue is going to arise in the Thomson Centre, with its own facility in house, that people are not going to be 100-percent happy with the provision of the food service there.
Now, we can't blame the Whitehorse Hospital. We have to shoulder the responsibility ourselves, In house, in our own department. Now, I know the minister's not very happy and comfortable, and he doesn't like to do those kinds of things, saying, "We've made a mistake", or "We're doing something wrong."
What is the minister going to do then, when the buck is right in his court, it's his people, in his own department, right under his care and control, that have made a mistake? And the quality of the product coming out of the Thomson Centre's kitchen slips, and the people and the residents in the Thomson Centre are complaining about the quality of food service?
Because it's going to happen. And it's going to happen - it might not be this week or next week, or this year or next year - but it's going to happen. Because it always happens in the food service.
What's the minister going to do then?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would suggest, Mr. Chair, that the ability of the residents in this case to bring forward concerns, and for us to act on those concerns, is far greater enhanced than if we had to deal with bringing concerns to the hospital, and those concerns would impact on the overall operation of a much larger organization.
As well, I would suggest that this is currently how we operate at Macaulay. There's a residents council there and so on, and we are able to respond in a fairly timely manner to concerns. We do the same thing at the young offenders facility as well. Whenever we have concerns, we can adapt menus and change our needs. For example, one of the things that I would suggest would be that having our own facilities might allow us some liberty in terms of, say, special events or things of that nature to enhance people's quality of life. I think that we'll probably have a greater ability to respond to any concerns. Is it going to be completely free of concern? No.
The member has familiarity with the food service industry, and my family's background has been in the food service industry at various times and I can tell him that there are always complaints, there are always concerns, but I would suggest that our ability to respond to those concerns is considerably enhanced by us having the ability to direct the program itself.
Chair: Do the members wish to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a 10-minute recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is there further debate on Health and Social Services?
Mr. Jenkins: Well, Mr. Chair, one of the better facilities that is operated for the Government of the Yukon in the food service area is our own cafeteria here in this government building. Its quality and its costs are very, very reasonable. The quality of the food is there, and the pricing is certainly some of the best you can find.
Now, I'd like to ask the minister why for the provision of food service in the Thomson Centre it wasn't considered to be put out to contract, similar to the cafeteria here in the government building? Why wasn't that avenue explored, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm advised that it was put out for tender about three or four years ago and that the only people who responded at that time was the hospital.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, that was three years ago. Why was it discounted and ruled right out to lunch right now, Mr. Chair? Why wasn't it explored further?
Here's a government that says, "We want to develop the private sector." We've got a Minister of Economic Development - more aptly called "Economic Devastation" - running all over the world, promoting the incentives and the opportunities here in the Yukon, and here's the government doing everything in-house. If it's not done by the government, it's not undertaken by anyone else in the private sector. They don't even give the private sector the opportunity to bid on it - "It was looked at three years ago."
I want to know why the minister didn't go out to the public and see if there was an expression of interest to operate the food service in the Thomson Centre. Why wasn't that done?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, as I told the member before, it was considered at an earlier point and there was a little response. I think one of the things that probably was an issue for us was the need to resolve this issue. As I said, we've been continuing on for a very substantial amount of time on this debate, back and forth, with the hospital, and we simply made the decision that we could deliver it in the same manner that we currently deliver at Macaulay.
I guess the suggestion would be that he would like, once again, to see Macaulay services privatized. That's in keeping with the entire focus that we've heard this afternoon of the Yukon Party seeking the privatization of health care in this territory.
I would remind him that these folks that are going to be taken on at the Thomson Centre are going to be union members. I would suggest that, with his zeal to privatize, he will be probably next be seeking a privatizing of the hospital food services and probably privatization of the Macaulay food services and, no doubt, what else? I would suggest that his approach is extremely consistent with this whole desire to privatize the health care system. I'm sure that there are many people who would probably take exception to that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, thank you, Mr. Chair. The minister's bafflegab is getting to be quite entertaining. But, the bottom line, Mr. Chair, is that the Government of the Yukon is going out and looking at constructing and operating a $14.2 million continuing care facility, with no offer to the private sector to design, build or operate - no expression of interest whatsoever. We have the issue of the Thomson Centre going it alone with the provision of food service.
There is no expression of interest whatsoever to the private sector to operate the food facility, which leads one to the conclusion that this government is only paying lip service to their position that they support the private sector. But what are they doing about it? The government must do it all. They must build it all, and they must operate it all, and it virtually all must be in Whitehorse. That's where we're at with this government, Mr. Chair.
Now, I'd like to know from the minister - I'd like him to stand up and explain - why he didn't go out to the private sector for an expression of interest to operate the food service in the Thomson Centre. Why did he rely on something that occurred three years previously?
Three years ago they went out and that's what the minister's hanging his hat on. That's bunk. The minister knows full well. They'd never rely on a report that was three years old to substantiate anything else, Mr. Chair, unless it was in their best interests and it served their political purpose. I'd suggest to the minister that that's exactly what this is doing.
Now, can the minister explain why there was no opportunity to go out there? Why he didn't take it upon himself to try and find somebody in the private sector to operate the facility?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, it seems to me that privatization seems to have a measure of selectiveness in the member's mind. I guess if we extrapolate from the member's great vision, why doesn't the private sector undertake the building of a bridge in Dawson? Why is the member so insistent that that be a government project? Why can't it be a private project? If the member is so insistent on privatization, I guess he would privatize the health care system wherever he can.
With respect to why we've undertaken this project - with all due respect to the folks in the cafeteria, I think they do an excellent job in terms of providing food services here and probably in other institutional settings, such as schools and so on - what we have is a care facility that has special needs for the residents there and will have special adapted menus and so on and so forth. So, we feel that this is what we need to do. We need to be able to adjust the program as we need it.
Now, the member was going on earlier on - and perhaps this is sort of an appropriate segue - talking about the comparative accommodation rates in continuing care facilities and long-term care facilities across Canada. Now, presumably, and I'm just presuming here, that when he mentions this -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Oh, so now the member can make comparisons for Government Services but he can't get into this kind of information.
Let's just take a look at the comparisons. Now, these are rates charged back to residents. In Newfoundland, the rates run about $2,800 a month, and that's of July 1996. This rate is 70 percent of the actual cost, including the fixed cost mortgage of running the facility.
In New Brunswick, it runs $87 to $118 per diem, or $2,646 to $3,590 a month. In Nova Scotia, it runs $42 to $161 per diem, and that's in one class of facilities. In the private facilities it runs $69 to $129 a day. So, it runs about $2,099 to $3,924. In P.E.I., it's $65 to $105 per diem, or $1,977 to $3,194 a month. In Quebec, it runs $777, depending on if it's just standard. Semi-private runs $1,045. Private runs $1,251 month. In Ontario, it runs $44.29 to $58.29 per day, or $1,347 to $1,733 a month. And it's gone up since then, I'm advised. There is also a notation here that financial assistance is not available to residents in semi-private or private rooms. That's interesting. In Manitoba, it is $24.60 to $57 per diem, or $748 to $1,773 per month. In Saskatchewan, it is $756 to $980 per month, and a minimum rate applies to $891 of income. The rate increases by 50 cents up to the income of $980. In Alberta, this is $24.75 to $28.60. In B.C., it is $23.90 to $38 per diem, or $727 to $1,156 a month. This minimum rate applies up to $11,000 income. With a one-dollar increase in income, the rate increases by 50 cents. In the Northwest Territories it is $712 a month.
Now, we come to the Yukon, the place where the member would like to privatize everything and like to turn it loose, and damn the cost to the individuals, let's just let the whole thing ride, toss the dice and see how the free market deals.
Now, we've got some indications here. The list I've read seems to indicate where the average is. We come down here to ourselves, and it's $18.21 a day or $548 to $639 a month. Now, that rate is less than the OAS and GIS combined. So, I guess what the member is suggesting is that we've done an abysmal job of keeping rates at a reasonable rate - I would suspect that not only are we the lowest in Canada, I would probably suspect that we are the lowest in North America.
I would suggest that the member, in his rush to privatize, would probably like to take somewhere around $2,000 a month, because that, after all, would be in keeping with the privatization of the system. Probably, he thinks that someone on an old-age pensioner or a very fixed income can squeeze out $2,000 a month, and well, if they can't, that's just their tough luck.
So, here we have the great rush to privatize, but people don't factor in that, in the member's mind.
Just while we're on it, I've heard the member talk about privatizing the running of extended care facilities and continuing care facilities in Whitehorse, but, you know, I haven't heard him make that suggestion about Dawson. I haven't heard him suggest that maybe the food services there should be run by, well, maybe one of the hotels in Dawson City.
So, there seems to be a little bit of a dichotomy between what the member is suggesting and what he actually feels. I would be interested in finding out if he feels that we should be privatizing McDonald Lodge at this point.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, the question to the minister was, why didn't the minister seek public input, and go for an expression of interest with respect to the provision of food service at the Thomson Centre. Why didn't the minister look at that avenue, or explore that avenue, while they were installing the kitchen?
Why wasn't that avenue explored?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I notice that the member once again has deftly skipped around his position with regard to Dawson. My gosh, he would be afraid of alienating a few constituents up there. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, and in this case this gander here is trying to squawk his way around the farmyard without taking a position.
The member has suggested we didn't look into this. We had some experience earlier. We also have some particular needs that we feel we could deliver. We have, I guess, a model, if you will, with regard to Macaulay Lodge, that we feel, by operating in a similar manner, we could probably provide a good level of service for our clients, as well as a good level of care for the folks over there. That's why we chose to do it.
Now, he's once again asked us to privatize everything, to lay off workers, to give staff at the Thomson Centre and Macaulay and McDonald Lodge the boot. He doesn't really seem to care what those costs to seniors might be. He doesn't seem to care that, in his mad rush to privatize, he may not only be impacting on people's lives in the present by urging the getting rid of workers, but also looking at the idea, in privatizing such a facility, that it would probably result in higher costs being charged to the residents of any facility in the future.
You know, one of the things that he's ignored - he suggested that the private sector could build, own and run such a facility. Now, he's chattered on, at substantial length, about the need to recover costs. Now, just presume that a company were to suddenly decide to build a $10- or $12-million facility. I would suggest that not only would they have to recover their operating costs, but they would also have to recover their capital costs. They would have to cover their costs of borrowing, servicing that debt, and so on, and so forth. My question would be: where would that cost be borne? Would that cost be borne by the government? In other words, should the territorial government then be expected to bear the capitalization costs of a private facility, as well as operational costs, or should the private company, in this case, bear the costs of their own capitalization?
Now, if they were to do that, I would suggest that there would need to be an element of recovery in some form, and I would suggest that that form of recovery would probably be in the term of the per diem. What the member is suggesting is that a private operation - and we have some evidence to the contrary because this is an average of not only public, but private, costs throughout Canada - what I see the member suggesting is that we move to a much higher cost to the actual residents, that we go into charging people $2,000 or $3,000 a month. That's what I see him suggesting. That's what I see him moving toward.
I can tell him that, right now, I don't think that's doable in this territory, and I would suggest that he really needs to rethink his priorities because this ongoing slavish, Pavlovian fixation on privatizing the health care system is going to result in impacting negatively on people's lives.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, after that load of bunk that the minister has left in his farmyard, I don't know where he's coming from or where he's going. No one on this side of the House has suggested that we privatize any of the existing facilities. I'll make that abundantly clear to the minister: no one is suggesting we privatize any of the existing facilities.
What is being suggested, Mr. Chair, is the new undertaking of this government - the construction of the 74-bed continuing care facility - be put out in the private sector for an expression of interest because these kinds of facilities are being constructed and operated in other areas of Canada and they're being done in the private sector.
The other area that we're exploring with the minister, which he has failed to give an adequate reason for, is the new food service that was set up in the Thomson Centre. Why wasn't that explored as an opportunity in the private sector? It wasn't even looked at; it wasn't even entertained. That's where this side of the House is coming from, Mr. Chair, and I want to make that abundantly clear.
What the minister is attempting to say, if I hear him correctly - because what he's suggesting doesn't make any sense - is that, for a facility to be cost-effective, it has to be run by the government and that is bunk. Non-profit organizations and the private sector have proven time and time and time again that they can do the job equally as well and, in a lot of cases, better and in a lot of cases, in a more cost-effective manner. The minister knows this full well, but what we are looking at here is just developing an NDP philosophy that it has to be done by the government. There is no other way. It has to be done by the government or a government agency.
Now, the reality of the situation in most parts of Canada where facilities are operated by government is they are not looking at full cost recovery. That the facility be operated in the Yukon by the private sector, that the input of residents be determined by a government or government agency, and that the cost per day be set by the government agency - that wouldn't change. The government could set any rates that they want. They're not cost recovered in the Yukon today, nor would they be under the operation being constructed and built and maintained by the private sector. There would be no difference.
Right now, a lot of the costs are buried in the government itself, and to get a handle on some of these costs is virtually impossible, especially now that we have a NDP calculator over there with this minister.
Now, at least if the facility were operated in the private sector and the input of the residents was controlled by the government and the rates charged to the residents were controlled by the government, we'd have a true handle on what the cost to the government would be of maintaining that facility.
But the minister can't see that. The minister is blinded by this NDP government position that the government must do it all, that there's no need for the private sector. They don't even want the private sector around.
Now, why doesn't the minister get it? There are wonderful opportunities here for a private partnership that could be cost-effective and could save the government considerable sums of dollars. The minister won't even entertain it and won't even explore it. Why not, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, for a person who initially was questioning the rationale or even the need for this, all of a sudden he's in a great rush to put it out to the private sector. This phantom project that we have here now has some attractiveness. Now, he's changing his tack a little bit.
The member is suggesting, as I'm taking it, that we now, in our rates for this complex, try to recover, from the residents, our capital costs. Is that it?
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, so he's not suggesting that we try to recover our capital costs. Therefore, if we follow his analogy, or his line of thinking, a private company coming in and building this $10-, $12- or $14-million facility, would have to recover the capital costs. In other words, what we would be asked to do - we, as a government - in terms of our daily rate, would also be asked to subsidize the capital costs of this complex. We would have to pay a premium for that, as well. So, he's suggesting that we not only pay our existing per diem, and perhaps an adjusted per diem, but we also add in the capital costs for this structure.
Now, I'm not sure why we would do this, if we don't bill the capital costs to our residents. So, I'm not really sure where he's going with this, except that it's very consistent with the theme that we've heard recurring today; that this is a party that seems bound, bent and determined on the idea of privatizing the health care system. That is the recurring theme that I've heard today.
I think we're really beginning to see what the Yukon Party's position is in terms of health care. Deliver it in a private manner, and if people get lost in the shuffle or get trampled along the way, that's fine. It's the same kind of social Darwinism that we see from these guys on a regular basis.
I would suggest that the member has ignored issues around staffing, around standards, around the whole concept of a continuum of care. He seems bound, bent and determined that he wants to privatize the system. That may come as a surprise to some of his constituents in Dawson, who would probably find themselves - some of those fine people who worked at McDonald Lodge. As a matter of fact, I met a couple of those people just in the last couple of days, and I didn't hear them saying, "We'd like to give up our job and have that whole thing privatized." I didn't hear that. Maybe I was missing something.
But, we will take note of the fact that the member is charging ahead with his desire to privatize the health care system. We'll take note of that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No doubt he probably wants to move to a two-tier system. We'll take note of the fact to our friends in the government Yukon Employees Union that the member's bound, bent and determined to have these services privatized. That, by definition, would mean a reduction in positions and would mean a change in rates.
We will let them know that, so that they can make their own decision as to what they see about the validity of this. Probably what they would do - if I were them, I would likely advise some of my members in some areas such as McDonald Lodge that the Member for Klondike has taken the position of privatizing the health care system, and that they should be aware of this when forming their future political considerations.
All I've really heard from the member has been this idea of, "Let's take it out to the private sector; let's take it out to the private sector; let's take it out to the private sector." We have tried to explain, in a variety of ways that, first of all, the nature of this extended care really does require a bit of a critical mass. It does require a level of financial contribution that the private sector is, I don't think, particularly rushing to do.
Is there an area for the private sector? Yes, I think there is, and particularly in the lower level care. I think there are issues around private sector care. There are, I think, issues for NGOs. I think there are issues for service clubs in this area. We'd be certainly supportive. We see those as being complementary to what we're suggesting.
I will say that we haven't had a lot of people kind of thundering toward the idea of level 3, 4 or 5 care. Since we announced this, I haven't had people call me up, very upset that we're not privatizing level 3, 4 or 5 care. I just haven't had it. Nor have I had people being particularly concerned about this.
If anything, what I've had are comments from people saying, "Thank goodness, the government is moving ahead in this regard," "Thank goodness, that they see the need," "Thank goodness, that there is going to be something there for my elderly relatives, or for people who need it in the future." That's what I'm hearing, and yet the member persists in this idea of wanting to privatize the system.
I can tell him that privatization - a two-tier medical system - is not on our cards; it's not on our agenda, and we are going to move ahead in a manner to provide to people in this territory the service that is needed, at the most affordable rate possible. We already have the most affordable rate possible in Canada, and we're going to continue to strive for that.
Mr. Jenkins: That made no sense whatsoever - the diatribe that the minister spewed out in the House here. The area that we're looking at is the new facilities. No one on this side of the House is suggesting that we privatize existing facilities. What we're looking at are the new facilities. Now, let's just look -
Chair: Order please.
Mr. Jenkins: - at this new facility, this 74-bed continuing care facility.
Has the minister explored a design-build, turnkey-type facility in the private sector? Are we going to go ahead with hiring an architect like we have done, and then all the change orders, and by the time we finish with a $14.2 million estimate it's half again, whereas we could go out for a design-build? The government is adamant that they are going to do it themselves. They're not going to allow the private sector into this whatsoever. Have they explored a design-build, turnkey?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I would ask the member who he is really supposing is going to build this. The last time I checked with Government Services, I don't think we had a construction company on the books. Who is he actually suggesting will build this? Is he suggesting that that won't be the private sector? Is he suggesting that there won't be Yukon tradespeople involved? Is he suggesting that there won't be Yukon suppliers on this? Who is he suggesting will build this?
We are going to put out a contract to build a structure that meets our needs, that meets our expectations, that meets Yukon hire standards and things of this nature, but also meets the goals that we have inherent in this program. That's what we're going to do.
We're going to put it out for tender. We're going to design it. We're going to design it because we feel the process needs input from individuals, from professionals in the health care field. That's what we're going to do.
Now he's moved from the idea of having the private sector run it to now a design-build, so he's hopping around the map here. We have said that we're going to go ahead and build this.
Now, what I find phenomenal is that the member here and his party have been suggesting putting yet more money in capital works, more money. I think that the leader of the official opposition said, "A mere $9 million more in the capital budget; we could vote for it. We could vote for it."
So, we're suggesting we're putting money into the economy - and no, no, you don't want to put money into the economy, you want to design-build. You don't want to put any government money into it. So, what are they getting at? They can't really make up their minds. On one hand, they want more capital spending; on the other hand they want less capital spending. I'm at a bit of a loss on this.
I'm sure that the member is also aware of the fact that, in general, lease costs work out to a greater amount over the life of a structure than actually purchasing or building it yourself and running it yourself. I'm sure he's aware of that.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, is the minister familiar with the term "turnkey"? That's what I'm suggesting at this juncture. Now, is that avenue being explored for this structure?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, our needs are very, very specific on this, and we haven't looked at the idea of a turnkey. What we want to do is develop this in way that meets the needs that we have for our clients. We want to have the ability to make adaptations as we go through the planning and design process, and that's what we have chosen to do.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, this government's track record with designing and constructing buildings are that there are a lot of cost overruns and change orders, and all of these costs are borne by the taxpayers, whereas if you got involved in a design-built, turnkey type of arrangement, you know upfront what your total costs are going to be. The track record in the business community, by this government and NDP governments in other western regions of Canada, is very, very dismal as to their business ability on how to manage contracts.
So, we can't look at the whole project being put out and even explored in the private sector. That's a no-no, despite this government's position that, "We support the private sector, we care what they are up to but we really are not going to give them any opportunities. Government must own, construct and operate these facilities."
That's what the minister is saying - not even exploring it, but, at this juncture, it looks like the agenda is set. There is still an opportunity to do it on a turnkey-type basis. Other Government Services contracts that have been let on a turnkey basis have been quite successful. Now, why are we not exploring a turnkey-type arrangement for this building?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, quite frankly, the scope of this project is somewhat different. This is not an office building. We're not going to put these folks in little cubicles. We're not going to warehouse people, for gosh sakes.
Is the member actually suggesting that $14.2 million is not indeed money going into the economy? Is that what he's suggesting? Is he suggesting that the $14.2 million that will be spent in this territory in the private sector will not go into the pockets of private individuals? Is he suggesting that there will not be Yukon workers working on this, that there will not be Yukon suppliers working on this? He has suggested that $14.2 million is being frittered away, I guess, just by virtue of us putting it into the economy.
I don't know. I mean, I'm looking forward to this project actually contributing positively to the economy in this territory, and I feel it will. I just can't understand the rationale of this member, except that he seems to be sort of locked into this idea of probably building a building that really doesn't take into account the needs we have and the special kind of programming that we'll be offering in this structure. Instead, he persists in just nattering on, on this same theme.
We'll note, as well, that he doesn't feel we should be investing further money in the capital budget in this territory. Instead, he feels that we should be putting it out for a design-build and leasing back, thereby increasing the costs or the length of the building and not putting the money into the economy.
We've said that we've got $14.2 million that we're willing to commit, and that's what we intend to do.
Mr. Jenkins: Well, it's starting off at $14.2 million. We'll see, in a couple of years, where we'll end up, Mr. Chair - what kind of a facility we have, and what the ongoing O&M costs are.
The minister brought forth some information about a comparison of seniors costs in facilities across Canada. Could I ask the minister to table that information for the record? I know he read parts of it in, but I'd ask that he table it.
I'd also ask that the minister provide - I know what our seniors are paying for their stay in our various facilities - what the actual O&M costs are, and how the formula is derived, because we're not on full cost recovery in the Yukon. It's costs that I agree with. It retains our seniors up here, and it provides them with a very good standard of care at a very good cost.
Now, I'm not in disagreement with that, but I think we should have a handle on what our actual O&M costs are and whether the cost accounting is done in a similar fashion to other jurisdictions in Canada. In a lot of other areas in Canada - while they are fully cost recoverable, including the capital costs of the facilities - a lot of the individuals do not pay the full costs; it's subsidized by various levels of government. I've had an aunt who stayed in a facility in Calgary. She reached almost her 100th birthday, so for the level of care she received, and the cost she received it at, she was extremely well looked after, at a very, very low cost.
And that's fine. The same thing goes with care facilities in the eastern parts of Canada. Most of the individuals residing in these facilities are not paying the full cost of the facilities. It's subsidized to a great extent by government.
So, I'd like a comparison done here in the Yukon as to what individuals are actually paying, and what the actual costs are, and let's not forget the capital costs compared to the other facilities in Canada. Can the minister undertake to provide that information, Mr. Chair?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I'll provide this for the member. I'll do a cleaned-up copy, because it's got stuff written all over it.
But I'm advised that, at the Thomson Centre, the cost is about $220 a day - the actual, true cost. The recovery on this would probably range at, say, $18 to $20. We'd have to do a bit of a further analysis to take a look at Macaulay and some others to see the comparative cost there, but we can provide that to the member. It will take a bit of time in that regard. This I can provide for the member as soon as I get a cleaned-up copy.
I think that it's fair to say, on an anecdotal basis, that I have talked with some other jurisdictions, and we've found, for example, in some institutions in Ontario that the cost varies. In some cases, you've got fraternal organizations or church organizations that may partially subsidize the cost.
In some areas, it's based on - because there are so many health jurisdictions there, it varies in Ontario, and some health districts base it on the level of care. So, you base it on the level of care. So, you go to level 1 and you pay so much; level 2, so much, and so on. In some cases, we're advised that the average is somewhere around $2,000 a month, if you factor in the costs.
So, what we've attempted to do is, yes, eat some of the costs here. We're probably eating the vast majority of the costs, but we feel that's something we can do and we should be doing to assist those people who do need that level of service.
Chair: Order please. The time being about 5:30 p.m., Committee will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there any further general debate on the Department of Health and Social Services?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Mr. Chair, the Member for Klondike asked for a copy of the interprovincial comparisons of accommodation rates, so I've made one for both critics, if I could just pass these over to the members.
I just want to give some further information on some of the issues having to do with young people being sent out of the territory, specifically with alcohol treatment programs. In 1997-98, two teenage girls were sent out for alcohol treatment. In 1998-99, we sent two youths - one male, one female - for out-of-territory alcohol treatment programs.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, prior to the break, we were having a lively discussion about continuing care facilities in the Yukon and the potential continuing care facilities in the Yukon. For the 74-bed continuing care facility that is going to be built, the minister has indicated that there is going to be or there is already a functional plan done for that facility.
I wonder if he can give us a few details. How many beds are we looking at for respite, how many for palliative care and what level are we looking at for continuing care? It is for level 4 and 5, I think. Is the majority going to be level 4? Perhaps I can get a bit more detail on that.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The plan is in its final stages. I can get some numbers in terms of what's being projected in breakouts. What I should emphasize is that 74 is the low-end number, and actually it's designed to go up to about 100. Seventy-four will be the initial stage, but it will be designed to add on to - up to about 98, I believe. So, it'll start at 74 but incrementally grow, and we planned that because, as we know, the population will go up.
What I'll try to do is get you some figures. I don't have the functional plan here, but I can pull it out and see what's being suggested in terms of some numbers.
In terms of levels of care, it will be a level 3, 4, 5. Probably, the majority of the residents will be in level 4, I would just venture on past experience.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, it's starting to get really spooky in here because my next question was, "What were the plans for expansion at some point in the future?" It just goes to show that we spend far too much time together in this Legislature.
The issue that keeps coming up is the issue around food services. So, Mr. Chair, to go back to the issue of the continuing care facility, we've been speaking about food services, in particular, up at the Thomson Centre. One of the issues I brought up with the minister on a couple of occasions is the fact that we don't really have any standards. There are standards at the hospital, and they've been set partly through the accreditation process for the facility.
What are we going to be doing to develop standards, not only for the new facility, but also for the Thomson Centre and Macaulay, and for McDonald Lodge in Dawson City?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, this is extremely sensitive. I can give the member just a little bit of information on that. Actually, I have just done up a letter to the member that's going out to her on the whole topic of food service. I will read from this to save her the anticipation and excitement: "The department has just completed a review of continuing care standards and regulations across Canada. Setting standards for food services, as well as other programs, is an important part of this service provision. We will be spending considerable time over the next few years to ensure that this is done."
So, in other words, what we're doing is looking at what the standards are for continuing care, including food services, and probably being guided by principles in other areas. We will be working - I believe we had some things here regarding some other issues on dietary services, which I can provide for the member probably tomorrow.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, one of the issues that we also spoke about briefly this afternoon was the issue around privatizing of food services in the Thomson Centre. I do know that I had a relative, for example, who just passed away and who was in a home in Ontario, and the food services in that facility were privatized, and I know that in the one that my grandmother had been in, the housekeeping had been privatized. So, you sort of take a little bit here and a little bit there, but in fact both places were run by the Government of Ontario. Have we looked at that possibility? Is it possible that we might get a mixed bag, if you will, of services?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, in a sense we do. There were a number of services for a long period of time that were, sort of, tendered out. Lately, because of the proximity of the hospital, we've tended to buy those services from the hospital - things such as laundry. It is something that probably could be looked at. For example, if we were to, as is being projected, reconfigure our continuing care facility so that, for example, we developed an extended care facility - but quite clearly, the Thomson would still be there. It would probably be used for a lower-demand type of resident and the staff would travel over there.
That really leaves, at this point, the question of - since the Macaulay Lodge would then return to more of a lodge-type facility, and we've had some discussions with Yukon Housing about the possibility of them taking over and running that as a lodge-type facility - there may be some capacity there for them to look at contracting with somebody to provide some limited food services.
I will have to take a look with - you know, as we move through this process, obviously we are going to need services of our own. But there may be some capacity as the structure changes for some things within that.
We're still continuing to contract for services with the hospital in terms of security and laundry and pharmaceuticals and things of that nature. We don't know, for example, what this new facility will bring in terms of additional demands, in terms of additional needs, perhaps in terms of issues such as security or other services, so we'll just have to monitor that one as we go along.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the Thomson Centre kitchen takes up quite a bit of area. Previously, in that spot there had been a lovely lounge - nice and bright and sunny - and an awful lot of activities took place in that area. What are the plans to replace that recreation area within the facility?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We don't anticipate, for example, that there will be a tremendous amount of change at this point. What will happen, I suppose, as we move to another extended care facility within that, we're planning on spaces for day programming, as well. So hopefully, what that will do is that will provide that type of programming for the residents, and I have to emphasize we're two years off that.
With regard to what Thomson would become - since we would be dealing with the different clientele, there would different sort of recreational needs - one of the things that I would hope by perhaps a reconfiguring of the Thomson Centre is that some of the residents could take advantage of some of the services at the Thomson, which currently the present residents might not have the ability to do.
For example, over at the Thomson Centre, there's waist-level gardening areas around the side, and we would hope that some people could take advantage of those kinds of activities. I think there are opportunities in terms of some of the occupational therapy kinds of facilities and so on.
We believe that, with the change in clientele at the Thomson Centre, there will be more advantages for recreational and social-opportunity use of the Thomson Centre, with a different kind of clientele.
Mrs. Edelman: I guess I'm kind of confused, because the gardens I know about - that I've helped out with - are actually at Macaulay Lodge. The minister is talking about the flowerbeds, as opposed to the vegetable gardens, which are the ones I was familiar with at Macaulay Lodge.
Once again, if we don't have any room to do those activities, and you know of course that most of our activities have to take place indoors because of our weather. Is there a plan, perhaps further south in the building, to develop that area as a recreation area?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I understand what the member is referring to when she says the south end.
There are spaces down there that could lend themselves to, say, additional socializing areas - some additional recreation areas. And, I think with a sort of more ambulatory population, it will provide some opportunities. There is some scope for development - not patient or resident rooms per se, but there is some scope with some of the common areas in, as the member refers to, the south end.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the minister spoke earlier about the children's ward in the Thomson Centre. That actually does not exist, although there was one room that was used continually by one child, who is no longer with us.
One of the concerns that I've heard - and as the minister is aware, I was very involved with it and was actually the chair of the Evergreen Respite Home task force - is that there is no opportunity for family to become involved. A lot of times, parents would like to stay overnight with their child if it's possible, much like they do in the hospital, but there was never that opportunity in the Thomson Centre, the way it's laid out now.
Are we looking at this need, which is usually only level 3, in either the new continuing care facility or keeping it at the Thomson Centre?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: As we're envisaging it, we would move that aspect to the new extended care, and we are looking at that area as being somewhat expanded. Now, I'm not sure, I'd have to go back and check, but I think there is some capacity for additional respite within that. I'd have to go back and take a look at the functional plan, but we are looking at that as being part of the new facility rather than the Thomson Centre.
I guess if I had to project ahead what I would see for the Thomson Centre, I would see more of the traditional Macaulay Lodge sort of population being at the Thomson Centre because of the layout and so on, with probably the more advanced Macaulay patients being part of our new extended care-type complex.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I wonder if I could bend the minister's ear for just a second and talk about how important it is to have an area that's exclusively for children.
The school of thought goes back and forth as to whether they should be together or whether they should be apart, and one of the concerns around children particularly who have severe brain damage is that they can't defend themselves. They are usually almost tied into wheelchairs because they have to be supported in the wheelchair and it's not a good idea for them to be around Alzheimer patients, for example, who on occasion act out inappropriately in a number of different ways, and sometimes violently. I wonder if part of the plan is to look at that as a separate need.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Yes, to be very frank, we're looking at sort of a separate unit now depending, of course, on the configuration of the building. There could be a separate pod but, yes, we're looking at that as being a separate unit, just as a special care unit. It would be a special unit isolated from others. Because the member is quite right, individuals with dementia not only are not appropriate to mix with younger individuals, but they even pose a bit of a problem for other individuals of a similar age.
So, no, we would want to make sure that these areas are kept separate and distinct and particularly for children, because I think one of the things that I've heard from the Evergreen folks is that, I guess, they would like to have an area that sort of reflects children and is perhaps not quite so institutional. I think we're going to try to take these kinds of factors into account when we design it. I'm sure there are things that can be done just with colours and a variety of things just to make the place somewhat more appealing for children and for families, because there are obviously siblings and, as the member has noted, parents coming there so you want to keep it as much of a family or a welcoming kind of situation and on less of an institutional kind of basis.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I think that the minister has a really good grasp of what the Evergreen task force group has been saying for a number of years. The other issue, of course, is the number of children who are surviving is increasing with these very severe brain injuries in a lot of cases and if that continues and those numbers increase, and, of course, as technology marches on, that is obviously a need that will only increase in the future again.
One of the other issues that we talked about this afternoon briefly was the issue around the hospital and the sharing of services. Can the minister tell us how many people were going to be laid off in the process of changing over the food services?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The Hospital Corporation has advised that their direct reductions and cost-savings, by not providing the service, will be - now, this is just an estimate by the Hospital Corporation - between $150,000 to $180,000 in payroll. Now, originally we were told that we would be looking at two casuals. I think what's interesting is the number of people who have applied for the positions at the Thomson Centre. I believe that we had some 100 for the cooks' helper and 50 for some of the cooks positions. So, obviously there are some opportunities there but we haven't really got a definite number. As I said, initially the hospital was talking about two casuals. So, they haven't advised us on what their changes are in that regard.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, it sounds like there are an awful lot of very skilled people out there that could work at the hospital, of course, as well as at the new $100,000 kitchen at the Thomson Centre.
The kitchen that was built at the hospital cost well over $1 million, and it cost us quite a bit of money to support it on an ongoing basis. There is still a real problem trying to justify having a $100,000 kitchen just feet away from a $1-million kitchen in the hospital that was also built by Yukon taxpayer dollars, and I have a real concern that we didn't work as hard as we could have to negotiate a deal with the hospital.
I know that the minister has told us that on four different occasions they met and tried to work out a deal, and it didn't work. What about with the continuing care facility? Is there any possibility that the new continuing care facility might be located on the hospital campus?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It is one of the sites that we have identified. However, just as a bit of a cautionary note on that - that is the smallest of all the sites that we have identified. There are probably only 3.3 acres, and it would do a couple of things. One would be that it would take a large chunk of the parking available for some of the other buildings on the hospital road there. As well, the nature of the site, being as small as it is, would limit some of the opportunities that we would have in terms of how we can build and, quite frankly, it would limit any opportunities whatsoever of expansion there for the hospital and any future health facilities or for an extended care facility.
That is one of the things, I think, that we do want to keep in mind. It is a concern - the lack of space over there and, as well, the rather precipitous drop that occurs right at the edge. We don't want people rolling out the doors and falling down.
The actual cost for the kitchen at the Thomson Centre will come in at about $77,000. We have striven, as the members noted, on a number of occasions, to try and get some resolution on this. We have really tried, in many ways, to get this issue resolved. Our preference would have been to get something that would have been acceptable to us all, both for ourselves, in terms of the kinds of needs that we have for our clients and also in terms of costs and for the hospital. But, unfortunately, despite very prodigious efforts, we just haven't been able to reach that. Now, we are still looking at sharing other services.
The Member for Porter Creek South has suggested that we just tell them to get along. Now, that works well in a family, but sometimes we haven't been able to reach it with our friends in the Hospital Corporation. But we are interested in future sharing of services. We've indicated to the hospital that we're interested in continuing on working relationships in other areas. And who knows? There may come a point at which we can look at even increased sharing of services at a future point.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the figures the minister is saying and some other ones I've heard - you know, in a very small community like Whitehorse - are incredibly different. When is the final completion date for the kitchen? When is it going to start to be used? And I wonder if I could have a copy of the final figures on the renovation?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm advised that we're about ready to go for April 1, which is when our contract ends, and I can provide the member with some figures on the actual renovation costs for the Thomson Centre.
A couple of the costs, actually, were driven by some recommendations from Occupational Health and Safety, in terms of ventilation and things of that. As a matter of fact, the major expense, which was the vented hood, was driven by Occupational Health. That was not part of the original plan, but we were advised that we had to do it.
Mrs. Edelman: It's inevitable that there's always something that comes up. I'd like to move on to a different topic.
Can the minister update us on what the waiting list is right now for hearing services?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The current waiting list - I have to remind the member that this is as of February 6, 1999 - for the hearing clinic is as follows: new referrals are 139. We're currently booking clients who were referred in mid-June. Reassessments are 259 - booking clients referred in July 1998. Pre-schoolers are being given priority. Most of the bookings that hearing services conducts are monthly middle-ear impedance at the Child Development Centre to monitor high-risk children.
Children are also being followed by the hearing clinic for hearing problems, booked for reassessment each fall. Children with hearing infections are reassessed as needed to monitor them, and this accounts for a large part of the high numbers of reassessments. So, the number that I indicated before - the 259 - are primarily made up of children who are being followed up - kids with ear infections, who are being reassessed. So it's not as if those are 259 people who are just waiting for reassessments; it's part of an ongoing process.
The department runs the kindergarten hearing and impedance screening program. Screenings are conducted at the five-year-old health fair and in schools. Children with problems at this screening are seen at hearing services to identify those with hearing difficulties.
Priority is also given to cases with current medical conditions, generally booked in two to four weeks. The clients are also referred by the otolaryngologist at the Whitehorse General Hospital specialist clinic. Every effort is made to reassess them prior to the appointment to provide results for that diagnosis. Two trips have been made to Watson Lake since November, with 60 appointments during each trip. There's further call for services in Watson Lake and we will be evaluating this as we go on. I believe there has also been some increased staffing.
We're also recruiting an additional half-time audiologist to help reduce the workload.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I need to go back to the topic of the continuing care facility. Thank you very much for the information about the hearing services and, once again, the minister read my mind, because I was just about to ask the next question.
The continuing care facility that is being built - what is the opportunity for the people who sit on the Whitehorse General Hospital board to give their input into this? Here you have an already-made board that represents most of the Yukon and a number of different groups on medical issues. I'm wondering if there's anything that they can do to input in the process or if we're going to utilize an already-made board for the development of the facility and for the existing facilities.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: During the development of the functional plan, there was consultation with the Whitehorse General Hospital. We would see, particularly in the development of this, an ongoing relationship with the Whitehorse General Hospital, primarily on the issue of the need to have some capacity to draw off, if you will - I don't know if that's the correct term - or to handle people who find themselves in the Whitehorse General Hospital with more extended kinds of care issues. We would need to be in consultation with the Whitehorse General Hospital in that regard.
I can tell the member that, while we were certainly aware of the issue of the need to open up the additional beds at the Thomson Centre, and that had been something we were striving toward, one of the things that was imperative in that was ongoing consultations with the Whitehorse General Hospital, particularly the chair, Ms. Brenda Riis and the CEO, Ron Browne, who did bring the issue of the demands that extended care of long-term care patients were posing for an acute-care facility.
So, they brought it to my attention and, as well, some of the medical profession brought it to my attention. They felt that - I mean, it's hardly bed-blocking on the scale that we have in places like Ontario and things like that, but it was still problematic for them, and that was one of the deciding factors in trying to reach that decision on opening up those beds. Certainly, there were issues of respite and, certainly, there were issues of just the overall need, but we began finding people who were in the hospital in an acute-care ward when they really didn't have to be, so that was one of the decisions.
So, we have an ongoing relationship with the hospital and we intend to keep it going.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, going back to the issue of not hearing services, you hear a lot of things when you're in the critic role from a number of different people who have a variety of different opinions on any number of topics. One of the things that we have heard is that there's a peculiar way that the internal ear is set up for children who have fetal alcohol syndrome and that that actually has been used in some cases as a diagnostic tool for fetal alcohol syndrome. I'm wondering if the minister could endeavour to find out anything about that particular point, because if that's accurate information then it would be quite useful for us to use in the diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome here in the Yukon.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'll raise that with the medical officer of health. It's sort of an interesting physiological marker if, indeed, that is the case. I know there are a number of physiological markers, in not so much the internal aspect but the placement of the ears - the absence of the philtrum, the head size and so on.
I guess, just from personal experience, one of the things that I've noted in my years up here, particularly in education, was the - what has always struck me, and it is purely anecdotal, was the incidence of middle ear impedance that we've seen up here. It seems to be far more marked, I think, in the north. It may have something to do with just the dryness and us being inside so much but it was always something that struck me in my years of education - the number of kids who, when they would do hearing tests, the number of middle ear impedance that they would find.
Some of those kids would go around with tubes in their ears. It was always kind of surprising to me as well.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, earlier in this session, we were speaking about services for persons who are deaf. Those would not be hearing-impaired people but, in fact, persons who are deaf and, just for the minister's education, that is apparently the correct term to be using.
Now, there is still a need for interpretive services in the Yukon in a number of different departments, not just in Health and Social Services but also in Justice and in housing and in Community and Transportation Services and at the Workers' Compensation Board and in any number of places. There is a very definite need for interpretive services and that need, once again, is just increasing as the deaf community grows here in Whitehorse. There is nothing available, as far as I'm aware of, out in the rural communities.
What's the plan? Are we going to be working with the deaf community to develop those services here in Whitehorse? It seems to make an awful lot of sense because they are certainly the people with the expertise, they can assess the need probably most accurately and they are up to date with what services are available throughout Canada.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, following up on some of the member's concerns, we did do a bit of a survey with not only ourselves because I think I indicated that the actual demands for interpretive services for Health has been relatively low. We went back and checked with Workers' Compensation. I don't know if I've got the numbers with me here, but I did find out some numbers on Workers' Compensation. I did find out some numbers in Justice, and I believe there is one current case in Justice right now which has to do with an impaired charge and the question of whether the individual clearly understood what was being asked of him. I've checked some other departments.
As well, we've taken a look at the whole issue and we're preparing, at this point, a bit of an options paper in that regard, which we'll be going out to the Council on Disabilities and asking them to do a bit of a review and some comment on.
He gives some options in that regard.
I'll try to provide some of the additional figures. I thought I had them here, because I did have some figures in regard to the demand for hearing services. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have them in my copious files here, but I will get them for you, because we did follow up on that and did follow through with Justice and some other departments.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, it's interesting that the minister brings up the topic of Justice, because what happens if an individual hasn't been given their rights, and a lawyer goes and takes the case to court - you know, goodness only knows what the person might have done - and it was found out that that person couldn't have gotten their rights because they couldn't hear, and there was no one to give them their rights, and therefore, the case may have to get kicked out of the court system, and public safety would be at risk. These are very large issues, and, you know, it hasn't happened here yet, and it may never happen, but we need to be aware that that's a possibility. And good, immediate interpretive services need to be available here in Whitehorse that people understand. So, that would be the American sign language interpretive services as opposed to the English sign language, which is more of a teaching tool for children as opposed to something that's used in everyday language. And indeed there is quite a culture around the deaf community here in Whitehorse that's different from other places, and so, even if you did bring somebody up, say, from Vancouver - and, of course, that wouldn't help in the emergency situation - then there are problems with understanding the interpretive services offered from some of these services that they have, for example, out of Douglas College and out of British Columbia.
What are we doing to look at issues like that? It's important, and it's an issue around public safety, and it talks about emergency services in general.
I also had a concern expressed to me about emergency medical services, where someone may not be comfortable dealing with a male interpreter. What are we doing about getting a male and a female interpreter? We have a very good, kind-hearted, hard-working interpreter here in town, but he is male, and I know that there are women, particularly around medical issues, who would prefer a female interpreter.
What is the minister doing about that issue as well?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: There are quite a few things here. The member will be delighted to realize I've finally found the references I was searching for. So, if she'll bear with me - there are three individuals who can be contracted to provide interpreter services. All three have been used as volunteer interpreters, but one felt uncomfortable about interpreting in medical and legal situations because of the specialty nature and also, as the member has noted, the issues of ethics, propriety and things of that nature.
With respect to the reference that the member made on court services, the courts have only had one request for interpretive services. It's for an upcoming case in May 1999. Justice has contracted with a certified interpreter for costs and approximately $3,000 to 4,000 for a five-day contract. The cost includes bringing the interpreter in for the trial.
This case involves a deaf person who refused to provide a breathalyzer to police. The defence is expected to centre around the fact that interpreter services could not be provided and therefore, there was a problem of communication.
In cases where the legal matter comes before a court without notice, Justice would attempt to find people in the community and pay them accordingly on the witness fee schedule. That is just from the Justice point of view. Whitehorse General Hospital has made arrangements to pay a lay interpreter, as needed, on a call-out basis. The Thomson Centre has also paid the same interpreter $50 an hour for interpretation services.
The health branch will cover payment for interpretation services for insured medical services. This covers the cost of the interpreter at the rate of $50 an hour. The individual is responsible for arranging to have the interpreter present. The interpreter has to be someone who would not ordinarily accompany the person to provide interpretation services.
With respect to the deaf community overall, there are approximately 10 individuals in the Yukon deaf community who use sign language. All of these people are in Whitehorse. There have also been deaf people visiting the Yukon as tourists who have had occasion to use our medical services, such as a motor vehicle accident.
There is a fulltime special ed teacher for the deaf, employed by the public school system. However, there are no profoundly deaf children in the school at this time. Teachers fluent in American sign language and exact English signing - her explanation was that while deaf people use ASL, exact English is used in doing literal English translations. ASL is a separate language, a signing symbol representing a concept or group.
Deaf people are bilingual and, in a sense, by culture, ASL is their language base. English may also be a second language.
The two individuals most fluent in ASL have no desire to take the two-year certification course at this time. We've tried; we've encouraged them.
However, one individual may be interested in challenging the certification exam and practicum at Douglas College to see if he could obtain certification.
Challenging involves an eight to 10-week course to assist candidates in putting together a portfolio of skills and experience. The portfolio is assessed and the college decides which components the individual can get credit for.
In the course of researching options for interpretive services, another individual contacted the department, who was interested in obtaining her certification. She's just finishing off a master of education, specializing in deafness studies and will have her level five in ASL by the end of the summer.
She has previously lived in the Yukon for 15 years, and did a practicum at the Department of Education in speech and hearing services. She has some training as an audiologist, and is open to working in that field on the completion of her studies. She's also interested in obtaining interpretive certification and interested in any support the Yukon government can offer.
In terms of some of the options that we have looked at and are still exploring, one of the things we've looked at is the idea of providing a bursary to an individual to take a sign interpretation course. There is a two-year diploma at Douglas College. The tuition fees for the two-year course would total approximately $3,150. We could, for example, look at the idea on a similar basis as our nursing bursary, where you could offer the bursary to a qualified person in exchange for working in the territory for a period of time.
We also believe that there are some federal funds that can be accessed in this area. There are some other options. We could, for example, look at the idea of urging the Yukon Council on Disabilities to apply for funding through the Health and Social Services Council to sponsor training for interpreters. That's another option we have. Now, with our professional development fund, we could establish a fee-for-service arrangement with competent uncertified individuals, with references from two individuals, to provide interpretation services for medical, hospital and other.
So, we are looking at a variety of options, none mutually exclusive. We considered the idea of establishing contact with the Western Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing to fly in certified interpreters. We're exploring the possibility of demonstration projects for the testing of videoconferencing. So, we're looking at a whole variety of options, and we'll want to discuss these with the disability community as we consider the whole gamut.
Mrs. Edelman: Well, Mr. Chair, one of the options that the minister hasn't touched on, which was one that was presented to me, was the whole idea of developing a business plan for the deaf community to offer a service to the people of the Yukon. It would have two aspects to it. The first would be training people to sign, and the second would be to offer interpretive services. One would probably pay for the other side of it.
Now, that was clearly identified as the way that the deaf community wanted to proceed at this point. My understanding was that the minister was talking to the people in the deaf community about those issues. I'm wondering if any progress has been made in that area.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I haven't had anything formal in that regard, but what we have done is follow up on some of the issues raised. We took a look at the level of need, not only for ourselves, but for other aspects of government. We've got, as we said, a number of proposals here that we could talk to the disability community about and get some advice and guidance. I suppose the option that the member mentioned would be something that could be something that could be raised at that point, as well.
Mrs. Edelman: If the deaf community were to develop a project like this - well, it would be a business - what would be available for funding for that type of business plan? Is the health investment fund the proper place to look for funding for those sorts of dollars?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We could look at the health investment fund for the idea of developing a business plan, or what I might suggest is perhaps the community development fund as a possibility there.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I'm suggesting the community development fund, because it might be, in terms of developing the business plan, a relatively lower cost kind of option. I think it might be something that might lend itself toward the community development fund. I guess lower tier - tier 1, tier 2, or however they list them. But, certainly the health investment fund might be an option in that regard as well.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, earlier tonight, we were speaking about the medical officer of health and fetal alcohol syndrome. Can the minister update the Committee on where we are with diagnosis?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, we have had some discussion with the medical officer of health, and I have met with the Fetal Alcohol Society of the Yukon to outline where we'd like to go with this. Subsequent to that, I brought it back to Cabinet for discussion, because it would have to get on the legislative calendar, and we've had some suggestions made in that regard. I've had some questions raised that I have to clarify for some of my colleagues. Actually, primarily issues around privacy - they've just flagged a couple of things that they would like to have clarified, but it's our intention that, all going well, we can get this on the legislative calendar for the fall. Then it could go forward as just being included in our reporting of conditions.
I guess one of the things that has emerged in this involves our issues. I have had questions raised about privacy and people wanting to ensure that individual's privacy would be safeguarded, and also questions were raised - and I think very legitimate questions - about what kinds of support would we be able to provide to, say, physicians in terms of diagnostic tools to assist them. We don't want to create something that physicians are required to report on without giving them an adequate diagnostic tool, and we're looking at options there in terms of something relatively simple - a matrix, if you will - and we understand that there is a variety of models around that we could use.
So, those are some questions that were raised with me. I have to clarify them for some of my colleagues, but at this point, we're looking at getting on the legislative calendar for the fall.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, that's great. Can the minister perhaps update us also on the progress of an assisted-living facility for adults with fetal alcohol syndrome here in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I have met with some of the individuals involved in this. It's my understanding that they're bringing forward or have brought forward an application under the CDF to basically do a study on the feasibility - how many people would it involve and what kind of model that this would incur.
They're looking at the idea of setting up a society. Basically, what they've approached us about would be that if they were able to go ahead and establish such a facility - and we had had very good discussion around how this might unfold - it would be almost like a sheltered living environment with the kinds of parameters that they would want because they would be a society that was established on individuals coming in and there would have to be a relative expectation that an individual would succeed in this environment, and so on.
Since we already expend funds for individuals in terms of SA and supported independent living, it's something that we would be interested in supporting from that aspect - not so much in a material sense, not with the idea of us building it or us running it - but have a society run it making provisions so that if a client, say, a young adult who was on supported independent living - they could take advantage of this as opposed to living in an apartment or some other alternative residential facility.
We have had some discussions on that and my understanding is that they were bringing forward something in the CDF. I'm not sure what the status is because I don't sit on the CDF so I'm not privy to that.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, just from the Yukon Liberal caucus position, it makes sense to support people in the community when they're adults because your alternatives aren't that great. If what you're going to be doing is only giving people services when they run into the justice system and that's what triggers help for adults who have fetal alcohol syndrome, then surely we can come up with something just a little bit better than that. The number of people who have fetal alcohol syndrome, I would guess, in the Yukon is quite substantial and perhaps we'll find out those numbers a little more accurately in the near future.
The school dental program - can the minister update us on where we are with that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: The review and recommendations for changes to the Yukon dental program was released for public comment in 1998. Interested persons, First Nations and key stakeholders responded to the department by telephone and in writing, where requested meetings were held. Most Yukoners support the Yukon children's dental program and support the proposed changes to make it more effective. The key areas we're looking at are: beginning in September 1999 there will be an oral health survey that would be conducted on an annual basis for all enrolled Yukon school children from kindergarten through grade 12. There will be an increased emphasis on the dental health promotion in preschool areas within the program and other health programs. This includes the increased number of preschool clinics in both Whitehorse and rural communities. Public health nurses will increase their emphasis on dental health at well-baby clinics and prenatal classes. There will be an increase in daycare services in Whitehorse and rural communities and an increase in services at the teen parent centre.
It's proposed that, in cooperation with the Department of Education, the children's dental program will no longer provide restorative services to grade 8 students but, instead, expand their programs to include dental examinations for all high school students in Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Watson Lake. These are communities that have resident dentists. Cards will be mailed home to parents indicating that their teen requires further dental care at the family dentist. This will increase the public dental service to an additional 2,000 or more students.
In rural Yukon with no resident dentist, the restorative component of the program will be expanded to include full service to students eight through 12.
The department is in the process of staffing a full-time dental therapy program manager and has contracted a public health dentist as a consultant to provide ongoing advice, direction and quality assurance throughout the year.
Hopefully, that will provide some information for the member - except to just indicate that currently the cost of the program is about $800,000 per year, or about $200 per child, per year.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, are there any plans right now for yet another review of the school dental program?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, we've just completed one. The independent public health dentist was contracted to review the program. A final report was provided in January 1998, and subsequent to that we've had some consultations on proposed changes.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I wrote to the minister last year, I believe, about the dental therapist position in Watson Lake. What are the plans for Watson Lake? Are we going to be reviewing whether we need a full-time person there or are we still going to have the shared staff person working in a number of different communities in that area?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We're currently providing that out of Whitehorse. The demand for service was the principal driver there, so since there is also a resident dentist in Watson Lake, that makes a bit of a difference. We just simply didn't have the level of demand in that community.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, also in Watson Lake, the hospital emergency entrance - now, we've been through this discussion a number of different times, and I spoke about how you have to arrive, in the middle of the night, usually, go through the entire hospital to get to the emergency room, and you can't even get around the corner with a stretcher. The person has to get up and walk into the emergency room, because they can't get around the corner.
The minister said that he was doing some renovations in the hospital. Is that one of the issues that's being addressed? Is there a new and more efficient emergency entrance?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, not at this time. Our focus in renovations has been on the idea of respite and providing some space in terms of a modified tub room and things of that nature.
Presently, we're not looking at a different emergency entrance.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, are there any plans to deal with the issue of the emergency entrance?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I'm sure that it's probably in the capital plans for the hospital in the future. It's just that I don't believe that it's - it's certainly not in this year's capital budget, but we can certainly look at it in future years. It isn't something right now that is in the works, because, as I said, we're focusing on other areas.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, once again, I would like to point out to the minister just how absolutely ludicrous that situation is.
I am holding here in my hand the substance-abuse prevention and Yukon tobacco reduction strategy final report from Public Health and Safety at Yukon College. This report was the summary of a number of different meetings that happened over the space of about two years. The recommendations from this group were to go, first of all, to Health Canada, but also to the territorial government Department of Health, and I know that the minister was at one of the meetings and came and spoke to us. What are we doing about implementing some of the recommendations from this group?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, we've developed a workplan in terms of the health promotion unit to look at tobacco use in a comprehensive way. As I indicated earlier, we're working with the federal government on an agreement to enforce the provisions of the federal Tobacco Act.
We're also looking at trying to do such things as the sales to minors provision of the act that would be a focus area and meaningful enforcement, which requires on-spot checks of tobacco vendors. So, we are looking at trying to reduce tobacco use through those methods.
I mean, certainly one of the things that we would be interested in doing is actually enforcing this for the federal government, because we believe we could do a far more meaningful enforcement.
However, that would involve an allocation of resources to the territorial government from the federal government, if we were to do this. Right now, I believe that the tobacco legislation inspector comes out of Vancouver. As the member can imagine, probably that somewhat reduces the effectiveness of the enforcement aspect.
Chair: Do the members wish to recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: Ten minutes.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there further debate on the Department of Health and Social Services?
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, prior to the break we were speaking about issues around tobacco reduction. We get millions of dollars a year in taxes from cigarettes, and that comes directly to the territorial government. I appreciate that we want to be working on enforcement, although one of the members was saying earlier that you get fined probably about 10 times as much for selling someone tobacco as you do for selling them alcohol in the Yukon.
But the real concern is still adult programs. The minister spoke about some of the youth programs and, of course, it's extremely important that children don't get started. But what about adult programs? They are still getting, in Public Health and Safety, at least two or three calls a week from adults who are looking for programs to help them quit smoking. Speaking as someone who quit 12 years and 26 days ago, it's a horrible addiction. It's really difficult to kick, and anything we can do to help people in that process would go a long way to - if nothing else - reducing our health care costs. Of course, that's what the nature of this debate is all about - health care costs here in the Yukon. What are we doing about starting with adult programs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We are, I believe, still providing the quit kits. The member is quite right in saying that we need to look at issues around adults, and I can assure her that that is something we will be looking at. Our focus has been, up to this point, primarily on young people, trying to prevent young people from starting to smoke, because the evidence suggests that the later the person gets involved in tobacco, the less likely they are to become a lifetime smoker with, consequently, the diminished need to quit.
So, we have put our efforts into youth, but I do agree that there needs to be programs for adults. As I said, this is part of the whole sort of tobacco reduction plan that we are developing here, and we're going to be looking at some options in that regard. We are interested in trying to reduce tobacco usage as best we can.
However, I think I indicated earlier that one of the things that we've done on a national front is to appeal to Mr. Rock, because he has identified tobacco reduction as one of the areas the federal government is going to be working in. One of the things we've suggested - across the country, as Health ministers - is that part of the funds that he is currently looking at in tobacco reduction, is that 50 percent of those funds be allocated to the provinces and territories so that they can establish their own tobacco reductions programs or their own quit smoking programs or things of that nature.
We feel that we could probably adapt such programs in a meaningful way to target some communities where the problem is more pronounced than others.
I think I indicated to the member, perhaps last year, the somewhat startling statistics for a community such as Old Crow, where I think they sold almost 100 packs of cigarettes a day. And, of course, there is Dawson City, which has, I believe, a very high adult smoking population - and kids, the member has added.
We are trying to secure some of that federal funding, so that we could be adapting and developing some of our own programs here. That's something that we'll be raising with Mr. Rock at a future meeting. I believe that there is one projected for early May, so we'll try to raise it at that point.
Mrs. Edelman: Once again, I'm very concerned about our lack of commitment in this area.
The minister has said over and over again that he would not take up programs that were federally funded when the funding ran out and, indeed, when the federal funding ran out for the tobacco reduction strategy, he didn't take the program up. So, now he's talking about going back and getting more federal funding, which inevitably will run out and we still have no commitment.
As a territory, we raise millions of dollars a year in tobacco taxes. In every other jurisdiction in Canada - every other province - and of course we're not a province - there is money from tobacco taxes dedicated toward tobacco reduction strategies. Why aren't we doing anything about that? Why can't we look at legislation that will allow the diversion of some of those dollars from tobacco taxes to some of these long-term programs looking at adults and children, and helping them quit smoking?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think it is something that perhaps could be raised in the context of Finance and taxes - I just spend the money.
It isn't something that we have discussed in too great a detail. I can tell the member that we've got, basically, three priorities in terms of health promotion. One of those is tobacco reduction. The others are in areas such as reproductive health and so on.
So we are concerned in the next year about developing some programs for tobacco reduction. My concern, more - since the member has opened this up, and this was the substance of many of our discussions with the federal government leading up to the social union agreements - was the idea of the so-called "boutique" programs that the federal government is so fond of, where they'll bring in a short-term program for two or three years and then walk away from it, leaving provinces holding the bag, so to speak, in terms of taking that up.
What we have endeavoured to do, and what we're hopeful about, if we're successful in obtaining money from the federal government, would be, on the basis of our new social union agreement that commits the federal government not to withdraw unilaterally from programs without consultation among the respect provinces and territories - and some kind of compensatory arrangement.
So we're presuming that any future agreement we would have with the federal government would be premised on the new social union agreement, which we feel gives greater security to the provinces and territories, in terms of future funding arrangements.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I think that I can gather from the minister's comments that he thinks that the money from the federal government that we are going to be aiming toward tobacco reduction strategies is an unending - and perhaps even endless - pot of money, and the minister's indicated that that is his desire. I wish him luck in that, and I still think it shows a lack of commitment on the part of this government - waiting for someone else to bail us out.
The alcohol and drug services program at the Sarah Steele Building - can the minister tell us how many people attended the program in the summer last year and indicate, at the same time, how many staff were on? What was that staff-to-client ratio?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Those I don't have here. The member was looking at the summary, I presume of June, July and August. Is that the time frame? In June, there were 22 new treatment positions, 11 in July and 13 in August. In terms of reopened, there were 14 in June, six in July and 10 in August. June was relatively constant with May. There was a sharp drop-off in July to just, I believe, 11 and then it slightly increased in August. I would have to go back and we would have to find some information in terms of what the ratios were at that time. I just don't have those figures available. I just have the raw numbers in terms of what the breakdown is and numbers of admissions and so on.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I think I could venture to guess that the numbers in the summer are down considerably, but we have a very large staff in that building. Whereas, in the Champagne-Aishihik program it was oversubscribed. I have a very strong concern and that is that we not assessing the programs in the Sarah Steele Building.
The Champagne-Aishihik, after only three months, did an independent audit of their operations. We've had that running for over a year and we haven't done the same thing. The time to nip problems in the bud is early in the programming schedule and the time to increase or to develop what we're doing right is right at the very beginning.
What are we going to be doing about assessing the programs that we're running out of the Sarah Steele Building? It doesn't make sense for us to be running programs where we have two staff people for one client, while the Champagne-Aishihik Band or any other service providers that we may be using in the future are oversubscribed. That doesn't make sense. That's not a wise use of tax dollars.
If we are going to be depending on a government-run program, which I have some problems with, the very least we should be doing is assessing that program to see where we are with it. The other thing is to find out how best we can spend our money. As the minister has pointed out, Health and Social Services is where we spend the money and we spend more money in Health and Social Services than in any other department so it makes sense for us to get performance indicators on how well we're doing, how poorly we're doing. We need to at least take a look. Those are tax dollars that we are spending in that facility.
We need to do a review. Is the minister at all interested in getting an independent third party in to look at the programs at the Sarah Steele Building?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I've indicated before that I thought we probably could be involved in some kind of a review. What I would like to do is get a more comprehensive sort of period of time that we could look at and, as well, work through some of the issues in that. But yes, we could review at a future point. It's not something we've ruled out at all.
I should point out that, with the Champagne-Aishihik program, there were a number of other factors there that went into them choosing the Aishihik Lake Treatment Centre - choosing to do an internal audit - some of which had to do with major staff changes, some of which had to do with financial issues, as well, because they had been running, with our support, a program that, quite frankly, they had some problems sustaining in terms of numbers, in terms of financial costs. I think they had to go back and re-examine how they are planning on doing this, so I think part of their goal in doing an evaluation there was to try to see where they could improve their performance for future funding opportunities.
We have had, just overall, some fairly substantial increases in the numbers of people going through the addictions programming, and we seem to be bearing out increases in such things as detox admissions and things of that nature. So, there seems to be a level of interest that's growing there, and we will certainly be looking at reviewing it and going through it, once we've got a better sense of how the program is working out.
I should mention that the previous program existed for a substantial period of time without reviews. There was a review that was done by Ms. McLaughlin quite a number of years ago.
We're not planning on going that long. I think what we'd like to do is see how the program is evolving and go back and do a review and a bit of an assessment of some of the strengths and some of the areas that we need to improve on in the program.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the previous program that had been run out of that building was a residential program, and residential programs are set up differently from day programs - time constraints and the way it's staffed, and a number of other issues.
The minister, despite the fact that early in the game he said there was absolutely no way that that was going to be a residential program, has now softened his position, it would seem, and has said that, indeed, there are beds available for people if they needed to stay there.
As part of a review, would we be examining the notion that maybe we need to have a residential program there as well as a day program?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I don't know if it's been borne out in terms of the need for a residential program as much as the idea of providing some residential support for people who come in from out of town. I guess, if I had my druthers, I would like to focus residential programs in terms of some of the community treatment centres, because that would be an ideal opportunity - some of the wilderness settings, some of the settings where people could focus in terms of a residential aspect.
Some of the changes that we brought about were to make the program more accessible for certain groups, particularly groups like women and so on, who had some concerns about the residential aspect. Given the statistical numbers, we appear to be having a fair level of interest and a fair level of success.
I haven't ruled out the idea of a residential program but I am suggesting that maybe one of the ways we could do that is through the provision of community treatment centres. If a person is going to make that kind of a commitment in terms of giving up a period of time - be it a month or whatever - perhaps using the idea of community treatment centres might be the way to go.
Mrs. Edelman: I wonder if the minister could provide this side of the House with the numbers of persons or beds that are being used overnight at the alcohol and drug program - the minister has said that he is quite willing to do that.
There is a conference on fetal alcohol syndrome that's going to be held May 4 to 7 this year in Calgary. It's an interprovincial project and FAS symposium. It's a follow-up conference. Is the department sending anyone to that?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I believe we have an individual from family and children's services attending that. I just can't recall right now what the name of the individual is. I believe that's the department that will be attending on our behalf.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I wonder if the minister could update the House - he may not have this information - on the regs for the Dental Profession Act and the Optometrists Act. I know that the department was working with the Department of Justice on those regulations.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: This is actually just from Justice. The medical profession, dental profession - I don't see anything on optometry - there's not a great deal here. This is a Justice note, and it doesn't really have much more on it. I can find out some information as to the status of those and get back to the member. But, in the medical profession note there isn't a great deal of information in this regard. I will have to go back to my colleague in Justice and ask what the status of that is.
Mrs. Edelman: I would love to get that information on the Dental Profession Act and the Optometrists Act regulations.
I would like the minister to refer, if he has it there, to the anti-poverty strategy reference group report for a number of different areas around poverty that came up. I know that the government has brought forward a couple of new programs to deal with poverty, but there were other issues that come up over and over again. I wonder if we could talk, first of all, about family violence and alcohol abuse.
Now, one of the things that the group is saying in the report is that those are two very different parts of poverty and dealing with anti-poverty strategies. In the reference group, which I presume is still working with the government, are there any efforts to put the two together - working with alcohol abuse, domestic violence and the anti-poverty strategy?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, certainly we have an interest in the idea of alcohol abuse and how it relates to family violence. I think what we have largely done - in some of the feedback we got back from the anti-poverty working group - was that we decided to work on some of the economic issues in an initial phase. There are certainly issues that flow out of the anti-poverty consultations that we feel have some merit. Our focus has been on some issues around basically trying to increase the level of support for people living in poverty. That was part of the rationale behind the idea of the low-income tax credit and the Yukon child benefit, both of which we believe will have a positive impact on people's lives.
With respect to family violence and alcohol abuse, I think the two are hand-in-hand. I think any efforts we make in one regard will impact on the other. But, specifically at this point, we are focused on economic issues, in terms of the recommendations coming out of that group.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the reference group talked about designing programs for people in poverty. In the report, they talk about how programs should be designed and delivered, and there were a number of principles that should be followed. I'll read two or three of them. There's sort of a theme here. It says, "People in need, or people who use services, are not given opportunity to comment on how well their needs are being met. They should be consulted." "Service is not sufficiently user-focused. A formal client-based reference group is necessary to ensure this focus." "Accountability to objectives is not adequately monitored and programs regularly adjusted to improve performance at meeting objectives."
So what we're talking about are two things here - we're talking about people who are most affected getting an opportunity to point out how well their needs are being met, and we're also talking about performance indicators for programs.
What are we doing, working on these issues?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I can tell the member that one of the things that we have been concerned about, and one of the things that we've heard loud and clear was the idea of the culture of poverty and people being in a situation where they feel that they are intimidated by the process. Something that I'm very cognizant of, and something that we have discussed internally, is the idea of trying to make the situation somewhat - as the member has said - more user-friendly.
We have a booklet that we just brought out now on social assistance regulations. It's very attractive - I'll make sure the member gets a copy. What we've tried to do is simplify the procedure for people so that they know what their rights are; we've tried to put it in relatively easy-to-understand language.
But it's interesting, when the member has brought up some things - one of the things that most recently comes to mind is the issue of creating an atmosphere where things are somewhat more positive and less intimidating. I've had, for example, some meetings with the Social Assistance Appeal Board on this, because they've come to me with - I think - very clear concerns about the idea of putting people in a situation where they have to appeal, where it's in a venue that is primarily department driven, where - rightly or wrongly - they may perceive that the department is in the driver's seat. Some very simple kinds of things - different venue. Rather than us saying, "Well, you have to go here," let's make some opportunities available to move it into a different, if you will, more neutral venue.
The idea of how do we record it? How do we record the proceedings in a way that's less intimidating for individuals? What kinds of parameters do we establish on having to report back to the board - what our reaction is to some of these things.
So I think there are avenues where we can work with people to create a more friendly, a more open atmosphere. We're certainly very cognizant of the fact that people who need support or social assistance at any given time in their life need to understand that this is something that is a support mechanism for them. We shouldn't try to put them in a feeling of being beholden, or however one wants to characterize it.
I think if I took away anything from the meeting that I had with the folks on anti-poverty it was this particular issue when they reported back to me the idea of just how debilitating that sort of culture of poverty is and the fact that people need to be able to maintain personal dignity, even in very hard times, and I think that's something that we have sort of set for ourselves as a task within the department - how can we go about creating a culture, if you will, within the department that is more accepting of that? These are some of the discussions that we've had internally, and I think there are a number of things that we can do just in procedural things that will be of assistance.
Here is the booklet that I can send over for the member. It is unfortunately in this black-and-white format, but we will send it over.
My deputy minister has just reminded me that one of the things that we're looking at doing is creating a simple pamphlet for people that will be available at SA offices. If they are turned down for something, it would explain what the appeal procedure is, who to get a hold of, how to go about it, and so on and so forth - just basically trying to let people know that they do have rights and they do have some avenues that are available to them.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, over time, things will change. Bureaucrats, the people who work the system, will change it again so that it's easier for them to run, and because they're the ones that can do it, it will happen. We need to continually check back with people to make sure that it is user-friendly - not that we perceive it as being user-friendly, but that users are saying, "Yes, it works for us."
What are we doing about regularly checking programs?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We have done evaluations in a variety of areas, and I can provide the member with a list of some of the evaluations that have gone on in the department. I can tell the member that between now and when I leave this portfolio as minister in 2010, I will be diligently working on such matters. I will just give the member a bit of a highlight.
I may be talking until 2010, just to give the member perhaps some highlights of some of the evaluations we have done over the past 25 years - no, I'm just being facetious.
We did a special care and program evaluation in 1997. The extended care unit of the children's program was done in 1998. There was an evaluation done of the AIDS Yukon Alliance; there was the evaluation of the dental program, which I referred to earlier; an evaluation of the ambulance service, and there are probably a whole variety of others I can dig out of here.
Here they are: the children's residential resource review; the program evaluation of the family support worker; the FAS/FAE preventative program, in 1997; the group home review; Aspen Residential Services, in May and July 1998; the CDC outreach program-assisted evaluation that was done by CDC in 1998; the CDC operational review, which was done in 1995; the three service reviews of the Yukon Family Services Association services to outlying communities were completed in 1998, and so on and so forth. So, if the member wishes, I can keep going on.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I'm glad to see I've got some support in some areas.
An internal department evaluation was done annually for the Ross River Dena Council and the Liard First Nation family support workers; the Kaska Tribal Council alcohol and drug services was evaluated jointly by the department and the healing council, and then a further evaluation was done in 1997. Those are some of the internal programs that we have done.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, I don't think that I've been clear. What I'm trying to get at is a policy within the department where users are checked with regularly, perhaps once a year, to find out whether the services that we are delivering to them work for them.
Now in this I'm talking about poverty, but it's a good thing to do in any work. I don't ever recall someone asking me whether I like my doctor and whether I was getting services that worked for our family from our doctor. That never has happened.
The Child Development Centre used to regularly check back with the users, for example, to find out whether their needs were being met. But the programs we deliver to people out of the Department of Health and Social Services - it's great for us to go back and make sure that they're running financially well and administratively well, but we need to make sure that we're also meeting the needs of the people we are targeting those programs toward.
A policy of even every year going back and asking people whether they are getting what they need out of that program is not unreasonable and it makes the government look, in a lot of ways, like they're in touch with current needs, because things change. They change dramatically. Look at the Yukon economy in the last two years. Talk about your highs and your lows. There has been tremendous change in Whitehorse alone.
The numbers on social assistance have gone through the roof, especially as EI claims have been exhausted. It makes sense for us to regularly review to make sure that users are getting what they need out of this government. And perhaps there are ways they have thought of where we could save money in those programs, because it's their tax dollars, too. Those sort of things.
What I'm asking the minister to do is to consider a policy like that.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, it's certainly something we can consider and something we can discuss.
I might suggest, with all due respect, that perhaps doing it every year might be a little bit too frequent on major policy areas. I would also suggest that probably what we'd have to do is, given the scope of some of the aspects of some of our departments, maybe look at staging out - looking at certain services on a periodic basis, perhaps on a longer sort of cycle.
But it's certainly something we can consider.
Mrs. Edelman: I'm glad to hear that the minister is open-minded on that issue.
The children's dental program is also one of the issues in the reference group report and I'll read it again. It says, "The program does not allow choice. When there is no cost impact, there should be options for users, including which dentist a child sees and what material is used for treatments." The examples were amalgam or plastic fillings.
I suppose the issue is that the government is paying for it, so you go with whoever they tell you to go with, and you are given very limited options. That doesn't speak very well to people with dignity and giving them choices about the way they run their lives.
How have we looked at the children's dental program after getting this report from the reference group?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: No, we haven't taken a look at the dental program in view of that. After all, we've just gone through a major review of the dental program, and we're moving into the implementation phase of the new program. So, that's something we would have to look at in terms of future development. But, we have been focusing on trying to provide that program in the most effective way and the most all-encompassing way. The idea of extending it for older children, particularly in rural areas, was a step in that direction.
We actually haven't evaluated the program in light of this particular recommendation. As we said before, our focus on the anti-poverty group has been to look at economic issues, primarily in the first step.
Mrs. Edelman: What I'll leave with the minister then is that this is an issue that has been identified by the group, and it sounds like it's worthy of consideration.
The disability pension is an issue that comes up constantly over the years - I remember this coming up over and over again - and the idea of a guaranteed annual income as opposed to people having to go through the SA system when they don't really need to. It would save millions - probably billions - in Canada if we went to a guaranteed annual income. What they are saying here in the reference group report and, again, I will read it: "A permanent disability plan could be designed to more effectively meet the needs of the disabled on social assistance. Such a plan might avoid the stigma associated with social assistance."
A person who is disabled may not be able to go out and do the type of job searches that other individuals can do. It doesn't make sense to keep them in a system that is meant to get people off that system. That's the aim, generally, in social assistance - to make sure that people can get off social assistance and achieve independent living, whereas with people who have permanent disabilities where they won't be able to work, that is never going to happen. So, you have a system that is set up to meet the needs of a bureaucracy that doesn't at all address the needs of the people who are using it.
Has the department looked at the issue of the guaranteed annual income?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: Well, I think the whole idea of a guaranteed annual income, particularly for disabilities, is something that has emerged in some of the discussions around federal-provincial-territorial disability issues. I think it's fair to say that the primary focus of these discussions has been on creating an environment in which people can - or, I guess, removing impediments to employment. I think it's fair to say that the federal minister, in all issues of disability, has sort of focused in on this idea of trying to return people to the workplace and trying to provide employability assistance for individuals with disabilities.
I think there has been considerable concern on the part of the federal government about the rather dramatic increase in the number of people claiming disability pensions from the Canada Pension Plan. I believe about a quarter of all the new pension applications for Canada Pension have been disability. That's an increasing number, and particularly for males in their 50s. That appears to be a very substantial group of people applying for the disability pension, so there have been some discussions with the federal government on this.
I guess, without supplying too much, I would say that the focus of the federal government, particularly around disability issues, has been on the idea of creating supports for people returning to work. That has been the major focus of any agreement signed with the territory.
Mrs. Edelman: I suppose that I'm not being clear again. Some people are disabled from birth. They never will work; they will never be returning to work - particularly if it's a profound disability. That's not going to happen, and it doesn't make sense to keep people on social assistance, because social assistance is designed to get people off that program.
The idea of a guaranteed annual income has been around for many decades, and there were allowances like that in England, for example, years ago. And it doesn't cost as much in administration, because it's a flat amount of money that's given by the government to an individual who is in this position.
So, I'm not talking about getting people back to work because they've had an injury and some sort of disability. I'm talking about people who are disabled, have always been - most of them - disabled, and they will not be returning to work, because they never have worked, and they aren't going to. Those are the types of clients that I hope the minister can focus on when he stands to answer my question about whether they've looked at guaranteed annual incomes for persons with disabilities.
Hon. Mr. Sloan: It is my understanding that there has been some discussion in the past on this concept. However, as I indicated to the member, much of the focus with HRDC on issues around disabilities has been on the employability aspect. That has been the tenor of our discussions.
We have looked at it in the past. I would have to go back and investigate to see what level of interest there was and what level of contributions it would be, and so on and so forth. I don't have any information, currently, because, as I said, in the last couple of years we've been focusing on other ways.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the national child benefit reinvestment - this is also from the reference group report from the anti-poverty strategy - says that the reference group recommended that the additional funds available this year be used to provide a direct payment to children in families on SA, either through a flat payment to families or as funding for children's recreation and social activities. Have we done anything in that area?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We will be, because we haven't got the money quite yet, but we will be getting it in July. What we're actually looking at is dividing it up in the following manner. We would probably look at putting some additional money into the school food programs, because they have proved to be very popular and successful. We are looking at establishing some money for assisting children in low-income families to access recreation, cultural and social activities, and we've had some discussions, I believe, with Mr. Milner in the sport and recreation branch on this.
He primarily has done some research on our behalf on some existing programs. I believe there is one in Edmonton on a similar matter and it is something that we're interested in committing some funds to. I happen to think that this is a program which, from a personal point of view, is very good because, as I indicated earlier, one of the things that I found particularly moving about the poverty reference group was in talking about just some of the deprivations, not exclusively the physical deprivations, but some of the cultural deprivations that children have. You know, the idea of not being able to play hockey because your family can't afford it and not being able to do the ski day up at Mount Sima or something like that.
So, we're interested in trying to put some funds toward this and this will be one of our areas of reinvestment.
Mrs. Edelman: Mr. Chair, the last question from this report is about the definition of poverty. That was one of the problems that the minister had when we were talking about an anti-poverty strategy over the last two and a half years. What is the progress on developing a definition of poverty in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Sloan: We've been working with the statistics branch on trying to ascertain what some indicators are of poverty. We've also been working on a national front and we've also done some work with the Northern Research Institute on developing a more appropriate indicator of poverty in the north.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Sloan: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. McRobb: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 14, First Appropriation Act, 1999-2000, and has 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.